March 30, 2015

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Zimmermann strong again, Nats tie Cards

RYAN ZIMMERMAN LEAVES GAME AFTER DIVE, AWKWARD LEAP

Jordan Zimmermann allowed one earned run on four hits over six innings in his next-to-last start of spring training and the Washington Nationals added another tie to the ledger with a 1-1 finish against the St. Louis Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Following the game, Zimmermann told reporters in Florida “it’s not looking good” for the veteran righty to sign a contract extension before opening day, and he reiterated that he would not negotiate during the season, all but assuring that he will hit the open market as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2015 season. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats tie Astros

The Washington Nationals got some production out of the middle of their opening day batting order but the Houston Astros put together a late rally to force a 6-6 at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. The teams declined to play extra innings.

The Nats put together a three-run third inning behind RBIs by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, all with two outs. Tony Gwynn Jr got the rally started with a single to right. Ian Desmond followed with a walk from Scott Feldman. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats tame Tigers 9-2

The Washington Nationals roughed up David Price for four runs in two innings and beat the Detroit Tigers 9-2 on Wednesday in Viera, Florida.

Jordan Zimmermann went 2 2/3 innings, throwing 33 of his 47 pitches for strikes. He gave up one earned run on two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four. [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.

Washington Nationals Game 1 Pregame: Manager Matt Williams meets the press

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams met with gathered media ahead of Game 1 of the NLDS Friday morning. The skipper talked about the roster construction for the first round, Ryan Zimmerman’s availability and his bullpen.

Earlier in the day, the Nats announced their playoff roster. Zimmerman was indeed included, which meant someone had to be left off. The odd man out was outfielder Scott Hairston, who was on the roster all season long. Nate Schierholtz, a left-handed hitting outfielder with some speed who was a waiver claim late in the season, retained his spot.

Williams conceded that Zimmerman would come off the bench as a right-handed pinch-hitter, a move most assumed as his playing time down the stretch was managed heavily by the Nats first-year manager. Zimmerman obviously has not fully recovered yet from the torn hamstring that cost him over 50 games this season.

Zimmerman played only sparingly in the field upon being activated from the disabled list, and when he did was shaky, at best. Since the Face of the Franchise will be limited to pinch-hitting duties for the most part, that meant Hairston, who’s also primarily a right-handed pinch-hitter, became superfluous.

That situation played out in the bullpen as well. Ross Detwiler, who started the pivotal Game 4 in the 2012 NLDS, was left off the roster as well, in favor of Rafael Soriano, the demoted closer. Williams referred to Detwiler as the “third lefty” and said he preferred to carry just two: Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins. Blevins was much maligned early in the season — though not nearly as much as Soriano was late — but the veteran recovered in the last month of the season to dominate down the stretch.

Soriano took the opposite tack. The veteran righty was dominant in the first half of the season and really could have represented the Nats in the All-Star game. But as good as he was early, he was that bad in the second half, running up a 6.23 ERA since the midsummer classic. His inclusion on the roster is curious, but Williams said he likes the luxury of having three 40-saves relievers in his bullpen, saying that his confidence in Soriano “never waivered.”

The last nugget of information to come out of the press conference was that Tanner Roark, who started 31 games with a 15-10 record, 2.85 ERA and 1.092 WHIP, was moving to the bullpen with the shortened playoff starting rotation. Though Williams didn’t mention him by name, Gio Gonzalez thus retains his spot in the rotation, unless the Nats decide to come back with Strasburg in Game 4 on one day short rest — a situation that would probably only arise if the Nats trailed in the series.

The Nats Game 2 starter, Jordan Zimmermann, also spoke with the media Friday. He said most of the players in the clubhouse are trying to go about their business as normal, but acknowledged that the playoffs brings a different edge and it helps the team went through it two years ago.

“We didn’t really know anything coming in two years ago,” Zimmermann said. “Jayson [Werth] is the only guy who said ‘It will be crazy, something you guys never experienced.’ You know, after going out there [in 2012], and experience it one time, I think we are all more prepared now and kind of know what to expect.”

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 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 vs Miami Marlins Series Preview

Fresh off a 2-3 series win over the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals will finish off the regular season with a 4-games series against the Miami Marlins.

Teams

Washington Nationals (95-63, 1st in NL East) vs Miami Marlins (76-82, 4th in NL East) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals vs New York Mets Series Preview

Having won 12 out of their last 15, including a four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, the Washington Nationals now return home to play the New York Mets one last time in a three-game series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (91-64, 1st in NL East) vs New York Mets (76-80, 2nd in NL East) [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…]

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