By John Solomon
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Sunday was the latest example of how the Nationals' bullpen may be a bit off-kilter as they pass the quarter mark of the 2013 season. The personnel is exactly the same as it was when the Nationals opened the season, but the way they've been used hasn't always been consistent — and neither has the performance.
"I met a guy today who had been through 49 surgeries," said Chad Tracy. "I've been through four of five myself, just to imagine a guy going through almost 50 surgeries, to see he was still a driven, confident, leader of a man really touched me."
In the slog that is a 162-game baseball season, the importance of the way a team starts the season often teeters on a high wire. Currently walking that thin line are the Washington Nationals, who lost 2-0 to the New York Mets on Sunday to finish a 3-3 road trip through what is expected to be the two basement teams in their division.
The Washington Nationals entered spring training with much of their 25-man roster set, and with less than three weeks before Opening Day, the one spot they had in the bullpen appears all but filled.
It didn't take Mattheus long to look around the Nationals' clubhouse this spring and realize that, of the relievers on the team's 40-man roster, there is precisely one who throws with his left hand: Zach Duke.
The goal this year is simple, as manager Davey Johnson has already laid out as plain as can be: World Series or bust. Here are five storylines to watch as the Nationals go through six weeks of preparation for the 2013 season.
The first game of a three-game series between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers was postponed Tuesday due to inclement weather in the D.C. area. The game will be made up as part of a traditional doubleheader on Wednesday with the first game beginning at 4:05 p.m. and the second starting approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first.
The Washington Nationals open the second half of the season Friday night in Miami as the best team in the National League, leading the East Division by four games. The second half will bring a pennant race to D.C., and the Nationals will be tested.
The Houston Astros released pitcher Zach Duke and veteran hitter Jack Cust on Tuesday.
A team-by-team look at the National League entering spring training, including key players each club acquired and lost, and dates of the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and the full squad:
The Arizona Diamondbacks have released right-handed reliever Aaron Heilman to make room on the roster for Tuesday night's starter Barry Enright.
Washington manager Jim Riggleman calls Jordan Zimmermann's return from reconstructive elbow surgery a work in progress.
The Arizona Diamondbacks agreed Thursday to a $4.25 million, one-year contract with left-hander Zach Duke.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded left-hander Zach Duke to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named.
The Pittsburgh Pirates won't offer contracts to left-hander Zach Duke and infielders Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young, designating them for assignment in moves that effectively make them free agents.
"I wasn't able to command the fastball the way I wanted to," Duke said. "It caused me to get into hitter's counts and throw a lot more pitches and more damage was done."
"I am truly thankful for the opportunity the Pirates have given me and genuinely enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh," Duke said in a statement. "I understand this business decision and wish the Pirates and my friends still on the team the best of luck in the future."