Bleary-eyed and with most of his possessions at his apartment in Syracuse, Carlos Maldonado sat inside the Nationals' clubhouse this morning, an attendant helping him adjust his new, red shin guards to make sure they properly fit.
The 33-year-old had caught nine innings yesterday afternoon in Syracuse, then joined his teammates on a nine-hour bus ride to Columbus, Ohio. About halfway through the trip, he got word he was being summoned to Washington after rookie Sandy Leon had suffered a serious ankle injury in his big-league debut. But a traffic jam prevented the Chiefs' bus from arriving until 2 a.m. Maldonado's flight to Washington departed at 5:30 a.m. Upon landing, he came straight to Nationals Park to make sure he'd be in uniform and available to serve as the backup catcher for today's series finale against the Padres.
So, how much sleep did Maldonado get?
"Not much," he said. "But it's worth it."
This isn't Maldonado's first rodeo in the big leagues. He's played in 25 total games with the Pirates (2006-07) and Nationals (2010) but had never been summoned quite in this fashion.
Close friends with Leon, Maldonado was heartbroken to learn last night the 23-year-old had suffered a high right ankle sprain on a collision at the plate and would be placed on the disabled list. This came only two days after starter Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, necessitating Leon's promotion.
"Leon called me and gave me the news he was getting called up, and I talked to him a lot," Maldonado said. "He was excited, but it was his first game in the big leagues and he got hurt. I feel bad for him. He's a great guy and a great kid."
Officially, Leon was placed on the 15-day DL. Ramos was then transferred to the 60-day DL, clearing a spot on the Nationals' 40-man roster for Maldonado.
"We're fortunate," manager Davey Johnson said. "I've said it a lot that we have a lot of depth at catching, but this is getting ridiculous."
Maldonado figures to start once or twice a week in place of Jesus Flores, who now takes over as the Nationals' No. 1 catcher. Above all else, though, Johnson has one important plan for the veteran backstop.
"Keep him healthy," the manager said.