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 just done it again.

Zimmerman, however, was less confident than the crowd of 18,250.

"I knew for sure it wasn't a home run," he said. "But I thought it might have a chance to get into the corner."

Kosuke Fukudome had other ideas. The Cubs right fielder, inserted for defense one inning earlier, was playing deep with two outs in the ninth and had little trouble tracking down Zimmerman's drive to end the game and seal the Nationals' 5-4 loss.

So much for the latest bit of heroics from the once-and-still Face of the Franchise.

"Can't do it every time," Zimmerman said with a shrug.

Nope, nobody's perfect in baseball, a sport that immortalizes guys who fail 70 percent of the time with a permanent plaque in Cooperstown. Zim is no exception. But his at-bat in the bottom of the ninth did bring life back to a ballpark that had been dead most of the night and turned what looked like another ho-hum Nationals loss into something more tolerable.

Two mistakes by John Lannan -- each resulting in a home run -- and a whole lot of nothing against Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano left the Nationals trailing 5-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, with little reason to believe a rally was in the works.

The always-unpredictable Marmol, however, made sure the Nats still had a chance. With one out, he walked Michael Morse, then allowed a single to Alberto Gonzalez, then walked Willie Harris to load the bases and bring Nyjer Morgan to the plate representing the tying run.

Three pitches, two fouled-off fastballs and a horrible hack at a down-and-in slider sent Morgan back to the bench and diminished the Nationals' hopes.

That's the problem with Marmol. He can fluctuate between filthy-dominant and horribly-hittable in a span of seconds. But when that slider of his is working...

"That thing's nasty, man," Morgan said.

Desmond agrees. The rookie shortstop, out of the lineup for the second straight night with a minor thumb ailment, was sent up to face Marmol with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. Three nasty sliders and two ugly swings later, he, too, was back on the bench muttering to himself.

"It's a hard situation to hit in," Desmond said. "But at the same time, we're all professionals, and you're supposed to have professional at-bats up there."

Did he feel that was a professional at-bat?

"I mean, three pitches and sit down," he said. "Not really."

The Desmond and Morgan strikeouts notwithstanding, the Nationals still had hope. Kennedy was at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. And unlike his teammates, the veteran second baseman delivered the clutch hit the Nats had been searching for all night.

A rope down the right-field line brought all three runners home, brought Kennedy into second with a massive double and brought Zimmerman to the plate with a chance to win it.

Marmol didn't make life easy for Zim. The Chicago closer fired up five consecutive sliders to begin the at-bat. Zimmerman took one for a strike, took another for a ball, swung and missed at a third, somehow laid off the fourth for ball two and somehow fouled off the fifth to keep the at-bat alive.

The count now 2-2, Zimmerman dug in anyone, prepared for a sixth straight slider from Marmol but knowing well the pitcher might try to sneak a fastball past him.

"That's what makes him so good," Zimmerman said. "Obviously, he throws a majority of sliders. But in the back of your mind, he's got a 95 mph fastball. It's not like you can look slider and foul off the fastball. That's what makes him so tough. He's not a fun at-bat."

Sure enough, Marmol finally cut loose with a heater. The ball was out over the plate, and Zimmerman pounced on it and attempted to take it the other way.

Inside the Nationals' dugout, players jumped to their feet.

"He put a good jolt on that ball," Lannan said.

But then Fukudome closed the gap and tracked it down, letting all the air out of the ballpark.

Just like that, what had been another uninspiring game had turned into something far more dramatic, only to end in the same disappointing fashion as so many others. Nats lose, 5-4.

"I made good contact," Zimmerman said. "It didn't happen."


Anonymous8 said...

So close but yet, so far. That would have been a top finish for the year if it had happened.

JaneB said...

I was so glad I stayed. It was a fun inning, even though we didn't win.

Souldrummer said...

Nice writeup. I'm glad they fought back in this one and I'm glad to see how Zimmerman and the team reacted to the situation. Offensively, some of the pieces like Bernadina, Morgan, Gonzalez, and Morse are getting exposed with more playing time. Feels to me like we'll get a sense of what we have out of these guys and hopefully have a truly open competition for CF next year. Morse, however, may be playing for his MLB life down the stretch.

"The rookie shortstop, out of the lineup for the second straight night with a minor thumb ailment, was sent up to face Marmol with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth."

How did you feel about this full move? Desmond was sent in to face Sean Marshall, the lefty who was on the ropes in the 8th. He replaced Bernadina. Seems to me Riggleman ended up with a choice between Bernadina against Marshall or Desmond against Marmol. Do you think Riggleman made that move expecting Marmol to come in and consciously preferring Desmond/Marmol over Marshall/Bernadina? Or do you thnk Riggleman was doubting that Quade would bring Marmol in for a four out save leading 5-1?

Anonymous said...

Nice game stoy, when you are still wearing Curly W shaped glasses...the real story is the Lannan called out Riggleman in his post game comments to Debbie Taylor AND the fact that Lannan is really horrible...83 pitches to get through 5 innings, this is NOT a good or even competent start, this is an Atilano-esque start, good pitchers throw 8 innings with less pitches, GREAT pitches throw complete gmaes on less pitches, medicore pitchers at least get through 6 innings...DFA Lannan NOW!

Knoxville Nat said...

Missed the post-game comments by Lannan, what did he have to say about Riggs?

Big Cat said...

How can Lannan call anybody out? All I saw was the 3 run bomb Soriano hit and pretty much the game was over. what has happened to our hitting? Our approach at the plate sucks, always chasing bad balls, swinging at first pitches etc. You get more disiplined hitters in high school

Anonymous said...

Debbi Taylor: " Just as starters, when you see the bullpen having to average four innings a game, you know, how tough is that for them?"

Lannan: "Um, I got nothing to say about that, because that's just the way our manager manages, and uh, you know..., that's it."

natsfan1a said...

Doesn't strike me as a callout, but your mileage may vary. But thanks, at least, for providing a quote.

bgib said...

Lannan interview.


CapPeterson said...

Maybe not a callout exactly, but I'm sure Debbi was expecting something along the lines of, "Yeah, that's definitely on us starting pitchers as a group. We've got to blah blah blah..." The last thing in the world she would want to do is to ask a question that that would put someone on the spot or elicit an interesting, informative response.

Feel Wood said...

Lannan is right. 83 pitches to get through five innings is not great, but it's far from terrible. One could argue that Lannan only made two terrible pitches out of those 83 - the home run balls. He clearly wasn't tiring after five innings, he could have gone further and clearly wanted to. But Riggleman pulls him after five, probably he'd say because Lannan was up first and behind 5-1 they needed to get some offense going. But does sending up Justin Maxwell's .105 BA to whiff as a pinch hitter really do anything to get the offense going? Lannan at the plate could have done as much. So yeah, the bullpen has to take on an extra inning or two last night, and they do well. But Lannan is saying he could have done just as well if Riggleman had left him in. Other starters - Olsen, even Strasburg - have bristled at being pulled prematurely by Riggleman, and really they have a point. Good starters can persevere in a tough outing a lot of times if given the chance. But Riggleman never, ever gives any of them the chance. (Okay, maybe Livan sometimes.) It's as if Riggleman has pre-decided that they're not going to be able to eat any more innings for him, without ever even taking the chance to see if maybe they can. So at least as much of the blame for the bullpen's excessive workload this year has to be placed on Riggleman as is placed on the starters. If a starter makes one or two mistakes early on, or has a moderately bad inning, they're never given the chance to redeem themselves. That has to be incredibly frustrating to guys like Lannan and Olsen who have established themselves as big league pitchers over the course of several good years for each of them. They're in a different category than guys like Atilano, Stammen, Mock, etc, who are still trying to get their footings as big league pitchers, and Riggleman should handle them differently. But he doesn't. Yet another reason why Riggleman is not a good manager.

N. Cognito said...

We left after the 7th. Up to that point it was another lethargic, poorly played game. Didn't help that we had idiot Cubs fans behind us.
"We're outnumbering the Nats fans."
"I haven't been to a game in 5 years."
And on.
All in a disrespectful, smug, we're better than you tone.

Most Cubs fans I've met aren't like that.

N. Cognito said...

Lannan relies on control and his isn't very good. Always getting behind hitters thus giving them the advantage. In a couple years, when Strasburg comes back from TJ surgery, Lannan will be gone.

Steve M. said...

Feel Wood's comments hit the mark well. I would have left Lannan in just because Maxwell who is now batting .102 just made Riggleman look inept. I would rather see Livo come in as a pinch hitter.

On Riggleman's side, this bullpen has been great with exceptions like Monday night so on a 5-1 game he decided to go with his man crush in a big pinch hit spot. So many blown opportunities like in the 1st inning with men on 1st and 3rd with 1 out and Dunn swings at the 1st pitch hitting into that double play.

Zambrano is a head case and this team didn't get into his head enough. He had his longest outing of the year at 7 1/3 innings.

Great comeback attempt. Exciting 9th inning.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

I gotta defend Riggs here on this one. Lannan was giving up a run an inning, albeit all on two pitches. But there were a couple balls scorched for line drive outs. He was working behind nearly all night. This 83 pitches to get through five innings was horrible, especially against that Cubs' AAAA lineup. Now, admittedly pinch-hitting Maxwell for Lannan is a lateral move, but I think Riggs felt he had a better shot at his bullpen keeping the game within reach than he did by sending Lannan out for the sixth inning, which historically has been a horror show frame for him. And guess what? That worked. The 'pen worked four scoreless frames -- am I the only one hoping Mr. Iowa returns for 2011? I think he's the most underrated Nat for not just his versatility, but his overall effectiveness -- and we gave it a shot in the ninth.

I agree Riggs has worked the bullpen to death. But having to trot out starters like Lannan, Stammen, Atilano, even Jesus with his stupid pitch count limit, almost guarantees that you'll need four innings from the 'pen. So far, I think the bullpen has held up fairly well, with only Clippard showing signs of overuse at times. The bullpen is the No. 1 strength of this team, so why not use it.

No, on this one, I side with the Master of the Double-Switch.

HHover said...

Sunshine -

Lannan was doing what Lannan does--he always walks a tightrope. He was definitely wobbly last night, and with a better rested bullpen and a better PH to send in, taking him out after 5 might have made sense.

But this is an overworked bullpen and Maxwell's BA is wavering around .100--a sort of double Mendoza line.

It looked--again--like a manager doing something just to make it look like he was doing something.

Feel Wood said...

"I gotta defend Riggs here on this one. Lannan was giving up a run an inning, albeit all on two pitches. But there were a couple balls scorched for line drive outs. He was working behind nearly all night. This 83 pitches to get through five innings was horrible, especially against that Cubs' AAAA lineup."

If Livan Hernandez had thrown 83 pitches through five innings to the exact same batter-by-batter result, Riggleman would have certainly left him in for at least another inning, if not two. 83 pitches over five projects out to 110 over six. If no more runs score, that's 4 earned runs over 6 innings - one run less, and that's a quality start.

Some pitchers are going to be tightrope-walkers. That's just the way they are. Some pitchers are able to make a successful career out of walking the tightrope, e.g. Livo. But other pitchers, like Lannan, never even have the chance to be succesful at walking the tightrope because their manager won't even let them try. Riggleman needs to start showing more trust in his starters, and maybe then they will start rewarding him some if not all of the time. But instead of doing that, he'd rather burn out his bullpen. He's walking a tightrope himself, even more than his starters are, and sooner or later he's going to fall off.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic ... then they raise a few meager hopes of fans and the team ... and promptly dash them on the rocks of futility: 2008, 2009, and now we bring you 2010.

Anonymous said...

No, on this one, I side with the Master of the Double-Switch.

I think Riggleman will tend to go longer with Livo than with any of the other pitchers. Perhaps that's a question of pride for Lannan. But John Lanna, YOU HAVE NOT pitched as well as Livan Hernandez. NOT THIS YEAR, not LAST YEAR, nor the year before ... even given Livo's melt downs he has been better? Yet those other teams he was on let him go?

What does that tell you dude!!! AAAA, AAAA, AAAA, AAAA, and finally AAAA. That is where your career is headed. You can't even be a #5 in
the rotation pitcher on any other roster except this one ... well maybe
on the Pirates but I doubt that Showalter would put up with you for very long on the Orioles. Seattle? Not hardly.

Have to finally agree and side with Sunshine and Double Switch. Lannan you look worst than Chico and Martis who may soon be up to prove that fact. And what are you going to do when Maya and Zimmermann pan out? Where are you going to go?

Bote Man said...

I took great solace last night after the Nats loss by watching the Philthies use all their position players in extra innings, Ryan Howard get ejected, and Roy Oswalt coming in to play left field.

Oh, and they lost. With Roy Oswalt making the final out. Company loves misery.

Shedd said...

Anyone here think Riggs overmanaged in the 8th when he sent up Desmond up to hit for Bernadina with the bases loaded and two outs? With Marmol warming, Riggs had to know the Cubs were going to bring Marmol into face a righty. I think I would have taken the chance on Bernadina against the wild throwing lefty who was in at the time.

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