Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina blasts his second homer of the day, leading the Nats to victory.
When others questioned whether Bernadina would ever enjoy a moment like this, Desmond remained confident.
"I've just been telling everybody the whole time this guy is going to be really good," Desmond said. "Just watch. Let him play and watch. People are like, 'Eh, we'll see.' But today, you saw it. He can hit the ball like that a lot. And he makes all the defensive plays. He's got a cannon of an arm. I mean, look at his body. He's the most-ripped guy in here."
Indeed, Bernadina looks the part. Lean and muscular, with a sweet left-handed swing and a nice gallop in the outfield, he looks like he should be a five-tool player in the big leagues.
But until today's 6-4 victory over the Mets -- Bernadina's coming-out party -- we just didn't have much evidence to support Desmond's claims. Yes, the 25-year-old would make a few nice plays in the field. And every once in a while, he'd square a ball up and hustle down the first-base line. But for the most part, he looked overwhelmed as a major leaguer.
Give the Nationals credit for sticking with Bernadina. That may be in part because the club has no real answer in right field at the moment, but team officials have wanted all along to get a good look at this native of Curacao, the longest-tenured player in the organization. Did you realize Bernadina was signed by the Montreal Expos in 2001, before Omar Minaya was even GM of the relocated franchise?
So when Bernadina crushed his first big-league homer in the fourth inning this afternoon, that alone was reason to celebrate.
"It's something I've been waiting a long time for," he said, surrounded by reporters and wearing the silver Elvis wig for the first time. "I was real excited when I hit it. Running the bases, I had things on my mind. That was great. I was real excited about it."
And Bernadina was just warming up. His diving, backhanded catch of Jeff Francoeur's bases-loaded line drive in the fifth saved the game. For the Nationals. For Craig Stammen, who was teetering on the brink of disaster. And for Jim Riggleman, who was trying to squeeze one last inning out of Stammen before turning things over to his bullpen.
"Bernie bailed me out there," the manager said.
"I played with him in the minor leagues, and I saw that all the time," said Stammen, who escaped allowing only four runs over five innings. "It's good to see him coming into his own and showing off his raw talent. He saved me a bunch of runs."
Across the Nationals' clubhouse, guys who played with Bernadina in the minors rave about him. They've seen him make spectacular catches. They've seen him hit (the guy had a .377 average at Class AAA Syracuse before his latest promotion). So no one was surprised when, after all he had already accomplished today, he stepped to the plate one last time in the ninth inning and launched a pitch from Francisco Rodriguez to deep right-center for the game-winning homer.
Bernadina entered the game with a .212 average and three RBI in 41 career games dating back to 2008. Injuries -- especially a nasty broken ankle suffered last year while making another great catch at Nationals Park -- had stunted his development. But now that he's finally getting an opportunity to play on a regular basis, he's beginning to believe in himself again.
"It's a confidence thing," Bernadina said. "I've started feeling more confident in the big leagues. That's why things are going better now."
Before today's game, Riggleman was talking to a couple of fellow coaches about Bernadina. "He's just too good to be sticking one out there every now and then," the manager said. "He's got too much talent."
So Riggleman made a bold prediction: Bernadina would hit a double and a triple today.
The manager was dead-wrong. He short-changed the guy three bases.
Was this Bernadina's coming-out party? Or was it just a once-in-a-career performance?
"It's one game," Riggleman said. "It's not a breakout. But it could be the start of something good. And it couldn't happen to a more wonderful kid."
Those who have been watching this soft-spoken youngster for years already know the answer.
"We haven't seen anything of what that guy can do yet," Desmond said. "Today was just a slight indication of what that guy can do. He's an unbelievable player. He's really good. Really good."