It’s raining cats and dogs* this afternoon in Tallahassee, so what better excuse to stay indoors and bang out another edition of Quick Hits.
- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is reporting that the Nationals are exploring pitching options to potentially replace Stephen Strasburg, with Ryan Dempster among the names being mentioned. And, according to Rosenthal, the Nats are also looking for an everyday catcher, with Ramon Hernandez of the Colorado Rockies being considered. Let’s start with the latter possibility first. If it’s Ramon Hernandez the Nats are looking at, put me down in the “move along” column. I know Jesus Flores has had his struggles at the plate (.621 OPS) and I’m guessing Washington isn’t inclined to roll more with the rookie Jhonatan Solano. But Hernandez, even with the help of the thin rocky mountain air, has a slightly lowers OPS (.620) and fielding metrics indicate that Flores is the superior defender to Hernandez. You might rightly point out that Hernandez has been banged up this season with a wrist injury, which has masked his offensive superiority. It’s true that Hernandez’s career .747 OPS is better than Flores’ .682 mark. However, did I mention that Hernandez is coming off a wrist injury that typically saps offensive output? Move along.
- Since this is “Quick Hits”, I figured I should bump the whole Stephen Strasburg shutdown watch to a second bullet. And actually, the topic probably deserves a whole column. But that wouldn’t necessarily be quick, now would it? Stop wasting words smarty pants. By almost all media accounts, it is just a matter of when and not if the Nats will shut down Strasburg this season. Whether it is at 160 innings or some other point, it appears that at least publicly, Nats management is saying that health will come before everything else and Strasburg will be told his season is over before the season is actually over. Now, I don’t know what will actually happen come September, with the possibility of a World Series run on Washington’s horizon. It is very easy to say in mid-July that you will put down one of your bayonets when the other side comes charging in September for fear of breaking it. But for the life of me, I still cannot understand baseball’s obsession with protecting pitchers with artificial innings limits and pitch counts, the value of which is based on dubious or non-existent evidence. For all the limits and restrictions put in place by teams the last 20 or 30 years, has there been an appreciable decline in pitching injuries? Maybe shutting Strasburg down is the right thing to do to ensure that he is there to take the mound for the next 10-12 years. But wasn’t management saying the very same thing in 2010 when he wasn’t allowed to throw more than 100 pitches in a game? How did that work out?
- One final thing on the whole Strasburg shutdown. If the Nats do decide to park him in September, I’m not sure they are, or should be, in the position to mortgage even more of their farm system on getting someone like Dempster, who isn’t controlled beyond this season. GM Mike Rizzo has been adamant that any moves made would be done with an eye towards upgrading for the long-haul, and not just this season. I hope he sticks with this philosophy, because if they want to make a move that gives the team the greatest possibility of winning this season, it would be to find a way to keep Strasburg pitching while not further depleting their farm.
- Finally, in addition to being a rabid Nats fan, I’m even a more die-hard Washington Redskins fan. I know. Counseling helps some. And so it is that even the Redskins can find a way to screw up the start of RG III’s career: Griffin III again misses Redskins rookie camp. Thank you Nats for winning. It eases some of the pain.
*Cooley the dog would like to note for the record that it is not literally raining dogs, though he is intrigued at the possibility of a rain shower of cats. Manna from heaven.
Living in Tallahassee, Florida, one of the advantages of the wrap-around weekend series against the Marlins is that I can watch the Nats on my big screen tv rather than on my laptop through MLB tv. In addition to getting my brain to stop pleading for scissors listening to F.P., it carries the advantage of getting to hear an opponent’s perspective on your squad, what is working and what is not working. And last night, the Marlin’s announcers kept emphasizing the early dominance of both team’s pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Mark Buerhle, and how quickly both worked their craft.
That narrative held up for the entire evening, but a couple of small-ball plays by the Marlins in both the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings allowed Miami to eke out a 2-1 victory. Gio pitched a good game, certainly good enough for a W, but then again, Buerhle was just that much better, and the Marlins got the clutch run-producing hits when necessary. As Davey Johnson said about the game, ”Old fashioned National League ball – they bunt the guy over and then their guys delivered a hit. That’s what wins ballgames.” Gotta love Davey. The only thing missing from that was an “I reckon”.
Game ball(s): Buerhle. While the Marlins have to be thrilled about what they have gotten from Buehrle so far after signing him in the off-season, if you had told them during Spring Training he would be the most valuable of their flashy signings, do you think they would have held their traditional fire sale before they won a championship?
Goat(s): The FSN broadcast. As nice as it was to watch the game from the comfort of my couch, for some God-awful reason, the Marlins broadcast kept featuring a “pool boy” contest for The Clevelander bar out beyond the left field fences. And you wonder why Miami fans are considered among the worst in all of sports?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. Yeah, he didn’t come up with a game-tying hit with Roger Bernandina on second in the top of the ninth, but he did go 2 for 3 and drove in the only run of the night for the Nationals. Plus, Jesus has been struggling at the dish, so it was nice to see him get his bat back on track, if only for a night.
Current Record: 50-35
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
From Mike Axisa over at FanGraphs comes a look at the Nationals and what their potential needs may be to continue their run.
I’m not sure I’m on board with the Nationals needing to augment their bullpen, especially assuming (I know, I know) Drew Storen comes back healthy. I know a team can never have enough good arms, but in the grand scheme of things, the much greater priority for Washington is how to generate more offense. Axisa does make it clear adding an impact bat should be priority number one, though I’m not keen on a lot of the names he throws out in the article, especially at the catcher position. In my mind, if your are in the market for offense, then go for offense. Pretty much anyone the team could get to replace Jesus Flores wouldn’t offer much in the way of a run-creation upgrade. Focus on a corner outfielder and heaven help us, get Ryan Zimmerman’s bat going.
That’s what Stephen Strasburg was this afternoon in shutting out the Atlanta Braves over seven innings, propelling the Nationals to a 2-0 win. Every pitch was bananas, leading to nine punch outs and zero walks, while allowing only four hits. When Stephen is on his game like he was today, it matters a heck of a lot less that the Nats didn’t do too much better against Brandon Beachy. Jesus Flores went deep in the bottom of the fifth and Xavier Nady doubled home another run for kicks and giggles in the seventh, accounting for all the offense Washington could muster and thankfully, all they would need to secure the victory.
Game ball(s): See, handing Gio the May MESPY was all a part of the strategy. You see how well Strasburg pitches when he is angry?
Goat(s): I’m going to veer off-course a bit here and say all of the critics of Terry Collins for allowing Johan Santana to throw 134 pitches in route to his no-hitter last night. I understand that Santana is coming off of major shoulder problems that cost him all of last season and if the Mets have any hope of continuing to battle for the NL East crown, they have to have Santana take the mound every fifth day. But I also don’t understand the obsession with treating pitchers with such kid gloves today. And for all the pitch counts, innings limits, boutique relievers, can anyone honestly say pitchers are staying healthier than 30-40 years ago? If the Mets want to try to give Johan an extra day before his next start, kudos to them. Probably the wise thing to do. But enough of everyone getting their shorts in a bunch over a manager allowing a pitcher to do what he is supposed to do, and in the course of making history to boot.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Flores. Great to have him back behind home plate because without him, Washington is truly staring into the abyss at the position.
Current Record: 30-21
Considering the number of hits this blog gets a day, I’m pretty confident that Gio Gonzalez isn’t among one of the regular readers. Sad emoticon. But by all appearances, he is pitching like a man possessed to prove that this schlub is as adept at making baseball predictions as Marion Barry is at making racial amends.
Gio was simply dominant again last night, allowing only one hit and striking out ten over seven innings, leading the Nationals to a 7-2 win over the Braves and the series sweep. I will say it now: There has not been a better pitcher in the National League through the first two months of the season than Gio, and I daresay that there has not been a better pitcher in all of baseball. Will it continue?
Yo no digo nada.
Game ball(s): Gio. For a nice little look at Gio’s success so far, take a gander at this article courtesy of FanGraphs.
Goat(s): The injury bug, which may have taken down Jesus Flores. The team is saying it is just a tight hamstring and he may not miss any action. I’ve watched baseball long enough to know that this means he is just as likely to miss two weeks. Shakes fist in frustration.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Boy, the title of this award is looking sillier and sillier each day. All Harper did last night was go 2 for 4, extend his hit streak to seven games and toss in his second home run in as many games.
Current Record: 29-18
During the off-season, Nationals officials went to great lengths to try to encourage their fans to “Take Back the Park” from opposing team’s fans, specifically, the unwashed from Filthadelphia. I think we can say that after Washington’s 4-3 win tonight, the first salvo in the battle was landed by the Nats on the field, courtesy of Wilson Ramos and his game-winning pinch-hit single in the bottom of the eleventh. Boom!
Game ball(s): Several candidates for the award tonight. The bullpen, which turned in five scoreless innings. Jesus Flores, who came through in the bottom of the eighth with the game-tying double. And finally, his compatriot Ramos. It’s past 11, so let’s get crazy and give game balls to them all!
Goat(s): I have finally figured out why Jayson Werth sports the caveman beard: It’s his getaway disguise after he robbed the Nationals blind for $126 million last year. What gives him swag, as the kids say, is that he has the bananas to hang around the joint after the crime. Tonight he pulled a 0-5 with five runners left on base. Oh, to be a professional athlete.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Steve Lombardozzi, who scored the winning run after going 3 for 6 including the clutch two-out single to keep the bottom of the eleventh going.
Current Record: 17-9