Nationals' Solano is catching on quickly

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Rookie homers, steals base in win over Giants

It is a long way from the back of a produce truck on the back roads of South America to the big leagues. Nationals catcher Jhon?atan Solano once navigated the route from his native Colombia into Venezuela that way as a young prospect just hoping to impress scouts at an open tryout.

That is how the rookie reserve catcher eventually found himself, at age 26, playing baseball in the capital of the United States on the Fourth of July in front of 35,806 fans. If it felt like a dream, Solano didn't want to wake up. Not after his line-drive home run, much to his surprise, cleared the right-field wall and broke an early tie on the way to a 9-4 Washington victory over the San Francisco Giants at Nationals Park.

"Wow. Yeah, it's good," Solano said about his surprising first five weeks in the big leagues. "It's a little pressure, but I try to do everything good. Because I don't want to look like 'Oh, he's the only guy he can do nothing here.'?"

Solano hit one of four Washington homers -- Rick Ankiel, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse had the others -- and also singled and stole the first base of his career. The Nats (47-32) won their third game in a row and sixth in their last eight games, taking the series from San Francisco (45-37), which entered as the first-place team in the National League West. The three-game set concludes Thursday night.

To be fair, Solano has played in just nine games since being promoted May 29. Starting catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on May 12. And then Sandy Leon (sprained right ankle) and Carlos Maldonado (back injury) both suffered injuries, too. With Jesus Flores taking the bulk of the at-bats at catcher, that left the backup spot for Solano, who has taken to it. His opposite-field home run off Giants starter Madison Bumgarner in the fourth inning put the Nats ahead 4-3, and they never looked back.

"I've never seen such depth in catching as this organization," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "All of them, great receivers, catch-and-throw, block balls great and all of them good bat potential. I've never been in any organization -- this is my fifth one -- anywhere close that."

Leon has just returned to action this week at Double-A Harrisburg. Maldonado made his return June 26 for Triple-A Syracuse. They are there if needed -- and both got the initial big league call before Solano did -- but for now the kid dubbed "Onion" for that truck ride in 2005 is holding his own.

"I worry about just call the game, and when I hit just make good contact and try to do the little things in baseball," Solano said.

Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper and Zimmerman each had two hits for the Nats, who fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. Starter Edwin Jackson, who has had his struggles early in games this season, again settled down and allowed just one more run before departing with two out in the sixth inning.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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