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Three Competitors, One Spot

Attitude lessons from Wil Nieves: Twice, I interviewed him yesterday. Once in the morning, one-on-one. Later, in the afternoon, with a small group of others. Both times, the conversations went in a similar direction -- basically, What is it like to deal with such a fight for your job? Wil, you played well last year, probably exceeded expectations, and all it got you was a spring training dogfight where they throw another dog at you with two weeks to go...

One reporter even got frank with Nieves. "I have to admit," he said, "if it was me, I'd be bitter." (I'm paraphrasing, b/c my recorder was off at the time. But that was the gist.)

One of Nieves's answers (with eye contact, lots of impassioned hand motions): "I have always, always seen the other catchers not as competition. I'm going to do my job, they will do theirs. If I see them as competition, I will not be doing my job, and then I will be paying attention more to what they do than for myself. Like I always say, papi, my career is in God's hands. Bard, Javier -- the only thing I can control is my attitude and the way I play the game. They are the ones who will make the decision. Hopefully with my play I will make them pick me, but I don't see it as a competition. I see them as teammates. I treat them like I treat a shortstop, and I wish them the best."

Nieves is probably the sunniest character in the Nats locker room, an Acta-esque beacon of positivism. Like his manager, he believes that positive thinking enables positive results. Right now, Nieves is fighting for an oft-overlooked job, but it's the focus of my story in today's paper.

For the next two weeks, Nieves, Bard and Valentin will all see playing time. Starter Jesus Flores, trying to recover from an elbow sprain, will need at bats, too, but once he's ready to resume game action, he'll probably get a lot of time on the minor league side.

Bard, by the way, will be traveling with the team today -- his first game. When I spoke with him yesterday, he said that Washington had pursued him during the winter, but obviously he picked Boston, which offered a major league contract worth $1.7 million. In the end, that contract was part of the reason Boston released him on Wednesday. After clearing waivers, Bard heard from acting GM Mike Rizzo. (Bard's agent is Scott Pucino, who also represents Elijah Dukes.) The Nats offered him a non-guaranteed deal worth $600,000 if he makes the team.

"We felt like there was some opportunity here," said Bard, a switch-hitter with a longer track record of offensive numbers than Nieves.

Asked about his approach in the final weeks of spring training, Bard said, "Play good. I mean, ultimately that is all I can control. They know what I've done. I've been in the big leagues for six years, so they know what I can do. But I also know Wil is a quality player, and they like him. So my work is cut out for me. I have to go out and play well."

By Chico Harlan  |  March 23, 2009; 6:47 AM ET
 
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Next: Lineup Versus Cardinals

Comments

Tremendous attitude. Good things will come to him.

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 23, 2009 7:02 AM | Report abuse

Wil Nieves Walk Off HR last year at Nationals Park vs. the Cubs will be one of the greatest moments of the year.

Being a back-up catcher is a tough role and I think Wil handled the pitchers well.

He came out on top when the dust settled with JEstrada and PLoD so I wish him luck!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 23, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

So the real Adam Dunn finally stood up last night. Taking called third strikes, stumbling around in the outfield like he'd never played the position before, and throwing like an old man. The only thing it takes to be a good fielder is effort and practice, two things Dunn clearly lacks.

Posted by: bigtrain45 | March 23, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

For a back up catcher, Wil proved to be quite the clutch hitter in his few chances last year. It will take quite the showing of his competitors to unseat his standing with the team. I don't think he has to worry to much, it's just competition and thats always good. Nobody should rest on their laurels.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 23, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

I agree about Wil's home run ... it was easy to be thrilled for him. I love the footage that includes the pitchers jumping up for him in the bullpen, and have always assumed that was not just about winning, but also about happiness for Wil.

Count me among those who will be pulling for Mr. Nieves to travel north, both because he will contribute to the baseball, and because he will contribute to the team.

C'mon Wil! I hope to see you in a couple of weeks.

Posted by: dcbatgirl | March 23, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Wil Nieves is clearly a character guy, but that does not mean that Josh Bard and Javier Valentin are not also quality guys. Valentin is the most versatile - switch hitter, able to play 1B/3B, and an accomplished pinch hitter. Bard is the most accomplished and is also a switch hitter. Nieves is probably the best defensively in the group and has a better arm. I'm not rooting against any of them. I think Bard is probably the right pick as he is the only one in the group that you could imagine as an every day catcher in the event that Flores is not healthy. Unless there is a trade that frees up roster space, only one backup makes the team, one gets released, and maybe if we're lucky the third gets stashed at AAA.

Posted by: natbisquit | March 23, 2009 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Nice article this morning, Chico - a lesson in that one for all of us (including the beat writer, I think) about the importance of sticking to your job, focusing on it, and not letting the opinions or perceptions of other people concern you.

On the "I hate sports" mess - Chico, near as I can tell, your only mistake was to attempt to steer a story as the subject. You were so concerned about coming off as a jock-sniffing stereotype that you leaned far too far the other direction. My view -don't let people or even journalists define who you are. If you get portrayed as a jock-sniffing stereotype who writes baseball because he couldn't make varsity, so be it - you know you're not that. If you get defined as a sportswriter who hates sports and can't wait to get away from the Nats, their stink and the blog commenters (and really, who wouldn't?), so be it - you know you're not that, too.

Apology unnecessary but it's good to see you step up to it. Just keep writing - all the other stuff will work itself out.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | March 23, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

... I like what Hwy295 said above. My last word on the subject - and this I promise - comes via Jonathan Irving, speaking of John Updike, RIP. Irving said:

"People were always critical of what Updike wrote about; I always defended him because he wrote so well. He was one of those writers who taught me: You're a writer because you can write well, not because of your "subject."

... and now, back to baseball and the basics.

Go Chico! Go Nats!!

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 23, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone watch the MASN game last week against the Marlins?? Javier Valentin has a weaker arm than ... cant think of anything funny but you get the gist...

Posted by: theredskin | March 23, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/03/josh-byrnes-qa.html#comments

This link has little to do with anything being discussed here. However, I found it interesting reading. Josh Byrnes is a local guy, so for those of us who remember him as a HS player, it might be a nice read. He continues to be one of the more thoughtful GMs around.

He was also Rizzo's boss, so there may be some insight as to how Rizzo thinks. He makes interesting comments about how to handle young pitchers' innings and about how to structure contracts - including opt out years and incentives. The one thing to remember is that as opposed to Byrnes, Rizzo should be operating in a much bigger market with more revenue, so he should have more flexibility.

Bard's a good pickup. I like having a catcher who can hit LH. I thought Flores got eaten up by RHPs with good breaking pitches. It'll be good to have another option - one better defensively than Valentin who reminds me a bit of Matt LeCroy behind the plate.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 23, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone watch the MASN game last week against the Marlins?? Javier Valentin has a weaker arm than ...

------

Adam Dunn?

Posted by: chime1211 | March 23, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

"People were always critical of what Updike wrote about; I always defended him because he wrote so well. He was one of those writers who taught me: You're a writer because you can write well, not because of your "subject."

Were either Irving or Updike ever embarrassed by what they were writing about? If so, did they admit it publicly? How would have (or did) such an admission affect their careers as writers and the perception of them among their readers and the subjects about which they wrote?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

"Did anyone watch the MASN game last week against the Marlins?? Javier Valentin has a weaker arm than ...

------

Adam Dunn?

Posted by: chime1211 | March 23, 2009 9:13 AM "

I was going to guess Johnny Estrada. Or maybe Paul LoDuca.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

On the few times I got to interact with Wil his positive attitude and actions were infectious. It was impossible to repel the good feelings, so you felt good yourself. I really, truly, hope he gets the job. On the few times he actually ran to the bullpen to warm up a pitcher mid-game, his attitude was off the charts good.

Posted by: Section138 | March 23, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Were either Irving or Updike ever embarrassed by what they were writing about? If so, did they admit it publicly? How would have (or did) such an admission affect their careers as writers and the perception of them among their readers and the subjects about which they wrote?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 9:13 AM
_________________________________________________________

Holy crap.

nunof,

If Chico lets you and thom202 throw stones at him or nail him to a cross, will you let it go and forgive him? Would that be enough to move on from this?

Posted by: Section505203 | March 23, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Off subject but never unimportant:

TippyCanoe, please thank your Nave SEAL son for his service. It can not be said enough by those of us he protects.

Back on subject:
Isn't it great to have competition at so many places. In my mind's eye it is competition among major league ball players or legitimate potential major leaguers at catcher, starting pitching, second base, and the outfield. I'm not so sure about the last couple of slots in the bull pen. I'm not saying the competition is between two All Stars but we have come a long long way.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | March 23, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Isn't anyone starting to think that the Nats aren't setting up a battle for the backup job, but bringing in a batch of guys to fill in for Flores? I think his elbow problem may be more severe than they're letting on...

Posted by: baltova1 | March 23, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone watch the MASN game last week against the Marlins?? Javier Valentin has a weaker arm than ...

------
Lastings Milledge.

Package one or two of these backup catchers with Milledge/Kearns for the loser of the second base competition in SF.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | March 23, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

It's 10 o'clock, Tracee, and no morning read. What, are we parsing every word of Cheeks' foot-in-mouth apology?

Posted by: jdschulz50 | March 23, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

My take on the Nats catchers situation is that not only is the backup position there for the taking but so is the starting spot.

Flores took advantage last year and stepped up and had a great start to the season when nobody else was doing much but then he fell into some horrible slumps. His final stats looked more like a backup.

.256 .296 .402

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 23, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Off subject but never unimportant:

TippyCanoe, please thank your Nave SEAL son for his service. It can not be said enough by those of us he protects.

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | March 23, 2009 9:47 AM
__________________________________________________________

I second that. Please Thank him for me as well.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 23, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

They're not going to trade Milledge.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

BIG TRAIN45: I also watched Dunn last night, yeah he looked like Ray Charles in RF and even worse at the plate not sure about this guy when we got him I thought he was a strikeout machine waiting to happen at least that's what he was in Cincy and with our lineup..............?

Posted by: dargregmag | March 23, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

so I missed all the hilarity from the Food Critic and his distaste for Sports Reporting.

I'm not going to weigh an opinion here or there on his statement, or apology, or whatever.

I am simply going to say this:

Chico would NEVER, NEVER have been hired for an *Important* Beat, like say, the Redskins or the Ovechkins.

The Post would NEVER, EVER allow anyone on the Redskins or Ovechkin beat to publicly make the statement he did. and if he did, he'd have been promptly removed from the Beat in question.

that alone speaks volumes about the status of Nationals coverage in the Washington Post.

with that said, carry on.

Posted by: MrMadison | March 23, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

and I too, am a believer in the notion that the Nats are bringing in all these catchers because they know something about Flores' elbow that we don't.

Bard has had some success as a starting catcher in San Diego. not superstar, but decent. he was only cut from Boston because he can't catch a knuckleball really.

Posted by: MrMadison | March 23, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I don't buy the "Flores is more hurt than they are saying" conspiracy. Chico's article said that they had been pursuing Bard hard until he signed with the BoSox. Obviously they saw him as an important piece before Flores' elbow injury.

I think they saw him as an upgrade from Nieves. They also probably aren't sure that Flores is really a full-time catcher and wanted a left-handed option to split time. He became available, so they jumped on him.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 23, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Chico

You get paid to write. You write well. You and your team run a great blog.

Even though Earnest Hemingway loved writing about boxing and baseball, he wouldn't have been satisfied if that was his whole career.

No apology necessary and I'm sorry to chime in so late.

Posted by: nattydread1 | March 23, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

XM 175 is in Jupiter with the Nats and Cardinals...Nats just arrived and Rizzo and Acta and possibly some players from both teams will be interviewed in the next couple of hours. LaRussa was just on.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 23, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

BIG TRAIN45: I also watched Dunn last night, yeah he looked like Ray Charles in RF and even worse at the plate not sure about this guy when we got him I thought he was a strikeout machine waiting to happen at least that's what he was in Cincy and with our lineup..............?

----------

So that game was a truer test of Dunn's abilities than the earlier game in the WBC where he hit a home run and made a diving catch? Please.

He is what he is. He's going to hit .240 (maybe a little more with Eckstein helping him), he'll hit 35-40 homers, drive in 100, strike out a ton and hopefully not kill anybody in the field (including himself). He's better than what the Nats had last year in the middle of the order, they got him off the discount rack, and they'll probably either trade him in the middle of next season for decent stuff or let him go at the end of '10 because the young sluggers will be ready. It was a good move for this team right now. Chill.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 23, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Also, I seem to remember that Tarik El-Bashir was not a "hockey nut" when the Post hired him. I think he doing HS sports for them and was elevated because he did good work there. I could be wrong on that though. It's been a while.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 23, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Is (or was) Tarik El-Bashir ever embarrassed to be writing about hockey? After all, hockey wasn't at all "cool" in this town when he signed on.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

@Section505203

Now that Chico has answered regarding his poorly chosen public statement the rest is in the Washington Post's hands.

Your the one throwing stones. Keep up the petulant child act and this topic will go on forever.

Or keep trolling and indulging in ad hominem...

Posted by: thom202 | March 23, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Good story, Chico. For me, the reason why I follow and root for a team is the personalities of the players--their attitudes, their life stories, the way they interact with the fans (and the fans' surrogates, the sports writers).

As a fan, the hardest parts of following a team is when a player you admire is trying hard but isn't the best choice for fielding a winning team or when the best choice for a winning team is a egotistical jerk. That's why Shawn Hill's release last week upset so many people.

Here it looks like we have at least two likable, hard working catchers who are capable of doing the job. Let the man with the better bat, arm, and pitcher management skills win.

I agree with baltova1 that there is more to Flores' injury than meets the eye. I'd like to know more about his elbow and if/when he'll be back in form.

Posted by: ramgut | March 23, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Hey thom202,

You're a buster and elitist. How's that for a "peutlant child act?"

Get a life and some compassion for others.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 23, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Wasn't it reported somewhere (I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember where, but then again embarrassment is apparently a virtue here, isn't it?) that Flores is taking BP now? It stands to reason that since he got hurt very early on in ST he wouldn't want to rush back into full-time work. In essence, even in the most sinister of connotations, he's really just starting his spring training now. I wouldn't read too much into that myself.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 23, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't buy the "Flores is more hurt than they are saying" conspiracy. Chico's article said that they had been pursuing Bard hard until he signed with the BoSox. Obviously they saw him as an important piece before Flores' elbow injury.

I think they saw him as an upgrade from Nieves. They also probably aren't sure that Flores is really a full-time catcher and wanted a left-handed option to split time. He became available, so they jumped on him.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 23, 2009 10:59 AM

###################################

Teams always have to improve position by position. The Bard pickup is big for the team if he can put up career average numbers. Lets face it, Bard had a horrific 2008. Can he turn it around quick enough-who knows. I am hoping Flores will be OK.

Flores was a good surprise for the 1st few months of 2008. He was the Mr. Clutch. Then all of sudden his batting average went spiraling down and he couldn't hit anything and when he got injured last season left with very lackluster stats.

With the very young pitching staff, the Nats need a veteran catcher who can also put up good numbers and be able to throw out some runners.

Time will tell. A followup is when are we going to see Flores on the field again?

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 23, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

"the only thing I can control is my attitude and the way I play the game. They are the ones who will make the decision. Hopefully with my play I will make them pick me, but I don't see it as a competition."

Perfect Logotherapy. The only thing you can control and always have control of even in the worst possible situations is your attitude. And that is your connection with higher meaning and your highest instinct, the will to meaning. So says Viktor Frankl.

If he is serious he should go very far indeed.

Posted by: periculum | March 23, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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