Posts Tagged ‘Jason Marquis’

Two Of Three From The Ahoys

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman accounted for four of the Nats runs with four RBIs, righty Jason Marquis pitched a solid six innings and slugger Adam Dunn hit a long home run into the left field seats as the Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-1 on Sunday. The win marked the first time that the Nats had won a road series since May, as the Anacostia Nine took two of three on the road against the Ahoys. “Start-by-start I feel like I’m getting to where I need to be,” Marquis sai following his outing. “Obviously early on I was hurting, and since the surgery I feel like Jason Marquis more day-by-day. The last four starts have been right where I want to be, although I’d like to go a little deeper into games, but I’ve just got to minimize my pitch count and that will happen.”

Fear And Trembling In San Diego: You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the concern in the voices of the radio announcers for the San Diego Padres. It was obvious in the bottom of the 9th inning on Sunday, with the Colorado Rockies about to sweep their three game series with the Friars — sending the Pads to their tenth loss in a row. “Well,” color analyst Jerry Coleman said, “the Padres have three outs to turn this thing around. You have to wonder.” The frustration of the broadcast team of “double X 1090” had been growing throughout the game, ever since the Padres had tied the Rockies in the 6th, only to see the Heltons climb back by scoring two in the top of the seventh. “It’s like we’re snake bit,” Coleman said. The Padres skid is their worst since May of 1994 and the worst for a first place team since the 1932 Pirates. “We’re in games,” Padres manger Bud Black explained after Sunday’s loss. “We’re just not generating the big hit, we’re not generating the offense to get us over the top. We’re just not executing the pitch, making the play that changes the course of a game.”

If San Diego doesn’t do something soon, they’re in danger of drawing comparisons with the 1969 Cubs, who were in first place in August, but then let the Mets catch them, or the 1964 Phillies — whose late-season collapse remains legion. It’s hard to determine what ails the Pads: there haven’t been any blow-outs during the skid, but the team seems incapable of winning the close ones. In many ways, the Sunday tilt against the Rockies was typical: the pitching was solid (but not solid enough) and the Padres hit (but not exactly when they need to), and the team took the early lead — but couldn’t hold it. With the exception of a 5-0 skunking at the hands of the Phillies back on August 29 and an 11-5 disaster against the Diamondbacks (that started the meltdown) the Friars have been in nearly every game.

The Padres’ problem is what we always thought it would be — hitting. The Friars have scored just 23 runs in their ten game skid and have found it nearly impossible to hit with runners in scoring position, plating one run for every five chances. Ryan Ludwick was supposed to help solve the team’s RBI production problems but, after a solid start in his new digs, he just hasn’t done it. The right fielder, who the Padres picked up in a three-way swap with the Cardinals and Indians at the trade deadline, is known for his nose-in-the-dirt play and ability to compete in close games, but he’s hit .194 over the losing streak — a fall-off in production as sudden as it is unexplained. And don’t look now, but young hurler Wade LeBlanc (a solid starter to go with the likes of Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Jon Garland and Kevin Correia) is in a free-fall. In ten starts since mid-July, LeBlanc has seen his ERA fall from 3.30 to 4.15. Ugh.

There’s a bright side, of course. The Padres are still in first place, the team’s starters are still “the best in the West” (and maybe in the entire National League), Bud Black is one of the savviest managers in the majors — and it ain’t over until it’s over. But the Padres have to be worried: they face the surging McCoveys seven times over the next four weeks (including a four game set this coming weekend) and the Rockies seem to have their number, having won 11 of 15 in their last meetings. The Padres face Colorado in a three game set in Denver starting next Monday — having just been swept by them in San Diego. “We’ll be fine — trust me,” Padres’ second sacker David Eckstein said in the midst of this most recent skid. And, you know, maybe he’s right. But in the sprint to the poll, and with the Giants and Rockies in their rear view mirror, the Padres need to start hitting.

(above: Ryan Zimmerman, AP Photo/Keith Srakocic. Below: David Eckstein in San Diego AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A Laugher In Miami

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn homered, and Jason Marquis pitched 5.2 solid innings to lead the Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami on Monday night. The win was the third in a row for the Nationals — a “laugher” — who have energized their sudden surge by scoring 40 runs in the last five games. On Monday, the Zimmerman-Dunn combination accounted for seven of the nine runs, as Zimmerman hit his 25th and Dunn hit his 33rd home runs. Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse also continued their offensive assault, with both accounting for two hits. The sudden plate production stands in stark contrast to the Nats of just a week ago — when the Anacostia Nine had difficulty scoring against the Braves, Phillies and Cubs, and dropped seven of nine games.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains: It was a bad night for Florida baseball. The official attendance for the Nats-Marlins tilt was given as 18,326, but after a nearly three hour rain delay the Marlins were playing in front of hundreds — not thousands. In the seventh inning, a ballgirl snagged a ground foul along the first base line and trotted towards the seats to hand it to a fan: there was no one there. Then too, it’s an open debate whether anyone scrambled for Adam Dunn’s home run into the right field seats — no fan was even close. If you head to see the Marlins tonight, you might want to look under your seat. When the game finished at 1 a.m this morning, there were more people in Dupont Circle than at the Marlins game. The Marlins are counting on a new stadium to solve their attendance woes, but you have to wonder whether that’s really going to work. There’s a beautiful stadium in Toronto and a good, young team — and they don’t draw a lick . . .

Over in Tampa, where the Rays were taking on the Jays, precisely 11,968 patrons showed up at “The Trop” — an embarrassing non-anomaly for a team that now ranks 23rd in MLB attendance (just behind the last place Nats). The Nationals ranked as high as 19th in attendance this year, but the Rays have never been a notch over where they are right now. Bleacher Report’s J.C. De La Torre says there’s a reason for this: 70 percent of the fans live nearly an hour from the stadium (which is true) and Tampa has the second highest jobless rate in the state. And De La Torre notes that Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas also have attendance problems. They are all first place teams with 62 percent or less in capacity this season.

No matter what the issue, the Rays’ problems are long term and not likely to be resolved anytime soon — and they will have an impact on the franchise, which will see star left fielder Carl Crawford headed out of town (wouldn’t it be nice if he came to Washington, instead of New York) come October. “It was a big letdown,” Crawford said of the sparse crowd. “We came out all fired up and you see that, it’s really depressing.” The Rays desperately need a new stadium, but are locked in a head-to-head battle over whether the team will play in St. Petersburg (where they are now, officially, located) or Tampa — which could be the site of a new stadium in the waterfront area. The battle won’t be joined until after the season, which means that a new stadium (if there is one) won’t be started for at least another year. And no one has yet figured out how a new ballpark will be funded.

CarlCrawford.jpg image by BEEZEWAX34

(above: Jason Marquis AP Photo/Wildredo Lee; below: Carl Crawford against the Red Sox in Tampa)


Marquis Is Back, Nats Fall

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Nats starter Jason Marquis appears to be all the way back from surgery to remove “foreign bodies” in his elbow, pitching masterfully in 7.1 innings against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on Wednesday. But the New Yorker’s outing did not result in a win, as the Cubs victimized the Nationals’ bullpen and went on to register a win, 4-0. The victory sealed a Cubs’ sweep of the three game series. Marquis, who the Nationals signed as a free agent in the off season, received a standing ovation as he walked from the mound in the 8th. “I was attacking the strike zone,” Marquis said. “The more I’ve been throwing, I’m creating better habits and allowing myself to make those pitches in the bottom of the zone. I let my defense do the work, which I have done the last few years. It’s definitely exciting to be back.”

After successive games in which the bullpen shut down the Cubs, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett pitched poorly — with Clippard yielding a double to Cubs rookie shortstop Starlin Castro, scoring Tyler Colvin from first base. That was all the Cubs would need. After the loss, Nationals skipper Jim Riggleman seemed to respond to rising complaints about the Nationals losing streak — and rising criticism of his decision making: “I’m certainly disappointed in our record,”  Riggleman said after the game. “I know our guys are playing hard, they are giving effort. The intensity is there, the hurt is there. We are suffering. We’re getting beat. I don’t like getting beat. I’m sick of it. I know our players are. It’s a game of character. Our character is being tested. We have to pass that character test.”

The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: You know that fans are losing heart when they begin to give away their tickets. This is what’s happening in Section 129, as an entirely new cohort of “fans” showed up for the Zambrano game, including a New Yorker who was (I swear) the spitting image of actor Chazz Palminteri — the tough talking “Agent Kujan” of “The Usual Suspects.” He and his friend (a separated at birth twin for New York cop — and Kujan sidekick — Sgt. Jeff Rabin) elbowed their way into my row in the top of the 3rd inning, pushing aside the regulars. “Hey buddy, you’re in our seats,” the Kujan look-alike said. I shook my head. Kujan held out his tickets: “Oh yeah?” The tickets said he and his friend were actually in Section 130. “You’re over there.” He eyed me for a minute: “We’ll sit here.” Okay, fine. But I had an overwhelming urge to ask him whether he’d ever heard of Keyser Soze. I tried to remember the line, but couldn’t — and then, suddenly, it was there: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I thought about it for a minute, but let it go.

“Agent Kujan” ignored me, but then started chatting in the 5th — I was keeping score and he looked at my book. “Hey buddy, you’re really into this.” I nodded: “It’s my diversion.” He gave me a crooked smile. “What the hell’s that mean?” I thought for a moment. “A hobby.” This seemed to satisfy him, but in the 6th he began peppering me with questions. “So they got nothin’, I mean the Nats — they got nothin‘.” Well, I said, they’ve got Zimmerman. He nodded: “The third baseman, yeah — sure. But that’s it.” And Dunn, I added. “Yeah,” he said, “but outside of that, they got nothin’.” I shrugged: well, and they’ve got “the kid at shortstop” and “the new pitcher — Strasburg — and . . .” He didn’t like it: “Listen buddy, I’m tellin’ ya, they got nothin’. Believe me.” Half an inning later he took it up again. “If they’re so good, why ain’t they in first place?” Good point, actually. “They don’t have any pitching,” I said, nodding. His buddy leaned across Kujan, his eyebrows up. He wagged his finger. “First thing you said — first thing you said.”

Kujan tried again in the 7th. “Hey buddy,” he said. “Who’s that shortstop up in New York? You know — the good one.” You mean Derek Jeter, I responded. “No, no. The other one.” Verbil Kint? Dean Keaton? Kobayashi? “Jose Reyes,” I said. “Yeah, that the one. Now there’s a heck of a ballplayer.” His buddy nodded vigorously. “Too true. When you’re right, you’re right.” Ah, Mets fans. That explained everything. But Kujan was just getting started. “You know, the Cubs are going to have a new manager next year. Could be anyone.” I nodded, and mentioned that I heard that Joe Girardi or Joe Torre might be interested in the job. He was insulted, shaking his head — Palminteri like. “You kiddin’ me? No way. Let’s me tell you something buddy,” he said. “Joe Torre ain’t gonna take it. No way. He loves it out there in L.A. And who wouldn’t, that what I say. And Girardi? You think a guy’s gonna move outa New York to go to Chicago?” I guess you’re right, I said. His buddy chimed in: “When you’re right, you’re right. That’s what I always say. When you’re right, you’re right.” By the 8th inning, with the Cubs ahead by five, Kujan had had enough, elbowing past me. “Good talkin to ya,” he said.

And like that — poof. He was gone.”

Doc Outduels Jason

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Calling his five inning outing against the Phillies “a step in the right direction,” Jason Marquis appeared nearly all the way back from elbow surgery in his outing in Philadelphia on Friday night. While the Nats dropped the contest to the Ashburns and Roy “Doc” Halladay by a score of 1-0, there had to be a huge sigh of relief by the Nats front office that Marquis looked almost (almost) like the pitcher that was once the ace of the Colorado Rockies staff. If Marquis continues to pitch the way he did on Friday (and better — considering that the Nats need someone, somehow, to pitch out of the 5th, 6th or 7th innings), then Mike Rizzo’s $15 million two-year gamble on Marquis will begin to pay off. “I’ve been working hard to get back to where I need to be,” Marquis said after the loss. “I was sick and tired of embarrassing myself out there. It’s a step in the right direction. We’ll keep working to get better. We’ll see what happens in five days.”

All of that is good news; the bad news is that Halladay remains one of the elite pitchers of the National League (and all of baseball, for that matter) — and it showed in his steady if unspectacular strike-after-strike start on Friday. Halladay gave up eight hits to the Nats line-up, but the front nine were not able to bring the baserunners home. The Nationals left an almost astonishing 22 men on base, a signal that while many of the Anacostia Nine can hit the long ball, the station-to-station game played by nearly all successful teams remains elusive. Halladay took advantage of the Nats’ RISP weakness, throwing 116 pitches, 75 of them for strikes. “I battled myself early,” Halladay said after the game “It was one of those games where I was always working to make pitches. I had a little bit of luck on my side. But I’ll definitely take it.” The Nationals continue their visit to the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday, sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound against Kyle Kendrick.

Marquis Returns With Shaky Outing

Monday, August 9th, 2010

This is what we can probably expect then — that the Nationals will flirt (on-and-off) with being good, but then will slip a bit (it will be tantalizing) before climbing precariously back. After the nearly on-a-respirator Los Angeles Dodgers’ took two of three from the Nats in L.A., there should be little doubt that August and September (but, of course, not October — at least not this year), will be spent reviving old arms (Jason Marquis), trying out new ones (Jordan Zimmermann) and nursing steady progress among those arms that will stay into next year (Stephen Strasburg). It could be a long and painful progress, as the Nats showed on Sunday when they dropped an 8-3 decision to the Trolleys (the game was not as close as the scores indicates). Jason Marquis was anxious for a solid outing, but a recovery from elbow surgery takes time, though Marquis attributed the rocky outing to his own failures: :”I put myself in trouble with the walks,” he said. “There was one play where I didn’t pick up the ball. There was an out I gave away there. I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The Nationals return home, where they will face the Florida Marlins beginning on Tuesday. Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Patrick Reddington over at Federal Baseball has a good summary of the career of Andre Dawson, who will be honored at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Reddington surveys the views on whether and how the Nationals should acknowledge their Montreal roots, the subject of much commentary in both the blogosphere and among Nats fans. We have nothing substantive or creative to add to Reddington’s comments, or those of Phil Wood and Ben Goessling, but would add this observation. If the Nationals are so anxious that the team’s fans acknowledge their Montreal roots, then they can stop producing apparel that dates the franchise (in chronological order) “Established 1905” or “Established 2005” — hell, why not 1886, when the “Washington Statesmen” were founded? If we want to acknowledge our actual franchise roots, there should be a sweatshirt that reads “Established 1969,” the year the Expos came into the league. Keeping it “Established 2005” is just fine with me, and I would just bet that that is the preference of Washington fans.

Which is not to say that Andre Dawson does not deserve our applause. He does. He was an amazing hitter and young speedster (until Astroturf tore up his knees) and had an outfield arm that was second only to Clemente. I did not see him play in Montreal, but only in Chicago — where I recall him as one of the truly great clutch hitters in the game. Dawson was the one player the North Siders had before Sandburg and Grace made them a near powerhouse. I find it hard to believe that it took Dawson eleven years to make it into the Hall of Fame. He was the N.L. MVP in 1987, when the Cubs finished last. Dawson hit 49 home runs that year and knocked in 137 RBIs. None of his teammates were even close. And this in an era before steroids became prominent. He never touched them. Coulda, woulda, shoulda . . . but still: if Dawson had not had cartilage that sounded like grinding metal those last five years, he would have had 3000 hits.

Auctions and Auditions

Friday, August 6th, 2010

It is that time of year, when contending teams stock up for a final run to the flag and non-contenders send unsubtle signals to their players about their plans for the future. In Kansas City (for instance), the Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment and signaled that they would be open to dealing him to a contending N.L. team, perhaps the San Francisco Giants. The message couldn’t be plainer: after their three year $36 million splurge on Guillen, the Royals are calling it quits on the outfielder, who’s on the brink of free agency. And if the Royals can’t find a taker? Well, Guillen is free to find work elsewhere. Guillen isn’t the only one on the hot seat. In Florida, Cody Ross is getting unmistakable signs that he’s not in the team’s future plans, while in Chicago, baseball yakkers say that Kosuke Fukudome is so unwanted that the Cubs will not only ship him out to a team that wants him, but will pay a large part of his remaining salary if only he will go elsewhere.

The Washington Nationals are sending signals of their own. On Thursday, the Nats placed Nyjer Morgan on the 15-day disabled list. The Nats’ center fielder wasn’t pleased: “”It [freaking] sucks,” Morgan said. “I feel fine. But, whatever.” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman ignored the comment, putting his best this-is-really-terrible face on the move. “I hope it’s just two weeks,” he said. It seems likely that Morgan, despite his protest, gets it; he might “feel fine,” but the Nats don’t. By putting Roger Bernadina (.277, 8 HRs) in center and Michael Morse (.330, 7 HRs), in right, the Nats are auditioning their 2011 outfield: which would be younger and more potent– a good outfield, sans Morgan. The same kind of a signal was sent by Riggleman to Jason Marquis, who was recently reactivated and is set to pitch in Los Angeles on Sunday. After a season of elbow woes (and surgery to remove bone chips), Mike Rizzo & Company would love to include Marquis in their future plans. But whether Marquis is around for 2011 is an open question. He wants to contribute,” Riggleman said. “If he’s the real Jason Marquis, the guy who is sinking the ball and getting ground balls and attacking hitters, he can really help us and be a part of our future.” And if not?

After splitting their four game series with the woeful D-Backs in Phoenix, the Nats are 14.5 games back in the N.L. East. While there’s no chance that they’ll contend for a playoff spot, the rest of the season is hardly a wash: the team will spend the rest of the current campaign auctioning and auditioning — the Morgan-to-the-D.L. move is just the beginning. And based on what the Nats are doing now, you have to believe the future is bright. While the team cannot overtake the Chops or Ponies, the underfunded and disappointing Fish and the New York Palookas are within striking distance. If the Marlins (losers of four straight) have a plan (except for stockpiling young arms), we can’t find it, while the listless New York Tailspins are beset by “anxiety” and regularly “mailing it in.” For the first time in three years, the Nationals have nowhere near the same set of problems. The team has moved younger and better hitters (Bernadina and Morse) into key spots and are days away from a series of “you’re going to Hollywood” bookings that will start with Marquis and continue with appearances by Jordan Zimmermann (below), Yunesky Maya, Wilson Ramos and (even) Danny Espinosa. Which is not even to mention the continuing American Idol-like tour of “the kid” — who is now slated to start against the Marlins on Tuesday. The news is good for Nats fans: a team that was so filled with hope in April will be filled with even more hope come September.

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.

Nats Staff Still Unsettled

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The New York Mets provided the fireworks on July 4taking an 8-0 lead against the Washington Nationals and going on to register a “no contest” 9-5 victory at Nationals Park. The heat wasn’t the only thing that was unbearable at the stadium: up-and-down sometime starter Craig Stammen inaugurated the contest by serving up batting practice middle-of-the-plate pitches, which were duly deposited by Mets batters to all parts of the field. “I wasn’t very good. That’s the reason we lost. We move on,” Stammen said after the game. “It’s not anything physical. It’s how I’m thinking out there, a little bit, and sticking to the game plan little more — having conviction with my pitches.” Stammen’s outing, after a superior appearance last week versus the Bravos, was evidence enough that the Nats pitching staff still needs some kind of help.

The team’s pitching stats tell only a part of the story: while the Nats are just below the middle-of-the-pack in ERA (17th of 30, at 4.14), every other NL East team leads them with, not surprisingly, Atlanta at the very front of the division. While Washington’s bragging rights bullpen has been stellar (it ranks 9th in major league baseball), the stats don’t tell the entire story: the numbers imply that the Nats are bullpen dependent, calling on their middle relievers and closers in 35 of the first 40 games — more than anyone else except for three other MLB teams: proof positive (it seems) that the Nats starting pitching (while better than last year) is still woeful. Pitching into the 7th is a huge problem for the Nats rotation. A part of the team’s starting pitching problem is injuries (the DL list is a pitching graveyard), but it’s also true that the Nats simply lack the horses at the front of the rotation to climb out of last place in the “NL Least” — and there’s no guarantee that the return of Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen, Jason Marquis or Chien Ming-Wang will solve that problem.

The San Diego Padres roll into town today (with a game tomorrow night at Nats Park) with the best pitching staff around: a 3.07 ERA that is provided by a bevy of kids and veterans — Mat Latos has been the surprise, but he’s supplemented by a noted ground ball guru (Jon Garland) and a legendary closer. How did they get there? They followed the Rizzo Principles: they drafted and developed young pitchers (Latos was drafted in the 11th round in 2006, Wade LeBlanc was a second round pick in the same year) and then traded a veteran (Jake Peavy) for a passel of young prospects. If Mike Rizzo follows the same pattern he will wait on Zimmermann, Olsen, Marquis and Wang — and set aside the enormous temptation of trading Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham, whose middle-of-the-order bats are essential to transforming the young staff into winners. That’s probably a pretty good strategy for a team that’s still rebuilding, but it’s near-beer for Nats’ watchers. Which means? Which means that the Nats staff is not only unsettled, it’s likely to remain so.

Nieves, Clippard Rock Rockies

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Wil Nieves isn’t often the hero, but he was on Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies. A Wil Nieves’ RBI double in the eighth inning ensured the Nationals a 6-4 victory over the always tough Colorado Rockies. With two runners on in the eighth, Nieves took a 1-0 pitch deep to left center, bringng the Nats back to one game over .500 early in the 2010 campaign. Nieves’ double came off of Rockies’ reliever Rafael Betancourt, breaking open the 4-4 game.”He just hung a slider up and away,” Nieves said. “I put a good swing on it and put it in the gap. I saw [center fielder] Dexter Fowler out there and he can run, but when I saw it drop, it was a huge double.” Nats’ starter John Lannan seemed to struggle in the early part of the game, but he kept his team close — scattering 11 hits over six innings before being relieved by Tyler Clippard, the Nats’ emerging middle relief expert.

Clippard was exceptional, throwing two innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts. Only one Rockie was able to get to Clippard, with a measly single. “I have a good feel for my pitches right now,” Clippard said. “My whole career, I have always been successful against lefties and righties. For whatever reason, I have a good changeup and I will throw some pitches that will run in on your hands sometimes.” Clippard is now 3-0 on the season and sports a head-turning 0.77 ERA. While the 2010 season is still young, the Nats are playing well and the team’s scary middle-of-the-lineup is just now starting to hit.  Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham were a combined 6-11, with Dunn raising his average to just under the Mendoza line. Washington closer Matt Capps registered his sixth save in as many chances.

Those Are The Details And Now For The Headlines: All is not right down along Half Street — Ryan Zimmerman grabbed his hamstring in the 7th inning on Wednesday and may have to sit out Thursday’s game. Zimmerman, who says he is seeing the ball well and starting to hit his stride, says he believes the tightness in his hamstring is the result of a cramp — and unrelated to the soreness in his hamstring that he suffered last week. “It’s the last thing I want to happen,” he said . . . Jason Marquis is now on the disabled list. Marquis has struggled with the Nats and his injury may have something to do with that. He is reported to have bone chips in his elbow. Marquis is embarrassed by his recent outings, and he should be: Felipe Lopez has a better ERA.

Nats Fall To Phillies: Again

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Nats must have one of the toughest early schedules in the major leagues: Phillies, Mets, Phillies (that’s six games against the Phillies in the first month), then the Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs. With the exception of the Mets — and a single end-of-month game against the Marlins — the Nats will face-off against a top team every single day until May. Of course (as some fans will note), when you finish with 103 losses, every team looks tough. Even so. There’s two ways to look at this: Nats fans can say it’s “not fair” (a phrase popularized by four-year-olds), or we can look at these games as tests of just how good the Nats are against the league’s best. In the case of the Phillies, at least, the results seem clear. It’s not simply that the Nats are not as good as the Phillies (that’s obvious), to complete with them the Nats will need more pitching — and lots of it.

The Nats fell to the Ponies in Philadelphia yesterday and played them even, until “the killer P’s” unloosed their hitters. For Jason Marquis, who must have come up short when the staff drew straws before heading north, the second outing against the Phillies was only marginally better than his first. Frankly, it’s doubtful that Livan, who dominated the Mets on Sunday, could have done much better. The line-up of Polanco, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez constitutes a latter-day murders’ row of lumber that would be daunting for an elite team — let alone the Nats. Even so, as a guy like Jim Riggleman will tell you, a competitive squad should be expected to play the Phillies tough. But so far that hasn’t happened. The lesson seems to be that once you have your boot on their neck, you don’t dare give in. “They are a balanced lineup,” Nats reliever Walker said. “They have some free swingers and have guys that will grind it out. The balance is what gets you, because they are going to be consistent every day. You give them an inch, they are going to take a mile. You give them an extra out, that’s when they really gear up. They know they can break your back.”

Andy MacPhail’s renovation project in Baltimore is making progress, though the pieces he’s added over the winter (signing Garrett Atkins was a great idea) aren’t likely to make a difference for the Orioles in the standings. At least not this year. It doesn’t help that steady-as-she-goes second sacker Brian Roberts pulled an abdominal muscle last night — and will be out for the next fifteen days. But the Orioles are coming back, if slowly, in part because MacPhail has cobbled together one of the best outfields in baseball: Adam Jones might be the best centerfielder in the game, Nolan Reimold is a surprise addition in left and Nick Markakis is becoming an established star. Even Felix Pie (above), the Cubs cast-off (you could say the same about MacPhail, come to think of it), is starting to hit, though his dinger last night against the Tampa Bay Whatevers didn’t keep the Orioles from losing — or falling to1-6 on the season.

“Overall, our pitching is doing a great job,” Markakis said after last night’s tilt. Really? You could have fooled me.The starting four of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are just so-so, and closer Michael Gonzalez (brought in from the Braves as the real deal) looks terrified on the mound. The Orioles’ front office is hoping that semi-rookie Brian Matusz is the answer to the Orioles’ annual pitching woes, but he’s inexperienced. Matusz was an elite college pitcher (at the University of San Diego) with good velocity, and his trip through the minors was impressive. Signed by the Orioles in the same year that Washington failed to land Aaron Crow, Matusz is Baltimore’s  hope for the future, even if the future has yet to arrive. If there’s any good news at all, it’s not only that Matusz is unlikely to fail, but that rotation-mate Brad Bergesen has been a surprise. Drafted in the fourth round in 2004, Bergesen was 7-5 last year with a stellar 3.43 ERA. That’s two solid pitchers for the future. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future will come only after Baltimore gets past a season with the savvy, but aging Millwood, and a bound-to-be-average Jeremy Guthrie.

None of this is cause to despair. While the future might take several years to arrive, Markakis, Jones, Reimold and Pie are fun to watch. If only they could pitch.