April 18, 2015

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)

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…]

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: Nats pound four homers to beat Marlins

As opening day approaches, the regulars are starting to get more at bats and more innings in the field. On Sunday in Viera, Florida, the Washington Nationals fielded close to their opening day lineup and they mashed four home runs to top the Miami Marlins 11-7.

Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton all went deep for the Nats. Taylor went 3 for 3 with a walk, Harper was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. Ramos went 3 for 3 and Lobaton’s homer was a three-run shot.

The Nats pounded out 14 hits with four walks against three Marlins pitchers. They clubbed starter Tom Koehler for six runs and 10 hits in four innings.

On the other side, Doug Fister wasn’t particularly sharp either. He allowed six runs on eight hits and a walk over four innings. He gave up three homers on the day, to Marcel Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamachia and Giancarlo Stanton.

On bit of pitching good news came late: Craig Stammen, who had been roughed up his last couple of times out, pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings with two strikeouts.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Gio solid, bullpen not in loss to Mets

The New York Mets got one run in the sixth, two in the seventh, four more in the eighth and tacked one on in the ninth to turn a tight game into a laugher, beating the Washington Nationals 8-3 at windy Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Gio Gonzalez started, and while the lefty walked three — including back-to-back free passes in the third — he didn’t allow a run and gave up just two hits, one an infield variety that he fielded and made a late throw. He struck out five in five innings of work.

That was the good. The rest? Not so much.

Tanner Roark, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen — all relievers the team will rely upon heavily this season — were knocked around by a collection of mostly Mets backups.

Roark gave up two runs on two hits  in one inning of work, striking out two without a walk. Blevins surrendered consecutive homers to Matt Reynolds and Juan Lagares in the seventh. Stammen was touched for four runs on three hits — including a homer by Matt den Dekker — and a walk in 2/3 of an inning.

After two straight rough outings, Stammen’s spring ERA is 8.68.

The Nats picked up all their runs in the sixth inning. Michael Taylor doubled home Kila Kaiaihue, who walked,  and then scored on Clint Robinson’s double. Derrick Robinson pinch-ran for Clint and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single. Wilson Ramos followed with a single, but Ian Desmond struck out to end the rally.

NATS NOTES:

  • Spring Training numbers to be taken with a grain of salt: Roark’s ERA hit 9.00 and Blevins’ sits at 8.59 after today’s runs.
  • Yunel Escobar led off and played second. He went 1 for 3 in his third game of the spring.
  • Desmond choked down a throw, bouncing it to first. When Zimmerman couldn’t make the backhanded scoop, Desmond was charged with his second error of the spring. He double-clutched a ball on the transfer in the next inning, but got a force at second.
  • Tyler Moore, who can’t afford to take any play for granted in his battle for a roster spot, flat-out dropped a fly ball in left field in the first inning.
  • Bryce Harper did not play for the second straight day with a stomach virus.

 

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats pound Verlander, tie Tigers

The Washington Nationals pounded Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander for three home runs — two from Michael Taylor — but the Tigers got to the Nats bullpen and the game ended in a 7-7 tie at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Taylor, one of the Nats top prospects and pegged to play center field while Denard Span recovers from abdominal surgery, homered in the third and fifth innings off Verlander. He finished the day 2 for 4 and is hitting .324 this spring. [Read more…]

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 Game 117 Review: Fister strong, Taylor homers in debut as Nats pound Mets

MICHAEL TAYLOR WITH FIRST MLB HIT, HOMER IN ROUT

The Washington Nationals needed a game like this.

After a disappointing weekend series with the Atlanta Braves, the Nats broke out in a big way against the New York Mets, slugging four home runs — including three in one inning — and Doug Fister tossed seven shutout innings as the Nats dumped the Mets 7-1 at Citifield in Queens.

The win, coupled with the Braves loss to the Dodgers, gives the Nats a five-game lead in the N.L. East.

One of the three homers hit in the sixth inning came from Michael Taylor, making his first start in the Major Leagues. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 115 Review: Nats top Braves in 11 after nearly 4 hour rain delay

It took a while to get this one started — and finished — but for the Washington Nationals, it was well worth the wait.

A steady rain delayed the start back to after many folks’ bedtimes on the east coast, then extra innings delayed the outcome that much further. But a three-run outburst in the 11th inning lifted the Nats to a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

The Nats extend their division lead back to 4 1/2 games.

Anthony Rendon led off the 11th with a single off Braves reliever David Carpenter and went to second on Adam LaRoche’s ground ball single to right. Carpenter got Ian Desmond to line out to left, though Justin Upton took a bad route and had to make a circus catch on the hard liner.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez lifted Carpenter in favor of James Russell, but Russell walked Bryce Harper on five pitches. Gonzalez went back to his pen, this time for Anthony Varvaro, who gave up a pair of runs in Friday night’s game.

Wilson Ramos greeted Varvaro with a soft liner to center for an RBI single. Kevin Frandsen followed with a double to the right field corner that scored LaRoche and Harper. The Braves muffed the relay to the infield, and Ramos tried to score. He was originally called safe as Even Gattis made a very high tag on the slide, but after review Ramos was ruled out.

Regardless, the Nats had their three-run lead.

All that was left was for Rafael Soriano to pitch the bottom of the inning, and he did so uneventfully for his 26th save of the season.

Previously to the 11th inning, all the scoring in this one came back in the sixth. LaRoche hit a solo homer off Braves starter Aaron Harang, his 16th of the season, then in the bottom the Braves evened it up as they loaded the bases with no outs against Nats starter Tanner Roark, then a sacrifice fly by Jason Heyward tied the game.

Roark wiggled out of the inning allowing just the one run as he struck out Gattis and got a comebacker from Chris Johnson to end the frame.

Roark had another terrific outing, allowing just the one run on six hits and three walks over seven innings, striking out six.

NATS NOTES: CSNWashington’s Mark Zuckerman reported before the game the Nats plan to recall OF Michael Taylor from AAA Syracuse before Sunday’s game. Taylor has had a breakout season in the minors. No corresponding move was announced, though Jayson Werth and Steven Souza Jr. both played Saturday in the late innings.

  • Denard Span continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-5. His average is up to .305 for the year.
  • Harper went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • The Nats were 2-for-7 with RISP and left seven on base.
  • Desmond went 0-for-5, but did steal a base.
  • LaRoche went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs and an RBI.
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