Friday, April 30, 2010

Game 23: Nats at Marlins

Photo courtesy Florida Marlins
The Marlins host the Nats in a weekend series.
Ryan Zimmerman is in the Nationals' starting lineup tonight. Craig Stammen is not. Stammen, however, is at Joe Robbie ... er, Pro Player ... er, Dolphin ... er, LandShark ... er, Sun Life Stadium.

Whatever the Marlins' ballpark is being called this week, I'm not there. I'm back in D.C. this weekend to attend a family member's bar mitzvah, so you won't be getting any firsthand accounts of this series. I will, however, attempt to watch Sunday's game on TV and share some insights along the way.

Two things you should pay close attention to in tonight's series opener: Zimmerman and Scott Olsen. Zimmerman is at last back in the starting lineup after sitting out seven games with a strained hamstring. It would appear the combination of time off and warm South Florida weather has allowed Zim to return to his regular duties.

Olsen, meanwhile, returns to the mound looking to build off his seven shutout innings from last weekend against the Dodgers. (For those who weren't aware, Olsen and Stammen have swapped spots in the rotation in an attempt to break up Olsen and fellow lefty John Lannan. Because of yesterday's day off, Olsen is still going on normal rest. Stammen will now go tomorrow on six days' rest.)

Enjoy the game. I'll put together another game thread tomorrow so everyone can discuss among themselves...

Where: Sun Life Stadium
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, Wind 12 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

"Clip 'n' Save" lead the way

There may not be a more dominant 1-2 relief punch in baseball right now than Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps, who are as responsible for the Nationals' winning April as anyone else.

Read about the dynamic duo's lights-out start to the season on

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Storen promoted to Class AAA

The Nationals have promoted Drew Storen to Class AAA Syracuse, moving the 22-year-old reliever one step closer to the big leagues.

Storen, the 10th overall pick in last summer's draft, dominated in seven appearances at Class AA Harrisburg over the last three weeks. He allowed one run and five hits in 9 1/3 innings, striking out 11, walking one and recording four saves.

That was merely a continuation of Storen's dominant performance last season after signing one day following the draft. In 35 minor-league appearances now spanning three different levels of the organization, he owns a 1.75 ERA, 15 saves and a 60-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Storen's promotion would appear to put him slightly ahead of fellow first-round pick Stephen Strasburg in both pitchers' ascension through the Nats' system. Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in the country last summer, is scheduled to make his fifth start for Harrisburg on Sunday. He's 3-0 with an 0.52 ERA so far for the Senators, striking out 23 while walking only two in 17 1/3 innings.

No worries about Harper's attitude

Despite increased chatter about problems with Bryce Harper's character, the Nationals have no concerns about the top prospect's makeup.

A high-ranking club official said a recent report slamming the 17-year-old catcher for having attitude issues was "way overblown" and the Nats have no qualms about selecting him first overall in the June draft based on personality traits.

"Is he confident? Yeah," the team official said. "Is he cocky? Yeah. Does he think he's the best player on the field at all times? Yeah. But find me a great player who doesn't think that about himself."

The Nationals have not settled on Harper, a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada who has already appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and been hyped as the "LeBron James of baseball," as their choice yet but are leaning toward selecting him with the top pick. In 47 games so far, Harper is batting .410 with 21 homers, 59 RBI and a 1.414 OPS.

The critical Baseball Prospectus report on Harper's character, published last week, said despite the catcher's overwhelming physical ability, it's difficult to find a talent evaluator who "doesn't genuinely dislike the kid." One scout was quoted in the report calling Harper "among the worst amateur players he's even seen from a

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Winning, but still wanting more

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn is congratulated by Pat Listach after homering in the fourth.
CHICAGO -- The Nationals had just pulled off a 3-2 victory over the Cubs, securing their first winning month since Sept. 2007, and securing this franchise's best April since it first arrived in town.

And yet the feeling inside the cramped visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field wasn't one of exuberance or self-congratulation. No, as well as this team has played through the season's first 22 games, it sincerely feels like it can play far better.

"Oh absolutely," reliever Tyler Clippard said. "We've got a lot of weapons that we haven't even utilized yet. We've had some guys banged up over the course of the month. It just goes to show you, we've had a lot of guys step up. That's what a winning team is all about, having everybody contribute. Once we start firing on all cylinders, it's just going to get even better."

Bet you never imagined the day when the Nationals would be two games over .500 and not even content with that.

This club, though, has loftier goals than mere respectability. It takes the field every single day believing it should win. And when it doesn't win, it seethes.

"If we lose a ballgame, they're irritated," manager Jim Riggleman said. "They're not happy. They don't just say: 'OK, we'll get 'em tomorrow.' It's not like that. They don't just brush it off. They get irritated by it, and I like the fact they get irritated about losing

Sterling starters pave way

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano has won his first two big-league starts.
CHICAGO -- With six innings of two-run ball today, Luis Atilano produced the seventh straight quality start by the Nationals' rotation. That unit's surprisingly effective work over the last week has been key to the Nats' surprisingly strong April.

Read all about this run of starting pitching on

Game 22: Nats at Cubs

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The sun is out and the temperature is up for today's game at Wrigley Field.
CHICAGO -- Good afternoon one last time from the Friendly Confines, where today the Nationals look to earn a series victory over the Cubs and improve to two games over .500 for the first time this year.

It'll take a pretty big effort from the Nats to pull that off. Rookie Luis Atilano is back on the mound for his second career start, hoping to duplicate his fabulous debut last week against the Rockies. Roger Bernadina is also here and in the lineup after his promotion from Class AAA Syracuse. With probably 10 straight right-handed starting pitchers coming up in the next week and a half -- Ryan Dempster goes today for the Cubs, and the Marlins and Braves have nothing but right-handers in their rotations -- Bernadina figures to get some significant playing time, especially with Willie Harris still banged up with a bruised knee.

Ryan Zimmerman, of course, is out of the lineup once again. I would think he'll work his way back in there Friday night in Florida, though. Seems like the Nats are just waiting for warmer weather.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 2:20 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly sunny, 60 degrees, Wind 6 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Adam Kennedy
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Determined to prove them wrong

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Unemployed in February, Livan Hernandez is now 3-1 with an 0.87 ERA.
CHICAGO -- All winter, Livan Hernandez sat in his Miami home, waiting for a call, any call from a major-league GM willing to offer him a contract.

November turned to December. December turned to January. January turned to February. Everywhere he looked, Hernandez saw free agents with lesser track records getting contracts, nice ones. Yet nobody saw value in one of the most durable and most successful pitchers of his time.

At age 35, was this it for Hernandez? Was this the end of a fantastic career that began with a World Series title for the Marlins at 22, continued at a high level for another decade and then fizzled out over the last few years? Livo refused to believe that. He didn't want his career to end, not like this.

"I don't want them to forget me," he said. "I feel sometimes bad at home when I see people signing and signing. I say, 'Wow, did I do a good job?' But I understand. It's business. I want to show I can still pitch, to show to the people that I'm not done."

Four starts into his 14th big-league season, Hernandez looks anything but done. He looks brilliant.

With seven more innings of superb pitching tonight in the Nationals' 3-1 victory over the Cubs, the wily old right-hander extended perhaps the unlikeliest early season run of pitching this sport has seen in

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

English optioned to Syracuse

CHICAGO -- The Nationals optioned rookie left-hander Jesse English to Class AAA Syracuse following tonight's win, clearing roster space for outfielder Roger Bernadina, who will be recalled before tomorrow's series finale at Wrigley Field.

English performed well in the first seven games of his big-league career, posting a 3.86 ERA and faring well against some tough left-handed sluggers like the Phillies' Ryan Howard.

But the Nats needed to add another position player to account for nagging injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Willie Harris and Ivan Rodriguez. And with off-days coming up Thursday and Monday, the club can afford to go with a six-man bullpen for a little while.

"This isn't a demotion," general manager Mike Rizzo said of English, who had never pitched above Class AA before making the Opening Day roster. "This is a strategic roster move, because we feel we need to get a healthy position player in here. It wasn't for anything that he did poorly. He pitched fine."

Making do in right field

CHICAGO -- The Nationals aren't getting classic offensive production out of their revolving door in right field, but they have gotten a few timely hits -- plus some outstanding defense -- from the six different players who have appeared out there already this season.

Read my full story about the right field situation on

Bernadina to be promoted

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina was batting .377 in 14 games at Class AAA Syracuse.
CHICAGO -- The Nationals are planning to recall outfielder Roger Bernadina from Class AAA Syracuse following tonight's game, according to two sources within the organization.

Bernadina was slated to play tonight for Syracuse at Toledo, but he was a late scratch from the lineup. He's expected to arrive in Chicago in time for tomorrow afternoon's series finale against the Cubs.

The Nationals will have to demote someone following tonight's game. They may consider dropping a reliever and proceeding with a six-man bullpen for the time being, taking advantage of off-days coming up Thursday and Monday.

Bernadina has been among the hottest hitters in the minors and today was named the International League's offensive player of the week. In 14 games at Syracuse, the 25-year-old is batting .377 with two homers, eight RBI and seven stolen bases.

This will be Bernadina's second stint in the majors this season. He appeared in only one game during his first stop and was optioned to

Game 21: Nats at Cubs

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
It'll be another cold, windy night at Wrigley Field when the Nats and Cubs meet.
CHICAGO -- It's pretty much a carbon copy of yesterday weather-wise here in Wrigleyville. There isn't a cloud in the sky, but the temperature is struggling to get out of the 40s and the wind is blowing in straight from the north again.

That wind certainly wreaked havoc with players on both sides during last night's game. We saw some pop-ups move 40-to-50 feet back toward the infield, and we also saw some line drives carry over outfielders' heads. Just requires a lot of concentration on the part of everyone in the field.

Ryan Zimmerman is out of the Nationals' lineup for the sixth straight day. I don't think that's a huge surprise, and I don't think it would be a huge surprise if he comes off the bench to pinch-hit again tonight. The real question is whether he'll be cleared to play in tomorrow afternoon's series finale, with the weather a little warmer, or whether they'll just hold him out til Friday in Miami.

Ivan Rodriguez, however, is back in the lineup after getting scratched last night with lower back tightness.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 8:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Clear, 49 degrees, Wind 15 mph in from LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Lannan demands more from self

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Quality starts aren't good enough for John Lannan, who insists he can do better.
CHICAGO -- No one would have faulted John Lannan for emerging from last night's game feeling good about the way he kept things under control despite some rough spots along the way. The Nationals' left-hander did, after all, post a quality start at night's end, allowing three runs over six innings.

But Lannan wasn't taking solace in anything.

"I'm keeping the team in the game. But I should be pitching better than that," he said. "I should be getting the team a win. There's no excuses for just keeping the team in the ballgame. That's mediocre work. That's not acceptable to me. And I don't think it's acceptable to anybody else."

Give the Nats' Opening Day starter credit for understanding what he really needs to accomplish and not being satisfied with reaching the bare minimum stats for success. Lannan may have the guile to battle his way through some ragged outings and still make them useful, but his perfectionist nature demands a higher standard.

Lannan was most upset at himself for an ugly second inning at Wrigley Field in which he walked the Cubs' seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in succession, including opposing pitcher Carlos Silva on four pitches with the bases loaded.

"I'm sick of having those mediocre innings where things get away from me," he said. "I've never walked three in a row and walked the

Wanted: More quality relievers

CHICAGO -- Sitting inside his cramped office at Wrigley Field late Monday afternoon, Jim Riggleman talked about the need for some of his relief pitchers not named Matt Capps or Tyler Clippard to start coming through in key situations.

"Tonight would be a great night for that to happen," the Nationals manager said.

Some five hours later, as Brian Bruney was trudging off the mound after issuing a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning of a 4-3 loss to the Cubs, Riggleman could only sigh and wonder what might have been.

Three weeks into this already-surprising season, the Nationals have gotten plenty of top-notch performances. Livan Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez have been fantastic. Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman (when he plays) have been solid. Capps and Clippard have been virtually unhittable.

But if the Nats are serious about sustaining their early season momentum and actually keeping themselves on the fringe of contention, they're going to have to get contributions from a lot more players. And that begins in a bullpen that boasts far too few sure things at the moment.

Someone else has got to step up and share the load with Capps and Clippard. Sean Burnett took a step in the right direction tonight in retiring both batters he faced. Tyler Walker also did his part, retiring four of five batters in a tie game.

But Bruney is the guy who's supposed to be counted upon in these situations. The Nationals acquired the 28-year-old right-hander from the Yankees in December and then paid him $1.5 million to be their primary setup man. So what have they received so far for their investment? 10 shaky relief appearances that have resulted in six

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nagging injuries cramp Nats' style

With three regulars sidelined tonight -- Ryan Zimmerman, Willie Harris and Ivan Rodriguez -- the Nationals are playing with only two healthy bench players (Alberto Gonzalez and Justin Maxwell.

Those nagging injuries will force Jim Riggleman to manage differently than he would if he had a full bench at his disposal. It's also forcing Mike Rizzo to consider calling up an extra position player for a couple of days.

Read all about that in this story on

Game 20: Nats at Cubs

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
It's going to be a chilly, windy night at historic Wrigley Field.
CHICAGO -- Hello from the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, otherwise known as the coldest place on earth right now.

It may look like a gorgeous day from that above photo, but look closely at the flags flying high above the center field scoreboard. The wind is whipping furiously, straight in from left field with gusts up to 30 mph, and it's only going to get colder when the sun goes down. By the time tonight's game gets underway, the wind chill could be in the upper 30s.

For that reason, Ryan Zimmerman is once again not in the Nationals' starting lineup. Had they been playing in Florida tonight, perhaps he would be cleared to go. But not with these conditions. I wouldn't be surprised if he's held out tomorrow night as well.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 8:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 49 degrees, Wind 20 mph in from LF
(UPDATED AT 6:41 P.M.)
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Strasburg rained out

CHICAGO -- Before we get to tonight's big-league game at Wrigley Field, a weather update from Reading, Pa. Class AA Harrisburg's game tonight against the Phillies has been postponed due to rain.

Thus, Stephen Strasburg's fourth minor-league start will be pushed back to Tuesday. They'll play a twi-night doubleheader tomorrow, with Strasburg starting the first game at 6:30 p.m.

That also means Strasburg's next start won't be until Sunday in Harrisburg. That's assuming, of course, he doesn't get promoted to Class AAA Syracuse before then.

In other minor-league news, Aaron Thompson has been sent back down from Syracuse to Harrisburg. The left-hander had been promoted last week and pitched well in his Class AAA debut, allowing one run over five innings. But he was needed for only one outing, taking the spot that had been opened when Luis Atilano was promoted to Washington. Not sure who will take that rotation spot now at Syracuse.

Still sore about Soriano?

Good morning from the D concourse at Dulles International Airport, where my flight to Chicago awaits. The Nationals open a three-game series tonight against the Cubs, which means another reunion with old friend Alfonso Soriano.

It's hard to believe it's been four years since Soriano roamed left field at RFK Stadium, mashed 46 homers (still a Nats record) and stole 41 bases. That remains, in my opinion, the best individual season in Nats history, though a case can certainly be made for Ryan Zimmerman's Gold Glove/Silver Slugger combo last year.

It's easy to forget now, but there was plenty of uproar over the Nationals' decision to let Soriano walk as a free agent in the winter of 2006. They took plenty of heat from fans and media alike who felt they should have made a better offer to keep Soriano ... or at least traded him at the July 31 deadline.

Four years later, though, I think it should be noted the Nats made the right call. Soriano hasn't been close to the same player he was in 2006. He's battled several injuries, he's lost both power and speed. And last week he was chastised by Cubs TV analyst Bob Brenly for failing to hustle.

Oh, and did we mention Soriano is only in the fourth year of an eight-year, $136 million contract? Would you prefer the Nats were on the hook for that right now?

Seems to me the only remaining debate is whether the Nationals should have traded Soriano instead of letting him go as a free agent. What could they have gotten for him in a trade? Well, the best offer I

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An old-fashioned 1-0 victory

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats needed a brilliant performance from Scott Olsen to pull off today's win.
A lot of things have to happen to win a 1-0 ballgame. Your starting pitcher needs to be on top of his game. Your relievers can't afford to make a single mistake. Your defense needs to be flawless and produce a couple of highlight-reel plays on top of that.

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Nationals hadn't pulled off a 1-0 victory in some time before today's thriller over the Dodgers. Their last win by that slimmest of margins? Sept. 16, 2008 over the Mets, with stellar pitching performances from such luminaries as Odalis Perez, Mike Hinckley and Joel Hanrahan.

So this one should be cherished by all 18,395 who were there to see it in person and certainly by the 25 men in uniform who made it happen. It required big efforts from plenty of them to accomplish this.

"This was a great game to be a part of," said Tyler Clippard, who churned out another scoreless inning of relief. "We did the little things right. Played great defense. Just a good team win."

Scott Olsen was the biggest star, his seven innings of shutout ball a total shot in the arm for a Nationals club that had to go into the day hopeful of the best but fearful of the worst out of the erratic left-hander. Only five days ago, Olsen was shellacked by the Rockies

Managing to win without Zim

With today's 1-0 victory, the Nationals are now 5-4 without Ryan Zimmerman in the starting lineup. The trio of Alberto Gonzalez, Adam Kennedy and Willie Harris has filled in admirably at third base, particularly Gonzalez, who has made several Zim-type plays in the last two weeks.

Read all about it on

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I am pleased to announce that you can now access this site through the much easier-to-remember address:

For now, that address will simply redirect you to this one. But I'm hoping at some point to move off Blogspot, so you may want to reset your bookmarks to the shorter name now.

Game 19: Dodgers at Nats

Photo courtesy George Burkes
Justin Maxwell's diving catch in the ninth saved today's 1-0 win.
So, what's the domino effect of yesterday's 13-inning marathon? For the Nationals, not too bad. Jim Riggleman was able to get through that game with only four pitchers, thanks to Craig Stammen's six-inning start, and multiple-inning relief appearances from Matt Capps (2) and Miguel Batista (3).

For the Dodgers, though, yesterday took a greater toll. Joe Torre had to use seven pitchers, all of his relievers except for Ramon Ortiz. As reporters rattled off names of L.A. relievers this morning, Torre responded with their availability. George Sherrill? No. Hong-Chih Kuo? No. Ronald Belisario? Maybe. Jonathan Broxton? Maybe.

So the Dodgers actually recalled another arm for today's series finale, Jon Link. What's so special about Link? He's a local! Grew up and continues to reside in Chantilly, went to Chantilly High School. He just made his big-league debut Tuesday in Cincinnati, tossing two scoreless innings but immediately getting sent back to Class AAA Albuquerque because Beliasario was coming back from the DL.

Well, five days later, Link is back in the majors, taking the spot that opened when Vicente Padilla was placed on the DL. And gets to make his return in his hometown, with 100 family members and friends in attendance. Pretty cool.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50-HD, MASN2-HD
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 68 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Adam Kennedy
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Altered expectations

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn doubled in the fifth but struck out three times after that.
Holding court in front of his locker following a gut-wrenching, 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in 13 innings, Willie Harris had a somewhat surprising take on the events of the previous 4 hours and 20 minutes.

"That game, I think it shows you who we are," Harris said. "We're never going to give up. We're right there."

This upbeat take, remember, came after the Nationals lost a game they very easily could have won. They stranded 15 men on base. They had three more called out on the bases, two at the plate. If they did just one or two little things better, they'd have been celebrating a hard-earned victory over the two-time NL West champs.

But a Nationals club accustomed to losing and losing and losing over the last four years is starting to look at its situation in a new light. This wasn't a moral victory by any means. But the attitude inside the home clubhouse following a game like this would have been far different in 2008 or 2009.

"As far as the way we feel in here, it's aggravating, because we expect to win," Harris said. "We're not in rebuild-mode in our mind. We expect to win now."

Sometimes, blowout losses when your starting pitcher can't get out of the first inning are easier to swallow. What can you do? Nip-and-tuck losses like this, boasting all sorts of defensive wizardry, quality

Thompson promoted to Syracuse

Left-hander Aaron Thompson, a rising prospect in the Nationals' farm system, has been promoted from Class AA Harrisburg to Class AAA Syracuse.

Thompson, 23, was 1-1 with a 2.87 ERA in three starts for the Senators. In Syracuse, he'll take the rotation spot vacated by Luis Atilano, who made his big-league debut for the Nats last night.

Acquired from the Marlins last summer for first baseman Nick Johnson, Thompson impressed club officials this spring, posting a 1.42 ERA in three appearances. He's seen as a strong candidate to reach the majors before season's end.

Game 18: Dodgers at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats and Dodgers will try to get today's game in before the rain picks up.
When I arrived at Nationals Park around 10 a.m., the sky was blue and it looked like it would be a beautiful day. But the clouds have rolled in, the rain is coming and it's not supposed to stop until tomorrow night.

So that could create some problems here. Team officials are hopeful that the precipitation will be intermittent this afternoon and allow today's game to be played. Tomorrow, however, is a bigger concern. All the more reason to try to get today's game in.

Ryan Zimmerman update: He's out of the lineup again with the hamstring injury. Same deal as last night. He could be available to pinch-hit, but if he does, he won't be allowed to run hard down the line. Jim Riggleman also said it's "doubtful" the third baseman will start tomorrow.

Ivan Rodriguez, meanwhile, could come off the bench to hit today after departing last night's game with tightness in his lower back. It's not serious, and Riggleman was planning to give him today off anyway. He should be back in the lineup tomorrow.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers, 60 degrees, Wind 10 mph in from RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Friday, April 23, 2010

Atilano's dream realized

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano couldn't have scripted a better big-league debut.
Luis Atilano was 6 the first time Ivan Rodriguez squatted behind the plate in a big-league game. It would be a few more years before Atilano became a Pudge fan, but like every other kid growing up in Puerto Rico, it was bound to happen.

Flash-forward 19 years and 1,500 miles north, where on a gorgeous April evening in the District, Atilano made his major-league debut with none other than Rodriguez as his batterymate. That the right-hander, stuck in the minor leagues for the last seven years, tossed six innings of one-run ball to lead the Nationals to a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers only added to the moment.

"It's crazy. It's been my dreams," Atilano said. "After seven years, I made it finally. I pitched to Pudge Rodriguez, hopefully a Hall of Famer. I can't ask for nothing better than that."

The Nats couldn't have asked for anything better out of a rookie pitcher making his debut against the majors' best-hitting club. Even without Manny Ramirez -- who was placed on the DL today with a strained calf -- the Dodgers boasted a formidable lineup that has averaged more than six runs per game this season.

So when Atilano carved this way through Los Angeles' batters with ease, scattering five hits over six innings, it felt like a shot in the arm for a Nationals team desperately seeking some consistency from

Marquis had MRI before signing

Turns out the Nationals did require Jason Marquis to undergo an MRI of his elbow and shoulder before signing him in December to a two-year, $15 million contract.

Read Marquis' comments and Mike Rizzo's take on the injury on

Game 17: Dodgers at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Dodgers (minus Manny Ramirez) come to Nationals Park this weekend.
It's always a treat when the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town. One of baseball's best-run and most-stable franchises -- well, at least until Frank and Jamie McCourt decided to get divorced and ruin everything -- makes only one trip per season to the District. Sadly, Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Vin Scully (now in his 60th season with the club) no longer makes road trips east of the Rockies, so you won't be able to hear those familiar and soothing tones.

Another key member of the Dodgers organization won't be playing in this series: Manny Ramirez. One year ago, the slugger was suspended 50 games for performance enhancing drugs in the middle of a series against the Nats. This time, Ramirez is injured. He strained a calf muscle running the bases yesterday in Cincinnati, and word is that he will miss this entire series.

Ryan Zimmerman also isn't in the lineup for the Nationals for the second straight game and the seventh time in 12 games. We'll get an update on Zim's hamstring in a little while.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 68 degrees, Wind 6 mph in from CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn

Bergmann outrighted to Syracuse

Jason Bergmann, who was designated for assignment by the Nationals on April 15, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Class AAA Syracuse.

The right-hander was 0-1 with a 15.43 ERA in four games and was removed from the 40-man roster when the Nats needed to clear space for left-hander Scott Olsen.

Bergmann, who has pitched in at least one game each of the Nationals' six seasons, expressed his desire to remain with the organization. Another club, however, could have claimed him off waivers or acquired him via trade over the last week.

The Nationals also could have released the 28-year-old once he cleared, but general manager Mike Rizzo said last week he had no intention of doing that.

The plan for Marquis

I know a lot of you were surprised to find out last night that Jason Marquis won't need surgery to remove the "floating bodies" in his right elbow. Frankly, I was surprised, too. I figured it was a foregone conclusion he'd have the procedure, miss a couple months and then get back on the mound sometime this summer.

Instead, Marquis received a cortisone shot. He'll be restricted from throwing for seven-to-10 days. Then he'll resume a throwing program, the hope being he can return to pitch in six weeks.

A couple of things to note, however...

-- Marquis will need surgery at some point to remove the stuff. The hope would be that he can pitch his way through it for the rest of the season and then have surgery over the winter.

-- There's no guarantee he can actually pitch with the stuff in there.

Craig Stammen tried to pitch last season with bone chips, and while the rookie right-hander did an admirable job for a while, eventually the pain became too much to bear. It also prevented him from throwing an effective curveball, and we've learned this spring how

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mutual respect

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez had his way with the Nationals this afternoon.
Livan Hernandez first saw Ubaldo Jimenez pitch late in 2008, during his brief stint with the Rockies, and immediately sensed greatness out of the young right-hander with the cannon arm.

"He's got the stuff to win 20 games every year," said Hernandez, who wound up on the wrong end of a 2-0 pitchers' duel today. "If he continues to pitch like that, he's going to win maybe the Cy Young."

If they voted on such things right now, Jimenez would certainly have a strong case for the award. With his latest gem this evening against the Nationals -- 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball -- he improved to 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA. Tough to do much better than that, though Roy Halladay actually has (4-0, 0.82, 28 strikeouts, three walks).

Halladay, of course, has been regarded as one of baseball's best aces for a while now. Jimenez has only burst into the mainstream consciousness since his no-hitter in Atlanta five nights ago. Perhaps now everyone else will appreciate just how good this 26-year-old hurler is.

The Nats were plenty impressed with Jimenez, even before he toed the rubber today, but certainly even more after being turned into roadkill by the guy with the 100-mph sinking fastball and an array of offspeed pitches.

"When a guy's throwing like that, you've got to jump on one you like and hope, I guess," said Ian Desmond, who hit two broken-bat comebackers today. "One hundred with sink is not easy to hit, for

No surgery for Marquis

Despite loose bodies and inflammation in his right elbow, Jason Marquis will not need surgery.

The right-hander received a second opinion today from Cincinnati orthopedist Tim Kremchek, who confirmed the same diagnosis made yesterday by Nationals team doctor Wiemi Douoguih.

Marquis, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday, received a cortisone shot. He will not be allowed to throw for seven-to-10 days.

Doctors anticipate he'll return in six weeks.

Game 16: Rockies at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals look to take three of four from the Rockies.
There may not be a better pitching matchup all season in the major leagues than the one we'll see this afternoon at Nationals Park.

OK, that may be a bit of a stretch, because few would consider Livan Hernandez vs. Ubaldo Jimenez the best matchup of the year. But let's give these two right-handers their due respect. Hernandez has an 0.00 ERA this season and is coming off a four-hit shutout of the Brewers. Jimenez, meanwhile, is coming off a no-hitter against the Braves.

You know how many times in the last 90 years a pitcher coming off a no-hitter faced an opponent coming off a shutout? How about once. That was May 17, 1996, when the Marlins' Al Leiter (coming off a no-hitter) faced the Cubs' Jim Bullinger (coming off a 2-hit shutout). And you know who was manager of the Cubs for that game? Why, none other than Jim Riggleman. (All info there courtesy Nats PR, via the Elias Sports Bureau.)

So Jimenez will be attempting to duplicate Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters from 1938, still the only pitcher in baseball history to do that. (And, in my opinion, the one record that absolutely will never be broken. Seriously, who's going to throw THREE no-hitters in a row?)

The Nats won't exactly be fielding their best lineup against Jimenez. Ryan Zimmerman is out with his right hamstring injury. Josh Willingham has the day off as well.

Check back for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 73 degrees, Wind 12 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Cristian Guzman
LF Willie Harris
1B Adam Dunn

Nats show grit, but no one's watching

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Wil Nieves congratulates Matt Capps at the conclusion of tonight's 6-4 win.
It could have been a fantastic moment at Nationals Park: Matt Capps on the mound, a 2-2 count on Ian Stewart with the tying runners on base in the ninth inning of a tense ballgame. And when Capps blew a 94 mph fastball past Stewart to seal the Nationals' 6-4 win over the Rockies, fireworks shot from the stadium roof as players exchanged high-fives in the middle of the diamond.

The Nats had just pulled off another in a string of gritty victories and again surpassed the .500 mark.

Too bad hardly anyone was there to see it.

This isn't going to be a screed against local sports fans, and it's not going to be a trashing of a Nationals organization that has brought much of this upon itself following back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

It's more an observation of the state of baseball in the District on the third Wednesday in April. The home club is by no means playing great ball right now, but it's somehow finding a way to win on a regular basis and is doing so in an entertaining fashion that should be captivating the town.

Unfortunately, the Nationals' track record over the last four years has left this organization an afterthought among a population far more interested in whether the Caps beat the Canadiens in Game 4 of their Stanley Cup playoff series (they did) and whether the Redskins will

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Zimmerman update

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman clutches his right hamstring after getting hurt in the eighth inning.
When Ryan Zimmerman pulled up lame at second base on a seventh-inning double tonight, the easy assumption was that the Nationals' No. 3 hitter had re-injured the left hamstring that left him out of the starting lineup five games last week.

Zimmerman, though, may have caught a break. This injury was to his right hamstring, and he said it's not nearly as serious as the previous one.

"It didn't feel like the other one," he said. "It felt more like a cramp. It's frustrating. I feel like we're playing well. I'm seeing the ball well, playing well. It's the last thing you want to happen."

Zimmerman wouldn't rule out the possibility of playing in tomorrow's series finale against the Rockies, but the Nationals may take the cautious approach and hold him out anyway.

"It doesn't feel anywhere close to as bad as the other one," he said. "We'll see how it feels in the morning. Obviously, we'll lean toward the precautionary side, the same reason we did the other one. But it sucks."

Marquis to DL, Atilano to replace

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis has been placed on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury.
[UPDATED AT 11:32 P.M.]

The Nationals have placed Jason Marquis on the 15-day disabled list after an enhanced MRI revealed "floating bodies" in his right elbow, general manager Mike Rizzo said.

Marquis, who was battered around in his first three starts with Washington, posting an 0-3 record and 20.52 ERA, told team officials this morning he was experiencing elbow pain and was unable to fully extend his throwing arm. An arthrogram (an enhanced MRI in which dye is injected in the patient to help doctors detect abnormalities) revealed the loose bodies in his elbow. He'll get a second opinion tomorrow from orthopedist Tim Kremcheck in Cincinnati, but the Nats didn't waste any time placing him on the DL.

Rizzo said the club will promote a starter from Class AAA Syracuse to take Marquis' rotation spot and pitch Friday night against the Dodgers. Right-hander Luis Atilano, who is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA for the Chiefs, last pitched on Sunday and would line up perfectly to make his big-league debut Friday.

Atilano, a 24-year-old right-hander from Puerto Rico, was acquired by the Nationals in 2006 from the Braves in exchange for veteran first baseman Daryle Ward. Still recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time, Atilano returned strong in 2008 and then worked his way up the Nats' farm system, impressing club officials out of the bullpen this

Nats won't rush dominant Strasburg

Through three starts at Class AA Harrisburg, Stephen Strasburg is 2-0 with an 0.73 ERA and a 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But Mike Rizzo isn't about to alter his predetermined plan for the right-hander's ascension through the Nats' farm system and up to the major leagues.

Read the full story, with Rizzo's take after seeing Strasburg in person today, at

Weekly minor-league report

Bill Gluvna of the Nationals' PR department puts together a comprehensive minor-league report every week, complete with some outstanding puns on player names. The guy puts so much effort into these things, it only seems right to republish it in its entirety for all of you.

So, enjoy...


This Week's Top Headline

DESTIN-ED TO SUCCEED: OF Destin Hood leads the Single-A South Atlantic League and ranks 3rd in all of minor league baseball with 22 hits ... he ranks among SAL leaders in hitting (3rd, .407), total bases (4th, 29), OPS (8th, .955) and slugging percentage (10th, .537) ... the 20-year-old has hit safely in 12 of 13 games and is currently riding a 7-game hit streak ... Hood, selected in the 2nd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, opened the 2010 campaign rated as the No. 10 prospect in the Nationals chain according to Baseball America.

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs
International League North Division
8-4, 1st Place, 1.0 Game Ahead

WEEKEND AT BERNADINA'S: OF Roger Bernadina has hit safely in 7 of his 8 games, going 12-for-36 (.333) with one double, one triple, one homer, 4 RBI and 4 steals ... Bernadina had a brief one-game stint with the Nationals earlier this season before being optioned to

Game 15: Rockies at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The tarp has been covering the infield at Nationals Park all day.
It's been a miserable day around the D.C. area, but they're hoping to play baseball tonight on South Capitol Street.

Actually, looking at the radar and the extended forecast for the evening, it looks like there's a pretty good chance the Nationals and Rockies will be able to get this one in. There's a 35 percent chance of showers at 7 p.m., but that number drops to 25 percent and 15 percent the next two hours before picking up again to 30 percent around 10 p.m.

With a 4:35 p.m. getaway game scheduled tomorrow -- and the Rockies not scheduled to make any more trips to Washington this season -- you've got to believe they're going to do everything they can to play tonight.

Check back for updates (both weather and game-related) all afternoon/evening...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers, 59 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Strasburg vs. the rain

File photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg, who made his season debut April 11, is back on the mound this morning.
The Nationals have a firm plan in place for Stephen Strasburg this year. They won't come right out and provide public details, but it's pretty clear the top draft pick will be making about five or so starts at Class AA Harrisburg, then five or so starts at Class AAA Syracuse, then his major-league debut sometime in early June.

Along the way, the organization will be closely monitoring his pitch count and his innings count, all the while trying to limit him at season's end to about 140-150 innings.

It's a detailed plan, and they've accounted for everything. Well, except for one thing: Mother Nature.

For the second time in three outings with Harrisburg, Strasburg is scheduled to pitch in the rain. It happened Friday night, when he had to wait out a lengthy delay, then pitched for 2 1/3 innings, then wasn't brought back following another long delay. And it could be a problem again this morning.

Harrisburg is hosting Reading in a coffee-and-donuts, 10:30 a.m. special. So far, the rain is holding off and it appears the game will

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The consistently inconsistent Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was yanked after failing to retire a batter in the third.
Say this about the Washington Nationals: They're consistently inconsistent.

One night, they'll get a dominant performance from their starting pitcher. The next night, they'll fall into a 10-0 hole thanks to wretched pitching.

One night, they'll come through with a string of clutch hits. The next, they'll fail to jump on an opposing starter who looks ripe for a beating.

The end result of all that inconsistency is a perfectly average 7-7 record. Which is fine in the grand scheme of things. But over the long haul, consistent performances day in and day out are required from winning teams. And right now, the Nats don't fall into that category.

Here's your head-scratching stat of the day: Through 14 games, every Nationals starter has either lasted seven or more innings or failed to get through six. Think about that for a moment. What's typically the average number of innings thrown in a start? Six. Yet this team hasn't

Game 14: Rockies at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen delivers tonight's first pitch.
The Nationals and Rockies will play a ballgame tonight, but Colorado's players and coaches will be excused if baseball isn't first and foremost on their minds.

Keli McGregor, president of the Rockies since 2001, died this morning in a hotel room in Salt Lake City, casting a pall over tonight's game at Nationals Park. A pregame tribute and moment of silence are planned to honor McGregor, 48, a former All-American tight end at Colorado State in the 1980s who played in the NFL with the Broncos, Colts and Seahawks.

Once the game gets underway, Scott Olsen will look to build off his strong season debut last week in Philadelphia and pitch the Nationals to their fifth win in six days. Left-hander Jorge de la Rosa starts for the Rockies.

Check back for updates throughout the game, and check the homepage for other news...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 66 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Rockies president dies

[UPDATE AT 6:34 P.M. -- Read the complete story, with reaction from players and Rockies manager Jim Tracy, at]

Keli McGregor, president of the Rockies since 2001, was found dead in a Salt Lake City hotel room this morning, a devastating blow to a Colorado ballclub that is in the midst of a four-game series against the Nationals.

McGregor, 48, was in Salt Lake City on team business. When two colleagues tried to contact him this morning and got no answer, police checked his room at the Grand America Hotel and found him dead.

The cause of McGregor's death is not yet known.

"Words cannot describe the level of shock and disbelief that we all are feeling this morning at the loss of Keli," Rockies owner Charlie Monfort, who was also in Salt Lake City, said in a statement. "Our thoughts, our prayers are with [his wife] Lori and the entire family as we all try to cope and understand how such a tragic loss could occur with such a wonderful man."

Tonight's game at Nationals Park will be played as scheduled at 7:05 p.m. A pregame tribute and moment of silence are expected.

McGregor was an All-American tight end at Colorado State in the 1980s and played in the NFL for the Broncos, Colts and Seahawks. He

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stammen's inner Livan

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen churned out eight strong innings to lead the Nats to victory.
Craig Stammen says his right arm has never felt this good. It certainly didn't feel this good last year when he tried to pitch with bone chips in his elbow that didn't allow him to throw a curveball without wincing pain.

But perhaps Stammen actually feels too good. Able to throw free and easy for the first time as a big leaguer, he's been tempted at times to try to cut loose and overpower opposing hitters.

Just one problem: Stammen is not a power pitcher. Never has been. Never will be. He actually loses effectiveness when trying to throw too hard, something he did five nights ago in Philadelphia during a wretched, 1 1/3-inning start against the Phillies.

So when he returned to the mound tonight against the Rockies, the 26-year-old made a conscious effort to ease off the gas pedal a bit. Don't try to throw 94 mph when 90 is good enough.

"When you're young, you learn real quick that 100 percent isn't always the best," he said. "I kind of got into a mode where my arm was feeling so good, I was letting 'er fly. And that felt good. But I wasn't getting any results."

Stammen got the results he and the Nationals wanted tonight. With eight superb innings of two-run ball, he rediscovered his top form and led Washington to a thoroughly satisfying 5-2 victory over Colorado.

Marquis tries to figure it out

Jason Marquis, who called his wretched outing yesterday "embarrassing," spent hours watching video of himself from early 2009 and early 2010 and believes he's figured out what can help him get out of his early season funk.

Read the whole story at

Game 13: Rockies at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals host the Rockies in the first of four games.
It's a beautiful -- if a tad chilly -- day at Nationals Park, and with the home team playing .500 ball and a quality opponent in town, you'd think tonight's game would register more than a blip on the local radar screen.

But something tells me the Nats-Rockies series opener won't.

There's always one or two dates on the baseball schedule that figure to draw especially low interest, and tonight's game fits that bill on several fronts.

-- It's a Monday night in April, typically some of the least-attended games of the season.

-- It's a low-profile opponent. Though the Rockies are a good club, they don't have many followers east of ... well, the Rockies.

-- The Capitals are playing Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series at the same time tonight.

Stan Kasten doesn't like giving out season ticket numbers, so there's no way to know for sure what the Nats' base is this year. But pay attention to tonight's announced attendance, because it's probably going to be close to the season ticket number.

For reference, the smallest crowd in Nationals Park history was 12,473, set on April 20, 2009, a Monday night against the Braves that started more than two hours late because of rain. (That was also Jordan Zimmermann's big-league debut.)

Check back for updates throughout the game, and check the homepage for other news...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Clear, 63 degrees, Wind 9 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

It starts with the starters

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After two rough starts to his season, John Lannan rebounded Friday night.
Two weeks and 12 games into the season, it's pretty obvious what dictates the Nationals' fortunes more than anything else: starting pitching.

Not that this doesn't apply to just about every team in baseball, but it's been particularly significant to the Nats thus far. With no real exceptions, this club's fate on a given night can be tied directly to the performance of its starting pitcher.

Let's look at each game, with the starter's final line and the end result...
Apr 5Lannan3.2 ip, 5 erL, 11-1
Apr 7Marquis4 ip, 6 erL, 8-4
Apr 8 Stammen5 ip, 4 erW, 6-5
Apr 9Mock3.1 ip, 2 erL, 8-2
Apr 10Lannan5 ip, 3 erW, 4-3
Apr 11Hernandez7 ip, 0 erW, 5-2
Apr 12Marquis4.1 ip, 6 erL, 7-4
Apr 14Stammen1.1 ip, 7 erL, 14-7
Apr 15 Olsen5.2 ip, 4 er W, 7-5
Apr 16 Lannan7 ip, 2 erW, 5-3
Apr 17 Hernandez 9 ip, 0 erW, 8-0
Apr 18 Marquis0 ip, 7 erL, 11-7

So, the Nationals have gotten three quality starts so far in 12 games (two by Livo, one by Lannan) and won all three of those games. Their three other wins came when their starter went at least five innings

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Game 12: Brewers at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Series sweep? Four-game winning streak? The Nats go for both today.
What an incredible Saturday of baseball that turned out to be. Ubaldo Jimenez throws the first no-hitter in Rockies history. Felipe Lopez pitches a scoreless 18th but the Cardinals still lose to the Mets, 2-1, in a 20-inning marathon that lasted nearly seven hours.

And Livan Hernandez tosses a four-hit shutout, leading the Nationals to an 8-0 victory over the Brewers and a winning record for the first time in more than two years.

Steven over at FJB already noted this, but it's worth repeating: This was only the fourth shutout by a Nats pitcher since the franchise arrived in town. The others: John Patterson (Aug. 4, 2005 vs. Dodgers), Pedro Astacio (Aug. 15, 2006 vs. Braves) and John Lannan (July 21, 2009 vs. Mets). That Astacio game (a 2-hitter by a 37-year-old who didn't make it out of the third inning in either of his next two starts) ranks among the most bizarre events in Nationals history.

Anyways, the Nats will try to make a little more history this afternoon, going for a series sweep of the Brewers, a four-game winning streak and a 7-5 record. I'm wrapping up my weekend of yardwork, household errands and quality time with the wife, so I'll have to leave the game discussion to all of you. But I'll be back at work tomorrow for the start of the series against the Rockies, who all of a sudden have a star right-hander making a highly anticipated start Thursday afternoon on South Capitol Street.

Enjoy your Sunday...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly sunny, 55 degrees, Wind 14 mph LF to RF
CF Willie Taveras
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn