- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

SAN DIEGO | The Washington Nationals acquired left-handed reliever Victor Garate from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday as the player to be named in the trade that sent second baseman Ronnie Belliard to Los Angeles last week.

Garate joins right-hander Luis Garcia as the players the Nationals received in the deal. Garate had a 2.04 ERA in 47 appearances with Class AA Chattanooga. The 24-year-old has been a reliever his whole professional career except for last year, when he started 19 games across two levels.

He’ll be added to the Nationals’ major league roster for September and should have a shot to make the team out of spring training next year.

“We see a guy who’s a versatile relief pitcher, could be a setup-type of guy,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s got good stuff with good command and a funky delivery that fools some hitters.”

Rizzo said Garate delivers the ball between a three-quarters and low three-quarters arm slot, which makes him hard to read for left-handers especially. He throws in the low 90s with a breaking ball and change-up.

“He’s a stuff guy. He’s not a finesser,” Rizzo said. “He’s got good stuff, and he commands it well.”

Day off for Willingham

Among the handful of lineup changes interim manager Jim Riggleman made for Wednesday’s series finale in San Diego was sitting left fielder Josh Willingham, who has continued to struggle after a torrid stretch in July and August.

Willingham was 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the first two games of the series, striking out four times in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss. Since Aug. 26, Willingham is 1-for-22 with 10 strikeouts. His average has dropped 25 points since Aug. 9, when he peaked at .309, and he has as many strikeouts as hits and walks in that time.

Before that, he hit .356 with nine homers and 30 RBI in a 38-game stretch that began June 27.

“It’s hard to stay as hot as he was,” Riggleman said. “He’s in one of those funks where it seems like if a pitcher makes a mistake, he doesn’t make any on you. If he’s ever looking for a particular pitch, he gets the other one instead.”

With Willingham out of the lineup, the Nationals switched Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, putting Dunn in the No. 3 hole for the second time this season. Riggleman said it was easier for the Nationals to protect Dunn with Zimmerman behind him and put lefty-hitting Pete Orr behind Zimmerman.

Stammen will have MRI

Right-hander Craig Stammen will have an MRI on his right elbow on Thursday and miss his scheduled Friday start, the rookie said after Wednesday’s game. Stammen said he has been pitching through tightness in his elbow for part of the season, and with his innings limit fast approaching, the Nationals decided to skip his start rather than have him throw at less than 100 percent.

Espinosa shining

Asked on Wednesday which prospect caught his eye the most during the 2009 minor league season, Rizzo didn’t hesitate.

He immediately cited Class A Potomac shortstop Danny Espinosa, the team’s third-round pick in 2008, who had hit 17 homers and driven in 68 runs through Wednesday.

There was little question about Espinosa’s defensive polish when the Nationals took him out of Long Beach State - the school that produced Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria - but his power has come as a surprise. And even though he has struck out 123 times so far at Potomac, he has a .375 on-base percentage to go with a .264 average.

“He’s showing power. He’s showing the propensity to see a lot of pitches per at-bat,” Rizzo said. “He’s still got a lot of work to do. He’s striking out too often. We get that. But the way this guy can play defense and the energy and swagger he brings to the game, to get the offensive production we’ve gotten from him so far has really been intriguing to me.”

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