Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Opportunity squandered

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
None of the Nationals looked comfortable at the plate tonight.
ATLANTA -- On a night like this, when the Nationals couldn't touch Jair Jurrjens' rising fastball, scoring opportunities were at a real premium. So when one did finally present itself in the sixth inning at Turner Field, the Nats couldn't afford to squander it.

Of course, the way things have been going for the last month, you just had a feeling they'd find a way to miss out. And sure enough, when Ivan Rodriguez came to bat in the sixth with the bases loaded, nobody out and right-hander Peter Moylan fresh out of the Braves bullpen, that dreaded moment occurred.

Rodriguez took a hack at Moylan's first pitch and smacked it right at shortstop Yunel Escobar, who set in motion the 6-4-3 double play that all but killed any chance the Nationals had of winning this game.

"I think that's a good pitch to hit," Rodriguez said. "In that situation, with guys like that who throw sidearm, they're very difficult to pick up the ball. Sometimes, you've got to jump early, and the first pitch he throws for a strike you've got to make a swing at it. That's what I did. I hit it hard, right at him."

There's no sense debating hitting philosophy with a guy who may become the first catcher in history to join the 3,000-hit club, so you have to give Pudge the benefit of the doubt here. But the squandered opportunity did expose one of this team's biggest weaknesses: They

Wang still not close to returning

ATLANTA -- When the Nationals signed Chien-Ming Wang at the start of spring training, club officials hoped the right-hander would be ready to return from a major shoulder injury sometime in May. Once the regular season began and Wang was placed on the 60-day disabled list, the timetable for his return shifted to June. Somewhere along the way, that became July.

But as the calendar shifts to a new month, Wang still is nowhere close to pitching in the major leagues. He continues to throw live batting practice at the Nationals' spring complex in Viera, Fla., but still must progress to throw in simulated games, then in the minor leagues before he'll return to the big leagues.

Though the timetable keeps getting pushed back, the Nats insist Wang hasn't experienced any setbacks along the way. The problem, according to Mike Rizzo, is that there is no precedent for a baseball player returning from the complicated surgery (repairing a torn ligament in the shoulder capsule) he underwent last summer.

Read Rizzo's comments and a full update on Wang on

Game 79: Nats at Braves

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
J.D. Martin has a chance to pitch the Nationals to a series victory tonight at Turner Field.
ATLANTA -- Here's something to brighten your spirits: By the end of the evening, the Nationals could have taken a series from the NL East-leading Braves.

It would require a victory tonight, but the Nats have to like their chances with J.D. Martin (who has allowed two earned runs or less in four of his five starts) facing Jair Jurrjens (who just came off the DL and has dealt with injuries to his shoulder, thumb and hamstring already this season).

For everyone wondering about the Alberto Gonzalez/Ian Desmond lineup debate: Gonzo is starting for the fourth straight game. He'll be at shortstop again. Desmond is on the bench for the second straight game. Same lineup from Jim Riggleman that produced seven runs last night, as a matter of fact.

Check back for updates before, during and after the game...

Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 83 degrees, Wind 3 mph in from RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Weekly minor-league report

Here is this week's minor-league report, compiled by Bill Gluvna of the Nationals' PR department...

This Week's Top Headline
HEY NOW, YOU'RE AN ALL-STAR!: The Harrisburg Senators, in conjunction with the Double-A Eastern League, yesterday announced the rosters for the 2010 Eastern League All-Star Game being played on Wednesday, July 14 at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, PA ... the Senators had 6 players selected: SS Danny Espinosa, 1B Chris Marrero, RHP Rafael Martin, INF Michael Martinez, LHP Tom Milone and C Jhonatan Solano ... additionally, Harrisburg Manager Randy Knorr and his staff will lead the Western Division squad.

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs
International League North Division
45-35, 2nd Place, 0.5 Game Behind

THE JOSHUA TREE: RHP Josh Wilkie, who played collegiately at nearby George Washington University, has allowed just one earned run in 12.0 innings (0.75 ERA) in 10 June appearances ... he's fanned 13 and walked only 2 in that span ... Wilkie owns a 1.67 ERA in 28 appearances overall ... the 25-year-old has limited opponents to a team-best .194 (25-for-129) batting average against ... Wilkie signed with the club as a non-drafted free agent, June 14, 2006.

ATA(HUALPA) BOY: In 10 appearances beginning May 31, LHP Atahualpa Severino has tossed 13.1 consecutive scoreless innings ... overall, Severino is 3-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 appearances ... Severino, 25, signed as a non-drafted free agent, February 13, 2004.

TAKING IT TO THE MAX: OF Justin Maxwell is batting .300 (30-for-100) with 4 doubles, 3 homers, 10 RBI, 5 stolen bases and 12 walks in 29 games during June ... Maxwell hit .121 with one homer and 3 RBI in 21 games at the big league level this season with

Gonzo for Gonzalez

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Alberto Gonzalez has filled in admirably around the infield when called upon.
ATLANTA -- Alberto Gonzalez, being a native Venezuelan who struggles with English and being a rarely used backup infielder for the Nationals, doesn't often get interviewed. I think I've talked to him twice this year, one of those times coming last night when he roped four hits to help pace a 7-2 win over the Braves.

It's at times like this that I truly wish I had taken more Spanish in college. It's never fair that Spanish-speaking ballplayers get less press than those who speak English, and I wouldn't be surprised if Alberto has some very interesting things to say and has a story worth telling. Unfortunately, when Gonzalez does have a game like he did last night, we're left to conduct an awkward interview that surely doesn't give this player the chance to enjoy his moment in the spotlight as much as he deserves.

Here, though, is the quote from Gonzalez that best describes his emotions after what may have been the best game of his career: "I'm so happy. I'm happy to play three days in a row."

Indeed, the mere fact Jim Riggleman penciled his name in the lineup on three consecutive days was reason for Gonzalez to rejoice. This is a guy, after all, who had started only eight of the Nats' first 75 games this season (five of them during an April stretch when Ryan Zimmerman was battling hamstring injuries). So three straight starts

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just what the doctor ordered

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn congratulates Alberto Gonzalez upon scoring in the fifth.
ATLANTA -- Could you see it, feel it, hear it, the moment Tyler Clippard struck out Yunel Escobar to end tonight's game?

Yes, that was a tangible sigh of relief emanating from the Nationals' dugout. Rest easy, everyone. They've won a ballgame again.

Actually, the Nats did more than win a ballgame tonight. They won an incredibly well-played ballgame against a top opponent. Few victories this season can match this 7-2 triumph over the Braves for sheer execution top-to-bottom. Amazingly, this was only the sixth time this year they won a game by five or more runs.

"That's about as clean a game as we've played in a while," Jim Riggleman said, adding: "It's encouraging to remind ourselves that we can play like that."

Everyone needs a little reminder once in a while, especially when the last week had been so trying. It wasn't just the fact the Nationals had lost five in a row. They've been through longer losing streaks before. It was the manner in which they lost those five games. Four of them by one run. Three of them blown leads in Baltimore. Monday's seventh-inning meltdown with Stephen Strasburg on the mound.

If ever the Nats needed a game like this, tonight was the night.

"I don't think we ever felt pressure," Ryan Zimmerman said. "It sucks losing four or five or however many in a row. Whether we've won five in a row or lost five in a row, I think we have the same amount of

Nats show confidence in Desmond

ATLANTA -- Mike Rizzo sees the 19 errors Ian Desmond has made in the first half of his rookie season. He sees the other mistakes Desmond has made in the field that don’t show up as errors.

Rizzo, though, knew this was likely to happen when the Nationals gave Desmond the starting job at the end of spring training, and he's willing to live with it because of what he thinks Desmond can become in the future.

"He's a young major-league shortstop," the GM said last night after Desmond's crucial error kept Stephen Strasburg from perhaps escaping the seventh inning. "And the best thing about young major-league shortstops is that they become second-year major-league shortstops."

Desmond is not in the lineup tonight, but as you'll read on, the Nationals remain confident in the 24-year-old to be their long-term answer at shortstop.

Nyjer's woes

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan hasn't been nearly the same player this year that he was last year.
ATLANTA -- Nyjer Morgan is hurting the Nationals more than he is helping them right now, there's no question about that. Whether it's his struggles to reach base (his OBP is .275 since May 16), his penchant for getting thrown out on the bases (11 caught stealings, seven pickoffs) or his poor decision-making in center field, Morgan is not helping the team or himself.

Two plays from last night's loss in particular drew the ire of Nats fans: the first-inning pickoff and the seventh-inning throw to the wrong base.

Though replays showed Morgan actually was safe on Tim Hudson's pickoff attempt, the fact remains he made yet another out on the basepaths. And even though he's actually improved his stolen base percentage -- he was successful only eight of 16 times through May 15 but has been successful eight of 11 times since then -- he still doesn't feel right on the bases.

Morgan believes one reason may be the transition he made from sliding headfirst to feet-first and back to headfirst again. The Nats told him to start going in feet-first this spring after he broke his hand last August. But Morgan clearly wasn't comfortable doing that, and it showed. His numbers have improved since he was told he could revert to his old form, but he still doesn't look like the Nyjer of old out there.

"I think getting off to that slow start and sliding with the feet first and everything kind of makes the caught stealings look worse than it is," Morgan said today. "I just had to make an adjustment there. And then yesterday, I thought I was safe [on the pickoff play], but he got

Game 78: Nats at Braves

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen rejoins the Nationals tonight to face Derek Lowe at Turner Field.
ATLANTA -- Boy, is there a lot of angst out there today.

I suppose in one sense, it's comforting to know how much fans really do care about the Nationals. That's certainly better than the alternative. At the same time, some of the vitriol has been -- quite honestly -- ridiculous. (FYI: Ryan Zimmerman remains one of the best all-around third basemen in the game, Jim Riggleman's job is not in immediate jeopardy, Michael Morse has zero chance of becoming this team's starting shortstop and the answer to all of the Nats' woes is not Pete Orr or Justin Maxwell.)

You know what would calm everyone down, though? A Nationals win tonight. Doesn't matter how they do it, just that they do it. I have a hunch that would leave a lot of people (fans, media members and especially people inside the clubhouse) feeling a lot better about the situation.

There is actually some merit in that line of thinking. Jim Riggleman acknowledged last night he's concerned some players might be tightening up at crucial moments, especially in the field, perhaps worried more about messing something up than simply playing baseball the way they know how. One simple victory might just be the remedy to get everyone relaxed again.

Craig Stammen makes his return to the rotation tonight after posting good numbers in three starts at Class AAA Syracuse. He faces sinkerballer Derek Lowe, who struggled last year against the Nats (1-3, 5.06 ERA in six starts).

Your daily lineup changes: Ian Desmond is on the bench. Alberto Gonzalez starts at shortstop, his third straight start (he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts the last two days, by the way). Cristian Guzman is back, playing second base but batting seventh. Roger Bernadina bats second and plays right field.

Check back for updates before, during and after the game...

Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers, 85 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

"Our character is getting tested"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has committed a major-league-leading 19 errors already this season.
ATLANTA -- The day began with a closed-door meeting, convened by the manager who had a few thoughts he needed to get off his chest, bolstered by the words of a few players who spoke up themselves.

It ended with a 5-0 loss to the Braves that was in some ways even more gut-wrenching than the four losses that preceded it, all of them crushing on their own merits.

These are trying times for the Nationals, who are finding all sorts of manner in which to lose ballgames. Sometimes they get no offense. Sometimes they score early but can't keep it up. Sometimes they get poor starting pitching. Sometimes their bullpen blows it. And plenty of times lately, they've given away games via wretched glovework, as was the case once again last night.

"We're all agonizing," Jim Riggleman said. "We're all going through a really tough time, one of the tougher times that I've been through. I've been fortunate enough to manage in the big leagues. This is one of the tougher stretches I've experienced. ... Our character is getting tested, and our guys have to pass the test."

But how much longer will the guys on this roster be given the chance to pass this critical test?

From every corner of NatsTown, fans are clamoring for change of some kind, especially some kind of change that would address the majors' worst defense. Mike Rizzo, though, made it pretty clear after last night's loss those types of moves are unlikely at this stage.

A dominant pitcher who's only 2-2

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg stared down the Braves but was done in by his defense.
ATLANTA -- He battled for six innings, making do with only two effective pitches against the best lineup he's ever faced and somehow managed to carry a shutout into the seventh at Turner Field. Trouble was, the Nationals once again were unable to produce even one run of support, so Stephen Strasburg found himself in a position where one mistake would cost him the ballgame.

The mistake happened in the seventh, though it wasn't Strasburg's fault. No, the rookie right-hander got Troy Glaus to hit a tailor-made, double-play grounder to short that should have stymied the Braves' rally. Instead, fellow rookie Ian Desmond booted the ball, a devastating defensive gaffe that opened the floodgates and ultimately sent Strasburg to his second consecutive loss.

What by all accounts should have been another dominant Strasburg start turned into another heartbreaking loss, this one a 5-0 decision that left everyone inside the Nationals' clubhouse aching both for their young ace and for themselves. This team has, after all, lost five games in a row, each of them in crushing fashion.

"It's not just Strasburg we're letting down," Desmond said. "We're letting ourselves down. Strasburg did a great job, and absolutely it's terrible to see him lose a ballgame where he pitched so well. But that's the whole team. We played a great game, and one inning bit us in the ass."

Read the complete story, including quotes from Mike Rizzo, on Kudos to the folks over there on their sharp, new-look website.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Walker to DL, Stammen recalled

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Walker said his shoulder had been bothering him for almost two weeks.
ATLANTA -- The Nationals placed reliever Tyler Walker on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation following tonight's game, clearing space for Craig Stammen to be recalled from Class AAA Syracuse and start tomorrow's game against the Braves.

Walker, who hadn't pitched in nine days, said he first began feeling shoulder pain during a multiple-inning appearance June 15 in Detroit. "The next day I could barely lift my arm," he said.

An MRI revealed inflammation of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, but no structural damage. He's due to fly home to Washington tomorrow to receive a cortisone shot. The club believes he'll be ready to return after the minimum 15 days of DL time are complete.

"It's a bit begrudgingly that I do it," the 34-year-old said. "But it's an opportunity to get it feeling good for the rest of the season. That's the main goal: Get back out there as soon as possible."

Walker is 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 24 relief appearances this season, most of them coming with the Nationals trailing. He posted a 1.29 ERA over his last 10 games, holding opponents to a .224 batting

Riggleman holds team meeting

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After watching his team lose four straight, Jim Riggleman decided to meet with them.
ATLANTA -- Jim Riggleman held a closed-door team meeting before batting practice this afternoon, the first tangible sign of dissatisfaction from the Nationals manager toward his team's recent play.

Nats players were already scheduled to hold a meeting with union representatives at 4:30 p.m. Before that began, Riggleman told Adam Dunn (the club's player rep) to keep everyone in the clubhouse at the end of the union session so he could speak to them.

The Nationals enter tonight's game against the Braves having lost 12 of their last 15 games. Six of those losses (including the last four) have come by one run. All three losses this weekend in Baltimore came after the Nats held leads of at least three runs.

"We're tired of complimenting the other team all the time," Riggleman said during his regular pregame media session before the team meeting. "We've got to beat the other team. We've got to get after it."

UPDATE AT 5:20 P.M. -- Players emerged from the clubhouse around 5 p.m. and took the field for stretching and batting practice. I don't think there was any major tirade from Riggleman or anything like

Game 77: Nats at Braves

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg is playing tonight at Turner Field. Jason Heyward is not.
ATLANTA -- Hello from Turner Field, where the Stephen Strasburg Summer Tour arrives tonight. This one has been particularly hyped-up, because of the potential for three or four confrontations between Strasburg and Braves Rookie of Year candidate Jason Heyward. Unfortunately, Heyward is not in the Atlanta lineup for the third straight day because of a thumb injury. An MRI was taken this morning, and there's concern around here that the test is going to show a sprained ligament, which could land the 20-year-old right fielder on the DL.

So Strasburg will have to carry the show on his own. Shouldn't be a problem, since he's managed to carry the show on his own four times already in the last three weeks. Once again, a national TV network has picked up this game (ESPN2). And once again, you won't be able to watch that telecast in the D.C. area. It's Bob and Rob on MASN or Charlie and Dave on 1500 AM.

As has also been the case four out of the five times Strasburg has pitched, the Nationals will be asking their young ace to stop a losing streak. The pressure might be even greater tonight given the hideous weekend sweep in Baltimore.

Facing a very tough right-hander in Tim Hudson, Jim Riggleman is going with a slightly tweaked lineup. Ivan Rodriguez gets bumped up to the 2-hole. Also, Alberto Gonzalez starts at second base.

Check back for updates before, during and after the game...

Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
TV: MASN, ESPN2 (outside D.C. area)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 87 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
C Ivan Rodriguez
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Should someone speak up?

Good morning, NatsTown. At least, I hope it's a good morning for all of you considering the events of the past three days in Baltimore.

I'm at Dulles, waiting for my flight to Atlanta -- great matchup tonight between Stephen Strasburg and Tim Hudson -- so I don't have time to put together a comprehensive morning post. But I did want to broach one subject: Whether it's time for someone inside the Nationals' clubhouse to speak up and whip everyone into shape.

I asked several players about this after yesterday's loss, and the opinion was unanimous: No, there's no need for a team meeting or anything like that. Yet.

The thinking among players is that such closed-door meetings are necessary if there's clearly an issue with effort. No one believes that's an issue right now. If it does become an issue, then a players-only meeting might need to happen.

One question I'd have, though, is this: What player would take charge in such a situation? In other words, who is the leader of this team? It's not in Ryan Zimmerman's personality to do it. Same for Adam Dunn, Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman. Ian Desmond seems like the type who might be a vocal leader, but not at this early stage of his career.

The likeliest (and maybe only) choice seems to be Ivan Rodriguez. He's been praised by former managers and teammates as a leader,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sinking Nats try to stay afloat

BALTIMORE -- Twelve losses in their last 15 games. Six of those losses by one run, including four straight. And a weekend sweep at the hands of baseball's worst team after leading each of those games by at least three runs.

Suffice it to say, the Nationals' clubhouse is not the happiest place on earth these days.

"It's terrible. It's devastating," said Tyler Clippard, the pitcher of record in today's 4-3 loss to the Orioles. "We're battling our butts off. We're playing good. But we're coming up short. It's not fun."

Plenty of questions were raised this weekend, but as you'll read on, the Nats believe they have the mental toughness to overcome this incredibly difficult stretch of baseball.

Stammen likeliest for Tuesday

BALTIMORE -- Craig Stammen is the likeliest candidate to be recalled from Class AAA Syracuse to start Tuesday night in Atlanta.

Stammen, who was optioned to Syracuse earlier this month to make room for Stephen Strasburg's arrival, has righted his ship in the minors. In three starts with the Chiefs, he is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA, having allowed only one run over his last 13 2/3 innings.

The right-hander also lines up well to slide into the spot in the Nationals' rotation made available when John Lannan was demoted to Class AA Harrisburg last week. Stammen could start Tuesday on five days' rest, making him a more likely choice than left-hander Matt Chico (who is 4-5 with a 3.36 ERA in the minors this season but just pitched on Friday and would have to come back on short rest to start Tuesday against the Braves).

Manager Jim Riggleman said prior to today's series finale against the Orioles that the Nats have settled on Tuesday's starter. They won't announce the move until tomorrow, though, because they first have to select a player (most likely a reliever) to remove from the roster.

Ross Detwiler, who is expected to join the big-league rotation at some point this summer, still isn't ready according to organizational sources. The left-hander, who missed the season's first two months

Game 76: Nats at Orioles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats try to avoid a sweep today at sweltering Camden Yards.
BALTIMORE -- It's hot. No, I mean it's really hot. It was 91 degrees at 10 a.m. It's going to be 94 at gametime and 97 by the ninth inning. If this game was being played under the same conditions in Arizona or Houston, they'd have the roof closed. Of course, there's no roof at Camden Yards. That would kind of defeat the purpose of the place, wouldn't it?

Anyways, inside this cauldron of sweat the Nationals will attempt to avoid an indignity unlike any other they've experienced this season: A sweep at the hands of the Orioles. Losing three of four to the Astros was bad. Losing two of three to the Indians was really bad. Getting swept by the Orioles would be humiliating.

After blowing leads of 6-0 and 5-0 the last two days, perhaps the Nats will try a new strategy today: Get behind early and then really to win. Even better, perhaps they'll simply hold a large lead for a change. (I know, it's a novel concept.)

Today's lineup shuffle: Adam Dunn is DH'ing, so Michael Morse starts at first base. The big surprise: Alberto Gonzalez makes only his ninth start of the season, his first at shortstop. Seems like a good time for a day off for Ian Desmond, who has just three hits in his last 34 at-bats and has seen his batting average plummet from .276 to .249.

I'm back at the park today, so check back for updates before, during and after the game...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50-HD, MASN-HD (Nats pregame and postgame shows on MASN2)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 94 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
DH Adam Dunn

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Game 75: Nats at Orioles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
They'll be turning back the clocks at Camden Yards today.
Fresh off a devastating, 7-6 loss last night, the Nationals return to Camden Yards this afternoon hoping to rebound against the Orioles.

For anyone who was infuriated with Cristian Guzman's defense last night, rest assured: He's DH'ing today, with Adam Kennedy at second base. For anyone who believes Michael Morse should be in the lineup every day, sorry: He's back on the bench, with Roger Bernadina in right field. No other changes from Jim Riggleman.

Don't get confused when you turn on today's game and see an old-but-familiar uniform worn by the Nationals. The Orioles are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their 1970 World Series title, and a number of players from that team will be in attendance (including Frank Robinson). They'll be wearing 1970s-era uniforms, with the old cartoon bird logo on the hat. The Nats, meanwhile, will be wearing 1970 Senators jerseys (gray, with "Senators" in red script across the front). The hats will actually be their regular home reds, since that's what the Senators wore back in the day.

I won't be at today's game, so no updates or postgame reports, but I'll be back at Camden Yards tomorrow for the series finale. As always, please feel free to chat with each other about the game or any other issues that come up...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 4:05 p.m.
TV: MASN-HD (Nats pregame and postgame shows on MASN2)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 93 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
DH Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

No defense for this defense

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Thanks to the Nats' gaffes, the Orioles were the ones celebrating at night's end.
BALTIMORE -- Ian Desmond stood before his locker in an otherwise silent Nationals clubhouse, the kind of silence that only accompanies the kind of crushing loss like tonight's debacle at Camden Yards, and tried to sum it up.

"We had 10 different ways to win that game," the rookie shortstop said. "And we lost it 10 different ways."

There's no way to sugarcoat this, no silver lining to make everyone feel better. The Nationals absolutely blew this ballgame, turning a 6-run lead after four innings into an embarrassing 7-6 loss to the Orioles that could have been prevented on any number of fronts.

It starts, of course, with the defense, which committed four more errors tonight resulting in four unearned runs, including the game-winner. But there were plenty other mistakes. The lineup completely let up after taking that 6-0 lead. Tyler Clippard imploded unlike he had at any previous point this season. And Jim Riggleman overmanaged this one to the point it cost his team victory, making pitching changes left and right in the fifth and sixth innings like this was Game 7 of the World Series, not Game 74 of a sub.-500 season.

"We put ourselves in some situations where we didn't bury them, and that's what really hurts out of that loss," said Nyjer Morgan, whose brilliant performance at the plate and in the field was wasted by night's end.

The defensive gaffes were the Nationals' final undoing, but let's talk first about the way Riggleman managed this game. His team up 6-2 with one out in the fifth, he decided to pull starter J.D. Martin, who

Friday, June 25, 2010

Harris talks about his struggles

BALTIMORE -- Willie Harris is a realist. He knows he's not carrying his weight right now. Actually, he knows he's not hitting his weight, either.

The Nationals' super-utility man carried a paltry .151 batting average into tonight's game against the Orioles and an 0-for-20 streak that dates back to June 3, the last time he reached base safely. A prideful veteran who has established himself as a valuable big leaguer over the course of his career, Harris beats himself up just as much as Nats fans who groan every time he comes off the bench in a key spot and fails to produce.

As you'll read on, Harris believes he would produce more if he got more chances to play. He also knows his poor performance means he doesn't deserve to play any more.

Game 74: Nats at Orioles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Sparkling Camden Yards, home of the not-so-sparkling Baltimore Orioles.
BALTIMORE -- Say what you want about the Orioles -- and there are plenty of negative things to say about this franchise -- but they still call Camden Yards home, and there are few ballparks in American that can top this place.

That's about the only thing the Orioles can hang their hats on right now, though. They were struggling last month when they came down to D.C. and lost two of three, and they're struggling worse now. Dave Trembley was fired, Juan Samuel has taken over as interim manager and the search for a permanent replacement goes on. In the most astounding stat you'll ever find, Baltimore first basemen have yet to hit a single home run this season. Think about that. Just mind-boggling.

So, once again, the Nationals have an opportunity to seize the moment and take down an inferior opponent. They won't have Stephen Strasburg in this series, but they will have J.D. Martin (who has pitched well despite his 0-3 record), Livan Hernandez (who was fantastic his last time out) and Luis Atilano (also coming off a strong start).

Now, the question on everyone's mind: Who is DH'ing tonight? The answer; Josh Willingham. Willie Harris is in left field. (Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger.) However, Michael Morse is starting in right field. Roger Bernandina is on the bench.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN-HD (Nats pregame and postgame shows on MASN2)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 88 degrees, Wind 3 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Zim, Dunn, Pudge, Capps or Clip?

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on the Stephen Strasburg All-Star debate. Some excellent points made on both sides of the argument, which underscores just how unique this situation is. There is no comparable rookie from past seasons, no precedent that dictates whether Strasburg should go to Anaheim or not. It makes for a fascinating debate.

The Strasburg back-and-forth, though, opened up another debate. Assuming he isn't picked -- or assuming he's not the Nationals' lone All-Star -- who else is most-deserving of the spot on the NL roster?

I think you could probably make a case for any of seven different players: Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Ivan Rodriguez, Matt Capps, Tyler Clippard, Josh Willingham and Livan Hernandez. Obviously, some have better arguments than others, and in all likelihood only one of these guys (maybe two) is going to wind up on the team.

Here, then, are the pros and cons for each candidate...

Pros: He's the best all-around third baseman in the National League. He ranks second at his position in the NL in OPS, second in slugging, third in on-base percentage, third in homers, second in runs. And he's widely considered the best defensive third baseman in the game.
Cons: He's been in a slump the last two weeks, hitting .170 with only three RBI his last 13 games. He hasn't been as good defensively this year as he was last year.

Pros: He's been one of the most productive offensive players in baseball this season. He ranks second in the NL in home runs, fourth in slugging, seventh in OPS and second in total bases.
Cons: Despite his numbers, he's never been thought of around the game as an All-Star (he's appeared in only one midsummer classic, in

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The All-Star question

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
At best, Stephen Strasburg will be 4-1 when All-Star rosters are announced.
It was probably sometime in the first hour following Stephen Strasburg's second career start that I received my first email from someone wondering whether there was any chance the rookie could make the National League All-Star roster. My initial reaction: Are you nuts? Of course not!

But the movement has gained steam over the last 10 days, bolstered by Strasburg's continued dominance, and suddenly it doesn't sound like such a far-fetched idea after all. Why wouldn't Charlie Manuel want to have this guy in his bullpen to help win an exhibition game that could ensure home-field advantage for his Phillies in the World Series? And what fan wouldn't want to see Strasburg stare down Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis and Robinson Cano in the eighth inning of a one-run ballgame?

There are plenty of reasons why Strasburg should be an All-Star. Here, though, are more reasons why he shouldn't go to Anaheim...

1. He'll only have been in the majors for one month. Manuel must announce his reserves and pitching staff on July 4, one day after Strasburg is scheduled to make his sixth start of the season. Six starts! That's one-sixth of a full season. Yes, it's somewhat absurd

Offensive blame aplenty

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has cooled off dramatically at the plate in the last month.
The Nationals' 1-0 loss to the Royals -- an excruciating affair played under sweltering conditions -- seemed to leave everyone in a sour mood. The crowd of 31,913, which included more than a few booing fans as the final out of the game was recorded. Stephen Strasburg, who shot down repetitive questions from national media members about the hype that surrounds his every move. And several players inside the clubhouse, who did little to hide their frustration in the wake of another narrow loss.

All of the ire, of course, was directed toward a Nationals lineup that is producing at minuscule levels these days.

Lest anyone need to be reminded, the Nats have now scored a whopping total of 20 runs over their last nine games. They haven't surpassed the four-run mark in any of those instances. During this just-completed, six-game homestand, they managed to twice lose 1-0 and a third time by a 2-1 count.

Pointed questions were asked after this latest loss, and the answers suggested a ballclub trying to convince itself everything is still OK.

"I hate to, and I won't, make excuses for anybody," Jim Riggleman said. "But sometimes you've got to tip your hat to the opposition. I'm not trying to rationalize too much, but we've run into a lot of well-pitched ballgames against us. I know that gets old saying that. I want to score runs more than anybody. But they just held us down."

Among the opposing pitchers who have dominated the Nats over the last week: Gavin Floyd, Freddy Garcia, Bruce Chen and Brian Bannister. We're not talking about Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez and

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No support

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg had to pitch with men on base all afternoon.
By the ridiculously lofty standards he's established for himself over the last three weeks, Stephen Strasburg's fourth career start today ranked as a disappointment. The Nationals phenom allowed nine hits over six innings to the unheralded Royals and was charged with his first major-league loss.

Then again, Strasburg still allowed only one run, didn't walk a batter and struck out nine while setting yet another record for rookie pitchers.

Perhaps had the Nats simply scored a single run in support of Strasburg, this outing could be looked at in a totally different light. Instead, it went down as an incredibly frustrating 1-0 loss, the second time in five days the 21-year-old right-hander was done in by a lack of offensive support.

Read Strasburg's thoughts on the poor support, plus some interesting comments from Jose Guillen, on

Game 73: Royals at Nationals

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg will battle the Royals and the heat this afternoon.
It's an absolute scorcher today, with temperatures in the mid-90s and the heat index approaching 100. Good thing Stephen Strasburg will be here to provide a nice, cool breeze with each fastball he fires up at the Kansas City Royals.

This will be a good test for Strasburg, who I would imagine has never pitched in heat quite like this before. He's talked in the past about dealing with wind and cold in the Mountain West Conference, but the only other place he's pitched that may have compared to this was Beijing at the 2008 Olympics.

That said, the conditions today -- or more specifically, the rare 4:35 p.m. starting time -- could play to Strasburg's advantage. The worst time of day for hitters is late afternoon, when the shadows start creeping over the plate but the bright sun remains on the pitcher's mound.

Just a hunch, but I've got a feeling Strasburg's going to be especially effective today.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:35 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 95 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Go for the jugular

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano earned his sixth win with 5 1/3 strong innings.
Opportunities to sweep an opposing team shouldn't be wasted. Opportunities to sweep an opposing team behind the greatest pitching prospect in a generation simply can't be wasted.

The Nationals will take the field at steamy Nationals Park tomorrow afternoon riding a two-game winning streak, having twice beaten the Royals by a single run. Make no mistake: This will be as much of a must-win game for this team as any other this season.

Forget about trying to snap losing streaks or finishing a road trip on a high note. The Nats have the most-dominant pitcher in baseball outside of Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound tomorrow against one of the weakest opponents in the majors. This is where a good team goes for the jugular and puts the Royals out of their misery without ever giving them a chance.

The Nationals have tried their best the last two nights to give games away. Matt Capps pitched himself into a ninth-inning jam Monday night and he did it again tonight, somehow escaping without surrendering the tying run.

"It got a little hairy there at the end," Jim Riggleman said after a 4-1 lead turned into a 4-3 escape act. "But we'll take that."

Capps has danced with the devil often this season. But aside from one rough stretch three weeks ago, he's found a way to get the job done. Monday night, he put the tying and go-ahead runners on, then proceeded to strike out Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier in

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Consistent bullpen has saved Nats

While "Clipp and Save" are enjoying life in the spotlight tonight, their nicknames on T-shirts handed out to fans entering the ballpark, credit is due to the entire Nationals' bullpen. While other facets of the roster have experienced ups and downs through the season's first three months, this relief corps has remained remarkably consistent.

Nats relivers carried a 3.45 ERA into tonight's game, fourth-best in the National League and seventh-best in the majors. Six of the group's seven regulars -- right-hander Joel Peralta just joined the roster yesterday -- owned ERAs under 4.00, and the worst of the bunch (Miguel Batista) has been plenty respectable with a 4.23 ERA.

Then there's this: Since Drew Storen's arrival on May 17, the entire Washington bullpen has posted a 2.51 ERA. Read all about that and more on

Game 72: Royals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nationals Park, shortly after a monster storm rolled through tonight.
It's mostly gone unnoticed because the Nationals have lost far more games than they've won over the last month, but this club's bullpen continues to be among the best in baseball.

Check out these ERAs for Washington's relievers in June...

Tyler Clippard: 0.90
Sean Burnett: 1.35
Tyler Walker: 2.08
Drew Storen: 2.53
Matt Capps: 3.38
Miguel Batista: 3.86
Doug Slaten: 5.79

Pretty impressive. For the season, the Nationals' bullpen owns a 3.45 ERA. That's fourth-best in the NL, seventh-best in the majors. Again, pretty impressive.

Tonight, the club will pay homage to the two guys who have been pitching the eighth and ninth innings all season: Clippard and Capps. Tonight's giveaway T-shirts have a picture of a giant coupon, emblazoned with the words "Clipp and Save." (Yes, that slogan was first coined by former Washington Times copy editor Steve Repsher.)

"It's kind of neat," said Capps, who got a glimpse of the shirts the other day. "It's a cool feeling, and something neat for your friends and family to see and to have. For the team to think that much of you, it's a good feeling."

So, how might the Nationals best commemorate the occasion tonight? How about taking a one- or two-run lead into the eighth inning against the Royals, then handing this game over to their most-trusted relievers? We'll see if they can pull that off.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 90 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Who replaces Lannan?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen nearly threw a no-hitter in his last start at Syracuse.
John Lannan's demotion to Class AA Harrisburg yesterday leaves the Nationals searching for another starting pitcher, one they believe will give this team a better chance to win right now than Lannan did.

But who will that pitcher be?

The Nats don't have to make the decision right away. Thanks to Thursday's scheduled off-day, they can get by with only four starters (keeping everyone on normal rest) for a little while. Luis Atilano goes tonight against the Royals, with Stephen Strasburg pitching tomorrow's series finale. J.D. Martin, Livan Hernandez and Atilano will start in Baltimore this weekend, and Strasburg will take his traveling rodeo to Atlanta on Monday.

So the Nationals won't need a fifth starter until one week from today (June 29) against the Braves. They'll go with an eight-man bullpen in the interim.

Once the time comes to make another move, Mike Rizzo appears to have three options: Craig Stammen, Matt Chico and Ross Detwiler. Let's take a closer look at all three...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Michael Morse's hot bat hasn't landed him an everyday job yet.
There may be no tougher challenge in sports than assembling a 25-man baseball roster and then choosing the nine men who will fill out a lineup card on any given day.

Not a day goes by in which a general manager doesn't evaluate his roster and wonder whether any changes might produce better results. And not a day goes by in which a manager doesn't scribble out lineups, either on napkins or in his head, trying to find the perfect combination that leads to success.

So understand that when the Nationals make changes -- and often when they don't make changes -- they aren't flying by the seat of their pants. They're agonizing over every possible move, debating them among the coaching staff and front office, trying to decide what decisions will best help the team both today and over the long haul.

Today, the Nats decided John Lannan needed to be removed from the big-league roster, a major change that was not made lightly but rather after some serious contemplation and hand-wringing.

They also decided not to fundamentally alter their daily lineup. Yes, Michael Morse is tearing the cover off the ball when given the opportunity to play. But, in Jim Riggleman's mind, that's not enough to send Roger Bernadina or Nyjer Morgan to the bench.

Both decisions could have lasting impacts on the club's fortunes. Both could be reversed sometime down the road. But today, these decisions make the most sense to the Nationals.

Let's start with Lannan, whose demotion to Harrisburg was probably several weeks in the works but still caught plenty by surprise when it was announced this afternoon. It's not often that a team sends its Opening Day starter of the last two seasons packing to Class AA, but

Lannan to AA, Peralta promoted

[UPDATE AT 7:25 P.M. -- Read my full, updated story on Lannan's demotion, including quotes from Mike Rizzo, Jim Riggleman and Steve McCatty, on]

The Nationals have optioned struggling left-hander John Lannan to Class AA Harrisburg, a surprise demotion for the man who started Opening Day each of the last two seasons.

Lannan, 2-5 with a 5.76 ERA, had a 10.38 ERA over his last three starts but insisted his arm felt fine after dealing with elbow issues last month. The Nats elected to send him all the way to Harrisburg instead of Class AAA Syracuse, manager Jim Riggleman said, because of his familiarity and previous work with Senators pitching coach Randy Tomlin.

Reliever Joel Peralta was promoted from Syracuse to take Lannan's roster spot and will be available to pitch out of an eight-man bullpen tonight. To make room on the 40-man roster for Peralta, the club transferred pitcher Garrett Mock from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL.

Ross Detwiler also has been re-instated from the 60-day DL, but the left-hander has been optioned to Harrisburg, where he'll continue to work his way back from hip surgery. He could join the Nats' rotation at some point, but Riggleman said he likely wouldn't be the immediate replacement for Lannan.

The Nationals won't need another starter until next Tuesday in Atlanta. Craig Stammen, who has pitched well at Syracuse since his

Game 71: Royals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After getting swept by the Tigers and White Sox, the Nats try to rebound against the Royals.
No one expected Livan Hernandez to carry a sub-2.00 ERA through the entire season, so the fact the veteran right-hander has come back to earth over the last few weeks is hardly a surprise.

That said, Hernandez's last outing for the Nationals -- he was tagged by the Tigers for eight runs while issuing six walks -- was way out of character. He hadn't allowed more than four runs in any of his previous 12 starts this season, and he hadn't walked that many batters in three years.

Livo has always been known for the occasional meltdown on the mound, and he's also always been known for bouncing back from those rough outings and getting back on track. Thus, the expectation tonight is that he will put together a strong performance against the Royals.

The Nats had better hope Hernandez does come through. They need a well-pitched game in the worst way. They also need an offensive outburst in the worst way. Put the two of those together, and they just might manage to snap a season-wost, six-game losing streak.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 88 degrees, Wind 6 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Easy schedule? Not really

Remember way back to the beginning of this month, when Stephen Strasburg was still in Syracuse, when the Nationals were still a .500 team and when the scheduling gods seemed to be smiling down upon this club?

Back then, the thinking was that the Nats had done a fantastic job surviving what would be the toughest portion of the season and now could really make a move during a prolonged stretch of games against lesser competition.

How has that worked out for them? Not so well. A club that sat at 25-26 when it arrived in Houston on Memorial Day has since gone 6-13. Worse the Nats have posted that .316 winning percentage against the Astros, Reds, Pirates, Indians, Tigers and White Sox. Combined record of those six teams: 186-227.

Point is, there's no such thing as an easy schedule in baseball. And you certainly can't assume one team is going to enjoy a upswing just because it's playing a bunch of games against sub-.500 opposition. Anyone can win on any given day in this sport. All it takes is a good pitching performance, a couple of clutch hits, some nice plays in the field.

The Nationals have learned this the hard way. Inside the clubhouse throughout April and May, guys kept saying: "If we can only hang around .500 through this first stretch of the season, the schedule gets a lot easier and then we can take off." On paper, that may have sounded like a reasonable approach. In reality, it's never as easy as it sounds.

The Nats have fallen to a season-worst eight games under .500 because they haven't gotten enough quality pitching, because they haven't gotten enough hits at the right times, because they haven't

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Game 70: White Sox at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Desperate for a win, the Nats close out their series with Chicago today.
Is it time to panic in NatsTown?

Five straight losses. Eleven total runs scored. Seven games under .500. If nothing else, this certainly qualifies as the low point of the season to date. Some might even call it rock bottom.

These Nationals have been pretty good all along at focusing on nothing but that day's game. They don't look back. They don't look forward. It's the mindset you have to take to survive a 162-game season.

So the pressure today, then, is on John Lannan. Coming off one of the worst starts of his career in Detroit, the left-hander hopes he's figured out how to get his sinker to sink again: a little tweak in his arm angle that he believes came about because he was overcompensated out of fear he might re-injure his elbow. We'll see if he's able to rediscover his form today against the White Sox and Freddy Garcia.

I'm not covering the game today. Spending Father's Day with my own dad, David Zuckerman, and my father-in-law, Mark Friend. Hope the rest of you out there have a fabulous day, whether you're at the ballpark or somewhere else with family and friends!

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50-HD, MASN-HD
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 91 degrees, Wind 10 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Game 69: White Sox at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats will try to end a four-game losing streak tonight.
In the wake of last night's hullabaloo over Stephen Strasburg and Barack Obama, let's not forget the Nationals are stuck in a four-game losing streak and have fallen to a season-worst six games under .500.

The struggles have been particularly pronounced at the plate, where the Nats have scored a total of 11 runs over these last four games, striking out 40 times while drawing only five walks (two intentional).

Jim Riggleman and Co. have insisted all along the hits will start falling, that guys are putting together good at-bats and have just hit a few shots right at people. They also point out they've faced some tough pitching in the last week. I'll let you decide whether you agree or disagree with that line of thinking.

I'll also let you discuss tonight's game among yourselves. I'm taking the rest of the weekend off to spend time with family. Enjoy the game!...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:10 p.m.
TV: Fox
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 90 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Not a typical night at the ballpark

Photo by Traci Zuckerman / SPECIAL TO NATS INSIDER
President Obama, noted White Sox fan, made an unannounced visit to Nationals Park.
When my parents, brother and sister decided to come visit this weekend, they figured they'd catch a ballgame at Nationals Park with my wife and in-laws. And when it became clear Stephen Strasburg would be starting last night's series opener against the White Sox, I figured that would be the logical game to attend.

Little did any of us realize the highlight of the evening would have nothing to do with Strasburg, but rather the guy in the White Sox cap sitting in a suite one section and a few rows back to their right.

From their seats in Section 207, my family had a nice view of the field. They had an even better view of President Obama, who made an unannounced visit to Nationals Park to see his Sox take on Strasburg in what turned into a taut pitchers' duel with Gavin Floyd.

The President stuck around longer than Strasburg did, but he had already left the park by the time the game was decided in the 11th on a nearly brilliant play by Ryan Zimmerman, who made a spectacular stop of Alex Rios' smash down the third-base line but threw just a smidge too high to first for Adam Dunn to haul it in.

"It was weird," said Drew Storen, who was on the mound at the time. "Right off the bat, I'm going, 'Alright, that's by him.' And then it was, 'Whoa! OK, nice play!' And then you just kind of go, 'Awwww.' I was

A brilliant start wasted

It was the kind of pitching performance you might witness once a year: seven innings of 10-strikeout, zero-walk brilliance that left a sellout crowd (including the President of the United States) cheering and opposing hitters dumbfounded.

Too bad it all went to waste.

As Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals found out tonight, one fantastic pitching performance isn't always enough to carry a team to victory. Read all about it on

Friday, June 18, 2010

Zimmermann, Marquis and Obama

[UPDATE AT 7:15 P.M. -- Obama is indeed here. He's sitting in the owner's suite behind Section 208 on the club level, third-base line. Got here in the bottom of the first.]

Two people already sighted at Nationals Park so far today: Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis.

One more person who could be here before the night's over: Barack Obama.

Rumors are flying around the ballpark that the President of the United States will be attending this game. Obama, of course, is a big White Sox fan. We'll have to see whether he gets to his feet every time Stephen Strasburg gets two strikes on a batter. Shoot, everyone else will. He can't be the only one sitting, can he?

As for Zimmermann and Marquis, they were both here to get some afternoon work done in front of the big-league coaching staff.

Zimmermann pitched two "innings" of a simulated game this afternoon, throwing a total of 35 pitches. They didn't have a radar gun on him today, but he was recently clocked at 94 mph in Viera, and pitching coach Steve McCatty said he "was throwing good."

Jim Riggleman said once Zimmermann is healthy and has completed his minor-league rehab, he'll be placed in the big-league rotation. No relief duties. Though the right-hander is ahead of schedule in his rehab, the Nats continue to insist they won't rush him back. He's still

Game 68: White Sox at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats are back home, and Stephen Strasburg is back on the mound.
Hello again from Nationals Park, where the Nats return following a brutal 1-5 road trip through Cleveland and Detroit that included a sweep at the hands of the Tigers. Actually, the only game this team has won in a week was Stephen Strasburg's last start.

Fortunately, the kid's on the mound tonight, looking to stop yet another losing streak. He was originally due to face Mark Buehrle, but then Jake Peavy was dealing with some shoulder problems and was bumped back two days, so Buehrle and Gavin Floyd were bumped up. Thus, Floyd starts tonight, with Peavy (Strasburg's favorite pitcher growing up in San Diego) starts tomorrow.

Jim Riggleman returns to his conventional lineup for this one. Nyjer Morgan is leading off in center field. Cristian Guzman is batting second and playing second. Michael Morse is back on the bench.

Check back for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN-HD, MLB Network (outside of D.C. and Chicago)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 81 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn