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Nats sign Valverde to minor-league deal

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Nats sign Valverde to minor-league deal

Updated at 6:06 p.m.

ATLANTA — Seeking some experienced help for a bullpen that has struggled through the season's first three weeks, the Nationals have signed veteran Jose Valverde to a minor-league contract, general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed Wednesday evening.

Valverde, 37, has been at the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., for about a week, building his arm up after getting released by the Padres last month. The club will make a decision soon whether to send the veteran right-hander to a minor-league affiliate, the big leagues or whether to pass altogether.

"It was a minor-league deal, and we'll see where it takes us," Rizzo said. "If we can catch lightning in a bottle with him, it certainly would be a good story."

Valverde provides some low-risk insurance for a Nationals bullpen that has seen massive turnover in the last six months. The five relievers who threw the most innings for the club in 2014 are now all gone (Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins) or injured (Craig Stammen). Additionally, veteran right-hander Casey Janssen (signed over the winter to take over primary setup duties) has yet to debut due to tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.

Valverde's deal includes no guarantee he'll make the big-league roster, but if he convinces club officials he is big-league-ready over the next few weeks, he could be called up and provide some immediate veteran presence to a bullpen that is sorely lacking in experienced arms.

Aside from closer Drew Storen and 38-year-old lefty Matt Thornton, the Nationals bullpen currently consists of starter-turned-reliever Tanner Roark, second-year right-handers Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen and rookie left-hander Matt Grace. Grace is one of three relievers who has made his major-league debut for the Nationals in the last two weeks, along with recently demoted right-hander Rafael Martin and injured lefty Felipe Rivero.

Valverde is a 3-time All-Star with 288 career saves and a 3.27 ERA in 626 appearances with four franchises, but he has been woefully ineffective over the last two seasons with a 5.63 ERA in 41 combined games between the Tigers and Mets.

Originally signed by the Diamondbacks in 1997 out of his native Dominican Republic, the big reliever known as "Papa Grande" first made a name for himself in Arizona when Rizzo was scouting director.

"We saw him in the Winter Leagues," Rizzo said. "His velocity was there. He's got a track record. We've got a relationship with him. He's a guy I signed a long time ago, and I know he's a guy who will fit into any clubhouse he goes and pitches with."

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

Ryan Madson is the latest Washington National headed to the DL, turning the team's relief pitching rotation upside down even more than it already is. 

According to MASN's Dan Kolko, the 37-year-old is nursing a "lumbar nerve root irritation" injury and will sit out for 10 days. 

In response, the team has named Koda Glover as the closer, who was promoted from Triple-A Syracuse Wednesday. 

Glover gave up a game-ending solo blast to the Cardinals' Kevin DeJong Monday night. 

The night before, Madson was on the other end of David Bote's walk-off grand slam in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Cubs. 

As for Tuesday night, Glover's status remains unknown.

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