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Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

As well as each was pitching all summer at Class AAA Syracuse, neither Zach Duke nor Christian Garcia ever gave serious thought to the possibility of getting promoted to join the Nationals before season's end.

Not that they hadn't performed well enough to merit consideration for a promotion. But with the Nationals posting baseball's best record behind the sport's best pitching staff -- and considering neither held a spot on the organization's 40-man roster -- they knew the odds were slim at best their services would be needed at the big-league level.

That only made the experience of donning Nationals caps and jerseys for the first time this morning sweeter for both players. Each had his contract purchased and was promoted to Washington for the remainder of the season.

"I knew the way these guys were throwing up here that for me to get called up there'd have to be an injury -- or probably two or three injuries -- so I didn't expect to be called up," Duke said. "It was pretty shocking and very overwhelming. ... I'm just so thankful for it."

"To be with guys as talented as everybody in here, it's an honor just to be able to put their jersey on," Garcia said. "Knowing they're in first place, trying to clinch a playoff spot, it's an honor."

Each player's promotion is testament to perseverance, because each took a long road to reach this juncture.

Duke, 29, owns 48 big-league wins and a 2009 All-Star selection with the Pirates, but after getting released by the Astros at the end of spring training had only one offer for a minor-league contract: from the Nationals. He reported to Syracuse and proceeded to go 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts.

There's no room for Duke in the Nationals' rotation; even with Stephen Strasburg's pending shutdown, only fellow lefty John Lannan will be needed to make a couple of spot starts down the stretch. But manager Davey Johnson plans to use Duke out of his bullpen, perhaps needing the left-hander to record a key out or two at some point.

Duke, who has some relief experience with the Diamondbacks, insists he'll contribute any way he can, ecstatic simply to be given the opportunity to don a major-league uniform again after not knowing if it would ever happen again.

"When you get released from a team like Houston who has the worst record in baseball, it doesn't look really good for you," he said. "The Nationals still believed in me, gave me a shot, and it worked out."

Garcia, 27, is a big leaguer for the first time after a long and arduous road that included two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow. A third-round pick of the Yankees in the 2004 draft, he signed with the Nationals last year and worked his way up from short-season Class A Auburn to Class AAA, where he posted a 0.56 ERA in 27 games.

Having made a career-high 45 relief appearances this season, Garcia is in uncharted waters. He's not worried, though, about fatigue down the stretch, certainly not given the opportunity he's now been given.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel healthy, 100 percent. I'm not tired at all. I think I just got another shot of life getting up here."

The Nationals had only 39 players on their 40-man roster at the start of the day, so there was room for one of the additions. Another spot was created when reliever Henry Rodriguez (who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others