Three events preceded the Washington Nationals' trade for second baseman Junior Spivey yesterday. On May 9, right-hander Tomo Ohka requested a trade. On Tuesday night, Nationals second baseman Jamey Carroll -- already filling in for injured starter Jose Vidro -- slightly sprained his left ankle, leaving 36-year-old Carlos Baerga playing second for a first-place team. And Wednesday, the Texas Rangers designated right-hander Ryan Drese for assignment, essentially making him available to any club that wanted him.
So Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, who has been in the market for a middle infielder since spring training, finally made the move yesterday, trading Ohka to Milwaukee for Spivey -- a five-year veteran hitting .236 this season -- and claiming Drese, who won 14 games last year but has been torched for a 6.46 ERA this season, off waivers from Texas.
"There was a hole there," Bowden said. "It had to be fixed."
The moves, which Ohka said he welcomed, provided a slight shakeup to a team that has unexpectedly spent the past week in first place in the National League East. Ohka, who is 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 appearances, was fined $1,000 by the club for turning his back to Manager Frank Robinson a week ago when Robinson came to remove him from a game against Florida. Bowden said that wasn't a factor.
Ohka had been scheduled to start last night's game against Seattle. Instead, Sun-woo Kim, who began the season in the minors, made his first start for the Nationals, and he and Drese will be the contenders to fill Ohka's spot in the rotation.
Spivey, who arrived late for last night's game, will take over at second base until Vidro's return, which is expected around the all-star break, July 11-13. Carroll will return to his original role of a utility man. That, in turn, will allow Robinson to occasionally rest shortstop Cristian Guzman, who entered last night's game hitting .188.
"As a player, a teammate, person, he's top notch," said Nationals catcher Gary Bennett, who played with Spivey in Milwaukee last season. "He's one of my favorite teammates ever, the way he approaches the game, the way he goes about his business."
In parts of five seasons with Arizona and Milwaukee, Spivey hit .272 with a .355 on-base percentage, 46 homers and 194 RBI. He spent the final three months of last season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Carroll, whose average has dropped to .242, was realistic.
"I haven't hit, so that's just the way it is," Carroll said. "We added somebody to our ballclub who's a veteran guy and has the talent."
Ohka's agent, Jim Masteralexis, said communication issues hampered Ohka's progress with Washington. He said the Nationals, who are owned by Major League Baseball, can't spend money "on the extras, like an interpreter."
"I think it's a very positive thing for Tomo's career," Masteralexis said, "but I also think that the Nationals are headed in a very exciting direction."
Ohka and Robinson denied they had communication problems. Bowden, who has been adamant since spring training that "you can never have enough pitching," said he wouldn't have traded Ohka unless he could find pitching to replace him. He said he began talking seriously about Spivey with Milwaukee last week, but only made serious inroads when Drese became available.
Drese, 29, went 14-10 with a 4.20 ERA last year, but is 4-6 this season, and opponents are hitting .334 against him. He relies on his sinker, which Bowden thinks fits RFK Stadium, but his sinker hadn't worked well recently. He also had a fight in the dugout with Rangers catcher Rod Barajas on May 24, though Bowden said the Nationals researched the incident and came away believing Drese was worth pursuing.
"We don't get Ryan Drese if he's not struggling," Bowden said.
Spivey is due to make $2.2 million this year; Ohka will make $2.75 million. Drese will earn $400,000 this season and is due to make $1.7 million next year.
The Nationals also picked up minor league reliever Jacobo Sequea, 23, off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. Sequea had been designated for assignment when the Orioles picked up catcher Eli Marrero this week, and he was assigned to Class AA Harrisburg.