Posts Tagged ‘Adam LaRoche’

April’s Unlikely “Derby”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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Monday was home run day in Major League Baseball. In Miami, on their way to a 9-2 crushing of the wayward Miami Marlins (the fish have now lost eight in a row), Washington’s Tyler Moore and Sandy Leon hit dingers (it was Leon’s first ever), while the Marlins got their second run on a moon shot from Garrett Jones.

In Anaheim, where the A’s played the Belinskis, John Jaso’s pinch hit home run topped the Halos, but only after Albert Pujols put his 496th career round tripper into the Anaheim stratosphere. That was the second game of ESPN’s nightly offering, which led off with a head-shaking match-up between the Braves and Phillies.

The Braves-Phillies tilt was nearly unwatchable until the 8th inning, when Dominic Brown’s three run blast sent Philadelphia to what seemed an unlikely late-inning victory. That was not the story, as it turned out: Atlanta had scored its runs on back-to-back-to-back skyballs in the previous frame, courtesy of Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, then went on to beat the Ponies in the 9th, when Dan Uggla homered.

Even then (with Washington, Miami, Oakland, Anaheim, Atlanta and Philadelphia all going long), April’s most impressive home run derby took place in Cincinnati, where the stinking Reds and mighty Pirates put ten (count ‘em) ten balls over the fence. It was a sight to behold: Pittsburgh had three sets of back-to-back home runs, while Cincinnati hit four solo shots. Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez hit two, as did Neil Walker.

Ironically, while home runs played vital roles in all of these match-ups, the Cincinnati derby (at the Great American Bandbox, so there’s that) counted for nothing, with the game suspended in the 7th inning due to rain. Don’t think it was impressive? Take a look at this:

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So? So what the hell is going on? Right here would be a good time for some statistical analysis, reputedly showing that April 14 was a “statistical anomaly” — an argument any old wag could make except that nearly every game in baesball (or so it seems) provides some kind of “statistical anomaly.”

Last year at about this time, baseball writers were going on about how 2013 was the “year of the pitcher” (when I was younger, the year of the pitcher was 1968). By June of last year, it was official, with analysts pointing out that over a period of five years the majors had seen 18 no hitters and six perfect games.

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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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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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Desmond HR Saves Nats Series

Monday, April 7th, 2014

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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 #4: Braves 2 Nationals 1

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

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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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The Good News From Opening Day

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

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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.