Thursday, June 7, 2012

LaRoche, Morse power Nats to win

Associated Press photo
Adam LaRoche drove in four of the Nationals' five runs Wednesday night.
You wouldn't know based on the 0-for-13 he carried with him to the plate Wednesday night for his first at-bat, but Adam LaRoche believes the mere presence of Michael Morse behind him in the Nationals' lineup is going to pay significant dividends over the long haul.

"It's tough to say when you're struggling," LaRoche said. "Obviously the last few games have been a little difficult. But I do know having big guys behind you, I've been in that situation a lot, and it helps. It's nice."

Did the sight of Morse standing in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning cause Mets rookie Jeremy Hefner to hang a first-pitch curveball to LaRoche, a pitch the veteran pounced on and sent flying over the right-field fence for the three-run homer that set the Nationals on their way to a 5-3 victory?

The world may never know. But if LaRoche believes it made a difference, does it really matter if it's true or not?

"With him being back, it totally changes that pitchers' meeting to start a series," he said. "Now you've got one more big bat they've got to spend some time talking about, and figure out a way to get him out. And it helps other guys around him. The fact that I'm hitting in front of him now, I'm probably going to see some better pitches, because they know what's coming up."

LaRoche hadn't exactly been inspiring fear in opposing pitchers over the last three weeks after a brilliant start to the season. Owner of a .336 batting average and 1.024 OPS on May 17, he had seen those number plummet to .267 and .849 during a 6-for-55 skid.

With one mighty swing early in Wednesday's game, though, the 32-year-old might well have put that slump to bed for good. He certainly didn't let up as the evening progressed, singling up the middle in the fifth and then delivering a sacrifice fly in the seventh for his fourth RBI of the game.

Throw in Morse's two hits and first RBI of the season, and the heart of the Nationals' lineup wound up with one of its most productive performances of the year.

"Oh! I mean, it's a whole new ballgame," manager Davey Johnson said, barely able to restrain himself. "Michael Morse is warming up, and there's not going to be much let-up in that middle of the lineup. The first two guys are going to get on, and then the thunder's coming. I've been waiting on it."

The entire Nationals organization had been waiting three months to get Morse back in the lineup. Sidelined since spring training with a torn lat muscle, the man who led last season's roster in nearly every offensive category looked a bit overanxious during his first two games off the disabled list over the weekend.

But after an 0-for-9 delayed start to his 2012, Morse is beginning to discover his groove. He's now got four hits over his last seven at-bats, with a pair of walks thrown in for good measure.

Even more encouraging: All four of Morse's hits have been to the opposite field.

"I liked his patience tonight," Johnson said. "That shows me he's zeroing in."

The thunder from the middle of the Nationals' lineup put the home club ahead early in this game, and the quality pitching of Edwin Jackson, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard ensured a second straight victory over a Mets team that came to town on its own hot streak.

Jackson had dominant stuff, allowing only two singles and a double over seven innings. He did inflict a few wounds on himself via four walks and a costly error on a pickoff attempt. But ultimately he surrendered only two earned runs for his seventh quality start in 10 tries, and he was rewarded for his efforts for a change, earning only his second win despite 3.11 ERA over 11 starts.

The unusual stat line -- not to mention the presence of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann ahead of him in the lineup -- leaves Jackson outside the spotlight at times. His teammates, though, understand what he's meant to the club this season.

"He's like the silent assassin, you could say, of the pitching staff," Morse said. "Edwin always comes out and puts up solid starts. Sometimes it's good to be behind guys like that."

It also helps when your bullpen can close out games in relatively easy fashion as the Nationals did Wednesday. Burnett retired the side in the eighth. Clippard then overcame a leadoff walk to pitch a scoreless ninth and earn his fifth save in as many tries since becoming his team's pseudo-closer.

Actually, Clippard appears to be the Nationals' actual closer for now, used in every save opportunity over the last two weeks and even used on Wednesday against a Mets lineup that had five consecutive left-handed hitters due up in the ninth.

"I've changed enough roles in the bullpen," Johnson said, all but declaring Clippard his ninth-inning guy until Drew Storen returns from elbow surgery around the All-Star break. "From long guys setting up, set-up guys closing, I don't like to keep reverting back and have them guessing out there what their role is going to be."

55 comments:

NatsJack in Florida said...

In Syracuse, Christian Garcia moves closer to landing on a ML roster, whether in DC or on another club via trade.

He has the best slider in the organization plus he can hit 95 on the gun.

Faraz Shaikh said...

I think that last hitter was waiting on clip's change-up, just couldn't put it in play hard enough.

great to win another series. I hope we take series in Wang vs Dickey match-up.

Joe Seamhead said...

These guys really should start energerizing each other with Morse's return. With our pitchers hitting the way that they hve been,they have the potential to be a very powerful lineup all the way from 1-9.Fun stuff! GYFNG!!!

Unknown said...

Faraz - Yep & Clip missed his location and left it up, but all's well that end well. As my old baseball coach used to say, "Sometimes you're good, sometimes you're lucky, but take it either way."

Joe Seamhead said...

How sweet is it to see the last place Phillies 6 games in back of the first place Nationals? Oh happy day!

NatsJack in Florida said...

1/3 down and 2/3 to go.

MicheleS said...

Glad to see the middle of the order start to hit. We will need it over the next few weeks facing the AL East.

Section 222 said...

Thought I'd repost this link to an interview with R.A. Dickey about his new book for the early to bed-ers. Seems like a decent guy with a very interesting story.

And I hope we light him up this afternoon!!

Gonat said...

Faraz Shaikh said...
I think that last hitter was waiting on clip's change-up, just couldn't put it in play hard enough.

great to win another series. I hope we take series in Wang vs Dickey match-up.

June 07, 2012 5:48 AM
____________________________

Sort of yes and no. The ball was on the outer part of the plate and Thole who is a left-handed batter was able to get his bat on it but got it off the end of his bat and pulled it to rightfield. The ball went far but as they say, he didn't get all of it.

Joe Seamhead said...

NatsJack in Florida said...
1/3 down and 2/3 to go.
June 07, 2012 6:54 AM
------------------------
Jack, every team will (likely) win at least 54 games,and every team will likely lose at least 54 games. It's what happens in the other 54 games that sorts things out in the end.

TimDz said...

If ALR gets hot again, the domino effect could be interesting...
Zim may get better pitches and if HE can get hot, the opposing pitchers will have to deal with a very scary 2-6 in the line up...
They're due for a hot streak ...

fast eddie said...

Dickey is 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA in last three starts.
I don't think any major league hitter likes facing a knuckle-baller. Our boys could be in for a long afternoon. Harp has been seeing mostly off-speed stuff all year--maybe he can tee one up?

ehay2k said...

NatsJack, let's hope we finish like we started, for a 96 win season!

Anyone else notice that Morse has change his cobra pose? He seems to have toned it down. Perhaps he's rushing it?

Mark Z, please ask him about that, the suspense is killing us! :-D

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

In the irony of slumps, one of my sources told me before the game that they were bringing back Tyler Moore to play some 1st base in place of the struggling Adam LaRoche. Have to wonder if LaRoche got some urgency back in that bat because his swings last night hadn't been seen in a month.

Have to wonder what they do with TyMo now. I hope this time they find some playing time for him.

TimDz said...

What ever happened regarding the MASN dispute?

The ruling was supposed to come down on June first ...

NatsLady said...

With Atlanta beating the Feeeeeeesh, it's like the NL East is rock-paper-scissors.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

ehay2K, yes the Beast isn't in full Beast Mode yet. I think when he is hitting Home Runs and really feeling it he will uncoil the full cobra. I'm still sensing he is feeling like he has to prove himself all over again.

Gonat said...

Ghost Of Steve M. said...
In the irony of slumps, one of my sources told me before the game that they were bringing back Tyler Moore to play some 1st base in place of the struggling Adam LaRoche. Have to wonder if LaRoche got some urgency back in that bat because his swings last night hadn't been seen in a month.

Have to wonder what they do with TyMo now. I hope this time they find some playing time for him.

June 07, 2012 8:23 AM
____________________________

Well that makes sense. Hard to sit LaRoche now after last night. Stinks for Tyler Moore if he comes up and gets no playing time.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I actually mentioned that the "cobra pose" may have been a contribitor when his injury was finally confirmed during Spring Training.

We may have seen the last of it.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Gonat, there's an old saying "Life isn't fair"

Soul Possession, My Hitterish Sofa said...

In the irony of slumps, one of my sources told me before the game that they were bringing back Tyler Moore to play some 1st base in place of the struggling Adam LaRoche.

Has he been gone ten days already? Time sure flies when you're having fun.

Soul Possession, My Hitterish Sofa said...

Ah, missed Mark's post. Maldonado to the DL. No, it wasn't ten days. Still, having fun!

Gonat said...

NatsJack in Florida said...
I actually mentioned that the "cobra pose" may have been a contribitor when his injury was finally confirmed during Spring Training.

We may have seen the last of it.

June 07, 2012 8:40 AM
______________________________

If Sammy Sosa can blow his back out after a sneeze, I could see the Cobra making a torn lat worse.

NatsLady said...

Looks like Gio might match with Dice-K in Boston.

Ex-Nats:
Jason Marquis is back in the majors just two weeks after being released by the Twins for posting an 8.47 ERA in seven starts.

Marquis quickly signed a minor-league deal with the Padres, made one good start at Double-A, and will now join San Diego’s rotation tomorrow versus San Francisco.

As awful as Marquis looked in Minnesota–and there’s really no way to overstate how horrendously he pitched–going back to the National League and calling the majors’ most pitcher-friendly ballpark home is his best chance to rediscover some success.

He might be able to string together a dozen starts with a 4.50 ERA, which would be an upgrade over what the Padres got from fellow washed-up starter Jeff Suppan. And they’re on the hook for just a prorated share of the minimum salary, whereas the Twins paid $3 million for Marquis’ seven starts.

Pose of the Cobra said...

Morse has a career year doing the Cobra Pose the whole way through, and then the Cobra Pose is what causes him to have an injury in spring training? I don't think so...

A DC Wonk said...

If ALR gets hot again, the domino effect could be interesting...
Zim may get better pitches and if HE can get hot, the opposing pitchers will have to deal with a very scary 2-6 in the line up...
They're due for a hot streak ...


Indeed. Consider:

1. Lombo -- kickin' butt at leadoff
2. Harper -- 'nuff said
3. Zimm -- possibly heating up (3 for his last 9, a walk, 4 runs scored)
4. LaRoche -- possibly broke his slump
5. Morse -- possibly heatnig up (4 for his last 8, 2 doubles, 2 walks)
6. Ian -- Mr clutch two days ago
8. Flores - 8 game hitting streak in which he is batting .370 (!!)

How (potentially) awesome is that line up?

It's possible that we're hitting on _almost_ all cylinders -- just in time for the rest of this killer stretch playing: Yankees, RedSox, Tampa, and Orioles.

Doc said...

Just when I thought, along with a few others, that ALR should grab some pine for a spell, he knocks in 4 runs!

Good to have TyMo around, though. Hope he gets a chance to spell LaRoche occasionally. He was mostly ignored the last time around.

A DC Wonk said...

Bryce Harper stat update:

tied for 3rd in runs scored; t-3rd HR's, 2d in BA (to Lombo), T-1st in OBP (with Lombo), 1st in SLG, 1st in OPS, (and, of course, 1st in triples, and continuing his streak of zero GIDP)

Oh, and he's hit in 13 of his last 14 games, in which he hit .357/.438/.643/1.080

NatsJack in Florida said...

Nobody said it caused the injury. Just that it could have been a contributor once the injury occurred.

Doc said...

NatsJack, thanks for the update on Cristian Garcia. Looks like the former Yankee's draft pick in '04 might start to have a ML career.

The Nats' scouts do it again!

A DC Wonk said...

The Nats' scouts do it again!

Indeed. Time for props for Rizzo.

Recall, Rizzo worked his way up the baseball corporate ladder mostly (in his early days) as a scout. And that the first thing he did upon becoming GM was to drastically increase the budget in the scouting department and to hire a slew of additional scouts.

He did it in Arizona, and he's doing it here.

Pose of the Cobra said...

Must...do...cobra....pose. OUCH! Must...do...cobra...pose. OUCH! Must...do...cobra...pose. OUCH!

Doc, it hurts when I do the cobra pose.
Then quit doing the cobra pose.


Yeah, right.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

LaRoche is a master with the glove.

baseballswami said...

You guys are getting my morning off to a very good start. Your optimism is contagious. Go Nats!!! RA Dickey will not be easy. If you are going to the game, I envy you completely - it's a beautiful day for baseball. Cheer loudly and lustily. If 1-8 click on all cylinders and our pitchers continue to dominate on the mound and rake at the plate, ( well, after inter-league play) then we could be fierce!

NatsJack in Florida said...

10 more minutes and I start my weekend.

Gotta love semi-retirement.

An afternoon of baseball and beer!

Water23 said...

So, last year it was "Beast Mode" is this year "Bring on the Thunder"? It works for the hitters once 2-6 start crushing the ball and Pitchers as 1-4 are power pitchers.

Ron In Reston said...

I think I feel a sudden illness coming on right about noon today that can only be cured by a Nationals Park Section 220-230 $10 seat.

Don't I wish.

In the meantime, because I'm the father of a 4th grader, I'm surprised no one has taken the bait to discuss in great length today's starting pitchers. Which is better? Dickey or Wang? I mean really, the MASN promo is just sitting right there a la the "Fukudome" promo of a couple of years ago....I can just hear Johnny now, "What are you guys, 12??"

Seriously though, we have to hope for an off day from R.A., because when a knuckler is on, you could have three bats in your hands when you go up to the plate and it won't help. But if he's off, either with command (really though, how does one COMMAND a knuckleball?) or the ball just not "knuckling", then it could be a wonderful afternoon of batting practice. Like Fast Eddie said, maybe Harper can tee one up.

Water23 said...

And if we do go with Davey's "Bring on the Thunder" maybe the Nats invite Chris Helmsworth to throw out the first pitch.

And Ron -- It must be contagious as I too fell the sickness coming on.

Doc said...

Baseball and Beer!

My sentiments exactly, NatsJack!!!!

GooooooooooooooooooNatssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!

Theophilus T. S. said...

Someone mentioned Dickey's record in his last three starts. Even the Niekros, the most successful knuckleballers ever, would attest that the law of averages catches up with the knuckler faster than w/ any other pitch. For that reason alone we should be optimistic this afternoon.

NatsLady said...

Nice crowd last night.

Att: 27,335.

Going to wander over to the park, eat lunch, fill out a few hundred All-Star ballots, watch a coupla innings and maybe...maybe... leave and go to work...

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Lesson for today, if its high let it fly, if its low let it go.

Water23 said...

NatsLady,

I like your thinking. Do you have to go to a special window to get that many ballots?

A DC Wonk said...


Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Lesson for today, if its high let it fly, if its low let it go.

Perhaps Bryce can repeat his performance against "the ohter slowest pitcher" in the NL East.

He struck out on three swings first time he faced Livo. Then Harper hit a HR on the first pitch of his following at bat. He learned fast.

I guess I'd trade a 1st inning strike out for a 3rd or 4th inning HR . . .

mick said...

have some food for thought questions based on Moore returning. Peric's comments yesterday were excellent!

I am a little confused with Moore coming back, only from the standpoint that Davey said that he is the kind of player who is better by playing everyday, not off the bench in a pinch hit role. so, based on that, where is Moore playing everyday?

Good move with going with soldano as other catcher over Maladano

Also, is Corey Brown really in the future, I did not know he was 27 /28 years old. Does he really fit in and where?

Is it possible that Davey's time line with espi is based on how he is hitting by the time Werth comes back? In other words, if Danny still is under 220 the left side of the plate, does Davey go with Lombo permanently at 2b, moving Espi to the bench and an outfield of Morse, Big Boy and Werth?

mick said...

Doc... right on baseball, beer, babes and more beer, lol

A DC Wonk said...

where is Moore playing everyday?

As someone mentioned to me yesterday, a spot in the batting order opens up when we play those AL teams and we have a DH. So, Moore could DH, or play first and let LaRoche DH, or perhaps play LF and Lombo DH.

That'd be my guess. Anyone else have anything?

mick said...

DC wonk... ah I forgot about the DH thanks !

Gonat said...

Predictable. LaRoche is in and Flores is sitting.

Today's lineup vs. NYM Lombardozzi LF, Harper CF, Zimmerman 3B, LaRoche 1B, Morse RF, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, Solano C, Wang RHP

mick said...

Flores was due to sit. He has played very well and needs some rest

A DC Wonk said...

With Morse back, I guess (I hope!) we're going to see less of Ankiel -- simply by force of Morse and Harper playing OF, and Lombo is too good a leadoff hitter not to be out there.

And, then, thankfully, we have Bernie as the first LH, who happens to play OF, off the bench.

And then I found this stat:

Percentage of plate appearances resulting in a K:

Adam Dunn: 36.7% (leads the league)
Rick Ankiel: 33.1%
Danny Espinosa: 31.5%
Bernadina: 23%
Nady 23%
team average (including pitchers) 21.6%
NL average: 20.1%
Ian: 20%
LaRoche: 20%
Werth: 19%
Flores 18%
RZimm: 17%
Harper: 15%
Lombo: 6.0%

A DC Wonk said...

Today's lineup vs. NYM Lombardozzi LF, Harper CF, Zimmerman 3B, LaRoche 1B, Morse RF, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, Solano C, Wang RHP

Isn't is amazing how much better the entire lineup looks by simply plugging in Morse (for Ankiel)?

mick said...

Those stats are telling DC Wonk... Ankiel looks as weak at the plate as his stats. I really would like to see him go ASAP. If Espi can not ht left side, i would package him soon as well as part of trade with Lannan.

Steady Eddie said...

mick -- not only does Flores need the rest generally, it's a day game after a night game, classic moment to give the starting catcher a blow.

Plus LaRoche just had his big, long-awaited break out of the slump game -- just as the Beast has found his range and Zim seems to be heating back up. You really want to mess with that new momentum, the day before we start the AL East games where we really need all that offense?

Ron In Reston said...

Not only is it a day game after a night game, it's also following the 12-inning, 4-hour marathon on Tuesday night that he caught all 12 innings of. Oddly enough, Josh Thole IS starting for the Mets, and he started last night and Tuesday night. He also just returned from a stint on the DL, so I guess he's pretty rested.

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