Posts Tagged ‘josh willingham’
Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
Nationals Journal reporter Adam Kilgore is all over Henry Rodriguez. The headline for his article today — in the wake of the Nationals impressive 5-2 win (and sweep) in New York — says it all: “Henry Rodriguez creates another mess, and Drew Storen gets out of it.”
Kilgore is reacting to another blowup by Rodriguez, the second in a row that nearly cost the Nationals a game. “Suddenly, the tying run in a 5-1 game had moved into the on-deck circle,” Kilgore wrote. “Johnson came to yank Rodriguez. For the second straight appearance, Rodriguez had faced two batters, allowed them both to reach base and been pulled.”
Of course, Kilgore wasn’t the only one who noticed — Nationals fans were tweeting about Rodriguez like crazy this afternoon. We’re embarrassed to say this, but the Centerfield Gate editorial staff (for those who’ve forgotten, here we are) were among the chirpers: “out of it” we said after the bullpen rescued Rodriguez: “#nats pitch around the wildness of Henry Rodriguez . . . should be a mantra . . .”
So what should the Nationals do about Henry? There are a number of choices, including one that seems popular just now with a whole boatload of exasperated and frustrated Nationals’ fans: designate him for assignment — the equivalent in Henry’s case (since he’s out of options) of a death sentence. Or trade him, now, for whatever the team can get. But no matter, in either case it would mean the Nationals are giving up on him.
Somehow that not only doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t sound like something that either Mike Rizzo or Davey Johnson would do. Rizzo paid a pretty price for Rodriguez, giving up Josh Willingham to the A’s for him, and for Corey Brown. Willingham is doing pretty well just now: he’s not only playing well for the Minnesota Twins, he is the Minnesota Twins.
Nor does it sounds like something that Davey Johnson would do. The Nats’ skipper has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Rodriguez — and he’s had to. “There’s another day tomorrow,” Johnson said after today’s adventure. “I’m not afraid to run him out there. He’s been spectacular for us, and at times not so good. Next time out, it’ll probably get spectacular.”
Sunday, May 29th, 2011
When the Nationals can’t pitch, they can’t hit — and when they can’t hit, they can’t pitch. But when they do both, they still need the ball to bounce the right way, and that hasn’t been happening lately. With their game knotted at four on Sunday, the Anacostia Nine simply needed to get out of the 9th and win it in the bottom of the inning, but a squibber off the bat of Ryan Ludwick and past a diving Ian Desmond scored Jorge Cantu to give the San Diego Padres a 5-4 win.
Was there any good news? If you think that a win is the best and only news there can be, then “no,” there wasn’t. But at least the Nationals began to hit, with Jayson Werth going 3-4 and Michael Morse continuing with his hot hitting. But Drew Storen, who has been struggling of late, was saddled with the loss — although reliever Tyler Clippard seemed to emerge from his late inning doldrums to register two innings of one hit ball. The jury is still out on Yunesky Maya, meanwhile, as the Cuban defector (who was called up from Syracuse) started strong, but then faded in the 5th.
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The Nationals are now 5-11 in one run games, and still have to find a way to win the close ones. And there’s grumbling amongst Nationals fans, who wonder whether the team’s skipper is so enamored of speed and the hit and run that he runs the Nationals out of some games. The groans along the first base line were audible on Saturday, as fans grumbled when Michael Morse was caught stealing with Jerry Hairston at the plate and Matt Stairs on the deck. “He just ran us out of the game,” a Nats’ ticket holder groused . . .
There was a lot of talk amongst season ticket holders about Jayson Werth’s comments earlier this week. “He said his comments weren’t aimed at Riggleman, but I don’t buy it,” a regular in Row BB commented. “Ah, he’s just frustrated,” a fan responded. “He’s always been that way.” Another fan, a visitor from New York, chimed in: “Well, Bobby’s available.” This brought puzzled looks and a response: “Valentine? Forget about it. If you think Werth is angry now, just wait until Valentine gets here. Rizz [Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo] will never give up on Riggleman.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Josh Willingham says he loves it in Oakland, where he’s become the centerpiece of the White Elephant’s all-pitch, no-hit franchise. But Willingham hasn’t exactly been hitting the cover off the ball, which is why the Athletics got him to begin with — he’s hitting .238 and been reaching for pitches out of the zone. Playing in Oakland’s “Coliseum” might have something to do with it: in most ballparks a ball will get lost in the lights; in Oakland, a ball gets lost in the darkness. And the fences are far, far away: out where the California National Guard patrols.
But Oakland is playing good baseball and getting good pitching, which has taken the pressure off the struggling Willingham. The good news is that when Oakland doesn’t get the stellar pitching they’re used to, Willingham has a habit of putting a ball back where no one can get it. As he did this afternoon against the Orioles, parking a heater from uber rookie Zach Britton in the left field seats.
The Connie Macks went on to win, 6-4 and sweep the suddenly struggling Orioles. The A’s are worth watching; they lead the A.L. in ERA and a lurking close enough to the top of the A.L. West to make the Gunslingers and Belinskys sweat. The A’s never seem to run out of pitching: today they started Guillermo Moscoso. Oh come on, you remember Guillermo Moscoso — right? No? Well, join the club.
Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
The Washington Nationals’ bullpen couldn’t hold onto a hard fought Washington lead, and the Nats were downed by a modest but effective late-inning rally in Milwaukee, 7-6 on Tuesday. The loss came at the expense of Nationals’ reliever Henry Rodriguez, who gave up a two out, two strike bleeder down the left field line to Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the 8th inning. “That’s baseball,” Rodriguez said after the game. “You guys saw what happened. It’s part of the game. It was a jam shot, and it fell in.” The hit was just enough for the Brewers to notch their eighth straight victory at home.
The bullpen, which has been stellar for the Nationals this year, looks like it’s starting to fade. Tyler Clippard was ineffective in the 7th, Rodriguez (who came in for Sean Burnett) was ineffective in the eighth — but nearly the entire crew has been struggling of late. Nationals skipper Jim Riggleman noted that the Washington pen has been the team’s highlight reel, but that it was almost fated that it would go through a rough time: “Our bullpen’s done a great job holding leads, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It doesn’t look good for Adam LaRoche. Bill Ladson writes that the first baseman has major shoulder issues and could face surgery — but first he’ll rest his arm, which includes at least two weeks of not touching a baseball . . . Michael Morse is swinging the bat. After a great Spring Training, Morse had trouble out of the gates. His grand slam home run last night is evidence that his power swing is back, but he’s also hitting for average. In mid-May he was hitting .235, he exited last night’s game at .282. He’s hitting over .400 in his last ten games . . .
It’s funny the way things happen. Over the winter, some Nationals fans were urging Rizzo, Riggleman & Company to forego a free agent contract for a first base replacement for the departed Adam Dunn (who’s hitting all of .192 in the Windy City) and put Morse at first base. Part of the argument was that the Nationals could spend their money more wisely on an outfielder with a good bat: to replace the departed Josh Willingham (who’s hitting .233 for the White Elephants). Now they have their wish. It looks like the Nationals are about to go with a set line-up of Rick Ankiel in center, Roger Bernadina in left — and Morse at first. That’s not bad, except that Morse will not only have to keep hitting, but step up his defensive game. Adam LaRoche was a wizard at first, and his glove will be missed . . .
One of our more regular readers and a CFG fan (here he is), sent along a piece from Wired magazine (that’s a first, because most of our readers read Maxim) noting the May 24 anniversary of the first baseball game played under the lights. It’s a pretty good read, and notes that erecting lights at Crosley Field was part of a desperate measure to keep the Reds in the Queen City (that would be Cincinnati of all places). Lights caught on around the rest of the league, the article noted, except in Chicago, where lights (and winning) were a late addition . . .
And speaking of firsts, if you haven’t read the article on the New York Mets ownership (and the Fred Wilpon-Bernie Madoff fiasco) in the New Yorker you should. The article is long, but you can do it (and you’re all grown up now, and it’s time), and it gives a fair and even sympathetic picture of the Mets’ owner and his struggles to keep his team. We were all set to dislike the guy (as with everything else blue and orange), but ended up thinking that, despite all of his problems with financing, Wilpon not only seems like a good sort, but (surprise, surprise) knows his baseball . . .
Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Josh Willingham has been traded to the Oakland Athletics for former Oklahoma State bopper Corey Brown and pitcher Henry Rodriguez, who features a 98 mph fastball and a devastating curve. It’s tough to see Willingham go and Nationals’ fans are bound to be disappointed in the return: neither Brown nor Rodriguez are considered among the top prospects in the A’s system, and both are unpolished. But the Nats front office was apparently impressed with Brown’s power (he was dominant this fall, in Arizona) and H-Rod’s eye-popping speed and both will get a good look in Spring Training. It’s not out of the question that, if Rodriguez impresses Riggleman & Co., he could be the Nats’ closer in 2011. He has the stuff to do it and was used out of the bullpen by the A’s in 2010. Corey Brown, on the other hand, might well be an experiment: he hit for power in the A’s farm system (with 15 home runs at AA and AAA), but he struck out 129 times in 530-some at bats. Even so, Brown is young enough and good enough (and he’s fast) to start getting more than a look-see in a new Nats outfield.
In Willingham, the A’s get a steady presence both in left field and at the plate where (prior to his August 15 injury) he hit .268 with 16 home runs. The trade for Willingham was set up by A’s General Manager Billy Beane by the signing of former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and the re-signing of yet-to-reach-his-potential Rich Harden. Then too, in light of a slow off season for the Belinskis, the continued cratering of the Mariners and the failure of Texas to land Cliff Lee, the A’s front office is calculating that the A’s can outdistance the Rangers for A.L. West honors. They might be right. With the addition of Willingham, the White Elephants have finished building an outfield that (in addition to Willingham) will now feature Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, and a revamped middle-of-the-line-up that includes newly signed Hideki Matsui. The A’s are also in the race for Adrian Beltre, whose prospective signing would give the A’s a middle of the order that would be the class of the other coast.
And the Nats? Considering Willingham’s mid-August injury and his reputation as a popular but not-quite-great ballplayer, Rizzo got what he could — and it wasn’t bad. Brown has power potential and is close to getting more than just a cup of coffee in the bigs, while Rodriguez is a comer — and is coming fast. We all loved “The Hammer,” but no one would mistake Willingham for Henry Aaron. Nor was Willingham ever picked as the player who could become a constant presence, or lead the team to the promised land. He was good. He was beloved. He was temporary. The Nats need to get younger, faster and better, which is what they just did.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
There were two pieces of bad news on Tuesday: the first was the Nats lefty Scott Olsen couldn’t make it out of the 6th inning against the Braves in Atlanta, the second was that Josh Willingham may be out for the season. While the second piece of news was assuredly worse than the first (Willingham will almost certainly undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee), Olsen’s failure to tame the Braves (the Nats lost ugly — 10-2) emphasized again the pitching woes that have faced the Anacostia Nine throughout the 2010 campaign. Little relief seems in sight: Jordan Zimmermann may not start for Washington until September, Jason Marquis continues to struggle and the combo of Livan and “the kid” has yet to result in serial wins.
But the most recent reward for frustration goes to Olsen, who was angered by Jim Riggleman’s decision to send him to the bench. While Riggleman retained his reputation for wielding an early hook, Olsen glared at him, stalked off the mound, yelled into his glove on the way to the dugout and then threw his leather angrily when he arrived. Olsen had no comment on Riggleman’s liberal hook, but the Nats skipper didn’t hesitate to defend his decision: “It was 2-0 and now it’s a homer, triple, walk with nobody out,” Riggleman said after the game. “Ole had done a great job. But as great as he was, he lost it that quickly. When you get a couple of runs, you have to minimize the damage. I just felt that our bullpen has a done great job. With the right-hander facing the right-handed hitters, maybe we could get a zero from that point on or maybe just one run. It just appeared to me that [Olsen] wasn’t pitching the same he was in the first few innings.”
The Nats will face the Braves again tonight, with innings eater and starting ace Livan Hernandez scheduled to face off against the normally lights-out Tim Hudson.
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
The Washington Nationals loss to the Florida Marlins on Tuesday was yet another example of the Nats’ good-news-bad-news season. The good news is that Stephen Strasburg is healthy, the bad news is that the Florida Marlins roughed up “the kid” — who lasted just 4.1 innings in his worst outing of the year. If that comment seems unfair, it’s only because it is: while Nats fans have expected a stellar outing whenever Strasburg steps on the mound, the simple truth is that any old 22-year-old phenom can get hit, as can any Hall of Famer or Cy Young winner. Strasburg is not the only very good pitcher who, after trying out his best stuff, finds himself tramping to the dugout. That said, there are reasons for Strasburg’s indifferent outing on Tuesday. Reasons. Not excuses.
Strasburg had not pitched in three weeks and, in the wake of his activation from the D.L. was not given the luxury of a rehab start in Triple-A. It was Strasburg who said it best: “Everybody is human. They are going to have these days sooner or later,” he said after the game. “I’m a little disappointed in myself, because I really went out there not focusing on the one thing that you really have to focus on: Just going out there and competing, and going with what you had. I spent the whole time worrying about trying to fix what was going wrong instead of just letting it go — just throwing the ball.”
And credit the Marlins. If Hanley Ramirez were to spend his career playing only the Nationals he’d be the next Stan Musial, while Dan Uggla hit the pitches he wanted (mostly up-in-the-zone fastballs that went wicked fahhh). The barrage, when coupled with 6.2 innings from a tough Anibal Sanchez and nearly spotless Fish relief spelled the difference. Oh, and the failure of Nationals’ hitters to take advantage of the few chances they had to score runs. Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is Josh Willingham’s continued drought, a slump that has now reached epic proportions. Willingham was 0-3 with a strikeout; his down-the-drain average is at .262, his power numbers plunging. The slump hasn’t really lasted all that long — only since June.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: You’d have to be an insensitive lout to not be overtaken by the emotion of Andre Dawson’s appearance at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The former Expos great teared up during his induction into the newly inaugurated Ring Of Honor — as good an idea as the Nationals front office has had since the hiring of Mike Rizzo. Dawson was joined by former Expos catcher Gary Carter, who told MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble that he was honored by his name being included, but that the night was “really about Andre.” The Ring of Honor celebrates Hall of Fame inductees who played for the Montreal Expos (the home franchise team of the Nationals), the Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays of the old Negro League, who played their games in D.C. for many years. Those honored include Dawson, Carter, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. You have to have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to be considered — hence the non-inclusion (alas) of Washington Senators’ first baseman Mickey Vernon, perhaps the most deserving veteran who has not yet been voted into the shrine. So change the rules: Mickey’s name belongs on that ring.
Thursday, July 15th, 2010
Just one year ago, in 2009, the Washington Nationals opened the second half of their season not only in last place in the NL East, but as the worst team in baseball. The problems then were obvious: the bullpen had imploded, regular outfielder Austin Kearns was slumping, there was no starting pitching and the team seemed uninvolved and detached. The challenge then was different than it is now: to change what was happening on the field, the Nats needed to change what was happening in the front office — a view reflected in ownership’s mid season open letter to fans that contained an embarrassing, but necessary apology. No such apology is needed now. While the Nats are yet again in last place in their division, the rebuilt bullpen is solid, Austin Kearns (DHL’d to Cleveland) has been replaced in the outfield by slugger Josh Willingham, the team’s starting rotation is filled with promise and the clubhouse is tight and optimistic. But perhaps the biggest revolution has been where the fans can’t see it: the front office is retooled — with an engaged general manager and a core of scouts and development experts who are competing with the best in baseball.
The challenges facing the 2009 Nats were obvious, the needed changes reflected in the standings. That’s less true now, particularly considering that the franchise controls one of the game’s premier young pitchers (Stephen Strasburg), has one of the most formidable 3-4-5 line-up combinations in the National League (Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham), is steadied by a future hall of famer behind the plate (“Pudge” Rodriguez), and has — waiting in the wings — a crowd of injured starting pitchers that could energize a second half surge (Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang). Which is not to say that there aren’t problems. There are. The Nats defense is weak, the team’s set-up men are struggling, their center fielder is having problems on the base paths (and at the plate) and (pending the uncertain return of a quartet of tweeky arms) their starting pitching is shaky.
In 2009, these same problems (and their hypothetical resolution) spurred overly optimistic talk; that the Nationals were actually “only a player or two” from being good. That wasn’t true in 2009 — not even close, but it’s true now. The question for Mike Rizzo is whether he busts up a good thing to continue building, or whether he tweaks the team at the edges, hoping that the return of the Marquis-Zimmermann-Olsen-Wang quartet will provide the necessary spur to vault the team out of last place. It’s not an easy decision: busting up the team means trading popular and productive players (Dunn or Willingham, or both), while tweaking it at the edges probably (probably) means accepting that the Nats future is not now, but sometime next year. If there’s good news here, it’s this: Nats fans won’t have to wait until August or September to determine the team’s fate — that tale will be told before the July 31 trading deadline.
The Wisdom Of Secton 1-2-9: The CFG contingent arrived at the first game of the McCovey series with a new set of fans seated firmly in the row behind the regulars. That the two (I swear) looked like the spitting image of Omar Little and Stringer Bell was tempting: “hey, you two were great in The Wire.” The moment, thankfully, passed. The two turned out to be charter members of the Nyjer Morgan fan club, pumping their fists at every Nyjer moment: “My man,” one said, when Nyjer came to the plate. A row mate was not impressed, mimicking Casey At The Bat — “strike two said the umpire” and then the smile “not my style said Nyjer.” There were titters. When Morgan flipped his bat in disgust at a strike out served up by Matt Cain, the potential for a debate seemed electric, but one of the Morgan partisans smiled:Â “You’ll see,” he said, to no one in particular. And he was right: Morgan was 2-5 and knocked in a run. “Hey man,” one of the Morgan fans said, but so we could hear it, “some of these fans don’t remember what Nyjer did for us last year.” His row mate nodded in agreement. “Yeah man, I know. Short memories.” This was greeted by silence. And chagrin. They were relentless, boring in for the kill. One of them tapped me on the shoulder: “That was a rope,” he said, after Morgan put a streaking line drive down the right field line. Okay, okay, okay . . .
“The problem with Clippard is that his curve just isn’t working,” one of the section’s middle relief experts opined in the second game of the San Francisco series. He didn’t need to keep making the point, Clippard was making it for him — “see, look at that.” Clippard looked terrible and shook his head as he came off the field. “He feels it,” and then there was just a tick before this, from a fan down the row: “Yeah, well, he should.” But the section remained optimistic (“he’ll get it back”), even as the Nats squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead (“yeah, but not this inning”). There were some few Giants fans in the seats, complete with newly minted, black and orange, Buster Posey jerseys. One Frisco fan (“San Francisco natives never use that term,” I was told) was tweeting with a family member, even as the Nats compiled a five runs lead. The message was pointed: “My boy Posey will regulate!” He did: 4-5 with 3 RBIs.