- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NATIONALS SEASON GRADES

JESUS FLORES: B

Production tailed off in second half, but still appears to be long-term solution.

WIL NIEVES: C+

Provided consistency off bench and a steady hand for pitching staff.

NICK JOHNSON: INC.

Injured wrist in May and never came back; now he’ll try another rehab.

DMITRI YOUNG: D

Injured and out of shape most of the year; worth asking if he’ll ever start again.

RONNIE BELLIARD: B

Played first base and provided surprising power before injury.

CRISTIAN GUZMAN: A-

Easily the team’s most productive player; continued to excel after contract extension.

ANDERSON HERNANDEZ: B

Acquired from Mets in August, has inside track on second base job after strong September play.

EMILIO BONIFACIO: C

Provided spark in early August, but struggles from right side of the plate.

ALBERTO GONZALEZ: C

Missed large chunk of time with injury after July 31 trade, but hit .347 in 17 games.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN: C+

Started slow, missed over 50 games, but started to look like old self toward end of the year.

AARON BOONE: C-

Reliable backup couldn’t sustain hot start and missed time with injuries.

PETE ORR: C-

Another good defensive infielder who won’t ever be more than a backup.

ELIJAH DUKES: B+

If he can stay healthy — and keep his head straight — he could be a star.

LASTINGS MILLEDGE: B-

Led team in RBI and tied for lead in homers, but is he a center fielder?

AUSTIN KEARNS: C-

Played through enough injuries it’s hard to tell what’s responsible for his .217 average.

WILY MO PENA: F

Shoulder injury and bad plate approach added up to a lost season.

WILLIE HARRIS: B+

Brought solid defense and surprising power during career year.

KORY CASTO: D+

Still not good enough to hit big league pitching consistently.

RYAN LANGERHANS: D+

Solid defensive outfielder, but won’t ever add much to an offense.

JOHN LANNAN: B+

Gave his team a chance to win almost every time out, deserved better than 9-15 record.

TIM REDDING: C

Outstanding in April-May, satisfactory in June-July, awful in August-September.

ODALIS PEREZ: B-

For a guy who came in on a minor league deal, veteran lefty did pretty well.

JASON BERGMANN: D

Yeah, he had no run support. But he kept finding ways to lose and lost his starting job.

COLLIN BALESTER: C

The potential is there. He just needs time to grow into a real pitcher.

SHAWN HILL: D

Was supposed to anchor staff but ailing arm couldn’t keep him on mound.

JOEL HANRAHAN: B

Morphed from laboring starter into fairly effective closer, all in one year.

SAUL RIVERA: B-

Was a little better the last two years, but he’s this team’s only reliable setup guy.

JESUS COLOME: C-

Salvaged season with strong second half. This team can do better, though.

STEVEN SHELL: B+

Right-hander emerged out of nowhere to become a solid middle reliever.

CHARLIE MANNING: D

Job was to get left-handed hitters out. Couldn’t do that with any consistency.

GARRETT MOCK: C+

Pedestrian as a fill-in starter, he seemed to find his niche in the bullpen.

SHAIRON MARTIS: C+

Intriguing 21-year-old pitched with poise. Still needs more seasoning in minors.

MIKE HINCKLEY: B+

Resurrected from the dead, former top prospect didn’t allow an earned run in 13 2/3 innings.

MANNY ACTA: C

Hard to blame him given the lack of talent on the field, but he didn’t win many games himself and had most of his hand-picked coaching staff fired. Job could be on the line next season.

JIM BOWDEN: C-

Once again established he can mine the scrap heap like few else. But the rest of his repertoire - failed free-agent signings, handling of Chad Cordero’s contract, Dominican scandal - wasn’t pretty.

FIVE MOMENTS THAT DEFINED THE SEASON

1. Zimmerman’s opening night blast: It seems so long ago, doesn’t it? Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off home run on March 30 gave the Nationals a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves and bathed the opening of Nationals Park in optimism. It still stands as the best moment from a season that didn’t provide too many of them.

2. Wild trip to the West Coast: In the span of three days during a trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, the unpredictable side of general manager Jim Bowden resurfaced and did plenty to shape the Nationals for the next few years. He signed Cristian Guzman to a two-year extension, traded reliever Jon Rauch to Arizona for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and told a D.C. radio station that Chad Cordero would be nontendered, a move that might have angered the injured closer enough for the two sides to part ways.

3. Crow a no-go: After a tense few days of negotiations, the Nationals failed to sign first-round pick Aaron Crow before the Aug. 15 midnight deadline, giving the Nationals two of the top 10 picks in next year’s draft but costing them a potential front-line starter. It also brought them more negative publicity less than a month after Bowden’s name surfaced as part of an ongoing federal investigation into baseball’s signing practices in the Dominican Republic.

4. Young sent home: Already missing Nick Johnson, whose season ended May 13 with a wrist injury, the Nationals said goodbye to the other half of their $10.25 million tandem at first base when they sent Dmitri Young back to the District on July 20, during the first post-All-Star break series in Atlanta. Young struggled with diabetes and conditioning the rest of the year, and he didn’t play again.

5. Dukes’ big night at Shea: In two at-bats against the Mets on Sept. 10, Elijah Dukes showed everyone why opinions differ on him so much. He homered in the second inning, then had to be restrained in the fourth after an inside pitch from Mike Pelfrey, setting off a series of antics that prompted a public apology from Dukes two days later.

- Ben Goessling

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