- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

The Nationals knew they had two weeks to make a decision on their backup catcher before right-hander Jordan Zimmermann came up from Class AAA Syracuse to make his major league debut.

The derby between Wil Nieves and Josh Bard is over: Nieves was crowned the winner Sunday.

Bard was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse after the game, the only move in a flurry of changes that had little to do with the Nationals’ performance in a weekend sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins.

After being waived by the Boston Red Sox, Bard was signed during spring training to compete with Nieves for the backup job behind Jesus Flores. He hit .200 in seven games, playing more than Nieves presumably so the Nationals could showcase Bard to any interested buyers.

Instead, he will have to claw back to the majors from Syracuse.

“I’m definitely disappointed, but I understand they have to make a move,” Bard said. “There’s options involved. I have one, and other guys didn’t.”

Bard said he has an option to be released from his contract May 1 but didn’t say whether he would exercise it to try to catch on with another team.

“That’s 11 days from now,” he said. “A lot can change in 11 days.”

Bernadina out, Maxwell in

Outfielder Roger Bernadina had two long screws put in his right ankle Saturday night to repair the fracture he sustained while making a catch in the eighth inning that afternoon. He sat in the Washington clubhouse Sunday morning, his right foot in a cast and crutches by his side, as a long line of Nationals players stopped to shake his hand and wish him a speedy recovery.

“It’s crushing because he not only made so much improvement, but he’s a great kid,” manager Manny Acta said. “He goes out there, makes a great catch, gets a good double the other day - and then he’s gone again.”

Bernadina said he expects to be out at least two months. His departure cleared the way for Justin Maxwell to start his second stint with the major league club and his first since a Sept. 2007 call-up. The 2005 fourth-round pick found out Saturday night that he was getting called up from Class AAA Syracuse.

He left shortly after 8 p.m., drove with his wife and son to Olney, where he grew up, and was in bed by 2 a.m. He made the 45-minute drive to Nationals Park early Sunday morning, hoping to get his locker ready before the veterans arrived.

“A lot of people just assume guys will fly in and get to sleep that night,” Maxwell said. “But I’ve got coffee, so I should be all right.”

Maxwell hit .269 with two homers and five RBI in 15 games in 2007. He missed most of last season with injuries, but acting general manager Mike Rizzo said the 25-year-old remains a prospect because he has missed so much time.

Maxwell played Sunday, entering as part of a double switch in the seventh inning and replacing Elijah Dukes in center field. He flied out in his only at-bat.

Lastings Milledge, who was optioned to Syracuse on Tuesday, wasn’t considered for the call-up because he hasn’t seen enough action to fix the swing problems that got him off to a .167 start with 10 strikeouts.

Rizzo backs Acta

Despite the Nationals’ 1-9 record as of Sunday morning, Rizzo gave a brief vote of confidence to Acta when asked what he thinks of the third-year manager’s performance.

“I support Manny Acta, and so does the organization as manager,” Rizzo said. “He’s a good young manager, and I think he’s handled this ballclub great.”

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