Updated at 6:46 p.m.
Needing to clear a roster spot for Chien-Ming Wang to make his first big-league appearance in more than two years, the Nationals optioned outfielder Roger Bernadina to Class AAA Syracuse shortly before tonight's game.
The option wasn't made official until minutes before gametime, on the off chance the Nationals made another move before then (a trade or an injury to someone else) but manager Davey Johnson informed Bernadina of the plan earlier in the day.
"A brief stint down there playing every day is not going to be a setback so much," Johnson said. "And it's really not a demotion. It's out of necessity, to keep other players here in this organization without having to make massive change."
Bernadina's demotion leaves the Nationals with a 13-man pitching staff, including six starters, for the moment. It also leaves them with only Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston as available center fielders.
That arrangement, though, was deemed necessary by team officials who feel the need to carry an extra pitcher for the moment.
"I'm more concerned about the welfare of the pitching staff and the bullpen than I am about matching up our offense against the opposing pitcher," Johnson said. "I still have a left-handed bat that can play center (Ankiel) and a right-handed bat that can play center (Hairston). So we're not as short there as we are in the bullpen. The bullpen has been overtaxed."
Bernadina was hitting .247 with five homers, 20 RBI, a .312 on-base percentage and 16 stolen bases in 71 games this season. He was hitless over his last 17 at-bats, but Johnson still spoke positively about him and suggested he'll be back in Washington soon.
This move could, however, precipitate a forthcoming acquisition of a center fielder before Sunday's trade deadline. The Nationals have held discussions with the Twins about Denard Span, the Rays about B.J. Upton and the Astros about Michael Bourn, according to club sources.