Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time for Zimmermann to shine

US Presswire photo
Jordan Zimmermann faces a stiff challenge tonight against Cliff Lee and the Phillies.
If the Nationals are ever going to "close the gap" (as Jim Riggleman has been saying recently) on the Phillies in the NL East, they're going to have to be able to beat one or two of the elite pitchers the four-time division champs send to the mound on a near-nightly basis.

It's one thing to beat Joe Blanton. It's another to beat Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

The Nationals nearly did it to Halladay last night, putting the tying run on second base with one out in the ninth, only to watch as the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner struck out Matt Stairs and Ivan Rodriguez in succession to end the game and seal a 3-2 Phillies victory.

Tonight, they'll have a chance to do it Lee, the pinpoint-throwing lefty who has made only two career starts against the franchise that employed him many moons ago (but, of course, won both starts).

Whether the Nats can put a dent in Lee's usually indestructible armor remains to be seen. Certainly, you can't expect an offensive explosion from a lineup lacking Ryan Zimmerman and featuring several struggling regulars.

Which puts the onus on Jordan Zimmermann, the man taking the ball for the Nationals for his third start of the season. Pitchers always insist they aren't facing the opposing starter, only the opposing lineup. That may technically be true, but sometimes when going up against an elite arm like Lee, you simply need your own starter to turn in an equally (if not more) impressive performance.

Rarely in their brief history in the District have the Nationals been able to send a pitcher to the mound capable of going toe-to-toe with one of the game's best. They've faced plenty of elite starters over the last six-plus seasons, from Lee and Halladay to Tim Hudson and Josh Johnson and Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb and Jake Peavy and Ubaldo Jimenez and Johan Santana and more. Unless it coincided with one of Stephen Strasburg's 12 outings last summer, they've never been able to counter those aces with one of their own.

Not to suggest Zimmermann is in the same class as Lee or any of those other guys in their prime. But the young right-hander certainly has the potential to stand alongside them, and in two starts so far this year has begun to establish himself as a front-line hurler the Nationals can count on.

There would certainly be no shame in losing to Cliff Lee tonight, just as there was no shame in losing to Roy Halladay last night.

But if the Nats truly are going to take that next step forward as a franchise and "close the gap" between themselves and their best division rival, they're going to have to be able to count on guys like Zimmermann equaling (or better yet, surpassing) the likes of Cliff Lee.

47 comments:

court, rfk 428 said...

Hopefully our boy is up to the challenge. Time to start getting that K/9 rate back up to where it belongs.

Sec3MySofa said...

As advanced metrics go, "shame" seems to lag behind other categories. Which is Mark's point, as I take it, and not in a "Simontacci Reverse Lock" kind of way.

joemktg said...

Lannan did quite well last night, providing one of his progressively better performance against the Phillies. Fully expect JZimm to do the same.

Disappointed in Pudge last night: historically, he has great stats vs. Halladay (even last year), but last night was an indicator to me that perhaps we're at the end. They had the two guys they needed to come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth: Stairs was brought to this club to perform in that situation, and Pudge has the track record. Not good.

SCNatsFan said...

I agree joe; Stairs was brought here to do one thing and if he can't do it, well, I wish him luck elsewhere. Not like he has to perform at every AB but you can't go up and stare at three pitches. Accountability must mean something on this team.

For Pudge, that's a tough one. If he is mentoring Ramos - and I don't know how much he is or isn't - then its worth it to keep him, even underperforming, until the trade deadline. This team isn't going to win the division this year (understatement of the year) but if you can come out with more solid blocks for next year - Espinosa, Ramos, Morse and some pitching to go with the established players - then its a year well spent.

Manassas Nats Fan said...

Zimmermann will do the job tonight.

Steve M. said...

The way Lannan is pitching against Lefties again is encouraging. He shut down Ibanez which was a thing of beauty.

JZim has really looked good and needs the defense to back him up.

Anonymous said...

Mentoring is one thing. Batting in that situation with the winning
run on is another. With Ramos hitting .450? NO that's not on
Pudge but on Riggleman who would double switch a Harris or
Cora in for Morse when he is hot? Double switch Pudge in
for Ramos in the late innings? And this was against the top
division rivals Riggleman has stated they need to catch up to?

But here Rigglean again respects veterans instead of trying
to win games? Riggleman has to go!

Steve M. said...

SCNatsFan, well said.

Doc said...

While Pudge has a good history against Hellofaday, I too was disappointed that the hottest bat for the Nats (Ramos) wasn't subbed for IRod in that last AB.

History sometimes is just that, history.

IRod is not your grandfather's Pudge. As good as he is behind the plate, he's not the same guy in the box. Halladay was wearing down--just right for a fresh bat like Ramos'.

A lot of what Riggleman does is counterintuitive to winning. Like many posters here point out, he has a belief system that relies on 'respecting' vets over game production.

dj in Fl. said...

Yeah lets put the weight of winning the game on the kid. Lets start killing his confidence the first month of his initial full year in the big league.
Brilliant idea Anonymous, but better managing by Riggleman.

greg said...

i guess six ABs (10 plate appearances) is enough to decide stairs just can't play any more...

and if he strikes out against one of the top 5 starters in baseball as a pinch hitter, he obviously is a terrible pinch hitter.

Manassas Nats Fan said...

The point striking out being aggressive is OK, watching 3 pitchers with RISP is not the same. Swing at one at least.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Dj in FLA let's keep the hottest bat
on the bench THE WHOLE game?
In a close game? Explain that to Lannan
who put his heart into this game. OH but wait
if your hot no-walks, singles hitting bat that
can no longer play shortstop named
Cristian Guzman then it's a different
story and your manager forces the square
peg into a round hole to keep HIM in every
game?

And those MASN commercials with Riggleman
turn my stomach ...

Steve M. said...

Doc, good point on respecting vets over game production which is why Rizzo has made him too comfortable by loading up the bench with tired duds that most teams passed over.

Great guys, quality guys, but call them Coach or Broadcaster as these guys are mostly done with baseball.

Pudge, and I love the guy, is hanging on by a thread. You can put a fork in Cora, Hairston, and Stairs as they are overcooked.

Its great to hope and believe....and then the stark reality sets in.

Again, hope they prove me wrong.

Anonymous said...

Steve M, It's a 162 game season ... they
won't last to the all-star break ... Hairston
looks pathetic! And Riggleman looks for
any excuse to play him and Cora ...

Sigh meet the new Skipper same as the
old Skipper ... promote Knorr send Riggleman
to the old retired vets backyard barbecue.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

You do not hit for Pudge there. You just don't.
1, he'd been making good contact against a tiring Halladay; Ramos's chances in that particular AB were not much better, if at all.
2, stats are good, stats are really useful, but this isn't computer baseball, these are people, and not just any people, either. You hit for him there, you get known for managing like that, and you lose the clubhouse faster than you can say "unemployed."
3. That was a [blah-blahblah] call.

natsfan1a said...

Seemed more like [blahblah-blah] to me, but poTAYto-poTAHto. :-)

natsfan1a said...

(and you can't make chicken salad from it, either)

Anonymous said...

I would love to know what Stairs' thought pattern was during his at bat. We were all disappointed in the result of the game, but we shouldn't lose focus of the fact that Halladay, even in the ninth inning after he's thrown 115 plus pitches, is pretty awesome. My guess is that Stairs went to the plate looking for one particular pitch that he could drive.

Mark'd said...

SteveM, classic and well said with "hope". Good thing Riggleman doesn't have a 30 man roster. I also blame Rizzo for the lousy bench but Sec3 above is correct on leaving Pudge in for that situation.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really think that if Halladay, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, had struck Ramos out in that situation it would have crushed the kid's confidence and ruined him? The only way he could have done worse than Pudge would have been if he swung at the ump on the called strike and been suspended for 50 games.

PAY TO PLAY said...

greg said... i guess six ABs (10 plate appearances) is enough to decide stairs just can't play any more...

and if he strikes out against one of the top 5 starters in baseball as a pinch hitter, he obviously is a terrible pinch hitter.

April 14, 2011 12:03 PM
_______________________________

Greg - Were you watching the same game as the rest of us?

Halladay had just given up 4 base hits in the 9th and had 1 out with 2 runs in. If he was a boxer, you would say he was on the ropes. Then to finish off the KO steps in MATT STAIRS with just a crazy good career batting average against him (.385). This was as good as it gets if you are a Nats fan.

Then, sticking with the boxing analogy, STAIRS takes a dive and Halladay knocks him out with 3 punches to the gut and Stairs does nothing but watch as HE GOES DOWN WITHOUT A SWING....

That's how I saw it!

Sec3NSFW said...

It was a wretched AB from Stairs; Pudge got jobbed.

confidential to 1a -- that was both a Lenny Bruce and Bull Durham reference. What do I win?

Sec3MySofa, back to work now said...

@Anon 1:00 -- Looking for a pitch to drive? Well, yeah. And the first two, he lays off rather than hit into a double-play--OK, I'll buy that. But not 0-2. Pitch was *right there*.

PAY TO PLAY said...

I am with Sec3. No excuse at all for Stairs. It was there on the outter half and hittable as were the other 2.

What, was he waiting for, Halladay to put it down the middle waist high?

S3MS said...

Actually, IIRC the first pitch was inside and the second was low and away, both on the black. I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

It's just one game. Stop getting your panties in a bunch...

dale said...

sec3mysofa,

Let us rephrase the question to perhaps get a better perspective on it....

If you were the Philadelphia Phillies, who would you rather see at bat in that situation--Pudge or Ramos? I would bet ten out of ten times that Halladay would rather face Pudge. If Riggleman actually thought that he would "lose the clubhouse" by having the hottest hitter on the club bat the final out then we have a much deeper problem. In the end I think the manager loses the clubhouse by favoring those who have not produced on the field over those that do. The Nats have few options in most positions with the exception of catcher. Leaving the team's best hitter unused in that situation is handicapping the game even further in the direction of the Phillies.

Rodrigues is producing at less of a rate than he was at the end of last season. Everyone in the media and players in public are evading the elephant in the room--Ramos is contributing far more offensively than Pudge and deserves a greater number of at bats. I thought that the course of action had been decided last week but there has been no variance in the 50/50 routine to date. If Ramos actually gets the majority of the splits from now on then last night's ninth inning at bat will be the watershed.

Tcostant said...

No Sports Fix today?

According to the home page, you were suppose to be on ESPN 980am today at 1:40pm, is there a reason you missed that? Miss you talk.

Anonymous said...

Yup, the whole season was lost last night. Publicly execute Stairs and Rodriguez at home plate. Or take the advice of anonymous @ 2:02. Give it a rest. It's just one game. 151 to go. Have any of you ever had a bad day at work? If you did, I sure hope people weren't publicly calling for your dismissal.

Nataholic said...

Riigleman has actually been pretty decent with his moves this year. Morse is not a great fielder, you get him out when you need defense. That's baseball 101. Some of these bench guys have been putting out real professional at bats, even when they are not necessarily successful. That's undeniable. Look, Stairs had a bad at bat, but I've been pleasantly surprised by his overall production this year. It was Stairs's job there, left handed pinch hitting specialist. It was the right move and it didn't work. Riggleman is not at fault when good ideas go bad any more than he is a genius when bad ideas go good. With Riggleman you have to take his managing this year as a whole. Other than overusing Clippard, he's been effective. I don't see the boneheaded Guzman in RF and prayer moves that we saw last year. As for I-Rod, he just got jobbed. If he swung at some of those "strikes" that's an easy ground-out. And oh-boy, the complaining we would hear then. I don't know how Ramos would handle those "strikes" any better.... So stop the complaining. All in all it was a good effort and reminds me of that 2005 team which believed it was never out of a game.

Mark'd said...

Anon @2:02, it isn't about one game for me. This is about the make-up of the bench and in particular Stairs and who steps in when there is an injury like Zimmerman.

Don said...

Can we not second guess every decision and be happy that this team, after getting beat down for eight innings, was still fighting and scrapping for runs.

We didn't win, but I love watching this team. Everyone complaining (in other threads) that they bought into the hype and nothing has changed isn't watching very close.

Last year they would have given up in the 5th and marched out with their tails between their legs. They fought for this and almost got it. Next time maybe they will, I'm just happy to see them trying.

fpcsteve said...

Amen and amen to what Nataholic and Don said.

Mark'd said...

This isn't about the game rather team makeup and who has whose back.

I also agree with Don and have NO issues with Riggleman's moves.

My views also aren't in hindsight as myself and others were concerned on how Rizzo constructed the team. 5-6 is find but I would like 7-4 so this isn't about 1 game.

natsfan1a said...

I'm with Don on seeing this team fight 'til the last out. (Though I did notice one guy leaning back with his feet up on the edge of the dugout late in the game. My remarks to my husband: Q: "What's your name, cowboy?" A: "Tex, ma'am." Q: "Are you in show biz, Tex?" A: "Heh, no ma'am." Q: "Then get your feet off the [blahblah] dugout." (Guess that one, sec3, and you win the trifecta.)

JD said...

You know what guys; you are doing selective analysis. One of you said that Rizzo just lucked out in how well the starters have performed but otherwise he did a bad job in constructing the bench. You can't have it both ways; Rizzo also constructed the starting rotation.

The problem is that you guys over analyze every at bat and then refer to your pre season thoughts and conclude that you have been right all along. One don't you let things play out for say 50 games before you declare yourselves geniuses. I don't know about you but I don't miss Morgan, Gonzalez, Harris or Nieves. To me the team has performed well and the bench has contributed ad have members of the bull pen who were immediately thrown under the bus after a couple of bad outings.

LoveDaNats said...

What fpcsteve said.

LoveDaNats said...

ooooh, ooooh, 1a, pick me if sec3 doesn't know.

Sec3, Blazing Saddles said...

"Have any of you ever had a bad day at work? If you did, I sure hope people weren't publicly calling for your dismissal."
Anon 2:26

This seems like a good time for the semi-annual Jacques Plante quote: How would *you* like it if every time you made a mistake at work, a big red light went off and 20,000 people started screaming and throwing garbage at you?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Isn't time to post the lineups so we can move on?

Sec3 said...

Long past time. I'm starting to worry about Mark...

fpcsteve said...

And yet one last A-men for the day. A-men, NatsJack. Thus ends the reading of the lesson. Go Nats!

Mark'd said...

WaPo had them over an hour ago

Mark Zuckerman said...

Game thread (with Nats lineup) is now posted.

And for Tcostant, who was asking why I wasn't on ESPN-980 today: I got bumped. Happens every once in a while, which is why I make sure to stipulate on that schedule that it's always subject to change.

natsfan1a said...

So, that doesn't happen at *your* workplace? Really sad thing is, I work for myself. Now go figure out how to spend your trifecta winnings. And when you've done that, you can read Mark's new post... :-)

"How would *you* like it if every time you made a mistake at work, a big red light went off and 20,000 people started screaming and throwing garbage at you? "

natsfan1a said...

D'oh! Scooped by the Zucker Man himself.

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