Archive for the ‘Livan Hernandez’ 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.”

Snakes: Bitten

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

On Monday night in Phoenix, Livan Hernandez showed once again why he remains the acknowledged ace of the Washington Nationals staff. In  7.1 innings of solid in-and-out and up-and-down pitching, Hernandez surrendered just five hits to his former teammates in Arizona and the Nationals notched a much-needed road win 3-1. “[Hernandez] was outstanding,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. “I hated that last walk he had, because I was going to let him finish that inning and maybe finish the ballgame. When he’s throwing like that, hitting spots and keeping hitters off balance, it is one of those nights where he can go nine [innings].” Livan’s performance was matched by Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez, whose second inning dinger was his 300th as a catcher. Sean Burnett closed the game, striking out two of the D-Backs last five hitters.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: Sunday’s loss to the Phillies, a contest in which the Nats might have notched a sweep against their I-95 competitors, was emotionally churning, in large part because of the flood of Phillies fans — in town to cheer on their favorites. The tide of Pony partisans left Nats’ fans as embittered on Sunday as they had been at the end of Opening Day. “These people ought to stay the f — home,” a Curly W supporter muttered in the 6th inning. “This is sickening, not necessary,” another said. “Are we required to sell these people tickets?” But unlike Opening Day, the Nats apparently had it all figured out: MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter kept talking about the “growing rivalry” between the clubs, as if to protect that Nats front office from the decision to fill the seats — no matter what.”It’ll be a rivalry when we put 20,000 fans in PNC Park,” a Nats fan growled, “and not until.” Cooler heads did not prevail: “It’ll turn around,” a Nats fan opined, and was answered by a glum rooter in one of the forward rows. “Yeah, it’ll turn around,” he said, “when the Nats get into the post-season.” There were also mutterings when a fan arrived late, proudly sporting a new Donovan McNabb jersey: “Wrong jersey, wrong ballpark, wrong team, wrong sport . . .”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The exchange on the health of “the kid” between CFG and one of our readers has become a torrent. Here’s the latest: “Dear editor: Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response. Since that give-and-take worked so well, one further suggestion if I might: as the days pass with Saint Stephen on the sideline (now hopefully on the mend), could CFG please regularly update his physical and mental condition as warranted — including any medical info/predictions and gossip picked up from the various sources/websites perused constantly by CFG’s staff.  Many of your readers don’t always have the time to collect this valuable information — and rely on you to provide it. Please don’t lose track of the essential truth of this situation:  the fate of his sore arm is the big story of this franchise . . . Sincerely, An appreciative reader . . .”

Well, well, well. This is right in our wheelhouse. And yet the head of our research staff (here he is, with a group of CFG interns) is feeling the pressure. “Yes, big boss, I jumps in it,” he said. “I leave no stone on ground.” Several hours later we had our answer: “I think Mister Stephen in Arizona, mmmmm … chance maybe not so good,” he said. “Maybe boy in L.A. pitch good. Maybe, maybe not. I dunno.” And then he puckered his lips and kissed his miniature giraffe . . .

The pride of the N.L. Central, the Phillies of the Midwest, the North Side Drama Queens are “sinking like a stone,” have “bought the baseball farm,” have “reached the bottom of the barrel.” There is no cliche perfect enough to describe the extinction level event that has become your Chicago Cubs. Think it can’t get worse? It can, because it has. The Wrigley’s have now lost six in a row, and it hasn’t been pretty. The North Siders dropped what might have passed for a softball exhibition game to the Brew Crew last night by a score of 18-1. Repeat after me: 18-1. You can expect some of those kinds of games (where nothing in the world goes right), but the Cubs play them regularly, with aplomb and with no apparent loss of sleep. Over the last six games, the Cubs have been outscored 63-17.

The cataclysm has Cubs’ fans in an uproar. And the promised makeover might be years, not months, away — the Baby Bears are stuck with huge contracts to a number of perennial head cases (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano) and, as of July 31, were only able to rid themselves of their two best players. Way to go Jim, nice job. When in doubt, get rid of those keeping you afloat. This just in: after thinking about it for less than a milisecond, Ryan Theriot told a reporter (stop the presses) that he likes being in L.A. Really? No kidding. Worse yet: this team went nova entirely on its own; this has nothing to do with fan interference in foul ground. It’s their own damn fault, as even the most diehard Wrigleyville partisans will now admit. It’s a sad and sorry story, but (like a car wreck) you can’t avert your eyes. In a strange (and sick) kind of way, it’s almost fun to watch. Unless you’re Lou.

Livan Tames Reds

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Backed by a ten hit and seven run attack, Livan Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season, as the Washington Nationals notched a split of their four game series in Cincinnati. The Nats 7-1 victory compensated, at least in part, for the paucity of hits and runs the team suffered in both Miami and Cincinnati over the last seven games. Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina homered for the Nats, as Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris finally seemed poised to break out of their respective slumps. But the story on Thursday was the work of Hernandez, who picked up five strikeouts while holding the Reds to just seven hits. Hernandez was masterful: he threw 102 pitches, 79 of them for strikes. The complete game gave the Nats’ bullpen a needed rest, as the team now heads into Milwaukee for a three game set against the suddenly average Brew Crew.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ralph Houk, who died on Wednesday, was once one of the giants of the game. It’s not that Houk was that good a player — he appeared in only 91 games over eight seasons, but he managed the New York Yankees in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made home run headlines. Houk steered the Yankees through some of their most successful campaigns. Under Houk’s leadership the Yankees won 109, 94 and 104 games — taking two world series (against the Red in ’61 and the Giants in ’62). He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox before becoming a vice president of the Minnesota Twins. He was renowned for his temper, though former Yankees’ testify that he knew how to handle a team. He had enormous influence on future managers Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda. “I remember what a tough guy he was,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said upon hearing of his death. But Houk was also a student of the game, showing up hours before the first pitch to study line-ups and statistics.

Houk’s tough guy demeanor was well earned. He had a fearsome temper and was called “the Major,” an affectionate term that also accurately described his wartime experiences. Houk was a minor league catcher in the South Atlantic League when World War Two began. He put down his mitt and was mustered into the army as a private in February of 1942. He was picked for officers’ candidate school at Fort Knox and was deployed to Europe with the 9th Armored Division. Houk was a better soldier than baseball player: he landed at Omaha Beach, served during the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first American soldiers to cross the Remagen Bridge into Germany. “I sent him on three missions in April of 1945 and one day he returned with nine prisoners of war,” a senior American officer later recalled.  “His reports invariably had an undetermined number of enemy killed.” Houk earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the war. To the last day of his life he kept the helmut he had worn as a young lieutenant when he landed on Omaha Beach. It had a bullet hole in it. He died in Florida at the age of 90.

Zim Walks Off (Again)

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman has been on a tear: he is 6-9 over his last two games and, on Tuesday night, he hit a walk off homer against the San Diego Padres to seal a hard-fought 6-5 victory at Nationals Park. The Zimmerman surge has come just at the right time; not only did it provide a nail-biting win over the NL West leading Friars, it may well have boosted Zimmerman’s All Star chances in a last-minute fan vote. Zimmerman is trailing Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto in a close contest for the final All Star spot. Zimmerman’s sudden rediscovery of his swing is good news for Nats fans, who were beginning to worry that Zim’s month-long slump would sink the Nats in the key home match-ups that face the team in the run-up to the All Star break. “I’ve been struggling the last three weeks, four weeks. It’s frustrating,” Zimmerman said after the game. “Nobody wants to do that. I’ve been working with Rick a little bit, and it’s finally starting to get where I want to be, so it’s good.”

Zimmerman’s bottom-of-the-ninth heroics were the talk of the ball club following the needed win over the Padres, as was the stellar outing the team received from Livan Hernandez, who threw seven innings of masterful ball in searching for his seventh win. But the 8th inning proved tough for the Nats, whose relievers have struggled of late: Tyler Clippard came on in relief and gave up two hits, as the Padres knotted the score at five. After wowing opposing hitters, and Nats fans, through the first three months of the season, Clippard has been shaky:  “I’ve been throwing the right pitches — maybe not executing them all the time,” Clippard said. “But tonight, I just felt like I made poor decisions. I felt like I should have thrown some things differently. It wasn’t the case, and I didn’t get the job done.” The Nats improved to 37-47 on the year, and face the Padres again tonight.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: “There something wrong with Stammen,” one of the section’s more well-informed fans said on Sunday. There was silence then, for two innings. “When you get a guy who’s good one outing and bad the next, it’s usually mental.” And then more silence until this — “how do you tweek a guy’s head?” Another fan, a known Stammen partisan, was supportive. “He’s a Maddux in the making,” he said. “You’ll see.” There were furtive looks and not a few eye rolls. “Yeah, but which one? Greg or Mike?” When Stammen walked off the field there was a smattering of applause and the man in the row in front shrugged his shoulders. “Mike. Mike Maddux.”

A successful Nyjer Morgan bunt brought this comment: “He’s been trying to take them down the third base line for three months, now suddenly he’s figured it out — he’s racing the ball to first. About time.” The comment brought nods and then, support, for the struggling center fielder: “Did you see that catch the other day?” Not all has been forgiven when it comes to Morgan, but nearly so. “Maybe he can play short” — which brought guffaws. The remembered circus catch in center has raised Morgan’s value — at least among section commenters. “Riggleman is defending him, on the basis of last year,” another fan said. A fan two seats down was unimpressed. “Yeah, I saw that.” In the eighth inning, as the Nats struggled to come back against the Mets, the talk turned to trades. “We’d have to give up some prime prospects for Dan Haren, but it’d be worth it.” And the response: “Think of it — Strasburg, Haren, Marquis, Hernandez, Zimmermann. That’s a pretty good starting five.” What about Olsen? a fan asked. The answer came, too quickly: “What about him?”

SF: Zimmerman, R.

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

This is the kind of game the Nationals have been looking forward to playing since their embarrassing three game implosion in Baltimore just last week: in the bottom of the ninth inning, third sacker Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk off sacrifice fly to the Jeff Francoeur in right field to give the Nationals a badly needed 2-1 victory against the visiting New York Mets at Nationals Park. The Zimmerman walk off capped a closely played pitchers’ duel, in which the savvy Livan Hernandez matched Mets ace Johan Santana pitch for pitch. The Nats played an errorless game. “Every win is huge. You feel better about yourself,” Washington’s manager, Jim Riggleman said after the victory. “Our ballclub has played hard. As bad as our record has been lately, we have actually cleaned it up a little bit the last couple of days. We played really good baseball today against a ballclub that also played very well and pitched very well. Our guys pitched great, played good defense and got a couple timely hits. That was just an outstanding baseball game in which we came up on top.”

Apples To The Core: NL East Chatter is back in business for 2010 — with the traditional “Chatter Up” section once again featuring questions and answers from NL East partisans. On June 30, Mets and Marlins bloggers exchanged Q & A’s on the recent Mets-Marlins match-up and today CFG will go head-to-head with Mets blogger Eric, who posts for the endlessly entertaining Real Dirty Mets Blog. We asked whether, as we had written just a few short days ago, the key to the Mets’ success is Jose Reyes. Without Reyes, we said, the Mets would probably be sunk. Eric is not so sure: “Reyes is for sure an important piece in the Mets puzzle,” Eric responded. “I am not sure there is one player that could completely sink the Mets chances just like there is not one player that the Mets could bring in and lock up a World Series”

We also asked about the team’s biggest disappointment (answer: Johan Santana and his lack of run support) and about the resurgence of Mike Pelfrey. “I get to pat myself on the back for Pelfrey,” Eric wrote. “I really thought last year was just that dreaded slump that happens to many young pitchers. This year he looks like the Pelfrey I expected him to be.  Confident and yippless. Could be that his new pitch has given him that confidence.” Not surprising, Eric acknowledged that the Mets were still in need of some major pieces: “SP, SP,SP a BP piece or two. I see no need for more offense. The bench when/if Beltran returns will be much better as well.” Eric is outspoken in his defense of David Wright (as are Mets fans the world over, we would bet) and our poke on his poor season last year: “Poor Wright, the guy has been one of the most solid hitters in baseball for his first seven years. He has one slightly off year and everyone is ready to send him out to pasture. The guy is just a good hitter. Period.” The full exchange, including what CFG about the Nats, will be posted later today on NL East Chatter.

To honor the Nats 2-1 wacking of the Mets last night, we reproduce Joe Petruccio’s take on the game — a reflection of what must have been Johan Santana’s reaction to the 2-1 squeaker. Eric’s comment about Johan’s lack of run support seems particularly appropriate.

Nats End Slump, 2-1

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Monday’s 2-1 win at Nationals Park may be taken as “Exhibit #1” that pitching — good pitching — wins ballgames. While the Nationals squeezed out only three hits against the more-than-mediocre Bruce Chen (et. al.), Livan Hernandez mastered the Royals line-up through seven complete innings, scattering eight hits and striking out five. The Nats relied on the long ball, with super-sometime-starter Mike Morse and second sacker Cristian Guzman providing the fireworks. The victory was closed out by Washington’s “Clipp & Save” crew of Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps — who notched his 21st save. Nats starter Livan Hernandez returned to his winning ways, and his by now traditional slow-slower-slowest methods — a turnaround from his last outing against the Kalines in which he was scorched. “I left the ball up a little bit, but the slider was working very well,” Hernandez said after his victory. “The cutter was working perfectly. I had a bad game in Detroit, so today I knew I had to come through and stop the losing streak.”

The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There’s a familiar touch that comes from sitting in the same section, game after game after game. It’s not like you’d want to live with these people, but after ten games (or more), you learn to value the comments of your section. Or not, as the case may be. There are times when you want to turn around, facing the guys in the row behind you and say: “Hey listen, I understand that your sale of software is important, but Gavin Floyd is pitching a great game here. Not to mention Strasburg.” You don’t do it, because people come to the ballpark for all kinds of reasons, some of them apparently having nothing to do with baseball. There’s no legislating intelligence, as they say. Still, there are those valuable moments that only a new set of eyes can see. A fan looked over my shoulder, two weeks ago, as I was scoring. “Remember, there’s no RBI on a run scored on a double play,” he said. I looked down at my score book, eraser poised. Mmmmm. Right.

“Nyjer’s act is wearing thin,” a 1-2-9 partisan said this week. A man two rows up leaned forward: “Tony Plush!” — which brought groans from down the row. The guy next to me weighed in. “He has trouble with a fastball, it’s all this dink and dunk stuff, bringing the bat down to bunt and pulling it back. That’s a clear message — he can’t catch up to the fastball. And he doesn’t read pitchers well.” There was silence through the next inning, until Morgan came to bat. He faked a bunt to third, running down the first base line. Strike two. One pitch later he was on the bench. Heads turned, checking his BA on the scoreboard. .251. “So what do we do?” Silence, and then this: “Center field is Bernadina’s natural position and Morse needs playing time.” A dissent was issued, one row back, where talk of software had been ceded to the game on the field. “We wouldn’t be saying this last year.” Two batters later, the response came, from a bright new Nats Cap three seats away. “We were a different team last year. Last year Nyjer Morgan looked like our salvation. This year he looks like a .251 hitter.” True.

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 Bats Tame Braves

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

The Washington Nationals’ bats are coming alive — with Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ian Desmond all homering for the Anacostia Nine — as the Nats humbled the Braves in a 6-3 win at Nats Park on Tuesday night. Livan Hernandez registered the win, but this was not the same lights-out performance of his previous starts. Hernandez speculated that he had gotten too much rest — seven days off, in all — between throws.”When you pitch on seven days, it was a little different. Sometimes, six days is a lot,” Hernandez said after the game. “Seven days is too much, I think. I felt like I was all over the place. I didn’t miss by much. I had 41 pitches in the first inning and only one run. I will take it any day. I tried to keep the ballgame close and not make too many mistakes.”

Hernandez survived a rocky first inning to pitch 5.1 in all, scraping out a win against a tough Braves offense. Future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones was impressed:”I’ll say this about Livan: The repertoire might not blow your mind, but that guy knows how to pitch,” Jones said. “He changes speeds with every pitch that he has — whether it’s the fastball, curveball, changeup, slider or cutter. He throws nothing over the middle of the plate. Everything is two inches off either corner. That’s what has made him so successful. He has great mechanics out there on the mound. He uses a minimal amount of effort and, more times than not, gets the job done.”

Speaking of Chipper Jones: This is the third baseman’s seventeenth season in the majors, and perhaps his last. His numbers will undoubtedly put him in the Hall of Fame — a .307 batting average, with 428 homers. It’s time to start thinking about Chipper’s career, and where he stands in comparison with other third sackers. Bill James points out that the Braves have a history of good third basemen: Jimmy Collins, Bob Elliott (who was NL MVP in 1947), Terry Pendleton and Darrell Evans (who might have been just above average — but probably not much more) and, of course, the incomparable Eddie Mathews.

If I had to pick who was better, I would pick Mathews, simply on the basis of his power: Mathews launched 512 dingers, Jones will be lucky if he hits 450. The air is thin at the top of baseball’s list of greats and a 60 homer difference might not seem like a lot, but it is. It’s two seasons worth of round trippers, or three. Mathews was a better long ball hitter, with more power — despite Chipper’s obviously prodigious shots. Mathews stole only 68 bases in 17 years (compared to Chipper’s 144), but Mathews knew how to leg-out triples (he hit 72 in all, compared to Chipper’s 37). The statistic, basic as it seems, is illuminating: Chipper has a higher OBP and a lot more doubles, but Mathews was the smarter base runner who knew how to read outfield arms. The number of triples is important. Mathews played in Milwaukee County Stadium in the 1950s, hardly a big ballpark.

In almost everything else outside of power, Jones and Mathews seem almost perfectly matched. But then there’s the intangible. Mathews was a giant among Braves, even on a team of pennant and World Series’ behemoths — like Aaron and Crandel and Adcock. But Mathews was a leader of the Milwaukee version of the Braves in a way that Chipper was not a leader of the later Atlanta version. And considering Henry Aaron’s quiet but efficient career, and forcefull personality, that’s saying a lot. Or perhaps, I simply saw Mathews play more than Chipper and at a more impressionable age. But Mathews was a colossus, a man who defined the Braves in his era. Chipper was also a leader, though more by example; he did not bestride the Braves of Atlanta like Mathews did in beer town. The Braves of the ’90s were the Braves of Smoltz and Maddux and Glavine. The Milwaukee Braves were Eddie Mathews’ team.

Bill James might disagree on this last point, but in weighing the statistical comparison he would admit that picking one over the other might be a matter of personal preference. “Chipper isn’t a great defensive player — but neither was Mathews. Both of them were competent, coping-skills fielders who played a relatively difficult position, the hot corner, but not terribly well. They’re comparable hitters; they’re comparable fielders. They have had a comparable number of outstanding seasons. If I had to choose? If I had to choose an all-time, all-city Braves team or else go bungee jumping, I would choose Chipper. They’re both great players.” When Chipper retires, he’ll not only be in a virtual tie with Mathews for all-time greatest Braves third basemen, he’ll be right behind him (in my estimation) for honors as one of the very best of all time in all of baseball — with Chipper ranked third in the top ten: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, Frank Baker, Jimmy Collins, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Stan Hack and Pie Traynor. Any way you look at it, however, Jones has had a hell of a career.

Lidge On “The Phenom”

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Harrisburg Senators pitches against the Altoona Curve in his minor league debut during the game on April 11, 2010 at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Brad Lidge, he of the 1.95 ERA in 69 innings of relief in 2008, said last night that “it’s not very often you see a guy being able to throw that hard with that kind of command.” He was talking about one Stephen James Strasburg (of course) — the youngster upon whom the hopes of Natstown rests.

They both pitched in Reading, PA — Lidge on a rehab assignment for the Philllies and Strasburg for a light work out as he flies through AA ball. Lidge noted that Strasburg “was doing pretty much everything right”: which is exactly what you want to hear from a guy who has had his share of play-off appearances. Strasburg was his usual self last night, pitching five scoreless, hitless innings. He was pulled after reaching his five inning limit despite the no-hitter. He’ll have plenty of chances for one of those in the bigs no doubt.

Strasburg may be as excited to join the team as they are to have him. The Nats are performing at a level that was unimaginable last season when the BB thrower from San Diego signed up. The Nats have actually impressed on occasion. Last night’s performance against the Cubs by Livan Hernandez is a case in point. He scattered  six hits over seven innings and gave up just one run while keeping his ERA at 0.87. Sunday’s 1 – 0 victory over the Dodgers (who were hitting .293) should turn some heads as well. These guys aren’t only winning some games, they seem to have a bit of spit and vinegar in them. It’ll serve them well during the long campaign.

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.