Posts Tagged ‘Ian Desmond’

Nats Bats (And Lannan) Scuttle Pirates

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The hitting of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and the stellas pitching of John Lannan paced the Washington Nationals to a 9-2 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday. Rodriguez led the Nats’ fifteen hit attack, with an opposite field home run, while John Lannan pitched seven complete — giving up only five hits. It was his best outing of the year and solidified his place in the rotation for 2011. “Pudge and I did a great job just mixing it up on both sides of the plate,” Lannan said after the game. “I threw some [four-seam fastballs] inside to righties and some [two-seam fastballs] into lefties. I had my changeup working again, and that’s been the pitch I’ve gone to if I was getting behind hitters. It kept them off-balance a little bit. You get a little more comfortable out there when your team puts up that many runs.”

Desmond Makes His Case: Washington Nationals’ rookie shortstop Ian Desmond is making a strong case for being considered as the N.L.’s premier rookie. But two obstacles stand in his way — he makes too many errors (31! — including two last night), and the competition is stiff. The early betting was that Atlanta’s Jason Heyward would win the award, and for a time it looked like he would. Heyward set the baseball world chattering through April and May, but his production fell off through the summer. Still: .282 with 16 home runs (and he’s only 20) could find him shoehorned into the top spot. The betting now seems to be that Buster Posey will get the nod — despite the fact that he started the season late. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors posted a list in April that included all of the good guesses, which included Heyward and Desmond, as well as Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, Chicago’s Starlin Castro, Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez, Washington’s Drew Storen (and Stephen Strasburg), and Cincinnati’s Mike Leake. That leaves out Cubbie Tyler Colvin, who’s having a tremendous year — he’s stroked 19 home runs.

You can make a strong case for Desmond, who has raised his batting average over the last month from the so-so mid-.260s to .287 — an unforeseen spike that, if it continues, could see the 24-year-old ending the season near .300. And Desmond has unpredicted power, line-driving nine home runs. That number could easily increase in 2011. Desmond’s long-ball potential is a plus for the Nats, who would gladly take a .280 batting average with a handful of home runs each year — but 20? 25? Desmond says that he patterns his play on the model provided by Empire glove man Derek Jeter and his numbers show it. While Jeter seems to be struggling for homers as he ages, the pinstriper once hit 24, a number well within reach of his younger apprentice. But Jeter’s value is his day-in-and-day-out crusade in the middle of the Yankees infield, his ability to play virtually injury free and his steady glove-work. Ah, and he has a .314 lifetime BA — which Desmond might find difficult to equal. Desmond is right to emulate his hero, but he has a long way to go to reach his level (cutting down on the errors would be the way to start). It’s the fielding stats that will likely doom Desmond in any final voting for the Jackie Robinson Award, which means that Giants workhorse Buster Posey will get the nod. It’s hard to argue with that choice — with a .328 batting average, he deserves it.

Nats Pound Philadelphia, 8-1

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Led by the defense of Ian Desmond (who also had a 4-5 night) and the hitting of Roger Bernadina, the Washington Nationals pounded out 12 hits and eight runs on Saturday, to defeat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The offensive outburst came at the expense of Phillies’ starter Kyle Kendrick, who had trouble making it out of the first inning. Desmond looked like “the wizard” at short, making barehanded plays behind Strasburg, Stammen and Slaten, while Bernadina slugged his eighth home run (putting the game out of reach) in the ninth. But the win was marred by an injury to starter Stephen Strasburg, who was forced to leave the game in the 5th after suffering a strained flexor tendon in his right forearm; it’s not known how serious the injury is — an MRI will be conducted to determine the damage on Sunday. The injury detracted from one of the team’s most solid performances against the Phillies, who trail the Atlanta Braves for the N.L. East lead.

Once again, as was apparent in Atlanta, the Nationals’ bullpen proved key in the Philadelphia victory. After Strasburg departed, Craig Stammen, Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard and Miguel Batista combined to shut down the Phillies — throwing 4.2 innings while giving up just two hits and no runs. Tyler Clippard was particularly effective. After suffering a fall-off in his performance in late July, the righthander has lowered his ERA to 3.04, solidifying his reputation as one of the National League’s premier set-up men. Stammen also seems to have found his place: the former starter is now filling a first-out-of-the-bullpen role, being used by skipper Riggleman when someone in the rotation collapses. Washington’s bullpen is now ranked seventh in the majors, and fourth in the National League — and is one of the real success stories of the Nationals’ season.

Nats Win Snakes’ Series

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 at Nationals Park on Sunday, taking two games of a three game series. The game marked the second return of Stephen Strasburg following his stint on the D.L., and “the kid” pitched well, despite giving up a home run to Adam LaRoche and making an errant throw to first baseman Adam Dunn. “I was talking to Stephen a little bit ago. He said that it is the best he felt,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman said, following the victory. “The ball was coming out of his hand good. Stras did a great job and gave us a chance to win.” The Nats trailed the D-Backs 3-1 into the bottom of the fourth, when slumping Josh Willingham shook loose from his doldrums and launched a pitch off of D-Backs starter Barry Enright to tie the game. The Nats won the game on a single by Ian Desmond, with Ryan Zimmerman providing an insurance homer. Typically, the Nats’ bullpen closed out their opponents, with Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen shutting down the Arizona order.

The Ghost of Kerry Wood: Nats’ fans at the ballpark on Sunday probably didn’t get a chance to see Strasburg’s frustration with being lifted after pitching just five innings, but “the kid” was clearly angered by the move. Strasburg, mouth set and eyes flashing, sat the bench after the end of the fifth inning fuming. At least that’s what the fans at home saw, with Strasburg’s irritation coming in waves through the camera lens. Nats pitching czar Steve McCatty intervened with an explanation, speaking with animation as Strasburg shook his head on the bench. This isn’t the first time that Strasburg has been angered, though he never mentions it in any post game interview. But if Strasburg is angry it’s only because he has a right to be. And he’s not the only one. Jim Riggleman’s reputation as a manager with an early hook is well-earned. He’s got a shepard’s staff as big as Little Bo Peep (oops … well, let’s go with this version) — the result of his time as the manager of the North Side Drama Queens, when he oversaw the 1998 rookie campaign of strikeout king Kerry Wood.

The ghost of Kerry Wood seems ever-present with Riggleman, who coached the Slugs when they were going somewhere and the young Wood was the talk of baseball. The problem was that Wood had a raw elbow, with his ligaments tearing and bleeding everytime he threw. And in 1998, after a stint in the minors when he rarely threw even close to 100 pitches, Wood was carrying the load for a contending team — and throwing 115 to 120 pitches per game. Eventually (after sitting out the ’99 season with surgery, and pitching just so-so over the next three years), the elbow blew itself out for good and Wood, with successive stints in rehab, became a reliever. It was a loss, for Kerry Wood might have been, perhaps could have been (and maybe even should have been), one of the best starters in the game.

Riggleman, Wood’s skipper, blames himself. “If I had it to do over, I would do it differently,” he told the Washington Post back in March. “And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, ‘C’mon, Riggs, leave him in.'” Wood disagrees: the ripping in his elbow had been happening for several years (he says) and it was bound to explode at some point. It was inevitable. “My elbow was going to go,” Wood told the Post. “If it didn’t go with [Riggleman] it would’ve gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time.”

Which is only to say that there’s a good reason why Jim Riggleman is as careful with Stephen Strasburg as he is. But Riggleman’s decision today — to sit Strasburg after the 5th — struck many fans as overly careful. After all, pitchers strain their arm, or throw out their shoulder, all the time. And not simply because they throw a lot of baseballs, or have a predisposition, or because they’re not on a pitch count. Pitchers blow out their arms because they’re pitchers. Wood understood this: in the end it didn’t matter how many pitches he threw, his “elbow was going to go” anyway. “It was a matter of time.” This is not an argument for having Rizzo, Riggleman & Company allow Strasburg to throw 110 to 120 pitches each and every game. It’s an argument for perspective and practicality — Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher, not a piece of fine China.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a recognition that Washington Nationals fans aren’t going to show up at the park on Half Street to watch “the kid” throw 70 pitches over five innings — especially when it’s clear that (as happened on Sunday), he’s just starting to hit his stride.

Nats Swept In Milwaukee

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The Washington Nationals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 on Sunday, a game that marked their third loss in a row — giving the Brew Crew a sweep of the series and a 4-2 edge in the season match-up. As now seems common with every Nationals loss, the team was victimized by unwanted errors, poor starting pitching and a lack of timely hitting. The game featured the long-awaited return of lefty Ross Detwiler, who was sidelined by a hip injury. Detwiler’s  2010 debut was marred early on, when Willie Harris — subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third — failed to handle a ground shot off the bat of Alcides Escobar. The error kept the Brewers alive in the inning and led to the plating of two unearned runs. A fourth inning error by rookie shortstop Ian Desmond also proved to be costly. “We have to play a lot cleaner baseball. It’s ridiculous,” Harris said after the game. “We have to catch the ball and throw the ball. We have to take the pressure off our pitchers. We need to do a better job.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Radio play-by-play guru and semi-legend Bob Uecker is the perfect announcer for the Brew Crew — with patented deadpan humor and self-deprecating remarks that dodge the seemingly endless semi-lectures that mark the Nats’ television broadcasts. His cornball comments play well in Wisconsin’s polka (that’s polka, not poker) parlors, where third generation Polish Americans sip German beer and wonder when the mill will reopen. “I inherited a castoff computer,” Uecker announced in the midst of the Brewers Saturday broadcast. “It’s so old there’s a guy under my desk with a crank . . .” (gales of laughter) . . . Uecker tends to use the word “folks” alot, but his we’re-all-in-this-together approach (which would surely flop in Washington), works well with Wisconsin’s diehard Packers, Bucks, Badgers and Brewers fans. When Ryan Braun homered on Saturday, Uecker retailed his common long-ball excitement — “get out, get out, get outta here and gone” (with a slight hesitation before his next I’m-from-the-middle-of-the-country utterance) — “Wow!” And then this: “Let me tellya folks, you go around baseball and you ask anyone about Ryan Braun they”ll tellya one thing. The guy can hit.” Through it all you’d never guess that the Brewers were struggling to stay alive in the N.L. Central, that their pitching staff is a shambles, and that their marquee player is headed out of town . . .

The 75-year-old Uecker had heart surgery on April 30 and his return to the announcing booth in Milwaukee was much anticipated. But during this weekend’s Nats series, Uecker downplayed his health problems and seemed even a little embarrassed when his doctor’s were tapped to throw out the first pitch on Friday — the beginning of the Nats’ series. “It’s good to see these guys without white smocks on,” he said. “Especially when the last time I saw them the smocks were smeared with my blood . . . ” (gales of laughter). On Sunday he noted that his doctor’s might have “done something wrong” during the operation. “They tied up something inside there and, frankly, I think it’s a little off,” he deadpanned. “Now when I raise my left leg my right arm shoots into the air. When I walk down the street people think I want to shake their hand.” But Uecker’s humor masks this blunt truth: he’s a sophisticated announcer with a talent for parsing baseball’s inner game. He presents it in blunt Americanisms– curves aren’t “curves” they’re “benders,” hitters don’t hit, they “smack” or “nurse” the “sphericals” and relievers never “struggle,” they’re “wobbly.” If there’s another way to describe someone as big or small Uecker will find it, as he did in describing Adam Dunn. “How do you not hear this guy coming?” he asked. Then later: “He loves to fish. So I’m going to strap a 9 horse on him and shove him out into the lake. We can stand on him when we fish.” Uecker likes Dunn, whose visit to him on Saturday has occasioned some comment in D.C. Uecker gave it just the right touch. “We had to put another battery in the elevator just to get him up here,” he said.

Willingham’s Gapper Lands Fish

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Josh Willingham’s sixth inning double into the gap in right center field scored three and the Washington Nationals went on to shut out the Florida Marlins, 4-0 on Saturday night in Miami. Starter Stephen Strasburg notched the win with six complete innings of four hit ball. Strasburg struggled in the first two innings of the game (attempting to pinpoint his uncooperative fastball) before settling down and registering seven strikeouts. Willingham’s gapper scored Nyjer Morgan, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn — accounting for three of the Nats’ four runs. Dunn just barely beat the throw home to account for the Nats third run. Nats reliever Drew Storen kept the Marlins at bay in the 7th and 8th innings, while Matt Capps closed out the game in the 9th. This was the team’s first shutout since the Nats subdued the Dodgers on April 25, 1-0.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We must be getting close to the trading deadline. Ray Knight subbed for Rob Dibble in the MASN booth and immediately focused his attention on the top of the Nats’ order — noting the poor on base percentages of Nats leadoff man Nyjer Morgan (.313) and number two hitter Cristian Guzman (.342). Knight mentioned the lack of production in the number one and two spots no less than four times during the game; at one point Knight went on at length about the poor OBP performance of the Morgan-Guzman tandem while a MASN camera lingered on the two in the dugout. In the 9th, when Alberto Gonzalez replaced Guzman at second, Knight pointedly gave his opinion of the shift: “Gonzalez is the best defensive infielder on the team after Zimmerman,” he said. As if to celebrate this notice, Gonzalez registered the third out with a circus snag of a hot up-the-middle grounder to end the game . . .

Jim Riggleman was in a semi-permanent snit during the Nats 4-0 win against the Marlins, the apparent result of missed signs, missed bunts and indifferent fielding. His patience might be running out — a sure sign that changes are in the offing. But what kind of changes? Moving Guzman will be difficult (he’s a 10-5 player, so can veto a trade) and he’s owed a chunk of money. And it’s not clear that the Nats are sold on Gonzalez at second — Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson sure isn’t: “I will tell you that Gonzalez is not the answer,” he wrote in a recent column. “He was given a chance last year and didn’t do a good job. He stopped hitting and wasn’t very good defensively. I think he is a very good utility player. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel about Gonzalez.”

The CFG team doesn’t agree even a little bit with Ladson, but there are a lot of people who do: Gonzalez was the target of widespread fan grumbling during the ’09 campaign and only really started to hit in September, when it was too late. And while Gonzalez is good defensively (or even very good), he’s not a top-of-the-order guy (his OBP stands at .333, about the same as Guzman’s). Of course, none of that may matter now: the Nats are the poorest defensive team in the NL and the front office is desperate to find a way to stop the bleeding. Guzman is popular and when he could have sulked in April (when Ian Desmond replaced him at short), he sucked it up and dedicated himself to team play. Even so, Rizzo-Riggleman & Company have to do something and, since they’re not going to sit Desmond (and why should they?), Alberto’s time may have come. It’s overdue.

Alberto Gonzalez #12 of the Washington Nationals hits a two run RBI against the Florida Marlins during their MLB game on August 6, 2009 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.

Nats Struggling At The Break

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Just  two games ago it was possible to think good things about the Nats. They had taken two of three from a very tough San Diego team and grabbed an easy first game in a three game set against the Giants. And the Nats were beginning to hit. The toughest teams of the west seemed suddenly vulnerable to a line-up filled with a hot home run hitter (in Adam Dunn), a suddenly tough pitching staff (headlined by Stephen Strasburg) and a revived bullpen (with solid arms Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps). But successive losses — one in which the bullpen collapsed and another in which steady Livan Hernandez was anything but — have put a cloud over the Nats’ first half and sparked continued speculation about whether the team will make major moves as the trading deadline approaches. Even Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman, ever the optimist, seemed puzzled (we just have to find a way to play better, he said after the second loss to the McCoveys), while Mike Rizzo evinced some disappointment: “I think we have underachieved a little bit, and I don’t think we played as good as I think we can. I’m looking forward to a better second half.”

While successive losses to the Giants ended the symbolic first half of the season on a low note, the team’s improvement has been undeniable: Stephan Strasburg has arrived (and he’s here to stay), Adam Dunn has emerged as a team and fan favorite (with unacknowledged defensive improvements at first base), the team remains relatively healthy (the notable exceptions being Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis), the bullpen has been sure and steady (in spite of the recent setbacks), Ian Desmond has proven he can hit major league pitching (okay, he’ll need to field major league hitting), and (surprise, surprise) Roger Bernadina has shown he can play with the big guys. There are disappointments — Nyjer Morgan has not been the spark plug he was last year, the team remains unaccountably soft on defense and no single starter has emerged to complement Strasburg and Hernandez. Oh, and the team is in last place in the NL East.

Amidst the talk of trades (Dunn for whomever, prospects and a bat for Haren, a pocket of maybes for a middling arm) — and front office prayers for the return of someone, somehow (Marquis in July, Zimmermann in August, Olsen sometime) — it’s hard to know just what would vault the team into contention. Magic wands seem out of reach and blockbusters rarely happen to teams whose farm system is still so-so. Mike Rizzo might be willing to swap three or four of the system’s top prospects, but none of them seem major league ready. They’d be here if they were. And there’s this: while Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham seem a fine 3-4-5 combination and are good friends to boot (and no one but no one wants to see them broken up), it’s hard to defend a combo that, for all it’s power, fails to plant a stake in the heart of an on-the-ropes Jonathan Sanchez or a wet-behind-the-curve newbie like Madison Bumgarner. Mike Rizzo says that he is looking forward to a better second half. So are we. But contending is another major bat and another good starter (and, truth be told, at least another half season) away.

Zimmerman Becomes A Leader

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Over the past two days Ryan Zimmerman has demonstrated, quite publicly, that he has become comfortable being the Nats’ team leader. Some people are born leaders and some figure out how to do it as they go along. Zimmerman is in the latter camp. And now that he has figured it out the team will be better for it. Zimmerman is no rush-the-parapets kind of guy. He’s much more of the quiet, lead-by-example, give-praise-where-it’s-due and criticize-in-private type. Given that the Nats are a pretty young team, Zimmerman’s personality fits that just fine.

After his walk off single Tuesday night a reporter asked Zim about the error by newbie shortstop Ian Desmond that led to San Diego scoring the tying run late in the game. Zim’s response was unequivocal:  “He’s very, very talented, and he thinks he can get every one out, which is a good thing,” Zimmerman said. “He’ll learn when not to throw balls, when to throw balls. It’s going to be part of the stuff we have to go through with him. I think it’s way more worth it to have him out there.” So there it is: for a kid like Desmond to have a guy like Zimmerman covering his back so publicly says a lot about Desmond’s talent (one of me Droogs reminded me that All World Cubbie Ernie Banks had 34 errors at short as a rookie)  — and a lot about Zim’s leadership style. By sticking up for a guy that the media would love to pick at Zimmerman was basically telling the wags to lay off the kid. And telling skipper Jim Riggleman that the kid will be okay.

In today’s edition of the Post, Zimmerman was at it again. Laying his cards on the table regarding trade rumors about Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, Zimmerman was outspoken: “It’s really, really hard to find a 3-4-5. Look at what we’ve done for the past two years. We enjoy playing together, and we kind of push each other. It’s a good group we have. It would be bad if we broke it up, I think.”  He couldn’t have been more clear than if he said “Mr. Rizzo, please don’t screw this up.” Zimmerman may be feeling his oats a bit too. When asked about Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo he said they “are very smart guys” and then added this coda — “they’ve done a great job so far.”  So far! Not beyond the pale. Just making his point. And a very good one methinks.

A note to Rizzo, Kasten and Riggleman: don’t overthink this. Play follow the leader — and leave Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ian Desmond right where they are.

Nats Boot It In Baltimore

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

You can’t make four errors and expect to win a ball game, no matter how much you hit — and no matter how many spectacular plays you make that are  nominated for “Web Gems” on “Baseball Tonight.” The Nats made four errors against Baltimore on Friday night, dropping an extra innings heartbreaker (and the first game of a three game set), to the Orioles, 7-6. This should have been Nyjer Morgan’s game: the Nats’ pesky lead-off hitter went 4-5, scored three runs, drove in one, stole a base and made a spectacular catch on what looked like a sure home run by Oriole Corey Patterson. Morgan climbed the centerfield wall at Camden Yards to snag the deep fly and rob the fleet-footed Patterson, who tipped his cap to Morgan in acknowledgment of his good glove work. Ironically, in an error-filled game, Morgan’s circus catch was one of the best defensive play of the year for the Nats. But Morgan’s good glove and hot bat after a month-long slump could not save his team, who played an embarrassing error-filled game.

After the game, Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman seemed befuddled, and angered, by his team’s loss. “You saw it. I’m not going to say anything specific, but the way we are playing in general — defensively — it isn’t good enough,” Riggleman said to reporters. “We do a lot of talking about it. We are out there working on it. But for some reason … I really can’t explain it. I know we put the work in. I feel bad for the players. It’s an issue for them. They see the number of errors. They see the games get away from us, because we are not making plays. We have to find a way to change that.” To compound the errors, righty reliever Tyler Clippard pitched poorly, in what has to account for his worst relief outing of the year. Clippard, who has been so consistent that Nats fans take his excellent relief appearance for granted, gave up four hits and four runs (three of them earned) in just 1.1 inning of work. While the Nats left Camden Yards disappointed, the O’s were ecstatic — registering a rare come-from-behind win on what should have been a double play ball that would have sent the game into extra innings. The O’s scored when Cristian Guzman’s flip to first eluded first sacker Adam Dunn. Guzman and shortstop Ian Desmond each had two errors in the game.

Unfortunately, while the Orioles will focus on the win and the Nats will focus on the errors, Nyjer Morgan’s play vindicated Riggleman who, prior to the game, said that he was undisturbed by the center fielder’s lack of production. Riggleman’s comments were a vote of confidence for Morgan, who has been the subject of fan criticism, and speculation that he might be benched in favor of Roger Bernadina. Riggleman has been trying to find a way to give Mike Morse more at bats — and benching Morgan and moving Bernadina into his spot would solve that problem. Morse would then play right field. But Riggleman said he’s sticking with Morgan. “I have a lot of patience with Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “One thing we kind of hang our hats on is last year when we got Nyjer at this time of the year, he had been doing OK in Pittsburgh, not having a great start, just treading water. Then he took off.” Riggleman seemed more than satisfied that his vote of confidence in Morgan worked out: after the loss to the Orioles the Nats skipper pointedly referred to the Morgan catch. “It may have been the greatest play of the year,” he said.

Nats Ambush Tribe

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Stephen Strasburg pitched 5.1 solid innings of two-hit baseball (striking out eight while walking five) and the Nats’ bats loosened up in Cleveland on Sunday, as the Washington Nine took the last of a three game set against the Indians, 9-4. While all eyes were focused on Strasburg — who struggled with a hole in the Progressive Field mound — the real hero of Sunday’s game might well have been Drew Storen, who came on in the sixth inning to shut down a nascent Cleveland rally, getting two outs with the bases loaded and saving a sure-thing Washington win. “It was one-out, bases-loaded,” Washington shortstop Ian Desmond noted. “He [Storen] comes in, gets two outs and Strasburg’s game is saved. If Storen comes in and gives up a grand slam, three of those runs are Strasburg’s. He would have given up four runs on the day in six innings and nobody would be saying that much. So you have to give our ballclub credit. It’s not just Strasburg.”

The Nats finally broke loose against the Wahoos, scoring nine runs on sixteen hits, including round-trippers from Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina. Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond were 3-5 and Mike Morse, playing right field, hit a key double in sparking the Nats win. “We put up 16 hits, we put nine runs, we played good solid defense. We made the plays we had to make, and the bullpen came and dealt with it,” Desmond said after the game. “Strasburg did a great job, not to take anything away from him. The rest of us are playing hard, too. Everything is going good right now.” After the game, the Nats traveled the short distance to Detroit to take on the Tigers, and will face them in a three game set, before returning home to face the White Sox.

E5, BS(2); E6 (3)

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

It’s not that the Washington Nationals have slipped back into their old 2009 ways (they haven’t, at least not completely — and at least not yet), it’s that their sloppy defensive play of the last two days (and their successive losses to the forlorn Houston Astros), are a cautionary note for the future. The Nats are a poor defensive team and will need to improve their fielding performance if they hope to contend this year. We begin this sad tale on Tuesday, when the Nats blew a one-run seemingly in-the-bag win against the Astros, with an unusual error by Nats third sacker Ryan Zimmerman. The error put the Astros back in the game and led to a Matt Capps blown save that gave the Astros a 8-7 win. That Lance Berkman, whose checked swing on a Matt Capps offering should have been called a strike notwithstanding — the simple fact is that if the Pedro Feliz grounder had been fielded cleanly, Berkman (an intimidator, and Nats slayer) would not have come to the plate.

The Nats’ defensive woes were even more evident on Wednesday. In the midst of a sixth inning in-the-MASN-booth love fest between Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight over how Ian Desmond reminded them of the young Derek Jeter (Holy Cow!), the rangy rookie Nats shortstop committed two errors on one play: failing to step on second on a force and then throwing wide to first. The otherwise impressive Desmond (and it’s true, he’s a work in progress) bobbled a grounder from Berkman in the seventh. It was an unusually poor play, as Desmond seemed unsure whether to charge the ball, or play it back. “Berkman doesn’t really run that well,” Desmond explained. “I figured if I stayed back on it, I’d still be able to turn the double play. It kind of took a bad hop on me. Ate me up a little bit. I trust myself as a player. Tomorrow will be a new day, bounce back and everything will be fine.” Okay. But the defensive failures and the team’s high strikeout total (thirteen, against so-so Astros’ pitching) led to an indifferently played and disappointing 5-1 loss.

All of baseball was abuzz on Wednesday with the blown call of umpire Jim Joyce that cost Detroit Tigers starter Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The call came with two out in the ninth inning: an infield roller was scooped up and served to Galarraga covering first. The ball and Galarraga clearly beat a sprinting Indians hitter Jason Donald to the bag, but Joyce called Donald safe. Joyce maintained his stance — the infield hit was a single, transforming a perfect game into a one-hit shutout. But after the game, Joyce saw the replay and admitted that he’d made a mistake. “It was the biggest call of my career,” Joyce told reporters, “and I kicked it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.” The admission set off an explosion of commentary about the use of instant replay — but that debate isn’t likely to be resolved soon.

I was hoping that Tim Kurkjian (who seems to know this kind of stuff) could have added some perspective to the Joyce call, by citing the number of calls that had gone the other way; that is, that gave pitchers no-hitters and perfect games when they didn’t deserve them. There must have been at least some small numbers of such incidents, which is not to mention the widened strike zone that recently (and in at least two cases) gave Roy Halladay strike outs instead of walks. So it is: no perfect game is possible without such calls, just as no no-hitter can go into the books without some kind of fantastic play somewhere. It’s a given. Then too, as we might remember, Milt Pappas was one pitch away from a perfect game (on September 2, 1964) when umpire Bruce Froemming, after calling two strikes on the last batter, called the next four pitches (all strikes) balls. Pappas never forgave Froemming and told him, the next day, that he’d blown a chance to call a perfect game. Froemming — who, like Pappas, could be a nasty piece of work — just smiled. “Show me an umpire who ever called a game without making a mistake,” he said.