Archive for the ‘Jim Riggleman’ Category

Tony: Flushed

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Washington Nationals baserunner Nyjer Morgan slides safely into third base with a lead-off triple against the Phildelphia Phillies in the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Washington, July 30, 2010.

ESPN is reporting that Major League Baseball has suspended Nyjer Morgan for eight games for three separate incidents: for unnecessarily running into St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate during a game in Washington, for directing ” inappropriate comments” towards fans in Florida on August 31 in Florida, and for charging the mound in the top of the 6th inning during that same game. The disciplinary action is in addition to a seven game suspension meted out to Morgan (which he is appealing) for throwing a baseball into the stands during a Nationals’ game at Philadelphia. The Nationals have had no immediate comment on the reported MLB action.

The MLB also reportedly handed down a six game suspension to Marlins’ pitcher Chris Volstad, a five game suspension to pitcher Alex Sanabia, a three game suspension to Gaby Sanchez and has fined Marlins’ pitcher Jose Veras. Nationals’ pitcher Doug Slaten was also suspended (for three games), as was skipper Jim Riggleman (two games, with a fine). Nationals’ third base coach Pat Listach was suspended (and fined) for three games, as was Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez (for three games –with a fine). Jim Riggleman will reportedly begin serving his suspension tonight, when the Nationals face off against the Pirates in Pitttsburgh.

Lannan Masters St. Louis

Monday, August 30th, 2010

John Lannan has now made it all the way back from exile: in his fifth start after his return from Harrisburg (where he was sent “to work on his command”), Lannan mastered the heavy hitting St. Louis Cardinals — leading the Nationals to a 4-2 victory and a much-needed triumph in three games of a four game series. Lannan pitched deep into the contest, allowing eight hits and only one earned run to up his record to 4-1 since his return. “I want to be confident with each pitch,” Lannan said after the game. “I think I did a pretty good job of that, especially to lefties. I made smarter pitches. I was more careful with the sliders today. I felt comfortable with my changeup, throwing the ball in and my curveball felt pretty good.” Michael Morse provided the lumber, going 2-4 and notching his 10th home run and Adam Dunn was 2-3.  But Lannan struck first, doubling into left field in the second inning off of Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright, plating the first two runs of the game.

Bad Blood? Jim Riggleman benched Nyjer Morgan on Sunday, the result of Morgan’s purposeful bump of Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate on Saturday night. Riggleman apologized to Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa for the incident and called Morgan’s actions “uncharacteristic” but “inexcusable.” Anyone who saw Morgan during Saturday night’s game should not have been surprised — after being bumped from the leadoff to the second to the eighth spot in the batting order, Morgan spent most of the 6th, 7th and 8th innings talking to himself, apparently in disagreement over Riggleman’s decision. Riggleman admitted that Morgan was angered by what he viewed as a demotion. “It was building up all day,” Riggleman said. “I think he thought I was wearing that equipment at home plate.” Morgan denied that he was aiming his anger at Anderson. “It definitely wasn’t intentional,” Morgan said. “. . . It is not my style to play dirty. I don’t play that.”

But that’s apparently not the way the Cardinals viewed the incident: while the Riggleman telephone call to LaRussa should have buried the incident, it clearly didn’t. The Morgan incident rankled the Cardinals, as seen when Drew Storen pitched the last of the eighth inning on Sunday, and lost control of a fastball — which sailed behind Matt Holliday. Cards’ manager LaRussa was immediately out of the dugout: “We were told before the game that [there would be] no funny business because of the cheap shot that Morgan did,” La Russa said. “And here’s a guy [Holliday] that hits a single and a double and they throw the ball behind him. There was going to be no ifs, ands or buts. But in [the umpires’] opinion, the pitch got away [from Storen].” Riggleman denied that Storen was throwing at Holliday: “Clearly there was no intent,” Riggleman said. “It was a terrible pitch. It was 4-1. We certainly don’t want to be hitting anybody or get anybody on base and get a rally started. After what happened last night, you could see where this is coming from.”

Is there bad blood between the Nats and Cardinals, or between Riggleman and LaRussa? That seems very much in doubt. But the same is probably not true for the Nats’ skipper and Nyjer Morgan. Morgan’s irritation at Riggleman might represent some passing anger — and Morgan has had a tough week, having been accused of throwing a baseball at a fan in Philadelphia. All of this might be forgivable, but Morgan’s comment on Riggleman’s decision to bat him eighth in the line-up will probably stay with the Nationals’ manager. “I have to be able to handle what I am able to do,” Morgan told the press. “If (Riggleman) feels like this is what he needs to do, he can go ahead and do it.” Our bet is that Riggleman (and Rizzo) view these kinds of comments dimly. Which means that it’s a pretty good bet that Morgan will eventually (and inevitably) be headed out of town.

Nats Embarrassed By Cubs, 9-1

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Nets Fan with Bag Over Head

Washington Nationals’ skipper Jim Riggleman was so angry after Monday night’s 9-1 loss to the Cubs that he gave the club a post game tongue lashing that focused on their lack of effort. “Tonight, I felt like we allowed the game situation, the long innings and stuff, just our body language on the field, it allowed us to just have an aura hanging over us that it’s just not happening for us tonight,” Riggleman told the press after the loss. “I guess it’s going to happen a time or two here, but when it happens, it gets addressed.” Riggleman’s views were understated: “We played terrible baseball and we heard [about] it,” outfielder Willie Harris said. “We got embarrassed. Everybody was dead, it seemed like.” The Nats weren’t the only ones embarrassed — the crowd of 17,000-plus provide a Bronx cheer to Livan Hernandez after he started what turned into a double play and clapped wildly when the Anancostia Nine finally mustered their second hit against Cubs rookie hurler Casey Coleman. The Nats are now mired in last place in the N.L. East, 9.5 games behind the Florida Marlins. “We’ve got to find a way,” Riggleman said. “We’ve just got to turn it up a notch.”

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: Jim Riggleman lectured his team on lack of effort following the 9-1 pasting, but Riggleman was the target of unusual criticism in the section during the Nats implosion. It started early. “Hey, I have an idea,” a fan said prior to the announcement of the starting line-up, “let’s start Willie Harris in the outfield. By the end of the season he’ll be hitting his weight . . .”  The criticisms reached a crescendo in the 4th inning, when Hernandez had thrown well over 100 pitches: “Let’s see if I have this right,” a grumbling partisan noted. “Livan [Hernandez] can’t throw a strike and is pitching batting practice — and Rigs is leaving him in. Is that right? But Strasburg, just two games ago, was pitching lights out and Mr. Hook sits him down. Doesn’t make sense . . .” There was a mild defense, followed by a a response that has been — through all of “the kid’s” troubles — barely concealed. “Well, we have to protect the guy’s arm,” a fan said, defending the team — and then a series of shaking heads, and this response: “From what? Pitching?”

Riggleman was not the only one in the cross hairs. CFG was the victim of pushy irony, comments that were as blunt as any we’ve received — and all focused on the CFG blog on the weakness of the Cubs. “Crippled sparrows, right? Isn’t that what you said? Crippled sparrows, not birds of prey,” a fellow seat-mate opined. Others chimed in. “Yeah, I thought you said this guy Coleman was no good. He looks pretty good to me.” Fans thought about leaving when Riggleman pinch hit Jason Marquis for Hernandez, in the fifth. “What the hell is Riggleman thinking? This is ridiculous.” Pointed comments were also aimed at Hernandez, usually a fan favorite: “He looks like he doesn’t give a damn.” There were also some well-aimed criticisms flung at the Cubs, and the decision by Lou Piniella to call it quits. “I know the guy’s a legend,” a Nats regular noted, “but he walked away from his ball club. He just walked away. I don’t care what Baseball Tonight says, the guy just left the team. I know his mother’ sick, but c’mon. We all know — he wanted out. He was sick of it.”

Marquis Returns With Shaky Outing

Monday, August 9th, 2010

This is what we can probably expect then — that the Nationals will flirt (on-and-off) with being good, but then will slip a bit (it will be tantalizing) before climbing precariously back. After the nearly on-a-respirator Los Angeles Dodgers’ took two of three from the Nats in L.A., there should be little doubt that August and September (but, of course, not October — at least not this year), will be spent reviving old arms (Jason Marquis), trying out new ones (Jordan Zimmermann) and nursing steady progress among those arms that will stay into next year (Stephen Strasburg). It could be a long and painful progress, as the Nats showed on Sunday when they dropped an 8-3 decision to the Trolleys (the game was not as close as the scores indicates). Jason Marquis was anxious for a solid outing, but a recovery from elbow surgery takes time, though Marquis attributed the rocky outing to his own failures: :”I put myself in trouble with the walks,” he said. “There was one play where I didn’t pick up the ball. There was an out I gave away there. I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The Nationals return home, where they will face the Florida Marlins beginning on Tuesday. Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Patrick Reddington over at Federal Baseball has a good summary of the career of Andre Dawson, who will be honored at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Reddington surveys the views on whether and how the Nationals should acknowledge their Montreal roots, the subject of much commentary in both the blogosphere and among Nats fans. We have nothing substantive or creative to add to Reddington’s comments, or those of Phil Wood and Ben Goessling, but would add this observation. If the Nationals are so anxious that the team’s fans acknowledge their Montreal roots, then they can stop producing apparel that dates the franchise (in chronological order) “Established 1905” or “Established 2005” — hell, why not 1886, when the “Washington Statesmen” were founded? If we want to acknowledge our actual franchise roots, there should be a sweatshirt that reads “Established 1969,” the year the Expos came into the league. Keeping it “Established 2005” is just fine with me, and I would just bet that that is the preference of Washington fans.

Which is not to say that Andre Dawson does not deserve our applause. He does. He was an amazing hitter and young speedster (until Astroturf tore up his knees) and had an outfield arm that was second only to Clemente. I did not see him play in Montreal, but only in Chicago — where I recall him as one of the truly great clutch hitters in the game. Dawson was the one player the North Siders had before Sandburg and Grace made them a near powerhouse. I find it hard to believe that it took Dawson eleven years to make it into the Hall of Fame. He was the N.L. MVP in 1987, when the Cubs finished last. Dawson hit 49 home runs that year and knocked in 137 RBIs. None of his teammates were even close. And this in an era before steroids became prominent. He never touched them. Coulda, woulda, shoulda . . . but still: if Dawson had not had cartilage that sounded like grinding metal those last five years, he would have had 3000 hits.

The Pride Of Porter Derails Dodgers

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Adam Dunn — the pride of Porter, Texas — is finally starting to get the attention he deserves. And it’s long overdue. The Nationals’ first baseman’s two home run, six RBI outing against the Trolleys in Los Angeles was the talk of baseball on Friday night. The “cavalcade of stars” on Baseball Tonight and the whoop-happy crew on MLBN’s late night offering (Plesac and Williams) spun up Dunn’s “Moon shots” in Dodger Stadum again and again. We can only hope the former Redleg and D-Back great is enjoying it. Ignored in the first round of the amateur draft, the victim of unfair criticism at the hands of a flap-mouthed former G.M., traded from team-to-team for younger unproven players, passed over for the 2010 All Star game and regularly relegated to second tier attention behind Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard (among others), Dunn is slowly laying claim to being one of the game’s elite players. Certainly Dunn’s skipper, Jim Riggleman thinks so.

In the aftermath of Friday’s derailing of the Dodgers in L.A., Riggleman dissected Dunn’s at-bats, shaking his head in wonder: “What Adam did out there today, that’s really some big stuff because [L.A. starter Clayton] Kershaw has been really tough on everybody, particularly tough on left-handers,” Riggleman said. “For Adam to do that against him a couple of times in that ballgame, you are not going to see that too often against Kershaw.” But it was MASN play-by-play guy Bob Carpenter who said it best. “If Adam Dunn appears hunched over it’s because he’s carrying the Washington Nationals on his back,” he said. “And he can do it.” Dunn, meanwhile, underplayed his accomplishment, focusing instead on Kershaw.”He is not one of my top pitchers to face. I can tell you that,” he said. “He is really good. Look at his numbers. He is really good. He is only going to get better. How old is he? Twelve, 13? He is only going to get better.” Dunn’s night was complemented by a solid outing from John Lannan and a tough defense, which included a diving catch in centerfield from recent call-up Justin Maxwell. The Nationals will face off against the Dodgers again tonight in L.A. before wrapping up the series on Sunday.

Willingham’s Gapper Lands Fish

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Josh Willingham’s sixth inning double into the gap in right center field scored three and the Washington Nationals went on to shut out the Florida Marlins, 4-0 on Saturday night in Miami. Starter Stephen Strasburg notched the win with six complete innings of four hit ball. Strasburg struggled in the first two innings of the game (attempting to pinpoint his uncooperative fastball) before settling down and registering seven strikeouts. Willingham’s gapper scored Nyjer Morgan, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn — accounting for three of the Nats’ four runs. Dunn just barely beat the throw home to account for the Nats third run. Nats reliever Drew Storen kept the Marlins at bay in the 7th and 8th innings, while Matt Capps closed out the game in the 9th. This was the team’s first shutout since the Nats subdued the Dodgers on April 25, 1-0.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We must be getting close to the trading deadline. Ray Knight subbed for Rob Dibble in the MASN booth and immediately focused his attention on the top of the Nats’ order — noting the poor on base percentages of Nats leadoff man Nyjer Morgan (.313) and number two hitter Cristian Guzman (.342). Knight mentioned the lack of production in the number one and two spots no less than four times during the game; at one point Knight went on at length about the poor OBP performance of the Morgan-Guzman tandem while a MASN camera lingered on the two in the dugout. In the 9th, when Alberto Gonzalez replaced Guzman at second, Knight pointedly gave his opinion of the shift: “Gonzalez is the best defensive infielder on the team after Zimmerman,” he said. As if to celebrate this notice, Gonzalez registered the third out with a circus snag of a hot up-the-middle grounder to end the game . . .

Jim Riggleman was in a semi-permanent snit during the Nats 4-0 win against the Marlins, the apparent result of missed signs, missed bunts and indifferent fielding. His patience might be running out — a sure sign that changes are in the offing. But what kind of changes? Moving Guzman will be difficult (he’s a 10-5 player, so can veto a trade) and he’s owed a chunk of money. And it’s not clear that the Nats are sold on Gonzalez at second — Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson sure isn’t: “I will tell you that Gonzalez is not the answer,” he wrote in a recent column. “He was given a chance last year and didn’t do a good job. He stopped hitting and wasn’t very good defensively. I think he is a very good utility player. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel about Gonzalez.”

The CFG team doesn’t agree even a little bit with Ladson, but there are a lot of people who do: Gonzalez was the target of widespread fan grumbling during the ’09 campaign and only really started to hit in September, when it was too late. And while Gonzalez is good defensively (or even very good), he’s not a top-of-the-order guy (his OBP stands at .333, about the same as Guzman’s). Of course, none of that may matter now: the Nats are the poorest defensive team in the NL and the front office is desperate to find a way to stop the bleeding. Guzman is popular and when he could have sulked in April (when Ian Desmond replaced him at short), he sucked it up and dedicated himself to team play. Even so, Rizzo-Riggleman & Company have to do something and, since they’re not going to sit Desmond (and why should they?), Alberto’s time may have come. It’s overdue.

Alberto Gonzalez #12 of the Washington Nationals hits a two run RBI against the Florida Marlins during their MLB game on August 6, 2009 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.

Nats Boot It In Baltimore

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

You can’t make four errors and expect to win a ball game, no matter how much you hit — and no matter how many spectacular plays you make that are  nominated for “Web Gems” on “Baseball Tonight.” The Nats made four errors against Baltimore on Friday night, dropping an extra innings heartbreaker (and the first game of a three game set), to the Orioles, 7-6. This should have been Nyjer Morgan’s game: the Nats’ pesky lead-off hitter went 4-5, scored three runs, drove in one, stole a base and made a spectacular catch on what looked like a sure home run by Oriole Corey Patterson. Morgan climbed the centerfield wall at Camden Yards to snag the deep fly and rob the fleet-footed Patterson, who tipped his cap to Morgan in acknowledgment of his good glove work. Ironically, in an error-filled game, Morgan’s circus catch was one of the best defensive play of the year for the Nats. But Morgan’s good glove and hot bat after a month-long slump could not save his team, who played an embarrassing error-filled game.

After the game, Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman seemed befuddled, and angered, by his team’s loss. “You saw it. I’m not going to say anything specific, but the way we are playing in general — defensively — it isn’t good enough,” Riggleman said to reporters. “We do a lot of talking about it. We are out there working on it. But for some reason … I really can’t explain it. I know we put the work in. I feel bad for the players. It’s an issue for them. They see the number of errors. They see the games get away from us, because we are not making plays. We have to find a way to change that.” To compound the errors, righty reliever Tyler Clippard pitched poorly, in what has to account for his worst relief outing of the year. Clippard, who has been so consistent that Nats fans take his excellent relief appearance for granted, gave up four hits and four runs (three of them earned) in just 1.1 inning of work. While the Nats left Camden Yards disappointed, the O’s were ecstatic — registering a rare come-from-behind win on what should have been a double play ball that would have sent the game into extra innings. The O’s scored when Cristian Guzman’s flip to first eluded first sacker Adam Dunn. Guzman and shortstop Ian Desmond each had two errors in the game.

Unfortunately, while the Orioles will focus on the win and the Nats will focus on the errors, Nyjer Morgan’s play vindicated Riggleman who, prior to the game, said that he was undisturbed by the center fielder’s lack of production. Riggleman’s comments were a vote of confidence for Morgan, who has been the subject of fan criticism, and speculation that he might be benched in favor of Roger Bernadina. Riggleman has been trying to find a way to give Mike Morse more at bats — and benching Morgan and moving Bernadina into his spot would solve that problem. Morse would then play right field. But Riggleman said he’s sticking with Morgan. “I have a lot of patience with Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “One thing we kind of hang our hats on is last year when we got Nyjer at this time of the year, he had been doing OK in Pittsburgh, not having a great start, just treading water. Then he took off.” Riggleman seemed more than satisfied that his vote of confidence in Morgan worked out: after the loss to the Orioles the Nats skipper pointedly referred to the Morgan catch. “It may have been the greatest play of the year,” he said.

Duo In The Sun

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Washington Nationals fans, all agog over new team ace Stephen Strasburg, have come back to earth. That reality is reflected in team blogs, in newspaper reports — and in the young phenom’s own judgment. In a classic pitcher’s duel, Strasburg went head-to-head against Kansas City’s Brian Bannister, whose command of the strike zone and an up-and-down-in-and-out fastball and curve made the difference in the game. The result was a 1-0 Royals’ win, albeit with a dink and dunk, Texas leaguer contest in which the Monarchs refused to fold and (over the course of nine innings) slapped out nine hits. Strasburg lost the game, but took the booby prize: he eclipsed Herb Score’s strikeout record for the first four games of an MLB career — Score had 40 strikeouts in his first four, Strasburg had 41.

Jim Riggleman praised Strasburg, but there was a back handed caveat: “This time he was really good. The other times, he’s been spectacular,” the skipper said in his post game comments. Riggleman also took note of the difficulty of taking on the Royals’ order, a deceptively productive line-up that produces serial singles and station-to-station runs — if not wins. “The Royals have the highest batting average [in major league baseball] and Stephen competed with less than his best stuff today. They know how to hit.” Former Nats outfielder Jose Guillen was more specific: “He still has a little to learn about how to pitch in certain counts,” Guillen said. “He got me 1-2 or something and threw me a fastball right down the middle.” Those who sat through the sweltering oven of a game will add this — that Brian Bannister, lacking the Strasburg fastball (and slider, and change, and hook for that matter), won the duel, pitching six complete and giving up five hits. Bannister walked two (Strasburg none), but the final tally told the tale. When the Nats needed hits, Bannister shut them down.When the Royals needed hits, they got them.

Despite the loss, Strasburg remains the ace of the staff, garnering praise from teammates and opponents alike. It’s not everyday that your manager calls you a “treasure” (a descriptive used by Jim Riggleman in a post game interview), or that your teammates are lavish in their support. Ryan Zimmerman has, at least lately, been outspoken in his support and it seems that Pudge Rodriguez actually seems to like the kid. It shows that Strasburg is starting to fit in — not an insignificant challenge for a 21-year-old who just arrived and needs to show that he can not only pitch, but wants to win. He seems to have convinced the doubters, if there ever were any. This morning Tom Boswell reported that Strasburg summarily dismissed a reporter who asked about an auction of his rookie card on eBay. “Let’s focus on the game,” Strasburg said. “It was a tough loss for us.”

That kind of comment has to bring a sigh of relief to Riggleman and Rizzo, who have focused a lot of their attention on building a united clubhouse, which (at least in baseball) is a minimal condition for building a winning team. Gone now too (we hope) is all this talk of whether Strasburg should be an All Star, that he deserves to have his name mentioned among the NL’s probables — who might well constitute the best group of senior circuit starters in many years: Jimenez, Halladay, Lincecum, Carpenter, Pelfry, Hudson, Latos, Johnson, Wainwright, Cain, Oswalt and Silva. That’s a veritable gaggle of greatness. If Wednesday’s rare-back-and-throw hot-as-a-firecracker duel in the sun proves anything it’s that Strasburg is not there. Yet.

Swept

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals finished an American League road trip in Detroit with a loss (an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Kaline pitcher Jeremy Bonderman), failing to win all but one game in two three-game series against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. The loss brought the Nats to 1-5 on the swing west but (more importantly) continued the skid of a team that was once five games over .500. The team is now officially in a tailspin, leaving puzzled Nats fans to wonder whether their Anacostia Nine are reverting to their bad habits of 2009. The final loss in Detroit pointed up the Nats’ problems: too many strike outs, poor pitching and lousy defense. “We’re not playing tight baseball right now defensively,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted in the wake of the last Detroit loss. “We need to pay more attention to details.”

In many respects, the Nats 8-3 loss was typical of their recent woes. While the team put runners on base (eight hits, including an Adam Dunn dinger), they weren’t able to push across runs in tight situations — leaving 15 men stranded. Then too, while Detroit pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is a good hurler, he’s hardly a wizard. Yet, the righty regularly retired Nats hitters in situations that might have led to runs — pitching well when he had to. Bonderman mastered Nats’ hitters with a down-and-in slider that stymied the Nats line up, throwing 95 pitches over seven complete: 65 of them for strikes. Washington starter Luis Atilano was not nearly so good, giving up nine hits in just 4.1 innings — his second poor outing. For Nats’ obsessives, the game was unwatchable after the fourth. The only good news is that Adam Dunn continues his torrid pace, lofting his 16th round-tripper in the seventh, slotting two more RBIs and raising his average to .288 on the year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: CFG’s speculations about trading for a second pitcher occasioned more than a few comments from readers. A writer from Seattle was horrified that we believe that fireball southpaw Cliff Lee “could be had for a song.” That’s not what we said. Lee can’t be had for a song, but a longer melody might do. We’ll stick by our stand: the Navigators are looking for prospects and are sellers. Lee is looking for a long term deal and would be more comfortable in the National League. The Seattle fan begs to differ: “We’ll part with Lee,” he writes, “but we’ll need Ryan Zimmerman in return.” Yeah sure. Keep dreaming.

Others wrote more creatively, noting that the Lee-Oswalt-Peavy speculations that we launched “aimed too high” (as one responder noted), saying that it seemed more likely that Washington would fish for pitchers “more reachable.” A  reader, from Atlanta, was adamant: “Houston, Seattle, Chicago — they’ll all want one of your big hitters, and Rizzo won’t give any of them up.” Well, maybe. Our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) mentioned Chicago hurler Ted Lilly (Ken Rosenthal thinks he might be available), Frisco fireballer Jonathan Sanchez and Showboat righty Dan Haren as likely targets. We’ve been mulling these possibilities and they all sound good. But Lilly is a finesse pitcher who will soon be looking for a big payday and we can’t imagine that San Francisco would part with Sanchez (a little different than last year at this time).

There’s always Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook, who has struggled this year (except against the Nats) and is rumored to be on the block. Westbrook is an intriguing possibility, particularly now that he looked so terrible against the Mets. The Cleveland front office is running out of patience with its pitching staff, and Westbrook is playing for a guy who knows the Nats system — and particularly its younger pitchers and developing hitters. Then too, Cleveland needs to retool: getting younger hurlers to go with Masterson and Huff. Mike Rizzo wouldn’t want to do that. But for Westbrook? Westbrook is not Lilly, or Sanchez (let alone Haren), but he’s affordable and would provide a veteran presence behind Strasburg. He’s had his Tommy John surgery, has a wicked cut fastball (well . . . it’s wicked often enough to spark interest among shoppers), is in the last year of his contract and has worn out his welcome in Cleveland.

Haren is different. The D-Backs are rumored to be at the beginning of a sell-off, which has their dugout talking, though they probably don’t need a top-to-bottom rebuilding. Haren himself has said that the team has a stockpile of talent — though SI’s Jon Heyman speculates that Arizona’s front office will listen to offers on the impressive righty. Heyman’s article on the D-Backs is thorough and authoritative, which can mean only one thing: the Rattlers are open for business. The only players who are off the table (Heyman says) are outfield bopper Justin Upton and young ace-to-be Ian Kennedy. So Heyman is right — Arizona shopaholic Josh Byrnes (he just shipped Conor Jackson to Oakland) will “listen,” but will the Nats make an offer? Haren hasn’t been his perennial lights-out ace this year, but he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the NL over the last three years. So he won’t come cheap. Which is too bad, because it probably means he won’t come at all. So we’ll look in the mirror and tell ourselves what we told our Seattle reader: Keep dreaming.

Strasburg (W, 1-0), Capps (S, 19)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If, during Spring Training, you had asked Nats skipper Jim Riggleman to sketch out a “model” Nationals win, he might have said something like this: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter followed by a middle inning lights-out reliever, finishing with an unhittable closer who strikes fear into the opposition. And the bats? That’s easy: a get-on-base-guy at the top of the order followed by the heavy lumber: Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez. Add liberally all those other things that really good teams have: a tight defense anchored by a youngster at short and a speedster in center. Oh, and let’s not forget: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter.

On Tuesday night, Jim Riggleman got his wish: Stephen Strasburg provided one of baseball’s most dominating pitching debuts, holding the Stargells to four hits over seven complete and wowing the sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus — who gave the now former phenom innumerable standing ovations before demanding that he take a well-deserved curtain call. “I really can’t put into words any better than what you saw,” Riggleman said following Strasburg’s gem. The California native and 2009 first round, first overall Nats draft pick registered fourteen strikeouts and no walks. I’ll repeat the important part of that last sentence, just for emphasis: no walks. But Strasburg’s numbers tell only a part of the story. Excepting for a semi-shaky fourth (and even then, he seemed in complete control) Strasburg dominated the game — with a silly-sick curve, an unhittable change-up and an in-your-eyes fastball that topped out (twice) at 100 mph. And the Nationals won, in a model of precision that Riggleman might have only dreamed of just two months ago: Strasburg was followed by 8th inning guy Tyler Clippard (one inning, one hit, two strike outs), before “Let’s Go Capps” (one inning, no hits) closed the door.

Nationals 5, Pirates 2.

From where the CFG contingent was sitting — in Section 129 (and here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the night seemed filled with odd physical tics. Every time that Strasburg finished howitzer-ing a fastball past an increasingly puzzled Ahoy line-up, the entire section would look up at the scoreboard, calculating velocity. Up and back, up and back, like watching a ping-pong match. “That’s 100.” The 82 mph curves were as impressive, the mix in pitches a sign that “this kid” (as in, “boy, can this kid throw”) is more than just a fireballer. And then the nods or guttural response, or expressions of awe. “Seven in a row, are you kidding?” There was a sense of disbelief in all of this. Everyone had heard the hype, but no one had quite believed it. CFG’s DWilly rang up after the game, his cell crackling with the sound of the crowd celebrating on Half Street: “The real deal,” he said.

Now Then, Where Were We? Oh yeah, searching for a right fielder. Even before the Strasburg debut, the Nats front office had to feel that the team they put on the field could make a run at a playoff spot, the only negative being the gaping hole in right field. That’s called a conceit: what we mean to say is — the yawning maw in right field. With the Willie Harris/Willy Taveras platoon a thing of the past (it lasted all of one game), the Nats were hoping that Harris alone (and then Roger Bernadina) could make the difference. But Willie is not only hitting below the Mendoza line, he makes Mendoza look like DiMaggio. Then too, Bernadina is yet to get his legs (or his stroke, as the case may be) and the oft-injured Mike Morse, while a Riggleman favorite, just doesn’t feel like a permanent solution. Or hit like one. Well, there’s Cristian Guzman . . . okay, well maybe not.

So, the search is on. Last week, Ben Goessling speculated about a number of fixes, including the Brew Crew’s Corey Hart, the North Sider’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa’s B.J. Upton, any number of whom would be an upgrade. But the price, according to Goessling, would be high: Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps — and throw in a top prospect. With the possible exception of Hart, it hardly seems worth it. Hart has pop (15 dingers), but a so-so-average, the K-man patrols the field with the best of them (but is too inconsistent at the plate — and comes with a salary), and B.J. Upton has yet to live up to his hype (.235 BA, six homers). Past A Diving Vidro (now there’s a great name for a blog) says that David DeJesus might be an option — but then the bloggers at PADV rightly call him a K.C. Ryan Church . . . ugh.

There’s another possibility. The White Sox are “open for business,” and have apparently been dangling outfielder Carlos Quentin — who can be had for the right price. But it’s hard to see what that price might be. The one thing the Nats can now (supposedly) trade is relief pitching — the one thing the Pale Hose don’t need. Then too, it’s hard to figure what you gain with Quentin: sure, 21 home runs last year (remember? CQ was once “The Second Coming” in “The Second City”), but his measly BA (.236!) and anemic OBP of .323 has soured his stay in Chicago. If we’re going to pay top price for a right fielder, then it’s worth getting one who can swing the stick. Quentin has yet to prove he can. Then too, whether it’s Hart, or Kosuke or B.J. or whomever, dealing Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps just now seems like a bad idea. Clippard has emerged as one of the game’s premier middle relievers (well, he’s getting there), while dealing Capps would seem proof of attention deficit disorder: maybe the Nats front office remembers what it’s like to play without a closer, but the rest of us are permanently Hanrahan’d. Which means? Which means that sometimes, at least in baseball, the best thing to do is nothing at all.