Nieves carves niche in Washington

Nieves carves niche in Washington

MILWAUKEE -- After 13 years of struggling in professional baseball, catcher Wil Nieves hopes he has finally found a home with the Nationals. His stats this season show that he should be back with the team in 2009.

Not only is he a quality backup catcher, Nieves, 30, has opened eyes with his bat, which used to be a weakness. Entering Friday's action, Nieves was hitting .284 with one home run and 13 RBIs. He had a key two-run double against the Rockies in the second game of the Nats' doubleheader sweep on Thursday.

Entering the 2008 season, Nieves was a lifetime .161 hitter, and that was the reason he never had a long stint in the big leagues. This year, Nieves decided to take a different approach at the plate.

"When I was with the Yankees, I was putting too much pressure on myself and trying to hit home runs," Nieves said. "Now, I'm myself. I'm hitting the ball the other way, I'm not trying to do too much. That's the whole key. Right now, I'm just happy hitting."

Here's how much Washington respects what Nieves has done this season: When they had four catchers on the roster after the All-Star break, the Nationals declined to place Nieves on waivers in fear that another team would pick him up. Instead, the club released Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada. Now, Nieves and Jesus Flores make a good pair behind the plate.

"I feel real comfortable here. I feel like myself," Nieves said. "I really hope that I stay here for a long time."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.