Saturday, April 10, 2010

It all starts with pitching

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Garrett Mock's 3 1/3-inning start set the tone for tonight's loss.
NEW YORK -- Two factors, more than anything, contributed to the Nationals' 8-2 loss to the Mets tonight.

-- Garrett Mock was yanked after 3 1/3 innings, having thrown 84 pitches.

-- Jason Bergmann, Jesse English and Tyler Walker combined to allow three runs in a span of four batters in the seventh.

Now the real question: Which development was less surprising?

Unfortunately, we've come to expect such exploits from these pitchers. Mock seems to take the mound hoping just to get through five innings, while the Nationals' middle relievers seem to take the mound hoping just to retire the first batter they face.

When you put all that together, the result isn't pretty. The result is a lopsided loss to a Mets club that is missing several key starters and tonight looked ripe for a beating.

Instead, the Nats are 1-3 heading into the season's first weekend, trying to overcome both their fast-exiting starting rotation and their suspect middle relief.

"It's tough," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "But at the same time, we've got to keep playing. There's still a lot of games left, the whole season left. It's only four games. We've just got to make the adjustments, get our starting pitchers to give us some innings and get some guys out."

John Lannan (five runs in 3 2/3 innings on Opening Day) couldn't do it. Neither could Jason Marquis (six runs in four innings) or Craig Stammen (four runs in five innings). And Mock most definitely couldn't do it tonight during a laborious outing that looked very much like his laborious outings of a year ago.

Mock, who repeatedly made a point all spring to "attack hitters," needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning tonight. He wound up allowing four hits, issuing five walks and serving up two homers into a stiff wind blowing in from left field that he believes also affected his ability to pitch.

The combination of the wind and sub-50 degree temperature made it difficult to get a good grip on the ball and locate it within the strike zone.

"I'm not going to sit there and say it's the baseball's fault," Mock said. "But I mean, I just couldn't get a grip on it. I did everything I could, from trying to keep my hands moist to licking my fingers, anything I could to get some kind of tack on the ball. It just really was uncomfortable."

(For what it's worth, Mets starter Mike Pelfrey didn't seem too fazed by the wind in recording a quality start. And Walker refused to use the conditions as an excuse for his shaky performance out of the bullpen.)

Mock, though, seems like he's searching for answers these days. In the span of three weeks, he's gone from the best-looking starter in camp not named Strasburg to a starter who may be pitching to keep his job next time out.

"Mentally, he's being aggressive. He's firing. He's challenging hitters," manager Jim Riggleman said. "But he's just not throwing quality strikes. ... I don't think it's a lack of aggression on his part. I just think it's a lack of execution."

None of Riggleman's starters have executed during the season's first week. Eventually, a Washington starter is going to go six innings, right? Right?

Tonight's starter wasn't thinking too much about the collective performance of the rotation but rather his own situation.

"I mean, collectively, we're all individuals," Mock said, channeling Yogi Berra. "Every guy that goes out to the mound, yeah, we're trying to get six-plus every time out. A night like tonight, it's up to the manager whenever he makes a move. Tonight he made a good move. But for me, I don't have a pitch limit on me. That's for Skip to do. If it takes me 164 pitches to get through six innings, I'm going to do that."

(Note to Garrett: You're never going to be allowed to throw 164 pitches in six innings. If you're on pace to do that, chances are you'll be yanked before the Presidents' Race is run.)

All these short outings from Nationals starters have had a domino effect on the club's bullpen. Not that those eight relievers are overworked only four games into the season. But with his starters averaging less than 4 1/3 innings a piece, Riggleman has been forced to use the worst members of his bullpen (Bergmann, English, Walker, Miguel Batista) instead of the best members of the unit (Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Tyler Clippard).

"There's no excuses for any failures we've had in the bullpen," the manager said. "But if your starters go three-to-five innings, it will cause problems that you can't solve. We've obviously got to pitch deeper in games."

And when those relievers are called upon -- whether it's the fifth inning or the eighth inning -- they need to be able to put the fire out instantaneously, not fan the flames.

Here's the bang-your-head-against-the-wall stat of the day: Nationals relievers have made 17 appearances so far this season. They've managed to retire the first batter they face only five times.

English and Walker were the victims tonight, allowing an RBI single and a two-run homer on consecutive pitches in the seventh inning. What had been a nip-and-tuck ballgame instead morphed into a Mets rout.

"Relieving's a lot like blackjack," Walker said. "You know your fate instantly."

Right now, Washington's bullpen keeps busting.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

"I mean, collectively, we're all individuals," Mock said, channeling Yogi Berra.

I have no earthly idea what this moron is trying to say here. But can he collectively be an individual in, say, SYR?

Anonymous said...

If I wasn't still so angry at the opening day fiasco (Opening Day at Citizens Bank South!) I might have more goodwill available for the crappy pitching. As far as I am concerned, this feels like last season all over again. That, along with the weakness in RF, does not bode well for the immediate future.

Anonymous said...

I don't care about right field. That's going to get solved.

But I do care about the pitching. So, Riggleman himself, the manager the man, that he didn't give JD Martin much of a chance? F%^&* you a****** you talk about "makeup". That guy is the reason why Syracuse had the season they had last year as their ace. How is it that I can see that and Rizzo and Riggleman cannot?

Olsen I can understand ... he probably does need a few more rehabilitation starts ... but meanwhile we are stuck with? 100 year old Batista and Hernandez? Walker and Bergman continue the poor efforts they gave this spring? This ballclub seems like its run like the diogenes club in Sherlock Holmes, no one talks to each other ... complete silence? Except now, finally, when Riggleman confronts Mock? Where was JD Martin all spring long?

Politics first? Winning games and performance second? That is what it looks like to us poor dumb fans Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman?

Nattydread said...

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

"I mean, collectively, we're all individuals," Mock said, channeling Yogi Berra.

I have no earthly idea what this moron is trying to say here. But can he collectively be an individual in, say, SYR?


natsfan1a said...

Maybe Mock should have asked Pelfrey for some of that black stuff that the MASN cameras picked up on his hand after he bare-handed the come-backer.


(For what it's worth, Mets starter Mike Pelfrey didn't seem too fazed by the wind in recording a quality start. And Walker refused to use the conditions as an excuse for his shaky performance out of the bullpen.)

natsfan1a said...

And "hi" periculum. :-)

Anonymous said...

Mock was exactly like he was in the spring, except worse with the walks. He was giving up a bunch of home runs even then. He looks very jumpy on the mound. I'm not sure what they see in him.

The Great Unwashed said...

John Lannan: Five runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Jason Marquis: Six runs in four innings.
Craig Stammen: Four runs in five innings.
Garrett Mock: Five walks, two home runs, 3 1/3 innings, 84 pitches.

The bullpen has the only win so far and has thrown the most innings in baseball.

It's very telling that John Lannan was selected to start opening day. He's a good guy, and I like his attitude and durability, but let's face it, he's a #4 starter in any other rotation.

Given the salary Jason Marquis is making, he should've been the opening day starter, only he's not that caliber.

Don't get me started on the makeup of the bullpen.

Let's not kid ourselves. This is like the movie Groundhog Day. I keep waking up, and it's 2008-2009 all over again.

Anonymous8 said...

So far all the starting pitchers have been consistent---consistently below average.

Garrett Mock didn't earn a spot on the rotation in my opinion, and only got there because of Rizzo's Kearnsian yearning for him.

So far, so bad. I expect better.

matteo said...

Mock is the least of my worries at this point due to two reasons. 1) he is the forth starter and I don't expect much out of 4th and 5th starters on a regular basis (though with conditions like that it would have been nice to see him throw strikes to the punch and judy hitters and bravo to Dibble for ragging on him about it last night. 2) I really think Rizzo has set this up for Mock's make or break time. Throw him out there for 5 or 6 starts and if he can't get his head straight, off the the Syracuse wilderness for you and don't come back.

I just hold onto hope that by the All-star break you will see a line up of Strasburg and Martin in DC.

Brian Carson said...


Nice article.

Pitching is once again the gremlin with the Nationals.

Can't wait for June when the rotation should feature names like Strasburg, Wang, and Detwiler, with Storen in the bullpen.

Things should be much better by then.

Dave said...

Somebody's got to be taken off the 25-man to make a spot for Livo Sunday. Who's it going to be? Bergmann? Batista? Walker? English? Where's the maximum addition by subtraction?

And when can the brilliant Mr. Mock be sent down and the angry and tough Mr. Olsen be brought into the rotation? Soon enough to help, I hope. If they wait to bring Olsen in until Strasburg, Wang, et al., are ready, then it won't help at all.

JayB said...

Mock will be sent down after the game today.....Buys them time and keeps all the bull pen arms around as this starting staff tries to get going. Livo looks damn good right now which is damn sad.

Bergmen will get send down when they need another starter.

Anonymous said...

At least Livo will eat innings for 4 out of 5 starts and give the bullpen some relief. I doubt they send Mock down but based on his performance and his idiotic statements afterwards, I would applaud that move.

Slidell said...

It's rather interesting that after throwing 84 pitches in 3.1 innings, with 5 walks, that he left with the only damage being two one-run homers.

bdrube said...

It was pretty clear last night why Mock walks people, because if he catches too much of the plate the batter is apt to hit the ball out of the stadium. He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

At this point Mock, Bergmann and Batista at a minimum should all be flushed. Let's get that revolving door from Syracuse started now. After all, things can't get much worse.

Souldrummer said...

I still think that it will be English sent down because Bergmann is out of options and Walker is a new pickup. Batista's job is to eat innings in the early and middle part of games when the starters get shelacked and it's going to take a lot worse for him to get sent down and out.

natsfan1a said...

We pause now for this brief PSA. This Week in Baseball is starting up again. Today's episode is supposed to air locally at 12:30 on Fox. I've not checked the MLB Network schedule, but last year the weekly episode would also air there on Sunday. How about that?

1stBaseCoach said...

Lannan goes into the 8th today...

Anonymous said...

Let's hope you're right 1stBaseCoach because if he doesn't it will likely mean that they will get quality starts only from Livan Hernandez. Which as JayB is also "damned bad".

Don't expect to get quality starts from Wang. His shoulder is reportedly sore just from throwing off the mound. He may be a long way away if at all.

But Zimmermann? Maybe ... Even if they can get Strasburg + Zimmerman into the fold producing quality starts ... and Lannan can pick up the pace and become a solid #3. With a solid bullpen that would substitute Storen for Bergman/Walkier/Batista? They might just get a lot better in a hurry.

Dave said...

@1stBaseCoach: "Lannan goes into the 8th today..."

We can only hope.

Just heard Dave J. on the radio quoting Mock's excuse of not being able to hold the ball. A lamer excuse I don't think I've ever heard. Pelfrey seemed to do it.

Pine tar on Pelfrey's hand? Maybe. But as McCatty said, in the big leagues you have to figure out how to get it done, not whine about the ball being hard to hold.

At least in Lannan I hope we have a grown-up on the mound today.

Mrs. Z. said...

Will there be a Bang-You-Head-Against-the-Wall Stat every day? This could be interesting...

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