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Nationals GM Rizzo says bench is a likely target for deal

With Major League Baseball's trade deadline Wednesday at 4 p.m., Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo does not see the next two days as an opportunity to blow up a struggling team or a chance to spark a late-season push.

"We're going to stay consistent with the same thought process we've had since 2009," Rizzo said. "We're always thinking about this year, improving ourselves this year, but when we improve ourselves this year it will be this year and beyond."

Even if Rizzo wanted to act on the Nationals' chances this season, he would face a quandary. Sitting 81/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and seven out of the second wild card, the Nationals remain in the race but too far out of first to feel realistic confidence about their chances. They wouldn't be able to wave a white flag and sell attractive pieces, but it would be reckless to mortgage future seasons to reinforce a 52-54 team.

"It's a tough decision that Mike and those guys are going to make," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Those guys we have [in the minors] that they've groomed can help. I know Mike hates giving up those guys.The truth is, you go out and get someone, you have them for this year. You stay with the guys you've got, you have them for three, four, five, six years. It's a tough decision."

Their offense ranks 14th in the National League in runs per game, but Rizzo has few ways to make a major impact given the hitters available on the trade market. And the Nationals have players under contract through 2014 at all eight starting positions, a stable Rizzo does not want to disrupt.

"We feel good about our core players, and we feel that we're solid at our position players," he said. "We like our rotation; we like our bullpen arms. If we could tweak or improve certain spots on the bench, I think that would be one place that we would attack."

The Nationals already added a right-handed outfielder in Scott Hairston, and Rizzo said after the acquisition that he had no plans to replace veteran left-handed pinch hitter Chad Tracy.

Washington might be willing to part with catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was acquired shortly after the 2012 deadline and was a key to its success down the stretch. Wilson Ramos has received most of the playing time behind the plate; Suzuki will be a free agent after this season, and Jhonatan Solano is playing backup.

The Nationals did some initial exploring into the starting pitching market. With left-handerRoss Detwiler slated to be on the disabled list for about another month and Taylor Jordan nearing a team-mandated innings limit, their depth has been challenged. They "kicked the tires" on Cubs right-hander Matt Garza before he was traded to the Texas Rangers, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Nationals had interest in Chicago White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, who would be attractive because he's under contract for 2014 as well, according to another person close to the team.

But the Nationals' interest in starting pitching has waned as they've listened to high asking prices and the back of their rotation has stabilized. Dan Haren has a 3.13 ERA in four starts since coming off the DL, and Ross Ohlendorf has been throwing his fastball in the mid-90s while compiling a 1.83 ERA in 332/3 innings. 1/3 innings.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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