Nats Fall In Home Opener, 2-1

April 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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A sellout crowd of over 42,000 rabid Nationals’ fans watched as Washington dropped its home opener to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1 on Friday afternoon at Nationals Park. The game was marred by a controversy involving a replay and three questionable Nationals’ base running gaffes.

The controversy erupted in the bottom of the 5th inning, when Washington’s Ian Desmond hit a ball down the left field line that skittered to the base of the outfield wall. Atlanta left fielder Justin Upton threw up his hands, claiming the ball had become lodged under the tarp as Desmond circled the bases.

Adding to the controversy was the fact that Upton threw up his hands (here is the video of the play) to indicate his inability to get to the ball, then picked it up and winged it back into the infield — but too late to nab Desmond. As the crowd chanted “home run, home run,” the umpires decided to review the play and, after consulting with replay officials in New York, awarded Desmond second base on a ground rule double. The decision took a Washington run off the board.

“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure that we get the calls right. I have a question with that one, though, because of what happened after the fact,” Washington manager Matt Williams said after the game. “The fact that when he had to, he reached down and threw it in.”

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The reversal of the Desmond home run kept the Nationals from tying the Braves, who went on to score the winning run on a Chris Johnson sacrifice fly in the top of the 8th. The Nationals were also victimized by over-aggressiveness on the bases: Bryce Harper was caught between first and second and tagged out in the bottom of the second, Adam LaRoche was sent home and tagged out at the plate in the 4th and Desmond was caught between second and third after his ground rule double in the 5th.

Williams, who has said he will bring a more aggressive approach to the team, admitted that Desmond was probably over-anxious when he broke for third and was caught stealing in the 5th. “We want to take advantage of it when it’s there for us, but we also want to make sure that we are sure in that situation, so it was little overaggressive,” he confirmed.

Despite the loss, the Nationals continued to show that they have a more potent offense this year than last, outhitting the Braves 8-6. The team also got a solid start from Jordan Zimmermann, who threw five solid innings of four hit ball. The only Zimmermann hiccup was a home run off of the bat of Evan Gattis, subduing the sell-out crowd.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the Yankees’ Thursday tilt against the Astros in Houston, excepting for the 26,000-plus Houston fans who came to the ballpark expecting to see former free agent and Yankee newbie Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Instead, he was on the bench because (as Yankee manager Joe Girardi noted) “he needed a rest . . .”

The decision brought derisive comments from baseball analysts, who questioned whether signing a player like Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and then sitting him makes any sense. Ever. Don’t teams sign players in order to play them? MLB Radio’s Jim Bowden, the former Nationals’ G.M., hooted the Ellsbury decision during his Sirius XM talk show yesterday . . .

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Nats Notes For Game #3: It’s A Sweep In New York

April 4th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals swept the opening three game series against the Mets in New York, putting up eight runs on thirteen hits and downing the Gothams 8-2. This is one of those things where the score showed the game to be closer than it really was. This was a romp.

A three game sweep is a terrific start for a long season, even if (once again), the Nationals first inning was a little rough, both on young righty Tanner Roark and on the Nats’ defense. But after the shaky first frame, the team settled down and put on an efficient performance.

And once again Nats relievers went to work: Ross Detwiler pitched two solid innings and Raphael Soriano closed the book. Detwiler may not be happy in his new role as a lefty long reliever, but that didn’t show on Thursday.

In their first starts of the year, super-subs Danny Espinosa and Sandy Leon played well. Espinosa turned a great double play in the 5th and had two quality at-bats; if Anthony Rendon weren’t hitting the cover off the ball (and he is) Espinosa would be making a strong case for being back in the line-up.

And Sandy Leon was steady behind the plate, caught a Lucas Duda popup in foul territory in the 3rd, and scored a run after being walked in the 5th.

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The first series of the season is too small a sample size to come to make any conclusions about the team’s prospects for the rest of the season, but the Nationals have sprung from the gate — and made a strong claim to being the N.L. team to beat.

Nats’ starters gave up runs in the first inning of each of the three games, putting the team in the hole early. But the team in the other dugout was the Mets, so each starter’s job was to hold the Madoff’s close until the offense could get going. And that’s what happened, with Washington starters keeping their pitch counts low. Then too, the team’s first inning woes are probably due to an excess of adrenaline, which is no cause for worry.

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Nats Notes For Game #2: Washington Finds Its Swing

April 3rd, 2014  / Author: admin

MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays

After a few fly balls (i.e. situation normal in Nats land), the team definitely found its swing, spraying 13 hits against the New Yorkers. Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, newbie Jose Lobaton, and Ian Desmond continued to deliver, Jayson Werth went 4 for 5, and Adam LaRoche seems to be skipping his April warm-up period and going straight to batting in runs. That may be the best news yet in the young season . . .

Second sacker Rendon, in particular, seems to be seeing Mets’ pitching well. Then there’s Bryce Harper (0-4, 2 Ks). Matt Williams hasn’t found the sweet spot for Harper in the lineup (he batted sixth last night), but we can assume that Matty knows what he’s doing and that finding Harper’s best slot is only a matter of time . . .

Jose Lobaton is the great unknown. Billed as a defensive stalwart who stops anything and everything behind the plate, the former Tampa Bay Ray must now sub for the injured Wilson Ramos. Lobaton looks relaxed at the dish in the early going, but no one will ever mistake him for Ramos. This’ll be a test for Lobaton (who hit a not bad .249 for Tampa) but also for the Nationals . . .

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The Nationals traded for Lobaton precisely because they feared that the oft-injured (and hard luck) Ramos might somehow end up on the D.L. Which is exactly what’s happened. Ramos is out now four to six weeks and had surgery yesterday to repair a broken hamate bone. He’s fine, William said . . .

Gio Gonzalez was more than efficient on Wednesday night; he almost looked like he could throw a complete game. It’s true: the strike zone wasn’t going his way as often as it should have, despite Loboton’s excellent pitch framing skills. Gonzalez was lifted after 91 pitches — and almost certainly could have gone another full inning . . .

One thing that bears watching is how hot or cold workhorse righty Tyler Clippard is coming out of the bullpen. Monday night he gave up a home run to the first Met he faced and on Wednesday he walked his first batter. In both cases he set down the side immediately after the hiccup. Still  . . .

Nats Bats, Gio Mash The Apples

April 3rd, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Washington stroked thirteen hits, including four from Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez notched his first win of the season as the Nationals downed the Mets at Citi Field, 5-1. Gio Gonzalez also contributed a home run, his third of his career, in the top of the 5th inning.

Manager Matt Williams worried about a letdown after the Nationals took the opener on Tuesday, but the home towners seemed primed from their opening win. “They were ready to go today,” Williams said after the victory, “which was great.” The victory came off of Mets starter, 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who gave up nine hits and three runs in six innings.

Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand, looked in mid-season form. Battling against an ump with a low strike zone (and showing frustration with some of the calls), Gonzalez successfully eluded some tough innings, helped by some slick fielding — which included a Bryce Harper throw from left field that nabbed a spring Ruben Tejada in the bottom of the 6th.

“The things he can do with that arm are pretty special,” Ian Desmond said of the Harper throw. “Your instincts tell you what a normal outfielder can do, not one with a Bazooka.”

Washington youngster Tanner Roark will wrap up the New York series for the Nationals at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon — after which the Nationals will play their home opener on Friday versus Atlanta.

 

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Let us now praise Kyle Farnsworth. Nats’ fans are familiar with the big (6-4, 230 pounds) righty, who broke into the majors with the Chicago Cubs in 1999 and has since served stints with Pittsburgh, Kansas City, the Yanks, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and (as we saw last night) the New York Stinking Mets . . .

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The Good News From Opening Day

April 1st, 2014  / Author: admin

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Among this season’s changes to Centerfield Gate is that we have decided to use our posters real names. In addition, as our readers will see in the weeks ahead, we have several new features — including “Nationals Scorebook” in which we will post (on Facebook) key details and the actual scoring of select games.

And we have new contributors. CFG’s newest writer is Jason Knobloch, a veteran Nats’ watcher. This is his first post-game commentary, but certainly not his last:

The Nationals 9-7 win in New York carried with it plenty of good news for Nationals’ fans — poised prematurely (it would seem) to celebrate what could be a banner season. F.P Santangelo called it right: the Nats needed to get past Mets’ starter Dillon Gee and into New York’s bullpen. That said, until the very end of the game the Anacostia Nine didn’t have enough quality at-bats, and Gee lasted long than he should have.

The Nationals bullpen gave up two home runs and three RBIs, but it was still outstanding. Drew Storen looked particularly impressive (and like his old self — some of which we saw at the end of last year) and Aaron Barrett had a quality major league debut. He’s a keeper: two strikeouts. And despite the struggles of Jeremy Blevins, it’s worth noting that he set down three swing-throughs.

Stephen Strasburg kept the Nationals in the game (the job, ultimately, of any good starter) — but this was hardly his best outing. Stras has added a fifth pitch, a slider, and it was outstanding and certainly well beyond what a new pitch might look like this early in the season.

With Strasburg’s curve and change-up, the slider will be yet another pitch that will add punctuation to the ace’s real weapon, and overpowering fastball. That’s quite an arsenal, particularly when the right’s velocity returns (it won’t take long) to what it should be.

Danny Espinosa provided real value in his first game back in the majors from late season (2013) Triple A. His at-bat as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning kept the team alive and (batting from the left side) the former starting second sacker looked more relaxed that he did last year.

And there’s this: if’s Zim’s shoulder gets tweaky again or if he’s moved to first, its likely that Matt Williams can have confidence in who he slots in to second and third, a point bolstered by Anthony Rendon’s performance late in the game: a three run shot that (as it turns out) the Nationals needed.

Ray Knight got it right (as usual) during Nats Xtra — the Nationals of last season, and especially the Nats of early last season, would probably not have won this game. That doesn’t mean the team is assured of any early run away from the rest of the division, but it’s a good sign.

 

 

 

 

 

Nats Late Rally Downs New Yorkers In Flushing

March 31st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Mets fans met all of our expectations on Opening Day, oohing and aahing on every Madoff pitch, but then booing their home town boys in the 10th inning, as the Nationals rallied to win their first game of the season, and their first under new Nationals’ manager Matt Williams, 9-7.

“You just can’t underestimate the fight in this ball club,” MASN’s color man F.P. Santangelo said just before the bottom of the final frame. “The team reflects the attitude of their manager.” That may be, but a lot of what the Nationals’ did on Monday looked a lot like what they did last year. The team struggled against Dillon Gee (New York’s resident Nats’ killer), but then made the New York bullpen look exactly like what it’s been in the last few seasons: Lousy.

The Nationals also got a solid, if sometimes uneven, start from Stephen Strasburg, who gave up four runs in six innings, including a first inning three run home run to Mets left fielder Andrew Brown (who?). But Washington’s power righty settled down for the rest of the game, striking out ten while giving up just five hits. “He settled down in the third,” manager Williams said after the game, before he shrugged: “He threw a fastball and Brown got it. That happens.”

 

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This might be standard operating procedure for the Nationals (Strasburg needs to settle down, Bryce Harper slid into the knee of a Mets’ infielder and early reports indicate that Wilson Ramos likely bruised a bone in his hand), but the team is as solid this year as it was last — when it finished as also-rans to the Bravos.

Yeah, well, here’s the deal (even if a single game doesn’t really show it): The Nationals are better this year than last, and not by a little bit.

Which is why the Nationals fans have a season to look forward to: Danny Haren in now in Los Angeles (and, phew, Edwin Jackson is still in Chicago), Doug Fister is the team’s new back-of-the-rotation ace (when he comes off the disabled list), and Jeremy Blevins (who gave up a tenth inning home run to David What’s-His-Name) solidifies the bullpen. And there’s this: Adam LaRoche hit an April home run, Anthony Rendon parked a fast ball in left field in the 10th and Danny Espinosa looked relaxed at the plate.

Then there’s rookie Aaron Barrett, who notched his first win as a National, and his first win as a major leaguer. The fastball-slider specialist (he spent last year at Harrisburg Double A), struck out two in a single inning of work, which ought to give Nationals fans hope that this year’s bullpen is a lot better than the one they saw in 2013. That alone would be a major improvement, and could make the biggest difference in the race for the N.L. East pennant.

And We’re Back: It’s been 183 days and at least eighteen major snowfalls (well . . .) since the Nationals last appeared on the field, and it’s about damned time. As we predicted before the end of last season (we can’t help praising ourselves, for who else will do it), Matt Williams has taken over the helm of the team, which ought to provide some fireworks as we go along . . .

Williams gained a reputation as a nose-in-the-dirt player, a legacy he carried into Arizona, which is perhaps the N.L.’s premier scrapping team. We don’t expect Williams to tell his players to pick fights, but gone are the days when Davey would shake his head at bean ball artists and odor-inducing umpire calls . . .

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The Nats Head Home After An 86-76 Season

September 30th, 2013  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals finished their season in Arizona with a loss to the Diamondbacks, 3-2. In many ways the loss was representative of what the team had done all season: entering the eighth inning with a one run lead, the Nationals’ bullpen gave up two runs to an Arizona team they’d beaten handily in the previous two outings.

While the game was the last in a season that saw the Nats drop out of contention for the N.L. East title back in June and July, the team came back in September with a run at the Wild Card. The key to the Nationals resurgence was a revived offense and pitching contributions from unlikely rookies, including Tanner Roark, who held the D-Backs to just three hits in seven innings on Sunday.

“I feel I can play up here for sure. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Roark said after his performance on Sunday. “Just workout in the offseason, do my best and come back ready to go in spring training.” Roark has been outstanding since arriving in the majors in early August: he finished at 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 11.

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The final game of the season also marked Davey Johnson’s last game as the Nats’ manager. “Time to go home,” Johnson said after the game. “Put me out to pasture.” The Nationals praised their 70-year-old skipper, with Tyler Clippard noting that a good manager “builds confidence in his players and we benefited from that because he never wavered, no matter how good or bad you were doing.”

Johnson was philosophical about what is apparently the end of his career, choosing to bypass comments on the Nationals’ season. “I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” he told the press after the Arizona loss. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: An 86-76 record would have sparked celebrations in Washington just a few years ago, but the Nationals (picked by many as the premier team in the National League) must be disappointed. Even so, there is good reason for celebrating a season that saw the Nationals finish ten games out of the hunt in the N.L. East . . .

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