August 21, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Is Stephen Strasburg’s Slider Hurting His Curveball?

As 2014 begins to slowly loom larger in the rear view mirror as the remaining games trickle in, fans of the Washington Nationals are yet again at a place where the promise of Stephen Strasburg lies somewhat orthogonal to his results. Despite some encouraging stats—in particular, a 3.00 fielding independent pitching and a 3.0 wins above replacement, all in the top-10 for National League starting pitchers—there is also plenty to point to a discouraging season for the righthander.

Hopes were high earlier in the season, as 2014 looked to be a year where Strasburg was finally completely healthy; add to it an addition to his already devastating four pitch repertoire in the form of a slider, and it appeared that the NL Cy Young Award and the NL East were all but wrapped up, courtesy of D.C.’s once and future ace.

Much was made of the inclusion (then the scrapping, only to be brought back again) of the slider, with most feeling this was a subtraction by addition. Recently, a great article by the venerable Pat Jordan added some body and tangibility to the underlying discouragement of the new pitch by Strasburg, with a particular passage being at the heart of the issue:

There’s a longtime axiom in baseball that a slider ruins a pitcher’s curveball. They are diametrically opposed pitches, a stiff-wrist slider and a loose-wrist curveball. When a curveball pitcher adds a slider to his repertoire, pretty soon he won’t have either. He’ll have a slurve. A slurve is a big, fat, right-to-left breaking pitch that loses the best qualities of both pitches. It’s slower than a slider and begins to reveal itself too soon, and it has a less definable break than a curveball. The greatest breaking pitches are the ones that break late, sharp, down and a lot.

In essence, the slider appeared to be a waste of time; Strasburg’s otherworldly fastballs, curve, and changeup were plenty to not only get hitters out, but dominate them. At best, it would be an infrequently used pitch, occasionally flipped up there to set up another pitch. At worst, it would make his once-in-a-lifetime curveball less effective—a slurve—and something that was in between the curve and slider, possibly losing the bite and movement in the process, as alluded to in Jordan’s piece on overhand curves. Adding insult to injury, it could make his other pitches also a little less effective in the process, thereby making Strasburg’s stuff a little more human.

Could the trials and tribulations of 2014 be caused by Strasburg’s flirtation with the slider, making his repertoire a little less effective and more hittable?

First, let’s figure out how often he has thrown the slider; for this and any following stats, this season will be compared to 2013, the most recent (and most healthiest) season where he threw his usual four pitch mix: a four-seam fastball (FA), two-seam fastball (FT), curve (CU), and changeup (CH). For the table below and in the sake of data robustness, the number on the left is taken from FanGraphs PITCHf/x data and the number on the right is from Brooks Baseball, which has an additional manual classification correction implemented.

Season FA% FT% SL% CU% CH%
2013 48.7/57.7 12.2/3.5  — 22.8/22.8 16.2/16.0
2014 40.2/57.5 18.3/1.3 0.5/1.9 17.9/17.6 22.8/21.3

For Strasburg, the slider is a rare pitch, being used at most two percent of the time. This being said, has its incorporation affected the success of his other pitches? To answer that, here is another table, including 2013-14 data on each pitch type, including their respective walk (BB%) and strikeout (K%) percentages as well as weighted on-base average against (wOBA) and pitch type linear weights per 100 pitches thrown (LW/100), with LW/100 in particular especially useful telling us how effective a particular pitch was, in terms of minimizing run expectancy.

Season Pitch BB% K% wOBA LW/100
2013 FA 8.70% 12.60% 0.325 0.62
2013 FT 10.10% 10.10% 0.351 -0.27
2013 CH 8.30% 43.80% 0.172 1.86
2013 CU 2.40% 50.60% 0.150 2.16
* * * * * *
2014 FA 5.50% 18.60% 0.353 -0.18
2014 FT 6.00% 13.50% 0.406 -1.72
2014 CH 5.50% 43.20% 0.210 1.65
2014 CU 1.60% 47.20% 0.252 0.30
2014 SL 0.00% 14.30% 0.310 -1.55

Between last season and current, all of Strasburg’s main four pitches have dropped in effectiveness, per LW/100, with the slider overall not being a terribly effective pitch, given its greatly negative linear weights value. wOBA shows the same trends, with all of the ‘big four’ getting hit around a little more this season. Strasburg’s strikeout percentages appear to be as strong as ever this season, however, with each enjoying a moderate hike in rate compared to last season.

These numbers are valuable, but don’t provide the entire story. Variables such as release points, pitch movements, and spin rates, to name a few, all play a role in a pitch’s effectiveness and aren’t necessarily reflected in the above numbers; in short, a pitch and its ultimate effectiveness is comprised of a number of dimensions.

Let’s look at those dimensions and see if we can visualize any changes from last year to today that might help answer whether the slider is hurting Strasburg’s other pitches. One way to do this is with the help of a statistical method that is used to reduce the dimensionality of a dataset: principal component analysis (PCA).

An approach that is commonly seen in psychology and sociology and used in things such as intelligence and personality tests, PCA is used to identify and analyze underlying linear structures and previously unsuspected relationships in order to reduce large datasets into more palatable results, using their variance to help collapse and parse out themes that help in explaining the underlying structure of the data.

For the curious, a great reference for PCA can be found here. For the purposes of this article, it isn’t so much reducing factors, but visualizing how much the factors ‘cluster’ for each pitch in 2013 and seeing if that clustering pattern is the same (or different) this year, so the math and nuts and bolts of the PCA will be glossed over, simply because we are just interested in a snapshot of the process versus the process itself.

The variables in question are primarily PITCHf/x based and include:

spin direction
break angle
pitch horizontal movement
pitch vertical movement
velocity
break length
spin rate
horizontal release point
vertical release point
vertical height of the pitch where it crosses hoke plate
horizontal height of the pitch where it crosses home plate

After applying a PCA to Strasburg’s 2013 and 2014 data, the following loading plots of the respective principal components were created (PC1 and PC2, which explain 99.9% of the variance of the factors discussed), which reveal the relationships between variables; here, it is with respect to pitch type.

First 2013:

Strasburg_13_PCAEssentially, Strasburg’s fastballs and changeup ‘run together’, with his curveball and the respective factors at play behind it being a separate and disparate entity. Thus, we have our template for what the various factors and dimensions of each pitch for comparison to this year, with the new pitch.

2014 looks like this:

Strasburg_14_PCAWith the new pitch, we do see some less-clustered aspects of the curveball, but more drastically, with the changeup; there is perhaps a smidgen of truth to the idea that the slider, with all other factors remaining the same, could perhaps lend itself to hurting Strasburg’s other pitches, though not necessarily the curveball in isolation. However, it isn’t such a cut-and-dried ‘his curve looks like his slider’ explanation, which was discussed in the Jordan article, or at least, not yet.

While the few specks of the slider are tough to discern, we do see them drifting between the two trend lines, with some bleed of the curve and change into an in-between area. However, we don’t have a grasp of what underlying factors are at play with this visualization. Interpreting some of the factor loadings (not presented), the biggest difference between this season and last is the exchange of importance between the horizontal release point (x0) and pitch height as it crosses the plate (pz), with x0 having a slightly larger role as a factor in the loading of the variables used this season.

remain stable across the two seasons of interest. Other factors could be at play with respect to Strasburg’s somewhat shaky 2014; injury and even simply being a year older and the ramifications that has on a pitcher’s ultimate success could be variables that are responsible for the hiccups that the PCA does not capture.

Overall, through the interpretation and visualization of many of the factors and their respective dimensions at play with respect to Strasburg’s pitching, we do find that while his curve still might ‘look’ like his curve after the incorporation of a slider, there is some potential for some trending towards a slurvier offering if this small amount of data are to be trusted. With that said, Strasburg might do well to scrap the slider, as not only is the curve at risk of looking less like a curve, but his changeup as well is threatened by the unfavorable, neither here nor there characteristics of his slider.

***

Data courtesy of Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and FanGraphs.
__________________

Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Nationals Game 116 Review: Gio shaky, offense absent in Sunday night loss to Braves

After the marathon game Saturday night, including a nearly four-hour rain delay then extra innings, the Washington Nationals could have used a crisp, clean outing from starter Gio Gonzalez.

They didn’t get it.

Gonzalez was shaky and the offense was almost non-existant, as the Nats fell to the Atlanta Braves 3-1 at Turner Field. The loss drops the Nats lead over the Braves to 3 1/2 games in the N.L. East.

Gonzalez allowed just two runs, but gave up six hits and four walk in just 4 2/3 innings. He needed 111 pitches to record the 14 outs, though eight of those came via strikeout.

The Nats got on the board first, as Ian Desmond socked his 18th homer of the season to right center field. But that’s all they got.

Atlanta drew even in the bottom of the inning. Justin Upton clubbed a 3-2 changeup to straight-away left field for his 21st homer of the year. It also marked Upton’s 1000th hit and 500th RBI of his career.

Gonzalez (L, 6-9, 4.00) then proceeded to allow two home base runners in the inning, but escaped unscathed — except for his elevated pitch count.

That high pitch count finally got to him in the fifth.

Emilio Bonifacio lead off with a bunt single and Gonzalez walked Tommy LaStella, though the rookie second baseman tried to sacrifice. Freddie Freeman grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and it looked like Gonzalez might escape danger again.

But he issued another walk, this time to Upton. Jason Heyward then hit a grounder to Danny Espinosa, playing in short right field on an extreme shift, but Adam LaRoche also tried for the grounder and Gonzalez failed to cover first base. Heyward was safe and Bonifacio scored on the play without a throw.

Braves starter Alex Wood cruised. Over 7 1/3 innings, he gave up just the Desmond homer, four other hits, and three walks, striking out 12 along the way.

Atlanta picked up another run in the eighth off Jerry Blevins in his second inning of work. He sandwiched a walk to Chris Johnson between strikeouts of Heyward and Gerald Laird. But consecutive hits by Ramiro Pena and pinch-hitter Evan Gattis — both right-handed hitters – pushed the Braves’ third run across.

Blevins is allowing a .321/.400/.449 slash line to right-handed hitters this season.

The Nationals have a much-needed day off Monday before starting a three-game series with the New York Mets on Tuesday at Citifield. Doug Fister (11-3, 2.49) pitches for the Nats. The Mets have not announced their starter.

NATS NOTES: The Nats recalled OF Michael Taylor from AAA-Syracuse and placed OF Steven Souza on the 15-day D.L. with a “left shoulder contusion” sustained when he slammed into the right field wall chasing a home run in Friday night’s game.

  • Denard Span went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and on-base streak to 36 games.
  • LaRoche had a rough night, striking out all four times at bat, stranding five runners.
  • Jayson Werth, nursing a litany of injuries, went 0-for-1 but walked three times.

Washington Nationals Game 115 Review: Nats top Braves in 11 after nearly 4 hour rain delay

It took a while to get this one started — and finished — but for the Washington Nationals, it was well worth the wait.

A steady rain delayed the start back to after many folks’ bedtimes on the east coast, then extra innings delayed the outcome that much further. But a three-run outburst in the 11th inning lifted the Nats to a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

The Nats extend their division lead back to 4 1/2 games.

Anthony Rendon led off the 11th with a single off Braves reliever David Carpenter and went to second on Adam LaRoche’s ground ball single to right. Carpenter got Ian Desmond to line out to left, though Justin Upton took a bad route and had to make a circus catch on the hard liner.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez lifted Carpenter in favor of James Russell, but Russell walked Bryce Harper on five pitches. Gonzalez went back to his pen, this time for Anthony Varvaro, who gave up a pair of runs in Friday night’s game.

Wilson Ramos greeted Varvaro with a soft liner to center for an RBI single. Kevin Frandsen followed with a double to the right field corner that scored LaRoche and Harper. The Braves muffed the relay to the infield, and Ramos tried to score. He was originally called safe as Even Gattis made a very high tag on the slide, but after review Ramos was ruled out.

Regardless, the Nats had their three-run lead.

All that was left was for Rafael Soriano to pitch the bottom of the inning, and he did so uneventfully for his 26th save of the season.

Previously to the 11th inning, all the scoring in this one came back in the sixth. LaRoche hit a solo homer off Braves starter Aaron Harang, his 16th of the season, then in the bottom the Braves evened it up as they loaded the bases with no outs against Nats starter Tanner Roark, then a sacrifice fly by Jason Heyward tied the game.

Roark wiggled out of the inning allowing just the one run as he struck out Gattis and got a comebacker from Chris Johnson to end the frame.

Roark had another terrific outing, allowing just the one run on six hits and three walks over seven innings, striking out six.

NATS NOTES: CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman reported before the game the Nats plan to recall OF Michael Taylor from AAA Syracuse before Sunday’s game. Taylor has had a breakout season in the minors. No corresponding move was announced, though Jayson Werth and Steven Souza Jr. both played Saturday in the late innings.

  • Denard Span continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-5. His average is up to .305 for the year.
  • Harper went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • The Nats were 2-for-7 with RISP and left seven on base.
  • Desmond went 0-for-5, but did steal a base.
  • LaRoche went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs and an RBI.

Washington Nationals Game 114 Review: Strasburg rocked; Nats comeback falls short against Braves

Stephen Strasburg has had better nights — but not any worse.

For the first time in his career, the Washington Nationals starter gave up four home runs in one start and dug the Nats a deep hole. Despite clawing back to within one run before the seventh inning stretch, the Nats never did tie and lost to the Atlanta Braves, 7-6, at Turner Field.

The Braves snapped an eight-game losing streak in the process and cut the Nats lead in the division to 3 1/2 games.

In 15 starts against the Braves, Strasburg is 3-6 with a 4.62 ERA.

Strasburg (L, 8-10, 3.68) surrendered homers to Justin Upton (20) in the first inning, his brother B.J. (8) and Freddie Freeman (16) in the second, and Tommy LaStella in the fifth inning. LaStella’s homer in the fifth — the first of his career – ended up being the difference in the game.

B.J. Upton had not homered in over 130 at bats.

Strasburg’s final line was ugly. He gave up seven runs on seven hits and two walks, though he did strike out nine in five innings. But the home runs were the killer.

The Nats trailed 7-0 entering the middle innings but made a game of it. The rally started in the sixth. Scott Hairston pinch-hit for Strasburg and was hit by Braves starter Ervin Santana. Denard Span ( 3-for-4, .304) singled to put runners at the corners. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a  single to center that plated Hariston, then Anthony Rendon connected for his 15th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 7-4.

Washington pulled within two in the seventh. Wilson Ramos led off the inning with a no-doubt-about-it shot for his fifth homer of the season. Later, Kevin Frandsen reached on an error, went to third on Span’s single and scored on Cabrera’s sacrifice fly to left.

But the comeback stalled in the late innings, as Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel pitched clean slates in the eighth and ninth innings.

The second of the three-game series is Saturday at 7:10 pm ET. Tanner Roark (11-7, 2.94) faces Aaron Harang (9-6, 3.41).

NATS NOTES: Steven Souza Jr. made his first start since his recall in right field for Jayson Werth, but he didn’t last long. Chasing Freeman’s homer to right, he crashed full-speed into the outfield fence. He stayed in the game for another at bat, but after watching the video, it’s hard to imagine how. The Nats said he was day-to-day after the game, but then again, aren’t we all.

Washington Nationals vs Atlanta Braves Series Preview

After taking two-of-three from the New York Mets and moving 4.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals now head south to Atlanta for a three-game series with their division rivals. [Read more...]

Nats Nightly: Nationals 5-3 over Mets on Bryce Harper’s walk-off HR in the 13th

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington and “Doghouse” of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals 5-3 win over the New York Mets in 13 innings.

Also, thanks to everyone that has listened to this show over the past 14 months, lifting us to over 100,000 listens!

New Baseball Podcasts with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals Game 112 Review: LaRoche, Espinosa Go Deep to Help Nats Top Mets

For those who criticized the Washington Nationals for their as-of-late inability to drive the ball deep, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche did just that Wednesday night to contribute to a 7-1 win over the New York Mets at Nationals Park.

Nats starter Doug Fister asserted his standing as arguably the Nats’ top pitcher this season, allowing just one run over six hits and no walks through 7.1 innings pitched. His seemingly all-too-easy victory marked his 11th of the season, making him the team’s wins leader.

Mets left-hander Jon Niese did not have quite the same luck.

With one out in the bottom of the first, Niese gave up a double to Anthony Rendon. Jayson Werth followed through with a single, setting up Adam LaRoche for a two-run shot to put the Nats up 3-0 heading into the second.

All was quiet on both fronts from then onward, until the Nats reached the bottom of the sixth. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Measuring Ryan Zimmerman’s value

Ryan Zimmerman has been a catalyst for the Washington Nationals offense from what seems to be time immemorial. Boasting a career .357 weighted on-base average (wOBA), which ranks second amongst third baseman and ninth in the National League since 2005 (minimum 5000 plate appearances), Zimmerman has been a consistent, potent offensive weapon for a team that has endured its share of toothless lineups. To the chagrin of the team and fans, this offense has sputtered in recent years, primarily due to a number of injuries that have forced him to miss significant time out of the lineup.

It’s been felt by many this season that when Zimmerman’s not penciled in the lineup card, the chances of runs being scored drop precipitously; the numbers confirm this to a certain extent, with the Nationals averaging 4.66 runs per game with Zimmerman in the lineup and 3.77 runs a game with him out. Compare this to the team’s overall scoring average—4.19 runs per game, fourth in the NL—and to the NL’s average runs scored per game—3.96 runs per game—and we pull back the curtain a little more as to how important Zimmerman’s bat is to the Nats; with him, they’re league beaters, but without him, they’re not even league average when it comes to plating runs.

Let’s keep pulling said curtain back and go back to wOBA to get a better grasp of the importance of Zimmerman in (and out of) the lineup, now, from a teammate’s perspective. With wOBA, we can better measure and apply a player’s offensive value and what exactly they contribute to the run scoring environment. It does require a little math in order to accurately weight each offensive contribution (singles, walks, and so on) for the current run environment, but thankfully, FanGraphs helps us with this process.

The wOBA formula for the 2014 season is:

wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.723×HBP + 0.892×1B + 1.280×2B + 1.630×3B + 2.126×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

…and after plugging and chugging and some shuffling of stats into two ‘bins’—stats with Zimmerman (‘Zim’) and stats without him (‘no Zim’), we get the following numbers for the ‘Big 8′ of Nats players who get the lion’s share of starts: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth:

Name wOBA Zim wOBA, no Zim PA, Zim PA, no Zim
Desmond 0.363 0.282 212 236
Espinosa 0.314 0.278 123 184
Harper 0.340 0.319 102 95
LaRoche 0.347 0.377 228 157
Ramos 0.357 0.293 97 106
Rendon 0.397 0.316 223 249
Span 0.325 0.338 224 235
Werth 0.399 0.318 220 237

*PA: plate appearances

Using the following Rule of Thumb courtesy again of FanGraphs:

Rules of Thumb

Rating wOBA
Excellent .400
Great .370
Above Average .340
Average .320
Below Average .310
Poor .300
Awful .290

…we see that Zimmerman’s presence in the lineup makes Rendon and Werth borderline excellent and the others above average, except for Espinosa, who enjoys league average wOBA with him in the lineup. However, without him in the lineup, things change and for some of Zimmerman’s teammates, quite drastically.

Without Zimmerman, Ian Desmond’s offense takes a huge nosedive, going from above average, to worse than awful, per our rule of thumb; Espinosa suffers similar production drops, as does Ramos, Werth, and Rendon. Oddly enough, LaRoche’s and Span’s production actually improve ever so slightly without Zimmerman’s presence, with Span’s offense the least affected overall by Zimmerman’s bat.

Let’s go one further with the numbers and look at weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a stat that is built off of wOBA, but adds additional granularity in the form of park and league-adjustments, allowing the comparison of these stats with respect to the leagues and parks played in to be performed. Again, FanGraphs provides us the formula:

wRC+ = (((wRAA/PA + League R/PA) + (League R/PA – Park Factor* League R/PA))/ (AL or NL wRC/PA excluding pitchers))*100

Here, the calculations are a little hairier than wOBA. Thankfully, the heavy lifting has been done for us, courtesy Neil Weinberg over at New English D, where you can find a very nifty wRC+ calculator that you can use once you have the proper constants for a given metric and season, which you can find in several places over at FanGraphs.

With wRC+, we can again better measure a players worth (like wOBA), both can now look at these results from both a current and historical perspective. 100 is considered league average, with any number above or below 100 providing us the percentage difference better or worse a player is to average. An as example, we can say Zimmerman’s career 121 wRC+ means he has been 21 percent better than the league average hitter.

Without further ado, the Nats offense with and without Zimmerman, through the lens of wRC+:

Name wRC+, Zim wRC+, no Zim
Desmond 133 73
Espinosa 95 71
Harper 113 99
LaRoche 118 139
Ramos 125 81
Rendon 153 97
Span 103 103
Werth 154 98
Average 124.25 95.13

It should be no surprise that the numbers trend similar to wOBA, given wRC+ being based on wOBA. In general, the Nats are currently and historically a below average offensive team without Zimmerman in the lineup (95.13 average) and are roughly 25 percent better than average with him healthy and taking his hacks. What’s also interesting is how much the team’s offensive leaders of 2014—Desmond, Rendon, and Werth—rely upon Zim’s contributions. Again, the oddballs are LaRoche, who still shows improved numbers without Zimmerman, and Span, whose numbers are exactly the same with and without the Nat’s elder statesman in the lineup. This all being said, caution should be exercised when interpreting Harper’s and Ramos’s number, simply due to sample size considerations, with both having limited PA’s this year due to their own injuries.

Zimmerman’s presence in the Nationals lineup, while always desired, at times has been one that is often under-appreciated, given the talents of his teammates and his difficulties in staying on the field. The numbers presented reflect this, but should nonetheless be taken with a grain of salt, as other variables, in particular, the effects of where each player hits in the lineup and even where they play defensively, can all play potential roles in these results. While the team-level numbers obviously show his worth in the heart of the order, when parsing out the effect of his presence across each of his teammates, we see a much deeper need and reliance upon his pop and his importance to his teammates’ overall offensive successes.

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and current as of August 5th.
__________________

Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Nationals Game 111 Review: Gio’s Shaky Outing No Match for Wheeler

NATIONALS FALL TO NEW YORK METS IN SERIES OPENER

Gio Gonzalez allowed four runs on six hits and two walks through six innings Tuesday night as the Washington Nationals fell to Zack Wheeler and the New York Mets 6-1 at Nationals Park.

Gonzalez was shaky from the start, as he allowed a one-out triple to Daniel Murphy before David Wright brought him home with a single to left.

Wheeler helped himself to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second after Travis d’Arnaud led off with a double. Chris Young went down on strikes and Ruben Tejada grounded out, advancing d’Arnaud to third before Wheeler singled in d’Arnaud off a first-pitch fastball.

The Nats earned one back in the bottom of the inning, not by awakening the offense but by taking advantage of Wheeler’s short loss of control.

Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond started the inning with back-to-back walks before Bryce Harper went down on strikes. Then, Asdrubal Cabrera walked to load the bases, allowing LaRoche to come home on a wild pitch with Jose Lobaton batting.

Lobaton managed to hit a sharp grounder, but the ball hit Cabrera who was running toward third base at the time. Cabrera was called out and Desmond was forced to retreat to third, while Lobaton was awarded the single. Gonzalez came to the plate next, but could not repeat Wheeler’s earlier luck, ending the inning with a fly ball to center fielder Juan Lagares.

The Nats threatened again in the bottom of the third after Denard Span and Anthony Rendon started things off with back-to-back singles. On his own gnome night, however, Jayson Werth grounded into a double play that advanced Span to third. LaRoche drew a walk to keep the inning alive but the struggling Ian Desmond could only manage a ground ball to end the inning.

Gonzalez held on to match Wheeler until the top of the seventh.

In the seventh, however, it quickly became apparent that the Nats’ left-hander had run out of gas.

Young worked Gonzalez for a nine-pitch walk to start things off before Tejada chopped an infield single to short.

At that point, Nationals manager Matt Williams called on Drew Storen to pitch to Wheeler, who advanced Young and Tejada on a sacrifice bunt. Storen managed to hit the next batter, Lagares, with a runaway sinker, before allowing Daniel Murphy to single in Young and Tejada.

Storen did manage to strike out Wright, but Lucas Duda singled to left to add the Mets’ third run of the inning.

In the eighth, the Mets tacked on their sixth run of the night with Blake Treinen on the mound for Washington.

Treinen hit his first batter, d’Arnaud, with a pitch before allowing Young to single. Tejada lined out in the next at-bat, but pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled in d’Arnaud to make it 6-1.

 

THE GOOD: On a night when the Nats’ offense never fully came to life, Adam LaRoche went 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. Filling in for catcher Wilson Ramos, who is on paternity leave, Jose Lobaton was the only other Nat to post two hits on the night.

THE BAD: There were innings in which Gio Gonzalez looked like the Gio Gonzalez of old, and then there moments where he just didn’t seem to have his stuff. Add to that, Drew Storen and Blake Treinen each allowed a run.

THE UGLY: The Nats went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven. On a night when Mets’ pitching worked its way into jams with control issues, the Nats failed to capitalize.

THE STATS: 1 R, 8 H, 4 BB, 7 K, 7 LOB, 2-for-9 RISP

 

BREAKING: Nats Claim Left-handed Reliever Matt Thornton off Waivers

The Washington Nationals have reportedly acquired left-handed reliever Matt Thornton off a waiver claim from the New York Yankees, according to CBSSports.com writer Jon Heyman.

In 24.2 innings pitched this season, Thornton has held a 2.55 ERA and recorded 20 strike outs. Most importantly, he has posted solid numbers against left-handed hitters. This season, he has held left-handed batters to a .250/.306/.250 slash line through 64 plate appearances and, all-time, he has held left-handed batters to a .234/.297/.345 line.

The 37-year-old is set to earn $3.5 million in 2015, per his current contract.

Although the MLB non-waiver trade deadline has passed, teams can acquire players through the waiver wire.

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