By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Nick Johnson is advertising his value in the best place possible -- that is, on the National League's list of batting average leaders. Known as a reliable hitter with unreliable health, Johnson, through the first quarter of the season, has stayed on the field and hit like never before. His .336 average and .434 on-base percentage heading into last night -- coupled with the fact that his contract expires at the end of the season -- has established Johnson as Washington's most valuable trade piece, somebody who could be swapped for a young pitcher before the trading deadline.
Though the Nationals have no urgency to trade their first baseman -- the team believes it can get more value by waiting into the summer -- they have fielded calls from about a dozen teams, a source said. According to a Boston radio station, the Red Sox, in need of first base help, recently shot down a proposed trade that would have sent Johnson to Boston for 27-year-old reliever Manny Delcarmen (18 games, 19 innings, 0.95 ERA). A Nationals source dismissed the seriousness of those discussions.
"He's an extremely valuable player to the Nationals," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said of Johnson, 30. "We need him here and we like him here. If someone overwhelms us with a deal we can't refuse, of course we're going to listen to a deal about Nick or anybody else, but he's an extremely valuable player for us."Mock Starts in Syracuse
On Thursday, relief pitcher Garrett Mock was demoted to Class AAA Syracuse. Once he got there, he became a starter -- at least temporarily. While with the Chiefs, Mock will pitch out of the rotation. The move does not alter the organization's vision for the 26-year-old. The front office still sees him as a big league relief pitcher.
"I think [starting in Class AAA] translates very well to pitching in a one-inning stint or, as he's been used in the major leagues out of the bullpen, multi-inning stints," Rizzo said. "That's what makes him out of the bullpen so valuable, he's capable of throwing more than one inning. So, I think with the work he'll get there, it's going to help not only his repertoire of all his pitches but also the command of his pitches."Dukes on Way to Florida
Elijah Dukes, on the disabled list with a left hamstring injury, will head to Viera, Fla., tomorrow to begin a rehab program. Jesús Flores (right shoulder) will begin his formal rehab assignment tomorrow, likely joining Class AA Harrisburg.