Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tommy John on Friday for Strasburg

Read the full story with quotes from Mike Rizzo and rehab details on CSNwashington.com.

MIAMI — Stephen Strasburg will have Tommy John surgery Friday in Los Angeles after a second enhanced MRI taken yesterday confirmed the Nationals' original diagnosis of a significant tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

General manager Mike Rizzo said orthopedist Lewis Yocum will perform the ligament replacement surgery, with Nats team doctor Wiemi Douoguih assisting. The two doctors also performed Jordan Zimmermann's Tommy John surgery last August.

Strasburg will return to his home in San Diego and immediately begin physical therapy. He won't be allowed to resume throwing a ball, however, for four months.

Game 133: Nats at Marlins

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann faces Anibal Sanchez tonight at Sun Life Stadium.
MIAMI — Jordan Zimmermann's return from Tommy John surgery last week was a major accomplishment for the 24-year-old right-hander. The mere fact he pitched in a big-league game without losing any velocity 12 months after undergoing the surgery is worth applauding.

But Zimmermann was only partly satisfied with his performance that night. Yes, he was happy to have returned to the mound and pitched four innings against the Cardinals. But he wasn't happy to have allowed five runs and seven hits during those four innings, not to mention putting six straight St. Louis batters on base during the fourth.

So tonight, Zimmermann begins the next quest in his return. He's back in the majors. Now he wants to get these major-league hitters out. He'll be facing a Marlins lineup that has plenty of power but also has been known to strike out a bunch. Could be a good matchup from Jordan's perspective.

If Zimmermann is up to the task, and if his teammates can string some runs together against Florida's Anibal Sanchez, the Nats could be looking at their first four-game winning streak of the season. Pretty amazing it hasn't happened yet.

Check back for updates throughout the evening...

Where: Sun Life Stadium
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 85 degrees, Wind 17 mph in from RF
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
LF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Sloppy conditions, clean performance

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman took out a corner of this scoreboard with his third-inning homer.
MIAMI — It's unfortunate that one of the Nationals' better all-around performances of the season came in a ballgame few probably stayed up to watch. Thanks to a 2-hour, 49-minute rain delay before this one ever started, there may have been fewer people watching on TV back home than there were fans actually in attendance (the guess here is that less than 500 people were in their seats at Sun Life Stadium).

For those who missed it, here's all you need to know about the Nats' 9-3 thumping of the Marlins...

They were, in a word, sloppy. After a three-hour deluge, nearly the entire outfield was under water. When players started trickling out of the clubhouse around 9:30 p.m. to get a look at the field, most figured there was no way they'd be able to play.

But the Marlins set a starting time of 10 p.m., and crew chief Darryl Cousins believed the field was safe by then to get the game underway.

"I knew the outfield wasn't in good shape, but very seldom I've seen a ballgame called because the outfield was not playable," Jim Riggleman said. "Fortunately, nobody got hurt. The conditions were sloppy for

Monday, August 30, 2010

Arizona Fall League roster

MIAMI — Mike Rizzo just revealed the six Nationals prospects who will participate in the Arizona Fall League. It's not quite as star-studded a list as last year's crop, which included Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Chris Marrero and Danny Espinosa. But it's got some intriguing names nonetheless.

The full list headed to Arizona in October...

OF Michael Burgess
RHP Adam Carr
RHP Cole Kimball
INF Stephen Lombardozzi
C Derek Norris
LHP Sammy Solis

Obviously, Bryce Harper is not on this list. That doesn't, however, mean he won't end up playing in the AFL. Rizzo said there's still a chance the 17-year-old could be added to the roster, depending on how he plays in the Florida instructional league.

Morgan upset at Riggleman

MIAMI — Nyjer Morgan is back in the Nationals' lineup tonight, back hitting eighth again, just as he was Saturday night when he was involved in a controversial play at the plate that landed him on the bench the next day.

But try as the Nationals might to move past that incident, Morgan appears to still take issue with the way manager Jim Riggleman handled things over the weekend.

Riggleman benched Morgan for yesterday's game against the Cardinals because he believed the center fielder would get plunked in retaliation for running into catcher Bryan Anderson the previous night when there was no play at the plate. Morgan insists the play wasn't dirty, but he seems more upset that his manager criticized him publicly without ever raising the issue directly with him.

"He just basically did a Cardinal sin," Morgan said before tonight's game against the Marlins. "You don't blast your player out in the paper. But it's all right."

For the full story, with more quotes from Morgan and Riggleman, go to CSNwashington.com.

Game 132: Nats at Marlins

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Sun Life Stadium has been deluged with rain tonight.
MIAMI — That new-look lineup Jim Riggleman trotted out over the weekend seemed to work, so the Nationals manager is sticking with it tonight in the opener of a three-game series against the Marlins. So the 3-4-5 remains Roger Bernandina-Ryan Zimmerman-Adam Dunn.

Perhaps more notable is that Nyjer Morgan is back in the lineup after getting benched yesterday in the wake of his unusual play at the plate Saturday night. And just as was the case Saturday, Morgan is batting eighth.

Meanwhile, Ian Desmond gets a game off, with Alberto Gonzalez starting at shortstop and batting second behind Adam Kennedy. Jason Marquis, fresh off his best start of the season, returns to the mound against rookie Alex Sanabia, who beat the Nats 1-0 here last month.

Check back for updates throughout the evening...

Where: Sun Life Stadium
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 82 degrees, Wind 16 mph in from RF
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Alberto Gonzalez
LF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman

"El Duque" walks away [updated]

MIAMI — Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez walked away from Class AA Harrisburg yesterday, abruptly ending his season without returning to the major leagues.

According to the Patriot-News, Hernandez left the Senators in part because he hadn't yet received an opportunity to be promoted to the Nationals' roster. The Nats signed the 44-year-old right-hander and half-brother of Livan Hernandez to a minor-league contract last month with the understanding he'd be considered for a spot in the bullpen based on his performance. In six appearances with Harrisburg, he went 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA.

Hernandez's signing also was a factor in the Nationals' signing of Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya to a four-year contract.

UPDATE AT 5:17 P.M. — Mike Rizzo said "El Duque" asked him if he'd be getting a September call-up, and when the GM informed him he wouldn't, the pitcher decided to leave the club.

"His expectation was to be a September call-up," Rizzo said. "And just with the roster spot we're in and the additional guys we're going to put on the roster, it was just something I felt wasn't warranted at this

The rotation minus Strasburg

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann will be counted on to anchor the 2011 rotation.
MIAMI — Good morning from South Florida, where the Nationals open a three-game series tonight against the Marlins, hoping to sustain the positive momentum they created over the weekend.

That momentum — three wins in four days against the Cardinals — came just as everyone learned Stephen Strasburg would need Tommy John surgery and miss the next 12-to-18 months. The common reaction to the Strasburg news, of course, was that the 2011 season has probably been flushed down the toilet before the 2010 season has even concluded.

Obviously, the lack of Strasburg atop the Nationals' 2011 rotation will be damaging. But maybe it won't be completely crushing for a club that is starting to realize it has some rotation depth for the first time in a long time.

Four significant developments not involving Strasburg happened in the Nats' rotation last week, and each was a positive development.

1. Jason Marquis authored his best performance of the season, allowing one run to the Cubs over 7 1/3 innings. This came on the heels of a solid start in Philadelphia.

2. Jordan Zimmermann made his return from Tommy John surgery, and while the results five runs in four innings weren't so great, the mere fact he was back on the mound throwing 94 mph without pain

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Livo re-signed for 2011

The Nationals announced this afternoon they have re-signed Livan Hernandez for 2011.

Hernandez would have been a free agent at season's end; he signed a minor-league contract with the Nats in February that paid him a base salary of $900,000 once he made the big-league roster, plus incentives.

The 35-year-old right-hander has made a team-high 27 starts this season, going 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA. He's allowed two earned runs or less in 17 of those 27 starts.

Game 131: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan has his hands full with the Cards and Adam Wainwright today.
Wild game last night, huh? Between the offensive explosion from Adam Dunn, Michael Morse and others, Livan Hernandez gutting his way through 6 1/3 innings, Ian Desmond getting called out for interference running down the first-base line and then Nyjer Morgan getting called out for missing the plate and being pushed back toward it by Ivan Rodriguez ... well, quite the eventful ballgame.

Despite all the good things that happened during the 14-5 victory over the Cardinals, it appears the lasting image of this one will be the play involving Morgan, in which he appeared to go out of his way to make contact with catcher Bryan Anderson despite there not being a play at the plate. Nyjer's not in the lineup today, and Jim Riggleman basically told reporters at the park it's a form of punishment for his actions last night. Riggleman said Morgan was upset all day because he had been dropped to eighth in the lineup and for some reason decided to take out his frustration on the opposing catcher. Riggleman felt the need to apologize to both Anderson and Tony La Russa this morning, perhaps sensing somebody would be getting plunked today otherwise.

This has not been a good week for Morgan. He got into it with Phillies fans last Saturday night, leading to a seven-game suspension from MLB (which he has appealed so he could continue to play). Now this. Could this be the tipping point that affects Nyjer's ultimate place on this roster? We'll see.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have a chance to take three of four from the Cards with a victory today. They face a stiff challenge in right-hander Adam Wainwright. But perhaps the emotions of last night's game could carry over and propel them through today's series finale.

As was the case last night, I'm not covering the game today. Will pick things up in Florida tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy today's game and enjoy chatting with each other about it...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50, MASN
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 87 degrees, Wind 3 mph out to CF
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
CF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Game 130: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez faces Kyle Lohse tonight at Nationals Park.
Ever since Josh Willingham's lingering knee injury brought a premature end to his season, Jim Riggleman has struggled to get consistent production from the middle of his lineup. He's tried several different replacements for Willingham in the 5-hole (Roger Bernadina, Michael Morse, Ivan Rodriguez, Ian Desmond) but the Nationals still have been held to zero or one run in four of their last eight games. In their last 10 losses, they've scored a total of 13 runs. Last night, they stranded 14 men on base.

So Riggleman will try another new look tonight against the Cardinals. For the first time this season, both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are in the lineup ... without either batting third. That spot will be held by Roger Bernadina, with Zimmerman batting fourth and Dunn batting fifth for the first time. Nyjer Morgan, meanwhile, gets bumped all the way down to the eighth spot for the first time.

Livan Hernandez starts, looking to get his record back to .500 after falling to 8-9 with a labored, 121-pitch performance Monday against the Cubs. Kyle Lohse starts for the Cardinals.

I won't be covering the rest of this weekend's series; taking a couple days off before embarking on next week's road trip to Florida and Pittsburgh. Please continue the conversation with each other...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 82 degrees, Wind 6 mph RF to LF
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
LF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why did this happen? Because.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg's whirlwind rookie season ended on the ultimate sour note.
The cries of "Noooooooo!" that could be heard around the District at, oh, 10:31 a.m. today were quickly followed by a barrage of questions and declarations from every corner of the sports world.

Everybody either wanted to know -- or believed they already knew -- why Stephen Strasburg's remarkable rookie season had come to such an abrupt and sad conclusion: Tommy John surgery.

The Nationals babied him too much. No, wait, they weren't cautious enough. They should have known he'd blow out his arm because of his pitching mechanics. Or maybe it's the velocity. You can't throw 100 mph fastballs and 91 mph changeups and expect your elbow to retain its structural integrity. Clearly, this ligament tear had been building up over months and years. Unless it just collapsed under the weight of one unfortunate changeup Saturday night.

The parade of "experts" claiming to know exactly what happened and why was more staggering than any knee-buckling curveball Strasburg has ever thrown. And it was unavoidable. They were everywhere you turned all day.

Perhaps everyone would have been wise to pause for just a moment and listen to what the kid whose life had just been turned upside-down had to say when asked if he'd found himself searching

Strasburg's reaction

For the full, updated Stephen Strasburg story with quotes, go to CSNwashington.com.

Stephen Strasburg spoke for about 10 minutes this afternoon in the Nationals Park interview room and conveyed how the anger and confusion he initially felt upon learning he would need Tommy John surgery quickly transformed into acceptance of the injury and determination to overcome this new challenge.

Strasburg spoke about the surgery as though it is a sure thing, even though he will fly to Los Angeles tomorrow to get a second opinion from orthopedist Lewis Yocum. He tried to put his entire "whirlwind" rookie season into perspective and talked about the support system he has around him that he believes will help him get through the various stages of recovery he now faces.

Here's a transcript of some of the best stuff Strasburg had to say. I'll be re-posting this after each answer, so check back because this will be updating every few minutes...

Q: What was your reaction when you learned?
STEPHEN STRASBURG: It was kind of a shock to me, because I didn't really feel anything. It is what it is. In a way, it's good that it happened now instead of when we're going to the postseason or getting ready for the World Series. It's a new challenge. I want to be the best at everything. And right now, I'm going to be the best at rehabbing and getting back out here.

Q: Can you gain inspiration from Jordan Zimmermann and others who have come back from this surgery?
SS: Absolutely. You look at all the guys in the big leagues who are Cy Young contenders, Hall of Famers who have had this surgery ... it's become such a specialty these days. I'm going to the best, and I know

Game 129: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals host the Cardinals for Game 2 of a 4-game series tonight.
They will play another ballgame tonight at Nationals Park. The flags are not at half-staff. It'll be business as usual, aside from the dark vibe hovering over the ballpark after today's news of Stephen Strasburg's pending Tommy John surgery.

Scott Olsen starts for the Nationals against Cardinals rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia. Another new-look lineup from Jim Riggleman: Alberto Gonzalez leads off, Ian Desmond returns to the 2-hole, Justin Maxwell starts in center field with Nyjer Morgan out.

Strasburg is about to speak in the Nationals' interview room (you can watch it live on CSNwashington.com) and I'll provide updates of what he had to say in a little while. Check back here the evening for game updates...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 79 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to LF
2B Alberto Gonzalez
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Strasburg has torn elbow ligament

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg winces after throwing his final pitch Saturday in Philadelphia.
Update at 12:15 p.m. -- Read the full, updated story with quotes from Mike Rizzo and Stan Kasten on CSNwashington.com.

An enhanced MRI of Stephen Strasburg's right arm has revealed a "significant" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow which will probably require Tommy John surgery, general manager Mike Rizzo said during a conference call this morning.

Recovery time from the ligament replacement surgery is typically 12-to-18 months, meaning Strasburg wouldn't be ready to return until late-2011 at the earliest.

Strasburg injured himself Saturday night in Philadelphia, wincing in pain after throwing a fifth-inning changeup to Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown. He attempted to convince Jim Riggleman to leave him in the game, but the manager immediately pulled him for precautionary reasons.

Strasburg underwent an MRI Sunday in Washington, the results of which revealed a strained flexor tendon in his forearm. Team doctors, though, wanted a clearer look at the forearm and elbow and scheduled the arthrogram (an enhanced MRI in which a dye is injected into the

A day and night of ups and downs

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond is mobbed by teammates after his game-winning single.
The day began with Bryce Harper wearing a Nationals T-shirt and gym shorts, blasting a batting-practice ball into the third deck down the right-field line.

It continued with the sight of Jordan Zimmermann standing on the mound at Nationals Park and firing a 94 mph fastball to Felipe Lopez, his first major-league pitch in 13 months.

Before it was over, the day included the first blown save of Drew Storen's career, a Roger Bernadina home run in the bottom of the ninth, Ian Desmond's game-winning single in the bottom of the 13th, 43 combined players used by Tony La Russa and Jim Riggleman, more than 4 1/2 hours of baseball and a dramatic 11-10 win by the Nationals.

And then, just as players inside the jubilant home clubhouse were heading out for the night, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied with the outcome, came this heads-up from the Nats' PR department: The club plans to hold a conference call in the morning or early afternoon to disclose the results of Stephen Strasburg's arthrogram.

Cue sound of record coming to a screeching halt.

Now, it's not fair to jump to any hard-and-fast conclusions based simply on this bit of news. But here's the thing: How often does a team arrange a conference call to reveal good news about a player's

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Confident Harper puts on show

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper was at ease during his introductory press conference.
Bryce Harper sat in front of a overflowing room of reporters, cameras, family members and Nationals executives and looked and acted like anything but a 17-year-old kid wearing a big-league jersey for the first time.

Then again, Harper hardly looked his age as he was peppering the Nationals Park bleachers with home runs during batting practice two hours earlier.

Guess there's a reason the Nationals drafted the talented and cocksure kid first in the country in June and then gave him a $9.9 million, major-league contract 10 days ago.

"We feel that he's going to be a cornerstone of the organization, on and off the field," Mike Rizzo said today in introducing Harper.

It will likely be two or three years before Harper returns to Nationals Park as a big leaguer, so there's no way to know yet whether he'll live up to the hype. He'll head to Viera, Fla., in the next week to begin working out with rookie Gulf Coast League players, then will play in the Florida instructional league and possibly the Arizona Fall League.

But if Harper's first round of BP in the District was any indication, there's going to be a lot of jaw-dropping in these parts around 2012 or 2013.

Read my full account of Harper's first day in D.C. on CSNwashington.com.

Strasburg enhanced MRI [updated]

UPDATE AT 12:15 A.M. -- The Nationals plan to hold a conference call in the morning or early afternoon to provide an update on Strasburg's condition. Just throwing this out there, but would you normally expect a team to hold a conference call to say everything's OK?

Stephen Strasburg underwent the enhanced MRI known as an arthrogram earlier today. Now the rookie right-hander and the Nationals can do nothing but wait for the results to learn whether there is any damage to his forearm or elbow beyond the previously diagnosed flexor tendon strain.

The Nats may have results of the test, in which a dye was injected into Strasburg's forearm to help doctors better see any irregularities, later tonight. The club may not publicly announce the results, however, until tomorrow.

The wait makes for some anxious moments for everyone with the organization.

"Anxious? Yeah, definitely," Jim Riggleman said during his pregame press conference. "I don't even venture to guess. The thing with Stephen is, he was my office yesterday saying: 'I could pitch tonight. I feel great.' But you never know. Jordan Zimmermann last year, he thought he could have pitched through the whole situation. It just wasn't to be. All I can do is wait for it like anybody else."

Game 128: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper takes his first round of BP at Nationals Park.
There's a game to be played tonight, and there's a pretty important storyline to it with Jordan Zimmermann returning to the mound 12 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what's taking place on the field right now.

Bryce Harper, who will be formally introduced in a couple of hours, is taking his first round of batting practice at Nationals Park. And I've got to say, it's quite a show. The 17-year-old laid down a couple of token bunts to get started, then intentionally struck several line drives toward center and left-center fields. Then he finally attempted to pull the ball for the first time ... and reached the third deck down the right-field line. Yeah, that's right. Harper has hit about five other home runs during five rounds so far. Impressive.

Anyways, we'll have more on Harper later. As for tonight's game, Zimmermann's return is obviously the big story. If the 24-year-old needs any evidence of what he can do in the wake of Tommy John surgery, he needs only look at the right-hander who will oppose him tonight: Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals ace had the same surgery in 2007. Since then, he's 31-9 with a 2.52 ERA.

The slumping Nats lineup gets a shakeup tonight. Ian Desmond, one of the few hot hitters right now, will bat fifth for the first time. Nyjer Morgan gets bumped down to the 2-hole, with Adam Kennedy leading off. Interesting.

Check back throughout the evening for updates...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly sunny, 82 degrees, Wind 6 mph in from LF
2B Adam Kennedy
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Busy day ahead

We've talked plenty here lately about the best days and the worst days in Nationals history. I don't know if August 26, 2010 will ultimately be worthy of either list, but I do know it stands a good chance of landing on the busiest days in Nationals history list.

Here's what is scheduled to take place in the next nine hours...

-- Stephen Strasburg undergoes an arthrogram, the enhanced MRI in which a dye is injected in his right forearm to help doctors determine if there's any damage more significant than the previously diagnosed flexor tendon strain. By the end of the day, we could know whether Strasburg will pitch again this season, whether he'll be shut down or whether he'll need surgery.

-- Bryce Harper is introduced as a member of the Nationals organization for the first time. The recently signed No. 1 draft pick will be holding a press conference at Nationals Park at 5:45 p.m. (You can watch it live on Comcast SportsNet, MASN and masnsports.com, or on the scoreboard at the ballpark if you'll already be there.) He'll be introduced to the crowd later during the game.

-- Jordan Zimmermann makes his first big-league start in 13 months, having come all the way back from Tommy John surgery. This is a major development for the Nationals, who envision the

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Slumping slugger, slumping lineup

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn is caught looking at strike three for the third time in the game.
Three days ago, Adam Dunn — mired in a 16-day, 6-for-49 slump — spoke confidently about his chances of getting back on track.

"I know I'll come out of it," he said that afternoon in Philadelphia. "That's the only thing I know for sure."

Three days later, the only thing that's changed is the length and breadth of Dunn's slump. After an 0-for-4, three-strikeout showing tonight in the Nationals' 4-0 loss to the Cubs, the big guy now has seven hits and 28 strikeouts in his last 58 at-bats. He's produced one RBI since August 7 (on a solo homer) and has seen his batting average plummet from .280 to .259.

All of a sudden, that career year is morphing into something more recognizable. And the man who will suffer most for it is Dunn himself, whose next contract is probably shrinking in total value every time he trudges from the plate to the dugout upon striking out.

Should the Nationals be concerned? Maybe. Though Dunn has always been the kind of slugger who goes through a couple of prolonged slumps every year, this one might be different. Despite his upbeat tone over the weekend, Dunn is starting to show signs of frustration.

After one particularly ragged round of batting practice this afternoon, Dunn heaved his bat nearly to third base. Stan Kasten, watching from about 75 feet away, immediately walked up to his cleanup hitter and

Morgan suspended 7 games [updated]

Read an updated version of the Morgan suspension story, with quotes, on CSNwashington.com.

Nyjer Morgan has been suspended seven games and fined an undisclosed amount by Major League Baseball for "inappropriate actions" during the ninth inning of Saturday night's game in Philadelphia.

Morgan has appealed the suspension and remains in the Nationals' lineup tonight.

The incident occurred, according to MLB, in the middle of the ninth of Saturday's 8-1 victory over the Phillies when Morgan "intentionally" threw a ball into the stands and struck a fan. Morgan later caught the final out of the game on a fly ball from Jayson Werth, then turned and faked a throw toward the stands.

MLB vice president of on-field operations Bob Watson handed down the punishment today.

Dibble off the air at least 2 days

MASN analyst Rob Dibble will not appear on Nationals broadcasts for at least the next two nights in the wake of controversial comments he made on the radio earlier this week about Stephen Strasburg.

According to MASN spokesman Todd Webster, Dibble requested the days off himself. Ray Knight will be filling in as the game analyst tonight and tomorrow alongside play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter.

"As a baseball fan, you know that the baseball season is a marathon, which starts in March and continues through October, as players, managers, and -- yes, broadcasters -- are on the job nearly every day for more than six months," Webster wrote in an email. "MASN's broadcasters may work anywhere from 35-150 games per season, while the alternate personality may be in the booth for the remaining games. From time to time, other commentators from MASN's deep bench of talent are brought into the broadcast, to offer their perspective and inform the game. At his request, Rob Dibble is taking a few days off, to which he -- or any MASN employee -- is entitled. Ray Knight will provide expert color analysis with Bob Carpenter for the next few days."

MASN announcers generally plan their days off months in advance, often knowing they will be attending family events such as weddings and graduations. Dibble, however, didn't request the time off until

Game 127: Cubs at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats try to salvage one game from the Cubs tonight.
After getting trounced Monday night and after falling just short with a ninth-inning rally last night, the Nationals tonight look to escape this series with one win against the Cubs.

For that to happen, Jason Marquis will need to pitch well, something he finally showed glimpses of five night ago in Philadelphia even though he still took his sixth loss in six starts. Marquis only allowed one run and four hits in that game. Of greater concern was the fact he walked four and needed 94 pitches to make it through five innings and thus didn't return for a sixth. Better efficiency tonight would be a positive step for the Nats and for Marquis.

Ian Desmond returns to the lineup after sitting out the last two games with a minor right thumb ailment. The rookie shortstop's presence in the lineup is important for this team, especially with Josh Willingham done for the year and Adam Dunn slumping big-time. Over his last 26 games, Desmond is hitting a stout .375 with three homers, 10 RBI, six stolen bases and a .952 OPS. In short, the Nats really need him right now.

Check back throughout the evening for updates...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

The 5 best days in Nats history

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A full house was on hand for Stephen Strasburg's debut earlier this summer.
Thanks to all of you who shared your thoughts about the five worst days in Nationals history. The response was both incredible and insightful.

I've read through all the responses, and based on what you all said, here's how the final "worst five days" list shakes out...

1. APRIL 5, 2010: On Opening Day at Nationals Park, with President Obama in attendance after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch (in a Nats jacket and White Sox cap), the Nats get creamed by the Phillies, 11-1, in front of a sellout crowd that includes at least 20,000 Philly fans who boo the home team.

2. SEPT. 26, 2006: Nick Johnson breaks his leg after colliding with Austin Kearns chasing a pop-up behind first base at Shea Stadium.

3. APRIL 19, 2009: For the third straight day, the Nats blow a ninth-inning lead to the Marlins. Joel Hanrahan blew the first two games of the weekend, serving up home runs. In the Sunday finale, Saul Rivera allowed four runs in the ninth on two hits and three walks, producing a 7-4 loss. After the game, the Nats overhaul the bullpen, optioning Rivera to Class AAA Syracuse and designating Steven Shell and Wil Ledezma for assignment.

4. DEC. 14, 2004: After a day-long session that grew heated as it progressed, the D.C. Council voted down the previously approved ballpark financing deal, saying now that 50 percent of the financing would have to come from private sources. MLB shuts down all

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A chance for drama falls flat

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Colvin's fourth-inning homer off John Lannan proved the difference.
As Adam Kennedy coasted into second base and a trio of Nats high-fived at the plate upon scoring in succession, the realization made its way around Nationals Park.

Ryan Zimmerman was about to bat with a chance to win the game with one swing. There's perhaps no more-comforting thought around these parts than that.

"Absolutely," Kennedy said. "Any time he's up in that situation, you feel good about it."

"He's the guy you want up there in that situation," John Lannan said.

"Any time Zim comes up to the plate in a situation like that," Ian Desmond said, "you always think he's going to get a hit."

So for those couple of nanoseconds after Zimmerman struck Carlos Marmol's 2-2 fastball and sent it flying down the right-field line, it was perfectly appropriate to believe the man who has produced more walk-off hits than anyone else in baseball the last five seasons had

Willingham surgery tomorrow

Josh Willingham will have arthroscopic surgery tomorrow to repair the medial meniscus tear in his left knee, a procedure that will keep the Nationals outfielder from playing again this season but should give him plenty of time to recover in advance of 2011.

For the complete story, including quotes from Willingham, go to CSNwashington.com.

Strasburg on DL, Balester recalled

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Collin Balester's return from Syracuse may not last long.
The Nationals have officially placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm flexor strain and recalled reliever Collin Balester from Class AAA Syracuse to take his roster spot for now.

The DL move is retroactive to August 22, so Strasburg will be eligible to return as soon as September 6. The Nats, of course, won't know whether the rookie will actually return that soon (if at all this season) until he undergoes an enhanced MRI later this week.

Balester's recall is a bit surprising, given his struggles earlier this month when he pitched out of the Nationals' bullpen (he plunked both Rickie Weeks and Mark Reynolds in the head with 95 mph fastballs in a span of nine days). But his stay up here may not last long.

The Nationals will need to remove someone from the 25-man roster Thursday when Jordan Zimmermann is recalled to start that night's game against the Cardinals. Balester may only serving as a temporary, fresh arm out of the bullpen until Zimmermann arrives.

Game 126: Cubs at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan faces Carlos Zambrano tonight at Nationals Park.
After an unsightly showing last night resulting in a 9-1 beatdown by the Cubs, Jim Riggleman chided his players for what he perceived as a lack of effort and energy. We'll find out this evening whether the Nationals took their manager's message to heart and come out of the dugout with a bit more fire.

John Lannan takes the ball for the Nats, hoping to continue his strong run since returning from the minors. In four starts, the left-hander is 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA. If there is one bone to pick, it's that Lannan has struggled to keep his pitch count down and thus has been unable to make it past the sixth inning. He needs to increase his efficiency tonight in an attempt to last deeper into the game.

The enigmatic Carlos Zambrano, who has bounced between the Cubs' rotation and bullpen (when he's not throwing dugout tirades), starts for Chicago. Riggleman counters with a lineup that does not include Ian Desmond for the second straight night. We'll have to see what the reason for this is (yesterday, Riggleman said it was simply a day off for the rookie shortstop. Would be surprised if that's the case two days in a row).

Check back throughout the evening for updates...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers late, 73 degrees, Wind 9 mph in from CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

The 5 worst days in Nats history

In my analysis of last night's game, I suggested that while the Nationals surely have had worse days in their history, yesterday's events would still probably rank among the bottom five.

Of course, that then got me thinking: What are the five worst days in Nats history?

I came up with a couple possibilities off the top of my head while driving home last night and thought of a few more this morning, but I'm sure I'm forgetting some. So I'm going to pass this query along your way and seek your input. What days over the past 5 1/2 years still stand out to you as the low points for this franchise?

Here's the only criteria: It had to feel like a terrible day at that moment. You can't look back in hindsight and say now that it was a bad day because of what transpired after it. In other words, you can't say the day they signed Austin Kearns to a three-year extension, or the day the Lerners bought the team. You weren't crying and cursing those events as they happened.

So, here are the handful of possible "worst days in Nats history" I've come up with. Like I said, I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty...

SEPT. 17, 2005: The Nats blow a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth to the Padres, essentially killing their last hopes at reaching the playoffs. After the game, Frank Robinson apologizes to his players for

Embarrassed by their aura

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez suffered through his worst start of the season.
Sign No. 1 it was a bad night: The manager laments the "aura hanging over us."

Sign No. 2 it was a bad night: Multiple players use the word "embarrassed."

Sign No. 3 it was a bad night: Hours after the franchise's great young hope went on the disabled list for the second time in a month, said ballclub went out and lost 9-1 to a Cubs team whose manager abruptly retired 24 hours earlier.

Surely, there have been worse days in Nationals history. This, however, would probably rank among the bottom five.

As if Stephen Strasburg's return trip to the DL (perhaps for the remainder of the season) wasn't bad enough, the Nats then went out and played a stinker of a ballgame that prompted Jim Riggleman to address his players and demand better effort.

"We've just got to play with more energy," the manager said. "Even though the game is flattening us out because we're out there in the field a long time, we've got to find a way. We've got to turn it up a notch."

Riggleman continued.

"Our guys play hard," he said. "They play with intensity. But it's a 162-game schedule, and you've got to play 162 games. Tonight, I felt like we allowed the game situation -- the long innings and stuff, just our body language on the field -- it allowed us to have an aura

Monday, August 23, 2010

Strasburg headed to DL [updated]

Read the full, updated story with quotes on CSNwashington.com.

Stephen Strasburg will not make his next scheduled start Thursday and will almost certainly be placed on the disabled list, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said this afternoon.

Strasburg underwent an MRI of his right forearm yesterday, the results of which are still be looked at by doctors. Team officials won't determine a full course of action moving forward until they receive more information.

Riggleman didn't reveal any initial diagnosis from the MRI but did say this test offered a less-encouraging outlook than the hands-on test administered by a Phillies team doctor Saturday night. That doctor said he believed Strasburg would be fine to pitch Thursday as scheduled.

A decision hasn't been made yet who will start in Strasburg's place, but Riggleman did say rehabbing minor-leaguer Jordan Zimmermann is a possibility.

General manager Mike Rizzo is due to meet with reporters later this afternoon to provide more details, so updates to come...

UPDATE AT 5:55 P.M. -- Mike Rizzo said the MRI taken on Strasburg's forearm showed a strained flexor tendon. He'll now undergo an arthrogram, an enhanced MRI in which a dye is injected in

Game 125: Cubs at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats host the Cubs (and their new manager) at Nationals Park.
Back home following a tough weekend in Philadelphia, the Nationals now host the Cubs, who had an eventful weekend of their own. Manager Lou Piniella, who previously had announced he would retire at season's end, walked away yesterday citing family reasons. Third base coach Mike Quade takes over as interim manager the rest of the way, auditioning for a job that is coveted by plenty of big names, including Ryne Sandberg and Bob Brenly.

The Cubs will be sending rookie right-hander Casey Coleman to the mound, squaring off against Livan Hernandez.

Ian Desmond gets a day off, so Alberto Gonzalez starts at shortstop. Willie Harris also starts in right field in place of the slumping Michael Morse.

Check back throughout the game for updates...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers late, 79 degrees, Wind 9 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Nats re-up with Harrisburg

The Nationals have signed a two-year player development contract with the Harrisburg Senators, keeping their Class AA affiliate intact through 2012.

Members of the organization had shown interest in aligning with the recently relocated Class AA franchise in Richmond but ultimately chose to stay with a Harrisburg franchise that has served as the Nats/Expos' Class AA club since 1991.

"We are delighted to once again continue our relationship with the Harrisburg Senators," team president Stan Kasten said in a press release. "Harrisburg, Metro Bank Park, the Senators and their fans have served as wonderful hosts for our players through the years. We look forward to introducing them to our next wave of exciting talent and continuing our longest-running minor-league affiliation."

Today's announcement comes one day after the Nationals announced a two-year extension with Class AAA affiliate Syracuse.

What's next for Zimmermann, Maya?

While all of NatsTown awaits the results of Stephen Strasburg's forearm MRI, it's worth noting a couple of other pitchers who could be in the running to take his rotation spot: Jordan Zimmermann and Yunesky Maya.

Zimmermann has thoroughly dominated the minor leagues in his rehab from Tommy John surgery — 1.59 ERA in 10 starts, 31-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and after tossing five innings of scoreless, one-hit ball Friday night for Class AAA Syracuse, there doesn't seem to be much reason to keep him down there any longer.

Mike Rizzo said as much before that outing, declaring: "If there's no need for another minor-league start, developmental-wise or to get him ready to pitch up here, then we would bring him up here."

If Zimmermann stayed on a strict, five-day schedule, he'd be lined up to start Wednesday. But Jason Marquis has already been named Wednesday's starter, so that's not happening. But Zimmermann could very easily slide into Strasburg's spot Thursday if the rookie is held out (which, I think, is the safe assumption at this point).

It should also be noted that Rizzo said yesterday any decision on Zimmermann will be made solely on his performance

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Questions about Olsen, Dunn, Stras

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen allowed four runs in six innings today.
PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of a 6-0, rain-delayed loss to the Phillies this afternoon — one of the Nationals' less-enthralling performances of the year — plenty of questions remain.

Is Scott Olsen capable of sustaining any momentum, or is he destined to vacillate between positive and negative starts? Is Adam Dunn's two-week slump going to derail his entire season, or can he snap out of it in time to finish with the best numbers of his career? And, most importantly, what happens now with Stephen Strasburg, who had already arrived in Washington for his forearm MRI long before this stinker of a ballgame ended?

Let's try to provide some answers to each question...

Every time you think the left-hander has got something good going, he takes a big step backward. Every time you think he's lost on the mound, he rebounds with a big performance.

Today's four-runs-in-six-innings start fell in that murky, gray area between good and bad. It came on the heels of a strong start in Atlanta, which came on the heels of a wretched start against the Marlins.

Olsen has now appeared in five games since returning from the DL, during which time he's going 1-4 with a 7.77 ERA. Not exactly encouraging numbers, which makes you wonder if Olsen is still

Nats keep AAA club in Syracuse

PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals have extended their player development contract with Class AAA Syracuse for another two seasons, the club announced today.

The agreement keeps the Nats' Class AAA affiliate in Syracuse through 2012; the two clubs first became affiliated in 2008.

"This decision to extend our Syracuse affiliation was easy for us," team president Stan Kasten said in a press release. "We have greatly enjoyed our affiliation with the Chiefs and their fans, both of whom will discover in the coming years there is another wave of exciting, young talent in our player development pipeline."

Other minor-league affiliates for 2011 and beyond are expected to be announced later this week. The Nationals have expressed some interest in aligning with Class AA Richmond, which has an agreement with the Giants that expires after this season. Harrisburg has served as the Nats/Expos' Class AA affiliate since 1991.

Strasburg plays catch, heads to D.C.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg was pulled in the fifth inning of last night's game.
PHILADELPHIA — Stephen Strasburg went through his typical day-after-start workout — including playing catch — this morning at Citizens Bank Park before heading back to Washington to undergo an MRI on the strained forearm that forced him out of last night's game in the fifth inning.

The rookie right-hander, who left without speaking to reporters, won't know what the club's plan for him will be until results of the MRI are known later tonight or early tomorrow.

Mike Rizzo did emphasize that Strasburg has not been shut down at this point. The Nats GM also said Strasburg had a very similar experience while in college and wound up staying in the game without reporting any problems.

I'll have a full story with quotes on CSNwashington.com in a little while and will link to it here...

UPDATE AT 2:25 P.M. -- Here is the full Strasburg story on CSNwashington.com.

Game 124: Nats at Phillies

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A massive storm hit Citizens Bank Park in the seventh inning today.
PHILADELPHIA — Good morning once again from Citizens Bank Park, where the skies are gray and there's plenty of rain in the forecast. (Who knew god was a Stephen Strasburg fan and is crying over the rookie's latest setback?)

There's no official update on Strasburg yet this morning, though at this moment he's at the ballpark and there are rumblings he may actually conduct some type of light workout before heading back to Washington to get an MRI on his forearm. I'd caution against anyone drawing any conclusions yet, though, because this could mean anything.

You can, however, draw some conclusions on the weather here in Philadelphia. Namely, it's not good. It began raining a little while ago, and it's only supposed to get worse. The forecast shows anywhere from a 60 percent to a 100 percent chance of thunderstorms until 7 p.m. That doesn't look promising.

We'll have to see whether they'll try to wait this out all day, or whether they might just call it off early. The Nats return here September 17-19, so a Saturday doubleheader wouldn't be too difficult to cobble together.

If they do play, Scott Olsen will be attempting to pitch the Nationals to a rare series victory in this ballpark. The Phillies sent No. 2 ace Roy Oswalt to the hill, but the Nats have had plenty of success against him this season, both when he was still in Houston and when he made his Phillies debut last month.

Check back throughout the day for updates both on Strasburg's condition and the weather...

Where: Citizens Bank Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50, MASN
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Thunderstorms, 80 degrees, Wind 12 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Strasburg pulled with forearm strain

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg winces after throwing his 56th pitch of the night.
Read the full story with reaction and quotes on CSNwashington.com.

PHILADELPHIA — Stephen Strasburg was pulled from tonight's game after wincing in pain upon throwing a fifth-inning changeup to Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown.

Strasburg immediately looked down at his right arm and then shook it around after throwing his 56th pitch of the night. After a few seconds, Ivan Rodriguez joined him at the mound, followed immediately by manager Jim Riggleman, pitching coach Steve McCatty and trainer Lee Kuntz.

Despite pleas from Strasburg to remain in the game, Riggleman wouldn't listen to his rookie pitcher. Strasburg departed with a disgusted look on his face, replaced by Craig Stammen with the Nationals leading 5-1.

Strasburg had dominated to that point, allowing just one run on two hits, striking out six and not issuing a walk against a potent Phillies lineup.

Updates to come...

UPDATE AT 9:33 P.M. -- Doesn't sound like we're going to get an update on Strasburg's injury (not even what body part was injured) until after the game.

UPDATE AT 10:13 P.M. -- The game is over, and the Nationals have won, 8-1. Because Strasburg didn't go the required five innings, he couldn't be credited with the win. So the official scorer has awarded that to Doug Slaten, who retired all five batters he faced. Will update

Game 123: Nats at Phillies

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg faces his latest greatest challenge tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA — In his brief time in the majors, Stephen Strasburg hasn't exactly faced a hostile scene on the road. His only starts away from D.C. have come in Cleveland, Atlanta, Florida and Cincinnati. None of those ballparks are known for their particularly voracious fans.

That all changes tonight, though, because from the moment Strasburg begins his warm-up in the center-field bullpen at Citizens Bank Park, a full house of Phillies fans will be on his case like he's never experienced.

This could be fun.

Adding to the drama, the Phillies have activated Ryan Howard off the DL after only one rehab game at Class A last night (he went 1-for-2 with a walk). The plan had been for Howard not to return until Monday or Tuesday. Wonder why he (and the Phillies) would want him back tonight?

Check back throughout for updates...

Where: Citizens Bank Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 83 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Ramos is gone, but not for long

PHILADELPHIA — Wilson Ramos returns to Syracuse today, his first, extremely brief, stint with the Nationals complete after three days and one game played. Wil Nieves who had been placed on the temporary leave list while his wife Yormarie gave birth to the couple's first daughter Wednesday afternoon, rejoins the Nats tonight and will be in uniform for Game 2 against the Phillies.

It's hard to draw real conclusions about Ramos based on one game, but the 23-year-old drew positive reviews from Nationals pitchers on his game-calling abilities. He also flashed some impressive defensive skill in scooping up a sacrifice bunt attempt in Atlanta on Thursday and gunning down a runner at third base. And he displayed an ability to work the count and foul off some tough two-strike pitches.

If nothing else, Ramos leaves the Nationals wanting to see more of him, though they're going to have to wait another 11 days before they get the chance again. Ramos will be among the September call-ups. The question then becomes how much playing time he'll get down the stretch.

The way Jim Riggleman answered that question yesterday lends me to believe the rookie catcher may not get as much action as fans would like.

"It's always a tough little period there, when you have young players coming up and you have veteran players who have been out there going hard for you all year," Riggleman said. "As curious as you are

Friday, August 20, 2010

Losing because of the little things

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond reached second base three times ... but never scored.
PHILADELPHIA — You can blame the Nationals' excruciatingly frustrating 1-0 loss to the Phillies tonight on Adam Dunn not being able to field a sharp grounder to his left. That produced the evening's lone run.

You can blame it on Ian Desmond attempting to steal third with one out in the seventh and getting doubled off second base as a result. That killed one of the best rally opportunities of the evening.

Or you can blame it on the lineup as a whole for continually failing to come through in key situations. It's hard to win when you go 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Really, though, you can't blame this loss on any one of those factors more than the others. If anything, the reason the Nationals lost tonight — and have now lost a staggering 15 consecutive 1-run games on the road — is that they consistently come up short in all of those areas we like to call "the little things."

The Nats did plenty of things well tonight. They got a competent start out of Jason Marquis for the first time all season. They got three more perfect innings from their bullpen. They put 14 men on base (at least one in every inning) against Roy Halladay, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. Their rookie shortstop had three hits. Their big slugger reached base three times. Their leadoff man opened the game with a double and then distracted Halladay into committing a balk.

Jim Riggleman emphasized the positives when he made some brief remarks to his players after this one.

"You just faced two Cy Young candidates in [Tim] Hudson and Halladay, and you had them both on the ropes," the manager said. "Be proud of that. We're going to get over the hump. I'd rather have them

Filling the Willingham void

PHILADELPHIA — When making out his lineup card the majority of this season, Jim Riggleman never had to give thought to who he would pencil in as his left fielder or No. 5 hitter. Josh Willingham's name might as well have been written in permanent ink.

But with Willingham now out for the season with a medial meniscus tear in his left knee, the Nationals manager is left trying to fill a significant void, both in the lineup and in the field.

There's no one player on the Nats' roster capable of taking over Willingham's duties full-time, so Riggleman is forced to mix-and-match with a handful of others, hoping he can find a combination that helps offset the loss as much as possible.

"It's going to be evolving as to how that works itself out," Riggleman said before tonight's series opener against the Phillies.

For the full story, including Roger Bernadina's thoughts on playing left field for the first time in a long time, go to CSNwashington.com.