Thursday, May 27, 2010

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 possible.

Even though the Nats wasted some scoring opportunities in the first two innings, they made up for it by making Lincecum work for his outs. By the end of the second, the right-hander had already thrown 42 pitches, issued three walks and gone to a three-ball count against five of the first eight batters he faced.

Lincecum clearly was laboring from the beginning, and the Nationals used that to their advantage in finally jumping on him for three runs in the third and then three more in the fifth.

Was it the Nats' gameplan to work the count and knock Lincecum into submission early?

"It's hard to say that against a good pitcher, because you can try that and then you're hitting 0-2 the whole night. It's a hard thing to force," said Adam Kennedy, who drew two walks. "But he was throwing some pitches out of the zone early, which allowed us to work it."

Once on base, the Nationals also took advantage of Lincecum's slow delivery to the plate. Opposing basestealers were 8-for-8 against him entering this game, and the Nats added four more to the tally.

"When you're getting on base and they're kind of allowing you to run, you take advantage of it," said Kennedy, who did just that in swiping both second and third bases during the fifth inning.

It also took a strong performance from Atilano, who cruised through the evening's first four innings before allowing a solo homer to Juan Uribe in the fifth and a triple to Andres Torres in the sixth.

The rookie right-hander was predictably asked about beating the mighty Lincecum, but he insisted he paid little attention to the matchup and was more concerned with bouncing back after two ragged starts in which he allowed 10 runs and walked seven. He didn't issue one free pass tonight.

"It was really important because I was getting pissed off at myself a little bit," Atilano said. "The way I was pitching is not the way that I pitch. The way I pitch is the way I pitched today."

Say what you want about the unspectacular Atilano, but he's now 4-1, tied with Livan Hernandez for the second-most wins on the staff behind Tyler Clippard (7).

And say what you want about a Nats lineup that hasn't exactly set the world on fire the last few weeks. On this night, that group took down the best pitcher in the game thanks to a deadly combination of patience at the plate and speed on the bases.

"That's how you beat a really, really good pitcher," Willingham said.


Nattydread said...

Willingham is breaking out in 2010. Glad we didn't trade him in '09.

Positively Half St. said...

I agree. I was on the "Trade Hammer" bandwagon, hoping for a solid short stop. Glad I am not GM; Hammer and Desmond have been great.

Oh, and I don't want Daryle Ward back for Luis Atilano, thanks.

Mr. Doggett said...

Can we talk about the Bernadina play? I mean, what WAS that?

Anonymous said...

Mark, I think you're missing the biggest story of the day: This might be the last time we have to see Craig Stammen (and his near 6.00 ERA) in the rotation this season! Off to the bullpen Craig.

Anonymous said...

It would be foolish to cheer getting rid of Stammen. He has merely been terribly unlucky in terms of the aspects of pitching he can't control. His peripherals indicate that, in actual fact, he's among the better starters on the staff (certainly superior to Atilano or Livan). Which is exactly why the Nats aren't going to just toss him away.

Remember folks, ERA and W/L aren't everything. Heck, we know enough about baseball now to know that, actually, they aren't much of anything when it comes to rating pitchers.

Great game last night.

natsfan1a said...

haha, told ya it could happen (after reading my morning game update email)! :-)

Anonymous8 said...

Mr. Doggett said...
Can we talk about the Bernadina play? I mean, what WAS that?

Bernadina has done that a couple of times overrunning balls. I dont get it either. Then he looked lost at the plate on some of his swings.

I hope he isnt losing that edge he had when they called him up.

Nyjer is a lucky man. Got a bad jump off 2nd and ran through a stop sign at 3rd base and scored. I think if he was out at home then Dibble would have jumped out of the TV booth to kick him in the butt.

Desmond and Willingham came through tonight and Atilano only gave up 2 runs. Yes, San Fran is a very weak hitting team so the Nats pitchers need to have a solid game to stay in there. In this game, the Nats hitters took advantage.

I liked the patience at the plate taking walks when they were there to take.

I didnt think the Nats could beat Lincecum in May and they did.


Anonymous said...

Lincecum has lost his gas. 91-92 ain't 95-96 like the old days. He has to work very carefully now. Still has a great curve and a good change.....which he throws a lot by the way. He is very slight, only bout 175 lbs with an oz. of smoke in his back pocket. His days of total domination are over

natsfan1a said...

Hey, where'd my post go? Anyway, told ya they could do it! :-)

A DC Wonk said...

So, when Stras comes up, which starter does he replace?

Nice Win said...

I love it when people say Lincecum had an off day. Give the Nats some credit for making him have an off day.

The Nats weren't swinging at first pitches and got his pitch count up. They took the walks and played some good small ball.

Adam Kennedy caught him sleeping on 2 steals which was nice to frustrate Lincecum.

I thought Bernadina had one bright spot. With men on 1st and 2nd he hit a slow roller to the right side to advance the runners.

After Tuesday's no show by the Nats this was a key win.

natsfan1a said...

Oops. Clearly, I did not drink enough coffee this a.m. :-)

Andrew said...

DC Wonk - Strasburg replaces either Stammen or Atilano but keep in mind that Olsen will be back around then too from the DL so what happens if JD Martin is lights out?

Carl in 309 said...

@Andrew & DC Wonk--we should be so lucky to have to worry about who goes down. Let's assume JD Martin, lights out or not, goes back down because he has options (I gather). Slight edge to Atilano it would seem, but really the business decisions will be based on where the Nats can deploy their players and still maintain control. Batista is probably the most likely loser as moving a starter to long-relief would seem likely. And we may not see Olsen quickly back from rehab if the starting 5 are firing on all cylinders when that time comes. As with the decision on when to actually call up Stephen Strasburg, I gather this too will be revealed when the time is right.

A DC Wonk said...

I was unable to stay up for the game, but I just read that Nyger slid head-first on a steal. Is this the beginning of last year's style?

Can of Corn said...

I couldn't understand why Dibble was getting all over Atilano. Granted, the Giants were starting to hit the ball hard but he gave them a chance to win, which is probably about all you can expect from him. I was somewhat surprised that Riggleman took him out when he did, especially considering they have a day game today.

Janner33 said...

@DC Wonk, yes, you're right. Nyjer did slide in head-first, and without the wrist guard he normally wears. I think he's trying anything to replicate last year's success, and get out of his funk...

Nervous Nats Fan said...

@NattyLite - I also was baffled by Riggleman's decision to pull Atilano. I mean, I guess they had started getting some hits, but they were still up a lot! I guess it's easy to say that in hindsight, and I would have been angry if he stayed in and gave up another 4 runs, but it just seems like it's overly taxing the bullpen.

Mark, what are your thoughts on this? It seemed similar to pulling Livo the night before - sure he had just given up a lot of runs, but why not let him hit and see if he can recover and go another inning or two?

estuartj said...

I think Atilano isn't long for the rotation, but he will make a solid MLB RPer and hopefully when Strasburg arrives Atilano will replace Batista in the Nats bullpen.

Dr. Snacky said...

Did anyone ask Riggleman why he didn't start Willie Harris against Lincecum? Instead he started Bernadina who had a frightful game.

Section 222 said...

@NattyLite-- I agree that Dibble was over the top in criticizing Atilano last night, and I think Ray Knight thought so too. Sure, we want our pitchers to make it through the lineup 3 times without damage, but Atilano had only given up 2 runs and pitched quite well in the first few innings, and then Dibble was all over him. It was almost as if Dibble sensed a blowup coming and wanted to predict it. But his critique is always that the pitcher is throwing too many breaking pitches and not "going with his best stuff." And he mixes in alot of tough guy rhetoric that suggests that if you fail you must not have tried hard enough. He even said last night that Atilano must not have realized what a gift the Nats gave him by getting 6 runs off of Lincecum. That's just hogwash.

N. Cognito said...

Dibble can quite often be an arrogant, pedantic, know-it-all.
Combined with that dullard Carpenter and you have a nightmare on TV.

Steve M. said...

How's about Dibbs all over Clip on that hit to start off the 9th and Bob Crapenter saying he didn't think 6 runs "would be enough tonight". Ok Bob, great anal-ysis.

Dibble was back to form in criticising the Nats pitchers unfairly last night.

Atilano said in the pre-game that he thought he made a good pitch on that HR ball and rightfully gave credit to the batter.

Look at that 2 RBI doink that Desmond hit. Better to be lucky than good sometimes. All the breaks went the Nats way like the Big Panda allowing ADunn to reach first safely.

Still the Nats hitters were clutch last night.

For the Bernadina detractors, he probably doesn't start today with Zito pitching. So I think we see JMax as much as I hate that thought. Maybe JMax can take advantage of his 18th opportunity this year.

Steve M. said...

Sorry, Atilano in the "post-game" I meant. Crapenters comments were in the 3 run with inning BTW.

The Great Unwashed said...

Section 222,

I have to back Dibble on this one. Nats pitchers are too tentative with their pitch selection. Enough with this pitching away, away, away all the time. That's just code for, "I'm afraid of you, Mr. Batter." It's one thing to pitch away as part of a plan to get the batter out, but you still have to attack him in most cases if you want to get him out. Ask Brian Bruney how pitching away all the time worked out for him.

Yeah, Dibble spouts off a lot and it can be annoying sometimes, but I do appreciate his candor, especially when he says the Nats pitchers don't do a good job of keeping opposing hitters uncomfortable in the box by pitching them inside and/or challenging them with their best stuff. He's right about that. I'm tired of watching teams like the Marlins feast on Nats pitching because they're not getting challenged at the plate. Aren't you?

It's amazing the Nats have they record they do. Starters routinely can't go more than five innings, and while the bullpen has stabilized, they're being overused and will fall apart come August if the starters don't get it in gear. I don't blame Dibble for being frustrated.

If the Nats stink it up, we have the luxury of turning off the TV or leaving the ballpark. Dibble and Carpenter have to call the whole game no matter what. I think they, like us, want to see the Nats succeed. Who can blame them for that?

Section 222 said...

Great Unwashed (great name by the way) -- [begin rant] I blame Dibble for being totally arbitrary and totally not analytic with his criticism. He's way to into the macho-baseball stuff, suggesting that the Nats pitchers should throw at hitters and acting like if you mess up you either don't care, aren't trying, or aren't tough enough or man enough to succeed. I know he was a successful major league reliever for a bit, but he doesn't teach us anything about pitching (unlike Sutton who was annoying in his own way but really knew his stuff).

Last night was a good example. The Nats stunk up the joint the night before so at the first sign of trouble Dibble is expecting the same thing to happen and really picking on Atilano unnecessarily. Do we know that Atilano was choosing to throw away from hitters? Isn't the catcher somewhat responsible for the pitch and location selection? And if he comes inside and the guy turns on the pitch and creams it, he's a loser for putting the pitch too far over the plate. Once Dibble gets on your case, you can't win, even if you give up only 2 runs and 4 hits in 5.1 innings.

Don't get me started on his "analysis" of big hits -- "The Zimminator" "Big Bad Dunn" "The Hammer Smackem Yackem." At least for one weekend we were spared his grunts and groans and "get out of here," "go go go" and other assorted embarrassments because even he realized that to do that stuff in front of class act Jim Palmer would be too much. [end rant]

Mark Zuckerman said...

Nervous Nats Fan said...

"I also was baffled by Riggleman's decision to pull Atilano. I mean, I guess they had started getting some hits, but they were still up a lot! I guess it's easy to say that in hindsight, and I would have been angry if he stayed in and gave up another 4 runs, but it just seems like it's overly taxing the bullpen. Mark, what are your thoughts on this?"

I, too, was surprised Atilano was pulled when he was. Even had he given up a homer to Sandoval, the Nats still would have led 6-3, with the bases empty. It all worked out, but in the long run, Riggleman needs to get six full innings out of his starters to take a little workload off the bullpen.

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