Archive for the ‘pitching’ Category

Rethinking The Braves “Ambush”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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As we said (and repeatedly) yesterday — after the Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves: “It’s still early.” Much has been said of the state of this I-95 rivalry. “They” have the Nats’ number. “They’re” inside the Nats’ heads. They’re Washington’s kryptonite. Maybe, but we’ll leave that particular analysis to the sports psychologists.

In looking back on the series, we here at CFG have come up with something else: in spite of having dropped five of six to the Bravos, there is no real overall difference in quality between Atlanta and the Nationals. For two of the three games in that Atlanta series, the Braves didn’t actually win — so much as the Nationals lost.

Consider: for the first two games, the Nationals outhit the Braves 25-22, while losing both contests by four fewer runs (13 to 9). The reason? Sloppy fielding and poor base running. The usually sure-handed Ian Desmond committed an unheard of three errors, exacerbated by one from Nate McLouth in a call that should have gone the other way. Bryce Harper was caught stealing, and both he and Zimmerman were picked off.

Game three of the series was a legitimate Bravos victory, to be sure, but that’s to be expected in any series against a quality team, which the Braves certainly are. The Braves outhit and outplayed the Nationals in that game, but that wasn’t true for the first game — or the second.

The Braves’ bullpen (with the possible exception of Craig Kimbrel), is not some unhittable juggernaut — as was clear last night in Philadelphia. The Nats chewed up starters Julio Teheran for 10 hits and 5 runs and Alex Wood for 6 hits and one run – and generated nine hits and three runs in the first two face-offs against relievers Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, and Anthony Varvaro.

Early as the season is, there are still plenty of reasons for confidence. Harper has gotten comfortable at the plate again, banging out six hits over the course of the series. New acquisitions Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth and Nats veteran Danny Espinosa have shown themselves to be solid bench players.

The Nats are snake-bit against the Braves, for sure. Snake bit? That just means that, for whatever reason, they’ve played poorly against them. That won’t last. The next time the Nats face the Braves (a four game set in mid-June), Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, and Ryan Zimmerman should be off the disabled list — and the team will be out to prove that April was a fluke. And there will have been plenty of games (both easy and tough) for the boys in the field to learn each others ticks.

Then too, Nats manager Matt Williams may have even settled on a lineup by then.

Nats Fall Again To Braves; Zimmerman Out 4-6 Weeks

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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What a difference 48 hours can make. Just two days ago, the Nationals had just swept the Marlins, were sitting atop the National League East and seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Now, just two days later, the team is struggling against the division rival Atlanta Braves and — in response to mounting injuries — new skipper Matt Williams is shifting his players from position to position.

Those troubles seemed particularly in evidence on Saturday night, as the Nationals dropped yet another game to the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 and Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s third base stalwart, team leader and big middle-of-the-order bat fractured his right thumb during a pick-off play in the fifth inning. Zimmerman will be lost from four to six weeks.

The Zimmerman injury eclipsed Washington’s loss, which was fueled by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to subdue a powerful Braves’ line-up. Atlanta put four runs on the board in the first inning on a B.J Upton homer, a Justin Upton double and timely hitting from Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis.

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“I wasn’t hitting my spots, and they capitalized on that. It was a very tough first inning,” Jordan said following the loss. “By the third inning, I started to get my slider back, and it was working for me a little bit,” he then added.

The Nationals gamely fought back, but squandered numerous scoring opportunities, leaving 11 on base for the game. The Nationals, who dominated division rivals New York and Miami, couldn’t capitalize against the Braves and were a pathetic 1-16 with runners in scoring position.

Already hit by injuries to Denard Span and Jayson Werth (Span was placed on the 7-day disabled list with “concussion like” symptoms, Werth is day-to-day with a nagging groin), the team will now feature an infield with Anthony Rendon at third and Danny Espinosa at second.

“It is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” manager Matt Williams said following the announcement that the team had lost Zimmerman. “You’ve got to play.” The Nationals have recalled infielder Zach Walters from Triple-A Syracuse for added bench depth and to (presumably) spell Espinosa at second.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The early take on the new MLB rules on umpire reviews has been mostly positive, until recently. Matt Williams was frustrated by an interminable review of a bang-bang play at first base involving Nate McLouth during the second inning on Saturday, which went against the Nationals . . .

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Nats-Braves Claw Their Way Through 10

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves scratched and clawed their way through another bitterly fought contest, with the Bravos eventually coming away with a 7-6 10th inning win on a Justin Upton single. The game was another one run contest, which is becoming the new standard in the growing Nats-Braves rivalry.

Atlanta was first on the board, plating four runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning against Washington starter Tanner Roark. Despite the early score, Roark settled into the game, pitching into the fifth inning and allowing his teammates to fight their way back into the game — scoring one run in the 4th inning and three in the 5th, courtesy of a Ryan Zimmerman home run.

“I felt great out there,” Roark said following the tough loss. “I just didn’t really have the command of my pitches that I wanted.” Indeed, Roark had trouble finding the strike zone, plunking Justin Upton, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman with pitches.

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The teams traded runs after the 4-4 tie, with Atlanta scoring one in the bottom of the 5th and the Nationals responding in the top of the next frame. “The guys continued to fight back. It’s a really good sign,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “It didn’t come out our way tonight, but they got back in it with the lead. We’ll take our chances with that every day.”

The Nationals, who are becoming known for their ability to launch late inning comebacks, were helped by solid performances from the middle of their order. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper were a combined 7-13, with Zimmerman accounting for half of the Nationals runs.

The Nationals led 6-5 going into the bottom of the 8th inning, but reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Justin Upton, the Nationals new nemesis. The Braves then brought on closer Craig Kimbrel — perhaps the best closer in the majors. Kimbrel set down the Nats in the top of the 9th, striking out Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

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Nats Notes: Takeaways From The Miami Sweep

Friday, April 11th, 2014

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Fans don’t normally expect a series sweep to be dramatic, but this past series against the Miami Marlins provided theatricality in spades. Nats fans will note: these are not the Fish of yesteryear, or even the Fish of last year. Miami has a real team, forcing the punditocracy to rethink their near-unanimous criticism of Miami’s fire sale to Toronto in 2013.

As MASN commenter F.P Santangelo pointed out yesterday, the Marlins have some good young players (like the surprising Christian Yelich, who’s hitting a torrid .438 over the last week) and preseason predictions about this being just another “rebuilding year in Miami” already look like they’re way off. The Marlins were swept, but they look more dangerous than either New York or Philly.

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez opened the series with a shutout performance, looking as if he’s reached mid-season form, and Stephen Strasburg shook off whatever baggage there might have been from his two earlier and shakier starts to keep his game on lock down. The two aces are exactly where Nats Nation expects them to be on any given day — which will send shivers to the rest of the division.

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But Jordan Zimmermann? Oh my. No one, least of all him, had any explanation for what happened to him on Wednesday, when he gave up five runs in less than three innings and left the game shaking his head. We’ve never seen him have a meltdown like that. That said, Wednesday’s game demonstrated one thing we haven’t always associated with the Nationals: resilience –  the capacity to recover quickly from adversity.

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Werth’s Slam Downs The Marlins

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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Jayson Werth’s grand slam in the 8th inning proved the difference against the Miami Marlins, as the Nationals beat their division rival, 10-7. “Crazy game. Back and forth,” Werth said following the hard fought victory. “One of those games where you play that long, you want to win.”

Werth’s line drive howitzer was the coda in a game that saw starter Jordan Zimmermann give up seven hits and five runs in just 1.2 innings, one of the worst outings (and the shortest start) for the righty in his career. Washington relievers were also victimized in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen giving up a home run to Jerrod Saltalamacchia and Tyler Clippard giving up a run in the 8th.

‘I was terrible out there,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “The fastball was all over the place. That’s not like me. I just couldn’t get a very good feel. I fell behind guys and when you fall behind you’ve got to come in with a fastball — and they’re a good fastball hitting team.”

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Despite Zimmermann’s early struggles (which left the team down 5-0 going into the bottom of the 4th) Washington refused to give in. While Werth’s slam gave Washington the victory, the game might well have turned on Bryce Harper’s brilliant ten pitch at bat in the bottom of that frame.

The struggling youngster (who came into the game batting just a hair about .160), fouled off numerous offerings from Miami starter Brad Hand in a ten pitch at bat before depositing a 95 mph fastball in the third deck of Nats Park. Harper’s home run brought the crowd of 21,000-plus to their feet, scored Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman — and put Washington back into the game.

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“I never felt out of this game, that’s for sure. We battled. We’ve just got to keep pressing,” Werth told reporters after the comeback win. It was the Nationals fifth comeback win this season in only eight games and kept Washington atop the N.L. East standings at 6-2.

Washington skipper Matt Williams noted that the Washington victory would not have been possible without the solid pitching of Craig Stammen, who shut down Miami in the middle innings — giving his team just over three innings of stellar relief while striking out four.

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Nats Notes For Game #7: Nats Arms Leave Fish Gasping

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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The big takeaway from last night’s shutout of the Miami Fish is that Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon are the team’s early season on-base machines. LaRoche went 3 for 3 with a a walk, Rendon went 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs. It’s a good start for LaRoche, who’s noted for swinging a weak bat in temperatures under 90 . . .

LaRoche even took two extra bases on an error and a wild pitch and got thrown out trying to steal! And all in a a single game! When Matt Williams said he wanted the Nats to be aggressive, we doubt that he intended sending the normally speed-challenged good-glove first sacker regularly motoring to second. Denard Span and Danny Espinosa, yes. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth, sure. But LaRoche? But it’s hard to argue with success; after all, it seems to be working out more often than not — so far . . .

The scouting report on Fish starter Henderson Alvarez was that he’s a good fastball-changeup guy who’s tough to hit when he’s on target, but that he tends to lose his command. That was the case last night. After Alvarez gave up a run in the 1st, the Marlins’ starter kept it close, until the 6th. By then, every other pitch was in the dirt, behind the catcher — or both. So the Nats pounced in the 6th and then pounced again in the 8th, when Marlins reliever Mike Dunn (high and fast) arrived to try to stem the bleeding . . .

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The Nats pitchers, sensing a kill of a team they have dominated, were no slouches. Starter Gio Gonzalez pitched six solid innings. Gio’s pitch count was worrisome after the first two innings, but beginning in the 3rd inning he locked in the strike zone and (as Matt Williams noted in his post game comments), probably could have gone longer had the Nats not scored behind him . . .

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Gio Blanks The Fish

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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Gio Gonzalez threw six innings of three hit ball while striking out five, leading the Washington Nationals to a 5-0 blanking of the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Washington’s southpaw ace was in mid-season form, and was escorted to victory by eight Nats’ hits, which included three RBIs from third sacker Anthony Rendon.

“He competes every time he goes out there,” Nats skipper Mat Williams said following the shut down performance. “In his last couple of starts, he throws a lot of pitches, but when he has to lock it in, he locks it in. He has been good.” Gonzalez threw 101 pitches, 61 of them for strikes. Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Barrett followed Gonzalez to the mound and held the Marlins scoreless.

Gonzalez seems to own the Marlins. He has won his last four starts against Miami and was 3-0 against them last year, when the Nationals accumulated a 14-5 mark against the Fish. Gonzalez is now 2-0 on the young season, owning a snappy 0.75 ERA on the young season.

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“These guys have some good pitchers but we got to find a way to score some runs,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said of the Marlins’ loss. “We had a couple opportunities. We just didn’t get a big hit. But I’ve said that a lot over the last couple years, too.”

The Washington offense was sparked by a first inning Jayson Werth double and a run scoring single from Adam LaRoche. The Nationals struck again in the sixth on hits from Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon. The onslaught chased Miami starter Henderson Alvarez. Washington tacked on two more runs in the 8th on an Anthony Rendon double.

Rendon has been on fire. He is hitting .407 in the early going, which includes a home run and eight RBIs. Subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third, Rendon also turned in a nifty flip to Adam LaRoche in the 7th inning, when Reed Johnson attempted to bunt his way on.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Major League Baseball’s punditry spent Tuesday, the fortieth anniversary of Henry Aaron’s record breaking HR mark that topped Babe Ruth’s record, explaining why Aaron is the baseball’s real home run king, despite the fact that Barry Bonds owns the record . . .

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