MIAMI -- Davey Johnson has been looking for ways to get his bench players more at-bats, but this wasn't what the Nationals manager had in mind.
With Bryce Harper and Denard Span each sidelined due to flu-like symptoms and Danny Espinosa still out with a bruised right hand, the Nationals are forced to start three backups in tonight's game against the Marlins, leaving Johnson with only two healthy players on his bench: pinch-hitter Chad Tracy and catcher Jhonatan Solano.
The Nationals are hopeful neither Harper nor Span is seriously ill, though each outfielder has been unable to keep food down since late last night. Span arrived at Marlins Park in mid-afternoon but was quickly sent back to the team hotel to rest. Harper arrived late, around 4:45 p.m., but did not take the field with his teammates for batting practice.
There's no telling at this point when either player will be ready to return to the lineup, but Johnson hopes they'll be back for Wednesday's series finale.
"I know it's been going around D.C., the same thing," Johnson said. "I hope it's just a 24-hour flu. But with some guys, it hangs on for two or three days."
Harper and Span had started each of the Nationals' first 13 games this season, and though Harper finds himself in an 0-for-13 slump, Johnson had no intention of giving his 20-year-old left fielder a night off.
Espinosa, meanwhile, remains out with a bruised right hand suffered Sunday when he was hit by a pitch. The second baseman said today the condition has improved, though the swelling has moved to his forearm. He's holding out hope he might play Wednesday, though Johnson said Friday in New York is more likely.
With those three regulars out, the Nationals are fielding a lineup that includes Jayson Werth leading off, Roger Bernadina in center field, Tyler Moore in left field and Steve Lombardozzi at second base.
Their only healthy bench players are a pinch-hitting specialist who can play the corner infield positions and a backup catcher, leaving Johnson to ponder what he would do if he needed another outfielder in an emergency. The manager went around asking his relievers if any of them could handle playing the field.
Consensus opinion was that either Craig Stammen or Ryan Mattheus would be the best choice, though Drew Storen was trying to make a case for himself. None of the options sounded particularly appealing to Johnson.
"It was just a conversation that didn't bear a lot of fruit," the manager said.