Posts Tagged ‘Willie Harris’

Maya Steady, Gee Whiz

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

ASSOCIATED PRESS Washington Nationals starting pitcher Yunesky Maya throws his first pitch in his debut in the majors, during a baseball game against the New York Mets on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010, in Washington.

Yunesky Maya is an acquired taste: after a rocky first inning (in which Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis hit one of the longest home runs in the short history of Nationals’ Park), the highly touted Cuban righthander settled down and pitched steadily through the 5th. But (as nearly every print journalist — and Jim Riggleman), said after the Nats lost 4-1 to the Mets, it was too late. Maya gave up three runs in the first and one in the second, and Mets rookie righty Dillon Gee shut down the Nats, pitching a no-hitter until Willie Harris put a dinger into the right field seats. “I gave up four runs. I just wanted to hold them there to give the team a chance to win the game,” Maya said after his first outing in a Nats’ uniform. “I didn’t want them to score any more runs on me. I just felt more comfortable [after] that first inning. I was hitting my spots. When I do well, that’s what I do. I’m ahead of the hitters, and I can do what I want after that.”

Despite the shaky start (Maya admitted that he was nervous), Maya’s curve and smarts make him a contender for a spot in the Nats’ starting rotation in 2011. This is good news for Washington G.M. Mike Rizzo, who signed the Cuban veteran to a four year $6 million contract in July. The “book” on Maya is that, while he does not have overwhelming stuff, he is a smart veteran pitcher with enough experience to make an impact on the club — adding a much-needed savvy arm (to go with that of Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis) to a group of youngsters. And despite the early shakiness, Maya’s Nats’ teammates were impressed with what they saw. Maya’s steady start was the talk of the Nationals’ club house following the game — but the new Cuban finesse artist took a distinct second spot in the headlines to Mets’ rookie Dillon Gee.

Gee, a 27th round draft pick of the Mets in 2007, shut down the Nats — even though, like Maya, he did not have overpowering stuff. But Gee’s mix of pitches was enough to impress Nats’ reserve Willie Harris, whose command of Gee provided the modest Washington crowd with a sigh of relief. “The one thing I noticed was that he was pretty aggressive in the strike zone early,” Harris said following the game. “He was going fastball early, and then he was going to his breaking pitch. Once he started guys off with breaking pitches and got behind in the count, he would come after them with fastballs.” Gee’s arrival is good news for the Mets, who are in desperate need of starting pitching as they attempt to salvage something from a disappointing season. The addition of Gee could be just what the Mets front office ordered — the New Yorkers have few top-notch pitching prospects in their minor league system and have made puzzling mistakes in judging their mound talent (Oliver Perez) over the last several years. Gee, as he showed on Tuesday, is the welcome exception.

(above: AP photo of Yuniesky Maya; below, Dillon Gee,  AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Nats Swept In Milwaukee

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The Washington Nationals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 8-3 on Sunday, a game that marked their third loss in a row — giving the Brew Crew a sweep of the series and a 4-2 edge in the season match-up. As now seems common with every Nationals loss, the team was victimized by unwanted errors, poor starting pitching and a lack of timely hitting. The game featured the long-awaited return of lefty Ross Detwiler, who was sidelined by a hip injury. Detwiler’s  2010 debut was marred early on, when Willie Harris — subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third — failed to handle a ground shot off the bat of Alcides Escobar. The error kept the Brewers alive in the inning and led to the plating of two unearned runs. A fourth inning error by rookie shortstop Ian Desmond also proved to be costly. “We have to play a lot cleaner baseball. It’s ridiculous,” Harris said after the game. “We have to catch the ball and throw the ball. We have to take the pressure off our pitchers. We need to do a better job.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Radio play-by-play guru and semi-legend Bob Uecker is the perfect announcer for the Brew Crew — with patented deadpan humor and self-deprecating remarks that dodge the seemingly endless semi-lectures that mark the Nats’ television broadcasts. His cornball comments play well in Wisconsin’s polka (that’s polka, not poker) parlors, where third generation Polish Americans sip German beer and wonder when the mill will reopen. “I inherited a castoff computer,” Uecker announced in the midst of the Brewers Saturday broadcast. “It’s so old there’s a guy under my desk with a crank . . .” (gales of laughter) . . . Uecker tends to use the word “folks” alot, but his we’re-all-in-this-together approach (which would surely flop in Washington), works well with Wisconsin’s diehard Packers, Bucks, Badgers and Brewers fans. When Ryan Braun homered on Saturday, Uecker retailed his common long-ball excitement — “get out, get out, get outta here and gone” (with a slight hesitation before his next I’m-from-the-middle-of-the-country utterance) — “Wow!” And then this: “Let me tellya folks, you go around baseball and you ask anyone about Ryan Braun they”ll tellya one thing. The guy can hit.” Through it all you’d never guess that the Brewers were struggling to stay alive in the N.L. Central, that their pitching staff is a shambles, and that their marquee player is headed out of town . . .

The 75-year-old Uecker had heart surgery on April 30 and his return to the announcing booth in Milwaukee was much anticipated. But during this weekend’s Nats series, Uecker downplayed his health problems and seemed even a little embarrassed when his doctor’s were tapped to throw out the first pitch on Friday — the beginning of the Nats’ series. “It’s good to see these guys without white smocks on,” he said. “Especially when the last time I saw them the smocks were smeared with my blood . . . ” (gales of laughter). On Sunday he noted that his doctor’s might have “done something wrong” during the operation. “They tied up something inside there and, frankly, I think it’s a little off,” he deadpanned. “Now when I raise my left leg my right arm shoots into the air. When I walk down the street people think I want to shake their hand.” But Uecker’s humor masks this blunt truth: he’s a sophisticated announcer with a talent for parsing baseball’s inner game. He presents it in blunt Americanisms– curves aren’t “curves” they’re “benders,” hitters don’t hit, they “smack” or “nurse” the “sphericals” and relievers never “struggle,” they’re “wobbly.” If there’s another way to describe someone as big or small Uecker will find it, as he did in describing Adam Dunn. “How do you not hear this guy coming?” he asked. Then later: “He loves to fish. So I’m going to strap a 9 horse on him and shove him out into the lake. We can stand on him when we fish.” Uecker likes Dunn, whose visit to him on Saturday has occasioned some comment in D.C. Uecker gave it just the right touch. “We had to put another battery in the elevator just to get him up here,” he said.

Livan Tames Reds

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Backed by a ten hit and seven run attack, Livan Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season, as the Washington Nationals notched a split of their four game series in Cincinnati. The Nats 7-1 victory compensated, at least in part, for the paucity of hits and runs the team suffered in both Miami and Cincinnati over the last seven games. Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina homered for the Nats, as Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris finally seemed poised to break out of their respective slumps. But the story on Thursday was the work of Hernandez, who picked up five strikeouts while holding the Reds to just seven hits. Hernandez was masterful: he threw 102 pitches, 79 of them for strikes. The complete game gave the Nats’ bullpen a needed rest, as the team now heads into Milwaukee for a three game set against the suddenly average Brew Crew.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ralph Houk, who died on Wednesday, was once one of the giants of the game. It’s not that Houk was that good a player — he appeared in only 91 games over eight seasons, but he managed the New York Yankees in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made home run headlines. Houk steered the Yankees through some of their most successful campaigns. Under Houk’s leadership the Yankees won 109, 94 and 104 games — taking two world series (against the Red in ’61 and the Giants in ’62). He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox before becoming a vice president of the Minnesota Twins. He was renowned for his temper, though former Yankees’ testify that he knew how to handle a team. He had enormous influence on future managers Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda. “I remember what a tough guy he was,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said upon hearing of his death. But Houk was also a student of the game, showing up hours before the first pitch to study line-ups and statistics.

Houk’s tough guy demeanor was well earned. He had a fearsome temper and was called “the Major,” an affectionate term that also accurately described his wartime experiences. Houk was a minor league catcher in the South Atlantic League when World War Two began. He put down his mitt and was mustered into the army as a private in February of 1942. He was picked for officers’ candidate school at Fort Knox and was deployed to Europe with the 9th Armored Division. Houk was a better soldier than baseball player: he landed at Omaha Beach, served during the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first American soldiers to cross the Remagen Bridge into Germany. “I sent him on three missions in April of 1945 and one day he returned with nine prisoners of war,” a senior American officer later recalled.  “His reports invariably had an undetermined number of enemy killed.” Houk earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the war. To the last day of his life he kept the helmut he had worn as a young lieutenant when he landed on Omaha Beach. It had a bullet hole in it. He died in Florida at the age of 90.

Kearns Haunts Nats

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

The Austin Kearns revival continues in Cleveland, as the former Nat and sometime slugger belted out two home runs in leading the Indians to a 7-2 victory over the Washington Nine at Progressive Field. Kearns, who was hobbled by injuries during his time in Washington, is now leading the Naps in BA — and anchoring an otherwise punchless front nine that is having difficulty competing in the AL Central. Kearns’ success is one of the bright spots for first year Tribe manager Manny Acta, who helped bring Kearns to Cleveland and then watched him win a spot in the regular line-up. “Austin is the ultimate pro, a throwback,” Acta said after the Cleveland win. “He’s a professional who never gives away an at-bat. He went into Spring Training fighting for a spot, waited for his opportunity and has taken advantage of it.  He’s a coach’s dream.”

Kearns’ victim was Washington rookie pitcher Luis Atilano, who allowed three runs in the first, and never seemed to settle down. Atilano threw five innings of seven hit ball, but never mastered the Naps front nine. “I wasn’t commanding my sinker to the righties,” Atilano said of his outing. “I was more outside — middle in a little bit.” Tyler Walker was also shaky in pitching two complete innings of relief, giving up two hits and a run in facing nine batters. Doug Slaten finished the game for the Nats. The indifferent mound work and the inability of the Nats to feed off of their long-ball heroics against the Pirates, ended the Anacostia Nine’s three game winning streak, sending the team to two games under .500. The Nats face off against the Indians on Saturday, with Washington youngster J.D. Martin set to start against Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona.

The Riggleman Order: Nats skipper Jim Riggleman shook up the batting order for the first game against the Tribe, hitting Ivan Rodriguez in the second spot, starting Willie Harris in left and slotting Josh Willingham as the DH. There were apparently good reasons for this; then too, Riggleman constantly massages his batting order — this isn’t the first time that Pudge has batted second. And the 38-year-old continues to hit, no matter where he bats. That’s not true for Willie Harris, whose time on the roster is increasingly cause for concern (he hitting a whopping .168) — but Rigs keeps running him out there. Maybe he’s a long lost cousin or something . . . There must be a good reason why Alberto Gonzalez continues to wear a hole in the bench. With Kennedy and Guzman switching off at second and Ryan Zimmerman healthy, there isn’t much room to play Gonzo, but running him out to the on-deck circle as a PH and then pulling him back — to be replaced by Harris — is puzzling. Is Willie Harris really a better hitter? . . .

Some of the glitter has worn off Adam Kennedy, who booted a ball against the Tribe. Rigs says that that’s the result of not having steady playing time, a good enough (and probably accurate) explanation. Kennedy was a steady-as-she-goes fielder in both Anaheim and St. Louis, though no one would ever confuse him with a gold glover. We suspect that this leaves Riggleman in a kind of quandry: the team needs Guzman’s bat, but he’s a deficit at both second and (even more so) in right, while Kennedy has yet to hit his stride in the batter’s box . . .I keep coming back to Harris. While it’s true that Harris will never “find his stroke” by sitting the bench, how likely is it that (after 52 games and 95 at bats) Willie will suddenly become Lou Gehrig? Or Alberto Gonzalez? Or even Mario Mendoza? Harris has never hit over .270 in a season, and that was three years ago in Atlanta. Maybe it’s time for Rigs to rethink his role . . .

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 Take Series From Braves

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The Nationals, inexperienced enough to have trouble winning one-run and extra-inning games, triumphed in a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off win on Thursday, downing the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Willie Harris knocked in the winning run with the bases loaded, putting a Peter Moylan offering past Braves’ second baseman Martin Prado. Harris felt vindicated after the win, getting back at a team that had non-tendered him in 2007. But the story of the night was the near no-hitter from Nats starter Scott Olsen, whose electric stuff baffled Tomahawk hitters until the top of the eighth. “I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” Olsen said of his chance for a no-no. “I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It’s one of those things where it’s real hard to do. I wasn’t positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it.”

The Nats victory gave the Anacostia Nine the series win against the Braves — with the team now standing at 15-13 for the season. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, just two games back of the Phillies. The Braves head to Philadephia, where the Phillies’ powerhouse is well aware of Atlanta’s troubles on the road. The Braves are having trouble scoring, with nearly everyone in the line-up in an early season slump, with second sacker Martin Prado the exception. Outside of Wednesday’s 7-6 win at Nats Park, the Braves had trouble with Nats’ pitching, scoring just four runs in the other two outings. The Nats will face their NL East nemesis, the Florida Marlins, starting tonight at Nationals Park. Craig Stammen is set to pitch for the Nats; he will be facing Marlins’ hurler Chris Volstad, who shut down the Nationals in Florida just last week.

Remembering Robin Roberts: Philadelphia Phillies’ ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Roberts put together a string of six 20-win seasons in his career, and pitched for the Phillies’ ‘Whiz Kids” pennant winning team of 1950. He was the NL’s premier pitcher in the first half of the 1950s. He compiled a 286-245 record with 2,357 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 45 shutouts. He pitched an amazing 305 complete games.The Phillies will be wearing a #36 patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season commemorating Roberts’ career.

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.

Stammen Stymies Rockies, Willie Homers

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

If Monday is any indication, Craig Stammen has arrived. The 6-3 Ohio native pitched an eight inning, 5-2 gem against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park last night, registering his first win of the season. Stammen mixed a moving fastball with his curve and slider to hold the hard-hitting Heltons to two runs, scattering five hits — and getting four RBIs from Willie Harris. Stammen’s outing was in stark contrast to his last visit to the mound, when he pitched batting practice to the Philadelphia Phillies, lasting just 1.1 innings. The key to Stammen’s outing, according to pitching mentor Livan Hernandez, was his slider: “He threw the ball perfectly today,” Hernandez said. “The slider, the cutter were down. He struck out people. I like the way he pitched today. He’s a good guy. I think he has the best stuff of all the starting pitchers. His slider disappears. When he throws perfectly and down, the slider disappears. He has a good changeup and curveball. He throws a little harder. You have to take advantage. The location is more important.”

Willie Harris showed surprising power — although by now, Willie’s ability to go deep should not be in doubt. With two on in the second, Harris lifted an Aaron Cook fastball into deep right field, scoring three. The Harris home run would be all the Nats needed. “I thought it was hooking foul, but somehow it stayed fair,” Harris said. “I was so happy, that you don’t know how I felt running around those bases. It was fun.” Harris entered the game hitting .150. In the third inning, Harris hit a sacrifice fly to score a run — giving him four RBIs on the night.  “If you are hitting .150, you are going to sit on the bench,” Harris said after the game. “I was happy for myself and the team. Everybody wants to play. Unfortunately, if you don’t produce, you are not going to play. Hopefully, I can keep things going and we can play good baseball.”

The Nats latest victim was Rockies’ ace Aaron Cook, who lasted just three innings. Unlike Stammen, Cook’s sinker — celebrated as one of the best in the game — didn’t sink, ending the Rockies’ nine game winning streak at Nationals Park. Cook had control problems from the first pitch.”Cookie wasn’t very good tonight,” Colorado manager Jim Tracy said. “There’s no other way to describe it. He had way too many three-ball counts, and it kind of helped create some negative momentum.” Despite the win, some Nationals are still mired in an early-season slump: Adam Dunn got credit for a lost-in-the-twilight double, but he’s still struggling at the plate. Ivan Rodriguez, on the other hand, continued his hot hitting streak — going 2-4. He’s now hitting .450 on the year. The Nats will face Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa tonight.

Willy and Willie Clip Mets

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Sparked by a last-out circus catch by Willie Harris, four RBIs by veteran Willy Taveras and the middle innings relief pitching of Tyler Clippard, the Washington Nationals won their second game of the season with a 4-3 victory over the Mets in New York. With two outs in the ninth and the bases loaded, Willie Harris saved the game with a diving catch in left field to preserve the victory. “I said, ‘Willie, you have to catch this ball. At least give it your best effort,'” Harris said following his grab. “If the ball falls in front of me, it was the game or at least tied and we have a play at the plate. It was pretty much a gamble. Fortunately, I came up with it and made the play.”

Washington’s hitting hero was veteran outfielder Willy Taveras, whose four RBIs were a career high. Taveras tripled home two runs in the second and then singled in two runs in the fourth. While John Lannan started the game, Tyler Clippard — emerging as Washington’s most effective reliever — wowed the Citi Field faithful with three innings of near-perfect pitching. Clippard registered seven strikeouts and no walks, giving up only one hit. With five games filled with free passes, Clippard’s showing was the kind of relief stint the Nats desperately needed. Now 2-3, the Nats send Livan Hernandez to the hill to face Mets’ ace Johan Santana on Sunday.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There was great coast-to-coast hooting last year when the Nats took the field with their team name misspelled. It was right there, for all to see, seamlessly etched right on the front of their jersies. There was no hemming or hawing about it. This was not only an embarrassment, it was more: a sure sign (it was said) of franchise indifference. The gaffe was tailor-made for Washington’s critics, who were in stitches about the mistake. And so it was that the team was endlessly needled: it wasn’t just the relief pitching that was a problem, bloggers proffered the opinion that the franchise was a pin cushion of seamy incompetence. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Steps were taken, heads rolled. But firing the seamstress that misspelled “Nationals” didn’t help: she ended up in San Francisco, where she has continued to sew havoc.

Matt Capps: Closer

Friday, April 9th, 2010

  Matt Capps #55 Of The Washington Nationals Celebrates

The Washington Nationals not only won their first game of the season, they have apparently found their closer. Clinging to a 6-5 lead heading into the ninth, the Nats brought in Matt Capps, their new free agent closer. After a tough season in Pittsburgh (57 games, 5.80 ERA), the Georgia fireballer was looking for redemption. At least for the first two Phillies’ batters in the ninth, he didn’t get it: as Nats’ fans chewed their nails, Phillies’ second sacker Chase Utley greeted Capps with a double and Ryan Howard was walked intentionally. For Washington’s long-suffering fans, this looked like a replay of ’09 — when designated closer Joel Hanrahan blew successive saves and sunk the Nats’ early season hopes. But Capps proved equal to the task, getting Jayson Werth on a long fly out (Nyjer Morgan tracked the ball down in the gap), Raul Ibanez on a short sky-out (to left fielder Willie Harris — who held Utley at third) and Shane Victorino on a pop-up to shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Capps pumped his fist in notching the Nats first victory, and was ebullient after the game:”To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it,” Capps noted. “It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn’t hit well to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game.” Capps admitted that he felt the pressure: “There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today.” He added: “I threw the ball well. Today felt good.” The win also felt good for Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman. “As we saw [reliever Brian] Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together,” he said. “It’s making strides. It’s coming together. When it does, it’s going to give us a chance.” The Nats head to New York for a series against the Mets.

That Other NL Rookie: While all eyes are focused on the anointed NL Rookie of the Year — Atlanta’s bopper-to-be Jason Heyward — the Cubs are now starting to feature a phenom of their own. The can’t miss Cubbie is Tyler Colvin, a former Clemson Tiger draft pick, who would have won a job out of Spring Training if the Cubs outfield wasn’t so crowded. On Thursday, the Cubs won their first game of the season — and Colvin’s bat was all they needed. Colvin’s solo shot in the second inning gave the Cubbies a 1-0 lead, propelling the sluggies to a 2-0 shutout in Atlanta. There’s surely more to come. Colvin channeled Crash Davis after the game, giving an “aw shucks” answer to a question about how he prepares for a game now that he’s in The Show — “As long as I stick with my routine, I’ll be fine,” he said. The Cubs will never suffer from a power outage (and they never have): their problem is pitching (and always was). But with Colvin pushing from the bench, the North Side Drama Queens are full-up in the outfield. Don’t expect it to stay that way. Sooner or later, Sweet Lou will have to play Colvin every day — and someone will have to go.