Posts Tagged ‘Scott Olsen’
Rookie sensation Danny Espinosa continued his late-season surge through the pitching rotations of the National League, victimizing the New York Mets by going 4-5, with two home runs and six RBIs. The Espinosa attack, which included an inside the pole homer to left field and a grand slam off the facade in right field, led the Nationals to a 13-3 pasting of the Mets. MASN commenter Ray Knight called Espinosa’s Labor Day outing “a career game,” in this, Espinosa’s fifth game in the majors. Espinosa is hitting .563 with three doubles, three home runs, ten RBIs and four runs scored in just five games since being called to the majors on September 1. With their 60th win of the season, the Nationals passed their wins total for the 2009 campaign, which stood at 59. Washington has now won seven of its last 11 games. The Nats recent winning ways have been powered by their work at the plate: the team has scored 74 runs in the last ten games.
The game’s other hero was Pudge Rodriguez who, after suffering through a season of puzzling and unpredictable slumps, has batted in seven runs over the last two tilts. The game also resulted in a win for lefty Scott Olsen, who grumbled about being relegated to the bullpen in this morning’s Washington Post. Olsen pitched four solid innings in relief of starter Jordan Zimmermann, taming the Mets’ batting order, while striking out three and walking none. Olsen upped his season total to 4-8, while lowering his ERA to 5.58. Recently recalled Collin Balester pitched the 9th inning, striking out two. But the game was truly “all-Espinosa,” who was rewarded with a curtain call after his grand slam, and a whipped cream pie in the face by Nats John Lannan during his post-game interview. “It was a great day,” Espinosa told reporters after the game. “I had so much fun.”
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.
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.
The New York Mets provided the fireworks on July 4 — taking an 8-0 lead against the Washington Nationals and going on to register a “no contest” 9-5 victory at Nationals Park. The heat wasn’t the only thing that was unbearable at the stadium: up-and-down sometime starter Craig Stammen inaugurated the contest by serving up batting practice middle-of-the-plate pitches, which were duly deposited by Mets batters to all parts of the field. “I wasn’t very good. That’s the reason we lost. We move on,” Stammen said after the game. “It’s not anything physical. It’s how I’m thinking out there, a little bit, and sticking to the game plan little more — having conviction with my pitches.” Stammen’s outing, after a superior appearance last week versus the Bravos, was evidence enough that the Nats pitching staff still needs some kind of help.
The team’s pitching stats tell only a part of the story: while the Nats are just below the middle-of-the-pack in ERA (17th of 30, at 4.14), every other NL East team leads them with, not surprisingly, Atlanta at the very front of the division. While Washington’s bragging rights bullpen has been stellar (it ranks 9th in major league baseball), the stats don’t tell the entire story: the numbers imply that the Nats are bullpen dependent, calling on their middle relievers and closers in 35 of the first 40 games — more than anyone else except for three other MLB teams: proof positive (it seems) that the Nats starting pitching (while better than last year) is still woeful. Pitching into the 7th is a huge problem for the Nats rotation. A part of the team’s starting pitching problem is injuries (the DL list is a pitching graveyard), but it’s also true that the Nats simply lack the horses at the front of the rotation to climb out of last place in the “NL Least” — and there’s no guarantee that the return of Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen, Jason Marquis or Chien Ming-Wang will solve that problem.
The San Diego Padres roll into town today (with a game tomorrow night at Nats Park) with the best pitching staff around: a 3.07 ERA that is provided by a bevy of kids and veterans — Mat Latos has been the surprise, but he’s supplemented by a noted ground ball guru (Jon Garland) and a legendary closer. How did they get there? They followed the Rizzo Principles: they drafted and developed young pitchers (Latos was drafted in the 11th round in 2006, Wade LeBlanc was a second round pick in the same year) and then traded a veteran (Jake Peavy) for a passel of young prospects. If Mike Rizzo follows the same pattern he will wait on Zimmermann, Olsen, Marquis and Wang — and set aside the enormous temptation of trading Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham, whose middle-of-the-order bats are essential to transforming the young staff into winners. That’s probably a pretty good strategy for a team that’s still rebuilding, but it’s near-beer for Nats’ watchers. Which means? Which means that the Nats staff is not only unsettled, it’s likely to remain so.
Scott Olsen’s steady mound presence and ability to pitch out of jams could not save the Nats from a three game losing streak, as Washington dropped three out of four games in Colorado. The final contest, played before over 40,000 Rockies fans at Coors Field, resulted in an itchy close Rockies 2-1 victory. The Nats bats were hardly silent (both Cristian Guzman and newly activated Mike Morse went 2-3), but the Anacostia Nine could not get runs when they needed them, leaving a whopping twenty runners on base. The difference was Jeff Francis, who pitched for the first time since September of 2008. The Rockies’ ace gave up seven hits over seven innings in notching his first 2010 victory. He looked like the Jeff Francis of old, getting outs when he needed them, and throwing his patented sweeping breaking ball that confused Nats hitters. But Scott Olsen was even better, giving up five hits in 6.2 innings pitched. The difference was a late-inning sacrifice fly against overworked reliever Tyler Clippard, who has been victimized recently.
Rumors began to circulate just after the Colorado game ended that the Nats would call up Drew Storen for the series against the Cardinals, which is scheduled to begin on Monday. Storen, a first round draft pick in 2009 (tenth overall) has been touted as the Nats’ closer-of-the-future. A product of Stanford University, Storen signed quickly with the Nats after the draft and climbed effortlessly through the Nats farm system — with a 1.11 ERA and fifteen strikeouts in just over 16 innings pitched during stints at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. By the end of Sunday night Storen was on the way and former Yankee Brian Bruney was shipped to Syracuse. While taking responsibility for being ineffective, Bruney did not take the news well, saying that he would have to decide whether to report to Syracuse, or seek work elsewhere. “Where I go from here, I don’t know,” Bruney told reporters after hearing the news. “I guess only time will tell.
While the arrival of Storen has been widely anticipated, it seems unlikely that Jim Riggleman will use him either as a closer or in long relief: not only has Matt Capps proven an effective ninth inning arm (he leads the league in saves), it’s unlikely the Washington front office will rush Storen into close games, bringing him along slowly and using him in situations where he can build his confidence. But the Nats desperately need someone to pitch in the 6th and 7th innings — a job that was originally given to Bruney. It seems likely that the Nats will rely on Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett,Â Doug Slaten and (though to a much lesser extent) Miguel Batista, to provide a bridge to Tyler Clippard, or to spell him as necessary from constant 8th inning work. Clippard, who has been outstanding, has recently been fraying at the edges, pitching in 26 innings in 19 appearances.
The Nationals, inexperienced enough to have trouble winning one-run and extra-inning games, triumphed in a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off win on Thursday, downing the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Willie Harris knocked in the winning run with the bases loaded, putting a Peter Moylan offering past Braves’ second baseman Martin Prado. Harris felt vindicated after the win, getting back at a team that had non-tendered him in 2007. But the story of the night was the near no-hitter from Nats starter Scott Olsen, whose electric stuff baffled Tomahawk hitters until the top of the eighth. “I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” Olsen said of his chance for a no-no. “I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It’s one of those things where it’s real hard to do. I wasn’t positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it.”
The Nats victory gave the Anacostia Nine the series win against the Braves — with the team now standing at 15-13 for the season. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, just two games back of the Phillies. The Braves head to Philadephia, where the Phillies’ powerhouse is well aware of Atlanta’s troubles on the road. The Braves are having trouble scoring, with nearly everyone in the line-up in an early season slump, with second sacker Martin Prado the exception. Outside of Wednesday’s 7-6 win at Nats Park, the Braves had trouble with Nats’ pitching, scoring just four runs in the other two outings. The Nats will face their NL East nemesis, the Florida Marlins, starting tonight at Nationals Park. Craig Stammen is set to pitch for the Nats; he will be facing Marlins’ hurler Chris Volstad, who shut down the Nationals in Florida just last week.
Remembering Robin Roberts: Philadelphia Phillies’ ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Roberts put together a string of six 20-win seasons in his career, and pitched for the Phillies’ ‘Whiz Kids” pennant winning team of 1950. He was the NL’s premier pitcher in the first half of the 1950s. He compiled a 286-245 record with 2,357 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 45 shutouts. He pitched an amazing 305 complete games.The Phillies will be wearing a #36 patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season commemorating Roberts’ career.
The Nats are now three games over .500 following a convincing 7-1 hooking of the Marlins in Florida. The Nats were powered by two Ryan Zimmerman home runs and the ace-like pitching of former Marlin Scott Olsen. Zimmerman, who has been nursing a spate of sore hamstrings, homered in his first and second at bats — going 3-4 with three RBIs in the victory. Marlin hurler Ricky Nolasco, Florida’s most effective front-liner, was lights-out in his two previous starts (against the power hitting Phillies and Rockies), lasted only four innings against the Nats, giving up eight hits and five earned runs. “He got some pitches up. He looked like he wasn’t the Ricky that we’ve seen,” Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the game. “He struggled through four innings. Now we move on to his next start.” While Washington has been playing well despite Zimmerman’s semi-rehab on the Nats’ bench, for Washington center fielder Nyjer Morgan, the return of Zimmerman meant even more victories down the road. “We have our horse back,” he said.
Scott Olsen provided the Nats with his second consecutive quality start, pitching six innings of five-hit ball. Olsen’s performance was particularly humbling for the Marlins, his former team. Nolasco had little to say about Olsen’s performance: “He threw well. He’s getting stronger as the year goes on,” said Nolasco. “Good for him. We’ll try to go get ’em tomorrow. We’ll move on from this one.” But Olsen was upbeat about his performance against his former team. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t mean a little more,” Olsen said. “The effect of being traded has worn off, but it is nice to finally beat them, nice to pitch well against people you played with and you know.” Olsen admitted that he couldn’t throw his slider for a strike in the first innings of the contest, but settled down thereafter, mixing his pitches and depending on a stellar Washington defense.
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?
John Lannan says he’s ready for Opening Day and he better be: he faces new Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay.Â “As a pitcher, you would like to face the best, and I want to face the Phillies,” Lannan says. “I want to go against the toughest guys and really compete. It’s going to be exciting.Â Either way, I wanted that [Opening Day] game so I can make up for last year, and I definitely want to do better than last year.”Â Lannan opened for the Nats last year, in Florida, and struggled: he pitched three innings and gave up six runs. You might recall that game — it wasÂ an Emilio Bonifacio runfest. It looked then that Bonifacio would be the bane of the Nationals for the year, and proof positive that the trade that had sentÂ him to Florida (for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham) was a bust.
It was anything but. After a quick start, Bonifacio tailspinned, ending the year with a .252 BA and one home run. Willingham, meanwhile, satÂ the bench and Scott Olsen struggled, eventually going down with arm trouble. By the end of May the tradeÂ seemed a wash, at best –Â the swap of a still-developing kid (with minor leaguers Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean) for twoÂ mediocre piece players who just couldn’t get going.Â But as it turned out,Â it was only a matter of timeÂ before Austin Kearns played himself out of a job (earningÂ a well-deserved ticket to Cleveland), while Willingham became a fixture in left field. Olsen, meanwhile, showed flashes of brilliance and is now, albeit tentatively, penciled in as a candidate to beÂ DC’s fifth starter.
Willingham’s the story here, not Lannan. The Marlins’ 17th round draft pick is starting his seventh major league season, and is likely just starting to peak. When Kearns did his “oh the humanity“Â routine in late May of last year, Willingham was ready — hitting a very average, but veryÂ respectable, .260 in 133 games, with 24 dingers and 61 RBIs. You have to wonder what he might have done with an earlier start, and aÂ more workmanlike September (when he tanked). Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham became the heart of the Nats order for 2009 and you have to believe that, with just a little more oomph, the trio might haveÂ transformed itself into a Half Street version of Murders’ Row. Which is only to say that, one year later, the trade that sent the young speedster to Florida for Willingham and Olsen looks pretty good: if Josh can pick up where he was last August — and if Olsen can be the pitcher the Nats supposed when they brought him north.
Just beforeÂ losing a back-and-forth tussle with the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Thursday (final score: 7-6), the Nats front office apparently decided it was time to start preparing for next year. The things-are-looking-up offensive had the distinct odor of being plannedÂ to coincide with the Nats’ 100th in-season loss, a kind of Mendoza line for franchise futility. The “let’s talk up the good news” program included an on-line fan exchange featuring Mike Rizzo, a fan appreciation reception just before the Nats game with the Dodgers, a website feature on Ryan Zimmerman’s amazing season, and select “don’t worry, we’re on the right road” post game quotes from Jim Riggleman and company. “I’m just so proud of these guys,”Â Riggleman said after the Dodgers loss. “With exception of a ballgame or two — from the All-Star break on — we have been outstanding in terms of effort and attitude. Our fans responded to the energy on the field . . .Â The Dodgers are going to popping champagne any day and we [are going to be right there soon].”
Well, maybe. Nats fansÂ continue to show up at the ballpark, but Mike and CompanyÂ shouldn’t be fooled:Â theÂ team is on a short leash. Good teams are strong up the middle, but successfulÂ franchises are characterized byÂ strong front offices. ThisÂ 100 lossÂ season can be put down to bad pitching andÂ poor play, but Nats fans know that the most chilling aspect of ’09Â didn’tÂ take place on the field. Last JanuaryÂ (four months to go before opening day) the Nats’ brain trustÂ had already decided that Joel HanrahanÂ would be the closer, that its youngÂ pitchers were ready toÂ carry the team to respectability, that there was no need to sign a strong glove to anchor a shaky infield, that Dmitri Young would return to provide clubhouse leadership — that Lastings Milledge was on his way to stardom. When Jim Bowden resigned as the team G.M., he predicted “a championship season.”
It’s possible to be wrong about a player, to spend too much money signing a prospect, to make a bad trade,Â to over value a free agent — that happens to the best teams and it’s forgivable. But to pin your hopesÂ on theÂ bats ofÂ Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Dmitri Young andÂ the arms of Scott Olsen and DanielÂ CabreraÂ is beyond strange. It’sÂ nearly perverse.Â The Washington Nationals ’09 campaign is a “lost season” not simply because the team lost 100 games (though, there’s that) but because the team spent the first three months of the seasonÂ building what it should have beenÂ building for the last five years: a groupÂ of development experts and talent assessors who are capable of being honest about what’s on the field. So let’s not mistake what happened yesterday:Â the front office of the Washington NationalsÂ decidedÂ to divert ourÂ attentionÂ from what has beenÂ happening on the field –Â and for good reason.