On a minor note: Yankees send Gonzalez to Nationals for Nunez

WASHINGTON -- In a swap of minor leaguers, the New York Yankees traded shortstop Alberto Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for pitcher Jhonny Nunez on Thursday.

The deal quickly became part of Washington's plan to audition young players. The Nationals, with the worst record in baseball, released infielder Felipe Lopez along with catchers Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada following Thursday night's 8-4 loss to Philadelphia, their ninth straight defeat.

The moves were announced about six hours after baseball's non-waiver trade deadline. Washington general manager Jim Bowden tried to make deals for Lo Duca and Lopez.

"We tried to move both of them. That was our preference. When we got to the deadline today and just didn't have any interest, we felt it was better to deal with it this way," Bowden said.

Lo Duca, who signed a $5 million, one-year contract with the Nationals as a free agent last December, batted .230 with 12 RBIs in 46 games. He missed 52 games this season with two injuries to his right hand -- a bruise and a broken hand. Along the way, the 36-year-old Lo Duca lost his starting job to Jesus Flores.

"I apologize to the organization and the fans. I'm a better baseball player than I played," Lo Duca said. "To give me a chance to hook on with another team -- big-time class act."

The 28-year-old Lopez batted .234 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in 100 games. He started 69 games at second base, but had just one hit -- a ninth-inning double on Thursday -- in his last 16 at-bats.

"Things happen. You never expect them," Lopez said. "It didn't go well for me here. It's not the end of the world."

Estrada was designated for assignment last week.

The Nationals also plan to recall second baseman Emilio Bonifacio from Triple-A Columbus on Friday. Bonifacio, acquired last week from Arizona for reliever Jon Rauch, is expected to get a shot at the second base job. He was batting .452 with three RBIs in eight games at Columbus.

"We're going to get younger for the last two months," Bowden said. "We want players that are going to hustle and play the game hard and play the game right.

"We need to give younger players the opportunity -- and we're going to do that," he added.

A slick fielder, Gonzalez briefly filled in for the Yankees this season while star shortstop Derek Jeter was injured. The 25-year-old Gonzalez played in 28 games during a pair of stints with New York, batting .173 with two doubles and an RBI in 52 at-bats.

Gonzalez is expected to report to the Nationals on Friday before their game against the Cincinnati Reds. He was added to the 25-man roster Thursday night, and outfielder Elijah Dukes was activated from the disabled list.

Dukes had been on the 15-day DL since July 6 with a right knee injury. He is batting .263 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 52 games.

Bowden said Gonzalez is a ".250-.260 hitter but can really play shortstop."

Gonzalez could see time at shortstop until All-Star Cristian Guzman is fully recovered from a bruised left thumb. Washington manager Manny Acta and Bowden have ruled out a trip to the disabled list for Guzman.

"Gonzalez is coming over here mainly because of the Guzman injury and we need him to play shortstop," Acta said. "That being said, we're going to try to see the younger guys."

Like Bonifacio, Gonzalez was in the Diamondbacks system. The Yankees acquired him in the January 2007 trade that sent Randy Johnson to Arizona.

Gonzalez was hitting .250 with four homers and 23 RBIs in 47 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year.

Nunez, a 22-year-old right-hander, had a 1.13 ERA in five relief appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, striking out eight and walking six in eight innings.

He began the season at Class-A Potomac, going 2-8 with a 5.22 ERA in 21 games, including 17 starts.