Archive for the ‘josh willingham’ Category

Back In The Win Column

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Nationals’ starter John Lannan and relief specialist Sean Burnett combined to shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night 4-2, to put the team back in the win column. The badly needed victory followed a disheartening three game set against the Florida Marlins, in which the team was outscored 22-7 and failed to get the pitching necessary to catch the hit heavy Fish in the N.L. East. The 4-2 victory had to be one of the most satisfying of the year, marking the continued comeback of Lannan and an exclamation point to Burnett’s continued mastery (2.72 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 43 innings). “I just feel good out there,” Lannan said after the win. “I feel confident with my stuff. I spent time down [in Double-A] trying to get my two-seam [fastball] back, getting in good position to hide my ball more and being more deceptive. It still is going to get better.” The Nats continue their series against the Showboats on Saturday night, when a struggling Jason Marquis will go to the mound.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The last Stephen Strasburg outing against the Marlins was unusual in at least three respects. The first is that the stands weren’t full — as they usually are when “the kid” pitches. And it was noticed. “Where the hell is everyone?” There was no answer, but at least one grumpy sigh. “Maybe that other team is playing tonight.” The point was rhetorical — they weren’t . . . The second is that Strasburg did poorly, a disappointment and a distinct surprise for the 25,000-plus who did show. “Amazing,” a Strasburg partisan noted . . . The third seems almost immoral (or perhaps simply disloyal): Strasburg’s early exit against the Marlins spurred an early exit for Nats fans. “It’s not that Strasburg is done,” a Section 1-2-9 loyalist announced while getting up from his seat and averting his eyes, “it’s just that I’ve been here before — I’ve seen him” — and there was a quick nod to Miguel Batista, warming up on the mound . . .

In fact, Batista has been exactly what skipper Riggleman said he would be: an innings eater who can pitch more than three frames per stint. That is to say, his heroism in subbing for “the kid” against Atlanta at the end of July has been quickly forgotten. “Yeah, I loved that,” a season holder noted, “but that was then and this is now. And right now I’m thinking that we need something longer term than ‘Miss Iowa'” . . . “Geeeez,” another said, in referring to Strasburg’s inability to control his breaking stuff, “what the hell do you suppose is wrong?” There was silence for only a heartbeat. “There isn’t anything wrong, it’s just a bad outing. We need to be patient. A career is a long time. There’s going to be bad outings.” The same might be said of the entire team. When the Nats failed to get to Ricky Nolasco (with Livan pitching), there was a palpable discomfort among the section’s more vocal partisans. “So much for 3-4-5,” a fan said, referring to the Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham combination. “This guy [Nolasco] isn’t exactly Cy Young.”

Fish Wrap

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals loss to the Florida Marlins on Tuesday was yet another example of the Nats’ good-news-bad-news season. The good news is that Stephen Strasburg is healthy, the bad news is that the Florida Marlins roughed up “the kid” — who lasted just 4.1 innings in his worst outing of the year. If that comment seems unfair, it’s only because it is: while Nats fans have expected a stellar outing whenever Strasburg steps on the mound, the simple truth is that any old 22-year-old phenom can get hit, as can any Hall of Famer or Cy Young winner. Strasburg is not the only very good pitcher who, after trying out his best stuff, finds himself tramping to the dugout. That said, there are reasons for Strasburg’s indifferent outing on Tuesday. Reasons. Not excuses.

Strasburg had not pitched in three weeks and, in the wake of his activation from the D.L. was not given the luxury of a rehab start in Triple-A. It was Strasburg who said it best: “Everybody is human. They are going to have these days sooner or later,” he said after the game. “I’m a little disappointed in myself, because I really went out there not focusing on the one thing that you really have to focus on: Just going out there and competing, and going with what you had. I spent the whole time worrying about trying to fix what was going wrong instead of just letting it go — just throwing the ball.”

And credit the Marlins. If Hanley Ramirez were to spend his career playing only the Nationals he’d be the next Stan Musial, while Dan Uggla hit the pitches he wanted (mostly up-in-the-zone fastballs that went wicked fahhh). The barrage, when coupled with 6.2 innings from a tough Anibal Sanchez and nearly spotless Fish relief spelled the difference. Oh, and the failure of Nationals’ hitters to take advantage of the few chances they had to score runs. Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is Josh Willingham’s continued drought, a slump that has now reached epic proportions. Willingham was 0-3 with a strikeout; his down-the-drain average is at .262, his power numbers plunging. The slump hasn’t really lasted all that long — only since June.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: You’d have to be an insensitive lout to not be overtaken by the emotion of Andre Dawson’s appearance at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The former Expos great teared up during his induction into the newly inaugurated Ring Of Honor — as good an idea as the Nationals front office has had since the hiring of Mike Rizzo. Dawson was joined by former Expos catcher Gary Carter, who told MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble that he was honored by his name being included, but that the night was “really about Andre.” The Ring of Honor celebrates Hall of Fame inductees who played for the Montreal Expos (the home franchise team of the Nationals), the Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays of the old Negro League, who played their games in D.C. for many years. Those honored include Dawson, Carter, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. You have to have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to be considered — hence the non-inclusion (alas) of Washington Senators’ first baseman Mickey Vernon, perhaps the most deserving veteran who has not yet been voted into the shrine. So change the rules: Mickey’s name belongs on that ring.

Assessing The Second Half

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Just one year ago, in 2009, the Washington Nationals opened the second half of their season not only in last place in the NL East, but as the worst team in baseball. The problems then were obvious: the bullpen had imploded, regular outfielder Austin Kearns was slumping, there was no starting pitching and the team seemed uninvolved and detached. The challenge then was different than it is now: to change what was happening on the field, the Nats needed to change what was happening in the front office — a view reflected in ownership’s mid season open letter to fans that contained an embarrassing, but necessary apology. No such apology is needed now. While the Nats are yet again in last place in their division, the rebuilt bullpen is solid, Austin Kearns (DHL’d to Cleveland) has been replaced in the outfield by slugger Josh Willingham, the team’s starting rotation is filled with promise and the clubhouse is tight and optimistic. But perhaps the biggest revolution has been where the fans can’t see it: the front office is retooled — with an engaged general manager and a core of scouts and development experts who are competing with the best in baseball.

The challenges facing the 2009 Nats were obvious, the needed changes reflected in the standings. That’s less true now, particularly considering that the franchise controls one of the game’s premier young pitchers (Stephen Strasburg), has one of the most formidable 3-4-5 line-up combinations in the National League (Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham), is steadied by a future hall of famer behind the plate (“Pudge” Rodriguez), and has — waiting in the wings — a crowd of injured starting pitchers that could energize a second half surge (Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang). Which is not to say that there aren’t problems. There are. The Nats defense is weak, the team’s set-up men are struggling, their center fielder is having problems on the base paths (and at the plate) and (pending the uncertain return of a quartet of tweeky arms) their starting pitching is shaky.

In 2009, these same problems (and their hypothetical resolution) spurred overly optimistic talk; that the Nationals were actually “only a player or two” from being good. That wasn’t true in 2009 — not even close, but it’s true now. The question for Mike Rizzo is whether he busts up a good thing to continue building, or whether he tweaks the team at the edges, hoping that the return of the Marquis-Zimmermann-Olsen-Wang quartet will provide the necessary spur to vault the team out of last place. It’s not an easy decision: busting up the team means trading popular and productive players (Dunn or Willingham, or both), while tweaking it at the edges probably (probably) means accepting that the Nats future is not now, but sometime next year. If there’s good news here, it’s this: Nats fans won’t have to wait until August or September to determine the team’s fate — that tale will be told before the July 31 trading deadline.

The Wisdom Of Secton 1-2-9: The CFG contingent arrived at the first game of the McCovey series with a new set of fans seated firmly in the row behind the regulars. That the two (I swear) looked like the spitting image of Omar Little and Stringer Bell was tempting: “hey, you two were great in The Wire.” The moment, thankfully, passed. The two turned out to be charter members of the Nyjer Morgan fan club, pumping their fists at every Nyjer moment: “My man,” one said, when Nyjer came to the plate. A row mate was not impressed, mimicking Casey At The Bat — “strike two said the umpire” and then the smile “not my style said Nyjer.” There were titters. When Morgan flipped his bat in disgust at a strike out served up by Matt Cain, the potential for a debate seemed electric, but one of the Morgan partisans smiled:  “You’ll see,” he said, to no one in particular. And he was right: Morgan was 2-5 and knocked in a run. “Hey man,” one of the Morgan fans said, but so we could hear it, “some of these fans don’t remember what Nyjer did for us last year.” His row mate nodded in agreement. “Yeah man, I know. Short memories.” This was greeted by silence. And chagrin. They were relentless, boring in for the kill. One of them tapped me on the shoulder: “That was a rope,” he said, after Morgan put a streaking line drive down the right field line. Okay, okay, okay . . .

“The problem with Clippard is that his curve just isn’t working,” one of the section’s middle relief experts opined in the second game of the San Francisco series. He didn’t need to keep making the point, Clippard was making it for him — “see, look at that.” Clippard looked terrible and shook his head as he came off the field. “He feels it,” and then there was just a tick before this, from a fan down the row: “Yeah, well, he should.” But the section remained optimistic (“he’ll get it back”), even as the Nats squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead (“yeah, but not this inning”). There were some few Giants fans in the seats, complete with newly minted, black and orange, Buster Posey jerseys. One Frisco fan (“San Francisco natives never use that term,” I was told) was tweeting with a family member, even as the Nats compiled a five runs lead. The message was pointed: “My boy Posey will regulate!” He did: 4-5 with 3 RBIs.

Zimmerman Becomes A Leader

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Over the past two days Ryan Zimmerman has demonstrated, quite publicly, that he has become comfortable being the Nats’ team leader. Some people are born leaders and some figure out how to do it as they go along. Zimmerman is in the latter camp. And now that he has figured it out the team will be better for it. Zimmerman is no rush-the-parapets kind of guy. He’s much more of the quiet, lead-by-example, give-praise-where-it’s-due and criticize-in-private type. Given that the Nats are a pretty young team, Zimmerman’s personality fits that just fine.

After his walk off single Tuesday night a reporter asked Zim about the error by newbie shortstop Ian Desmond that led to San Diego scoring the tying run late in the game. Zim’s response was unequivocal:  “He’s very, very talented, and he thinks he can get every one out, which is a good thing,” Zimmerman said. “He’ll learn when not to throw balls, when to throw balls. It’s going to be part of the stuff we have to go through with him. I think it’s way more worth it to have him out there.” So there it is: for a kid like Desmond to have a guy like Zimmerman covering his back so publicly says a lot about Desmond’s talent (one of me Droogs reminded me that All World Cubbie Ernie Banks had 34 errors at short as a rookie)  — and a lot about Zim’s leadership style. By sticking up for a guy that the media would love to pick at Zimmerman was basically telling the wags to lay off the kid. And telling skipper Jim Riggleman that the kid will be okay.

In today’s edition of the Post, Zimmerman was at it again. Laying his cards on the table regarding trade rumors about Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, Zimmerman was outspoken: “It’s really, really hard to find a 3-4-5. Look at what we’ve done for the past two years. We enjoy playing together, and we kind of push each other. It’s a good group we have. It would be bad if we broke it up, I think.”  He couldn’t have been more clear than if he said “Mr. Rizzo, please don’t screw this up.” Zimmerman may be feeling his oats a bit too. When asked about Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo he said they “are very smart guys” and then added this coda — “they’ve done a great job so far.”  So far! Not beyond the pale. Just making his point. And a very good one methinks.

A note to Rizzo, Kasten and Riggleman: don’t overthink this. Play follow the leader — and leave Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ian Desmond right where they are.

Stammen Buries The Hatchets

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Craig Stammen, just recalled from the Nats Syracuse Triple-A farm club, threw seven innings of brilliant baseball and super sub Alberto Gonzalez went 4-4 as the skidding Nats ended their five game losing streak with a 7-2 win in Atlanta. Stammen finally mastered what had been bothering him in successive starts prior to his demotion — he kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes, keeping the Bravos hitters off balance. Stammen threw 99 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, before giving way to Sean Burnett in the 8th inning. “Craig was just outstanding,” skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. And the skipper praised Alberto Gonzalez, who looked rusty at the plate on Monday. “He’s a great fielder,” Riggleman said, “and he can hit a little too.” This marked the second successive start for Gonzalez, who has done some spot pinch hitting. But Riggleman was uncertain whether the Gonzalez start was the beginning of a new trend. “He’s kind of the fourth guy among four guys, so it’s tough for him to get playing time,” Riggleman said.

In breaking loose for seven runs, the Nats end a despairing streak of one, two and three run games that saw them sink further into last place in the NL East. Relief seems to be in sight: Nyjer Morgan’s bat is finally heating up (he was 2-5 on Tuesday), Josh Willingham put one into the seats at Turner Field (his 14th), Ryan Zimmerman plated two RBIs — and then there was Alberto Gonzalez, whose 4-4 stint brought his BA to .292: oh, and he can field a little bit too. To cap it all off, Roger Bernadina is starting to look like a keeper (slapping balls to left field) and Tyler Clippard pitched a nifty clean 9th. The news gets even better from there. The Nats went errorless in nine innings, which must be some kind of record.

Today I Settle All Family Business, So Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent: If you google “The Kid,” you get sites for a Charlie Chaplan movie, news that Angelina Jolie’s little girl wants to be a boy (“she likes to wear boy’s everything,” Angelina poofed), and a reach on Ted Williams who, it seems, was called “the kid” until someone thought of something better — like “The Splendid Splinter.” (Which reminds me: wasn’t Gaylord Perry once referred to as “The Splendid Spitter?” No? Okay, maybe not). But nowhere on the internet does anyone talk about our Anacostia Nine who, it is reported, are calling Stephen Strasburg “the kid” in the privacy of the Nats’ clubhouse. We’re betting the name will stick, confirming Angelina’s little pout about “Shiloh,” who “thinks she’s one of the brothers.”

Stephen’s nickname confirms that he too (and for sure) is now one of the Nats brothers (that’s what being given a nickname means) — albeit without the apparent transgender issues of Shiloh Vomit Pitt. And it’s a good thing. Strasburg took the heat after his Monday outing, as Braves fans everywhere (there aren’t as many as there once were for “America’s Team“) laid into “the kid” for giving up five runs (er, three earned) in the 7th inning of Monday night. Even some Nats fans were disappointed. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — what happened? So here’s the deal: we here at CFG have taken a poll of our staff (final vote? 3-0) and determined that we would take, any day, an outing from any pitcher on our staff who could throw 6.1 (!), give up three earned runs (!), and strike out seven. You never know, if we have outings like that every game, we could actually win the division. Yeah, there’s no question about it, Monday’s performance shows that we need to send “the kid” to the minors to “straighten out his stuff” and “build his self confidence.”

Say It Ain’t So Mike: The Nats are apparently “entertaining offers” . . . no, that’s not the right phrase. Damn. Let’s start over. The Nats are “actively considering” … no, that’s not right either. Okay. Here it is. The Nats are talking to at least two teams about a trade that would involve Nats first sacker and potential All Star Adam Dunn, the heart and soul of your Washington Nationals (if you don’t count Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez . . .). The report must be true: MLB Trade Rumors has it by way of Ken Rosenthal, who has it from the Chicago Sun Times, who has it from the White Sox.

The Angels are already interested, Rosenthal says, and Joe Cowley of the Greatest Newspaper in the Greatest City in America (it’s ahead of the Trib, dontchaknow), says that the Nats and Pale Hose are exchanging names, though the Sox don’t have much to give in the way of pitching prospects — they were all traded to the Little Monks from San Diego for Jumpin’ Jake Peavy. No one likes this kind of talk, least of all Adam Dunn, who doesn’t want to be a DH and likes it just fine here in D.C.  We like him here too, Mike — as he is headed for another season of 40 home runs (oops, he had only 39 last year) and is one of the surprises, perhaps the surprise on the team: unlike the other nine we slap together to play the Baltimore Pathetics, he’s fielding his position like a pro. And who would have guessed that? Then too, don’t we have enough pitching prospects? I know, let’s try Danny Cabrera. In fact, the only positive thing we could really gain from such a trade is an end to that obnoxious public address announcer and his “now batting for your Washington Nationals …. Adaaaam Dunnnnnn.” Hey, on second thought . . .

“A lot of leash with John . . .”

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman made sure the press knew: John Lannan would remain in Washington’s starting rotation, had every right to be there, and would soon enough return to the good old days — when he led the Washington rotation. “I believe in John,” Riggleman said after Sunday’s 6-3 loss at the hands of Chicago’s White Sox. “There has to be something there because he has it in the bullpen. He’ll get the ball sinking. He just haven’t been able to do it in game situations. John has been too good for us to let a few starts detour us too much. We have a lot of leash with John.” Lannan was undoubtedly pleased with the vote of confidence from his manager: he failed to get out of the fifth inning for his third start in a row, yielding 11 hits and five runs in four innings of work — his worst inning coming after the Nats gained their first lead in the Chicago series.

Lannan’s troubles reflects his team’s troubles. Ryan Zimmerman is in a funk at the plate, Josh Willingham’s numbers of cratering and the get-on-base top of the order is failing to get on base. For all of that, the Nats’ front office seems unfazed — with no one scrambling impatiently to right the listing ship. Skipper Riggleman, in particular, seems willing to wait out the recent slump, counting on his hitter-heavy line-up and a bevy of young arms to set things right. “It’s just not happening for us right now. We are struggling,” Riggleman said in the wake of the Nats sixth straight loss. “Everybody in the locker room knows it. We are sticking together, though, and we are going to pass the character test. The character gets tested sometimes and we are getting tested right now.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Jim Kurtzke over at Nationals Daily News details the problems the Nats will have in their starting rotation without a solid Lannan. Kurtzke points out that 2010 was to be a transition year for the rotation, with Lannan slotted as a solid number 3 behind Strasburg and a healthy Zimmermann. And now? His reflections are well worth reading . . . Federal Baseball spends five minutes with Tyler Clippard — and finds out what makes the Nats’ reliever tick. Clippard is a fan of Washington fans. “The fans here in Washington have been great so far ever since I stepped foot in this organization, and being in the big leagues here,” Clippard says, “even last year when we were losing a bunch the fans were still great to us as players and stuff . . .” It sounds like Clippard would rather be here than anywhere else. The big righty extols the talents of pitch-caller Ivan Rodriguez and fellow set-up wizard Drew Storen . . . It’s good to see that we’re not the only ones feeling our age. Nationals Fanboy Looser (former newspaperman Mike Harris) remembers watching a 1962 tilt at the Polo Grounds in a tribute to Father’s Day. It’s a nice reminder of what baseball was like back before the Peloponnesian War . . . Nats 320 outdid themselves with a detailed look at Sunday’s game, along with a series of in-game photos. They write that the Nats’ slump is a team effort and point out that the Nats-Royals tilt on Monday night will be the first time that the Nats and Royals have matched up since the Nationals became the Nationals in 2005 . . .

Bombs Away

Friday, June 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals ended their home stand with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a sweep of their three game series. Livan Hernandez pitched six solid innings in notching the win, but the difference in the game was home runs hit by Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Mike Morse — who started the game in right. The Nats hit the long ball in the series, with Adam Dunn now dialed in and absolutely firecracker hot: the Nats first sacker is hitting .284 (after a slow start), and has hit a home run in each of the Nats’ last three home games — all against the Stargells. Over the last ten games, Dunn has spiked his batting average by ten points. The Nats head to Cleveland for a three game series before heading on to Detroit, the second stop in their second round of inter-league play.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: NL East Chatter (of which we are a proud part) is running a multi-part series entitled “Future of the NL East” that focuses on the division’s best young players. The review started with a portrait of Stephen Strasburg (prior to his first outing in D.C.); this week’s focus is on Jason Heyward and it’s worth the read . . . Our friends over at Real Dirty Mets Blog have a fascinating post on Mets journal keeper and artist Joe Petruccio, who is dedicated to filling his personal notebook with a season-long looked at his “beloveds.” Petruccio’s art hearkens to the day when sports pages were filled with quick sketches or cartoons of daily plays and games. There must be, somewhere, a similar notebook filled with sketches of the Nats (I would just bet), but until we find such an artist, we will have to be satisfied with Joe’s drawings — if of the wrong team.

Speaking of Mets Fans, one of the droogs (you remember the droogs, right?), responded to our plea for new nicknames with an email — and some interesting nominations. His suggestions for the Chokes include: “the Mutts,” “the Amazins,” “the Kings of Queens” (not bad, that), the “NY Mess” and “The Miracles.” For the Phillies he has “the Whizkids” and “the Philthies” and for the Dodgers he suggests we adopt “Da Bums.” The Kings of Queens is a keeper, in my humble opinion . . . Meanwhile, our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) writes that we should drop the nicknames altogether, arguing that the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rockies and Brewers (among all the others) “already are nicknames” and then she (I’m convinced it’s a “she”) adds the following two words: “you moron” . . . still another reader suggested we conduct a survey of Nats fans to see if the Nats should have a suitable nickname, “a shorthand” version of Nats that would replace what he calls “your pretty lame Anacostia Nine nickname . . .”

So here’s the Petruccio stuff. And don’t forget to visit his blog . . .

Nats, Capps Defrock Friars

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched out of a based loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a Washington Nationals and John Lannan win in San Diego, 5-3. The victory marked an all-the-way back start for the Washington mainstay, who had his best outing of the year — a seven inning, seven hit semi-gem that fed off the Friar’s lack of power and Washington’s ability to put the ball in the seats. Josh Willingham began the Washington scoring with a three run top-of-the-fourth dinger off of starter Clayton Richard, who held the Nats to four hits. Ian Desmond went 2-4 for the night, which included his fourth homer, a solo shot in the seventh. The game’s comic interlude was provided by San Diego, which filled out its staring line-up card incorrectly, spurring the Nats to play the game under protest. But the protest was dropped by the Nats front office after the win.

While Richard could not stop Washington’s long ball, San Diego manager Bud Black named closer Matt Capps as the difference in the game. Capps struck out two and then induced a ground ball to pitch out of the ninth inning jam. “That was a tough one for Capps, and he got it done,” Black said following the San Diego loss. “He’s pitched well. He has that in him. We had some good swings, but we just didn’t connect. We got it in position with those four hits there in the ninth, but it just didn’t turn out.” Capps register his 17th save, throwing 24 pitches, 17 for strikes. His ERA now stands at 2.96. The Nats face off against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego in a Saturday night game that will feature recently recalled Nats Triple-A pitcher (and spot starter in 2009), J.D. Martin against young Friar hurler Mat Latos.

Waiting For Strasburg Stanton: While Washington fans speculate endlessly about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut in the Bigs, Fish Fans are all agog about Michael Stanton — “the next big thing” in Florida. While Stanton (more properly, Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton) was hardly judged a “phenom” when he was drafted in the second round (79th overall) of the 2007 draft, his semi-meteoric rise through the Marlins farm system (he’s now at Double-A Jacksonville) has been accompanied by a breathtaking display of power. Back on May 6, one of Stanton’s towering drives in Montgomery not only cleared the centerfield wall, it sailed effortlessly over the 95 foot scoreboard behind it. Stanton’s teammates immediately engaged in speculation about whether the ball would ever be found — it wasn’t.

The Marlins clearly know what they have, fueling speculation about just when Stanton will appear — and what kind of difference he’ll make when he does. The excitement is not confined to the front office: when not waiting for Hanley’s next tantrum, the Uggla-Cantu Fins are twittering about Stanton’s prodigious shots. This is not all hype: through his first 38 games this year (albeit, at Jacksonville), Stanton is hitting .310 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs with a .447 on-base percentage. He leads the minors in just about everything having to do with hitting. There’s no reason to think this won’t continue with the big club, when he’s called up sometime in June. He’s “Florida big,” following the Marlins’ tradition of drafting tall ironman types that are more Ruth than Ripken.

Of course, Stanton’s arrival as “the next big thing” is highly anticipated by Marlins’ fans (here they are), in large part because the last big thing (Cameron Maybin) hasn’t worked out so well — and because, despite fielding a good team, Miami’s fans seem as unexcited as any team in baseball not named the Blue Jays. It’s no wonder then, that Marlins President Larry Beinfest channels Mike Rizzo when he talks about Stanton, giving cagey answers to reporters who hound him about Stanton’s prospective arrival. Beinfest knows what he’s doing — increasing speculation about just when Florida’s version of Jason Heyward will arrive at Landshark Stadium. Patience, patience, Beinfest says. Stanton justs needs to continue working on his game “and the rest will take care of itself.”

Walk Off “Hammers” O’s

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Josh Willingham’s walk off home run in the tenth inning gave the Nats the game, the set and the match against the Baltimore Orioles in a 4-3 victory at Nationals Park on Sunday. Willingham’s game winner came off of O’s reliever Cla Meredith, and gave the Nats bragging rights in the “Battle of the Beltways” inter-league series. Perhaps as important, the Nats played a nearly perfect, tight game that relied on defense and pitching — a decided change from Saturday’s messy win and a needed boost as the Nats now head west for an extended road trip. “When you get a game winning hit like that,” Willingham said after the win, “it’s why you play the game as a baseball player . . . it got up in the air and went out.”

Willingham’s game winning knock was not the only good news for the Nats. Starter John Lannan pitched well — holding the Orioles to one run on two hits over 5.1 innings. Lannan said that his arm felt good after the outing, with the pain he had suffered over the previous weeks an apparent thing of the past. “I’m feeling healthy, which is the main thing,” Lannan said. The game also seemed to confirm Jim Riggleman’s decision to provide Roger Bernadina with a more steady starting role in right field. After a slow start, Bernadina is hitting the ball well — and he’s a defensive asset in right field. “He’s just getting a little better each time,” Riggleman noted. “He’s really finding his way and getting a little more comfortable.” The Nats will start their road journey with a series against the San Francisco Giants,  before moving on to San Diego and Houston.

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.