Saturday, June 5, 2010

Young Mr. Clutch delivers for crowd

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A big crowd was treated to a big win from the home team.
For a team that has struggled to come through with clutch hits most of this season, the sight of a rookie at the plate in a key, seventh-inning spot tonight shouldn't have been comforting.

The Nationals, though, have every reason to feel comfortable with Ian Desmond in that situation right now. Forget that he's a rookie. Forget that he's had his ups and downs throughout the season's first two months. Right now, there's no one the club would rather have at the plate in key spots than the 24-year-old.

Even when he nearly botches his opportunity.

When Desmond stood outside the batter's box in the bottom of the seventh tonight -- runners on first and second, no one out in a tie game -- he wasn't surprised to see Pat Listach give him the bunt sign. Even though he really wanted to swing away.

"In a competitive way, yeah," he said. "When I go up to the plate, I want to drive in every run I can. But when the bunt sign comes on, I'm gonna bunt. I'm not mad they gave me the bunt sign. I think I'm a good bunter, and I think it's an asset I have that can help the team."

Desmond, of course, failed to get the bunt down. He fell behind in the count, and suddenly he was free to swing away.

"I hate to say that I give more focus to those at-bats," he said. "But after I missed the bunt, I kind of told myself, 'Hey, we've got to really do something here. Let's go. Let's put something hard in play up the middle and see if we can get an RBI out of this.'"

Sure enough, Desmond ripped a fastball from Reds reliever Enerio Del Rosario to left field. Josh Willingham came around to score, and when Willie Harris added a sacrifice fly a few minutes later, the Nationals had themselves a 4-2 lead that held up by night's end.

Desmond would ultimately get ejected by umpire Joe West for slamming his helmet after getting called out for oversliding third base on that Harris sac fly, but that bit of theatrics was secondary to his greater contribution: another big RBI from a kid who has become his team's best clutch hitter.

"He's got a lot of great qualities, but one of his qualities is he's been a clutch player," Jim Riggleman said. "He's got some big hits for us. They've been kind of hard to come by lately, but he kind of loosened everybody up with that one."

Want evidence of Desmond's ability in these spots? He's now batting .373 with runners in scoring position. All other times, he's hitting .216.

At the other end of the spectrum, Adam Dunn is batting .315 in other situations, but .173 with runners in scoring position. The slugger is even worse when there are two outs and runners in scoring position, having gone 0-for-22 in such spots this season.

"I've known Ian for a long time. He's a very smart baseball player," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He understands the game, and I think those are the kind of guys that come through. You have to understand the situation. You have to think ahead. He's just a very heads-up guy. He puts together good at-bats, and so far he's been good in those situations."

Desmond was hardly the only National to make tonight's win possible. It took a collective effort that included some gutsy pitching from Livan Hernandez (two runs allowed despite eight hits, four walks and a balk), a fantastic catch in right field from Roger Bernadina and three scoreless innings of relief from Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Matt Capps.

Thanks to all of that, the Nats managed to shake off those three ugly losses in Houston and start off an important homestand with an impressive victory. That they did it in front of an energetic crowd of 33,774 -- which came hoping to see Stephen Strasburg but instead got to see a nice performance from the home team -- only added to the significance.

"It was a good way to move on," Storen said. "That was a tough pill to swallow, that whole road trip. I think we kind of turned the page."

22 comments:

Cwj said...

Fantastic Mark. Go Nats!
Can any of you believe the amount of close games this season??? It seems that nearly every game is decided by a coin flip, so to speak.

Positively Half St. said...

Capps pitched like he did in the past losses, but was spared a botched call by the umps or a ridiculous error. He should have 20 saves now.

Doc said...

Nice article Mark! The interviews gave us some good insight into the players' motivations. Now if we can just figure out why AD has gone 0 for 22 in Desmond-like situations???

Anonymous said...

Changing subjects a bit but ... I suppose umpire schedules are fixed several weeks ahead. What crew will have the Strasburg game and who will probably be the home plate umpire that day. If we do know the crew, can you elaborate on the home plate umpire?

Anonymous said...

Mark, an unrelated question, about Strasburg’s second home start:

Adam Kilgore reported a a few days ago that the Nats’ tentative plan was for Strasburg to pitch every five days (rather every five starts), which would have him pitching Friday, the 18 rather than Sat the 19th.

But I now see that the Sat game has been moved to 4:10 (from 7:05) and will be televised by Fox. So am I right to think that’s now projected as Strasburg’s 2d home start after all?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see so many folks at the Park last night BECAUSE everyone wanted to see SS and could not resell tickets once his start date was moved to June 8th!

How many people will be there tonight to see the PHENOM who skipped the minors entirely and is 4-0...MIKE LEAKE???

I believe the Nats moved SS back to the Pirates series because they were afraid of A) a Leake-SS matchup, B) educated fans being able to compare the two pitchers even if they did not start the same day, and C) the Pirates don't have any good pitchers to compare SS to.

I would expect to see the typical Nats crowd at the Park tonight...paid attendance 25K, actual attendance 5K

A DC Wonk said...

No, really? Guz has two more 2-out-RISD hits in the last two days than Adam Dunn has had all season? . . . . ;-)

A DC Wonk said...

Re: Strasburg . . . I'd guess that Kilgore was simply not being precise -- that Strasburg is pitching every five games, not days. To pitch every five days would require bumping pitchers all over the place, and makes no sense, imho.

natsfan1a said...

Kid carried off the Silver Fox wig nicely as well. Atta boy. :-)

Anonymous said...

Re: Strasburg . . . I'd guess that Kilgore was simply not being precise -- that Strasburg is pitching every five games, not days. To pitch every five days would require bumping pitchers all over the place, and makes no sense, imho.

May not make any sense, but that's exactly what Kilgore said they were planning to do. Perhaps the intervention of Fox caused them to change that plan. I for one would be happy about that, cuz I have tix for the 19th.

Andrew said...

Time to buy tickets for the 19th!

Arlington Big Fish said...

Was at last night's game, & sort of kept track on the scoreboard of the various players' OPS -- & had a revelation about why the Nats' offense has been so anemic lately: Absence of Pudge.

Wil Nieves' OPS is .510 -- only 20 points better than Harang, the Reds' starting pitcher. So when Nieves is in the lineup, we've got 2 pitchers batting. While Pudge has been away, Nieves has cemented his role as a back-up catcher -- if that. Where is Flores?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Regarding Strasburg's third overall start (second home start) ... I wouldn't go and buy tickets for June 19 just yet. I have heard rumblings myself about Fox picking up that game, but that doesn't mean Strasburg is pitching that day. I have every reason to believe the reports of him pitching every fifth day (not every fifth game) are true, which means he'd go on Friday night the 18th. Either way, based on how this whole debut speculation went, I wouldn't advise buying tickets well in advance to any game just because you think Strasburg will be starting. I'd wait for the team to make it official.

Anonymous said...

Nice article on Desmond, Mark, but at the game last night we wondered why he was bunting with Wil Nieves on deck. It just didn't make sense to give up an out at that time. By the way, I hope Nyger Morgan was taking notes when Harang laid down a nice bunt in the second.

Doc said...

Speaking of Pudge and Nieves, and Arlington Big Fish's analysis, what's the update on Flores Mark?

Grant said...

Great article, Mark, and I love seeing Desmond mature and come through in big spots. But for my money, when we need a clutch hit, the man I want to see in the batter's box is Josh Willingham. He's been the clutchest of clutch for us this season.

Joe Seamhead said...

The play when Desmond got tossed was bogus, whether he momentarily slipped off the bag, or not. The 3rd base ump was right on top of it. Crew chief and 1st base ump Joe West overturned the called play, and he was over at 1st base. What's with that? And then he tossed Ian immediately. Joe West in an embarrassment to the integrity of baseball, and as such, should be fired!
I was at the game last night and it was great to see the crowd really get into it. I still feel like Natstown needs to develop, but both pride, and personality, showed signs of life last night.

Anonymous said...

Fire Joe West:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=130612593620150

Joe said...

Every fifth day vs. every fifth game...

Here's what I don't understand - if SS is on an inning-limit for the season, why would you put him on a five-day, as opposed to a five-game, rotation? Won't a five-day rotation get him to his innings-limit even sooner? Aren't they going to have a hard enough time shutting SS down for the season when he reaches his season inning limit (esp. if they are in a pennant race)? Or is the plan for Zimmermann/Wang to take over for SS when he reaches his inning cap for the season?

Sec$39.99 said...

I can imagine a good crowd tonight (and it will be a good crowd) chanting "FINE JOE WEST"--and then I flash back on the fan who got Joe Girardi fired.

try that again said...

http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/092406/spo_5213397.shtml

Anonymous said...

I have heard rumblings myself about Fox picking up that game, but that doesn't mean Strasburg is pitching that day.

While it hasn't AFAIK been announced that Fox is picking up the 6/19 game, the time has apparently been changed to 4:10 pm, which puts it into Fox's exclusivity window. (While there hasn't AFAIK been any official announcement of the 4:10 time, last night on the big screen a Ryan Zimmerman Bobblehead Night ad was shown that had the game time listed as 4:10.) I would imagine that Fox gets the right to change the time of a game if they want to broadcast it, but they can't make it on condition that a particular pitcher starts the game. So they are probably gambling on a Strasburg start as much as anyone else is. But of course the Nats may well decide that their best course would be to put their best foot forward on a national broadcast and go ahead and start Strasburg that day. Or maybe not.

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