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Finally, a purposeful direction

Three players who weren't in uniform last night will walk into Nationals Park today. It's very possible that all -- LF Elijah Dukes, SS Alberto Gonzalez, 2B Emilio Bonifacio -- will be in the starting lineup. Indeed, the Nationals, with one purge and one coinciding injection of youth, have transformed an entire lineup. That's not so say it's better. But it meets an even more important qualification: It's the lineup those in the clubhouse believe the team should have.

For that reason especially, and it's just one in a long list, the orchestration of moves made after last night's game make absolute sense. Baseball is not quite a meritocracy -- it's a meritocracy with financial complications -- but a clubhouse functions best when 1.) the guys who play best play most, and 2.) the guys who try hardest see the purpose.

Neither Paul Lo Duca nor Felipe Lopez were playing well, yet both kept playing. Lo Duca's approach always seemed professional, but Lopez -- with body language, and sometimes with quiet comments -- made it known to the relevant parties that he would be just fine with his departure from DC. GM Jim Bowden made a not-so-subtle reference to attitude when he said, "We want players here that are going to hustle and play the game hard and play the game right."

Even as it happened in the previous month, it was apparent that Lopez and Lo Duca were playing every day in the lineup as a means to audition for trades. If they got hot, perhaps another team would jump at a deal. Still, that strategy rubbed some in the clubhouse the wrong way. From a bird's-eye management level, using your lineup for such a purpose makes sense. But when you're actually trying to earn playing time in that lineup, the strategy makes no sense.

By releasing Lopez and Lo Duca (and technically Johnny Estrada, too), Bowden admitted a mistake. Several, actually. About $11 million worth, basing it on their 2008 salaries. Those signings never helped the team. But the fact that Bowden was able to admit as much will help the team's atmosphere for the rest of the year. Results might not change, but at least the aesthetics will.

By Chico Harlan  |  August 1, 2008; 8:12 AM ET
 
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