The Washington Times - August 3, 2013, 12:36PM

MILWAUKEE — On the day of the July 31 trade deadline, the Washington Nationals’ front office brass was holed up in their offices at Nationals Park working the phones. The Nationals opted not to make a deal before the non-waiver deadline passed, but they could certainly be one of the many teams who are active on the trade market well into the August waiver period. 

So what were the last few hours before the deadline like?

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“We were fielding a lot of phone calls – fielding more than we were making,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday. “There was a lot of interest in a lot of our players. We just felt that the return on the players wasn’t enough for the fact that, how is it going to impact us this year and beyond? But we were very busy.

“We had some good conversations with other teams. I would describe the other conversations as direct and at times we were getting close to some things. They turned out not to be the right deals.”

Rizzo declined to name which players received the most interest from other teams, but he did say there were four or five players which teams were showing “a lot of interest” in.

The Nationals, of course, hardly fancied themselves as sellers heading into this season, and they assembled the team with very few pieces they would be comfortable parting with. They also didn’t see a clear opportunity to add to their current roster.

Asked what the Nationals’ biggest need at this point is, Rizzo did not single out one specific area of the roster.

“The biggest need is for players to play up to their capabilities and to really utilize the skills, talent and athleticism that they have,” Rizzo said. “And to really generate that into winning baseball and to winning games.”

Rizzo indicated, as mentioned here yesterday, that the Nationals won’t be shy about possible waiver deals in August — whether that is as buyers or sellers.

“The trade deadline is never over, in my mind,” he said. “We’ve made some good deals after the 31st. We’re always looking to improve our roster for 2013 and beyond. We’re certainly not going to be a in a rent-a-player mode, which we never have been. We’re still looking for ways to improve the club.

“I expect this team to play extremely hard and winning baseball down the stretch and really lay it on the line the last third of the season. I have no problem with the effort level on the club. I think we work extremely hard and we play extremely hard. I just think we need to get a little energy within the offense and get some timely hits.”

As the days and weeks have worn on, the Nationals have been a bit more open about admitting that this season has not been what they expected to this point.

While it almost always comes with the reminder that they are not “out of it” yet — they will open Saturday 11 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the East and 6 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot — it has not gone the way they’d hoped.

“I’m surprised it’s been sputtering,” Rizzo said. “You look at the roster we have out there. You look at the track record of the players that are on the field, in the bullpen, in the rotation, on the bench. You say to yourself, ‘If these guys play up to their career norms, we should have a really good ball club.’

“For a player to struggle and not have a good season is understandable. It happens. But to have a group of players struggling at the same time and not have the continuity is a little bit puzzling. If I had a definite reason for it, I would fix it. We’re looking for some explanations how to fix things. We’ve done a lot of different things to do that. Right now, you have to allow the players to play out this last third of the season and see where it takes us. I believe averages are just that – they’re averages. One good third of a season can really turn a season around.”