Posts Tagged ‘Brian Bruney’

Rockies Take Series, Storen Arrives

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Scott Olsen’s steady mound presence and ability to pitch out of jams could not save the Nats from a three game losing streak, as Washington dropped three out of four games in Colorado. The final contest, played before over 40,000 Rockies fans at Coors Field, resulted in an itchy close Rockies 2-1 victory. The Nats bats were hardly silent (both Cristian Guzman and newly activated Mike Morse went 2-3), but the Anacostia Nine could not get runs when they needed them, leaving a whopping twenty runners on base. The difference was Jeff Francis, who pitched for the first time since September of 2008. The Rockies’ ace gave up seven hits over seven innings in notching his first 2010 victory. He looked like the Jeff Francis of old, getting outs when he needed them, and throwing his patented sweeping breaking ball that confused Nats hitters. But Scott Olsen was even better, giving up five hits in 6.2 innings pitched. The difference was a late-inning sacrifice fly against overworked reliever Tyler Clippard, who has been victimized recently.

Rumors began to circulate just after the Colorado game ended that the Nats would call up Drew Storen for the series against the Cardinals, which is scheduled to begin on Monday. Storen, a first round draft pick in 2009 (tenth overall) has been touted as the Nats’ closer-of-the-future. A product of Stanford University, Storen signed quickly with the Nats after the draft and climbed effortlessly through the Nats farm system — with a 1.11 ERA and fifteen strikeouts in just over 16 innings pitched during stints at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. By the end of Sunday night Storen was on the way and former Yankee Brian Bruney was shipped to Syracuse. While taking responsibility for being ineffective, Bruney did not take the news well, saying that he would have to decide whether to report to Syracuse, or seek work elsewhere. “Where I go from here, I don’t know,” Bruney told reporters after hearing the news. “I guess only time will tell.

While the arrival of Storen has been widely anticipated, it seems unlikely that Jim Riggleman will use him either as a closer or in long relief: not only has Matt Capps proven an effective ninth inning arm (he leads the league in saves), it’s unlikely the Washington front office will rush Storen into close games, bringing him along slowly and using him in situations where he can build his confidence. But the Nats desperately need someone to pitch in the 6th and 7th innings — a job that was originally given to Bruney. It seems likely that the Nats will rely on Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett,  Doug Slaten and (though to a much lesser extent) Miguel Batista, to provide a bridge to Tyler Clippard, or to spell him as necessary from constant 8th inning work. Clippard, who has been outstanding, has recently been fraying at the edges, pitching in 26 innings in 19 appearances.

Rocky Mountain Low

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

You can be sure that the Oakland Athletics rue the day they traded outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to the Colorado Rockies. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has forged a torrid path to the top of the NL’s list of “most promising young outfielders,” hitting above .320 for most of the season and providing badly needed stability in the Rockies’ outfield. And while Gonzalez was only 2-8 in Colorado’s double tilt against the Nats on Saturday, his ten total bases were more than worrying: every time a Nats pitcher turned around there he was, dancing off some base. So while the narrative of the Nats double loss in Colorado on Saturday may rightly focus on the Livan Hernandez-Ubaldo Jimenez pitcher’s duel in the first game and the follow-on skittish play of a young Nats infield in the second, it’s hard for Nats fans to shake the feeling that if Luis Atilano had pitched Gonzalez a little closer in the third inning of the second tilt, “CarGo” would not have lifted one of his pitches (his fourth of the year) into the seats. The Gonzalez homer in the second game set up a three run third inning that made the Nats fight from behind for the rest of the night.

The twin losses in Colorado on Saturday put a pause on the endless praise for the Nats starting rotation. The starting five of Hernandez, Stammen, Lannan, Atilano and Olsen have been better than expected (in fact, much better than expected), but other teams in other divisions are as good — and, in some cases, much better. It’s hard to take issue with Colorado’s entry into these pitching sweepstakes. While Colorado fans (and the Rockies’ front office) are critical of Jason Hammel’s 2010 showing (and his 7.71 ERA), it’s awfully difficult to criticize Hammel for what he did against the Nats on Saturday, giving up three runs over seven innings in a steady, if unspectacular, outing. If Hammel can build off of that success the Helton’s will boast a rotation of Jimenez, Cook, Chacin, Hammel and a returning Jeff Francis — once one of the best young left handers in the game. Then too, Colorado is awaiting the return of closer Huston Street (who arrived in Denver, with Gonzalez, in that trade with the White Elephants) and Jorge De La Rosa — the hero of Colorado’s second half comeback in 2009. The Friars and McCovey’s currently lead the NL West, but if Francis returns to form and Street and De La Rosa pick up where they left off, the Rockies will be there in September.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Nats’ lefty Sean Burnett was visibly irritated last Monday after Jim Riggleman lifted him after he’d pitched to one batter in Washington’s 3-2 win in New York. The former Ahoy had pitched sparingly up to that point, apparently viewed as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. But since then, Burnett has been one of Washington’s featured relievers. On Saturday, Burnett threw two innings in relief of Atilano (his longest outing of the year) and has lowered his ERA a full point over the last seven days. You have to wonder if Burnett said something to Riggleman. Something like “Hey skipper — do you really think I’m less effective than Brian Bruney? . . .

Not only is the right field platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras a thing of the past, so too is Willy Taveras. The veteran outfielder was designated for assignment on Saturday, and has to decide whether to accept the assignment or file for free agency. He said he would let the team know after talking to his family. The Harris-Taveras platoon (which ended even before it began) will be replaced by a Roger Bernadina-Mike Morse platoon, but our bet here at CFG is that that won’t last either. If Bernadina stops hitting (and, quite frankly, he probably will), the job will be given to Morse, a former Mariner and Riggleman favorite. Morse has been out since April with a left calf strain.

Nats-Fish Focus On Relievers

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

While Craig Stammen and the surprising Matt Chico provided strong outings in facing the Florida Marlins, neither pitcher was able to notch a win — with both the Nats and the Marlins depending on relievers to provide much-need wins. Stammen was steady in the Nats loss to the Fish on Friday, but the young righty’s strong start was not enough for the Nats, as they dropped a very winnable 4-2 decision. The loss was the result of a middle-innings collapse engineered by a Marlins line-up that fed off a shakey eighth inning by reliever Brian Bruney. Just as Stammen was strong in his start on Friday, Matt Chico (recently recalled from Double-A Harrisburg) provided Washington with a solid five-inning outing in their Saturday face-off against the Fish: but once again the game was decided by relievers, as the Nats notched a 5-4 victory in the eighth on a Adam Dunn HBP served up by Florida reliever Burke Badenhop.

The tale of the two games focused on relievers — and their failures. Brian Bruney was the focus of the Nats loss on Friday, as the former Yankee was unable to provide solid relief behind Stammen. With the game tied at 2 in the top of the eighth, Bruney couldn’t keep the Fish off the board: “I put myself in a situation where it was not good,” Bruney said after the Friday loss. “I feel I’m building and I’m getting better. I’m going to go out there tomorrow, hopefully, and things will be different. Tonight wasn’t my night. Unfortunately, I let a bunch of guys down and that is not a good feeling.” Bruney has appeared in fifteen games, but has been unable to keep baserunners off first: walking eighteen batters and registering a 6.00 ERA in his fifteen innings of work. The walks are disturbing — reminiscent of last year’s 103 loss bullpen collapse. “He needs to find a way to relax out there,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said of Bruney. “We’ve had those conversations with him. It’s up to him. He has to find a way to throw strikes and quality strikes. It has been a battle up to this point.”

The Nats are still counting on Bruney to right himself and be a proven addition the rest of the season. But keeping Bruney as the team’s 7th inning set-up man is an experiment that has clearly ended. The Nats have apparently handed the ball to Sean Burnett for the 7th, after calling up Doug Slaten from Triple-A Syracuse. Slaten, a former D-Back, has only appeared in 80.2 innings of relief work — but his recall will add another lefty to the bullpen, freeing up Burnett from facing only left-handed hitters. The front office is apparently unwilling to bring relief phenom Drew Storen to Washington, preferring to give him more minor league work — but there’s little question the Indiana native and tenth overall pick in last year’s draft will be in Washington soon. Storen’s steady work in the minors has impressed the Nats’ brain trust, while being eclipsed by the outings of Nats star-in-waiting Stephen Strasburg.

The Nats will face off against the Marlins again on Sunday at Nats Park in the final game of the three game set, but will then head to New York to face the Mets.

Bruney Walk Sinks Nats In 10

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Nats’ reliever Brian Bruney walked home Cubs’ shortstop Ryan Theriot with the winning run in the bottom on the 10th inning on Monday night at Wrigley Field, leaving the Nats on the short end of a 4-3 contest. Bruney has had a tough go of it as a Nat: he has walked twelve hitters in 9.2 innings, while giving up seven hits. “It wasn’t my night,” Bruney said after the game. “The guys played good. I was only the one out there throwing that baseball when the run scored. I put this one on me. Unfortunately, this is not a good feeling to have in a locker room full of guys [playing hard] and you go out there and walk a guy to win the game. I’m obviously not happy with myself. We have to dig back in and grind for the next time.” If there was good news in the game, it is that the Nats were able to battle back from a 3-0 third inning deficit, with timely hitting from catcher Wil Nieves.

Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp. Cubs’ starter Carlos Silva walked in a run in the fourth inning, while Nats’ starter John Lannan walked the pitcher (Silva), in the second, to force in a run. But Lannan settled down to pitch six complete innings, what counts as a quality start. “I fell apart in the second [inning] and that can’t happen,” Lannan later told reporters. “The goal is to finish the game strong. I’m sick of having those mediocre innings when things get away from me. I never walked three in a row and I walked the pitcher with the bases loaded. That’s disappointing. I’m just battling every game so far. I’m not going to force it, but I’m waiting for it to click and have a strong outing from start to finish.” Nieves said that Lannan has yet to find his sinker.

The game — played in frigid and windy conditions — featured the second relief appearance of former starter Carlos Zambrano, who pitched an inning and two-thirds. MASN commentator Rob Dibble speculated on Zambrano’s troubles, saying that the Cubs’ ace looked like he was pushing the ball, and that he might be in pain. Zambrano has battled shoulder problems on-and-off since 2005, but the Cubs say there’s nothing wrong with the righty’s arm. And Cubs GM Jim Hendry dismissed reports that Zambrano’s demotion to the bullpen was a tactic designed to pressure him to give up his no-trade clause.”It has nothing to with what he gets paid, there’s no agenda at all except he was the best fit at the time,” Hendry said. “And I think we know now that’s the truth. He’s capable of doing it, and that’s a good thing.”

Well, maybe. But it’s going to be tough for the Cubs to pay a tweeky inconsistent starter what they owe Zambrano, even if he turns out to be effective as a middle reliever. The Cubs are due to pay the righty $17.875 million in 2010 and 2011, $18 million in 2012 and the former ace has a $19.25 million player option in 2013. Zambrano’s name has come up in trade talks before: most recently in a much-speculated swap with the Yankess and, at the end of 2009, as a part of a trade with the crosstown White Sox for former Padre Jake Peavy. It seems unlikely that Zambrano’s troubles this April would make him as attractive for some teams as he was during the off-season, but there’s no doubt that if the Cubs actively asked around theyd’ find some takers. Zambrano, meanwhile, is under the impression that his stay in Chicago’s bullpen is temporary, pending the Cubs’ search for an 8th inning setup man. On Monday, Zambrano (6.85 ERA) said he was “okay” with his new role.

Sure.

Phillies Roll, 14-7

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Craig Stammen pitched batting practice to the Philadelphia Phillies last night, giving up seven hits and seven runs in less than two innings. The ponies eventually won the contest, 14-7. Washington has yet to solve the Phillies’ line-up, which has touched Nats’ pitching for 45 runs in five games. “I just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Stammen said, after the game. “I threw a lot of stuff in the zone and over the plate. [My offspeed stuff is] breaking good, but I can’t throw them for strikes. … It’s very disappointing to let a lead slip away real quickly. Then again, I’ve had many pitching coaches and even the one I have right now [Steve McCatty] said this happens.”

Nats relievers didn’t fare much better: Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney were roughed up, with Bruney the most exploited victim — the former Yankee now has a 13.50 ERA in his time in Washington. The Phillies are now 7-1 on the season, which matches their best major league start since 1993. Washington used six pitchers during the contest. They gave up 14 runs on 14 hits, with 176 pitches thrown — a line that compares favorably with their pitching futility of 2009. The only reliever who pitched really well was rookie Jessie English, who gave up four hits but no runs in two-and-two-third innings. The Nationals finish their time in Philadelphia tonight, with a final match-up against the powerful Phillies’ line-up. The Nationals return home tomorrow to face the 3-5 Milwaukee Brewers.

It’s Jackie Robinson Day in Baseball: Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier 61 years ago today. The 1947 NL MVP and National League Rookie of the Year had a .311 lifetime batting average was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. The Nats will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at Nationals Park on Friday.

Another Bullpen Arm: Capps Signs With Nats

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Nationals fans will be forgiven if they now view Pittsburgh as part of the Washington franchise feeder system — a kind of waiting room for Nats-to-be. With the signing of reliever Matt Capps on early Thursday morning, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has added a third Ahoy to the rebuilding Nats: a trio that also includes fleet centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and lefty set-up whiz Sean Burnett. The new Nats relief corps is also expected to include aging former star Eddie “Everyday Eddie” Guardado, who once notched 45 saves with the always surprising Twinkies. While the Guardado signing is not final, it is expected soon. Capps, team officials say, is expected to compete for the job of closer with Bruney in Spring Training.

With the signing of Capps, Nats fans will go into the Christmas holidays knowing that (while everything else might collapse), the ballclub’s end-of-game options will include a set of potential closers that includes a young Yankee, a steady Bucco and (perhaps) an ageless wonder. Coupled with Burnett and Clippard, the Nats’ bullpen seems stronger now than it has since the departure of sore-armed closer Chad Cordero, felled by a labrum tear back in 2007. The signing of Capps probably ends Mike Rizzo’s off-season efforts to shore-up the Nats bullpen (barring a bit of tweaking here and there), leaving the Anacostia Nine with several more holes to plug: the addition of a middle-of-the-infield glove (the Nats are still interested in signing second sacker Orlando Hudson), an add-on in the starting rotation (Jon Garland is still an option — albeit one that seems to be fading) and (as we hope) the signing of a versatile bat-and-glove man that could play second, left, short and (under a worst case scenario) third. The Nats could (could!) go into Spring Training with a rotation of Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, John Lannan and Craig Stammen (or maybe what’s-his-name) and an infield that includes Mark DeRosa or Orlando Hudson — and (will wonders never cease) two steady catchers. It’s certainly not out of the question that the signing of either Hudson or DeRosa would include a trade (and salary dump) of Cristian Guzman, who has been making noises about not wanting to switch to second.

Don’t Let It Go To Your Head: Remember all the yacking about how this year’s free agent class was weak with few marquee (ahem) players? Well, maybe. But don’t tell the Phillies — who have solidified their reputation as the Yankees of the National League. While Mike Rizzo has been busy deftly filling holes in the bullpen, starting rotation and behind the plate (and others have been sucking their thumbs about the eventual destination of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday), the Ashburns have been busy getting stronger — adding Placido Polanco as their new third baseman and engineering a blockbuster trade for Roy Halladay. While a gaggle of analysts say that the Mariners were “the big winners” in the Halladay sweepstakes (nailing down Cliff Lee), that’s not the way it looks from our perch outside a snowed-in Nats Park, where the spectre of a Halladay-Hamels-Happ-Blanton front four makes the Phillies (with a Polanco-Rollins-Utley-Howard infield) the class of the National League. And the Phuzzies aren’t done . . .

But The Mets Might Be: Whatever happened to the Mets front office? While the silence in New York has Mets fans upset, our friends over at TRDMB cite Newsday reporter David Lennon’s claim that Mets’ fans should learn to appreciate Omar Minaya’s patience in going after the likes of Bay and Holliday. After all, Omar says, the Mets are not as attractive a destination as Philadelphia and these things take time. “It’s not that they [free agents] don’t want to come here,” Omar says, it’s that the timing didn’t work out. As for Halladay and Lackey — well, the Mets were never really in the running on Halladay and Lackey – and Lackey “blindsided” the Mets when he signed with the Red Sox. That son-of-a-bitch, what was he thinking? Don’t worry, Omar says. All of this can be explained, Omar says. “Players like going to situations where they can win,” Omar says. Never fear, Omar says, the Mets have a plan. “I like our plan,” Omar says.

Yikes.

A Marquis Signing

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Washington Nationals have signed Jason Marquis to a two year contract worth $15 million, the team announced today. The 31-year-old righthander was pursued by both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies — but the former Braves-Cards-Cubs-Rockies front-liner had said just two weeks ago that he would consider the Nats. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez probably did as much as the silver-tongued convictions of Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo: the Rodriguez signing was a needed first step in convincing baseballs’ 2009’s free agent class (and particularly the pitchers) that Washington had changed its ways and was committed to winning. What is so surprising about Marquis is that, despite his obvious talent, he has been kicked around to four teams in an otherwise solid career — he was 15-7 for the 2004 Redbirds, but was left off the postseason roster and 11-9 for the hardly pitch-rich 2008 Chicago Cubs, whose management spent the year bad-mouthing him.

The “Jason is good but not great” label and even “too inconsistent” (a puzzling tag given him by Cubs whiner Lou Piniella) shouldn’t bother the Nats, who need all kinds of things: an innings eater (Marquis consumed 216 frames last year with the Heltons), a mentor for their young pitching staff (he’s 31, they’re 14), someone who throws down in the zone (he’s a ground ball wizard), a history of good health (he has only flirted with the DL) , an experienced hand with all the right role models (Greg Maddux!) and an all around good citizen (three kids, one wife, no Milton Bradley software). There are things not to like about Marquis, I suppose: he’s not Walter Johnson (and never will be), but he’s also not  Daniel Cabrera. And he will come into Washington as the number one guy on the staff — something he’s never been. Then too, the Nats and Rizzo have been navigating the league’s treacherous off-season waters not only with sophistication (the Brian Bruney pick-up gives them a solid back-of-the-rotation stopper), but with something approaching actual insight. Rizzo has deftly ticked off a list of must-haves that, in the space of one month, has remade the team into a middle-of-the standings .500 club that has given the Nats something approaching league-wide respectability, something they haven’t had since the middle-of-the-decade.

There are skeptics: Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Nats overspent: ” . . .  this is an uninspired move by the Nationals,” he writes. “I understand that an innings-eater is needed to take pressure off young pitchers, but it’s likely that similar pitchers will be available in March at a fraction of the commitment.  Plus, unlike an Erik Bedard type gamble, Marquis doesn’t have upside.” Here’s what I take to be the rough translation: Marquis is not John Lackey (which is true enough) and he’s not a roll of the dice — which is precisely what (as the Seattle Navigators will tell you) Eric Bedard would bring, along with a stint on the 30, 45 or 60 day DL. Then too, as Tim must know, the inspired Cubs of 2008 deemed Marquis not good enough to stick with the club, choosing instead to spend their money elsewhere. They regretted the decision last June, when Marquis was lining himself up as Colorado’s best producer, while the Cubs were holding a tryout for Randy Wells.