Archive for the ‘ Author – Amanda Comak ’ Category

Nationals name Bob Miller Vice President & Assistant GM

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals welcomed Bob Miller to their front office staff today, naming him Vice President and Assistant General Manager.

Miller, who will assist in all facets of baseball operations, comes to the Nationals after nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, serving most recently as Vice President and Assistant General Manager to Reds’ President of Baseball Operations and GM Walt Jocketty.

In that role, Miller had a hand in all aspects of baseball operations, including arbitration cases, contract negotiations, rules, player evaluations, and departmental budgeting.

Joining the Nationals for his 33rd season in professional baseball, Miller reunites with Rizzo for the first time since the two worked together for seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There they helped build the 2001 World Series championship team, and take Arizona’s Minor League system from No. 29 (as ranked by Baseball America) to No. 1 in five years.

Miller, who initially joined the Reds in Feb., 2006, as Director of Baseball Administration under then-GM Wayne Krivsky, quickly moved through the ranks in Cincinnati. He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in June of 2006 and in Dec., 2006, was named Vice President and Assistant GM.

During his time with the Reds, the team improved from a sub-.500 club to win two division championships and earn three playoff appearances. In 2012, the Reds were also named Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.

Prior to joining the Reds, Miller spent seven seasons with the Diamondbacks — first as Assistant Director of Scouting, then Director of Baseball Operations, and the final three as Assistant General Manager, where he oversaw the organization’s Minor League player development from 2004-05. In 2005, the Diamondbacks were named TOPPS’ Minor League Organization of the Year.

Miller joined the Diamondbacks with 16 years of Minor League experience on his resume, including 14 years at the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and stops as Vice President of Baseball Operations in the independent Texas-Louisiana League office, along with serving as executive GM of that league’s Amarillo Dillas club.

Miller, 50, graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in finance.

Nationals exercise 2015 option on Denard Span’s contract

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals exercised their option on Denard Span’s contract on Thursday, securing the center fielder’s services for the 2015 season, which will be Span’s third in the District.

In exercising the option, the Nationals answered one of their first offseason questions, and ensured that the talented leadoff man will remain atop their lineup and patrolling center field for at least one more season.

“We knew when we acquired Denard from the Minnesota Twins two years ago what type of player we were getting,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo. “And he’s done nothing but bear that out the last two seasons.

“Denard was arguably our most consistent offensive player in 2014, keying so much of our offensive production, and his defense in center field is Gold Glove-caliber on a nightly basis. We’re excited to keep him in the fold for the 2015 season.”

Washington Nationals vs. the Miami Marlins baseballSpan is coming off perhaps his finest professional season, finishing the 2014 campaign batting .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .415 slugging percentage and a career-best 31 stolen bases. He set a Nationals (2005-present) record for hits in a season with 184, and reeled off a 36-game on-base streak from June 28 – Aug. 12 that jumpstarted both his season and the Nationals’ offense.

Over the course of the streak, Span hit .396 with a .463 on-base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage. It seemed almost every time he made contact the ball found a hole and the 30-year-old found a way to get on base. His BABIP during the stretch: a ridiculous .442.

The Nationals went 21-15 in that stretch, catapulting themselves from a tie with the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East Division to a five-game lead over them by the time the streak ended.

“I couldn’t be more excited to return for another year in D.C,” Span said after he was informed his option was exercised.

For the second consecutive year, Span is a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, the winners of which will be announced on Nov. 4.

Additionally, the Nationals declined to exercise their options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander Rafael Soriano. They will become free agents. Asdrubal Cabrera, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz became free agents upon the conclusion of the 2014 World Series.

Nationals Magazine: A Numbers Game

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A version of this story first appeared in the Washington Nationals’ 2014 Yearbook. Visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe to all Nationals publications.

by Amanda Comak

The Nationals’ Baseball Research & Development department, utilizing the latest technology, statistics and advanced analysis, drives the organization to forge a new, smarter way forward. 

bbops guysLeaning on the dugout railing at Arizona’s Chase Field in mid-May, Phil Rizzo gazed at the Washington Nationals as they took batting practice. He talked ball with those nearest to him, sharing some of his observations about the team his son — Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo — had built, and the first six weeks of their season.

At one point, Sam Mondry-Cohen, the Nationals’ Director of Baseball Research & Development, joined the small gathering.

Phil Rizzo, a baseball lifer who’s spent more of his 84 years evaluating ballplayers than he has doing pretty much anything else, lit up.

“This is the smartest guy around,” Rizzo said, smiling and reaching to throw an arm around Mondry-Cohen.

Much like his father, Mike Rizzo is a scout at his core. What his eyes tell him — what his experience tells him — will often be the trump card when he makes decisions to guide the organization, now and in the future.

But there is another side of that decision-making process and it involves more than just the eyes. The Nationals have taken a proactive approach to incorporating data analysis into their evaluations, and their three-man analyst team — led by Assistant GM & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, and filled out by Mondry-Cohen and Manager of Baseball Research & Development Michael Debartolo — plays an integral role in how the organization operates.

And as the scene between the elder Rizzo and the 26-year-old Mondry-Cohen so aptly illustrated, they’re also welcome additions at the table.

“Mike embraces what we do,” Cromie said. “He asks good questions and he puts us in a place where we’re central to a lot of the decisions (the team) makes. Other people in the organization see that and that helps lend us credibility.

“I think one of the things Mike really embraces about the way that we look at the game is that there’s a definitive line of reasoning with everything we do. We’re pointing to evidence, almost exclusively. I think there’s something, by nature, which lends credibility to that.”

●●

Cromie studied economics at Allegheny College, while playing Division III football, before pursuing his masters in Sports Management from the University of Massachusetts. He came to the Nationals after working for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout and analyst, spending time employed by an agent, and interning for the Washington Wild Things in the Frontier League.

When he began working for the Nationals, there wasn’t much of an analytics department to speak of.

“(When I first got here) it was just Adam,” said Mondry-Cohen, who joined the Nationals as an intern while studying English at the University of Pennsylvania. “He was the only one whose job was really dedicated to working with data, whereas now I think that’s part of all three of our jobs, and the majority of my job and Mike (DeBartolo’s).”

The son of a high school math teacher, Mondry-Cohen had two main interests as a kid: baseball and numbers. Living what he calls “a very charmed baseball life,” Mondry-Cohen worked as a batboy in the visiting clubhouse in San Francisco and he’d see the teams that would come in to play the Giants up-close-and-personal.

“The way I followed the game was the numbers of the game,” Mondry-Cohen explained. “That kind of coincided with the explosion of baseball blogs and baseball research published online. I was just a big fan and that was the way I followed the game.”

With Mondry-Cohen aboard full-time upon his graduation, Cromie’s role expanded to encompass more than data analysis. Cromie is now involved in every player personnel move the team makes.

“When I first started, I was doing analysis and research,” Cromie said. “As we started to build tools and analytical systems, it started to give me time to do other things. Then I hired Sam, Sam hired Mike, and we’ve got a lot of consultants we work with now.”

In 2012, after four years at an investment consulting firm and in the midst of completing his MBA at Columbia University, DeBartolo joined the organization as an intern.

An economics major at Tufts University, DeBartolo grew up in baseball-mad Boston following the Red Sox — and noticing as their front office personnel began to shift.

“It was around the time that some executives with non-traditional backgrounds were getting into the game,” said DeBartolo, who was hired full-time by the Nationals in November of 2013. “And that was always kind of a dream of mine.”

DeBartolo’s addition gave the group yet another mind from which to draw, and to divide up a workload that has only continued to increase.

“I think the tasks that we do as an analytics group fall into three categories,” Cromie said. “There are broad strategic issues, ad-hoc projects and general research.

“We have a lot of input on the broad strategy we adopt as a team on almost every level: how do we want to spend resources? Where do we want to spend resources? I think a lot of that falls out of how competitive we think we are, and one of our strengths is being able to analyze that.”

●●

What separates the Nationals’ analytics team from, say, the fan who accesses advanced statistics in myriad places online, is the information they have to complement those numbers. In truth, it may actually be the other way around: the statistics complement the wealth of internal information the organization gathers.

“We’d call it a process-driven box score,” Cromie said.

Across the organization — including Minor League affiliates — the Nationals have installed tracking systems that measure everything from the traditional PITCHf/x information (utilized by live game trackers like MLB.com’s At-Bat app to plot balls and strikes) as well as a radar technology called TrackMan.

“That gives us data that’s not available in a box score,” Mondry-Cohen said. “Some of it a scout could pick up with a radar gun, like pitch velocity, but one thing they can’t get is the exit velocity of a hit ball. We know what some of the hardest-hit balls were, and whether or not they turned into hits.”

The technology goes deeper still.

At all levels of their system, including the Major Leagues, the Nationals can evaluate a pitcher’s release point in three dimensions throughout the game to note changes, like how the rotation of their pitches or velocity was affected when they altered their release point.

Used in conjunction with other internal information, like medical reports from the team’s training staff, the group can put together a far more accurate analysis of the data than someone operating off the numbers alone. That the Nationals have access to all of it exemplifies the organization’s interest in the information.

“It costs a lot to install these technologies at these affiliates,” Mondry-Cohen said. “And that’s not something we had five or six years ago. That’s something ownership has invested in. The only reason we have (a lot of these) measurements is because of the technology we’ve paid to install.”

The task then falls to Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo to process the information and turn it into something the entire front office can understand and absorb.

●●

On any given game night, Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo will watch from one of three spots: the GM’s suite, the scout seats in the stands, or at their desks, which have televisions within view. How much they each watch varies.

“There was a time when I made an effort not to watch the games,” Cromie said. “I’ve really gotten away from that, largely because I think I’ve come around to the idea that a lot of the things we do can really inform the way you watch a game and make it more enjoyable.”

“For me, it’s very difficult to just watch the game,” DeBartolo said. “Every once in a while I find myself drifting into a fandom where I’m rooting for something to happen, but I think a lot of times we’re thinking through and watching closely the approach of a player, fielding position, all of the decision making that can happen. I think it’s less about a rooting sense and more a sense of evaluating.”

In Spring Training, the group had multiple meetings with Nationals Manager Matt Williams and his staff as they got to know one another and discuss philosophies. The exchange of ideas was another step.

“They’ve been extremely open,” Mondry-Cohen said of Williams and his staff. “They’ve wanted as much data as they can get and I think the things that they want are kind of allied with some of the things Mike (Rizzo) likes — predictive statistics, as opposed to history. They’re asking for more decision-making tools and we’re happy that they’re asking for it.”

“I think Matt views statistical analysis as a tool and as a new manager he wants every tool at his disposal that he can have,” DeBartolo added. “I have great respect for that, for being open-minded and trying to get every advantage he can have.”

The calendar dictates the more detailed work that the group does. In early May, they prepare for the MLB First-Year Player Draft. As the All-Star break approaches, they’re assessing the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and identifying potential trade partners in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. As the calendar inches toward fall, their focus turns toward the postseason, then free agency and the rest of the offseason — working to hone their projections and convey them properly.

Regardless of the specifics, all of the data they’re gathering and digesting on a daily basis will be utilized.

And, in the process, they’re continuing to evolve an organization built on the bedrock of scouting and player development by augmenting and improving those evaluations. The Nationals are a scouting-first organization, and there is no desire to replace the boots-on-the-ground work of those trusted scouts.

The hope is the work Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo do will only serve to complement and support it.

“It’s not (Rizzo’s) forte, conducting data-based research,” Mondry-Cohen said. “He’s a scout — a great scout — and that’s where he came up. But even if it’s not his forte, I think it’s something he really has interest in. He definitely wants it to be a part of his process. I think we’ve grown together, but he’s always been interested. He’s such a baseball guy. We’re researching baseball.”

“It’s a two-way street,” Cromie added. “We’ve learned a lot from him, too.”

Adam LaRoche, Denard Span named Rawlings Gold Glove finalists

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by Amanda Comak

The finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced Thursday afternoon by Rawlings Sports, and for the third consecutive year the Washington Nationals have two players among the honorees.

First baseman Adam LaRoche and center fielder Denard Span were named as finalists at their respective positions, but they’ll have to wait until Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. ET, to find out if either will take home the prize.

LaRoche, who won his first Gold Glove following the 2012 season, faces stiff competition in his quest for a second trophy: Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau.

While LaRoche continued to make many of the outstanding plays that have come to be expected from him over the years, where he shines perhaps even more is in making the fielders around him better. LaRoche’s consistency makes it easier for the fielders he works with everyday to excel. That was evident each day he was in the lineup for the Nationals this past season.

Span, a finalist for a Gold Glove in 2013 and certainly considered by his teammates as one of the finest defensive center fielders in the Major Leagues, is also joined by elite company. He’ll be up against New York Mets center fielder Juan Lagares and Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton for the 2014 honors.

An exceptional fielder, Span continued to make the extraordinary play seem routine this season, giving Nationals fans something to look forward to each night he patrolled center field.

Each manager and up to six coaches on each staff voted from a pool of qualified players in their league, and cannot vote for players on their own team. As in 2013, Rawlings also included a sabermetric component to the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, as part of its recent collaboration with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The SABR Defensive Index accounted for approximately 25 percent of the overall selection total, with the managers and coaches’ vote continuing to carry the majority.

The winners of the 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards will be announced Tuesday night, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in a special one-hour Baseball Tonight.

Nationals announce 2014 NLDS Roster

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals announced their 25-man roster for the 2014 National League Division Series on Friday morning, in advance of their 3:07 p.m. game vs. the San Francisco Giants.

The Nationals’ roster will be comprised of 12 pitchers (three left-handed, nine right-handed) and 13 position players (two catchers, seven infielders, four outfielders).

Here is the Nationals’ full roster:

Pitchers

LHP Jerry Blevins
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Matt Thornton

RHP Aaron Barrett
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP Craig Stammen
RHP Drew Storen
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Catchers

C Jose Lobaton
C Wilson Ramos

Infielders

INF Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
SS Ian Desmond
INF Danny Espinosa (S)
INF Kevin Frandsen
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
INF Anthony Rendon
INF Ryan Zimmerman

Outfielders

OF Bryce Harper (L)
OF Nate Schierholtz (L)
OF Denard Span (L)
OF Jayson Werth

Jordan Zimmermann named NL Player of the Week

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by Amanda Comak

Washington NationalsOne day after throwing the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was named the National League Player of the Week. Major League Baseball made the announcement this afternoon on MLB Network.

Zimmermann allowed one walk and struck out 10 Miami Marlins in a masterful performance to close the regular season with the first no-hitter thrown by a D.C. pitcher since Bobby Burke on Aug. 8, 1931.

In earning his second NL Player of the Week honors, Zimmermann allowed only five balls to leave the infield all afternoon and threw only 25 total balls to Marlins batters. He faced 28 batters, threw 23 first-pitch strikes and needed only 104 pitches to complete the historic achievement.

In the eighth complete game and fourth shutout of his career, Zimmermann almost certainly turned in the best pitching performance in Nationals history.

According to the Bill James Game Score, one metric for measuring dominant pitching performances, Zimmermann’s outing ranked as the best in Nationals (2005-present) history with a score of 96 – besting the 95 score earned in his shutout over the San Diego Padres earlier this season.

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This is the fourth NL Player of the Week honor earned by a Nationals player this season – including Zimmermann for the first week of June.  First baseman Adam LaRoche and OF Jayson Werth also took home the award this season.

Prior to 2014, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (periods ending July 22, 2012; June 13, 2010; August 21, 2011; August 5, 2007), right-hander Stephen Strasburg (June 13, 2010), outfielder Josh Willingham (Aug. 2, 2009), shortstop Cristian Guzman (Aug. 31, 2008), utility man Willie Harris (July 20, 2007) and first baseman Nick Johnson (June 6, 2005) earned NL Player of the Week hardware.

Nationals Game Notes — Sept. 23 vs. New York Mets

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Game No. 156: Washington Nationals (91-64) vs. New York Mets (76-80) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Tanner Roark (14-10, 2.85 ERA) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-12, 4.02)
Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in four career starts against the Mets, and worked 3.1 innings of one-run relief in his lone bullpen appearance on Aug. 31, 2013.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN2
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals currently own the National League’s top record and pace the NL East by a season-high 15.5 games over the Atlanta Braves. In the race for the NL’s top record, two clubs are within striking distance of the Nationals (91-64, .587): the Dodgers (-3.0) & Cardinals (-4.0). The Nationals’ magic number to clinch home field advantage through the NLDS & NLCS is three entering play on Tuesday night.

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (91-64)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
19 Kevin Frandsen 3B
57 Tanner Roark RHP

METS (76-80)

6 Matt den Dekker (L) RF
28 Daniel Murphy (L) 3B
15 Travis d’Arnaud C
21 Lucas Duda (L) 1B
4 Wilmer Flores 2B
3 Curtis Granderson (L)
9 Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L) CF
11 Ruben Tejada SS
40 Bartolo Colon RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals reinstate Ryan Zimmerman

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by Amanda Comak

With the National League East Championship celebration in their rearview, and the promise of the postseason still ahead, the Washington Nationals became whole again on Saturday as they reinstated Ryan Zimmerman from the 15-Day Disabled List and returned him to their active roster.

Zimmerman, 29, rejoins the Nationals after missing 55 games with a right hamstring strain, suffered July 22 at Colorado.

And while the Nationals have done well to fill his void in the interim, Zimmerman’s return helps deepen their already dangerous lineup as they turn their focus toward the playoffs.

In 53 games this season, Zimmerman has hit .282 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .456 slugging percentage. While spending time at third base, first base and in left field, the Nationals’ veteran has clubbed 24 extra-base hits (five home runs) and driven in 36 runs.

This was the second Disabled List stint of the season for Zimmerman. After returning from a fractured right thumb on June 3, Zimmerman started 43 games for the Nationals, including a scorching hot month of July in which he hit .362 with a .418 on-base percentage and a .569 slugging percentage before his hamstring injury.

Zimmerman’s return gives the Nationals 35 players on their active roster, and Nationals manager Matt Williams said he expects Zimmerman to play all three positions in the season’s final eight games in preparation for the postseason.

Nationals featured on #MissionOctober Monday night

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by Amanda Comak

While the Washington Nationals open a three-game set in Atlanta on Monday night, Nationals fans would be wise to set their DVRs for Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. to ensure they don’t miss the Nationals episode of “Mission October.”

As part of the weekly all-access series put together by MLB Productions, Mission October crews joined the Nationals for their four-game series in New York this past weekend. With the Nationals’ Magic Number shrinking to four by the time they boarded their flight for Atlanta on Sunday night, the show will give fans an inside look at a pivotal series in their march toward the Posteason.

“‘Mission October’ takes an inside-access look at a different potential playoff team every weekend in September, and we’re very excited to spotlight the Nationals this week,” said on-field producer Jason Katz. “We had a great time filming with the Nats.

“The show will feature a very fun in game wire on Denard Span, an off-the-field element and in-game wire with Bryce Harper, Matt Williams and some of his coaches on their daily run, and much more.

Nationals fans won’t want to miss it.

Here are a few behind-the-scenes photos from the filming:

 

 

 

Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche named co-NL Player of the Week

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by Amanda Comak

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was named the co-National League Player of the Week on Monday, sharing the honor with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. Major League Baseball made the announcement Monday afternoon on MLB Network.

LaRoche, 34, opened the month of September on a powerful tear at the plate as he helped guide the Nationals to two pivotal victories over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

In earning his first NL Player of the Week honors, LaRoche hit .333 (5-for-15) with a .421 on-base percentage, and a 1.133 slugging percentage. Over the course of five games (four starts), four of LaRoche’s five total hits were home runs. He drove in 10 runs, walked three times (one intentional) and was also hit by a pitch.

Wednesday, after being relegated to the Nationals’ bench with a tight back and flu-like symptoms, LaRoche clubbed a game-tying, two-run, pinch-hit home run in the top of the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium to give the Nationals new life. In a wild back-and-forth contest that would last 14 innings, LaRoche drove in five runs – becoming just the second player in the expansion era (since 1961) to enter a game in the ninth inning or later and drive in at least five runs. Harold Baines accomplished the feat on May 4, 1999 for the Baltimore Orioles vs. the Chicago White Sox.

In addition to his game-saving home run, LaRoche gave the Nationals the lead in the top of the 12th with a two-run single to left, and helped break a tie again in the 14th when he beat out a double play to allow Ian Desmond to score what would stand up as the game winning run.

LaRoche followed that performance up by staking the Nationals to an early lead on Friday, hitting his 21st home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning, and kept slugging through the weekend. On Sunday, facing Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, LaRoche homered in his first two at-bats, tying the game both times, for the 24th multi-homer game of his career and his second this season.

LaRoche is the 11th Nationals player to earn NL Player of the Week honors, joining RHP Jordan Zimmermann and OF Jayson Werth from this year’s club.

Prior to 2014, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (periods ending July 22, 2012; June 13, 2010; August 21, 2011; August 5, 2007), right-hander Stephen Strasburg (June 13, 2010), outfielder Josh Willingham (Aug. 2, 2009), shortstop Cristian Guzman (Aug. 31, 2008), utility man Willie Harris (July 20, 2007) and first baseman Nick Johnson (June 6, 2005) earned NL Player of the Week hardware.

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