Monday, May 31, 2010

It's official: June 8 for Strasburg

The Nationals announced this evening that Stephen Strasburg -- barring any rainouts, injuries or other unforeseen circumstances -- will make his major-league debut June 8 against the Pirates.

Fans have been anticipating the 21-year-old right-hander's arrival in Washington since he was drafted No. 1 overall last June out of San Diego State. It became clear this spring he would spend the season's first two months in the minor leagues, then most likely make his big-league debut sometime during the Nationals' June 4-10 homestand against the Reds and Pirates. By delaying his arrival until now, the Nats will ensure he cannot become arbitration-eligible until after the 2013 season.

Strasburg, who is 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA in 10 combined starts between Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse, still is slated to make one more minor-league start Thursday in Buffalo. He'll be pitching on regular rest when he starts next Tuesday at Nationals Park against Pittsburgh.

Game 52: Nats at Astros

Photo courtesy Houston Astros
Minute Maid Park hosts the Nats and Astros for four games.
After yesterday's game in San Diego, Jim Riggleman suggested there could be some tweaks to his lineup, particularly with Nyjer Morgan, who has been in a prolonged funk. Of course, there are only so many places Morgan can hit in the lineup.

"It's been suggested to move Nyjer down," Riggleman said yesterday. "But the only place I can move him is second. ... Nyjer's not going to play for you if he doesn't hit first or second hardly. It doesn't make much sense to put him anywhere else. It may just take a little pressure off him to hit him second for a little while. But whether you're hitting first or second, you've still got to get on base."

We'll find out today whether a move to the 2-hole can help cure Morgan's ails. Cristian Guzman takes over as leadoff hitter. Willie Harris also gets the start in right field, his first since May 21 at Baltimore.

I'm not with the club in Houston this week. Took the red-eye home from San Diego last night and will enjoy a few days off before the Nats return for the big homestand against the Reds and Pirates later this week. Hope you all enjoy the game and enjoy your Memorial Day...

Where: Minute Maid Park
Gametime: 2:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 89 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from RF
2B Cristian Guzman
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Sunday, May 30, 2010

This is who they are

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman's two solo homers accounted for the Nats' entire offensive output.
SAN DIEGO -- We can analyze the Nationals' 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Padres today til the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. We can lament this team's lack of offensive depth. We can harp on Adam Kennedy's throwing error. We can question umpire Bob Davidson's vision on Matt Capps' 1-2 outside fastball to Nick Hundley, a pitch that could not have been placed any better by Capps yet was called a ball and set the stage for Hundley's game-winning single on the next pitch.

But sometimes we tend to overanalyze these things. The Nationals had an opportunity -- make that plenty of opportunities -- to win today's series finale at Petco Park. They came up short. Just as they've done a number of times this season.

Every game this team plays comes down to the wire. Of the Nats' 51 games played so far this season, 30 have been decided by two runs or fewer. The trend has only picked up over the last month. Twenty of their last 25 games have been decided by two runs or fewer. (They're 9-11 in those games.)

Maybe it's just time to come to the following conclusion: This is who the Nationals are.

They're a decent team -- not a great one, not a horrible one -- that plays tough almost every single night and almost always gives itself a chance to win. Sometimes it wins. Sometimes it loses.

Clubhouse members will point out they've faced a difficult schedule in the season's first two months, and emerged with a respectable 25-26 record.

"Any time you play teams that were in the playoffs last year or are going to be close to the playoffs this year, there's not going to be many blowouts," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think when good teams play good teams, it's close. One run, two runs, three runs. If you get a

Strasburg to start Thurs. at AAA

SAN DIEGO -- Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make his next start Thursday, for Class AAA Syracuse at Buffalo.

The Nationals have not announced any plans for the top pitching prospect beyond that, but this lines him up to pitch again either June 8 or June 9. The Nats host the Pirates June 8-10.

Strasburg suffered his second loss of the season last night when he was charged with three runs over five-plus innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That outing included the first home run hit off the 21-year-old right-hander as a minor-leaguer: a solo shot by designated hitter Rene Rivera to lead off the third.

In five starts at Class AAA, Strasburg is now 3-1 with a 1.27 ERA. In 10 total starts between Class AA and Class AAA, he's 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA, allowing 14 runs (eight earned) and 28 hits over 50 1/3 innings. He has recorded 60 strikeouts while walking 12.

Game 51: Nats at Padres

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez and Jon Garland square off in the series finale at Petco Park.
SAN DIEGO -- The Nationals came west at the beginning of the week, facing a difficult road trip that kicked off with six games against the tough Giants and Padres. Four more games in Houston against a wretched Astros club still await before this road trip is over, but the toughest leg ends today at Petco Park.

A win in the series finale against the Padres would leave the Nats at 3-3 on this west coast swing. It would be hard not to be satisfied with that. Even a loss today would leave them at 2-4, hardly an embarrassment given the competition. So a victory today could be looked at as gravy, and certainly the Nationals have to like their chances with Livan Hernandez on the mound. Jon Garland, who spurned Washington in favor of San Diego last winter as a free agent, has enjoyed a fine season as well. So this is no pushover.

Jim Riggleman sticks with his regular lineup. Nyjer Morgan remains in center field. Roger Bernadina remains in right field. Wil Nieves remains behind the plate.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 72 degrees, Wind 5 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Nyjer stuck in a deep "freeze"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan is in a prolonged funk at the plate and in the field.
SAN DIEGO -- Let's get this out of the way right off the top: Jim Riggleman isn't going to bench Nyjer Morgan.

"Nyjer is our leadoff hitter. He's our center fielder," Riggleman said following tonight's 4-2 loss to the Padres. "He's just going to have to come out of it."

"It" is a prolonged slump that has overtaken every aspect of Morgan's game. At the plate, on the bases and in the field, he's struggling big-time right now. And the Nationals are paying the price for it.

Tonight's loss, to be fair, was not pinned on Morgan. He didn't do anything to help his team win, but he didn't lose the game. Adam Kennedy's first-inning error, J.D. Martin's subsequent hanging curveball to Nick Hundley and an overall lack of offense did in the Nationals.

But Morgan's struggles have become a significant problem for a Nats club that plays so many tight ballgames it can't afford for its leadoff man and center fielder to be stuck in a prolonged funk like this. Plain and simple, the Nationals need Morgan to snap out of this, and quick, if they are to maintain a winning record over the long haul. Or else they're going to need to find another leadoff man and center fielder.

"I'm just having bad luck now," Morgan said. "I'm working counts, battling. Right now, it's just not happening. I've got to get Dr. Freeze off my twig. But it'll be alright."

That was just one of several uncomfortable moments during Morgan's postgame media session in which "Tony Plush" made far too many appearances. Perhaps it's the only way Nyjer knows how to deflect criticism and convince himself everything's going to be OK, but the

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Game 50: Nats at Padres

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
J.D. Martin returns to the majors tonight at Petco Park.
SAN DIEGO -- It's another beautiful day in paradise, where hopefully there won't be any lineup card mishaps tonight. Then again, based on what we learned last night, the Nationals could write in Stephen Strasburg's name as their starting pitcher and not be penalized for it.

I don't think Jim Riggleman will be trying any shenanigans like that. If anything, I have a hunch he'll proofread tonight's lineup card about 10 times, then ask every one of his coaches, players, trainers and clubhouse attendants to do the same before handing it over to Tim Tschida.

Assuming no mistakes, the Nats will send J.D. Martin to the mound for the first time this season. The right-hander, who was recalled from Class AAA to take over Scott Olsen's rotation slot, went 2-1 with a 2.99 ERA in six starts at Syracuse. As we saw last year when he was up, Martin generally keeps his team in the game. He doesn't blow you away at all, but more often than not, he seems to get the job done.

No real surprises in the rest of the lineup. Ian Desmond gets the night off, probably more because Riggleman wants to get Adam Kennedy into the lineup than a real desire to rest Desmond.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 8:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, Wind 5 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Willingham reaching new heights

SAN DIEGO -- Josh Willingham was as consistent an offensive performer as you could find the last four years and seemed to have settled in as a solid, though hardly spectacular, ballplayer.

But over the last two months, he's produced at levels not previously seen. At age 31, Willingham appears to have taken his game to a new level.

In this article on, Willingham sheepishly tries to downplay his lofty numbers at the plate while Adam Dunn makes some bold predictions about his teammate's potential.

No protesting this win

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Josh Willingham continued his hot streak with a three-run homer.
SAN DIEGO -- When Jim Riggleman arrived at Petco Park this afternoon, he never thought he'd wind up reading the fine print of The Official Rules of Baseball, Rule 3.05(a) and 3.05(c).

You never know what's going to happen when you show up at the ballpark these days. You might see one team play under protest because the other team submitted a lineup card with a starting pitcher who was in the minor leagues. You might see the toughest home-run park in the majors surrender two big blasts. You might see the most-successful closer in the big leagues allow four straight singles to open the bottom of the ninth, put the game-winning run on first and then pitch his way out of the jam.

And sometimes you might just see all of that take place in the span of 2 hours and 29 minutes.

The Nationals' 5-3 victory over the Padres featured no shortage of unusual events, some which left everyone scrambling for the nearest copy of the rule book, some which just left everyone biting their fingernails with tension.

Where to begin with this one? How about at the beginning, since that's when the night's first oddity developed. San Diego starter Clayton Richard cruised through the top of the first with no trouble, and the two teams swapped sides, with John Lannan strolling to the mound for his first inning of work.

But what was this? Why are the umpires huddling with Riggleman, and why are they all looking at their lineup cards? Did someone make a mistake?

Oh, did they. The Padres inexplicably listed their starting pitcher and No. 9 hitter as right-hander Adam Russell. Who had been optioned to Class AAA Portland earlier in the day. Obviously, he didn't pitch the

Maxwell back to Syracuse

SAN DIEGO -- The Nationals optioned outfielder Justin Maxwell to Class AAA Syracuse after tonight's 5-3 win over the Padres, an expected move needed to clear space for right-hander J.D. Martin, who will start tomorrow night.

Maxwell was called up from Syracuse on Sunday when Scott Olsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Because the Nats didn't need another starting pitcher until this weekend, they opted to add an extra bench player for the week.

Maxwell, who has already been optioned out three times this year (including once during spring training), got a chance to start both yesterday in San Francisco and tonight in San Diego. He went 0-for-7 with two walks in those games.

Martin, who was 2-1 with a 2.99 ERA at Syracuse, will officially be recalled tomorrow morning. He already flew to San Diego yesterday and was at the team hotel during tonight's game.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tony Gwynn on Stephen Strasburg

SAN DIEGO -- There is no bigger baseball figure in this town than Tony Gwynn, the Padres' Hall-of-Fame outfielder who now serves as a color analyst on their TV broadcasts. Gwynn, of course, also is the baseball coach at San Diego State, where he helped mold Stephen Strasburg into the top prospect he is now.

Gwynn was a popular man at Petco Park this afternoon. Everyone wanted to know how he thinks his protege will do once he arrives in Washington in the next seven-to-10 days.

As you'll read in this article on, Gwynn has no doubt Strasburg will handle all the pressure and hype with his usual aplomb.

Game 49: Nats at Padres

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Petco Park, the beautiful home of baseball in beautiful San Diego.
SAN DIEGO -- Hello from heaven on earth, otherwise known as San Diego. It just doesn't get any better than this place.

And for the first time in several years, this fantastic town has a good baseball team to call its own. The surprising Padres own the National League's best record at 28-19, thanks to a deep and talented pitching staff that takes full advantage of the spacious outfield here at Petco Park.

Left-hander Clayton Richard, one of the key acquisitions from the White Sox in last year's Jake Peavy trade, takes the mound tonight looking to improve to 5-2. Jim Riggleman counters with a lineup somewhat similar to yesterday's (Adam Dunn hits third, with Ryan Zimmerman fourth) though Nyjer Morgan is back at the top with Justin Maxwell in right and Cristian Guzman at second. Better defensive alignment for this park. John Lannan looks to build off back-to-back strong starts.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 10:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 63 degrees, Wind 10 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman

What do you think?

SAN FRANCISCO -- As I prepare to board my delayed flight to San Diego, several Nats-related questions occur to me. I'm curious to know how you would answer each of these...

-- Should Adam Dunn ALWAYS be taken out for defensive purposes late in games the Nats lead? Jim Riggleman left him in yesterday, and he proceeded to boot a grounder that helped pave the way for the Giants to rally and win. Then again, Dunn's spot in the lineup came up in the ninth with the Nationals trailing by one run. Had he been pulled earlier, someone else would have been batting there. Of course, Dunn proceeded to strike out to end the game.

-- Plenty of you are dissatisfied with Nyjer Morgan and the right field rotation. But what would you do? If not Morgan, who in center field? And who do you want in right field? (Jermaine Dye is not an accepted answer.)

-- If it was up to you, when would Stephen Strasburg make his big-league debut?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another close game

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen pitched well enough to win, but that wasn't enough today.
SAN FRANCISCO -- What if Adam Dunn's drive off Barry Zito had traveled 12 inches farther and not ricocheted back on the field? What if Nate Schierholtz was unable to reach down and drive Sean Burnett's well-placed slider into center field for a key base hit? What if Willie Harris hadn't grounded into a killer of a double play? And what if Dunn hadn't booted Ryan Rohlinger's broken-bat grounder?

What if only one of those key moments in the Nationals' 5-4 loss to the Giants today had gone the other way? Might we be talking now about an impressive series victory at AT&T Park instead of a frustrating loss?

"It's bear hunting," reliever Tyler Walker said. "Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Too bad we were on the bad end of it today."

You can play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game 162 times a year. And in the end, it all usually evens out. But you feel like the majority of Nats' games come down to these one or two key moments, you're not imagining things.

Twenty-seven of the Nationals' 48 games this season have been decided by one or two runs. (They're 16-11 in those games.) More recently, 17 of their last 22 games have been decided by one or two runs. (They're only 8-9 over that span.)

This just seems to be the identity of the 2010 Nats, who rarely put together enough offense to blow someone out but rarely get such poor pitching that they can't keep things close.

Such was the case again this afternoon along McCovey Cove, where a tight ballgame turned the Giants' way during the deciding seventh inning. When the inning began, the Nationals held a 3-2 lead, buoyed by early home runs from Dunn and Josh Willingham and some

Martin will start Saturday

SAN FRANCISCO -- Right-hander J.D. Martin will be recalled from Class AAA Syracuse to start Saturday night's game in San Diego, a club source confirmed.

Martin, 27, is 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts with the Chiefs and last pitched Saturday against Toledo. The Nationals will wait until after tomorrow night's game to make a move, at which point they'll need to remove a position player from the roster.

Read the full story on Martin, as well as an update on Scott Olsen, on

Game 48: Nats at Giants

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats and Giants play the rubber game at AT&T Park this afternoon.
SAN FRANCISCO -- OK, the above photo is totally misleading. I took it yesterday, when the sun was shining and the backdrop was beautiful. Today, it's gray, overcast and currently pouring. The forecast is not promising at all. But since this is the final game of the series (and the Nationals don't make another trip here this season) they're going to have to do whatever they can to try to get this game in.

If and when it does get underway, Jim Riggleman will have a totally new-look lineup out there against Giants left-hander Barry Zito. Justin Maxwell is in center field, Cristian Guzman is in right field, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn have been flip-flopped and Carlos Maldonado is behind the plate.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 3:45 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Showers, 50 degrees, Wind 12 mph RF to LF
CF Justin Maxwell
RF Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Taking down the best

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tim Lincecum struggled all night against a patient Nats lineup.
SAN FRANCISCO -- There was no concerted effort among every member of the Nationals' lineup tonight to work the count against Tim Lincecum, to make the best pitcher on the planet use up all his bullets early in an attempt to knock him out before the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

It only felt that way as Washington batter after Washington batter strode to the plate and didn't give in as Lincecum fought through control issues en route to his worst start of the year.

"It's not a philosophy or anything," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's good professional hitting."

Coordinated endeavor or not, the patient manner in which the Nats went after the two-time Cy Young Award winner proved key to a 7-3 win over the Giants that was as satisfying a victory as any of the 23 that preceded it this season.

"That's why you go out and play the games," said Josh Willingham, who reached base all four times he batted. "You never know what's gonna happen."

No, few could have predicted Lincecum's first loss of the year would come at the hands of the Nationals and Luis Atilano. Though it became obvious from the start tonight something like this was

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

About Strasburg's debut...

SAN FRANCISCO -- I know everyone out there is flustered over the date of Stephen Strasburg's debut, with those who have already purchased tickets for June 4 against the Reds upset that they're hearing reports it won't happen that night.

A couple of points...

1. The Nationals have not determined the precise date of Strasburg's debut yet. They've established a "window" during the next homestand for the big event, but there are factors still at play (weather, Strasburg's performance, other pitchers' performance, injuries) that can alter the exact date.

2. As I've been writing for several weeks now, the June 4 date makes sense because it would allow Strasburg to make two starts on the homestand. It would also require him to get an extra day of rest after his scheduled start Saturday for Syracuse. If he stays on normal rest, he would start June 3 at Buffalo and then debut June 8 against the Pirates. That date also makes plenty of sense. But it would only take one rainout or extra day of rest to bump him back to June 9.

3. Neither the Nats nor this writer has ever come out and stated definitively the debut will take place on any specific date, only that it will come during the June 4-10 homestand. Fans who have already purchased tickets for any of those games have known all along there were no guarantees.

4. As much as we all love to speculate and project, there's really been no way to declare a precise date. And there still is no way to do that. The Nats themselves still don't know the exact date.

You can read more about the mystery surrounding this major D.C. sporting event on

Game 47: Nats at Giants

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano takes on Tim Lincecum tonight at AT&T Park.
SAN FRANCISCO -- As you can tell from the above photo, it's an absolutely gorgeous day here at AT&T Park. You can also see how spectacular this ballpark is from the upper deck, with the complete view of the bay beyond the outfield fence.

The Nationals hope to bounce back from last night's 4-2 loss to the Giants, though to do so they'll have to beat Tim Lincecum. I detailed the reasons the Nats could take down the two-time Cy Young Award winner (most of them with tongue firmly planted in-cheek) earlier today, so I'll refrain from more of that. Let's just say it's going to take a superb effort both from the Nats' lineup as well as starter Luis Atilano, who has been shaky his last two times out.

Only one change to the starting lineup from last night's game: Adam Kennedy starts at second base, with Cristian Guzman (who is about to become the NL's leading hitter) getting the night off. Otherwise, it's the status quo for a Nats offense that has averaged just 3.4 runs over its last 11 games.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 10:15 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly sunny, 51 degrees, Wind 11 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

How the Nats could beat Lincecum

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan needs to get on base for the Nats to have a chance tonight.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals may not face a stiffer challenge all season than they will tonight, with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on the mound for the Giants against rookie right-hander Luis Atilano. Lincecum is as good as anyone in the sport right now, and he enters this one with a 5-0 record, 2.35 ERA and a ridiculous 75 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. Atilano, meanwhile, has begun to look human after his out-of-nowhere arrival last month. He's allowed nine earned runs in his last 9 1/3 innings and has put 20 men on base during that span.

So we might as well write this one off, right? Well, maybe not. There's no such thing as a sure thing in baseball, where any team can legitimately beat any other team on any given night. Lincecum has taken the loss in 17 of his 99 career games. He's going to lose No. 18 eventually. Why not tonight?

So it's a bit implausible, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Here, then, are five reasons the Nats COULD win tonight's game...

1. The Nats own Tim Lincecum. OK, that may be exaggerating it a bit. The guy is a career 1-0 with a 1.77 ERA against Washington. But Lincecum did have a sub-par (by his lofty standards) outing against the Nationals last June, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. The Nats proceeded to win that game 10-6 thanks to

One "stupid" inning does in Livo

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez gets some counsel from Wil Nieves and Steve McCatty.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Livan Hernandez stood at his locker in the visitors clubhouse at AT&T Park, a quizzical look on his face as he tried to explain the five-batter sequence that cost him and the Nationals tonight's ballgame.

"I still can't believe I lose that game with two outs," he said. "It's unbelievable."

Considering how well Hernandez pitched against the Giants every other moment he was on the mound, it is pretty unbelievable he wound up on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision. But that's what happens when you regularly play low-scoring, tight ballgames like the Nats do. The margin for error is razor-thin, and tonight Livo was the one left bleeding to death.

The situation: Bottom of the fifth, scoreless game, two outs and an 0-2 count on Giants starter Todd Wellemeyer. A pitcher couldn't conjure up a more-advantageous scenario, facing an opponent whose owns a career .135 batting average and zero extra-base hits.

"I have a lot of holes," Wellemeyer told reporters inside the Giants clubhouse.

So how exactly did the San Francisco right-hander manage to loft a base hit to right on Hernandez's 0-2 offering?

"I was looking outside," Wellemeyer said. "He threw it out there and I got a little duck fart over the first baseman's head."

Little did any of the 27,981 inside the ballpark realize Wellemeyer's, uh, "duck fart" would turn this game upside-down. Andres Torres followed with a single to center. Edgar Renteria followed by taking another down-and-away pitch to left for an RBI single. Freddy Sanchez

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A serious test of catching depth

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jesus Flores was supposed to be insurance in case Ivan Rodriguez got hurt. Jamie Burke was supposed to be insurance in case Flores got hurt. Chris Coste was supposed to be insurance in case they all got hurt.

Thus, will all four of those catchers currently battling injuries, the Nationals are left with Wil Nieves and Carlos Maldonado holding down the fort right now. It's hardly an ideal scenario, but as you'll read in this piece for, the club has faith these two veterans can carry the load until Pudge returns from his back injury.

Game 46: Nats at Giants

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
AT&T Park, home of the Giants, sopping wet today.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hello from beautiful AT&T Park, along the San Francisco Bay and McCovey Cove. This is one of the prettiest venues in the major leagues, and my view from the press box (which is as close to the field as any in the game) actually doesn't do this place justice. From the upper deck, you can see the bay, the bridges and downtown San Francisco. I'll try to head up there one of the next two days and take some shots from different perspectives.

Today, however, is not the day to venture out. As you can see from the above photo, it's raining. It started around noon, has intensified since and is expected to continue all evening. The locals say this is incredibly rare, certainly for this time of the year. That's also what they said when we were in Denver two weeks ago. I thought the black cloud that followed the Nationals the last two years had moved north to Baltimore. Guess I was wrong.

Anyways, if they do get tonight's game in, we should be looking at a low-scoring affair. This whole series should be low-scoring, if for no reason other than the Giants possess a great pitching staff and a horrible offense (they've scored five total runs in their last seven games). The Nats, meanwhile, send "ace" Livan Hernandez to the mound and are dealing with a depleted lineup now with Ivan Rodriguez on the DL. (I know Pudge had been slumping some at the plate, but he's still more productive than Wil Nieves and Carlos Maldonado).

I'll keep you posted on the weather up until gametime, and then I'll keep you posted on the game itself...

Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 10:15 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Showers, 50 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Maldonado added, Bruney released

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals have officially purchased the contract of catcher Carlos Maldonado from Class AAA Syracuse and granted reliever Brian Bruney his unconditional release.

Maldonado becomes the primary backup to catcher Wil Nieves, who takes over regular duties with Ivan Rodriguez on the DL. The 31-year-old journeyman has 21 games of big-league experience; he hit .163 (7-for-43) with the Pirates in 2006-07. At Syracuse, he was batting .218 with four doubles, a homer and nine RBI.

Bruney had been designated for assignment May 17 after posting a 7.64 ERA in 19 relief appearances. After clearing waivers, he had the choice of accepting his outright assignment to Class AAA or becoming a free agent. He did not accept the assignment, so the Nats granted him his release, and he's now free to sign with any other club.

Acquired in December from the Yankees in exchange for the top pick in the Rule 5 draft, Bruney was awarded $1.5 million in an arbitration hearing in February. The Nationals are responsible for his full salary.

No love for Nats from All-Star voters

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first round of NL All-Star voting results was released today, and if nothing else, it's clear the rest of the baseball world isn't paying much attention to the Nationals' surprising early season success.

Only Ivan Rodriguez (third among NL catchers) ranks in the top five at his position. The future Hall of Famer, who was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday with a lower back strain, has received 247,998 votes, behind the Cardinals' Yadier Molina (316,795) and the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz (259,227).

Ryan Zimmerman, who leads all regular NL third basemen with a .579 slugging percentage and .951 OPS and is the league's reigning Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards winner, does not appear among the top-five vote-getters released by MLB. The Phillies' Placido Polanco holds a healthy lead over the Mets' David Wright, the Brewers' Casey McGehee, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval and the Braves' Chipper Jones.

As is often the case, players from the most-popular and most-successful teams dominate the early voting. Philadelphia starters rank either first or second at every position. Milwaukee players rank third or higher at every position but catcher. There are no players from the Pirates, Reds, Rockies or Padres among the top five infield positions or top 15 outfielders.

Final rosters for the All-Star Game, which takes place July 13 in Anaheim, will be announced July 4. Here are the complete ballots

Strasburg to start Sat in Syracuse

SAN FRANCISCO -- Stephen Strasburg will start for Class AAA Saturday again on Saturday night. After that? It's still up in the air, but June 4 at Nationals Park remains a strong possibility.

The Nationals announced today the top pitching prospect will return to the mound Saturday in Syracuse, facing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He'll pitch on normal rest following last night's five-inning start against Toledo.

MASN will once again televise Strasburg's minor-league start, this time on tape delay following the Nationals' game in San Diego (starting at approximately midnight).

The Nats actualy need a fill-in starter Saturday against the Padres to take Scott Olsen's place, and Mike Rizzo didn't rule out the possibility last week that Strasburg would be given consideration for that slot. The GM, though, said he wanted to evaluate the 21-year-old's performance in last night's Class AAA outing first. Strasburg wound up allowing two runs (one earned) over five innings, his least-effective start of four so far with Syracuse.

Once Strasburg pitches Saturday against the Yankees' top affiliate, he would be well-positioned to make his big-league debut Friday, June 4 against the Reds in Washington. He would need one day of extra rest to line up for that game, the opener of a six-game homestand against

Reflections on the way to the bay

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina has seized the right field job over the last two weeks.
[UPDATE: I stand corrected. Due to mechanical problems with their charter plane, the Nats were unable to fly out to San Francisco Sunday night and waited until yesterday to make the trip. So, actually, there was nothing relaxing about their off-day.]

The Nationals spent a much-needed, quiet day in San Francisco yesterday, with a roster full of players and coaches physically and mentally exhausted from a 20-games-in-20-days stretch that ended on a high note with Sunday's walk-off win over the Orioles.

The Nats gladly took the off-day, even if it was in a town on the other coast, because they were starting to run on fumes by the end of that long stretch. Yes, they pulled off a .500 record over the 20-game span, one that included a five-game losing streak. But they also saw one of their best starting pitchers and their starting catcher succumb to injuries. Their center fielder and leadoff man is in a prolonged funk that has affected every aspect of his game. And they now face another tough stretch of 13 games in 13 days, the first 10 on the road, the first six against the NL West's top two teams (the Giants and Padres).

I'm on my way out to the city by the bay right now, but while I'm speeding across flyover country at 37,000 feet, here are some thoughts on the Nationals. I'm curious to hear your take...

-- The Nats are going to be seriously tested for the next two weeks without Ivan Rodriguez. There are players this team can afford to lose for a prolonged period, and then there are those it simply can't afford to lose. Right now, I'd put Ryan Zimmerman,

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rodriguez placed on DL [updated]

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats will be without Pudge for at least two weeks.
[UPDATE AT 4:40 P.M. -- The Nationals will purchase Carlos Maldonado's contract from Class AAA Syracuse tomorrow and add him to the big-league roster as Ivan Rodriguez's replacement. Maldonado, 31, appeared in 21 games with the Pirates in 2006-07 and was hitting .218 in 26 games at Syracuse before his promotion.]

Ivan Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day disabled list this morning with a lower back strain, a significant blow for a Nationals club that is woefully thin in the catching department right now.

When Rodriguez had to come out of Saturday's game against the Orioles with a recurrence of the back pain that has nagged him on and off all season, it didn't raise too many red flags. But then the future Hall of Famer said he would need at least a couple of days off. When he didn't board the team's charter flight to San Francisco last night, a DL move seemed imminent.

All of a sudden, the Nationals face a major dilemma behind the plate. Wil Nieves takes over as the primary starter, but he's never been an everyday catcher in the big leagues. And the organization has no viable backup to him at this moment.

Chris Coste (picked up in late spring) just had Tommy John surgery and is done for the year. Jamie Burke (picked up late last season in a similar emergency situation) is still recovering from knee surgery. Jesus Flores is nowhere near ready to return from his shoulder injury. The two catchers at Syracuse are journeymen Carlos Maldonado and

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Game 45: Orioles at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats look to take two in a row from the Orioles this afternoon.
Four things you need to know heading into today's series finale at Nationals Park...

1. Nyjer Morgan is in Jim Riggleman's starting lineup, leading off and playing center field. Looks like they're ready to move on from yesterday's events.

2. Justin Maxwell has been recalled from Class AAA Syracuse, filling the roster spot made available when Scott Olsen went on the DL. Maxwell's time here figures to be brief, because the Nats will need a starting pitcher Saturday in San Diego. Until then, they'll go with an extra player off the bench.

3. Presumptive No. 1 draft pick Bryce Harper had a performance for the ages yesterday. The 17-year-old went 6-for-6 with four home runs, a triple, a double and 10 RBI in leading the College of Southern Nevada to a 25-11 victory over Central Arizona, ensuring a spot in next weekend's Junior College World Series. This all came one day after Harper hit for the cycle in another victory Friday night. Now, I'm no baseball expert, but the only player in the history of the game I can think of who ever did anything like that was Roy Hobbs.

4. I'm taking today off, enjoying a couple of days at home before heading out on the west coast trip Tuesday. So no updates throughout the game. But please continue to discuss with each other...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM, WTEM-980 AM
Weather: Scattered storms, 70 degrees, Wind 9 mph in from CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A ballclub united

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Josh Willingham and others were supportive of Nyjer Morgan despite his mistake.
It could have been a defining moment in the worst possible way, the moment the Nationals' positive season turned south for good. Nyjer Morgan's inexplicable reaction after failing to catch Adam Jones' fourth-inning drive to center -- resulting in an inside-the-park home run for the Orioles -- could have left the manager seething, the clubhouse divided and (most importantly) could have led to the Nats' eighth loss in nine games.

But it didn't. The manager, while initially upset, elected not to make a rash decision and bench Morgan. The clubhouse universally stood by him and offered up words of encouragement and support. And instead of letting this game get away from them, the Nationals strung together a late rally and pulled off a 7-6 victory that was sorely needed by everyone in uniform.

"Today was probably the biggest win of the season so far, as far as a little bit of a morale boost," said Adam Dunn, whose two-run single in the sixth proved to be the game-winner.

There were plenty of things to like about this game. Dunn's clutch hit, resulting in only his sixth and seventh RBI of the season off a left-hander, was tops on the list. Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse each had big hits earlier in the sixth to ignite the rally. Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps combined to allow one Baltimore player to reach base in 3 2/3 innings of sparkling relief.

But this one will forever be remembered for the bizarre play by Morgan in the top of the fourth, one that left the crowd of 30,290 booing the energetic center fielder and left Jim Riggleman contemplating a mid-game benching that would only have riled up the

Norris fine after brief scare

Derek Norris, the Nationals' top catching prospect who was hit in the head with a 95 mph fastball last night, is doing fine and is not expected to suffer any significant residual effects from an event that initially scared teammates and the organization.

Norris suffered a "slight concussion," according to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. The 21-year-old catcher at Class A Potomac dropped to the ground after getting drilled in the head by Boston Red Sox prospect Zach Hammes in the seventh inning at Salem, Va., and lost consciousness for about 45 seconds. He left the field under his own power, and though he was taken to an area hospital for observation, he was released without needing to spend the night.

Norris was wearing the recently designed S100 batting helmet that is now required in the minor leagues, and Nationals officials believe that helped soften the blow.

The organization's minor-league player of the year in 2009, Norris will be held out of baseball activities for at least a couple of days. Once he's been cleared to resume, team doctors will monitor him closely and not let him return to game action until it's clear he has no

Olsen placed on DL [updated]

UPDATE AT 7:55 P.M. -- Olsen has now been placed on the 15-day DL with left shoulder tightness. A corresponding move will be announced tomorrow, but the Nats could probably call up a position player and use that extra body on the bench for a week until another starting pitcher is needed next Saturday.

UPDATE AT 3:54 P.M. -- Read the complete, updated story, with quotes from Olsen and Mike Rizzo's answer to the question of whether Stephen Strasburg could replace Olsen and start next Saturday in San Diego, on

Scott Olsen has inflammation in his surgically repaired left shoulder and will miss his next scheduled start, though the Nationals won't make a decision about placing him on the disabled list for several days.

Olsen, who left last night's game after three innings due to tightness in his shoulder, had an MRI which revealed no structural damage, only inflammation near the back of his shoulder. It's a different area than the labrum, which Olsen tore last season.

He'll be restricted from throwing for four or five days, but the Nats can wait to decide their next move. Because they are off Monday, the Nats can pitch everyone on normal rest and won't need another starter until next Saturday (May 29) in San Diego.

The club will wait to decide who would replace Olsen if needed. Manager Jim Riggleman said the Nats could go with a reliever like Miguel Batista if the bullpen is not taxed before then.

For what it's worth, Stephen Strasburg (a San Diego native) is currently lined up to start for Class AAA Syracuse on Saturday on normal rest.

Riggleman said Olsen had actually been experiencing shoulder discomfort since his May 11 start in New York but insisted it was not enough to keep him from pitching. It wasn't until last night's game that the tightness had a tangible effect on his performance.

More to come...

Game 44: Orioles at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats try to get out of their rut this afternoon against the Orioles.
Jim Riggleman, like most managers, lives by the adage that "momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher." He said it yesterday afternoon, only to watch as Scott Olsen (ailing from a tight left shoulder) struggled and was pulled after three innings, setting the tone for last night's 5-3 loss to the Orioles.

Thus, the Nationals enter today's rare 4:05 p.m. start (due to the fact Fox is televising Yankees-Mets in primetime) under .500, having lost seven of their last eight. Clearly, their momentum is careening downhill at this moment.

But all that can change if Craig Stammen takes the mound today and gives the Nats a quality start. After a nice, three-week stretch in which he allowed three earned runs or less in four straight starts, Stammen has regressed some his last two times out (though he's still only allowed four runs each of those two starts).

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM, WTEM-980 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 74 degrees, Wind 12 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Nothing to worry about?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was pulled after three innings and faces an uncertain future.
They all insisted afterward -- after this 5-3 loss to the worst team in baseball, after the left-hander who had been so good for the last month departed with shoulder tightness, after they dropped their seventh game in seven days (don't forget that doubleheader in Colorado) -- everything will be fine. There's nothing to be worried about.

Jim Riggleman: "Not the least bit."

Willie Harris: "We're on a little skid, but I don't think it's serious."

Miguel Batista: "It's not a big deal."

OK, so clearly the Nationals clubhouse isn't concerned. But are you? Are you concerned that this team has scored a total of 25 runs over its last eight games? Are you concerned that its once-promising record now stands at 21-22, below .500 for the first time since April 15? Are you concerned that Scott Olsen, 10 months removed from surgery to repair a torn labrum, felt his shoulder tighten up while warming in the bullpen before tonight's game?

And this: Are you concerned that the high point of the 2010 season came and went last Thursday in Denver, when the Nats were 20-15 and leading the NL wild-card race?

OK, maybe that last point is a bit extreme. There's far too much baseball left to be played, and there's a certain young right-hander getting ready to make his big-league debut, to declare everything

Friday, May 21, 2010

Norris suffers head injury

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Derek Norris, who appeared in big-league camp this spring, has dealt with several injuries.
Derek Norris, the Nationals' top catching prospect, was hit in the head by a fastball during tonight's game at Class A Potomac and lay motionless on the field for nearly 10 minutes.

According to a press release from the Potomac Nationals, Norris was conscious and moving his extremities. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

The 21-year-old, who earned organizational player of the year honors in 2009, has endured a difficult stretch since the end of the season. He broke the hamate bone in his left wrist while playing in the Florida instructional league in September, an injury that kept him out of the Arizona Fall League.

Norris appeared in his first big-league camp this spring but missed considerable time at Potomac after the season began when the wrist continued to bother him. He was playing in only his 13th game this season when he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning tonight in Salem, Va., and was struck in the head by a fastball from Boston Red

Morgan talks about slump

Nyjer Morgan was benched tonight by Jim Riggleman, ostensibly because the Nationals' leadoff man and center fielder is mired in a three-week slump at the plate, on the bases and in the field.

Morgan realizes he needs to refine some things. He also believes he needs to stick to his aggressive style of play, in all phases, because that's what got him here in the first place.

Read what Nyjer and Riggleman had to say about all that on

Game 43: Orioles at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Orioles come down the Parkway for the weekend interleague series.
I feel like I've been writing this a lot the last week, but the next few days are big for the Nationals.

Perhaps they brought this upon themselves with that five-game losing streak, putting added pressure on each subsequent game, but it's a fact. The Nats really need to play good baseball this weekend against an Orioles club that is in disarray. Two out of three is a must, if only to ensure their record remains above .500 heading into a tough West Coast swing to San Francisco and San Diego (plus Houston) next week.

Scott Olsen is on the mound tonight, hoping to extend his surprisingly dominant run. Perhaps his teammates will supply him with some run support for a change. He hasn't received a decision in his last three starts, despite giving up a total of four earned runs in the process.

Interesting lineup twist for Jim Riggleman: Slumping Nyjer Morgan is on the bench. Roger Bernadina's in center field, with Willie Harris in right.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM, WTEM-980 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 79 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
RF Willie Harris
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Taveras released, Bruney still waiting

The Nationals announced this afternoon that Willy Taveras was unconditionally released, ending the outfielder's brief tenure with the organization.

Taveras had been designated for assignment Saturday when the club needed to activate Michael Morse off the 15-day disabled list. He cleared waivers and could have been outrighted to Class AAA, but the Nationals were already stocked with outfielders at Syracuse.

Taveras, who made the Opening Day roster as a spring training invitee, hit just .200 (7-for-35) with four RBI in 27 games.

Reliever Brian Bruney, meanwhile, is still waiting to learn his fate after getting designated for assignment Sunday. If he clears waivers (as expected), he can either elect to accept his outright to Syracuse or become a free agent and try to sign with another club.

UPDATE AT 8:04 P.M. -- Bruney indeed cleared waivers and refused his assignment to Syracuse. The Nats can still try to trade him over the next week, or else release him.

A rivalry? Not yet.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nats-Mets didn't pack 'em in. Will the Battle of the Beltways?
Nyjer Morgan didn't arrive in D.C. until last July, so he hasn't experienced any interleague play with the Nationals to date. The effervescent center fielder was talking yesterday about how much he's looking forward to this weekend's series against the Orioles. The Pirates don't have a true geographic rival (they share the Indians with the Reds) so he's anticipating a raucous scene the next three days at Nationals Park.

I didn't have the heart to tell him he's probably going to be disappointed.

Much as the two sides have tried to play up the Battle of the Beltways, there's really not much to this Baltimore-Washington rivalry yet. It doesn't help that neither franchise has posted a winning record since the Nationals arrived in town in 2005. (Come to think of it, the Orioles haven't posted a winning record since 1997. For all the ridicule the Pirates take for their 17-year losing streak, the O's aren't far behind.)

These annual interleague games do seem to draw a few more fans to the ballpark, and there probably will be a robust "O!" cheer tonight during the national anthem from the folks who make the trek down from Balmer. But this remains a tame rivalry at best, certainly not worthy of being included among baseball's best geographic tiffs

"We just played terrible baseball"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan watches Ike Davis' fourth-inning drive carom off the wall.
Those were the words of Jim Riggleman following tonight's 10-7 loss to the Mets, a game that wasn't nearly as compelling as the final score would indicate. The Nationals trailed 10-1 in the sixth inning, having gotten poor pitching, poor defense and poor baserunning. That they mounted a late rally and actually had the tying run at the plate in the eighth only made the earlier sloppiness sting more.

Riggleman had some words for his players afterward. He wouldn't reveal exactly what he said, but rest assured it included several words that can't be printed in a family blog.

"I'll let you run with your imagination on that," the manager said.

No one was allowed to leave Nationals Park tonight feeling good about their performance, but Luis Atilano's ragged start certainly set the tone for the evening. The rookie right-hander was roughed up for seven runs (six earned) and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings, continuing a downward trend since his impressive big-league debut four weeks ago.

It's no secret someone from the current rotation is going to lose his job when Stephen Strasburg arrives in two weeks or so. Atilano is beginning to make a case for being the odd man out when that roster

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Game 42: Mets at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats go for a two-game sweep of the Mets tonight.
You only get so many chances at a series sweep in this game, so even though the Nationals and Mets are only playing twice this week, the Nats might as well go for the kill tonight.

After last night's bizarre 5-3 victory -- one that included an inside-the-park homer and a triple play by the Mets in consecutive innings -- the Nationals will try to go at it a little more conventionally tonight. Luis Atilano is on the mound, trying to continue his surprising run and make a case to remain in the rotation once Stephen Strasburg arrives.

Fredericksburg native John Maine takes the hill for a New York club that is in disarray at the moment. Jerry Manuel will be fielding a slightly more potent lineup tonight, with David Wright and Rod Barajas back in action.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Clear, 77 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Surprise contributor

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman isn't producing like a typical bench player.
When Jim Riggleman made the difficult (but correct) decision in late-March to name Ian Desmond his starting shortstop, the odd man out figured to be Cristian Guzman. With Desmond at shortstop and Adam Kennedy at second base, Guzman's at-bats would be few and far between. He'd become a $8 million pinch-hitter and spot starter.

Except, that's not at all how this has played out. As the Nationals enter the second quarter of the season, they are more and more counting on Guzman as one of their top offensive contributors.

Really, you ask? Yes. Just look at the numbers. The man who currently leads the Nats in hits is not named Zimmerman, Dunn, Rodriguez or Morgan. His name is Guzman, and he has 42 hits (four more than anyone else on the roster).

Guzman also ranks third on the Nationals in runs (19), doubles (seven) and, get this, at-bats (128). Only Nyjer Morgan (150) and Adam Dunn (133) have more. At this rate, Guzie will wind up with 512 at-bats this season, only 19 fewer than he had in 2009 when he was the everyday shortstop.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Riggleman planned to get Guzman as many plate appearances as possible, but Desmond and Kennedy would get the lion's share. And it's not as if those two are playing poorly. Not at all.

But a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: Guzman started hitting at a level we hadn't seen in a couple of years. And he's hitting left-handers at a rate we've never seen. He's currently batting .422 (19-for-45) against lefties, with five extra-base hits and a stout

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A valiant effort from Livo

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Pitching on short rest, Livan Hernandez notched another quality start.
As Drew Storen donned the silver Elvis wig and answered a parade of questions about the first win of his 3-day-old big-league career, Livan Hernandez quietly made his way to his locker on the other side of the Nationals' clubhouse.

There was no wig for Livo, no player-of-the-game designation, not even a "W." Make no mistake, though, the wily old veteran earned MVP honors in the Nats' 5-3 victory over the Mets.

Most Valiant Performance.

There were so many storylines to this crazy game, one of the wildest of the season. Storen's first win. Matt Capps' 15th save. A perfect eighth inning from Tyler Clippard. A game-saving fouled-off suicide squeeze bunt by Adam Kennedy on a pitchout.

Oh yeah, and an inside-the-park homer followed by a triple play, both involving Mets center fielder Angel Pagan.

But the Nationals would not have won this game, would not have snapped their five-game losing streak, would not have kept their record over .500 if not for the courageous pitching performance of Hernandez on three days' rest.

"It may be out of your guys' attention, but not ours," Kennedy said. "He's tremendous. You wouldn't expect anything less of him."

Maybe that's why it seemed almost an afterthought. We've just come to expect these kinds of things from the man who has thrown more pitches in the last decade than anyone else in the majors. Plus, Livo