Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Three negatives in a 6-1 loss

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was done in by a three-batter stretch in the fourth inning tonight.
PHOENIX -- There really wasn't one reason the Nationals lost tonight's game, 6-1, to the Diamondbacks. It wasn't one player's fault. The game didn't turn entirely on one pitch. There was no one defining moment.

But there were three negative developments to come out of this game, each of them contributing factors to one of the less-inspiring ballgames of the Nats' season to date.

How did the Nationals' lose this one? Let us count the ways...

The biggest blast of the night (Mark Reynolds' three-run homer in the fourth) came from one of only four right-handed batters in Arizona's starting lineup. But as Olsen pointed out, the big blast was only made possible by his inability to retire the two lefties in front of Reynolds.

Adam LaRoche ignited the Diamondbacks' two-out rally with a single past a diving Alberto Gonzalez at second base. Miguel Montero then drew a walk that ticked off both Olsen and Jim Riggleman.

"The walk to Montero really got him," Riggleman said. "If we get Montero there, we're not facing Reynolds with two men on."

Thus, Reynolds' drive into the swimming pool beyond the right-center field fence turned a 1-1 game into a 4-1 deficit.

"I give up a lot of home runs. But you can live on giving up solo home runs," Olsen said. "Solo home runs generally don't beat you. A three-run homer beats you pretty much every time. And it did again tonight."

(Olsen wasn't kidding. Of the 104 home runs he's allowed in his career, only nine came with two or more men on base.)

The fourth inning proved Olsen's undoing tonight, but he classified his entire outing as "awful." The main reason: He couldn't get the Diamondbacks' lefties out. The four regulars aside from starting pitcher Joe Saunders (LaRoche, Montero, Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew) went a combined 5-for-10 with a walk. Johnson also roped a shot to deep right that was caught by Michael Morse at the wall.

Olsen generally has been effective against left-handed hitters (they're batting .250 this season against him) but he couldn't figure out a way to retire them tonight.

"They put four lefties, five lefties, whatever the hell it was, in the lineup today," he said. "I've got to do better than that. It was awful."

There are dominant, complete-game performances. And then there are Joe Saunders complete-game performances. Not to take anything away from the lefty and Springfield, Va., native who has been fantastic since the Diamondbacks acquired him in the Dan Haren trade. But he gave the Nationals plenty of chances to take him down tonight, and they didn't take advantage of it.

Nine batters reached base, six of them in the game's first four innings. The only one to score, though, was Ryan Zimmerman, who drove himself in with a towering homer off the batter's eye above the center-field fence in the top of the first.

Otherwise, when the Nats put somebody on base against Saunders, they left him there. By night's end, they were 0-for-12 with a runner on base.

"We let him off the hook early," Zimmerman said.

Double-play grounders by Ivan Rodriguez, Ian Desmond and Morse didn't help. Neither did the fact hardly anyone in the lineup had ever faced Saunders before. Only Rodriguez, Morse and Adam Kennedy (who had a combined 12 at-bats against the former Angel from their American League days) had seen him. The rest of the lineup was flying blind.

"The first time you see someone, you don't really know what to expect," Zimmerman said. "He did a really good chance of keeping us off-balance. We had our chances early and didn't capitalize."

At the start of this series, Riggleman talked about the need for his club to take it to the Arizona pitching staff in this hitter-friendly ballpark. Well, two games in, the Nationals have scored four runs.

"The numbers don't lie at this point in the season," the manager said. "Here we are in August, and Arizona hits a lot of home runs, especially in this ballpark. So when you come in here, you're going to have to score some runs."

Balester has always possessed a million-dollar fastball and very little ability to locate it. The Nationals converted him to a reliever earlier this season in a last-ditch attempt to revive his career, and he was successful enough to earn a promotion to the majors nine days ago.

In that time, he's now plunked two different batters in the head. He got Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee. Tonight, he got Reynolds in the noggin and left the former Virginia Cavalier with a huge lump on his forehead that would have looked appropriate in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

We can make some light of it because Reynolds is going to be fine, but in the bigger picture, this is a real cause for concern. Balester has a bad penchant for throwing up and in to right-handed hitters because of some poor mechanics that cause him to drop his elbow sometimes and lose control.

"Obviously, it's one of those things I need to work on," he said.

But how much longer can the Nats let Balester work this out at the big-league level? The leash is dangerously short at this point.

It doesn't help that Balester's psyche is already a bit delicate. He was shaken up enough by tonight's incident to make an attempt to see Reynolds after the game and apologize. Riggleman left him in the game after the plunking because he didn't want his pitcher's night to end on such a negative note, and Balester did respond by striking out Drew.

But at this rate, you've got to wonder what kind of situation the Nats will need to be in for Riggleman to hand Balester the ball again.

"I hope it's just a fluke coincidence," Riggleman said. "Something about when the ball comes out of his hand now and then, it runs up and in on somebody. You can't have that."


pahou said...

Colin "little boy" Balester just needs to go far far away and get lost and never find his way back to any baseball team that I am a fan of.

Anonymous said...

First things first for Balester: shave off the porn star mustache and sideburns!

Ernie said...

If Riggleman were managing the Diamondbacks, perhaps Olsen would have pitched a lot better--half of Arizona's lineup would have been benched because of the golden righty/lefty rule, and he would not have had the chance to struggle against left handed batters.

Last night was one of the most boring games of the year. A return to the 2009 minor-league pitching was predictably atrocious, swinging at pitches early in the count led to quick innings, and so many double plays! Where do we rank with the rest of the league in that category? I'm afraid that if I to learn how to research these things myself, I'll get even more down about this team...

When the most exciting pitching performance of the night is by Doug Slaten, it's a bad game. I was at the INFAMOUS Marquis game in April, and I think the rotation has deteriorated enough that I'm willing to see him return now. I don't think Olsen's short appearance against the Braves should carry him too far--the kid still isn't ready.

Finally, I can't wait to hear from the J-Max Man Boy Love Association. Why is he here again?

Big Cat said...

How many people were at the game last night? Seemed like 3000 or so. Why is there mlb in Arizona? Just pitiful.

ivan tuski said...

hey ernie-you are total negator man, half empty kinda guy and would have fit in great on MASN's 1 and only commercial for their first two seasons complaining about the one small cloud in the sky on the beach in Florida

Anonymous said...

What did Balester do in Syracuse to earn the promotion in the first place? His ERA was over 7. He should never have been called up in the first place. I agree totally with Dibble -- a guy hitting players in the head is dangerous to them, which is not what baseball is about. And its dangerous that Zim or Dunn are going to be victims of retailiation. Get him out of here.

Anonymous8 said...

I didn't like much about George Steinbrenner but I did like his grooming policy. I agree with Anon at 5:44AM that Balestar needs to shave. He looks like a kid starved for attention.

To raymitten's point, what did he do to deserve the promotion. Well, what did Lannan or Maxwell do to deserve their promotions?

This is going to be one of the negatives in Rizzo's 2010 tenure that he could never pull the right strings to get the hot hand from AA or AAA up to the Majors to make a difference and I wouldn't throw Bernadina or Morse in that mix as both should have been on the 25 man the entire season.

Mark's point #2 is correct that the double plays were rally killers. A shame they couldn't piece together a big inning.

I will give Riggleman some credit. I am sure they contemplated putting JMax in the starting lineup against a lefty pitcher and didn't. Good move.

Anonymous said...

You're doing virtuoso work, but I have a tech suggestion. Check the white balance on your camera, paricularly when you photograph night games. It seems like your pix from Phoenix have a greenish tint, which is probably due to not adjusting for the type of lighting inside the ballpark, especially when the roof is closed. If this is not clear, I am sure one of the photographers who cover the games can explain it.
Keep up the good work.
Bob Cullen

Anonymous said...

The Nats are totally wasting a roster spot on Collin Balester, just like they continue to do on Justin Maxwell. Both of these guys will never be major leaguers. Send them to the Logan Kensing graveyard now.

erocks33 said...

Mark -- I don't think Balester was "successful enough to earn a promotion to the majors." I believe he was called up because the Nats needed help in the bullpen and Balester was the only reliever left in Syracuse that was still on the 40-man roster.

Balester should have been DFA'd earlier this season. He is taking up a valuable spot on the 40-man roster (and now he's wasting a spot on the 25-man roster). When he was taken out of the rotation in SYR is when the Nast should have DFA'd him. No team would have claimed him and the Nats then could have re-signed him to a minor-league deal and kept him all year in SYR learning to pitch.

I used to have hope for Balester, but these past two seasons have shown me that he is just not mentally capable of pitching in the major league.

Dave said...

After the beaning of Weeks then Reynolds last night I couldn't watch. . . turned the channel until he was pulled.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I never understood the appeal of Bally Star as a run-an-inning starting pitcher. I have even less appetite for the guy as a head-hunting 95 mph reliever. Mr. Bally Star, SYR, on line 2.

Doc said...

It would be nice to see Olsen succeed, by I agree with previous commenters that he is not ready to pitch in the Bigs.

After a game and a half back in the rotation, he threw his first series of sliders in the 6th inning. Don't think a pitcher can get by on a change and a fastball---particularly when the fastball is 88-90.

Steve M. said...

After Balestar plunked Reynolds in the head, you can hear someone from behind homeplate go "It is his Birthday!".

Great birthday present seeing your life flash in front of your eyes.

I agree with the rest here, not sure if Balestar is long for the MLB. Can he take Justin Maxwell with him?

Steve M. said...

Balestar teammate Garrett Mock will make a start for Hagerstown tonight.

Mock is another Rizzo mancrush. I guess we will see him shortly. Add him back to the depth chart!

Anonymous said...

Mock is another Rizzo mancrush. I guess we will see him shortly. Add him back to the depth chart!

Its the Riggleman mancrushes like Guzman, Harris, and Maxwell that hurt this club ... and to some extent Lannan. Riggleman wanted him over Marquis ... Marquis looks better but the stunt he pulled in ST ...

Still did you see/hear the glowing, profuse accolades by Riggleman for Guzman? Compare to what Rizzo said about him. That he was a wonderful human being and a great man and the best teammate? I've never heard him say that about anyone else on this team he has managed.

That is real man crush mode and why IMHO I can't see Riggleman ever leading this team to a record over .500.

Anonymous said...

Change profuse to effusive in the comment above ... my bad.

natsfan1a said...

Perhaps Balester needs to focus less on his 'stache, blog, tweets, and what have you and more on his game. I don't ever want to see him bean another batter. No way, no how. Painful to watch, and I really feel for those guys.

natsfan1a said...

On a related note, interesting to see Church chatting with Reynolds in the dugout afterwards. If memory serves, Church was out for some time with a concussion due to an on-field collision as a Met.

Anonymous said...

Mark -

In last night's game log you commented about how some of the defensive plays early were keeping the Nats in the game ..

Did you notice the atrocious throw that Nyjer Morgan made as the Diamondbacks scored their last run (did it make it even half-way back to the infield before it hit the ground?)?

Desmond also bobbled a made-for-a-double play flip from Gonzales in the late innings. I saw the look on Slaten's face after that one and was sure that there was going to be a confrontation in the dugout over giving away extra outs.

As others have noticed, the defense has got to get better before the Nats can contend.

Mark in Arlington

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