- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

With a 59-103 record, things were ugly again for the Nationals this year. But within baseball’s worst record, there were bright spots — and areas in which a large share of the blame wound up. Here is the report card for the Nationals’ roster, coaching staff and front office for their performance in 2009:

CATCHERS

JOSH BARD C He enjoyed a strong first half and gets credit for playing much of the season with a painful groin injury, but his performance dipped in the second half.

JESUS FLORES Inc. After a strong start, he lost the rest of the season because of injuries and won’t be ready until mid-March after a torn labrum. Now the team needs to find out if he’s the long-term answer.

WIL NIEVES C- He had more trouble blocking balls in the dirt with a young pitching staff, but he again was stronger behind the plate than expected (.259, one HR, 26 RBI).

INFIELDERS

RONNIE BELLIARD C- When Jim Riggleman took over, Belliard improved his performance enough to net a couple of prospects in an August trade to the Dodgers.

IAN DESMOND B+ In the month he was in the majors, Desmond looked like a fixture with the bat. He needs to refine his mechanics, but he might be the shortstop of the future.

ADAM DUNN A- He made major improvements at first base, though he ended the season in a long slump at the plate. But he was worth the money with 38 homers and 105 RBI.

ALBERTO GONZALEZ C His production dipped in the second half. Although he’s capable of a strong showing now and then and has a solid glove, he’s clearly not a long-term answer.

CRISTIAN GUZMAN C He regressed at the plate and in the field — and seemed to balk at the idea of moving to second base or out of the No. 2 hole. He’s set to earn $8 million next season.

MIKE MORSE C+ He showed a small power surge at the end of the season. But basically, he’s a utility player who’s best at the corners. Not much room for him there.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN A He hit 33 homers, improved his OBP to .364, played Gold Glove defense at third and grew into his role as a team leader — everything the Nationals could have asked.

OUTFIELDERS

ELIJAH DUKES C+ He came back from Class AAA Syracuse with a strong second half and showed more off-field maturity. If he learns to hit a curveball, he might be the answer in right field.

WILLIE HARRIS C+ He played solid center field when Nyjer Morgan went down but didn’t have the production at the plate he did in 2008. He’s still a valuable utility player though.

AUSTIN KEARNS F He couldn’t hit early and couldn’t stay healthy the rest of the year. He has a $10 million option for 2010. Or a $1 million buyout — which is what the team will do.

JUSTIN MAXWELL C+ He added a spark to the lineup at the end of the year (including his walk-off grand slam) and could make the team as a fourth outfielder next season.

NYJER MORGAN A- When he went down, the difference he made became clear. He unquestionably will be the leadoff hitter and center fielder next year.

JORGE PADILLA D- Called up in September, he played like what he was: a journeyman struggling to succeed in the majors. He probably won’t be a factor next year.

JOSH WILLINGHAM B After a torrid summer, he experienced sharp regression; he ended with solid numbers (.260, 24 HR, 61 RBI) but it wasn’t the breakout year it appeared he would have.

STARTING PITCHERS

COLLIN BALESTER C- He again struggled to find consistency in the major leagues. Now he comes back on the fringes of a competitive race for a 2010 rotation spot.

ROSS DETWILER C+ He looked better in his second major league stint, finally winning his first game. He might not be completely ready, but the 2007 first-rounder had a solid start.

LIVAN HERNANDEZ C He alternated solid starts with ugly ones in six weeks with club. He could be back next year but won’t be the only veteran workhorse if he is.

JOHN LANNAN B+ He surpassed 200 innings, finished strong and improved in his second year. He’s the one guarantee in the starting rotation going into 2010.

J.D. MARTIN C The soft-tosser finally reached the majors after eight years and posted respectable results (5-4, 4.44 ERA). Martin probably won’t make next year’s rotation, but he’ll get a shot.

GARRETT MOCK D+ The team loves his stuff, but the results weren’t pretty (5.62 ERA, 5.40 as starter). At 26, he needs to figure out his struggles soon.

SCOTT OLSEN C- A shoulder injury ended his season, which means he looked good for about a month. He’ll make at least $2.24 million next year and could be nontendered.

CRAIG STAMMEN C He pitched his way up from the minors and looked consistent before minor elbow surgery at the end of the year. He needs some work but could be in the 2010 rotation.

JORDAN ZIMMERMANN C+ He dazzled at times in his rookie year but is out most of next year after Tommy John surgery. The team is still high on the 23-year-old, but he has work to do.

RELIEF PITCHERS

JASON BERGMANN C+ The second half of the season was the most consistent he has looked in the major leagues. He might have finally found his niche in the bullpen.

SEAN BURNETT B He pitched through injury the last month of the season but was still effective in spots and could be a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever next year.

TYLER CLIPPARD B+ He emerged as a fixture in the bullpen and could be another late-inning option in the future. He isn’t always smooth, but he’s usually effective.

MARCO ESTRADA D+ He was ineffective in a September call-up (0-1, 6.14 ERA) and is running out of time to find a spot in the majors.

VICTOR GARATE D Acquired in a late-season trade, the left-hander is a work in progress and got hit around in the majors. But he could be part of the bullpen someday.

LOGAN KENSING D- Designated for assignment three times this year by two teams, Kensing is still around. But will he be next year?

MIKE MACDOUGAL B- He had a horrible September but still saved 20 games and showed he can close games when he’s consistent. But he might not be consistent enough to do the job long-term.

SAUL RIVERA C- The club has been down this road before: He’ll look good for a week, then get hit around for a week. He couldn’t deliver consistent results at any point this year.

ZACK SEGOVIA D- He was called up in September but couldn’t get anybody out. He’s 26 and probably won’t be in the majors to start next year.

RON VILLONE C- He took the ball every time he was asked and scored points with his attitude, but he didn’t pitch a clean inning after June 4. It’s tough to see him coming back at age 40.

COACHING STAFF C- There almost have to be two grades here; one for Manny Acta and one for Jim Riggleman. But Riggleman was there when the Nationals went 26-61 in the first half, too, and the Nationals’ 33-42 mark under him was dotted with long winning and losing streaks. The team was limited by a flawed roster all season, and that played into Acta’s firing in some ways. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein and pitching coach Steve McCatty scored plenty of points, but the whole staff’s fate is subject to Mike Rizzo’s decision on a manager.

FRONT OFFICE B In his first year as general manager — one part as acting GM, the other as the permanent choice — Mike Rizzo spent all year trying to remake the roster and restore the team’s respectability, two things Jim Bowden left in shambles. Some of his moves worked better than others (Mike MacDougal and Joe Beimel were good pickups, Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez not so much), but Rizzo was forced to go bargain shopping for bullpen options all year, and he made what looks like a steal of a trade in getting Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. He also got Stephen Strasburg signed. It was an active — and impressive — beginning for the Nationals’ new GM.

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