Already feeling under the weather, after last night’s series opening loss to the Evil Empire (erm, New York Yankees), I figured it was worth a roll of the dice to wait to post something (good?) until after today’s matinee. Thank goodness I fought through a nearly five hour battle between the two first-place teams only to see the inevitable occur as soon as Brad Lidge took the mound.
Game ball(s): The Yankees should give it to home plate umpire Tim Timmons, who handed them the win after calling Tyler Moore out at home on a single by Adam LaRoche in the bottom of the eighth. Only one problem. Moore was obviously safe and it wasn’t a tough call to get right. But Timmy is an unaccountable baseball umpire. So nothing to see here, literally. Thus, instead of heading into the ninth up 4-3, the Nats would fight on just long enough to have Lidge do his bull in a china shop routine.
Goat(s): Just because I went all Ike Turner on Timmy doesn’t erase the fact that the Nationals didn’t help their cause. There was Ian Desmond’s error that gave the Yankees a key run early, though at least Desmond offset it with a game-tying blast in the eighth. And then there was the curious decision by Davey Johnson to have Jordan Zimmermann pitch to Eric Chavez with one on, two outs, and the pitcher Andy Petitte on-deck. That didn’t work out. And of course, the mere fact that Brad Lidge is on the team. I can only hope with H-Rod and Mattheus nearing their return, that won’t be the case for very long.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. His broken-bat double to deep left in the bottom of the second which plated two Nats was a display of pure strength. And with Jordan Zimmermann not super sharp, several times he did a nice job of framing pitches including on a strikeout of Mark Teixeira with two on in the top of the third.
Current Record: 38-25
Davey Johnson called it right last night when he said the Nationals 7-6 win over the Mets in 12 innings wasn’t a well-played game. My eyes admittedly drifted as the bullpen cost Jordan Zimmermann a win after another well-pitched game (fantasy curse!). But despite the optics, to both teams credit, they kept fighting back each time it looked like the game was in the bag for one of them. Much to the delight of Nats fans, it was Bryce Harper who struck the final blow of the back and forth struggle, with a walk-off single in the bottom of the twelfth.
Game ball(s): Harper. What is even more impressive than his first career walk-off hit is the kid’s dissatisfaction at going 2 for 7 and striking out twice. It reinforces what Mets catcher Josh Thole said about Harper when he said that Harper cares about the little things, like making outs via the strikeout. His God-given 5-tool talent is what gives Harper a shot at greatness. The fact that he cares about the little things is what will make him great.
Goat(s): I should probably get on the bullpen but I’m still trying to understand Davey’s quick hook (again) with Jordan. I know he got touched up some in the top of the sixth but up until then he was cruising and was only at 81 pitches when he was yanked. Sure, all 3 batters he was to face in the top of the seventh were lefties, but to needlessly call upon your relief staff because you are concerned Zimm can’t handle the trio of Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis (.160 BA!!!), and Josh Thole seems to show you lack confidence when you shouldn’t. And moves like that do have repercussions when a pen gets unnecessarily extended (see 8th inning).
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The very clutch Ian Desmond, who drove in the game-tying run in the 8th, 10th, and 12th innings.
Current Record: 31-22
I could probably write a bit about the grove Washington’s offense has found in Atlanta and how it led to yesterday’s 8-4 win. Or maybe I could speculate endlessly about Stephen Strasburg’s battle against the sticky Atlanta heat. Or I could just let you watch Bryce Harper’s opposite-field shot off of Atlanta reliever Jonny Venters, whose early career dominance has been highlighted by holding 236 lefties to a cumulative .186 batting average and just three home runs. I like tv:
Game ball(s): National’s hitters. With every starter but Tyler Moore getting a hit and the Nats scoring seven or more runs for consecutive games for the first time this season, the offense is beginning to roll. What was most impressive yesterday were that 8 of the team’s 12 hits went for extra bases which bodes well for more future crooked innings.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson, who predictably took less than 24 hours to announce that Chien-Ming Wang would replace Ross Detwiler in the rotation. Hard to argue with the manager of a 28-18 team, but if you asked my parents, you would know why I’m just going to say that I hope it is the right move.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Tom Gorzelanny, who played long-man hero out of the bullpen yesterday, tossing three innings of scoreless relief. After another short outing by Stephen Strasburg, Gorzelanny nearly got a four-inning save and would have if not for Davey’s quick hook after the first hitter reached base in the bottom of ninth.
Current Record: 28-18
Last night, the Nationals continued their excellent start to their road trip, moving to 3-1 after taking down the Atlanta Braves 7-4. Still, for the first of eighteen games against a Braves squad that is still only two games back, and with every team in the NL East within four games, you would hardly think the win would bring potentially big news. But with starter Ross Detwiler struggling to throw strikes after being staked to a four-run lead in the top of the first, manager Davey Johnson pulled the plug after only 4 1/3 innings and 100 labored pitches. And in came Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed three innings in relief for the victory, allowing three hits and one run on a Jason Heyward solo shot in the bottom of the eighth. Naturally, after the game Davey was asked about whether he was considering swapping Detwiler for Wang. He cryptically replied, “Yes and no.”
Hmmmm. Not a surprising answer for a DC man, and I’m actually kind of glad he also said he didn’t want to make any sort of decision in the heat of the moment, because despite Detwiler’s recent struggles, I still think he is the better pitcher than Wang. Now, being the better pitcher doesn’t mean he is the best option to take the ball every fifth day. Ross has yet to go more than 6 1/3 innings in any of his 9 starts so far, which puts additional strain on a bumped and bruised bullpen. And his May has been ugly: 5.74 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and just one win. But I don’t think he is as bad as those numbers indicate (his May FIP is 3.69, which points to a lower ERA once his absurdly low strand percentage (59.1%) normalizes). Then again, he isn’t the sub-2 ERA pitcher of April either. He is somewhere in between, which his current 3.88 ERA correctly reflects. The journey there though has just been of two extremes, which makes this moment so stark for a potential change.
Wang’s career ERA (4.15) and FIP (4.05) seem to point to a solid innings-eating pitcher whose success has been based on getting a lot of ground balls (59.4% career) which just also happened to translate to a bushel of wins with the high-scoring Yankees. But wins are often not reflective of a pitcher’s underlying skills, and Wang’s skills don’t appear to be quite as good as Detwiler’s. However, three key questions must be answered before I would finalize the Detwiler-Wang question:
- Would Wang address one of Detwiler’s weaknesses, his inability to pitch deep into games?
- Does Wang’s injury history and concerns about getting his shoulder properly warmed-up out of the bullpen dictate that he pitch as a starter?
- Do the Nationals need to feature Wang as a starter if they want to use him as a trade chip?
The answer to the second question is only known by National’s management, coaches, doctors, and Wang himself. I’m going to speculate that if they really thought putting him in the bullpen could place him at greater risk of getting hurt, we would have never seen him last night. Then again, teams across MLB over and over have shown a tremendous ineptness in keeping pitchers healthy, so take my speculation for what it is worth. Similarly, I’m not plugged into front-office thinking across baseball, so it is hard to say what value Wang carries and whether two months of starting would be enough to land another piece for the Nats (catcher???). My hunch (I’m throwing darts everywhere baby!) is that teams would need to see Wang start and prove that he is healthy before they would give up even a marginal player. But the again, if the market for Wang isn’t going to yield you much in the way of talent that will improve your club, then I’m of the notion that you can never have enough starting pitching.
As for the first question, Wang hasn’t pitched seven or more innings since 2008, which appears to make largely moot any advantage Wang would have over Detwiler going deeper into games. Granted, Wang has been injured for large stretches since 2008. However, his bum shoulder and middling skills don’t scream out for an absolute need to make the swap.
And that’s what I can’t help but take away from looking at the potential change. Detwiler is the better pitcher with better skills whose chief weakness would not be remedied by Wang. Ross is not leaps and bounds better, but I think he is still deserving of holding down the 5th spot. Now watch Davey announce the move later today. 🙂
Game ball(s): Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, whose single and triple helped fuel the Nationals four-run first inning which was a breath of fresh air for a team that usually starts slow.
Goat(s): Detwiler. I just spilled a lot of ink defending you so it pains me that you couldn’t do more last night to pitch aggressively.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Consider this the column’s third game ball, as Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run double came at just the right time to pad the National’s dwindling lead.
Current Record: 27-18
I’m afraid that being under the weather, I’m going to have to roll out the modified-Twitter blog post about last night’s 2-1 victory …everything that needs to be said in 140 words or less.
Game ball(s): Jordan Zimmermann, who was dominant again, this time though, the Nats squeezed out just enough runs to give him the win. Really great to see the 9 Ks over 7 innings combined with the strong groundball tilt.
Goat(s): Washington’s injury curse which took down Wilson Ramos last night. Just as his bat has been coming around, his season-long defensive struggles start a sequence with an ending Davey Johnson is probably right about: I’ve got a bad feeling he tore something.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Danny Espinosa, whose second home run in as many nights accounted for the winning run.
Current Record: 21-12
So Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweeted yesterday that it sounded to him that Davey Johnson was going to give Roger Bernadina an extended shot at laying claim to left field. I don’t know how this latest chance will go for Roger, but at least we can say that the man is a good listener.
Just hours removed from Davey’s proclamation, Bernadina posted the type of game which has raised Nats fans hopes before, going 2 for 5, with a homer, three RBI and a stolen base in Washington’s 7-3 victory over Cincinnati. And the best thing is that the Nationals got out of the gates quickly, posting all seven of their runs in the first four innings. Though the Reds would threaten multiple times to get back into the game, they came up short when it mattered most, going 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
Game ball(s): Two homers in two nights plus the added sparkles against the Reds nets it for Bernadina.
Goat(s): Mike Leake of the Reds had a brutal start and the Reds couldn’t hit with men in scoring position. But I’m curious as to the fall-out from Bryce Harper’s Bam-Bam moment. I’m guessing it is just the case of a very competitive player having a bit of misfortune in taking out his frustrations at the end of a tough night. Still, Harper is only 19 so it is always worth watching how he handles adversity, which will be most telling of his maturation as a big leaguer.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Danny Espinosa. I’ve been tough on Danny, and for good reason. So it was nice to see him launch one out of Great American Ball Park. Maybe that bandbox is just the place to get his bat going.
Current Record: 20-12
Twenty-two outs into last night’s game, it looked for all the world that the Nationals were barreling towards defeat, unable to do much of anything against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo. Seemingly wanting to flee Nationals Park like Bobby Petrino from a crash-scene, as quickly as each Nationals hitter came to the plate, he found himself slinking back to the dugout with haste. Then the genius of Dusty Baker struck.
Although Arroyo was only at 94 pitches, and had set down seven straight hitters, Dusty pulled him in favor of lefty Bill Bray with one out in the bottom of the eight. Now, I understand that the Nationals had sent up the left-handed hitting Chad Tracy to pinch-hit, so you might be inclined to say Dusty was just going by the book. Problem is (if you are a Reds fan), Dusty reads the Berenstain Bears Play Ball. As soon as Bray came into the game, Davey Johnson pulled Tracy back and replaced him with righty Xavier Nady, who promptly tied the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to left.
Four scoreless innings for both teams followed Nady’s heroics, which set the stage for Jayson Werth to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 13th. It was interesting, no depressing, to read this morning that Werth’s walk-off hit was his first in a Nats uniform. Good for him. Last season was that rough.
Game ball(s): Werth. He was the only Nat with more than one hit and his second of the night drove in the game-winning run. That’s sort of important.
Goat(s): Thank you Dusty!
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jordan Zimmermann. He was stellar for seven innings but walked away with a no-decision because Arroyo thoroughly stymied the Nationals for 7 and 1/3 innings. And he is on my fantasy team. Poor guy.
Current Record: 6-2