HOUSTON — The Nationals shored up their middle-infield depth on Monday morning, acquiring Cesar Izturis on a waiver claim from the Milwaukee Brewers. Mark DeRosa was placed on the disabled list with a left abdominal strain making the move for Izturis not only timely but necessary.
Izturis, a light-hitting but slick-fielding veteran, hit .235 with two home runs for the Brewers this season but he fills a need for the Nationals as a backup in the middle infield with shortstop Ian Desmond expected to remain on the disabled list until at least the last week in August with an oblique strain and DeRosa battling the abdominal issue.
In order to clear room for Izturis on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, the team designated left-handed reliever Atahualpa Severino for assignment. Izturis was not expected to join the Nationals until Tuesday, though, so they played Monday night’s game with 24 on the active roster.
DeRosa, who missed two months of the season with an oblique strain (a timetable elongated by the unfortunate passing of his father), is hitting .152 in 34 games this season. He had been the Nationals’ main middle-infield backup plan with Desmond out, Danny Espinosa playing shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi playing second. But he began to really feel discomfort in his groin area this weekend and was unsure if he could play Saturday night.
After Espinosa slid into second base Sunday and was shook up, his hand stepped on and his ear bleeding, the Nationals felt uncomfortable having so little safety net.
“We were naked there,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson “We didn’t have any insurance policy. To have (Izturis) available, it kind of must be our year. Very good defender, plays second or short and a switch hitter, so awfully good insurance. It’s like having spot starters in the bullpen. I sleep better.”
Johnson considered all his other possible options in Espinosa were to get hurt. Moving Lombardozzi or Ryan Zimmerman to shortstop, shifting other players out of their natural positions. Chad Tracy even volunteered to play the position if necessary. Acquiring a more reliable backup option became necessary.
“I didn’t want to be doing all that,” Johnson said. “We’re in a pennant race. You can’t do that. (Acquiring Izturis) was a good move. If DeRosa was pressed into action and made a quick move, he could be lost for the year. This just protects us in a lot of ways.”
Izturis, who also has some playoff experience with the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers, won a Gold Glove in 2004 and his .851 career zone rating, which measures range, ranks second among active shortstops behind only Omar Vizquel (.863). In 2010, with the Orioles, his .985 fielding percentage ranked second in the American League among shortstops. He’s played with DeRosa as well as left-hander Michael Gonzalez in the past and both spoke highly of the 32-year-old.
DeRosa will visit with Dr. Bill Meyers, an abdominal specialist, in Philadelphia in the coming days to rule out anything serious but didn’t seem to think the issue was too grave. He understood, however, the Nationals’ need for fully healthy middle infielders.
“It’s a situation where our roster is kind of hamstrung,” DeRosa said. “If I don’t have the ability to go out and help them out up the middle, then a move has got to be made, at least until Desi comes back.”
Because the Nationals claimed Izturis and the Brewers allowed them to take him without working out a trade, the Nationals are responsible for only the roughly $283,000 remaining on Izturis’ $850,000 contract. The Brewers allowed the Nationals to take Izturis off their hands because they promoted shortstop prospect Jean Segura to the major leagues in his place. Segura was acquired from the Angels in the trade for Zack Greinke.
The Nationals now have a veteran option at both of the positions they’d deemed as most in need of insurance before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They acquired Kurt Suzuki to be the team’s primary catcher this past weekend.