Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals look to avoid a season-opening sweep this afternoon.
OK, so if that's the best thing they've got going for them, you know it's been a rough start to the season. But at least the weather's been great and those cherry blossom trees behind the left-field fence turned pink right on schedule for the first time since Nationals Park opened in 2008.
As for the on-field product ... well, the Nats had better hope Craig Stammen puts together a better start today than John Lannan or Jason Marquis did in Games 1 and 2. Stammen had a very encouraging spring. Healthy after pitching much of last season with bone chips in his elbow, the young right-hander had a very nice spring and legitimately earned his spot in the rotation. When he keeps his sinker down and has his breaking ball working as well, he's got a pretty solid groundball/strikeout combo that should be effective against even the Phillies' vaunted lineup.
Couple of lineup changes from Jim Riggleman, both expected. Cristian Guzman starts at shortstop and bats second, with Ian Desmond getting the day off. And Wil Nieves makes his first start behind the plate, giving Ivan Rodriguez a breather.
Check back for updates and analysis throughout the game, and check the homepage for other news and notes...
PHILLIES AT NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:35 p.m.
TV: MASN HD
Radio: WFED-1500 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, Wind 19 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Willie Harris
2B Adam Kennedy
C Wil Nieves
P Craig Stammen
SS Jimmy Rollins
3B Placido Polanco
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
RF Jayson Werth
LF Raul Ibanez
CF Shane Victorino
C Brian Schneider
P Kyle Kendrick
3:23 p.m. -- Some pregame items of note ... Ian Desmond isn't out of the lineup today because of any struggles so far. Jim Riggleman simply wants to get Cristian Guzman in the lineup. Riggleman said Desmond is likely to start at shortstop each of the next four days, with Guzman likely to get one start at second base and one start in right field this weekend against the Mets. ... Mike Morse's left calf injury isn't serious, but the Nats will try to avoid using him today. Riggleman said Morse would probably only be used in an emergency. He figures to return to the lineup in the next day or two, though.
4:36 p.m. -- One pitch, one out. Jimmy Rollins flies out to left. Late-arriving crowd here. Either that, or this is going to be a lightly attended ballgame. Rain, by the way, is heading in from the west. They're hoping it doesn't hit until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
4:51 p.m. -- Didn't take long for the Nats to get on the board. For the third straight game, Nyjer Morgan leads off the bottom of the first and manages to reach at least third base (he tripled this time). Cristian Guzman immediately drove Morgan home with a first-pitch single up the middle. And Ryan Zimmerman roped a double off the left-field wall to put runners on second and third for Adam Dunn, who brings another run home with a grounder to the right side. Josh Willingham's sac fly completes the three-run inning and is perhaps the best example to date of the Nationals' lineup actually doing a good job of moving runners up and coming up with productive at-bats with men on base. Nats lead 3-0 after one.
5:12 p.m. -- Craig Stammen may not have dominating "stuff," but he's not afraid to go right after hitters. Through three innings, the right-hander has thrown 39 pitches, 23 of them strikes. He allowed a run in the second and another in the third, but he hasn't walked a batter and has recorded eight of his nine outs on groundballs. Good sign his sinker is working today. Nats lead 3-2 heading to the bottom of the third.
5:14 p.m. -- Be sure to check out this story I just wrote for CSNwashington.com on the way Guzman has embraced his new role as a utilityman.
5:37 p.m. -- Who says Nationals right fielders can't hit for power? Willie Harris just tattooed a hanging breaking ball from Kendrick into the right-center field bleachers for a two-run homer. Harris has always had surprising pop, and if given a chance to get 400 at-bats in a season could probably hit 15-20 homers. Nats now lead 5-2 in the fourth.
5:50 p.m. -- Nyjer Morgan covers a ton of ground in center field, but it doesn't do much good if he can't corral the ball. Morgan let what should have been a routine single by Placido Polanco get past him and turn into a run-scoring, two-base error. And when Ryan Howard added an RBI single two batters late, the Nats' lead was down to 5-4. Fortuantely for the Nats, Phillies third base coach (and former Orioles manager) Sam Perlozzo made a horrible call in waving Howard around third on Jayson Werth's third double of the game, then trying to hold him up too late. Howard wound up as dead meat in a rundown. So it's still 5-4 heading to the bottom of the fifth, with Jose Contreras now pitching in relief of Kendrick.
6:16 p.m. -- Craig Stammen certainly could have gone another inning, but perhaps Jim Riggleman sensed his starter was beginning to fade. So Stammen was out after the fifth, and Sean Burnett entered for the sixth. The problem: Burnett threw eight of his first 10 pitches for balls and walked both batters. Then Tyler Clippard plunked Ben Francisco on a 2-2 pitch, loading the bases for the top of the order. What could have been complete disaster, though, was only minor disaster when Clippard got a sac fly out of Jimmy Rollins and a groundball out of Placido Polanco. So it's now tied 5-5 heading to the bottom of the sixth.
6:50 p.m. -- Credit Clippard for getting five big outs without allowing another run to score and giving his teammates a chance to retake the lead. And retake the lead they did against Nelson "Softball Girl" Figueroa. Ryan Zimmerman delivers a two-out, bloop double just inside the right-field line, scoring Alberto Gonzalez. So the Nats are now up 6-5 heading to the eighth. They'll need six outs from some combination of Brian Bruney, Jesse English and Matt Capps in all likelihood. And with the bottom of the Phillies lineup batting in the eighth, you've got to believe Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will get their chance in the ninth. Stay tuned.
7:01 p.m. -- Despite putting two men on with two outs, Brian Bruney gets Polanco to ground out to escape the eighth. So the Nats will be three outs from their first victory of the season. Due up in the ninth for the Phillies: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth. Here's the question: Do you want Matt Capps against all three of those guys, or do you gamble with Jesse English (at least against the two lefties)? Fascinating dilemma for Riggleman.
7:12 p.m. -- It's Capps. Cue "The Final Countdown."
7:22 p.m. -- Nats win! Nats win! Despite a leadoff double to Utley and then an intentional walk to Howard, Capps manages to get Werth and Ibanez to fly out and then Victorino to pop out. Of Capps' 10 non-intentional balls, nine were strikes. Impressive.