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A long day for Nats ends in a wash


A long day for Nats ends in a wash

At the end of a 6 12-hour day at the ballpark -- a day that began with news of a trade, then saw a familiar face return from the minor leagues to win another game, then concluded with a frustrating loss to a dominant opposing pitcher -- how exactly did the Nationals feel about things?

"It's a wash," Adam LaRoche said. "It's where you move in the standings. You win one, you lose one. It could've been better, but we're all still alive after that, so we'll get them tomorrow."

That probably best summed a long afternoon and evening on South Capitol Street that saw the Nationals split a doubleheader with the Marlins, winning the opener 7-4 behind John Lannan's strong start but then losing the nightcap 5-2 when Gio Gonzalez was out-dueled by Josh Johnson.

And the 50-50 result might have been less-significant than the announcement earlier in the day the Nationals had acquired Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics, who is expected to be in the lineup Saturday night and assume No. 1 catching duties for the remainder of the season.

"He's definitely going to bring some attitude back there, in a good way," said Gonzalez, Suzuki's batterymate in Oakland from 2008-11. "He's going to keep your pitcher on their toes, constantly get 'em and go. He was taught by the best, and you're going to see, he's going to bring some positive stuff over here."

A Nationals club that has managed to overcome injuries to nearly every position on the diamond this season has not been able to thrive behind the plate since Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee in mid-May. Replacement starter Jesus Flores and his assortment of rookie backups did their best to hold down the fort, but after an 0-for-7 showing on Friday, Nationals catchers are collectively hitting .232 with a .287 on-base percentage while throwing out only 17 percent of basestealers.

Enter Suzuki, who hit only .218 in 75 games with the A's but owns a career .254 batting average and this season has thrown out 38 percent of basestealers.

"This was a deal to improve the ballclub and improve it not only for this year but for the future," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "When you get a chance to get a defensive stalwart like Suzuki and an energy guy and a makeup guy and a character guy like him, you make the deal."

Suzuki's arrival will likely push Sandy Leon back to Class AAA and push Flores back to a reserve role. Asked at the end of the night for his reaction to the trade, Flores said he hadn't yet been told by the club, even though the crowd of 32,334 was informed on the scoreboard during the doubleheader.

"I'm just in shock," Flores said. "I didn't know we had a new catcher."

Whether Suzuki (who is already signed through 2013) would have made a difference in the outcome of either games of the doublheader is debatable. He certainly would have been catching a pair of starting pitchers in top form.

Summoned from Syracuse for another fill-in start 13 days after his initial return to the Washington rotation, Lannan turned in another fine performance. The left-hander retired 13-of-14 batters at one point and carried a 3-hitter into the seventh inning before fading in the 93-degree heat.

Lannan still earned his second victory in as many starts thanks in part to a Nationals lineup that pounded out seven early runs against Miami starter Brad Hand. He then made plans to return to Syracuse for another four weeks before he's expected to be summoned again by the big-league club to take Stephen Strasburg's rotation slot down the stretch.

"He's been a big boost," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's had a rough year having to go down there, but he'll be back up here soon."

Lannan, who struggled in his one Class AAA start between big-league outings, understands what's now expected of him.

"I wish I could stay up here, but I know the deal," said the man who has started more games than any other pitcher in Nationals history. "I've got to go back down there and keep on working."

Gonzalez was even more dominant during the nightcap, striking out 10 without issuing a walk and completing eight innings for the first time this year. But the left-hander was done in by a three-run sixth that saw the Marlins produce five singles, four in a row with two outs.

"You've got to look at the cup half-full," he said. "The way I look at it as eight innings, couple of strikeouts, kept the team in the game as far as I could."

Gonzalez's best wasn't enough to topple Johnson, who carried a 3-hitter in the ninth and came within one out of a complete game.

Steve Cishek wound up recording the final out, getting Danny Espinosa to strike out for the fourth time on a long day and night of baseball that saw the Nationals stay in place at 20 games over .500 yet lose a 12-game off their lead in the NL East after the Braves beat the Astros. (They're now up 2 games over Atlanta.)

So, how again did the Nats feel about the day as a whole?

"First part was pretty good," LaRoche said. "Second part, no good."

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]