April 1, 2015

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Scherzer Ks 9, Cards win 1-0

RENDON “IN JEOPARDY” FOR OPENING DAY WITH KNEE INJURY

Max Scherzer struck out nine over six scoreless innings, but the St. Louis Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth inning to beat the Washington Nationals 1-0 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida.

The only run of the game came in that eighth inning, with Aaron Barrett pitching for the Nats. Barrett hit Kolten Wong with his first pitch of the frame, and Charlie Tilson pinch-ran. Tislon immediately stole second, then went to third on a wild pitch by Barrett. Tilson scored on Ty Kelly’s sacrifice fly.

The Nats went quietly against Jordan Walden in the top of the ninth, as Derrick Robinson, Mike Carp and Sandy Leon all struck out. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Infielders

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

FIRST BASE

Ryan Zimmerman
2014: 240 PAs, .280/.342/.449 with 5 HRs, 184 RBIs (0.4 WAR). .948 FD% at 3B.

We’ve seen this coming for several season. With the expiration of Adam LaRoche’s tenure with the club, the Face of the Franchise ™ moves across the diamond to first base on a permanent basis. Some would say ‘about time.’ Now 30, Zimmerman’s throwing problems at third base were well-documented and his time in the outfield last season can be described as non-harmful at best. He made some plays, but the spectacular nature of some only outlined his lack of mobility for the wide open pastures of left field. It’s a shame, really, because before he injured his shoulder diving head-first into second base he really was one of the best defensive third basemen in the game. His bat will play at first, especially if he can get 500 plate appearances, but we’re all left wondering where he could have ranked on the all-time third base list if he could have stayed there.

Tyler Moore
2014: 100 PAs, .231/.300.385 with 4 HRs, 14 RBIs (0.4 WAR). .948 FD% at 1B.

Ah, Tyler Moore. Some saw his power numbers in the minors and salivated. Sure, he was old at every level and didn’t really have a position, but he kept hitting home runs — 31 two years running in Potomac and Harrisburg. Surely, the skill would translate as he ascended into the big leagues! Well, maybe, maybe not. Moore still has power, but more (Moore) often than not flails away at the better pitching in the big leagues. It’s a story told time and again about thick-bodied minor league sluggers without a natural position on the diamond (cough Steven Souza cough). Moore has hit 10 homers in both of the past two seasons at Syracuse and now represents little more than a bat off the bench and emergency starter. If Zimmerman can’t give them 500 plate appearances, the team could be in a little trouble.

SECOND BASE

Yunel Escobar
2014: 529 PAs, .258/.324/.340 with 7 HRs, 39 RBIs (-0.2 WAR) with TBY. .965 FD% at SS.

The Nats traded older prospect Steven Souza Jr Tyler Clippard for the much-traveled shortstop with the hopes of plugging him into the abyss at second base. Escobar was one of the worst fielding shortstops in all of baseball last season by any metric you’d like to use, so the move to second base should help him recover some value. GM Mike Rizzo said Escobar battled back and hamstring issues all season long which affected his fielding. While hamstrings heal, back issues are usually chronic in nature. All that aside, his bat is pretty meh, especially for a guy that stays in the lineup every day, apparently whether he’s healthy or injured. His last good year was in 2011 when he hit .290/.369/.413. But his average has been .253, .256, .258 in the three years since. It’s a shame Rizzo felt like he had to give up a prospect of value for this skill set.

Danny Espinosa
2014: 364 PAs, .219/.283/.351 with 8 HRs, 27 RBIs, 8 SB/1 CS (0.0 WAR). .990 FD% at 2B, .978 at SS.

The reason Rizzo felt like he had to trade for Escobar. Espinosa once tantalized with 20-20 capability with Gold Glove caliber defense. But after playing through shoulder and hand injuries, plus complete ineffectiveness from the left side, Espinosa is left trying to resurrect his career as a backup middle infielder. There’s a shred of hope that within his split against lefties last season (.301/.374/.485) there’s a serviceable right-handed hitter in there, as Rizzo said in the offseason Espinosa would abandon switch-hitting. But Espinosa hasn’t seen a breaking ball go away from him from a right-handed pitcher in 15 years, so it’ll be a fascinating transition should be become proficient at it. His defense is still very good at second and short, and at least we know he can still hit lefties, so there’s utility in that.

Wilmer Difo
2014 Low-A: 610 PAs, .315/.360/.470 with 14 HRs, 90 RBIs, 49 SB/9 CS.

Difo tore up the Sally last season at age 22 for Hagerstown. It came as a shock, since he’d hit a combined five home runs in his previous four minor league seasons and had hit above .265 once. He can run and is a decent fielder but has played all over the infield, so the Nats aren’t really sure where he’ll end up playing. Second base will probably be where he settles though, but he split duties just about down the middle between there and short last season. Difo’s eye-popping numbers from last year put him on the radar, now he’ll have to live up to his newly-minted “prospect” status. Double-A has a way of separating guys that had a good year in the Sally (a year old for the level) from true prospects.

THIRD BASE

Anthony Rendon
2014: 683 PAs, .287/.351/.473 with 21 HRs, 83 RBIs, 17 SB/3 CS (6.5 WAR). .958 FD% at 3B.

It’s hard to articulate how good a season Rendon had in 2014, and where his offensive game could still go. He was fifth in the N.L. in MVP balloting as a 24-year-old and won the Silver Slugger at third. He is, simply, one of the best offensive players in the league and a fine defender at two positions as well. The Nats have elected to keep him at third base, his natural position, choosing to acquire Yunel Escobar to play second base full-time. And oh yeah, still a couple of years yet before he hits “peak.”

SHORTSTOP

Ian Desmond
2014: 648 PAs, .255/.313/.430 with 24 HRs, 91 RBIs, 24 SB/5 CS (2.8 WAR). .963 FD% at SS.

Desmond turned in another 20-20 season, his third in a row and third consecutive Silver Slugger. The production isn’t the concern with Desmond, who’s turned himself into one of the most consistent offensive performers at shortstop in the Majors. The defense isn’t the problem either — though he made a few more errors last season, he makes up for that in range and arm. With Desmond, you know what you’re gonna get on the field. As everyone knows by now, though, he’s a free agent at the end of the season, was subject of trade rumors all winter long, and will probably test the open market once the season concludes. The Nats even took precaution against Desmond leaving by trading for not just one shortstop prospect, but two, over the winter. I’d say the Nats are preparing for the likelihood of Desmond playing elsewhere next season.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 2 Review: Belt’s homer in 18th ends longest game in playoff history

Brandon Belt hit a solo home run in the top of the 18th inning off Tanner Roark and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 in the longest game by time — and tying the longest game by inning — in the history of Major League Baseball playoffs.

The official time of the game was 6:23.

The Nationals now trail in the series 2-0 and travel to San Francisco to face 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner. Doug Fister will oppose him in the Monday game.

Jordan Zimmermann and Tim Hudson were terrific in the first half of this same-game double-header, but neither factored in the decision, obviously. San Francisco won its 10th consecutive playoff game — a National League record — with eight of those wins coming on the road. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants NLDS Series Preview

After winning the NL East as well as owning the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL Wild Card Game, to Nationals Park on Friday afternoon to kickoff a best-of-five National League Division Series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st in NL East vs San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd in NL West) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 158 Review: National League Crown in Sight as Gio, Nats Top Mets

Near the top of a long list of indicators the Washington Nationals want to see as the gear up for the postseason is the return of the Gio Gonzalez of old.

And, on Thursday night, the Nats saw just that as Gonzalez delivered his greatest outing of the season to help the Nats to a 3-0 win over the New York Mets in game two of a split doubleheader at Nationals Park.

Gonzalez (W, 10-10) threw 70 of 103 total pitches for strikes, allowing just one hit and two walks through seven innings pitched while fanning a career-high 12. His fastball reportedly reached 94 MPH, and his entire arsenal worked as the Mets struggled to make contact. In fact, Gonzalez struck out six consecutive batters beginning with Lucas Duda to start the top of the second and ending with starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to close out the third.

The Nats’ offense was slow to awaken against Wheeler (L, 11-11), but in the fourth, they made do with back-to-back singles by Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos. Nate Schierholtz drew a walk to load the bases before Tyler Moore grounded into a force out that plated Werth to make it 1-0 Nats.

Then, Scott Hairston walked and Mets catcher Anthony Recker came up with a passed ball as Ramos came home to make it 2-0.

With two outs and the bases loaded once more, Wheeler hit Anthony Rendon with a pitch to hand the Nats a 3-0 lead.

The inning would turn out to be Wheeler’s ugliest of the night, and the Mets’ relief tossed three innings of scoreless baseball, but Gonzalez and the Washington bullpen never let up.

Lefthander Matt Thornton allowed no runs on two hits in the eighth, and Drew Storen tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the Nationals’ victory.

 

THE GOOD: For most of the season, the Nats have seemingly waited for Gio Gonzalez to perform like Gio Gonzalez again. And, as of late, he has done exactly that – with Thursday night’s outing amounting to his best performance yet. On the heels of Gonzalez’s phenomenal delivery, the Nats’ magic number for the best record in the National League is just one.

THE BAD: The Nats went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine base runners.

THE STATS: 3 R, 6 H, 4 BB, 10 K, 1-for-11 RISP, 9 LOB

 

Washington Nationals Game 152 Review: Five-Run Fourth Helps Nats Top Marlins

The Washington Nationals posted five runs – all with two outs – in a fourth inning rout to help pave the way for a 6-2 win over the Miami Marlins Thursday.

Starter Gio Gonzalez earned his ninth win of the season after allowing two runs on six hits through seven innings pitched. Oddly enough, though his counterpart, Brad Hand, lasted just five innings, he tossed three perfect innings until the Nats’ bats awakened in the fourth.

Before that point, the Marlins had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second after Gonzalez gave up a single to Jeff Baker and an RBI double to Reed Johnson. Gonzalez struck out Adeiny Hechavarria before forcing both Jarod Saltalamacchia and Enrique Hernandez to line out.

In the top of the fourth, the Nats showcased their ability to keep pressure on their opponents.

Anthony Rendon hit a one-out single before stealing second base with two outs. The stolen bag paid off as Rendon came home on a double by Wilson Ramos. Ramos came home on a single from Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper kept the inning alive with a single to give Washington runners at the corners.

Asdrubal Cabrera singled in Desmond, advancing Harper to third. Both Harper and Cabrera came home on a single by Kevin Frandsen and a throwing error by Johnson in right.

When all was said and done, Gonzalez returned to the mound with a 5-1 lead over Miami.

In the fifth, that lead expanded to 6-1 after Rendon singled and scored on a double by Jayson Werth.

Miami earned back a run in the bottom of the sixth after a double and stolen base by Christian Yelich, and an RBI single off the bat of Baker.

The Nats went on to hold off the Marlins’ offense while Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano each provided an inning of hitless relief to end the game.

With the win, the Nationals have improved to an NL-best 88-64 record, two games ahead of the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

 

THE GOOD: With the except of just a couple potential trouble-spots, Gio Gonzalez came up with a solid outing against the Miami Marlins. With debate circulating about what type of role Gonzalez may carry into the playoffs, it was nice to see the South Florida native showcase his strengths.

The Nats seemingly took manager Matt Williams’ advice to never ease pressure off an opponent. They tallied four two-out RBI and went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

While Nationals manager Matt Williams undoubtedly made a clever call in opting to pull the closer role from Rafael Soriano, you can’t help but applaud a decent outing by the on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again closer.

THE BAD: Denard Span went 0-for-5 with a strike out.

THE STATS: 6 R, 11 H, 10 K, 4-for-9 with RISP, 5 LOB

 

Washington Nationals vs Atlanta Braves Series Preview

After taking 3-of-4 from the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals now head south to Atlanta for their final series of the season with the Atlanta Braves.

Teams

Washington Nationals (85-63, 1st in NL East) vs Atlanta Braves (75-74, 2nd in NL East) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 147 Review: Nats Rain Runs in Win Over Mets

HARPER HOMERS AS NATS BLOWOUT METS

As a steady rain fell over Citi Field on Saturday night, the Washington Nationals poured runs on the New York Mets the whole night through, winning the third of a four-game series, 10-3.

The Nats reduced their “magic number” to clinch the division to six games over the Braves, and can eliminate them as early as Tuesday.

In the top of the second inning, Bryce Harper (3-for-4, 2 RBI) put the Nationals on the board with a towering home run that came back to earth half way up the upper deck in right field. Ian Desmond (3-for-4, 3 RBI) who walked to reach base, scored on the play as well to give the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 146 Review: Nats Fall Behind Early, Lose Late to Mets

NATS CAN’T COMPLETE COMEBACK, LOST TO METS

In front 25,000 at Citi Field on Friday night, the Washington Nationals fell to the New York Mets 4-3 in a comeback effort that fell just short of a winning mark.

The Mets got things started in the bottom of the first inning, taking advantage of a lead-off single and a hit and walked batter. With the bases loaded and just one out, Travis d’Arnaud doubled to clear the bases. On the play, Lucas Duda appeared to have been thrown out at home, but catcher Wilson Ramos (1-for-4, RBI) couldn’t hang on to the baseball. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 145 Review: Nats Strike Early, Hold Off Mets Late

LAROCHE, RENDON HOMER AS NATS DEFEAT METS

Opening up a three-game series against the New York Mets in Queens, New York, the Washington Nationals got on the scoreboard early and held off the Mets late to take Game 1 of the series, 6-2.

The Nationals got things going early offensively. With Anthony Rendon (3-for-5, 2 RBI) on base with a single, Adam LaRoche (2-for-5, 3 RBI) took a two-out 3-2 pitch off the right field foul pole to give the Nationals an 2-0 lead. For LaRoche, it was his 24th homer of the year and 28th all-time against the Mets, the most homers he’s hit against any team throughout his career. [Read more…]

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