Archive for the ‘colorado rockies’ Category

Rockies Take Series, Storen Arrives

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Scott Olsen’s steady mound presence and ability to pitch out of jams could not save the Nats from a three game losing streak, as Washington dropped three out of four games in Colorado. The final contest, played before over 40,000 Rockies fans at Coors Field, resulted in an itchy close Rockies 2-1 victory. The Nats bats were hardly silent (both Cristian Guzman and newly activated Mike Morse went 2-3), but the Anacostia Nine could not get runs when they needed them, leaving a whopping twenty runners on base. The difference was Jeff Francis, who pitched for the first time since September of 2008. The Rockies’ ace gave up seven hits over seven innings in notching his first 2010 victory. He looked like the Jeff Francis of old, getting outs when he needed them, and throwing his patented sweeping breaking ball that confused Nats hitters. But Scott Olsen was even better, giving up five hits in 6.2 innings pitched. The difference was a late-inning sacrifice fly against overworked reliever Tyler Clippard, who has been victimized recently.

Rumors began to circulate just after the Colorado game ended that the Nats would call up Drew Storen for the series against the Cardinals, which is scheduled to begin on Monday. Storen, a first round draft pick in 2009 (tenth overall) has been touted as the Nats’ closer-of-the-future. A product of Stanford University, Storen signed quickly with the Nats after the draft and climbed effortlessly through the Nats farm system — with a 1.11 ERA and fifteen strikeouts in just over 16 innings pitched during stints at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. By the end of Sunday night Storen was on the way and former Yankee Brian Bruney was shipped to Syracuse. While taking responsibility for being ineffective, Bruney did not take the news well, saying that he would have to decide whether to report to Syracuse, or seek work elsewhere. “Where I go from here, I don’t know,” Bruney told reporters after hearing the news. “I guess only time will tell.

While the arrival of Storen has been widely anticipated, it seems unlikely that Jim Riggleman will use him either as a closer or in long relief: not only has Matt Capps proven an effective ninth inning arm (he leads the league in saves), it’s unlikely the Washington front office will rush Storen into close games, bringing him along slowly and using him in situations where he can build his confidence. But the Nats desperately need someone to pitch in the 6th and 7th innings — a job that was originally given to Bruney. It seems likely that the Nats will rely on Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett,  Doug Slaten and (though to a much lesser extent) Miguel Batista, to provide a bridge to Tyler Clippard, or to spell him as necessary from constant 8th inning work. Clippard, who has been outstanding, has recently been fraying at the edges, pitching in 26 innings in 19 appearances.

Rocky Mountain Low

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

You can be sure that the Oakland Athletics rue the day they traded outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to the Colorado Rockies. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has forged a torrid path to the top of the NL’s list of “most promising young outfielders,” hitting above .320 for most of the season and providing badly needed stability in the Rockies’ outfield. And while Gonzalez was only 2-8 in Colorado’s double tilt against the Nats on Saturday, his ten total bases were more than worrying: every time a Nats pitcher turned around there he was, dancing off some base. So while the narrative of the Nats double loss in Colorado on Saturday may rightly focus on the Livan Hernandez-Ubaldo Jimenez pitcher’s duel in the first game and the follow-on skittish play of a young Nats infield in the second, it’s hard for Nats fans to shake the feeling that if Luis Atilano had pitched Gonzalez a little closer in the third inning of the second tilt, “CarGo” would not have lifted one of his pitches (his fourth of the year) into the seats. The Gonzalez homer in the second game set up a three run third inning that made the Nats fight from behind for the rest of the night.

The twin losses in Colorado on Saturday put a pause on the endless praise for the Nats starting rotation. The starting five of Hernandez, Stammen, Lannan, Atilano and Olsen have been better than expected (in fact, much better than expected), but other teams in other divisions are as good — and, in some cases, much better. It’s hard to take issue with Colorado’s entry into these pitching sweepstakes. While Colorado fans (and the Rockies’ front office) are critical of Jason Hammel’s 2010 showing (and his 7.71 ERA), it’s awfully difficult to criticize Hammel for what he did against the Nats on Saturday, giving up three runs over seven innings in a steady, if unspectacular, outing. If Hammel can build off of that success the Helton’s will boast a rotation of Jimenez, Cook, Chacin, Hammel and a returning Jeff Francis — once one of the best young left handers in the game. Then too, Colorado is awaiting the return of closer Huston Street (who arrived in Denver, with Gonzalez, in that trade with the White Elephants) and Jorge De La Rosa — the hero of Colorado’s second half comeback in 2009. The Friars and McCovey’s currently lead the NL West, but if Francis returns to form and Street and De La Rosa pick up where they left off, the Rockies will be there in September.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Nats’ lefty Sean Burnett was visibly irritated last Monday after Jim Riggleman lifted him after he’d pitched to one batter in Washington’s 3-2 win in New York. The former Ahoy had pitched sparingly up to that point, apparently viewed as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. But since then, Burnett has been one of Washington’s featured relievers. On Saturday, Burnett threw two innings in relief of Atilano (his longest outing of the year) and has lowered his ERA a full point over the last seven days. You have to wonder if Burnett said something to Riggleman. Something like “Hey skipper — do you really think I’m less effective than Brian Bruney? . . .

Not only is the right field platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras a thing of the past, so too is Willy Taveras. The veteran outfielder was designated for assignment on Saturday, and has to decide whether to accept the assignment or file for free agency. He said he would let the team know after talking to his family. The Harris-Taveras platoon (which ended even before it began) will be replaced by a Roger Bernadina-Mike Morse platoon, but our bet here at CFG is that that won’t last either. If Bernadina stops hitting (and, quite frankly, he probably will), the job will be given to Morse, a former Mariner and Riggleman favorite. Morse has been out since April with a left calf strain.

Swinging In The Rain

Friday, May 14th, 2010

A family member put it best in the seventh inning of last night’s Nats win in Denver: “Maybe the umps are on psychedelics. Maybe they don’t know it’s raining.” It didn’t seem out of the question: for about five innings of the eight inning contest last night, Denver looked more like Manila during a monsoon than Colorado in the warm spring. The night provided Nats and Rockies regulars with a slick slog that puddled the infield and forced outfielders to wade through inch-deep water to catch fly balls descending between torrential rains. The weather didn’t seem to bother the Nats, who banged out 14 runs on sixteen hits, scoring seven in the top of the eighth to seal the victory. Ryan Zimmerman slugged two homers and drove in six, to push the Nats to a 20-15 record. That’s good enough for second place in the NL Least and among the best in all of baseball.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Baby, It’s A Chopper: The Nats shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re playing well. So here goes: what is it that Jim Riggleman hasn’t figured out about Miguel Batista? The Nats skipper brought in Batista’s middle innings arm to provide experience and stability, but Riggleman’s confidence in Batista has to be waning. Mine sure is. Batista was shaky again last night, allowing the Rockies back into the game when they should have been prayed and planted. The former Cubs, Mariner, Diamondback, Blue Jay, Pirate and Marlin sports a 6.04 ERA, but that number should be checked — it has to be low. Last night, the 38-year-old veteran (rough translation: this should be his last stop), came into the game in the 5th, but couldn’t survive the 6th. I almost expected Jim Tracy to beg Rigs to leave him in the game. He gave up a round-tripper to Miguel Olivo. But that wasn’t a surprise to anyone with eyes. Everytime Batista gets behind in the count (which is nearly every batter), he puffs himself up, concentrates real hard . . . and grooves an 87 mph fastball. This is then followed by his shake of the head and a Riggleman visit to the mound. Enough already . . .

Rob Dibble is the constant focus of fan complaints. The MASN baseball analyst is outspoken, a fan of movies that only adolescents would like, culturally out-of-tune (“hey, remember the Fonz?”), and a sometime drain on the patience of Bob Carpenter — a 17-year-old in a forty-something’s body. But for those of us who spend the early hours watching the MLB’s network feeds from the midwest and left coast, Dibble comes across as a guy who knows the game and isn’t afraid to express an opinion. Don’t believe it? Tune into a Cardinals broadcast to see what I mean: Dopey and Sleepy do baseball. I swear — play-by-play guy Dan McLaughlin and color analyst Mike Shannon are terrific, but only if you like long silences and chit chat about everything but baseball. I once timed one of their silences, through two batters and four pitches into a third. And then this: “Nice night.” I thought maybe they’d fallen asleep. I’ll take Dibble any day. Then too (but this is only CFG’s opinion), he beats the daylights out of former Nats broadcast brain Don Sutton, whose phony baloney all-American we-are-family shtick (“Austin Kearns is just a fine young man”) wore out after the first rendition of “America.”

But Dibs makes mistakes, forgivable mistakes to be sure — but mistakes. You can almost feel Carpenter smiling to himself when he does. Last night was pretty typical for the Carpenter-Dibble duo. When Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez came to bat in the top of the eighth with runners on first and second, Carpenter asked his sidekick whether Riggleman would have him push the runners over with a sacrifice bunt. “No way. He’s hitting .407 with runners in scoring position,” Dibs said. “Riggleman’ll have him hit away.” Sure nuf, Pudge laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, putting runners on second and third. With two on and one out and with first base open, Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked. This brought pinch hitter Cristian Guzman to the plate, who promptly hit a bases-clearing triple. Silence. “Rigs made a pretty good call on that bunt,” Carpenter said.

Jimenez Outduels Livan

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez and Livan Hernandez held a master class in pitching on Thursday with Jimenez coming out on top — at least in terms of the score. Supported by two solo home runs (one each from catcher Miguel Olivo and third baseman Ian Stewart), Jimenez shut down the Nationals when it counted, wracking up his fourth win of the season in an itchy-close pitchers’ duel at Nationals Park. In spite of the score, Hernandez was (arguably), the more impressive pitcher, mixing a fastball (which topped out at 87 mph), with a slider and change-up. Hernandez changed speeds so effectively that he most often fooled Colorado’s heavy hitting lineup. Jimenez, on the other hand, relied on an overpowering fastball that topped out at 97 mph — his slowest offering was Livan’s fastest. So while the Rockies won, the result of the duel between speed and finesse was clear: Livan was the more cerebral pitcher, Jimenez the rocket.

In the end, the brilliantly pitched 2-0 contest came down to this: the Rockies could hit a hanging slider (which is what  Hernandez threw to Ian Stewart), while the Nationals most often could not catch-up to the Jimenez fastball. The contrast between Hernandez and Jimenez was most marked in the first inning. Behind in the count 3-1 against Willie Harris, Jimenez attempted to play catch-up by throwing Harris his best pitch — a 97 mph fastball in the upper part of the zone. The pitch was predictable and, in most cases, would be unhittable. But Willie was ready and put the offering over the head of the centerfielder. “The guy throws a million miles an hour,” Harris said, talking about the at bat. “He has really good offspeed pitches as well. He keeps you off balance. You get in an 2-0 count, you are definitely thinking the fastball. He drops in a changeup or a slider on you. That’s what the good pitchers do now.” It was one of the few mistakes that Jimenez made.

There are enough good third basemen in the NL to stock a separate league: David Wright, Ian Stewart, Placido Polanco, the fading Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez, Arizona’s wiff-or-wack Mark Reynolds and, of course, “our very own” Ryan Zimmerman. Among others. Cincinnati fans would clamor that new Reds third sacker Scott Rolen should be added to the list of the elite: and they have a point. Rolen, who once crossed swords with Tony La Russa,  is leading a Cincinnati team that could be the surprise champ in the NL Central, despite their early 7-9 record. Rolen is playing like he did in 2002, when he came over to the Redbirds from the Ponies and won a Silver Slugger Award. The often hobbled Rolen is hitting .289 with four homers and Cincinnati (where arms go to die) is responding. They took two of three in Los Angeles, notching an impressive 8-5 victory yesterday against the Trolleys that was sparked by Rolen’s cannon-shot double in the bottom of the seventh. Dusty’s Baker Boys were ecstatic. This is the way that Baker and the Cincinnati front office had planned things at the start of the season.

Rolen, who has a problem with authority figures, fits well in Cincinnati — where (very often), no one seems to be in charge. The slick-leather-big-bat third baseman was a 2nd round draft pick for Philadelphia back in 1993, but took four years to get to the majors. It was worth the wait. Beginning in 1997, Rolen began a five year run that had Phillies fans comparing him with Philadelphia legend Mike Schmidt: Rolen hit 21, 31, 26, 26 and 25 dingers before being shipped (via Toronto), to St. Louis where he battled injuries and fought with the manager. St. Louis cut him loose, shipping Rolen to Toronto (which, believe it or not, actually has a baseball team) for Rolen clone Troy Glaus, who had once hit 47 home runs for the Angels. The trade seemed an even-up; Rolen and Glaus sported big bats and tweeky shoulders — Rolen had shoulder surgery in May of 2005 (after a collision at first with Dodger fill-in and former North Side Drama Queen draft pick Hee Seop Choi), while the suddenly under-performing Glaus had shoulder surgery in January of 2009.

By the end of last year, both Rolen and Glaus not only needed to get healthy, they needed a new start. Glaus got his when he signed this last off season with the Atlanta Braves, while Rolen was traded from Toronto to Cincinnati in a move that had Reds’ fans scratching their heads: the swap seemed an expensive and questionable last-gasp effort to fill a hole at third, while the Cincy front office searched for a more permanent replacement. But Rolen has been a surprise: a solid citizen in the clubhouse (that’s the surprise) and a formidable bat in Cincinnati’s fifth hole (which, frankly, is not) Rolen is now teamed with veteran Brandon Phillips and big lumber youngsters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to provide mashers in the middle of the Cincy order. Once Bruce and Phillips get past their early season slumps (and they will), the Reds are likely to surge past the Cubs and Brewers, giving St. Louis a run for the division title. It’s too bad Rolen can’t pitch — it took Cincinnati starters sixteen games to notch their first victory, which came yesterday against Los Angeles.

Rolen would agree — Aroldis Chapman can’t arrive soon enough.

Nieves, Clippard Rock Rockies

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Wil Nieves isn’t often the hero, but he was on Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies. A Wil Nieves’ RBI double in the eighth inning ensured the Nationals a 6-4 victory over the always tough Colorado Rockies. With two runners on in the eighth, Nieves took a 1-0 pitch deep to left center, bringng the Nats back to one game over .500 early in the 2010 campaign. Nieves’ double came off of Rockies’ reliever Rafael Betancourt, breaking open the 4-4 game.”He just hung a slider up and away,” Nieves said. “I put a good swing on it and put it in the gap. I saw [center fielder] Dexter Fowler out there and he can run, but when I saw it drop, it was a huge double.” Nats’ starter John Lannan seemed to struggle in the early part of the game, but he kept his team close — scattering 11 hits over six innings before being relieved by Tyler Clippard, the Nats’ emerging middle relief expert.

Clippard was exceptional, throwing two innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts. Only one Rockie was able to get to Clippard, with a measly single. “I have a good feel for my pitches right now,” Clippard said. “My whole career, I have always been successful against lefties and righties. For whatever reason, I have a good changeup and I will throw some pitches that will run in on your hands sometimes.” Clippard is now 3-0 on the season and sports a head-turning 0.77 ERA. While the 2010 season is still young, the Nats are playing well and the team’s scary middle-of-the-lineup is just now starting to hit.  Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham were a combined 6-11, with Dunn raising his average to just under the Mendoza line. Washington closer Matt Capps registered his sixth save in as many chances.

Those Are The Details And Now For The Headlines: All is not right down along Half Street — Ryan Zimmerman grabbed his hamstring in the 7th inning on Wednesday and may have to sit out Thursday’s game. Zimmerman, who says he is seeing the ball well and starting to hit his stride, says he believes the tightness in his hamstring is the result of a cramp — and unrelated to the soreness in his hamstring that he suffered last week. “It’s the last thing I want to happen,” he said . . . Jason Marquis is now on the disabled list. Marquis has struggled with the Nats and his injury may have something to do with that. He is reported to have bone chips in his elbow. Marquis is embarrassed by his recent outings, and he should be: Felipe Lopez has a better ERA.

Stammen Stymies Rockies, Willie Homers

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

If Monday is any indication, Craig Stammen has arrived. The 6-3 Ohio native pitched an eight inning, 5-2 gem against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park last night, registering his first win of the season. Stammen mixed a moving fastball with his curve and slider to hold the hard-hitting Heltons to two runs, scattering five hits — and getting four RBIs from Willie Harris. Stammen’s outing was in stark contrast to his last visit to the mound, when he pitched batting practice to the Philadelphia Phillies, lasting just 1.1 innings. The key to Stammen’s outing, according to pitching mentor Livan Hernandez, was his slider: “He threw the ball perfectly today,” Hernandez said. “The slider, the cutter were down. He struck out people. I like the way he pitched today. He’s a good guy. I think he has the best stuff of all the starting pitchers. His slider disappears. When he throws perfectly and down, the slider disappears. He has a good changeup and curveball. He throws a little harder. You have to take advantage. The location is more important.”

Willie Harris showed surprising power — although by now, Willie’s ability to go deep should not be in doubt. With two on in the second, Harris lifted an Aaron Cook fastball into deep right field, scoring three. The Harris home run would be all the Nats needed. “I thought it was hooking foul, but somehow it stayed fair,” Harris said. “I was so happy, that you don’t know how I felt running around those bases. It was fun.” Harris entered the game hitting .150. In the third inning, Harris hit a sacrifice fly to score a run — giving him four RBIs on the night.  “If you are hitting .150, you are going to sit on the bench,” Harris said after the game. “I was happy for myself and the team. Everybody wants to play. Unfortunately, if you don’t produce, you are not going to play. Hopefully, I can keep things going and we can play good baseball.”

The Nats latest victim was Rockies’ ace Aaron Cook, who lasted just three innings. Unlike Stammen, Cook’s sinker — celebrated as one of the best in the game — didn’t sink, ending the Rockies’ nine game winning streak at Nationals Park. Cook had control problems from the first pitch.”Cookie wasn’t very good tonight,” Colorado manager Jim Tracy said. “There’s no other way to describe it. He had way too many three-ball counts, and it kind of helped create some negative momentum.” Despite the win, some Nationals are still mired in an early-season slump: Adam Dunn got credit for a lost-in-the-twilight double, but he’s still struggling at the plate. Ivan Rodriguez, on the other hand, continued his hot hitting streak — going 2-4. He’s now hitting .450 on the year. The Nats will face Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa tonight.

Facing The Rockies

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The Nats took two of three from the Brewers, and might have swept the series — but for the Nat’s starting pitching. Even so, trailing by ten after the first inning in their third game match-up, the Nats made a contest of it on Sunday, pressing the Brewers’ relief corps and sending Milwaukee reeling into Pittsburgh (which, considering the resurgence of the Ahoys, is not necessarily good news). The Nats might not fare so well against the Colorado Rockies, who send Aaron Cook to the mound tonight at Nationals Park to face off against Washington starter Craig Stammen.

The Rockers are one of the four elite teams of the National League — on the same level as the Phillies, McCoveys and Red Birds. There’s a reason for that: they’re just plumb full of pitching. The talent doesn’t stop with no-hitter hero Ubaldo Jimenez. Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel and Greg Smith round out a solid rotation, which can only get better. If Jeff Francis successfully completes a rehab of his left shoulder, the Rockies could have the best pitching staff in the game. Indeed, there was a time when first sacker and slugger Todd Helton defined the team, but no more. The face of the Colorado franchise is now a bevy of solid starters capable of shutting down any NL team. So, just think how good they’ll be if Jeff Francis returns.

Of course that’s a huge “if.” The Rockies have been hit hard by pitching injuries: in addition to Francis (who, for a time, might have been considered one of the best starters in the game), the Rockies are missing savvy closer Huston Street (the pay-off Oakland made for giving up Matt Holliday), who is on the 15 day DL with a tweeky right shoulder. The Rockies need Street; closer-designate Franklin Morales has blown back-to-back saves, the most recent a heart-wrenching 4-3 loss at Atlanta that followed a dramatic last-inning loss to the (gulp) Mets. If the Rockies don’t have Street (and Colorado bloggers — like Purple Row — have been speculating that he might be down for more than April), they’re in trouble. But given his return, and the overpowering front-line of Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and the emotional, if effective, Jorge De La Rosa (whose last half of ’09 was stunning), the Rockies are the team-to-beat in the NL West. And that’s true despite the out-of-body fear that most teams face when they play Tim Lincecum’s Giants.

Mets in 20 — and “The Silent Giant”

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The New York Mets won a wild one in St. Louisa twenty inning marathon that lasted seven hours. The final line is memorable: both teams used 46 players and 19 pitchers, racking up the seventh longest game in Major League history. The Mets hold the record for playing in the longest game, a 24 inning 1-0 loss to the Astros on April 15, 1968. But the Mets were on the winning end of this one. Together, Mets and Cardinals pitchers threw a combined 652 pitches, lowering team batting averages and ERAs. For a time it looked as if the Red Birds would win, even after Cards manager Tony La Russa chose third sacker Felipe Lopez to pitch the 19th and and left fielder Joe Mather to pitch the 20th. La Russa was apparently saving his team’s arms, but it looked like the Cardinals were waving the white flag. But the game took one final turn: left-fielder-turned-reliever Joe Mather served up a sacrifice fly in the 20th to put the Mets ahead 2-1. Mike Pelfrey, normally a starter, came on to record the save — the first of his career.

The Mets 2-1 win was done by scratching and clawing, for while starter Johan Santana gave the Apples seven badly need well-pitched innings (he gave up only four hits), the Mets biggest bats remained strangely silent. David Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur were 1 for 20, and Bay looked particularly ineffective. Bay, who is hitting .222, struck out four times. The Mets-Cards tilt provided an unusual Saturday, even for a baseball fanatic. It was possible to watch Livan Hernandez pitch at Nats Park and then drive home in time to catch every pitch of the Busch Stadium death march. The game wiped out Fox’s Saturday prime time programming and pushed back by one hour the slot for the local news. It was worth it, if only to tally a semi-rare baseball anamoly — Mets relieved Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod), came on in the 19th to get the save for the Mets, but the Cards tied the score. But the Mets scored again in the top of the 20th and Jerry Manuel brought starter Mike Pelfrey in to to do what K-Rod couldn’t. When Pelfrey succeeded, sending the Mets back to their hotel for a badly needed rest, K-Rod registered a blown save — and a win.

At the same time that the Mets and Cards were marching up Golgotha, Rockies’ starter Ubaldo Jimenez, the best fastball pitcher in the majors, threw the first no hitter in Colorado franchise history. The no-hitter was unusual in this sense: Jimenez was not particularly effective until the 6th inning when, following the advice of former Mets fireballer and now Rockies’ pitching coach Bob Apodaca, he began to pitch from the stretch. “I saw [the Giants’ Tim] Lincecum last year do it,” Jimenez said after the game. “He wasn’t good from the windup, then he got from the stretch. It came to my mind. But then Apodaca came to me and I was like, ‘Of course, I’m going to try it.'” It worked. Jimenez began to put the ball down in the zone, and the walks that characterized his first five frames ceased.

Describing Jimenez as “the silent giant,” Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy was buoyed by the win and filled with praise for his starter: “In order for special things to happen, you have to have special people,” Tracy said of Jimenez. “We have a whole clubhouse full of them. But this is this man’s night tonight. In my opinion, it couldn’t happen to a better human being and a more talented human being than this guy.” The Jimenez no-no marked the third complete game of the day, an unusual occurrence in modern baseball. On Saturday, complete games were put in the books by Jimenez, Florida Marlin Ricky Nolasco — and Washington Nationals’ ace Livan Hernandez.

A Marquis Signing

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Washington Nationals have signed Jason Marquis to a two year contract worth $15 million, the team announced today. The 31-year-old righthander was pursued by both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies — but the former Braves-Cards-Cubs-Rockies front-liner had said just two weeks ago that he would consider the Nats. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez probably did as much as the silver-tongued convictions of Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo: the Rodriguez signing was a needed first step in convincing baseballs’ 2009’s free agent class (and particularly the pitchers) that Washington had changed its ways and was committed to winning. What is so surprising about Marquis is that, despite his obvious talent, he has been kicked around to four teams in an otherwise solid career — he was 15-7 for the 2004 Redbirds, but was left off the postseason roster and 11-9 for the hardly pitch-rich 2008 Chicago Cubs, whose management spent the year bad-mouthing him.

The “Jason is good but not great” label and even “too inconsistent” (a puzzling tag given him by Cubs whiner Lou Piniella) shouldn’t bother the Nats, who need all kinds of things: an innings eater (Marquis consumed 216 frames last year with the Heltons), a mentor for their young pitching staff (he’s 31, they’re 14), someone who throws down in the zone (he’s a ground ball wizard), a history of good health (he has only flirted with the DL) , an experienced hand with all the right role models (Greg Maddux!) and an all around good citizen (three kids, one wife, no Milton Bradley software). There are things not to like about Marquis, I suppose: he’s not Walter Johnson (and never will be), but he’s also not  Daniel Cabrera. And he will come into Washington as the number one guy on the staff — something he’s never been. Then too, the Nats and Rizzo have been navigating the league’s treacherous off-season waters not only with sophistication (the Brian Bruney pick-up gives them a solid back-of-the-rotation stopper), but with something approaching actual insight. Rizzo has deftly ticked off a list of must-haves that, in the space of one month, has remade the team into a middle-of-the standings .500 club that has given the Nats something approaching league-wide respectability, something they haven’t had since the middle-of-the-decade.

There are skeptics: Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Nats overspent: ” . . .  this is an uninspired move by the Nationals,” he writes. “I understand that an innings-eater is needed to take pressure off young pitchers, but it’s likely that similar pitchers will be available in March at a fraction of the commitment.  Plus, unlike an Erik Bedard type gamble, Marquis doesn’t have upside.” Here’s what I take to be the rough translation: Marquis is not John Lackey (which is true enough) and he’s not a roll of the dice — which is precisely what (as the Seattle Navigators will tell you) Eric Bedard would bring, along with a stint on the 30, 45 or 60 day DL. Then too, as Tim must know, the inspired Cubs of 2008 deemed Marquis not good enough to stick with the club, choosing instead to spend their money elsewhere. They regretted the decision last June, when Marquis was lining himself up as Colorado’s best producer, while the Cubs were holding a tryout for Randy Wells.

Does Signing Pudge “Send A Message?”

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

We just can’t let the signing of “Pudge” Rodriguez go without a comment: not only is the all-around-good-guy winner of 13 Gold Gloves the newest Nats signing, Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson (speaking on the Nats website on one of those webcast doo-hickey thingies) says that the Nats are “sending a message” to their fans that his signing means “they want to contend now.” Here’s our reaction — if that’s the message they’re sending, they ought to send it again. It’s easy to be critical, but Pudge stopped being one of the game’s indispensible players long, long ago: which (obviously) Mike Rizzo and Company know.

The reason Rodriguez is here is not to make the Nats a contender now (because he won’t), but to keep the box behind the plate warm for Jesus Flores (whose tender mercies have yet to fully heal) and to keep a dugout of trembling young pitchers from wetting their pants. Pudge is as close as the Nats can get, just now, to a player-coach — a clubhouse presence who’s been through the wars and an unruffled and steadying player who, at the end of his career, knows pitchers not because of any inherent genius, but because he’s seen so many of them. There’s something to be said for having years of experience behind the plate.

There’s a little odor to the deal among some sportswriters, who say that the Nats overpaid (sniff, sniff). That seems particularly true now that it appears as if the Purples will re-sign Yorvit Torrealba for a near-song: $5.5 million over two years. But the Nats not only probably (probably) couldn’t get Pudge for two years, they didn’t need him for one: there’s no guarantee that Flores will heal that fast or, even if he did, that he’ll stay healed. Then too, Derek Norris is not just a few months away — if he works out at all. The deal maker in this was Jim Bowden: he complained that “this was another bad signing.” Yeah, well he oughta know. Thus was inaugurated “the Bowden rule”: if Jim hates it, Mike Rizzo should do it. If he doesn’t, flee.

The Board of Directors here at CFG (you remember them, right?) likes the deal and so do I: the signing of Rodriguez saves fans from having to watch Josh Bard gimp his way to first base, or gaze in wincing shame as Wil Nieves (Who? Wil Nieves!) slams his bat in disgust at striking out. Fun as that was. Then too, unless you’re the Boston Red Sox and you think you can just let catchers walk out the door — they’re damned hard to find and every team needs one. Yeah, so the signing of Pudge Rodriguez sends a message: the Nats desperately needed a catcher and now they have one. Or, if things work out for the very best, they might even have two.