Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
C Wil Nieves
P Luis Atilano

CUBS (10-11)
SS Ryan Theriot
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
LF Tyler Colvin
CF Marlon Byrd
2B Mike Fontenot
C Koyie Hill
P Ryan Dempster

2:17 p.m. -- Gorgeous day here. The bleachers are totally filled up, but the grandstand is maybe half-full at this point. Day game at Wrigley: Nothing's better.

2:22 p.m. -- Play ball! Ryan Dempster starts things off with a strike to Nyjer Morgan.

2:25 p.m. -- And just like that, the Nats take a 1-0 lead. Adam Kennedy smokes a 2-0 pitch from Dempster into the right-field bleachers, an impressive feat in that what wind there is today is blowing in from right. Kennedy's first homer as a National.

2:42 p.m. -- Luis Atilano gives the run right back to the Cubs, though wasn't really his fault. Ryan Theriot led off with a hard grounder to the right of second that Cristian Guzman could have stopped but instead dove past. A walk to Kosuke Fukudome put Atilano in a jam. But he got Derrek Lee to fly out to right -- Roger Bernadina nearly gunned down Theriot at third with a fantastic throw -- and then got Aramis Ramirez to hit a fly ball to left that brought home the run but otherwise recorded an out. A pop-up between home plate and third base should have been the third out of the inning, except Adam Kennedy dropped it for an error. Marlon Byrd finally flied out to right to end the inning. Atilano faced six batters, and it's not far-fetched to say he basically retired five of them. Still, it's now 1-1 after one.

2:51 p.m. -- Wil Nieves (who?) is probably the weakest offensive player on this roster, and he'd probably be the first to admit it. But Nieves does have a knack for coming through in some timely situations, as he just did in the top of the second. With two outs, a runner on second and a 3-2 count, he shot a high fastball from Dempster to right field for an RBI single. Nats retake the lead, 2-1.

2:59 p.m. -- And Atilano gives that run back as well. A two-out, RBI single by Theriot knots the game up 2-2. After all these great starting pitching performances over the last week or so, we may have our first dud in a while today. Fortuantely, the Nats' bullpen is well-rested.

3:07 p.m. -- Better stuff from Atilano in the third. Aside from a two-out single by Tyler Colvin, he retired the rest of the Cubs' order without letting the ball get out of the infield. Still 2-2 after three.

3:25 p.m. -- For all you conspiracy theorists out there who think my location within the ballpark affects the events on the field ... I just went down to the stands for the fourth inning to take photos, and lo and behold, Adam Dunn homers. Second time that's happened in the last week. This was no cheapie, either. Dunn went to the opposite field and sent his shot well up into the bleachers to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.

3:47 p.m. -- Couple of significant developments to report from the fifth inning. In the top half, Atilano hit what looked like a routine fly ball to center, until Marlon Byrd lost it in the sun. Byrd, though, somehow managed to make the catch with a no-look, behind-the-back maneuver that can only truly be appreciated from watching the replay. Make sure to check it out later. It's worth it. ... In the bottom of the inning, Atilano loaded the bases with one out but managed to wriggle his way out of it impressively. Byrd popped up to first for the second out. Mike Fontenot then his a slow grounder to the right side. Dunn moved to his right to pick it up and then threw to Atilano, who pumped his fist and let out a yell upon recording the third out of the inning. Still 3-2 Nats, now in the sixth. (Oh, I should point out that as Atilano was getting into that jam, Brian Bruney was warming in the bullpen. It would appear Bruney has completely lost his setup role and is now just another middle reliever.)

3:56 p.m. -- Boy, has Luis Atilano gotten better as this game goes on, or what? After escaping that jam in the fifth, he just retired the side in the sixth, striking out Koyie Hill and getting Ryan Theriot to hit a comebacker. That's another quality start for the Nationals, the club's seventh straight. Imagine that.

4:03 p.m. -- That'll do it for Atilano. Six innings, six hits, two runs, three walks and a strikeout. Bruney coming on to pitch the seventh, hoping to protect a 3-2 lead.

4:13 p.m. -- Well, Bruney made it interesting (as he often does). But this time he got out of it. After serving back-to-back singles to open the seventh, he got Ramirez to ground into a 4-3 double play, then Colvin to ground to second himself. Proof that Bruney's stuff is good enough to get hitters out ... as long as he throws it for strikes.

4:18 p.m. -- Something to consider ... the Marlins have already lost today, and the Phillies are facing Tim Lincecum in San Francisco. If the Nats hold on to win here, they could be alone in second place, one game behind the Mets, by the end of the afternoon.

4:20 p.m. -- Tyler Clippard coming on to pitch the eighth.

4:32 p.m. -- Another scoreless inning of relief from Clippard. He allowed a leadoff double and later walked Xavier Nady on four pitches, but he struck out Chad Tracy with a high, 92 mph fastball and got Ryan Theriot to foul out on the first pitch. Nats lead 3-2 heading to the ninth. Clippard's updaated season totals: 3-0, 0.54 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. Send Tyler to Anaheim!

4:36 p.m. -- It's a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, so here comes Matt Capps to protect a 3-2 lead and shoot for his 10th save in 10 tries.

4:44 p.m. -- That's another curly W in the books. A great play by Desmond on Fukudome's leadoff grounder to the hole helps Capps lock this one up. Nats win, 3-2. They're 12-10, their best record after 22 games since the franchise relocated. (The 2005 club was 11-11 at this point.)

5:31 p.m. -- One more tidbit for all you Nats historians out there ... they've clinched a winning April. It's their first winning month since Sept. 2007 and only the seventh winning month since the franchise arrived in town. The others: April 2005 (13-11), June 2005 (20-6), July 2006 (14-11), Sept. 2006 (15-13), July 2007 (14-12), Sept. 2007 (15-12).


Kevin said...

I know you don't have the budget to be in both Chicago and Harrisburg yesterday, but wanted to see if you have gotten any reaction from Rizzo, etc. on the performance yesterday. You had predicted 5 starts in Harrisburg, which would make this sunday his final one. Is that holding true or do you see him possibly getting the AAA call before sunday?

Also, can someone set me straight on the Super 2 thing...specifically, why does it matter since he has a 4 year contract that already covers the early arbitration years?

WebberDC said...

@Kevin -

I just looked up Starasburg's 4 year contract and realized it started in '09. His Super Two season would be '13, so he would in the arbitration process after the '12 season.

Wigi said...

That's a good point, Kevin... Couldn't the Nats have avoided all of this hand wringing with a six year deal? I suppose that Boras would have been against it... but the issue has only to do with how things play out in arbitration... they could have avoided it with a six year contract.


Mark Zuckerman said...

Kevin: Strasburg will definitely start Sunday for Harrisburg. Rizzo and Co. were certainly pleased to get the reports on last night's start, but it doesn't change the plan they've got for him. I do believe Sunday's start could be his last at Class AA, though. Would seem to be an appropriate time to make the jump up to Syracuse after that.

K.D. said...

I like that Zimmerman & Pudge are getting two days rest with the off-day. My only change defensively is put Kennedy at second and Gonzalez at third, but know that Riggleman wants Guzman's bat in there. Assume both Zim & Pudge are available for pinch-hitting.

Anonymous said...

How cool is it to have 3 pitchers with era's under 1 win you a ballgame in the bigs and two others (the top pitching prospects) with also era's under 1 win one in the minors? And this is 20 games into the season.

Tcostant said...

Kevin I asked that same question about Super 2 status on these boards a week or so ago. I will paraphrase Mark response. It's a 4 year contract, but it is based on baseball seasons, not when it was signed. So year 1 was 2009 and year 4 concludes at the end of the baseball season in 2012. So in the off-season between 2012 and 2013 he will need to be signed.

If he was up right now in the majors, he would be eligible for arbitration in that off-season between 2012 and 2013. If the team waits until around June 1st (it a floating date based on the number of other rookies up before that date) he would not be eligible for arbitration and the Nats could pay him anything it wants as long as it within 80% of 2012 salary (of $3 million).

So if he pitching great, lets say he goes 16-5 with 200 strikeouts in 2011, in arbitration that could command over $10 million dollars, but they could renew him at any dollar amount (lets say $4.5 million, I don’t see a pay cut based on that scenario). The thing is more than just the 2012 salary. His 2013 arbitration salary would be based on his 2012 salary, so it can have a cumulative effect. More likely, they would try to use that leverage to get him to sign a multi-year deal.

By the way – he has already served enough time in the minors that his free agent clock has been pushed out one more year.

Hope this helps!

Mark Zuckerman said...

Tcostant: Thanks for passing that along, I couldn't have explained it better myself! Also, to answer Wigi's question about why the Nats didn't just give Strasburg a six-year contract last summer ... that's a lot of guaranteed money to give a guy who had yet to throw a pitch as a professional. What if Strasburg's arm blows out after two years? At the moment, they'll still be on the hook for two more. But if they gave him a six-year contract, they'd be on the hook until 2015!

Anonymous said...

That's good for Harrisburg, but a little hard for me to understand, given the success he's had there. I'd like to see how he'd fare against better talent.

Tcostant said...

No problem Mark. Thanks for the tip about Strustburg pitching on Sunday in Harrisburg; I got my tickets and plan to bring the family up to see him pitch. I hope they let him pitch at 6 innings then.

I recommend to anyone of these board to take the trip to Harrisburg, it's about a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive from Northern VA. Worth the trip and Kids Eat free this Sunday!

Matt said...

Mark -

SI's Jon Heyman noted that Strasburg has a clause in his contract that permits 100 innings at the major league level this year. Any truth to this? Is this the real reasoning behind "the plan" for Strasburg?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Matt: I don't know of a specific clause like that, but I can tell you that Strasburg is targeted to throw about 140-150 total innings this season between the minors and majors.

Kevin said...

Thanks everyone for the answers...that all makes sense!

@Matt - no idea to actual truth, but not surprising. Boras is 110% behind the Nats in their plan to bring Strasburg along slowly based on some recent quotes I've read. Assuming 25 innings in AA, bumping up to 6 innings per appearance in AAA and 5 starts, that would seem to put him at 55 innings before he gets called up...another 100 innings puts him at about 155 innings, which I think is a good target, give or take a few innings.

Diz said...

If the Nats somehow pull this game out with Pudge and Zim out of the lineup and Dempster being (infinity - 0) against the Nats, we will definitely have stolen one.

Nattydread said...

Now Clippard walks the tight rope. Whew.

NatinBeantown said...

Aside: Tavaras-Plush-Bernardina has gotta be one of the fastest OF combinations in baseball.

C'mon, Capps...

Sec314 said...

Send Clip to Anaheim. Along with Livo and Capps!

Anonymous said...

GO NATS!!! Clip and Save strike again! Let's go fry some fish!!! Hello Miami! Tip the hat to Rizzo and Riggleman..the new and improved Nats are awesome!

Les in NC said...

Clippard/Capps = DOMINANT back of the bullpen relief! With a .6 ERA and a .7 ERA respectively NL clubs are going to have to be more aggressive in trying to knock out the starters early in games against us.
This team is really working hard and having fun and deserve to be! I can't wait for Zimm and Pudge and Wang and Stras and Storen and.... well, tbh, we wont need Stras and Storen if we can keep this momentum up. My prediction of +15 games over last seasons record is looking good, dare I push it to +20?

bumsfan4 said...

Nice game from the starter, 2 holds and Matt slamming the door. Doesn't get much better than winning on the road when we only get 4 hits. Everyone seems to be bearing down with good focus. Credit to Riggleman and staff and enjoying the moment.

David said...

Mark - you mentioned it is their best record after 22 games since pre-DC, but isn't it also the first time since 2005 that they have been 2 games over .500 at any time during a season? And all without Zim for half the time.

Opening Day seems like a distant memory now (thank goodness).

And speaking of memories, let's not forget what a difference Capps, Clippard, etc., are when compared to last year's bullpen after 22 games - led by closer Joel Hanrahan (era 7.20), setup men Saul Rivera (era 9.28), Logan Kensing (era 8.68), and workhorse Julian Tavarez (0-2, 4.50).

natsfan1a said...

That was fun, if a little nervous-making. Loved Atilano as Elvis.

Mark Zuckerman said...

David: Actually, they were 3-0 to open up 2008. Remember, Zim's walkoff on Opening Night, followed by back-to-back wins in Philly. Then they lost nine straight and never came close to sniffing .500 again.

Sunderland said...

This is why baseball is such a great game to follow.
Imagine it's mid-March and someone says.
"By late April the Nats will be 2 games over .500. Livan Hernandez and Luis Atilano will have half of the Nats wins. The talk about Ian Desmond's glove is about how good it is. Our right fielder platoon has knocked in 13 runs. Oh, and Zimmerman has missed about half of our games, but he apparently left his gold glove out there 'cause whoever mans the hot corner looks like Brooksie"

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