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 anybody. I don't care who it is. Albert Pujols would have a problem hitting that today."

About the only good thing the Nationals did today against Jimenez was make him work for his win. He racked up 121 pitches over his 7 1/3 innings, forced to come out not because he was fading but because Colorado manager Jim Tracy couldn't risk the kid's arm falling off altogether.

But even when presented with an opportunity to rally against the Rockies bullpen, the Nats came up short. With a man on second and one out in the eighth, Nyjer Morgan came up to bat against Joe Beimel and sensed an opportunity to drag a bunt past the pitcher's mound and ignite the rally. Instead, Morgan popped the ball right back to Beimel.

"I'm thinking we're going to need a baserunner, so I just wanted to get something down," he said. "I just didn't get the angle and popped it up, which kind of sucked. But my thinking was, we needed baserunners there. I just didn't get it done."

Jim Riggleman defended Morgan's decision.

"I like what Nyjer tried to do there," the manager said. "If he gets that bunt over there toward the second baseman where he was trying to get it, then we could create some problems. We'd have had a good chance for a rally."

The Nationals still had an opportunity moments later, after Cristian Guzman beat out a slow roller to short to put runners on the corners with two out. But with an opportunity to pinch-hit for Willie Harris (a career .203 hitter against lefties) Riggleman opted to leave things as-is. Ryan Zimmerman was wearing a helmet with a bat in hand in the dugout, but Riggleman was merely bluffing, with Zimmerman unable to play due to a hamstring cramp.

So Harris flied out to right to end the inning, and the outcome of this game was all but sealed.

Lost in the shuffle was another fabulous performance from Hernandez, who allowed a pair of solo homers but otherwise dominated over eight innings. He's 2-1 with an 0.75 ERA, and if anyone in NatsTown claims to have predicted that three weeks ago, they're lying.

Thus, for the first time this season, the Nats lost a game in which their starting pitcher went at least five innings. It was bound to happen eventually, but it does feel like a wasted effort for a club that can't afford to waste good pitching performances.

The Nationals are 8-8, and honestly, they feel like they could be better.

"I feel good that we've competed well against some really good ballclubs," Riggleman said. "You never really feel good after a loss, but I feel great about the way guys are going after it. You want to make that other club feel like: 'Boy, those guys are tough. That's a tough ballclub.' I think after teams play us, that's the way they feel."

They do.

Before the game, Tracy raved about the improvements he's seen in the Nationals over the last nine months or so.

"I see a greater sense of awareness right now on the players' parts, of recognizing what it is they have to do in given situations," the Rockies manager said. "They're heading in the right direction. They obviously cleaned some things up here, from what I saw when we played them in Denver last year. There's just a different look to it. There's a higher energy level. There's a lot of things that to me look a lot different."


phil dunn said...

Adam Dunn has officially caught the Big Papi disease. He looks "done". At least the Nats didn't sign him to a long term conract. At the rate he is going, we won't even be able to foist him off on a contender at mid-season.

Sofa said...

He didn't look good, that's certain. And 100 mph sinkers can't be much help toward getting out of a slump.

Anonymous said...

Would they put Willingham at first base?

Bernadina appears to be pulling away from the pack offensively down in Syracuse. He is also a left-handed plus fielder anywhere in the outfield.

Willie Harris has the third highest OPS on the club. Still ... kind of wonder how long they will keep Taveres on the roster given that Bernadina continues to tear it up down in AAA. Since Maxwell, a righty, is already on the club? Further improving the club defensively with some potential offensive upside if both Bernadina and Maxwell (finally) prove they can hit in the majors?

Tcostant said...

You read an article like this and you hope that Strusburg is the real deal. It so great to have that guy, who ever time he pitches the team feels like it will win the game.

Anonymous said...

"Bernadina appears to be pulling away from the pack offensively down in Syracuse."

i love baseball language - you can be in dc, call syracuse "down," and be correct.

it's also the only place you can say "flied" (after you've turned 3 yrs old) and be correct, too.

go nats

natsfan1a said...

The language of baseball is one of the things I love most about it. The lexicon is so rich, I think both because of the length of games and the number of games played each year. You need creative ways to say the same thing over and over. :-)

That was a fun game to watch (on tv), even if we did come up short in the end.

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