Saturday, April 7, 2012

Comeback kids establish their identity

Associated Press photo
Henry Rodriguez, Adam LaRoche and Chad Tracy all played key roles in today's win.
CHICAGO -- Two games. Two tepid performances for seven innings that leave everyone scratching their heads and wondering how in the world this team is ever going to score enough runs to win. And then two stirring rallies that completely alter everyone's opinions and make them believe anything may be possible with this team.

Is it possible for a ballclub to establish an identity only two games into a 162-game season?

"I think it is too early," Danny Espinosa said. "I don't think that's going to be our identity all year -- just come back, come back, come back. We don't want to be in that position every single game. We don't want to have to fight to try to get two runs. We want to jump out early and hopefully get a lead."

The young second baseman paused for a moment and added what surely others inside the jubilant visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field were thinking.

"But it's good to know that we have that as a team in the back pocket," Espinosa said, "that we don't die and we continue to fight."

It's only two games, but it's all we have to go on right now. So why not just assume the Nationals are capable of flipping on the switch in the eighth inning every day and storming back to win games like they did today in topping the Cubs 7-4 before a stunned crowd of 40,102?

Only 48 hours removed from a come-from-behind victory on Opening Day, the Nationals followed nearly the exact same script. Trailing by two runs entering the top of the eighth and looking feeble at the plate again, they went on a rampage against Chicago relievers Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol, putting eight consecutive men on base with two outs and bringing five of them home.

Key at-bats came from just about everybody in the lineup, but two in particular stood out: Espinosa's solo homer that ignited the rally, and Chad Tracy's two-run, pinch-hit single that put the Nationals ahead for good.

Start with Espinosa's opposite-field blast off Wood, which came on the 10th pitch of a brilliant plate appearance that saw the 24-year-old foul off six pitches (four of them with two strikes).

"He was throwing me a lot of pitches on the corners, and I was trying to foul them off," Espinosa said. "I thought he made some good pitches that I was able to foul off, and finally I got a good pitch that I could do something with."

Just as Ian Desmond's rally-starting single on Thursday got the Nationals bench perked up, Espinosa's homer set the tone for the rest of the lineup, which suddenly strode to the plate with confidence after flailing away at Cubs starter Matt Garza most of the afternoon.

"There's no question," said Adam LaRoche, who matched a career high with four hits. "It's so much more positive when guys are on base. It just keeps rolling. I don't know how to explain. It's just something in baseball. When guys are doing good, it rubs off on everybody else."

LaRoche's single two batters after Espinosa's homer knocked Wood out of the game to a chorus boos from the Cubs faithful and brought in Marmol, the Chicago closer who was now being asked by new manager Dale Sveum to record a four-out save in the season's second game.

As was the case Thursday when he gave up the winning run in the ninth, Marmol wasn't up to the task. He walked Jayson Werth on five pitches to load the bases and bring to the plate Tracy, the 31-year-old journeyman who spent last season in Japan and had little chance of making the Nationals' roster this spring until a spate of late injuries opened the door.

They'll have to pry Tracy from Davey Johnson's vice-lock grip now after he delivered his second clutch hit in as many games. Tracy's latest: a two-run single to right, putting the Nationals ahead 5-4.

"You know, you can't really draw it up like that, but it's been great," he said. "I've just tried to keep myself ready on the bench, and the opportunities will come."

It's not easy to gain the acceptance of a clubhouse full of players who have been together for a little while, especially when you come to camp on a minor-league deal and your locker is stationed dozens of yards from the lineup regulars.

Tracy, though, has slowly but surely won over his teammates with his professionalism, demeanor and -- most importantly -- production.

"I think when he came into camp, he'd be the first one to tell you that his chances weren't great," LaRoche said. "Whether they were 50-50, whatever they were, he had to earn everything he got on this club to make this team. I know it's still early, but I think he's a hitter. ... It's good to have him on the club. He's going to be a big part of this."

The way these Nationals are constructed, it certainly looks like some of their biggest contributors will come from their bench and their bullpen. The latter group was just as crucial to today's win as any unit on the roster.

After starter Gio Gonzalez labored through 3 2/3 ragged innings in his Nationals debut, Johnson was forced to turn to what he calls his "B" bullpen: The guys who typically will pitch when the club is trailing.

It may sound like an unglamorous role, but it was plenty important in this game, with Craig Stammen tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings and Ryan Mattheus adding a 1-2-3 seventh to keep their teammates within striking distance.

"Everybody on the 25-man, everybody's got their own little role," Stammen said. "And every single role that they have is just as important as the other one. Some people might get more pub, and they might be put in tougher situations like [Tyler Clippard] and the closer and people like that. But when it's all said and done, you've got to get out there and get outs no matter when you're put in the game."

The yeoman's work by Stammen and Mattheus (who wound up being credited with the win) set the stage for Clippard and Henry Rodriguez to finish this one off once the Nationals had taken the lead. Those two right-handers continued the trend, and by day's end the Washington bullpen had combined to allow one hit and two walks over 5 1/3 scoreless innings.

"If it wasn't for the bullpen, it would've been an ugly day," Gonzalez said.

And if it wasn't for yet another eighth-inning rally, the Nationals wouldn't find themselves sitting atop the NL East with a 2-0 record.

Perhaps tomorrow they'll actually take an early lead and win a game in conventional fashion.

"No, I think we kind of like this," LaRoche said. "We perfected it at times last year. So just keep it going."

Who says you can't establish an identity in only two days?

54 comments:

NatsFanJim said...

So far, so good. Even on a day when Gio is off, we win. LaRoche with 4 hits -- we hardly knew ya. HRod is awesome.

yankish2 said...

New year but still last year's version of Jason Werth.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Kudos to the Comeback Kids, and Davey for his quick hook of Nat Gio. He didn't have it, Davey recognized it and went with Plan B. And God bless Chad Tracy. He's to Davey Johnson what Rod Kanehl was to Casey Stengel. And you could look it up.

Bueno Bryce said...

1a, I think you raise some really interesting questions in the previous post. I will wait until sober to more fully reply. I do think there are some fans out there new to baseball, but also think there is a small percentage of losers that have nothing better to do than antagonize folks on a fan blog.

Wally said...

Potential trouble in Potomac - twitterverse is saying Rendon got hurt rounding 3b. No idea if it's serious

sm13 said...

Mark -- you have it right -- the rally could not have been possible had the bullpen not done an outstanding job. Craig Stammen put out the fire and held the Cubs down for 2+ solid innings of ground ball outs. Davey & Rizzo knew what they were doing when they added him to the roster.

How glad are we that we don't have our own Carlos Marmol to make us crazy?

Go Nats!

Kirbs said...

What Matt stairs couldn't do, Chad Tracey does in a big big way!!!!

sm13 said...

Sunshine -- love the Rod Kanehl reference, brings back fond memories. Although Tracy reminds more of Ed Kranepool, especially running the bases!

Wally said...

This is the most that I could find about Rendon

3B Anthony Rendon, the Nationals No. 2 overall prospect, just helped off the field after slipping while making the turn at third.

skidge said...

Adam Kilgore said half an hour ago: "Anthony Rendon hit a double in the 4th inning with Potomac tonight, then was injured rounding 3rd, pulled from game. Status TBD for now."

sjm308 said...

From the previous post, thanks Joeseamhead!

Natsfan1a - I don't mind a fan criticizing our lads when they obviously have an idea of what they are saying, but (insert name) sucks! or (insert name) should be traded or (insert name) is werthless (oops, gave a name away) just is not intelligent conversation, its basically spewing garbage with no intent but to hate. If they hate, how can they truly be fans?? I might not agree with Peric or JayB on some things but I do respect their knowledge and they are fans. (although it is interesting that JayB never did answer the question of who he would fill his bench or CF with). Lots of Anons have been right on about keeping Gorzalony and others when people are calling for their heads. Its a great blog and most of the regulars make for outstanding reading. I have learned a lot from so many but the hate makes it difficult at times. Everyone has a right to put whatever they want in here but it amazes me how little thought there is from many and yes, most of those are anons. OK, my hat stays the same for the 4th day. I will take that the entire season!!

Oh, sec 3 - those butterflys were fairly tough but we got through it.

Go Nats!

Mr. Doggett said...

Kirbs: "What Matt stairs couldn't do, Chad Tracey does in a big big way!!!!"


So true...
have to admit I completely blocked Stairs out of my memory. Threw up in my mouth a litle bit upon reading his name.

Cwj said...

I seriously think the Nats may have a top 3 (in all of MLB) bullpen.

Section 3, My PFB Sofa said...

The Cubs bullpen imploded. Let's not get too carried away.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

@sm13: Ed Kranepool reference in a Nats blog! That's gotta be a first. Anybody up for a Jay Hook Fan Club?

Arlington BigFish said...

What Yankish said. Werth looks like a Little-Leaguer at the plate.

Cwj said...

I agree 100% with Natsfan, and the (all to few) others who have pointed that out.
I sometimes even leave the computer when the negative/unintelligent posts start appearing.

Cwj said...

Sec 3- Did the Cubs bullpen implode, or did the Nats offense explode? :-)

Anyway, the Nats Bullpen is incredibly good :)

Anonymous said...

Could it be that Nats fans are getting to be true baseball fans like those of the Phillies? You know, love the team, hate the players. Sure sounds like the ABFish, feels that way.

Anonymous said...

When good things happen in life, smart folks relish and enjoy them. These are good days, my Nats fan friends. Let us enjoy, and hope this keeps up. I think it will!

Corky

sm13 said...

I'll see your Jay Hook and raise you a Jack Fisher! Jay Hook's book on the physics of a curve ball was a classic.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Corky. Savor victories and be positive!

NatsLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sjm308 said...

I am savoring away!

Have to think J Zimmnn will be dominating tomorrow and we will not have to worry about coming back.

NatsLady said...

Sheesh, what will we do if Maya figures it out???

#canyouhavetoomuchpitching?

(BTW, I thought Lannan was supposed to start in Syracuse today. Anyone know if anything is happening?)

I say Mattheus goes down (if he has options) rather than Stammen because Storen and Mattheus are both short-relievers. I gather Davey said he has an idea who will go down when Morse and Ankiel come back but he won't say because "things could change." Good. He's learning. :) :)

Can someone who understands these things explain how Kerry Wood got a hold and lost the game? Looking at the box he pitched 2/3 of an inning.

sjm308 said...

Any word on Rendon besides "injured leg"??

sjm308 said...

NatsLady: I heard Lannan was scheduled for Sunday.

Maya was outstanding from what I can gather (58 strikes out of 74 pitches).

Both Mattheus and Stammen have options but I believe you are correct that it will be Mattheus. This will give Davey his right and left long relievers. I hope when Storen gets back HRod will still get a shot at closing a game or two.

NatsLady said...

Just this from the P-Nats site:

There was a scary moment in the stadium in the fourth inning. After he hit a double, Anthony Rendon was trying to score on a bloop single to center by Justin Bloxom. He went down with an injury after rounding third. As of now, there is no update on the extent of the injury that was suffered or where exactly Rendon was injured. As soon as we have an update, we will share it.

Section 3, My PFB Sofa said...

Holds. One of the weird quirks of that is that because he came in in a save situation, got at least one out, and didn't actually give up the lead, he gets a hold, even though he put guys on who scored (inherited by Marmol, who imploded along with Wood, UH-gain) and thus got the loss.

Section 3, My PFB Sofa said...

Also, I'm pretty sure holds are not an actual stat.

Tom in AR said...

I think our "B" bullpen has several guys who would be "A" closers for a lot of teams. We have at least 5 guys on this team I would feel confident in walking out for the 9th with a 1 run lead - Storen, Clippard, Lidge, Mattheus and MPHRod.

Section 3, My PFB Sofa said...

Holds from Wikipedia

Anonymous said...

I say Mattheus goes down (if he has options) rather than Stammen because Storen and Mattheus are both short-relievers. I gather Davey said he has an idea who will go down when Morse and Ankiel come back but he won't say because "things could change." Good. He's learning. :) :)

Davey said he's holding open spots, especially for Michael Morse. I think that kind of says that Ankiel is still in competition with Bernadina, Carroll, Nady, Chad Tracy, et al.

I think they will take their time with Storen. He has yet to make any rehab appearances. You might not see him until May ... and injuries do occur ... seems like they are doing fine without Drew ... so they have the luxury of letting Storen completely recover from his arm injury.

NatsFanTom said...

So far so Pretty Frickin' Bueno!! 2-0 and Jordan Zimmermann on tomorrow. Don't forget to set those DVRs if you have to miss the game on account of family stuff. I just set mine because we're having dinner at 3.

Anonymous said...

lls45 said...

Anon at 6:24 -- Who was the unsung here of the day? Craig Stammen. Who stopped the Cubs' rally and kept them in check for two more innings so we could have a chance to come back? Craig Stammen. So I wouldn't be so quick to say that Stammen will be sent down when Storen returns. Mattheus had a great day too, and yet he also has options remaining.

That's exactly the point they have options remaining, Stammen and Mattheus. The Nats and Davey want to keep them both ... I'm sure Davey would like to have both in his bullpen but he can only have 7 relievers and he needs lefties as well.

Releasing Gorzelanny would be insane, he wouldn't last long on the waiver wire even if it was just the NL East on the wire. To get nothing for him? He is far more valuable than Lannan right now ... as is Detwiler ... again not mentioning the fact they really have only two lefties in the bullpen and I'm not sure about relying exclusively on Sean Burnett are you?


Why would you pick Stammen over Mattheus? Because Mattheus is a power arm. His velocity was over 95mph today. He can be a stopper. While Stammen is more a backend starter and long reliever. Gorzelanny could fill that role ... clearly it might hurt John Lannan because Stammen would and should be the first guy called in the event of an injury to one of the starters.
Personally, I'd rather see Stammen brought back as I believe he would be more effective than Lannan in a starting or relief role.

Dwayne Yancey said...

I was at the game in Lynchburg, Va. where Anthony Rendon left the game with an injury. Here's what I saw:

In the top of the fourth, Rendon was at second following a double. A subsequent Potomac Nationals batter dropped a hit into centerfield and Rendon took off -- with what I thought was impressive speed -- and appeared certain to score a run.

Instead,as he rounded third on a wide turn, he appeared to slip in the grass and went face down -- but then didn't get back up. In fact, I didn't see him move at all -- he just laid there, motionless, near as I could tell from my vantage point from the first base seats.

Nationals staff rushed out to his aid. Meanwhile, there was a bizarre scene on the field -- where the play was still considered "live," I suppose. After some confusion, the Lynchburg Hillcats threw the ball to their third baseman, who went over and gently tagged Rendon out as he lay motionless on the ground.

I'm not sure how long Rendon was down, but it seemed quite a long time; in reality, perhaps a few minutes. At first, he sat up with some help -- it appeared his head was cocked to one side. Then, with two people helping him, he was moved into an upright position and left the field very slowly for the locker room. As he exited the field, it was quite clear that he wasn't putting any weight on his left leg -- his left foot was off the ground entirely -- at least during the time I could see him before he rounded a corner into the locker rooms.

Steady Eddie said...

Dwayne -- thanks for the account. Scary stuff, especially as Rendon is an incredibly multi-tool guy who clearly plays all-out.

Steady Eddie said...

Meant "incredibly talented...".

Just all holding our breath here in Natstown.

whatsanattau said...

It sounds like the ankle gave out, but did he also hit his head as he went down? Do you think he not move from pain or from loss of consciousness?

Dwayne Yancey said...

Whatsanattau -- I couldn't tell from my vantage point on the other side of the field. When he went down, I fully expected him to get back up -- and either continue on to home or back to third. It looked like a routine slip -- until we realized he wasn't getting up, or moving. I was too far away to hear anything, if there was anything to be heard.

Anonymous said...

We have now seen 2 starters and most of the Nats bullpen, and only Gio has had a bad outing. The new bench has been clutch. If Tracy had not made the team before, he has now.

The top of the lineup has been producing, so far. Don't know what got into ALR, but he was a different player from the guy we saw Thursday. RZ has got only 1 bloop hit, Werth has not got a one, Morse and Ankiel are not even on the team, Storen hasn't thrown a pitch, and they are still finding ways to win. On the road.

Great to be a Nats' fan these days.

Hope its only a sprained ankle for Rendon. At least it's not the same foot he broke at Rice.

Laddie_Blah_Blah

Rabbit said...

I am really encouraged by the Nationals this year!! Great effort by the team. Unfortunately we still have a huge rally-stopper in Jason Werth. I must admit that twice yesterday I was looking at when Werth was going to bat because I knew all good things would stop. He is so frustrating. Today Zimmermann is pitching!! Good things will continue to happen. GO NATIONALS!!

Rabbit said...

To NatsLady........Kerry Wood held onto the LOSS!!!! Yea!! GO NATIONALS!!!!!

fast eddie said...

The grumbling around the league has already started: "Break up the Nationals"!

natsfan1a said...

Rally stopper? He may not be hitting but let us now read from the good book of Werth.

In the big inning: Saturday, 8th inning, drew a walk to load the bases and set the table for Tracy to drive in 2 runs.

On Thursday, also in the 8th inning, drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game.

natsfan1a said...

Which is not to say that I didn't also have some concerns when he came to the plate, but the man did keep the line moving. :-)

ExposedinDC said...

Right on 1a....great point on werth's patience at the plate, 2 hugr walks, without those at bats both games may have had a different outcome

ExposedinDC said...

Grrrrr.....huge

ExposedinDC said...

Any morning updates on Rendon ?

ehay2k said...

Is anyone else as happy with Espinosa's play, and the plate approaches of the team in general, as I am? I thought Espi's fake bunt in the eighth Thursday, with Desi on first, completely got into Wood's head. (I remember last year against a very wild Marmol, calling from my pre-PFB sofa for the same play. Instead, Desi and Espi struck out on pitches way away. I believe my first "fire the hitting coach" rant followed shortly thereafter.)

Is this Davey's influence? Time will tell. But for now, I am PFP - pretty frickin' pleased - with how things are progressing. And I'm not talking about the record, which I view as a byproduct of the other improvements.

fpcsteve said...

It is interesting that Werth is taking heat when Ryan Zimmerman has one hit in two games. It seems like we should treat them similarly (for good or bad). I prefer to think both of them will be fine in the long run.

fast eddie said...

fpc:
As the FOF, Zimm has proven himself here over several years. As a newcomer with the mega-bucks contract, everyone will be skeptical of Werth till he performs as advertised.
I agree they'll both be fine in the long run.

Kirbs said...

Plus zim hit what would have been 2 homeruns in game 1 if it wasn't for the wind. And he is always clutch. The most we can hope for Werth is he gets a game saving walk......

SayNoToClint said...

I'm optimistic on Werth. At least he's started swinging at first pitch strikes instead of letting them go by. Baby steps.

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