March 28, 2015

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…]

Washington Nationals Game 159 Review: Nats secure homefield throughout NL Playoffs

DOUG FISTER’S GEM CLINCHES N.L.’s BEST RECORD IN 2014

Doug Fister has been sold short his entire MLB career, despite standing 6’8″. It’s well beyond time baseball fans acknowledge him for what he is: one of the best pitchers in the game.

Fister threw a 3-hit, complete-game shutout, beating the Miami Marlins 4-0, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader on Friday, clinching the National League’s best record for the Washington Nationals, securing home field advantage for the N.L. Championship Series, should the Nats advance.

The American League holds that distinction for the World Series by virtue of winning the All-Star Game. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 154 Review: 3-run seventh gives Nationals comeback win over the Marlins

The Washington Nationals continued their run toward their goal of securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a 3-2 come-from-behind road win over the Miami Marlins on Saturday night.

[Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 150 Review: Nats Clinch NL East with Commanding Win over Braves

EARN SECOND DIVISION CROWN IN THREE YEARS

For the second time in three years, the Washington Nationals are kings of the National League East and, come October, there will be baseball in the nation’s capital.

With a 3-0 win over the second-place division rival Atlanta Braves, the Nats clinched their spot atop an NL East that struggled to play catch-up through the bulk of the 2014 season.

As if to demonstrate how far the Nationals have progressed since April, the very team that struggled to top Atlanta even once through the first half of the season shut out the Braves to secure their ticket to October.

Even more, the starter who so many claimed would come back down to earth following the 2013 season, recorded his 14th win of 2014 after allowing just five hits over seven innings pitched. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 143 Review: Nationals Strike Early, Hold Off Braves Late

NATIONALS CUT MAGIC NUMBER TO 11 WITH WIN OVER BRAVES

After a dramatic win for the home team on Monday night, the Washington Nationals defeated Atlanta Braves 6-4 on Tuesday night in Game 2 of their three-game series at Nationals Park.

Much like they did on Monday night in Game 1 of the series, the Washington Nationals got off to a hot start, lighting up the scoreboard early and giving their starter, Jordan Zimmermann, an early lead. [Read more…]

%d bloggers like this: