The Chicago White Sox will announce tomorrow that they have signed free agent Adam Dunn. The Washington Nationals’ first baseman has made it clear that he does not want to DH, but his signing with the Pale Hose indicates that he is open to the possibility. His signing leaves the Washington Nationals with a void at first base. The current speculation is that the Nationals will now step up their pursuit of Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, or perhaps D-Back Adam LaRoche. Of course, it’s always possible that the Nats will decide to use Josh Willingham as their first baseman, or perhaps even Michael Morris — no matter how unlikely those two possibilities may now seem. The departure of Dunn brings an end to the Nationals’ front office debate on whether to keep Dunn because of his bat, or to let him walk because of his defensive liabilities. Chicago’s signing of Dunn is not a complete surprise. The White Sox have always been interested in the slugger, and the Nationals and Pale Hose were involved in intense discussions on Dunn prior to this season’s mid-summer trade deadline. Now — with Dunn walking — the Nationals will receive a supplementary first round pick in the first year player draft and Chicago’s 23rd overall pick in next year’s draft. Dunn, it is reliably reported, will sign a deal with Chicago far in excess of anything that he was offered with the Nationals: four years and $56 million. The Nats were reportedly only willing to offer him a three year contract. The signing of either Pena or LaRoche would be a step-up defensively for the Nationals, though Pena hit an anemic .196 for the Rays, while LaRoche (good around the bag, and with a quick glove), hit .261 — with 25 home runs.
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The best move the Washington Nationals made before the trading deadline was the one they didn’t. As the witching hour struck 4:00 pm, the Nationals front office didn’t budge — and thereby decided that keeping a fan-popular 35-to-40 home runs per year hitter in D.C. was better than moving him to Chicago for a sometimes-very-good and sometimes just so-so righthander. The news that Adam Dunn was staying in D.C. began to circulate 60 minutes before the deadline, with a variety of sports reporters (including SI’s Jayson Stark) saying that Dunn was staying put. Even so, there seems little doubt there was a last minute attempt to land the Nats bopper: the Pale Hose dangled newly acquired righty Edwin Jackson (the Nats wanted Jackson and prospects), while the Giants inquired about Dunn but thought the price (Jonathan Sanchez) was too steep.
Nationals’ G.M. Mike Rizzo was always hesitant to deal Dunn, the centerpiece of a formidable 3-4-5 line-up that features Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham. Even talk of trading Dunn caused consternation, with Zimmerman saying flatly that it would be a mistake to break-up the trio. Apparently team president Stan Kasten agreed. According to the MLB Network, Kasten (a Dunn partisan) met privately with the first baseman on Friday night to reassure the slugger that the Nats were doing everything they could to retain him. One of MLBN’s commentators described Kasten as “tearful” during his one-on-one talk with Dunn. Over at Nationals Daily News, Mike Henderson quotes Mike Rizzo as saying that the Nats “never got a deal that we thought was equal or greater value to Adam Dunn.” Good. There arn’t many every day major leaguers who can hit 35 to 45 home runs each year.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We here at CFG always attempt to respond to the flood of correspondence we receive from our dedicated readers. A recent missive upbraided us for our lack of coverage on the before game problems of what’s-his-name. “Dear editor:Â Three days later, how could CFG not write a single word about the biggest Nats story of the year — Stephen SoreArm?Â Â Are youÂ and your staff covering the team or not?Â At least offer a little commentary, or insight, or historical perspective on similar injuries . . . If nothing else, think about your foreign readers and their need-to-know…….. Sincerely, A concerned reader.” Hmmm. Point taken.
Okay, so here goes: we stayed away from “the kid’s” arm issue because, honestly, we don’t have a damn thing to add to what is already being said. Except that, oh yeah, we are attempting to sort through two conflicting views: that with a $15 million investment it’s hard to blame the Nats front office for playing it safe and (second), having said that we know that the very best way to protect “Stephen SoreArm” is not to pitch him at all. Put another way, we couldn’t decide between “phew, good move” and “oh c’mon.” Mmmmmm: whaddawegonnado? There’s an idea abroad in the land of baseball that today’s pitchers just aren’t as tough as the old codgers who used to pitch complete games and go entire careers without a complaint. The Warren Spahn-Juan Marichal game is cited as an example of this toughness.
But polemicists for this viewpoint fail to add that the era before rotator cuff surgery and bone chip removal is littered with the bodies of young hurlers who blew out their arms and had no recourse to bone marrow scoops or ligament replacement surgery. We here at CFG know one, for sure — who (designated as a power arm in the Kansas City A’sÂ rotation of 1959) blew out his arm and ended up coaching high school football. He had no choice. The reason we didn’t hear much about arm trouble in the good old days is that once you had arm trouble you had two choices — you could wait it out, or you could quit. Most times, you were simply finished. Which is to say: arm toughness isn’t the rule, it’s the exception and if there’s anything that can be done to save a young pitcher’s young arm early in his career, why then that ought to be done. The Nats are doing that and will continue to do that. But with this caveat: while the Nats have made an investment in Stephen Strasburg, they’ve also made an investment in winning baseball in D.C. Weighing the two is the challenge.
The biggest Nats news on Thursday was not the welcome pitching performance of Nats starter Scott Olsen, but the departure of Nats closer Matt Capps — who packed his bags for Minneapolis, where he will join the perennially in-the-hunt Twinkies. The sad-but-true baseball news cycle is likely to remain that way for at least the next 24 hours, as teams jockey to land needed pitching and hitting help before the coming of the trade deadline. Poor Scott: his more than modest triumph over the Braves (giving the Nats a series win, and a boost in confidence) was shoved down the Nats’ homepage after the announcement that Capps was no longer the Nats closer — and shoved further down the page by the appearance of an article extolling the virtues of Wilson Ramos, a Twins catching prospect with “a positive upside.” Capps was not surprised by the trade and praised the Nationals’ organization. “The Washington Nationals and everyone involved have been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It’s something that I will remember for a long time. I certainly enjoyed my time. Now, I have to focus on moving forward and helping the Minnesota Twins.”
Scott Olsen is not likely to be the last Nats shoved down the page by bigger news — the Nats are reported to be interested in acquiring D-Backs starter Edwin Jackson, which would necessitate a trade of Nats power hitter Adam Dunn to the White Sox, who are willing to deal prospects to Arizona to make Jackson available. In truth, that deal may be finalized by the end of the day, as it was just reported that the Pale Hose have finalized their trade for Jackson. Which could mean, of course, that Nats starter Craig Stammen, and his appearance opposite newly acquired pony starter Roy Oswalt, would be today’s second story. The line-up for the Stammen-Oswalt tilt would give Nats fans something to talk about besides who will replace Capps (it’s going to be a committee or relievers, apparently), as Jim Riggleman would begin to shift players (like Michael Morse) into positions that would reflect how the team views its last 62 games. Bottom line? The sad-but-true events of Thursday are now likely to be followed by the even sadder departure of fan favorite Dunn — and the break-up of the 3-4-5 slots in a formidable Nats batting order.
Adam Dunn hates to talk about trades, hates to even think about them. He’s made it clear — he’s happy in Washington and would like to stay with the Nationals. And Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo agrees: Adam is good for the team, good at the plate, good in the clubhouse and is a plus, plus, plus all the way around. But it’s hard to deny the rumors that the Chicago White Sox are bidding for Dunn and would love to bring him aboard, though at a price they dictate. Rizzo doesn’t deny this. He simply says that the Nationals must be overwhelmed by any offer, which could or would or might include Pale Hose second sacker Gordon Beckham and right fielder home run hitter Carlos Quentin. Or both. The White Sox have recoiled from this, knowing that Beckham is a long term talent and that Quentin is one of the guys that led their surge into contention in the A.L. Central. They would like Rizzo to focus, instead, on accepting a much more modest package that would, could or might include young righty Daniel Hudson (above) and heavy hitting youngster Dayan Viciedo.
There are problems here: Beckham is a young guy who would solve Washington’s problem at second base for years to come, but he’s having a lousy year at the plate (.237, 4 HRs), while Quentin, after a breakout year in 2009 (21 HRs., albeit without a MLB standard BA), is having trouble finding his groove (.244 BA, .344 OBP). But shifting away from Beckham or Quentin also presents problems. Daniel Hudson has a lot of promise, but it’s really only promise and while the young righty’s “upside” (gag) seems good, the Nats know all about “upside.” They need a proven pitcher (right now) who can fill the second (or third, if you count Livan) slot behind “the kid.” Hudson would look good in that spot, or he might end up being John Lannan’s roomy in Harrisburg. Mr. Dayan Perez Viciedo has his own set of challanges: he is a freeswinging Pablo Sandoval (or “kung fu house cat” as one of our readers opined) in the making. This guy couldn’t hit the water if he fell out of a boat. Well, okay — Viciedo is a good hitter and potentially a great hitter and when he does hit it it goes a long, long ways. Translation: Dayan can really hit the ball, but he strikes out a lot. Still . . . still. The simple and blunt truth is that the more that you study Hudson and Viciedo, the more tempting they become.
The White Sox end of this, at least according to Chicago Sun-Times baseball guru Mike Cowley, is that Rizzo is asking for way too much — he’s dangling Dunn like he’s Ryan Howard. The White Sox are hesitant. They’re willing to pay a good price for Dunn, but Chicago G.M. Kenny Williams is simply not willing to part with a package of top prospects and major pieces. He is countering with a package of minor leaguers (probably Hudson and Viciedo), that would keep Beckham and Quentin in Chicago. Pale Hose partisans apparently agree with this strategy, as does the White Sox clubhouse. Williams is just unwilling to trade away parts of a surging squad that has put together one of the more astonishing June and July winning streaks in recent memory. And Rizzo’s attitude? Well, Mike seems to be standing firm. In truth, he’d like to have them all — and much as we love Adam Dunn, we have to agree. We would love to have them all too. But let’s be realistic. A package that would include Hudson, Viciedo and just one of Beckham (which would be our preference) or Quentin is tempting. Very tempting.
If there was any thought that somehow the Washington Nationals could get along without Adam Dunn, the hefty lefty must have put them to rest on Wednesday night. Dunn hit three dingers against a formidable San Diego pitching staff, solidifying his obvious importance as a run producer inside the 3-4-5 Nats batting order. It’s odd how things work (or seem to work): just as talk was heating up about how tough an out Joey Votto has been, Ryan Zimmerman nearly single handedly demolished the Friars on Tuesday — and thereby, we assume, made his own case for why he (and not Votto) should be an All Star. Now, on Wednesday, after hearing endless rumors about where he might be going in the weeks ahead, Dunn made the clearest statement possible for staying right where he is.
But the rumors continue. The most recent is that the Nats have asked the White Sox to pony up for Dunn, giving up a mix of hitters and prospects that would (or so the argument goes) strengthen the Nats defensively, but without subtracting any power. The most recent whisper is that the Nats will ask the Pale Hose to part with second sacker Gordon Beckham, apparently because of his slick glove and implied power. It must be implied, because Beckham is currently hitting an anemic .208, with two home runs. If the report is true (and we’ll just bet it is), the Nats will trade a proven slugger for a questionable starter that will plug a hole that doesn’t need plugging. Which is to say: the Nats solution at second base is not in Chicago — he’s in the dugout. Of course the hope here is that Dunn’s pyrotechnics last night might have, and should have, put this to rest. And if they didn’t, then perhaps what Ryan Zimmerman told the Post this morning will: “It’s really, really hard to find a 3-4-5.”
Craig Stammen, just recalled from the Nats Syracuse Triple-A farm club, threw seven innings of brilliant baseball and super sub Alberto Gonzalez went 4-4 as the skidding Nats ended their five game losing streak with a 7-2 win in Atlanta. Stammen finally mastered what had been bothering him in successive starts prior to his demotion — he kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes, keeping the Bravos hitters off balance. Stammen threw 99 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, before giving way to Sean Burnett in the 8th inning. “Craig was just outstanding,” skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. And the skipper praised Alberto Gonzalez, who looked rusty at the plate on Monday. “He’s a great fielder,” Riggleman said, “and he can hit a little too.” This marked the second successive start for Gonzalez, who has done some spot pinch hitting. But Riggleman was uncertain whether the Gonzalez start was the beginning of a new trend. “He’s kind of the fourth guy among four guys, so it’s tough for him to get playing time,” Riggleman said.
In breaking loose for seven runs, the Nats end a despairing streak of one, two and three run games that saw them sink further into last place in the NL East. Relief seems to be in sight: Nyjer Morgan’s bat is finally heating up (he was 2-5 on Tuesday), Josh Willingham put one into the seats at Turner Field (his 14th), Ryan Zimmerman plated two RBIs — and then there was Alberto Gonzalez, whose 4-4 stint brought his BA to .292: oh, and he can field a little bit too. To cap it all off, Roger Bernadina is starting to look like a keeper (slapping balls to left field) and Tyler Clippard pitched a nifty clean 9th. The news gets even better from there. The Nats went errorless in nine innings, which must be some kind of record.
Today I Settle All Family Business, So Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent: If you google “The Kid,” you get sites for a Charlie Chaplan movie, news that Angelina Jolie’s little girl wants to be a boy (“she likes to wear boy’s everything,” Angelina poofed), and a reach on Ted Williams who, it seems, was called “the kid” until someone thought of something better — like “The Splendid Splinter.” (Which reminds me: wasn’t Gaylord Perry once referred to as “The Splendid Spitter?” No? Okay, maybe not). But nowhere on the internet does anyone talk about our Anacostia Nine who, it is reported, are calling Stephen Strasburg “the kid” in the privacy of the Nats’ clubhouse. We’re betting the name will stick, confirming Angelina’s little pout about “Shiloh,” who “thinks she’s one of the brothers.”
Stephen’s nickname confirms that he too (and for sure) is now one of the Nats brothers (that’s what being given a nickname means) — albeit without the apparent transgender issues of Shiloh Vomit Pitt. And it’s a good thing. Strasburg took the heat after his Monday outing, as Braves fans everywhere (there aren’t as many as there once were for “America’s Team“) laid into “the kid” for giving up five runs (er, three earned) in the 7th inning of Monday night. Even some Nats fans were disappointed. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — what happened? So here’s the deal: we here at CFG have taken a poll of our staff (final vote? 3-0) and determined that we would take, any day, an outing from any pitcher on our staff who could throw 6.1 (!), give up three earned runs (!), and strike out seven. You never know, if we have outings like that every game, we could actually win the division. Yeah, there’s no question about it, Monday’s performance shows that we need to send “the kid” to the minors to “straighten out his stuff” and “build his self confidence.”
Say It Ain’t So Mike: The Nats are apparently “entertaining offers” . . . no, that’s not the right phrase. Damn. Let’s start over. The Nats are “actively considering” … no, that’s not right either. Okay. Here it is. The Nats are talking to at least two teams about a trade that would involve Nats first sacker and potential All Star Adam Dunn, the heart and soul of your Washington Nationals (if you don’t count Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez . . .). The report must be true: MLB Trade Rumors has it by way of Ken Rosenthal, who has it from the Chicago Sun Times, who has it from the White Sox.
The Angels are already interested, Rosenthal says, and Joe Cowley of the Greatest Newspaper in the Greatest City in America (it’s ahead of the Trib, dontchaknow), says that the Nats and Pale Hose are exchanging names, though the Sox don’t have much to give in the way of pitching prospects — they were all traded to the Little Monks from San Diego for Jumpin’ Jake Peavy. No one likes this kind of talk, least of all Adam Dunn, who doesn’t want to be a DH and likes it just fine here in D.C.Â We like him here too, Mike — as he is headed for another season of 40 home runs (oops, he had only 39 last year) and is one of the surprises, perhaps the surprise on the team: unlike the other nine we slap together to play the Baltimore Pathetics, he’s fielding his position like a pro. And who would have guessed that? Then too, don’t we have enough pitching prospects? I know, let’s try Danny Cabrera. In fact, the only positive thing we could really gain from such a trade is an end to that obnoxious public address announcer and his “now batting for your Washington Nationals …. Adaaaam Dunnnnnn.” Hey, on second thought . . .
Stan Kasten was pretty adamant in talking about Stephen Strasburg on Sunday, telling Nats beat report Bill Ladson that, as good as Stephen Strasburg is now, he’ll get even better. That’s good news for Nats fans, because the team itself seems to be getting worse. On Sunday, the Nationals lost their fourth in a row and their third in a row to the league worst Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. It was the third consecutive game in which the Nationals dropped a contest in which they led, and should have won. The team is now ten games under .500 — and sinking fast. But for skipper Jim Riggleman, at least, the glass is (as he is fond of repeating, and repeating) half full: “I like the fact that we scored runs early,” Riggleman said. “We had a chance to win the ballgame, and we didn’t get blown out. It’s a small consolation. We had runners out there to be driven in. We got some of them in. We are going to have to get more in. We have to get [good] pitching performances. There are a lot of good things to draw from.” We love Jim, really we do. But what glass is he talking about? Because the one that is half empty is filled with errors.
Kasten’s comments were fairly predictable, while signaling that the Nats will continue the Kasten-Rizzo philosophy of focusing on pitching — and building from within: “His [Strasburg’s] role as a symbol is very important,” Kasten told Ladson. “When we came in four years ago, we talked about wanting to build through scouting/development with an emphasis on pitching. Continuing with the fulfillment of that commitment, I think it’s very important that fans could see that we are close to turning the corner. We are close to having a really terrific, good, stable young rotation as some of our guys come up from the Minor Leagues and come back from rehab. But clearly the symbol of that movement is Stephen.”
Kasten could not have been more explicit; rather than depending on a big free agent signing, or making a blockbuster trade, the Nats will sink or swim with their young arms, and likely await the arrival (and return) of Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang. Nats fans would be pleased if any of those four (but particularly Marquis and Wang) returned to form — filling in a now shaky rotation that is having trouble pitching into the seventh inning. Sadly, as the Nats triumverate of Kasten, Rizzo and Riggleman would undoubtedly agree, if Desmond, Kennedy, Guzman and Gonzalez could field as well as Strasburg pitches, the Nats would have emerged from Baltimore as winners, instead of also-rans.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The CFG Board of Directors (here they are, remember?) has directed our editorial staff to conduct a reset of some earlier predictions. We have refused. While the “Amazins” are contending for the division title, we stand by our claim: the Nats will finish ahead of the Apples in the NL Least. There’s a long way to go. And this we say — while everyone is focusing on “The Rise of Ike Davis” and the expertise of some guy named Pelfrey (oh, and R.A. Dickey, whoever that is), we know the truth. The truth is that the key to the New York Metropolitans is Jose Reyes. Always has been, always will be. Without him, they’re lost . . .
But in at least another instance we are inclined to offer a “redo” on our too outspoken view that the Pale Hose, which was sinking like a rock when we (arrogantly, and filled with confidence) wrote that the South Siders would be sellers and would eventually be forced to shop Jake Peavy. The day after we wrote that, the White Sox launched a breathtaking winning streak, with Peavy in the lead. They have now recouped their season and their team and the confidence of their manager. Their win streak ended at 11 yesterday, in a loss to the North Side Drama Queens. Our bet now is that, barring the resurrection of Joe DiMaggio (and his agreement on a trade to the City of Big Shoulders), Jumpin’ Jake ain’t goin anywhere . . .
And we note with interest that in spite of Stanley’s talk of focusing on development and arms in the minors, the Nats are scouting D-Backs ace Dan Haren. Here’s our question: what’s to scout? Long into the night (and we’re deadly serious), we dream of that delivery, the same delivery every single time, like the mechanism of a finely tuned watch: head down, right leg up (then, the hesitation), the head snaps to the plate, the glove is thrown out (into the face of the batter) and the arm coming perfectly over the top. It’s a thing of beauty. I swear. It’s enough to send you back to church. Go get ’em Stan, go get ’em Mike . . .
Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman made sure the press knew: John Lannan would remain in Washington’s starting rotation, had every right to be there, and would soon enough return to the good old days — when he led the Washington rotation. “I believe in John,” Riggleman said after Sunday’s 6-3 loss at the hands of Chicago’s White Sox. “There has to be something there because he has it in the bullpen. He’ll get the ball sinking. He just haven’t been able to do it in game situations. John has been too good for us to let a few starts detour us too much. We have a lot of leash with John.” Lannan was undoubtedly pleased with the vote of confidence from his manager: he failed to get out of the fifth inning for his third start in a row, yielding 11 hits and five runs in four innings of work — his worst inning coming after the Nats gained their first lead in the Chicago series.
Lannan’s troubles reflects his team’s troubles. Ryan Zimmerman is in a funk at the plate, Josh Willingham’s numbers of cratering and the get-on-base top of the order is failing to get on base. For all of that, the Nats’ front office seems unfazed — with no one scrambling impatiently to right the listing ship. Skipper Riggleman, in particular, seems willing to wait out the recent slump, counting on his hitter-heavy line-up and a bevy of young arms to set things right. “It’s just not happening for us right now. We are struggling,” Riggleman said in the wake of the Nats sixth straight loss. “Everybody in the locker room knows it. We are sticking together, though, and we are going to pass the character test. The character gets tested sometimes and we are getting tested right now.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Jim Kurtzke over at Nationals Daily News details the problems the Nats will have in their starting rotation without a solid Lannan. Kurtzke points out that 2010 was to be a transition year for the rotation, with Lannan slotted as a solid number 3 behind Strasburg and a healthy Zimmermann. And now? His reflections are well worth reading . . . Federal Baseball spends five minutes with Tyler Clippard — and finds out what makes the Nats’ reliever tick. Clippard is a fan of Washington fans. “The fans here in Washington have been great so far ever since I stepped foot in this organization, and being in the big leagues here,” Clippard says, “even last year when we were losing a bunch the fans were still great to us as players and stuff . . .” It sounds like Clippard would rather be here than anywhere else. The big righty extols the talents of pitch-caller Ivan Rodriguez and fellow set-up wizard Drew Storen . . . It’s good to see that we’re not the only ones feeling our age. Nationals Fanboy Looser (former newspaperman Mike Harris) remembers watching a 1962 tilt at the Polo Grounds in a tribute to Father’s Day. It’s a nice reminder of what baseball was like back before the Peloponnesian War . . . Nats 320 outdid themselves with a detailed look at Sunday’s game, along with a series of in-game photos. They write that the Nats’ slump is a team effort and point out that the Nats-Royals tilt on Monday night will be the first time that the Nats and Royals have matched up since the Nationals became the Nationals in 2005 . . .
The Nats’ nominee for futility infielder went to Ryan Zimmerman, who struck out four times against the Big Shoulder, who pitched his first complete game of the season. “Today I don’t know if Peavy beat me. He practically kicked my ass. But it’s going to happen,” Zimmerman said after the game. The Nats are now officially in a team slump: their internet site notes that the team has scored only 11 runs in the last five games — and struck out 51 times. Only Adam Dunn seems to be hitting the ball squarely. But it’s hard to blame the Nats for Saturday’s loss: Peavy looked like the Cy Young contender he was in San Diego. “It was pretty fun,” Peavy said. The White Sox are on a five game winning streak, and are 7-1 over their last eight games. They are only one game under .500 — putting them within striking distance of the division leading Minnesota Twins.
Full Metal Jacket: A reader in Bowie (in Maryland, as I recall) writes that our talk of trading for a second pitcher is “a fantasy indulgence,” and adds that “no one in their right mind would trade Dan Haren or Cliff Lee for what you’ve got in your farm system. If they did, they’d be shot.” He finishes with this: “That’s not true for Kevin Millwood. Why wasn’t he on your list?” Well, now that you mention it, Millwood is on our list. And we’re betting that the O’s would take some prospects — as they face a top-to-bottom house cleaning either before the July 31 trade deadline, or in the off-season. Millwood might be a good addition: he won his first game yesterday in San Diego and remains a hard thrower. But he’s not the future . . .
And we would add the intriguing Jason Hammel to our list — particularly after Troy Tulowitzki’s injury this week. Tulo went down with a broken wrist and will be gone a full 60 days . . . or more. The Rockies will move Clint Barmes to shortstop and work rookie Chris Nelson in at second. The Rockies smile and shrugg and feign shock when reporters wonder whether a Barmes-Nelson duo will work. It’s a show: Barmes can’t hit and Nelson is untested.Â Tulowitzki is damn near irreplacable, true, but that doesn’t mean you have to sub for him with a once-upon-a-time veteran and a who-knows rookie. Particularly when you’re contending in the NL West — and looking up the skirts of the Friars, Trolleys and McCoveys. The Rockies could use Cristian Guzman and perhaps a young starter, or both.
You can see the effect that Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg is having on baseball: the Nationals are selling out the park, his presence increases road attendance by some 25 percent, the Anacostia Nine are gaining increased nationwide television attention, MLB Network and “Baseball Tonight” commentators are oohing and ahhing about his pitch selection and — oh yeah, opposing pitchers regularly throw way over their abilities when he’s the opponent. Case in point? Gavin Floyd, the otherwise substandard (2-7, 5.20 ERA) down-in-the-rotation starter for the A.L. South Siders, who matched St. Stephen in his recent Friday night outing, throwing baffling breaking balls and eyebrow level 95 mph heaters. The Express fanned ten (count ’em) black-and-whites over seven innings, but Floyd lasted another inning and mastered Washington’s new hitless non-wonders. In the end, while the MLB Network did “look ins” of the Orioles-Friars tilt (and cameras snaps pics of Barack Obama watching his team), the Nats dropped a beautifully played (and pitched) game: 2-1.
In the game’s disappointing wake (disappointing for Nats fans who root for the home team ever as much as for “the Acela”) the talk was of Strasburg’s use of the change-up — and Floyd’s wizardry: “I just try to focus on what I can do,” Floyd said modestly. “You can’t control or think about what [Strasburg’s] doing. You go out there and put up zeroes and give your team a chance to win.” Jim Riggleman, who is as concerned with wins and losses as he is with the development of the team’s “hope for the future” (a characteristic he shares with his youthful phenom, whose focus remains on helping the Nats win) gave Floyd his due, thereby qualifying for this week’s CFG award for understatement. “He [Floyd] was real tough,” Riggleman said. “He’s got a good arm. He was a real challenge and we couldn’t get much going against him.” That’s for sure.
While Floyd threw up-and-down and in-and-out (106 pitches, 70 strikes!), and St. Stephen matched him pitch-for-pitch (or was it the other way around?), the two Nats who seemed to get a bead on the ChiSox righty were Roger Bernadina and Adam Dunn, who battled Gavin through every at bat. But the Nats could never string together a rally that would give them a win. The difference in the game came in the 11th, when a diving Ryan Zimmerman lofted a ball just over the outstretched glove of Adam Dunn, plating Mark Kotsay from third with the winning run. The Nats went quietly in the bottom of the 11th.Â “It was a tough play, tough game,” Zimmerman said. “Stras threw great. It was a good baseball game.” True enough. But another loss, alas, which brings the Nats solidly into last place in the NL East and looking desperately for a win to match the surging Phils, Braves and Mets.