Season Ends With Win In 15

The Washington Nationals finished the 2009 season on a high note, winning their seventh in a row, 2-1, in fifteen innings in Atlanta. The game winning RBI was plated on a line drive by Alberto Gonzalez , whose single in the 15th inning drove in Elijah Dukes with what turned out to be the winning run. The win could not save the Nats from the worst record in franchise history — as well as the worst record in baseball for the 2009 season: 59-103. Gonzalez was 2-6 in his last outing, raising his BA for the season to .265. Logan Kensing, who pitched two innings of three hit ball in relief, got the win. Starter J.D. Martin pitched six solid innings of six hit baseball, giving up a single earned run. But the pitching of the bullpen was the key story in the team’s last game of 2009 — Tyler Clippard, Ron Villone, Jason Bergmann, Saul Rivera and Kensing pitched nine innings in relief, giving up no runs.

While the Nats left Atlanta with their seventh consecutive win, the front office isn’t underestimating the work that needs to be done in the off season — the naming of a manager, the acquistion of two veteran pitchers, a reconstruction of the league’s worst bullpen and moves that will solidify the defense, especially up the middle. If there was a highpoint in the season (at least according to the Nats’ front office) it was the acquisition of centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and lefty reliever Sean Burnett from Pittsburgh. “I’m not saying we are where we want to be, certainly not,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said after the Atlanta win. “We know the targets we have to hit.” But many of the positive moves were actually negatives — additions by subtraction: the cutting of failed starter Daniel Cabrera, the exile of outfielder Lastings Milledge and the abandonment of the Joel Hanrahan experiment . . .

But the real high point of the season occurred before it even began — with the firing of Jim Bowden. The move was long overdue. The appointment of Mike Rizzo to take his place, first as “acting G.M” and then permanently, reshuffled the weak front office. Rizzo recast the Nats’ development program in the Dominican Republic, engineered the Milledge-Morgan swap, signed pitching phenom and first overall pick Stephen Strasburg, and rejiggered an embarrassing bullpen. His May signing of Mike MacDougal to a minor league deal — often overlooked — provided Washington with a closer. Rizzo’s mid-summer moves stabilized the franchise and gave the Nats immediate credibility. In a otherwise lost season, Rizzo’s promotion provided the one key bright spot  . . .

It’s not clear whether interim manager Jim Riggleman will return, though there’s no doubt that his handling of the club after the firing of Manny Acta focused the defense and provided needed wins. The club was sluggish under Acta and played with more intensity under Riggleman. “I think Riggleman really did a good job handling the ballclub after the All-Star break,” Rizzo said after the end of the season. “I think he put us on pace to really focus and bear down on the fundamentals of the game — to play cleaner and more efficient ballgames. He had the players playing at a high level. I think he has done the best job he could with the ability level that he has.” It’s clear that many Nats’ players would like to see Riggleman return . . .

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