Nats must keep bench players sharp

Nats must keep bench players sharp
March 17, 2013, 5:00 pm
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- There's a good side and a bad side to fielding a talent-laden lineup with regulars who all deserve to play every day. The good side: That deep lineup is capable of putting up big numbers on a daily basis. The bad side: It leaves precious few opportunities for reserves to get enough at-bats to stay fresh.

For a veteran like Chad Tracy, who has modeled himself into one of the game's best pinch-hitting specialists, it's not that big of a deal. But for young bench players like Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi, it can be more complicated.

So, is it going to be tough to keep all those guys fresh when there aren't obvious opportunities to work them into the lineup?

"Yes. If everybody's doing the things I know they're capable of doing, yes," manager Davey Johnson admitted. "But it's what they pay me to do: Try to keep them all sharp."

It helps that Lombardozzi and Moore have established some versatility, able to play multiple positions and not be confined to one spot on the field. Both learned how to play left field last season as rookies, and Moore has seen some time in right field this spring.

He was out there this afternoon against the Tigers and made the most of the opportunity. Moore clubbed a fourth-inning homer to left off starter Drew Smyly, his second of the spring. One inning later, he took reliever Duane Below deep to right field, his second homer in about 30 minutes.

Fully aware his playing time is about to diminish considerably, Moore knows he needs to get himself in regular-season shape right now.

"Yeah, our regular starters are probably going to be there the last week or so, so you want to get locked in," he said. "There's a sense of urgency. It's just good to get that done."

Between the two corner outfield positions and first base, Moore should be able to pick up an occasional start or two this year, provided Johnson can convince his regulars to take some days off.

That's going to be a particularly tough task when it comes to the Nationals' middle-infield duo. Both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa pride themselves on playing every single day and need serious coercing to take a seat on the bench.

"Desi and Espi, they like to play," Johnson said. "That's great. So do my guys on the bench."

Johnson was more reluctant to sit Desmond and Espinosa last season, when each was still trying to establish himself on the big-league stage. Now that they've proven themselves more, their manager is more willing to tell them to take a seat now and then and offer a backup like Lombardozzi the chance to play.

"Now is the time I can give guys a rest," Johnson said. "And I feel like the guys I'm replacing them with, there won't be that great a drop-off. That's when you have a very good ballclub."