Posts Tagged ‘Matt Capps’

Duck Duck Goose

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

I thought it only appropriate that “the loyal opposition” should return at precisely the moment that my first date in Washington (here she is, and take a good look) arrived for our lovely evening. And if by “lovely evening” you mean watching the Washington Nationals and turning their victory into fake reporting then you’re right: but I have no choice but to do this in my current state. This CFG thing, this new-wave-inter-net “we’re down with the twitter blog,” is struggling, really struggling, so I just know that most of this blog’s readership revolves around my pen. And for the benefit of you all, here finally is a picture of me . . .

Tonight Roy Oswalt was out for a stroll with his new team –11 million dollars in tow — when, out of the blue: it’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, no, no — it’s the most interesting man in the world. Nyjer Morgan!  Nyjer who? In his first at bat, Morgan hit the ball 400 feet into the center-right gap, flipped off his helmet as he sped around second base, and went totally horizontal, belly first, into third. Nyjer Morgan? It was like watching lightning strike on a clear day. Former Astro Oswalt was so confused by the entire thing he had to pay someone to tell him who it was that just did that to him. “What the hell is going on! Who is that guy on third?” It’s Nyjer Morgan, channeling Ricky Henderson. “Naw, can’t be.”

Morgan wasn’t the only Nats superhero “lifting tall buildings” on Friday night. Adam Kennedy arrived in the clubhouse before the Phillies game to find Cristian Guzman’s assistant sitting (morose and weeping) in the Nationals’ locker room. Kennedy got the message — in the first inning (and with “Rickey” Morgan on third) he hit the ball hard enough to the right side (just as he was instructed) to allow Morgan to lope across the plate: Nats 1, Phillies 0. Oswalt was even more confused — “what the  . . .” But “The Miracle on Half Street” continued. Roger Bernadina began his night by gunning out a sprinting Oswalt at first. Oh, and Craig Stammen was lights out: hitting spots, keeping his pitch count low and quietly sauntering from the mound, as if he was Greg Maddux. Oswalt wasn’t the only one surprised. As I sat watching this team’s Friday night tidal wave I could only repeat Oswalt’s words — “Who the hell are these guys . . .”

Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been watching this team with vigor, knowing that on a good day they’re only mediocre. It’s a self-inflicted baseball passion. They lallygag, throw the ball over the dugout, crash into each other, slam into outfield walls, miss the cutoff man — and their “phenom” pitcher can’t go past the All Star break. It’s fantastic fun. I expected the same on Friday against the Citizens Bank Bullies. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Nats showed up to play and made glue of the Ponies, embarrassing Oswalt and frustrating Rollins and Howard and the rest of them. So . . .  what happened? The answer is obvious: Mike Rizzo is a psycho. The proof is this photo of Rizzo sitting in Jim Riggleman’s office as players arrived for Friday’s game.

More specifically, on Friday afternoon (just hours before Miss Iowa and the Phillies showed up in Washington), Mike Rizzo decided he’d had enough of his team’s mediocre performance, and that it was time to play “duck, duck, goose.” In “Rizzo Land” the game is not as simple as it was when I was a kid, but it’s the same concept: you line up the players (in any old order) and you raise your right hand and go down the line — “in, in, traded . . . in, in, traded . . .” You only change your tune when you get to Morgan: “in, in . . . and if you don’t hit a triple Morgan, I swear to God you’ll be spending August in Oakland.” Message received. The only player not really frightened by this show of Rizzo passion was Ryan Zimmerman . . . and “the kid.” Even Adam Dunn was included. As for the rest of them. Well, we might have seen the fear in Morgan’s eyes: Rizzo’s antics was placing his bobblehead night in jeopardy. Rizzo didn’t care: “do something Nyjer, or I swear we’ll woodchip those things.”

The Mike “Corleone” Rizzo, “Duck, Duck, Goose” is more than just a cute kids’ game — it’s like rendering someone to Burma for “questioning.” It’s more like playing in the Olympics for Iraq. Okay, I admit. It could be that the appearance of Katie Conners helped to spark Friday night’s outbreak of unusual excellence, but I really doubt it. For as this mammoth publication goes to press, the Nationals are fast becoming a new team. And it’s because of their general manager. They’re getting better, a lot better, and they’re doing it quickly.

The word in baseball is that you can always get a closer and Rizzo showed that this week as he dealt Matt Capps to Minnesota. And you can always deal, at the very last minute, a slap-hitting veteran infielder for a handful of prospects, especially if the other team’s All Star second sacker ends up on the DL. As Cristian Guzman learned. Adam Dunn may be next: or maybe not. But the truth it, it doesn’t really matter. Mike Rizzo — the Washington Nationals’ true fearless leader — is playing “duck, duck, goose” in the clubhouse. And he’s made it clear to those who are staying with the team: “play hard and play hard now  – – – or you’ll be shaking your head somewhere else a year from now and wondering where it all went wrong.

Sad But True . . .

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The biggest Nats news on Thursday was not the welcome pitching performance of Nats starter Scott Olsen, but the departure of Nats closer Matt Capps — who packed his bags for Minneapolis, where he will join the perennially in-the-hunt Twinkies. The sad-but-true baseball news cycle is likely to remain that way for at least the next 24 hours, as teams jockey to land needed pitching and hitting help before the coming of the trade deadline. Poor Scott: his more than modest triumph over the Braves (giving the Nats a series win, and a boost in confidence) was shoved down the Nats’ homepage after the announcement that Capps was no longer the Nats closer — and shoved further down the page by the appearance of an article extolling the virtues of Wilson Ramos, a Twins catching prospect with “a positive upside.” Capps was not surprised by the trade and praised the Nationals’ organization. “The Washington Nationals and everyone involved have been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It’s something that I will remember for a long time. I certainly enjoyed my time. Now, I have to focus on moving forward and helping the Minnesota Twins.”

Scott Olsen is not likely to be the last Nats shoved down the page by bigger news — the Nats are reported to be interested in acquiring D-Backs starter Edwin Jackson, which would necessitate a trade of Nats power hitter Adam Dunn to the White Sox, who are willing to deal prospects to Arizona to make Jackson available. In truth, that deal may be finalized by the end of the day, as it was just reported that the Pale Hose have finalized their trade for Jackson. Which could mean, of course, that Nats starter Craig Stammen, and his appearance opposite newly acquired pony starter Roy Oswalt, would be today’s second story. The line-up for the Stammen-Oswalt tilt would give Nats fans something to talk about besides who will replace Capps (it’s going to be a committee or relievers, apparently), as Jim Riggleman would begin to shift players (like Michael Morse) into positions that would reflect how the team views its last 62 games. Bottom line? The sad-but-true events of Thursday are now likely to be followed by the even sadder departure of fan favorite Dunn — and the break-up of the 3-4-5 slots in a formidable Nats batting order.

Matt Capps . . . And Dean Stone

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched to David Ortiz in Anaheim on Tuesday night — it was just one-third of an inning in the Mid-Summer Classic — but that was enough for the Washington Nationals reliever to register a win, a point of pride for fans of the Anacostia Nine. Capps whiffed “Big Poppy” on five pitches, the last an up-and-in fastball (95 on the gun) that sent Ortiz back to the pines. Capps’ relief effort not only helped Phillies big man Roy Halladay out of a jam, it gave the senior circuit a chance to rally for a much-needed 3-1 triumph. Capps was thrilled to be in the record books. “It feels pretty good,” Capps said after the NL victory. “I just came in to face one hitter. The guys did a great job of putting some runs up later. It worked out well, I’m very pleased with it, excited about it.” Capps is the first Washington pitcher to notch a win in the All Star game since Dean Stone, a lefty Washington Senator, did it for the American League back in 1954.

Capps undoubtedly wishes his career will be more stellar than Stone’s: Darrah Dean Stone played in a Washington Senators’ uniform for four seasons, after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1949. The big (6-4, 205) southpaw was signed as an amateur, but spent his early career kicking around the minors before starting for Senators, Red Sox, Cardinals, Colt 45s, White Sox and Orioles. Stone finished his career after spending 1963 in Japan. Stone was never a particularly effective starter, except for the ’54 Senators, when his fastball and curveball finally worked in tandem, when he was 12-10 with a 3.22 ERA. Stone was a part of a staff that boasted proto-ace Bob Porterfield (22-10 in ’53) and former Bosox biggie Mickey McDermott. If Porterfield and McDermott had pitched in ’54 as they had in their previous incarnations, the Senators might have been good: but Porterfield had lost something on his fastball and McDermott was never the same pitcher he had been in Boston. That left the surprising Stone, who dazzled D.C. crowds in the first part of the season.

Neither Capps nor Stone were exactly afterthoughts in the All Star selection process, but neither of them were headliners. As Capps seemed eclipsed by the big guns of Jimenez, Johnson, Halladay and Wainwright, so too Stone was viewed as a single paragraph guy after Whitey Ford, Bob Lemon and Virgil Trucks. And unlike Capps, Stone was not the only member of his team on the the ’54 staff — with Porterfield and perennial All Star Mickey Vernon leading the Washington squad into Cleveland. The ’54 game turned out to be one of the more exciting All Star tilts in major league history, with the American League winning a nail-biting come-from-behind victory. Cleveland Wahoo Larry Doby provided the home town crowd with one of Cleveland’s great moments, spiraling a game tying home run into the left field seats to knot the score. With the bases loaded, Nellie Fox provided the winning single and the Americans were victorious, 11-9. Stone, who had pitched the eighth, got the victory, but he never threw a pitch. Instead, Stone caught Cardinal All Star Red Schoendienst attempting to steal home. Doby pinch hit for Stone in the bottom of the 8th and Virgil Trucks, closing out the game, preserved his win in the 9th.

Nats End Slump, 2-1

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.

Bullpen Sinks Pirates

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals took the second in a three game set against the Pirates on Wednesday, though the 7-5 victory was much less cleanly played than the previous night’s 5-2 drubbing. Still, a victory is a victory, and the sloppily played triumph will enter the win column — and lift the Nats to within two games of .500 with one game left to play against the Stargells. The victory was also a vindication (of sorts), for Nats manager Jim Riggleman, who has praised rookie right fielder Roger Bernadina. Bernadina was 3-4 on the night and his speed on the base paths seemed to energize the Nats Nine. “He’s a very talented guy,” Riggleman told the Post back in May. “If you run him out there enough, he’s going to do some damage, because he’s just that good of a player.”

The Nationals were also sparked by a perfect bullpen, as Tyler Walker, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps combined to sink the Pirates through 4.1 innings of two hit, no-run ball. Tyler Walker’s outing was key, as the former journeyman Metropolitan, Giant and Phillie has struggled of late. “It was a bullpen shutout. That’s what we were looking for,” Walker said after the win. “We came in and picked up Johnny [Lannan]. He didn’t have his best stuff tonight. You come in and you want to pick him up. You want to help out your teammates. Tonight, I was able to get that job done. I had been struggling in that situation lately — [with] inherited runners. I was really trying to bear down and get us off the field, so we could get back to hitting.” Walker’s outing brought his ERA to back under four, while Storen (1.74) and Clippard (1.57) continued to impress.

Those Little Town Blues: Our friends over at The Real Dirty Mets Blog are getting fat and sassy, in the belief that the Mets are showing that they are some kind of team. (Haven’t they learned? C’mon guys — you’ll only be disappointed . . .) Most recently, “Mr. North Jersey” did some kind of throw down (is that what it’s called now?) in CFG after the Strasburg outing — to the effect that “don’t expect my Mets to go easy on you; we will be out for blood.” Well, let me tell you — we’re terrified. No really. We are. I mean, Strasburg, Lannan, Hernandez et.al are pretty good, but there’s not a one of them as good as Oliver Perez . . .  Our constant desire to become an entry in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary has led us far afield in the past. It didn’t seem that any Nats qualified as throwing, fielding or hitting in any particularly unique manner for us to even nominate a word or phrase. But now, with Stephen “they call me Mr.” Strasburg having plied his D.C. wares, we think we’ve come up with something. The heater that Strasburg threw against Andy LaRoche on Tuesday (his last K) seems to qualify. It was both unique and spectacularly Strasburg — ian. The Strasburg pitch was up-in-the-zone at 97-plus and absolutely unhittable. We’ll call it “a Porky Pig fastball” — and see if that catches on . . . No? . . .

“I mean, I don’t get it,” one of CFG’s droogs said last night. “The Ahoys? That’s what you call the Pirates?” Okay, we admit, it’s corny, but we’ll take reader nominations for nicknames and we’ll use them too. If they’re any good. We call the Mets “the Apples,” having dropped “the chokes” as being, well … offensive. But, while we call them “the apples” we don’t particularly like that nickname — or even “the Metropolitans.” It seems . . . ah . . . antiquated. So. Have you got something better? Well, send it in. And we’ll use it. But we’ll stick by “the Trolleys” (for the Dodgers) and McCoveys for the Giants and we’ll also stick with the Belinskys for the Angels (after legendary Halo pitcher Bo Belinsky) and, come to think of it, the uniquely descriptive “White Elephants” (c’mon, you know, for the Athletics) is an absolute keeper. But, admittedly, we’re having trouble coming up with a nickname for the Rockies. “The Heltons” is just too easy. And we’re having trouble labeling the Brewers. The “Brew Crew?” C’mon. I mean, who the hell cares? So nominations are open . . .

Guess who’s cashing in? Why, that would be the Topps baseball card company (well, they’re in business, so a little cash is probably not inappropriate), which has issued a limited edition set of cards of Stephen Strasburg, showing him pitching in Tuesday night’s debut. The limited edition has a very short print run, to ensure card value, and shows his first pitch. Right. That “other” card company — Bowman — will not be outdone. It has announced that it is producing a limited number of Bryce Harper cards. The Topps limited edition Strasburg card is pricey (and popular), although Topps has announced it will add a card to its 2010 660-card set (#661) for collectors who purchase a boxed set . . .

Strasburg card-0610.jpg

Strasburg (W, 1-0), Capps (S, 19)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If, during Spring Training, you had asked Nats skipper Jim Riggleman to sketch out a “model” Nationals win, he might have said something like this: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter followed by a middle inning lights-out reliever, finishing with an unhittable closer who strikes fear into the opposition. And the bats? That’s easy: a get-on-base-guy at the top of the order followed by the heavy lumber: Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez. Add liberally all those other things that really good teams have: a tight defense anchored by a youngster at short and a speedster in center. Oh, and let’s not forget: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter.

On Tuesday night, Jim Riggleman got his wish: Stephen Strasburg provided one of baseball’s most dominating pitching debuts, holding the Stargells to four hits over seven complete and wowing the sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus — who gave the now former phenom innumerable standing ovations before demanding that he take a well-deserved curtain call. “I really can’t put into words any better than what you saw,” Riggleman said following Strasburg’s gem. The California native and 2009 first round, first overall Nats draft pick registered fourteen strikeouts and no walks. I’ll repeat the important part of that last sentence, just for emphasis: no walks. But Strasburg’s numbers tell only a part of the story. Excepting for a semi-shaky fourth (and even then, he seemed in complete control) Strasburg dominated the game — with a silly-sick curve, an unhittable change-up and an in-your-eyes fastball that topped out (twice) at 100 mph. And the Nationals won, in a model of precision that Riggleman might have only dreamed of just two months ago: Strasburg was followed by 8th inning guy Tyler Clippard (one inning, one hit, two strike outs), before “Let’s Go Capps” (one inning, no hits) closed the door.

Nationals 5, Pirates 2.

From where the CFG contingent was sitting — in Section 129 (and here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the night seemed filled with odd physical tics. Every time that Strasburg finished howitzer-ing a fastball past an increasingly puzzled Ahoy line-up, the entire section would look up at the scoreboard, calculating velocity. Up and back, up and back, like watching a ping-pong match. “That’s 100.” The 82 mph curves were as impressive, the mix in pitches a sign that “this kid” (as in, “boy, can this kid throw”) is more than just a fireballer. And then the nods or guttural response, or expressions of awe. “Seven in a row, are you kidding?” There was a sense of disbelief in all of this. Everyone had heard the hype, but no one had quite believed it. CFG’s DWilly rang up after the game, his cell crackling with the sound of the crowd celebrating on Half Street: “The real deal,” he said.

Now Then, Where Were We? Oh yeah, searching for a right fielder. Even before the Strasburg debut, the Nats front office had to feel that the team they put on the field could make a run at a playoff spot, the only negative being the gaping hole in right field. That’s called a conceit: what we mean to say is — the yawning maw in right field. With the Willie Harris/Willy Taveras platoon a thing of the past (it lasted all of one game), the Nats were hoping that Harris alone (and then Roger Bernadina) could make the difference. But Willie is not only hitting below the Mendoza line, he makes Mendoza look like DiMaggio. Then too, Bernadina is yet to get his legs (or his stroke, as the case may be) and the oft-injured Mike Morse, while a Riggleman favorite, just doesn’t feel like a permanent solution. Or hit like one. Well, there’s Cristian Guzman . . . okay, well maybe not.

So, the search is on. Last week, Ben Goessling speculated about a number of fixes, including the Brew Crew’s Corey Hart, the North Sider’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa’s B.J. Upton, any number of whom would be an upgrade. But the price, according to Goessling, would be high: Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps — and throw in a top prospect. With the possible exception of Hart, it hardly seems worth it. Hart has pop (15 dingers), but a so-so-average, the K-man patrols the field with the best of them (but is too inconsistent at the plate — and comes with a salary), and B.J. Upton has yet to live up to his hype (.235 BA, six homers). Past A Diving Vidro (now there’s a great name for a blog) says that David DeJesus might be an option — but then the bloggers at PADV rightly call him a K.C. Ryan Church . . . ugh.

There’s another possibility. The White Sox are “open for business,” and have apparently been dangling outfielder Carlos Quentin — who can be had for the right price. But it’s hard to see what that price might be. The one thing the Nats can now (supposedly) trade is relief pitching — the one thing the Pale Hose don’t need. Then too, it’s hard to figure what you gain with Quentin: sure, 21 home runs last year (remember? CQ was once “The Second Coming” in “The Second City”), but his measly BA (.236!) and anemic OBP of .323 has soured his stay in Chicago. If we’re going to pay top price for a right fielder, then it’s worth getting one who can swing the stick. Quentin has yet to prove he can. Then too, whether it’s Hart, or Kosuke or B.J. or whomever, dealing Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps just now seems like a bad idea. Clippard has emerged as one of the game’s premier middle relievers (well, he’s getting there), while dealing Capps would seem proof of attention deficit disorder: maybe the Nats front office remembers what it’s like to play without a closer, but the rest of us are permanently Hanrahan’d. Which means? Which means that sometimes, at least in baseball, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

Nats Drop 2 of 3; Stammen Demoted

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The Washington Nationals dropped an ten inning contest to the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 on Sunday, losing two of three to the surging Concepcions. The Nats have now lost ten of their last fourteen and have dropped to four games under .500. The Sunday loss was particularly painful, as usually reliable Nats reliever Matt Capps dropped a winnable save in the ninth, while Doug Slaten gave up two unnecessary singles in the tenth to provide an exclamation to the collapse. Nats starter Craig Stammen pitched well, hurling six-and-two-thirds innings, while allowing one run. But Stammen’s effort was not enough to save his job with the big club: after the game he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Stephen Strasburg, who will start on Tuesday against the Pirates.

Stammen was philosophical about his demotion. “The proof is in the pudding. I knew I was kind of one of the guys in line for [the demotion],” he said after hearing the news. “I haven’t been very consistent and it’s just the way it is. To pitch in the big leagues, you can’t really worry about if you are going to get sent down or staying or going or eating cheese for lunch. You have to be able to get guys out.” It has been known for some time that Strasburg’s arrival would mean the demotion of someone in the starting rotation — and the decision came down to one between Stammen, J.D. Martin or Luis Atilano. Outside of Stammen, the continuing big story of the Nats is the inability of Matt Capps to get out of the ninth with a win. Once again on Sunday, Capps found himself in a save situation that he couldn’t complete. Capps entered the contest with one out in the ninth, but gave up successive doubles to account for the blown save, his fourth of the year. “I don’t know what to say. I wasn’t very good,” Capps said following the contest.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Bill Ladson has the Nats “leaning” towards drafting big bat catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper with the first pick in today’s first year player draft. While Harper is only 17, his bat is so good that he’s become the prohibitive favorite — and has been called “the greatest amateur player of all time.” So, as most Nats blogs agree, Harper is the pick: Nationals Farm Authority (who are good at predicting these kinds of things) says that Harper is “a lead pipe cinch,” while detailing the top ten prospects in the lottery. Meanwhile, back on June 3, Nationals Enquirer published a video of Harper’s ejection from a recent junior college game. The rap on Harper has been that he has a bad attitude, but the report seems more rumor than fact. Then too, if being ejected from a game were cause to question a person’s character, there wouldn’t be many draftees eligible. Even so, over at Capital Punishment they’re worried about the attitude question and meticulously rework worries about Harper’s swing. CP says that Harper is no “sure thing.” Too true.

Nats, Capps Defrock Friars

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched out of a based loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a Washington Nationals and John Lannan win in San Diego, 5-3. The victory marked an all-the-way back start for the Washington mainstay, who had his best outing of the year — a seven inning, seven hit semi-gem that fed off the Friar’s lack of power and Washington’s ability to put the ball in the seats. Josh Willingham began the Washington scoring with a three run top-of-the-fourth dinger off of starter Clayton Richard, who held the Nats to four hits. Ian Desmond went 2-4 for the night, which included his fourth homer, a solo shot in the seventh. The game’s comic interlude was provided by San Diego, which filled out its staring line-up card incorrectly, spurring the Nats to play the game under protest. But the protest was dropped by the Nats front office after the win.

While Richard could not stop Washington’s long ball, San Diego manager Bud Black named closer Matt Capps as the difference in the game. Capps struck out two and then induced a ground ball to pitch out of the ninth inning jam. “That was a tough one for Capps, and he got it done,” Black said following the San Diego loss. “He’s pitched well. He has that in him. We had some good swings, but we just didn’t connect. We got it in position with those four hits there in the ninth, but it just didn’t turn out.” Capps register his 17th save, throwing 24 pitches, 17 for strikes. His ERA now stands at 2.96. The Nats face off against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego in a Saturday night game that will feature recently recalled Nats Triple-A pitcher (and spot starter in 2009), J.D. Martin against young Friar hurler Mat Latos.

Waiting For Strasburg Stanton: While Washington fans speculate endlessly about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut in the Bigs, Fish Fans are all agog about Michael Stanton — “the next big thing” in Florida. While Stanton (more properly, Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton) was hardly judged a “phenom” when he was drafted in the second round (79th overall) of the 2007 draft, his semi-meteoric rise through the Marlins farm system (he’s now at Double-A Jacksonville) has been accompanied by a breathtaking display of power. Back on May 6, one of Stanton’s towering drives in Montgomery not only cleared the centerfield wall, it sailed effortlessly over the 95 foot scoreboard behind it. Stanton’s teammates immediately engaged in speculation about whether the ball would ever be found — it wasn’t.

The Marlins clearly know what they have, fueling speculation about just when Stanton will appear — and what kind of difference he’ll make when he does. The excitement is not confined to the front office: when not waiting for Hanley’s next tantrum, the Uggla-Cantu Fins are twittering about Stanton’s prodigious shots. This is not all hype: through his first 38 games this year (albeit, at Jacksonville), Stanton is hitting .310 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs with a .447 on-base percentage. He leads the minors in just about everything having to do with hitting. There’s no reason to think this won’t continue with the big club, when he’s called up sometime in June. He’s “Florida big,” following the Marlins’ tradition of drafting tall ironman types that are more Ruth than Ripken.

Of course, Stanton’s arrival as “the next big thing” is highly anticipated by Marlins’ fans (here they are), in large part because the last big thing (Cameron Maybin) hasn’t worked out so well — and because, despite fielding a good team, Miami’s fans seem as unexcited as any team in baseball not named the Blue Jays. It’s no wonder then, that Marlins President Larry Beinfest channels Mike Rizzo when he talks about Stanton, giving cagey answers to reporters who hound him about Stanton’s prospective arrival. Beinfest knows what he’s doing — increasing speculation about just when Florida’s version of Jason Heyward will arrive at Landshark Stadium. Patience, patience, Beinfest says. Stanton justs needs to continue working on his game “and the rest will take care of itself.”

Storen, Clippard In Form

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

The Washington Nationals broke their five game losing streak with a solid 5-3 victory over the New York Mets at Nats Park on Wednesday. The victory came with solid pitching performances from Livan Hernandez, rookie Drew Storen, middle reliever Tyler Clippard and closer Matt Capps — who notched his league leading 15th save. The win came despite an Angel Pagan inside-the-park home run and a Pagan-initiated triple play. “It was just one of those freaky nights,” Nats center field Nyjer Morgan said. “We had an inside-the-park and a triple play. You don’t see that too often.” The Storen-Clippard duo portends big things for the Nats, whose bullpen is a bright spot for the team, which struggled in middle and late innings last year. Storen and Clippard combined to pitch 1.2 innings of one-hit shutout baseball, providing Matt Capps with the opportunity of putting the Metropolitans away in the ninth.The Nats are hoping to ride the high of their win against their division rival into a second game against the Mets tonight.

Fear and Trembley In Baltimore: For the first time in what seems like forever, the Nats will enter the “Battle of the Beltways” without the younger sibling inferiority complex that seemed to mark the team’s previous meetings with “the Birds.” Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble have every right to take advantage — slinging high-and-tight questions to Jim Palmer et. al. “We’re joined here in the booth by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, and let me just start by asking you this Jim — what in the hell is wrong with Orioles?” . . . one of the really fun things to do is to watch O’s manager Dave Trembley’s post-game media Q & A sessions. After yet another loss last week, Trembley looked as if he were about to explode. His answers were clipped, his mouth set, his aggression kept barely in check. There were painfully long silences after his answers, as reporters considered whether they should ask just one more — or scramble for the exits.”So, ah  . . . Dave, ahhh … so, in the seventh inning, you know, when the Indians loaded the bases . . .  ah, well, never mind.”

One of the more interesting Baltimore personalities is middle inning relief specialist Will Ohman, who not only looks like he means it, but seems always in agony when he exits a game. Ohman (a sure fire candidate for anger management counseling), stared menacingly at Trembley when the O’s skipper marched out of the dugout to pull him after he walked a single batter during the O’s 8-2 loss  in Cleveland. Ohman had every reason to be angry: he hasn’t given up a run in 13.2 innings of work and has been a workhorse — pitching through 22 games. So why did Trembley relieve him? The “Birdland” skipper believes that Ohman is a lefty-on-lefty specialist, a prejudice that the last place Camdens can hardly afford. The good thing about Trembley is he doesn’t scare easy: he pointedly ignored his bullet-headed southpaw, who stood (hands on hips, no less) glaring at his skipper through the next inning. Ohman has had an up-and-down career, but a lot of it has been up. Despite his so-so-performance in for the Trolleys in 2009, Ohman has posted some pretty good numbers, particularly for the Cubs in 2005. MacPhail (in Chicago at the time) remembers this — which is why he signed him this winter. In a season of disappointments, Ohman has been a bright spot in an otherwise very shaky bullpen. But you have to wonder when Dave Trembley will figure that out.

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.