- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DENVER | For a team with the worst record in baseball, the Nationals are in possession of an unusually high number of tradable veterans. Some of them could be moving this July, but slugger Adam Dunn apparently won’t be one of them.

Acting general manager Mike Rizzo told ESPN 980 on Tuesday that Dunn will not be traded before the July 31 deadline, squelching speculation the outfielder could move to a contender in search of a big bat.

“We are not trading Adam Dunn,” Rizzo said during an appearance on the station. “That’s as definitive as I can be.”

Dunn, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal in February, is tied for fourth in the NL with 22 homers. His name had surfaced in trade rumors mostly because the Boston Red Sox (with David Ortiz starting slowly) and the New York Mets (with Carlos Delgado injured) need a big bat and could handle Dunn’s $12 million salary in 2010.

Defense improving

By most defensive metrics, the Washington Nationals are still one of the worst-fielding teams in baseball.

Their 74 errors are the second most in the NL behind Arizona’s 77, they’ve turned the third-fewest double plays in the league (70) and they are just below the league average by throwing out 26 percent of the baserunners who have attempted to steal on them.

But within all that, manager Manny Acta has seen small shades of improvement in the last several weeks.

The Nationals’ outfield is in its best shape of the year, with Nyjer Morgan giving the team a consistent center fielder and taking just enough stress off Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham that the corner outfielders aren’t asked to do much more than make routine plays. Washington has made only six errors in its last nine games.

It’s nowhere near a point that the Nationals can call themselves a solid defensive club - their three-error game against the Marlins last week stands out as evidence - but on most nights they aren’t beating themselves defensively as they were earlier in the season.

“It’s been small, but little by little they have made improvements over the last few weeks,” Acta said. “We were not as bad as we were playing defense earlier, even when we did have some shortcomings in the outfield before. I think Morgan has helped tremendously, and from now on, we’re going to play better defense.”

Before the addition of Morgan, the only way the Nationals were able to get reliable defense in center the last two years was by putting utility player Willie Harris there. Morgan’s impressive running catch on Carlos Gonzalez’s deep drive in the second inning Monday night illustrated how adept he is at tracking long fly balls. He’s an astute enough fielder to change how he plays hitters based on counts, and he plays shallower than either Lastings Milledge or Elijah Dukes did because he’s better at going back on the ball.

“I just kind of read how the catcher’s setting up,” Morgan said. “It’s just talking to our pitchers and understanding how they’re pitching them.”

Acta said the Nationals can shade Dunn and Willingham differently because of the ground Morgan can cover. Neither is a strong defensive player, and Willingham is playing right field for the first time.

“It changes the whole thing,” Acta said. “He’s a little bit more willing to listen to our scouting reports. He’s making adjustments on pitch counts. You can see him moving over on 2-0, 3-1. He’s a student of the game. He takes pride in what he’s doing.”

Colome elects free agency

Right-hander Jesus Colome became the second Nationals reliever to decline an assignment to the minor leagues in as many days, joining Kip Wells on the free agent market after he was designated for assignment.

Colome was 1-1 with an 8.40 ERA in 16 appearances for the Nationals this season.

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