The “Shark” in a Feeding Frenzy Near Frisco Bay.
Several years ago Terry Byrom, broadcaster for the Harrisburg Senators, was kind enough to let me interview John Stearns, the manager of the team at that time. I was trying to get a read on Justin Maxwell, a local suburban Maryland player who had great promise as he worked his way through the Washington Nationals organization.
Maxwell has been trying to catch on for several seasons now with a variety of teams. He may be turning the corner in Houston, which will warm the hearts of many Nationals fans who know his story. But as is often the case, while ostensibly looking for greater depth about Justin Maxwell, I stumbled on something of greater interest: Roger Bernadina.
I watched batting practice with a friend, a former ballplayer, who was the first to draw my attention to Bernadina. The ball jumped off his bat and he took better swings than Maxwell. During the game that day, Maxwell played center and Bernadina right. Both players had plus speed, but Bernadina un-corked a throw from right that just left my friend and I gawking. He had a home run that day, stole a base and we came away thinking the Nationals had not one, but two very good outfield prospects playing for the Senators.
Since then both Maxwell and Bernadina have teased with their talents more than delivered. But both are now 28 and the 2012 season is a last chance for them to realize the vast potential they both showcased back in Double-A.
Roger Bernadina is now known as, “The Shark.” And frankly, last night there must have been blood in the waters outside AT&T Park in San Francisco, because there was a frantic feeding frenzy while Roger went 4-for-6 with a double and three RBI. He raised his average for the season to .296, a career best.
The Shark will do well to log 300 at bats for the Nationals this season. Something about this young Harper kid seems to be holding him back. Yet his numbers are impressive. His slash line of .296/.377/.398 is lacking only for the power that at other times he has shown during his short career. Washington Post beat writer, Adam Kilgore reported this week that Bernadina has switched to a lighter bat at the suggestion of fellow bench player, Mark DeRosa. DeRosa said that Bernadina, though ripped to the max, was struggling to wield the heavy lumber when he got so few at bats.
When I asked John Stearns about Bernadina that day in Harrisburg, almost as an after thought, he said that Roger had started playing baseball relatively late. Given how much the top prospects played in high school in the States, the young man for Curacao had a lot of catching up to do. Stearns thought he had the talent but predicted Bernadina would take longer to get there. Indeed he has, and the final results are not in yet, but the lighter bat seems to make Bernadina into less of a power hitter and more a player who can take advantage of his speed out of the left-handed batter’s box.
In his best season–2010–the Shark had 11 home runs in 414 at bats. The season he has only three, but his OBP is more in the latitudes a top-of-the-order hitter needs at .377. As Kilgore noted in today’s Post, the Washington outfield is getting crowded. The embarrassment of riches–having Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Michael Morse, and Tyler Moore competing for playing time with Bernadina–has allowed Washington to fill in for Morse and Werth when both missed significant playing time. But during the off-season other teams will come calling and Roger Bernadina may get his break some where other than in DC.
No matter what happens in the post-season, short of winning the World Series the Nationals will be under pressure to make the most of a full season of Stephen Strasburg in 2013. The trio of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Strasburg could be a powerful rotation if they can stay healthy, and with Ross Detwiler coming into his own, there is really only one slot left. Washington has $20 million coming off its payroll after this season in the contracts of Chien-ming Wang, John Lannan, and Edwin Jackson.
The conventional wisdom has them spending on a free agent outfielder. But they will also need a fifth starter. When other teams come calling, the Nats will be dealing from strength and have a shrewd reader of talent in Mike Rizzo to sort it all out. But I for one hope the Shark will be back. We are just learning the “chomping” motion when he comes to bat, and for his part, Bernadina is just beginning to sink those teeth in the flanks of NL pitchers. Let’s keep that feeding frenzy going.