Friday, August 27, 2010

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 injury?

So it's probably safe to say that while still hoping for the best, you should be prepared for the worst. Maybe everything really is OK with Strasburg and the Nats are just trying to disseminate the information in a coordinated manner. But there's a good chance there is going to be bad news doled out, a pronouncement that the rookie right-hander won't pitch again this season and perhaps won't pitch early in 2011 either.

At this point, all we can do is wait for the official word to come down. We can also relieve the highs and lows of this extraordinary day, because there were plenty of them.

Start with Harper, who in mid-afternoon wowed about 50 spectators including Mark Lerner, Scott Boras and Matt Holliday by belting 12 home runs during six rounds of batting practice. The 17-year-old top draft pick then held court during a 16-minute press conference in which he appeared to be more comfortable with public speaking than the man sitting to his right: Mike Rizzo.

"I've had a lot of people on me my whole life," Harper said. "I'm used to it now."

Continue with Zimmermann, whose final line (five runs, seven hits in four innings) was less significant than the fact he threw 70 pitches on a big-league mound and emerged healthy. This was no small feat for a guy who 12 months ago had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament but tonight pitched like nothing ever happened.

"I wish I never had the surgery, but it's over with and in the past now," he said. "It's time to move forward. Hopefully I can help these guys win some games down the stretch."

Move along to Storen, who hasn't faced much adversity so far as a professional reliever but tonight blew his first career save and was roughed up for four runs in the top of the ninth.

"You can't not execute pitches," he said. "That's something I take pride in, but I just didn't do it. There's really no excuse for it."

Storen's struggles became a footnote, though, thanks to Bernadina's two-run homer off Ryan Franklin in the bottom of the ninth, the shot that brought the Nationals back to tie the game 10-10 and send it to extra innings.

And after both managers had exhausted nearly every player off their active rosters -- it got the point where John Lannan was in the Nationals' bullpen just in case he was needed two days after throwing 83 pitches -- Desmond put a cap on the evening with a bouncer up the middle and off second baseman Aaron Miles' glove, bringing Nyjer Morgan home and setting off a mad celebration near first base.

That capped a remarkable game for Desmond, who in his first appearance as a No. 5 hitter went 4-for-7 with three RBI, made several fantastic plays in the field and apparently would have been happy to keep on playing all night.

"No exhaustion," he insisted. "We were ready to go 10 more if we needed to."

Bernadina didn't quite agree with his teammate.

"I wanted the game to end," he said, "and it took forever."

Bernadina let out a laugh, echoing the sentiment throughout the Nationals' clubhouse at that moment. A long day and night of baseball had produced one of the most-satisfying victories of the season.

Baseball, of course, doesn't permit a prolonged celebration of highs or lows. There's always another game to be played the next night, and by the time Scott Olsen throws his first pitch tomorrow, this marathon will long have been forgotten.

By then, everyone will know Strasburg's fate as well. Whether the news is encouraging or discouraging, there will be a ballgame at 7:05 p.m. and then 33 more before the 2010 season comes to a conclusion.

Strasburg may or may not play a role in those 33 games. Either way, the Nationals will find a way to press on and complete a season that may not result in a winning record but certainly has featured its share of eventful days, few of which can top this Thursday in late-August.



Sorry, but I just don't think Jim Riggleman is the answer for the Nats. His pitching moves just don't make much sense.

Seems like Riggleman is just about trying to keep everyone happy with a little PT here and little PT there.

In my opinion, Riggleman is running Clippard into the ground and killing his confidence level to the point where the young man is most likely starting to doubt himself. How 'bout giving him a night off.

I believe there are some serious concerns about how the pitchers are being handled. There seems like a developing trend with more and more injuries over recent years. Not sold on McCatty, wonder what he has his pitchers do after a start, what type of return to rotation program are the pitchers on?

Riggleman, no doubt about it, seems like a hell'va nice individual but in my opinion, he says the same darn things in the press conferences. Not sure how he can motivate the players. Maybe he's better suited to be an assistant?

Can the Nats make a trade with the O's for Buck? I like how Buck commands the attention of his players.

Joe Seamhead said...

I was really rooting for Jim Riggleman to succeed when they hired him. Thought it would be a great story, the home town guy managing the team, but I have to admit I had serious doubts. Now I don't have any doubts at all. The guy just isn't a winning MLB manager.Never will be. I still say bring on Davy Johnson.
BTW, great game Ian Desmond!

Anonymous said...

Mark, I don't see the negative implications. We'll see, but every knows about the enhanced MRI and we wereall told results would be in late lasy night or this AM. Why not have a press conference to keep rumors and speculation to a minimum, whatever the results.

bdrube said...

It will be simply astonishing if Strasburg follows the same path as Patterson, Hill and Zimmermann; talented young pitchers who barely had a change to show what they could do before major injuries hit. If he follows Zimm-double-N to the operating table for Tommy John surgery you really have to conclude that this team is under some kind of curse.

No Billy Goats or infamous trades of Hall of Fame players here, so we have to figure out why the Gods hate us so much. That might make a good panel discussion. :(

John O'Connor said...

Small point, but Desmond's hit went off Aaron Miles' glove. He came in for Schumaker earlier in the game.

SpashCity said...

bdrube -

I have often joked to my friends that the Nats are haunted by the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt because they never let him win a race. One of the most sporting presidents in history, Teddy's ghost has to be offended that he loses every night, and therefore makes sure the Nats lose every year.

Now I'm starting to think that my jokes aren't that far off. When Teddy starts winning races, the Nats will start winning baseball games!

Anonymous said...

Storen blows a save and Riggleman's a bad manager. Yeah, I get it. Clippard is paid to pitch. Be good or be gone.

Richard said...

Yeah, the baseball gods are okay with Syracuse and Harrisburg this year and could be sympathizing with the athletic Teddy's ghost; he's no doubt got their ears. Anyway, letting Teddy win is worth a shot. (Thanks, Splashcity!) We know the baseball gods are can be a righteous bunch. For example, I remember in 2002 when the Giants were leading the Angels 3 games to 2 in the World Series and had a lead in the bottom of the 6th inning of game 6 at Anaheim and Dusty Baker, as he takes pitcher Russ Oritz out of the game, hands Russ the baseball as he walks off the mount, like the Giants already won the game (and thus the Series) and it's the game ball. The baseball gods did not like this. Angels (and Adam Kennedy) win game 6 and 7. And the Giants still haven't won a World Series since Willie's famous catch in '54 :(
Anyhow, APPEASE the baseball gods, voo doo, somethin'! Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

I thought the comments Ray Knight and Bob Carpenter had about his conservative use of pinch hitters last night was spot on. He managed well last night.

Riggleman's like the Doug Collins of baseball--solid for a team that's turning around. Will see how he can manage when he has the tools to actually win, but I don't see how people think we should be winning more at this point.

Knoxville Nat said...

Agree with Anon 8:43....Storen blows a save and Clip is paid to pitch. The night before Clip came in as a set up man and allowed an inherited runner to score. Sorry that is not on Riggleman it is on Clip. Who should he have brought in, Batista? Clip's role is pretty well defined and Wednesday night he didn't live up to it. That happens, maybe he should learn to throw his best pitch more often as Dibble and others suggest and back off the change up.

Major league pitchers are subject to failure as much as they are success. More often than not this year our bullpen has been successful, the last two nights however they have not. Sorry I don't see that as being on Riggs or McCatty.

Anonymous said...

Great day....Harper hits some bombs in BP and JZimm returns (albeit a not very good performance) and the Nats win in 13 for the bad news...several outlets are aying that Strasburg will be going under the knife and once again the bullpen (this time Storen) tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory...bottom line we should have won in regulation. Well there is always Opening Day 2012 to look forward to with Strasburg taking the mound for his comeback start and Bryce Harper starting in RF! :)

Anonymous said...

Why did Kennedy break for home in the 1st on Zim's grounder to 3rd with less than 2 outs? A high school player knows not to break when the grounder goes to 3rd or the pitcher! Also, if Storen is going to be the closer, give him the 9th inning only. Don't expect him to get a 1+ inning save. Come on Jim, you should know not to do that.

Anonymous said...

Post has had the Strasberg story up online for 10 minutes now. Nothing here.

John R. said...

"Baseball gods," "curses," "ghosts." Come on. Let's be rational here.

And I liked the way Riggleman managed last night when he pinch-hit Wil Nieves for Miguel Batista in the 12th with two out and a runner on. The TV announcers were worried about this move as it took out the last position player but I liked the fact that Riggleman was trying to win right there rather than plan for extended extra innings.

alexva said...

I'm sure Kennedy breaking for home was partly due to the recent failures of the on deck hitter.

Let Teddy Win! said...

Of course the curse of Teddy Roosevelt is real!

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