- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

NEW YORK | The Washington Nationals’ catching situation has reached a dire point, so much so that an injury to Wil Nieves sent general manager Mike Rizzo scrambling for his phone Thursday night.

But the short supply of major league-ready catchers could mean an opportunity for two journeymen trying to prolong their careers.

Catcher Jamie Burke, whom the Nationals acquired late Thursday from the Seattle Mariners for cash considerations, arrived in New York less than two hours before the Nationals’ game against the Mets on Friday night. He’ll get a chance to finish the season in the major leagues, while utilityman Pete Orr will head to the team’s instructional league in Viera, Fla., after the season to learn how to catch.

The moves are Band-Aid fixes, but they’re all the Nationals can do now to cover themselves at a position that has become an organizational weakness.

Derek Norris was the team’s minor league player of the year, but he has never played above Class A.

Jesus Flores will be back in 2010 but maybe not until the end of spring training, and he has yet to play a full season in the majors. The Nationals could take Bryce Harper with the No. 1 pick in June, but the teenager wouldn’t be major league-ready for several seasons.

“It’s a point of emphasis we have to make this winter,” Rizzo said. “We have to identify either some good young minor league six-year free agents or do it via trades, even minor league trades, to get some depth at that position.”

For Orr, the extra position is another skill he can list on his resume. He entered Friday hitting .341 in 44 at-bats this season, and he has, according to Rizzo, opened the team’s eyes about what he can do in the majors.

He would play there only in an emergency, unless he takes to the position. But “anything to give myself a better chance to be in the big leagues, I’ll do it at the drop of a hat,” Orr said.

Nieves, who pulled his left hamstring Thursday, said the injury is lower on his leg than most hamstring injuries, which typically take several weeks to heal. He’s hopeful he can be back in the lineup by Tuesday.

Kearns likely done

Outfielder Austin Kearns, who has been out since Aug. 4 with a right thumb contusion that eventually sent him to a hand specialist to get debris removed from the thumb, will likely miss the rest of the season, Rizzo said.

Kearns was expected to be out for only several weeks but had a setback this month and is doing only basic exercises to strengthen his grip.

He was the centerpiece of an eight-player trade in 2006, and former GM Jim Bowden signed him to a three-year, $16 million deal the following winter. Kearns is in the final year of the deal, which pays him $8 million this season. In 80 games this year, he has hit .195 with three homers.

Washington has a $10 million option on Kearns after this season with a $1 million buyout, although it could buy out Kearns and bring him back cheaply as a backup.

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