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Posted at 7:15 AM ET, 02/22/2011

A look at the Nationals' many bench possibilities

By Adam Kilgore
Morning brushback

As the Nationals begin full-squad workouts today, they seem to have few questions about the makeup of their opening day roster. A spot of two in their bullpen could be decided in the next five weeks. The state of left field will be sorted out. The backup catcher will be determined.

The most difficult area to predict, though, is probably the last spot or two on the Nationals' bench. It would be very surprising if the first 23 spots on the Nationals' roster didn't look like this:

1-12. Pitchers
13-14. Catchers
15. Adam LaRoche
16. Danny Espinosa
17. Ryan Zimmerman
18. Ian Desmond
19. Nyjer Morgan
20. Jayson Werth
21. Michael Morse
22. Jerry Hairston
23. Rick Ankiel

That leaves two spots for five players, leaving out long-shot minor league invitees:

stairs trot.jpg

1. Matt Stairs
2. Alberto Gonzalez
3. Laynce Nix
4. Roger Bernadina
5. Alex Cora

Bernadina sticks out on that list. I'm including him because, while it would be a surprise if he doesn't make the club, he does have an option remaining, which can always help sway a decision. Plus, his skills seem redundant with Ankiel's. Bernadina proved last season he can be a capable major leaguer, but there have been bigger surprises during spring training.

Using that as a disclaimer, let's consider what the bench competition looks like if Bernadina makes the team. The Nationals would have one spot for Stairs, Gonzalez, Nix and Cora.

If the Nationals want Stairs's imposing, left-handed bat off the bench, they would have to feel comfortable with Hairston's ability in the middle infield. He would become the only insurance behind Desmond and Espinosa, the latter being a rookie trying to take over a full-time starting job.

The other thing is, if Ankiel and Bernadina both make the team, then the Nationals could be overloaded with left-handed bats on the bench if they go with Stairs. And if the Nationals decide they need more security behind Desmond and Espinosa, or if they feel like Hairston will be needed often in the outfield, it would become a straight competition between Cora and Gonzalez.

There are almost too many "ifs" to cover all the scenarios that could unfold among those four or five players for one or two spots. As you can see, the decisions will be intertwined and reliant on how the Nationals' feel about other facets of their team. It'll be interesting to watch it all play out.

Yesterday, anyway, Manager Jim Riggleman gave Stairs something of an endorsement. He raved about Stairs's ability to change a game with his pinch-hitting. He also said Stairs has lost 20 pounds over the past two years.

Stairs has been pigeon-holed as a pinch-hitter, but the Nationals are confident that, in a bind, he could play the field. Nationals front office assistant special assistant Bob Schaefer saw Stairs play often last season in the National League West as the Dodgers' bench coach. He told the Nationals that Stairs would be serviceable at first base or left field.

"The way it's been told to me is, he'll never embarrass you in left field or first base," Riggleman said. "We're not looking to have him start games there during the season. But you get in those situations sometimes. If you get into extra innings, it could happen."


Boz finds out what the old hands of the Nationals' front office think about Bryce Harper.

In his first day, Harper went through a small workout and a big crowd.

Lenny Bernstein tried out to be Teddy at Saturday's Racing President tryouts.

By Adam Kilgore  | February 22, 2011; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Morning brushback  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Chien-Ming Wang makes a change, Cole Kimball throws heat, Ross Detwiler looks good
Next: Nationals full-squad workouts begin with all eyes on Bryce Harper


I really hope Stairs is not on the 25 man. His .213 batting average over the past two seasons is less than "imposing".
Heck, in terms of AVG and SLG, he's only a slight upgrade over SuperWillie.
We put such an emphasis on athleticism, and give one of our bench spots to Stairs? Maybe in one situation you need a power bat off the bench. But maybe in another you need speed, or a good option for leadoff. You gonna let Stairs lead off the 8th or 9th? And if he walks, you then gonna burn another bench spot for some speed?
It's goofy.
Keeping Stairs would be a huge contradiction.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 22, 2011 7:44 AM | Report abuse

I tend to think that Stairs does not make the team, but I'm not uncomfortable with a dedicated pinch hitter.

I think there's a chance of a trade before the season opens. Gonzalez, a catcher, or a pitcher may be moved for a player that makes the team. Injurries could also alter the equation.

Posted by: whatsaNATaU | February 22, 2011 8:25 AM | Report abuse

"Lenny Bernstein tried out to be Teddy at Saturday's Racing President tryouts."

Actually, Kilgore, he tried out to be George. RTFA.

Posted by: FeelWood | February 22, 2011 8:46 AM | Report abuse

What of Laynce Nix's chances? Fans in Cincinnati seemed a bit unhappy to see him go. Could he be a possible dark horse candidate to start over Morse and Bernadina?

Posted by: von_bluff | February 22, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Sunderland; I'm with you,with all the talk of the 11 Nats being more athletic how does a Matt Stairs help us and that batting average over the last two seasons doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the bench.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 22, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Nix's presence in camp gives some credence to the theory that there could be a trade coming and a short leash on Morgan. I don't think Nix is a starting outfielder, but he does seem to be a solid candidate as a backup. More likely he starts in AAA. Break glass in case of injury or trade.

Posted by: whatsaNATaU | February 22, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I miss biscuit - just sayin' - I'll get over it - heck of a lot easier to type....

Posted by: Sunderland | February 22, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Boswell said something utterly fascinating in his Harper article today. Talking about Davey Johnson, who is a Nats consultant I believe, Boswell called Johnson
"maybe the Nats' most widely respected baseball mind."
I thought this was incredible. Not Rizzo the GM, not Riggleman the manager but a consultant. Can you imagine this statement for other teams. Would you say it about the Os and Buck Showalter, the Phills and Charlie Manuel, Bud Black, Bruce Bochy etc. This was an unbelieveably telling statement. Especially considering the manager of the Nats has been around almost as long as Johnson. But does he really garner the respect needed? By the players, by those around him?
Boswell is very sharp and tricky when he wants to be.

Posted by: dovelevine | February 22, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

1. i knew our nats were beefing up the front office but do they really have an "assistant special assistant"? what's next, assistant to the traveling secretary? if so, where do i apply?

2. why is it a given that rick ankiel makes this team? last year a .232 BA in 240 plate appearances (only 211 ABs)? sounds more like alberto gonzalez to me. speaking of which...

3. alberto should absolutely be on this team IF he is ok w/ his role. w/ the two youths (did you say "utes"?) starting at both MI spots, hairston's flexibility is nice but do you really want him playing SS in a one run game? agonz's ++ glove and this team's emphasis on Defense makes him a must for the nats 25 man. his rick ankielish bat is only icing on the cake!

4. final roster should be:
23 - gonzo
24 - berny
25 - ankiel/stairs/nixd

Posted by: DCPowerGator | February 22, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

The fact that an over-the-hill 'roid addict like Ankiel gets the #23 spot while Bernadina is a "maybe" shows the dysfunctional side of the Rizzo-Riggleman tandem.

These guys act like they're gonna be in a pennant race, lol. Hey, I know, let's load up our bench with more geezers like Pudge. There are a few good reasons why Riggo has finished last 7 times in 11 seasons as a manager. Playing guys like Ankiel is one of them.

The future begins in 2012. 2011 is a dress rehearsal. Suit up the young guns and lose the Cardinal reject.

Posted by: howjensen | February 22, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who thinks Ankiel is a complete wast of time? Good or bad, Bernadina has put his time in. Early last season he was one of the lone bright spots of this AAAA club. Just because he has options does not mean you have to use them.

Posted by: hansenjo | February 22, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Nyjer Morgan??? What a big waste of time. Lousy OBP, lousy attitude, lousy player. Go away.

Put Werth in center (he'll be a way better CF than Morgan - and you people that think he won't be haven't got a clue about Werth's abilities), Morse in Right and a platoon system in Left.

Posted by: Dog-1 | February 22, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Dog-1; Here we go again another blogger late to the party about Nyjer where's his bad attitude? yeah he had a bad year last season but he had loads of company judging from their record and Werth isn't a CF'er he's better suited in RF how about we give Morgan a chance? damn talk about loser mentality.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 22, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

hansenjo; Good point, talk about your lack of loyalty and how does Ankiel even get in the mix about platooning without so much as picking up a bat or glove and proving himself. Roger Bernadina should be the starter in left and maybe he should be the starter over Nyjer(damn did i say that?)in CF anyway Rizzo has a funny way of showing his loyalty.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 22, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Werth isn't being moved to CF by Rizzo. That won't happen.

If Morgan loses his job in CF you could see a trade or Bernadina take over that spot.

Who knows how much to expect out of this lineup?

LaRoche hit 25 and 100 last year. Werth averages 27 and 99. Zimmerman can hit 25-30 with some protection.

But what about Desmond? 15 homers last year in a difficult transition to the majors. Can we expect 20 or more out of him once he is established at short?

What about Flores or Ramos behind the plate? Both have better power potential than the 39 year old Rodriguez.

Before the injury Flores looked like a guy that would hit 15-20 with a fairly high average.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | February 22, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"..the dysfunctional side of the Rizzo-Riggleman tandem."

Where in the story does it say that Rizzo and/or Riggleman have given Ankiel a spot on the 25 man roster? That spot was given and assigned by Kilgore. Go read the damn story again and get your facts straight bozo!!

Posted by: CHAMP1464 | February 22, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

dovelevine, I know it always excites you to find a chance to criticize the Nats, but you might want to rethink your attack on Rizzo and Riggleman based on Boz's description of Davey Johnson. Bottom line: "widely respected" includes name recognition and years of experience. Johnson's got the edge on Rizzo in that regard. As for Riggleman, was Davey Johnson a better manager? Hell, yeah. But there's a reason Davey Johnson's not managing now and I think it's because he doesn't want to. The Nats didn't choose Riggleman over Johnson because they're stupid. It's because Johnson wasn't interested.

Posted by: baltova1 | February 22, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse


Last year's bench was a MAJOR weakness. The unwritten story of the Nationals this year has been how Rizzo and company have really upgraded it.

Posted by: alecrogers1 | February 23, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

(a) I have no idea why Alberto Gonzalez is even at spring training.
(b) Ditty for Alex Cora. With Hairston there's no room for him.
(c) Nix is easily the best bet on the bubble. He can hit and field. I'm really unclear why Cincy let him go.

Posted by: alecrogers1 | February 23, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

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