April 25, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 23 Review: Padres scratch one out in 12th to top Nats 4-3

Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals won in their final ups. Thursday night, they could not duplicate the feat.

The San Diego Padres scratched out a run in the top of the 12th inning off reliever Craig Stammen on a single, stolen base, throwing error, and RBI single by a former National, and fell 4-3 as they went 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on base.

The Nats (12-11) broke on top in the third inning. Jordan Zimmermann (6 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K)  singled to lead off, but was erased on Span’s infield grounder. Span then stole second and took third on Stults’ wild pick-off throw to first. Anthony Rendon followed with a high fly ball to medium deep left field, and Span walked home on the sacrifice fly.

The Padres answered in the top of the fourth. With one out, Chris Denorfia singled off Ian Desmond’s glove as the shortstop ranged to his right. Seth Smith followed with a double to the right field corner, which scored Denorfia all the way from first as the relay didn’t quite catch him at the plate.

San Diego got two more in the sixth. Stults led off with a double to the left center gap that Bryce Harper took a bad route on, allowing to go to the wall. Zimmermann got the next two batters, but a walk to Seth Smith allowed Yasmani Grandal to deliver a two-run double to right center.

Danny Espinosa cut the lead in half with one swing in the bottom half. He lined a 3-1 offering from Stults into the third row in straightaway left for his second home run of the season. The Nats put two more on in the inning, but couldn’t push across the tying run.

They did in the seventh.

With one out, Adam LaRoche unloaded on a fastball from Nick Vincent, delivering the ball to the Nats bullpen for his fourth home run of the season, tying the game at three.

The Nats loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but Espinosa popped up to short to end the threat.

Jedd Gyorko singled with one out in the top of the 12th. He stole second, then went to third as Lobaton air mailed his throw down. Predictably, he scored when very-briefly-a Nats Xavier Nady singled back through the box off Stammen (L, 0-1, 4.40).

The Nats got leadoff doubles in both the 10th and 12th innings, but manager Matt Williams elected to not sacrifice bunt them to third. In the 10th, Tim Stauffer struck out three straight to quash the rally. In the 12th, Huston Street (S, 8) struck out Tyler Moore, then got Jose Lobaton to line out to short, and Harper was picked off behind the play to end the game.

The Nats play game the second of the four-game series with the Padres Friday at 7:05. Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 5.33) faces LHP Robbie Erlin (1-2, 4.15).

 

Washington Nationals Game 19 Review: Span Walk-off Sac Fly Earns Nats a Split with Cardinals

A day after the Bryce Harper hustle frenzy, the Washington Nationals created the right kind of drama Sunday afternoon by way of a Denard Span walk-off sacrifice fly to top the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2.

Stephen Strasburg (ND, 1-2) delivered with a solid enough outing to keep the Nats on the Cardinals’ tails. In fact, he allowed just one run until the fifth inning when, on two outs, he walked Peter Bourjos and allowed an RBI double to Shelby Miller to put St. Louis up 2-0.

The Nats pulled Strasburg after six to pinch-hit Zach Walters with two runners on. The strategy produced no runs for Washington, and it sent Strasburg back to the bench with no possibility of a win.

Through 5.1 innings pitched, St. Louis starter Shelby Miller never provided the Nats with an opportunity. Miller tossed 57 of 99 pitches for strikes, allowing no runs on four hits and five walks, while accruing seven strikeouts.

In the seventh, however, the Nats showed signs of life. With one out, Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon hit back-to-back singles off reliever Carlos Martinez. LaRoche came home on a hard-hit single by Ian Desmond, and Rendon scored on a single by Danny Espinosa that tied the game 2-2.

Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins and Rafael Soriano pitched a combined three innings of scoreless baseball in relief, setting the Nationals up for a dramatic ninth inning comeback.

The inning lacked the pomp and circumstance of a one-swing walk off, but at this point in the season, that Nats should take a split with the Cardinals in any possible fashion. With one out, Espinosa and Jose Lobaton singled back-to-back before pinch-hitter Nate McLouth drew a walk to load the bases with Seth Maness on the mound.

After working through six pitches to earn a 2-2 count, Denard Span swung at a 83 MPH changeup to fly deep enough to right to allow Espinosa to score the game-winning run.

With the victory, the Nats take 2-of-4 against the Cardinals. Rafael Soriano earned the Curly W – his first of the season.

 

Washington Nationals Game 3 Review: Roark strong, Zim homers as Nats sweep Mets 8-2

With Jordan Zimmermann, Thursday’s scheduled starter dealing with flu-like symptoms, the Washington Nationals turned to Tanner Roark in the series finale against the New York Mets. Roark turned in a very Zimmermann-like performance, keeping the Mets in check while the offense cruised in an 8-2, sweeping the opening series in easy fashion.

Roark went six innings, allowing six hits and striking out five — including K-ing the side in his last inning of work — to lead the Nats to their third straight win over the overmatched Mets to start the season. It’s undecided as of this posting whether Zimmermann will be strong enough to start the home opener on Friday, but reliever Ross Detwiler pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the game, so perhaps the extra day off will be enough to get Zimmermann well enough to pitch.

The Mets scored off Roark in the bottom of the first. Back-to-back one out singles by Daniel Murphy and David Wright set up first-and-third for Curtis Granderson, who doubled and plated Murphy, but Wright was held at third. After a walk to Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares delivered a sacrifice fly that brought Wright home.

Ryan Zimmerman responded leading off the second with his first home run of the season, a mammoth clout to left center.

The Nats took the lead in the fifth. Sandy Leon, recalled to replace Wilson Ramos after Ramos’ hamate surgery, walked to lead off the frame. He went to second on Roark’s sacrifice, and scored on Denard Span’s single to right field. Curtis Granderson’s throw went through to home, which allowed Span to move up a base, which proved costly to the Mets. Bryce Harper flew out to the track in right center and Span took third, then scored on Jayson Werth’s single to right as the Nats went up 3-2.

The Nats got insurance against the Mets bullpen in the top of the seventh. Scott Hairston led off with a pinch-hit single off lefty Scott Rice. Span moved Hairston up 90 feet with a sacrifice. Harper got his first hit of the game, a smash off Rice’s foot. The Mets called upon Jeurys Familia, and he issued a four-pitch walk to Jayson Werth.

Adam LaRoche’s hard ground ball then kicked off Duda’s glove at first, scoring two runs, Zimmerman followed with his fourth base hit of the game, driving in the Nats’ sixth run of the day. A seventh scored on Ian Desmond’s fielder’s choice grounder when the relay throw skipped past Duda at first.

The Nats got a gift run in the eighth, as LaRoche walked with the bases loaded to force in a run.

Rafael Soriano made his first appearance of the season working a scoreless ninth inning to close out the sweep.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats drop a pair in split-squad games with Braves and Astros

The Washington Nationals had a split-squad day on Wednesday, with half the team travelling to Lake Buena Vista to face the Braves and the rest in Kissimmee taking on the Astros. Unfortunately, the results were similar, as both home teams scored in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Nats.

The group in Disney fell to Atlanta 3-2. Veteran starter Chris Young, trying to resurrect his career, allowed tow earned runs on three hits and a walk, striking out three. He gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning.

The Braves got the winning run in the ninth inning off minor league closer Robert Benincasa. Joe Leonard singles to start the inning, then pinch-runner Jose Peraza stole second and scored on a single by Elmer Reyes.

Denard Span went 2-for-3 with a triple, raising his spring average to .429.

In Kissimmee, the Astros got to lefty Xavier Cedeno for three runs on four hits in the ninth to send the Nats to a 10-9 loss. Cedeno struck out leadoff hitter Gregorio Petit and Jesus Guzman ground out. But Rene Garcia singled to right and Adron Chambers ran for him. Cedeno uncorked a wild pitch, sending Chambers to second. He scored on a Delino DeShields single. Marwin González followed with a double, plating DeShields. Gonzalez scored the winning run on a George Spring single.

Tanner Roark, battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, started. He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks, striking out three, in 3.1 IP. He gave up Jason Castro’s two-run homer in the third inning. Craig Stammen allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits in two innings, striking out four.

Will Rhymes went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, Nate McLouth homered and Mike Fontenot drove in three and scored twice.

 

 

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part II: The Outfield

Jayson Werth high-fives Bryce Harper after gunning out Greg Dobbs in the ninth inning. - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Health and self-preservation are key for the Nats outfield this season. (Stock photo Sept. 2012, Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

Josie’s on a vacation far away…

THE OUTFIELD

Jayson Werth, RF: Werth was a stealth candidate for MVP last season, and actually ended up 13th on the postseason award ballot. The .318/.398/.532 line he posted at age 34 had everything to do with that. Werth enjoyed one of his finest seasons in the bigs, despite missing 33 games due to injury, which has to be expected from the guy at this point in his career. There’s no way he’ll every live up to the immense contract he signed to come to D.C., but when he’s been in the lineup the past two seasons he’s outdone what could have reasonably been expected of him. How long does that production continue? His defense is already slipping greatly and he has four more seasons to his contract, so it becomes an important question as Werth enters the twilight of his solid career.

Denard Span, CF: Trivia: He’s the only player in Major League history by the name of Denard. Or Span. Anyway, Span rescued his season with a torrid seven weeks at the end of the season, which was along the lines of what GM Mike Rizzo expected when he traded pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins for him. Span bottomed out on Aug. 16 at .258/.310/.353, nowhere near what’s necessary in the top spot in the batting order. For the next 39 games, he hit .338/.375/.459, instrumental in the Nats late resurgence. It was too little, too late to save the Nats playoff aspirations, but the Nats have to get more near his career line (.283/.351/.387) on a more consistent basis to make this offense work.

Bryce Harper, LF: Bam Bam put up a .274/.368/.486 line his sophomore season at the age of 20. That’s at once hard to comprehend and easy to overlook. He’s doing remarkable things at such an early age. Unfortunately, he’s his own worst enemy right now with his “balls to the wall” approach at defense. At some point, self-preservation has to take hold. No manager or coach wants to tell Harper to slow down, but he needs to stay on the field – and healthy – to fulfill his promise. After crashing into the wall at Dodgers Stadium in May, he played all season on a knee that required surgery at the conclusion of the season, under the radar while many weren’t paying attention to baseball. He needs to figure out lefties (.214/.327/.321/ in 158 PAs) and breaking balls, but the talent is there. He just needs to stay on the field.

Nate McLouth, OF: Last season was the first time since 2009 McLouth played more than 90 games at the Major League level. His resurgence for the Orioles is nothing short of astounding, considering the trajectory his career was taking. In ’10 and ’11 with Atlanta he hit .190 and .228 with 10 homers combined. His first 34 games with Pittsburgh in ’12 were no better: .140/.210/.175, leading to his release. He rediscovered himself in Baltimore, hitting .26/.342/.435 and .258/.329/.399 the past two years. Now 32, McLouth will see plenty of at bats with the injury-prone Nats outfield and as a late inning pinch-hitter. By default, he becomes the leader of the Goon Squad.

Scott Hairston, Corner OF: Hairston is the right-handed hitting Ying to McLouth’s Yang. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. But Hairston’s overall numbers last year (.191/.237/.414) and age (34) – not to mention his paltry .214/.259/.484 against LHPs, who he’s supposed to “mash” – signal the end is rapidly approaching the once versatile and useful player. It’s true, all 10 of Hairston’s homers last season came against lefties, but as his slash line indicates, it was literally all or nothing for Hairston. 10 of his 27 hits in 140 plate appearances against LHPs were home runs. Against righties? .097/.147/.276. Can this actually be the Nats primary right-handed bat off the bench? With a walk rate of 5 percent and contact rate of 72 percent, this a guy whose skills aren’t declining, they’ve just about evaporated.

Jeff Kobernus, Corner OF: Kobernus made his MLB debut last year at the age of 25, past prospect status. His tryout lasted 36 PAs and resulted in a .167/.306/.267 slash as he played all three outfield positions. Small sample caveats abound, as the converted second baseman held his own in Syracuse, hitting .318/.366/.388, all minor league career highs. You like to see a player whose numbers rise as he goes up the ladder. He’s had 40+ steals each of the past three seasons in the minors and folks love his work ethic. But there’s not a lot of room in the bigs for a right-handed hitting speedster without obvious elite skills and no pop, especially in the outfield.

Eury Perez, CF: Did you see the last sentence I wrote about Kobernus? It applies even more toward Perez. His stolen base numbers have plummeted as he’s risen through the ranks, from 64 to 51 to 23. He’s always made good contact, as his lifetime .305 average will attest to. But there’s no power, less willingness to walk, and he’s only an average defender despite his speed – though he has a decent arm. Perez is destined for pinch runner/Quad-A status.

Steven Souza, Corner OF: Souza was a third round pick in 2007 out of high school, so he’s been in the system for-e-ver, toiling first in anonymity, then infamously due to his PED suspension in 2010. But Souza has blossomed a little bit the past two seasons and put himself back on the radar of the big club. He has an interesting pop/speed combo (15 homers, 20 SBs in 323 PAs for Harrisburg in ’13) with good plate discipline (.396 OBP) and had a nice appearance in the Arizona Fall League in October. The 25-year-old could have a chance to impact the big roster yet.

Brian Goodwin, CF: Goodwin is the heir apparent to the center field position at Nats Park. The 34th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Goodwin has an impressive arsenal of tools. He possess elite plate discipline, something that might actually hurt his counting numbers in the minor leagues, as he simply won’t expand his strike zone for inferior pitchers. When he does swing, he has a nice blend of pop to go along with squaring up on the ball. Goodwin is a fine defender in center, though his arm isn’t the greatest, and he’s still learning to use his speed on the bases (just 19 of 30 last season). He struggled at the start of last season in Double-A, but picked up as the season went on. There’s plenty of time for the 23-year old as Span plays in his walk year this season (barring Nats picking up Span’s $9M option for ’15).

Michael Taylor, OF: Scouts have been drooling over Taylor’s athleticism since being drafted in the sixth round of the ’09 draft. Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s never really been able to translate all that athletic ability into production on the baseball field. He’s still young (23 in March), so he’s got time to “put it together”, but in over 1600 minor league at bats, Taylor owns a .249/.319/.399 slash. He repeated High-A last season and tore it up on the base paths (51 of 60 on steals) and his slash went up a little bit across the board. Double-A this year will tell the story of whether he’s a baseball player or athlete.

Washington Nationals Game 161 Review: Haren’s gem leads Nats over D-backs

Dan Haren’s performance was one of the biggest disappointments of the first half of the season for the Washington Nationals. Since returning from the disabled list mid-season, he’s been more of the pitcher they thought he would be. The Nats dug themselves too deep a hole to climb out of, and Haren’s second half performance ended up too little, too late.

Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Haren had another terrific performance, holding the D-Back to four hits over seven innings, leading the Nats to a 2-0 win, ensuring that manager Davey Johnson finishes his Major League managing career at least 300 games over .500.

Haren walked one and struck out five, using the same formula that has led him to post a 3.28 ERA since July 8, the day he was activated from the D.L.

The Nats couldn’t do much off Arizona starter Brandon McCarthy, but it was just enough, scoring single runs in the sixth and seventh innings.  Denard Span tripled to lead off the sixth and came in on Ryan Zimmerman’s ground out to short. The next inning, Chad Tracy launched his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot, to cap the scoring.

Drew Storen pitched a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout, and though Rafael Soriano made things interesting in the ninth, allowing a walk and a hit, he got the job done, earning his 43rd save of the season.

THE GOOD: Tracy went 2-for-3 with the homer, raising his season batting average to .202.

THE BAD: Ian Desmond went 0-for-4.

THE UGLY: We’ll refrain.

THE STATS: 6 hits, 3 BBs, 4 Ks. 0-for-4 with RISP, 7 LOB. No errors or DPs.

NEXT GAME: Sunday at 4:10 pm ET against the Diamondbacks. Tanner Roark (7-1, 1.74) faces LHP Wade Miley (10-10, 3.63).

Washington Nationals Game 154 Review: Zimmermann stellar in Nats win; Reds forfeit no ground

Jordan Zimmermann tossed a no-hitter until the sixth inning to carry the Washington Nationals to a dominant 8-0 victory over the Miami Marlins, but the Nats gained no ground in the NL Wild Card hunt Friday night.

Instead, they are five games back with just eight left to play.

The odds of Washington sneaking into a playoff spot are very slim, but you wouldn’t know it by the way the Nats are playing as of late. Since Aug. 9, they are riding a 29-11 record and, in their last 15 games played, the Nats are 12-3.

Marlins starter Jacob Turner (L, 3-8) kept the Nats’ bats quiet until the sixth. In the inning, Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back singles before Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper followed up with back-to-back doubles to bat in three runs.

Ian Desmond hit a grounder for the first out before Adam LaRoche walked and the Marlins called in Chris Hatcher to replace Turner. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 151: Roark stellar as Nats take doubleheader vs. Braves

The Washington Nationals are all but written out of NL Wild Card contention, but if the stars over Cincinnati should align themselves just right over the next week, this team may very well finish out the season doing everything it can to make its way back into the hunt.

With the Reds holding onto a 4 ½ game lead for the second spot in the NL Wild Card, the Nats face a daunting elimination number of just seven – meaning that any combination of Reds’ wins and Nats’ losses amounting to seven in the next 11 games would cost D.C. a playoff spot.

Nevertheless, the latest victory penned by the Nats came Tuesday night, in Game 2 of a day-night doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. The leader of the charge was none other than starter Tanner Roark, who, with his seventh win, brought his ERA to an astounding 1.08 after tossing seven shutout innings of two-hit ball.

Unlike the case of their blown lead – and subsequent rally – in Game 1 of the doubleheader, in Game 2, the Nats eased in front of Atlanta starter Freddy Garcia and never looked back. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 150 Review: Nats walk off against Kimbrel to take Game 1 of doubleheader

In a game postponed to Tuesday afternoon due to Monday’s horrific tragedy at Navy Yard, the Washington Nationals brought baseball back to the District in an incredible 6-5 walk-off win over the Atlanta Braves in Game One of a day-night doubleheader.

If the newly returned 60-degree weather didn’t stir up nostalgia for October baseball, the Nats’ fight to overcome a blown lead against one of the League’s most dominant closers served as a reminder that Washington’s boys of summer are down, but not out.

At least, not officially.

With the Game One win, the Nats sit 4 ½ games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, trailing the Cincinnati Reds, who face Houston tonight.

Come hell or high water, there is baseball left to be played in D.C.

A day on which the words, “Let’s play ball” were preceded by a stirring moment of silence to honor the victims of the lives lost just blocks away from Nationals Park, the Nats did what little they could to return a piece of normality back to the capital.

With 3.1 percent odds to make it into the playoffs, the Nats started Tuesday’s game with a three-run advantage against Atlanta starter Michael Minor. After Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman drew back-to-back walks, Jayson Werth doubled and Bryce Harper hit an RBI grounder. Then, Adam LaRoche singled home Werth before the third out was recorded. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 148 Review: Nats fall short to Phillies; back to 5 ½ games out of NL Wild Card

The Washington Nationals can’t expect to sweep the remainder of the season, but each and every loss places the NL Wild Card  further from view.

Saturday night’s 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies was no doubt hard for the Nats to swallow. Trailing by four runs into the seventh, the Nats came back to within one run of tying but came up empty in a game against a team that has been playing sub-par baseball for quite some time.

Gio Gonzalez (L, 10-7) was in control until the fifth inning rolled around. Before that point, the Nats had recorded the game’s only run – in the first on a single by Denard Span, a walk to Ryan Zimmerman and a sacrifice fly by Jayson Werth off starter Cole Hamels.

In the fifth, however, the Phillies came to life. With one out, John Mayberry homered to left center to quickly tie the game. Hamels and Cesar Hernandez each followed up with a single before Chase Utley walked and Carlos Ruis doubled in three runs.

Ian Krol came in to pitch for Gonzalez in the seventh, but allowed a double to Jimmy Rollins and a single to Utley before Davey Johnson quickly called upon Erik Davis. Davis retired the next two batters before allowing a ground-rule double Cody Asche. He did, however, force Freddy Galvis to line to Tyler Moore at first to end the inning without allowing another run to score.

In the seventh, it appeared the Nats were going to make a run to retake the lead. [Read more...]

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