Nationals putting pieces together; Storen may open on DL

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
SARASOTA, Fla. -- For those looking for a glimpse of how things will shake out for the Nationals in left and center field and beyond, manager Davey Johnson advises to begin paying attention on Sunday.

Following three consecutive days on the road and with opening day moving into focus, Johnson plans to begin playing his regular lineup as often as possible this week beginning with Sunday's game against the Mets.

Problem is, with their opener at Chicago a week from Thursday, the Nationals continue to be missing some pieces.

Time is running out for closer Drew Storen (elbow) to pitch enough to be on the opening day roster. Left fielder Michael Morse (right lat strain) has yet to play the field in a Grapefruit League game this spring, and center fielder Rick Ankiel (quad) has missed much of the past two weeks.

Ankiel was in Saturday's lineup here and, assuming good health from here on out, is expected to get most of the time in center field early for the Nats, with Jayson Werth staying in right field.

"It's still a little bit early, but I like what I see from him," Johnson said of Ankiel.

Brett Carroll? He's impressed Johnson enough to probably make the opening day club and maybe get some center-field at-bats against left-handers as part of a loose platoon system with Ankiel.

Roger Bernadina? He's had a terrible spring offensively (though with the Nationals, he's not alone) and is fighting to make the club. If Morse is able to make the opening day roster, Bernadina could be out of a job.

As for Storen, he's only made two appearances this spring -- and none since March 7. He was sidelined first with strep throat, then biceps soreness. A precautionary MRI on his right elbow this week revealed only joint inflammation, no damage to the ligament or tendon.

Johnson said Storen will not throw until Tuesday or Wednesday, leaving serious doubt as to whether the closer will have enough days left in the spring to be ready for the opener.

"I'm going to prepare for the possibility that he doesn't break with us," Johnson said. "I'm not saying it's out of the question for him to break with us. But I'm going to prepare myself with the possibility that Storen might not be my closer because of being cautious and making sure he's 100 percent right."

In that case, Brad Lidge, the former All-Star closer in Houston and Philadelphia, or Henry Rodriguez likely would become the ninth inning temp until Storen's return (think mid-April).

Johnson likes Tyler Clippard, an All-Star as a set-up man last summer, right where he is, pitching the seventh and/or eighth inning.

Sunblock Day? Spectacular run of weather continues. Game-time temp of 80 degrees and smokin'. Slather on that sunblock. And then re-apply later.

Likes: Phenomenal Bruce Springsteen show Friday night in Tampa. Absolutely phenomenal. Songs from the new Wrecking Ball record sounded great, and the set list was wild, including Talk to Me, Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?, Prove It All Night, Atlantic City and American Skin (41 Shots). Though Springsteen never mentioned it, the latter clearly was played in light of current events with the tragic shooting of Treyvan Martin in Sanford, Fla., in which the killer so far is free because the shooting was covered under Florida's horrid and chilling "Stand Your Ground" law. Then, when Springsteen introduced "the littlest Big Man" before Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Clarence Clemons' son, Jared, walked onstage with a tambourine in his hand, an already electric crowd went into overdrive. What a night. What a show. What a legend.

Dislikes: Gotta wait one month before my next Springsteen show!

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I will provide for you
"And I'll stand by your side
"You'll need a good companion now
"For this part of the ride
"Leave behind your sorrows
"Let this day be the last
"Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
"And all this darkness past
"Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
"Meet me in a land of hope and dreams"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Land of Hope and Dreams
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