Posts Tagged ‘Austin Kearns’

Melee In Miami

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

There are lots of Nats’ fans who think that Nyjer Morgan has a screw loose — but his scrum in Miami last night (perhaps, as one reader writes, “he misses hockey”), makes for exciting baseball. And it shows that the Nats (first in war, first in peace and still last in the NL Least) have a bit of life left in them. Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman defended Morgan, particularly after the Marlins took umbrage with his decision to steal second and third with the Nats down ten runs — a no-no that’s considered a cheapy in baseball’s Book of Unwritten Rules. Of course, not everyone agrees with that, in part because no one has ever actually seen the book — but because the “rule” is a bunch of hooey. “My feeling has always been, if you hit somebody, you did what you set out to do,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said after the game. “If he decides to run on you, that’s his business. I have no problem with that at all. We decide when we run. The Florida Marlins don’t decide when we run. Nobody decides when we run.”

The Miami melee began after, having already been hit once (the result of Nyjer’s decking of the Marlins’ catcher on a play at the plate on Tuesday), Florida starter Chris Volstad threw behind the Nats’ center fielder. Morgan charged the mound and in the ensuing one-on-one (Morgan threw a roundhouse left at Volstad, as both benches emptied), Marlins’ first baseman Gaby Sanchez clothes-lined the Curacao native. “When I saw [Morgan] running out, obviously, he’s not coming out there to talk,” Volstad said. “I was just trying to defend myself and not get hurt. Gaby had my back. The whole team had my back. Everyone was there. It’s just part of the game.” The fight (and Morgan’s decking of Marlins catcher Brett Hayes), resulted in six ejections (Jim Riggleman and reliever Doug Slaten were ejected later in the game — after Slaten plunked cheap-shot artist Gaby Sanchez) and will likely result in suspensions and fines for those most involved.

The Marlins say the bad blood between the teams is now behind them (“I know it’s over for me,” Marlins third sacker Wes Helms said. “I hope it is for these other guys”), but there’s bound to be some lingering irritations — the Nats and Marlins play regularly as N.L. East rivals, and neither Morgan nor Sanchez are the forgive-and-forget types. In the wake of the dust-up, Nats’ commentators were quick to criticize Morgan. Mark Zuckerman said we all should have seen this coming, and described Morgan’s behavior over the last two weeks as “sad and predictable.” Ben Goessling, meanwhile, speculates that it’s all but inevitable that the Nats will part with Morgan. Goessling adds, correctly we think, that Morgan brings an energy to the game that the Nats need. FJB says that “Nyjer needs to go” while Dan Steinberg points out that one of Morgan’s less endearing traits is his tendency to jaw with fans.

All of that is undoubtedly true: Nyjer Morgan can’t be allowed to carry on a dialogue with fans and Riggleman was right to bench him for purposely and unnecessarily elbowing the Cards catcher here in D.C. last week. And despite Zuckerman’s correct judgment (that we should have seen this coming — and we did), there’s need for a little perspective: it’s not a given that Morgan’s collision with Hayes was intended to injure (it probably wasn’t) and Nyjer took his medicine when he was hit the first time by Volstad (he had it coming and he knew it — and trotted to first with nary a second thought). But a second attempt to plunk the plucky center fielder is over the line — as Jim Riggleman, holding a single digit and yelling “one time” at the Marlins manager — showed. And Gaby Sanchez’s clotheslining (which brought oohs and ahhs from the Marlins’ clubhouse) of Morgan is not a sign of Sanchez’s fighting prowess, it was a cheap and thuggish blindside shot. Doug Slaten figured that out, and responded. And rightly so.

Washingtonians have short memories. Last year nearly everyone (including MASN’s Bob Carpenter and his dearly departed sidekick) were telling us how crappy a player Alberto Gonzalez was — this year we can’t get enough of him. Austin Kearns was the fair-haired boy when he came here from hog heaven, but lost his fans when he snapped a tendon and tried to play through it. Remember? We couldn’t get enough of Nyjer last year, when he was the best Nats player in September and ignited a team that didn’t look like it cared. And while we can roll our eyes at Morgan’s “Tony Plush” put-on, he is (by all accounts) a tough team player who wants to win. Now we’re all calling for his head. And why? Because he did this last week what Pete Rose did his entire career. So — yeah — the Nats will part ways with Nyjer this winter, but they shouldn’t do it before then and they shouldn’t do it because he bangs into opponents while playing the game. They should do it for the right reason: because Roger Bernadina is a better hitter and a better fielder. Give me a break: teams don’t win because they are filled with good citizens, they win because they have good players.

Kearns Haunts Nats

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

The Austin Kearns revival continues in Cleveland, as the former Nat and sometime slugger belted out two home runs in leading the Indians to a 7-2 victory over the Washington Nine at Progressive Field. Kearns, who was hobbled by injuries during his time in Washington, is now leading the Naps in BA — and anchoring an otherwise punchless front nine that is having difficulty competing in the AL Central. Kearns’ success is one of the bright spots for first year Tribe manager Manny Acta, who helped bring Kearns to Cleveland and then watched him win a spot in the regular line-up. “Austin is the ultimate pro, a throwback,” Acta said after the Cleveland win. “He’s a professional who never gives away an at-bat. He went into Spring Training fighting for a spot, waited for his opportunity and has taken advantage of it.  He’s a coach’s dream.”

Kearns’ victim was Washington rookie pitcher Luis Atilano, who allowed three runs in the first, and never seemed to settle down. Atilano threw five innings of seven hit ball, but never mastered the Naps front nine. “I wasn’t commanding my sinker to the righties,” Atilano said of his outing. “I was more outside — middle in a little bit.” Tyler Walker was also shaky in pitching two complete innings of relief, giving up two hits and a run in facing nine batters. Doug Slaten finished the game for the Nats. The indifferent mound work and the inability of the Nats to feed off of their long-ball heroics against the Pirates, ended the Anacostia Nine’s three game winning streak, sending the team to two games under .500. The Nats face off against the Indians on Saturday, with Washington youngster J.D. Martin set to start against Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona.

The Riggleman Order: Nats skipper Jim Riggleman shook up the batting order for the first game against the Tribe, hitting Ivan Rodriguez in the second spot, starting Willie Harris in left and slotting Josh Willingham as the DH. There were apparently good reasons for this; then too, Riggleman constantly massages his batting order — this isn’t the first time that Pudge has batted second. And the 38-year-old continues to hit, no matter where he bats. That’s not true for Willie Harris, whose time on the roster is increasingly cause for concern (he hitting a whopping .168) — but Rigs keeps running him out there. Maybe he’s a long lost cousin or something . . . There must be a good reason why Alberto Gonzalez continues to wear a hole in the bench. With Kennedy and Guzman switching off at second and Ryan Zimmerman healthy, there isn’t much room to play Gonzo, but running him out to the on-deck circle as a PH and then pulling him back — to be replaced by Harris — is puzzling. Is Willie Harris really a better hitter? . . .

Some of the glitter has worn off Adam Kennedy, who booted a ball against the Tribe. Rigs says that that’s the result of not having steady playing time, a good enough (and probably accurate) explanation. Kennedy was a steady-as-she-goes fielder in both Anaheim and St. Louis, though no one would ever confuse him with a gold glover. We suspect that this leaves Riggleman in a kind of quandry: the team needs Guzman’s bat, but he’s a deficit at both second and (even more so) in right, while Kennedy has yet to hit his stride in the batter’s box . . .I keep coming back to Harris. While it’s true that Harris will never “find his stroke” by sitting the bench, how likely is it that (after 52 games and 95 at bats) Willie will suddenly become Lou Gehrig? Or Alberto Gonzalez? Or even Mario Mendoza? Harris has never hit over .270 in a season, and that was three years ago in Atlanta. Maybe it’s time for Rigs to rethink his role . . .

Lannan Vs. Halladay

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals deals a pitch against the New York Yankees on June 17, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

John Lannan says he’s ready for Opening Day and he better be: he faces new Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay. “As a pitcher, you would like to face the best, and I want to face the Phillies,” Lannan says. “I want to go against the toughest guys and really compete. It’s going to be exciting. Either way, I wanted that [Opening Day] game so I can make up for last year, and I definitely want to do better than last year.” Lannan opened for the Nats last year, in Florida, and struggled: he pitched three innings and gave up six runs. You might recall that game — it was an Emilio Bonifacio runfest. It looked then that Bonifacio would be the bane of the Nationals for the year, and proof positive that the trade that had sent him to Florida (for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham) was a bust.

It was anything but. After a quick start, Bonifacio tailspinned, ending the year with a .252 BA and one home run. Willingham, meanwhile, sat the bench and Scott Olsen struggled, eventually going down with arm trouble. By the end of May the trade seemed a wash, at best – the swap of a still-developing kid (with minor leaguers Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean) for two mediocre piece players who just couldn’t get going. But as it turned out, it was only a matter of time before Austin Kearns played himself out of a job (earning a well-deserved ticket to Cleveland), while Willingham became a fixture in left field. Olsen, meanwhile, showed flashes of brilliance and is now, albeit tentatively, penciled in as a candidate to be DC’s fifth starter.

Willingham’s the story here, not Lannan. The Marlins’ 17th round draft pick is starting his seventh major league season, and is likely just starting to peak. When Kearns did his “oh the humanity“ routine in late May of last year, Willingham was ready — hitting a very average, but very respectable, .260 in 133 games, with 24 dingers and 61 RBIs. You have to wonder what he might have done with an earlier start, and a more workmanlike September (when he tanked). Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham became the heart of the Nats order for 2009 and you have to believe that, with just a little more oomph, the trio might have transformed itself into a Half Street version of Murders’ Row. Which is only to say that, one year later, the trade that sent the young speedster to Florida for Willingham and Olsen looks pretty good: if Josh can pick up where he was last August — and if Olsen can be the pitcher the Nats supposed when they brought him north.

100 Losses

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Just before losing a back-and-forth tussle with the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Thursday (final score: 7-6), the Nats front office apparently decided it was time to start preparing for next year. The things-are-looking-up offensive had the distinct odor of being planned to coincide with the Nats’ 100th in-season loss, a kind of Mendoza line for franchise futility. The “let’s talk up the good news” program included an on-line fan exchange featuring Mike Rizzo, a fan appreciation reception just before the Nats game with the Dodgers, a website feature on Ryan Zimmerman’s amazing season, and select “don’t worry, we’re on the right road” post game quotes from Jim Riggleman and company. “I’m just so proud of these guys,” Riggleman said after the Dodgers loss. “With exception of a ballgame or two — from the All-Star break on — we have been outstanding in terms of effort and attitude. Our fans responded to the energy on the field . . .  The Dodgers are going to popping champagne any day and we [are going to be right there soon].”

Well, maybe. Nats fans continue to show up at the ballpark, but Mike and Company shouldn’t be fooled: the team is on a short leash. Good teams are strong up the middle, but successful franchises are characterized by strong front offices. This 100 loss season can be put down to bad pitching and poor play, but Nats fans know that the most chilling aspect of ’09 didn’t take place on the field. Last January (four months to go before opening day) the Nats’ brain trust had already decided that Joel Hanrahan would be the closer, that its young pitchers were ready to carry the team to respectability, that there was no need to sign a strong glove to anchor a shaky infield, that Dmitri Young would return to provide clubhouse leadership — that Lastings Milledge was on his way to stardom. When Jim Bowden resigned as the team G.M., he predicted “a championship season.”

It’s possible to be wrong about a player, to spend too much money signing a prospect, to make a bad trade, to over value a free agent — that happens to the best teams and it’s forgivable. But to pin your hopes on the bats of Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Dmitri Young and the arms of Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera is beyond strange. It’s nearly perverse. The Washington Nationals ’09 campaign is a “lost season” not simply because the team lost 100 games (though, there’s that) but because the team spent the first three months of the season building what it should have been building for the last five years: a group of development experts and talent assessors who are capable of being honest about what’s on the field. So let’s not mistake what happened yesterday: the front office of the Washington Nationals decided to divert our attention from what has been happening on the field – and for good reason.

Gutted

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The Washington Nationals defeated the Florida Marlins 6-4 Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Adam Dunn hit the big blow in the six run eighth inning. The win was the Nats third in a row. Florida’s right-handed ace, Josh Johnson, dominated the Nats for seven innings, but the Nats’ half of the eighth opened with three straight hits. Willie Harris, Alberto Gonzalez and Wil Nieves led off the eighth with three straight singles. Pinch hitter Ronnie Belliard followed with a double, driving in two. Nyjer Morgan followed with a grounder to the right side, which scored Nieves. Cristian Guzman followed with a single that scored Nieves to tie the game. That’s when Dunn stepped to the plate and stroked an opposite field ball into the left field stands. Mike MacDougal closed out the game.

AD's two run HR wins it for Nats (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

AD's two run HR wins it for Nats (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Down On Half Street:Droog” D. Willy writes that he is blown away by Nats’ relief star Tyler Clippard. Clippard is emerging as the Nat’s stopper out of the bullpen. In Pittsburgh on Monday, Clippard worked out of a no-outs bases loaded jam, then turned in another two innings of no-hit two strikeout ball to give the Nats enough to sink the Ahoys, 8-4 . . . the Nats win tonight is not only their third in a row, each of them have been come-from behind wins . . . How good is the Nats bullpen? The change-over from the beginning of the season seems complete, and the results show it. The biggest change has come recently, with the addition of Sean Burnett and the new confidence shown by Logan Kensing.  Dave Sheinin writes: “The Nationals’ bullpen is a combined 5-1 with a 3.23 ERA and a .224 opponents’ batting average since the all-star break . . .”

Tomorrow afternoon NL East Chatter will feature CFG’s take on the trade deadline, the outlook for our Anacostia Boys, and what scares us about the Marlins. It took a couple of hours of thinking to find an answer that last question . . . Ryan Zimmerman sat out Tuesday’s game with a sore left shoulder, the result of being HBP by Jolly Roger pitcher Charlie Morton on Monday. Zim says he’ll be back, perhaps as early as tomorrow. That’s okay, if he doesn’t play third we can always use Belliard over there . . .  

Austin Kearns is headed to the DL with a sore right thumb. That’s too bad, we’ll miss his defense in right field. The Nats have called up Jorge Padilla from Syracuse to take his place. Originally a third round draft pick of the Phillies in 1998, Padilla is a veteran of the minor leagues, having ping-ponged his way from low single-A to Syracuse, while at the same time changing organizations. He was with the Phillies, Mets and Royals before coming to the Nats, in early 2008 . . . Our friend at Curse of Bonds writes to say that he believes that “Chester Cheese” (a Pierogi), could outrace any “racing president” — with the possible exception of Teddy. I will leave that to the experts over at Let Teddy Win . . . In the wake of our article on all of those moving parts the Neal “The Deal” Huntington has shipped away from the steel city, the disenchantment has only grown worse in the land of Lastings Milledge. This from Curse of Bonds:

tradeemalltour

Kearns Clutch In Nats’ Win

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Austin Kearns’ tenth inning rightfield gapper scored Nyjer Morgan from second and the Washington Nationals sealed a two of three series victory over the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on Sunday. Kearns, who has been struggling all year, was mobbed by his teammates after the victory and was emotional, if soft-spoken, in a MASN post-game interview. Lefty John Lannan was brilliant through eight innings of five hit baseball, but the Nationals could not hold the lead, as closer Mike MacDougal gave up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Lannan was the Nats’ star, even to the point of outhitting his teammates — no one in the line-up was able to register more than one hit, excepting the lefty hurler, who recorded two. Lannan must now be considered one of the premier lefthanded pitchers in the NL: he threw 81 pitches, 59 for strikes in attempting to notch his eighth win. With the GWRBI, Kearns raised his season batting average to .201. Kearns was brought into right field as a defensive replacement by Nats interim-manager Jim Riggleman in the ninth.

Kearns Mobbed At Nats Park Sunday

Kearns Mobbed At Nats Park Sunday

 Down On Half Street: The Nats travel to Milwaukee for four against the Brewers, who are 7-14 in July while attempting to claw their way to the top of the NL Central standings. There’s no doubt the Beer Makers can hit, the question is whether their starting pitching can stand up over the stretch run. Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper and Manny Parra (6.42) have been struggling, though the best among them (Gallardo) sports a 3.09 ERA . . . Anderson Hernandez was a surprise starter for the Nats at second on Sunday, perhaps a purposeful vote of confidence from Jim Riggleman after Washington Post reporter Bill Orem reported that Riggleman had said that Hernandez was not the team’s future at second base. “We’ve kind of come to the conclusion, whether we’re right or wrong, that Anderson is best going to help this organization as a utility player,” Riggleman told Orem . . .

Nats first baseman Dmitri Young tore his left quad in a game at Harrisburg on July 18, Nationals Journal is reporting, and “is likely finished as a Nat” . . . In what was probably Roy Halladay’s last start in Toronto, on Friday, the Blue Jays drew 24,161 fans. The Blue Jays were playing Tampa Bay. That same day, the worst team in baseball (that would be the Nats) drew only 3,000 fewer. They were playing the Padres, the second worst team in the National League. Earlier this year, Baseball Tonight’s Tim Kurkjian questioned whether Washington could support a major league franchise. Do you suppose Tim will ask the same question about Toronto? After all, the Nats are outdrawing the Blue Jays, who are three games under .500. The Nats, meanwhile, are 39 games under .500 . . . First round draft pick Drew Storen is burning up the minor leagues and has been promoted from low-A Hagerstown to high-A Potomac . . .