Nationals Lose Then Make Moves

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, August 01, 2008 | , , , , , , | 3 comments »

Washington--The result of Thursday's 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies was consequential only in that it was the 70th of the season for the Washington Nationals, the first team in the majors to reach that mark in 2008. But the greater purpose, as fans as team officials and fans go, was the activity after yesterday's game as the Nationals made several roster moves that could affect this organization for several years and truly begin, in earnest, the structure for rebuilding the franchise into a competitive force in the National League East.

The Nats issued a press release, without much flair or fanfare, just before 11:00 pm stating they would activate Elijah Dukes from the 15-day disabled list and newly acquired middle infielders Alberto Gonzalez and Emilio Bonifacio from the minor leagues. The corresponding moves have been much anticipated by the Nationals dedicated fan base -- some might say from the very beginning -- as the team released C/1B Paul LoDuca and MI Felipe Lopez, along with giving C Johnny Estrada his outright release after designating him for assignment last week.

Dukes, 24, went 5-for-15 (.333) with two doubles, one RBI, two walks and a .412 on-base percentage in four rehab contests with Columbus. For the Nats this season, Dukes is hitting .263/.367/.434 with six home runs, 20 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 175 at bats.

LoDuca, 36, was the target of many fans' ire this season from the day of his signing as a free agent this winter to a one-year, $5MM contract. Many fervent Nats supporters saw the move by General Manager Jim Bowden as accomplishing nothing but blocking talented -- but young -- catcher Jesus Flores from having an every-day job in the big leagues. When Bowden went out a couple weeks later and inked Estrada, he announced that Flores would spend all of 2008 in the minors, honing his craft and working with the young pitching talent the Nats have stockpiled, in hopes of building a strong repertoire with the kids in the system. The complete opposite has happened, as LoDuca and Estrada spent much of the first half of the season injured and ineffective, and Flores has blossomed into the team's leading run producer, pacing the squad in RBIs, currently with 45, to go along with seven home runs and averages of .281/.330/.455. LoDuca finished his brief stint with the Nats hitting .230 in 46 games with no home runs and twelve RBIs.

The second release had to pain Bowden as much as any transaction he's made, as he released MI Felipe Lopez, a player he has traded for twice. Lopez, long on tools but lacking in motivation and consistency, batted .234/.304/.313 this season with two homers and 25 RBIS, stealing only four bases and playing poorly and distracted in the field, whether it was at shortstop -- his stated preferred position -- or at second base. Lopez has seen his career spiral downward the last several seasons, cumulating with his release from the worst team in baseball yesterday. The former all-star with Cincinnati is a career .259 hitter.

LoDuca, Lopez and Estrada made roughly $11MM combined this season.

GM Jim Bowden tried in vain for the last several days to find trading partners for the veterans, but to no avail. He found the market dry, and with the Nats getting worse instead of better in the standings, Bowden decided it was time to cut bait on the veterans and start swimming with young fishes he had been able to pry away from other organizations.

Thursday morning, in the sole MLB trade deadline deal he was able to accomplish, Bowden acquired SS Alberto Gonzalez from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Jhonny Nunez. Gonzalez, 25, was rated the top defensive player in the Yankees system. Gonzalez played in 28 games during a pair of stints with the Yankees this season and batted .250 (47-for-188) with eight doubles, four home runs and 23 RBI in 47 games with Scranton/W-B of the Triple-A International League in 2008.

The other new acquisition, Emilio Bonifacio, joins the team as well for Friday. He was recalled from Triple-A Columbus where he was tearing up the International League. Bonifacio batted .452 (14-for-31) with a double, three RBI, four walks, four stolen bases, nine runs scored and a .514 on-base percentage in eight games with the Clippers. Bonifacio, 23, came to the Nats from the Arizona Diamondback in the trade that sent Jon Rauch to the D-backs bullpen.

Thursday's game saw John Lannan (L, 9-11, 3.61) roughed up for one of the few times this season. Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth both touched Lannan for home runs, and Lannan finished his evening pitching five and two-thirds innings, allowing eight runs -- six earned -- on nine hits and three walks. He struck out seven Phillies. The Nats contributed three throwing errors to the cause, Ronnie Belliard's eighth of the season, Ryan Zimmerman's third and Flores' fourth.

Kyle Kendrick got the win for the Phillies. His record improves to 9-5 with a 4.59 ERA. He went six and two-thirds, giving up just two earned runs on seven hits and one walk, striking out four.

Washington opens a three-games series with the Cincinnati Reds Friday night, minus hometown hero Ken Griffey, Jr. who was traded at the deadline yesterday to the Chicago White Sox. Odalis Perez (3-8, 4.387) faces Homer Bailey (0-4, 6.52) for the Red Legs. Game time is 7:35 pm.

NATS NOTES: The Nationals fall to 38-70 with Thursday's loss. They are 21 games behind division-leading Philadelphia, and 2.5 games behind Seattle for the worst record in baseball.

All-star SS Cristian Guzman is still sidelined with a bruised left thumb and did not play.

3B Ryan Zimmerman was hit on the right hand with a pitch in Thursday's game. He took his base after the play and his hand was immediately and visably bruised and swollen as he stood at first base. He later scored and returned to the dugout, where he then left for medical attention. The team released a statement saying that X-rays were negative, and doctors have diagnosed a contusion (bone bruise). He's listed as day-to-day.

Photo of Lopez courtesy A. Amobi, DC Sports Box.

3 comments

  1. Chris // August 1, 2008 at 1:17 PM  

    This is the first step. The next step is not signing guys like Estrada/LoDuca in the first place. Good move to jettison all 3 of them.

  2. Anonymous // August 4, 2008 at 3:56 PM  

    I thought Flores was a Rule 5 player and thus had to remain on the major league roster. What the hell was Bowden talking about sticking him in the minors?

  3. Bill Giles // August 4, 2008 at 3:59 PM  

    So what you're saying is next year will also be a major rebuilding year. When is the Lerner/Kasten/Bowden long term plan going to be realized? They're well into year 3 by my count. 2009 will be year 4. No wonder only 9,000 people watch the games on TV. The Nats' slogan is "come watch us in 2010....maybe."