Tony Two-bags Returns!

Anthony Rendon is starting to get the timing and flow of hitting back!  Today and yesterday he had great at-bats, he was grinding them out, seeing a lot of pitches!  He did the same today, patiently looking for a good pitch to hit and not swinging at bad ones.

Jason Werth and Willy Ramos are getting more good at bats now too.  The homer Ramos hit today was mammoth!

I’m puzzled however over why the team called up Trea Turner and they haven’t put him in the starting lineup at least once!  That is not good managing; the kid has been starting in the minors for most of the year and now he is in the Nats dugout, but only getting an at-bat here or there.  If that is all there are going to let him do, they should send him back to Syracuse where he can play every day and stay sharp.  Matt Williams ought to know better.

I hope Rendon stays at 3B.  He is way better there than Escobar.  Put him at 2B.

 

Clip to the Rescue?

Most of you likely saw this in today’s Post already, but any mention of Tyler Clippard returning to the Nats “pen” calls for at least a brief comment:)  After the bull-pen melt-down in Cincy, which included the first bad outing by Clip’s replacement Casey Janssen, most Nats fans are concerned, to say the least.  Some shuffling of the “deck” has already occurrred.  The article pointed out that if Oakland doesn’t start winning more games soon, they may be “sellers” at the July 31 trade deadline.  And given that the Athletics have a history of many trades with Washington, it would not surprise many if Clippard returns to the Nats come July 31.

I heard talk of the following on MLB talk radio this morning:  Wilson Ramos mentioned in an interview with 106.7 “The fan” radio that before the last game in Cincy (in which Joey Votto was hit by a pitch from Tanner Roark) the Nats had discussed exacting some retribution for the Reds pitchers hitting Gio twice and Bryce once in the previous two games.  I hope this doesn’t result in a suspension or fine for the Nationals.

What Next?

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OK, the Nats are in first place. But they are not going to go deep into the off-season unless
they improve with the bat. They currently rank 20th in MLB in batting average and 17th in runs scored.

In all other major parts of the game they are ranked higher than that. One of the current bright spots (in team hitting) is Wilson Ramos, who now has a 14-game hitting streak going. But the team has been dismal recently in “situational hitting.” Opposing pitchers have been exploiting some team “habits”, such as the tendency of several of the right-handed guys, such as Werth, Zimmerman, Rendon, Desmond and also Ramos who like to hit to the opposite side of the diamond. I’ve watched several pitchers (like AJ Burnett last night) tempt them with a pitch just off the outside corner of the plate and then a succession of offerings that move even further off the plate. Last night I even laughed as Werth flailed at one of Burnett’s pitchers where he would have needed a 40-inch bat to reach!

The Missing Offense

The Nats offense has mostly been MIA for the month of May.  Last night’s (May 28) gift to the Marlins in 10 innings was especially ugly (and typical of this whole month).  They loaded the bases with no outs in the 8th inning and failed to push even one run across the plate with the game tied at 4.  I can remember 4-5 other times this year when that happened.  Then in the bottom of the 9th, the leadoff batter, Wilson Ramos, was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single.  He would have scored the winning run if he had played it safe, as Frandsen and McLouth both got base hits after that. Then in the 10th inning the Marlins rallied to win the game.

The Nats batting average for May is the worst in the major leagues.  They have a bushel basket of losses by one or two runs.  Clutch hitting with runners on base is exceedingly rare. OK, Ramos, LaRoche, Zimmerman and Harper (four of their bast hitters) have been out with injuries.  The way Ramos was tearing up spring-training pitching, it appeared he would come out of the gate on opening day leading the offense.  But he went on the DL after the very first game and though he’s back in the lineup now, he has yet to regain his hot bat.  And the best one can say about the bench hitting is that it is better than last year’s.

LaRoche is the only starter who has steadily maintained an average over .300.  Rendon and Espinosa both started very hot in April, but Danny is now reminding us of 2013 when he couldn’t even hit at Syracuse!  Rendon is in the first slump of his pro career and one can only hope he turns it around soon.  His approach appears to be the same as always, a good sign.  And that makes me think his numbers will begin to improve.

When they score 4 or more runs the Nats win 90% of the time, so that is a good goal to shoot for.

There is an excellent Tom Boswell article in today’s Post on all this

 

 

 

Now Harper Out for Two Months!

This latest news is a huge blow to the Nats chances for fighting their way to the playoffs.  Both Zim and Bryce got seriously hurt sliding headfirst.

Doug Fister and Wilson Ramos are on the road back however.  It seems possible that Fister could start a game by about May 7th.  Ramos is practicing “lightly.”  It will likely take him several more weeks to regain the strength needed to bat with power in game conditions.  But he hopes to appear in minor-league games this week.

This is the time for the bench players to step up and show us why they made the roster coming out of Spring Training!  I have to admit, after hoping the Nats would trade Danny Espinosa before Spring Training, that he has made me VERY GLAD he is still here!  I did not think it would be possible to make Danny a major league hitter, but I was wrong:)  I’m impressed with the improved hitting thus far.  And we all know he is a gold glove calibre fielder.  In fact many of the usual suspects posting on the team website are calling for Danny to REPLACE Ian Desmond at SS!

Late breaking news:  Zack Walters has been sent down to Syracuse as well as Taylor Jordan. Ryan Mattheus is back up here.  The last time Mattheus pitched well was in 2012; I hope they don’t have to use him in a critical situation.  Maybe they want to have him in case they need a “mop-up” pitcher in a game that has got out of hand:)  I also hope they bring Souza back.

Opportunity is There!

The Nationals' Zach Walters. (Photo courtesy of David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)

The Nationals’ Zach Walters. (Photo courtesy of David Manning-USA TODAY Sports)

With the recent spate of injuries to the opening day roster, the Nats have called on several new bench players as well as Syracuse call-ups (i.e., Zack Walters– above) to show what they can do!

With the bullpen tired from overwork in the Atlanta series they needed a fresh arm who could pitch long relief if needed.  Blake Treinen filled that need, so space was made on the roster by sending Aaron Barrett down, since he had just pitched in consecutive games.  Treinen has impressed with his ability to remain calm under pressure and get hitters out.  No one doubts that  “Bear” Barrett will return soon though.

Zack Walters and Steve Souza, who both were outstanding in Spring Training, are already seeing playing time against The Marlins.  Zack had his first “bomb” tonight (April 15) and Steve got his first major league hit!  Catcher Sandy Leon is filling the roster spot of the injured Wilson Ramos, and he smacked his first major league homer last night (April 14)!

Kevin Frandsen and Danny Espinosa are red hot with the bat and are seeing significant playing time.  Danny is showing commendable calmness when hitting and has cut way down on strike-outs, compared to 2013.  Though Frandsen has not played much in the outfield prior to this season, he showed his infield experience in Atlanta by back-handing a ground shot to the left-field corner (normally a double) and firing it to second quickly to hold the batter to a single!

Both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan are in the starting rotation while Doug Fister comes back from injuries.  They are showing good poise but need to lower their earned run averages.

Honey, I shrunk the team!

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, Sunday, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

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.

Better Late Than Never

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New Nat Felipe Lobaton (photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Times).

(Sidenote: Yes, the Lobaton acquisition was first reported 2 days ago.  Why was I late?  My excuses are many, but mainly I’m doing this for fun, and I have NO INTENTION of letting it become a JOB!)

Here’s the story in a nutshell:  The Nationals (Nats) have been talking with the Tampa Bay Rays since before Christmas about catcher Jose Lobaton.  He appears to be an ideal backup for starting Nats catcher Wilson Ramos.  First, they are both Venezuelans and have played together in the winter league down there.  Second, Mike Rizzo prizes very highly a catcher’s ability to “frame” pitches, and Lobaton is a master at this important skill.  What is this, you ask?  It is the art of subtly (and quickly!) pulling a pitch that is slightly off home plate back into the strike zone (the “frame” as in picture frame!) without the umpire noticing.  Sabermetricians (think moneyball) rank all catchers in many skills, including this one! What does Wilson Ramos say about the trade;  “good guy, good teammate.”

So who did Rizzo give up in the deal?  Nate Karns.  Karns was in the mix to compete for the 5th starting pitcher slot this Spring.  Honestly he had little chance of winning that one.  He came up from AAA Syracuse and started 3 games last September for the Nats, but results were underwhelming.  The Rays also gave up a pitcher, southpaw Felipe Rivero, who was impressive at high Class A ball last year.

Breaking News: Washington Nationals’ 2014 Roster

In the past week, there has been a minor flurry of meaningful activity that will bolster the Washington Nationals’ propects for success in 2014. While Anthony Rendon will be the likely starting second baseman, every team needs backup players. Former Nat, Jamey Carroll, was signed to a minor league contract. I predict this master utility infielder will make the major league roster. Besides having all the tools to really help the Nats, the team is far from confident infielder Danny Espinosa will make the roster; he cannot hit big league pitching.

Meanwhile a former teammate of Ryan Zimmerman at University of Virginia, slugger Mark Reynolds, was rumored to be a possible Nationals’ addition. That would have been a mistake (but an understandable one since Nats General Manager, Mike Rizzo, had signed Reynolds for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004). Reynolds has proven to be a human strikeout machine, setting several all-time major league records in that department! Luckily for the Nats, Reynolds signed Friday with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Also on Friday, January 17, the team reached agreement on two-year contract extensions with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman. Desmond will also get another $500K bonus if he wins the National League MVP award (he was considered for the award last year). Both players had been negotiating for longer-term deals, but ran out of time as the arbitration deadline loomed. Four others were also signed by the deadline to one-year deals: Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Wilson Ramos and new relief pitcher Jerry Blevins.

Apparently General Manager Mike Rizzo agrees with me that the bullpen needs more. He is talking with Grant Balfour, who is expected to decide any day now which team he will play for this season. Balfour was the closer for Oakland in 2013 and saved 38 games. If the Nats grab him, the move may presage a trade of Drew Storen.