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Nats 2nd half storylines: Deadline deals?

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Nats 2nd half storylines: Deadline deals?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 3: Whether GM Mike Rizzo tries to bolster his roster before the July 31 trade deadline...

The Nationals have frequently been active around the trade deadline. They've just usually spent late July trying to move veterans to contending clubs in exchange for prospects.

Not so this summer. For the first time in seven years, they have no interest in selling at the July 31 deadline. But do they have interest in buying?

Perhaps not as much as you might expect for a team smack dab in the middle of a pennant race. Look up and down the Nationals' roster. There aren't very many obvious holes, certainly fewer than any other contending team in the National League, especially once Jayson Werth and Drew Storen return from the disabled list.

That leadoff-hitting center fielder Rizzo has coveted for years? There's no room for him, not with an outfield of Werth, Bryce Harper and Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche at first base.

What about bullpen help? The Nationals might have too many relievers as it is, with some quality arm (Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen or Michael Gonzalez) likely to lose his roster spot once Storen returns.

There has been some recent discussion of adding another starting pitcher, someone who could take over the fifth spot in the rotation for now and ultimately take over Stephen Strasburg's spot when the ace is shut down as planned in September. Is there a chance the Nationals could make such a move? Yes, there's a chance. But it's probably not as great as many would like to believe.

The addition of another starter would force Ross Detwiler back to the bullpen at least temporarily, which isn't necessarily a move the Nats want to make. Detwiler would rejoin the rotation once Strasburg is shut down, but at that point, the club might need a fifth starter only three or four times thanks to a couple of September off-days.

Given all that, the Nationals front office seems reluctant to go out and get another big-name starting pitcher, especially if that pitcher comes with a hefty price tag. One high-ranking club official said this week the organization will not raid its farm system in an attempt to rent a player for two months.

That doesn't mean Rizzo might not pull off a minor trade or two, perhaps for some bench help or even a veteran catcher who could help take some of the load off Jesus Flores.

But at this point, a major move on July 31 doesn't appear to be in the Nationals' plans.

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Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

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Twitter: @MiamiHerald

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

The first game of the Nationals series against the Marlins started late after a nearly two-hour-long rain delay. However, before the first pitch, the Nats played a tribute to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, whose recent death has left the entire MLB community in shock.

A video tweeted by @masnNationals shows both teams standing on the field, while the clips of Fernandez play on the video board in center field. 

The Marlins twitter also shared a video of the pre-game tribute.

Gio Gonzalez, who was good friends with Fernandez and attended his funeral on Thursday, is seen with tears in his eyes, waving his hat toward the sky. Gonzalez also hung a Fernandez jersey in the Nationals' dugout prior to the game. 

The Diamondbacks left a message for the Marlins in the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park before leaving town Thursday. 

Fernandez's death is reaching even further than baseball. The Miami Hurricanes tweeted a picture of decals they added to their helmets for their game tomorrow against Georgia Tech.

It is clear that although Jose may be gone, he will always be rememered by the entire sports community. 

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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”