April 17, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 12 Review: Nats blasted by Braves 10-2

The Washington Nationals would just as soon forget about the past weekend and get the heck out of Atlanta.

For the third day in a row, the Atlanta Braves took charge early and knocked off the visiting Nats. On Sunday, the Braves scored six run off Gio Gonzalez in the first two innings and cruised to a 10-2 win.

Gonzalez (L, 2-1, 3.50) gave up six earned runs on nine hits and four walks, striking out six. Atlanta scored three runs in both the first and second innings, including Justin Upton’s fourth home run of the season in the first inning, and Freddie Freeman’s fourth of the season in the second. Upton went 8-for-10 with two homers and five RBIs in the three-game sweep.

Gonzalez gutted out another four innings, going six total. Ross Detwiler took over in the seventh, and promptly allowed four more runs — through just two were earned — on two hits and a walk, and Andrelton Simmons’ first homer of the season.

The Nats got a run in the fifth inning. Kevin Frandsen doubled to lead off, took third on Danny Espinosa’s bunt single, and scored on Jose Lobaton’s ground out.

Adam LaRoche homered in the ninth inning off reliever Gus Schlosser.

The Nats move to Miami to face the Marlins on Monday. Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.10) takes on Brad Hand (0-0, 3.24) at 7:10 pm.

Washington Nationals Game 7 Review: Nats blank Miami in series opener 5-0

The Miami Marlins came into this three-game series with the Washington Nationals in unfamiliar territory of late: first place. The Marlins 5-2 record to start the season was surprising, but the Nats showed Miami that there’s more to the season than two series, as Gio Gonzalez dominated for six innings, Adam LaRoche went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs, Anthony Rendon drove in three, and the Nats cruised to a 5-0 win before 21,728 at Nationals Park.

The Nats got to Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez in the bottom of the first. With two outs, Jayson Werth doubled to the left center gap and scored on LaRoche’s single. LaRoche forced the cutoff, allowing Werth to score, and was thrown out 7-5-3.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez was busy retiring Marlins, but having to work for it. In the second, he gave up a bunt single to Garrett Jones against a heavy shift, and walked Marcell Ozuna with one out. Gonzalez buckled down ad retired Reed Johnson and Alvarez to get out of the trouble. Gonzalez needed 59 pitches to get through three scoreless innings.

While Gonzalez was sitting down Marlins, Alvarez matched him out for out. After Danny Espinosa’s bunt single in the second, Alvarez retired 11 of the next 12 Nats batters, allowing a walk to LaRoche in the fourth, but nothing else.

But with one out in the sixth, Bryce Harper singled the other way and went to third on LaRoche’s single. Alvarez uncorked a wild pitch, allowing LaRoche to move up to second (barely) and after second baseman Jeff Baker bobbled the throw, Harper sprinted home with the Nats second run of the night.

LaRoche moved up to third on a wild pitch — which was ball four to Ian Desmond — and Anthony Rendon followed with a single as LaRoche walked home with run No. 3, chasing Alvarez.

Jerry Blevins and Drew Storen combined for a scoreless seventh and Tyler Clippard dominated with two strikeouts in the eighth, including a splitter that Giancarlo Stanton swung right over.

Rendon’s two-run double in the bottom of the eighth with Werth and LaRoche aboard iced it.

Aaron Barrett got the last three outs to send everyone home happy with the shutout.

 

 

Washington Nationals Game 2 Review: Gio paves the way against the Mets

Gio Gonzalez couldn’t have had a better day.

The left-hander allowed a single run on three hits, striking out six, and homered in his first start of 2014, leading the Washington Nationals to a 5-1 win over the New York Mets at Citifield.

Gonzalez (W, 1-0, 1.50) was exceptionally sharp, throwing 60 of his 91 pitches for strikes. The only Mets hitter to have any success was outfielder Juan Lagares, who doubled and tripled for two of the Mets’ three hits.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez’ homer in the fifth inning came off of Bartolo Colon, making his Mets debut (3 ER on 9 hits).

The Nats pounded out 13 hits in total. Jayson Werth went 4-for-5 on the day, while Denard Span and Anthony Rendon, hitting 1-2 in the order, both had a pair of hits. Span scored twice. Ian Desmond homered in the fifth against Colon as well.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen each threw a scoreless inning of relief. Storen and Stammen struck out two apiece and Clippard K’d the side while walking one.

About the only negative on the day was Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing error.

The Nationals finish off their opening series against the Mets on Thursday at 1:10 pm. Jordan Zimmermann looks to follow up his 19-win season against Zack Wheeler.

Washington Nationals 2014 “Natosphere” Preseason Survey

HAPPY OPENING DAY!

For the past several seasons, the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (DC-IBWA) has conducted a preseason survey, asking questions to key Washington Nationals issues and seeking predictions for season statistical leaders. You can find this year’s results here. Below is how our staff answered the tough questions.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs?

DAVE NICHOLS (Editor-in-Chief): Bryce Harper. Hopefully Harper stays healthy, lays off the breaking stuff, and is passable against lefties.

RYAN KELLEY (Prospects and scouting): Harper’s left-handed power is the best on a team with plenty of pop. In his early 20′s he’s put together a career .209 ISO during his first two MLB seasons, and there’s plenty more power to come. He also showed up to spring training with more muscle in his frame. If he stays healthy he could hit 30+ bombs, and even 40 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict.

STUART WALLACE (Statistical analysis): Bryce Harper.

CHRIS GAROSI (Fantasy): Harper. A full healthy season sees him approach 30 homers.

ALYSSA WOLICE (Beat writer): It’s no secret that last season Jayson Werth edged Bryce Harper for D.C.’s home run crown with 25 total home runs. But the sophomore battled injuries for the greater portion of the year. And, his new stature makes evident the fact he’s had a productive offseason. Critics – or, pessimists, rather – say Harper’s weight gain could adversely affect his swing. But, I’m not buying it. If he can remain healthy, Harper will certainly lead the Nats in home runs – and, perhaps, he’ll even make a run for the 40-mark.

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?
DN:  Harper. If he hits fourth the bulk of the season he’ll have the best opportunity to lead the team in RBIs batting behind Rendon and Zimmerman. At least, in a perfect world that’s how it works out.
RK: Ryan Zimmerman. Lineup spot plays a direct part in determining totals. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman are generally guys that stay closest to the middle of the lineup, and furthest from the leadoff spot. LaRoche will sit against some lefties this year though, and he looked punchless for much of last season.
Zimmerman has plenty of power and is a good hitter, but if Williams decides to spread his lefties out, there’s an outside shot Ryan could be pushed away from the RBI spots. He’s also a guy that will lose games to injuries every year. Harper has the most pop, but he’s young and he was owned by southpaws last year. So, I guess I’ll gamble and go with Ryan Zimmerman. He’s a good bet to be in the either the 3-hole, clean-up spot, or 5th spot in the lineup consistently and he’s a good balance of power, discipline and hitting ability–though his bat wrapping makes his swing very long.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Harper. If he keeps hitting fifth he’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in Werth and Zim.
AW: Ian Desmond. Last season, the star shortstop knocked in 80 runs – just two shy of Jayson Werth. And, while Werth posted some of the best numbers of his career in 2013, Desmond has the advantage of relative youth. In fact, Desmond has batted in more runs year after year, and I would bank on that trend continuing, at least for 2014.
3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?
DN: Denard Span. If spring training taught us anything, it’s that new skipper Matt Williams wants to be aggressive on the basepaths. I expect Span will be running a lot this season.
RK:  The Nats don’t have much speed. Supposedly, first-year skipper Matt Williams will run the team on the bases more aggressively than Davey did, but judging by the player he himself was — and the juiced-up era he learned to play MLB baseball in — it’s hard for me to envision the offense putting a lot of emphasis on stolen bases.
Harper, Span and Desmond have some speed, while McLouth is a heady baserunner, but none of them are truly plus runners. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d say Desmond, who is the best mix of aggression, veteran instincts and raw speed. His workload also means he’ll get plenty of chances. But if Eury Perez gets extensive playing time, that’ll be the guy.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Ian Desmond.
AW: Denard Span. Sure, Span had a less-than-stellar 2013 season. But if spring training can produce only one thing, it’s promise. And, Span gave plenty of reasons to hope for improvement this season. But of course, in order for Span to rack up the stolen base total for Washington, he’ll have to fine-tune his approach at the plate to avoid repeating last season’s .327 OBP.
4) Who will lead the staff in wins?
DN:  Stephen Strasburg. This is his year to put up 200+ innings and show he’s the workhorse of the staff he’s always said he wants to be. His stuff is downright nasty, he has a mean streak on the mound, and he’ll be working to a decent pair of catchers really for the first time in his career.
RK:  Jordan Zimmermann. I really like JZ, he’s an outstanding pitcher and one of the most underrated guys in baseball-even now that he’s gotten his money. His approach to pitching and demeanor are very similar to Mike Mussina, and statistically, he’s a similarly productive — and overlooked — player. He led the NL in wins last year with 19, and his 4.03 K/BB ratio was seventh in the league and tops among returning members of the staff. Considering he’s this talented, and he’ll get plenty of favorable match-ups in the middle of the rotation, JZ is the safe bet.
SW: Stephen Strasburg.
CG: Jordan Zimmermann.
AW: I’m finally going to write what I’ve been long hoping to write: I think this season will be Stephen Strasburg’s breakout year. Fans have every reason to believe he will emerge better than ever before, now that he’s had the bone chips in his elbow taken care of. Now that the birth of his daughter has provided Strasburg with a new perspective on life, I think he’ll approach each start with a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Add to that, one can only hope Strasburg’s newly acquired slider will create even more frustrations for opposing batters. That’s not to say Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez won’t challenge Strasburg for most wins. But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Strasburg could reach 20 wins this year, provided he remains healthy and garners the run support he lacked last season.
5) How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?
DN:  25 or so. I think Zimmerman will get a handful of starts against lefties and get moved around a handful of times late in games when LaRoche gets pinch-hit for against LOOGYs. I think the Nats will resist the temptation of moving him over to first full-time until next year, but it’s coming. His throwing looked no better in spring training than it did for much of last season. It’s a shame that Zim and Espinosa both wrecked their careers (Zim defensively, Epsi offensively) playing through injury in 2012 in pursuit of a pennant.
RK:  10-15. It could certainly be more depending on how well LaRoche and Espinosa play against southpaws, but I don’t think the Nats will put him there too often so they can avoid raising discussion about him getting unseated there so early. Personally though, I don’t think Rendon plays like a long-term second basemen, and he looks much better at third. Espinosa’s value lays in the fact that he’s a middle infielder with plus defense and pop. So, it’s not a bad idea to get Zimmerman reps at first, especially because his third base defense has regressed to average, largely due to his throwing issues.
SW: 55.
CG: 45.
AW: I’ll give Zimmerman a dozen starts at first base, and 30 total games in which he makes an appearance on the right corner of the infield. I think it’s pretty clear the Nats are interested in having Zim switch corners, at least for curiosity’s sake. And, Matt Williams has already hinted that the star third baseman could be called upon to cover first in double-switch scenarios and the like – anything causing Adam LaRoche to be pulled from the game. Of course, if Zimmerman’s shoulder starts to show signs of wear and tear – or if Adam LaRoche misses significant playing time for any reason – that number could rise tremendously. But, assuming neither of those situations occur, I’d say Zimmerman makes an appearance covering first base a maximum of 30 games.
6) Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?
DN:  Taylor Jordan. I think he’s got the better long-term package to succeed out of this group. But they’re all just a place-holders really until Giolito and Cole are ready. By then, though, one of those might be replacing Jordan Zimmermann, who it seems more and more likely that he’ll test the free agent waters.
RK:  Tanner Roark. Taylor Jordan is the best pitcher of the four, but he’s also the youngest and still isn’t that far removed from TJ surgery. Long-term Jordan is a more fundamental member of the rotation, but there isn’t enough need to push him now with options ahead of him. The organization really likes Roark, and though I have my doubts about his feel and the depth of his repertoire, he does have good command of a 94 mph fastball and has a very high floor. Ultimately, he still may be best suited for the bullpen, where he’d be very good in a Craig Stammen role or even as a closer.
SW: Jordan.
CG: Tanner Roark – He’s got more upper minor league experience. I think Jordan heads back to the minors once Fister is healthy.
AW: I’m going to take what we saw of Tanner Roark and run with it and say he earns the most starts with Washington of the four. That’s assuming he posts numbers that come even remotely close to his hard-to-believe 1.51 ERA and 7-1 record from last season. Do I think he’s going to post a sub-2.00 ERA again? Not at all. But, if he can maintain good movement on his sinker and approach the upcoming season with confidence, I think he’ll earn a bit of time in the rotation, particularly if Doug Fister struggles to return to good health.
7) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll (Survey went out well before Carroll was released or Kevin Frandsen was added to roster)?
DN:  Obviously, the answer is Espinosa by default. But I’m very skeptical that Espinosa will contribute anything with the bat again this year. His two-homer game in spring training aside, he continued to look lousy at the plate in Florida despite cutting down his swing a bit. I just don’t think he has the power in his shoulder to generate MLB bat speed anymore.
RK:  Danny Espinosa. Carroll is insurance, at most. He didn’t look so “ageless” (what so many people refer to him as) last year when he hit .211/.267/.251, and he looked old this spring. The Nats want to see what they can get out of Espinosa, even in a bench role. And at the very least, they’ll showcase his skills enough to trade him at a better price when the market is hungrier.
SW: Espi (but this question is moot. He will get more ABs than Frandsen also).
CG: Danny Espinosa – I assume he’ll play at least one.
AW: The burning joke to make here would be to vote for Jamey Carroll, despite the Nationals’ recent decision to release the 40-year-old infielder. But, all burns aside, I think Danny Espinosa would have earned more at-bats, regardless. Call me an optimist but, I’d like to hope Espinosa has made enough improvements at the plate to make him a considerable option for the Nats’ reserves. I wouldn’t necessarily imply he might be a first- or second-choice in a pinch-hitting situation. But, injuries plague every team, and the optimist in me says that, should the opportunity for a second chance arise, Espinosa could deliver. After all, numbers aside, Espinosa has something to prove – perhaps more than any other player who could find himself on the Nationals’ bench this season.
8) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?
DN:  Hard not to say Giolito. Scouts are drooling all over the kid. Big fastball, two more plus offerings. Great makeup. This season will be his first full year after TJ surgery, so look for pitch counts and about 160 innings out of him. Next season, the training wheels come off.

RK:  Drew Ward. I really like Ward, and see him as a solid bet to be a Hank Blalock-type third baseman, and even if he moves to the outfield, his bat is good enough to be a slugging right fielder with plus on-base percentages like Geoff Jenkins or even J.D. Drew. But there’s considerable risk here, and his background is a throwback to when farm boys used to populate minor league circuits playing on hay-covered dust.

Ward played on a very rural circuit in high school, and while he looked good against stronger competition, he rarely had the chance to swing against high 80′s heat and advanced breaking pitches. His first taste of the pro’s was promising, as he hit .292/.402/.387 in the GCL. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays a level higher in 2014. If not for his playing on such a rural circuit, and him not graduating early, Ward would’ve likely been a top-20 draft pick this coming June.
SW: AJ Cole
CG: Zach Walters. He could be a very important piece if the Nats have to move Zimmerman to first base sooner than later.
AW: I’m most interested in seeing what becomes of RHP A.J. Cole this season. For starters, I’m interested to see how Cole works his way up the ranks after being reacquired by the Nats (he was dealt to the Oakland A’s in the Gio Gonzalez deal). I wouldn’t necessarily say Cole will be the Nats’ star prospect this season – that title could very well fall to Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole or Brian Goodwin. But, the Nats, no doubt, have seen something in Cole who, after struggling with the A’s High-A team in 2012, posted strong number fors the Nats’ Double-A Harrisburg. In seven starts last season, Cole recorded a 2.18 ERA and a 4-2 record with Harrisburg. And, if he can improve his curveball a bit, he could really garner some attention, wherever he finds himself in the Nats’ organization this season.
9) Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?
DN:  Sammy Solis is the easy answer. He’ll be one of the first recalled if the Nats need a pitcher of any sort. Cole is next, with Giolito in close pursuit. Purke has a long way to go to prove he belongs in this discussion anymore.

RK:  Giolio’s age, recent recovery from elbow surgery and ceiling means he has no chance this year. Purke’s injury-laden resume and struggles this spring make him a long shot, even despite his contract, notoriety and left-handedness. So, that leaves Cole and Solis. Cole has more upside, with a premium heater, plus fastball command and nice athleticism, and he’s very polished for his age. He’s one of the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball in my opinion. Solis is older, craftier and more MLB-ready. He’s also left-handed, a skill that puts him right behind Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler on the team’s depth chart. So, either one of these guys.

I think Solis might get a shot in the ‘pen as soon as someone goes down with injury, so it’ll be him first. But if any of the team’s big name starters goes down for extended time, and if Jordan or Roark don’t live up to expectations, then the organization will be more than happy to start Cole’s arbitration clock early.
SW: AJ Cole.
CG: AJ Cole.
AW: I’m going to go with LHP Sammy Solis on this one, if only because Lucas Giolito will require a bit of time to earn his way up the ranks – and prove his ability to stay healthy. Giolito’s pitching repertoire is downright impressive – he boasts a nasty curveball and a top-notch changeup – but, he’s battled with his fair share of inactivity as the result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
10) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Whom?
DN: Two: Harper and Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann will have a tough time replicating his first half last season, just because it was so damn good. And I have a bit of worry about Gio this year.
RK:  Four. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are almost locks if they’re healthy. Not only are they elite-level players at their positions, but they’re fan-favorites and high fantasy picks. I know Desmond got snubbed last year, but there was enough hubbub about it that I don’t think the Washington area’s massive market will let that happen if the team lives up to expectations this year. Plus, Tulo and Hanley are both very injury prone.
Stephen Strasburg is a lock if he’s healthy (knock knock), so that’s 3, and it’s hard to believe that one of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard won’t make it. So that’s four, almost definitely. Wilson Ramos has star-level talent, and has produced when healthy — he just needs to stay healthy. And then Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth also have good chance, and it’s not like Storen, Fister and Rendon don’t have the chops. So I think it’ll be four, But, it could certainly be five, and six isn’t too crazy if the team wins and grabs the spotlight.
SW: 4 – Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, JZimmermann.
CG: Two — Bryce Harper and Tyler Clippard.
AW: Three: Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg
11) Total wins and what place in the division?
DN:  90 wins, first place. With all the injuries to Atlanta’s pitching staff, the Nats will win the division by default, and I believe the N.L. East is the worst division in baseball now due to the Braves plight. The Phillies are falling apart due to age, the Mets are a couple years away and the Marlins just have so very little big league talent right now, despite a couple of very good pitchers.

RK:  95 wins, 1st place. Matt Williams’ managerial resume is pretty light, so he’s a bit of a wildcard no matter what kind of player he was. With that said, I think the Nationals are the MLB’s best bet for first place.

Besides Atlanta, the Nats’ division is weak and their balanced roster is overflowing with All-Star talent. The team transformed into a winner in 2012, and while they had a sophomore slump in 2013, the franchise’s studs–Harper, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio– are now entering their primes and their leaders–Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth–are hungrier than ever for a World Series.
After the front office neglected their need for left-handed pitching and power last year, they did a great job addressing it this offseason. Now, the club not only looks supremely talented, but supremely balanced. Rafael Soriano as the closer looks like the lone weak spot, but the team has enough bullpen talent between Clippard, Storen, Stammen and Detwiler that this issue isn’t troubling. Their run differential could approach a full run per game if they’re well managed, so they could bring home as many as 100 wins and be one of the most dominant teams since the ’98 Yankees. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The rotation is gifted but somewhat fragile and every big league season brings plenty of disappointment.
SW: 91-71; 1st
CG: 89 wins, first in N.L. East.
AW: With the Philadelphia Phillies all but defunct and the Atlanta Braves coping with serious injuries before the season’s first pitch, I say the Nationals absolutely have to win the NL East this season. I’ll give them 96 total wins to edge the Braves, who will likely enjoy a bit of a revival in the second half of the season.
Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?
DN:  Ryan Zimmerman’s defense, in conjunction with Adam LaRoche’s offense. Ryan Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise. He’s signed through 2019. He could outlast all of Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and Harper. His bat is better at third than it would be at first base, but if he can’t get his defense sorted out — and it’s more than just the throwing at this point — he’s going to have to be moved.
LaRoche is essentially a platoon player at this stage in his career. Granted, it’s the side of the platoon where he’ll see the bulk of at bats. He’s never been good at hitting lefties, but last year he was down-right atrocious. The Nats can’t afford that type of production from their first base position. LaRoche is still decent in the field, but not as great as people in this market seem to think. If LaRoche doesn’t show signs of bouncing back early in the year, it’s a bad sign and will force the Nats into shuffling things around.

RK:  Wilson Ramos and the team’s catching. Ramos has shown All-Star-level ability, with outstanding power for a catcher, a strong arm and the ability to keep the ball in front of him. Injuries have been his downfall, and it’s what forced Davey Johnson to give a rundown and weak-swinging Kurt Suzuki so many starts over the previous two years. In Ramos’ absence, Suzuki proved not only to hurt the team with his poor pitch-framing, but he didn’t make opposing base-stealers hesitate before going for second base–not one bit–and his 70 wRC+ during his time in Washington means he was horrific with the bat.

Ramos is being handed the reigns to one of the most gifted rotations the game has every seen–and certainly the most valuable. He too is young, and his job comes with plenty of pressure. Even with Jose Lobaton added to the team as both the back-up and injury insurance, the weight still falls heavily on Ramos’ shoulders. For this team to live up to it’s potential, he’ll have to catch 100 games this season and be a stud both in the box and behind the plate.
Can he frame pitches well enough to keep the pitch counts down for fragile guys like Strasburg, Gio and max-effort Tyler Clippard, whom all have exhausting mechanics? Can he get Jordan Zimmermann and Rafael Soriano strike calls while they live on the edges of the zone? After his ACL and hamstring injuries, can he still block the plate well enough to keep the staff’s young guns confident in their premium breaking stuff? And can he get out of his crouch quick enough to slow down base stealers despite a so-so career 27% CS%?
Ramos has a hefty amount of responsibility. He could step up the the plate and flourish, establishing himself as a star, or it could certainly be more disappointment for him. But the team really needs him to play his best. Because even if Lobaton is a solid game caller and receiver, he’s not a first-tier catcher like Ramos is. And after him, the organization has little beyond glove-only Sandy Leon and a few bullpen catchers.
SW: The most important development of the season for the Nats will be the maturation and continued development of Anthony Rendon, both at the plate and as a utility player. Possessing one of the more impressive and advanced hit tools for a player his age, continued seasoning from MLB plate appearances will further hone his contact rate, his understanding of the strike zone and how opposing pitchers will handle him, which will only improve his offensive stock. A full return to health after being a little banged up last season will also add to his performance.
However, the biggest piece of the puzzle for Rendon will be in the field, as he continues to learn how to play 2B at the major league level, while also retaining his above average skills at his natural position of 3B. Given the merry-go-round of players and their positions in the infield with Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa as well as Rendon all looking at new positions part-time or otherwise, it will be up to Rendon to provide a precociously steady influence at both second and third for the other two to have successful transitions. The hitting will always be there, but health and fielding from the young Texan will play an enormous role in the overall success of the bottom half of the batting order and the team’s defense.
AW: Saying the bench should be the Nationals’ single-most important development this season might not fire up fans. But, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be item No. 1 on the Nationals “must-fix” list. Washington boasted some of the league’s best pitching last season, and came up with absolutely no run support to swing the win-loss column in their favor. With the addition of Nate McLouth and the lingering hope that Danny Espinosa could show at least marginal improvement, one would hope Washington will perform better in clutch situations this year.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part IV: The Rotation

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg pitched five innings and earned his fourth win, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg delivers in May 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.

THE ROTATION

Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Some will look at his W-L record last year and decry Strasburg a bust. Au contraire. His ERA went down as his innings went up. His hit rate went down and his walk rate remained steady. He traded a few Ks for more ground balls (from 44% in ’12 to 52% in ’13), though he struck out just six fewer in 24 more innings, and his homer per fly ball rate stayed level. He’s the very definition of elite skills and getting better with age. This could be the season he puts it all together – dominance with patience, pitching not throwing, winning and leading a top-rate pitching staff. The only thing he needs now is to eclipse the 200 inning mark to finally establish him at the top of the hill, if you pardon the pun.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP: Gonzalez’ ’13 season wasn’t nearly as good as his breakout ’13, but so what? It’s not like he fell off a cliff. His ERA jumped 0.40, but that can largely be attributed to his home run rate popping back up to his career norm. It’s all about limited walks with Gonzalez, and he held the gains he made in ’13 when he came over to the N.L. He takes the ball every fifth day and has done the same job for the past three seasons. He’s as dependable an asset in the big leagues as there is in the game right now. It might not be upper-level, top-five-in-the-game elite production, but he’d be the staff ace on a LOT of big league teams.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP: Zimmermann was the same pitcher last season as he’d been for the previous two, only this time he was the beneficiary of league average run production and his win total exploded to lead the N.L. and garner enough Cy Young votes to finish seventh. Zimmermann had a rough July (7.18 ERA in five starts) but bounced back to post a 3.36 ERA the rest of the way. His walk rate (1.7 per nine) is elite and there are more Ks there if he wants them. But he’s steadily excellent as he is. He is scheduled to hit free agency following the ’15 season (as is Desmond), and he’s going to be expensive to sign to a long-term deal, as he’s already stated in the media he won’t settle for a “hometown” discount.

Doug Fister, RHP: Acquired in December from the Tigers for INF Steve Lombardozzi and LHP Robbie Ray, Fister has toiled mostly in anonymity for most of his career, first in Seattle, then in Motown. But Fister’s main skills are hardly those of a second fiddle. Fister is a command and control specialist who generates a ton of ground balls, almost never gives up home runs (0.6 per nine) and possesses an elite K/BB ratio. Fister should thrive in front of a defense that, while not quite elite itself, is far and above what he’s been used to in Detroit. He’s the No. 4 in D.C. only by default.

Ross Detwiler, LHP: Detwiler will be given the first opportunity to claim the No. 5 starter spot in Spring Training. The Nats would love to have a second lefty in the rotation, but it all depends on if Detwiler, not young anymore at 27, can stay healthy and show the gains he made in ’12 were real. His K rate, which has never been all that good, plummeted last season to 4.9 per nine innings, even though his walk rate was down too. The hip injury of two years ago robbed him of several miles an hour off the fastball, and he dealt with back and neck problems all last season. It’s incredible the amount of injuries this guy has gone through, but none to his arm. A move to the pen might help with velocity and longevity.

Taylor Jordan, RHP: Jordan took everyone by surprise last season, called up for an emergency start or two and ended up sticking around for nine starts to a 3.66 ERA and 1.355 WHIP. He’s another ground ball specialist with good control and middling strikeout rates, so he has a limited ceiling. But he certainly had the look of a big leaguer last season.

Tanner Roark, RHP: Ready for a stat? Roark threw 141 sliders to right handed hitters last season. The number of hits he gave up on that pitch: 0. As in zero. Roark is already 27, so the former 25th round pick is making up for lost time, but in 14 games and five starts he went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. That’s silly. He’s not going to repeat those numbers, obviously, but he’s stingy with free passes and keeps the ball on the ground. Noticing a pattern?

Ross Ohlendorf, RHP: Ohlendorf, he of the old-timey windup, resurrected his career last season. After consecutive years of ERAs over 7.50, Ohlendorf was probably on his last big league chance. He practically ditched his slider and relied on several different fastballs, changing speeds and locations enough to keep hitter honest most of the time. His “stuff” doesn’t compare to most of the arms the Nats have on staff, but he survived on the edges and got himself another shot this season. Is willing to work from rotation or pen and won’t be overwhelmed if the Nats have to plug him into any one of a variety of roles.

Sammy Solis, LHP: Solis, now 25, returned from Tommy John surgery to make 13 starts last season between the Gulf Coast league and Potomac. He was considered a fast riser with middle ceiling when drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, so Solis will need to show very quickly at Harrisburg to regain the luster of a mid-rotation starter. If not, look for the Nats to quickly convert him into a bullpen arm, a role that he could enjoy a long, healthy MLB career at. It’s all up to his K/9, which took a hit last year in the first year back after surgery.

A.J. Cole, RHP: Mike Rizzo loves A.J. Cole. He drafted him in the fourth round in 2010, traded him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, then traded back for him in the Michael Morse trade. Cole was okay at the start of the year in Potomac last season, but really took off upon his promotion to Harrisburg, where in seven starts he went 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 0.904 WHIP and 4.90 K/BB ratio. If Cole can get his breaking ball on par with his big, heavy fastball and MLB-average change, he could challenge for the rotation in 2015.

Matt Purke, LHP: Purke is still young, just 23. But he’s only made 21 starts in the past two seasons while dealing with the same impingement in his shoulder that cost him his last year at TCU and a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Purke’s issue is a lot like Detwiler, a cross-body action with his arm that generates a lot of torque, which in turn causes body parts to revolt and destruct. His fastball and changeup are both fringy right now and he needs innings to prove he’s still worth the effort, but it looks more and more like the Nats $4 million gamble on him in the third round of the 2011 draft will end up bust.

Chris Young, RHP: The 6’10″ Young didn’t pitch in the Majors last season. Shoot, he hardly pitched at all, making just nine starts in the minors, including seven in Syracuse, where he went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA and almost walked as many (3.9 per nine) as struck out (4.5 per nine). So why is he listed here? I’m not sure. The Nats invited him to Spring Training again and since he’s a MLB veteran I’m giving him all due respect by listing him here, but at 35, he’s done. He never had much of a fastball to begin with, relying on guile and his impressive frame, but I’ll be shocked if Young makes it through Spring Training.

Washington Nationals Game 153: Harper helps Nats clinch winning season with win over Miami

Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez helped the Washington Nationals trim their NL Wild Card deficit to five games and clinch a winning season in their 3-2 victory over the Miami Marlins Thursday night.

Gonzalez was solid, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits, two walks and three strikeouts through 6.0 innings pitched. His first trouble spot came along with the first two batters faced, as Donovan Solano doubled and Ed Lucas singled him home to start the game, 1-0 Miami.

In the bottom of the inning, though, Harper more than evened things out for the Nats’ southpaw, who celebrated his 28th birthday on the mound. With one out, Ryan Zimmerman singled and Jayson Werth walked, allowing Harper to gift Gio a three-run shot off Henderson Alvarez (L, 4-5). The long ball marked Harper’s 20th home run of the season.

From there, the Marlins made some contact off Gonzalez, but failed to score through the next four innings. Gonzalez found himself in a trouble spot in the third after Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas hit back-to-back again, this time in the form of two singles.

Luckily for the Nats, Christian Yelich grounded into a double play in the next at-bat before Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Ruggiano each drew walks. After a coaching visit, Gonzalez regained control in time to jam Placido Polanco with a 94 MPH fastball for the third out.

The Nats went on to threaten in the bottom of the third, but Alvarez, too, pitched out of the jam. [Read more...]

NATS: Happy Birthday, Gio Gonzalez (Photos)

HAPPY 28th BIRTHDAY GIO GONZALEZ!

Washington Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez was born on 09/19/1985 in Hialeah, Florida.

Gio quickly became a fan favorite with his contagious smile. He enjoys chatting with the fans and cheering on his teammates from the front row of the dugout. Follow Gio Gonzalez on Twitter (@GioGonzalez47) and be sure to wish #47 a Happy 28th Birthday.

Here are a few of our favorite Gio photos and some fan birthday photos from last season.

Nats Gio Gonzalez was the first to come onto the field after champagne celebration in the clubhouse. - Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 1, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nats Gio Gonzalez was the first to come onto the field after champagne celebration in the clubhouse. – Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 1, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Gio Gonzalez gets first win in a Nationals uniform (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Gio Gonzalez couldn’t stop smiling after he hit his first MLB hit (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

Happy Birthday Gio! - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Happy Birthday Gio! – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Chicken Man wishes Gio Gonzalez a happy birthday - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game Two of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Chicken Man wishes Gio Gonzalez a happy birthday – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game Two of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Happy Birthday Gio Gonzalez! - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Happy Birthday Gio Gonzalez! – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Happy Birthday Gio Gonzalez! - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Happy Birthday Gio Gonzalez! – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Another fan was wishing Gio a happy birthday (and we love her shirt!) - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game Two of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Another fan was wishing Gio a happy birthday (and we love her shirt!) – Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game Two of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

 

 

 

 

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...]

Washington Nationals Game 138 Review: Nats patiently wait out Phillies pitchers in 9-6 win

RAMOS THREE-RUN SHOT; COREY BROWN HOMERS IN FIRST MLB AT BAT OF THE SEASON

Five wild pitches, 13 walks, four errors and a hit-by-pitch. A balk. 11 pitchers used. Three hours and 48 minutes worth of “baseball.” It was that kind of game.

The Washington Nationals, needing every single win possible as their playoff hopes dwindle, outlasted the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday night with a sloppily played marathon 9-6 win to keep their wild card deficit to 7 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds.

Gio Gonzalez pitched 5 2/3 innings to “earn” the win, though his effort was clouded by three walks and two wild pitches.

The Nats got the scoring started in the second off Phillies starter Ethan Martin (L, 2-4). On a 2-2 pitch, Martin hit the leadoff hitter Jayson Werth in the upper left arm. Adam LaRoche drew a one-out walk ahead of Wilson Ramos’ 10th home run of the season to put the Nats up 3-0.

Philadelphia cut into the lead in the fourth. Kevin Frandsen led off with a single and went to second on Ryan Zimmerman’s error when he couldn’t handle a grounder to his left from Carlos Ruiz. Gonzalez (W, 9-6, 3.49)  struck out Darin Ruf for the first out of the inning, but both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Cody Asche then delivered a single to center on an 0-2 pitch to plate both Frandsen and Ruiz.

But it didn’t take long for the Nats to continue their onslaught against Martin. Denard Span led off the fifth with a double and went to third on Zimmerman’s grounder to the right side of the infield. Bryce Harper drew a walk and after Werth fouled out to first, Desmond walked on the tenth pitch of his at bat. Martin then walked Adam LaRoche to force in a run.

At that point, Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg lifted Martin in favor of Justin de Fratus, but the reliever stunningly walked Ramos on four pitches to force in another run to make it 5-2 Nats. They added to that in the next inning. With one out in the sixth, Span reached on third baseman Asche’s throwing error, went to second on a balk by rookie Mauricio Robles, who was making his MLB debut, and stole third on ball four to Zimmerman. Harper then hit a slow roller to third that Asche fielded cleanly and threw Span out at home.

But Werth and Desmond both singled with two outs to drive in a pair of runs to make it 7-2 at the time.

The Phillies made some noise in the bottom of the inning. Ruf drew a one-out walk from Gonzalez and went to second on Gio’s second wild pitch of the game. After Asche lined out, John Mayberry reached on a Desmond throwing error and Ruf scored. Michael Martinez then lined a single to center to score Mayberry on a close play at the plate. Ryan Mattheus was called on to relieve and promptly gave up a single to pinch-hitter Chase Utley to plate Martinez and make it 7-5, but got Cesar Hernandez to ground out to end the frame.

In the seventh, recently recalled Corey Brown clubbed an upper-deck homer to right to increase the Nats lead to 8-5 in his first big league at bat of the season.

But the Phillies got that one back in the bottom of the eighth on Cody Asche’s one-out solo home run, his third of the season, against Tyler Clippard.

The Nats got an insurance run in the top of the ninth on quite a peculiar play. With two outs and runners on the corners, Bryce Harper struck out. But the ball got away from catcher Carlos Ruiz and went to the backstop. Span raced home from third on the wild pitch, and Zimmerman went all the way to third as Harper reached first on the play.

Rafael Soriano gave up a hit and a walk in the ninth inning, but coaxed a double-play ball from Kevin Frandsen to end the game and earn his 37th save of the season.

THE GOOD: Wilson Ramos. 1-for-2 with a three-run homer and four total RBIs. Denard Span went 3-for-6 with two runs. Werth and Desmond both with a pair of hits.

THE BAD: Anthony Rendon went 0-for-4 with 4 LOB.

THE UGLY: Seriously Phillies, where are you getting all these relievers that walk more than they strike out in the minors and why are you pitching them in Major League games.

THE STATS: 11 hits, 9 BBs, 7 Ks. 3-for-13 with RISP, 13 LOB. E: Zimmerman (20, fielding), Desmond (16, throw), Ramos (8, missed catch).

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 pm. Jordan Zimmermann (15-8, 3.33) faces Roy Halladay (3-4, 7.94).

Nats Nightly: Gio cruises; Nats homer thrice in sweep of Marlins

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of SBNation’s Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals rousing 9-0 win over the Miami Marlins, completing a three-game sweep to win their seventh in their last eight games and go 14-5 in their last 19 to cut the wild card deficit to 6 1/2 behind the Reds with a game still in hand.

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