April 21, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 7 Review: Nats Drop 9-4 Laugher to Boston

While most Washington Nationals fans were probably saying “Mookie who?” before today’s game began, they definitely know who Mookie Betts is now. The young Boston Red Sox outfielder single-handedly outplayed the entire Nationals lineup in Monday afternoon’s 9-4 laugher, stealing a home run from Bryce Harper with an athletic leap, taking advantage of yet another defensive miscue and stealing a pair of bases on a single pitch, and then putting the nail in the coffin for the Nats with a three-run homer over the Green Monster.

With all the trappings of Opening Day in one of baseball’s most hallowed cathedrals, the Nationals struggled to acquit themselves as one of baseball’s most favored teams. Despite being the odds-on favorite for the World Series, the Nationals appeared to be lost in the field and at the plate Monday, and no one showed it worse than Jordan Zimmermann. The hurler struggled mightily with control, racking up 2-0 and 3-0 counts like so many broken peanut shells in the aisles, at one point in the third hitting back to back batters with away pitches.

By the end of the third inning, the Nationals found themselves in an 8-0 hole. For a Nationals team that could only manage seven runs against the Phillies for their entire three-game series, an eight-run lead might as well have been a hundred runs. Still, the news wasn’t all bad in Boston: the offense did equal their season-high four runs, nearly getting six, had Mookie Betts not robbed Harper in the first.

At times, the Nats’ defense looked lost in the field. Outfield communication was not a strength today, as Jayson Werth in his return from shoulder surgery misplayed a ball in the first, and Michael A. Taylor watched two very catchable balls drop in the afternoon sun. These are the sort of plays that one might have seen in AA or A ballgames, but not at the major league level.

Things settled down after the disastrous first trimester of the ballgame, and the Nats offense found its stride: Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa each pounded a home-run, and Clint Robinson narrowly missed one for his first career triple. It wasn’t nearly enough though, as Boston starter Rick Porcello skated to a win with eight innings of solid work, striking out six and walking one for his first win of the year.

The Nationals have much to fix after just a week of the season in the books. Defensive miscues have ruled the day, the bats have yet to put up dominant numbers, and while starting pitching has been largely quite good, the bullpen has been a danger zone for the club. Today’s game was, in many senses, a microcosm of the frustrating 2-5 start.

HERO: Let’s give this one to Tanner Roark, who relieved Zimmermann in the third and shut down the Boston offense for 3 2/3 innings, surrendering just a solo home run to David Ortiz.

GOAT: Michael A. Taylor, Jordan Zimmermann. The young center fielder needs to adapt to big league communication, as he was behind a pair of terrible plays in the outfield that left that lead to several runs coming in. And Zimmermann, quite simply, had one of his worst days command-wise as a big leaguer.

NATS NOTES:

  • Back in time: Jayson Werth returned to the Nats lineup today, returning from shoulder surgery in the off-season. He finished his day 0 for 3, with one miscue in the outfield on a line-drive, but no one suggested that left field at Fenway is a great place to play.
  • The old lefthander: Danny Espinosa’s yard shot in the eighth came from the left side of the plate, his second extra base hit of the year from that side.
  • Sign of the times: The four runs the Nationals scored against Rick Porcello are the most they’ve picked up off any one pitcher.
  • Tough all around: Xavier Cedeño  had another rough inning, giving up a pair of walks and throwing a pair of wild pitches in the eighth.

NEXT GAME: At Boston at 6:10pm. Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06 in ’15) vs. Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.00 in ’15)

Washington Nationals skipper still going through growing pains

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams has had a rough go of it the past couple of days. He’s taking shots for his bullpen management and asking his No. 3 hitter to bunt in extra innings. In his second season now, these are things that he took criticism for in his rookie campaign as well.

Half Street Heart Attack does a good job laying out what happened, so I don’t need to go through it again.

But here’s the thing — Williams isn’t alone in this. It’s fairly typical for managers to develop these roles for the players, especially with regards to the bullpen.

Managers set their bullpens into certain roles for several reasons.

1) Players psychologically appreciate defined roles so they know what’s expected of them and when.

2) Organizationally, it helps when the players, coaches, manager and general manager all have a defined game plan.

3, and most importantly to this discussion) By giving the players set roles, it reduces the liability on the manager. If a player designated with a role fails in that capacity, it’s the player’s fault, or even the GM’s fault — not the manager’s.

The last point is very well illustrated by WIlliams’ own words:

In his first year as a big league manager, Williams has the luxury of calling on Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning.

When Rizzo traded Clippard, a two-time All-Star in the role and one of the most successful relief pitchers of the past four season in all of MLB, they opened a role for “Eighth Inning with a Lead Guy”. It’s a role he thrived in for the Nats, effectively making the game an eight inning contest — a second closer for the eighth inning, if you will.

Logically, it makes the most sense to fill his spot with the best available pitcher, or pitchers. The Nats currently don’t have a player with Clippard’s elite skills to fill that role by himself. Williams, thus far, has tried to pigeonhole Blake Treinen in that role, to varying degrees of success.

Treinen has very good skills, and one day could very well have the success Clippard had in the role, or even be trusted with the ninth inning if it proves that he has the constitution for it. This is the first season he’s been groomed as a one-inning reliever and while many former starters (like Clippard) take well to it, some others (Ross Detwiler) simply do not.

It’s easy for armchair managers to say “play the percentages” and mix-and-match at the back of the bullpen, giving the responsibility to the manager for coming up with the best possible matchup in any late-inning scenario.

So far, Williams has had scattershot success with the bullpen GM Mike Rizzo has supplied him with for the start of the season. Xavier Cedeno is no one’s idea of a lefty specialist (.252/.331/.351 career versus lefties). Matt Thornton has faced three batters all season. Aaron Barrett has barely pitched. Drew Storen went five days without pitching while others blew late or extra-inning leads.

It will be interesting to see going forward if Williams learns from his mistakes and takes on more responsibility to actually manage his bullpen based on game situations, instead of relying on autopilot and the set roles, allowing the players to bear the burden of success or failure in situations they may not be best suited for success.

Washington Nationals Game 6 Review: Nats salvage Sunday in extras

Thus far into the 2015 campaign for the Washington Nationals, we’ve seen the offense struggle to score runs. Sunday in Philadelphia in the finale of the three-game set was no different. But the Nats scored twice in the top of the tenth, then survived a shaky bottom of the inning from Drew Storen, to salvage the matinee, 4-3, before 30,094 at Citizens Bank Park.

Yunel Escobar led off the decisive inning with a double to right field. After a failed sacrifice attempt, Bryce Harper grounded to first and Escobar moved up to third. The Phillies brought in Justin De Fratus, and the new reliever preceded to throw one away and Escobar came in to score.

Clint Robinson then doubled to center, and he scored on Wilson Ramos’ line drive single to left.

Storen came on in the bottom of the inning, and walked Freddy Galvis and Cody Asche to lead off the frame. Storen got Grady Sizemore swinging and Chase Utley flied out to right, with Galvis tagging and going to third. But rookie Odubel Herrera’s infield single brought in Galvis to cut the lead to one.

But Storen coaxed a grounder to the right of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman by Cesar Hernandez. Zimmerman snagged the grounder and tossed to Storen covering, recording Storen’s second save of the season.

Max Scherzer made his second start of the season, and once again was staller with no decision. He allowed one run on six hits and two walk in six innings, striking out eight. He left with a 2-1 lead, but reliever Xavier Cedeno gave up a solo home run to pinch-hitter Darin Ruf, the first batter he faced in the seventh inning.

The Nats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, as Bryce Harper drilled his second homer of the year. against Phillies starter Sean O’Sullivan. They picked up another run in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman singled to left to lead off. Robinson singled to right and Zimmerman went to third. Ramos lofted a sacrifice fly to right, and Zimmerman made it 2-0.

HERO: Wilson Ramos. The catcher was 1 for 4, but drove in two of the Nats’ four runs.

GOAT: Matt Williams. Asking Harper, who homered earlier in the game, to bunt in the 10th was more than just a curious choice. The Nats pushed across the winning runs in the inning despite their manager’s poor strategic choice. Simply, asking your best power hitter and third place hitter to bunt is wrong.

NATS NOTES:

  • Back in the saddle: Jayson Werth, after a short rehab assignment with High-A Potomac, rejoined the team for its road trip to Boston and is expected to be reactivated for the series against the Red Sox on Monday.
  • First win: Aaron Barrett made his first appearance, notching the win. He pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out two.
  • Unforced errors: The Nats made another error on Sunday, with Wilson Ramos charged with a throwing error.
  • Making the most: Clint Robinson was 3 for 5 and he owns a .400 batting average so far this season.
  • Tough day: Michael Taylor went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

NEXT GAME: At Boston at 3:05 pm. Jordan Zimmerman (1-0, 1.50) faces Rick Porcello (0-1, 4.50).

 

Washington Nationals Game 5 Review: The Bullpen Blows An Early Lead, Nats Fall To Phillies in Extras

The Washington Nationals took an early lead against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night before falling to their division rivals in the tenth inning. Outfielder Odubel Herrera hit an RBI-single off  right-handed reliever Tanner Roark sending Philles catcher Carlos Ruiz home to end the game in the 3-2 loss.

Washington stranded two base runners in the first three innings of play before catcher Wilson Ramos sent a solo shot to right field off the Phillies’ left-handed starter Cole Hamels in the fourth inning giving them a 1-0 lead for right-handed starter Doug Fister. Fister was strong over six and one-third innings of work while giving up six hits and one walk and striking out one batter on 95 pitches and 61 strikes. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 4 Review: Gio Falters Late, Offense Quiet

Having dropped two of the first three against the Mets, the Nationals arrived at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia with something to prove. Gio Gonzalez (0-1) was on the bump for the Nats in his first start of the season, facing off with Jerome Williams of the Phillies. With a streak of 7 consecutive quality starts to end the 2014 season, Gonzalez was primed to deliver in his first start of the year.

Gonzalez would get close.

After six scoreless innings, Gio would find himself in trouble in the seventh, surrendering two walks, followed by a hit batsman to load the bases. Gio would throw a quarter of his pitches for the night in his third of the seventh. Visibly frustrated with the strike zone and his control, the Nationals’ number four starter would head for the showers with the bases loaded, one away, and Xavier Cedeño headed in for relief.

He’d make it two batters.

Cedeño wasn’t the lights-out reliever he’d been against the Mets, and allowed a 2-RBI single to Cesar Hernandez, before hitting Ben Revere with his next pitch. Manager Matt Williams was out to give Cedeño the hook shortly thereafter. Craig Stammen would come in and do little better, surrendering a single and a sac fly before finally closing out the inning. In the end, the Phillies scored four runs in the seventh, on 2 singles, 2 walks, 2 HBP and a sac fly. That would be enough to finish the Nationals, as the Phillies triumphed 4-1.

To leadoff the game Michael A. Taylor, doing his best Rickey Henderson impression, lead off the first with a long homerun to the left field corner. Taylor’s first home run of the 2015 campaign would stake Gonzalez to all the lead he’d get for the night. Taylor has started of the year strong, and if he continues his current pace, the Nationals may have some hard decisions to make when Denard Span is once again healthy. His early 5-for-17 (.294) include 3 RBI, and an .882 OPS. If Taylor continues his tear, do they let Span take his time coming back to give the rookie some extra playing time?

The Nationals would threaten in the second and fourth, but struggled to move runners from scoring position. Unfortunately, Ian Desmond’s rough April continued with a base-running miscue in the fourth. With one out, and Ryan Zimmerman at 1st, Desmond got wood on the ball and drove one to the left-center gap. Grady Sizemore fired a strike to veteran second baseman Chase Utley who applied the tag. While it looked like it might be the Nationals’ first coach’s challenge of the year, Matt Williams opted for safety, and the Nats wouldn’t be able to capitalize. The Nationals remain 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position this year.

Jerome Williams had a solid night for the Phils, going six full, scattering five hits and a walk, and giving up only Taylor’s homerun. He would strikeout six – including Harper, twice – and limited his damage to one bad pitch.

HERO: Michael A. Taylor, who continues his offensive tear in the Spring. His leadoff home run gives him 3 RBI for the season, and the club lead.

GOAT: Xavier Cedeño. The whole point of relief pitching is actually being relief. Cedeño was anything but. Honorable Mention to Matt Williams for leaving Gio out to dry in the seventh.

NATS NOTES:

  • Harper had 3 strikeouts for the second straight game, bringing his total to 8. He has the club lead by 3.
  • Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless eighth, with blazing velocity and pinpoint accuracy. Have the Nationals found their 8th inning man? He broke a pair of Philly bats.

UP NEXT: Nats at Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday at 7:05pm. Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 in ’14) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (9-9, 2.46 in ’14).

Washington Nationals Game 3 Review: “Dark Knight” makes gloomy day for Nats

It was billed as a pitcher’s duel, with Stephen Strasburg hosting Matt Harvey in his return from Tommy John surgery in the third game of the season. Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, only one of the pitchers really lived up to his end of the bargain.

Strasburg gave up six runs — but just three earned — over 5 1/3 while Harvey, who has “Dark Knight of Gotham” carved in the knob of his bats, was masterful, striking out nine in six innings and the New York Mets took the rubber match of the three-game series, 6-3, before an announced 25,327 at Nationals Park. [Read more…]

Nats Nightly: Nationals over Mets 2-1; Jordan Zimmermann outduels Jacob deGrom

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington and Doghouse of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals 2-1 win over the New York Mets.

Check Out Baseball Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals Game 2 Review: Zim’s homer stands up as Nats beat Mets

Even though the Washington Nationals got some good news about their leadoff and No. 3 hitters before the game, they’ll still be without them for a little longer and will have difficulty scoring an excess of runs. For now, the Nats will have to rely on strong pitching and timely run production.

They got both Wednesday, as Jordan Zimmermann pitched six strong innings, Ryan Zimmerman homered in the first inning, and the Nats beat the New York Mets 2-1 at soggy Nats Park.

Escobar congratulates Ryan Zimmerman after hitting a 2-run homer.  Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 2-1 at Nats Park on April 8, 2015 after a rain delay (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Escobar congratulates Ryan Zimmerman after hitting a 2-run homer.
Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 2-1 at Nats Park on April 8, 2015 after a rain delay (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Before the game, manager Matt Williams said Jayson Werth will report to High-A Potomac to start a rehab assignment and might be ready to return to the lineup soon after he’s eligible on Saturday. Denard Span will go back to extended spring training in Viera to play in a few more simulated games before beginning his rehab assignment, but he’s well ahead of schedule.

As for the game, after an hour rain delay in which no rain actually fell, Zimmermann made short work of the Mets in the first. Then in the bottom half, Yunel Escobar singled with one out ahead of Ryan Zimmerman’s first home run of the season, a no-doubt shot to left on an 1-1 count off Jacob de Grom, last season’s N.L. Rookie of the Year for a 2-0 lead.

New York got one back in second, as three consecutive ground ball singles, the last by Travis d’Arnaud, cut the lead in half. But with the bases loaded, Zimmermann struck out Curtis Granderson looking on a high slider, one that Granderson thought was too high.

The Nats got a leadoff double by Wilson Ramos in the sixth looking to add to a tenuous lead, but Ian Demsond whiffed at a slider, Dan Uggla popped up and Tyler Moore grounded to third.

Zimmermann didn’t return for the seventh. He threw 91 pitches in six full innings, allowing the one earned run on five hits and no walks, striking out four.

A one-out double in the seventh by Michael Taylor was wasted, as he ran into an out at third on a grounder, and Zimmerman struck out to end the inning.

Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless eighth, including nabbing a line drive by Lucas Duda, then doubling up David Wright at first. Drew Storen had an uneventful ninth inning for his first save of the season, including a punch-out on a nasty slider following a 94-MPH fastball on the black.

HERO: Ryan Zimmerman. He provided all the scoring the Nats needed, and turned in several sparkling plays on defense.

GOAT: Ian Desmond. No errors unlike opening day, but 0 for 4 with two Ks. He’s lost at the plate right now, swinging at everything with very little contact.

NATS NOTES

  • Feeling it at first: Zimmerman seems to be settling in fine at first base. In the second, he made a full out dive toward home plate to catch de Grom’s popped up bunt. The Face of the Franchise made another diving stop in the eighth, robbing Curtis Granderson of potential extra bases.
  • Second time’s a charm: In the fourth, d’Arnaud hit a high pop to second base and Dan Uggla camped underneath of it, similar to the play that Ian Desmond committed an error on opening day. This time, Uggla emphatically called for it, waving his arms, and Desmond demurred.
  • Holding ‘em to one: In the sixth, Lucas Duda’s line drive one-hopped the wall in right. Harper made a clean pick-up of the carom and fired a laser to second, holding Duda to a single. Duda was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder on the next at bat.

UP NEXT: Thursday at 1:05 pm. Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 in 2014) hosts RHP Matt Harvey (9-5, 2.27 in 2013).

Mets Kirk Nieuwenhuis was safe when the ball popped out of Nats 2B Dan Uggla's glove. Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 2-1 at Nats Park on April 8, 2015 after a rain delay (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mets Kirk Nieuwenhuis was safe when the ball popped out of Nats 2B Dan Uggla’s glove. Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 2-1 at Nats Park on April 8, 2015 after a rain delay (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals Opening Day Photos

Please enjoy these photos of the Washington Nationals Opening Day festivities.

Washington Nationals minor league affiliate rosters announced

The Washington Nationals minor league affiliates all announced their season opening rosters and while there weren’t any real surprises about where players were set to begin the season, a couple of notable omissions stood out.

Top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez were not assigned to an affiliate right out of camp. Rather, the two presumably will stay behind in Viera, Florida, at the Nats training facilities to participate in extended spring training before being assigned to a team.

Both, presumably, will be eventually assigned to High-A Potomac when they are assigned to an affiliate.

Wilmer Difo, No. 7 on Baseball America’s list of top prospects in the Nats organization, was assigned to the P-Nats, along with 3B Drew Ward (8) and RHP Nick Pivetta (10).

RHP Joe Ross (5), one of the players acquired in the Steven Souza Jr trade over the offseason, will start at AA Harrisburg, with RHP Austin Voth (11) and catcher Pedro Severino (12).

A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan and Taylor Hill will highlight Syracuse’s starting rotation, with lefties Matt Grace and Rich Hill in the bullpen.

Catcher Raudy Reed, the Nats No. 22 ranked prospect, starts out in Low-A Hagerstown.

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