Bryce Harper, core stay as Nationals denies talk of rancor
Adam Eaton stood in front of his locker, his voice firm and steady in the back corner of the Nationals’ clubhouse late Tuesday afternoon.
The veteran outfielder, who has emerged as a vocal leader in less than two years in the nation’s capital, denied published reports that there is dysfunction among the ranks.
“This is not a mess. Absolutely false,” Eaton, 29, wearing a red T-shirt and blue Nationals shorts, said of disunity in the clubhouse.
“This is a good group (with) still pretty good chemistry,” injured closer Sean Doolittle said.
“I actually think ‘dysfunctional’ is harsh,” beleaguered rookie manager Dave Martinez said.
“The culture in the clubhouse is great,” general manager Mike Rizzo said.
The two-time defending National League champion Nationals have weathered a battery of challenges on and off the field in the last two weeks.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the top two starting pitchers, had words in the dugout during a July 20 loss to the rival Atlanta Braves.
Starting shortstop Trea Turner apologized again Tuesday for insensitive comments that he tweeted when he was a teenager.
“It is very serious. It can’t be glossed over,” Rizzo said, on his first public comments on the matter.
And the Nationals in a development that would have been unthinkable just months ago toyed with offers to trade All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper but the free agent remained with the club after the Tuesday deadline.
“We had several discussions with several teams,” Rizzo said, standing in the Nationals’ dugout. “We did our due diligence on Bryce. We believe in the squad we have. We feel on paper we are as good as any team in the league.”
Washington (52-53) entered play Tuesday 5 games back of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies and five games back of the second-place Atlanta Braves.
The Nationals had the 11th-best record in the 15-team National League through Monday. This from a club that has won four division titles since 2012 and was picked by Sports Illustrated to make the World Series this October.
But Eaton, Doolittle and Harper feel the club can make up ground. The Nationals had 57 games left going into their Tuesday home game against the New York Mets, the last team beside Washington to win the East title.
“We’ve played some worst baseball we can, and we’re only 5 games back,” Harper said. “We’re getting our (full) team back; hopefully Doolittle is back here pretty soon and (Strasburg) as well. Just got to keep playing our baseball and if we click, you know, it’s going to be a lot of fun. And we play the Phillies a couple times, the Braves a couple times.”
Washington did make one trade Tuesday, dealing veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for minor league pitcher Jhon Romero.
The trade caught Kintzler by surprise, as he joined other Nationals pitchers to stretch on the field about three hours before the game. Can the Nationals make a playoff push with the roster they have?
“Absolutely. Just a matter of clicking,” said Kintzler, who will travel on his 30th birthday Wednesday to join the Cubs.
To take Kintzler’s place, the Nationals brought back young pitcher Wander Suero from Triple-A Syracuse. Washington also activated third baseman Anthony Rendon, who had missed several games after the birth of his first child.
Complicating matters in the playoff chase: The Braves helped themselves tremendously Tuesday, acquiring starting pitcher Kevin Gausman and veteran reliever Darren O’Day in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
And the Phillies got better back of the dish by trading for Tampa Bay catcher Wilson Ramos, a former Nationals standout. Philadelphia also got pitcher Aaron Loup from Toronto.
Ramos was reportedly a Nationals trade target, but Rizzo defended starting catcher Matt Wieters.
“I like the way he handles pitchers,” Rizzo said. However, the switch-hitter was batting .196 before Tuesday’s game.
Other National League teams, whom the Nationals need to catch for a possible wild card berth, also made big trades Tuesday, besides the Cubs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers got second baseman Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins and pitcher John Axford from Toronto, the Pirates got starting pitcher Chris Archer from Tampa Bay and Arizona acquired lefty reliever Jake Diekman from Texas and righty reliever Brad Ziegler from the Marlins.
The Milwaukee Brewers, who come to Nationals Park in late August, acquired star infielder Jonathan Schoop from the Orioles.
Meanwhile, the Nats mainly stayed put.
“They didn’t blow this (roster) up,” Doolittle said. “There are two months of baseball left to be played.”