Archive for the ‘ryan zimmerman’ Category

Two Of Three From The Ahoys

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman accounted for four of the Nats runs with four RBIs, righty Jason Marquis pitched a solid six innings and slugger Adam Dunn hit a long home run into the left field seats as the Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-1 on Sunday. The win marked the first time that the Nats had won a road series since May, as the Anacostia Nine took two of three on the road against the Ahoys. “Start-by-start I feel like I’m getting to where I need to be,” Marquis sai following his outing. “Obviously early on I was hurting, and since the surgery I feel like Jason Marquis more day-by-day. The last four starts have been right where I want to be, although I’d like to go a little deeper into games, but I’ve just got to minimize my pitch count and that will happen.”

Fear And Trembling In San Diego: You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the concern in the voices of the radio announcers for the San Diego Padres. It was obvious in the bottom of the 9th inning on Sunday, with the Colorado Rockies about to sweep their three game series with the Friars — sending the Pads to their tenth loss in a row. “Well,” color analyst Jerry Coleman said, “the Padres have three outs to turn this thing around. You have to wonder.” The frustration of the broadcast team of “double X 1090” had been growing throughout the game, ever since the Padres had tied the Rockies in the 6th, only to see the Heltons climb back by scoring two in the top of the seventh. “It’s like we’re snake bit,” Coleman said. The Padres skid is their worst since May of 1994 and the worst for a first place team since the 1932 Pirates. “We’re in games,” Padres manger Bud Black explained after Sunday’s loss. “We’re just not generating the big hit, we’re not generating the offense to get us over the top. We’re just not executing the pitch, making the play that changes the course of a game.”

If San Diego doesn’t do something soon, they’re in danger of drawing comparisons with the 1969 Cubs, who were in first place in August, but then let the Mets catch them, or the 1964 Phillies — whose late-season collapse remains legion. It’s hard to determine what ails the Pads: there haven’t been any blow-outs during the skid, but the team seems incapable of winning the close ones. In many ways, the Sunday tilt against the Rockies was typical: the pitching was solid (but not solid enough) and the Padres hit (but not exactly when they need to), and the team took the early lead — but couldn’t hold it. With the exception of a 5-0 skunking at the hands of the Phillies back on August 29 and an 11-5 disaster against the Diamondbacks (that started the meltdown) the Friars have been in nearly every game.

The Padres’ problem is what we always thought it would be — hitting. The Friars have scored just 23 runs in their ten game skid and have found it nearly impossible to hit with runners in scoring position, plating one run for every five chances. Ryan Ludwick was supposed to help solve the team’s RBI production problems but, after a solid start in his new digs, he just hasn’t done it. The right fielder, who the Padres picked up in a three-way swap with the Cardinals and Indians at the trade deadline, is known for his nose-in-the-dirt play and ability to compete in close games, but he’s hit .194 over the losing streak — a fall-off in production as sudden as it is unexplained. And don’t look now, but young hurler Wade LeBlanc (a solid starter to go with the likes of Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Jon Garland and Kevin Correia) is in a free-fall. In ten starts since mid-July, LeBlanc has seen his ERA fall from 3.30 to 4.15. Ugh.

There’s a bright side, of course. The Padres are still in first place, the team’s starters are still “the best in the West” (and maybe in the entire National League), Bud Black is one of the savviest managers in the majors — and it ain’t over until it’s over. But the Padres have to be worried: they face the surging McCoveys seven times over the next four weeks (including a four game set this coming weekend) and the Rockies seem to have their number, having won 11 of 15 in their last meetings. The Padres face Colorado in a three game set in Denver starting next Monday — having just been swept by them in San Diego. “We’ll be fine — trust me,” Padres’ second sacker David Eckstein said in the midst of this most recent skid. And, you know, maybe he’s right. But in the sprint to the poll, and with the Giants and Rockies in their rear view mirror, the Padres need to start hitting.

(above: Ryan Zimmerman, AP Photo/Keith Srakocic. Below: David Eckstein in San Diego AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A Laugher In Miami

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn homered, and Jason Marquis pitched 5.2 solid innings to lead the Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami on Monday night. The win was the third in a row for the Nationals — a “laugher” — who have energized their sudden surge by scoring 40 runs in the last five games. On Monday, the Zimmerman-Dunn combination accounted for seven of the nine runs, as Zimmerman hit his 25th and Dunn hit his 33rd home runs. Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse also continued their offensive assault, with both accounting for two hits. The sudden plate production stands in stark contrast to the Nats of just a week ago — when the Anacostia Nine had difficulty scoring against the Braves, Phillies and Cubs, and dropped seven of nine games.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains: It was a bad night for Florida baseball. The official attendance for the Nats-Marlins tilt was given as 18,326, but after a nearly three hour rain delay the Marlins were playing in front of hundreds — not thousands. In the seventh inning, a ballgirl snagged a ground foul along the first base line and trotted towards the seats to hand it to a fan: there was no one there. Then too, it’s an open debate whether anyone scrambled for Adam Dunn’s home run into the right field seats — no fan was even close. If you head to see the Marlins tonight, you might want to look under your seat. When the game finished at 1 a.m this morning, there were more people in Dupont Circle than at the Marlins game. The Marlins are counting on a new stadium to solve their attendance woes, but you have to wonder whether that’s really going to work. There’s a beautiful stadium in Toronto and a good, young team — and they don’t draw a lick . . .

Over in Tampa, where the Rays were taking on the Jays, precisely 11,968 patrons showed up at “The Trop” — an embarrassing non-anomaly for a team that now ranks 23rd in MLB attendance (just behind the last place Nats). The Nationals ranked as high as 19th in attendance this year, but the Rays have never been a notch over where they are right now. Bleacher Report’s J.C. De La Torre says there’s a reason for this: 70 percent of the fans live nearly an hour from the stadium (which is true) and Tampa has the second highest jobless rate in the state. And De La Torre notes that Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas also have attendance problems. They are all first place teams with 62 percent or less in capacity this season.

No matter what the issue, the Rays’ problems are long term and not likely to be resolved anytime soon — and they will have an impact on the franchise, which will see star left fielder Carl Crawford headed out of town (wouldn’t it be nice if he came to Washington, instead of New York) come October. “It was a big letdown,” Crawford said of the sparse crowd. “We came out all fired up and you see that, it’s really depressing.” The Rays desperately need a new stadium, but are locked in a head-to-head battle over whether the team will play in St. Petersburg (where they are now, officially, located) or Tampa — which could be the site of a new stadium in the waterfront area. The battle won’t be joined until after the season, which means that a new stadium (if there is one) won’t be started for at least another year. And no one has yet figured out how a new ballpark will be funded.

CarlCrawford.jpg image by BEEZEWAX34

(above: Jason Marquis AP Photo/Wildredo Lee; below: Carl Crawford against the Red Sox in Tampa)


Cubs Stymie Nats Rally

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Adam Kennedy’s bases clearing double in the ninth inning wasn’t enough to bring the Nats back from a 5-1 deficit, as the Chicago Cubs, behind the strong pitching of starter Carlos Zambrano, stymied a Nationals’ rally to win at Nationals Park on Tuesday night, 5-4. Kennedy’s clutch hit preceded a long drive off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman to account for the third out and end the game. Zimmerman’s long fly (on an outside corner fastball from Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol) brought the crowd to their feet, with visions of another Zimmerman miracle, but right fielder Kosuke Fukudome reached up at the last moment to snag the headed-for-the wall game tying drive. “I thought it had a shot to get over Fukudome’s head. It was a good at-bat against a tough pitcher,” Zimmerman said after the almost-but-not-quite hit. “He is not an easy guy to get hits off of. He [Marmol] strikes out everyone pretty much. It was a good job to battle back and have a chance to win.” The loss brought the Nationals to twenty games under .500 — their worst record of the year.

Nats Win Snakes’ Series

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 at Nationals Park on Sunday, taking two games of a three game series. The game marked the second return of Stephen Strasburg following his stint on the D.L., and “the kid” pitched well, despite giving up a home run to Adam LaRoche and making an errant throw to first baseman Adam Dunn. “I was talking to Stephen a little bit ago. He said that it is the best he felt,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman said, following the victory. “The ball was coming out of his hand good. Stras did a great job and gave us a chance to win.” The Nats trailed the D-Backs 3-1 into the bottom of the fourth, when slumping Josh Willingham shook loose from his doldrums and launched a pitch off of D-Backs starter Barry Enright to tie the game. The Nats won the game on a single by Ian Desmond, with Ryan Zimmerman providing an insurance homer. Typically, the Nats’ bullpen closed out their opponents, with Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen shutting down the Arizona order.

The Ghost of Kerry Wood: Nats’ fans at the ballpark on Sunday probably didn’t get a chance to see Strasburg’s frustration with being lifted after pitching just five innings, but “the kid” was clearly angered by the move. Strasburg, mouth set and eyes flashing, sat the bench after the end of the fifth inning fuming. At least that’s what the fans at home saw, with Strasburg’s irritation coming in waves through the camera lens. Nats pitching czar Steve McCatty intervened with an explanation, speaking with animation as Strasburg shook his head on the bench. This isn’t the first time that Strasburg has been angered, though he never mentions it in any post game interview. But if Strasburg is angry it’s only because he has a right to be. And he’s not the only one. Jim Riggleman’s reputation as a manager with an early hook is well-earned. He’s got a shepard’s staff as big as Little Bo Peep (oops … well, let’s go with this version) — the result of his time as the manager of the North Side Drama Queens, when he oversaw the 1998 rookie campaign of strikeout king Kerry Wood.

The ghost of Kerry Wood seems ever-present with Riggleman, who coached the Slugs when they were going somewhere and the young Wood was the talk of baseball. The problem was that Wood had a raw elbow, with his ligaments tearing and bleeding everytime he threw. And in 1998, after a stint in the minors when he rarely threw even close to 100 pitches, Wood was carrying the load for a contending team — and throwing 115 to 120 pitches per game. Eventually (after sitting out the ’99 season with surgery, and pitching just so-so over the next three years), the elbow blew itself out for good and Wood, with successive stints in rehab, became a reliever. It was a loss, for Kerry Wood might have been, perhaps could have been (and maybe even should have been), one of the best starters in the game.

Riggleman, Wood’s skipper, blames himself. “If I had it to do over, I would do it differently,” he told the Washington Post back in March. “And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, ‘C’mon, Riggs, leave him in.'” Wood disagrees: the ripping in his elbow had been happening for several years (he says) and it was bound to explode at some point. It was inevitable. “My elbow was going to go,” Wood told the Post. “If it didn’t go with [Riggleman] it would’ve gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time.”

Which is only to say that there’s a good reason why Jim Riggleman is as careful with Stephen Strasburg as he is. But Riggleman’s decision today — to sit Strasburg after the 5th — struck many fans as overly careful. After all, pitchers strain their arm, or throw out their shoulder, all the time. And not simply because they throw a lot of baseballs, or have a predisposition, or because they’re not on a pitch count. Pitchers blow out their arms because they’re pitchers. Wood understood this: in the end it didn’t matter how many pitches he threw, his “elbow was going to go” anyway. “It was a matter of time.” This is not an argument for having Rizzo, Riggleman & Company allow Strasburg to throw 110 to 120 pitches each and every game. It’s an argument for perspective and practicality — Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher, not a piece of fine China.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a recognition that Washington Nationals fans aren’t going to show up at the park on Half Street to watch “the kid” throw 70 pitches over five innings — especially when it’s clear that (as happened on Sunday), he’s just starting to hit his stride.

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.”

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

Nats Struggling At The Break

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Just  two games ago it was possible to think good things about the Nats. They had taken two of three from a very tough San Diego team and grabbed an easy first game in a three game set against the Giants. And the Nats were beginning to hit. The toughest teams of the west seemed suddenly vulnerable to a line-up filled with a hot home run hitter (in Adam Dunn), a suddenly tough pitching staff (headlined by Stephen Strasburg) and a revived bullpen (with solid arms Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps). But successive losses — one in which the bullpen collapsed and another in which steady Livan Hernandez was anything but — have put a cloud over the Nats’ first half and sparked continued speculation about whether the team will make major moves as the trading deadline approaches. Even Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman, ever the optimist, seemed puzzled (we just have to find a way to play better, he said after the second loss to the McCoveys), while Mike Rizzo evinced some disappointment: “I think we have underachieved a little bit, and I don’t think we played as good as I think we can. I’m looking forward to a better second half.”

While successive losses to the Giants ended the symbolic first half of the season on a low note, the team’s improvement has been undeniable: Stephan Strasburg has arrived (and he’s here to stay), Adam Dunn has emerged as a team and fan favorite (with unacknowledged defensive improvements at first base), the team remains relatively healthy (the notable exceptions being Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis), the bullpen has been sure and steady (in spite of the recent setbacks), Ian Desmond has proven he can hit major league pitching (okay, he’ll need to field major league hitting), and (surprise, surprise) Roger Bernadina has shown he can play with the big guys. There are disappointments — Nyjer Morgan has not been the spark plug he was last year, the team remains unaccountably soft on defense and no single starter has emerged to complement Strasburg and Hernandez. Oh, and the team is in last place in the NL East.

Amidst the talk of trades (Dunn for whomever, prospects and a bat for Haren, a pocket of maybes for a middling arm) — and front office prayers for the return of someone, somehow (Marquis in July, Zimmermann in August, Olsen sometime) — it’s hard to know just what would vault the team into contention. Magic wands seem out of reach and blockbusters rarely happen to teams whose farm system is still so-so. Mike Rizzo might be willing to swap three or four of the system’s top prospects, but none of them seem major league ready. They’d be here if they were. And there’s this: while Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham seem a fine 3-4-5 combination and are good friends to boot (and no one but no one wants to see them broken up), it’s hard to defend a combo that, for all it’s power, fails to plant a stake in the heart of an on-the-ropes Jonathan Sanchez or a wet-behind-the-curve newbie like Madison Bumgarner. Mike Rizzo says that he is looking forward to a better second half. So are we. But contending is another major bat and another good starter (and, truth be told, at least another half season) away.

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.

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?”

Pudge Walkoff Slices Apples

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

There are games you deserve to win, but lose — and then there are games you deserve to lose, but somehow win. The Washington Nationals, struggling on the mound and at the plate (and looking listless against New York’s very hot Mets) came back from a 5-3 deficit on Saturday to register an unlikely 6-5 victory at Nationals Park. “The win was special because it was against a very good ballclub and against their closer, who is outstanding,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman told the press after the come-from-behind surprise. “I’m very proud of our ballclub.” The win came in an exciting bottom of the ninth and was capped by Pudge Rodriguez’s single to right field that scored Ryan Zimmerman with the winning walkoff run. The Nats didn’t look like they were in the game from the first pitch: starter Stephen Strasburg had trouble finding the plate in pitching five complete innings, Nats hitters were downright somnolent against R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, and Mets hitters roughed up the Nats bullpen (more specifically, Tyler Clippard), seemingly putting the game beyond reach in the 8th. But the Nats found a way to win, loading the bases in the ninth, then tying the game on a towering near-home run by Mets basher Adam Dunn.

The Nats 9th inning rally could be just the spark the Anacostia Nine needs in heading into tomorrow’s Independence Day tilt against the out-for-revenge New Yorkers. In what Nats’ fans want to believe is a sign of things to come, the team came alive at the plate, pummeling eleven hits, with Dunn and Rodriguez accounting for six. While Ryan Zimmerman continues to struggle at the plate, the latest fall-off in Pudge Rodriguez’s production seems to have been reversed, even though the bound-for-the-hall catcher left four men stranded on Saturday. And Adam Dunn is continuing his hot streak, which could put him in the All Star Game. The victim was Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, whom Dunn took deep. “That’s it. That’s the  worst performance I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Rodriguez said after the game. “I should be ashamed of myself. I’m so embarrassed. I just want to apologize to the fans who were watching that. I know better than that.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: “The Kid” isn’t the only one who struggled on Saturday. Colorado’s all-league righty, Ubaldo Jimenez gave up seven runs in one inning versus the Giants, which raised his ERA to 2.27 . . . During the O’s sweep of the Nats in Baltimore (it’s hard to forget), Baltimore army of bloggers trumpeted Washington’s futility. “They’re worse than we are,” one Bird Land blogger puffed. But since that series the O’s have retreated to their losing ways. With tonight’s 9-3 loss at Fenway, the O’s are 25-56. The Birds would need to win 12 in a row to equal the Nats record of 36-46. They are now 25 games out of first place. If they go on a 31 game winning streak, they’ll reach .500 . . . It’s a good thing that columnist Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle isn’t the Giants’ GM — he thinks getting Cubs’ bad boy Carlos Zambrano in exchange for McCovey outfielder Aaron Rowand would be just a grand idea. Somewhere, Jim Hendry agrees . . .