Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nats to Stephen: Be our stopper

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
J.D. Martin couldn't do the job tonight. Now Stephen Strasburg must do it tomorrow.
CLEVELAND -- Among the many tasks a ballclub asks of its ace is to take the ball when his team is in a rut and single-handedly end a losing streak. That's where the term "stopper" comes from, and right now the Nationals need one in the worst way.

Fortunately, Stephen Strasburg is on the mound for tomorrow's series finale against the Indians. Unfortunately, he's being asked to stop a losing streak in only his second career start.

Such is life when you're the most-hyped pitcher in a generation and you surpass that hype by leaps and bounds in your big-league debut by striking out 14 and captivating an entire city.

It may be unfair of the Nationals to ask Strasburg to take on full-blown ace responsibilities at this tender stage of his career, but they have no choice. They need a win tomorrow in the worst way, and their best chance of making that happen is another dominant performance from the 21-year-old.

"Good guy to have out there," Ryan Zimmerman said after Washington dropped a 7-1 ballgame at Progressive Field that was as lackluster a game as this team has played all season.

Strasburg certainly has the potential to turn in a better performance than J.D. Martin did tonight. Even though the right-hander came within one out of a rare complete game in a loss, he didn't help himself by giving up four runs in a span of seven batters in the second. Martin came after the Indians with first-pitch fastballs, and they pounced on him, stringing together five hits in the inning to open up a 5-0 lead that was insurmountable with Fausto Carmona on the mound.

The Nationals had no answer for Carmona, a 19-game winner from 2007 who has only now begun rediscovering his old form after battling injuries the last two years. Armed with a devastating sinker, Carmona weaved his way through the Nats' lineup with ease, facing only 28 batters in a masterpiece of a performance. (The last Cleveland pitcher to go nine innings and only face one batter over the minimum? Why, Billy Traber, of course, on July 8, 2003 against the Yankees!)

"We've played 63 ballgames," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I don't want to show any disrespect for anybody else, but I don't know that anybody has pitched a better game against us this year."

The Nationals aren't hitting the ball as a team with any level of consistency. One night, they'll look like a legitimate offense. The next, they can't buy a clutch hit.

Riggleman has tried some different looks so far on this road trip, using the DH as an opportunity to give regular position players a pseudo-day off, but it hasn't worked yet. He'll try another look tomorrow against Indians lefty David Huff, using Ryan Zimmerman as DH, with Mike Morse in right field and Alberto Gonzalez at third base.

If that lineup can produce a few runs against Huff (owner of a 2-7 record and 5.46 ERA), the Nats will feel good about their chances with Strasburg on the mound. Of course, everyone will be expecting a duplicate of Tuesday night's performance, unfair as that is.

"I'm not going to fall into that trap," Riggleman said. "But certainly you can't fault our fans and others who are wanting great success. They want a great ballgame and they're excited about it. So I'm glad this is going on, and that expectations are high. But we know these are major-league hitters he's facing, and he's going to have some days where they're going to put some hits out there."

Yes, the day will come when Strasburg gets hit around. It's inevitable. But here's the thing: The Nationals can't afford for it to happen tomorrow. They can't afford to get swept by the Indians, falling back to four games under .500 and heading to Detroit for a tough series against Tigers.

He's been a major leaguer for all of six days. But you know what? The Nationals need Stephen Strasburg to be their ace right now.

13 comments:

Doc said...

Riggleman has to resist thinking that Morgan needs to be in the lineup to hit RHers and Morse can't hit RHers. Besides, Bernadina is a better CFer than Morgan. Maybe Riggleman will wake up enough for the second half of the season---maybe???

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall Strasburg having to stop a losing streak in his first big league start too. Didn't seem to faze him...

Bote Man said...

I'm more jazzed about Strasburg's ZERO walks in his debut. 14K/0BB is mighty impressive, moreso than just the 14K alone. I doubt he can match that tomorrow.

I also hope that I am wrong.

Cwj said...

I'm thinking we'll see the same Strasburg. He will likely dominate the Indians.

Anonymous said...

Stephen may be asked to be a stopper, even as a rookie with high expectations, pressure from the media, and very youg, but in spite of that and very little major league experience he is still the best pitcher we have. Really, who else would we want pitching as a stopper? Lannan? Anybody else? NO.

David said...

with the lefty Huff going, it's not just the Nats pitching, but the opposition's

team on-base is .365 against lefties, .321 against righties

JayB said...

Mark,

Honestly, what is going one here. Riggleman is using Zim as DH. He is 0 for 8 as a DH and is quoted as saying it is not a day off for him so it is not like he gets to rest. Riggleman is showing why Rizzo gave him a one year contract. He is not the type of manager who is going to have a winning record. He is gone by June next year. This team will pass by the need for his simple minded loyalty to vets like Harris and Kennedy. By next year I hope this team has no Guzman, no Kennedy, no Wil N., no Morgan and we move to 8 solid starters who get 600 ABs each.

K.D. said...

You never know when your going to be hit with injury and will need your bench players to come through. Alberto filled in at third admirably for Zimm when he went down, you need to play to feel part of the team and to be sharp when called upon. Riggleman is doing the right thing keeping his bench players involved, hopefully it will start to pay dividends sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

Nobody here thinks it's a bad idea to keep the bench guys involved. Of course you have to at least try to keep them sharp. Just do it in a smart way, for crying out loud.

Not Willie and Adam in there at the same time. Not Willie as the DH and Willingham in the field. Not with Willie batting 6th. Not with Zimm as the DH while Morse is in the field. (Wait for a bad play by Morse in right to decide the game today...)

Riggleman is irresponsibly increasing the odds for his team to lose (just like with Guzman in RF late in that awful loss in Houston).
This is absolutely terrible managing, and on a very fundamental level at that.

Mark, I really hope you ask some tough questions regarding his use of the DH. His "get some guys some at-bats" approach is part of what proved to folks in Seattle that he was not a good manager, and he seems to make the exact same mistakes here.
Why Morse has not been the DH for three straight days after the game he had against Pittsburgh is beyond me. Bad fielder, but just getting hot in time for a few series at AL teams. Perfect fit for DH. But still waiting to play that position once.

For all the improvements that have been made (mainly because of Rizzo's bullpen and the insane hitting by 3,4,5), I'm pretty sure this team won't ever win with Riggleman as the manager.

David said...

A good manager plays all his players, otherwise they should not be on the team. Maybe all of the Nationals players are not true major leaguers but that is Rizzo's job not Rigglemans. I'm not blaming Rizzo seeing the hand he was dealt just focusing the responsibility where it should be. I'm not a huge Riggleman supporter but I can tell the players respect him and give a good effort. Riggleman may not have done everything the way I would like but I think he is more of a positive than a negative.

Joe Seamhead said...

Given the roster Riggleman has, I thought that yesterday's line-up was about the plum dumbest that I've ever seen. He reminds me of a little league coach. If you're going to go with Desmond at short, then go with him. Willie Harris the DH? Get real. I could see playing Harris in left and having Willingham DH, but even that wouldn't be my choice. Riggleman often has some rather odd brain freezes.

Doc said...

Look at the positive side sportsfans; Riggleman didn't have Veeck's midget to put in the lineup--otherwise he might have!

Natsfan37 said...

Are we talking about the same manager that is 3 games below .500 on June 13th? I think this team lost 102 games last season but turned it around (somewhat) after Riggleman became manager. I understand that there may be individual moves that make you scratch your head, but I think it's off base to crush Riggleman as the manager. Are we really at that point? Let Riggleman's record at the end of the season speak for itself as to whether he improved the team from last season or not.

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