Friday, September 17, 2010

Rick Eckstein--Teaching Bernadina How To Fail The Right Way

Signed at the age of 18 by The Montreal Expos out of his native Curacao in 2001, Roger Bernadina has taken the long circular route to the Major Leagues. Every step of the way to the Big Leagues, including finally wearing the uniform of Our Washington Nationals in 2008, Bernadina reached through struggles. Then, when opportunity came his way to possibly nab a starting centerfield position every day in D.C. for 2009--he broke his ankle making a spectacular catch off the centerfield wall against The Florida Marlins.

For the 8th straight season, Roger Bernadina had to start all over again, but he didn't give up. Now, a little over one year later, with just two weeks now remaining in the 2010 season, Roger Bernadina has found a home in Washington, playing regularly, showing pop in his bat, while continuing to display a quality glove and arm in the outfield. He's made Our Washington Nationals seriously consider whether he's a core player for their future.

Recently, Nats320 sat down with both Roger Bernadina and Nationals Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein to discuss Roger's success this season. How did he reach this point? What adjustments did Bernadina need to make to become a better all-around Major League player. First up to chat will be Rick Eckstein--who emphasized how important it's been to teach Roger Bernadina how to fail the right way at the plate.

With that here is Nats320's conversation with Rick Eckstein about Roger Bernadina:

Nats320: Of all the players on Washington’s roster in 2010, in our opinion, no one has improved themselves on the Major League roster more than Roger Bernadina, especially when it comes to his hitting and power at the plate. What have you been working with him on?

Rick Eckstein: First of all, it’s an attribute to him, his work ethic is second to none. He really, really puts his time in and makes good adjustments. We talk about things in his approach and the things that we work on to have a plan inside the cage (during batting practice). Every day, he gets direction toward bringing the swing that he wants to bring to the field. But the credit goes to him. He’s just a wonderful player, hard worker, great teammate, makes adjustments and has just shown an incredible ability to always improve by handling the mental side of things. He’s really been a bright spot for the future. Now he’s got to keep making those adjustments. We have got to keep plugging away. But he’s been a real pleasure to work with.

Nats320: What's been interesting about Roger Bernadina is that he’s always failed initially at each step of advancement in professional baseball. Each time he's been sent down to the lower level, he comes back a better player. He basically was struggling again at the beginning of this year. Has he reached his comfort level?

Rick Eckstein: There is a point in everybody’s baseball career where you understand what you need to do to succeed and you have the focus. To be successful you ultimately go through some tough periods to really understand what it is you really need to focus on and what it is you really need to do. And for a lot of young players, they do so many different things trying to find that one thing that it takes them in a circle so to speak. What we try to do (as coaches) is try to identify those key components that help him offensively and really focus on that. The best hitters in the game fail seven out of 10 times, so it’s ultimately learning how to fail the right way to lead to that success that you are looking for.

Nats320: Has Roger’s power surprised you?

Rick Eckstein: No, it’s hasn’t surprised me. He’s a line drive hitter, that’s what he is. And those line drives seem to carry. When he is in a good position his line drives keep carrying. So as he learns himself and as he develops--he’s just so quick, he’s got a quick short swing--he’s got tremendous strength and a great athletic body--we look for him to continue to improve, continue to learn and mature into that middle of the order bat that we think the potential is there to be.

Nats320: So you do see him as a middle of the order bat and not a leadoff man anymore?

Rick Eckstein: Well, you never know because he runs so well. You look at him initially and you say: ‘Wow, he could hit at the top of the order.’ But then you realize he is a gap to gap guy that can hit a lot of doubles with his speed and wheels. And the baseballs he hits tend to jump at times which makes you think that, one day, he could consistently hit between third and sixth (in the lineup). Right now he’s hitting in the five-hole and he’s doing a nice job. But to me, he’s a very versatile guy.

Nats320: Where do you see him being most comfortable in the field since he’s played different positions?

Rick Eckstein: That's why I see him as being so versatile. I mostly look at him from the offensive side and I really don’t pick apart watching him on defense, but I know that every time he’s gone out there--whether it be left, center or right, he always looks like he’s in the right position. He always looks like he’s doing something to help the team win. And you just sit back and you go--’Wow!’

Nats320: From the Wow Factor, working with him in spring training and how far he’s travelled to get to this point now, are you wow’d he’s done so well?

Rick Eckstein: Am I surprised? No. Am I excited about what his potential looks like? Absolutely! Absolutely! Again, it’s a constant every day. It’s a constant work ethic. It’s a constant adjustment. And he has those characteristics about himself that he’s going to push himself that way. So I am really excited about what he has to offer to this team in the future. But it’s still a day-to-day work ethic. It’s a day-to-day focus. It’s a day-to-day execution.

Nats320: He has displayed so many good tools.

Rick Eckstein: Absolutely. There isn’t anything on the field that he can’t do.

Nats320: He can run. In fact, he can absolutely fly. He can throw, He can hit, He now hits with power. Two years ago, people probably didn’t see him with that potential. Maybe some good skills back then, but not as an all-around player.

Rick Eckstein: Due to hard work on his part, he’s showing all the signs you like to see. It’s his continued growth and that’s all you can really hope for (as a coach). You want to see him get better, get better, get better, and then ultimately put himself, and ourselves, into position to be a contender.

With that final answer--Nats320's Conversation With Rick Eckstein about Roger Bernadina concludes. Later on Nats320, Our Conversation With Roger Bernadina about his 2010 success.

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