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Adam LaRoche Checks In from 2013 USO Holiday Tour – Entry 2

(L-R) Jep Robertson, Willie Robertson, Matt Light and Adam LaRoche listen to a presentation of the USS Stout by U. S. Navy Chief Peter Wilkinson, Jr.from Fairfield, CT on December 7. The group is in the region as part of a seven-day, four-country USO holday tour being led by General Martin Dempsey. The is the first USO experience for all four men. (Mike Clifton/USO)

(L-R) Jep Robertson, Willie Robertson, Matt Light and Adam LaRoche listen to a presentation of the USS Stout by U. S. Navy Chief Peter Wilkinson, Jr.from Fairfield, CT on December 7. The group is in the region as part of a seven-day, four-country USO holday tour being led by General Martin Dempsey. The is the first USO experience for all four men. (Mike Clifton/USO)

The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour rolled on this week, and Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche continued to soak in the experience. While the internet connections aren’t always frequent for the group, when LaRoche has gotten a chance to send a dispatch back to D.C., it’s always been filled with excitement.

“Just lifted off from Afghanistan on a C-17 transport plane,” he wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday morning. “We spent the last couple of days here bouncing from base to base. It’s been incredible, to say the least.”

Prior to visiting Afghanistan, the 2013 USO Holiday Tour entertained troops in Greece.

“I’ve never been around so many people who genuinely appreciate us being here,” he added. “We continue to try to make it clear with our troops that we’re getting more out of this than we think they are.”

The 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, includes not only LaRoche, but Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Bridget Kelly, former New England Patriots offensive tackle and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, actor/comedian Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles, stars of A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” Jep and Willie Robertson, and former correspondent on NBC’s “The Voice” Alison Haislip.

Over the course of the seven-day USO tour, the group will visit four countries and several military venues.

For LaRoche, who has spent a good deal of his time in D.C. visiting soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and working with non-profit organizations that support the troops, like the USO, the experience is extremely meaningful.

“You would never understand the purpose and depth of this war without coming over and seeing it firsthand,” LaRoche wrote. “We’ve made time to meet with the lowest-ranking foot soldier to the highest-ranking generals. They all have the same goals: to make this a safe place for the Afghan people.”

The experience has been a humbling one for all of the celebrities on tour, and while there have been some light moments – “I’m rooming with Matt Light in a cargo container and he takes up half of it,” LaRoche quipped – it has also made a significant impact on him.

“We visited some (Forward Operating Bases) via Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters,” he said. “It has been a great pleasure to speak with a couple thousand troops every night.

“We spent most of one morning in a base hospital, where they save almost 99 percent of the wounded soldiers who come in. It is truly amazing.”

For more updates from LaRoche and his experiences on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour as they become available, check back right here on Curly W Live.

Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo meet the media at the Winter Meetings

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Nationals acquire LHP Jerry Blevins from Athletics

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals acquired left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday in exchange for minor league outfielder Billy Burns.

Blevins, 30, has spent parts of the last seven seasons in the Athletics’ bullpen, where he’s worked to a career 3.30 ERA while averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Working against both left-handed batters and right-handers, Blevins has thrown back-to-back 60-plus inning seasons (60 IP in 2013, 65.1 IP in 2012).

In 2013, Blevins held opponents to a .218 batting average against while possessing a 5.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio against left-handed batters in particular. Blevins also held opponents to just a .202 batting average in games away from the O.co Coliseum.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jerry Blevins to our bullpen,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We look forward to him bolstering our depth in that unit.”

Burns, 24, was selected by the Nationals in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft out of Mercer University. A speedy outfielder, Burns stole a career-high 74 bases in 2013, between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

With the addition of Blevins, the Nationals’ 40-man roster is full.

A Q&A with Nationals Manager Matt Williams

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How have the last six weeks been since you were named manager of the Nationals?

It’s been busy. It’s been an adjustment. The baseball part of it is all the same. But we’re busy with roster planning, Spring Training schedules and all of that stuff. I had the chance to get back to D.C. a couple of times, trying to get to know everybody, so that’s been good. It’s been fun.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

After that initial weekend in D.C. for your press conference, was it nice to get home and get focused on the job?

It was nice to get to work. You go do the interview, you don’t know if you’re going to get hired, you don’t know when it’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden it happens. And then it’s time to get to work. I’ve enjoyed that process, putting together everything and looking toward Spring Training.

What was it like getting to know Randy Knorr in Arizona?

It was great. It was easy. Randy came out and spent parts of four days with us. He’s got a unique knowledge of all these guys, which is important. He’s great with everything – letting me know what his thoughts are, how he views things. I’m going to rely on him a lot because of that knowledge and his familiarity [with the club]. We went through everything you can possibly think of. He’d come over for dinner, we’d eat dinner and all of a sudden it was midnight. We had fun. We enjoyed it.

What has your communication been like with the other coaches?

We have weekly conference calls. They’re all going through their own responsibilities, and we’re taking their input into the schedule for Spring. So I’ve been getting to know everybody and their philosophies, their thoughts on guys and how those thoughts could be best implemented.

With everybody strewn all over the place, it’s great this way. Everybody jumps on the conference call and we go through it. Those calls last, probably, a couple of hours. It’s been good.

Probably after the first of the year, I’ll get a chance to see (first base coach) Tony Tarasco, he’ll come out to Arizona, and I know (hitting coach) Rick Schu from Arizona. But it’s been good communication on all fronts, which is great.

Tanner Roark, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Randy Knorr sat in on Williams' press conference.

Tanner Roark, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Randy Knorr sat in on Williams’ press conference.

What kind of communication have you had with your players thus far?

I went to Jayson Werth’s house when I was in D.C., talked to Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and talked to Stephen Strasburg via text. I’ll continue to make an effort to reach out to the players. It’s holiday time, families have new babies, and all kinds of stuff so guys are busy.

But from a baseball perspective, once the first of the year hits, it’s baseball time again. I’ll continue to reach out and talk to those guys. We’re going to put together a schedule for Spring and I’ll get a chance to send that to the players and let them review it so they have a sense of what they’re getting into. Then I’ll follow up with a phone call and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we expect. What are your thoughts? What would you like to accomplish?’ But I’ve talked to some of the guys already.

Have you enjoyed those chats?

Yes. When guys are comfortable, and they know that their manager has their back and he understands them, then their natural playing ability comes out easier. That’s what I hope to accomplish: to get to know them first as men. They know the manager-player relationship. We all do. But I want to understand them. That’s part of the process. So when they tell me something, I know what they really mean. That’s half the battle.

What was your reaction when Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo told you about the trade for Doug Fister?

Oh yeah. Wow. He’s somebody who I view as undervalued. His numbers stack up against anybody’s. He does it a different way — it’s not a power, 97-mph fastball — but he throws strikes, he commands the strike zone, throws over the plate, he’s a ground-ball machine. He knows how to pitch. What I like about him is that he pounds the strike zone. He’s not afraid. That’s a good thing. I’m glad to have him.

And when you look at our board and see our depth, it’s unusual to see a board like that. You’ve got, potentially, eight or nine guys competing for your starting rotation. It causes problems, too, but I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want to look at that board and say, ‘That’s our team.’

Has it been interesting for you to be here and be a part of the roster planning?

It’s great to know that there’s been a lot of thought put into the roster and what everybody can bring to the team. Ultimately, we need that depth to win a championship. Very rarely are there 25 guys who play every day, all season. I want to understand everybody in the front office, and how they’ve formed their opinions. It’s great to be a part of.

Do you think at this time next year you’ll feel even more comfortable asserting your opinions on how to shape the team and what you’d prefer as a manager?

I know, from a defensive perspective, what I want now. I have strong opinions on that. But it’s all a product of who’s available and what you’ve got in other aspects of the team. Those questions happen every year.

I don’t know how many years of baseball knowledge are in (the Nationals suite at the Winter Meetings), but when you look around the room, it’s easy to know that there’s a lot. There’s a lot of value there. And everybody’s been great with me so far. It’s been fun. It’s been good to see everybody and get to know the guys who I don’t know. They’re not holding back, which is good. They’re giving me their opinion. It’s good that they feel comfortable. I value that, because it’s important to have it.

Does it feel like it’s taking forever for Spring Training to arrive?

Yes. And I’m anxious to get going. Everybody is. I think everybody sees the potential. I’m not alone in that. But it takes time to make sure we get it all planned out, and that’s good, because then we can make sure it runs seamlessly when we get there.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Live from the Winter Meetings

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Hello everybody.

Greetings from the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, where I am on the ground at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

I understand everyone back home is dealing with the aftermath of yesterday ice/frozen rain/hail storm and that more snow accumulation could be on the way.

The rumor here is that Central Florida is drenched in bright sunshine with temperatures in the low 80s, but I’d never know it, if not for passing a hotel window every so often. Our work here keeps us inside and the hotel’s layout on the Disney Campus does not present many opportunities to enjoy the warm weather.

Congratulations to Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Could there be any more baseball symmetry than these three gentlemen being inducted together this July in Cooperstown?

Together, Cox, La Russa and Torre combined on 7,558 regular-season victories, eight World Championships and infinite respect from both inside and outside the game.

The trio set the standard for baseball’s modern manager in the dugout and cultivated lasting relationships with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse.

Sure, they had great players, but they established programs and team cultures that have lived on well past their departures from the Braves, Cardinals and Yankees. This is truly a fantastic moment for the game of baseball.

  • Matt Williams presserSpeaking of managers, I flew down to Florida with Matt Williams over the weekend. We had another in a long line of fantastic chats. Some dealt with baseball. Some did not. If it is possible, I am even more convinced that Matt was the right hire for our club at the right time.
  • For those who followed his career, preparedness was a big part of Matt’s game. No detail is too small. Well, he seems to have carried this over to his managerial career. For instance, Matt and his staff are in the late stages of scheduling Spring Training workouts. But before Matt signs off on the final schedules, he is driving an hour over to Viera, Fla., so he can lay his own eyes on Space Coast Stadium and the layout at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. In Matt’s 25 or so years in baseball (he was drafted in ’87), he has experienced only one spring in the Grapefruit League. In 1997, Matt spent Spring Training with the Indians in Winter Haven, FL. To the best of Matt’s recollection, he did not travel east that spring to Viera. So, rather than leave workout schedules to chance, Matt will visit Viera for himself on Thursday.
  • Mike Rizzo held his first staff meeting this morning in the team suite. He went over the roster, handed out staff assignments and talked about some of the team’s needs. Matt Williams had his turn at bat and spoke too. This was our scouting staff’s prime opportunity to pick Mike’s mind, compare notes on various players and offer names (internal and external) to keep an eye on. Mike seems pleased with the offseason’s progress to date, but he verbalized that there was more work to be done.
  •  I have to think the primary reason for Mike’s upbeat meeting was last week’s acquisition of Doug Fister. From what I’ve gathered, Doug is a Grade-A individual who just so happens to be 6-foot-8 and throw a heavy 89-90 mph sinker, from an arm angle that gives opposing batters fits. And Fister, unlike recent offseason rotation additions such as Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, will be here for a while. We control his rights for two seasons. Doug’s repertoire should benefit when contrasted with the 95+ mph fastballs of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Well, that’s it for today. For those battling the elements back in DC, please stay safe, warm and dry.

Mark

As Winter Meetings begin, an inside look back at the Jayson Werth signing

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by Amanda Comak

ORLANDO – Even now, three years later, the details are still fresh.

The quietly planned flight that Washington Nationals then-Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo took — along with Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner, and Principal Owner Mark Lerner — from Florida to California that November day in 2010. The preparation that went into what they were headed to do. The pitch. The deliberations.

And reeling in the biggest free agent in the organization’s history, shocking the baseball world as it descended upon Orlando for that year’s Winter Meetings.

In Case You Missed It: Mike Rizzo On Jayson Werth

The Nationals introduced Jayson Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park, but the announcement of the deal, on the eve of the 2010 Winter Meetings, was one of the most talked about signings of that winter.

Since 2010, the Sunday of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings usually brings about some reminiscing, particularly in the D.C. area. It seems everyone has a story about where they were when they heard the news that the Nationals had called a press conference to announce their seven-year, $126 million pact with Jayson Werth.

For some, it serves as a reminder of when things changed for the Nationals, when they entered “Phase Two” of their plan to construct a championship-caliber team. That part seems to have played out largely as they’d hoped. Two years later, the Nationals barreled through all comers to take the National League East Division title, and have been viewed as contenders ever since.

But even for signature Winter Meetings deals, like Werth’s, there’s often far more that comes before the bombshell drops.

“I think very few deals begin at the Winter Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings,” Rizzo said last week, as he and his staff prepared to head back to Orlando for this year’s gathering.

“There are many more cases where they start at the General Managers Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings. I think you lay foundations early in the offseason, and they either get announced at the Winter Meetings or the final decisions, after really going through the process, end at the Winter Meetings.”

Like Werth’s.

So as the Nationals get set for another Winter Meetings, let’s take an inside look back at how that deal went down.

The pitch

Shortly after the 2010 regular season came to an end, the Nationals honed their list of offseason targets. As Rizzo and his front office team began to put together a detailed plan for ownership of where they saw the team in one, three and five years, they surveyed the big-ticket free agents on the market.

There was third baseman Adrian Beltre, coming off an All-Star season in Boston, outfielder Carl Crawford, set to leave the Tampa Bay Rays, and Werth, who had just put together a career year.

Crawford didn’t fit for the Nationals, but Beltre and Werth intrigued them. At the GM Meetings, Rizzo met with agent Scott Boras, who represents both players. Rizzo expressed the team’s interest in both – and trying to sign both, at least for a short while, appeared to be a possibility. They planned to meet with both players at Boras’ offices in Los Angeles a few days later. They flew directly there after the Owners’ Meetings had wrapped.

The Nationals liked Beltre. Rizzo called their meeting with him “great.” But he didn’t fit perfectly, because acquiring him meant moving a Gold Glove third baseman – either Beltre or Ryan Zimmerman – to first.

Werth, on the other hand, would require no such shuffling. And if the attraction wasn’t mutual at the start, it had begun to feel that way by the meeting’s end.

“We really had a great meeting with Jayson,” Rizzo recalled.

The Nationals laid out for Werth the same plan Rizzo had put together for ownership. They showed him where they expected to be in one year, in three years, and in five years. They broke down future payrolls, told him about young Major Leaguers – like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond – and how they expected them to develop in a few years, along with the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

“We showed him the future of what we were trying to do here,” Rizzo said. “I think we really sold him on the fact that we wanted him. We were going to make him the center of our franchise. A guy who would teach us how to win, give us a championship pedigree, and really pave the way for other big-time players to come to us. I think the way we mapped it out to him, the way we evaluated it, and the honestly with which we spoke to him (opened his eyes).”

Werth paid close attention.

Late in the 2013 season, Werth was moving a few things at his Virginia home and found some of the notes he’d made during the free agency process. What he’d written down about the Nationals still hit home.

“(I wrote that) we would be good toward the end of my contract,” Werth said.

The success had come sooner than he anticipated at that initial meeting, but the Nationals detailed, long-term plans had made an impact on him.

“I think (being as prepared as we were at that meeting), was one of the main reasons we got him,” Rizzo said. “He had a lot of options.”

The decision

After the meeting at Boras’ Los Angeles offices, Werth and Rizzo took a walk to chat about what the team had put in front of the outfielder. Rizzo spoke then in an unfiltered manner, unloading “both barrels,” honestly. He’d known Werth a long time, so he leveled with him.

“He could’ve easily gone to Boston,” Rizzo said of the Red Sox, who had also courted Werth. “I told him, ‘You can be one of the guys in Boston, or be one of the guys in Philly, or be the guy in Washington.’ I think I appealed to his competitiveness. I knew he was that type of guy.

“It was a risky route to go, but I thought it would appeal to him.”

But the Nationals had a decision of their own to make. They knew Werth was looking for a long-term deal, and, as Rizzo has acknowledged several times, they knew they may have to pay a premium in dollars and years – relative to the more established contenders – to get him.

In that vein, they came away from the meeting impressed as well.

Jayson Werth Game 4 Walk-offThe Lerners found Werth’s meticulous nature – his unique workout regimen, his nutritional awareness and specifications – to be a positive with regard to his ability to be productive over the life of a deal that could span as many as five, six or even seven years. Because Werth detailed for them the way he planned to continue to take care of himself in the future, “We felt as comfortable as we could be about giving a guy a long-term contract,” Rizzo said.

A seventh year, and a no-trade clause were the final sticking points.

“We discussed and deliberated over it,” Rizzo said. “I knew we were losing all ties (with Werth’s other suitors). That was it. The decision was: do we hold the line and negotiate this thing out? Or do we pay and get the player?  And we decided we needed this guy at this time in our franchise, for a bunch of reasons.

“(At the time, having just seen Adam Dunn head to free agency), we had no commitments whatsoever with payroll. We knew we’d have to be careful, we knew Zimmerman’s day was coming, and how many nine-figure players can you have on one roster? Where does it end? You’ve got to make some hard decisions. (But) we really felt the connection with Werth, not only because of the relationship that I had with him going in, but because he appealed to us as a guy who was thinking about, and preparing for, his career down the road. You could see he was really focused in on five, six, seven years down the road.”

No regrets 

When the Nationals unveiled Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park the following week, the man who has become such a part of their identity revealed a little bit about how much he’d bought into the process he was about to help expedite.

“I’ve always been a big fan of an underdog,” Werth said that day. “I’m coming to be a part of something much greater than you’ve seen in this city.”

Three seasons into his contract, Werth and his teammates have already seen a sliver of that success. And a deal that was maligned by some rival executives at the time may be viewed differently now.

Given the fact that he is coming off his age-34 season with the best OPS of his career (.931), and the rising prices on the free agent market, it’s not inconceivable that – if Werth were a free agent – he could be signed to something like a four-year, $72 million contract ($18 million average annual value) this offseason.

And while the overall value of his contract can’t be determined for a few more years, looking back right now, the Nationals have no regrets.

“If we get 130 games of the Jayson Werth we’ve seen the last two years, for the next two or three years — if he’s (offensively) the guy he should be, and plays good right field and leads us in the clubhouse — then he’s exactly what we wanted.

“But I’ll say this: I would do it again, at this point, knowing what we’ve got.”

LaRoche Launches #NatsWeekOfGiving

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by Noah Frank

On Thursday, the Washington Nationals announced our #NatsWeekOfGiving, which will run through next weekend and will include visits from players, mascots and staff to the Youth Baseball Academy, MedStar Georgetown, Arlington National Cemetery and more. But the week launched in earnest on Friday, when the USO announced that Adam LaRoche has been invited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to take part in his upcoming Holiday Tour. LaRoche follows in the tradition of Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen as Nationals players to take part in the military venue tour.

“They said it’s something you don’t want to miss,” said LaRoche of his conversation with his teammates about their experience on the Holiday Tour last year. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for four or five years.”

LaRoche will be joined this year by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Bridget Kelly, former New England Patriots offensive tackle and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, actor/comedian Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles, stars of A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” Jep and Willie Robertson, and former correspondent on NBC’s “The Voice” Alison Haislip.

Much like Detwiler and Stammen last year, LaRoche admitted that he really didn’t know how to mentally prepare for the trip, as he has no idea what to expect. Nevertheless, LaRoche’s experience with veterans in the states has helped fill him with anticipation for the trip.

“All they want is to be back over with their brothers in arms,” LaRoche said of the Wounded Warriors he has visited with at Walter Reed Medical Center over the past three seasons. “If that doesn’t inspire you a little bit, there’s something wrong with you.”

We will have coverage of LaRoche’s USO Tour experience right here on Curly W Live.

In the meantime, you can take part in our #NatsWeekOfGiving by submitting a photo on Twitter of what you are doing to give back this holiday season. To enter the contest, simply submit a photo with the hashtag #NatsWeekOfGiving by 11:59pm on Saturday, December 14. Our Grand Prize Winner will take home an autographed Denard Span jersey and our top runner-up will win an Adam LaRoche-signed ball! Click below for official contest rules and let’s get the giving underway.

- OFFICIAL #NATSWEEKOFGIVING CONTEST RULES -

Nationals Acquire Doug Fister in Four-Player Trade with Tigers

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals took a significant step toward deepening their starting rotation on Monday night, acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers. In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and left-handed Minor League prospect Robbie Ray to the Tigers.

The 29-year-old slides into a rotation that already includes three All-Stars in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and brings with him a track record of durability and significant playoff experience. In 2013, Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA for the American League Central champions.

“This is an exciting day for the Washington Nationals,” said President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We feel we’ve added a talented, young veteran to our starting pitching corps. Doug is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”

In a Major League career that has spanned parts of five years, the 6-foot-8 right-hander has thrown over 200 innings in two of the last three seasons, and pitched in the postseason in each of the last three years. He is 3-2 with a 2.98 ERA in eight postseason games (seven starts).

Since 2011, the right-hander ranks 10th among Major League starting pitchers in WAR (13.1, per FanGraphs.com), ninth among MLB starting pitchers in walks per nine innings (1.82), and walk rate (4.9). He is fifth among Major League starting pitchers in home runs per nine innings (0.62) in that span, and 20th in all of the majors in ERA (3.30).

In 2012, while helping the Tigers reach the World Series, Fister set an American League record for consecutive strikeouts when he struck out nine Kansas City Royals in a row on Sep. 27.

A native of Merced, Calif., Fister was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2006, and was acquired, along with David Pauley, by the Tigers on July 30, 2011, in exchange for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Casper Wells and Chance Ruffin.

A second-year arbitration-eligible player, Fister is under contract through the 2015 season.

Lombardozzi, a Columbia, Md., native, served in a utility role for the Nationals the past two seasons – appearing at third base, shortstop and in left field, though his natural position is second base. In 257 Major League games, Lombardozzi is a career .264 hitter. The Nationals selected him in the 19th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

Krol, 22, was acquired by the Nationals in March as the Player to Be Named in the three-way trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle and brought the Nationals pitching prospects A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen from the Oakland Athletics. The left-hander enjoyed a meteoric rise once joining the organization and made his Major League debut on June 5 vs. the New York Mets. He did not allow a run in his first nine appearances (9.2 innings).

Ray, 22, posted a 3.36 ERA between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. Baseball America ranked Ray as the fifth-best prospect in the Nationals’ system. Washington selected him in the 12th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Brentwood (TN) High School.

Celebrate #GivingTuesday With The Nationals!

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#GivingTuesday is a national movement that recognizes the Tuesday following Thanksgiving as the opening day of the giving season. Nonprofits across the country participate in a competitive, 24-hour online fundraiser for their causes.

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation — the Nationals’ charitable arm — is proud to be a major supporter of the new Youth Baseball Academy and other important community projects that focus on children’s education, health and recreation.

Click the link below between 12:01 a.m. and midnight on Tuesday to learn about our work and make a donation to help improve the lives of families across the D.C. region.

Additional prize money will be awarded to nonprofits with the most donors during the hours of 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., so please donate during those hours if you can!

- LEARN MORE AND DONATE TODAY! -

#NatsWeekOfThanks: Kyle’s Kamp

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Bryce Harper, center, visiting with Gavin Rupp, right, and his family in the Nationals dugout.

Bryce Harper, center, visiting with Gavin Rupp, right, and his family in the Nationals dugout.

In 2010, the Hahne Family received news that changed their lives forever. Only six years old, Kyle Hahne was diagnosed with leukemia. What started as a website to update friends and family about Kyle’s hospital trips, Kyle’s Kamp soon became a way to raise money to support Children’s National Medical Center for pediatric cancer research.

As Kyle was an avid baseball fan, one fundraising effort is a series of baseball tournaments. Through a partnership with the Washington Nationals, some of these games are played on the field at Nationals Park.

Gavin Rupp threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park.

Gavin Rupp threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park.

It was at those games that we were first introduced to a remarkable young man named Gavin Rupp and his family.

Having gone through countless radiation treatments and two surgeries to remove a tumor from his brain, Gavin wanted to continue to play baseball. One month later, another tumor was detected, this time in the center of Gavin’s brain. Surgery was too risky, and the 13 year old became a hospice patient. He and his family tried to make the most of the time he had left.

While we wish it were under different circumstances, the Washington Nationals are thankful to Kyle’s father Rob for introducing us to Gavin. We invited Gavin to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game last July and to meet his favorite player, Bryce Harper.

Upon their meeting, Gavin and Bryce quickly became friends, forming a lasting bond that provided a special moment for the Rupp family. Our thoughts continue to go out to the Rupp family, as we were all saddened by Gavin’s passing.

We are thanking Kyle’s Kamp as part of our Week of Thanks. For more on #NatsWeekOfThanks, click here.

For more information, please visit www.kyleskamp.org and follow on Twitter at @KylesKamp.

To learn more about Gavin, and the Rupp family’s efforts to help eradicate pediatric cancer, visit www.ipromise15.org and follow on Twitter at @iPromise15

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