Nats Notes: Takeaways From The Miami Sweep

April 11th, 2014  / Author: Jason Knobloch

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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

April 10th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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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

April 9th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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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

April 9th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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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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Desmond HR Saves Nats Series

April 7th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals authored a win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, 2-1, riding shortstop Ian Desmond’s second home run of the year to victory — and salvaging a single game win of the three game Atlanta series. The Nationals needed the victory, if only to show that they can beat a team that has consistently had their number.

“It was nice to get that ‘W’ and monkey off our back,” Desmond told the press following the win. “We obviously understand we have some things that need to be addressed when we’re playing them.” Starter Taylor Jordan, who escaped from multiple jams in his first start of the season, agreed: “I love beating the Braves,” he said. “We needed that. They’re our rivals, and it’s great to get one.”

It’s also clear that Nats’ manager Matt Williams was intent on turning his team’s fortunes around, particularly after Washington’s embarrassing 6-2 unraveling on Saturday. Williams gave Bryce Harper (3 for 21 in the team’s first five) a rest, played Anthony Rendon at third base and inserted uber sub Kevin Frandsen in left field.

The alchemy worked, but most particularly on the mound, where Jordan tossed a workmanlike 6.1 innings of six hit baseball — relying on the team behind him to keep him out of trouble. Jordan pitched out of trouble in the second and fourth innings, but was able to notch his first win of the season.

The Nationals were outhit by the Braves, but Desmond’s home run subdued the out-of-towners, who then couldn’t seem to find their swing against a steady Nationals’ bullpen. Washington sent Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard and closer Rafael Soriano to the mound the preserve Jordan’s outing.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The baseball always finds the problem, no matter what team you play for. If you’re bullpen is weak you can be damn sure you’ll need it, if your team is having trouble hitting you’ll always face the best pitchers — and if you’re shoulder is tweaky you can be sure there’ll be a tough ground ball hit just to your right that will force a long throw . . .

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Nats Notes For Game #6: Reliving 2013

April 7th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Sunday’s game marked the first home win for Your Washington Nationals, and the first in the three game set at home against the Atlanta Braves. But this early trifecta was strikingly (and disturbingly) similar to what we saw last season: Nats’ pitchers were able to shut down their opponents in spite of meager run support — and occasional infield confusion.

Starting pitcher Taylor Jordan worked fast and pitched to contact, throwing seven pitches in the first inning. He made it into the 7th while surrendering a lone run.

New acquisition Jerry Blevins provided solid southpaw relief and Tyler Clippard found his control against the two batters he faced in the 8th. Matt Williams used both of them well in planned match-ups: Blevins faced Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman (left, right, left), while Clippard faced two right handed bats: Chris Johnson and Justin Upton. We’ll see more of that.

Rafael Soriano untucked his first save of the season by going after Atlanta’s Dan Uggla, Gerald Laird, and Jason Heyward with cutters high in the strike zone. This was the Rafael Soriano we’ve come to know so well: he got out of a jam he created for himself.

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The infield support for Jordan seemed a little confused at the outset, possibly due to Ryan Zimmerman’s sitting because of “non-structural” shoulder issues. They figured it out eventually, and new acquisitions Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth provided decent work in the outfield.

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Nats Notes For Game #4: Braves 2 Nationals 1

April 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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It’s possible to spend hours discussing what happened on Opening Day, but it might be more useful to summarize it as follows: Ian Desmond’s 5th inning infield homer-not-a-homer Charlie Foxtrot, Bryce Harper’s timing issues at the plate (“he’s off a tick,” Matt Williams said following the loss), and “overaggressive” base running from Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Harper. All this brought groans from Nats’ watchers, especially those who were privileged to see it from the stands . . .

Notwithstanding, while the regulars at the ballpark-on-the-Anacostia on Friday left disappointed by the loss, they left the game happy with the not-so-new-look Nationals — and the fact that winter, at long last, seemed to be over. And there probably won’t be much disagreement with our own take:

Jordan Zimmermann, on an off day recovering from the flu, is as good a starting pitcher as any team could hope for. He gave up one run, just like every other Nats starter so far this season, but he made it through the first two innings on 22 pitches. That’s an economy of effort that Steve McCatty would look for, though the long ball that “the Ace of Auburndale” gave up was prodigious . . .

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It sounded like a howitzer. “Holy shit,” the fan next to me said when the Gattis shot was three-quarters of the way to the left field bleachers¬† . . .

When healthy, Zimm typically goes seven innings, and the fact that he was able to go five and let Matt Williams avoid having the game pitched by a bullpen committee is a major advantage against a team like the Braves. Craig Stammen delivered two solid innings (the slider is his out pitch, and it’s working real well), Aaron Barrett was better than good, and then too Tyler Clippard — well, we’re still only at 98.7, which isn’t much of a fever . . .

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