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Source: Nationals sign veteran lefty Perez to multi-year deal

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Source: Nationals sign veteran lefty Perez to multi-year deal

The Nationals have taken their first significant step toward overhauling their bullpen, agreeing to terms Friday with veteran left-hander Oliver Perez on a 2-year, $7 million deal, according to a source familiar with the contract.

Perez, 34, has been around the block during a 15-year career featuring an assortment of highs and lows, but he has refashioned himself as an effective lefty reliever over the last few seasons and now has parlayed that into a multi-year deal, his biggest contract since a 3-year, $36 million pact with the Mets in 2009.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com was first to report Perez's signing with the Nationals.

Perez figures to assume the role held over the last year and a half by Matt Thornton, the 39-year-old who proved an effective matchup lefty but departed as a free agent at the end of the season. Interestingly enough, Perez's $3.5 million salary in 2016 is identical to Thornton's salary this year.

The Nationals have long been intrigued by the sidearm-throwing southpaw, having signed him to a minor-league contract in 2011. Perez wound up making 15 starts for Class AA Harrisburg, posting a 3.09 ERA but never earning a promotion.

The following year, he decided to refashion himself as a reliever, first with the Mariners. In the four seasons since, Perez owns a 3.31 ERA over 232 appearances with Seattle, Arizona and Houston, striking out 11.1 batters per 9 innings.

Perez's biggest issue over the years, and ultimately his downfall as a starter, has been erratic command. He has walked nearly 5 batters per 9 innings over his career, though that rate dropped to 3.7 once he made the full-time conversion to reliever in 2012.

Perez has enjoyed his best success against left-handed batters. For his career, they are batting .231 with a .681 OPS against him. This season, they hit a scant .181 with a .517 OPS, 33 strikeouts and only five walks.

The Nationals figure to use Perez in brief stints, matching up almost exclusively against left-handed batters. Fellow southpaw Felipe Rivero, who proved effective against batters from both sides of the plate as a rookie, would likely be used to pitch full innings late in games.

Perez's addition could be just the first of several changes the Nationals make to their bullpen this winter, with the statuses of closers Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen very much up in the air and Thornton, Casey Janssen and Craig Stammen now free agents. They remain interested in right-hander Darren O'Day, according to sources, though it's unclear if they're willing to meet the veteran's reported asking price of 4 years and at least $32 million.

MORE NATIONALS: Can the Nationals remake their entire bullpen?

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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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Nationals players on the stressful process of choosing a nickname for Players' Weekend

Nationals players on the stressful process of choosing a nickname for Players' Weekend

Zimm, Brown Eye and T3 will all take the field against the Cubs in the annual Players' Weekend series August 23-25.

Some Nationals players got creative when choosing nicknames, and others (yes you, Javy Guerra aka Javy) could use some inspiration. 

Other nicknames just made sense.

Fernando Rodney's nickname, "La Flecha", translates from Spanish to "the arrow". If you had the opportunity to watch the Fernando Rodney experience, you know that he celebrates a save by shooting an imaginary bow and arrow to the sky. 

He described the routine just like pitching: "you know where it is going exactly, you got a good shot."

When asked if he had any other nickname ideas he joked that he thought about using "Plátano Power". A joke dating back to 2017. 

Patrick Corbin is using his Players' Weekend jersey to honor his late friend and Angels pitcher, Tyler Skaggs. His nickname will say "Forty Five", Skaggs' number which Corbin wore days after his death. 

Other nicknames were no brainers, almost decided for the players. 

Wander Suero will go by "The Animal", the nickname given to him in the minor leagues that stuck with him. One of his coaches, Donald Ray "Spin" Williams, would tell him all the time, "you're an animal" because of the way he hustled. It caught on with his teammates and Spin still calls him that. 

Sean Doolittle's nickname was teased for a long time, Obi Sean. His Star Wars-themed bobblehead was a giveaway earlier in the season, featured the relief pitcher as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the popular franchise. The nickname is also his Twitter name though no one calls him that.

Doolittle has changed his nickname for the past three years. "It gives you an opportunity to show a little personality and have some fun with it." He said he can show that he is "a Star Wars nerd." 

These nicknames are chosen in Spring Training, and Doolittle remembers this happening early in the morning. "It's 6 or 7 am and they are walking around the clubhouse with a clipboard asking what you want your players weekend nickname to be at the end of August." He joked, "it's not the most creative time, you're not really awake yet." 

Tanner Rainey was one of those players who may not have been awake yet. When asked if he would answer a few questions about his nickname he laughed and said, "I don't even know my nickname." (For those wondering, it's Rainman).

He said he never really had a nickname but a few guys started calling him Rainman.

"If there's not one I would have went with Rainey on the back of the jersey," he said.

This choice is not because he doesn't like the idea. Rather, he is just focused on baseball during Spring Training.

"Alright that's in late August, this is February," said Rainey. "Let's worry about tomorrow first." 

Doolittle had the perfect way to describe making such an important decision.  "You know-how like the month leading up to Halloween you are like 'I have no idea what I want to dress up as.' You scramble for a costume and you're like 'yeah this works, whatever, at least I dressed up'. That day and the week after it feels like you have all these great ideas and you are like 'aw I should write these down'." 

"So maybe I will do that this year," Doolittle joked. "Maybe I need to start a notes app on my phone."

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