Our look back at the 2008 Washington Nationals continues with infielder Ronnie Belliard, who was in his second season in D.C.
Today, we continue our look back at the first Washington Nationals team to play their home game at Nats Park. Our first player we looked at was center fielder Lastings Milledge. Now, we shift our focus to the infield with Ronnie Belliard.
Before signing with the Washington Nationals, Belliard played his first nine seasons with three different teams (Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals). While with the Indians, he made the American League All-Star team in 2004 as he finished the year hitting .282 with 12 home runs and 70 RBI’s.
After the 2006 season, the Washington Nationals signed a then 32-year-old Belliard to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He ended up making the team and became the primary second baseman in 2007. During that season, he had a slash line of .290/.332/.427 with 11 home runs and 58 RBI’s in 148 games.
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Of course, during the early stages of the Washington Nationals franchise, they weren’t in a position to be buyers at the trade deadline. While teams could’ve used an infielder like Belliard, the Nats decided to sign him to a two-year, $3.5 million extension in July. Here is what his manager, Manny Acta, said about him at the time:
"“He has worked extremely hard, and I think he wanted to prove people wrong that there was a lot of Ronnie Belliard left in him.” (h/t William Ladson, MLB.com)"
In the following season, Belliard moved around the diamond for the Nats. While he only played in 96 games, he played 29+ games at three different positions. He played 33 games at first base, 31 games at third base, and 29 at second base (five games at shortstop).
While Belliard was one of only five players on the Nats that season to hit ten or more home runs, he did deal with his fair share of injuries. In May, he went on the disabled list because of a left calf injury. Four months later, his season was cut short when he went on the DL for a right groin strain (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus).
When you look at Belliard’s season more closely, he seemed to come up with the big hit when runners were in scoring position. During those situations, Belliard hit .305 with four home runs (second on the team) and 36 RBI’s (fourth on the team).
Belliard had a pair of multi-home run games (June 10 against the Pirates and July 11 against the Astros) in 2008. Out of his 11 home runs, one of them was a walk-off. It occurred on June 29 against the Orioles. With the Nats down 2-1 in the bottom of the 12th, Belliard hit a two-run home run to left against George Sherrill to win the game.
After 2008, Belliard would only play one more season in D.C. On August 31, 2009, the Nats traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did get a chance to play in the postseason, but Los Angeles ended up losing to the Phillies in the NLCS that year.
As we head into spring training, you never know what non-roster invitee is going to be a surprise and make the roster. The Washington Nationals took a chance on Belliard in 2007 and he ended up taking advantage of that chance.