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Nats in an advantageous position

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Nats in an advantageous position

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals did very little on Day One of the Winter Meetings. They signed Zach Duke to a one-year, big-league contract. They signed Bill Bray to a one-year, minor-league contract.

But it's still probably fair to say the Nats emerged victorious at the Opryland Resort for one major reason: The market for Adam LaRoche continued to shrink while the pool of available starting pitchers remained deep.

Both were positive developments for Mike Rizzo, who has the ability over the next few days and weeks to really position his team as World Series favorites entering 2013.

Rizzo described his approach to these meetings as "keeping a low profile," but perhaps the better phrase would be "waiting to pounce." That applies both to LaRoche and his pursuit of a fifth starter to bolster what is already one of the game's best rotations.

In each instance, Rizzo is dealing from a position of strength and doesn't feel like he needs to cater to the demands of others.

Start with LaRoche, who entered the offseason as the top available first baseman and figured to have a good number of options on the open market. But as became clearer and clearer today, the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner simply doesn't have as many attractive alternatives to D.C. as he initially hoped.

The Red Sox's morning signing of Mike Napoli took them out of the mix. By late afternoon, word out of Texas was that the Rangers aren't all that interested.

Thus eliminates two American League destinations, each one attractive in its own right for LaRoche, who in addition to earning the last big payday of his career wants to give himself a good chance to win the first championship of his career.

Who does that leave in the sweepstakes? Other than the Nationals, LaRoche's only other choices could be the Orioles and Mariners. Baltimore's interest level remains a question mark, with league sources doubting owner Peter Angelos would offer LaRoche the three-year deal he seeks. Seattle might meet those demands, but a West Coast franchise with little hope of winning in the near future can't be all that appealing for the 33-year-old first baseman.

In other words, LaRoche may have no realistic choice but to take the Nationals' best offer, even if Rizzo holds firm to his two-year proposal.

Not that either side seems intent on striking an accord over the next few days.

"I don't think there's any urgency to set a deadline or a specific time period that we have to get it done," Rizzo said. "But needless to say, this decision is going to impact some of the other decisions that we make. So sooner rather than later is our preference. But we're not going to pressure Adam into anything that he's not comfortable doing."

Obviously, Michael Morse's status hinges on LaRoche's status, though Rizzo insisted he doesn't have to wait for the LaRoche situation to resolve itself before making a decision to trade Morse.

"If the right offer for any players came up, we would certainly act on it," the GM said. "Because we have such depth at that position, it reinforces the fact that if we get a deal that we like for anybody -- not specifying Michael Morse, but for anybody -- we would do it."

That depth includes Tyler Moore, and Rizzo said he'd be comfortable entering next season with the second-year slugger as his everyday first baseman if need be.

As for a potential Morse trade, Rizzo said everything has been precipitated by other clubs contacting him, not the other way around.

"He's drawn interest, yeah," Rizzo said. "We've fielded calls for him. We have not made one call about him. We've fielded a lot of calls, and you can see the reason why. He's a middle-of-the-lineup hitter that puts up big numbers and hits for average and for power."

Again, Rizzo is in the advantageous position here, not forced into doing something but free to wait and strike when it makes the most sense.

The same applies to his pursuit of another starting pitcher. With four quality young arms (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler) already locked up for at least the next three years, there's no pressure for the Nationals to acquire another big-name guy.

But they certainly can if they want. And they do.

"The most impactful guy that we can get is always what we're trying to do," Rizzo said, using one of his favorite (albeit made up) words.

That could be Zack Greinke, the biggest prize of the winter who is expected to command a nine-figure deal from some of the richest clubs in the sport (including the Dodgers and Rangers).

It could be James Shields, a legitimate front-line starter for the perennially contending Rays who most definitely is available in a trade for whatever club is willing to give up the most young talent.

Or it could be one of the 10 or so other available starters, any one of which would help bolster an already deep rotation.

"We've got a big list," Rizzo said. "As we work through the process, we'll focus in on a smaller group and ultimately focus in on who our primary target is, and have alternative plans if we don't get the primary target."

Again, advantage Nats.

They couldn't reside in a much better position than this, owners of baseball's best record one year ago, with nearly their entire roster already locked up for the next few years, free to pursue just about anyone they want.

That's a far cry from the position in which this franchise used to reside. When the Winter Meetings were last in Nashville five years ago, the Nationals' biggest move was the acquisition of Elijah Dukes.

The situation they were in at the time demanded they take a flyer on a player who most likely wouldn't work out.

Not anymore. The Nationals are good. They're going to continue to be good. And there isn't a prominent free agent or trade target who wouldn't want to come play in Washington.

Who'd have thunk it?

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Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

It was back in January that the Nationals acquired Ben Revere from Toronto in exchange for reliever Drew Storen. The former National won't even spend a year north of the border. 

With the trade deadline approaching, Toronto made a move on Tuesday to send Storen and cash considerations to Seattle in exchange for pitcher Joaquin Benoit. 

Storen posted a 6.21 ERA for Toronto in 33.1 innings this season. Benoit has a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings. 

MORE NATIONALS: PAPELBON IMPLODES AGAIN IN LOSS

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Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

How it happened: After Jonathan Papelbon imploded in the ninth inning on Sunday, manager Dusty Baker took some of the blame, saying he should not have pitched his closer for the third straight day. Papelbon denied he was tired, but Baker felt it was worth mentioning.

Despite that, Baker went back to Papelbon on Tuesday night in a key spot. It came after an off-day, but Papelbon did not look himself against the Indians. His fastball was regularly topping out at 89 miles per hour and Cleveland jumped all over it.

Papelbon allowed a leadoff walk then an RBI double to Tyler Naquin. Ryan Zimmerman then committed a costly throwing error to first on a Chris Gimenez sacrifice bunt to score Naquin. And then, with Oliver Perez on the mound and the bases loaded, young superstar Francisco Lindor singled in the winning run for an Indians walk-off victory.

Papelbon has now failed the Nats in the ninth inning of two consecutive games. The one positive may be that he's done this before the Aug. 1 trade deadline and not after it, as the Nats' need for bullpen help is becoming more and more obvious.

The Nats had a solid day on offense, led by Trea Turner in the leadoff spot. He singled, walked, stole a base, reached on an error and scored a run in another all-around effort. The rest of the Nats' lineup followed suit, as Wilson Ramos hit his 15th homer of the season, Anthony Rendon clubbed his 12th and Jayson Werth added two doubles to extend his streak of reaching base to 29 games, matching a career-high. 

The Nats knocked Danny Salazar - one of the AL's best pitchers - out after just four innings of work. He gave up four runs (3 ER) on four hits and two walks. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez overcame a rocky first inning to go 6 1/3 frames with three runs (2 ER) allowed.

The Nationals began their long road trip with a tough, 7-6 loss and have now lost six of their last eight games. 

What it means: The Nats fell to 58-42 on the season. With the Marlins' win on Tuesday, the Nats are now just four games up in the NL East.

Turner mostly good in CF, great at plate: Known for his prodigious speed on the base paths, apparently Trea Turner is also a fast learner.

With Zimmerman back from the disabled list, the Nationals rookie played center field for the first time in a big league game on Tuesday night and the early returns were overall quite good. Turner for the most part looked competent at his new position, despite having one key moment where he showed his inexperience. Perhaps more important, the Nats kept his bat and his legs in their lineup and again saw the impact he can provide at the top of their order.

Turner wasn't tested much in center field on Tuesday night, but he did make one very impressive play in the first inning on a long flyout by Jose Ramirez. Turner covered over 112 feet according to StatCast and caught the ball on a full sprint just a step away from the right-center field wall. It was a difficult play and he made it look easy, registering a 97.8% efficiency score. Turner also made another catch at the warning track in the seventh inning. He displayed good instincts around the wall at a park he's never played before. 

That was the good. There was also some bad, including a mistimed dive attempt in the bottom of the eighth that resulted in a Jason Kipnis double. Turner dove while running in towards the infield, only to have the ball bounce in front of him and then over his head. Kipnis later scored on a double play ball hit by Mike Napoli.

Gio starts slow, rebounds: Tuesday will go down as another step in the right direction for Gonzalez, but it didn't start that way. He ran into major trouble in the first inning by throwing 13 balls in his first 17 pitches. That stretch included a leadoff walk to Rajai Davis and then a ground-rule double by Kipnis. Davis scored after that on a passed ball and Kipnis came home on a Carlos Santana sacrifice fly. Gonzalez barely got out of the first inning and was lucky only two runs came across.

After that, though, he was better. Gonzalez held the Indians scoreless for the next five innings before leaving in the seventh. He finished with three runs allowed (2 ER) on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts. The second earned run charged to Gonzalez came on a tough-luck play. Gonzalez exited after giving up a one-out double to Abraham Almonte. Almonte then scored on a Lonnie Chisenhall groundball hit against Blake Treinen that bounced off Rendon's glove and into center field.

Gonzalez has now allowed eight earned runs in his last four games across 24 innings since July began. That equals an even 3.00 ERA, which is solid considering his struggles through May and June.

Zimmerman returns: Zimmerman came back, but didn't carry over the momentum from his hot-hitting minor league rehab games. Zimmerman went 0-for-4 and left three men on base. That was in addition to his mistake in the field.

Scary moment: There was an unfortunate sequence in the first inning on Tuesday night, as a fan in the crowd at Progressive Field was hit in the face by a Daniel Murphy line drive. The 75-year-old woman was quickly rushed to the hospital, but it sounds like she suffered some serious facial injuries at the very least.

Up next: The Nats and Indians play the finale of their two-game interleague series with a 12:10 p.m. start on Wednesday afternoon. Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83) will square off with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31).

[RELATED: Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with Mets]

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Elderly woman hospitalized after being struck by Daniel Murphy foul ball

Elderly woman hospitalized after being struck by Daniel Murphy foul ball

CLEVELAND — A 75-year-old woman was taken to a hospital Tuesday night after being hit in the face with a foul ball by Washington's Daniel Murphy.

Muir West was sitting down the right-field line — and may have been blinded by the sun — when she was struck by the hard shot from Murphy in the first inning of the Indians' game at Progressive Field. Fans sitting in her section immediately called for security and medical personnel, who rushed to aid her.

A family member said West's glasses were broken in the mishap and she received a cut on her face.

Her wound was heavily bandaged before she was placed on a stretcher and taken to MetroHealth Hospital. As she was carried up the steps, fans gave her a warm ovation.

Major League Baseball added more netting this season near home plate to protect fans from foul balls and bats flying into the stands.