- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

If it wasn’t already known throughout the baseball world before yesterday, it should be now: The Washington Nationals are serious about making a run at a National League East title.

Riding a seven-game winning streak into last night’s interleague game against the Seattle Mariners at RFK Stadium, the Nationals made a flurry of moves to tweak — and, they believe, improve — their roster. They traded disgruntled pitcher Tomo Ohka to the Milwaukee Brewers for former All-Star second baseman Junior Spivey, then claimed right-hander Ryan Drese off waivers from the Texas Rangers to fill Ohka’s spot on the pitching staff.

Combined with the acquisition of minor league pitcher Jacobo Sequea from Baltimore and the retirement of outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, the Nationals made a profound statement about their intentions for the rest of the season.

“We’re trying to win here,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “Every game’s important. This makes us a better team. It allows people to be in the positions they’re supposed to be in.”

Even if the moves look curious on paper — Ohka has a 3.33 ERA, Spivey is batting .236 and Drese’s ERA is 6.46 — the Nationals believe they emerged improved.

They believe that’s particularly the case with Spivey, who will become Washington’s regular second baseman until Jose Vidro is ready to return from a torn tendon in his left ankle (perhaps around the All-Star break). A career .272 hitter over five seasons with the Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks, Spivey is an established starter who figures to provide a more potent bat out of the No.2 hole than Jamey Carroll.

Spivey, an All-Star in 2002 with the Diamondbacks, arrived at RFK Stadium shortly after the start of last night’s game. He came off the bench to pinch-run for Carlos Baerga in the seventh inning, scored the tying run in the Nationals’ 9-3 win, and then took over at second base.

“This is an exciting clubhouse. We’re going to have a lot of fun,” Spivey said. “You can’t walk into a better situation than this.”

Carroll played well defensively over the last month, but his batting average has dipped to .242 and he was unable to serve in the utility role that has made him so valuable to manager Frank Robinson. With Spivey in the fold, Washington finally has a full complement of middle infielders.

“We’ve been needing this player ever since we left spring training,” Robinson said. “And then all of a sudden, here comes what we feel like is the right person that makes us a better ballclub.”

Carroll, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, took the news of Spivey’s acquisition well.

“I haven’t been hitting,” Carroll said. “That’s just the way it is. We added somebody on our ballclub who is another veteran guy that knows what’s going on. I think it just improves us as far as the offense.”

Whether the Nationals improved their pitching by essentially swapping Ohka for Drese remains to be seen. Regardless, the club felt it had to move Ohka, especially in the wake of the Japanese right-hander’s run-in with Robinson last Saturday.

Ohka was fined $1,000 for turning his back on Robinson upon being pulled from a game in the fourth inning. He already had requested a trade early last month when he was banished to the bullpen, and yesterday he seemed relieved to be moving on.

“[The Brewers] are going to give me a chance to pitch as many innings as possible,” Ohka said through a translator. “I did not want to waste my time here [bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen].”

Drese, 29, may or may not take Ohka’s place in the rotation. Robinson said his No. 5 starter will be either Drese or Sun-Woo Kim, last night’s emergency starter.

Either way, the Nationals are intrigued by Drese, who won 14 games last season for the Rangers and was their Opening Day starter this year. The right-hander, though, had trouble locating his best pitch (his sinker) and was designated for assignment Wednesday after going 4-6 with a 6.46 ERA in 12 starts.

“He’s an absolute competitor and will battle you every single night,” Bowden said. “We need to make some adjustments with him, but we feel confident that in the worst-case scenario, we have a pitcher that’s similar to Tomo.”

Drese is due to arrive in Washington today. The Nationals are expected to option infielder Rick Short back to Class AAA New Orleans to make room for him.

“I’m excited. I think it will be a good opportunity,” Drese told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They’re in first place, and they have a good young team. It should be fun.”

In the day’s other significant development, Hammonds announced his retirement after a 13-year career with six different organizations. The 34-year-old outfielder hit .219 in 13 games with Washington this year but spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and decided not to accept his option to New Orleans this week.

“The only thing that I was not able to achieve in this game was playing in the World Series,” Hammonds said. “And this Washington Nationals team has a realistic shot of doing that. I will miss this game, I will miss the people in this game. But those who I have watched walk away before me showed me that the game will go on.”

Yesterday’s moves proved to be a financial wash for Washington. Ohka was making $2.75 million this year. Drese is making $400,000 (though he’s signed for $1.7 million in 2006). Spivey, who has one year of arbitration eligibility left, will earn $2.2 million this year.

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