Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pitching, pitching, pitching

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan allowed two of the Mets' 14 runs during today's latest spring loss.
VIERA, Fla. -- OK, let's get this disclaimer out of the way right off the bat: It's the first week of the Grapefruit League. None of these results matter. They're not a true indication of how a team will perform once the green light comes on April 5.

Having said that ... the Nationals are not exactly playing like a ballclub intent on avoiding a third-straight 100-loss season. They've now played four official exhibition games over three days. They've lost all four by a combined score of 50-23. They've allowed 67 hits, 10 of them home runs. They could give up 12 runs to the Mets tomorrow in Port St. Lucie and still see their team ERA go down.

"We really just have to say, OK, you've got that one behind you," manager Jim Riggleman said. "The first time through, everybody kind of struggled, didn't really throw strikes. We'll just give everybody the benefit of the doubt and look for better outings next time through."

With the exception of starters Jason Marquis and Matt Chico (who both pitch tomorrow), Scott Olsen (Monday), Stephen Strasburg (Tuesday) and Livan Hernandez (first appearance still TBA), everyone on the staff has appeared in a game so far. It's one thing if the guys giving up the bulk of the damage are non-roster invitees with little chance of reaching the District come April, but take a look at the ERAs of these pitchers who are all in the mix for jobs...

Tyler Clippard: 0.00
J.D. Martin: 0.00
Garrett Mock: 0.00
Doug Slaten: 0.00
Drew Storen: 0.00
Collin Balester: 4.50
Miguel Batista: 9.00
Jason Bergmann: 9.00
John Lannan: 9.00
Ryan Speier: 9.00
Bruan Bruney: 18.00
Matt Capps: 18.00
Craig Stammen: 20.25
Eddie Guardado: 27.00
Shairon Martis: 40.50
Tyler Walker: 45.00
Sean Burnett: 54.00
Ron Villone: 81.00

The damage hasn't been caused by two or three pitchers. It's nearly all of them. And they all seem to be running into the same problem.

"The one thing that has happened is that most of them have been behind hitters," Riggleman said. "A couple of times we got hurt over in Kissimmee [on Thursday] on first-pitch fastballs, so those were strikes. But for the most part, we've been behind hitters. We've probably thrown, I don't know, we might have thrown 200 pitches a game here so far. That's a lot of pitches. That means you're behind hitters."

That certainly was Lannan's problem during a ragged first inning today. Washington's presumptive Opening Day starter fell behind five of the first six Mets batters he faced. And the one guy he got ahead of -- Jolbert Cabrera -- still wound up getting plunked in the back on an 0-2 fastball.

"The first inning was a little rough," Lannan said. "I was just trying to find a good rhythm. The ball was up a little quick, but it's a game of adjustments, and I made an adjustment and I'm glad I was able to go out in the second [inning] and have a quick one."

Lannan did manage to settle down, keep the ball down and cruise through a 1-2-3 second inning. Some of his teammates were not nearly as fortuitous. Tyler Walker was roughed up for five runs on six hits in the seventh, and Sean Burnett allowed four runs on five hits and a walk in the ninth and was pulled before recording three outs.

"I was just overthrowing," Burnett said. "That's the hardest part. The first time, you get your adrenaline going. Being a sinkerball guy, you've got to get the ball down. And I don't think I threw one fastball below the belt all day. ... It's just a little overhype, I guess you could say. I could've thrown it through a brick wall today, but I couldn't get it below the belt. You haven't been out there in months, and you want to try to make a good first impression. But you can't look too much into it. It's spring training."

Ah yes, it's spring training. That's a phrase you're going to hear a lot for the next month, when things go bad and also when they go well.

The issue is whether any of these performances can actually be an indication of things to come. In plenty of cases, they're not. Remember when J.J. Davis tore up the Grapefruit League and forced his way onto the Opening Day roster? How'd that turn out?

But in some cases, spring performance does translate into the regular season. The 2006 Nationals went through a horrible stretch down here in Florida, and Frank Robinson knew it was a bad omen. It was. That club came out of the gates playing some ugly baseball, and it was attributable in some sense to the poor spring performance.

Can we make that same prediction after only four games this spring? No, it's far too early for something like that.

But check back in a week, once all these pitchers have another outing or two under their belts. If the results still look like this ... well, maybe it will be panic time in NatsTown.


Dave Nichols said...

no panic. but a good dose of reality. there's been an awful lot of "happy talk" so far, from fans to the front office, about the improvement over the off-season. there's still a lot of work to do.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would panic, Kasten has said that we will be competitive in 2011, so not only doesn't spring training matter, the whole season doesn't matter either.


peric said...

Kasten is too busy trying to get the Winter Classic. And sign the entire Cuban National team.

habsProf said...

If we're going to complain about the negative, let's at least point out the positive: this team can score runs. With 23 runs in 4 games, we have an offense.

Yes, I know 23 runs scored doesn't overcome 50 runs yielded. My point is just that there are some positives to build on.

And what are you going to believe: John Lannon's record amassed over 423 innings pitched in a little over 2 seasons or John Lannon's record pitched in his first two innings of grapefruit baseball?

peric said...

As Riggleman himself stated (paraphrased): too many pitches thrown, not enough strikes thrown, too many walks. He seemed a bit perturbed by it. Not so much by the home runs. He basically said you get this one time through now you had better fix it. Sure Lannan makes the team and Marquis. But how patient will they be even with them after 2 100 loss seasons. That has to stick in Rizzo's craw as well as Riggleman's.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is ever said about Thompson. Is he a non-factor ?

Mark Zuckerman said...

I wouldn't say Thompson's a non-factor. He's just not ready for prime time quite yet. Never pitched above Class AA. Check back in September; wouldn't be surprised if we see him in D.C. around then.

Anonymous said...

And basically all of this bad karma can go away with a start by a certain someone early this week. If our insurance turns out to be garbage, that's totally fine. I'm cheered by solid work from Desmond, Storen, Mock and Clippard especially. It's just got to be disheartening to watch all of this mess.


Anonymous said...


the nats will never win again. 0 and 162 here we come.

JayB said...

The sky fell back in just has not been fixed yet.

natsfan1a said...

No pressure, Jason and Matt, but we could use a curly W right about now. :-)

WSHNats said...

What do you expect when we look like a slow pitch softball team. Put the blue caps on and blue undershirts and blue socks. If you look bad in uniform it carriers over. Looking nice helps give you pride in your appearance and play.


Leslie said...

No panic...
Nats can go nowhere but only better and better.
Just wait and see...

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