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Rizzo and Span talk about the trade

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Rizzo and Span talk about the trade

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and new center fielder Denard Span each held a conference call with reporters this evening to discuss today's trade with the Twins. Here are some highlights from both men...

MIKE RIZZO
Were you surprised this trade came about quickly, and how did it come about?
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised to get it done quickly. We've been in contact with Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins for approximately 3-4 weeks when we started discussing the deal. It started gaining momentum last week after the GM meetings and we started really making some progress the past couple of days."

What does this mean for Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse?
"Michael Morse is under contract for us. He's a guy that's a middle of the lineup, productive player for us. And Adam LaRoche was our first baseman last year. We're still discussing with him and in contract negotiations with him. So it gives us some options in dealing with our roster."

What made Span the guy you wanted?
"He fits very well for us. First of all, outstanding character, big-time makeup guy, teammates love him on the field, off the field, community guy. I've known him for a long time. I've seen him since he played at Tampa high school and just watched him develop as a player year in and year out. His skill set is something that we were looking for. It's something we've been looking for for a while now. You talk about a true defensive ballhawk, center-field type of guy with great range. Sabermetrically and with the scout's eye, he's a front-line defensive center fielder. He's a consummate leadoff type of hitter. He appealed greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player, high average guy, .350 on base percentage type of guy, doesn't strike out, one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out, and can really, really run from the left side of the plate, which keeps our lineup balanced. And a guy who in the past has stolen a lot of bases and we feel is going to really come into his own as a basestealer with us in the National League."

Is this the first player like this you've had in D.C.?
"The first guy with this kind of skill set that's an established big-league player. We think we've got guys in the system that fulfill this role, but they're years away. They're in the pipeline, and we're looking for big things from them down the road. But as far as an established guy at his age, he's a 28-year-old guy still just reaching the prime of his career, and I really think his game is going to translate to the National League very very well."

How did you settle on Meyer being the other half of the trade?
"We understand the process. To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age with the contract that he has, you're going to have to give up a good quality player. Terry Ryan is one of the best general managers in the game. You're not going to pull the wool over his eyes. You have to give to get, and we feel we have great depth in our minor league system. We continue to call upon our scouts and player development to add to that system each and every year. To give up an Alex Meyer for Denard Span, it's always a difficult decision to make, but one we felt fit our time frame, fit our skill set and was something that the front office and ownership was willing to do."

Does this move knock out a lot of what you hoped to accomplish this offseason?
"It was one of the goals that we had, to fill this spot. We had a lot of options. We could have stayed with Harp in center field. He's a terrific young center fielder. But we feel like for his long-term development and his career path we wanted to move him out of the taxing position of center field, both mentally taxing and physically taxing. We've accomplished that. We also have a lot of other things on our agenda to improve the ballclub. Because as we've seen, the other teams in our league, they're not standing pat. They're trying to do better and we're trying to put the right moves in to compete with them and to stay a competitive ballclub."

How close were you to trading for Span in 2011, and are you concerned about his past issues with concussions?
"We were in talks with the Twins a couple years back and tried to acquire him. The trade didn't work out, the players didn't work out that we were willing to give up for him. As far as the injury history, he had a fairly healthy 2012 after a concussion season in 2011. Our medical people cleared him of being able to sign him. He had an injury-free finish to the season and really had one heck of a season for the Twins. Our scouts saw him play very, very well. Our medical people cleared him, and we're confident that he's ready to roll into spring training. After talking to him just briefly before I came on with you guys here, he's feeling very good about himself, he's happy to be in the Nationals family and he's looking forward to really getting after it this year and starting in spring training and bringing it forward."

Has there been any trade interest in Morse?
"We've had some inquiries about Michael Morse and several other players that are on our roster."

DENARD SPAN
What was your reaction to the trade?

"First of all, my emotions right now are all over the place but definitely excited. I'm very excited to be coming to Washington. I think a year-and-a-half ago when I first heard the rumors, I definitely don't think I was ready for it then. But fast-forward to now I'm definitely ready for it. I'm ready to be coming to a team that already is in place to win. I just hope I can come here and fit in and not get in the way."

How excited are you to play with Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper?
"I'm very excited to be playing alongside both of those guys. Two all-star caliber players. I feel like I need to step my game up and try to get to the All-Star Game, hopefully. I think they're going to elevate my game, just by playing alongside with them."

Are there any lingering concerns about your concussions?
"I'm confident that I'm behind it. I feel like last year was a good sign of that. I don't feel like I played to my 100 percent capability last year, but I was able to go out and prove that I still can be a good player. It was probably one of the hardest things I've had to go through. The reason why I said I wasn't ready for it a year and a half ago was because I was going through the concussions. Hearing trade talks and going through a concussion wasn't easy for me. But fast-forward to today, I'm definitely ready."

How did those earlier trade talks make you feel?
"That's the greatest feeling any ballplayer can have, when you're wanted. When a team does whatever they have to do to trade for you, or try to acquire you through free agency. It's a good feeling, to be wanted. I talked to Mr. Rizzo and I could hear it in his voice, how excited he was to have me. I heard his voice and it kind of brought some energy into me because I'd just gotten off the phone with our GM and it was kind of a sad conversation. And I talked to Mike and it kind of gave me some life. I'm just ready to go."

How would you describe your style of play?
"I'm definitely a grinder, in a sense. I love to have fun. I try to bring my A-game every day and I'm definitely going to bring a lot of range in the outfield. I love to go get it out in center field. I thrive on being one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, or trying to be. I love setting the tone. I love getting up to start the game and taking pitches and trying to give my teammates the best look they can and try to set the tone and try to get on base. Stealing bases for me, I'm still a work in progress. I'm still trying to up that and I'm not going to stop working."

How is that you were actually born in D.C.?
"My mom went to school in D.C. [at the University of the District of Columbia] and my uncle lived there for over 20 years, my mom's older brother. When she went to college, she lived there. At the time, she had moved back to Florida, but when she was pregnant with me she came up to D.C. to visit some family and friends and ended up having me."

So, she wasn't expecting for you to be born here?
"I don't think so. I don't think she planned on having me in Washington, D.C. I think she'd planned on having me in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and I ended up just popping out early."

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

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Nationals set to enter defining seven-game stretch

WASHINGTON -- Most baseball managers try to operate in monochromatic fashion. They see one goal each day, and it only rests in those 24 hours. Some -- like Davey Martinez -- claim they don’t look at the standings in June. His standard message is to “win today” then move to tomorrow.

Human nature often runs interference on compartmentalization. It even crept up on Martinez on Sunday morning when in the midst of an answer about Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner playing daily. 

“For me, this is a big week,” Martinez said. “We have a chance to make up some ground here. I want these guys readily available to play.”

He’s right. The claim of significance is valid for once in mid-June, not a concept drummed up by overzealous television promos or interminable Internet space. 

The Nationals have seven games in seven days against two teams near the top of the division. Damaged Philadelphia arrives Monday. The Phillies’ bullpen is hurting and ineffective. Bryce Harper could miss the All-Star Game for just the second time in his career. Philadelphia is 6-8 in June. Meanwhile, Atlanta is rolling along. Its lineup remains deep, the pitching functional and Dallas Keuchel set to make his debut here in D.C. next weekend. The Braves hold a 2 ½-game lead in the not-so-great National League East. 

“Not thinking too big picture,” Adam Eaton said. “But knowing we have an in-division rivalry, we’ve got to win those games. It’s important. We’re trying to chase at this point. Not to put too much emphasis on it, but we need to play some really competitive baseball. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves these next four games. Play good baseball and not beat ourselves. If we play the brand of baseball we know how to play, and play clean, we have a good chance.”

Washington is five games under .500. Days are clicking off the calendar. Departing along with them are opportunities to chop at an 8 1/2-game deficit in the division. Following this week, only seven games against Philadelphia remain. However, 13 with Atlanta remain on the schedule, including seven in 10 days in September. The question is if those will matter. Sink this week and they won’t. Pull off a deficit-halving six of seven and everything changes. 

This week’s ramifications will first be felt on the phone lines in a month. The non-waiver trade deadline arrives July 31. Drag back to a double-digit deficit this week and plunk down the “for sale” sign. Rocket through the week and perhaps reinforcements will be found.

Monday brings a dreaded series opener. The Nationals are 6-17 in the first games of series this season. No one knows why. It doesn’t make sense. But, here they are, incapable of winning a first game and constantly playing from behind.

Patrick Corbin will be on the mound attempting to counter the trend. He, like the team when a new opponent shows up, has been in arrears the last three games. Corbin’s ERA dipped to 2.85 following a 116-pitch shutout of Miami on May 25. He’s been bludgeoned since. His ERA is up to 4.11, he will start twice this week, and the Nationals need him to right his ills.

Friday, Corbin threw a bullpen session focused on his line to the plate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart describes what they are trying to accomplish to get Corbin back to the version he was earlier this season:

“His lines and his east-west motion have made it very difficult for him to get the ball to where he wants it to be,” Menhart said. “He needs to be more direct to the plate and have more of a north-south rotation with his upper body and being more stable lower-half wise will allow him to do that and have his deception and hide the ball better and keep that tunnel.”

Corbin agreed. He doesn’t watch much video to cure ruts. He also doesn’t want too much information. The team’s analytics trackers have informed him his arm slot remains in a good place. He thinks his body is still in a running at a high level, dismissing any correlation between his struggles and the workload against Miami. He’s also going through the most common element of reduced success: trying not to chew on it too much.

“I think when I’m away from the field, you think about it more,” Corbin told NBC Sports Washington. “You’re frustrated about it a little bit -- what the heck is going on? But when you get here, you just try to work, try to do things to get better. That’s how I approach it. I’m just looking forward to my next start on Monday going out there and trying to get back to how I know I can pitch.”

Philadelphia arrives after being thumped in Atlanta on Sunday, 15-1. Washington had the opposite day in a 15-5 win. Monday night starts a reckoning of sorts for both. The Nationals will send out their three high-end starters during the four games. Philadelphia is trying to right itself and not let the Braves get out of touch at the top of the division. So, even for the one-day-at-a-time crew, the coming seven carry significant weight, and they’re finally admitting it.

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Nationals call up Adrian Sanchez, place Kyle Barraclough on 10-day injured list

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Nationals call up Adrian Sanchez, place Kyle Barraclough on 10-day injured list

WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure postgame Saturday what’s wrong with reliever Kyle Barraclough.

The right-hander’s velocity is down, his slider flat and too true, his results poor. Barraclough left the mound Saturday at dusk with a 6.39 ERA. He’s allowed seven home runs in 25 ⅓ innings this season. Little he has tried has worked. And his time on the team may be short.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez will join the team Sunday. Sanchez’s departure from Double-A Harrisburg was reported Saturday night by Mick Reinhard, who covers the Senators, and noted Sanchez’s early removal from the game.

Barraclough will be the one leaving to make room for Sanchez on the roster, the Nationals placing him on the 10-day injured list with radial nerve irritation Sunday. Barraclough could be sent on an extended rehabilitation in the minor leagues, as the Nationals did with Trevor Rosenthal. At a minimum, Washington goes from an eight-man bullpen to a five-man bench, finally delivering Martinez more versatility at the plate and in the field.

Barraclough and left-hander Tony Sipp were rarely used in the last three weeks. A week passed between appearances for Barraclough from the end of May to the start of June. Sipp pitched Sunday for just the fifth time since May 24.

Removing Barraclough from the roster is another layer of indictment for the Nationals' offseason bullpen plan. They acquired Barraclough via trade with Miami for international slot money. He was supposed to pitch the seventh inning on a regular basis, Rosenthal the eighth and Sean Doolittle the ninth. That lineup has been disastrous outside of Doolittle, compromising the entire season.

Rosenthal’s travails are well-documented. He pitched again Saturday, walked the first batter on four pitches, walked the second batter, then allowing a single to load the bases with no outs. He eventually allowed just a run. His ERA is 19.50 following the outing. It’s the first time this season Rosenthal’s ERA is under 20.00.

While trying to fix Rosenthal, and trying to hang on with Barraclough, the Nationals have turned to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of Doolittle. Few would have predicted that combination before the season began. Despite the relative concern, no one would have predicted the Nationals’ bullpen to be among the worst in the league for much of the season, but has turned out to be just that.

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