PHILADELPHIA — Roger Bernadina never wanted to leave the Nationals, the organization that signed him as a teenager and retained him for 12 years. But the outfielder understood why Washington released him two weeks ago and has embraced his new affiliation with the Phillies.
"Of course you want to be in the organization. Of course I wanted to be there as long as I can," Bernadina said Monday before facing his former team for the first time. "I didn't do whatever I needed to do, and now I'm here getting a new opportunity to show them."
Signed by then-Expos general manager Jim Beattie as a 17-year-old in 2001, Bernadina had been the longest-tenured member of the Nationals organization, developing into a key member of last season's NL East championship squad when he hit a career-best .291 while regularly making highlight-reel plays in the outfield.
But Bernadina, who missed nearly all of spring training while playing for his native Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, got off to a rocky start this season and never found his stroke. He hit .178 with a .247 on-base percentage and .270 slugging percentage in 85 games, then started wasting away on manager Davey Johnson's bench.
Over his final 41 games in a Nationals uniform, Bernadina received only 20 plate appearances.
"He didn't get as much playing time early, because we had a set lineup, but he should've been used to that," Johnson said. "It looked like early on was guessing for pitches, because he wasn't as aggressive. ... They've been throwing him a lot of changeups and offspeed stuff, and I think he missed a lot of fastballs because he started getting into that guessing game."
The end came August 19, when the Nationals made a surprising waiver claim of fellow outfielder David DeJesus and released Bernadina to clear space on their roster. DeJesus was traded to the Rays only four days later, though team officials said Bernadina was set to be released anyway in another transaction.
Bernadina insisted he harbors no ill will toward Johnson or the Nationals.
"No, I never had a problem," he said. "I think Davey's a great manager. But I guess he had his favorite, and I don't think I was maybe in his plan, or whatever it was. Still, I cannot look back to it. No, I never had any problem with him. I think Davey's a great manager."
Bernadina signed with the Phillies only two days after the Nationals released him and has since become a mainstay in their lineup. He enters Monday's game with 47 plate appearances in only 11 games, though he's hitting just .140 with two homers and five RBI.
The man nicknamed "The Shark" who became something of a cult hero in Washington was looking forward to catching up with former teammates over the next few days and making his return to Nationals Park in 11 days.
"Of course, I love my teammates, I love the fans in D.C.," Bernadina said. "I'm looking forward to going over there and seeing my ex-teammates again. It's something you'll always have. Of course I'll miss that, no doubt."