4/3/2013 11:26 P.M. ET
Johnson challenged to find work for bench players
By Tom Schad and Andrew Simon / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Early in the season, the Nationals are enjoying good health and plenty of off-days, which means that getting work for the team's bench could be a challenge for manager Davey Johnson.
"The tough thing is when you have a couple of young players on the bench with Tyler Moore, [Steve Lombardozzi]," Johnson said. "That's the tough thing, because they're used to playing every day.
"With a lot of off-days early, especially with the makeup of this ballclub, nobody wants to come out of the lineup."
Infielder Chad Tracy and outfielder Roger Bernadina have more experience in bench roles. Lombardozzi and Moore both were rookies last season, and Lombardozzi -- a utility man -- started 83 games and topped 400 plate appearances as he filled in for various injured players.
Johnson will use double switches, among other tactics, to find extra at-bats for his reserves. But so long as the Nationals stay healthy, he expects to be dealing with the issue all season.
Clippard, Storen share living space and bullpen roles
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to be their closer in the offseason, their focus shifted from the ninth inning to the eighth, where Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen would presumably split the role of setup man.
Clippard got his first crack at the eighth inning on Monday in the team's 2-0 win over the Marlins, during which he pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout and one walk. Storen answered with a scoreless eighth of his own on Wednesday night in the Nationals' 3-0 win over the Marlins. He also had one strikeout.
Before Wednesday's game, manager Davey Johnson further clarified the roles and how the bullpen is shaping up as a whole.
"Depending on the rotation, Storen's probably my backup closer, with Clip right there," Johnson said. "But basically, I like to divide the pen into A and B pens. So, like today, I'll lean more toward setting up with Storen, even with [Tuesday's] off-day.
"I like [having] a couple of long men. ... I sleep better at night in case something happens; a guy's warming up or something and gets injured, exits early or a line drive [comes] back at him. The long men are invaluable; they're kind of my security blanket."
Clippard and Storen split time last season as the team's closer. With Storen recovering from elbow surgery for much of the year, Clippard stepped in and had 32 saves. In the postseason, Storen saved Game 1 of the National League Division Series, against the Cardinals, and blew a save in Game 5.
The two right-handers, who are also close friends and roommates, said there's no eighth-inning job to be won. Both are prepared to pitch big innings and get big outs whenever they're called upon to do so.
"If I'm pitching the seventh and Drew's pitching the eighth, that doesn't mean he has a better job than me," Clippard said. "That's just not how it goes. You're getting outs in important innings regardless of whatever inning you're pitching, and that's how I see it."
Added Storen: "It's no different than what we've done before. Regardless of the situation, we know it's a big spot."
The ninth inning, however, still is Soriano's territory, and he's picked up saves in each of his first two games this season. Johnson is prepared to send Soriano out on consecutive days without hesitation, at least until he gets a better feel for the closer.
But should anything happen to Soriano, Clippard and Storen will be more than ready to fill in.
"I'm a reliever," Clippard said. "In that role you just keep an open mind, and whenever the phone rings, you've got to be ready."
When it comes to pitchers, Harper a quick study
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Left fielder Bryce Harper followed his two-homer performance in the season opener with another two-hit game in a 3-0 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night.
With those two hits -- a single in the first inning and a double in the eighth -- Harper has hit safely in 11 straight regular-season games dating back to last season, the longest streak of his career. He's also had seven multihit games during that span.
Part of the reason for this success is his ability to observe and analyze opposing starting pitchers. After going 4-for-14 against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco in 2012, Harper took him deep twice. Both home runs came on offspeed pitches, a slider and a curveball.
Harper went 1-for-2 on Wednesday against Marlins starter Kevin Slowey, whom he had never faced. He also doubled off reliever A.J. Ramos, who hit Harper in their only previous meeting.
"As I've seen him mature from last year to this year, I think he's learned not only more about the competition that he's facing but he's learning more about himself," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "He learns what he needs to do and what he needs to focus on and how he processes that information, and uses it for his advantage."
Harper didn't look at any film on Nolasco before Monday's game, but once again he showed a knack for figuring out pitchers over time. In his first and second plate appearances against starting pitchers in 2012, he hit .282 and .278, respectively. In his third and fourth times against the same pitcher, he hit .321 and .375.
"He's unbelievable," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We all know. I've already used all the adjectives [to describe him]."
Catcher shuffle: Suzuki, Ramos swap starts
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wilson Ramos caught the season opener on Monday, and Kurt Suzuki was behind the plate for the team's second game, on Wednesday night against the Marlins. That pattern could continue for a while, with manager Davey Johnson reiterating his plan to switch between the two.
"I've kind of mapped it out to them and told them they're going to just alternate early on," Johnson said. "That's a tribute, because I like them both. They're both great catchers, they both handle the staff very well, both bring a lot to the table. And especially with [Ramos], he's had a great spring coming back from that injury. This also gives him a little more time to regroup between starts."
Ramos, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last May, went 1-for-2 with a walk in Monday's 2-0 win over the Marlins. The 25-year-old hit .267/.334/.445 with 15 home runs as the regular catcher in 2011.
Suzuki was Oakland's primary backstop from 2008 until last Aug. 3, when he was traded to Washington. With Ramos hurt, he played every day and hit .267/.321/.404 with five home runs in 43 games. Now he will have to adjust to sharing time.
"You catch bullpens, do whatever you can do to stay in shape, hit extra," Suzuki said. "There's things you can do. It's obviously not the same as going out there in game situations, but there's ways you can stay sharp."
Suzuki handled his former A's teammate Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday, but Johnson suggested that he won't hold firm to keeping certain catchers with certain pitchers.
When he's not in the lineup, Suzuki plans to catch in the bullpen, not only to prevent rust but to get used to receiving the entire staff. During games he can watch hitters, paying attention to their tendencies and stashing information for future use.
His attitude about the situation is decidedly upbeat.
"Both of us deserve to play every day," Suzuki said. "Ramos is a great No. 1 catcher. I think we team up well together. I think we can both complement each other really well, and to keep us both healthy for the full season is what's important, and to help the team win ballgames. Whether I'm catching or Ramos is catching, there's always going to be ways we can help the ballclub win."
• Manager Davey Johnson said that center fielder Denard Span will have "pretty much a green light" on the basepaths, although he believes the team is too good offensively to be overaggressive with their legs. Span stole 17 bases last season and is 90-for-118 for his career.
"We're going to pick pitches to run on, stuff like that," Johnson said. "We don't want to give up outs."
Span, who went 1-for-2 with a double and two walks on Wednesday, attempted his first steal of the season in the fifth inning but was caught on a perfect throw from Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo.
• Zach Duke said on Wednesday that he doesn't feel any additional pressure as the only southpaw in the bullpen.
"I hope there's some expectation there," Duke said. "I don't really see it as pressure -- I see it as opportunity."
• Johnson said the team had some trouble with the heating system in the dugout prior to Wednesday night's game, which had a first-pitch temperature of 45 degrees.
The heater was out of propane, and after it was refueled, hitting coach Rick Eckstein "almost caught on fire."
"They didn't have the heater on down there, and then we tried to turn it on, and there's no propane," Johnson said. "And then our hitting coach almost caught on fire. ... He went down there and started talking to one of the hitters that was sitting close to the fire and he was standing close to the fire. It just fried [him]. His pant leg's all burnt out."
• Catcher Kurt Suzuki said after Wednesday night's game that his hit-by-pitch in the second inning did not actually happen.
The pitch by Marlins starter Kevin Slowey was up and in, and it appeared to graze Suzuki's chest and shoulder. Suzuki took a minute to collect himself before jogging to first base.
"It didn't hit me. I already told the umpire, so you guys can say that," Suzuki said. "He asked me. I said, 'No, it didn't hit me.' It kind of scared me. ... That was a little too close for comfort though, that's for sure."
Tom Schad and Andrew Simon are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.