Posts Tagged ‘Tony La Russa’

D.C. Swelters, But Nats Get Hot

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The Washington Nationals emerged from Atlanta’s heat with their second win in three games against their N.L. East rivals — unleashing an unusual offensive series against a team destined to be their biggest competition after the All Star break.

Nationals fans can breathe a sigh of relief over the 8-4 victory, in large part because it is now clear that third sacker Ryan Zimmerman has started to hit his stride: the former All Star and Gold Glover was 3-5 with four RBIs in Sunday’s 8-4 win, which included Zim’s sixth home run.

“I think I’m healthier than I was before,” Zimmerman said after Sunday’s victory. “You have a few good games in a row and your confidence gets going, and that’s the name of the game. We’ve got to get some confidence, build momentum and just roll with it.”

Zimmerman’s break-out day (and series), supported the starting pitching of Gio Gonzalez, who picked up his 11th win against only three losses. While Gonzalez was not at his best, he was good enough to shut down the Atlanta offensve through five innings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez were not the entire story the Nats on Sunday, of course — with Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard providing four innings of three hit ball to preserve the victory.

The Nationals ended their 10 game road trip at 5-5, but will have little relief when they get home: Washington is just as hot as Atlanta, and the Nationals will face the red-hot San Francisco Giants.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s old news by now, but it’s still worth mentioning that Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond have made the 2012 National League All Star team — with Bryce Harper one of five who can be voted in by the fans.

Not everyone is pleased with the outcome, hardly a surprise given who was left out (you can make a good case for Adam LaRoche, for instance — who is stronger defensively than the ever popular Pablo “the Panda” Sandoval). Sandoval is surprised he ended up on the All Star team, and he oughta be.

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Bottom Feeders Win In Miami

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

The Washington Nationals will not be able to finish the 2011 season at .500 — and you can thank the bottom feeding Florida Marlins for that. Bryan Petersen sent the Nationals home a loser last night, stroking a walk off two out home run to make the Marlins winners, 3-2. The loss put the Nationals at 79-81, with one game to play.

The home run, off of lefty Doug Slaten, clouded an otherwise successful night for starter John Lannan, who pitched six innings while giving up only three hits. But the story of the night was on the side of the Marlins, whose starter — Javier Vazquez — might well have pitched his last game before retiring. Vazquez went nine innings while giving up only five hits to the Nationals, an exclamation point for what the team needs to find this off-season.

Despite the loss, the Nationals were able to contribute a highlight: Michael Morse hit his 31st home run of the year. Though it’s hardly a surprise, the dinger means that Morse will finish the season as the Nationals’ top slugger, leading the team in batting average (.303), home runs (31) and RBIs (95). “I put in a lot of hard work, and I’m glad that it paid off,” Morse said following the loss.

The Mess in Atlanta: Last night’s starting pitchers for the Red Sox and Braves — Erik Bedard and Derek Lowe — oughta tell us something about where those teams are. And they didn’t disappoint: Bedard lasted just 3.1 in the Red Sox win in Baltimore, while Lowe lasted just four in the Braves’ 7-1 loss against the Phillies in Atlanta . . .

We’re no fans of the Cardinals, but it’s hard to take the Braves seriously. Atlanta’s rotation is badly hobbled: Tommy Hanson has a tear in his shoulder, Jair Jurrjens has a sore knee, and Lowe (who looks like he should be on the DL) is shot-putting the ball in the hope that it ends up somewhere near the plate. You can’t go into the playoffs like that — well, you can, but you won’t win . . .

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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.

Is “The Fix” Really In?

Friday, December 18th, 2009

In yesterday’s Washington PostTom Boswell reported that Bud Selig has put together a group of the game’s best and brightest to, in Boswell’s words, “fix” the game.  Boswell seems to think the game is broken: I don’t.  He seems to think surgery is required; I think the patient just needs a trip to the chiropractor for an adjustment. But Boswell’s was a good piece and very well received by this baseball fan who hit his “Skins fatigue threshold” two months ago — and has ceased to be fascinated by Tiger’s woes.  It was a good not-yet-winter article to take my mind off the cold.

Despite my belief that the game isn’t as bad off as some believe, I love the managers who comprise the on-field contingent of the 14-man committee: La Russa, Leyland, Torre and Scioscia. Future Hall of Famers every one. The Wise Men of Baseball.  Who doesn’t like those guys? 

La Russa is a vegetarian lawyer — who just so happens to have also won a World Series and Manager of the Year award in both leagues. But he should also be admired for how he responded to his 2007 DUI arrest. He said he was embarrassed, then pleaded guilty and said “I accept full responsibility for my conduct, and assure everyone that I have learned a very valuable lesson and that this will never occur again.” In other words, unlike so many sport folk these days, he didn’t hire a crisis management team to carefully craft a statement. He manned-up and did the right thing. Leyland (on the other hand) is the crusty old baseball guy who takes crap from no one, smokes Marlboros in the clubhouse ramp between innings and does more with his teams than one would expect.  Did the Florida Marlins really win the ’97 Series?  Really?!  And, you gotta love a guy who gets thrown out before the first pitch.

Torre is Torre. It’s hard to say much that would add anything to his record in New York. He’s a class act who wins.  And his dugout persona makes La Russa look excitable.  Buddha in a ball cap. Scioscia (like Leyland) is a fiery type who knows the game. He won a World Series in his third year with the Angels and has won the division in five of the last six years. If he were an every day player he’d be considered “a gamer.”

But, to the point of Boswell’s article: he recommends that the committee take a look at the pace of the game, at the issue of awarding the World Series home field advantage to the winner of the All Star game, is opposed to playing the World Series in November and thinks the way to do this is to cut back on the 162 game season.

I’m in full agreement with no November baseball. It should never happen; end of story. Cutting back on 162 games?  No. Sorry. One of the great things about baseball are the stats and being able to make comparisons between the greatest players of all time. We had to get over the switch from 154 games, no reason to go through that again. Plus, its a non-starter from a revenue point of view. Ain’t gonna happen. Then too, I actually like the All Star game counting for something. Boswell seems to think these things go in streaks and one league dominates the All Star game for years at a time giving an unfair advantage for years in a row to one league at Series time.  Maybe, but my reaction would be for the “weaker” league to get better.  But I’d also be happy with awarding home field to the team with the most regular season wins as Boswell suggests.

And the pace of the game? It can be speeded up, but it was my perception that it had gotten much better in the last couple of years — especially in the American League. One of my idiosyncrasies is to look at game times at the bottom of the box score. I don’t know why but I just do. And I thought that the problem had been fixed. But let’s go with Boswell’s contention that the game still has much to do in this area and address his five ideas for speeding it up:

1) Ban mound visits: I assume Boswell is joking so I’ll just say that if Jim Leyland thinks it’s okay to use a Blackberry to calm a kid pitcher down with runners on second and third (with one out in a one-run game in the seventh) then it’s okay with me.

2) Limit the time to make a pitching change. Yup. Shouldn’t a reliever be be loose by the time he gets to the mound? 

3) End the singing of “God Bless America” during the Stretch. Yes again. Enough already.

4) Wave the hitter to first when an intentional walk is indicated. Nope. You never know when that kid pitcher will hit the backstop.

5) Requiring relief pitchers to face at least two batters to eliminate pitching changes. I go back and forth on this one; so I’ll waffle and say “perhaps.”

Agree with Boswell or not, it was a great exercise to think this through in mid December. The only thing better was to realize that pitchers and catchers report in 60 days.

Cards Sweep Nats; Ronnie To L.A.

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Garrett Mock and Adam Wainwright threw a classic pitchers’ duel at Busch Stadium on Sunday, but the Nats fell to the Redbirds, 2-1 to drop the third game of a three game set. Mock and Wainwright traded pitch-for-pitch through six complete, until Mock left a 3-2 pitch up in the strike zone against Albert Pujols, which turned out to be the difference in the game. Pujols stroked the mistake into centerfield, ending the deadlock and giving the Cards the win. Both bullpens closed out the game in near-perfection, as Nats’ bats could not provide an answer against a trio of Cards’ pitchers. The Nats accounted for only four hits in the game: one each by Willingham, Dukes, Orr and Bard. It was a tough series for D.C. hitters — but a particularly tough last game, as they faced one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, and arguably one of the contenders for the Cy Young Award. The masterful Wainwright had only one shaky inning and is now 16-7 on the year. 

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Sunday’s game was one of the best of the year by Mock, who was spotting his breaking stuff nearly perfectly. But the pitch to Pujols, Mock said, will probably keep him awake: ”The pitch that’s going to cost me some sleep tonight is the one that he got a hit on that scored the second run,” Mock said. “I wasn’t trying to throw the ball there, obviously — not trying to throw the ball anywhere where he could hit it. I feel like I did do a good job of executing my pitches today, but that particular pitch, I’ve got to be better than that.” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had praise for Washington’s starter. ”I just called Jim Riggleman and said, ‘Whoever decided to put Mock in the rotation, it was a good decision,’” La Russa said. “Boy, he was very good.”

After the game, the franchise announced the departure of Ronnie Belliard for the sunny climes of L.A., where he will find service with the Trolleys. Ronnie’s gotta be as pleased as punch to be headed to a contender, after riding the pines for most of the season behind Anderson Hernandez, now riding the pines for the Chokes, and Adrian Gonzalez. Not surprisingly, Belliard was of two minds on the trade: “I’m happy because I’m going to L.A. and that team is in first place,” he said. “But I’m sad because I am going to leave a lot of friends. I’ve been here for the last three years and I made a lot of friends.” Belliard had been playing well since the All Star break, hitting .325 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He’d been getting more playing time. The Nats received minor league righthander Luis Garcia and a player to be named in the swap.

Baltimore 

The Orioles might, truly, be one of the forgotten teams of baseball. Fated to play in the A.L. East, the little orange birds are mired in last place, 28 games behind the Yankees — and only eight wins better than the Nats. But there’s hope in Birdland, and not simply because the O’s have won six of their last 11. The team arguably now has one of the best outfields in all of baseball, a clear contender for the rookier of the year award, and perhaps one of the league’s premier young pitchers. All of this was on display on Sunday, when the O’s took on the Naps in Baltimore and coasted to an easy win behind the power arm of rookie Brian Matusz. All of 22, the former first round (fourth overall) pick in the 2008 draft, is the thinking man’s pitcher, who studies game-day videos of himself to determine how best to spot his killer curve, then adjusts his arm slot accordingly. Matusz threw 97 pitches yesterday, 67 of them for strikes. He held the Indians to four hits over seven innings.

Matusz isn’t a surprise: he’s a can’t miss pitcher who won’t miss. The surprise is Felix Pie — a former Cubbie who has now, shockingly, set down roots in left field after going through nearly three years of trying to figure out how to hit major league pitching. Pie has been on a tear, raising his average over the last two months to a respectable .272 and showing some power; he now has seven home runs (a laughable total, we suppose, except that the punch-and-judy Dominican wasn’t supposed to have any at all). Pie weighed in to help Matusz on Sunday, jacking a two run homer in the third. He’s hitting .383 since August 14.

Pie is a nice addition in the outfield, completing a trio that includes Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. If Jones was playing in New York or Boston, we venture to guess, people would be describing him for what he is: the best young outfielder in all of baseball. The Pie-Jones-Markakis trio has kicked Noland Reimold, a contender for rookie of the year, into the D.H. spot. Reimold’s hot bat has been a surprise for the MacPhail’s this year: the 25-year-old climbed his way, hand-over-hand through the Baltimore system, before the front office gave him a grudging look. He was a prospect that was once ranked near the bottom in the O’s system. But he’s produced and it looks like he’s in Baltimore to stay.

Okay: things aren’t all that great in Baltimore and the fans are restless. How can they be otherwise. The team is in last place. They’re certainly not going to win a pennant next year, or maybe even the year after. But the MacPhail plan is on track — and if the outfield of Pie, Jones and Markakis ever hit together, the Baltimore Orioles could become one of the most formidable teams in all of baseball and a challenger to “the nation” and the evil empire. With Matusz they have the beginnings of a young staff, the only other ingredient they need. And so, after an era of irrational interference from a know-it-all owner, the Orioles are finally on the right track. If they only had a little more pitching.

Felix Pie (left) is congratulate by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Felix Pie (left) is congratulated by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Mark DeRosa’s Revenge

Friday, August 28th, 2009

At the outset of the ’09 season, baseball’s prognosticators picked the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central — or even third — behind the Cubbies, who had rejiggered their line-up to be more “balanced.” The Cubs had traded super utilityman Mark DeRosa to the Naps and signed on left handed hitting Milton “Game Board” Bradley, mixing a righthanded heavy line-up that had been swept in the playoffs at the hands of the hated Trolleys. The Cubs — a veritable set of mashers — were on the way up, the Cards (a bunch of sore arms and also-rans) were on the way down. Now, months later, the results of all those moves are in: and the Cardinals are running away with the division crown. While afficiandos focus on the Cubs’ failures, there’s more reason to argue that Cards G.M. John Mozeliak made all the right moves and all of them just at the right time. So what happened?

The Cardinals began their sprint to the top of the NL Central at the end of June: the timing coincided with their trade for Cleveland’s DeRosa. The Cards shipped reliever Chris Perez to Cleveland to land DeRosa to shore up a wobbly infield and undermanned outfield. Just one day later, DeRosa went on the DL, but the deed was done and the Cards were overjoyed with their acquisition. So was DeRosa: his last place ass had landed in a tub of first place butter: “From a selfish standpoint, I get to battle for a division title again and I’m in a good position with a great team.” Then, at the end of July, Mozeliak traded a passel of prospects to the White Elephants for Matt Holliday. It’s not simply that Holliday was a good hitter, he knew NL pitching and could provide protection behind Pujols, who was starting to see more walks than Cards manager Tony La Russa liked. Holliday cashed in a Mozeliak’s trust, setting the league on fire.

Mark DeRosa

But Holliday was just one piece of a make-over that Mozeliak had in mind. Two days before sealing the Holliday deal, the Cards G.M. traded away Chris Duncan to Boston for under appreciated shortstop Julio Lugo, who had worn out his welcome with the Red Sox. With acquisition Khalil Greene (whom Mozeliak had hoped would plug the Cards hole at the position) not working out, the Redbirds were desperate to find a solution. Lugo hasn’t exactly been ripping up the NL, but La Russa has done his usual sleight-of-hand in getting the most from him: he starts at second against left handed pitchers (for left swinging Skip Schumaker) and at short when breakout youngster Brendan Ryan needs a breather. So far so good: such mixing and matching would not have been possible in Boston, where psychologically hobbled Theo Epstein would never have subbed for Dustin Pedroia.  

There’s more. The acquisition of John Smoltz, it is now reported, is the result of a recommendation to La Russa and Mozeliak by the newly acquired DeRosa, who told them that the future hall of famer would fit in nicely in St. Louis. The Cardinals bit: outbidding the Marlins, Dodgers and Rangers for his services. For the Cubs (and the rest of the N.L. Central), DeRosa can be counted as the latest in a series of team curses. He has become a kind of Jason of the N.L. Central — an unforgiving and murderous nightmare, taking retribution on the Baby Bears for not having enough confidence in him to keep him around.

There’s no question. Signing Smoltz was a gamble for the Cardinals, but so far (at least) it seems to have worked out: in Smoltz’s first outing against the Friars, the righty threw five innings of three hit ball. He looked sharp and confident. He looked at home on the mound. He looked like he was back. The outing raised eyebrows around major league baseball: maybe the old guy still has something left. Yeah, maybe. But Smoltz doesn’t have to be the lights-out John Smoltz of old. He just has to pitch well enough to give the Cardinals another arm in their already superb arsenal of arms: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro. Smoltz could set the Cards up for a good run in the offseason. He could bring them into the post-season as the team to beat. And wouldn’t it be nice to see St. Louis facing off against that other great team in the league: The Los Angeles Dodgers The Colorado Rockies.