- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009


Tracking the Nationals’ news and trends from the past week:


Ousted closer becoming dangerous to use even in mop-up role


Allowed one run in seven innings Thursday to beat John Smoltz

Shairon Martis [DOWN]

Hit hard in two losses, then demoted to Class AAA

Willie Harris [UP]

Started 14 of team’s past 15 games, mostly for his defense in center field


First baseman Bill Rhinehart is hitting .348 with two homers and nine RBI in 17 games this month after posting a .226 average in his first 18 games at Class AA Harrisburg. Rhinehart, the Nationals’ 11th-round pick in 2007, doesn’t fit the profile of a typical first baseman but has maintained steady progress through the Nationals’ minor league system. If that continues for another year — and Chris Marrero doesn’t turn out to be the heir apparent at first base — Rhinehart could turn out to be a decent second option.


According to several team officials, Luis Ayala became unhappy when he wasn’t given the closer’s job after Jon Rauch was traded last year, a problem that festered until he was shipped to the New York Mets in August. Apparently Ayala had the same problem with his newest former employer. The Minnesota Twins designated Ayala for assignment last week after the right-hander complained to manager Ron Gardenhire that he wasn’t getting enough late-inning chances to earn a better contract for 2010.

“He wanted an eighth-inning role; that’s why he signed here,” Gardenhire said. “His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he’d be able to do the job. My thoughts are, ‘If you’re not getting them out, you’re not going to pitch in the eighth inning.’ We’re trying to win, so there’s your difference.”

Ayala blew leads in his first two seventh-inning appearances.

“When you walk into my office and tell me you don’t like your role — and he talked about his contract for next year — you lose me right there,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t deal with that. We’re talking about winning now.”

Season stats: 1-2, 4.18 ERA, 32 1/3 innings, 21 strikeouts, 1.42 WHIP

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