A few weeks ago, General Manager Mike Rizzo narrowed his focus to one spot on his roster to upgrade, and then to one name. The Nationals needed a more veteran right-handed presence on their bench, and Rizzo found the familiarity – and availability – he wanted with Scott Hairston.
The Cubs and Nationals talked on and off, and as Tyler Moore remained stuck on the bench for eight straight games before Sunday and a four-game series with the lefty-heavy Phillies approached, Rizzo wanted to act. He moved late last night, sending minor league pitcher Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs for the veteran right-hander just in time to come off the bench tonight if necessary.
As the Nationals optioned Moore to Class AAA Syracuse, where he can again receive regular at-bats, Hairston was set to arrive at Citizens Bank Park about an hour before their series opener. Manager Davey Johnson plans to start Hairston once or twice this series, as the Nationals face three left-handed starters in four nights.
“He’s more the kind of player we need,” Johnson said. “We have a pretty much set lineup. We need a veteran presence on the bench, not some youngster. He knows the pitchers and he knows what he needs to do to hit. So it’s a great move.”
Hairston, 33, signed a two-year, $5 million contract this winter, which means the Nationals will also control his rights in 2014. Rizzo, who drafted Hairston as Arizona’s scouting director in 2001, said he spoke with Hairston over the winter about possibly signing in Washington before he reached the deal with the Chicago.
“We just didn’t want to give up a minor league player for a three-month rental,” Rizzo said. “I think it sets us up for the future. It really supplements some good right-handed options we have in the minor leagues, and a guy we can look to next year as a guy who can not only come off the bench and be successful that way, but a guy who can mentor our younger players and teach them how to play their game the right way.”
The Cubs and Nationals agreed to also swap players to be named later. The Cubs could eventually send the Nationals cash rather than a player.
Hairston has hit .172/.232/.434 this year, but Rizzo said he was not concerned. “It’s a small sample this year,” Rizzo said. “Over his career he’s been a very successful major league hitter. Hits good left-handed pitching extremely well and was an everyday player not so long ago. We like where he’s at.”
With Hairston in the mix, Rizzo said he did not plan to further augment the Nationals’ bench, which now consists of Hairston, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and Kurt Suzuki.
“I think that was the move we were waiting to make,” Rizzo said. “We felt good about our left-handed side of the bench and just wanted a little more pop from the right side and a guy who could handle some left-handed pitching.”
Johnson compared Hairston to Mark DeRosa, a prominent member of the 2012 Nationals even if he rarely made significant on-field contributions. The Nationals liked Hairston because he had experience in handling a bench job, in preparing for one crucial at-bat despite rarely starting.
But he will start this week, including Tuesday night. Hairston has gone 12 for 30 with five home runs and five doubles against Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ scheduled starter Tuesday night.
Moore, meanwhile, will head back to Syracuse for the second time. He is hitting .151/.195/.283 this year following a breakout, 10-homer rookie season in 2012.
“This year, they have a better idea of how to pitch him and he doesn’t know the pitchers as well, so it makes it much more difficult,” Johnson said. “He just needs to play. In my mind, he’s an everyday player. And this can set him back more than it can help him.”
The Nationals bid farewell more permanently to Pineyro, who had recently earned a promotion to Class A Potomac. Pineyro ““really knew how to pitch and is coming along,” Rizzo said. “We think we have great depth at that particular position and he was a guy we felt comfortable letting him go to get a piece for us for this year and next.”