April 18, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 11 Review: Nats top Phils on strength of Harper and Espinosa homers.

The Washington Nationals made it three straight wins, picking up a 7-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on an overcast and occasionally rainy Friday night in Washington. Max Scherzer made short work of the Philadelphia offense, and Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa each went yard as the Nats topped a divisional foe.

Max Scherzer took it to a depleted Philly lineup tonight, making quick work of their order. Through eight, Scherzer threw 100 pitches, scattered five hits, and struck out nine. The Phillies’ only run came in the third, as an Odubel Herrera double to right field became a triple as Harper tried to leap for it in vain. Herrera would come around on a grounder from Freddy Galvis on the next pitch. Had Harper played the ball off the carom, it’s entirely possible Herrera never would have scored.

Bryce Harper once again made waves in the first with a crushing blast. With Escobar (single) and Desmond (hit by pitch) aboard in the first, Harper would absolutely crush a ball to dead center field over the 400-foot sign. Danny Espinosa would join the party in the 4th with a blast to right center just next to where Harper hit his homer in the first.

The Nationals weren’t content at 4-1, and pressed hard into the Phillies’ bullpen in the seventh inning. Ian Desmond would get things going with an infield single (ruled an error) that he was able to beat out on the basepaths. With two out, the Phillies saw a chance to get Harper with a lefty, and brought in Jake Diekman. Harper, whose career approach against lefties would best be considered a struggle, showed some of the discipline and focus we’ve seen in his early season, and drew a critical walk. Ryan Zimmerman would lace one down the right field line to score both Desmond and Harper, and Wilson Ramos would drive a run in with a well-hit ball that just caught Chase Utley off-balance, and he’d throw it away to let Zimmerman score.

Yunel Escobar would leave the game after running out a grounder in the fourth. The ball was hit deep into the pocket at short, and Escobar was hustling up the line to beat the throw. As he reached the bag at first, he came up short, putting his hand along his inner thigh at the groin. After being attended to by trainers, he left the game. Dan Uggla took over at second, with Danny Espinosa moving to third.

The Nationals have moved to 5-6, just 2.5 games back of the division-leading Mets.

GOAT – Sorry, no goat tonight. While Ian Desmond’s 7th error was less than pleasing, his 3-for-4 night at the plate, reaching on an error and a hit-by-pitch, I can’t give him the goat for this one.

HERO – Let’s give this one to Ryan Zimmmerman for a combination of incredible defense and a 2-run double in the 7th to put this one away. His diving plays today saved runs for the Nats, and his late double put the game out of reach.

NATS NOTES

  • Felipe Rivero made his MLB debut for the Nats in the 9th, going 1 full, with a strikeout, and giving up three hits and a run.
  • Matt Williams’ 100th win was last night, and he was the fifth fastest to the century mark. Congratulations, Matt!
  • Depending on the results of Yunel Escobar’s examination, the Nats may need to call up another infielder tomorrow, and the only one on the 40-man roster is Wilmer Difo. Could it be Difomas? Difo Day? Difotacular? One of those. Could be.

Washington Nationals Game 9 Review: Bats Arise in 10-5 Victory over Boston

The Washington Nationals exploded for six runs in the third inning on Wednesday afternoon in the finale with the Boston Red Sox, on their way to a 10-5 final. The closing game of the six-game road trip was their first decisive win of the 2015 campaign. Gio Gonzalez pitched six strong innings in his first win, and Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore each smacked home runs. Rafael Martin make his MLB debut in relief and struck out five straight Red Sox, becoming the oldest player in history (30) to make his MLB debut in Fenway Park since 1947.

The third inning was the big story for the Nationals, as it was their first real offensive explosion of the nine-day-old season. Ian Desmond had a Green Monster shot to kickstart the offense. A single from Jayson Werth, his first of the year, led off the rally followed by a pair of walks to Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. The wheels had come off for Wade Miley at this point, but Boston Manager John Farrell left him in one batter too long. Wilson Ramos cleared the bases with a double to the left field corner as the finishing blow, making the score 6-2.

With Wade Miley gone, Anthony Varvaro came on to mop up the mess and only made it worse. Dan Uggla and Michael A. Taylor each added RBI doubles before Yunel Escobar grounded out to end the six-run third inning. The Nationals sent ten men to the plate, scored six runs, and gathered two walks to complete an offensive explosion that had been a long time coming. After the game, starter Gio Gonzalez said, “Let’s not kid ourselves, the offense was amazing.” Finally, the Nats offense had arrived.

Four Nationals amassed multi-hit games (Harper, Ramos, Taylor and Moore), with only one Escobar shut out of the hit parade, and only two shut out of the RBI column. The Nats’ twelve hits were a season-high mark for the struggling offense.

Gonzalez had a strong day, with 6IP, 4ER, 6K and just 2BB, netting his first win. Rafael Martin, in his MLB debut, struck out five in his two relief innings, allowing no runs on just one hit. The 30-year old has worked his way up from the Mexican leagues through Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse over the last six seasons, and today he was impressive.

Drew Storen notched an uneventful ninth inning at Fenway in his third outing of the year.

HERO: Let’s give this one to the battery of Wilson Ramos (2 for 5, 2R, 3RBI, 2H) and Rafael Martin (2IP, 5K, 1H).

GOAT: Yunel Escobar is the only player to have missed out on the offensive awakening, and his error in the second came back to haunt the Nats. Even so, Escobar’s day shouldn’t earn him a full goat award, so we’ll award him just a tiny goat. Like this one.

NATS NOTES

Martin was recalled from Syracuse as Xavier Cedeño was designated for assignment. He becomes the first Nationals pitcher to strike out five in a row in their major league debut since Stephen Strasburg in June of 2010, and the first major leaguer to do it since Jason Grimm in 2012.

The Nationals 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position is far and away their best of the year. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Nationals were 11 for 56 with runners in scoring position, a .197 average. They finish at 16 for 67, a .239 average.

UP NEXT: The Nationals return home Thursday to face the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:05 pm. Doug Fister (0-1, 0.00) hosts Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.75).

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

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

Gonzalez would get close.

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

He’d make it two batters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Nats, Scherzer “close” according to sources

Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.

Of course, there are repercussions.

All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.

In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.

Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.

It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.

There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.

Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.

By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4: Nats fall short in San Fran; eliminated from playoffs

The San Francisco Giants scored three runs — without the benefit of a base hit — and beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to eliminate the Nats 3-1 in the five game National League Divisional Series.

The game was filled with poor umpiring, bad defense by the Nats, and questionable managerial decisions. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 2 pregame press conference

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams addressed the media in advance of Game 2 of the NLDS. Here are some quick nuggets from that availability.

  • No decision has been made on the Game 4 starter yet. Williams said his attention was on today’s game and a decision will be made at a later date. With Tanner Roark in the bullpen, the debate appears to be whether Gio Gonzalez would take the start or if the team would bring back Stephen Strasburg on four days rest.
  • Williams said he did not give consideration to pinch-hitting Ryan Zimmerman for Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning of Game 1 when the Giants called upon lefty Javier Lopez to face LaRoche. “Adam’s been our 4-hitter all year long,” Williams said. LaRoche walked against Lopez.
  • LaRoche said he saw Lopez “okay” in the at bat and that he expects to see the sidearming lefty late in games throughout the series.
  • Both Williams and LaRoche said the hey to facing Giants starter Tim Hudson is to exercise patience. Williams said Hudson does a good job keeping the ball down in the zone with his sinker, while LaRoche said you have to get to Hudson “early” and not let him get into a rhythm. “Once he gets rolling he’s really good.”
  • Williams discussed the possibility of Ian Desmond missing a game as his wife, Chelsea, is close to her due date. He said they haven’t gotten to the point about consulting with the league about a roster exemption should she go into labor on a day game, but that the primary concern is for Chelsea and the baby.

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams discusses missed opportunities in Game 1 loss

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was fairly circumspect when describing his team’s 3-2 lost to the San Francisco Giants on Friday in his postgame comments.

“We had opportunities,” Williams said. “One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game [Friday]. It didn’t happen. We will see if it can happen [Saturday].”

That was a common theme for Williams, who seemingly finished just about every quote with a “we’ll get ‘em tomorrow” caveat.

Williams was asked about how the Giants handled things, nickel and diming the Nats to death with single after single. “They defend well, they have speed, they have some power. They have the ability, with veteran hitters in the middle of their lineup that are battle-tested, to drive in runs.”

“They are tough to beat. We will see if we can give them a run [Saturday]. And we have one of our best [Saturday starter Jordan Zimmermann] going again. We will see if we can get them tomorrow.”

Williams offered his take on the performance of Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg, who gave up eight hits, but none for extra bases, and only struck out two over five-plus innings.

“He was good,” Williams said matter-of-factly. “I wasn’t that he was so excited that he wasn’t throwing strikes. Worked well through the first inning. I think he pitched fine. For the first time for him, it was good.”

Not a ringing endorsement, but not a condemnation either.

But the manager lamented the few opportunities the Nats generated, and how they didn’t take advantage when they did.

“We had some opportunities,” Williams explained. “We take that every day of the week. An opportunity with guys out there, middle of our order up. Today it didn’t happen.”

Specifically, Williams was asked about Ian Desmond, who struck out in two key situations in the late innings.

“That’s fine,” Williams started. “He has never seen [Giants’ reliever Hunter] Strickland. He throws a hundred [MPH]. Those are pretty good fastballs. And [Giants’ reliever Sergio] Romo takes the ball from the plate, away from the plate. It is difficult to lay off those pitches.”

“I would take that opportunity for Desi every day. He has been really big for us this year, hitting from that spot. Driven in a lot of runs for us. We take that opportunity anytime when we can get it.”

But the bottom line is that even though the Nats did have a few opportunities, they managed just two runs — on two solo home runs in the same inning. Williams knows the chances get more rare the deeper into the postseason a team goes.

“You know, we are down to it. We have the first one to three games, so you want to take advantage of it. It doesn’t mean it won’t tomorrow, and doesn’t mean it can’t for the rest of the time we play these guys.”

“We keep grinding, keep doing what we do. Look forward to the opportunity again tomorrow to get up. So, we’ll see what happens.”

We’ll all see together.

Washington Nationals Game 162 Review: Zimmermann no-hits Marlins; First in Nats history

ZIMMERMANN THROWS FIRST NO-HITTER FOR NATIONALS

As if the Washington Nationals march to the pennant and playoffs wasn’t dramatic enough, Jordan Zimmermann authored a little bit of history on the season’s final day.

The Nats stoic right-hander dominated the Miami Marlins in the final game of the season, no-hitting the young Marlins in a 1-0 win on Sunday.

Zimmermann walked one and struck out 10 to record the first no-hitter for the franchise since the relocation in 2005. There have been two previous no-hitters in Washington baseball history, and the Montreal Expos had four no-hitters in their history. [Read more…]

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