Orr Hopes Catching Secures Spot on Big Club

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 -- As a major leaguer, Pete Orr has played second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field. In the minor leagues, he's also pitched and played center field. But Orr figures that adding one more position to his repertoire -- yes, an eighth -- will help his chances of sticking with the Washington Nationals next season.

When the regular season ends, Orr will be sent to Viera, Fla., to learn how to catch. He will play in the Florida Instructional League, perhaps even catching Stephen Strasburg. ("Oh yeah, no problem," Orr said, grinning.)

A little more than a week ago, coach Tim Foli suggested the possibility to General Manager Mike Rizzo. Already, Rizzo had been thinking about his organization's catching depth -- or rather, it's lack thereof. He took the idea to Orr, who jumped at the chance.

"Anything to give myself a better chance to be in the big leagues, I'll do it at the drop of a hat," Orr said.

Though Orr will never become a full-time catcher, Washington hopes that the 30-year-old can prevent an emergency. Indeed, the team almost encountered such a problem Thursday night. When Wil Nieves pulled his left hamstring, a gimpy Josh Bard was the last catcher standing on the 40-man roster.

"So what if Bard takes a foul tip off the finger, let's say, and who catches?" Rizzo said. "That's the role we see" for Orr.

Even before this development, Orr has had an interesting season, playing exclusively in Class AAA until his promotion on Aug. 28. Though he hit just .245 in 412 at-bats with Syracuse, he entered Friday 15 for 44 (.341) with Washington.

"Pete, he's opened our eyes on the big league level," Rizzo said. "He's played well, but he plays that way kind of day-in and day-out, and though his numbers weren't stellar in Class AAA, he gives you that consistent effort every day."

Thin Behind the Plate

Meantime, the Nationals are trying to get by without Orr behind the plate. With Nieves out for a few days -- Nieves, a self-described quick healer, said that he should be ready to play again by Tuesday -- the Nationals were awaiting the arrival of newly acquired backup Jamie Burke.

Around 5 p.m., Burke landed at JFK Airport, hoping to arrive at Citi Field just before game time. Interim manager Jim Riggleman wasn't sure if Burke would start a game in this three-game series.

"I don't know when Wil will be back," Riggleman said. "It should be Tuesday, but if it's Friday, I'd want to make sure that Burke can catch a game or two. Depending on how he feels he may even get in there this weekend."

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