Valentin leads Nats over Mets

March 8, 2009 4:28:36 PM PDT
Javier Valentin signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals because they were the only team that extended an offer. A few more performances like Sunday's big game and he might win a spot as Washington's backup catcher. Valentin hit a two-run homer and a double in Washington's 8-3 victory over the New York Mets and is showing signs of erasing the memories of a frustrating 2008 season.

"It feels good," said Valentin, who got a spring training invitation as part of his deal. "You're in the game and you feel what's going on. That's when you start getting comfortable."

Valentin hit .256 in 94 games with Cincinnati last year. But the 10-year veteran made only 12 appearances behind the plate, and was used more frequently as a reserve first baseman and pinch hitter.

"I'm starting to get used to (catching) again," said Valentin, who hit a two-run shot down the right-field line off Carlos Muniz in the fourth. "I know I can catch. I know I can play. I always work hard. ... My arm's getting stronger and my footwork. I feel a lot better, more comfortable behind the plate."

With projected starting catcher Jesus Flores sidelined by a right elbow strain, Valentin and incumbent backup Wil Nieves are getting increased playing time.

Now Valentin has to prove he can handle the defensive rigors of catching.

"We already know what he can do with the bat," manager Manny Acta said. "It's seeing him more behind the plate."

Livan Hernandez allowed a run and four hits in three innings for New York. The right-hander signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training in hopes of claiming the last spot in the Mets rotation.

"I've never been in this situation before - trying to make the club," Hernandez said. "But it's the only situation I have, so what can I do? ... I know I can make this team. I know I can still pitch."

The 34-year-old Hernandez lowered his ERA to 4.69 in his third spring outing and said he thinks he can pitch six more years.

"I won 13 games last year (with Minnesota and Colorado)," he said. "I can win 15 games with this team because it's a better team."

Washington left-hander John Lannan went four innings, giving up two unearned runs and four hits. After his 48-pitch outing, he retreated to the bullpen to throw another 15 pitches.

"I don't know what my velocity is; it's never been a big thing for me," Lannan said. "I want to throw hard and I want to locate my fastball at the knees, work both sides of the plate and the velocity will come."

Lannan barely escaped Nick Green's comebacker in the second inning, getting his glove up in time to deflect the grounder to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who threw it away for a run-scoring error.

"I thought I caught it, and it popped out," Lannan said. "I was able to get the glove up there. I saw it, so that's a good thing. It didn't hit me in the face and it was aiming right there."

Notes: Injured Nationals IF-OF Willie Harris (hip) remains day to day. ... OF Austin Kearns was 1-for-2 in his return to the Washington lineup. Kearns, who last played Feb. 25, has been sidelined with a blister on his left palm. "Taking BP the last few days, it hasn't opened up or anything," said Kearns, who wore a pad on his palm until he sweated it off. "It should be all right." ... The game drew a crowd of 5,594, the largest attendance in six spring games at Space Coast Stadium.