March 2010

Bernie has chance to be right fielder for Nats

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said that outfielder Roger Bernadina has a chance to be on the 25 man-roster to start the season.

It helps that Bernadina is on a hot streak and has seen his batting average climb to .289 with two RBIs entering Saturday’s action against the Braves. Bernadina shortened his swing at the suggestion of hitting coach Rick Eckstein and it has paid nice dividends for the left-handed hitter. 

Because of Bernadina’s success of late, the Nationals may not be in a rush to acquire a right fielder. 

Riggleman did not say, however, if Bernadina would see most of the action in right field. As of now, Willie Harris is the right fielder against the Phillies on April 5. If Bernadina makes the team, he most likely will be part of a platoon in right field.      

“Roger is playing very well. He is really making a case for himself for that right field spot. He is running the bases well,” Riggleman said. “Rick Eckstein has really had an impact on him, especially the last 10 days. Roger has made a little adjustment at the plate. He took that to batting practice and it immediately took off [into a game].

As recently as March 17, the day right fielder Elijah Dukes was released, Bernadina wasn’t on the Nationals’ radar screen. In fact, they were thinking about sending him to Minor Leagues camp because he was off to a slow start. But the change at the plate convinced the organization to give Bernadina a longer look. 

Bernadina is a solid defender and, based on his Minor League numbers, is capable of holding his own at the plate. The 2008 season was his best, leading all Nationals prospects in hitting [.336], hits [151] and runs scored [78]. 

Last year was Bernadina’s big chance to make an impact on the big-league team, but he missed most of the season because of a fractured right ankle.

Guzman making a case to be starting shortstop

Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman played the first of two consecutive games Friday afternoon and was able to throw the baseball without any problems in a 7-4 victory over the Cardinals.

Guzman, who is recovering right shoulder surgery, had three assists and made two putouts in the game. Manager Jim Riggleman was encouraged by what he saw from Guzman. For most of the exhibition season, the team was concerned that Guzman’s shoulder wasn’t strong enough to make tough throws. Now, it appears Riggleman isn’t worried about Guzman’s shoulder.

“He is playing fine. His style of throwing is not to get up there and gun it. It’s not what he does,” Riggleman said. “The ball is getting across the infield nicely. He has a good velocity on his throws. Guzzie is doing fine.”

Entering Saturday’s action, the battle for the starting job at shortstop is between Guzman and Ian Desmond. So far, Desmond has the lead, hitting .300 and leading the team with 12 RBIs. If he is not the starting shortstop, Desmond will go to Triple-A Syracuse and play every day at the same position.

Guzman has played only 10 games this spring because of shoulder issues and he had to deal with family matters in Washington. He is 7-for-30 [.233] with a home run and four RBIs.
Riggleman said that he has to make a decision between Desmond and Guzman soon. If Guzman is not the everyday shortstop, the plan is to make him a utility player. Riggleman acknowledged that Guzman would have to take a “crash course” on how to play second base, a position Guzman has never played in his life. Guzman has played third base once and that was during the All-Star Game in 2008 at Yankee Stadium   

“If one of those two guys were on the ballclub and not be the shortstop, we need to get him some work some other places,” Riggleman said. “We need to make a call on it pretty soon.” 

Wang, Zimmermann have bullpen sessions

Nationals right-handers Chien-Ming Wang and Jordan Zimmermann had bullpen sessions Friday without any problems, according to pitching coach pitching Steve McCatty.   

Wang threw 30 pitches — all fastballs. It was his first session since Monday, when he threw 45 pitches. Wang was expected to throw Wednesday, but the session was postponed because of a sore right shoulder. Wang will have his next session Sunday at Space Coast Stadium.

After throwing 15 pitches Monday, Zimmermann threw 45 pitches Friday. It’s not known when Zimmermann will have another session in the bullpen.

“He looks great. He has to take it nice and slow and stay with the program. He is doing that,” McCatty said.      

Zimmermann is ahead of schedule in terms of making a comeback, but general manager Mike Rizzo told  Zimmermann that he would not pitch in a game until August.

Once Zimmermann returns, the Nationals are hoping that he and Stephen Strasburg become a one-two combination on the pitching staff by 2011.

Batista to be long man for Nats

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman all but announced Friday that right-hander Miguel Batista is his long man out of the bullpen even though the latter is not having a good Spring Training. 
With Batista expected to be placed on the 25-man roster on April 4, it means that the team’s bullpen is set with Batista, Jason Bergmann, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard. Riggleman also said Batista, 39, will be an emergency starter. 
Entering Friday’s action against the Cardinals, Batista has given up six runs in 9 2/3 innings, but has seven strikeouts. 

“For myself, I go on the track record of a long season,” Riggleman said. “Last year, he pitched very effectively for Seattle. He had [a 4.04 ERA] in the tough American League and handled a lot of roles. He pitched in the middle of the game, late in games and situational stuff. He is used in a lot of ways.

“He is a guy we are going to count on to do a lot of things for us when the bell rings. When he is out here pitching, we would like to see him get outs and all that. As much as anything, we want to make sure that he continues to be what he is, which is a guy with a rubber arm, who can pitch often and be a real staff savior for us.”

Batista has been a swing man since 1997 when he was with the Cubs. The manager at the time was Riggleman. While he doesn’t mind playing dual roles, Batista likes being a reliever because he can help the team on a regular basis.

“It has been kind of a curse in my career because everybody always think I have the mentality to switch back and forth, so I’ll be the first one they call,” Batista said. 

Batista signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals last January because of his professional relationship with general manager Mike Rizzo. The two won a championship together when they were with the D-backs in 2001. That year, Batista was a swing man, while Rizzo was the scouting director.   

According to Batista, Rizzo told the right-hander he was building something special in Washington, and Rizzo wanted Batista to be part of the organization.

“He saw me be a swing man back in 2001 and 2003. I was the best paid swing man in the game. Lot of people never looked at it that way,” Batista said. “I played for Riggleman. He told me, ‘I still have my fastball. You are a guy that is mentally strong to do this. Every team needs a guy like you. You’re my man.'”

A message from Elijah Dukes

I really want to tell the fans of DC, Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo thanks a lot for helping me out in many ways. I really grew up a lot because of those two guys. I also want to give a hug to Harolyn Cardozo and Willie Harris for the time that I needed people the most. A special thanks to them.                

Guzman to play often; Dunn may get defensive replacement

Cristian Guzman will start consecutive games at shortstop, according to Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. Guzman’s first game will be Friday against the Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium.  

Guzman has yet to start in consecutive games this spring because of family matters in Washington D.C. and he is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Guzman must show Washington that he can throw the ball hard on tough plays. If not, Ian Desmond will start the season as the everyday shortstop, while Guzman ends up as a utility player.

Trying to trade Guzman would be hard for the Nationals because he is making $8 million this season and has the right to veto any trade because he played in the Major Leagues for 10 years and five years for the Nationals.

* Riggleman said if the season were to start Thursday, he would use a defensive replacement in the late innings for first baseman Adam Dunn.

Riggleman declined to name the replacement, but Mike Morse and Josh Willingham are guys who have experience at the position.
“We have enough choices to do it,” Riggleman said. “But I’m not really having a lot of people do that kind of stuff yet because I want Adam to take it upon himself to convince us we don’t need to be doing it anyway.”      
* Right-hander Garrett Mock pitched against the Astros in a Minor League game Thursday and was hit hard. 

After having a solid first inning in which he threw 10 pitches, Mock left the ball up in the strike zone and gave up three home runs. He left the game after four innings.

“It was windy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the groundball outs were hit fairly hard,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He got some balls up and didn’t get ahead in the count. And that’s what happened. It really wasn’t a good start.”

Mock pitched in the Minor league game in order to give right-hander J.D. Martin a chance pitch on the big-league side.            

MacDougal arrives at Space Coast Stadium

A day after agreeing to terms on a Minor League deal with the Nationals, right-hander Mike MacDougal arrived at Space Coast Stadium early Thursday afternoon and was greeted warmly by first baseman Adam Dunn, left-hander Ross Detwiler and clubhouse manager Mike Wallace. 

Last season, MacDougal was Washington’s closer, saving 20 games with a 3.60 ERA. He was arbitration eligible after the season, but was non-tendered in December because the team wasn’t sure if he would recover from offseason hip surgery. 

MacDougal said he is healthy, but must find a way to fix his mechanics. He gave up five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings this spring before he was unconditionally released by the Marlins on Tuesday.

“I have thrown a few times this spring and I haven’t felt [any pain].” MacDougal said  “I feel like I’m getting back into the flow of throwing. I want to throw as much as possible.

“I have a little bit of [a command problem] this spring. The ball is down and it’s sinking good. My arm is healthy and my legs are healthy. I think I need innings. I just need to pitch.”

Martin to start against Tigers

The Nationals have decided to let right-hander J.D. Martin start against the Tigers on Thursday night at Space Coast Stadium. It will be his first Major League outing of the spring since March 10 against the Cardinals.

In that game, Martin gave up two runs in three innings. Overall, he has pitched five innings and hasn’t walked a batter.    
Martin hasn’t been able to pitch because of rainouts and there were too many pitchers in camp. However, he has spent most of his time pitching on the Minor League field. Martin is trying to be on the Opening Day roster as a starter or long man out of the bullpen.

“It feels good to actually get into [a Major League game],” Martin said. “I’ve been throwing those intrasquad games the last couple of weeks. It hasn’t been two frustrating. I don’t let it bother me really. I just try to be patient with it.”

Last year, Martin pitched a combined 165 innings — a career high — for Triple-A Syracuse and the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman believes Martin’s was tired toward the end of the season, but the stats don’t back up that theory. Martin had a respectable 4.23 ERA in his last seven starts. 

“Last year was the most I’ve ever thrown in a season,” Martin said. “I felt I was a little bit tired, but I felt I handled it well. I still got the job done.”

MacDougal back with Nationals [updated]

The Nationals have signed right-hander Mike MacDougal to a Minor League contract Wednesday with an invitation to big-league camp. He will arrive at Space Coast Stadium the next day.

Last season, MacDougal was Washington’s closer, saving 20 games with a 3.60 ERA. He was arbitration eligible after the season, but was non-tendered in December because the team wasn’t sure if he would recover from offseason hip surgery. 

MacDougal, 33, then signed with the Marlins and gave up five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings this spring before he was unconditionally released by the club Tuesday. MacDougal’s agent, Rex Gary, and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo started talking soon thereafter.

“I’m feeling good,” MacDougal said. “Hopefully, when I get there, I will get as many innings as possible before Spring Training is out. We’ll then determine where I’m at.”  

Does MacDougal have a chance to be on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster? Manager Jim Riggleman isn’t sure.

“I know we’ll get a look at him,” Riggleman said. “With what he did for us last year, we certainly can’t dismiss that. He’ll certainly get the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think health is an issue. He wouldn’t have been pitching for the Marlins if he wasn’t healthy.”

If MacDougal isn’t put on the 25-man roster, he would report to the Minor Leagues, but he has an out clause in his contract.

“We’re not going to tell you what the date is, but it’s not three weeks,” Rizzo said. “It’s beyond that, but he does have an out with an understanding that if it’s not working, then he can exercise it.” 

After MacDougal left Washington, the Nationals signed right-handers Matt Capps and Brian Bruney to be the closer and setup man, respectively. MacDougal said he still would like to continue to be a closer, but it’s OK if he plays a different role on the team. 

“I obviously love closing, MacDougal said  “But at this point, I like pitching better. I just want to pitch and all that will take care of itself. I want to help the team win.” 

Three things to look out for Monday

* Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will have his first bullpen session of the spring. He will throw 10-15 pitches — all fastballs.

* Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will have another bullpen session. On Friday, he threw 45 pitches without pain. Wang would like to improve his delivery, however.

* The Nationals will have their fifth round of cuts. If not Monday, then Tuesday for sure.