MLB - INSIDERS
Desperate times call for desperate measures. That's about the only way to describe the Nationals' flurry of roster moves Wednesday.
With a pitching staff beset by injuries and ineffective performances, Washington general manager Jim Bowden shook things up before the series finale against the Reds. Bowden claimed right-hander Zach Day off waivers from Colorado (less than a year after he traded Day to the Rockies for outfielder Preston Wilson).
The Nationals also optioned left-hander Billy Traber back to Triple-A New Orleans -- one day after he lasted just 1 1/3 innings in a start against Cincinnati -- and recalled reliever Jason Bergmann from the Zephyrs.
The club designated catcher Wiki Gonzalez for assignment, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster. That spot will go to left-hander Michael O'Connor, whose contract will be purchased in time for him to make his major-league debut Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals.
--RHP Zach Day was claimed off waivers from the Rockies, less than a year after the Nationals traded him to Colorado for OF Preston Wilson. Day, who was designated for assignment last week, says he has been battling a shoulder injury, so the Nationals may not even be able to use him yet. General manager Jim Bowden, though, said he was willing to take another chance on the 26-year-old right-hander, who only a year ago was being touted as a potential breakthrough starter in Washington.
--LHP Billy Traber was optioned back to Triple-A New Orleans, one day after he was tagged for four runs in only 1 1/3 innings against the Reds. Traber had pitched well in his Nationals debut last week in Philadelphia, earning his first major-league win in three years, but the club is desperate for quality pitching at the moment and general manager Jim Bowden couldn't wait any longer with Traber.
--RHP Jason Bergmann was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans to help provide a fresh arm to the Nationals' overtaxed bullpen. Bergmann, who opened the season in Washington and gave up four runs in 2/3 of an inning, will be put to use immediately. The Nationals had to use five relievers Tuesday night after starter LHP Billy Traber lasted only 1 1/3 innings.
--C Wiki Gonzalez was designated for assignment Wednesday, likely ending his brief career with the organization. Gonzalez was on the Nationals' Opening Day roster but was sent down to Triple-A New Orleans after only four at-bats. The club now has 10 days to trade or release him. If he passes through waivers, he could be outrighted to New Orleans.
--LHP Michael O'Connor will have his contract purchased from Triple-A New Orleans in time to start Thursday night in St. Louis. O'Connor posted a 2.41 ERA at New Orleans and last year went 10-11 with a 3.54 ERA at Class-A Potomac to earn the organization's Pitcher of the Year honors.
GAME DAY PREVIEW
Coming off yet another game-winning hit, Albert Pujols looks to continue his hot hitting for the St. Louis Cardinals and avoid having another bad series against the Washington Nationals as the teams begin a four-game set on Thursday.
In four of St. Louis' last five victories, Pujols has driven in the winning run four times. His latest heroics came on Wednesday, when he singled home David Eckstein on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cardinals a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I trust my hands," Pujols said. "I know that if I get two strikes, I can still take the same approach and get a base hit. I'm really comfortable with two strikes. It doesn't bother me at all."
The All-Star first baseman has led St. Louis (14-7) to wins in nine of its last 11 games, batting .432 (16-for-37) with eight homers and 19 RBIs. Leading the majors with 12 homers and 29 RBIs in 21 games this season, he's one home run shy of the major league record for April.
One team that did manage to hold Pujols in check during his 2005 NL MVP season was Washington. He hit just .167 (3-for-18), his lowest average against any NL opponent, with no homers and one RBI in six games.
Pujols batted .353 (32-for-96) with seven homers and 21 RBIs against the Nationals franchise in his first four major league seasons.
The Cardinals are going for their first four-game winning streak of the season and looking to record at least 10 hits for a fifth consecutive game, something they haven't done since June of last season.
St. Louis right-hander Sidney Ponson (2-0, 3.31) will be seeking to win a third straight start. He hasn't won three consecutive decisions since a personal four-game win streak with Baltimore from April 19-May 11 of last season.
Ponson's two wins have both been at the new Busch Stadium, posting a 2.38 ERA in those games. He's 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA in four career starts against the Washington franchise, though he has not faced the team since 2003.
St. Louis won four of six games against the Nationals last season, and has won eight of its last 10 home games against the Washington franchise.
Mike O'Connor will make his major league debut for the Nationals. The left-hander did not record a decision in four starts with Triple-A New Orleans this season, posting a 2.41 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 2-3 innings.
O'Connor hopes the Nationals (7-14) can get their offense going after being held to one hit in a 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
"You can't keep going like this and saying, 'Well, it's early. It's going to come around,"' Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "We need to get results, and we need to get them starting tomorrow."
Washington has scored just eight runs during its four-game losing streak, and had more errors in one inning (two in the fourth) than hits in the entire game Wednesday.
"We need to start performing the way this team is capable of and what we expect - and that's pitching, defense and hitting," Robinson said. "Until we do that, we're going to get beat."
First baseman Nick Johnson is 18-for-41 (.439) in his last 12 road games, and is 5-for-14 (.357) in his career against Ponson with two home runs.