Posts Tagged ‘Cliff Lee’

Swept

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals finished an American League road trip in Detroit with a loss (an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Kaline pitcher Jeremy Bonderman), failing to win all but one game in two three-game series against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. The loss brought the Nats to 1-5 on the swing west but (more importantly) continued the skid of a team that was once five games over .500. The team is now officially in a tailspin, leaving puzzled Nats fans to wonder whether their Anacostia Nine are reverting to their bad habits of 2009. The final loss in Detroit pointed up the Nats’ problems: too many strike outs, poor pitching and lousy defense. “We’re not playing tight baseball right now defensively,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted in the wake of the last Detroit loss. “We need to pay more attention to details.”

In many respects, the Nats 8-3 loss was typical of their recent woes. While the team put runners on base (eight hits, including an Adam Dunn dinger), they weren’t able to push across runs in tight situations — leaving 15 men stranded. Then too, while Detroit pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is a good hurler, he’s hardly a wizard. Yet, the righty regularly retired Nats hitters in situations that might have led to runs — pitching well when he had to. Bonderman mastered Nats’ hitters with a down-and-in slider that stymied the Nats line up, throwing 95 pitches over seven complete: 65 of them for strikes. Washington starter Luis Atilano was not nearly so good, giving up nine hits in just 4.1 innings — his second poor outing. For Nats’ obsessives, the game was unwatchable after the fourth. The only good news is that Adam Dunn continues his torrid pace, lofting his 16th round-tripper in the seventh, slotting two more RBIs and raising his average to .288 on the year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: CFG’s speculations about trading for a second pitcher occasioned more than a few comments from readers. A writer from Seattle was horrified that we believe that fireball southpaw Cliff Lee “could be had for a song.” That’s not what we said. Lee can’t be had for a song, but a longer melody might do. We’ll stick by our stand: the Navigators are looking for prospects and are sellers. Lee is looking for a long term deal and would be more comfortable in the National League. The Seattle fan begs to differ: “We’ll part with Lee,” he writes, “but we’ll need Ryan Zimmerman in return.” Yeah sure. Keep dreaming.

Others wrote more creatively, noting that the Lee-Oswalt-Peavy speculations that we launched “aimed too high” (as one responder noted), saying that it seemed more likely that Washington would fish for pitchers “more reachable.” A  reader, from Atlanta, was adamant: “Houston, Seattle, Chicago — they’ll all want one of your big hitters, and Rizzo won’t give any of them up.” Well, maybe. Our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) mentioned Chicago hurler Ted Lilly (Ken Rosenthal thinks he might be available), Frisco fireballer Jonathan Sanchez and Showboat righty Dan Haren as likely targets. We’ve been mulling these possibilities and they all sound good. But Lilly is a finesse pitcher who will soon be looking for a big payday and we can’t imagine that San Francisco would part with Sanchez (a little different than last year at this time).

There’s always Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook, who has struggled this year (except against the Nats) and is rumored to be on the block. Westbrook is an intriguing possibility, particularly now that he looked so terrible against the Mets. The Cleveland front office is running out of patience with its pitching staff, and Westbrook is playing for a guy who knows the Nats system — and particularly its younger pitchers and developing hitters. Then too, Cleveland needs to retool: getting younger hurlers to go with Masterson and Huff. Mike Rizzo wouldn’t want to do that. But for Westbrook? Westbrook is not Lilly, or Sanchez (let alone Haren), but he’s affordable and would provide a veteran presence behind Strasburg. He’s had his Tommy John surgery, has a wicked cut fastball (well . . . it’s wicked often enough to spark interest among shoppers), is in the last year of his contract and has worn out his welcome in Cleveland.

Haren is different. The D-Backs are rumored to be at the beginning of a sell-off, which has their dugout talking, though they probably don’t need a top-to-bottom rebuilding. Haren himself has said that the team has a stockpile of talent — though SI’s Jon Heyman speculates that Arizona’s front office will listen to offers on the impressive righty. Heyman’s article on the D-Backs is thorough and authoritative, which can mean only one thing: the Rattlers are open for business. The only players who are off the table (Heyman says) are outfield bopper Justin Upton and young ace-to-be Ian Kennedy. So Heyman is right — Arizona shopaholic Josh Byrnes (he just shipped Conor Jackson to Oakland) will “listen,” but will the Nats make an offer? Haren hasn’t been his perennial lights-out ace this year, but he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the NL over the last three years. So he won’t come cheap. Which is too bad, because it probably means he won’t come at all. So we’ll look in the mirror and tell ourselves what we told our Seattle reader: Keep dreaming.

Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

Nats Can’t Solve Phils … and Joe Torre’s Night

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

The Washington Nationals just can’t seem to solve the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phuzzies’ 6-5 victory was a near thing for the Nats, who threatened all the way to the end — but could never get the timely hits they needed to win. Nor could the Nats rely on the normally dependable Tyler Clippard, who gave up back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning after the Nats had tied the game at four. “Clippard wasn’t locating his fastball,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He has taken the ball and has done a good job, but the last couple of nights, he hasn’t been able to locate the fastball and has paid for it.”

Big innings made the difference: starter Garrett Mock suffered through an insufferable second frame, giving up a double, single, single, walk and single before pitching two ground-outs and a fly ball. The Phillies scored three: but the Nats were lucky it wasn’t more. Once again, the playoff bound Phillies relied on the long ball, with home runs by Jason Werth and Pedro Feliz. Phillies’ pitcher Cliff Lee wandered through an unsteady performance, yet somehow survived seven innings of 10 hit baseball to take the win. The big news of the night (for Phillies fans) was the dog that didn’t bark: Brad Lidge remained seated in the Phillies bullpen as Ryan Madson closed the door on the Nats in the 9th: a sign, perhaps, of things to come for the A.L. East leaders.

Phillies Nationals Baseball

Down On Half Street: Call it the reverse curse. Twenty-four hours after he was scoured by television commentators Rob Dibble and Bob Carpenter, Alberto Gonzalez lit up Nationals Park with a three-for-three outing — all of them doubles. Gonzalez amazing rehabilitation wasn’t enough to boost the sinking Nats past the Phuzzies on Wednesday, but it raised his average to .259 — two points better than Trolley third baseman (yes, you heard me right) Ronnie Belliard, described by the MASN on-air crew as a “very good hitter” (this is my soapbox, and I’ll be damned if I’ll get down from it) . . . Gonzalez’s doubles weren’t cheap: a second inning rope down the first base line, a fifth inning shot off the centerfield wall and a seventh inning scorcher to left-center . . .

It’s never too late to watch baseball. If you live in the near-suburbs of either Maryland or Virginia a quick car ride home from Nationals Park puts you in front of the television in about the fourth inning of the west coast games. Last night’s featured match-up was the ESPN Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks tussle in Phoenix. A Trolleys-Showboats match-up is always entertaining. But last night was especially so: outside of the pure enjoyment of watching righty wizard Dan Haren pitch, the game included some interesting in-dugout politics. Haren pitched his usual clever hit-the-strikezone-with-every-pitch game (it really is something to see) before the 7th, but in the seventh he put two men on with one gone. Sure enough out trotted Showboat manager A.J. Hinch. Haren gave him a glance coming out of the dugout and then looked away. It looked like he was going to vomit. Later, when Haren was sitting on the bench, Hinch went over to explain, but Haren just shook his head: he wouldn’t even look at him. Surprise, surprise: Hinch made the right call. Reliever Juan Gutierrez pitched the Dbacks out of the jam and Hinch looked like a genius. Proof positive of that old adage: even a blind dog finds a bone sometimes.

Joe Torre pulled out all of the stops in trying to win the game, including getting through a jam in the 9th. George Sherrill had pitched an effective eighth, but was relieved by Ramon Troncoso. Troncoso opened the ninth, and immediately threw an infield chopper hit by Gerardo Parra past the right ear of Dodger first baseman James Loney. Parra ended up on second. Torre was not amused. The next hitter, Ryan Roberts, sacrificed pinch runner Trent Oeltjen to third. So man on third, one out, with Showboat hitter and Dodger-slayer Stephen Drew coming to the plate. Torre, leaning on the dugout fence, smiled to himself and turned to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who was studying the stats book: “Put him on?” Torre asked. Honeycutt didn’t really answer, he just nodded. “You sure?” Honeycutt nodded again.

So, man on first and third, one out, with no-joke Justin Upton walking to the batter’s box. “Again?” Torre asked. This time he wasn’t smiling. And Honeycutt, still eyeing the stats book, nodded again. And so Torre held up four fingers. But this time Troncoso looked in at Torre, his jaw slack, so out Joe trotted to give his pitcher some calcium. We might guess at what he had to say: “Now listen, kid, we’re setting up the double play here and giving you someone to pitch to. Reynolds follows Upton and he’s got more strikeouts than a middle aged man at a high school prom. So put this guy on and then throw strikes.” Troncoso didn’t like it, but what was he going to say? He shuffled a bit, threw four balls to Upton and turned to face Mark Reynolds. It was a near thing. Torre watched every pitch while Honeycutt continued staring at his stats book — and Troncoso walked in the winning run.

Dodgers Diamondbacks Baseball