Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pitching back at the forefront

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez and the Nats were no match for Tim Hudson. Again.
On the day Stephen Strasburg stood around doing nothing while resting his tight shoulder and Livan Hernandez surprisingly was pulled after 4 1/3 innings and 85 pitches, Tim Hudson took the mound at Nationals Park and simply did what he's always done: Dominate the Nationals.

There are pitchers who have success against certain opponents, and then there are pitchers who chew up certain opponents and spit them out like sunflower seeds. For Hudson, the Nats might as well be a bag of "David" brand barbecue flavor.

After dismantling the Nationals' lineup tonight during the Braves' 3-1 victory, Hudson bolstered his already-lopsided career numbers against these guys. Hudson has faced the Nats 16 times since 2005. He's gone 9-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

"For whatever reason, I've been able to go out there and throw the ball pretty well against these guys and make pitches," Hudson said. "It's not to say next time I pitch against these guys I won't be backing up third all night. But it does feel good to know that you have a history of some success against a team, just for your confidence.

Hudson's name doesn't always get lumped in with baseball's most-dominant pitchers, but a guy with a 159-83 career record and a 3.42 ERA deserves to be in their company.

"I don't think he gets enough credit," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He's pretty good. He's having a really good year. He's no fun for me to face."

Zim can say that again. His 1-for-3-with-a-walk showing tonight might as well have been a breakthrough performance against a pitcher who he previously was 4-for-28 against.

That's the thing: The Nationals have seen Hudson plenty of times. They've got a scouting report on him. They know what he throws. Hudson, though, has a way of surprising even the most-knowledgeable hitters, as he did tonight.

Afterward, Zimmerman and Dunn both noted how the right-hander came at them almost exclusively with sinkers, a departure from his usual mix-and-match assortment of pitches.

"I've faced him, I don't know how many times, and he's never just pounded me with sinkers," said Dunn, who actually was 9-for-22 with two homers previously against Hudson before going 0-for-3 tonight. "That's all me and Ryan saw tonight. Ryan's last at-bat, he saw two sliders. I've never seen him where he threw all sinkers before. He's probably one of the top three in the game. He's really good."

Perhaps one day, Strasburg will own the Braves the way Hudson owns the Nationals. We won't know for some time, though, because his status remains up in the air. Though the Nats haven't ruled out the possibility of the rookie starting Sunday against the Phillies, that's highly unlikely to happen. Strasburg would need to be able to throw with full velocity off a bullpen mound by Friday at the latest, and that doesn't look plausible.

So the Nationals need someone to start Sunday, and they're running out of minor-league/rehabbing pitchers to summon. Scott Olsen is coming off the DL to start tomorrow afternoon's series finale. Ross Detwiler has already been promoted. Jordan Zimmermann won't be ready for another few weeks.

Here, though, is a guy you should expect to see in the very near future: Jason Marquis. Remember him? $15 million right-hander who posted a 20.52 ERA in three horrid April starts before revealing his elbow was injured, requiring surgery to remove bone chips?

Well, he's just about ready to return after making three rehab starts, the latest a five-inning, four-run stint tonight for Class AAA Syracuse. All four runs came via a first-inning grand slam, so Marquis rebounded to toss four scoreless innings after that, striking out seven in the process. Seems like a strong candidate to pitch either Sunday against Philadelphia on short rest or Monday in Arizona on normal rest.

Hernandez, though, will have to figure into this equation somehow. His normal turn will come Monday, though after his surprisingly quick hook tonight, he would seem well-positioned to come back on three days' rest and take Strasburg's slot Sunday.

As always, Livo is willing to take the ball, though he lobbied for Miguel Batista to get another shot after admirably filling in for Strasburg last night.

"If they ask me, I'll do it," he said. "But Miguel did a great job yesterday, and I think he deserves to throw Sunday. If not, I'm going to be there."

Jim Riggleman downplayed that possibility tonight, saying: "I doubt if that's the way we'll go with it" when asked about Hernandez coming back to start Sunday.

Whether it's Livan Hernandez or Miguel Batista or Jason Marquis or Matt Chico, it's become clear what the storyline in NatsTown will be the remainder of the season. It's all about the starting rotation the rest of the way, with the occasional pause for the trade deadline, Bryce Harper's contract negotiation and Michael Morse's continued quest to get more than five at-bats per week.

It looks like it's going to be a revolving door of starters from now until October as Riggleman and Mike Rizzo try to find five reliable, healthy pitchers among a sea of uncertainty.

Along the way, the Nationals will face the Braves 10 more times, counting tomorrow's series finale. Which means potentially three more encounters with Tim Hudson, aka "The Nats Killer."

Good luck with that.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

"A history of some success against a team."

Methinks Mr. Hudson understates the case a bit.

He might as well be listed under Uncle Teddy's name the way he owns us.

Doc said...

Mark, I liked the quotes from Dunn and Zim. Way to keep us interested in this team of underachievers!

Anonymous said...

Almost every pitcher in the NL has a history of success vs the Nats.

Anonymous said...

It looks like it's going to be a revolving door of starters from now until October as Riggleman and Mike Rizzo try to find five reliable, healthy pitchers among a sea of uncertainty.

Hmmm, I'm looking at it as auditions for next year. Surely Martin could come back ... not sure we'll see Chico ... at least until September. Marquis looks like he is next up to try his hand ... they have to evaluate these guys for next year ...

They aren't going anywhere. Its not life or death or as if a chance to go for the playoffs is looming. Just bring 'em in. Let 'em pitch. See how they are and then check the next guy. Helps other clubs evaluate them as tradable commodities as well.

Speaking of which ... anyone heard anything about Yunieski Maya this week?

Anonymous said...

and Michael Morse's continued quest to get more than five at-bats per week.

Dibble always has an opinion to share, but when you ask him about this he quickly changes the subject ... .what's the matter Dibbs you talk plenty when Desmond screws up? Or Morgan? But when Riggleman screws up nothing?

Ernie said...

I was at the game tonight. Just a few thoughts:

In the bottom of the 9th Pudge seemed to hurt himself while batting. He was grabbing at his right hamstring, hitting it with the bat, etc. Was this just a cramp? A recurrence of the back injury? Something new?

I was out of town and missed most of the games of the most recent road trip--did something happen during that time to justify the presence of both Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy on the field? This game was lost before it even began. All-too-typical Kennedy groundouts ended rallies in the 3rd and 5th innings. Harris was 0-3 with 3 Ks.

Why was Harris not bunting in the 5th with Pudge at 2nd? He had no problem acting like he was going to bunt in the 7th (and taking a strike anyway).

Peralta was the only pitcher who could retire Prado tonight. He did it twice. I like him.

Ernie said...

One other Willie Harris-related thought:

They were out of forks when I went to the concession stand tonight. Maybe Rizzo could trade Willie Harris for some more forks from another ballclub? Then I could put onions on my hot dog without that stupid metal wheel falling off in my hand. And also I wouldn't have to watch as many wasted at bats.

Anyone know a team with extra forks? The (ex-Devil) Rays might have some in an old storage closet, what with the name change and all...

Anonymous said...

and Michael Morse's continued quest to get more than five at-bats per week.

Dibble always has an opinion to share, but when you ask him about this he quickly changes the subject

So when are you asking him about this anyway? Because on the air both he and Carpenter are constantly saying that they don't understand why Morse is not playing every day. That subject comes up virtually every broadcast. Dibble says all the time "that guy does nothing but hit, you absolutely have to find a spot to play him." Dibble and Carpenter are about as critical of Riggleman on the Morse topic as you could possibly be, without calling him out by name. And for obvious reasons they're not going to criticize Riggleman by name. But they're openly critical of his decision making if you pay attention to what they're saying.

DC Tom said...

Riggs on Sirius-XM radio: Strasburg not to pich for 10 days, move to the DL possible, but still expected to pitch again this season.

If he's not to pitch for 10 days from now, there's little reason to keep him off the DL, as it allows you the roster space to activate Olsen.

Wouldn't surprise me to see Stras sit out much of August and then come back for last six weeks of season. He can work side sessions and get his last 50 innings/8 starts in that way.

Sunderland said...

Ernie - Thanks for the fork and relish post. Enjoyed it plenty.

Mark - It just really is a pleasure to read your stuff every day, I also love the Zim and Dunn talk about Hudson.

Also, Livo's throughts about Sunday are just one more reason to truly love this guy as a ballplayer, teammate and mentor.
He's happy to be given the ball Sunday, but he'd prefer that Batista be shown some appeciation and respect for what he did Tuesday night.

Part of me hopes Livo gets traded and gets to pitch in a World Series this year. I'm sure Rizzo could move him now for a decent prospect or two. To me, this move makes sense.

And unlike Dunn, if this did happen, it would not surprise me if we were able to re-sign Livo in the offseason. I wouldn't expect it would happen, but it certainly could.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you completely except that I would only bring him back if there is 0% chance that he is not at risk. The 50 innings are less important than the kid's future in this organization. One day soon we will contend for something and we wouldn't want to lament on how SS is out for 18 months because of a torn labrun or a related injury.

I don't agree with any one who thinks that you can be over cautious here; as Chipper Jones said :' I would shut him down for a hang nail'.

HHover said...

I would only bring him back if there is 0% chance that he is not at risk

Any time a pitcher takes the mound--let alone one throwing 100mph--there is risk. The Nats have to weigh that risk vs the reward.

Obviously, they don't want to send him out if the doctors or SS himself reports an injury, but their plan for 150-160 innings was designed not to eliminate but to minimize the risk and get the most reward--reward not in terms of making the team a contender this year, but in terms of getting him some experience in front of big league hitters, and kindling a little fan interest in another dreary season.

Anonymous said...

Why after Detweiler's debacle would Rizzo, Riggleman, McCatty, whomever think about starting Marquis on short rest coming of surgery!? It was a stupid thing to do to Ross and now you want to do it to Jason!? I think Batista deserves the start on the 1st and if he does a good job, he gets one more start before JZimm returns to the rotation.

Anonymous said...


I think that we are arguing over semantics; clearly there is no such thing as 0% risk - I was exaggerating to make a point; also it would be nice if he can complete the allotted 150-160 innings but it's not absolutely critical and it pales compared to what can happened if you err against caution. Having said that I think it's clear that the Nats are being ultra cautious with their prized asset which is very comforting to me as a long time fan.

Kindling a little fan interest should not go into this equation at all; what the fans really want is a winning team and SS has to be part of it.

HHover said...

I wasn’t suggesting they rush his return from this injury (or condition or whatever they're calling it) to satisfy the fans - just pointing out that fan interest is an undeniable reward of his playing time in the majors, and one that the Nats took into acct in their plan for him this year.

Jocelyn said...

This is a fantastic article, Mark! I've been so frustrated the last two days over the media brouhaha with Strasburg that has basically ignored the incredible performance of Batista (and the rest of the bullpen) Tuesday night. It seems that in DC, Strasburg is the only pitcher worth talking about, and it's nice to see you, at least, recognize the efforts of others. Now if we can only get Rob Dibble to realize this!!

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