Rizzo: Nats looking to improve bench before trade deadline

We’re now four days away from Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, meaning Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been spending a lot of time on his phone lately.

Following the Nationals’ acquisition of Scott Hairston nearly two weeks ago, Rizzo said that he didn’t think the Nats were going to make any “splashy” moves before the deadline.

“I still feel the same way,” Rizzo said today.

That said, Rizzo is still working, trying to tinker with his roster to improve things not only for the 2013 season, but future seasons, as well.

“We’ve got a lot of trade discussions,” Rizzo said. “We’ve received calls, we’ve made calls. I’m not going to go much more into it than that other than we’re going to do what we do at every trade deadline. We’re going to try to improve this ballclub for 2013 and beyond.”

Even with Ross Detwiler needing to miss another month due to what’s been diagnosed as a herniated disc in his back, Rizzo says that he’s not actively looking for another starter. The Nats still have Taylor Jordan (whose innings limit Rizzo again declined to discuss in detail other than saying he would be shut down at some point) and Ross Ohlendorf is a candidate to get additional starts, as well.

If there is one area the Nationals might actively look to improve, it will likely be the bench.

“We feel good about our core players and we feel that we’re solid at our position players, we like our rotation, we like our bullpen arms,” Rizzo said. “If we could tweak or improve certain spots on the bench, I think that would be one place that we would attack. But we’ve got ourselves a pretty talented group of guys that we’re committed to and we like where we’re at.”

Having already added a right-handed bat off the bench in Hairston, the Nats would probably look to target a left-handed bench bat, with Chad Tracy and Roger Bernadina hitting just .179 and .186, respectively.

Nationals players have had trouble explaining why a team with so much talent has struggled so mightily this season. Rizzo said his staff is still trying to determine what’s gone wrong so far this season, what’s led to his team entering today’s game four games under .500.

“I think we still have two months to figure it out and we’ll assess it throughout the rest of the season and come up with a battle plan in the offseason to try and remedy that,” Rizzo said. “We still have a lot of baseball left, and we’re looking forward to that and like I said, I still like this ballclub. I still believe in it. I still think we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson butted heads this week when Rizzo decided to fire hitting coach Rick Eckstein, a move that Johnson did not endorse and which left him very emotional.

When Rizzo informed Johnson that he was going to fire Eckstein, Johnson put his own job on the line and suggested that Rizzo fire him instead. Rizzo declined that offer.

Rizzo said today that he still feels he has a “great” working relationship with Johnson and added that there will not be any managerial changes with the Nats this season.

“There is no chance that he won’t be the manager until the end of the season,” Rizzo said.

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