Archive for the ‘Fielding’ Category

Nats Notes: The Positives In The Arizona Series

Friday, May 16th, 2014

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It wasn’t the absolute best, but the Washington Nationals’ series win over the Arizona Diamondbacks was a much needed positive end to a rough road trip to the Left Coast. The Nats’ bats couldn’t come alive against D-backs starter Bronson Arroyo in Game Two, but that’s hardly a knock against the home towners. Arroyo went the distance and chopped and chipped his stuff so well that it at times the horsehide seemed to move in slow motion. Nats hitters just couldn’t seem to focus.

Jordan Zimmermann again illustrated that he doesn’t do well with extra rest, giving up five earned runs in 5.2 innings in Game 1. And Stras was good, but not good enough to best Arroyo. But the good news for Nats Nation is that new acquisition Doug Fister shook off his (very) lackluster start in Oakland and pitched like the guy the Nats thought they were getting — he threw six strikeouts and induced ten groundball outs in his start against the Snakes.

One might be tempted to say that Fister’s start wasn’t a great test (need we point out: his semi-gem was against the second-worst team in the league), but bear in mind that Arizona is currently fourth in the National League in team batting average. That’s not nothing.

The fielding in this series was . . . fine. Four double plays in three games, but Ian Desmond racked up two more errors at shortstop. Rightfielder Jayson Werth did get an outfield assist and . . . and . . .  and nothing else really notable happened.

The Nationals’ lineup capitalizde where it could. Ian Desmond was a standout (finally), racking up four hits and four RBIs in the series. It looks like he’s taken some of the oomf out of his swing, giving it 75 percent instead of 135 percent, and that’s working well. Finally, finally — he isn’t overswinging. (Hey, maybe he’s been reading CFG.)

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Nats Notes: Reviewing The Oakland Meltdown

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals finished a disheartening series against the Oakland A’s, who have become the powerhouse of the AL West the last couple of years. The Nats were shut out, blew a save and lost in the 10th, and then were damn near shutout again. Things were so bad that MASN commentators Ray Knight and F.P. Santangelo both expressed their frustration with the Nats’ play in almost heated terms on Nats Xtra after the final game.

The only, and we mean only, bright spot for the Nats Nation was Tanner Roarks’ start in Game 2: 7.2 innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. It seems Tanner shook off his poor showing against the Phillies the week before and immediately returned to form, illustrating why he’s one of the best starting pitchers no one is talking about. If we have to stretch for a second bright spot, it’s that former Nats prospects Tommy Milone and Derek Norris, the A’s starting pitcher and catcher, both had great series. Cold comfort.

Aside from Roark, the Nats pitching staff was in meltdown. Doug Fister’s first start as a Nat only lasted 4.1 innings after giving up nine hits and seven runs, a performance Gio Gonzalez would repeat in his game. Fister couldn’t get anything down in the zone, and the only way Gio could find it was to throw two-seam heaters down the middle. Closer Rafael Soriano didn’t do anything different, pitching wise, but a wonky cut-off of rookie benchman’s Zach Walters throw from left field blew the save for the first time this season.

The defense, the one aspect of play manager Matt Williams really wanted to improve when he took his new position, was farm league. Lost flyballs, weird relays, poor fielding choices, they all added up. Theoretically, all of that could have been overcome if the lineup was moving and runs were scored. A’s general manager Billy Beane had a whole movie made about him for doing just that. But they weren’t. In the series, the A’s outhit the Nats two to one and outscored them four to one.

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Nats, Fister Bombed In Oakland

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

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Doug Fister returned to the mound for the first time in the 2014 campaign, but struggled against the A’s — giving up five earned runs on nine hits in just 4.1 innings of work, and Oakland coasted to an 8-0 laugher on Friday night. Former Nats lefty Tommy Milone kept Washington off the scoreboard, while throwing a two hit seven strikeout gem.

Fister looked rusty in his first outing, though he later told the press that he was prepared for the game. “Physically, I felt like I was in the right place,” Fister said after the loss. “I felt strong. It was lack of execution. I was excited for tonight, no more than normal, everything felt good.”

Fister may have felt good, but he didn’t look good. His patented sinker ball was left too often in the middle of the strike zone. Fister gave up a home run to A’s catcher John Jaso in the 3rd and he allowed Yoenis Cespedes across the plate on a wild pitch in the 5th. Washington also committed three errors, which included an airmailed throw by Fister to first base in the first inning.

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“That’s what you ask for when you do that,” Nationals’ skipper Matt Williams said of Washington’s sloppy play. “Want to play clean baseball, certainly, and you’re asking for trouble if you give them extra outs.”

Soft-tossing lefty Tommy Milone, meanwhile, was brilliant for Oakland. The hard luck southpaw (he was 0-3 entering the game and struggled to start the season), befuddled Nationals hitters, moving the ball in and out of the strikezone until relieved by Fernando Rodriguez to start the 9th.

“I don’t think he missed a location all night,” A’s catcher Derek Norris (also a former Nat) said of Milone’s performance. “I don’t think he missed a location one single time.” Milone threw 108 pitches, 71 of them for strikes — and was backed by home runs from Jaso, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes. Oakland sprayed 12 hits against the punchless Nationals.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MLB Network’s late night baseball wrap-up show is often well worth watching, even if the knock-down-drag-outs between Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams can be taxing. Last night’s disagreement was more of the same, while peeling back a fascinating debate about MLB scoring . . .

The argument came as a result of Yu Darvish’s near perfect game, which ended in the 7th inning in Arlington, Texas when the official scorer decided a “tweener pop up” off the bat of David Ortiz that landed between second and right field should be scored an error. The decision ended the chances for a perfecto, but kept Darvish’s chance for a no-hitter in place . . .

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Reynold’s called the scoring decision “the worst decision in the history of baseball,” while Williams defended it by citing Baseball Rule 10.12, noting that it isn’t necessary for a fielder to touch the ball for it to be called an error if, in the scorer’s judgment, the ball could have been caught “with normal effort . . .”

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Nats Notes: Facing An “Iffy” May

Friday, May 9th, 2014

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at San Francisco Giants

The Washington Nationals provided two-and-a-half games worth of solid baseball to get the series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Trolleys are one of the National League’s elite teams, as even casual fans know, and were picked by many pundits in the preseason to go all the way — so it’s heartening that the Nats played them hard and well in this early season match up.

Jordan Zimmermann was in command of the zone during his start, but a thunderstorm prevented him from getting past the 4th inning. Even so, the boys from the bullpen (Aaron Barrett, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Rafael Soriano) went the distance and kept everything on lock down, notching a much-needed shutout. Stephen Strasburg had a rough first inning on Wednesday, giving up four straight singles, but then went six-and-change to keep it close.

Strasburg went to the pines with the lead and was then ably assisted by Blevin and Clippard, who locked up the eighth. Clippard needed his outing, as he looked uneven before the Dodgers’ series. Clippard has moved his ERA back down to 2.40 for the season: it was above 4.00 for much of early April. Rafael Soriano untucked his seventh save and maintained his season ERA of 0.00 over 13 games played.

The bats in the two wins weren’t exactly extraordinary, but they were solid in much the way they were in 2012, when the Nats won more than a dozen one run games on the back of great pitching and good fielding. Speaking of fielding, the infield turned a total of five double plays over the series and center fielder Denard Span was his usual acrobatic self, making some great catches by the warning track.

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And we’d be remiss not to mention Nate McLouth (filling left field for Bryce Harper), who hasnt’ done squat at the plate this season, but who literally put skin in the game on a great catch against the wall in foul territory on Monday: “I know it pretty much went catch, boom, wall,” he said. Good leather, no wood? Nate just needs to get his swing — and our bet is that he will.

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Dueling Gems In Philadelphia

Monday, May 5th, 2014

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Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez faced off against Philadelphia’s Roberto Hernandez at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday in a classic pitchers’ duel and pitched brilliantly — but ended up on the short end of a 1-0 defeat. Gio and Hernandez were almost evenly matched, but Philadelphia put a single run on the board in the 1st inning that proved the difference in the game.

“Hernandez was so locked in. He hit his spots. When he fell behind, he got a groundout or fly out. Today was his day,” said Phillies center fielder Ben Revere after the victory. Both Hernandez and Gonzalez threw 7.1 innings and both gave up four hits. Hernandez struck out three, while Gonzalez struck out seven.

Philadelphia’s single run came on a Jimmy Rollins triple followed by a Chase Utley RBI single. “It was just a good pitchers’ duel,” Gonzalez said after the tough luck loss. “I just tried to keep us in the game as long as possible.” One of the Nats’ best chances of putting a run on the board also came in the top of the 1st. Kevin Frandsen walked, but was thrown out at third on a Jayson Werth single.

“We’ve had some really key hits over the course of the season,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of the Philadelphia duel. “It just wasn’t our day.” Washington’s loss leaves the Nationals still half-a-game behind slumping Atlanta in the N.L. East. The Nationals will face the Dodgers tonight at Nationals Park.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: When the Dodgers take the field tonight against the Nationals they’ll do so in the midst of an unusual early season funk. The Drysdales lost two of three against the Marlins in Miami, their latest defeat, on Sunday, when Miami’s Jeff Baker doubled in the winning walk off run against L.A. reliever Jamey Wright . . .

Worse yet, Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig crashed into the wall attempting to snag Baker’s double, then appeared to hurt his ankle when he landed. Concussion tests on Puig were negative, but the young all-world hitter is day-to-day. But the Miami loss and Puig’s injury is only the latest in a series of tough losses for the odds-on-favorites to win the N.L. East . . .

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Rendon, Zimmermann Crush Houston

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

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The Washington Nationals played one of their few laughers on Wednesday night, shutting out the Astros in Houston, 7-0. Jordan Zimmermann threw 6.1 innings of seven hit baseball in recording his second victory on the season, while Anthony Rendon was 4-5 with three RBIs.

Rendon’s night was one of the best for any Nat for the season, as he hit a home run, a double and two singles — one triple short of the cycle. It was an exciting game for Rendon, because Houston is his hometown. About 200-300 Rendon fans showed up at Minute Maid Park to cheer him on.

“There’s not many young guys that can hit the ball line to line like Anthony does,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Rendon’s performance. “He proved it again — double to right-center, single to right, double to left and a homer to right. Pretty impressive night.”

Starter Zimmermann admitted that Houston’s hit count (at 7) was a little high, but that he settled into his normal groove after the first two innings. “The first inning I threw 20-some pitches, and basically, the whole night I was battling back to get the pitch count to where I wanted it to be,” Zimmermann confirmed following the victory.

The Nationals have an odd day off on Thursday (their second this week), before opening a weekend series in Philadelphia. The Nationals are now two games back of the Braves, who lost again last night in Miami, where they were pounded, 9-3.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The days of “The Killer B’s” (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell –among others) are long gone in Houston. The forever rebuilding Astros must now wait for the development of a semi-stocked farm system, which could make them a contender in a couple of years. They hope . . .

“If you’re writing about Houston, it’s more of a prospect report than a major league report,” one scout told SI prior to the season. In essence, the Astros have three solid major league players in second sacker Jose Altuve, third baseman Matt Dominguez and center fielder Dexter Fowler, who they got from Colorado this last winter . . .

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LaRoche Grounds The ‘Stros

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche’s RBI double to deep center in the top of the 8th tied the game, then his single in the 9th scored the winning run — and the Nationals went on to defeat the Astros, 4-3 on Tuesday night in Houston. The LaRoche hits did justice to his fast start: the first sacker is now hitting .312 on the year with 17 RBIs.

“It’s good for him because he’s not traditionally a fast starter,” manager Matt Williams said following the victory. “He really focused on it in spring training and really focused on driving one in. He’s going to hit homers with guys on base but that one’s big for us as evidenced tonight.

The Nationals also got a solid start from lefty Gio Gonzalez, who had problems early in the game in commanding his curveball; but Gio provided six solid innings of five hit baseball while striking out nine. The victory provided a lift for the Nationals on the road, after the team notched an only so-so homestand.

“Just need to get out of that cold air once in a while,” Gonzalez said in explaining the team’s performance in Houston. “Rooftop open, put a little humidity out there, and that helps. Then it was just back-and-forth battling.”

The game provided another example of how Washington can battle back from an early deficit. The team was down 3-2 until LaRoche came to the plate in the 8th, then battled to score the go ahead run in the 9th. Rafael Soriano provided his usual excitement in notching his fifth save, putting two Houston runners on in the 9th inning with two out.

The Houston victory also provided some improbable defensive plays, including a falling-backwards catch in center by Denard Span in the fourth inning. An inning earlier left fielder Kevin Frandsen snagged a ball high off the left field wall with an improbable (or impossible) backhanded snag. The Frandsen catch saved Washington a run in a tight ballgame.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: How will the Nationals fill the gaping hole left by Bryce Harper in left field? Don’t look to the line-up in Houston for answers. Matt Williams started Kevin Frandsen in left field in place of Harper (it’s now speculated that Harper won’t be back until after the All Star break), with Nate McLouth in center and Jayson Werth as the DH . . .

But that’s in inter-league play. We’d be surprised if McLouth didn’t play upwards of 80 percent of the games in left against N.L. opponents. After all, filling in for an injured outfielder is why G.M. Mike Rizzo went out and got him. So it’s McLouth in left, and get used to it  . . .

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