San Francisco Giants 6, Nats 2

After Sunday’s 6-2 loss to San Francisco – check out our expanded game story here - Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said his top preference is to sign slugger Adam Dunn to a contract extension. But Rizzo also insisted he had to keep the option of trading Dunn open in case a significant offer from another team materialized. Rizzo also said the organization wants to keep Josh Willingham “long-term” instead of trading the productive outfield, who still has one year of arbitration remaining.

"We've got a plan in place, and we're always trying to implement it," Rizzo told reporters. "We're always trying to get better. We're trying to hit the spots that we have to hit. That's our main goal, is to go into the second half and win as many ballgames and let the chips fall where they may."

No major surprises there. Rizzo has been making similar statements for about a month. But it does show this organization has a ton of work to do over the next three weeks. Only closer Matt Capps is headed to the All-Star game in Anaheim this week. His teammates will scatter across the country for a few days of rest before meeting again in Florida on July 16 against the Marlins – the start of a 10-game road trip.

“The All-Star break always comes at a good time – whether it’s a 10-game winning streak or a 10-game losing streak,” Willingham said. “The All-Star break is always welcomed.”

Rizzo, meanwhile, must decide if he can sign Dunn to an extension, roll the dice and let the big first baseman test the open market in free agency this winter or make a trade and get some value from one of the game’s hottest hitters. Dunn was 3-for-5 – all singles – on Sunday. He is batting .288 – way beyond his career best in that category – with an OPS of .959. That ranks among the best in the sport. He has 22 homers and 59 RBI. Rizzo has said repeatedly any team hoping to trade for Dunn will give up a painful amount for him. But breaking up the 3-4-5 combo of Ryan Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham will be painful for the Nats, too, no matter what package they’d get in return. Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy both could be attractive pieces as contending teams search for middle infield help.

While Rizzo deals with that, manager Jim Riggleman and his coaching staff will try to get reliever Tyler Clippard back on track. He’s given up 11 runs since late June. Leadoff batter Nyjer Morgan has shown signs of progress. He’s running less and got on base twice on Sunday. Ian Desmond’s errors at shortstop were a known quantity before the season. The Nats need to see progress from him there as the season progresses. Desmond also needs to continue to hold his own at the plate.

Keeping veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez healthy is another key for the second half. Riggleman doesn’t want to use the 38-year-old more than three days in a row behind the plate to keep his balky back in line. Michael Morse and Roger Bernadina continue to split time in right field. Will either take over that position in the second half? And, of course, there is always the rotation. Stephen Strasburg will do his thing for another seven weeks before an early shut down. But what about Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano? Will any of them make a strong push to stay in the rotation? Is 35-year-old veteran Livan Hernandez capable of sustaining his fine first half or will he wilt? The health of Scott Olsen (shoulder) is still an issue. The team needs to see John Lannan right himself in the minors. He was supposed to be a reliable piece of the puzzle this season. Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann’s rehab from elbow surgery is going so well he could be back in the rotation by mid-August just one year after Tommy John surgery. There is also Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder) to watch at the team’s spring-training complex in Viera, Fla. Can he make a comeback? And Jason Marquis, the team's top acquisition in the offseason, will throw libe batting practice in Viera this week for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in May. He is hoping to return to the big leagues in late August.

Rizzo, of course, also has to continue contract negotiations with No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper. Much like last year’s dealings with agent Scott Boras on behalf of Strasburg, that will come down to the wire in mid-August. So plenty of questions will be answered after the All-Star break, giving us a better idea if the Nats really are close to respectability or if the rebuilding plan needs more time.


Nats Notes

» Washington’s 39 wins – believe it or not – are actually the second-most this team has had in the first half of a season since moving to the District in 2005. Only that first edition of the Nats was better (52 wins).

» Outfielder Josh Willingham has reached base safely by hit or walk in 19 consecutive games.

» Since June 30, Adam Dunn has a slugging percentage of .837.

» Washington’s 13 stranded base runners on Sunday against the Giants were a season high.

» Think the National League rookie of the year race won’t be tight? San Francisco’s Buster Posey went 1-for-3 with a triple against the Nats on Sunday. He has hit safely in eight straight games and is 20-for-40 with a double, triple, six homers and 15 RBI in his last 11 games. Strasburg and Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward might want to hold off on any rookie-of-the-year parties.


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