July 30, 2014

OPINION: Rizzo steals Fister from Tigers for spare parts

You don’t need me to tell you that the Washington Nationals flat-out stole Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers on Cyber Monday.

But I’m going to anyway.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve no doubt by now read dozens of opinions that Mike Rizzo absolutely robbed his counterpart, Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski. Actually, most of the professional comments have been more of the bewildered sort than any other trade in recent memory.

Let’s not mince words here: The Nats acquired one of the top 25 pitchers in all of baseball, under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate, for a Quad-A middle infielder, a LOOGY with maturity issues, and a mid-level left-handed pitching prospect.

This gives the Nationals a starting rotation with four of the top 25 starters in the game.

Fister is one of the more underrated players in the game today. By all metrics, he ranks among the most durable, consistently excellent starters in the bigs. He’s a ground ball machine, and going to be playing the next several seasons with the best defense he’s had behind him. He doesn’t walk batters, and he very rarely gives up home runs.

There are two reasons he’s largely been ignored when the discussion of the best starters in the league comes up: his fastball sits around 89 MPH and he doesn’t put up gaudy strikeout totals. His career average of 6.3 per nine is rather pedestrian, but coupled with a career walk rate of 1.8, his K/BB rate of 3.46 is awesome.

Number one on Baseball-Reference’s “Similarity Score” for Fister, which compares players based on statistics accumulated and projected, is Jordan Zimmermann. Enough said.

But to get, you have to give. What did the Nats really give up?

Let’s discuss Robbie Ray, the only player the Nats gave up that might have a ceiling, first. The 6’2″, 170 22-year old just completed his 4th minor league season, split between A+ and AA. He posted a combined 11-5 with 3.36 ERA, 1.254 WHIP and 10.1 K/9. He pitches in the low 90s and can hit mid-90s when he dials it up. His command though is still a work in progress, as his BB/9 was 3.9.

He was ranked as the Nats’ third or fourth highest pitching prospect depending on who you like to listen to, but if he can’t develop his changeup in the next year or two he’s going to end up in the pen.

We had Ray as the Nats’ 12th overall prospect and the sixth pitcher behind Cole, Giolito, Karns, Solis and Purke.

Ray could develop into a quality MLB starting pitcher, a lefty to boot. He could end up a quality arm in a big league bullpen. He could be a LOOGY. He could get exposed at Triple-A, where he has yet to throw a pitch.

But we know that Doug Fister is a quality Major League starter.

What about the two roster players the Nats gave up?

I want to be kind here, as I know that Steve Lombardozzi has more than his share of fans in the D.C. area. But he’s exactly like his father with regards to his potential as a big leaguer: he’s already reached it. He is — at best — a utility middle infielder, and really nothing more than a backup second baseman. He barely has the arm strength to cover second at the big league level, let alone trying to make the long throw at short. It’s just not there, not to mention his lack of range.

At the plate, Lombo is a “Punch-and-Judy” slap hitter, devoid of any power whatsoever. He has no plate discipline, and can’t run. What gets him by is his unwavering work ethic and willingness to play anywhere the manager puts him, however out of position that might be. Shoot, he was the emergency catcher last season.

Ian Krol, the “player to be named later” in the Michael Morse trade last season from Oakland, has a decent power lefty arm, but should never be allowed to face a right-handed batter. He is the very definition of “replacement player”.

Lesser starting pitchers than Fister have been acquired via trade the past two seasons for far more quality than the Nats gave up in this deal. The Royals gave the Rays Wil Myers for James Shields, and Fister is every bit Shields’ equal, if not better.

Perhaps Dombrowski knows something about Fister health-wise we don’t. Maybe Fister spent his off-season kicking babies and throwing rocks at people at charity events. Who knows? But what we do know is that Fister is one of the top two dozen or so MLB starting pitchers, and he’ll be wearing a Curly W next season, making the Nats rotation one of the top-three in the league.

And all they gave up to get him was a backup middle infielder, a LOOGY and a marginal lefty starter prospect.

BREAKING: Nationals acquire Doug Fister from Detroit Tigers

The Washington Nationals have acquired right-handed pitcher Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and left-handed prospect Robbie Ray.

Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2013 for the defending AL Central Champions. He allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings pitched, which ranked second-best in the AL. The 29 year-old, 6-foot-8 Merced, Calif. native holds a five-year career 3.53 ERA and 44-50 win-loss record.

In eight career postseason appearances, including one World Series start, Fister has earned a 3-2 record with a 2.98 ERA.

The acquisition is – no doubt – a win for General Manager Mike Rizzo. Lombardozzi recorded a less-than-stellar slash line of .259/.278/.338, although his 13 pinch hits ranked second-most in baseball.

“This is an exciting day for the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo said in a press release. “We feel we’ve added a talented, young veteran to our starting pitching corps. Doug is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”

At 22 years-old, Krol showed some promise for the Nationals, who acquired him in a three-way deal that brought A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen into the Nationals’ organization and sent Michael Morse to Seattle. Krol’s record sells short the fact he did not allow a run in his first nine appearances in the Big Leagues. He earned a 2-1 record and a 3.95 ERA in a season which few would have predicted to see him take the mound.

Ray, also 22, was rated the fifth-best prospect in the Nats’ system by Baseball America. He earned a combined 3.36 ERA with Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

Fister was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2006. He was acquired, along with David Pauley, by the Tigers on July 30, 2011, in exchange for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells.

By  trading Fister, the Tigers will reportedly save about $6 million. Fister was arbitration-eligible and projected to earn about $7 million.

Rumors had circulated in recent weeks that the Tigers were looking to free up room in their rotation to allow left-hander Drew Smyly to return to a starter role.

NATS: Happy Birthday, Steve Lombardozzi

HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY STEVE LOMBARDOZZI!

Washington Nationals infielder Steve Lombardozzi was born on 09/20/1988 in Fulton, Maryland.

Follow Lombo on Twitter (@S_Lombo1) and be sure to wish #1 a Happy 25th Birthday.

Carlos Ruiz grounded out, Steve Lombardozzi to Tyler Moore for third out in third inning – Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals, July 31, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Steve Lombardozzi fielding during batting practice (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals Game 134 Review: Nats bats quiet in loss to Gee, Mets

The Washington Nationals pushed Dillon Gee out of the game during a rally attempt in the eighth, but they fell short of knocking in the go-ahead runner in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Mets.

Gee and Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann found themselves in the midst of a pitcher’s duel at the onset. In fact, neither starter allowed a hit – that is, until the bottom of the third inning.

On a 1-1 count to lead off, Wilson Ramos powered a homer to left-center to give Washington a one-run lead.

It was short-lived, however, as Daniel Murphy led off the top of the fourth with a single, allowing Ike Davis to one-up Ramos with a two-run, go-ahead shot.

From that point onward, neither team made noise. In the bottom of the fourth, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond each went down in order on infield grounders. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals and their second base conundrum

The Washington Nationals seem to be in a bit of a pickle with their second base situation. The incumbent, Danny Espinosa, has been miserable at the plate this season. On top of the torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder that we knew about dating all the way back to the end of last season, turns out he’s been playing since late April 14 with bone chips and a broken right wrist, sustained when the Braves Paul Maholm hit him with a fastball.

For now, the Nationals plan to rest Espinosa for a few days in the hopes that the swelling and discomfort lingering in his wrist will subside to the point that he can play again. They hope to avoid a D.L. stint for Espinosa. But here’s what we know: when Espinosa originally sustained the injury, the x-rays showed no break. Now, that might have been clouding due to the swelling associated with the injury, or there just could have been no break. After five weeks, after re-examination, a break with bone chips showed up.

The Nats had Espinosa sit for a couple days back in April, then when he felt better he was reinserted into the lineup. But he continued to play through the pain.

“It’s not getting worse,” Espinosa told reporters the other day. “But by no means has it  gotten any better. So I wanted to get it checked out.”

Turns out, he’d been playing with a broken wrist. Yet, the Nats at this point will go through the same procedure as the first time: a couple of days of rest, then see how he feels.

Why are the Nats so reluctant to put Espinosa on the disabled list and get his injuries fixed instead of trotting him out onto the field in a reduced capacity? The answer is multi-faceted.

First, Espinosa has an incredibly high pain tolerance and he’s willing to play at a reduced capacity. That’s honorable, but in cases such as this the player isn’t always the best judge of whether to play or not. We know he played almost two months at the end of last season when most guys would have just gotten the rotator cuff surgery and been ready for spring training. But that’s kind of the point here.

There’s a big difference between playing through pain and playing with an injury. And now Espinosa has two different injuries we know about. The shoulder might not be causing him much pain, so he felt like playing with it wasn’t that big of a deal. But the joint sustained major injury, and as such will have a reduced capacity, strength and range of motion. Now, he’s got bone chips floating around in his wrist area, to go along with the break site. Bone chips don’t heal, they need to be removed. So he’ll need surgery at some point.

It’s absolutely no wonder that Espinosa is hitting .163/.196/.291 this season.

So we’re left to consider the other options for second base right now, and it leads us to why the team hoped Espinosa could play through his injuries.

Steve Lombardozzi will get the first shot to fill in for Espinosa regardless of how long Espi’s out of the lineup. Lombardozzi is a fan favorite, much like Espinosa was last year before Ian Desmond’s career year (remember how many fans wanted to dump Desmond and have Espi to slide over to his natural position), and much like the backup quarterback for the Redskins is every year since the beginning of time. The promise of a younger, lesser known player is brighter than the player filling the position currently. Sometimes it’s the case that the promise bestowed by the fan base is justified. Usually it is not.

Lombardozzi is many things, but a full-time MLB starter is not one of them. He is defensively capable of playing several positions on the field at an average, or near-average level. That makes Lombo a valuable member of a National League bench, in that he can fill in for a night or two just about anywhere on the field. But his flexibility also masks the problem: but he is by no means an exceptional fielder at any single position, as Espinosa is.

At bat, Lombardozzi is even less qualified to be an MLB starter. His calling card in the minor leagues was his ability to slap singles and draw an occasional walk, as his career MiLB .298/.369/.411 slash line would attest to. He has no power. His speed is merely average, as his stolen base attempts per season have gone down as he rose through the organization. He is, in baseball vernacular, a grinder. He gets by on mediocre talent by his willingness to outwork others and play whatever position he’s asked to. He is, simply, his father.

Jeff Kobernus got the call today to make his Major League debut for the Nats, and will bide his time on the bench until a long range plan on Espinosa becomes apparent. Kobernus was drafted by the Nats in the second round of the 2009 draft, becoming the third player from that draft to don the Curly W, joining Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. He’ll be 25 in June, so he’s not really a kid anymore (for perspective, Chris Marrero is actually younger than Kobernus).

He was left unprotected by the Nats and selected by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers switched him from his natural second base position to outfield to take advantage of his elite speed. He took to the outfield, but couldn’t stick on the Tigers roster, so the Nats happily took him back and left him in the outfield for the most part (28 games in OF, 18 at 2B this season). Kobernus’ biggest tool is his speed. he’s stolen 141 bases in 333 minor league games at an 80.1% clip.

He’s a good defender at second, but not elite, and it looks like he can handle himself in the outfield, though there’s not nearly enough evidence to justify that claim. His hit tool is only average though, and his minor league career slash line (.286/.324/.364) suggests at the plate he’ll be no more effective than Lombardozzi. But he at least has one elite tool, in contrast to Lombo. He could have a future as a utility player in the bigs if he can hit enough.

One other option in the minor leagues is Will Rhymes. The 30-year-old was signed as a minor league free agent by the Nats and has been Syracuse’s full-time second baseman this season. He’s enjoying a productive season (.291/.361/.335), which is remarkably similar to his career slash line (.290/.356/.375). He’s had a couple of cups of coffee with the Tigers in 2010, ’11 and ’12 (449 plate appearances), but he’s a career minor leaguer, a last-ditch insurance policy at best.

The question on everyone’s minds is “What about Rendon?” Ever since Anthony Rendon was drafted by the Nats in the first round of the 2011 draft, everyone has wondered what position he’d play in the majors. Third base is covered by Ryan Zimmerman (at least, for now). Many speculated Rendon could move to second, left field or even first base. Rendon’s bat will play at third, second or left field easily. So why wouldn’t the Nats considered their prized prospect for the second base slot if they need a long-term replacement.

The answer is: they could. If Espinosa needs surgery to remove the bone chips, and they decided to go ahead and do the shoulder at the same time, they could consider Rendon. But they don’t want him learning the position at the Major League level. To this date, Rendon has played a grand total of five games at second base in his professional career, despite what some major media outlets would have you believe. The Nats think he’s a good enough athlete to make that transition, but not every left-side infielder can make the transition to playing with their back to the runner at second base. Also, Rendon is thought to have gold glove capability at third base, and it’s a different skill set and mind set to play third as opposed to second.

Can Rendon play second? I’m sure he can. But he’s a third baseman. For now, anyway.

I’ve spent about 1,000 words now trying to explain why the Nats are so willing to allow Espinosa to play through injury. Simply, it’s because the other options aren’t the greatest. Espinosa is this team’s second baseman, and if he’s to go down long-term, it will hurt this team’s chances to compete. It’s a big problem. Already, playing through these injuries he’s one of the least productive players in the league this season by WAR. How much further does he have to drop to consider replacing him?

Only Mike Rizzo can answer that.

Washington Nationals Game 48 Review: Zimmermann shuts down Phillies in Nats’ 5-2 win

Jordan Zimmermann (W, 8-2) proved a dominant force once more as the Washington Nationals (25-23) shut down the Philadelphia Phillies (23-25), 5-2, Friday night in their return to Nationals Park.

After dropping six of 10 games out west, the Nats needed Zimmermann to deliver on a night where the wind blew hard from center, erasing all hope for the long-ball.

While Mother Nature opted to keep the ball in the infield, the Phillies made due with grounders and slow rollers in the second to step in front with a 1-0 lead by way of a Ryan Howard double and a Domonic Brown single. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 43 Review: Nats lack run support needed to hand Zimmermann win

Jordan Zimmermann (L, 7-2) allowed just two runs in his third complete game of the season, but the Washington Nationals (23-20) came up with just four hits in their 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres (19-23).

Left-hander Eric Stults (4-3) no-hit the Nationals through five innings and, in eight innings pitched, he allowed only one run to score.

Both Zimmermann and Stults were so effective that it took them only 85 and 89 pitches respectively to work through eight innings.

In the bottom of the second inning, the Padres took an early lead in the form of a solo shot by Yonder Alonso. The one-run advantage appeared larger than most with Stults’s near-perfect performance. [Read more...]

NATS/SUNS: Hagerstown Sun 2013 Promotional Schedule

Hagerstown Suns LogoSuns Single Game Tickets Now On Sale

HAGERSTOWN M.D. – The Hagerstown Suns begin the 2013 season in less than a month, and individual game tickets are now on sale. All the fun at Municipal Stadium begins Thursday April 11 with the home opener against the Delmarva Shorebirds. Opening night will be the first of many exciting events and promotions to take place at the ballpark this season.

Returning in 2013 is the weekly “Thirsty Thursday” promotion. Every Thursday home game fans 21 and over will be able to purchase Coors Light, Miller Light and Yuengling for just $1.00 each. The fun continues each Friday home game with the new “Flat Screen Friday” promotion. During Friday home games this season one 32” flat screen television will be given to one lucky fan thanks to Spicher’s Appliances, Electronics, and Security.

Another new weekly promotion in 2013 will be “Red-Out Sunday” presented by Volvo. The purpose of the “Red-Out Sunday” promotion is to bring awareness to and show support for the anti-bullying movement. As part of the promotion the Suns players and coaches will be wearing red jerseys during the game, and fans in attendance are requested to wear red to show their support as well.

Also new for 2013 is the opening of the recently constructed “Kid’s Fun Zone”, which will be located near the main entrance. The “Kid’s Fun Zone” will have classic arcade games, a bounce house, and speed pitch. The post-game fireworks schedule has also been expanded from 12 to 14 shows for the 2013 season. The first fireworks show will take place following the game on Friday, May 10 against Delmarva.

The 2013 season is loaded with some fantastic giveaways as well, beginning on opening night with a magnet schedule giveaway presented by Hagerstown Magazine. On Saturday, April 13 Benny’s Pub home of Antietam Brewery will be giving out a 22oz. beer stein to the first 1,000 fans 21 and over that can be brought back to Municipal Stadium and Benny’s all season long for discounted beer specials.

Other giveaways this season include a Bryce Harper thermal lunch tote presented by Pepsi, which will be given to the first 1,000 fans on Wednesday June 5, a pink Stephen Strasburg blanket presented by Lehigh Phoenix & Associated Radiologists, which will be given to the first 1,000 fans on Saturday June 15 as part of “Pink Weekend” , a Steve Lombardozzi garden gnome will be the featured giveaway August 7th and a Bryce Harper bobble head, which will be given to the first 1,000 fans on Sunday August 18, plus many more!

For more information on all of the promotions and giveaways throughout the 2013 season and to reserve your seats at Municipal Stadium, call 301-791-6266, or go to www.hagerstownsuns.com. The Hagerstown Suns are owned by Hagerstown Baseball, LLC.

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Infield

This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

On Monday we broke down Nationals’ starters, Tuesday we evaluated the bullpen and Wednesday we looked at the outfielders. Here now is a preview of the infield.

PROJECTED OPENING DAY INFIELD: 1B–Adam LaRoche, 2B–Danny Espinosa, SS–Ian Desmond, 3B–Ryan Zimmerman. Bench: 2B/SS Steve Lombardozzi, 1B/3B Chad Tracy. First callups: 3B Carlos Rivero, 1B Chris Marrero, 2B Will Rhymes. On the Farm: 3B Anthony Rendon, 1B/3B Matt Skole, SS Zach Walters [Read more...]

NATS: 2013 NatsFest Details

Washington Nationals fans should check the website for updated information as all player appearances and activities are subject to change.

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS ANNOUNCE 2013 NATSFEST DETAILS

Event to take place Saturday, January 26 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at
Washington Convention Center

The Washington Nationals today released new details about 2013 NatsFest, taking place for the first time at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

More than 25 Nationals players and prospects are expected to attend the fun-filled baseball festival, including but not limited to*: Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood will also be in attendance. In addition, Nationals fans will have the first opportunity to meet two of the team’s latest additions, Dan Haren and Denard Span. Please note that all autograph vouchers are SOLD OUT; autograph voucher holders are encouraged to visit nationals.com/natsfest for important information.

Open to fans of all ages from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., NatsFest will offer a variety of activities including:
o Q & A sessions with players and coaches on topics including ‘Preparing for Games’ and ‘Life on the Road’

o Opportunities to take photos with players and team mascots

o A special Jr. Nats Kids Forum featuring Player Story Times and Kids Press Conferences

o The chance to learn about the team’s innovative virtual ticketing system

o Games, interactive events and surprises

The event will also feature:
o Live broadcast by 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official flagship radio station

o Opportunities to purchase the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia

o Batting cages, inflatable games and 2012 trophy display

o D.J. Stylus Chris spinning music throughout the day

o Concessions for purchase

NatsFest will also offer fans the first opportunity to purchase individual and group tickets to see the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in a special preseason exhibition game on Friday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. Tickets for NatsFest are currently on sale for Season Plan Holders at $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and for the general public at $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased at nationals.com/natsfest.

Fans planning to utilize Metro’s Red Line to attend NatsFest are encouraged to add at least 20 minutes to their planned travel time due to scheduled weekend track maintenance. For directions and parking, visit the Convention Center website at www.dcconvention.com.

*All player appearances are subject to change

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