Saturday, June 9, 2012

Finishing the job

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche and Tyler Clippard each contributed to Saturday's 4-2 victory.
BOSTON -- As well as they seemed to be playing all afternoon -- with Gio Gonzalez dealing and the heart of their lineup scoring four early runs off Daisuke Matsuzaka -- there was a point late in Saturday's game at Fenway Park when it looked like the wheels might fall off for the Nationals.

Over a four-batter stretch in the bottom of the seventh, the Nationals saw a four-run lead turn into a two-run lead, with the go-ahead run suddenly stepping to the plate.

And then? Well, a bullpen that has been reconfigured more times in 10 weeks than Davey Johnson would like to remember bore down and finished off a 4-2 win over the Red Sox that ensured yet another series victory for the team with baseball's second-best record.

"Any time you get a performance like that out of your starter, you come in and go into the seventh inning with a four-run lead, you gotta finish games like that out," closer Tyler Clippard said. "You lose games like that throughout the course of the year, they can be big games. So it was huge."

Clippard was the last of four relievers Johnson used to get through the game's final three innings. It wasn't always pretty; Craig Stammen walked the only batter he faced and Michael Gonzalez served up a two-run single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the very first pitch he threw.

As Daniel Nava stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game or put Boston ahead, the armchair managers were already questioning the situation. Should Johnson have just stuck with Gio Gonzalez, who was dominant for six innings but then was yanked three batters into the seventh with his pitch count at a still-manageable 98?

"I knew I left myself wide open to be second-guessed," Johnson said. "I just don't like it when [Gonzalez] starts rushing and starts getting a little wild. ... I've seen him get in those situations where it's like he's trying to get to the finish line. I've stayed with him numerous times, but I didn't have that good feeling in this ballpark."

Gonzalez had pitched brilliantly most of the day, scattering two hits and a walk over six innings and putting himself in position to reach the eighth inning for the first time this season. But as has been the case for the entire Nationals rotation this year, the finish line wasn't within reach. (The staff is averaging a modest 6.04 innings per start.)

"My job was to try to maintain as much as possible," Gonzalez said. "I wanted to go the distance, but that's a situation where I trust my bullpen 100 percent."

Though Stammen and Michael Gonzalez initially poured more fuel on the fire, the latter managed to wriggle his way out of the jam -- striking out Nava looking at an inside fastball and getting Dustin Pedroia to pop out -- and preserve the two-run lead.

"That was kind of a turning point," Clippard said.

Indeed, the Nationals seized back control of the situation after that. Sean Burnett pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, the latest dominant inning from the left-hander who rarely gets mentioned among the game's best relievers but certainly deserves the recognition.

Burnett has now surrendered only two earned runs in 24 appearances this season, and one of those runs was a direct result of Bryce Harper losing a routine flyball in the sky in Cincinnati. Go all the way back to July 19, 2011, and Burnett's composite numbers are staggeringly good: a 1.09 ERA, 1.113 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

"He doesn't flash up the gaudy miles per hour on the gun, and I think that's probably a lot of the reason he gets overlooked," Clippard said. "But at the end of the day, you talk to these hitters, there's no way they're comfortable in the box facing a guy like that."

Nor are many hitters comfortable facing Clippard, who has managed to translate his devastating fastball-changeup repertoire into the kind of stuff that shuts down the opposition in the ninth inning. Though he surrendered a two-out double to Ryan Sweeney, Clippard otherwise finished this game off without incident, earning his seventh save in as many tries since taking over closer duties three weeks ago.

As a result, Gio Gonzalez improved to 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA. And with five more strikeouts on the afternoon, his season total of 89 now ranks behind only one other pitcher in the majors: Stephen Strasburg, who racked up 13 K's Friday night to bring his season total to 92.

Not a bad 1-2 punch for the Nationals to throw at opposing teams.

"And it's no picnic tomorrow with [Jordan] Zimmermann," Johnson said.

No, it's not. Though the Nationals have been in this position plenty of times before; they've had 11 previous opportunities to sweep a series and have pulled it off just once.

"We've been really good at winning series, and we haven't really swept a lot of teams," Clippard said. "It would be really nice to do that tomorrow."


Grandstander said...

I'm sitting here thinking about a 7-8-9 of Burnett/Clippard/Storen and I'm starting to feel more comfortable with the fact that our starters aren't getting past the 6th too often. That's an absolutely shut down late-inning combo.

Also interesting how Davey treated Stras and Gio so differently in similar situation. All feel. He seems to be making all the right moves with the hook.

NatsLady said...

With respect, Verlander has 95 K's. Not sure he had them when Mark wrote this.

And with five more strikeouts on the afternoon, his season total of 89 now ranks behind only one other pitcher in the majors: Stephen Strasburg, who racked up 13 K's Friday night to bring his season total to 92.

baseballswami said...

The Nats going after the elusive sweep and JZim on the mound going after an elusive win - what do we think of the odds at this point? Maybe it's time for some mojo to change?

JaneB said...

Well, I guess I shoulda read THIS post before commenting that I was curious about what Davey saw that made him yank Gio. Thank you Mark.

Drew said...

Crooked hat has been terrific out of the pen.

While we're doing the Snoopy dance about the Nats, some fascinating subplots are developing on the farm.

Downtown Corey Brown homered again tonight -- his 16th, and his on base percentage still is hovering around .375.

Meantime, in Potomac, another old friend is sending up "Remember Me?" smoke signals. Chris Marrero doubled in the first game and has homered in the nightcap.

Come September call-ups the Nats will have some dandy bench bats. Barring a trade, that will be some battle in spring training as Brown, Marrero and Tyler Moore try to make the roster. 'Course, Bernadina, Nady and Ankiel could be gone.

P.S. Hagerstown keeps knocking the ball all over the yard, scoring 11 runs through seven. Matt Skole hit his 13th homer. That team has so many promising outfielders -- Goodwin, Burns, Ramsey, Souza (sp. ?) that it's a good thing the league uses a DH.

baseballswami said...

Drew - you are making me positively giddy!Maybe someone will be traded at some point?

Gonat said...

Good, Marlins lost, Mets lost, and Phillies lost. Darn Braves won.

baseballswami said...

Gonat - looks like the Nats are the only team that can beat the Braves :) You know these wins are not textbook but they count just the same.

sjm308 said...

I guess people just assume its Burnett/Clippard/Storen. My question is, why not Storen/Burnett/Clippard?? Right/Left/Right. I honestly would not just give the closer spot to Drew when he comes back. I mean what has Clippard done in his entire time with us but throw lights out no matter where he is placed!! Until he gives me reason to move him out of that role, he is my closer!! Sorry Drew but you need to prove you deserve it and Clippard needs to have a couple poor outings before I make that switch. Wally Pip here we go!

PChuck said...

>>>(The staff is averaging a modest 6.04 innings per start.)<<<

That's not "modest". It'a actually a little above average. The Nationals starters currently rank 15th in innings per game.

The Phillies starters are first with just 6.48 innings per game and the MLB average is 5.96.

SCNatsFan said...

All you have to do is look at Burnett, who struggled the first half of last season, and Hanrahan, who found himself when he left, to see why Davey and Rizzo are so slow to give up on Henry.

Too many arms is not a big problem as long as there aren't too many egos.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Bryce had a 3-0 count and put out his bat on a fake bunt and drew a walk. Had this discussion last week where someone there said to me that is LittleLeague ball. To the commentor, what say you now?

baseballswami said...

PChuck - I have been noticing that our expectations are somewhat unrealistic this season, especially with our pitchers. You read the blogs and think they had a bad outing and then you look at the line and it's usually fantastic. Thanks for the perspective.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Syracuse with a walkoff win. Corey Brown with another HR.

Doc said...

Giving the hook to Stammen after 1 walk, and leaving MGon in after he lets Salty bang one off the Monster and 2 runs score. A little inconsistency there Davey.

Is Mike Gonzo a permanent lefty, for a pen that already has 3, or just a fill-in for Matteus, Storen, and MPHRod??

I'm kinda a Craig Stammen fan.

I'm also thinking that Mike Rizzo is the real recipient of frequent flyer miles when these guys shuttle back and forth.

Unknown said...

I got to thinking about those two 59-win seasons that got us Strasburg and Harper and wondered how long it took the Nationals to get to the 34 wins that they now have on the 9th of June.

2008: July 1st (34-51)
2009: Aug 3rd (34-72)


I had forgotten all about Josh Bard, Anderson Hernandez, Alex Cintron and all those other guys who probably wouldn't have made any other MLB team.

And only two of the 14 pitchers who started a game that year had an ERA below 5.00 (John Lannan & J.D. Martin)

Just amazing.

Farid in Pocatello ID

Drew said...

Forgive me if this is common knowledge, but I didn't realize that the Nats have already signed three of their top five picks, including their second rounder, Renda, the scrappy second baseman out of Cal.

An contributer named Mike Fiammetta posted an interesting story Thursday night on the Nats' draft strategy. You can find it on the Nats' official site under News. It's about seven stories down, now.

He noted that 20 of the Nats' 40 picks were pitchers as the club continues to stockpile big guys with power arms. Giolito and Mooneyham are 6 foot 6. Alex Meyer is 6 foot 9.

Kris Kline told Fiammetta that with the Nats' draft allowance of $4.4 million, they were talking money with players in every round. In the later rounds they passed on some high school prospects who wanted to go above slot.

Fiammetta says 26 of the Nats' picks were college seniors -- the players who have the least leverage.

The bottom line is that the Nats went for it with their first pick, going after the best player available. But the need to save the most money for that player means they can no longer always target the BPA later in the draft.

NatsLady said...

I've noticed that of all the relievers, Davey has the shortest hook on Stammen. He must see something right away that Craig is wild (as he said in the post-game) or is really good.

Mike Gonzalez got ambushed, you have to give credit to the hitter. Previous two guys can't find the strike zone, you expect maybe the hitter will take one--but he didn't. After that he did fine. Starting to see why Clipp doesn't come out there just throwing fastballs...

Meanwhile, much as we love Harper, that guy Trout is something else, too. And--

From Elias: Gio Gonzalez allowed only three hits to the Red Sox in 6 1/3 innings on Saturday, lowering his opponents batting average this season to .168. That's the lowest against a major-league pitcher in his first 12 starts of a season since Francisco Liriano held opponents to a .163 batting average in his first 12 starts in 2006, his rookie season.

MicheleS said...

I saw on twitter that Gio will be on Baseball tonight at 1230 today.

JT said...

Thanks MicheleS.....Guess I know what I'll be watching at 12:30. Here we go with the sweep demons again today. Hard to believe with the outstanding won lost record that they've only swept one series. With JZ on the mound and his lack of run support I worry the demons will be present in Fenway today. Alfred E. Neuman and I are worried.

MicheleS said...

Hey O's Fans.. welcome to our nightmare:

Invasion from the north . You can keep them, we don't want them.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

MicheleS, leave it to the Washington Post to sugarcoat it. I heard that at most there were 5,000 Whoriole fans out of the 46,000.

Proof is watch this video walking towards the Inner Harbor:

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sorry, couldnt copy the URL. Go to YouTube and search WNST Phillies for the video.

ehay2k said...

On the "quick hook" issue, I saw DJ's post game interview and he saw Gio rushing - he noted the failure to cover first base which led to ALR's error, then the pitches in the dirt. Stammen was just clearly wild. You can't let him "work it out" when he walks a guy on six bad pitches. Plus, DJ wanted to make Salty (no way am I fighting autocorrect to spell that out) bat righty. M. Gonzalez gave up the hit, but it was the first pitch, you can't pull him for that. Then he showed what he is made of by getting Nava and Pedroia out.

In all, thought DJ handled the staff well, using the wisdom he has gained by watching them all year in conjunction with situational imperatives during the game. Hard to fault him when we're winning.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

I am a little concerned about Lombo. Another o-fer and his BA is down to .282. It seems that after he hit that HR he isn't getting those centerfield singles.

MicheleS said...

Wow Steve. That is hilarious!!! Good to see the Philly fans go back north with a loss...

ehay2k said...

Steve, that is crazy video, So glad we took back our own park. I can't understand how those Philthy phans got those tickets when the O's are fighting for first place? Perhaps they bought them at the beginning of the season, knowing they'd be less likely to lose in B'more than DC?

Yes, that must be it!

pRAA said...

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

MicheleS, leave it to the Washington Post to sugarcoat it. I heard that at most there were 5,000 Whoriole fans out of the 46,000.

You need to read more carefully. Although that article was printed in the Washington Post, it was written by the Baltimore Sun.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

pRAA, didnt realize the Post was posting Sun articles. Angelos is still awake counting his cash. He will come close to 130,000 for this weekend series.

mick said...

NatsLady said...

I've noticed that of all the relievers, Davey has the shortest hook on Stammen. He must see something right away that Craig is wild (as he said in the post-game) or is really good.

I agree with you, the irony is that Davey never saw this with HRod when everyone else saw it, lol

mick said...

Ghost... in the end Angelos was screw the O's again and piss off their fans, lol

mick said...

I was right, I said yesterday that Boston fans are hating life, Nats and Heat will win, lol

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Mick, Angelos is a joke only motivated by the almighty dollar.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Doesn't MASN stand for the Money Angelos Scam Network

NatsLady said...

Here is the Youtube link. Seems worse than it ever was at Nats Park. The nation was laughing at us about Take Back the Park, but it NEEDED to be done!

Phillies fans invade Baltimore

Soul Possession, My Hitterish Sofa said...

pRAA, didnt realize the Post was posting Sun articles.

The Post dropped their beat writer for the Orioles and arranged to use the Sun coverage instead, a few years ago.

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