US Presswire photo
Utilityman Mark DeRosa may wind up starting at first base or in left field.
But that grand plan works only if every member of the Nationals' starting lineup is healthy and ready to open the season. Which is no certainty at this point.
With 10 days to go, the Nationals still don't know whether left fielder Michael Morse (lat strain) and first baseman Adam LaRoche (bone bruise in foot) will be in uniform in Chicago for Opening Day ... or in uniform in Viera rehabbing from their injuries.
LaRoche, for the moment, appears more likely to be ready than Morse. But either player's status could change in the coming days.
That uncertainty trickles down to the bench, because Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo are going to have to assemble a roster that can cover the loss (if only temporary) of either or both regulars.
As Johnson put it: "The equation has gotten a little more difficult."
The reserve who figures to benefit the most from an injury to either LaRoche or Morse is DeRosa, the 37-year-old utilityman who could wind up as the Nationals' Opening Day first baseman or left fielder. Healthy again after battling a wrist injury for two seasons, the veteran is enjoying a fine spring; he enters play today with a .348 average and .545 on-base percentage thanks to a team-high 10 walks in only 33 plate appearances.
DeRosa would be a capable fill-in should either LaRoche or Morse need to open the season on the DL. But what if both starters are out? That's when it gets more complicated.
Johnson has suggested he will mix and match at both positions under that scenario, using lefty-righty platoons in an attempt to maximize matchups. That could result in a combination of DeRosa and Chad Tracy (trying to make the club as a non-roster invitee) at first base and Roger Bernadina and Jason Michaels (also trying to make the club as a non-roster invitee) in left field.
Of course, there's also Carroll, a strong defensive outfielder who has impressed Johnson this spring with his arm and versatility. The 29-year-old has even volunteered to serve as emergency catcher, an offer that could gives Johnson the freedom to use Flores as a pinch-hitter without fear of running out of backstops.
And then there's Lombardozzi, still viewed by some in the organization as a future everyday second baseman in the majors but apparently destined to be a rookie utilityman this season. Johnson hopes to get the 23-year-old as many as 300 at-bats at as many as four positions: second base, shortstop, third base and left field (where Lombardozzi made his first career start yesterday).
How will this all shake out? The Nationals still don't know.
Suffice it to day, everyone in camp -- from the front office to the coaching staff to those potential bench players trying to squeeze their way onto the roster -- will be monitoring both Morse and LaRoche's progress this week, trying to figure out which 25 players wind up at Wrigley Field come April 5.