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 seen a single pitching line yet that starts with a six.

"I'd say it's odd, yeah," manager Jim Riggleman said after tonight's 10-4 loss to the Rockies. "Usually it wouldn't be as drastic as it has been. You get something a little more in between. We've had some outstanding performances, and we've had some ones that our pitchers are feeling like 'I don't know what's wrong with me.'"

Scott Olsen certainly fell into the latter category tonight. Stellar only five days ago in Philadelphia, the left-hander was wretched this time out. He did retire the side in the first and five of the first six Colorado batters he faced. But then he failed to retire eight of the next nine Rockies before Riggleman unceremoniously yanked him four batters into the third inning.

After a spring full of questions about his lack of velocity, Olsen threw the ball with enough mustard tonight. He just couldn't throw it where he wanted.

A second-inning home run by Troy Tulowitzki came on a fastball right down the heart of the strike zone. Ditto for Dexter Fowler's leadoff triple in the third.

"The arm's fine. There's no pain," Olsen said. "It's just a matter of executing. The other day, we did a good job of that. We were down in the zone. We threw offspeed pitches for strikes when we had to. Today, we were just six inches off."

Tyler Walker was no better in relief of Olsen, serving up a three-run double to opposing pitcher Jorge de la Rosa on a hanging split-finger fastball, then a two-run homer to Ryan Spilborghs on his very next pitch.

So, for the second time in three days, the Nationals found themselves trailing 10-0 by the third inning. You know how hard it is to do that in the big leagues?

"It's frustrating," Walker said. "You come in. You want to get the job done. I want to pick up Scott in that situation and hopefully give us a chance to win the ballgame. But I didn't execute in that first inning."

This would all be cause for panic on South Capitol Street if not for the fact Olsen's wretched start tonight and Jason Marquis' equally repulsive start Sunday were sandwiched around Livan Hernandez's four-hit shutout and Craig Stammen's eight-inning masterpiece.

The Nationals have gotten some standing-ovation-worthy performances this season. And they've gotten some gag-inducing performances.

Now, if they could only get some run-of-the-mill, average performances, we might have a better idea whether this 7-7 club is for real, is a fraud or is just destined to leave us wondering all season long.


Traveler8 said...

Well, Mrs. Lincoln, the other good take-aways tonight is that we did have a lot of hitting - Guzman was great, Zim dingered at the right time, and Pudge hit 2 of five - how many players see their batting average drop when that happens? We still got to see our team act like a professional team after they were down 10 - 0, and muster up to keep playing and stay in the game.

Anonymous said...

at least they dont suck all the time...this is progress people

Scooter said...

And most importantly, our starting pitcher uses the royal "we." No, no, they can't take that away from us.

Gary said...

Perhaps 'we' is a clue to the problem our pitching personnel has. One/half of the fellow is good and the other is not. It's time to take a bit more responsibility and adjust the mindset before taking the mound and leave the latter half in the locker room.

Doc said...

Mark you forgot to mention some of the inconsistencies on the batting side of the ledger. Dunn, one of my favorite players, is missing pitches that he used to smack somewhere--particularly the low outside ones. Fielding has become very consistent, and has had a lot to do with the Nats successes. Gooooo Nats!

Richard said...

I don't agree with much Peric says, but I do agree on one thing,They left one of their most "consistant" pitchers last year in AAA. Bring JD back! This club-as bad as it was last year- still won 70% of the games he started. NO BLOWOUTS with him on the mound.I can't understand what their problem is with him.

bdrube said...

All this argues for bringing up Strasburg sooner rather than later. It would be one thing if they had buried themselves again at the start, but they haven't. They NEED young Mr. S. to compete effectively. Screw the arbitration issue, get him up here as soon as his free agency eligibility has been pushed back 'til 2016.

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but it's been bugging me. Last week, when Livan faced Craig Counsell, I kept waiting for Charlie Slowes to mention that the first pitch ever thrown by a Nat at RFK was Livan to Counsell. But he never mentioned it. I wonder if Bob Carpenter did? Baseball is so much about tradition and history, I was disappointed that this milestone wasn't mentioned by our home radio announcer.

Anonymous said...

Why not start Clippard? His stuff looks outstanding. 92+ nice change and curve. Throws strikes. Give him the ball......there's nothing to lose

natsfan1a said...

We are not amused, Scooter. Well, actually, we are, kinda. (And thanks for embedding that song in my head. No, really. I like the song.)


And most importantly, our starting pitcher uses the royal "we." No, no, they can't take that away from us.

Wally said...

Anyone else think that Morgan's defense is a little off from last year? It is not that he is playing badly, but he was so exceptional last year that he has established a very high standard (which contains a lot of his value). I am surprised that he didn't catch that triple last night

Pete said...

Here's a thought: maybe the Nats starting pitchers are just bad. It seemed like Olsen would get ahead in the count, oftentimes 0-2, then lob a pitch that looked like a watermelon floating down the Mississippi and it would get crushed. He needs a better "out" pitch.

peric said...

I'm not sure why "we" get blamed for everything but ...

Right now improvement is noticeable at the minor league level. Except for perennial Nats / AZ problem child Matt Chico the entire pitching staff for Harrisburg looks as if you could just do a whole staff substitution with current major league staff and do better.

In Syracuse both JD Martin and Luis Atilano appear to be pitching just as well.

So, they could conceivably bring up both Strasburg and Thompson. Storen and Arenson or Atilano and so replace Olsen, Marquis, Walker and Miguel Batista and not miss a beat. This I think is different from last year. The fly in the ointment is would be what to do about Marquis and his contract?

Have to figure something will be done to remedy this by the end of May / early June.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anon: They're not converting Clippard back into a starter. They're very happy the way he's developed into a reliable reliever, one capable of going multiple innings who is effective against left-handed hitters as well as right-handed hitters. No need to mess with something that's working quite well right now.

Neato Torpedo said...

What's with the royal "we"?

cadeck13 said...

Well, the only thing I can say about last night, if winning the game for the Rockies in any way gave them some consolation for their terrible loss of Keli McGregor then I'll concede that to them, but let's get it back tonight and tomorrow. I agree with Wally on Nyjer, I've been a little surprised at his defense too. Anybody else worried about Dunn's offense? We need his bat badly.

Arlington BigFish said...

Bob & Rob last night were constantly complaining (& justifiably -- according to Pitch Track)) about the home plate ump's microscopic strike zone. This probably didn't make Olsen any worse than he already was -- and while de la Rosa was visibly disturbed, he seemed to be able to adjust & get the job done. But I started to wonder. In this age of statistics on EVERYTHING, has anyone done any studies on home plate umps' stats? BA, ERA, # of pitches per inning, etc.?

Suicide Squeeze said...

Sorry to be late to the game here (can't post at work)....

I think the solution is obvious. Every Nats pitcher skips a start. Stammen skips his next turn and goes straight to his great game. Go ahead and pitch Olsen as usual, but feel free to skip his next sure-to-be-bad start after that. Livo has a 0.0 ERA after two starts, which means it's prime time to skip him and his almost assuredly horrible start tomorrow. Lannan will let everyone know tonight whether or not he should take his next turn in the rotation.


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