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Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13

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Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Catcher...

C WILSON RAMOS
Stats: 25 G, 96 PA, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .265 AVG, .354 OBP, .398 SLG
1 E, 17% CS, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $491,250
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: In his second full year in the big leagues, Ramos looked poised to breakout as one of the game's best young catchers. But his season ended in abrupt fashion May 12 in Cincinnati when he tore the ACL in his right knee, leaving him to start all over again in 2013. The Nationals have every reason to believe Ramos will return 100 percent healthy and pick up where he left off, but there are no guarantees. With Kurt Suzuki now in the fold as well, the club may ease Ramos back into playing shape and have the two split time behind the plate.

C KURT SUZUKI
Stats (w/WSH only): 43 G, 164 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .267 AVG, .321 OBP, .404 SLG
3 E, 15% CS, 0.8 WAR (combined OAK+WSH)
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: $6.45 million in 2013, $8.5 million club option in 2014 (guaranteed at $9.25 million if he starts 113 games in 2013)
Where he fits in: Acquired from the A's on Aug. 3 out of desperation following a string of injuries to their catching corps, Suzuki proved far more than a stop-gap solution behind the plate. He turned into one of the Nationals' best clutch hitters down the stretch and developed instant rapport with the pitching staff. Because he's already signed for next season at a healthy price, he's guaranteed to make the club. And given the uncertain nature of Ramos' recovery from his knee injury, Suzuki could wind up the safer bet to see playing time come Opening Day.

C JESUS FLORES
Stats: 83 G, 296 PA, 6 HR, 26 RBI, .213 AVG, .248 OBP, .329 SLG
4 E, 15% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $815,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: It was only a few years ago that Flores was considered the organization's long-term answer behind the plate. A major shoulder injury -- plus the acquisitions of Ramos and Suzuki put an end to that line of thinking, and now Flores looks like a man who will be without a job come 2013. Assuming both Ramos and Suzuki are healthy, there won't be a spot on the Nationals' roster for Flores. That makes him a prime trade candidate, or -- if a deal can't be worked out -- a potential non-tender candidate before the Nov. 30 deadline.

C SANDY LEON
Stats: 12 G, 36 PA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .267 AVG, .389 OBP, .333 SLG
1 E, 14% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Summoned straight from Class AA Harrisburg to take Ramos' roster spot, Leon wound up suffering a bad ankle sprain only four innings into his big-league career. He came back later in the season and saw a little bit of playing time, but he's still likely to need some more seasoning before he's truly ready to be a full-time big-leaguer. The Nationals love his skills behind the plate, though, and he's certainly qualified to fill in should something happen to the guys above him on the depth chart.

C JHONATAN SOLANO
Stats: 12 G, 37 PA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .314 AVG, .351 OBP, .571 SLG
0 E, 38% CS, 0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Like Leon, Solano was a surprise call-up to the big-league roster, his presence needed only because of all the injuries sustained to the rest of the club's catching corps. The 27-year-old affectionately known to teammates as "Onion" impressed in his limited playing time, flashing a solid bat. He wound up dealing with his own injuries, then finished the year in the minors. Solano will likely be ticketed for Class AAA Syracuse again in 2013.

IN THE MINORS
Nearly every catcher in the organization found his way onto the big-league roster at some point this year, so there's not much left in the system. Veteran Carlos Maldonado is a well-respected catcher, but he's not a prospect by any stretch of the imagination. David Freitas was highly regarded at Class A Potomac, but he was dealt to Oakland in exchange for Suzuki. Adrian Nieto, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has only two games of experience above low-Class A Hagerstown. The Nationals used their fifth-round pick in this year's draft on Spencer Kieboom from Clemson.

OFFSEASON NEED?
The Nationals certainly don't need to add any more catchers from outside the organization. They just need to figure out who gets the No. 1 job. If Ramos proves he's healthy in spring training, it would be tough not to give him his starting job back. He's got far more upside than Suzuki, both offensively and defensively. At the same time, the Nationals can't discount what Suzuki did for them down the stretch while understanding he's historically performed better when playing on a regular basis. As for Flores, it would appear his time with the organization is over, a disappointing end to a once-promising career.

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Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez' seesaw 2016 regular season is officially in the books. Next stop: the NL Division Series where he will face the L.A. Dodgers, likely in Game 3 and possibly with one of the two teams' season on the line. Either way, it will be important.

Over the years, teams have trotted out far less accomplished pitchers in playoff games, ones with nothing close to the track record of Gonzalez. And for long stretches this season, he has been effective, like in July and August when he held a 3.16 ERA across 11 starts.

But a lot has happened since August for Gonzalez, both on the field and off of it. In his five starts since, he's given up 19 runs in 23 innings. That stretch includes his 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday night against the Diamondbacks, when he gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks and threw a whopping 100 pitches.

Just in time for the playoffs.

The Nationals have an unenviable situation without Stephen Strasburg, who is rehabbing a right flexor strain, and with Joe Ross still building his workload. They better hope the version of Gio Gonzalez they see in the NLDS is better than the one they have witnessed over the last several weeks.

“It wasn’t that good, but we didn’t score any runs either. He had a lot of pitches in a short period of time," manager Dusty Baker said after the Nats' 3-0, rain-shortened loss.

"They ran his pitch count up. They didn’t swing at very many balls and it looked like they were trying to wait on his fastball."

Gonzalez will now have to make adjustments in bullpen sessions over the course of the next 12 days. He will have to do that with a lot on his mind. Gonzalez heads to the funeral of close friend Jose Fernandez on Thursday and was pitching with extra emotion against Arizona. 

“He’s an emotional-type guy," Baker said. "I talked to him a little bit about Fernandez and he was pitching for him and for us. Just wasn’t a very good night."

Now Gonzalez will have plenty of time to grieve and recalibrate before he sees the Dodgers. Whether that hurts or helps has yet to be determined.

“It can [help]. Just depends on, not only can it reset him, but after things have subsided some… they say time heals all wounds, but some wounds take longer to heal," Baker said.

"It probably won’t really set in until after the season when he’s back in Miami and around and Jose’s not around. Hopefully, he can have a couple good ‘pens and get it back together because we’re certainly going to need him come playoff time."

Gonzalez does have some success against the Dodgers to build off of. He holds a 1.69 ERA across 32 innings vs. L.A. since 2012 and held them to one run through six earlier this season.

Gonzalez is also just ready for a fresh start.

"You start the postseason with a zero ERA. It's a new series. New way to look at it," he said.

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals will be starting Gio Gonzalez in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers whether it's their preference or not. That's not to say they aren't at all comfortable with having him on the mound in the playoffs. He's been there before and happens to have plenty of recent success against the very team he'll face.

It's just that with Stephen Strasburg injured and Joe Ross not yet stretched out since returning from the disabled list, Gonzalez is essentially their third starter by default. And with how inconsistent he's been lately, that produce an interesting dynamic in the postseason. It's Gio Gonzalez roulette: who will take the ball and stare down Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, Good Gio or Bad Gio?

The latter was on display Wednesday night in the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game shortened to 6 1/3 innings by unrelenting rain. He managed just 3 2/3 innings on 100 pitches. That's not an MLB record for pitches in such a short start, but it's not far off. Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia, for instance, threw 107 pitches in 3 2/3 just five years ago.

Gonzalez' latest outing may not go down in the annals of history, but it was a troubling sight for the Nationals. The next time he will pitch is against the Dodgers, either in L.A. or Washington. And given the nature of a five-game series, their season could be on the line.

Gonzalez needed 24 pitches to get out of the first inning and was fortunate to give up just one run in the frame, that on a groundout by Paul Goldschmidt. Gonzalez needed 24 more in the second after giving up a single and a walk, but no runs. 

He threw 29 more in the third, including an RBI double to Brandon Drury. In the fourth, he tossed 23 more pitches and was pulled after Goldschmidt landed an RBI single, Gonzalez' third run of the evening. He allowed eight hits and three walks in total.

Gonzalez has been bounced after 4 1/3 innings or less in four of his last nine starts. In his last five outings, he's surrendered 19 earned runs in 23 innings. He's trending in the wrong direction after a strong July and August, and it's not good for the Nats.

Gonzalez didn't go deep in his start, but he wasn't necessarily terrible either. The Nats' offense fell closer to that description. They managed zero runs on five hits and one walk against Arizona starter Shelby Miller. His 6.15 ERA through 20 starts this season makes his 2015 All-Star nod seem like a distant memory.

The Nationals lost their second game of this series against the Diamondbacks and will now hope for a four-game split on Thursday. Washington has dropped seven of their last 11 games.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 92-65 not the year with four games remaining. Their magic number to clinch home field advantage in the NLDS stands at three thanks to the Dodgers' loss to the Padres.

Rendon lands two: Anthony Rendon was once again a standout for the Nats on offense with a pair of singles in two plate appearances. That came one night after he led the Nats to victory with a three-run homer. Rendon now has six hits in his last five games and appears to be heating up as the Nats enter the final four games of the regular season. With Wilson Ramos out, Rendon is even more important as one of the Nationals' most potent right-handed bats.

Belisle keeps it up: He may not pitch in high-leverage spots, and he may not bring electric stuff out of the bullpen, but veteran Matt Belisle just continues to produce in whatever role the Nats ask of him. He replaced Gonzalez in the fourth inning on Wednesday and tossed 1 1/3 perfect frames. He got four outs on seven pitches, a nice change of pace from the 100 pitches Gonzalez needed to record 11 outs. Belisle was even checked on by trainer Paul Lessard before he began the fifth inning, but he didn't show any problems afterwards.

Gio playing with a heavy heart: Gonzalez was pitching with a lot on his mind Wednesday night following the death of his friend Jose Fernandez over the weekend. Gonzalez was in tears while warming up in right field before the game and plans to fly to Florida in the morning to attend the funeral services of the late Marlins star. 

Up next: The Nats and Diamondbacks finish of their series with a 1:05 p.m. start on Thursday afternoon. Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48) will pitch opposite former Nats prospect Robbie Ray (8-14, 4.77).

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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