So much for starting slow. The book on Adam LaRoche is that he doesn’t start to hit until the flowers start to wilt, but in Chicago on Saturday, LaRoche went 4-5 and stroked a home run to help lead the Nationals to a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals are now 2-0 in the still-young 2012 campaign. The difference came in the 8th inning, when the Nationals sent 11 men to the plate, erasing at 4-2 deficit.
Nationals fans will claim that new Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez pitched well, but the box score shows that he couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Gonzalez couldn’t get a strike call for his low-in-the-zone fastball, and Cubs’ hitters took advantage — scoring on four singles, a walk and a triple. The Nationals needed an eighth inning rally — and a clutch Chad Tracy single — to catch the North Siders.
Outside of the LaRoche-Tracy heroics, the Nats’ bullpen was as advertised, with Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez holding the Baby Bears to just one hit over 5.2 innings. Craig Stammen was particularly effective in his long-relief role, stifling the Cubs by keeping the ball on the ground in throwing 16 of 28 strikes. The Nationals will feature Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmerman tomorrow against former footballer Jeff Samardzija, in the final game of the three game set.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Rumors of an impending trade continue to swirl, with John Lannan set to go to Chicago for someone — perhaps former Nat Marlon Byrd. “Why not? The Nationals have a good team, but I have something to finish in Chicago,” Byrd told Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson. “I love Chicago. If the Cubs can get a piece that can make them better, that’s all I want.”
Bringing Byrd back to Washington would be a head scratcher, to say the least. He his .245 while he was here, and while he’s much improved from 2005 and 2006, the imminent return of Michael Morse, the promotion of Bryce Harper, the final rehab of Rick Ankiel, Mark DeRosa’s defensive abilities and LaRoche’s hot start would almost certainly relegate him to bench duty. Adam Kilgore today asked who Morse and Ankiel would replace when they arrive, focusing on who would be cut or sent to Triple-A. In fact, their arrival could easily put Byrd on the bench.
This is, in truth, an embarrassment of riches — with a soon-to-be crowded outfield that would force Davey Johnson to choose between Werth, Harper, Bernadina, Ankiel, Morse, and DeRosa. That’s six players for three spots: with the addition of Byrd that would be seven. But the real back-up would be in center field, where Byrd would compete with Ankiel, Bernadina and (in May, is our guess), Harper.
Which is no competition at all: Harper would play center field every single day. So what’s the point? Either hang on to Lannan (it’s baseball, and anything can happen — so we’re gonna need him) or trade him for prospects. And let Marlon Byrd stay in Chicago. Which is where he wants to be . . .