Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Clippard’

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.

Assessing The Second Half

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Just one year ago, in 2009, the Washington Nationals opened the second half of their season not only in last place in the NL East, but as the worst team in baseball. The problems then were obvious: the bullpen had imploded, regular outfielder Austin Kearns was slumping, there was no starting pitching and the team seemed uninvolved and detached. The challenge then was different than it is now: to change what was happening on the field, the Nats needed to change what was happening in the front office — a view reflected in ownership’s mid season open letter to fans that contained an embarrassing, but necessary apology. No such apology is needed now. While the Nats are yet again in last place in their division, the rebuilt bullpen is solid, Austin Kearns (DHL’d to Cleveland) has been replaced in the outfield by slugger Josh Willingham, the team’s starting rotation is filled with promise and the clubhouse is tight and optimistic. But perhaps the biggest revolution has been where the fans can’t see it: the front office is retooled — with an engaged general manager and a core of scouts and development experts who are competing with the best in baseball.

The challenges facing the 2009 Nats were obvious, the needed changes reflected in the standings. That’s less true now, particularly considering that the franchise controls one of the game’s premier young pitchers (Stephen Strasburg), has one of the most formidable 3-4-5 line-up combinations in the National League (Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham), is steadied by a future hall of famer behind the plate (“Pudge” Rodriguez), and has — waiting in the wings — a crowd of injured starting pitchers that could energize a second half surge (Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang). Which is not to say that there aren’t problems. There are. The Nats defense is weak, the team’s set-up men are struggling, their center fielder is having problems on the base paths (and at the plate) and (pending the uncertain return of a quartet of tweeky arms) their starting pitching is shaky.

In 2009, these same problems (and their hypothetical resolution) spurred overly optimistic talk; that the Nationals were actually “only a player or two” from being good. That wasn’t true in 2009 — not even close, but it’s true now. The question for Mike Rizzo is whether he busts up a good thing to continue building, or whether he tweaks the team at the edges, hoping that the return of the Marquis-Zimmermann-Olsen-Wang quartet will provide the necessary spur to vault the team out of last place. It’s not an easy decision: busting up the team means trading popular and productive players (Dunn or Willingham, or both), while tweaking it at the edges probably (probably) means accepting that the Nats future is not now, but sometime next year. If there’s good news here, it’s this: Nats fans won’t have to wait until August or September to determine the team’s fate — that tale will be told before the July 31 trading deadline.

The Wisdom Of Secton 1-2-9: The CFG contingent arrived at the first game of the McCovey series with a new set of fans seated firmly in the row behind the regulars. That the two (I swear) looked like the spitting image of Omar Little and Stringer Bell was tempting: “hey, you two were great in The Wire.” The moment, thankfully, passed. The two turned out to be charter members of the Nyjer Morgan fan club, pumping their fists at every Nyjer moment: “My man,” one said, when Nyjer came to the plate. A row mate was not impressed, mimicking Casey At The Bat — “strike two said the umpire” and then the smile “not my style said Nyjer.” There were titters. When Morgan flipped his bat in disgust at a strike out served up by Matt Cain, the potential for a debate seemed electric, but one of the Morgan partisans smiled:  “You’ll see,” he said, to no one in particular. And he was right: Morgan was 2-5 and knocked in a run. “Hey man,” one of the Morgan fans said, but so we could hear it, “some of these fans don’t remember what Nyjer did for us last year.” His row mate nodded in agreement. “Yeah man, I know. Short memories.” This was greeted by silence. And chagrin. They were relentless, boring in for the kill. One of them tapped me on the shoulder: “That was a rope,” he said, after Morgan put a streaking line drive down the right field line. Okay, okay, okay . . .

“The problem with Clippard is that his curve just isn’t working,” one of the section’s middle relief experts opined in the second game of the San Francisco series. He didn’t need to keep making the point, Clippard was making it for him — “see, look at that.” Clippard looked terrible and shook his head as he came off the field. “He feels it,” and then there was just a tick before this, from a fan down the row: “Yeah, well, he should.” But the section remained optimistic (“he’ll get it back”), even as the Nats squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead (“yeah, but not this inning”). There were some few Giants fans in the seats, complete with newly minted, black and orange, Buster Posey jerseys. One Frisco fan (“San Francisco natives never use that term,” I was told) was tweeting with a family member, even as the Nats compiled a five runs lead. The message was pointed: “My boy Posey will regulate!” He did: 4-5 with 3 RBIs.

Pudge Walkoff Slices Apples

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

There are games you deserve to win, but lose — and then there are games you deserve to lose, but somehow win. The Washington Nationals, struggling on the mound and at the plate (and looking listless against New York’s very hot Mets) came back from a 5-3 deficit on Saturday to register an unlikely 6-5 victory at Nationals Park. “The win was special because it was against a very good ballclub and against their closer, who is outstanding,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman told the press after the come-from-behind surprise. “I’m very proud of our ballclub.” The win came in an exciting bottom of the ninth and was capped by Pudge Rodriguez’s single to right field that scored Ryan Zimmerman with the winning walkoff run. The Nats didn’t look like they were in the game from the first pitch: starter Stephen Strasburg had trouble finding the plate in pitching five complete innings, Nats hitters were downright somnolent against R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, and Mets hitters roughed up the Nats bullpen (more specifically, Tyler Clippard), seemingly putting the game beyond reach in the 8th. But the Nats found a way to win, loading the bases in the ninth, then tying the game on a towering near-home run by Mets basher Adam Dunn.

The Nats 9th inning rally could be just the spark the Anacostia Nine needs in heading into tomorrow’s Independence Day tilt against the out-for-revenge New Yorkers. In what Nats’ fans want to believe is a sign of things to come, the team came alive at the plate, pummeling eleven hits, with Dunn and Rodriguez accounting for six. While Ryan Zimmerman continues to struggle at the plate, the latest fall-off in Pudge Rodriguez’s production seems to have been reversed, even though the bound-for-the-hall catcher left four men stranded on Saturday. And Adam Dunn is continuing his hot streak, which could put him in the All Star Game. The victim was Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, whom Dunn took deep. “That’s it. That’s the  worst performance I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Rodriguez said after the game. “I should be ashamed of myself. I’m so embarrassed. I just want to apologize to the fans who were watching that. I know better than that.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: “The Kid” isn’t the only one who struggled on Saturday. Colorado’s all-league righty, Ubaldo Jimenez gave up seven runs in one inning versus the Giants, which raised his ERA to 2.27 . . . During the O’s sweep of the Nats in Baltimore (it’s hard to forget), Baltimore army of bloggers trumpeted Washington’s futility. “They’re worse than we are,” one Bird Land blogger puffed. But since that series the O’s have retreated to their losing ways. With tonight’s 9-3 loss at Fenway, the O’s are 25-56. The Birds would need to win 12 in a row to equal the Nats record of 36-46. They are now 25 games out of first place. If they go on a 31 game winning streak, they’ll reach .500 . . . It’s a good thing that columnist Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle isn’t the Giants’ GM — he thinks getting Cubs’ bad boy Carlos Zambrano in exchange for McCovey outfielder Aaron Rowand would be just a grand idea. Somewhere, Jim Hendry agrees . . .

Nats Boot It In Baltimore

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

You can’t make four errors and expect to win a ball game, no matter how much you hit — and no matter how many spectacular plays you make that are  nominated for “Web Gems” on “Baseball Tonight.” The Nats made four errors against Baltimore on Friday night, dropping an extra innings heartbreaker (and the first game of a three game set), to the Orioles, 7-6. This should have been Nyjer Morgan’s game: the Nats’ pesky lead-off hitter went 4-5, scored three runs, drove in one, stole a base and made a spectacular catch on what looked like a sure home run by Oriole Corey Patterson. Morgan climbed the centerfield wall at Camden Yards to snag the deep fly and rob the fleet-footed Patterson, who tipped his cap to Morgan in acknowledgment of his good glove work. Ironically, in an error-filled game, Morgan’s circus catch was one of the best defensive play of the year for the Nats. But Morgan’s good glove and hot bat after a month-long slump could not save his team, who played an embarrassing error-filled game.

After the game, Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman seemed befuddled, and angered, by his team’s loss. “You saw it. I’m not going to say anything specific, but the way we are playing in general — defensively — it isn’t good enough,” Riggleman said to reporters. “We do a lot of talking about it. We are out there working on it. But for some reason … I really can’t explain it. I know we put the work in. I feel bad for the players. It’s an issue for them. They see the number of errors. They see the games get away from us, because we are not making plays. We have to find a way to change that.” To compound the errors, righty reliever Tyler Clippard pitched poorly, in what has to account for his worst relief outing of the year. Clippard, who has been so consistent that Nats fans take his excellent relief appearance for granted, gave up four hits and four runs (three of them earned) in just 1.1 inning of work. While the Nats left Camden Yards disappointed, the O’s were ecstatic — registering a rare come-from-behind win on what should have been a double play ball that would have sent the game into extra innings. The O’s scored when Cristian Guzman’s flip to first eluded first sacker Adam Dunn. Guzman and shortstop Ian Desmond each had two errors in the game.

Unfortunately, while the Orioles will focus on the win and the Nats will focus on the errors, Nyjer Morgan’s play vindicated Riggleman who, prior to the game, said that he was undisturbed by the center fielder’s lack of production. Riggleman’s comments were a vote of confidence for Morgan, who has been the subject of fan criticism, and speculation that he might be benched in favor of Roger Bernadina. Riggleman has been trying to find a way to give Mike Morse more at bats — and benching Morgan and moving Bernadina into his spot would solve that problem. Morse would then play right field. But Riggleman said he’s sticking with Morgan. “I have a lot of patience with Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “One thing we kind of hang our hats on is last year when we got Nyjer at this time of the year, he had been doing OK in Pittsburgh, not having a great start, just treading water. Then he took off.” Riggleman seemed more than satisfied that his vote of confidence in Morgan worked out: after the loss to the Orioles the Nats skipper pointedly referred to the Morgan catch. “It may have been the greatest play of the year,” he said.

Nats End Slump, 2-1

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Monday’s 2-1 win at Nationals Park may be taken as “Exhibit #1” that pitching — good pitching — wins ballgames. While the Nationals squeezed out only three hits against the more-than-mediocre Bruce Chen (et. al.), Livan Hernandez mastered the Royals line-up through seven complete innings, scattering eight hits and striking out five. The Nats relied on the long ball, with super-sometime-starter Mike Morse and second sacker Cristian Guzman providing the fireworks. The victory was closed out by Washington’s “Clipp & Save” crew of Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps — who notched his 21st save. Nats starter Livan Hernandez returned to his winning ways, and his by now traditional slow-slower-slowest methods — a turnaround from his last outing against the Kalines in which he was scorched. “I left the ball up a little bit, but the slider was working very well,” Hernandez said after his victory. “The cutter was working perfectly. I had a bad game in Detroit, so today I knew I had to come through and stop the losing streak.”

The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There’s a familiar touch that comes from sitting in the same section, game after game after game. It’s not like you’d want to live with these people, but after ten games (or more), you learn to value the comments of your section. Or not, as the case may be. There are times when you want to turn around, facing the guys in the row behind you and say: “Hey listen, I understand that your sale of software is important, but Gavin Floyd is pitching a great game here. Not to mention Strasburg.” You don’t do it, because people come to the ballpark for all kinds of reasons, some of them apparently having nothing to do with baseball. There’s no legislating intelligence, as they say. Still, there are those valuable moments that only a new set of eyes can see. A fan looked over my shoulder, two weeks ago, as I was scoring. “Remember, there’s no RBI on a run scored on a double play,” he said. I looked down at my score book, eraser poised. Mmmmm. Right.

“Nyjer’s act is wearing thin,” a 1-2-9 partisan said this week. A man two rows up leaned forward: “Tony Plush!” — which brought groans from down the row. The guy next to me weighed in. “He has trouble with a fastball, it’s all this dink and dunk stuff, bringing the bat down to bunt and pulling it back. That’s a clear message — he can’t catch up to the fastball. And he doesn’t read pitchers well.” There was silence through the next inning, until Morgan came to bat. He faked a bunt to third, running down the first base line. Strike two. One pitch later he was on the bench. Heads turned, checking his BA on the scoreboard. .251. “So what do we do?” Silence, and then this: “Center field is Bernadina’s natural position and Morse needs playing time.” A dissent was issued, one row back, where talk of software had been ceded to the game on the field. “We wouldn’t be saying this last year.” Two batters later, the response came, from a bright new Nats Cap three seats away. “We were a different team last year. Last year Nyjer Morgan looked like our salvation. This year he looks like a .251 hitter.” True.

Bullpen Sinks Pirates

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals took the second in a three game set against the Pirates on Wednesday, though the 7-5 victory was much less cleanly played than the previous night’s 5-2 drubbing. Still, a victory is a victory, and the sloppily played triumph will enter the win column — and lift the Nats to within two games of .500 with one game left to play against the Stargells. The victory was also a vindication (of sorts), for Nats manager Jim Riggleman, who has praised rookie right fielder Roger Bernadina. Bernadina was 3-4 on the night and his speed on the base paths seemed to energize the Nats Nine. “He’s a very talented guy,” Riggleman told the Post back in May. “If you run him out there enough, he’s going to do some damage, because he’s just that good of a player.”

The Nationals were also sparked by a perfect bullpen, as Tyler Walker, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps combined to sink the Pirates through 4.1 innings of two hit, no-run ball. Tyler Walker’s outing was key, as the former journeyman Metropolitan, Giant and Phillie has struggled of late. “It was a bullpen shutout. That’s what we were looking for,” Walker said after the win. “We came in and picked up Johnny [Lannan]. He didn’t have his best stuff tonight. You come in and you want to pick him up. You want to help out your teammates. Tonight, I was able to get that job done. I had been struggling in that situation lately — [with] inherited runners. I was really trying to bear down and get us off the field, so we could get back to hitting.” Walker’s outing brought his ERA to back under four, while Storen (1.74) and Clippard (1.57) continued to impress.

Those Little Town Blues: Our friends over at The Real Dirty Mets Blog are getting fat and sassy, in the belief that the Mets are showing that they are some kind of team. (Haven’t they learned? C’mon guys — you’ll only be disappointed . . .) Most recently, “Mr. North Jersey” did some kind of throw down (is that what it’s called now?) in CFG after the Strasburg outing — to the effect that “don’t expect my Mets to go easy on you; we will be out for blood.” Well, let me tell you — we’re terrified. No really. We are. I mean, Strasburg, Lannan, Hernandez are pretty good, but there’s not a one of them as good as Oliver Perez . . .  Our constant desire to become an entry in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary has led us far afield in the past. It didn’t seem that any Nats qualified as throwing, fielding or hitting in any particularly unique manner for us to even nominate a word or phrase. But now, with Stephen “they call me Mr.” Strasburg having plied his D.C. wares, we think we’ve come up with something. The heater that Strasburg threw against Andy LaRoche on Tuesday (his last K) seems to qualify. It was both unique and spectacularly Strasburg — ian. The Strasburg pitch was up-in-the-zone at 97-plus and absolutely unhittable. We’ll call it “a Porky Pig fastball” — and see if that catches on . . . No? . . .

“I mean, I don’t get it,” one of CFG’s droogs said last night. “The Ahoys? That’s what you call the Pirates?” Okay, we admit, it’s corny, but we’ll take reader nominations for nicknames and we’ll use them too. If they’re any good. We call the Mets “the Apples,” having dropped “the chokes” as being, well … offensive. But, while we call them “the apples” we don’t particularly like that nickname — or even “the Metropolitans.” It seems . . . ah . . . antiquated. So. Have you got something better? Well, send it in. And we’ll use it. But we’ll stick by “the Trolleys” (for the Dodgers) and McCoveys for the Giants and we’ll also stick with the Belinskys for the Angels (after legendary Halo pitcher Bo Belinsky) and, come to think of it, the uniquely descriptive “White Elephants” (c’mon, you know, for the Athletics) is an absolute keeper. But, admittedly, we’re having trouble coming up with a nickname for the Rockies. “The Heltons” is just too easy. And we’re having trouble labeling the Brewers. The “Brew Crew?” C’mon. I mean, who the hell cares? So nominations are open . . .

Guess who’s cashing in? Why, that would be the Topps baseball card company (well, they’re in business, so a little cash is probably not inappropriate), which has issued a limited edition set of cards of Stephen Strasburg, showing him pitching in Tuesday night’s debut. The limited edition has a very short print run, to ensure card value, and shows his first pitch. Right. That “other” card company — Bowman — will not be outdone. It has announced that it is producing a limited number of Bryce Harper cards. The Topps limited edition Strasburg card is pricey (and popular), although Topps has announced it will add a card to its 2010 660-card set (#661) for collectors who purchase a boxed set . . .

Strasburg card-0610.jpg

Strasburg (W, 1-0), Capps (S, 19)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If, during Spring Training, you had asked Nats skipper Jim Riggleman to sketch out a “model” Nationals win, he might have said something like this: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter followed by a middle inning lights-out reliever, finishing with an unhittable closer who strikes fear into the opposition. And the bats? That’s easy: a get-on-base-guy at the top of the order followed by the heavy lumber: Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez. Add liberally all those other things that really good teams have: a tight defense anchored by a youngster at short and a speedster in center. Oh, and let’s not forget: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter.

On Tuesday night, Jim Riggleman got his wish: Stephen Strasburg provided one of baseball’s most dominating pitching debuts, holding the Stargells to four hits over seven complete and wowing the sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus — who gave the now former phenom innumerable standing ovations before demanding that he take a well-deserved curtain call. “I really can’t put into words any better than what you saw,” Riggleman said following Strasburg’s gem. The California native and 2009 first round, first overall Nats draft pick registered fourteen strikeouts and no walks. I’ll repeat the important part of that last sentence, just for emphasis: no walks. But Strasburg’s numbers tell only a part of the story. Excepting for a semi-shaky fourth (and even then, he seemed in complete control) Strasburg dominated the game — with a silly-sick curve, an unhittable change-up and an in-your-eyes fastball that topped out (twice) at 100 mph. And the Nationals won, in a model of precision that Riggleman might have only dreamed of just two months ago: Strasburg was followed by 8th inning guy Tyler Clippard (one inning, one hit, two strike outs), before “Let’s Go Capps” (one inning, no hits) closed the door.

Nationals 5, Pirates 2.

From where the CFG contingent was sitting — in Section 129 (and here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the night seemed filled with odd physical tics. Every time that Strasburg finished howitzer-ing a fastball past an increasingly puzzled Ahoy line-up, the entire section would look up at the scoreboard, calculating velocity. Up and back, up and back, like watching a ping-pong match. “That’s 100.” The 82 mph curves were as impressive, the mix in pitches a sign that “this kid” (as in, “boy, can this kid throw”) is more than just a fireballer. And then the nods or guttural response, or expressions of awe. “Seven in a row, are you kidding?” There was a sense of disbelief in all of this. Everyone had heard the hype, but no one had quite believed it. CFG’s DWilly rang up after the game, his cell crackling with the sound of the crowd celebrating on Half Street: “The real deal,” he said.

Now Then, Where Were We? Oh yeah, searching for a right fielder. Even before the Strasburg debut, the Nats front office had to feel that the team they put on the field could make a run at a playoff spot, the only negative being the gaping hole in right field. That’s called a conceit: what we mean to say is — the yawning maw in right field. With the Willie Harris/Willy Taveras platoon a thing of the past (it lasted all of one game), the Nats were hoping that Harris alone (and then Roger Bernadina) could make the difference. But Willie is not only hitting below the Mendoza line, he makes Mendoza look like DiMaggio. Then too, Bernadina is yet to get his legs (or his stroke, as the case may be) and the oft-injured Mike Morse, while a Riggleman favorite, just doesn’t feel like a permanent solution. Or hit like one. Well, there’s Cristian Guzman . . . okay, well maybe not.

So, the search is on. Last week, Ben Goessling speculated about a number of fixes, including the Brew Crew’s Corey Hart, the North Sider’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa’s B.J. Upton, any number of whom would be an upgrade. But the price, according to Goessling, would be high: Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps — and throw in a top prospect. With the possible exception of Hart, it hardly seems worth it. Hart has pop (15 dingers), but a so-so-average, the K-man patrols the field with the best of them (but is too inconsistent at the plate — and comes with a salary), and B.J. Upton has yet to live up to his hype (.235 BA, six homers). Past A Diving Vidro (now there’s a great name for a blog) says that David DeJesus might be an option — but then the bloggers at PADV rightly call him a K.C. Ryan Church . . . ugh.

There’s another possibility. The White Sox are “open for business,” and have apparently been dangling outfielder Carlos Quentin — who can be had for the right price. But it’s hard to see what that price might be. The one thing the Nats can now (supposedly) trade is relief pitching — the one thing the Pale Hose don’t need. Then too, it’s hard to figure what you gain with Quentin: sure, 21 home runs last year (remember? CQ was once “The Second Coming” in “The Second City”), but his measly BA (.236!) and anemic OBP of .323 has soured his stay in Chicago. If we’re going to pay top price for a right fielder, then it’s worth getting one who can swing the stick. Quentin has yet to prove he can. Then too, whether it’s Hart, or Kosuke or B.J. or whomever, dealing Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps just now seems like a bad idea. Clippard has emerged as one of the game’s premier middle relievers (well, he’s getting there), while dealing Capps would seem proof of attention deficit disorder: maybe the Nats front office remembers what it’s like to play without a closer, but the rest of us are permanently Hanrahan’d. Which means? Which means that sometimes, at least in baseball, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

Storen, Clippard In Form

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

The Washington Nationals broke their five game losing streak with a solid 5-3 victory over the New York Mets at Nats Park on Wednesday. The victory came with solid pitching performances from Livan Hernandez, rookie Drew Storen, middle reliever Tyler Clippard and closer Matt Capps — who notched his league leading 15th save. The win came despite an Angel Pagan inside-the-park home run and a Pagan-initiated triple play. “It was just one of those freaky nights,” Nats center field Nyjer Morgan said. “We had an inside-the-park and a triple play. You don’t see that too often.” The Storen-Clippard duo portends big things for the Nats, whose bullpen is a bright spot for the team, which struggled in middle and late innings last year. Storen and Clippard combined to pitch 1.2 innings of one-hit shutout baseball, providing Matt Capps with the opportunity of putting the Metropolitans away in the ninth.The Nats are hoping to ride the high of their win against their division rival into a second game against the Mets tonight.

Fear and Trembley In Baltimore: For the first time in what seems like forever, the Nats will enter the “Battle of the Beltways” without the younger sibling inferiority complex that seemed to mark the team’s previous meetings with “the Birds.” Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble have every right to take advantage — slinging high-and-tight questions to Jim Palmer et. al. “We’re joined here in the booth by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, and let me just start by asking you this Jim — what in the hell is wrong with Orioles?” . . . one of the really fun things to do is to watch O’s manager Dave Trembley’s post-game media Q & A sessions. After yet another loss last week, Trembley looked as if he were about to explode. His answers were clipped, his mouth set, his aggression kept barely in check. There were painfully long silences after his answers, as reporters considered whether they should ask just one more — or scramble for the exits.”So, ah  . . . Dave, ahhh … so, in the seventh inning, you know, when the Indians loaded the bases . . .  ah, well, never mind.”

One of the more interesting Baltimore personalities is middle inning relief specialist Will Ohman, who not only looks like he means it, but seems always in agony when he exits a game. Ohman (a sure fire candidate for anger management counseling), stared menacingly at Trembley when the O’s skipper marched out of the dugout to pull him after he walked a single batter during the O’s 8-2 loss  in Cleveland. Ohman had every reason to be angry: he hasn’t given up a run in 13.2 innings of work and has been a workhorse — pitching through 22 games. So why did Trembley relieve him? The “Birdland” skipper believes that Ohman is a lefty-on-lefty specialist, a prejudice that the last place Camdens can hardly afford. The good thing about Trembley is he doesn’t scare easy: he pointedly ignored his bullet-headed southpaw, who stood (hands on hips, no less) glaring at his skipper through the next inning. Ohman has had an up-and-down career, but a lot of it has been up. Despite his so-so-performance in for the Trolleys in 2009, Ohman has posted some pretty good numbers, particularly for the Cubs in 2005. MacPhail (in Chicago at the time) remembers this — which is why he signed him this winter. In a season of disappointments, Ohman has been a bright spot in an otherwise very shaky bullpen. But you have to wonder when Dave Trembley will figure that out.

Rockies Take Series, Storen Arrives

Monday, May 17th, 2010

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,  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.

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.