Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two decent games, but two losses

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman went 5-for-8 today and even singled on this dribbler in the nightcap.
DENVER -- They played two ballgames over the course of nine hours, got some strong pitching performances, got some clutch hits including a towering home run against early Cy Young Award favorite Ubaldo Jimenez and played mostly solid defense.

And at the end of a long day of baseball at Coors Field, the Nationals had nothing to show for it but a couple of losses.

"That's the hardest part," Sean Burnett said. "You play two ballgames and you go up against one of the best pitchers in baseball and you battle ... it's tough to lose both. It would have been nice to get at least one out of there. It's a tough way to lose the second one."

It's easy to chalk up the matinee 6-2 loss to Jimenez's continued brilliance on the mound. The flamethrowing right-hander is now 7-1 with a 1.12 ERA, having twice beaten Livan Hernandez.

The 4-3 loss in the nightcap, however, is a little tougher to swallow. The Nationals turned Jason Hammel (0-2 with a 9.16 ERA entering) into a quality big-league starter, scoring only three runs over seven innings, failing to draw a walk and striking out seven times. They wasted a decent start from Luis Atilano (three runs in five innings, all scoring on back-to-back homers in the third) and some strong relief from Burnett and Tyler Walker. And they wasted a 5-for-8 day from Ryan Zimmerman and a two-homer day from Adam Dunn.

If anything, the Nats dropped the finale in large part to a fabulous play by Ian Desmond ... who still was charged with an error in the process.

With the game tied 3-3 in the seventh and Rockies backup catcher Paul Phillips standing on third with two out, Seth Smith hit a sharp hopper back up the middle. Burnett stuck his glove up and partially deflected the ball, but it still bounced past second base and seemingly into center field for the go-ahead single.

And then Desmond came charging over from shortstop to make a lunging stab. He fired an off-balance throw to first, and even though it bounced, the ball wound up in Dunn's glove, with Smith still three steps from reaching the base. And then it fell out of Dunn's glove.

Smith was safe at first. Phillips was safe at the plate. And the Nationals now trailed by the eventual final score of 4-3.

Because Desmond had time to make the throw, he was charged with the error. Asked if he would anything differently if he had a chance to try that play again, the rookie insisted he wouldn't.

"No, I would do the same thing over and over again," he said. "I think I make that play 9 times out of 10. ... I've got to throw that ball to his chest. That's what he's there for. He's there to catch the ball in the air, not to dig it out of the ground."

For his part, Dunn took the blame for dropping what he felt was a throw he should have corralled.

"Huge spot, and that's something I've been working on," the converted outfielder said. "If I had one thing I would say I'm decent at at first base, that's what I would say: that play. That's very frustrating, because [Desmond] made a great play."

Poor defensive play or not, that one error alone didn't cost the Nationals victory. If Desmond makes the throw or Dunn makes the catch, the game's still tied, and the Nats' lineup put up little fight over the final three innings. Only one of their final 10 batters reached safely.

These, though, are the kind of games this team has been playing all season. Aside from the occasional blowout like Thursday's 14-6 win, every game has been nip-and-tuck. One at-bat, one play, one mistake can make all the difference.

And when you come up short twice in one day, the effect is more dramatic. Just like that, the Nationals went from five games over .500 to desperately needing a win Sunday to avoid their longest losing streak of the young season.

"I'm not disheartened at all," Jim Riggleman said. "We played good baseball. We really played good. They played good. We played good. I can't get disheartened about that."

Maybe so. But for a club that has suddenly convinced itself (and its fans) it can win every time it takes the field, a doubleheader sweep is a tough pill to swallow.


Souldrummer said...

Great writeup, Mark, and I'm glad that you focused on some of the things Desmond did right on that play. He also bailed out Guzman earlier in the game on the low double play throw. Dunn had a bad game in the field on this one with the dropped ball from Desmond, a tough time running out some balls that dropped in foul ground. Did Dunn play a role in that high throw to Guzman that should have been called safe that played a part in the late innings as well?

I take the second game as the Nats paying part of their dues to Pythagoras. As you've said here before 4-5 or 5-4 on this road trip is a good effort given the quality of competition that they've faced. Win 2 out of the next three by any means necessary and they'll have 5-4 on the road trip. Win one out of 3, and they'll still be above .500 heading to the homestand.

I think the other part of the equation here is that Wil Nieves is a major offensive liability and that we could really use Mr. Jesus Flores at some point this season. I like Nieves personally and I appreciate what he's brought to the team defensively and chemistry wise, but we're a better squad with Flores and I'd love to see him by July if at all possible as another part of the healthy reinforcements given Pudge's balky back and Nieves' offensive struggles.

No Hammer and no Nieves were a large part of what made Hammels look better than he's been.

bdrube said...

Well, at least Willy Mo Taveras has been DFA'ed. Morse may not be the second coming of Willie Mays, but at least he has the potential to provide some offense.

Anonymous said...

So you lose a pair of games playing pretty good baseball in a place thats hard to win. They can still salvage the series with a curly W sunday. Split with the Cards and this will be a dandy road trip. JTinSC

Anonymous8 said...

JT - Yep, overall solid play in game 2. Bullpen did OK. The Rockies bullpen just did much better.

With Riggleman stacking Nyjer and Willie Harris in the 1-2, it gave the Rockies late in the game the opportunity to bring in Beimel to go Lefty/Lefty although Willie has hit Beimel well in the past. Nyjer went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts.

Zim of course singled with nobody on base in the 8th and 2 outs and Dunn struck out in the Righty/Lefty matchup you would want.

Mark Z. pointed out no walks by the Nats in the 2nd game then you look back at the very 1st inning when Willie Harris went 3-0, to 3-1 and then popped up ball 4 and there were other opportunities to layoff pitches early in counts. They let Hammels stay in the game too long and not get into the bullpen earlier which you have to do in a doubleheader.

The double switch late in the game where they took Bernadina out, took a hot bat out of the lineup as he was 2 for 3 (BTW, he is hitting .304 now).

Anonymous said...

Mark, have the Nats fired Bruney yet?

A DC Wonk said...

No need to fire Bruney (imho) . . . just have him work some at AAA and see if he can get straightened out. He has the stuff -- he just doesn't have any control.

When's the earliest the Nats can bring up Storen?

And, two other questions:

What's the future for Chase Lambin -- hitting like .320 at Syracuse, yet I see he's turning 31 in July; and also Kevin Mench, also hitting over .300, age 31. Are these guys "organizational" types, or might we see them spend some time in the Nats outfield this year? (or in the future). (Yes, I see Lambin plays 2B, but I also noted he played LF in the game Strasburg pitched)

Anonymous said...

Bruney is a hard thrower but has never been able to throw strikes in his whole career I dont see any reason to believe he is going to learn now.

Anonymous said...

Mench and Duncan look like the better choices over Lambin. Lambin has 8 walks against 27 strikeouts already. Not the sign of a mature hitter. Perhaps a streaky one. He has an OBP of .319. Mench with 13 walks against 4 strike outs has an OBP of .375. Duncan has 10 walks against 23 strike outs plus 3 homers. He appears to be progressively improving. Even though he is hitting .265 Josh Whitesell has an OBP of .396 and an OPS of .812. He has walked 23 times against 29 strike outs. Plus, Lambin already has 5 errors.

My guess is that Lambin will eventually get surpassed by Mench, Duncan, Maxwell, Whitesell and Marvin Lowrance as the season progresses.

Anonymous said...

As expected, Dunn gets a rest after more than a few fielding gaffes in recent outings. Plus a left-handed starter. Morse will bat sixth today behind Pudge.

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