Harper Homers Can’t Lift The Nats

September 1st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Two home runs from Bryce Harper, one in the second inning and one in the fourth, weren’t enough to lift the Nationals in Seattle, as Washington came out on the losing end of a 5-3 contest. The loss was the fourth in the last six games for the Nationals, who now travel to L.A. to face the Dodgers.

The Mariners win, which salvaged a single victory in the three game series, turned on the bat of Dustin Ackley, who homered and drove in four runs for Seattle — and made a loser of Washington starter Tanner Roark, who registered his ninth loss on the season against twelve wins.

The Nationals took an early lead in the game, posting single runs in the second, third and fourth innings off of Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma threw six complete innings of five hit baseball for his 13th victory on the 2014 campaign.

Seattle’s big inning was the fifth, when Brad Miller singled on a line drive to center, Austin Jackson followed with a soft single to left, and Ackley took a 92 mph Roark fastball deep to right field to plate Seattle’s first three runs.

Ackley, a highly touted draft pick out of North Carolina, has been a late bloomer for the Mariners. “Listen, he’s a good player,” Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon said of Ackley. “When he was drafted, he was the best college player in the draft, college hitter. Sometimes, it takes a while.”

The Nationals loss, coupled with Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins, narrowed Washington’s lead over the Braves to six games in the National League East. After two exciting victories in Seattle on Friday and Saturday, the Nationals offense was non-existent on Sunday, with Washington coming away with only six hits against Seattle pitching.

The good news for the Nationals is that, after several weeks of struggling (after returning from an injury that kept him out 57 games), Harper has finally found his groove — and his swing. Sunday’s outing gave him seven home runs in his last 23 games. The left fielder is hitting .306 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs since August 7.

“I feel pretty good out there. I’m trying to put together some good at-bats,” Harper said after his team’s loss. “I get my work in every day and see how I feel every single day. Stick to the same routine, same plan and try to execute.” New acquisition Nate Schierholtz also homered (in the third inning) for the home towners.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was all about pitching in Atlanta, where Braves southpaw Alex Wood struck out twelve in leading the Chops to a nail biting 1-0 victory over the lumbering Marlins. The Braves victory came off the bat of Evan Gattis, who’s second inning solo shot proved the difference in the game . . .

In San Francisco, meanwhile, the Giants showed they’re still very much in the race for the N.L. West flag by grabbing a sweep against the suddenly reeling Brewers. Sunday’s victory was a laugher, with San Francisco plating fifteen runs on sixteen hits. Pablo Sandoval had a two run homer and three RBIs in the victory . . .

The San Francisco win was the 15th on the season from Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, who notched seven strikeouts in six innings. The game also featured the first appearance of the season of Tim Lincecum in relief. The two time Cy Young Award winner pitched the eighth and ninth innings, but gave up two runs on three hits . . .

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Strasburg Sharp As Nats Sink Seattle

August 31st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.

The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.

“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.

“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”

The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.

The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .

Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .

Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .

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Nats HR Derby Downs King Felix In Seattle

August 30th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Six Washington home runs, and six steady innings from righty Jordan Zimmermann, pushed the Nationals past Felix Hernandez (perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in the American League), as the Nats went on to down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Park on Friday night, 8-3.

With “the King’s Court” along the left field line looking on in stunned silence, Hernandez gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon (in the first inning), Jayson Werth (in the third inning), and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — both in the fourth inning. It was the third poor outing in a row for Hernandez.

“It was a tough day,” Hernandez admitted to the press in talking about Seattle’s loss. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off.”

The victory snapped a three game losing streak for the Nationals, who were swept in Philadelphia earlier in the week. “They were aggressive with Felix,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted in speaking of his hitters. “They got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. But then, we put some good swings on it.”

Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, righted himself after a after a shaky first inning (Dustin Ackley tripled, Robinson Cano walked and Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager singled to score two), to throw six complete innings in striking out eight Mariners. This was Zimmermann’s tenth win of the season.

“I was a little strong the first, second inning. Fastball was up and I couldn’t get it down,” Zimmermann said after his team’s victory. “Throwing that many pitches helped me a little bit.”

The Nationals tacked on three runs in the 8th and 9th innings, once again as a result of the long ball. Bryce Harper hit the 50th home run of his career in the 8th, followed by a 409 foot shot by Wilson Ramos — his second home run of the game. Adam LaRoche put the game away in the 9th with a sacrifice fly that scored Denard Span.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched well in relief of Zimmermann. The trio gave up three hits and one run (all of them while Soriano was on the mound) in three innings of relief.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Atlanta Braves are gamely attempting to stay in the N.L. East race, downing the Marlins last night in Atlanta, 5-2. As usual, the Braves relied on the long ball to secure the victory, with Justin Upton and Jordany Valdespin each hitting home runs . . .

It’s interesting to track the fate of both the Nationals and Braves through a comparison of their schedules. Earlier in August, Atlanta made nearly the same road trip to the Left Coast that the Nationals are making now. The Braves dropped a three game set to the Padres, lost both of their games versus the Mariners and then (after facing the Nats), dropped three of four to the Dodgers at home . . .

Last night’s win in Atlanta kept the Braves just six back of the Nationals, as teams enter the final month of the season. An N.L. East pennant isn’t necessarily out of reach for Atlanta, but there’s only 29 games left to play and Atlanta would have to come close to sweeping Washington in the six games they have yet to play against them to have a shot at the flag . . .

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Swept In Philadelphia, Nats Head West

August 28th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Just a week ago the Nationals were the toast of baseball, having won 12 of 13 and authored a franchise high number of walk-off victories. But last night in Philadelphia the Nationals capped a poor three game showing against the Phillies by losing decisively, 8-4. The game marked one of the worst outings of the year from Nats starter Doug Fister.

“I let the guys down tonight with some bad pitches. That’s what it comes down to,” Fister said after his loss. “I didn’t do my job. Starting pitcher is supposed to set the tone and be the example, and from first pitch, I didn’t do that.”

The Nationals played well off their usual solid performance almost from the beginning of the game. After scoring two runs in the top of the first inning, Fister gave up a home run to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of that frame, while Philadelphia scored a second run on an unheard of error from center fielder Denard Span, who let a ball get past him.

While Fister threw into the sixth inning, he gave up ten hits and four earned runs in taking his fifth loss of the season. Fister also gave up a home run to Grady Sizemore in the sixth inning. “It’s just a matter of getting the ball down,” Fister said in explaining his so-so outing. That’s the key to any sort of success. And it’s going to be something that I really have to bear down on.”

The homer happy Phillies hit three round trippers in all in the game; in addition to Rollins and Sizemore, veteran Marlon Byrd hit his 24th of the season off of lefty reliever Ross Detwiler The Nationals fought back to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but a three run sixth (with a key hit from Dominic Brown) and a two run seventh (Byrd’s home run) put the Nationals out of the game.

The Nationals attack was led by Span, who hit his second home run of the year in the fifth inning off of Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick (who notched his seventh win of the season) and Ian Desmond, who was 3-4 on the night.

“I think it’s going to be good for us to get an off-day tomorrow,” Desmond said after the three game sweep in Philadelphia. “Everyone regroup and then go into the next series and forget about this one.” The Nationals now head to Seattle, where they will face the revived Mariners in a three game set.

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A.J. Pitches Philly Past The Nats

August 26th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Veteran Phillies righty A.J. Burnett tamed the Nationals with twelve strikeouts on Monday night, leading Philadelphia past Washington at Citizens Bank Park, 3-2. Burnett’s victory was his first since the All Star break, and came against Washington starter Tanner Roark, who was saddled with his eighth loss of the season.

Burnett’s victory was supported by home runs from third sacker Cody Asche and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit only his fourth of the year. Dominic Brown had two hits and an RBI for Philadelphia, while the Washington attack was led by two solo home runs from Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon.

The Nats defeat followed on the heels of an offensive outburst against the San Francisco Giants, in which the Nationals notched 23 runs, which included a 14 run shelling on Sunday. The Nats performance against Philadelphia on Monday was much more modest, as Washington banged out just two runs on six hits.

As in many of Washington’s losses, the game was filled with a number of might-have-beens. Washington hitters led off the seventh and eighth innings with doubles (from Ian Desmond and Kevin Frandsen), but were unable to plate the runs. Nor could Washington mount one of its by now legendary comebacks — with a Wilson Ramos home run in the 9th giving only a taste of the kind of heroics the team is known for.

Righty Roark, meanwhile, provided a workmanlike outing, while giving up thigh high gift to Asche in the 5th. “It was a changeup but it didn’t change,” Roark said of the Asche home run. “It was just a BP fastball. It was right down the middle, thigh high. He got me.” Roark gave up just five hits in the game, and one walk.

Jerry Blevins relieved Roark for the 7th inning, but gave up a round tripper to Philadelphia’s Ruiz. “It was a bad pitch, mistake. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. He got all of it,” Blevins said. “Track record shows that I’m better than what’s going out there. And I don’t feel like I’m pitching as bad as it looks.”

While Philadelphia remains mired in last place in the N.L. East, the performance of Burnett, who has been struggling, provided a needed tonic for their team. Burnett attributed his win to a change in his mechanics, solving a glitch he noticed in his delivery. “I wish I could have found that little glitch about a month, two months ago,” Burnett said after his team’s victory. “Unfortunately it took a long time, but better late than never.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: If only the Chicago Cubs could face American League East teams all the time. Back in late June, the Cubbies swept the Red Sox in three games and this past Sunday they completed a surprise sweep of the A.L. East leading Baltimore Orioles . . .

The Cubs victim on Sunday was Baltimore righty Miguel Gonzalez, who threw a solid 6.1 innings, but couldn’t come away with the win. The problem for Gonzalez wasn’t Chicago’s hitters (who scruffed a measly six hits off of him), but Cubbies southpaw starter Tsuhyoshi Wada, who carried a no hitter into the seventh inning before giving up a home run to Steve Pierce . . .

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One For The Books: Nats Blast The Giants, 14-6

August 25th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Can the Nats hit in big games? Can they move runners over, hit behind them, launch massive home run shots that plate big runs? Can they play from behind? Are they an offensive powerhouse, or a team that sometimes (and really not that often), loses its center, allowing their opponents back into a game?

While sometimes nothing will convince a skeptic, Sunday afternoon’s Nationals 14-6 victory against the San Francisco Giants will assuredly silence all the negativity that followed the team through April and May. Yesterday, in front of 35,000-plus, the Nationals blasted the Giants with eighteen hits, six of which were doubles and three home runs. It was one of the most satisfying wins of the season.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Scott Hairston and Jose Loboton doubled during the game and Ian Desmond, Harper and Danny Espinosa each hit home runs. The Nationals were 10-17 with runners in scoring position. The victory marked the end of a remarkable homestand in which the Nationals were 9-1, with five walk-off wins in a six game stretch.

“This was a great homestand,” Scott Hairston, who hit a clutch pinch-hit double in the fourth inning yesterday, said of the Nationals victory. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. I think it’s safe to say nobody has. And it’s a lot of fun.”

In spite of the fireworks that Nats hitters enjoyed on Sunday, the game started ominously, with righty Stephen Strasburg being pulled by Nats skipper Matt Williams after just four innings. Strasburg gave up eight hits and five earned runs, which included home runs to Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa.

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Strasburg, who had pitched well in his previous two outings, with decisive performances against Arizona and the Mets, “didn’t have his A-game,” as reliever Craig Stammen noted, and had to be bailed out by the Nationals bullpen. Strasburg agreed with the assessment.

“I was making dumb pitches,” Strasburg said after the win. “On a 3-2 pitch, I have to execute a better pitch there to Blanco. The same with Ishikawa on the 1-2 pitch. You want to challenge them, but at the same time you have to focus on hitting your spots. I really wasn’t doing that today.”

With Strasburg on the bench, the Nationals mounted their comeback, taking advantage of Bruce Bochy’s decision to bring in Jeremy Affeldt in relief of Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the sixth inning. Affeldt faced five Washington hitters without getting an out — giving up a Bryce Harper double, singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Loboton, a Scott Hairston double and a Denard Span infield hit.

The Nationals bullpen also came through (as they almost always do) in a big way. Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano gave up a single earned run in five innings of work, with Soriano closing out the game on a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“Son of a gun, you just wanted an out anywhere and we couldn’t get it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Nationals sixth inning offensive. The usually reliable Affeldt agreed, shaking his head in frustration at his own outing. “I take full responsibility for that game,” he said.

The Nationals also piled on five more runs in the 8th, though by then the Giants were well out of the game. Juan Gutierrez (“the human rain delay“) threw just 1.1 innings while giving up five earned runs, including home runs to Bryce Harper (his seventh) and Danny Espinosa (2-2 on the day) — his eighth.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: Worries among 1-2-9 regulars over Bryce Harper’s ability to get on track after being on the disabled list have now been replaced by worries over the inconsistent pitching of Stephen Strasburg.  The section was moodily silent after Blanco and Ishikawi authored moon shots against the Washington “ace” . . .

“Look, it’s Gregor DiMaggio,” one regular noted when Gregor Blanco went deep. “Stras just looks terrible.” Another section season ticket holder shook his head. “You know, it could be that they’re just not letting him loose,” he argued. “This guy can throw 98 and once upon a time he did that regularly. They’re easing him back, when they should just let him throw what he wants . . . ”

“So what do we do with Strasburg?” a 1-2-9 regular asked as Craig Stammen emerged from the bullpen in relief of the big righty in the top of the 5th inning. “If this game is an indication, he’s no longer number one in the rotation. You can’t put him up front in the post-season, he’s just too inconsistent . . .”

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Zimmermann Gets Nats Back On Track

August 24th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann threw eight complete innings, Jayson Werth plated two RBIs and Asdrubel Cabrera homered as the Nationals snapped back from their Friday 10-3 loss, defeating Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants on Saturday at Nationals Park, 6-2.

“Last night they score 10 runs, they kind of put a dagger in us a little bit,” Nationals center fielder Denard Span said of his team’s victory. “The first inning they were swinging away again. For us to respond, and come out and get a win is definitely good for us.”

The Giants scored all of their runs in the first inning on a Hunter Pence home run that gave the Giants the lead. But that was the only glitch in Zimmermann’s outing, as the Auburndale, Wisconsin native threw 107 pitches, 78 of them for strikes. “His most effective pitch was his fastball,” backstop Wilson Ramos said of Zimmermann’s outing. “It was really working well.”

“I had a good fastball.. I was locating in and out. The slider was there. I mixed a curveball the second and third time through the lineup,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “I started throwing more curveballs. The last two innings, I mixed in a few changeups and got some ground balls.”

The Nationals showed their resilience after the Giants put their runs on the board early. Trailing 2-0, Denard Span led off the bottom of the 1st inning with a triple, Anthony Rendon walked and Jayson Werth followed with single that scored Span. Rendon then scored when Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice — and the Nats were suddenly back in the game at 2-2.

The Nationals piled on a shaky Lincecum in the 2nd inning, chasing three more runs across the plate. Asdrubal Cabrera led off the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second and then scored on a Denard Span single. Span then scored on a Pablo Sandoval error that put Anthony Rendon on second and Rendon scored on another Jayson Werth single.

The Nationals added a sixth run to their total on a long home run off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the third. The Cabrera home run marked the end of the night for Giants starter Lincecum, who gave up four earned runs in just 2.2 innings of work. Lincecum took the loss for the Giants and is now 10-9 on the year with a 4.64 ERA.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Giants are frustrated with Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young award winner and four time All Star who’s had an up-and-down season, but mostly down. Saturday was only the most recent example of what ails Lincecum, who kept his now 92-mph fastball out over the plate, where Nationals hitters crushed it . . .

While the Giants are frustrated, so too is Lincecum, who described his Saturday outing as “horseshit, just horseshit.” While that was obviously true, there was a time this season when opposing hitters couldn’t touch the righty. Starting on June 25, when he threw a no-hitter against the Padres, Lincecum was brilliant, notching a 0.92 ERA in his next five outings . . .

But starting on July 25, against the Dodgers, Lincecum has been repeatedly roughed up. The one exception came earlier this week, when Lincecum notched a win against the Phillies, though he gave up seven hits and four walks in just five innings of work. While beating the Phillies, Lincecum was all over the place, a sign of what was to come on Saturday versus the Nationals . . .

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