April 27, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 13 Review: Strasburg crushes Phillies, Span returns.

In a baker’s dozen of games so far, the Washington Nationals have given their fans plenty of reasons to be concerned about their viability as a team able to go the distance this season. Sunday’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1, showed no signs of concern whatsoever. Stephen Strasburg was as dominant as ever, and the top half of the lineup went 6 for 18 with four walks.

The Nationals looked closer to their ideal lineup on Sunday, starting Denard Span, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman, in that order, for the first time this season. In the fifth inning, the five of them created a two-out three-run rally that put the home squad on top for good on Sunday.

Denard Span, fresh off the disabled list after abdominal surgery in March, started things off with a two-out single, followed by and Ian Desmond double, scoring Span from first. Jayson Werth sent one back up the middle for a second single, scoring Desmond, followed by an intentional walk to Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman laced a double down the right field line to score Werth, and nearly score Harper. Bob Henley held back Harper to avoid a tight play at the plate, and that’s as far as he’d go, as Wilson Ramos would ground out to Freddy Galvis.

Stephen Strasburg went 7.1 IP, giving up a run on five hits, just two walks and seven strikeouts for his first win of the year. Through 4 2/3 innings, the Phillies were hitless against Strasburg, and his changeup and curve were being used to devastating effect. Matt Thornton got let Strasburg off the hook in the eighth, and Drew Storen assembled a five-batter ninth to finish it out.

The Nats face a tough foe in the Cardinals starting on Tuesday, but could return to .500 with a win on Tuesday.

HERO: No one is happier to have Denard Span back than Ryan Zimmerman. Zim got the two-run double in the fifth to put the game out of reach for the Phillies.

GOAT: Today’s game had no goat. Here’s a goat gif.

NATS NOTES:

Ian Desmond continues his offensive reign of terror. Since Friday night, he is 8 for 13 (3 for 4, 3 for 5, 2 for 4) with four runs scored.

Drew Storen notched his fourth save on Sunday, but gave up two hits and made things a little more exciting than Nats fans might have liked. Thankfully, longstanding Nats fans were brought up on Chad Cordero cardiac saves.

UP NEXT: The Nationals are off on Monday. Tuesday, the Cardinals come to town for a three-game set. Lance Lynn (1-1 1.64) vs Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.11) at 7:05pm.

Washington Nationals Game 7 Review: Nats Drop 9-4 Laugher to Boston

While most Washington Nationals fans were probably saying “Mookie who?” before today’s game began, they definitely know who Mookie Betts is now. The young Boston Red Sox outfielder single-handedly outplayed the entire Nationals lineup in Monday afternoon’s 9-4 laugher, stealing a home run from Bryce Harper with an athletic leap, taking advantage of yet another defensive miscue and stealing a pair of bases on a single pitch, and then putting the nail in the coffin for the Nats with a three-run homer over the Green Monster.

With all the trappings of Opening Day in one of baseball’s most hallowed cathedrals, the Nationals struggled to acquit themselves as one of baseball’s most favored teams. Despite being the odds-on favorite for the World Series, the Nationals appeared to be lost in the field and at the plate Monday, and no one showed it worse than Jordan Zimmermann. The hurler struggled mightily with control, racking up 2-0 and 3-0 counts like so many broken peanut shells in the aisles, at one point in the third hitting back to back batters with away pitches.

By the end of the third inning, the Nationals found themselves in an 8-0 hole. For a Nationals team that could only manage seven runs against the Phillies for their entire three-game series, an eight-run lead might as well have been a hundred runs. Still, the news wasn’t all bad in Boston: the offense did equal their season-high four runs, nearly getting six, had Mookie Betts not robbed Harper in the first.

At times, the Nats’ defense looked lost in the field. Outfield communication was not a strength today, as Jayson Werth in his return from shoulder surgery misplayed a ball in the first, and Michael A. Taylor watched two very catchable balls drop in the afternoon sun. These are the sort of plays that one might have seen in AA or A ballgames, but not at the major league level.

Things settled down after the disastrous first trimester of the ballgame, and the Nats offense found its stride: Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa each pounded a home-run, and Clint Robinson narrowly missed one for his first career triple. It wasn’t nearly enough though, as Boston starter Rick Porcello skated to a win with eight innings of solid work, striking out six and walking one for his first win of the year.

The Nationals have much to fix after just a week of the season in the books. Defensive miscues have ruled the day, the bats have yet to put up dominant numbers, and while starting pitching has been largely quite good, the bullpen has been a danger zone for the club. Today’s game was, in many senses, a microcosm of the frustrating 2-5 start.

HERO: Let’s give this one to Tanner Roark, who relieved Zimmermann in the third and shut down the Boston offense for 3 2/3 innings, surrendering just a solo home run to David Ortiz.

GOAT: Michael A. Taylor, Jordan Zimmermann. The young center fielder needs to adapt to big league communication, as he was behind a pair of terrible plays in the outfield that left that lead to several runs coming in. And Zimmermann, quite simply, had one of his worst days command-wise as a big leaguer.

NATS NOTES:

  • Back in time: Jayson Werth returned to the Nats lineup today, returning from shoulder surgery in the off-season. He finished his day 0 for 3, with one miscue in the outfield on a line-drive, but no one suggested that left field at Fenway is a great place to play.
  • The old lefthander: Danny Espinosa’s yard shot in the eighth came from the left side of the plate, his second extra base hit of the year from that side.
  • Sign of the times: The four runs the Nationals scored against Rick Porcello are the most they’ve picked up off any one pitcher.
  • Tough all around: Xavier Cedeño  had another rough inning, giving up a pair of walks and throwing a pair of wild pitches in the eighth.

NEXT GAME: At Boston at 6:10pm. Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06 in ’15) vs. Justin Masterson (1-0, 3.00 in ’15)

OPINION: Nationals Have Options as Opening Day Approaches

The Nationals’ roster for Opening Day is starting to come into focus, and there are some surprises as compared with a month ago. With Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span expected to start their seasons in rehab assignments, the Nats find themselves looking at some additional bench slots, as players on the roster shift around to fill the gaps. Here’s a look at a few of the swaps fans will likely see come April 6th.

Michael Taylor has had quite a spring, including a pair of home runs against Justin Verlander, and is well-positioned to find himself both the CF for Opening Day and the lead off man for Matt Williams. The 24 year old rookie has plus speed and a solid glove, but will likely be back at Syracuse once Span returns barring a miracle. It will be worth it to catch the coming attractions while they’re here, Nats fans, Taylor may well be your Opening Day Center Fielder in 2016, as well.

Danny Espinosa will likely find himself at the hot corner until Anthony Rendon’s knee has fully recovered, which could be until May. Now righty-only, Espinosa has seen some good at-bats this spring against right-handed pitching but his whole season is predicated upon a return to the hitting of his rookie season. Many have praised his approach this spring, but it’s safe to say his career with the Nats hangs in the balance.

Tyler Moore will likely be your starting left fielder on April 6th, and the perennial bench favorite has earned the opportunity his spring with a slash line of .320/.327/.580. While no one will confuse Moore for Jayson Werth and his luxurious beard, that the Nationals can find replacements for three core bats speaks volumes about the depth of the roster right now. For that, Mike Rizzo should be applauded.

What this will do to the bench bats for Matt Williams, though, is a little less clear. I would argue that it is likely to be Kevin Frandsen, a rejuvenated Dan Uggla, the recently acquired Matt den Dekker, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who’s found his swing again. That is definitely not the bench anyone was predicting in February – rather, if you were, please drop me an email with proof and I’ll buy you a beer. It is entirely possible that recently acquired Reed Johnson might displace recently acquired den Dekker in the final roster spot, but I suspect we’ll see a fierce battle with the two of them each getting substantial playing time over the next five days.

This isn’t the Opening Day Roster that Mike Rizzo wanted to run out there; the injuries this spring could conceivably cost this team as many as 4-5 wins this season, though I suspect that’s a worst case estimate. Before you start, fair reader, don’t go blaming these events on a Sports Illustrated curse — curses are silly, and you’re better than that — but do look at the current roster options and rest a bit easier, Nats fans. There’s a lot of depth here, and the prognoses for May returns for Rendon, Werth and Span all bode well for the Nationals.

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Outfielders

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 [Read more…]

Washington Nationals add Tony Gwynn Jr to the backup outfielder mix

The Washington Nationals signed veteran left-handed hitting outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Gwynn, 32, hit .152 in 105 at-bats with three RBIs and three stolen bases with Philadelphia last season. He is, obviously, son of the late Tony Gwynn, Hall of Fame outfielder with the San Diego Padres and college coach of Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State.

The addition of Gwynn is intriguing, as the Nats seem to have a glut of left-handed hitting outfielders, including holdover Nate McLouth and fellow NRI Mike Carp.

McLouth is coming off shoulder surgery though, and Carp has never been considered much of a fielder. He can play all four corner spots, much in the way most people can sing the National Anthem, but you wouldn’t want to listen to it. The Nats, obviously, would rather see Carp play in the infield if his services are needed.

All of this is necessitated by the injury to Jayson Werth. His shoulder surgery was major, and while the team hopes he’ll be available by opening day, it’s far from a sure thing. Even then, he might not be the “Jayson Werth” Nats fans have come to expect until much later in the season when his shoulder is full-strength again.

Adding Gwynn tells us a few things. First, the Nats are trying to stockpile backups with Major League credentials. Next, they aren’t sold that McLouth is going to be able to open the season on the roster recovering form his own shoulder surgery. Finally, it seems to indicate they’d much rather have top positional prospect Michael Taylor open in centerfield at Syracuse, rather than in left field at Nats park.

 

Nats add 1B/OF Mike Carp on minor league deal

VETERAN OUTFIELDER COULD PROVIDE INSURANCE AT SEVERAL POSITIONS

The Washington Nationals signed 1B/OF Mike Carp to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Carp, 28, is a .254/330/.414 career hitter in part of six seasons played exclusively in the American League and exactly 1,000 career plate appearances.

Carp is adequate defensively in either corner outfield slot or first base and will provide insurance as several positions, granted his problems at the plate last season were an aberration and not the new norm.

Carp split time between Boston and Texas last season and hit a woeful .175/.289/.230 in 149 plate appearances with no home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs. That was a drastic departure from his valuable 2013 season with Boston, when he hit .296/.362/.523 with nine homers in 243 appearances.

Carp’s career year was in 2011 with Seattle, when he hit .276/.326/.466 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 313 plate appearances.

This is another in a long line of moves by Mike Rizzo to keep costs down with potential medium returns. Consider these separate but related facts:

  • Jayson Werth is out due to surgery on his right shoulder and questionable for opening day
  • Ryan Zimmerman has been injured and missed significant time in each of the past five seasons.
  • The Nats bench is slated to include Nate McLouth, Tyler Moore and rookie Michael Taylor

When Werth went down, it was all but assumed the Nats would bring in a veteran to compete for playing time while the hirsute left fielder mends and bolster the bench upon his return. Mike Carp seems to fit that mold…if the bat comes back.

Jayson Werth has “successful” shoulder surgery; out 2-3 months

The Washington Nationals (via Twitter) announced outfielder Jayson Werth had “successful” surgery to correct a problem with his right shoulder, specifically his A/C joint, and went out of the way to mention that there were “no structural abnormalities” found in the process.

Despite the sort of strangely-worded part about structural abnormalities, Werth is expected to be out 2-3 months, which definitely impacts his availability for opening day. In reality, due to the lengthy healing and rehab process, Werth might not be the “Jayson Werth” we’ve come to expect in a Nationals uniform until well into the summer, if at all this season.

Werth’s excellent on-base skills certainly shouldn’t be impacted that much, but his already diminishing power will be something to keep an eye on once he’s able to return to the field.

Another thing to watch: his fielding. He’s being moved to left field this season as much for his own protection as putting Bryce Harper in the position he’ll probably settle into for the next decade. Werth’s injury is to his right shoulder, his throwing arm, and as someone with a history of A/C problems, I can tell you that sometimes surgery does the trick, sometimes it doesn’t.

The A/C joint (acromioclavicular joint) is where the clavicle meets the scapula (technically, the acromion, the part of the scapula that forms the highest point of the shoulder). It really doesn’t have much to do with the ball joint that comprises the shoulder, what we usually think of with throwing injuries.

Rather, the A/C joint allows us as humans to lift our arms above our head, acting as a pivot point resulting in arm rotation.

Essentially, the surgery Werth had will “tie down” the clavicle to the acromion, repairing the torn ligament that previously did the job. A/C repairs are notoriously finicky and take quite a while to rehab and gain strength back.

Ryan Zimmerman had a similar surgery following the 2012 season, but in the news about his procedure, he was expected to miss six weeks.

Obviously, Werth is older than Zimmerman and had his procedure later in the year than Zimmerman (late October rather than January) so we have to assume Werth’s injury was more extensive than that of his teammate.

Nats officials hope that Werth has a complete recovery, but they better have a Plan B just in case.

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants NLDS Series Preview

After winning the NL East as well as owning the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL Wild Card Game, to Nationals Park on Friday afternoon to kickoff a best-of-five National League Division Series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st in NL East vs San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd in NL West) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 147 Review: Nats Rain Runs in Win Over Mets

HARPER HOMERS AS NATS BLOWOUT METS

As a steady rain fell over Citi Field on Saturday night, the Washington Nationals poured runs on the New York Mets the whole night through, winning the third of a four-game series, 10-3.

The Nats reduced their “magic number” to clinch the division to six games over the Braves, and can eliminate them as early as Tuesday.

In the top of the second inning, Bryce Harper (3-for-4, 2 RBI) put the Nationals on the board with a towering home run that came back to earth half way up the upper deck in right field. Ian Desmond (3-for-4, 3 RBI) who walked to reach base, scored on the play as well to give the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 145 Review: Nats Strike Early, Hold Off Mets Late

LAROCHE, RENDON HOMER AS NATS DEFEAT METS

Opening up a three-game series against the New York Mets in Queens, New York, the Washington Nationals got on the scoreboard early and held off the Mets late to take Game 1 of the series, 6-2.

The Nationals got things going early offensively. With Anthony Rendon (3-for-5, 2 RBI) on base with a single, Adam LaRoche (2-for-5, 3 RBI) took a two-out 3-2 pitch off the right field foul pole to give the Nationals an 2-0 lead. For LaRoche, it was his 24th homer of the year and 28th all-time against the Mets, the most homers he’s hit against any team throughout his career. [Read more…]

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