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Span trade has plenty of ramifications for Nats

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Span trade has plenty of ramifications for Nats

The Nationals have been searching for a leadoff hitter and center fielder since ... well, since before they were the Nationals.

This is a franchise that has tried in vain for eight seasons to develop or acquire someone who possessed both the ability to play center field and hit at the top of a big-league lineup.

First there was Endy Chavez. Then there was Brandon Watson. Then Nook Logan. Then Lastings Milledge. Then Nyjer Morgan. The list also included, at various times, Justin Maxwell, Marlon Byrd, Willie Harris, Preston Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, Ryan Church, Elijah Dukes, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and even a guy named Jorge Padilla who even the most knowledgeable Nationals fan would never remember existed.

All told, 32 different men have played center field for the Nationals since 2005 (tied with the Red Sox and Athletics for most in the majors).

So there was some real purpose behind yesterday's trade with the Twins for Denard Span. This wasn't simply an attempt by Mike Rizzo to shore up a small leak. This was an attempt by Rizzo to plug a hole that had existed for eight years.

Will Span be the guy who at long last produces in that vital role? There are no guarantees in life, but he certainly comes to Washington with a far better track record and body of work than any of those 32 previous center fielders.

This is a career .284 hitter with a .357 on-base percentage, spectacular range in center field -- only Michael Bourn rated better defensively last season -- and the ability to put bat on ball. Span struck out in a meager 10.7 percent of his plate appearances last season, well below the league average of 17.2 percent.

He even hits left-handers (.293) better than right-handers (.280) over his career, a rare skill for players of his ilk.

"I think he's going to bring a dimension to the club that we haven't had before," Rizzo said. "A fast-moving, exciting guy that makes contact and moves the ball around and can fly around the field. It gives us added speed, stolen base potential and a guy that can really run down balls, which will further help our pitching staff."

Was the price to acquire Span steep? Yes, it was. Alex Meyer is no slouch, a 6-foot-9 beast of a right-hander whose fastball approaches triple digits and who should be on a fast track to the big leagues after dominating both low- and high-Class A last season.

But the price to acquire Gio Gonzalez one year ago (four top prospects) was far steeper, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining about that trade today.

What makes this particular deal all the more fascinating, though, is the domino effect it will have on so many other aspects of the Nationals, in 2013 and beyond.

Span's arrival will push Bryce Harper to one of the corner outfield positions; the hunch here is that he'll go to left field, with Jayson Werth wanting to remain in right field, though those two could wind up swapping spots somewhere down the road.

It also pushes Werth out of the leadoff spot and perhaps Harper out of the No. 2 spot in Davey Johnson's lineup.

All of that, of course, will depend on the name of the Nationals' first baseman in 2013. Will it be Adam LaRoche or Michael Morse? Only one can return.

The easy (and perhaps likeliest) scenario will have LaRoche signing with another club (perhaps the Red Sox, Orioles or Rangers) and Morse shifting to first base. And that may well happen.

But make no mistake, the Nationals still want to re-sign LaRoche, and would prefer to bring him back on a reasonable deal (two, though probably not three, guaranteed years) and then trade Morse (who will be a free agent next winter and most likely won't be re-signed regardless.

Think about this potential lineup should the Nats and LaRoche somehow find common terms:

CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki

Even if LaRoche walks and Morse stays, the Nationals still will boast a potent lineup, top-to-bottom. If LaRoche returns, there won't be a better defensive team in baseball.

Above all else, Rizzo has ensured he'll still have plenty of money left over to spend on his remaining offseason needs. If the Nationals don't re-sign LaRoche and don't tender John Lannan a contract before tonight's deadline, they'll have roughly $90 million committed to next year's payroll. (That figure includes the raises all their arbitration-eligible players are likely to receive.)

The Nationals opened 2012 with a payroll of $92 million, and they're perfectly capable and willing to increase that number in 2013. Whether it's LaRoche, a front-line starting pitcher, a veteran reliever or some combination of all that, the funds are there for Rizzo to continue improving a roster that already won 98 games a year ago (without getting a full season of contribution from either Harper or Stephen Strasburg).

Yes, the Nationals are making a real run at winning the 2013 World Series, without sacrificing their chances of winning it in 2014 or 2015. They've got players at seven of the eight everyday positions, four starting pitchers and five relievers under their control for at least the next three seasons.

As always, there are no guarantees in baseball. The Nationals might not win a World Series in the next three years, let alone even reach the playoffs.

But no franchise in the sport is better assembled to win now and down the road than the Nationals. And yesterday's acquisition of Span only made that statement more true.

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Yusmeiro Petit allows 5 runs in 11th, as Nats fall to Rockies

Yusmeiro Petit allows 5 runs in 11th, as Nats fall to Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 9-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in extra innings on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Colorado Rockies' lineup is relentless and powerful, and they have a unique ability to pressure opposing teams into making uncharacteristic mistakes. The Nationals fell 9-4 in 11 innings to Colorado on Saturday and made numerous unforced errors along the way.

One Rockies run came in on a wild pitch during an intentional walk thrown by starter A.J. Cole. Newly-acquired lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski made a throwing error in the seventh inning that helped lead to a run. And reliever Yusmeiro Petit allowed a pair of two-run homers in the 11th to seal the Nationals' fate.

It was another poor defensive performance for the Nats in a long string of them. They committed two errors and that count didn't include another mistake by Rzepczynski, who dropped a ball in the ninth when fielding a bunt. The error he was charged with was on a groundball by D.J. LeMahieu in the seventh. Rzepczynski made an underhand throw to first base that sailed over Ryan Zimmerman's head. That allowed Charlie Blackmon to reach third and eventually score.

It was Blackmon who hit the first homer off Petit in the 11th. The next was by Carlos Gonzalez, his 200th career bomb. Petit also gave up another run on a single by Nick Hundley in an overall disaster of an outing.

The Nats scored their first three runs in the fourth inning. Bryce Harper landed an RBI double to left field. Wilson Ramos smacked an RBI single and Danny Espinosa brought in another run on a groundout to second base. 

They pushed the game to extra innings on a Jayson Werth RBI single with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. He singled to left field to score Ben Revere, who walked and stole second base to set it all up. Werth's RBI was off Adam Ottavino, who saw his 37-game scoreless streak snapped. This came just one series after the Nats broke Orioles closer Zach Britton's then MLB-best 43 consecutive scoreless appearance streak.

Harper was later ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Mark Winters in the bottom of the 10th. He went off over a called strike three and threw his helmet at the ground. Winters immediately tossed him. It was Harper's eighth career ejection and his second of this season.

Rookie A.J. Cole took a no-decision in his first home start as a National. He went 5 2/3 innings with three runs allowed on four hits and three walks. He served up a homer to Blackmon - the first of two for the Rockies All-Star - allowed an RBI single to pitcher Jorge De La Rosa and brought another run home on the wild pitch.

The Nats have lost five of their last seven games.

What it means: The Nationals dropped to 75-54 overall on the season. They are 2-3 against the Rockies in 2016.

Harper keeps rolling: Harper's double was his fourth extra-base hit in his last four games and his third to opposite field. That is a very good sign for the reigning MVP, who when at his best can spread hits around the field as good as anyone in baseball. With that double, Harper has reached base in all 14 games since he returned from his neck injury. He also walked and has reached base twice in five straight games and in seven of his last eight outings. Harper is now batting 21-for-54 (.389) with six doubles, 16 RBI and 11 runs since coming back.

Harper has shown promise for brief stretches since April, but he hasn't produced this consistently in months. Now he's hitting doubles and triples to left field. It appears he may be finally rounding into form, just in time for the home stretch of the regular season. He just needs to do better at keep his cool with the umpires.

No slowing Turner: Trea Turner had another strong game with two hits and a steal. It was his 19th multi-hit game of the year in his 40th total outing and his batting average now sits at .341. Turner's steal was his 17th of the season, which puts him in second on the Nats, only behind Harper who has 18. 

Ramos ties a career-best: Ramos single gave him 68 RBI on the year, which ties the career-high he set last season. It was Ramos' first game back after sitting out two with Jose Lobaton behind the dish in his place. Ramos' RBI was his first in a span of eight games and an encouraging sign for The Buffalo, who has struggled of late. Before the single, he was 0-for his last 13 going back to Aug. 20, with just one walk during that span. Since Aug. 9, Ramos' batting average has dropped double digits from .337 all the way to .312. Perhaps the two days off and Saturday's RBI can help get him going.

Up next: The Nats and Rockies play the finale of this series and their head-to-head matchups this season. First pitch is at 1:35 p.m. with right-hander Chad Bettis (10-7, 5.29) going for Colorado. The Nationals have yet to name their starter.

[RELATED: Dusty talks about slapping Turner's butt, things get weird]

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Bryce Harper ejected after arguing balls and strikes vs. Rockies

Bryce Harper ejected after arguing balls and strikes vs. Rockies

Bryce Harper lost his cool in the 10th inning on Saturday afternoon after home plate umpire Mark Winters called him out on a strike three thrown on the outer edge of the plate against the Colorado Rockies.

Harper immediately threw his helmet to the ground and got in Winters' face. Winters wasted no time handing Harper his eighth career ejection.

For Harper, it was his second ejection of this season. He was 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI double on Saturday before he was tossed.

MORE NATIONALS: ROSS BEGINS MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENT SUNDAY

Here is the pitch Harper thought should have been a ball (No. 5):

(Screenshot: MLB.com)

More to come...

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Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Okay, let's try this again.

Nearly a month after Joe Ross' initial minor league rehab assignment was halted due to a setback in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation, the Nationals' starter will now go on another rehab stint beginning Sunday with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He will face the Pawtucket Red Sox in Syracuse.

This is a major step for the Nats' right-hander, who hasn't appeared in a big league game since July 2. Ross threw two bullpen sessions this week, one on Tuesday in Baltimore and another on Thursday in Washington. It was an encouraging series of days for Ross, who last pitched in a game on July 30 with Syracuse. He also pitched for Syracuse on July 24.

Ross is now well on his way to returning, but whether he can build his innings up to come back as a starter is still hard to tell. The minor league regular season only runs through the first week of September, so it's still possible Ross will need to return to the Nats as a relief pitcher.

Manager Dusty Baker shared the latest on that situation before Saturday's game:

"I don't know. That's a question that we're trying to answer now. If not, then hopefully in the playoffs he can be on the team and help us out of the bullpen. Usually, you're only carrying three starters on the team anyways during the playoffs. If he was number four and whoever else or whatever, that makes for a better bullpen. I have hopes that he can at least make it back to that point," he said.

That is all, of course, pending this second minor league rehab stint goes well. Last time Ross felt discomfort and didn't have his velocity quite where he wanted it to be.

Ross starting for Syracuse may give some hints as to who will start for the Nationals on Sunday against the Rockies. Lucas Giolito was lined up to pitch Sunday for the Chiefs and already was a likely candidate to be called up to the Nats. Now that theory has even more legs to it.

[RELATED: Max Scherzer digs down deep to help Nats, shut up Orioles fans]

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