Monday, July 19, 2010

Game 93: Nats at Reds

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Reds host the Nationals in a four-game series along the banks of the Ohio River.
CINCINNATI -- Hello from Great American Ball Park, which when you view from this vantage point behind home plate looks like it sits in the middle of nowhere. That's the Ohio River running behind the right-field fence, with Northern Kentucky in the distance.

But wait, isn't this ballpark located right in downtown Cincinnati? Why, yes, it is. There are a bunch of skyscrapers directly behind us. For some reason, the folks here decided to point the park in the opposite directions. Just one of several things about this place that leave me underwhelmed.

The Nationals' lineup was mighty underwhelming over the weekend, getting shut out the last two days in Miami and scoring in only one of 27 innings against the Marlins. I mentioned this yesterday but it bears repeating: Josh Willingham's three-run double Friday night was the only run-scoring hit by a Nats player in the entire series. Simply remarkable.

They'll try to snap out of the slump this week against a Reds club that spent much of the season's first half in first place thanks to an outstanding combination of deep pitching and a potent lineup. Even these guys are prone to the occasional slump, though -- their last three losses have all come by a score of 1-0. Sound familiar?

Check back for updates throughout the afternoon and evening...

Where: Great American Ball Park
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 85 degrees, Wind 6 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
RF Willie Harris
SS Ian Desmond
P J.D. Martin

REDS (51-42)
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Orlando Cabrera
1B Joey Votto
LF Jonny Gomes
RF Jay Bruce
3B Miguel Cairo
CF Drew Stubbs
C Ryan Hanigan
P Johnny Cueto

5:19 p.m. -- Here you go: Jim Riggleman, on why Willie Harris is starting tonight: "Same as always, just getting Willie at-bats. Nothing more. We do that sometimes to give Willingham a day off. Sometimes we give Bernie a day off. I'm going to try to find a game for Morse here pretty soon, and Gonzalez. Nothing more to it."

5:29 p.m. -- You may have noticed Scott Rolen is not in the Reds' lineup. It's quite possible he'll miss the entire series due to a hamstring injury that required a cortisone shot earlier today. Dusty Baker told Cincinnati reporters the club may decide to put the All-Star third baseman on the DL unless he shows quick signs of healing.

6:14 p.m. -- Just throwing this out there, but in the last two games he's started, Willie Harris is 4-for-8 with a walk, two runs, a double and an RBI. Just to add more fuel to the already red-hot debate going on here.

6:18 p.m. -- Updates on Jordan Zimmermann getting scratched from tonight's start at Potomac and Jason Marquis' strong rehab debut in Viera on the homepage. Check it out here.

6:57 p.m. -- Uh-oh, the skies are darkening and there's a line of storms approaching from the west. The game will start on time, but don't be surprised if there's a delay at some point.

7:10 p.m. -- This one is underway with a strike from Johnny Cueto to Nyjer Morgan. Not the largest gathering, especially for a team in a pennant race, though I'm told the crowds are supposed to pick up the rest of the week and more than 30,000 are expected Wednesday night when Stephen Strasburg pitches.

7:15 p.m. -- Not a particularly encouraging top of the first for the Nats. Morgan fell behind 0-2 to Cueto and then grounded out to short. Cristian Guzman then struck out, and Ryan Zimmerman grounded out to third. 1-2-3, nothing across. J.D. Martin now takes the mound for the bottom of the first.

7:21 p.m. -- Martin matches Cueto with his own 1-2-3 inning, though Joey Votto came THISCLOSE to giving the Reds an early lead. He skied a pitch deep to left, sending Josh Willingham back to the warning track before hauling it in for the third out. This is a dangerous lineup and a dangerous ballpark for opposing pitchers. One mistake can cost you a game.

7:27 p.m. -- The consecutive scoreless innings tally is now up to 23. Adam Dunn led off the second by drawing a walk, but Josh Willingham popped up the first pitch he saw to the catcher and Ivan Rodriguez grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. The Nats haven't scored since that four-run sixth on Friday night, when Willingham cleared the bases with a double and Pudge followed with a sac fly. Otherwise, zippo on this road trip so far.

7:48 p.m. -- Wow, I'm not even sure where to begin in describing the bottom of the second. Suffice it to say, it included two singles, a double, three walks and at least two misplays in the field. Willie Harris bobbled Drew Stubbs' base hit to right, then threw wildly toward the infield, allowing an extra run to score. However, Cristian Guzman didn't help by failing to put himself in a proper position to take the relay throw. Then, Guzman couldn't knock down Cueto's grounder, leading to two more runs. All the while, Martin couldn't find the plate and (as has often been the case) couldn't limit the damage when an inning started to get out of hand. The end result: Reds lead 4-0 after two.

8:01 p.m. -- Look out! Offensive explosion from the Nats! They just scored two runs, ending that scoreless streak at 23 innings. Harris drew a leadoff walk. Desmond smoked a base hit up the middle. Martin managed to get a sac bunt down. Nyjer brought home the first run with a sac fly. And Guzman drove in another with a base hit to center. It's 4-2 Reds in the third.

8:02 p.m. -- Weather alert: There's a major storm heading toward Cincy, about to hit. They're closing the press box windows as we speak. It's not supposed to last very long, but it's supposed to be intense. Sounds like there will be a delay. Which could mean a short night for both starting pitchers.

8:06 p.m. -- Much better stuff from Martin in the third. He retired the side, getting a pair of groundballs to the right side and a flyball to right.

8:08 p.m. -- And here comes the rain. Fans fleeing for the concourses. Grounds crew racing to get the tarp out over the infield. Players retreating to the dugouts. We are officially in a delay. Top of the fourth, Reds up 4-2.

8:36 p.m. -- Tarp's coming off. It'll take a little while to get the field ready again, but we should have baseball within 20 minutes.

8:41 p.m. -- How do they kill time during a rain delay in Cincinnati? Why, of course, by showing a replay of the MC Hammer postgame concert from three nights ago right here at the ballpark!

8:50 p.m. -- And we're back after a 42-minute rain delay. Cueto still on the mound for the Reds. Don't see any action in the Nats' bullpen, so it looks like Martin will return as well.

9:01 p.m. -- Nothing doing for either side in the fourth. Martin certainly has settled down since that disastrous second inning.

9:15 p.m. -- If you had asked me about 90 minutes ago, I'd have said this had all the makings of a slugfest. Hasn't played out like that at all. Nobody has scored since the Nats' 2-run third, and both starting pitchers have settled into a nice groove despite the rain delay. It's still 4-2 as we go to the sixth.

9:29 p.m. -- Just when it looked like the Nats were going to catch a break, they were denied by that blasted rule book. With two on and two out in the sixth, Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder up the middle that skipped off the side of the mound and wound up hitting second base umpire Gary Cederstrom in the back. Zimmerman came around to score, and the Nats thought they had cut the lead. But the umps made Zim go back to third. Why? Rule 5.09f, which states that a batted ball that strikes an umpire after passing the pitcher's mound but before reaching the rest of the infielders is declared a dead ball and all forced runners are granted one base. There you have it, rally denied. It's still 4-2.

9:34 p.m. -- Er, make that 5-2. Jonny Gomes just crushed a pitch from Martin 431 feet to left field to lead off the bottom of the sixth.

9:35 p.m. -- Er, make that 6-2. Miguel Cairo just duplicated Gomes' feat, another solo homer to left, an absolute bomb off a high, 84 mph fastball from Martin. J.D.'s evening is done. Joel Peralta coming on to pitch.

9:47 p.m. -- Somebody named Logan Ondrusek is now pitching for Cincinnati. I could be mistaken, but didn't he miss the cut at St. Andrews over the weekend?

10:03 p.m. -- Look, I know Ian Desmond infuriates people with his astounding error total. But those two plays he just made back-to-back in the seventh are why he has a chance to be something special. Great combination of range and a cannon on both plays, plus the awareness on the second one to intentionally one-hop the ball to Dunn because it would get there faster.

10:15 p.m. -- Remember when Pudge was on a tear at the plate and looked like a guy determined to get to 3,000 hits? Yeah, not so much anymore. Stats over his last 39 games: .216 average, .243 on-base percentage, .274 slugging. Yikes.

10:30 p.m. -- At last, we go to the ninth inning of what is now a 7-2 game. Dusty Baker is sending closer Francisco Cordero to the mound, apparently because he's terrified of a Nats lineup that over its last 37 innings has produced exactly two (TWO!) run-scoring hits: Willingham's double Friday night and Guzman's single tonight. Feel free to bang your head against the wall now.

10:40 p.m. -- It's over. It's all over. Final score: Reds 7, Nats 2.


JayB said...

Willie Harris.....amazing.....Riggs just does not get it at all.....Fire him how and put him out of his discussion...he is not a winning manager.

JayB said...


Bowdenball said...

I hate to say it ... but I agree 100% with JayB. I can't think of a single way that starting Harris over Bernadina or Morse helps the ballclub. He's way beyond the point of having any trade value whatsoever, so they can't be running him out there as trade bait. And Bernadina and Morse are not only much better ballplayers at this point, but they're also younger players whom you'd think the club would want to get as much playing time as possible so they can learn and improve and be evaluated for the benefit of the club in the future.

I'm officially done with Riggleman. I sat through the stupid, counterproductive sacrifice bunts in early innings. I sat through the preposterous base-running errors. But this is the straw that broke the camel's back for me. There is NO reason for Willie's name to be in that lineup.

Bowdenball said...

... unless one of the "real" right fielders is hurt or sick, of course. In that case, I withdraw the above comment.

ckstevenson said...

Skyline Chili ( or Ben's Chili Bowl? Report back to us tomorrow Mark!

Mark Zuckerman said...

ckstevenson: I've already got a lunch trip to Skyline planned, so I'll definitely report back. I've been there before, though, and I have to say I really like Cincinnati-style chili: on top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese. (Hey, wait, is that where the song came from?)

NatsJack in Florida said...

I can't think of any other team in either league that has the gall to start a .177 hitter this late in the season and bat him 7th no less.

After the terrific offensive performance displyed over the week end, this is what we get.


JayB said...

It is so interesting that so many of you finally are facing the facts....this team is so poorly run right now that they are going backwards solely because of lineups and game decisions by Riggs and Rizzo's failure to react to hard data on his winter roster moves.

Bowdenball said...

Don't get carried away, Jay. The fact that the fan base is down on Willie isn't exactly news. Just because I agree with you in this case and I am at my limit with Riggleman this year, doesn't mean I agree with your overall feelings about our front office-- Rizzo in particular-- or the direction of the club generally.

Les in NC said...

@ JayB - Maybe Berny needs a day off, and Morse has splinters in his a@@ from all the pine riding he has logged this season! We can't really know what goes on in the clubhouse until we get a hard nose reporter (like Mark) to answer our enquiring minds' questions. Just relax, until we lose another close one, then we can jump up and down until Riggleman starts tipping his cap again. *rolls eyes*

Anonymous said...

Man Crush Mode (MCM) Riggleman full speed ahead to 100 losses and another #1 of #1's pick! Yeah baby!

NatsJack in Florida said...

I've been down on Nyjer since the first time I saw him taking Lasting Milledge routes for routine fly balls in the gaps and displaying his "gurlyman" arm during Spring Training.

I've been down on Harris since early May when it became apparent he's lost all confidence at the plate.

And I don't even want to get started on Kennedy. He's performing exactly as he did during spring training where a bunch of us thought Bruntlet (no longer in the organization) and Orr outplayed him.

But like everyone else, I've grown extremely weary of the ever changing lineup that NEVER, EVER includes our best lineup which would include Berandina in CF and Morse in RF.

d in Fl. said...

If Mark had of provided an advance copy of the series preview to Riggs, he would have seen who should, and should not have been in tonights lineup.
Come on Mark, help them out.

HHover said...

Just to try a thought experiment here and see if Riggs really deserves the fury:

* The Nats have a 10-game stretch without a day off, and there's an argument for resting their starting OFs at least once in that stretch.

* Starting Willie vs a RHP makes more sense that starting him vs a LHP, and you can save Morse and Bernadina for a late-inning offensive and/or defensive replacement.

* Starting Willie now is better than starting him in 2 days when Strasburg starts.

* Why sit Bernadina rather than Nyjer or Willingham? Willingham can actually hit and is the subject of trade rumors, so keeping him out there makes sense; amazingly, I’ve seen Nyjer’s name mentioned at least once in trade discussions, so maybe they want to keep him out there to showcase him. Nyjer also hit better in the last series than Bernadina, and so maybe Riggs wants to keep him out there while, judging by his own standards, Nyjer is relatively hot.

The real question it seems to me is not why Willie plays: if he’s on the roster, he’s going to play and--yes--start occasionally, or Riggs is essentially playing a 24-man roster (23, if you want to insert a joke here about Maxwell). The real question is why he’s on the roster, which is not Riggs’ responsibility. And the answer is that there aren’t obviously better choices in the minors (cf earlier crack about Maxwell), which is also not Riggs’ responsibility.

None of which is to argue that starting Willie is a good idea--it's just to point that it's the product of a bad situation as much as of a bad manager.

Anonymous said...

Mark: What are Willie Harris's lifetime stats against Cueto?

Bowdenball said...


That argument would make sense if we had only one starting RF. But we already have a platoon, and we're sitting them both. Are we facing right-handed pitchers every day for ten days in a row?

Also, not that it matters since we have a decent platoon for RF that doesn't involve Willie Harris or any Willie Harris-like substance anyway ... but ten games in a row really isn't that much, especially coming off a four-day break. Guys play ten games in a row all the time.

NatsJack in Florida said...

How can anyone classify Nyjer as "relatively hot"? I guess "relatively" is a pretty low bar.

Guzman has a better OBP than Morgan and he doesn't get picked off or thrown out stealing (although they are equally inept defensively).

His average fluctuates between .240 and .260 so I guess the fact that he's at .255 makes him hot.

Matt said...

Mark - as frustrated as the fans might get over Riggleman's lineup decisions, I think you've done a very good job of presenting Riggleman's rationale. However, I'd be really interested in getting a bit more perspective on how other top baseball people would approach the Nats lineup -- how far out of the mainstream is Riggleman here? On the other hand, I suspect the reason you haven't written about this yet is because you'd have trouble getting people to go on the record or that it might burn your bridges with Riggleman.

Anonymous said...


Just to try a thought experiment here and see if Riggs really deserves the fury:

Michael Morse got a clutch hit as a PH in the top of the ninth. While Willie Harris was mostly ineffective throughout the Marlins series. He did get used quite a bit even if he didn't start.

So, please explain the logic in punishing a guy who is hitting over .364 against right handed pitching by starting him over a guy who makes the Nats offense basically look terrible? His left handed bat?

Your thought experiment makes very little sense in the light of hard facts. Again, Man Crush Mode Riggleman full speed ahead to 100 losses.

Les in NC said...

I have to agree with Bowdenball here. HH, you had almost convinced me with "Starting Willie now is better than starting him in 2 days when Strasburg starts." But, like Bowden said, the platoon is set in RF so neither Berny or Morse should have to rest due to the nature of it.

JayB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JayB said...

Oh come on now don't need to over think this people....Harris is starting because Riggs feels bad that he struck out again in a key situation and thinks he owes Harris some at bats (again) in hopes of "getting him going" is endless....well at least until Rizzo fires him because Lerner starts to ask tough questions about a perfectly OK salary base producing nothing yet again.

Anonymous said...

Not a Fan of Willy either. My wife and I, here in Cincinnati for the games, prefer roger over "Michael".
Mark come on down behind the Nats dugout tonight or wednesday night, we'll be sitting near the top of the row near the concorse in our NATS gear.
It would be nice to meet you.

Anonymous said...

I felt that the consensus among this august group was that Bernadina has ended the RF shuffle. Go figure.

There once was an outpost of skyline chilli in Merrifield -- long gone now. I like the Brats and Metts in Cincinatti.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Willie Harris career vs. Cueto: 2-for-9, 2 Ks.

Roger Bernadina career vs. Cueto: 0-for-4, 2 Ks.

Michael Morse career vs. Cueto: Never faced before.

Anonymous said...

Bernadina should have ended the RF shuffle. He is producing better there than Dukes ever did, and he has significantly better defense than Morse (which is something people here keep overlooking--nobody has any problems with his bat). And Harris is at least solid defensively. Unfortunately that doesn't make up for his hitting this year.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by the amount of energy that has been generated by the start of Willie Harris. Although I agree with everyone, this is but a mere drop in the bucket of the poor management of this team. What will it take for Riggleman to get angry, show some emotion, bench a player immediatly who has just made a bonehead play (Nyjer Morgan)!

This team is in last place. The season is over. What is Riggleman afraid of? Can things get worse if he manages with some passion?

I guess it's just not within him. Where is Earl Weaver when you need him?

HHover said...

Thanks to Bowdenball and others for the responses--everything you say is correct but still doesn't get to the underlying point. I didn't say it's a good decision to start Willie, but that it's a decision that flows at least as much from factors beyond as within Riggs' control.

The factor beyond his control, and from which everything else flows, is that Willie is on the roster in the first place. Once he is, he's going to play and even start occasionally, and so the question for Riggleman isn't "When is it a good idea to start Willie?" but, "When is it a less bad idea to start Willie?"

For the reasons I noted, this seems like a less bad time. And if that's the case, then Riggs doesn't deserve all the grief he's getting here--or least, there's plenty of grief left over for Rizzo and the FO, whom almost no one seems to be complaining about.

Anonymous said...

Others have already made the point about the Harris madness far better than I could, so I'll just say this: Riggleman is to Harris as Gibbs was to Mark Brunell. Not that Riggleman can even see Gibbs's place on the coaching pantheon from where Riggles sits, but just like Gibbs just couldn't quit Brunell, Riggleman never gives up on Harris.

It's like batting a lineup of:
(1) Guzman (2b)
(2) Bernardina (cf)
(3) Zimmerman (3b)
(4) Dunn (1b)
(5) Willingham (lf)
(6) Rodriguez (c)
(7) Morse (rf) (you could flip Morse and Pudge and I wouldn't bat an eyelash)
(8) Desmond (ss)

Would be admitting that the last two months have been a colossal managing error in progress. Riggles has got his guys and he's going to ride them deep into last place.

On the bright side, Kennedy isn't starting. On the downside, why is Kennedy still on this team? For his lousy hitting, crappy fielding, poor baserunning or shining example?

JCC from DC

dj in Fl. said...

Only one major problem with that Annon. 5:53
If we had Morse in right for any length of time, he too would be costing us games. I yield to those who have commented on his fielding a couple of weeks ago.
The crux remains that guys need days off, and we have no one on the bench to strike fear in an opposing pitcher should he walk Desmond to get to the pitcher.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

The logic behind starting Willie Harris is the same that a blind squirrel eventually finds an acorn or a blind mouse will eventually write "War and Peace" when left alone on a keyboard long enough.

There are longshots. There are blind longshots. Then there is starting Willie Harris on the hope it "will get him going."

The Washington Monument will move first.

Anonymous said...

Same as always, just getting Willie at-bats. Nothing more. We do that sometimes to give Willingham a day off.

Ahmm he got 2 at bats in the Florida series? Gonzalez got just one? Morse got just one? Harris has been hitting way sub-Mendoza for a long, long time now? I didn't see Riggleman doing this with Kearns last year?

Again, Man Crush Riggs full speed ahead to 100 losses! And yet another #1 of #1's we just need to beat the Orioles again!

Anonymous said...

I have never posted; only read the comments, but I have to say that JayB is a complete a**. Seriously, I have not seen one positive post from him ever. He is the reason message boards are intolerable at times.

Anonymous said...

Morse might cost the team in right if he played regularly. But we don't KNOW that. That's why finding out until the end of the season would be so important. Yet Riggs refuses to play him regularly. Put Bernie in center and Morse in right and see how they do defensively.

The season's gone anyway, might as well do something that gives you an idea who could contribute next year and who won't be able to.
We already know Kennedy, Harris, and Morgan are not the answer.
It is downright criminal with respect to this team's future not to test a Bernadina-Morse in CF/RF in the next two months.

Anonymous said...

And JayB, keep it up, finally a few people are waking up. I'm so sick of the "but they are better than last year" crowd.

Michael J. Hayde said...

Anon 6:32: Amen. These guys all want the Lerners to be George Steinbrenner and Riggleman to be Billy Martin AND Joe Torre... and I'll bet my 401k that they all hate the Yankees.

If you don't want to grow cynical and dysfunctional, just read the posts and ignore the couch potato GMs.

Anonymous said...

Oh jeez, "the season's gone anyway" my ***. Didn't know we were 44 games out of first.

Please, all of you cynical losers just take your gripes to the O's blogs, or root for the Braves, or the Red Sox, or anybody else. You're all sick sorry little people.

dj in Fl. said...

I think what we need is a win tonight to calm the crowd. We are all at wits end as the losses mount.

Anonymous said...

With his lineup juggling, I am beginning to conclude that Riggleman is a worse manager than Manny Acta. This circus he has created is a joke.

Brian said...

Okay, I've been pretty silent up to this point regarding Willie Harris, but I'm getting increasingly baffled at why Harris is getting so much more playing time than Morse. Even though Cueto is a RHP, Charlie and Dave have mentioned how right-handed hitters have a much higher average against him (but LH hitters are hitting for more power). Riggs really needs to start Morse and Bernadina together in the same game sometime - good things will happen. Whatever...this game may as well already be over before Willie's first at-bat.

Steve said...

Is Dibble posting here during the game? Is he reading the comments during the game? He just insisted Bernadina needs to be playing every day, and he's shredding the team, and the lineup. (Not without reason.)

phil dunn said...

Dribble is hard assing the Nats big time tonight. His not so subtle shots are right across the bow of Riggleman and Rizzo.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

If you think the guys on this board are tough on Riggs, Old Man Dibs is really hammering the MGR on starting Harris over Bernie or Morse.

Dibs is full of horsefeathers most of the time, but on this score I believe he is correct.

Anonymous said...

Go Dibs--keep the heat on. Don't let up.

HHover said...

I'm getting increasingly baffled at why Harris is getting so much more playing time than Morse

That's easy. Here's the source of your bafflement--he's not. Willie got a lot of starts early in the spring and Morse little, but that's changed. Morse had 36 AB in June and 21 in July; Willie is 26 + 14. Morse has started 5 games in July; this is Willie's third.

d in Fl. said...

We have the Cincy crew on mlb extra innings tonight. They have taken Guz to task, as well as discussed how hard it is to watch a team play, that can not play defense.

Anonymous said...

They halted the game so Dibs could take a couple of Valium.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

@Anon 8:15 p.m.:
Dibs won't let up. He's washing those Valium down with straight gin.

WA2CHI said...

Is Dibs on a two- or three-year contract? His criticism of the front office won't buy him many friends when it's renewal time...

Les in NC said...

Q: Whats the best way to improve on your season batting average of .176?

A: Watch 3 very hittable fastball strikes go by without swinging. (Harris)

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I don't think we're playing our left fielder high enough.

CBinDC said...

I do not think Dibble is playing for the long term contract ...BTW does anybody care if he or Carpenter are gone they are after all the 5th worst broadcast team in baseball

CBinDC said...

I want to point out that this team does not act as if they believe that they control the outcome of a game .....a few things they do right and then you feel they are waiting for the luck to appear

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for-Me said...

@CBinDC: I'll personally buy Bobby's bus ticket to Paducah if the Lerners pull the plug on Sunshine-and-Cloudy...

CBinDC said...

We all know the members of the Bowden All-Fail Team but has Rizzo earned the same collection seems to me that every FA this year has been a FAIL but is it enough of a FAIL to rival the Bowden teams

LoveDaNats said...

This is getting old......

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