Archive for the ‘philadelphia phillies’ Category

Nats Pound Philadelphia, 8-1

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Led by the defense of Ian Desmond (who also had a 4-5 night) and the hitting of Roger Bernadina, the Washington Nationals pounded out 12 hits and eight runs on Saturday, to defeat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The offensive outburst came at the expense of Phillies’ starter Kyle Kendrick, who had trouble making it out of the first inning. Desmond looked like “the wizard” at short, making barehanded plays behind Strasburg, Stammen and Slaten, while Bernadina slugged his eighth home run (putting the game out of reach) in the ninth. But the win was marred by an injury to starter Stephen Strasburg, who was forced to leave the game in the 5th after suffering a strained flexor tendon in his right forearm; it’s not known how serious the injury is — an MRI will be conducted to determine the damage on Sunday. The injury detracted from one of the team’s most solid performances against the Phillies, who trail the Atlanta Braves for the N.L. East lead.

Once again, as was apparent in Atlanta, the Nationals’ bullpen proved key in the Philadelphia victory. After Strasburg departed, Craig Stammen, Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard and Miguel Batista combined to shut down the Phillies — throwing 4.2 innings while giving up just two hits and no runs. Tyler Clippard was particularly effective. After suffering a fall-off in his performance in late July, the righthander has lowered his ERA to 3.04, solidifying his reputation as one of the National League’s premier set-up men. Stammen also seems to have found his place: the former starter is now filling a first-out-of-the-bullpen role, being used by skipper Riggleman when someone in the rotation collapses. Washington’s bullpen is now ranked seventh in the majors, and fourth in the National League — and is one of the real success stories of the Nationals’ season.

Doc Outduels Jason

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Calling his five inning outing against the Phillies “a step in the right direction,” Jason Marquis appeared nearly all the way back from elbow surgery in his outing in Philadelphia on Friday night. While the Nats dropped the contest to the Ashburns and Roy “Doc” Halladay by a score of 1-0, there had to be a huge sigh of relief by the Nats front office that Marquis looked almost (almost) like the pitcher that was once the ace of the Colorado Rockies staff. If Marquis continues to pitch the way he did on Friday (and better — considering that the Nats need someone, somehow, to pitch out of the 5th, 6th or 7th innings), then Mike Rizzo’s $15 million two-year gamble on Marquis will begin to pay off. “I’ve been working hard to get back to where I need to be,” Marquis said after the loss. “I was sick and tired of embarrassing myself out there. It’s a step in the right direction. We’ll keep working to get better. We’ll see what happens in five days.”

All of that is good news; the bad news is that Halladay remains one of the elite pitchers of the National League (and all of baseball, for that matter) — and it showed in his steady if unspectacular strike-after-strike start on Friday. Halladay gave up eight hits to the Nats line-up, but the front nine were not able to bring the baserunners home. The Nationals left an almost astonishing 22 men on base, a signal that while many of the Anacostia Nine can hit the long ball, the station-to-station game played by nearly all successful teams remains elusive. Halladay took advantage of the Nats’ RISP weakness, throwing 116 pitches, 75 of them for strikes. “I battled myself early,” Halladay said after the game “It was one of those games where I was always working to make pitches. I had a little bit of luck on my side. But I’ll definitely take it.” The Nationals continue their visit to the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday, sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound against Kyle Kendrick.

Zim Corrals Ponies

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

After enduring the adventures of a shakey bullpen — which squandered a workmanlike outing from Nats starter Ross Detwiler — a Ryan Zimmerman blast in the bottom on the ninth inning propelled the Anacostia Nine to a nail-biting 7-5 walk-off win against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Zimmerman walk-off marked the seventh time “the face of the franchise” had provided the necessary difference in a key win, a major league leading mark that has baseball abuzz with talk of just how important the former Cavalier is to his team. The victim this time was Phillies’ reliever Brad Lidge, who entered the ninth inning at Nationals Park with a 5-4 lead and the game apparently well in-hand. “He has his moments,” Philllies’ manager Charlie Manuel said of Lidge in the wake of Zimmerman’s blast. That seemed an understatement: the legendary late-innings strikeout king (more than one per inning, on average) Lidge sports a 5.57 ERA and has given up 21 hits in 21 innings — never a good sign.

The blown save highlighted the challenge the Phillies face in their race to catch the Chops for the N.L. East crown. While Phillies’ fans (and the national media) are oohing and ahhing about the addition of Roy Oswalt, the Phillies are struggling to find some stability in the back of their bullpen. The search has become nearly interminable. The Pony bullpen is ranked 10th in the National League with a spiraling ERA and no, ah . . . relief in sight. Phils’ skipper Manuel is feeling the pressure, as evidenced by his testy answers to reporters’ questions about whether choosing to pitch Lidge over, say, Ryan Madson remains the team’s best option. “I hear you guys say that for two years,” Manuel said. “I hear this and that, this and that. What the hell? We try this guy. We try that guy. We try this guy. Then I hear you [complain] to me sometimes about their roles. ‘Guys don’t know their roles.’ I can go on all night now. Let’s just drop it right there.”

The Guzman Swap: Less than twenty-four hours after baseball’s July 31 trading deadline, the game’s pundits are weighing in on the deadline’s “winners” and “losers.” In this, at least, there seems to be a growing consensus. The Yankees (with the addition of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood), Padres (who signed up a needed bat in Ryan Ludwick) and Rangers (who snagged Cliff Lee, Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman) were the winners, while the Red Sox, Tigers and Giants (who did little — or nothing) were the losers. The judgments sound about right, but only if you are attempting to calculate what moves would put a team into the post-season. Garnering less attention are those teams (like the Nats) that traded over-welcome veterans to pursue longer term strategies. In fact, it’s possible to argue that in terms of value-for-value (and in terms of strengthening a franchise), the Nats can claim to be one of baseball’s trade deadline winners. Not only did the Nationals hang onto fan favorite Adam Dunn (true: it remains to be seen whether he can be signed long-term), they obtained a needed catcher of the future in Twinkie catching phenom Wilson Ramos.

An even stronger case for a Nats “win” can be made in a cursory study of Mike “the Don” Rizzo’s decision to swap team holdover Cristian Guzman for two minor league Texas Rangers’ pitchers. While Baseball Tonight and MLBN’s late night pundits cite Guzman’s incontestable value for a surging Rangers’ squad (Guzzie made a nearly spectacular play in last night’s Rangers’ triumph over the limping Belinskys), the acquisition of Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark, two semi-spectacular speedballers from the Rangers AA affiliate in Frisco of the AA Texas League, can be counted as solid additions. Tatusko and Roark are keepers and, if their current arc is any indication, could be stalwarts in a Nats starting rotation in 2012 — or even earlier. Both Tatusko and Roark are rough cuts (young, but built for baseball), who were drafted by the Nolan Ryan-driven Rangers vision, which rewards fastballs, control and endurance. Ryan Tatusko’s fastball is 91-95 on the gun, while Tanner Roark is a strike-em-out fastballer who rarely gives up walks. Tatusko has been back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen at Frisco, but he could go either way, while Tanner is a straight starter, albeit with a history of posting higher-than-we-would-like ERAs.

There’s a growing handful of commentators who pooh-pooh the acquisitions. The genetically anti-Nats blog Bleacher Report views the two as “fringe” pitchers, plowing away through the minors, while the predictably smug SB Nation mouthes a “me too, me too” judgment. Call to the Pen’s views are far more credible. CTTB projects both Tatusko and Roark as likely to get good looks at Triple-A before any possible stint in the majors (perhaps a year away), and opines that both have plus (but not plus-plus) upsides: “The Nationals made a solid trade here.” Then too, both Tatusko and Roark have stellar records, even for the Texas League. Tatusko is 9-2 with a 2.97 ERA at Frisco while Roark is10-5 with 75 strikeouts. It’s hard to imagine the Ryan-led Rangers would draft just anybody to make a walk to the mound, or that Mike Rizzo would swap-and-pay Cristian Guzman to travel to Dallas in exchange for anyone he believes is a “fringe” prospect. And we all know: if past performance is the best guide to future production, David Clyde would be in the Hall of Fame and Gregory Alan Maddux would be coaching the junior varsity baseball squad in San Angelo, Texas.

tatuskor08.jpg Ryan Tatusko image slucas66

Duck Duck Goose

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

I thought it only appropriate that “the loyal opposition” should return at precisely the moment that my first date in Washington (here she is, and take a good look) arrived for our lovely evening. And if by “lovely evening” you mean watching the Washington Nationals and turning their victory into fake reporting then you’re right: but I have no choice but to do this in my current state. This CFG thing, this new-wave-inter-net “we’re down with the twitter blog,” is struggling, really struggling, so I just know that most of this blog’s readership revolves around my pen. And for the benefit of you all, here finally is a picture of me . . .

Tonight Roy Oswalt was out for a stroll with his new team –11 million dollars in tow — when, out of the blue: it’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, no, no — it’s the most interesting man in the world. Nyjer Morgan!  Nyjer who? In his first at bat, Morgan hit the ball 400 feet into the center-right gap, flipped off his helmet as he sped around second base, and went totally horizontal, belly first, into third. Nyjer Morgan? It was like watching lightning strike on a clear day. Former Astro Oswalt was so confused by the entire thing he had to pay someone to tell him who it was that just did that to him. “What the hell is going on! Who is that guy on third?” It’s Nyjer Morgan, channeling Ricky Henderson. “Naw, can’t be.”

Morgan wasn’t the only Nats superhero “lifting tall buildings” on Friday night. Adam Kennedy arrived in the clubhouse before the Phillies game to find Cristian Guzman’s assistant sitting (morose and weeping) in the Nationals’ locker room. Kennedy got the message — in the first inning (and with “Rickey” Morgan on third) he hit the ball hard enough to the right side (just as he was instructed) to allow Morgan to lope across the plate: Nats 1, Phillies 0. Oswalt was even more confused — “what the  . . .” But “The Miracle on Half Street” continued. Roger Bernadina began his night by gunning out a sprinting Oswalt at first. Oh, and Craig Stammen was lights out: hitting spots, keeping his pitch count low and quietly sauntering from the mound, as if he was Greg Maddux. Oswalt wasn’t the only one surprised. As I sat watching this team’s Friday night tidal wave I could only repeat Oswalt’s words — “Who the hell are these guys . . .”

Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been watching this team with vigor, knowing that on a good day they’re only mediocre. It’s a self-inflicted baseball passion. They lallygag, throw the ball over the dugout, crash into each other, slam into outfield walls, miss the cutoff man — and their “phenom” pitcher can’t go past the All Star break. It’s fantastic fun. I expected the same on Friday against the Citizens Bank Bullies. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Nats showed up to play and made glue of the Ponies, embarrassing Oswalt and frustrating Rollins and Howard and the rest of them. So . . .  what happened? The answer is obvious: Mike Rizzo is a psycho. The proof is this photo of Rizzo sitting in Jim Riggleman’s office as players arrived for Friday’s game.

More specifically, on Friday afternoon (just hours before Miss Iowa and the Phillies showed up in Washington), Mike Rizzo decided he’d had enough of his team’s mediocre performance, and that it was time to play “duck, duck, goose.” In “Rizzo Land” the game is not as simple as it was when I was a kid, but it’s the same concept: you line up the players (in any old order) and you raise your right hand and go down the line — “in, in, traded . . . in, in, traded . . .” You only change your tune when you get to Morgan: “in, in . . . and if you don’t hit a triple Morgan, I swear to God you’ll be spending August in Oakland.” Message received. The only player not really frightened by this show of Rizzo passion was Ryan Zimmerman . . . and “the kid.” Even Adam Dunn was included. As for the rest of them. Well, we might have seen the fear in Morgan’s eyes: Rizzo’s antics was placing his bobblehead night in jeopardy. Rizzo didn’t care: “do something Nyjer, or I swear we’ll woodchip those things.”

The Mike “Corleone” Rizzo, “Duck, Duck, Goose” is more than just a cute kids’ game — it’s like rendering someone to Burma for “questioning.” It’s more like playing in the Olympics for Iraq. Okay, I admit. It could be that the appearance of Katie Conners helped to spark Friday night’s outbreak of unusual excellence, but I really doubt it. For as this mammoth publication goes to press, the Nationals are fast becoming a new team. And it’s because of their general manager. They’re getting better, a lot better, and they’re doing it quickly.

The word in baseball is that you can always get a closer and Rizzo showed that this week as he dealt Matt Capps to Minnesota. And you can always deal, at the very last minute, a slap-hitting veteran infielder for a handful of prospects, especially if the other team’s All Star second sacker ends up on the DL. As Cristian Guzman learned. Adam Dunn may be next: or maybe not. But the truth it, it doesn’t really matter. Mike Rizzo — the Washington Nationals’ true fearless leader — is playing “duck, duck, goose” in the clubhouse. And he’s made it clear to those who are staying with the team: “play hard and play hard now  – – – or you’ll be shaking your head somewhere else a year from now and wondering where it all went wrong.

“One Long, Losing Slog”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Nats 7-2 loss in Cincinnati on Monday night might have been averted — of only the Nats had hit, pitched and fielded like a major league team. The defeat stretched the Nats losing streak to three games and means that the Nats have now lost six of their last eight. Reaching the .500 mark, which might have been hoped for in April and even in May, now seems a distant and fantastical dream, as the team struggles to find its legs. The losing spiral sparked Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore to describe the Nats season of hope as “one long, losing slog.” That seems about right. So too the team itself seems infected by frustration: “We do have a great lineup. We just can’t get everyone hot at the same time,” Adam Dunn said after he loss. “It seems like we haven’t had two guys hot at the same time. If Guzzie is hot, then me and Zim aren’t hot. And then if Zim is hot, we are not. It’s bad timing, really. I don’t know how else to put it.” Luis Atilano is set to face Cincinnati rookie sensation Mike Leake tonight at The Great American Ballpark.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Baby, It’s A Chopper: On this day in 1958, Tiger’s ace Jim Bunning threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox, clinching a victory in a 3-0 contest. Bunning seemed to have Boston’s number — he once struck out Ted Williams three times in one game (also in 1958), spurring “The Splendid Splinter” to rip off his jersey (buttons popping) and throw it to the clubhouse floor: “I’ll get you Bunning,” he said and began searching for a schedule to determine when he’d face him again. Baseball legend has it that Williams hated Bunning so much that he would use him as a foil during batting practice, leaning into the ball and swinging as he yelled “here comes Jim Bunning. Jim F — ing Bunning and that little shit slider of his.” Williams little trick didn’t seem to work: Bunning struck out Williams more than any other player.

The key to Bunning’s success was a sidearm slider, a pitch he could control from nearly any angle. It fooled Williams, as it did nearly everyone else. Bunning led the league in strikeouts in 1959 and 1960 (with 201 each year), while gaining a reputation as one of the most durable pitchers around (he was regularly in the top five in the A.L in innings pitched). He never seemed to get injured. The oddest thing about Bunning’s career came after his greatest success: in 1963, the Tigers trades Bunning to the Philadelphia Phillies for veteran outfielder Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton, a fireballing reliever with a lot of promise. It was a forgettable trade, one of the worst in Detroit history. Demeter was just okay, while Hamilton was slowed by arm injuries. While never living up to his promise, Hamilton became a kind of legend: in 1967 he threw a pitch to Boston’s Tony Conigliaro that shattered the upper left side of Conigliaro’s face and ended his career. It also ended Hamilton’s. The fireballer lost his speed after the incident, as well as his willingness to pitch inside. He left baseball and now runs a restaurant in Missouri.

Bunning’s fate was quite different. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1964 as the great new hope — the pitcher who would put the perennial losers at the top of the National League. He damn near did. The Phillies had a great line-up in ’64, led by power hitters Dick Allen and Johnny Callison and a slick defense centered on catcher Clay Dalrymple, second sacker Tony Taylor and slap hitting expert Bobby Wine (another one of those obnoxious little “pepper pots”). Bunning was complemented by starter Chris Short (a pitcher of almost unbelievable promise), Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp. The Tigers might have gotten a hint of the mistake they’d made when Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets on June 21, and the big righty went on to notch a remarkable 19-8 record.

But if Bunning was a success, his team wasn’t. 1964 was the year of “The Foldin’ Phillies” — as the ponies lost ten in a row and a seven game lead with 17 games to play. Phillies manager Gene Mauch panicked in the midst of this debacle — pitching Bunning in three games in seven days: Bunning lost all of them. Philadelphia dog-paddled its way into second place, while St. Louis passed them at a full sprint. It was the worst fold in major league history, until the Mets eclipsed it in 2007. The Phillies ’64 cataclysm seemed to unhinge the team in the years that followed, haunting Dick Allen’s successors who struggled, and struggled and struggled. But “Big Jim” Bunning continued to thrive, accounting for 70 wins over the next four years. Never mind: the Phils sputtered along, never quite putting it together again until 1980 — when they won a World Series. Their first.

After his stint in Philly, Bunning went on to Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before ending up in the Hall of Fame (it was a vote of the veterans committee that finally confirmed his entry)  and the U.S. Senate, where he now serves as a controversial and conservative voice from Kentucky. He retains the reputation he gained from his years on the mound, as a head hunting foul-mouthed lug whose stock-in-trade was a quickie under the chin — he led the N.L. in hit batters all four of his years in Philadelphia and was widely loathed for his beanball habits. Bunning’s critics say he hasn’t changed: he remains a ramrod straight, if somewhat embarrassing figure. When asked to describe Bunning’s legislative prowess, the late Senator Robert Byrd thought for a minute before issuing his praise: “a great baseball man.” But the people of Kentucky seem to love him, voting him back to his Senate seat every six years. Then too, even if Bunning is as controversial now as he was in Detroit and Philly, there is little doubt that he once threw one of the best, if not the best, slider in the game. At least that’s what Ted Williams thought.

Nats Take Series From Braves

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The Nationals, inexperienced enough to have trouble winning one-run and extra-inning games, triumphed in a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off win on Thursday, downing the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Willie Harris knocked in the winning run with the bases loaded, putting a Peter Moylan offering past Braves’ second baseman Martin Prado. Harris felt vindicated after the win, getting back at a team that had non-tendered him in 2007. But the story of the night was the near no-hitter from Nats starter Scott Olsen, whose electric stuff baffled Tomahawk hitters until the top of the eighth. “I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” Olsen said of his chance for a no-no. “I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It’s one of those things where it’s real hard to do. I wasn’t positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it.”

The Nats victory gave the Anacostia Nine the series win against the Braves — with the team now standing at 15-13 for the season. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, just two games back of the Phillies. The Braves head to Philadephia, where the Phillies’ powerhouse is well aware of Atlanta’s troubles on the road. The Braves are having trouble scoring, with nearly everyone in the line-up in an early season slump, with second sacker Martin Prado the exception. Outside of Wednesday’s 7-6 win at Nats Park, the Braves had trouble with Nats’ pitching, scoring just four runs in the other two outings. The Nats will face their NL East nemesis, the Florida Marlins, starting tonight at Nationals Park. Craig Stammen is set to pitch for the Nats; he will be facing Marlins’ hurler Chris Volstad, who shut down the Nationals in Florida just last week.

Remembering Robin Roberts: Philadelphia Phillies’ ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Roberts put together a string of six 20-win seasons in his career, and pitched for the Phillies’ ‘Whiz Kids” pennant winning team of 1950. He was the NL’s premier pitcher in the first half of the 1950s. He compiled a 286-245 record with 2,357 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 45 shutouts. He pitched an amazing 305 complete games.The Phillies will be wearing a #36 patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season commemorating Roberts’ career.

Phillies Roll, 14-7

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Craig Stammen pitched batting practice to the Philadelphia Phillies last night, giving up seven hits and seven runs in less than two innings. The ponies eventually won the contest, 14-7. Washington has yet to solve the Phillies’ line-up, which has touched Nats’ pitching for 45 runs in five games. “I just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Stammen said, after the game. “I threw a lot of stuff in the zone and over the plate. [My offspeed stuff is] breaking good, but I can’t throw them for strikes. … It’s very disappointing to let a lead slip away real quickly. Then again, I’ve had many pitching coaches and even the one I have right now [Steve McCatty] said this happens.”

Nats relievers didn’t fare much better: Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney were roughed up, with Bruney the most exploited victim — the former Yankee now has a 13.50 ERA in his time in Washington. The Phillies are now 7-1 on the season, which matches their best major league start since 1993. Washington used six pitchers during the contest. They gave up 14 runs on 14 hits, with 176 pitches thrown — a line that compares favorably with their pitching futility of 2009. The only reliever who pitched really well was rookie Jessie English, who gave up four hits but no runs in two-and-two-third innings. The Nationals finish their time in Philadelphia tonight, with a final match-up against the powerful Phillies’ line-up. The Nationals return home tomorrow to face the 3-5 Milwaukee Brewers.

It’s Jackie Robinson Day in Baseball: Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier 61 years ago today. The 1947 NL MVP and National League Rookie of the Year had a .311 lifetime batting average was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. The Nats will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at Nationals Park on Friday.

Nats Fall To Phillies: Again

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Nats must have one of the toughest early schedules in the major leagues: Phillies, Mets, Phillies (that’s six games against the Phillies in the first month), then the Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs. With the exception of the Mets — and a single end-of-month game against the Marlins — the Nats will face-off against a top team every single day until May. Of course (as some fans will note), when you finish with 103 losses, every team looks tough. Even so. There’s two ways to look at this: Nats fans can say it’s “not fair” (a phrase popularized by four-year-olds), or we can look at these games as tests of just how good the Nats are against the league’s best. In the case of the Phillies, at least, the results seem clear. It’s not simply that the Nats are not as good as the Phillies (that’s obvious), to complete with them the Nats will need more pitching — and lots of it.

The Nats fell to the Ponies in Philadelphia yesterday and played them even, until “the killer P’s” unloosed their hitters. For Jason Marquis, who must have come up short when the staff drew straws before heading north, the second outing against the Phillies was only marginally better than his first. Frankly, it’s doubtful that Livan, who dominated the Mets on Sunday, could have done much better. The line-up of Polanco, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez constitutes a latter-day murders’ row of lumber that would be daunting for an elite team — let alone the Nats. Even so, as a guy like Jim Riggleman will tell you, a competitive squad should be expected to play the Phillies tough. But so far that hasn’t happened. The lesson seems to be that once you have your boot on their neck, you don’t dare give in. “They are a balanced lineup,” Nats reliever Walker said. “They have some free swingers and have guys that will grind it out. The balance is what gets you, because they are going to be consistent every day. You give them an inch, they are going to take a mile. You give them an extra out, that’s when they really gear up. They know they can break your back.”

Andy MacPhail’s renovation project in Baltimore is making progress, though the pieces he’s added over the winter (signing Garrett Atkins was a great idea) aren’t likely to make a difference for the Orioles in the standings. At least not this year. It doesn’t help that steady-as-she-goes second sacker Brian Roberts pulled an abdominal muscle last night — and will be out for the next fifteen days. But the Orioles are coming back, if slowly, in part because MacPhail has cobbled together one of the best outfields in baseball: Adam Jones might be the best centerfielder in the game, Nolan Reimold is a surprise addition in left and Nick Markakis is becoming an established star. Even Felix Pie (above), the Cubs cast-off (you could say the same about MacPhail, come to think of it), is starting to hit, though his dinger last night against the Tampa Bay Whatevers didn’t keep the Orioles from losing — or falling to1-6 on the season.

“Overall, our pitching is doing a great job,” Markakis said after last night’s tilt. Really? You could have fooled me.The starting four of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are just so-so, and closer Michael Gonzalez (brought in from the Braves as the real deal) looks terrified on the mound. The Orioles’ front office is hoping that semi-rookie Brian Matusz is the answer to the Orioles’ annual pitching woes, but he’s inexperienced. Matusz was an elite college pitcher (at the University of San Diego) with good velocity, and his trip through the minors was impressive. Signed by the Orioles in the same year that Washington failed to land Aaron Crow, Matusz is Baltimore’s  hope for the future, even if the future has yet to arrive. If there’s any good news at all, it’s not only that Matusz is unlikely to fail, but that rotation-mate Brad Bergesen has been a surprise. Drafted in the fourth round in 2004, Bergesen was 7-5 last year with a stellar 3.43 ERA. That’s two solid pitchers for the future. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future will come only after Baltimore gets past a season with the savvy, but aging Millwood, and a bound-to-be-average Jeremy Guthrie.

None of this is cause to despair. While the future might take several years to arrive, Markakis, Jones, Reimold and Pie are fun to watch. If only they could pitch.

Matt Capps: Closer

Friday, April 9th, 2010

  Matt Capps #55 Of The Washington Nationals Celebrates

The Washington Nationals not only won their first game of the season, they have apparently found their closer. Clinging to a 6-5 lead heading into the ninth, the Nats brought in Matt Capps, their new free agent closer. After a tough season in Pittsburgh (57 games, 5.80 ERA), the Georgia fireballer was looking for redemption. At least for the first two Phillies’ batters in the ninth, he didn’t get it: as Nats’ fans chewed their nails, Phillies’ second sacker Chase Utley greeted Capps with a double and Ryan Howard was walked intentionally. For Washington’s long-suffering fans, this looked like a replay of ’09 — when designated closer Joel Hanrahan blew successive saves and sunk the Nats’ early season hopes. But Capps proved equal to the task, getting Jayson Werth on a long fly out (Nyjer Morgan tracked the ball down in the gap), Raul Ibanez on a short sky-out (to left fielder Willie Harris — who held Utley at third) and Shane Victorino on a pop-up to shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Capps pumped his fist in notching the Nats first victory, and was ebullient after the game:”To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it,” Capps noted. “It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn’t hit well to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game.” Capps admitted that he felt the pressure: “There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today.” He added: “I threw the ball well. Today felt good.” The win also felt good for Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman. “As we saw [reliever Brian] Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together,” he said. “It’s making strides. It’s coming together. When it does, it’s going to give us a chance.” The Nats head to New York for a series against the Mets.

That Other NL Rookie: While all eyes are focused on the anointed NL Rookie of the Year — Atlanta’s bopper-to-be Jason Heyward — the Cubs are now starting to feature a phenom of their own. The can’t miss Cubbie is Tyler Colvin, a former Clemson Tiger draft pick, who would have won a job out of Spring Training if the Cubs outfield wasn’t so crowded. On Thursday, the Cubs won their first game of the season — and Colvin’s bat was all they needed. Colvin’s solo shot in the second inning gave the Cubbies a 1-0 lead, propelling the sluggies to a 2-0 shutout in Atlanta. There’s surely more to come. Colvin channeled Crash Davis after the game, giving an “aw shucks” answer to a question about how he prepares for a game now that he’s in The Show — “As long as I stick with my routine, I’ll be fine,” he said. The Cubs will never suffer from a power outage (and they never have): their problem is pitching (and always was). But with Colvin pushing from the bench, the North Side Drama Queens are full-up in the outfield. Don’t expect it to stay that way. Sooner or later, Sweet Lou will have to play Colvin every day — and someone will have to go.

Nats, Marquis Fall Again To Phils

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Jason Marquis couldn’t find the strike zone in his first regular season outing, and when he did the Phillies took full advantage. The Phillies chased the free agent righthander after just four innings and went on to an easy 8-4 victory over the Nats. The Nationals have now begun their season 0-2, and probably can’t wait to for the Phillies to leave town. “The whole Phillies lineup is dangerous, but they all can be pitched to,” Marquis said after the game. “They have holes in their swing, you just have to make pitches against this lineup. There is no letup. I wasn’t able to make as many pitches as I wanted to.” What Marquis meant was: I wasn’t able to make as many good pitches as I wanted to. There’s no desperation just yet (heck, it’s only the second game of the season), but to hold their home fans, the Nats cannot afford another 0-7 start — and are growing anxious to notch their first win.(Well, I suppose if it gets really bad, Stan could bus in some people from Phillie or New York.)

If there’s good news, it’s that shortstop newbie Ian Desmond is hitting the ball — if inconsistently. The rookie stroked a beautiful line-drive home run into straight away center field and a double down the left field line. But the good news is more than balanced by the bad: Desmond notched three strike outs (one looking). The kid can hit fastballs (hell, I can hit fastballs), but he needs a tune-up on anything moving over the plate. The other piece of good news is that Josh Willingham seems in mid-season form: he was 3-5 last night with a walk and he looks tough at the plate. Willingham is hitting .571 to start the season. For Nats fans, the post-game was nearly as interesting as watching Cole Hamels (who wasn’t sharp) wrack up his first win. Callers to the “Nats Talk Live” post game show on WFED were in their football mode, telling Phil Wood that it was time to “blow up the team” and “send a message” to guys like Marquis and reliever Matt Capps. “I don’t buy this ‘the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go,'” an angry caller told Wood. “We need to do something now.” Yeah, like what? It’s not like the Nats can trade a couple of draft picks for a celebrated slinger, then hold a reassuring press conference to sooth their fans. This isn’t that game.

It’ll be okay. The Nats head to New York to face the already-struggling Mets this weekend and there’s no reason to panic. The team that’s on the field at Nats Park (that is, the home team, not the Phillies) is galactically better than last year’s edition: Adam Kennedy and Pudge Rodriguez will make a significant difference, the Nats are finally playing their young players, and the bullpen is not nearly as shaky as it was a year ago (Matt Capps threw well last night, and would have been out of the ninth if it weren’t for an Ian Desmond error). It’s only a matter of time before Lannan and Marquis hit their stride and the quartet of Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez put some numbers on the board. Which is to say: the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go.

In The Land of the White Elephants: The modern version of the double header is to leave Nats Park right after the game (at about 10:45) and arrive at home in time to watch MLB Network’s west coast feed. Without extra innings or fireworks, it’s possible — and rewarding. Then too, you can flip between the west coast game and the thirty minute version of Baseball Tonight and, if the semi-goofy Bobby Valentine isn’t the featured BBT analyst, the games and comments are as entertaining as anything on television (maybe that’s not saying much). Even so, last night’s Navigators vs. White Elephants tilt was a barnburner, a classic match-up between two teams that don’t like each other even a little bit. This is the west coast version of the Boston-New York rivalry and, when the A’s are good (which they’re not, not really) it’s something to see.

While BBT’s on-set announcers go on (and on) about how crucial the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is to the future of humanity, the A’s versus Mariners games have been as entertaining. The two have played two walk-off last-at-bat games in as many nights, with last night’s 5-4 bottom-of-the-ninth victory a model of west coast junior circuit baseball. The hero was Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who came up to face Seattle fireballer Mark Lowe with newly acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff (who, honest, played like Brooks Robinson) on first. Suzuki promptly lofted a Lowe fast ball into the left field darkness which, for all the world, looked like it would clear the fence. As Suzuki did his Carlton Fisk routine down the first base line and Seattle outfielder Milton Bradley maneuvered vainly to snag a circus catch, Kouzmanoff (head down) circled the bases for the winning run. Suzuki’s shot hit just above Bradley’s glove and the celebration was on. I swear: even with the ninth inning meltdown of the emotionally impaired Jonathan Papelbon in Boston (it came against the Yankees, after all), the A’s dunking of the Navs in Oakland was the most entertaining game of the night.