Results tagged ‘ Sandy Leon ’

The Kids Are All Right

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by Amanda Comak

In the final weeks of Spring Training, as the Washington Nationals began to whittle their roster down to the 25 men who would travel north with them to begin the 2014 season, manager Matt Williams had to have several difficult conversations. Rosters constraints are what they are, Williams had to explain, and at that moment there just wasn’t room for everyone.

There was one caveat Williams tried to impress on some of the young talent that made the trek to his office in those final days of camp.

“You need 35 guys during the course of a season – on the low end,” he told them. “We’re going to need you guys at some point. Make sure you’re ready.”

In the first three weeks of the season, the Nationals have already summoned four of those players, and no fewer than five rookies, including right-hander Aaron Barrett who made the team out of camp, have made significant contributions. It’s the first time since 2009 that the Nationals have used as many as five rookies in the month of April.

Aaron Barrett holds the ball used in his first MLB strikeout.

Aaron Barrett holds the ball used in his first MLB strikeout.

Early-season injuries, along with a taxed bullpen, have necessitated the promotions of catcher Sandy Leon, right-hander Blake Treinen, outfielder Steven Souza Jr., and infielder Zach Walters. Barrett, who was outstanding in six games (4.1 IP), did not surrender a single earned run and allowed just one hit before a the need for a fresh arm sent him to Syracuse last weekend.

On the Nationals’ most recent road trip, clubhouse manager Mike Wallace was so busy properly inscribing important baseballs for the many “firsts” the rookies racked up, it seemed the Nationals were rolling a ball out of play every night.

“They all proved that they were capable during Spring Training,” Williams said this past week. “Some guys have been up here before, but they were ready to come when they were called. That’s a testament to player development, making sure they’re playing enough and getting at-bats and doing things they need to do to be ready when they’re called.

“We don’t want them called – and by that I mean, because you want your starting guys out there – but it’s a testament to them that they were ready.”

For the players, it has been quite an experience.

“The whole thing is a dream,” Walters said. “Just being here.”

When Barrett entered to make his Major League debut on Opening Day – in a tie game – his adrenaline surged. Before he began his warm-up pitches, shortstop Ian Desmond approached him.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘Hey, just take a second and look around. Just take this all in,’” Barrett said later that day. “I’m just really glad he did that, because I’ll never forget that moment and that he did that for me.”

Zach Walters, left, Steven Souza Jr., center, and Sandy Leon, right, hold the baseballs used in their various MLB "firsts" before a game in Miami this week.

Zach Walters, left, Steven Souza Jr., center, and Sandy Leon, right, hold the baseballs used in their various MLB “firsts” before a game in Miami this week.

Treinen made his Major League debut on Saturday, April 12, and registered his first Major League strikeout that night when Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson swung at strike three.

Leon, who has appeared in the big leagues in each of the past two seasons but retains his rookie status, smashed his first Major League home run over the right field wall on Monday night in Miami. After that game, Leon smiled often and called his first MLB homer “really awesome.”

Walters, who is also in his second big league stint after a September call-up last season, followed suit on Tuesday, crushing his first big league home run to right field. He didn’t wait long for his second, either, with a shot to deep left field that broke a 3-3 tie with the Marlins in an eventual 6-3 victory.

Souza Jr., whose indirect path to the Major Leagues has brought his emotions right to the surface now that he is here, picked up his first big league hit on Tuesday night, a single up the middle. When he got back to the dugout, his teammates were waiting for him.

“It’s so cool, man,” Souza Jr. said. “The love you get around here, the camaraderie. I’m just the new guy up there. Everybody is making me feel so welcome. To get hugs from (Desmond), who I started (in the organization) with, to Tyler (Moore), one of my best friends, it’s just a moment I’ll never forget.”

Sandy Leon holds the ball he hit for his first MLB home run.

Sandy Leon holds the ball he hit for his first MLB home run.

“I was just glad I was able to get a couple of zeroes and some outs, and do what I was called up here to do: eat some innings and help save our bullpen,” Treinen said after his debut. “It felt good. I’m kind of at a loss for words. It was fun to be up here at this level.”

The baseballs used in those “firsts” become the ultimate keepsakes for the players. They are authenticated by a Major League Baseball authenticator and inscribed by Wallace. Where they go from there is up to each guy. Treinen immediately gave his to his parents, and Souza Jr. said his was likely heading to his parents as well.

“It’s one of those things,” Souza Jr. said. “You’ve come so far, and all the hard work (that’s gone into getting here), and the people who helped me along this way, it’s a moment to kind of share with everyone.”

“These guys have wanted to do this since they were six years old,” said Williams, who still has the baseballs from his “firsts” as a player. “It’s the culmination of your efforts to become a big leaguer. And then there are three stages of that: you want to get there, you want to stay, and then you want to win a championship.

“I’m happy to see them all doing well.”

Nationals place C Wilson Ramos on DL, recall C Sandy Leon

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by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK – Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos underwent successful surgery on Wednesday to remove a fractured hamate bone from his left hand.

042112-171 wilson ramosRamos, who visited with hand specialist Dr. Kenneth Means on Tuesday, had the operation Wednesday and he will begin his rehab immediately. The team placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 1, before Wednesday’s game, and recalled catcher Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg.

The bulk of the Nationals’ catching responsibilities will now fall to Jose Lobaton, but his ability to handle the daily load of a starting role was a large reason why the team acquired him in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of Spring Training.

Lobaton caught 100 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, leading their vaunted pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League, while hitting .249 with 24 extra-base hits.

Leon, long thought to be one of the organization’s best defensive catchers, has proven more than capable in his brief Major League stints. In 2012, appearing in 12 games, Leon was 8-for-30 (.267) with a .389 on-base percentage.  Leon has thrown out 169 of 353 (48%) would-be basestealers the previous four minor-league seasons (2010-13).

The Nationals will no doubt miss Ramos, behind the plate as well as at it, and they’ll be patient as their bedrock catcher works to return from this injury strong and ready to return as their everyday backstop. In the meantime, the team will not be set adrift with the likes of Lobaton and Leon leading them behind the plate.

Get well soon, Wilson.

Must C Curtains: Wilson Ramos homers and drives in five runs after returning from the Disabled List in 2013.

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.

Welcome Back, Wilson

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Most Spring Training camps are full of stories of roster battles, of a number of players competing for a lone spot among the 25 that will begin Opening Day in the big league uniform. The Nationals have been one of those clubs in the past, but sit in Viera this year with all but one or two of those roster spots decided. As such, the most compelling stories are those of the comeback variety, those like the story of Wilson Ramos, which, after a couple years of setbacks, had a positive chapter written over the weekend.

After enduring a terrifying ordeal in the offseason prior to 2012, Ramos was excited to move on with a breakout performance on the field last year. That hope was dashed when retrieving a ball behind the plate early last May, as his foot snagged in the wet Cincinnati grass but his knee followed his body’s momentum, tearing ligaments and ending his season. On Sunday, after months of rehab, of grinding, hard work, he finally stepped into a batter’s box in a game for the first time.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pitch from the mound.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

One could forgive Ramos for being a little over-anxious in his first at-bat, entering as the DH in the seventh inning. He rolled a ball over to third base, testing his knee in action for the first time as he ran to first base. That seemed like it might be his only chance of the afternoon, but as the score leveled at 6-6, the Nationals batted again in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramos leading off. He battled through a tough at-bat, fighting out of an early hole and fouling off pitches, eventually forcing a full count. Then he blasted a high fastball to the right-center field gap, deep into the wind and almost gone to one of the deepest parts of Space Coast Stadium. He pulled in at second base with a double and a rousing round of applause from the home crowd.

Pulled for pinch-runner Sandy Leon, Ramos’ contribution would lead to the victory, as the Nationals would walk off with a 7-6 victory two batters later on Zach Walters’ RBI-single through the drawn-in infield. For Ramos, it was the first step back to doing what he loves.

“That’s a big step for me today,” he said. “Now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate.”

He got that chance Tuesday against the Astros, where he caught the first three innings of game action for the first time since last season.

Here’s a complete list of the Nationals Spring Training results to date.

Overall Record: 4-3-2

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

2012 Player Review: Jesus Flores

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. After a short hiatus, we are back at it with one of the Washington backstops, catcher Jesus Flores.

With the myriad of injuries beset upon the Nationals catching crew in 2012, there was one constant behind the plate, one man who was there, day in, day out, working with the pitching staff. Jesus Flores had nearly as many at-bats (277) as the fellow quintet of backstops he shared time with combined (303), appearing in over half of Washington’s games this year. Defensively, he caught nearly 47 percent of all innings thrown in 2012 by Nationals pitchers.

Flores hit three of his six 2012 home runs vs. Atlanta, each in a key victory.

Flores was thrust into the starting role after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on a rainy Saturday night, May 12 in Cincinnati. When Chase Headley ran over Sandy Leon – the latter only a couple innings into his Major League debut – just 72 hours later, even more pressure landed on Flores to handle the league’s best pitching staff. He responded both defensively and offensively with his best stretch of the season, batting .320/.352/.500 through June 3, his first 15 games following Ramos’ injury.

Flores’ offensive contributions this season were sometimes obscured, though. His first home run of the year was overshadowed almost immediately, as it was followed by Stephen Strasburg’s first roundtripper of his Major League career, when the duo went back-to-back off Orioles starter Wie-Yen Chen on May 20 at Nationals Park. Flores’ next three longballs all came against Atlanta, each in crucial wins. He opened the scoring off Brandon Beachy with a solo shot in the fifth inning of a 2-0 victory on June 2, then went deep against Randall Delgado on June 29 to help Washington to a 5-4 triumph. Finally, his three-run blast off Paul Maholm on August 21 provided the difference in a 4-1 Nationals victory.

Meanwhile, the backstop continued to improve defensively. After never posting a range factor above 7.00, Flores notched a 9.16 mark over 80 games in 2012, while logging a career-high 687.2 innings behind the plate. He held down the fort throughout the spring and early summer until the arrival of Kurt Suzuki in early August, at which point he returned to his backup role for the stretch run.

With Ramos set to return sometime next spring, the Nationals will have some decisions to make about the future of their deep and experienced catching corps. Flores is entering the final of his four arbitration years (he was a Super Two, starting back in 2010), and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season.

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

The Iron Man In The Mask

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There is a rather crass saying around the game of baseball, for those players sitting in the Minor Leagues, next in line behind big league starters: they’re just a slip in the shower away from the Show. The point is not to make light of injuries, but to emphasize just how fragile any player’s hold on his position really is.

Flores has been a rock behind the plate for the Nationals this year.

Three years ago, Jesus Flores learned just how tenuous his own claim to the Nationals starting catching job was. After respectable half-seasons worth of time in Washington in both 2007 and ’08, Flores had his breakout year in 2009, batting .311/.382/.522 with four homers and 15 RBI in 26 games before a torn labrum cost him the rest of his year. Following offseason surgery, the backstop missed the entire 2010 season, and found himself back at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, watching veteran Pudge Rodriguez and rookie sensation Wilson Ramos split time in Washington. He made it back to the big leagues late in the season, but hit just .209/.253/.314 in 30 games, and seemed poised to be, at best, the backup for Ramos in 2012.

Of course, nobody could have predicted the injury woes that would befall the Nationals catchers this season. First, Ramos twisted his knee while trying to chase down a passed ball on Sunday, May 13 in Cincinnati, tearing his ACL and ending his season. The very next day, Sandy Leon – Ramos’ replacement – was barreled over at the plate by San Diego third baseman Chase Headley and suffered a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for weeks. With Jhonatan Solano, the only other prospective catcher in the minors, on the Disabled List himself, that led to the Nationals summoning Carlos Maldonado from Triple-A and thrusting Flores into the starting role that he had not filled in nearly three years.

Some fans may have forgotten that it was Flores who caught Edwin Jackson’s two-hitter in April.

While his numbers have not approached those he posted earlier in his career, Flores has been a sturdy presence at a crucial position that dearly needed one. He has handled the game’s best pitching staff, while blocking breaking pitches in the dirt and taking foul ball after foul ball off the mask, the pads, even his meat hand, seemingly every night.

He has had his moments with the bat, too, though they have largely gone unnoticed. His first home run of the year broke a 3-3 tie in the final home game of the Baltimore series, but was quickly upstaged by Stephen Strasburg’s first career blast, which followed as the back end of back-to-back shots. His next roundtripper snapped a scoreless tie against then-NL ERA leader Brandon Beachy and the Atlanta Braves, but again it was Strasburg’s seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball with nine strikeouts that would dominate headlines following the 2-0 Nats victory.

And while Solano has healed from his injury and has filled in nicely as the backup for the Nationals, batting .294/.333/.559 in limited time prior to the break, there is a good reason that Flores continues to be the Nationals iron man, starting the lion’s share of games behind the plate. After all, he leads all Major League catchers with at least 50 games played with a 3.12 catcher’s ERA entering play on July 17. With a team whose fortunes will be dictated by their pitching, that’s more than enough evidence for manager Davey Johnson to know that his staff – and their blazing fastballs – is in good hands.

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