Posts Tagged ‘Steve McCatty’

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.

Rockies Swat Nats

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

It was a lot worse than it looked. The Washington Nationals lost their second in a row at home to the resurgent Colorado Rockies Wednesday night, but the game was not as close as the 5-4 score would indicate. That the Nats were even in the game in the 8th inning has to be accounted as a kind of miracle, particularly after Nats’ pitchers gave up a total of ten walks in the game — four of them to Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. The evening began when Nats starter Collin Balester walked the first three Colorado batters — Carlos Gonzalez, Derek Fowler and Helton — before giving up a double to Rockies’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Balester then walked Brad Hawpe, before getting out of the inning: Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes flew out and Balester struck out Chris Ianetta.

Balester’s ineffectiveness led to his early departure (1.1 innings pitched, five walks, three hits and three earned runs), but the Colorado walk-a-thon continued. While Saul Rivera proved effective against a stacked Colorado line-up (he gave up one run in 3.2 innings of work), he walked two before being relieved by lefty Ron Villone (who also walked two).  Jorge Sosa entered the game and promptly walked the first batter he faced — third baseman Ian Stewart.  The Nats, meanwhile, were mounting a comeback, thanks to Colorado’s inability to drive stranded runners to the plate (they left an astounding 12 men on base for the game). The Nat’s fifth inning was key in the comeback, when the team was improbably sparked by a two out rally that featured a triple, single, double, and Adam Dunn infield single. But Washington couldn’t match the Colorado attack, nor reattach the wheels that had fallen off Balester. While the Nats mounted another attack in the seventh, the rally was cut short when Adam Dunn couldn’t replicate the clutch infield single that had brought runners home in the fifth. 

Rallies in the fifth and seventh fell short as the Nats fell to Colorado, 5-4 (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Rallies in the 5th and 7th fell short; Nationals fell to Rockies on Wednesday(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

After the game, interim manager Jim Riggleman praised the bullpen and the team. “I said it before, but I love working with this group. They get after it,” he said. “They are playing hard. They are playing clean baseball. They are fun to manage. They want to win that ballgame. They enjoy playing this competition which will be playoff bound.” Riggleman has it right: if this had been May or June, the Rockies would have piled on and the Nats would have faded. It’s a different team now, and the evidence is obvious on the field. Even so,  Riggleman and McCatty have to be concerned with the walks issued on Wednesday, especially to regulars who are known as free-swingers.

Like Todd Helton, with all of 58 base-on-balls all year. If the Rockies have a franchise player, it is Helton, a genuine superstar who is probably headed to the hall of fame. But at 35, Helton’s best years are behind him: his power numbers have fallen (he has only 11 homers this year) and last year he was hobbled by injuries — the first chink in his otherwise  impregnable armor. But the Nats pitched him like he was Babe Ruth, serving up 19 balls against eight strikes and walking him in the first, second, fourth and eighth innings.

Todd Helton Three

Helton provides an interesting story. The Knoxville, Tennessee high school baseball and football star was offered $450,000 by the San Diego Padres to pass up college and start a professional career, but Helton turned them down. He was a good enough football player to play for the Tennessee Vols and was slated to take over the starting QB slot for them when their regular starting quarterback got injured during his junior year. But Helton was also hobbled (by a gimpy knee), so he gave way to a bright young freshman who, Helton remembers, everyone knew was the team’s quarterback of the future — Peyton Manning.  Helton was drafted eighth overall by the Rockies in 1995 and arrived in the majors in 1997. In 1998 he was a regular. In 2000, his best year, he led the league in hits, doubles, RBIs and batting average. He flirted for a time with the triple crown — he hit 42 home runs.