April 24, 2014

Nats defensive woes not so much mental as physical

The Washington Nationals lead the National League in errors. It’s as simple as that. Ian Desmond leads all players with eight errors himself. Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and even Bryce Harper in the outfield have multiple errors in 21 games. These errors are extending innings, creating more of a burden for the pitchers, and directly contributing to runs.

The Nats like to look at themselves as true contenders. But a championship caliber team does not give away base runners for free. The primary indicator for wins and losses is total baserunners for and against. The defensive lapses we’re seeing from the Nats, primarily on ground balls, are leading to more baserunners against, which of course leads to more runs against.

Manager Matt Williams placed an emphasis on defense and accountability during spring training, as if attention to detail was the reason for the Nats lack of performance in the field. The problem isn’t as much mental as it is physical.

Tuesday night after the Nats’ 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, a game in which the normally sure-handed Rendon committed two throwing errors — one of which lead to Albert Pujols three-run home run in the first inning — Williams was perplexed on the poor start defensively for the Nats.

“I’m baffled,” Williams said when asked how concerned he was about the defense and what he could do to stem the poor play. “What do you do? You just keep doing what we do. You keep working at it. We work on it every day. And we do extra. And we do all those things. It’s not what we want, for sure. But we can’t do anything but do what we’re doing, and that’s work at it.”

William has to take that attitude. He has no other option, really. But in reality, the Nats defense suffers from specific physical limitations that are difficult to overcome. Only Harper and Rendon are still a young players. They don’t seem to be part of the long-term problem. But the rest?

Desmond is 28 years old. We’ve seen this for several seasons now. He has tremendous range and a strong throwing arm. His range allows him to get to balls others watch go past, but as we saw in Monday’s game, that can be a curse as much as a blessing. He ranged far to his left to get his glove on the ball, only to have it clang off for a tough error. The ball bounced off the back of the mound, changing the spin on it and making it a much tougher play than it was going to be already.

Then there’s the matter of his arm. It’s a cannon. But it’s a loose cannon. They used to call guys like that “scattershot”, like the pattern of shotgun pellets spreading out in every direction at a high rate of speed. Last season, widely hailed as his best defensive season, he committed 12 throwing and seven fielding errors. This year, it’s an equal 4-4 so far. Desmond started slowly last season in the field too, so it may be a temperature thing with him. But the bottom line is this is who he is. At 28, he’s not going to get magically better throwing the ball.

Zimmerman’s problems have been well documented, in this space and throughout the Natosphere. His shoulder is compromised through injury to the point of curtailing any pregame throwing and altering his throwing mechanics to the point of being indistinguishable form how a human is supposed to throw overhanded. His broken thumb after 15 games allowed him to be DL’d for a actual broken bone as opposed to being sat down to allow the inflammation in the join to calm down. At this point, the Nats are trying to downplay this, saying they don’t feel the injury is a chronic thing. But realistically, Zimmerman needs to move to first base as soon as possible, if only to keep the inflammation out of the joint allowing him to him at a maximum, pain-free condition.

Espinosa is a good fielder, at both second base and shortstop. He gets a touch overrated in this market considering his teammates. But his health issues the past two seasons have taken a toll on his efficiency as well. He shouldn’t be part of the long-term problem either, but two errors in 17 games isn’t a great thing. Also, he’s 27, so he’s at his physical peak and won’t get better either.

Jayson Werth doesn’t have any errors in the outfield yet, but we’ve seen several balls fall in front of him or past him that he would have gotten to even at the start of his stint with the Nats. His range has drastically dropped each season he’s been here. It’ snot surprising, as his is 35 years old and being asked to man one of the more rigorous defensive positions. But it’s another point of data: Werth’s outfield defense is sub-par at this point in his career, and there’s very little the Nats can do about it for the next 3 1/2 years other than move him to left field and hope Harper can handle right.

As for Harper’s not-so-great fielding, we have to remember two things: 1) He was a catcher 2 1/2 years ago; 2) He’s learning to play outfield at the Major League level. There may be some “attention” problems attributed to Harper’s bungles, as he mostly has trouble with charging and picking up the ball. But for all his speed and effort (notice I didn’t say “hustle”) in the outfield, he still has trouble tracking line drives, both to his right and his left. Someone on Twitter casually remarked on a ball to the left field gap earlier this week that it seemed like a ball Harper could have made a play on, or at least cut off from going to the wall. If a casual fan can notice that, you can be sure the Nats are aware of it.

This all might seem like gloom and doom. Maybe it is. It’s certainly mostly anecdotal. But the takeaway here is that the Nats realistically aren’t a great fielding team, despite their pitching staff’s proclivity for being ground ball pitchers. And except for Rendon and Harper, the players they have are no longer in a growth mode — they are who they are, or getting worse (some significantly, and some very quickly). They can put as much work into it as they want, but in reality, the Nats are going to have to pitch and hit to make up for their defensive shortcomings.

Washington Nationals Game 16 Review: Nats Held to Two Hits in Wainwright’s Complete-Game Shutout

On nights when the Washington Nationals find their groove, their offense has the power to stun opposing pitchers.

Thursday was not one of those nights.

The Washington Nationals started their 11-game home stretch with a downright frustrating 8-0 loss to Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals.

From start to finish Wainwright (W, 3-1) was stellar on the mound, holding the Nats to just two hits through nine innings to record his seventh career shutout. And, from the batter’s box, he wasn’t so bad either – adding a double and a single to the Cardinals’ 14 total hits.

To make matters worse, the Nats tallied a whopping four errors on the night – two of which came from shortstop Ian Desmond, who now boasts seven errors on the season. Through 16 games, Washington has 20 total errors.

Desmond’s first error helped the Cardinals run with an early lead. The very first batter of the game – Matt Carpenter – reached first base safely after Desmond failed to field the routine drive.

But, Nats’ starter Taylor Jordan (L, 0-2) certainly committed his share of gaffes. He allowed a single to Kolten Wong and a quick double to Matt Holliday, which brought home Carpenter. Matt Adams’ grounder plated Kolten, and Yadier Molina singled in Holliday to give St. Louis an all-too-easy three-run lead.

After the first, however, Jordan regained at least brief control. Unfortunately, he lacked offense to back him up.

In fact, the bottom of the first marked the first of six total innings in which the Nats’ batters would retire in order.

The second inning proved the only time Washington threatened. Adam LaRoche led off with a walk before Desmond sought some redemption by way of a single up the middle. But, Danny Espinosa and Nate McLouth had no success in the box, and Wainwright intentionally walked Jose Lobaton to strike out Jordan in the nine-spot.

In the fourth, the Cardinals tacked on an insurance run. After Jhonny Peralta doubled with one out, Jon Jay reached on a throwing error by none other than Desmond. And, things went from bad to worse as Wainwright reached on a force attempt, which featured a miss catch error by Espinosa. The play allowed Peralta to score, but Jordan was able to prevent additional runs from crossing home plate.

In the sixth, however, Jordan simply lost control over his pitches. After striking out Peralta, he hit Jay with a runaway fastball before allowing Wainwright to single. By the time Jordan walked Carpenter to load the bases, the Nats had seen enough.

Unfortunately, reliever Blake Treinen had no added luck.

He struck out Wong on a 96-MPH fastball, but allowed Holliday to single in Jay, before Adams singled in both Wainwright and Carpenter.

Despite the sloppy inning and an added run in the seventh, Nationals manager Matt Williams seemingly allowed Treinen to sweat it out until the ninth.

When it came time for Jerry Blevins to take the mound, the Nats were down eight runs and had officially tallied twice as many errors as hits, thanks to a fielding error by Jayson Werth in the top of the eighth. Werth appeared to have lost a line drive by Molina in the lights as he charged forward with no hope of coming close to catching the ball.

The Nats will will want to turn their luck around tonight with left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 3.50) taking on Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.89).

Last season, the Nats went 0-6 against St. Louis.

 

 

Washington Nationals Game 15 Review: Werth Homer Lifts Nats in Win Vs. Fernandez, Marlins

The Washington Nationals took advantage of costly errors by the Miami Marlins to emerge the victor of a 6-3 finish Wednesday night.

Miami ace Jose Fernandez held the Nats to four hits and 10 strikeouts through seven, but he was dealt a tough break by the Marlins’ defense, namely catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

With Washington trailing 3-0, Jose Lobaton led off the sixth with a double to deep right. Then, on a would-be routine grounder off the bat of Tanner Roark, Saltalamacchia committed a throwing error allowing Roark to reach first and Lobaton to advance to third. After Nate McLouth struck out swinging and Anthony Rendon popped out to second, Fernandez merely needed to retire Werth to get out of the jam.

Luckily for the Nats, however, Werth was prepared to seize the moment. His three-run shot to right center marked his third homer of the season and tied the game, tarnishing Fernandez’s otherwise solid performance with three unearned runs.

Fernandez would go on to earn a final line of 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 10 K and 1 HR, tossing 65 of 97 pitches for strikes.

Nats starter Tanner Roark, in turn, walked away with a no decision after throwing 98 total pitches over 6.1 innings, in which he allowed three runs on seven hits, two walks, five strike outs and one home run.

In the eighth, with Mike Dunn in to relieve Fernandez, Zach Walters broke the 3-3 tie in the Nationals’ favor with his second career homer – and his second long ball in as many nights. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 9 Review: Strasburg dominates, Desmond slams as Nats sweep Marlins 7-1

DESMOND’S SLAM IN THE EIGHTH PROVIDES CUSHION FOR 7TH WIN OF THE SEASON

The Washington Nationals burned through their long-men Wednesday night after starter Jordan Zimmermann managed just five outs. On Thursday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg bailed his beleaguered bullpen out, tossing a masterful 6 2/3 innings as the Nats played a tightly contested game for eight innings until Ian Desmond’s grand slam in the eighth inning opened the flood gates to a 7-1 win for the Nats before 20,869 at Nationals Park.

It was just the performance manager Matt Williams needed from the nominal ace of his rotation. Strasburg finished with 12 strikeouts, the 13th time in his career he has K’d more than 10 batters in a game. He threw 71 of his 98 pitches for strikes and struck out Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton twice, putting his newly developed slider to good use.

The Nats went up 2-0 in the third. With one out, Anthony Rendon drew a walk from Marlins starter Tom Koehler. Jayson Werth then clubbed a 1-0 pitch into the Marlins bullpen for his second home run of the season — and second in as many days.

From there, it was all Strasburg. The big righty plowed through the Miami batting order, generating strikeouts and ground outs with equal ease. Strasburg recorded 13 straight outs, including six Ks, between Derek Dietrich’s fielder’s choice in the first and Ian Desmond’s error on a grounder in the fifth.

Strasburg then struck out six of his last 10 batters faced. But a homer allowed to Marcel Ozuna in the seventh, followed two batters later by a walk to catcher Jeff Mathis, signaled the end of his day. Strasburg struck out 12 total in 6 2/3 innings with one walk and three hits allowed.

Jerry Blevins came on and retired pinch-hitter Reed Johnson following the walk to Mathis. He struck out lefties Christian Yelich and Derek Dietrich to start the eighth inning, and Williams then called upon rookie Aaron Barrett to face Stanton. Barrett fed Stanton slider after slider until the hulking slugger finally swung through for strike three.

The Marlins turned to Arquimedes Caminero in the bottom half of the inning, but the Nats battered the reliever. Rendon led off with a double, followed by a single from Werth. Adam LaRoche grounded out to first with the infield drawn in, but Caminero then walked Kevin Frandsen and Bryce Harper — the second forcing in the Nats third run.

Ian Desmond then delivered the big blow, a clout to the Red Porch for the Nats second Grand Slam of the series to make it 7-1.

NATS NOTES: Rendon’s eighth inning double extended his hitting streak to nine games, the longest such streak to begin a season for the Washington Nationals.

 

 

Washington Nationals Game 6 Review: Jordan Solid as Nats Top Braves to Avoid Sweep

DESMOND HOMER LIFTS NATS, BLEVINS RECORDS FIRST WIN AS A NATIONAL

With Bryce Harper out of the lineup Sunday afternoon, the Washington Nationals tallied just four hits to top the Atlanta Braves 2-1 by the skin of their teeth.

Taylor Jordan (ND, 1.42 ERA) allowed one run, six hits and two walks over 6.1 innings pitched, but he kept the Nats in contention despite their slow-to-produce offense.

Manager Matt Williams gave Bryce Harper the day off after the 21-year-old outfielder went 0-for-4 Saturday in the Nats’ 6-2 loss to the Braves. Harper, who is 3-for-21 with 10 strikeouts, has shown visible frustration over the past few days, throwing down his helmet and stomping back to the dugout in dismay.

The Nats also sat Ryan Zimmerman for the start of Sunday’s matchup due to shoulder soreness, but he pinch-hit for reliever Tyler Clippard in the eighth, alleviating some fears for now.

Testing yet another new lineup, the Nats took an early lead in the first off left-hander Alex Wood (L, 1-1).

Leading off for the first time in his MLB career, Anthony Rendon reached on a bunt single and advanced to second on a single by Kevin Frandsen. Jayson Werth hit an infield single, allowing Rendon to come home on a throwing error by second baseman Dan Uggla. To bring the Nationals to a halt, however, Wood retired the next three batters.

In fact, Washington failed to send another runner to base until Sandy Leon reached first on an error by Chris Johnson in the fifth.

Before that point, Jordan found himself in a bit of a jam in the fourth after walking Johnson and Justin Upton with one out. The situation went from bad to worse on a throwing error by Danny Espinosa, which allowed Dan Uggla to reach first to load the bases. But, Jordan pitched himself out of the inning, retiring Gerald Laird and Andrelton Simmons to end the inning.

And, in the top of the sixth, the Braves seemed to figure out Jordan’s repertoire. [Read more...]

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 Spring Training: Nats fall to Braves 8-4

For the Washington Nationals, spring training isn’t about winning games or even necessarily finding competition for the precious few spots that might be available for the last bench of bullpen spot. It’s primarily about getting their starting pitching ready, lined up and healthy for opening day.

Another step in that task was taken Tuesday, as Stephen Strasburg made his spring debut. Strasburg pitched two innings, allowing one hit and no walks, striking out one. He was followed by fifth spot candidate Taylor Jordan, who did not fare as well.

Jordan gave up two earned runs on five hits in two innings, He did not walk a batter and struck out three. A.J. Cole was next, and the prospect threw two perfect frames, striking out two.

Drew Storen, coming off an up-and-down 2013, had a rough go of it in his first appearance, allowing two earned runs on a hit and two walks — to the first two batters he faced.

On the other side of the ball, Ian Desmond went 3-for-3, including his first homer of the spring, with two runs and an RBI.

The Nats host the Mets Wednesday at 1:05 from Space Coast Stadium in Viera.

NATS NOTES: The Nats signed LHP Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal to compete for a spot in the bullpen.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part I: The Infield

Ryan Zimmerman gets Matt Kemp out in top of 5th (third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to first baseman Adam LaRoche) - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman is a key component to Nats playoff hopes. (stock photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page, Sept. 2012)

 

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.

With no further adieu… [Read more...]

Nationals avoid arbitration with Desmond, JZimm with two year deals

TEAM SIGNS BLEVINS, STOREN AND RAMOS TO ONE-YEAR CONTRACTS

The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration with most of their players eligible, signing Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to two-year contracts, and Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen and Wilson Ramos to one-year deals, according to multiple reports.

With Stephen Strasburg, Ross Ohlendorf and Ross Detwiler signing before Friday’s deadline, it means the only Nats players still eligible for arbitration are recently acquired starter Doug Fister and veteran reliever Tyler Clippard.

MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reports that Desmond will make $17.5 million on his deal, while Zimmermann is set for $24 million. The two-year deals for both players buys out their remaining arb-eligible years leading to free agency.

It is widely reported that the team would like to ink both players to long-term deals, but having them under contract for the next two seasons also makes them easier to trade due to salary assurance, should the Nats feel that they can’t get them under long-term contracts.

Zimmermann, entering his age 28 season and an All-Star for the first time in 2013, went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.088 WHIP with a 4.03 K/BB ratio. He finished seventh in Cy Young voting in the National League.

Desmond, 28, was an All-Star in 2012 and has been the N.L. Silver Slugger at shortstop the past two seasons. He hit .280/.331/.453 last season with 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and 21 steals in 27 attempts.

Ladson further reports that Ramos will make $2.095 million and Storen $3.45 million.

NATS: Happy Birthday, Ian Desmond

HAPPY 28th BIRTHDAY IAN DESMOND!

Washington Nationals Shortstop Ian Desmond was born on 09/20/1985 in Sarasota, Florida.

Ian Desmond has been the glue to this season’s team, team leader and team MVP.

Check out Desi’s website and follow Ian Desmond on Twitter (@IanDesmond20) and be sure to wish #20 a Happy 28th Birthday.

Shortstop Ian Desmond returned to the lineup – New York Mets v. Washington Nationals, August 17, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ian Desmond (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ian Desmond and Frank Robinson - NLDS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 10, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ian Desmond and Frank Robinson – NLDS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals v. Washington Nationals, October 10, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

Ian Desmond beats the tag from Freddie Freeman back to first (2nd inning) – Atlanta Braves v. Washington Nationals, 8/22/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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