May 2009

Dukes getting better; Hernandez can't grip bat

Manager Manny Acta said that outfielder Elijah Dukes’ left hamstring is getting better. Dukes was able to do his running drills without any problems on Saturday afternoon. Dukes is expected to run the bases on Sunday and then go to the team’s complex in Viera, Fla. to work out.    

“He looks very good. He changed directions in every type of drill that we put him through. He felt really good. The hamstring didn’t tighten up or anything, so he is pretty much ready,” Acta said.     

Second baseman Anderson Hernandez was not in the lineup for the second straight day because of a sore right pinky. Manager Manny Acta said Hernandez couldn’t grip a bat. There isn’t any talk of putting Hernandez on the disabled list.

Catcher Jesus Flores, on the disabled list because of a right shoulder contusion, is expected to begin his rehab assignment at Double-A Harrisburg.

Nick Johnson continues to be subject of trade rumors

Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson continues to be the subject of trade rumors. There was talk of Johnson going to the Red Sox for reliever Manny Delcarmen, but the deal fell through, according to published reports.

There is also speculation that the Mets may have interest in Johnson after Carlos Delgado was lost for 10 weeks due to hip surgery. However, for now, the Mets plan to stick with Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis at first.

A baseball source said if Murphy and Tatis are not productive, the Mets plan to call the Nationals about Johnson.

The Nationals have been trying to trade Johnson since last winter. When the Nationals signed Adam Dunn to a two-year $20 million contract last February, the plan was to put him at first base and make Josh Willingham the everyday left fielder.

But Johnson is still with Nationals and off to the best start of his career. Entering Saturday’s action against the Orioles, Johnson is hitting .336 with four home runs and 25 RBIs. He is in the last year of a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

“He is an extremely valuable player. He is fourth or fifth in the league in hitting,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We need him here and we like him here. If someone overwhelms us with a deal that we can’t refuse, of course, we are going to listen to a deal about Nick or anybody else. He is an extremely valuable player for us.”

Mock back in starting rotation

The Nationals have decided to make right-hander Garrett Mock a starter for Triple-A Syracuse. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals want to give Mock multiple innings in order to get his command back on all his pitches.

Mock is familiar with the role. He started three games for Washington last year before becoming a reliever.  

“It gives us another 40-man roster guy that he has been stretched out as a starter. He has experience as a starter,” Rizzo said. 

Mock was sent down to Syracuse on Wednesday night after posting a 6.92 ERA in 13 games. He also had difficulty throwing strikes, walking eight batters in 13 innings.

Saturday's lineup against Orioles

Cristian Guzman, ss

Nick Johnson, 1b

Ryan Zimmerman, 3b

Adam Dunn, lf

Austin Kearns, rf

Willie Harris, 2b

Josh Bard, c

Justin Maxwell, cf

Ross Detwiler, p  

Nationals interested in Crow

Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged on Friday that he had talks recently with advisors Randy and Alan Hendricks about the possibility of selecting their client, right-hander Aaron Crow, in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

Washington drafted Crow last year, but both parties couldn’t reach an agreement by the midnight ET deadline on Aug. 15.  

This time, Crow must sign a re-consent form to allow the Nationals to select him on June 9.

The Nationals have been scouting Crow for several weeks. He is now pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

By not signing Crow last year, the Nationals will get the No. 10 pick in this year’s Draft as compensation.

Willingham, Kearns continue to split time in outfield

Nationals sluggers Josh Willingham and Austin Kearns have been battling for playing time in the outfield all season. So far, it looks like Willingham is winning the battle — at least for the month of May. 

Willingham has started eight-straight games in left field and is hitting .260 with five home runs and seven RBIs this month.

Kearns missed time because of a left hand injury, but once he recovered, Kearns has remained on the bench. Kearns has a .190 batting average with four RBIs during the month of May.

In the meantime, manager Manny Acta has yet to decide who will play every day between the two players.

“Don’t try to make a story out of this,” Acta said. “We are going to continue to give both guys playing time. Until one of those guys takes off and makes me put him in the lineup every single day, they are going to split time.”   

Flores ready to play; Hernandez baffled by injury

Catcher Jesus Flores, on the disabled list because of a right shoulder contusion, took batting practice and was able to throw the baseball without any problems on Friday.

The plan was to let Flores rehab the shoulder at the team’s complex in Viera Fla., but it looks like he will have a rehab assignment with one of the Minor League team starting Monday.

“I’m happy that I started doing everything [as far as baseball activities]. Right now, we are all excited to start playing,” Flores said.

Second baseman Anderson Hernandez still doesn’t know how he dislocated his right pinky on Thursday against the Pirates. In the fourth inning, Hernandez grounded out to third baseman Andy LaRoche for the final out. As he was taking his batting glove off, Hernandez noticed that the finger was bent backward. He left the game and was replaced by Ronnie Belliard.

Hernandez said on Friday the pinky is sore, but could play if needed. 

“It was scary. It never happened to me before. I just got scared. I thought it was broken,” Hernandez said.

Friday's lineup against Orioles

Cristian Guzman, ss

Nick Johnson, 1b

Ryan Zimmerman, 3b

Adam Dunn, rf

Josh Willingham, lf

Ronnie Belliard, cf

Josh Bard, c

Justin Maxwell, cf

Jordan Zimmermann, p 

Thursday's lineup against Pirates

Cristian Guzman, ss

Nick Johnson, 1b

Ryan Zimmerman, 3b

Adam Dunn, rf

Josh Willingham, lf

Willie Harris, cf

Josh Bard, c

Anderson Hernandez, 2b

Craig Stammen, p 

Cabrera out of rotation; Stammen to get start Thursday

The Nationals have decided to take right-hander Daniel Cabrera out of the rotation and make him a long man out of the bullpen. Cabrera’s inability to throw strikes is the reason for the demotion.

Cabrera is 0-5 with a 5.95 ERA and leads the National League in walks [32] and wild pitches [nine].  

Washington wants Cabrera to work on his delivery with pitching coach Randy St. Claire. When he has a quick delivery, Cabrera is able is able to throw strikes. When he slows it down, Cabrera has a tendency to walk too many batters. 

“We spoke to Daniel yesterday and we hope to relax him [in the bullpen] so he can continue to work [with Randy] and earn his way back in the rotation,” manager Manny Acta said.

With Cabrera out of the rotation, right-hander Craig Stammen will get the start against the Pirates on Thursday. It will be Stammen’s Major League debut. Stammen, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, was 4-2 with a 1.80 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse.  

With on Stammen on the roster, it means the Nationals’ rotation is filled with second year players and rookies.