Posts Tagged ‘Sean Burnett’

Nats Win Snakes’ Series

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 at Nationals Park on Sunday, taking two games of a three game series. The game marked the second return of Stephen Strasburg following his stint on the D.L., and “the kid” pitched well, despite giving up a home run to Adam LaRoche and making an errant throw to first baseman Adam Dunn. “I was talking to Stephen a little bit ago. He said that it is the best he felt,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman said, following the victory. “The ball was coming out of his hand good. Stras did a great job and gave us a chance to win.” The Nats trailed the D-Backs 3-1 into the bottom of the fourth, when slumping Josh Willingham shook loose from his doldrums and launched a pitch off of D-Backs starter Barry Enright to tie the game. The Nats won the game on a single by Ian Desmond, with Ryan Zimmerman providing an insurance homer. Typically, the Nats’ bullpen closed out their opponents, with Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen shutting down the Arizona order.

The Ghost of Kerry Wood: Nats’ fans at the ballpark on Sunday probably didn’t get a chance to see Strasburg’s frustration with being lifted after pitching just five innings, but “the kid” was clearly angered by the move. Strasburg, mouth set and eyes flashing, sat the bench after the end of the fifth inning fuming. At least that’s what the fans at home saw, with Strasburg’s irritation coming in waves through the camera lens. Nats pitching czar Steve McCatty intervened with an explanation, speaking with animation as Strasburg shook his head on the bench. This isn’t the first time that Strasburg has been angered, though he never mentions it in any post game interview. But if Strasburg is angry it’s only because he has a right to be. And he’s not the only one. Jim Riggleman’s reputation as a manager with an early hook is well-earned. He’s got a shepard’s staff as big as Little Bo Peep (oops … well, let’s go with this version) — the result of his time as the manager of the North Side Drama Queens, when he oversaw the 1998 rookie campaign of strikeout king Kerry Wood.

The ghost of Kerry Wood seems ever-present with Riggleman, who coached the Slugs when they were going somewhere and the young Wood was the talk of baseball. The problem was that Wood had a raw elbow, with his ligaments tearing and bleeding everytime he threw. And in 1998, after a stint in the minors when he rarely threw even close to 100 pitches, Wood was carrying the load for a contending team — and throwing 115 to 120 pitches per game. Eventually (after sitting out the ’99 season with surgery, and pitching just so-so over the next three years), the elbow blew itself out for good and Wood, with successive stints in rehab, became a reliever. It was a loss, for Kerry Wood might have been, perhaps could have been (and maybe even should have been), one of the best starters in the game.

Riggleman, Wood’s skipper, blames himself. “If I had it to do over, I would do it differently,” he told the Washington Post back in March. “And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, ‘C’mon, Riggs, leave him in.'” Wood disagrees: the ripping in his elbow had been happening for several years (he says) and it was bound to explode at some point. It was inevitable. “My elbow was going to go,” Wood told the Post. “If it didn’t go with [Riggleman] it would’ve gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time.”

Which is only to say that there’s a good reason why Jim Riggleman is as careful with Stephen Strasburg as he is. But Riggleman’s decision today — to sit Strasburg after the 5th — struck many fans as overly careful. After all, pitchers strain their arm, or throw out their shoulder, all the time. And not simply because they throw a lot of baseballs, or have a predisposition, or because they’re not on a pitch count. Pitchers blow out their arms because they’re pitchers. Wood understood this: in the end it didn’t matter how many pitches he threw, his “elbow was going to go” anyway. “It was a matter of time.” This is not an argument for having Rizzo, Riggleman & Company allow Strasburg to throw 110 to 120 pitches each and every game. It’s an argument for perspective and practicality — Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher, not a piece of fine China.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a recognition that Washington Nationals fans aren’t going to show up at the park on Half Street to watch “the kid” throw 70 pitches over five innings — especially when it’s clear that (as happened on Sunday), he’s just starting to hit his stride.

Back In The Win Column

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Nationals’ starter John Lannan and relief specialist Sean Burnett combined to shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night 4-2, to put the team back in the win column. The badly needed victory followed a disheartening three game set against the Florida Marlins, in which the team was outscored 22-7 and failed to get the pitching necessary to catch the hit heavy Fish in the N.L. East. The 4-2 victory had to be one of the most satisfying of the year, marking the continued comeback of Lannan and an exclamation point to Burnett’s continued mastery (2.72 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 43 innings). “I just feel good out there,” Lannan said after the win. “I feel confident with my stuff. I spent time down [in Double-A] trying to get my two-seam [fastball] back, getting in good position to hide my ball more and being more deceptive. It still is going to get better.” The Nats continue their series against the Showboats on Saturday night, when a struggling Jason Marquis will go to the mound.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The last Stephen Strasburg outing against the Marlins was unusual in at least three respects. The first is that the stands weren’t full — as they usually are when “the kid” pitches. And it was noticed. “Where the hell is everyone?” There was no answer, but at least one grumpy sigh. “Maybe that other team is playing tonight.” The point was rhetorical — they weren’t . . . The second is that Strasburg did poorly, a disappointment and a distinct surprise for the 25,000-plus who did show. “Amazing,” a Strasburg partisan noted . . . The third seems almost immoral (or perhaps simply disloyal): Strasburg’s early exit against the Marlins spurred an early exit for Nats fans. “It’s not that Strasburg is done,” a Section 1-2-9 loyalist announced while getting up from his seat and averting his eyes, “it’s just that I’ve been here before — I’ve seen him” — and there was a quick nod to Miguel Batista, warming up on the mound . . .

In fact, Batista has been exactly what skipper Riggleman said he would be: an innings eater who can pitch more than three frames per stint. That is to say, his heroism in subbing for “the kid” against Atlanta at the end of July has been quickly forgotten. “Yeah, I loved that,” a season holder noted, “but that was then and this is now. And right now I’m thinking that we need something longer term than ‘Miss Iowa'” . . . “Geeeez,” another said, in referring to Strasburg’s inability to control his breaking stuff, “what the hell do you suppose is wrong?” There was silence for only a heartbeat. “There isn’t anything wrong, it’s just a bad outing. We need to be patient. A career is a long time. There’s going to be bad outings.” The same might be said of the entire team. When the Nats failed to get to Ricky Nolasco (with Livan pitching), there was a palpable discomfort among the section’s more vocal partisans. “So much for 3-4-5,” a fan said, referring to the Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham combination. “This guy [Nolasco] isn’t exactly Cy Young.”

Nats Victims In Frisco, Face Friars

Friday, May 28th, 2010

There are plenty of ways to lose a ballgame — and the Nats used most of them on Thursday. Leading 4-2 against Frisco starter Barry Zito going into the seventh inning (and with the game seemingly in hand), the Nationals committed a costly error, the bullpen failed to close out the game, and Washington’s bats (which had undergone a revival of sorts on Wednesday), failed to rally. The result was a 5-4 loss to the Giants in a classic “if only” game that would have given the Nats a solid on-the-road series win. The bottom of the seventh started with what should have been an out, but a ground ball from Giants’ left fielder John Bowker skipped past first baseman Adam Dunn into the outfield. A passed ball followed. The Nats were still in the game and headed for a win when the usually reliable Sean Burnett gave up a single to Nate Schierholtz, whose single to center scored Bowker. Andres Torres singled to right and Freddy Sanchez — hitting against Tyler Walker — followed with another single. That was all the Giants would need.

Facing The Friars: The Padres are baseball’s surprise team — they lead the NL West by two, are nine games over .500 and have one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors. But let’s get real: the Friars don’t have an outfield, are backing and filling on defense (Chase Headley is scooping up the impossible at third, but that won’t last), and no one excepting Adrian Gonzalez has the power of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham or Ivan Rodriguez. Credit the Padres magnificent start, then, to the pitching of groundball specialist Jon Garland, the always-around-the- strike-zone youngster Matt Latos and Pale Hose trade bait Clayton Richard. And, to be honest, the Little Monks have been helped immeasurably by an early schedule that featured massacres against Arizona, Milwaukee and Seattle.

This should not detract from what San Diego has accomplished. The Friars took three from San Francisco in mid-April, then four of five in May. The McCovey’s were embarrassed, as well they might be. Seven of eight wins against Frisco and dominant series against the three stooges (the Showboats, Brewers and Navigators) have been more than enough to compensate for what San Diego lacks: a line-up that (with two lone exceptions) does something besides stand at the plate and pretend to hit. Too harsh? The Padres rank 25th of 30 in BA, 25th in home runs, 25th in hits, and 22nd in RBIs. As for their pitching — well, they rank 1st in ERA, 1st in shutouts, and have given up fewer runs than any other team in baseball. They rank fifth in strike outs. What is even more impressive is that the San Diego rotation does not have a pitcher equal to the NL elite of Jimenez, Halliday, Wainwright, Lincecum, Carpenter, Haren or Hamels — relying for wins on free agent afterthought Jon Garland (6-2, 2.10 ERA), newcomer lefty Clayton Richard (4-2, 2.73 ERA),  talk-of-the-town speedballer Mat Latos (4-3, 3.09 ERA) and Frisco retread Kevin Correia (4-4, 4.03 ERA). Oh, and Heath Bell — who has an eye-popping 1.29 ERA to go with his 13 saves.

So here’s the question: are the Padres for real? The answer, as given by a Padres fan, is probably “no.” Writing in The Hardball Times, Friars’ partisan Geoff Young opines that the Friars “have gotten where they are by pitching way over their heads.” Which is to say — this isn’t going to last. Not only have the Padres yet to face the league’s stiffest competition, it’s hard to imagine that Garland & Company will match up well against a staff that features Halliday and Hamels, or Carpenter and Wainwright. That . . . and the Padres flat out just can’t hit. Of course the San Diego front office could dangle Adrian Gonzalez for a top-of-the-line bat, except for one thing — Gonzalez is a top-of-the-line bat. All of this is said while tempting the fates: for the Nats are headed into the dog bowl tonight to test the thesis that, sooner or later, the Pads will fold. But until they do, there’s this: if you can’t get to San Diego’s starters you’re not going to win. Because if you go into the 9th behind, you’ll be facing Heath Bell — the best closer in the game.

Rocky Mountain Low

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

You can be sure that the Oakland Athletics rue the day they traded outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to the Colorado Rockies. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has forged a torrid path to the top of the NL’s list of “most promising young outfielders,” hitting above .320 for most of the season and providing badly needed stability in the Rockies’ outfield. And while Gonzalez was only 2-8 in Colorado’s double tilt against the Nats on Saturday, his ten total bases were more than worrying: every time a Nats pitcher turned around there he was, dancing off some base. So while the narrative of the Nats double loss in Colorado on Saturday may rightly focus on the Livan Hernandez-Ubaldo Jimenez pitcher’s duel in the first game and the follow-on skittish play of a young Nats infield in the second, it’s hard for Nats fans to shake the feeling that if Luis Atilano had pitched Gonzalez a little closer in the third inning of the second tilt, “CarGo” would not have lifted one of his pitches (his fourth of the year) into the seats. The Gonzalez homer in the second game set up a three run third inning that made the Nats fight from behind for the rest of the night.

The twin losses in Colorado on Saturday put a pause on the endless praise for the Nats starting rotation. The starting five of Hernandez, Stammen, Lannan, Atilano and Olsen have been better than expected (in fact, much better than expected), but other teams in other divisions are as good — and, in some cases, much better. It’s hard to take issue with Colorado’s entry into these pitching sweepstakes. While Colorado fans (and the Rockies’ front office) are critical of Jason Hammel’s 2010 showing (and his 7.71 ERA), it’s awfully difficult to criticize Hammel for what he did against the Nats on Saturday, giving up three runs over seven innings in a steady, if unspectacular, outing. If Hammel can build off of that success the Helton’s will boast a rotation of Jimenez, Cook, Chacin, Hammel and a returning Jeff Francis — once one of the best young left handers in the game. Then too, Colorado is awaiting the return of closer Huston Street (who arrived in Denver, with Gonzalez, in that trade with the White Elephants) and Jorge De La Rosa — the hero of Colorado’s second half comeback in 2009. The Friars and McCovey’s currently lead the NL West, but if Francis returns to form and Street and De La Rosa pick up where they left off, the Rockies will be there in September.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Nats’ lefty Sean Burnett was visibly irritated last Monday after Jim Riggleman lifted him after he’d pitched to one batter in Washington’s 3-2 win in New York. The former Ahoy had pitched sparingly up to that point, apparently viewed as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. But since then, Burnett has been one of Washington’s featured relievers. On Saturday, Burnett threw two innings in relief of Atilano (his longest outing of the year) and has lowered his ERA a full point over the last seven days. You have to wonder if Burnett said something to Riggleman. Something like “Hey skipper — do you really think I’m less effective than Brian Bruney? . . .

Not only is the right field platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras a thing of the past, so too is Willy Taveras. The veteran outfielder was designated for assignment on Saturday, and has to decide whether to accept the assignment or file for free agency. He said he would let the team know after talking to his family. The Harris-Taveras platoon (which ended even before it began) will be replaced by a Roger Bernadina-Mike Morse platoon, but our bet here at CFG is that that won’t last either. If Bernadina stops hitting (and, quite frankly, he probably will), the job will be given to Morse, a former Mariner and Riggleman favorite. Morse has been out since April with a left calf strain.

Nats-Fish Focus On Relievers

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

While Craig Stammen and the surprising Matt Chico provided strong outings in facing the Florida Marlins, neither pitcher was able to notch a win — with both the Nats and the Marlins depending on relievers to provide much-need wins. Stammen was steady in the Nats loss to the Fish on Friday, but the young righty’s strong start was not enough for the Nats, as they dropped a very winnable 4-2 decision. The loss was the result of a middle-innings collapse engineered by a Marlins line-up that fed off a shakey eighth inning by reliever Brian Bruney. Just as Stammen was strong in his start on Friday, Matt Chico (recently recalled from Double-A Harrisburg) provided Washington with a solid five-inning outing in their Saturday face-off against the Fish: but once again the game was decided by relievers, as the Nats notched a 5-4 victory in the eighth on a Adam Dunn HBP served up by Florida reliever Burke Badenhop.

The tale of the two games focused on relievers — and their failures. Brian Bruney was the focus of the Nats loss on Friday, as the former Yankee was unable to provide solid relief behind Stammen. With the game tied at 2 in the top of the eighth, Bruney couldn’t keep the Fish off the board: “I put myself in a situation where it was not good,” Bruney said after the Friday loss. “I feel I’m building and I’m getting better. I’m going to go out there tomorrow, hopefully, and things will be different. Tonight wasn’t my night. Unfortunately, I let a bunch of guys down and that is not a good feeling.” Bruney has appeared in fifteen games, but has been unable to keep baserunners off first: walking eighteen batters and registering a 6.00 ERA in his fifteen innings of work. The walks are disturbing — reminiscent of last year’s 103 loss bullpen collapse. “He needs to find a way to relax out there,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said of Bruney. “We’ve had those conversations with him. It’s up to him. He has to find a way to throw strikes and quality strikes. It has been a battle up to this point.”

The Nats are still counting on Bruney to right himself and be a proven addition the rest of the season. But keeping Bruney as the team’s 7th inning set-up man is an experiment that has clearly ended. The Nats have apparently handed the ball to Sean Burnett for the 7th, after calling up Doug Slaten from Triple-A Syracuse. Slaten, a former D-Back, has only appeared in 80.2 innings of relief work — but his recall will add another lefty to the bullpen, freeing up Burnett from facing only left-handed hitters. The front office is apparently unwilling to bring relief phenom Drew Storen to Washington, preferring to give him more minor league work — but there’s little question the Indiana native and tenth overall pick in last year’s draft will be in Washington soon. Storen’s steady work in the minors has impressed the Nats’ brain trust, while being eclipsed by the outings of Nats star-in-waiting Stephen Strasburg.

The Nats will face off against the Marlins again on Sunday at Nats Park in the final game of the three game set, but will then head to New York to face the Mets.

Season Ends With Win In 15

Monday, October 5th, 2009

The Washington Nationals finished the 2009 season on a high note, winning their seventh in a row, 2-1, in fifteen innings in Atlanta. The game winning RBI was plated on a line drive by Alberto Gonzalez , whose single in the 15th inning drove in Elijah Dukes with what turned out to be the winning run. The win could not save the Nats from the worst record in franchise history — as well as the worst record in baseball for the 2009 season: 59-103. Gonzalez was 2-6 in his last outing, raising his BA for the season to .265. Logan Kensing, who pitched two innings of three hit ball in relief, got the win. Starter J.D. Martin pitched six solid innings of six hit baseball, giving up a single earned run. But the pitching of the bullpen was the key story in the team’s last game of 2009 — Tyler Clippard, Ron Villone, Jason Bergmann, Saul Rivera and Kensing pitched nine innings in relief, giving up no runs.

While the Nats left Atlanta with their seventh consecutive win, the front office isn’t underestimating the work that needs to be done in the off season — the naming of a manager, the acquistion of two veteran pitchers, a reconstruction of the league’s worst bullpen and moves that will solidify the defense, especially up the middle. If there was a highpoint in the season (at least according to the Nats’ front office) it was the acquisition of centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and lefty reliever Sean Burnett from Pittsburgh. “I’m not saying we are where we want to be, certainly not,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said after the Atlanta win. “We know the targets we have to hit.” But many of the positive moves were actually negatives — additions by subtraction: the cutting of failed starter Daniel Cabrera, the exile of outfielder Lastings Milledge and the abandonment of the Joel Hanrahan experiment . . .

But the real high point of the season occurred before it even began — with the firing of Jim Bowden. The move was long overdue. The appointment of Mike Rizzo to take his place, first as “acting G.M” and then permanently, reshuffled the weak front office. Rizzo recast the Nats’ development program in the Dominican Republic, engineered the Milledge-Morgan swap, signed pitching phenom and first overall pick Stephen Strasburg, and rejiggered an embarrassing bullpen. His May signing of Mike MacDougal to a minor league deal — often overlooked — provided Washington with a closer. Rizzo’s mid-summer moves stabilized the franchise and gave the Nats immediate credibility. In a otherwise lost season, Rizzo’s promotion provided the one key bright spot  . . .

It’s not clear whether interim manager Jim Riggleman will return, though there’s no doubt that his handling of the club after the firing of Manny Acta focused the defense and provided needed wins. The club was sluggish under Acta and played with more intensity under Riggleman. “I think Riggleman really did a good job handling the ballclub after the All-Star break,” Rizzo said after the end of the season. “I think he put us on pace to really focus and bear down on the fundamentals of the game — to play cleaner and more efficient ballgames. He had the players playing at a high level. I think he has done the best job he could with the ability level that he has.” It’s clear that many Nats’ players would like to see Riggleman return . . .

The Silence of the Lambs

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Livan Hernandez pitched his perfectly predictable and steady six innings on Wednesday, but like lambs to slaughter, the Nats’s were sheared by Philadelphia hitters in a 6-1 loss. The bullpen was once again the problem: while Hernandez pitched six innings of seven hit ball, and kept the Anacostia Nine in the game, the normally competent Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Jason Bergman could not master the Phillies’ order. As always, Nats’ killer Jayson Werth proved a difficult out. In the bottom on the seventh, Werth put a Bergman pitch into the seats in left center that put the Nats down by five. “I made a mistake,” Bergmann said. “I threw the wrong pitch in the wrong spot. I was ahead of him. I should have thrown my pitch. I was trying to throw a bouncing slider down and away. We all know it was not a down-and-away slider. It was a hanger. I threw him one before that and he had a look at it. He could see it coming.”

But the problem was not so much Werth as it was (yet again) the lack of timely Nats hitting; or rather, the lack of any kind of hitting at all. The team’s biggest hitters are struggling, flailing at the plate at pitches out of the zone. Worse still, the hitting drought (which has reached epic proportions over the last five games), has built an environment of clubhouse frustration. Ryan Zimmerman, though not normally so talkative, summarily and glumly waved away reporter requests for post-game interviews. Zimmerman had good reason for being frustrated — but so do Nats fans: the middle of the Washington line-up have been mimes in Philly, though last night’s drama was the worst yet. Guzman, Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham (who might normally strike terror into the hearts of opposing pitchers) bleated their way to a pathetic 0 for 15 on the night.  

Zimmerman’s uncharacteristic frustration followed a team lecture by interim manager Jim Riggleman, whose own irritation was much more public: “We have a good ballclub, and this good ballclub just found ways to shoot itself in the foot and lose a ballgame, which adds to the record, the negativity and allows people to write those [negative] things,” Riggleman said. “Our record does not indicate the quality we have. That ballgame did not indicate the ballgame that it was. It’s 2-0 for a long time, and now it ends up 6-1, and it looks like the worst team in baseball again. I’m just reminding our players that when you make those many mistakes in a ballgame, you are going to allow those things to be said, and we have to be accountable for that.”