UPDATED, 6:42 p.m.: Four days after they signed first baseman Greg Dobbs to a minor league contract, the Nationals added him to their active roster and optioned third catcher Sandy Leon to Class AAA Syracuse. Dobbs adds a left-handed bat to the roster, which was lacking as Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper both on the disabled list. Dobbs is also a veteran hitter, accustomed to pinch-hitting.
“Given the situation we’re in now, missing so many of our regular guys, one, he’s familiar with the National League East and been in the division a long time,” Manager Matt Williams said. “A professional hitter off the bench. Certainly been in that situation a lot. Can play multiple positions, although he didn’t do much of it this year with the Marlins. Plays first, plays third, can play the outfield. We don’t have necessarily have the veteran presence off the bench left-handed right now.”
Upon signing Dobbs to a minor league deal, General Manager Mike Rizzo and assistant general manager Doug Harris spoke with Dobbs and suggested he play in extended spring training games in Viera. There the Nationals could evaluate him and he could get his timing back. The 35-year-old hadn’t played since April 29, when the Marlins designated him for assignment, and he went 1 for 13 before Miami cut him loose.
Dobbs said he played in six games in Viera, getting as many as five to six at-bats a day, and feels better about his swing. “It felt really good to be out on the field competing again,” he said.
“There were a little aches and pains,” he added. “You have to get your legs back under you. I hadn’t played in a game since the beginning of a season, since spring training. That being said, I’m going on nine years in the big leagues and I’ve played enough of first, third, left and right to know what I’m doing.”
Dobbs said his timing is “really good” now and the Nationals clearly agreed, bringing him up on Friday.
“He’s been in this situation a lot,” Williams aid. “He’s used to having days where he doesn’t get as many and keep himself sharp. His timing got better and better the days that he was down there. We certainly need a left-handed bat and he fits mold for us so we’re happy to have him.”
Williams said Dobbs could see action at first base, which would seem like the obvious spot for him with LaRoche out until at least May 25. He could platoon at first base with Tyler Moore, and when LaRoche returns, the Nationals could choose between Dobbs and Moore on their bench.
The Nationals face a glut of right-handed starters in this series against the New York Mets and then potentially against the Cincinnati Reds. Dobbs is a career .266 hitter with a .713 OPS against right-handed pitching. Dobbs is also a career .247 pinch hitter. His 96 pinch hits, including 10 home runs, are tied for 12th all-time and has the most among active players. The Nationals also decided that with Wilson Ramos’ legs now underneath him, Dobbs offered greater value than a third catcher.
The Nationals have had interest in acquiring Dobbs in the past; Rizzo said he’s always liked Dobbs as a player and as a clubhouse presence. Dobbs played several seasons with Jayson Werth in Philadelphia. Former Nationals Manager Davey Johnson wanted Dobbs to sign with the Nationals. Dobbs re-signed with Miami to a one-year, $1.7 million contract shortly after the 2013 season ended and after his two-year, $3 million deal expired.
Dobbs, too, was interested in Washington and said he wanted to sign with the Nationals before the 2012 season but couldn’t match up on contract years.
“Three years ago in free agency I could see the makings of this club and how special it could be,” he said. “I knew they were very talented and could see that winning was going to be in the near future for the team. In watching that for the past two and a half years from the other side, I’d like to think that I’m pretty smart and my assumptions were correct. And I wanted to be a part of this.”
Dobbs didn’t expect to be back in the big leagues with the Nationals so quickly after inking a minor league deal.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve gone through this in my career. I’ve switched teams but that’s always been in the winter. Mid-season to have a change like this is definitely interesting for me and my family. I have two small children.”
To make room for Dobbs on the 40-man roster, the Nationals transferred minor league outfielder Eury Perez to the 60-day disabled list with a fractured left toe.