CHICAGO — Just after 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, David DeJesus popped out of the Chicago Cubs’ dugout on the third-base side at Wrigley Field wearing his street clothes. His tenure as a Cub was over and he was on his way to meet his new teammates. He didn’t have to go far.
DeJesus walked across the field and shook hands with a few Washington Nationals.
“I couldn’t even find my way to the locker room,” the 33-year-old outfielder joked as he met the media wearing a Nationals batting practice zip-up and hat, but still in his Cubs-blue Nike sneakers. “I’ve never been on this side of the field.”
But here he was, a National, acquired earlier in the afternoon in a waiver trade for a player to be named. It was the latest in a number of moves the team has made to attempt to correct for the underperformance of certain areas of the roster it assembled and had such high hopes for last offseason.
Roger Bernadina, the longest-tenured member of the organization and one of few remaining players with ties to the team’s Montreal Expos history, was released in order to clear space on the roster for DeJesus.
Since Opening Day, the moves the Nationals have made — largely due to poor performance — have slowly acknowledged their errors in expectations.
“I knew that we were going to be making some changes,” manager Davey Johnson said Monday, but really the process has been gradually ongoing as the Nationals’ season continues on a disappointing track.
The bullpen and the bench were areas Johnson had expressed concern with from the outset, particularly the lack of left-handed relief and the reliance on younger players as opposed to veterans on the bench.
They entered the year with one left-handed reliever, Zach Duke, who was unaccustomed to the role, thinking Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus could handle the left-handed matchups late in games. They’ve since added two situational left-handers in Ian Krol and Fernando Abad. Mattheus, after a lengthy disabled list stint for breaking his pitching hand in anger, was sent down last week.
They opened the season with Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Bernadina expected to play integral parts on their bench, as they did in 2012. Moore was recently called back up to the major leagues, but struggled mightily earlier this season before twice being sent down. Veteran Scott Hairston was acquired from the Cubs to fill his role.
Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy and Kurt Suzuki are the only members of the bench who have remained on it all season, and Suzuki started for much of the first half. Henry Rodriguez, who rarely fulfilled the potential his raw talent carried, was jettisoned from the bullpen along with Duke in early June.
Now Bernadina has moved on — and many within the Nationals’ organization believed the toolsy outfielder would not be out of work long — as the latest example of unexpectedly poor performances.
“When we were constructing a roster this winter, we felt that from the left side, Tracy had a fine year in 2012 and he’s had a good career,” general manager Mike Rizzo explained. “Bernadina had a terrific year in 2012. Tyler Moore was outstanding in 2012. So you go into the winter thinking that that is your bench. We had confidence in those guys that they could help us via the bench route and if they had to play every day they’re capable of playing every day. It just didn’t work out.
“We felt that, to get ourselves a quality hitter like Hairston that wears out left-handed pitchers and we have good history with, was an upgrade for us. … And I think the same scenario with David. We think that he is going to be a terrific bench player for us this year and we have opportunity to have him beyond this. And Roger struggled mightily this year and he could never get it going.”
After the finest season of his major league career in 2012, Bernadina simply wasn’t producing. His playing time had dwindled significantly of late. He had not started a game since June 30 and had just 18 at-bats in the six weeks since.
The Nationals viewed DeJesus as an upgrade over Bernadina, who hit .178 with a .247 on-base percentage and a paltry .517 OPS in 152 at-bats this season.
In 284 at-bats with Chicago this season, DeJesus hit .250 with a .330 on-base percentage, playing primarily center and left field.
How and when DeJesus would be used, however, remained unclear.
Johnson said he was surprised by the timing of the move, noting multiple times during his news conference that the Nationals were in a less-than-desirable place in the playoff picture, 9 1/2 games back in the wild card and 15 1/2 back in the National League East.
“He’s a quality player,” Johnson said of DeJesus. “If anybody gets hurt, he can step right in and play at a high level. You can never get enough quality players. Rizzo has done a great job of picking up quality players.
“He doesn’t have anything he needs to prove to me. I’m sure that he wants to play. But [Bryce Harper] needs to play, most definitely. [Jayson Werth] is having an outstanding season. [Denard Span] is doing a great job defensively, his bat is picking up. I’m more concerned, with where we’re at in the standings, getting the young guys more at-bats than some of the veteran-type players.”