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Nationals acquire catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson from Tampa Bay

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. – The Washington Nationals shored up their catching corps and added more talent to the upper levels of their Minor League system on Thursday, acquiring catcher Jose Lobaton, left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson from the Tampa Bay Rays.

In exchange, the Nationals sent right-handed starter Nathan Karns to the Rays. To clear space for Rivero on the team’s 40-man roster, right-hander Erik Davis was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain.

Lobaton, 29, hit .249 with a .320 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage in 311 plate appearances with the Rays in 2013. Splitting time with veteran Jose Molina, Lobaton — who is considered an above-average defensive receiver — helped guide the vaunted Tampa Bay pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League.

The Venezuela native joins countrymen Wilson Ramos and Sandy Leon, along with Jhonatan Solano, as catchers on the Nationals’ 40-man roster and gives Manager Matt Williams a strong layer of depth behind Ramos.

He became an October hero in 2013, crushing a walk-off home run for the Rays off Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Rivero, 22, went 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 25 games/23 starts for Charlotte of the Florida State League in 2013. Rated by FanGraphs.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, Rivero’s fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph. His nine wins paced Single-A Charlotte, as did his 127.0 innings pitched.

He participated in the 2012 XM All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City and earned Midwest League mid-season All-Star honors while with Single-A Bowling Green.  Rivero was signed by the Rays on July 30, 2008 and is a native of San Felipe, Venezuela.

Vettleson, originally selected by the Rays in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Central Kitsap (WA) High School, was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Rays’ organization entering the 2014 season by Keith Law from ESPN.com.

The 22-year old spent the 2013 season with Single-A Charlotte, hitting .274 with 29 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 62 RBI and 50 runs scored.  During the 2012 campaign in which he played 132 games for Single-A Bowling Green, Vettleson set a Bowling Green franchise record with 139 hits and his 15 home runs and 69 RBI were both in the top five among Rays minor leaguers.  In two of his first three professional seasons, Vettleson also stole at least 20 bases.

Following the 2012 season, he was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a Midwest League All-Star and Bowling Green’s Most Valuable Player.

Vettleson, a native of Bremerton, Washington, was cited by Baseball America as being the Best Pure Hitter among high school talents entering the 2010 Draft.

Karns, 26, was the Nationals 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and made three starts for the Nationals in 2013.

In 54 Minor League starts, from the Gulf Coast League up through Double-A Harrisburg, Karns has a career Minor League ERA of 2.66. The hard-throwing right-hander was selected in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Tech University.

Davis, 27, went 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 games with the Nationals last season, his first in which he appeared in the Major Leagues.

State of the Nationals

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The Washington Nationals’ Baseball Operations staff is about to descend upon Viera, Fla., next week as another Spring Training gets underway.

With the bulk of his offseason work done, Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo has a personal message for fans on the State of the Nationals entering a promising 2014 season.

Take a look:

A NatsFest Thank You

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There were more than 8,400 Nationals fans who packed the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Saturday afternoon.

And because of them, it was an unforgettable day.

We can’t say “Thank you” enough to those of you who were able to join us, and share in our excitement for the 2014 season.

Here is a small glimpse into the day that was, and with just 17 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report, hopefully this will warm your baseball-loving souls for just a little bit longer.

Enjoy!

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Gearing Up For NatsFest

Hello, everybody.

Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

One of the Washington Nationals’ Principal Owners,  Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

I hope everyone is dealing well with this cold and wintry week here in the Nation’s Capital. When it gets cold like this, I usually calculate the days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training (21 days!). This week is a bit different as we are just hours away from NatsFest.

  • Just as a reminder, NatsFest is on Saturday, January 25, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. New venue. We hope you can join us. I am so excited to welcome Matt Williams and an impressive roster of players to DC. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, et al. Come early, stay warm, talk baseball.
  • We are also expecting a special visit from arguably our most beloved Nationals alum, … Livan Hernandez. Livan, who threw the first pitch in the history of the Nationals, completed his 17-year big league career in 2012 with 178 wins, 44 of which came as a member of the Nationals. It will be fantastic to sit down and catch up with Livan.
  • Speaking of Livan, it will be fun to have another inaugural-season National in camp with us upon arrival in Viera. In case you missed it, we signed infielder Jamey Carroll earlier this month and he’ll be competing for a spot on Matt Williams’ bench. Jamey also played for the Expos, so he should have some interesting perspective on how far this organization has come as we enter our 10th season in Washington.
  • As we reach the late stages of the offseason, I think it is worth remembering that most of Mike Rizzo’s key moves came quite early: Doug Fister, Nate McLouth, Jerry Blevins. Mike and his crew are still hard at work searching for the right fits. Always looking to improve.
  • We recently signed four-year Player Development Contracts with both Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. Through the years, we have really valued our relationships with the Chiefs, Senators and their respective fan bases. There is a sense of organizational satisfaction in being able to establish roots in both Syracuse and Harrisburg.
  • I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Frank Ceresi, who passed away recently. For those that are not aware, Frank played an integral role in developing the art program that we collectively enjoy at Nationals Park. He was an enormous baseball/Nationals fan and he will be sorely missed.

I hope to see everyone on Saturday at NatsFest.

Mark

A Wonderful Week of Giving

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Last week, volunteers from across the Washington Nationals organization participated in #NatsWeekOfGiving, an initiative to give back in our community during the holiday season, while encouraging our fans to do the same.

Adam LaRoche kicked things off by joining the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, on a USO Holiday Tour overseas. Denard Span and Ross Detwiler did their part here in D.C.,  visiting with scholar-athletes from the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, joining the Washington Redskins at the Darrell Green Foundation’s annual Christmas party and partnering with the Hope for Henry Foundation on a Winter Wonderland Holiday party for pediatric patients at The Lombardi Cancer Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

Nationals employees teamed up with 106.7 The Fan personalities for the remainder of the week. The team worked with John “Cakes” Auville, John-Paul “JP” Flaim and Danny Rouhier to distribute toys to military families for Project USO Elf,  and welcomed Holden Kushner to their group to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery with Wreaths Across America.

Thanks to all who helped make this week a great success!

Adam LaRoche wraps up unforgettable USO Tour

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by Amanda Comak

As Adam LaRoche curled himself into a corner table at the Occidental Grill Friday night, it was hard for him to figure out exactly what time it was supposed to be. His day started in Germany. And since he’d embarked on the 2013 Chairman’s USO Holiday Tour with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey a week earlier, LaRoche had visited four countries and three different time zones.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

Flanked by his friends and travel companions, Willie and Jep Robertson from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty, and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, the group shared stories from what they all agreed was an unforgettable experience.

“Every time I look at the flag, and I look at it every night when they play the national anthem, I can’t say I ever really looked at the flag and thought, ‘Somebody paid the price for that,” LaRoche said. “I will now. I hope it’s going to be a lot easier to not take those things for granted like we typically do.”

The USO tour took the four companions to multiple bases and through several hospital visits. They met soldiers all over the world –in Greece, Afghanistan, Italy and Germany – and absorbed as much as they could.

It was an exhausting stretch. Time with Chairman Dempsey is calculated down to the second, and they knew little about what was ahead of them when they left the U.S. on Dec. 6 – they were told to pack for weather ranging from 30 degrees to 80 degrees. But they talked with soldiers who were just 72 hours removed from a firefight, and learned about the challenges the troops face in trying to both eliminate the threat of terrorism while at the same time serving to aid the Afghan people.

Here are a few of the stories the group told Friday night as they rehashed their experience for a handful of local media members:

●●●

Adam LaRoche: “I’m thinking, ‘What could I possibly say to relate to these guys?’ It’s not easy for me, for sure. I feel like, and I told them this, ‘We should be sitting down there [in the audience] and some of you guys, specifically some of the older Sergeants and Generals, you guys should be up here [on stage] talking to us. I don’t need to be up here trying to motivate you.’”

Jep Robertson: “I just think they want to forget for a few minutes what they’re actually doing. Just have a good time and relax and not worry about tomorrow, just have time to laugh.”

ALR: “That’s why [Willie and Jep] are such a big hit, because they go up and do their thing together. It kind of caps the whole show off. They did like 20 minutes and it’s not sitting there bringing back memories and all about what they’re going through. They’re just telling jokes, talking about the show, talking about Uncle Si, so you’re right, that’s probably what they want to do: feel like they’re back home.”

Willie Robertson sings "Hairy Christmas" with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson sings “Hairy Christmas” with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson:  “We wanted to give them a piece of America, what they had known from the show. We came up with the [performance] on the flight over, of what we would do. We had no idea what we would do. And as it turns out, with our album out, Duck the Halls, Chairman Dempsey said we should sing a song and I said, ‘Well let’s do “Hairy Christmas.”’ He had no idea what the song was. I gave him the CD, he listened to it and he said, ‘Let’s sing that at the end of the show.’ And then all of the USO talent came up at the end and we all sang it together. It was the perfect ending to the whole show.”

ALR: “Dempsey actually came out in the full beard and a USO bandana headband (like Willie).”

Could you get a sense of what it meant to the troops?

WR: “Oh there was no doubt.”

ALR: “They were blown away. They were so blown away that you’d think nobody’s ever been over there. There have been a lot of USO shows that go through, but I think every time they just appreciate it so much.”

●●●

Jep: “You’ve got to hear about the dog and Matt.”

ALR: “This is good.”

Matt Light: “They’ve got these military dogs cruising around all over the base. They were a little bit intimidating. I was talking to one of the guys about their dogs…They are pretty jacked up about these dogs. They talk about the training they do. I’m looking at this dog and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I hear what you’re saying, you all probably work them pretty good, but it’s a 40-lb or 50-lb dog.’ I’m looking at it thinking, ‘That’s probably not going to hold up against a 300-pound man.’ So I smarted off a few times and the following night they arranged to break out the suit, like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story.

ALR: “It’s like 11 o’clock at night because our schedule was packed.”

ML: “So I put this suit on.”

ALR: “So now he’s 400 pounds.”

ML: “They had us stand in these DVQs, Designated Visitors Quarters, which were shipping containers stacked on top of each other with a railing on each of them. There was basically room just to turn around and walk back-and-forth inside of it. That’s where you live if you’re in Afghanistan. In front of it on the base, in the rain, and it’s very dark, there’s a guy holding a dog. Basically, they give you instructions. First of all, they say don’t let your arms come out of it – and I’m two sizes too big for this. So it’s just barely snug up towards the end of my arm, you have to suck your hand [up in the sleeve]. They said, ‘You need to go down there and agitate them and then turn and run, and don’t look back.’”

ALR: “People had come from everywhere because they heard that morning that this was going to go on. So the railings were packed.”

ML: “They wanted me to run like 60 yards, and I told them I hadn’t run like 10 yards in a year-and-a-half. So we cut that distance in half and I got about three-quarters of the way down and I think he jumped up and missed me the first time – I mean, small target – but when he did finally latch on, he latched on consistently like right here on my elbow. And the first round I think I had the upper hand, obviously if I wasn’t in the suit I’d be in a world of trouble. He got thrown around a little bit.”

ALR: “This dog had no chance. The dog never touched the ground. It looked like a helicopter.”

ML: “I got this speech from one guy who was telling me what to do, he was like, ‘Here’s the code word,’ and it was some phrase and I’m like, ‘I’m never going to remember that.’ I said, ‘No, ‘cinnamon.’ If I yell cinnamon, come get this dog off me.’ We did it like four more times. They weren’t going to let me out of the suit. The dog had a pretty good bite. That dog was chompin’. We got some good pictures of teeth snarling mid-air. It was a great experience. I had a mini-heart attack and it was a bit of a monsoon inside the suit. It was like hot yoga inside there.”

JR: “It was really cold, but then he was running.”

ML: “It took about an hour-and-a-half to get back to normal.”

ALR: “But that was so late at night because to squeeze something in [that’s how it had to be]. If Willie were to say, ‘Hey, this guy wants me to come by his barracks and come meet his buddy or see something,’ you would run it by a guy and then he would have to run it by the whole team who’d say, ‘OK, Willie needs security here at this time,’ and then they’d have somebody there before he arrives. This isn’t just like they let you run around and do whatever you want. Because they’re getting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), even on the big bases we were on. It’s not unusual for the sirens to go off because somebody shot an IED into the base. A week or two before they said they lost two guys, who were asleep in the same type of containers we were sleeping in, and an IED went through and killed two of them. You can’t just stroll around. It was a deal for them to get set-up. So this dog thing took a lot of planning.”

●●●

JR: “We went to (Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan) and they said they’d just been in a 72-hour battle. The troops, you could tell they were happy we were there, but they had just come out of a firefight.”

ALR: “There were a couple guys shot, one guy blown up while we were there, but we didn’t see him until this morning in Germany. We saw him in the hospital in Germany.”

WR: “I met that guy in Afghanistan! I met him, took a picture with him, two days later I’m in Germany, he’s in the hospital bed. I walked in and was like, ‘Ah, good to see you again.’ He actually was way better than when I saw him in Afghanistan. He had a full neck brace and was pretty loopy then. Couldn’t hardly talk. In Germany he was like, ‘Hey there!’ He’d already told his family that he had met me, so the second time he had all these questions about the show.”

●●●

ALR: “The troops said the Afghan people are the toughest people in the world, which I never would’ve guessed.”

WR: “When you see the conditions they live in, you have to be tough.”

ALR: “The problem is, you’re trying to get rid of one group of people and make friends with the other group of people. The local Afghanis, the troops are doing everything they can to help them. They’re giving them food and water, training their cops, training their military guys, rebuilding a lot of their hospitals and communities – on top of fighting. So you’re trying to rebuild a country and protect yourselves at the same time.”

WR: “But the terrorists are like thugs. No different than big American cities where you have drug guys and it’s hard to go in there and extract that one person without condemning the whole neighborhood. Most of the people are good and they’re trying to raise their families but you’ve got a couple people who are bullies. I saw it as similar to that.”

ALR: “They said, ‘This is just a street fight. They come out, they hit, they run, they hide…But the troops, they do surgery for a lot of the locals. They bring them in. Fix ‘em up.”

WR: “I was shocked at how much the American troops care about these people and are trying to make them better. I was amazed.”

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

ALR: “What we were told is that our guys are never going out looking for Taliban. The majority of our guys are going out to villages every day to keep training them (the Afghanis).”

WR: “The whole goal is for them to sustain their country to fight off terrorism.”

ML: “Our troops are legitimately invested in their mission, not to go over there and wipe out a people. They’re there to really try to help those people. And they don’t really care what’s going on over here. I think one of the biggest reasons to go over there, especially listening to these knuckleheads in Washington all day every day, you don’t get a sense. They’re not telling the story of any of these young men and women who, each and every day, are waking up and putting themselves in danger. Seeing a little Afghani kid, and 10 minutes later that kid is gone. They’re not looking for trouble. They’re trying to help. They truly care about these people. None of them talk about what we hear over here. They don’t give a damn about that. They literally just want to do their job.”

●●●

ALR: “I was probably most shocked by the fact that there’s like 20–25,000 troops on one base.”

JR: “They had a TGI Fridays.”

WR: “Sadly, my brother was most impressed by the TGI Fridays.”

ALR: “You have no idea how many people are sitting at computers doing stuff, and how many mechanics, and cooks and the guys who sweep the rooms, that’s the majority of the guys – the ones who don’t get recognized, who are behind the scenes, who make the whole thing work.”

WR: “There are a lot of civilians, too.”

ALR: “There are contractors there. Full time electricians, plumbers, so there are civilians staying on base too. They’re building stuff, taking stuff down, sending a lot of stuff home right now.”

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

WR: “I was impressed by the amount of organization by the U.S. military to be able to run an operation like that. They build cities that are bases. Airports. Lodging for 30,000 people. That’s what impressed me. How do you come into this country, build things, fight for your life, run troops and in and out? It was unbelievable. It just blew me away. And the spirit of the troops was super impressive, their dedication to it. The general said it best. It’s built on trust. These guys trust each other with their lives.”

ML: “I think one of the big things, too, is you say: what do you do now that you’ve had this experience? What’s next? I think you can really start spreading the word to everybody around. I told the troops, ‘I can at least tell your story and get [people back home] talking about it. I can let them know the things you are doing and what you do go through.’ To some degree, don’t we all owe it to our service men and women to do something? Not if you’re a celebrity, or whatever. If you’re some dude on the street. I think we all should at least take the time to think about that more than just on Veterans Day or something else. Maybe it’s just a mindset or a perception, get people to stop and realize.”

●●●

For more on LaRoche’s time on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, you can catch up on the dispatches he sent back while he was overseas here and here, and check out a photo gallery here.

You can also take a look at some of the coverage by local media:

nationals.com

MASNsports.com

CSNWashington.com

The Washington Post

From The Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Wrapping Up the Winter Meetings

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Hello, everybody.

As you likely know by now, Orlando served as a productive (and warm) backdrop for our club as MLB’s Winter Meetings concluded yesterday.

Mike Rizzo was able to add a pair of players – outfielder Nate McLouth and left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins – during our stay at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel.

  • Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins comes to the Nationals after parts of seven seasons in Oakland.

    Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins comes to the Nationals after parts of seven seasons in Oakland.

    Blevins was attained from the Athletics on Wednesday in exchange for speedy outfielder Billy Burns. I will discuss Burns in a moment, but Blevins’ arrival fills an obvious void and better balances our bullpen equation. What’s distinctive about Blevins is his 6-foot-7 height, which is practically unheard of among left-handed relievers. For a while, at least, he will have the element of surprise at his disposal, as only 20.1 of his 267.0 big league innings have come against NL competition.

  • Blevins joins a bullpen that suddenly contains a pair of former Dayton Flyers. Blevins was college teammates with Craig Stammen for two seasons at Dayton.
  • On Thursday, we were finally able to officially acknowledge the Nate McLouth signing, which goes a long way toward providing the quality and experienced big league depth that we lacked last season, especially in the outfield. Nate is widely-regarded as a regular outfielder (500+ at-bats for the ’13 Oriole club that won 85 games) and we are fortunate to be able to plug him into a fourth outfielder slot. But Nate shouldn’t get too comfortable in our dugout. I know Matt Williams has visions of regular rest for his starting eight. He talked about this often while in Orlando.
  • Going back to the Blevins deal, I think it is worth acknowledging that this was a scouting AND player development success story. The player we dealt, Burns, is reported to be as fast as anyone in baseball and he gets on base at a .421 (OBP) career clip. He was our 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, so the acquisition cost for Blevins was real. This was not an easy deal for Mike to make. But the back story is what intrigues me. Burns signed with us as a 32nd-round selection in 2011 and did not begin pinch hitting until joining the professional ranks (he hit strictly right handed during his collegiate career at Mercer University). It is not often that 32nd-round picks are named players of the year, and can be dealt to acquire big league talent. Job well done.
  • Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper share a laugh at last year's NatsFest.

    Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper share a laugh at last year’s NatsFest.

    We will host NatsFest on Saturday, January 25, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Tickets are already on sale and in demand. In one day, we’ve already surpassed our total sales from the 2013 event, and we hope you can again join us. Last year’s event was fantastic and it really kicks off the baseball season. I enjoy seeing fans and players to begin the baseball dialogue that warms our baseball souls.

  • I enjoyed getting to know Mark Weidemaier, our new defensive coordinator/advance coach, while in Orlando. It will be interesting to see the impact of this new position, but I can tell you that Matt will have quite a bit of solid information at his finger tips thanks to the efforts of Mark and his staff. Our game has changed quite a bit in a short time.

So, another Winter Meetings are in the books and we are staring at less than two months until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla. It is coming fast, so don’t wait too long to make your travel plans to join us in Viera for Spring Training. I cannot wait.

I hope everyone enjoys a safe holiday season.

Mark

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.

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