Posts Tagged ‘Scott Rolen’

Nationals Bats Come Alive In Cincy

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Led by Roger Bernadina, and behind the pitching of Gio Gonzalez and a host of relievers, the Washington Nationals banged out twelve hits and scored seven runs to swamp the Redlegs in Cincinnati on Friday night, 7-3. Bernadina was 2-5, plated three RBIs, and hit his second homer of the year to pace the D.C. attack.

The game was never much in doubt, particularly after the Nats put three on the board in the first inning, then followed that by putting three more up by the end of the third. Danny Espinosa also had a good night (1-4 with a home run and two RBIs), as did Ryan Zimmerman — who was 3-4, raising his season batting average to .257.

The win in Cincinnati gave starter Gio Gonzalez his fourth win of the season against one loss. Gonzalez struggled in the fifth inning and was relieved in the sixth by Craig Stammen, but the lefty was good enough to notch nine strikeouts in yet another effective outing from a Washington starter.

Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson was obviously pleased with his team’s performance at the plate: “We scored at least one every inning for the first four. I like that, but we should have kept adding on,” he said following the victory. “One step at a time. Everybody is slowly getting into gear. It was a big game for [Ryan Zimmerman]. He got three hits. We build on little successes and give them confidence, and it makes it easier.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: If you’re a Cincinnati fan and you’re not worried then there’s something wrong. The Redlegs are 3.5 back in the N.L. Central at 16-15 and just can’t seem to get on track. They’re 8-8 at home (where, at the Great American Bandbox, they should be winning) and 8-7 on the road . . .

The question is, how can a team this good (and, at least on paper, they’re really good), not be this good. A part of the problem is consistency. Johnny Cueto is having an under-the-radar stellar season, but (as Nats fans discovered last night), Mike Leake has yet to show up. Leake is 0-5 with a ballooning 7.71 ERA. Homer Bailey looks good in comparison, but his season is on the edge of a cliff. In his last outing, against the Brewers, he gave up six runs in 3.2 . . .

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Zim And The Nats “Get It Done”

Monday, February 27th, 2012

After interminable months (and months) of anything-other-than-baseball, you can almost feel the rust peeling away, the snow melting (well, what there was of it), and the sun cracking through. It helps that, in the off-season, the Nationals have traded for a top-flight hurler (Gio Gonzalez), are considering playing Bryce “the kid” Harper right out of the blocks, and signed under-the-radar innings eater Edwin Jackson for the back of the rotation.

Which is not to mention the latest, perhaps most important news: that Ryan Zimmerman will stay with the Nationals until 2020, the result of agreeing to a contract extension that will pay him $100 million over six years. The extension became a reality after days of intense negotiation. Nationals fans are ecstatic — Zimmerman is not only “the face of the franchise,” but certainly the most popular player in a Nationals’ uniform. The downside, and there is one, is that Zim has had his share of injuries, having failed to play full seasons in the last two. But even when he struggles he doesn’t really struggle: the game changes when he’s on the field, the signature quality of “a franchise player.”

Baseball’s brainiacs give this deal a thumbs-up. Over at FanGraphs (our primary source for judging these kinds of things), Dave Cameron compares Zim with a set of third basemen (who were or are) at a similar age and with a similar “skill set” — that would be Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen (with eight gold gloves), Eric Chavez, Robin Ventura, Travis Fryman and Troy Glaus. He concludes: Zimmerman compares well in terms of raw numbers with any of them and should “earn the money over the life of the deal.” And he beats the pants off of guys like Chavez and Fryman, “the downside risks.” The key for Zimmerman (and for all of them, as Cameron points out), is (and was) to stay healthy and play longer. Then too, as Cameron notes, Zimmerman is “one of the game’s most underrated players.”

That’s a fairly laconic statement. And while it’s hard to argue with Cameron’s numbers, there are other variables. The number comparisons do not take into account the “intangible” value of a guy like Zim — Beltre (a powerhouse in Texas, but not the same since) has not aged well, Rolen (even with a great glove) was always a malcontent, Chavez has been more often injured, Travis Fryman had a short career and (likewise) Troy Glaus lasted to 33.

Comparing Zimmerman to Robin Ventura, on the other hand, makes sense. The new manager of the White Sox didn’t work the leather nearly as well as Zimmerman, but he hit for power and showed flashes of RBI brilliance. Like Zimmerman, Ventura was good enough to come to the majors with little time in the minors, and was an immediate presence in the clubhouse — which accounts, we suppose, for the Pale Hose decision to hire him as their skipper. He has a Zim-like personality: steady-as-she-goes and incredibly competent. Like Zimmerman, Ventura was drafted in the first round, wanted to stay with the team that drafted him and was regularly underrated.

And there’s this: it’s hard to think of another third baseman in the NL East who compares with Zim. Chipper Jones is scraping bone-on-bone in Atlanta, Philadelphia’s Placido Polanco can’t hit for power, David Wright remains a puzzle in New York and no one would be surprised if we wake up someday to find that Florida’s Hanley Ramirez just robbed a 7-Eleven. In truth, Zimmerman is our odds-on favorite as the National League’s premier third sacker. He could easily start the All Star game, with competition from Aramis Ramirez (new to Milwaukee), slow-around-the-sack Pablo Sandoval and running-out-of-gas Scott Rolen.

Okay, okay, okay — the National League is a little light on third basemen, Milwaukee’s Ramirez and San Francisco’s Sandoval can really hit, and when it comes to Zimmerman we’re absolute homers, but when Zimmerman is healthy he’s an elite player. He certainly was in 2009, when the Nationals were going nowhere, but Zimmerman was at the top of his game — 33 home runs, 106 RBIs, and a Gold Glove. That was the year that was, with Zim showing the power of Beltre, the glove of Rolen, the presence of Ventura. Nationals fans would love to see another year like that — or (given the life of this extension) eight of them.

Can The Reds “Pull The Trigger” On A Blockbuster?

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Here’s the story in Cincinnati and, for Reds’ fans, it sounds all too familiar: a well-stocked, heavy hitting and young team just can’t seem to put it all together and struggles through a season of lost opportunities. That was the story in the “lost decade” after Cincinnati’s last world championship, and Reds fans fear it could be the story now.

The thing that has Reds’ fans depressed is that this might be the best Reds team that’s been fielded in the last decade or so — and perhaps better than last year’s Central Division winners. The Reds have an MVP at first base (Joey Votto), and All Star at second (Brandon Phillips) and another at third (Scott Rolen) and bunch of long ball swingers in the outfield — masher Jay Bruce (21 home runs), better-than-just-okay Jonny Gomes, uber fill-in Chris Heisey and behemoth Drew Stubbs.

That’s a lot of lumber and it shows: the Reds are first in the N.L. in runs scored, fourth in homers, fifth in batting average, and fourth in on base percentage. In spite of this, the team is struggling. They were shut out twice this week by the Pirates, scoring just four runs in four games. Everyone was slumping. When that happens to good teams, the skipper shifts gears by juggling the line-up and hopes that his pitching staff begins to produce. The problem in Cincinnati is that Dusty Baker doesn’t have much of a pitching staff — or, rather, Cincinnati pitching is all potential and no performance.

The lone exception to this has been Johnny Cueto, who turned in a stellar performance yesterday against the Bucs. Nothing-but-strikes righty Cueto, with the semi-Luis Tiant wind-up, threw for six innings and gave up only four hits — a vindication of a Reds’ front office that has waited for him to be a star. The undersized and underrated righty might now be ready. Finally.

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Does Baseball Take The All-Star Game Seriously?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Now there’s a picture you don’t see very often: Washington Nationals’ reliever Tyler Clippard and former Nationals’ reliever Joel Hanrahan found themselves on the same field (and on the same team), on Tuesday night, as Clippard picked up an improbable “W” in the 2011 All Star Game. The Clippard win in “The Mid-Summer Classic” was unusual: Clippard picked up the win by backing into it, giving up a single, but walking off the field a winner.

The Clippard win happened because Hunter Pence fielded an Adrian Beltre single in the 4th inning and gunned out Jose Bautista at the plate. Clippard walked to the dugout a winner, his All-Star adventure at an end. He’ll take it. “It was very ironic,” Clippard said after the victory. “Last year was weird, and [this year] was more of the same. I haven’t had this happen this year. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep us in the lead when we’ve had it, but this was a little bit different situation. But it worked out.”

The Clippard win, no matter how accidental, has to be good for the young righty — who’s a fan favorite in D.C., but relatively unknown in the rest of the majors. “I’m never on ESPN,” he said in a post-game interview. That, clearly, will change; the first sign of the change came yesterday, when MLB Network semi-icon Jim Bowden (and former failed Nationals’ G.M.) weighed in on Clippard and Hanrahan in an ESPN column. Of course, Bowden has a dog in this hunt, as he engineered the trade that brought Clippard to the Nationals.

But Bowden is right: Hanrahan and Clippard are good representatives of the way the National League plays baseball in the post-steroid era — with an emphasis on speed and defense, and a focus on building bullpens filled with young, fast, control-freak pitchers. Both the Pirates and the Nationals have gotten to where they are (which is a damned sight better than where they were), by building teams that can push runners ninety feet, then bringing in two or three strike-throwing relievers to hold one and two run leads. It works — it’s what made the Texas Rangers build a fast team to compete with the San Francisco Giants.

All of that is a sidelight to the real issue of the All-Star Game, which is whether, in fact, Major League Baseball really takes it seriously. You have to wonder, for despite MLB’s endless promotion of the Classic, the constant focus on celebrities and personalities and community service (ennobling as that certainly is) makes the actual nine inning game an afterthought.

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Jimenez Outduels Livan

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez and Livan Hernandez held a master class in pitching on Thursday with Jimenez coming out on top — at least in terms of the score. Supported by two solo home runs (one each from catcher Miguel Olivo and third baseman Ian Stewart), Jimenez shut down the Nationals when it counted, wracking up his fourth win of the season in an itchy-close pitchers’ duel at Nationals Park. In spite of the score, Hernandez was (arguably), the more impressive pitcher, mixing a fastball (which topped out at 87 mph), with a slider and change-up. Hernandez changed speeds so effectively that he most often fooled Colorado’s heavy hitting lineup. Jimenez, on the other hand, relied on an overpowering fastball that topped out at 97 mph — his slowest offering was Livan’s fastest. So while the Rockies won, the result of the duel between speed and finesse was clear: Livan was the more cerebral pitcher, Jimenez the rocket.

In the end, the brilliantly pitched 2-0 contest came down to this: the Rockies could hit a hanging slider (which is what  Hernandez threw to Ian Stewart), while the Nationals most often could not catch-up to the Jimenez fastball. The contrast between Hernandez and Jimenez was most marked in the first inning. Behind in the count 3-1 against Willie Harris, Jimenez attempted to play catch-up by throwing Harris his best pitch — a 97 mph fastball in the upper part of the zone. The pitch was predictable and, in most cases, would be unhittable. But Willie was ready and put the offering over the head of the centerfielder. “The guy throws a million miles an hour,” Harris said, talking about the at bat. “He has really good offspeed pitches as well. He keeps you off balance. You get in an 2-0 count, you are definitely thinking the fastball. He drops in a changeup or a slider on you. That’s what the good pitchers do now.” It was one of the few mistakes that Jimenez made.

There are enough good third basemen in the NL to stock a separate league: David Wright, Ian Stewart, Placido Polanco, the fading Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez, Arizona’s wiff-or-wack Mark Reynolds and, of course, “our very own” Ryan Zimmerman. Among others. Cincinnati fans would clamor that new Reds third sacker Scott Rolen should be added to the list of the elite: and they have a point. Rolen, who once crossed swords with Tony La Russa,  is leading a Cincinnati team that could be the surprise champ in the NL Central, despite their early 7-9 record. Rolen is playing like he did in 2002, when he came over to the Redbirds from the Ponies and won a Silver Slugger Award. The often hobbled Rolen is hitting .289 with four homers and Cincinnati (where arms go to die) is responding. They took two of three in Los Angeles, notching an impressive 8-5 victory yesterday against the Trolleys that was sparked by Rolen’s cannon-shot double in the bottom of the seventh. Dusty’s Baker Boys were ecstatic. This is the way that Baker and the Cincinnati front office had planned things at the start of the season.

Rolen, who has a problem with authority figures, fits well in Cincinnati — where (very often), no one seems to be in charge. The slick-leather-big-bat third baseman was a 2nd round draft pick for Philadelphia back in 1993, but took four years to get to the majors. It was worth the wait. Beginning in 1997, Rolen began a five year run that had Phillies fans comparing him with Philadelphia legend Mike Schmidt: Rolen hit 21, 31, 26, 26 and 25 dingers before being shipped (via Toronto), to St. Louis where he battled injuries and fought with the manager. St. Louis cut him loose, shipping Rolen to Toronto (which, believe it or not, actually has a baseball team) for Rolen clone Troy Glaus, who had once hit 47 home runs for the Angels. The trade seemed an even-up; Rolen and Glaus sported big bats and tweeky shoulders — Rolen had shoulder surgery in May of 2005 (after a collision at first with Dodger fill-in and former North Side Drama Queen draft pick Hee Seop Choi), while the suddenly under-performing Glaus had shoulder surgery in January of 2009.

By the end of last year, both Rolen and Glaus not only needed to get healthy, they needed a new start. Glaus got his when he signed this last off season with the Atlanta Braves, while Rolen was traded from Toronto to Cincinnati in a move that had Reds’ fans scratching their heads: the swap seemed an expensive and questionable last-gasp effort to fill a hole at third, while the Cincy front office searched for a more permanent replacement. But Rolen has been a surprise: a solid citizen in the clubhouse (that’s the surprise) and a formidable bat in Cincinnati’s fifth hole (which, frankly, is not) Rolen is now teamed with veteran Brandon Phillips and big lumber youngsters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to provide mashers in the middle of the Cincy order. Once Bruce and Phillips get past their early season slumps (and they will), the Reds are likely to surge past the Cubs and Brewers, giving St. Louis a run for the division title. It’s too bad Rolen can’t pitch — it took Cincinnati starters sixteen games to notch their first victory, which came yesterday against Los Angeles.

Rolen would agree — Aroldis Chapman can’t arrive soon enough.