Backup backstops

May 13, 2008

Last week, the Nationals put both Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada on the 15-day DL. Two guys that were brought in to hold over the catching position for a season will have combined for 98 plate appearances and Ruthian splits of .191/.265/.225 by the last week in May. In actuality, they should be combining for about 200 plate appearances and splits of, well anything besides what they’ve done.

The good news is, so far Wil Nieves has filled in well. He is known as an excellent defensive catcher, and while he hasn’t thrown out alot of runners yet, he does seem to be holding up his end on the defense. Also, since Nieves has started catching for him, John Lannan has gone 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA. Of course, that may be coincidental, but until proven otherwise, Nieves gets some credit. He has also hit the ball well, right now he’s sitting at .342/.405/.447, which is incredibly unrealistic for him over time. It’s dropping lately, but it’s not the precipitous fall you might expect. If he can maintain a batting average of about .270, and that ISO and walk rate stay the same, he’d be at .270/.337/.384. This wouldn’t be a terrible line for someone of his defensive prowess. Don’t count on it though, he’s had 2 extra base hits all season, that “high” ISO is only due to the fact that one was a HR. Either way, so far so good, hopefully the Nats can ride his hot bat for a little while longer.

The other player that “benefits” from this slate of injuries is Jesus Flores, the catcher of the future. Of course, Estrada and Lo Duca were brought in to keep Flores playing full time down in the minors. Coming up to the majors and playing backup to Nieves won’t help him develop nearly as much as full time duty in AAA. In the minors he has struggled so far hitting .153/.275/.254. But in his few major league appearances (he actually only has 19 PAs) he has looked good, both before and after his 2nd callup this season. He’s hit and he’s had a few doubles, so he will definitely be one to watch over the next month or so. If he can keep up the hitting, I am still not sure he’d stay up in the majors, but if he’s ready he’s ready, might as well try to trade one of the other guys.

The final bit of fallout from sending both catchers down in bringing up Elijah Dukes. Dukes has gotten playing time to spell the other OFs. We have the problem that we were talking about at the beginning of the season – there are 3 corner outfielders (4 counting Mackowiak) but only 2 corner outfield spots.

All of a sudden, Wily Mo Pena has brought his averages up to .302/.380/.349 and over the last 17 games, and the lack of power in those numbers doesn’t scare you because you know it’s there. I mean, he’s the size of the Incredible Hulk. At least the Lou Ferrigno version. Meanwhile, Austin Kearns has hit well enough to not be a joke over the last 10 games (.250/.341/.333) but it’s still with very little power. With that slight recovery and his glove you don’t expect him to sit too much. How is Dukes gonna get the playing time he needs? I’m not really sure. He, along with Lastings, is still the player I am most excited about seeing what he can do this season. Lastings has impressed me so far, but his strong start has faded. Maybe this is a good time to give him a break and try Dukes in center? I really don’t know if Dukes can play center – Lastings has logged 93% of the time there so far this season, with only Willie Harris filling in. But if Dukes could play there it could allow more flexibility and give Lastings some extra days off.


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