Posts Tagged ‘Livan Hernandez’
Saturday, September 4th, 2010
Nationals fans got a glimpse of the team’s future double play combination on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Danny Espinosa got the starting nod at second base. After spending most of three years in the minors (with stints in Vermont, Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse), Espinosa cashed in on his early-September call up by launching his first home run (in the top of the third inning) into the right field seats at PNC Park and turning a seamless double play at a position that he will play well into the future. The Desmond-Espinosa combo is likely to be the opening day up-the-middle defense for the Nats in 2011. Espinosa’s exposure at second base was the only piece of good news for the Nats on Friday night, however, as the Pirates beat up on steady starter Livan Hernandez, touching up the right hander for eight earned runs in just 4.1 innings. Hernandez was philosophical about his outing: “It’s not happening sometimes,” he said. “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We had plenty of responses from readers on our posting on Albert Pujols and Lou Gehrig, including complaints that we are “N.L.-centric” and that we purposely left out “the one guy who puts Albert to shame.” The reader went on a screed, saying that “Alex Rodriguez has better numbers, plays for a better team, has more awards and plays a more difficult position” than Pujols. “Pujols is a very, very good player,” the reader said. “But he’s no Alex Rodriguez.” So we checked the numbers. Rodriguez has 604 home runs in 17 seasons (Pujols has 401 in ten), has a career BA of .303 (Pujols is at .332), has a career OBP of .387 (Pujols is at .425) and has won three MVPs — the same number as Pujols. Albert doesn’t play for the Empire, but he’s played in two World Series, while Rodriguez has played in one. Pujols lags behind Albert in games played (of course), but all that this means is that Pujols (who’s played in 1530) has about 700 games (Rodriguez has played in 2278) to catch the pride of the Gothams in career home runs — and at this rate (of about 33 per year) he will. By our reckoning (and at the current rate), when Pujols has played in 2200 games, he will have hit just over 610 homers. The reader is right: Alex Rodriguez is a great player. In fact, he’s the second best player in baseball today.
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
On Monday night in Phoenix, Livan Hernandez showed once again why he remains the acknowledged ace of the Washington Nationals staff. InÂ 7.1 innings of solid in-and-out and up-and-down pitching, Hernandez surrendered just five hits to his former teammates in Arizona and the Nationals notched a much-needed road win 3-1. “[Hernandez] was outstanding,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. “I hated that last walk he had, because I was going to let him finish that inning and maybe finish the ballgame. When he’s throwing like that, hitting spots and keeping hitters off balance, it is one of those nights where he can go nine [innings].” Livan’s performance was matched by Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez, whose second inning dinger was his 300th as a catcher. Sean Burnett closed the game, striking out two of the D-Backs last five hitters.
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: Sunday’s loss to the Phillies, a contest in which the Nats might have notched a sweep against their I-95 competitors, was emotionally churning, in large part because of the flood of Phillies fans — in town to cheer on their favorites. The tide of Pony partisans left Nats’ fans as embittered on Sunday as they had been at the end of Opening Day. “These people ought to stay the f — home,” a Curly W supporter muttered in the 6th inning. “This is sickening, not necessary,” another said. “Are we required to sell these people tickets?” But unlike Opening Day, the Nats apparently had it all figured out: MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter kept talking about the “growing rivalry” between the clubs, as if to protect that Nats front office from the decision to fill the seats — no matter what.”It’ll be a rivalry when we put 20,000 fans in PNC Park,” a Nats fan growled, “and not until.” Cooler heads did not prevail: “It’ll turn around,” a Nats fan opined, and was answered by a glum rooter in one of the forward rows. “Yeah, it’ll turn around,” he said, “when the Nats get into the post-season.” There were also mutterings when a fan arrived late, proudly sporting a new Donovan McNabb jersey: “Wrong jersey, wrong ballpark, wrong team, wrong sport . . .”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The exchange on the health of “the kid” between CFG and one of our readers has become a torrent. Here’s the latest: “Dear editor: Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response. Since that give-and-take worked so well, one further suggestion if I might: as the days pass with Saint Stephen on the sideline (nowÂ hopefully on the mend),Â could CFGÂ please regularly update his physical and mental conditionÂ as warrantedÂ — including any medical info/predictions and gossip picked up from the variousÂ sources/websites perused constantly by CFG’s staff.Â Â Many of your readers don’t alwaysÂ have the time to collect this valuableÂ information — and rely on you to provide it. Please don’t lose track of the essential truth of this situation:Â the fate ofÂ his sore armÂ is the big story of this franchise . . . Sincerely, AnÂ appreciative reader . . .”
Well, well, well. This is right in our wheelhouse. And yet the head of our research staff (here he is, with a group of CFG interns) is feeling the pressure. “Yes, big boss, I jumps in it,” he said. “I leave no stone on ground.” Several hours later we had our answer: “I think Mister Stephen in Arizona, mmmmm … chance maybe not so good,” he said. “Maybe boy in L.A. pitch good. Maybe, maybe not. I dunno.” And then he puckered his lips and kissed his miniature giraffe . . .
The pride of the N.L. Central, the Phillies of the Midwest, the North Side Drama Queens are “sinking like a stone,” have “bought the baseball farm,” have “reached the bottom of the barrel.” There is no cliche perfect enough to describe the extinction level event that has become your Chicago Cubs. Think it can’t get worse? It can, because it has. The Wrigley’s have now lost six in a row, and it hasn’t been pretty. The North Siders dropped what might have passed for a softball exhibition game to the Brew Crew last night by a score of 18-1. Repeat after me: 18-1. You can expect some of those kinds of games (where nothing in the world goes right), but the Cubs play them regularly, with aplomb and with no apparent loss of sleep. Over the last six games, the Cubs have been outscored 63-17.
The cataclysm has Cubs’ fans in an uproar. And the promised makeover might be years, not months, away — the Baby Bears are stuck with huge contracts to a number of perennial head cases (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano) and, as of July 31, were only able to rid themselves of their two best players. Way to go Jim, nice job. When in doubt, get rid of those keeping you afloat. This just in: after thinking about it for less than a milisecond, Ryan Theriot told a reporter (stop the presses) that he likes being in L.A. Really? No kidding. Worse yet: this team went nova entirely on its own; this has nothing to do with fan interference in foul ground. It’s their own damn fault, as even the most diehard Wrigleyville partisans will now admit. It’s a sad and sorry story, but (like a car wreck) you can’t avert your eyes. In a strange (and sick) kind of way, it’s almost fun to watch. Unless you’re Lou.
Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Backed by a ten hit and seven run attack, Livan Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season, as the Washington Nationals notched a split of their four game series in Cincinnati. The Nats 7-1 victory compensated, at least in part, for the paucity of hits and runs the team suffered in both Miami and Cincinnati over the last seven games. Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina homered for the Nats, as Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris finally seemed poised to break out of their respective slumps. But the story on Thursday was the work of Hernandez, who picked up five strikeouts while holding the Reds to just seven hits. Hernandez was masterful: he threw 102 pitches, 79 of them for strikes. The complete game gave the Nats’ bullpen a needed rest, as the team now heads into Milwaukee for a three game set against the suddenly average Brew Crew.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ralph Houk, who died on Wednesday, was once one of the giants of the game. It’s not that Houk was that good a player — he appeared in only 91 games over eight seasons, but he managed the New York Yankees in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made home run headlines. Houk steered the Yankees through some of their most successful campaigns. Under Houk’s leadership the Yankees won 109, 94 and 104 games — taking two world series (against the Red in ’61 and the Giants in ’62). He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox before becoming a vice president of the Minnesota Twins. He was renowned for his temper, though former Yankees’ testify that he knew how to handle a team. He had enormous influence on future managers Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda. “I remember what a tough guy he was,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said upon hearing of his death. But Houk was also a student of the game, showing up hours before the first pitch to study line-ups and statistics.
Houk’s tough guy demeanor was well earned. He had a fearsome temper and was called “the Major,” an affectionate term that also accurately described his wartime experiences. Houk was a minor league catcher in the South Atlantic League when World War Two began. He put down his mitt and was mustered into the army as a private in February of 1942. He was picked for officers’ candidate school at Fort Knox and was deployed to Europe with the 9th Armored Division. Houk was a better soldier than baseball player: he landed at Omaha Beach, served during the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first American soldiers to cross the Remagen Bridge into Germany. “I sent him on three missions in April of 1945 and one day he returned with nine prisoners of war,” a senior American officer later recalled.Â “His reports invariably had an undetermined number of enemy killed.” Houk earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the war. To the last day of his life he kept the helmut he had worn as a young lieutenant when he landed on Omaha Beach. It had a bullet hole in it. He died in Florida at the age of 90.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
Ryan Zimmerman has been on a tear: he is 6-9 over his last two games and, on Tuesday night, he hit a walk off homer against the San Diego Padres to seal a hard-fought 6-5 victory at Nationals Park. The Zimmerman surge has come just at the right time; not only did it provide a nail-biting win over the NL West leading Friars, it may well have boosted Zimmerman’s All Star chances in a last-minute fan vote. Zimmerman is trailing Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto in a close contest for the final All Star spot. Zimmerman’s sudden rediscovery of his swing is good news for Nats fans, who were beginning to worry that Zim’s month-long slump would sink the Nats in the key home match-ups that face the team in the run-up to the All Star break. “I’ve been struggling the last three weeks, four weeks. It’s frustrating,” Zimmerman said after the game. “Nobody wants to do that. I’ve been working with Rick a little bit, and it’s finally starting to get where I want to be, so it’s good.”
Zimmerman’s bottom-of-the-ninth heroics were the talk of the ball club following the needed win over the Padres, as was the stellar outing the team received from Livan Hernandez, who threw seven innings of masterful ball in searching for his seventh win. But the 8th inning proved tough for the Nats, whose relievers have struggled of late: Tyler Clippard came on in relief and gave up two hits, as the Padres knotted the score at five. After wowing opposing hitters, and Nats fans, through the first three months of the season, Clippard has been shaky:Â “I’ve been throwing the right pitches — maybe not executing them all the time,” Clippard said. “But tonight, I just felt like I made poor decisions. I felt like I should have thrown some things differently. It wasn’t the case, and I didn’t get the job done.” The Nats improved to 37-47 on the year, and face the Padres again tonight.
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: “There something wrong with Stammen,” one of the section’s more well-informed fans said on Sunday. There was silence then, for two innings. “When you get a guy who’s good one outing and bad the next, it’s usually mental.” And then more silence until this — “how do you tweek a guy’s head?” Another fan, a known Stammen partisan, was supportive. “He’s a Maddux in the making,” he said. “You’ll see.” There were furtive looks and not a few eye rolls. “Yeah, but which one? Greg or Mike?” When Stammen walked off the field there was a smattering of applause and the man in the row in front shrugged his shoulders. “Mike. Mike Maddux.”
A successful Nyjer Morgan bunt brought this comment: “He’s been trying to take them down the third base line for three months, now suddenly he’s figured it out — he’s racing the ball to first. About time.” The comment brought nods and then, support, for the struggling center fielder: “Did you see that catch the other day?” Not all has been forgiven when it comes to Morgan, but nearly so. “Maybe he can play short” — which brought guffaws. The remembered circus catch in center has raised Morgan’s value — at least among section commenters. “Riggleman is defending him, on the basis of last year,” another fan said. A fan two seats down was unimpressed. “Yeah, I saw that.” In the eighth inning, as the Nats struggled to come back against the Mets, the talk turned to trades. “We’d have to give up some prime prospects for Dan Haren, but it’d be worth it.” And the response: “Think of it — Strasburg, Haren, Marquis, Hernandez, Zimmermann. That’s a pretty good starting five.” What about Olsen? a fan asked. The answer came, too quickly: “What about him?”
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
This is the kind of game the Nationals have been looking forward to playing since their embarrassing three game implosion in Baltimore just last week: in the bottom of the ninth inning, third sacker Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk off sacrifice fly to the Jeff Francoeur in right field to give the Nationals a badly needed 2-1 victory against the visiting New York Mets at Nationals Park. The Zimmerman walk off capped a closely played pitchers’ duel, in which the savvy Livan Hernandez matched Mets ace Johan Santana pitch for pitch. The Nats played an errorless game. “Every win is huge. You feel better about yourself,” Washington’s manager, Jim Riggleman said after the victory. “Our ballclub has played hard. As bad as our record has been lately, we have actually cleaned it up a little bit the last couple of days. We played really good baseball today against a ballclub that also played very well and pitched very well. Our guys pitched great, played good defense and got a couple timely hits. That was just an outstanding baseball game in which we came up on top.”
Apples To The Core: NL East Chatter is back in business for 2010 — with the traditional “Chatter Up” section once again featuring questions and answers from NL East partisans. On June 30, Mets and Marlins bloggers exchanged Q & A’s on the recent Mets-Marlins match-up and today CFG will go head-to-head with Mets blogger Eric, who posts for the endlessly entertaining Real Dirty Mets Blog. We asked whether, as we had written just a few short days ago, the key to the Mets’ success is Jose Reyes. Without Reyes, we said, the Mets would probably be sunk. Eric is not so sure: “Reyes is for sure an important piece in the Mets puzzle,” Eric responded. “I am not sure there is one player that could completely sink the Mets chances just like there is not one player that the Mets could bring in and lock up a World Series”
We also asked about the team’s biggest disappointment (answer: Johan Santana and his lack of run support) and about the resurgence of Mike Pelfrey. “I get to pat myself on the back for Pelfrey,” Eric wrote. “I really thought last year was just that dreaded slump that happens to many young pitchers. This year he looks like the Pelfrey I expected him to be.Â Confident and yippless. Could be that his new pitch has given him that confidence.” Not surprising, Eric acknowledged that the Mets were still in need of some major pieces: “SP, SP,SP a BP piece or two. I see no need for more offense. The bench when/if Beltran returns will be much better as well.” Eric is outspoken in his defense of David Wright (as are Mets fans the world over, we would bet) and our poke on his poor season last year: “Poor Wright, the guy has been one of the most solid hitters in baseball for his first seven years. He has one slightly off year and everyone is ready to send him out to pasture. The guy is just a good hitter. Period.” The full exchange, including what CFG about the Nats, will be posted later today on NL East Chatter.
To honor the Nats 2-1 wacking of the Mets last night, we reproduce Joe Petruccio’s take on the game — a reflection of what must have been Johan Santana’s reaction to the 2-1 squeaker. Eric’s comment about Johan’s lack of run support seems particularly appropriate.
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Monday’s 2-1 win at Nationals Park may be taken as “Exhibit #1” that pitching — good pitching — wins ballgames. While the Nationals squeezed out only three hits against the more-than-mediocre Bruce Chen (et. al.), Livan Hernandez mastered the Royals line-up through seven complete innings, scattering eight hits and striking out five. The Nats relied on the long ball, with super-sometime-starter Mike Morse and second sacker Cristian Guzman providing the fireworks. The victory was closed out by Washington’s “Clipp & Save” crew of Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps — who notched his 21st save. Nats starter Livan Hernandez returned to his winning ways, and his by now traditional slow-slower-slowest methods — a turnaround from his last outing against the Kalines in which he was scorched. “I left the ball up a little bit, but the slider was working very well,” Hernandez said after his victory. “The cutter was working perfectly. I had a bad game in Detroit, so today I knew I had to come through and stop the losing streak.”
The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There’s a familiar touch that comes from sitting in the same section, game after game after game. It’s not like you’d want to live with these people, but after ten games (or more), you learn to value the comments of your section. Or not, as the case may be. There are times when you want to turn around, facing the guys in the row behind you and say: “Hey listen, I understand that your sale of software is important, but Gavin Floyd is pitching a great game here. Not to mention Strasburg.” You don’t do it, because people come to the ballpark for all kinds of reasons, some of them apparently having nothing to do with baseball. There’s no legislating intelligence, as they say. Still, there are those valuable moments that only a new set of eyes can see. A fan looked over my shoulder, two weeks ago, as I was scoring. “Remember, there’s no RBI on a run scored on a double play,” he said. I looked down at my score book, eraser poised. Mmmmm. Right.
“Nyjer’s act is wearing thin,” a 1-2-9 partisan said this week. A man two rows up leaned forward: “Tony Plush!” — which brought groans from down the row. The guy next to me weighed in. “He has trouble with a fastball, it’s all this dink and dunk stuff, bringing the bat down to bunt and pulling it back. That’s a clear message — he can’t catch up to the fastball. And he doesn’t read pitchers well.” There was silence through the next inning, until Morgan came to bat. He faked a bunt to third, running down the first base line. Strike two. One pitch later he was on the bench. Heads turned, checking his BA on the scoreboard. .251. “So what do we do?” Silence, and then this: “Center field is Bernadina’s natural position and Morse needs playing time.” A dissent was issued, one row back, where talk of software had been ceded to the game on the field. “We wouldn’t be saying this last year.” Two batters later, the response came, from a bright new Nats Cap three seats away. “We were a different team last year. Last year Nyjer Morgan looked like our salvation. This year he looks like a .251 hitter.” True.
Friday, June 11th, 2010
The Washington Nationals ended their home stand with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a sweep of their three game series. Livan Hernandez pitched six solid innings in notching the win, but the difference in the game was home runs hit by Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Mike Morse — who started the game in right. The Nats hit the long ball in the series, with Adam Dunn now dialed in and absolutely firecracker hot: the Nats first sacker is hitting .284 (after a slow start), and has hit a home run in each of the Nats’ last three home games — all against the Stargells. Over the last ten games, Dunn has spiked his batting average by ten points. The Nats head to Cleveland for a three game series before heading on to Detroit, the second stop in their second round of inter-league play.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: NL East Chatter (of which we are a proud part) is running a multi-part series entitled “Future of the NL East” that focuses on the division’s best young players. The review started with a portrait of Stephen Strasburg (prior to his first outing in D.C.); this week’s focus is on Jason Heyward and it’s worth the read . . . Our friends over at Real Dirty Mets Blog have a fascinating post on Mets journal keeper and artist Joe Petruccio, who is dedicated to filling his personal notebook with a season-long looked at his “beloveds.” Petruccio’s art hearkens to the day when sports pages were filled with quick sketches or cartoons of daily plays and games. There must be, somewhere, a similar notebook filled with sketches of the Nats (I would just bet), but until we find such an artist, we will have to be satisfied with Joe’s drawings — if of the wrong team.
Speaking of Mets Fans, one of the droogs (you remember the droogs, right?), responded to our plea for new nicknames with an email — and some interesting nominations. His suggestions for the Chokes include: “the Mutts,” “the Amazins,” “the Kings of Queens” (not bad, that), the “NY Mess” and “The Miracles.” For the Phillies he has “the Whizkids” and “the Philthies” and for the Dodgers he suggests we adopt “Da Bums.” The Kings of Queens is a keeper, in my humble opinion . . . Meanwhile, our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) writes that we should drop the nicknames altogether, arguing that the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rockies and Brewers (among all the others) “already are nicknames” and then she (I’m convinced it’s a “she”) adds the following two words: “you moron” . . . still another reader suggested we conduct a survey of Nats fans to see if the Nats should have a suitable nickname, “a shorthand” version of Nats that would replace what he calls “your pretty lame Anacostia Nine nickname . . .”
So here’s the Petruccio stuff. And don’t forget to visit his blog . . .
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
The Washington Nationals’ bats are coming alive — with Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Ian Desmond all homering for the Anacostia Nine — as the Nats humbled the Braves in a 6-3 win at Nats Park on Tuesday night. Livan Hernandez registered the win, but this was not the same lights-out performance of his previous starts. Hernandez speculated that he had gotten too much rest — seven days off, in all — between throws.”When you pitch on seven days, it was a little different. Sometimes, six days is a lot,” Hernandez said after the game. “Seven days is too much, I think. I felt like I was all over the place. I didn’t miss by much. I had 41 pitches in the first inning and only one run. I will take it any day. I tried to keep the ballgame close and not make too many mistakes.”
Hernandez survived a rocky first inning to pitch 5.1 in all, scraping out a win against a tough Braves offense. Future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones was impressed:”I’ll say this about Livan: The repertoire might not blow your mind, but that guy knows how to pitch,” Jones said. “He changes speeds with every pitch that he has — whether it’s the fastball, curveball, changeup, slider or cutter. He throws nothing over the middle of the plate. Everything is two inches off either corner. That’s what has made him so successful. He has great mechanics out there on the mound. He uses a minimal amount of effort and, more times than not, gets the job done.”
Speaking of Chipper Jones: This is the third baseman’s seventeenth season in the majors, and perhaps his last. His numbers will undoubtedly put him in the Hall of Fame — a .307 batting average, with 428 homers. It’s time to start thinking about Chipper’s career, and where he stands in comparison with other third sackers. Bill James points out that the Braves have a history of good third basemen: Jimmy Collins, Bob Elliott (who was NL MVP in 1947), Terry Pendleton and Darrell Evans (who might have been just above average — but probably not much more) and, of course, the incomparable Eddie Mathews.
If I had to pick who was better, I would pick Mathews, simply on the basis of his power: Mathews launched 512 dingers, Jones will be lucky if he hits 450. The air is thin at the top of baseball’s list of greats and a 60 homer difference might not seem like a lot, but it is. It’s two seasons worth of round trippers, or three. Mathews was a better long ball hitter, with more power — despite Chipper’s obviously prodigious shots. Mathews stole only 68 bases in 17 years (compared to Chipper’s 144), but Mathews knew how to leg-out triples (he hit 72 in all, compared to Chipper’s 37). The statistic, basic as it seems, is illuminating: Chipper has a higher OBP and a lot more doubles, but Mathews was the smarter base runner who knew how to read outfield arms. The number of triples is important. Mathews played in Milwaukee County Stadium in the 1950s, hardly a big ballpark.
In almost everything else outside of power, Jones and Mathews seem almost perfectly matched. But then there’s the intangible. Mathews was a giant among Braves, even on a team of pennant and World Series’ behemoths — like Aaron and Crandel and Adcock. But Mathews was a leader of the Milwaukee version of the Braves in a way that Chipper was not a leader of the later Atlanta version. And considering Henry Aaron’s quiet but efficient career, and forcefull personality, that’s saying a lot. Or perhaps, I simply saw Mathews play more than Chipper and at a more impressionable age. But Mathews was a colossus, a man who defined the Braves in his era. Chipper was also a leader, though more by example; he did not bestride the Braves of Atlanta like Mathews did in beer town. The Braves of the ’90s were the Braves of Smoltz and Maddux and Glavine. The Milwaukee Braves were Eddie Mathews’ team.
Bill James might disagree on this last point, but in weighing the statistical comparison he would admit that picking one over the other might be a matter of personal preference. “Chipper isn’t a great defensive player — but neither was Mathews. Both of them were competent, coping-skills fielders who played a relatively difficult position, the hot corner, but not terribly well. They’re comparable hitters; they’re comparable fielders. They have had a comparable number of outstanding seasons. If I had to choose? If I had to choose an all-time, all-city Braves team or else go bungee jumping, I would choose Chipper. They’re both great players.” When Chipper retires, he’ll not only be in a virtual tie with Mathews for all-time greatest Braves third basemen, he’ll be right behind him (in my estimation) for honors as one of the very best of all time in all of baseball — with Chipper ranked third in the top ten: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, Frank Baker, Jimmy Collins, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Stan Hack and Pie Traynor. Any way you look at it, however, Jones has had a hell of a career.
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Brad Lidge, he of the 1.95 ERA in 69 innings of relief in 2008, said last night that “itâ€™s not very often you see a guy being able to throw that hard with that kind of command.” He was talking about one Stephen James Strasburg (of course) — the youngster upon whom the hopes of Natstown rests.
They both pitched in Reading, PA — Lidge on a rehab assignment for the Philllies andÂ Strasburg for a light work out as he flies through AA ball. Lidge noted that Strasburg “was doing pretty much everything rightâ€: which is exactly what you want to hear from a guy who has had his share of play-off appearances.Â Strasburg was his usual self last night, pitching five scoreless, hitless innings. He was pulled after reaching his five inning limit despite the no-hitter.Â He’ll have plenty of chances for one of those in the bigs no doubt.
Strasburg may be as excited to join the team as they are to have him.Â The Nats are performing at a level that was unimaginable last season when the BB thrower from San Diego signed up.Â The NatsÂ have actually impressed on occasion. Last night’s performance against the Cubs by Livan Hernandez is a case in point.Â He scatteredÂ six hits over seven innings and gave up just one run while keeping his ERA at 0.87.Â Sunday’s 1 – 0 victory over the Dodgers (who were hitting .293)Â should turn some heads as well.Â These guys aren’t only winning some games, they seem toÂ have a bit of spit and vinegar in them.Â It’ll serve them well during the long campaign.
Monday, April 26th, 2010
Scott Olsen’s seven inning gem against the Dodgers has Nats fans (and the Washington Post) oohing and ahhing about the team’s new attitude. “Instead of saying ‘Get ’em tomorrow,’ the Nats have finally assembled a tougher, more irritable group that actually does it,” Post columnist and leading baseball pundit Thomas Boswell writes. Boswell goes on to note: “It’s not just the Nats’ record that is different this spring. The Nats themselves are. They’re starting to resemble the first gritty crew that brought baseball back to D.C. after a 33 year wait.” Tougher? More irritable? Gritty? My first reaction was to scoff: forget irritable and gritty — we need front line guys who can throw strikes. Please, please, please Tom (I know you’re the best, or close to it), but you know (and I know, and it’s no secret) that a rotation of Lannan, Stammen, Olsen and Hernandez are not going to get it done.
But in studying yesterday’s box score, I began to question by own cynicism. The difference in the Nats 1-0 win yesterday (a beautifully pitched game, if ever there was one) from any of their wins last year was obvious. For right there, in the middle of the line-up, were two players the Nats needed, but didn’t have, in the ’09 campaign. When Mike Rizzo signed Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy in the offseason, he not only filled two special needs, he added two gamers to the clubhouse — players who not only know how to win, but want to. While Rodriguez and Kennedy went a combined 0-6 yesterday, their role on the team has been indispensible, providing much needed leadership to a crew of talented, but young, players. Mike Rizzo added a caveat: “We’re a long ways from where we want to be.” Yeah, true. But you’re also a long ways from where you were.
The difference between the ’09 and 2010 Nats becomes more obvious when you go through the line-up of the Chicago Cubs, whom the Nats face in Chicago starting tonight. The North Side Drama Queens are a team of head cases and disasters-waiting-to-happen: Alfonso Soriano’s penchant to drop flies in left field is damn near agonizing, the perpetually petulant Carlos Zambrano has been demoted to the bullpen, the perennially injured Aramis Ramirez is a fracture away from putting the Cubs in the cellar and Kosuke Fukudome is overpaid and (undoubtedly) on the trading block. I know, I know — the Cubs just swept the Brewers and can hit the hell out of the ball. But the name of this game is pitching, and the Cubs don’t have it. Forget the starters (or don’t — if you really believe that Carlos Silva is the answer), and focus on the bullpen. The line-up of Berg, Grabow, Gray, Russell and Marmol is a patched together crew of rookies and semi-veterans (like Marmol) who have yet to prove they can hit the strike zone. Put another way, we would be justified in saying that the Cubs bullpen collapsed in the first two weeks of the season, but we’d be wrong. It had nothing to collapse from.
Cubs fans are on a death watch. Nats 320 has an outstanding interview with Cubs blogger Joe Aeillo of View From The Bleachers, and while Joe sounds positive enough, you can almost hear the ‘Oh-God-wadda-we-gonna-do’ tension in his voice. Joe talks about Uncle Lou’s bullpen problems and notes that Zambrano has been “the weak link” in the rotation so far this year, but the icing comes when Nats 320 asks about Soriano. “I’ll give you $20 right now, straight cash homie, if you convince the Nationals to take him back,” Joe says. That’s a deal we can pass up: we’ll keep Willingham. Soriano, the bullpen — they’re all problems. But the real problem facing the Cubs is down the road in St. Louis. The Cubs don’t have anyone who matches up with Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny or Adam Wainwright. I can’t stand Penny (he should just rob a 7-Eleven and get it out of his system), but the former Dodger bad boy is pitching brilliantly — with three wins and a 0.94 ERA. That’s a record that Zambrano can only dream about.
The Cubs haven’t had a team since Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were five outs away from the World Series. Remember? Prior was a USC power pitcher with Cy Young stuff and Woods struck out 20 in his rookie season. And then . . . and then, in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS a little pop foul that should have been caught did them in. It was their last shot. Neither Prior nor Wood have been the same since; Prior became a surgeon’s dream and is now out of baseball and Wood is in Cleveland, dealing with a cranky back. Looking at Prior (a shoulder, an achilles tendon, a hamstring, another shoulder), you can understand why Mike Rizzo wants Stephen Strasburg in the minors — and why he insists that any member of the Washington club have a winning attitude. Put another way, the problem with Cubs comes down to this: Carlos Zambrano throws the ball in the mid-90s and is capable of a 20-win Cy Young season. But wouldn’t you rather have Livan Hernandez?