PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals added five more players to their active roster on Tuesday, calling up infielder Zach Walters, outfielders Corey Brown and Eury Perez, utility man Jeff Kobernus and left-hander Xavier Cedeno in their second round of September additions.
For Walters, acquired in the 2011 trade that sent Jason Marquis to the Diamondbacks, the promotion marked his first-ever major league call-up. He was added to the Nationals’ 40-man and given the good news on Sunday afternoon by Triple-A Syracuse manager Tony Beasley.
“I was overwhelmed,” Walters said after unpacking his things inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. “I threw a big man-hug on (Beasley( and same thing with our hitting coach.”
Walters, Brown, Perez, Kobernus and Cedeno arrived just after 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday and while the other four shook hands and accepted hugs from their teammates as they enjoyed another call to the big leagues, Walters took in the scene a bit more in his first trip.
“When you’re out there in the bushes you appreciate this so much more,” Walters said, laughing and joking with reporters on his first day.
When asked he and manager Davey Johnson chatted about what kind of role he’d have, he was quick.
“We talked about Powerade mixes,” he said. “Blue Powerade mixes. Guys like the seeds in alphabetical order. I think the Scrubbing Bubbles are somewhere around the corner.”
Johnson took a liking to Walters in spring training when he worked with the 23-year-old on his batting stance. He told him to focus on his power this year, on driving the ball, and Walters listened.
In 134 games with Triple-A Syracuse this season, Walters hit .253 and had just a .286 on-base percentage, but he clubbed 29 home runs and had 66 total extra-base hits. His 29 home runs was tied for the Triple-A lead. After a slow first two months of the season, Walters said he was able to merge what Johnson wanted to see in regard to his power with an approach that made him a bit more comfortable. That’s when he took off.
“When he said that, I was like ‘All right, I’m working on that,’” Walters said. “It was a lot. It had its ups and downs. Starting out slow and being in cold weather, and now walking into this clubhouse and seeing these guys’ faces again, it’s great. I don’t have words.
“I can tell you the day (it changed). We were in Norfolk on the road. It was the second game, and I was like 0-for-the-century, it felt like. So I sat down with (Triple-A hitting coach Troy Gingrich), I was like ‘Troy, I need to do something that works. Something that makes me happy but incorporates what we built up at the end of spring training.’… I felt like it wasn’t enough to help the team. I felt like one out of every two games I’d get a hit. For us to win I need to put the ball in play more. And I needed to at least do something that was contact. I was always a contact line drive hitter. But I didn’t want to get away from what guys on the big club were telling me.”
Along with the rest of the new position players added to the roster, it’s not clear that Walters will get a ton of playing time at this level. Johnson said it depends on how the Nationals do in the next few days — and if their playoff chase becomes any more realistic. If they continue to fall further from a postseason spot, Johnson may get some of the younger players more time.
Brown hit 19 home runs this season with a .254 average, 26 doubles, 56 BRI and 40 walks in 107 games for Syracuse in 2013. Kobernus returns for a second stint with the Nationals this season. He went 4-for-23 (.174) with a home run, one RBI, three runs scored and four walks in 15 games from with Washington from May 25-June 29. Kobernus stole at least 40 bases for the third straight season this year, swiping 42 in 95 games with Triple-A. Perez, who is also enjoying his second call-up this season, hit .300 with 18 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 28 RBI, 23 stolen bases and a .336 on-base percentage in 96 games for Syracuse this season.
Cedeno may get a bit more of an opportunity than the position players as the Nationals continue to search for a consistent lefty reliever who can get left-handed batters out. The Nationals claimed him off waivers from the Astros in April, and he’s had multiple other call-ups this season but only pitched twice.
“I love this time of year when you expand the rosters,” Johnson said. “I know some managers don’t, but I think this has always been good for the young talent to get some major-league experience and get a chance to play in some games.
“It’s not going to be a priority (to get them playing time), and they understand that. If we continue to play like we have three of the last four, they’ll be getting a lot of playing time. But I don’t expect that to happen. I expect us to play better and make this a pennant race.”