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Nats lock up Tracy for '13

Nats lock up Tracy for '13

PHILADELPHIA -- Chad Tracy might not have made the Nationals' Opening Day roster if not for an injury suffered by Rick Ankiel late in spring training. Little did the veteran bench player or the club know how indispensable he would become.

How indispensable? Enough to convince the Nationals to sign Tracy to a contract extension for next season right now. The two sides hashed out details over the last week and agreed to a deal before tonight's series opener against the Phillies.

"You're on a first-place team, 30 games over .500, and they're offering you an extension," Tracy said. "There's really not a whole lot better than that."

Terms of the contract aren't immediately known, but the 32-year-old is expected to receive a modest raise over his 750,000 salary for 2012.

Tracy was out of the big leagues a year ago, suffering through an injury-plagued season in Japan. He signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals over the winter and came to spring training as a non-roster invitee. He still looked like an odd-man out to break camp, but Ankiel's late quadriceps strain opened a spot for Tracy.

He never looked back, coming off the bench to deliver the game-winning hit in the Nationals' Opening Day victory in Chicago and re-establishing himself as one of the majors' best pinch-hitters. He's 8-for-25 with three doubles, a homer and 10 RBI as a pinch-hitter (tied for second-most in the majors).

"His performance allowed for him to make the club," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And he just kept exceeding expectations and played extremely well. He's a real asset on the club."

After struggling in past seasons to assemble a deep and productive bench, the Nationals made it more of a priority entering this season. That they're already locking up a key role player for 2013 underscores the importance they place on their stable of reserves.

"Yeah, I mean I think we've proven the bench can be overlooked," manager Davey Johnson said.

Now, after playing for five different organizations in five years, Tracy knows he'll be back in a familiar place in 2013.

"It's come full circle," he said. "The last couple years, two or three years, in the offseason I didn't know what was going to happen. I was signing minor-league deals and having to come in and fight in spring training to make a club. To have a guaranteed year and know where you're going next year for your family, you can kind of start planning. It's great. It's a good way to play."

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Nats open new $150 million spring training site with walk-off win

Nats open new $150 million spring training site with walk-off win

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Bryce Harper drove in the first run, the rain stayed away and a festive crowd saw a game-ending homer. All in all, a nice start on opening day for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Shared by the Houston Astros and Washington, the teams met Tuesday in the first spring training game at the new $150 million complex. The Nationals won 4-3 on Michael Taylor's drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The biggest draw for many of the 5,987 fans seemed to be the racing president mascots, who made the trip south from Nationals Park. Instead of Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, the opener featured William Taft, Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.

"I miss Teddy, George and Jeff," said David Blackwood, who made the trip across Florida from Sarasota for the game. "These are like the spring training presidents. They haven't made the squad yet."

There are still more permanent fixtures that need work at the park that holds over 7,000 -- some concession stands won't open for a few more games, not all bathrooms had hot water. But what was accomplished in 15 months since the ballpark's approval is being lauded by players, coaches, fans and Commissioner Rob Manfred, who was in attendance.

"The stadium bowl itself is absolutely first rate, but I think the back fields and practice areas are amazing, as well," Manfred said.

The Astros and Nationals each have one back field that mimics the dimensions of their home ballpark, plus five other full-sized practice fields apiece.

Along with clubhouses that rival most of those at major league ballparks in both size and number of televisions, the Nationals' side of the facility also features a training pool, which began to be filled on Monday.

"A diving board would have been nice -- maybe a slide," joked Jeremy Guthrie, who threw the first pitch of the game after morning rain cleared out.

For the record, Daniel Murphy got the first hit and Carlos Beltran launched the first homer. Harper doubled home the first run.

Players raved about field conditions, which offered dimensions of 335, 406 and 336 feet from left to right. The bullpens are down the lines behind the outfield wall, with a green berm where fans can stretch out and watch the game.

Beyond the left field berm resides the Houston executive offices, which Derek Norris hit on one bounce for a home run. From the upper level seats fans can glimpse several of the back fields.

Taylor's homer over the left field foul pole marked the first spring training game in West Palm Beach since 1997. The Nationals' franchise once called West Palm Beach home, back when they were the Montreal Expos. The Braves and Expos shared a complex in town for years.

The Nationals explored options on both coasts of Florida as a replacement for their previous spring training complex in Viera, two hours north of their new residence. The Astros moved from Kissimmee, more than two hours away.

About 15 minutes from the new ballpark in Jupiter is Roger Dean Stadium, shared by the Cardinals and Marlins.

"I love the idea of spring training baseball in southeastern Florida," said Manfred, who has an apartment close to West Palm Beach. "I actually think it's not just personal, it's good for the game to have two centers of baseball in the state of Florida. It allows teams to keep their travel time down, but you do need a certain number of teams to make it all work."

While in Viera, bus rides of two and three hours were the norm for the Nationals. This spring 27 of their 34 games will be played in Palm Beach County. Three more will be played two counties north at the Mets' facility in Port St. Lucie, less than an hour away.

"Riding on the bus for four hours is not that fun so having fewer trips like that is definitely better," said Taylor, who set up his winning homer by throwing out a runner at the plate to end the top of the ninth.

There is one potential pothole that Nationals manager Dusty Baker didn't face when the club camped in Viera. In West Palm Beach and the surrounding area, there are plenty of attractions to occupy a player's time away from the ballpark -- and some of those places remain open until 5 a.m.

"We were in Viera, there wasn't anybody staying open," Baker said. "It was nice, but, you know, it was easy to get your rest."

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AP source: Joe Blanton, Nats agree to $4M, 1-year contract

AP source: Joe Blanton, Nats agree to $4M, 1-year contract

WASHINGTON – Setup man Joe Blanton and the Washington Nationals have agreed to a $4 million, one-year contract, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because the agreement had not been announced.

The 36-year-old Blanton was a free agent after pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, when the right-hander went 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 80 innings across 75 regular-season appearances. He then went 1-0 and allowed only one hit in five scoreless innings in four games for LA during an NL Division Series victory over Washington.

Formerly a starter in the majors, Blanton has become a reliever and adds to the Nationals' crop of bullpen arms. The team does not have an experienced closer after Mark Melancon left as a free agent to sign with the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, signed reliever Sergio Romo from the Giants to fill Blanton's previous setup role.

Blanton is 99-93 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 seasons with six clubs. He has appeared in a total of 376 games, 124 in relief.

He joins a Nationals bullpen that also includes Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Koda Glover, Oliver Perez, Sammy Solis and Trevor Gott.

Blanton's agreement, which also includes up to $1 million in performance bonuses, was first reported by The Washington Post.