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Valentin Gets a Chance at Catcher

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

VIERA, Fla., March 8 -- For the last few years, Javier Valentin has done too little of anything to feel comfortable anywhere. While with Cincinnati in 2008, Valentin spent time at first base and third base. The Reds often used him as a pinch hitter. But he started only six games at catcher.

"The problem is, the last few years, I didn't catch enough," Valentin said.

But catching is his trade, and if Valentin makes the Washington Nationals roster, he'll do so as a catcher -- either a backup or a versatile third-stringer. The more he catches this spring, the better his chances are becoming. On Sunday, in an 8-3 win against the Mets at Space Coast Stadium, Valentin went 2 for 3, homering in the fourth inning. In part because of a minor elbow injury to starting catcher Jesús Flores, Valentin has started three of the last five games behind the plate, allowing him a chance, finally, to redevelop some comfort there.

Manager Manny Acta said that the Nationals will pay close attention to Valentin's catching ability. "It's seeing him more behind the plate," Acta said. "He was kind of a third catcher-pinch hitter there in Cincinnati."

Valentin signed with the Nationals on Feb. 3 as a non-roster invitee. The Nationals still like Wil Nieves as their backup catcher, "but that being said," Acta said, "we brought Javier Valentin to compete for that job, too."

Alvarez Delayed

For almost three weeks, the Nationals have known their prized Dominican prospect is Carlos Alvarez, 23, not Esmailyn González, 19. But they still don't know when he'll arrive in Florida.

Though the Nationals are set to begin minor league camp Monday -- position players must report by March 13 -- the team is still uncertain about Alvarez's availability, and acting general manager Mike Rizzo said that he is not expected to be in camp immediately. According to Rizzo, Alvarez is having visa issues. . . .

Outfielder Austin Kearns was in the lineup Sunday, his first game back since missing roughly a week with a blister on his left palm. He went 1 for 2, lining a single to left in his first at-bat. "When you haven't played in a while," Kearns said, "it always takes a while. I've felt better and I've felt worse."

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