There’s no joy in Mudville – nor in the Nationals’ dugout. Chad Tracy (18), Ryan Zimmerman (11), Rick Eckstein, and manager Davey Johnson, right, watch the final moments of the game against the Braves in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Well, it turns out Tom Boswell probably didn’t jinx the Nats before the Braves series, the team jinxed itself. One conclusion I drew after the just concluded series is that it seems last year’s dismal results when they played Atlanta left the core Nats who were here last year without much confidence that they can beat the Braves. Conversely, the Braves came to town with a swagger earned from beating the Nats convincingly in 2013 (thirteen times). I’ve seen this happen to teams from time to time. Hopefully the 2-1 Washington win on Sunday will help.
But the ugly game on Saturday revealed some serious problems for the team that have me very concerned.
I’ll begin with Ryan Zimmerman, the “franchise player.” The face of the team. We all know he has been dealing for years with throwing shoulder problems. Now we know he has a chronic arthritis issue that isn’t going away. He just had all winter to rest the shoulder, so a few days of not playing is no longer the answer. More surgery is not the answer and I’m sure he has tried a variety of drugs. So we are likely looking at a combination of platooning him at first base when a lefty is pitching, Ryan trying to just throw side-arm more of the time(side-arm doesn’t seem to be painfull), and sitting him more often. Ryan’s new $100M multi-year contract complicates the long-range issues, as does the fact that Adam LaRoach is off to a good start this year.
Next comes Bryce Harper’s poor start to the season. Many players begin a season “in the slow lane” from time to time. But the way Bryce is dealing with it has me pretty worried. He’s throwing childish temper tantrums and saying he has no clue what the problem is. Most pitchers have figured out how to pitch to Harper and he has not adjusted accordingly.
Then I have to point out Stephen Strasburg’s poor performance after Zimmerman’s throwing error. We have all seen him crumble numerous times in the past when faced with adversity; the pouting, the body language, the inability to keep his focus of pitching winning baseball. In Saturday’s game the first two didn’t happen, but the third certainly did! Strasburg’s fastball lost 2-4 mph, he lost enough of his command that he “grooved” a few pitches and the Braves began stringing multiple hits together and I watched his game go downhill. I’m a former pitcher who knows what it takes. To be a successful pitcher requires what I call a Pit Bull mentality. THAT is what Strasburg lacks. I’ll point out two Nats pitchers who clearly have what I’m talking about: Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark (the team has others too) NEVER give in to the other team, no matter what is going on around them. They are both relentless battlers, and the hitters know that. Unless Stephen can somehow develop some mental toughness, he won’t be an elite pitcher.
I’m also concerned about Doug Fister‘s and Wilson Ramos‘ injuries. The team needs them sooner rather than later.