Monday, February 28, 2011

The rest of the day

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Wilson Ramos slides in ahead of Mike Nickeas' tag in the top of the fourth.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So, believe it or not, Bryce Harper wasn't the only player of consequence in today's Grapefruit League opener. Quite the contrary, a number of other members of the Nationals did a number of things of interest during their 9-3 thumping of the Mets.

Really, it was a well-played game by the Nats, who rapped out 14 hits, got four innings of scoreless relief from Brian Broderick, Doug Slaten, Todd Coffey and Adam Carr, got a pair of homers from Michael Morse, got some nifty and aggressive baserunning from several guys and got mostly solid defense out of everyone.

Let's run through, bullet-point by bullet-point, the significant developments of the day not involving a certain 18-year-old outfielder who struck out twice...

-- Michael Morse was a beast at the plate. The only member of the starting lineup to stay in the game the entire way, Morse went 3-for-5 with a pair of late home runs. He crushed a slider from Taylor Tankersley over the left-field fence in the top of the seventh, then went "oppo-boppo" to right field off a Ryota Igarashi fastball in the top of the ninth. "It feels good," said Morse, who made last year's Opening Day roster in large part because of some impressive offensive stats in spring training. "I made a couple adjustments that was actually good. It always feels good to hit a ball solid. I felt good up there." It's worth noting that Morse, who started in right field, finished the game at third base. Obviously the Nats have Ryan Zimmerman there and expect the Face of the Franchise to start 160 games. But Morse does have the versatility to fill in if needed at third base. More than that, I think Jim Riggleman is going to try to find more opportunities to get Morse in the lineup this year, moving him around from left field to right field to first base to third base.

-- Jesus Flores played his first spring training game in two years, a heart-warming development for the catcher who missed all of last season while recovering from a major shoulder injury. Flores looked a bt rusty at the plate, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. But he was solid behind the plate, and most importantly is completely healthy and ready to see more action. "I thought he looked fine," Riggleman said. "He blocked some balls well. It's all going to come back together for him, but I was glad to see him sit back there and catch four or five innings."

-- The Nationals displayed some real aggressiveness on the bases early in this game, and it paid off. Ian Desmond hustled out a triple in the top of the first. Roger Bernadina stole second later that inning. Wilson Ramos impressed by going first-to-third on Luis Castillo's second-inning error. He later beat a throw to the plate to score a run (see above photo for visual evidence). The Nats used the hit-and-run, dropped a few bunts and in general played an up-temp, aggressive style of baseball that was appreciated by players. "It's nice to get off the ground running, especially to get the 'W' today," Desmond said. "It just goes to show you, we put a little pressure on them and that's what happens."

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chad Gaudin allowed two runs over three innings but struck out four.
-- Starter Chad Gaudin had kind of a strange pitching line: 3 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, zero walks, four strikeouts. For the most part, though, the journeyman right-hander was solid. He threw 32 of his 47 pitches for strikes and managed to strike out the side in the first inning despite a fastball that hovered around the 90 mph mark. I'm not sure this performance put Gaudin in any better position to win the No. 5 starter's job, but he certainly didn't hurt his cause today.

-- Nyjer Morgan didn't exactly wow anyone in his spring debut. The leadoff man went 0-for-3, but worse had a couple of really poor at-bats early on. Morgan swung at three straight pitches to lead off the game, ultimately hitting a weak pop-foul to third base. He dropped an OK bunt in the top of the second but couldn't beat third baseman Daniel Murphy's throw. It's only one game, and you don't want to draw any conclusions. But Nyjer today didn't look much different from the Nyjer we saw all last season.

-- Cla Meredith's injury situation remains somewhat up in the air, but there does appear to be increased reason for the right-hander to be worried about this being a serious situation. The enhanced MRI taken on Meredith's elbow on Friday came back with inconclusive results. He was scheduled to fly to Washington to be examined by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih, but Riggleman acknowledged surgery is a possibility. And if surgery is required, "it's going to be significant." As in Tommy John significant.

-- Back at it tomorrow when the second half of this home-and-home series takes place at Space Coast Stadium. Livan Hernandez starts for the Nationals. Lefty Jon Niese will be on the mound for the Mets. Harper is slated to come off the bench again and get an at-bat or two, though this time he'll also play in the field.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Danny Espinosa tries to break up a double play in the fourth.


Nattydread said...

Interesting that last year, when they lost 19 straight ST games, Rizzo played down the losses as meaning nothing.

Now they appear to be playing to win. Or at least testing out a new aggressive style of play that amounts to the same thing.

Of course Rizzo won't say it, but it does look like the players are DOING IT.

JayB said...

I agree....just finished up the replay of the game on is like night and day from last springs loss after loss....this is not your losertown can just tell they are a reflection of Rizzo and he is pissed.

They are doing just what they have to do....that is in spring against bad teams, win at all costs...take a look at that DP side from Danny E think FLOP or Dunn for that matter would have made that attempt in August let alone early March?

Have not been this optimistic since June looks like a team again and I like that!

Another_Sam said...

Like many of you, I've seen a lot of springs come and go. And in each of 'em, my optimism peaks on the first day that the umpire yells "Play Ball." On that day, every career minor leaguer is on the brink of his breakout season, every marginal player is ready to realize his potential, every veteran has one more year in his arm, every. . . you get the picture.

So, I hope that Morgan can get it together. I'm glad for Flores. I'd hoped he'd be ready last year and I'm hoping he finishes the season as the regular catcher with a solid season under his belt. I'm even hopeful that Morse can break out.

Yes, I agree that the offense and the defense is improved. For me, the clear gaping hole is the rotation. Many here don't share my feeling on this, but my refrain this year could be Livan, and hope for four days of rain.

Big Cat said...

Michael Morse.......I'm sorry I said trade you if we could. You go on with your bad self!

Get rid of Nyjer and we got a ballclub

Rabbit said...

What's frustrating is that Riggleman, in spite of Morse tearing up the ball, will not put him in the lineup to replace Morgan. Here we go again. We get our hopes up and Riggleman extinguishes them.

DunnWatch said...

White Sox lost yesterday 6-5 to LA. Adam was 0-2 with 2 k's and 2 LOB. Pickin right up where he left off I see

Rabbit said...

Oh and watching the game, as the guys came up in run-scoring opportunity at-bats, you had the feeling they would actually hit the ball and NOT strike out! It was so refreshing to see and so relieving. Sure, it's only one game, but what we have been through watching them since returning to RFK, you can sense something is about to happen.....positively.

JayB said...

Yes Rizzo failed to get starting pitching help......still they have enough with a new focus on team d and basic baseball 101 to get to .500.....I watched 3 really bad years of missed cut off men, throws to the wrong base, running into it was ugly...if they just play smart baseball and put team before I they can do fine. Morgan looked like he understood how to a least back up LF and RF instead of get in there way....that is progress....He should be cut today in my view but it just shows the new focus...I think Rizzo has told or your out and play the best baseball players not the vets for vet sake....Riggs really F'ed up last year with Kennedy and Harris playing at should be a fun year

Doc said...

Riggleman needs to look at what Morgan can't do, not what he did in a half season in 2009. It's not that hard Uncle Jimmy!

Just a ST game but it was great to see the Nats running the bases the way they should be run. Bo Porter must be getting into their heads.

Maybe they can improve on that stat that had the Nats almost dead last in the MLB in going from 1st to 3rd.

Anonymous said...

" . . . More than that, I think Jim Riggleman is going to try to find more opportunities to get Morse in the lineup this year."

There's an easy way to accomplish that. It's called making him the starting LFer. This is getting ridiculous. Who did Morse offend and who does Morgan have photos of?

N. Cognito said...

One preseason game and our lineup is set.

Anonymous8 said...

Just one game. Let's see what happens.

I am most interested in Bernadina. Here's a guy who I believe needs to be a high OBP guy with gap power instead of trying to be a protypical corner OF that has to hit HRs.

I think as we saw yesterday that if Bernie has the bunt in his arsenal and steal 2nd he will be a possible top of the lineup guy. I just don't think he should have the mindset that he has to be a hybrid speed/power guy.

JayB said...

No it is not just one game...the Morse Morgan data goes back over 500 ABs for Morgan and a 30 HR pace for Morse....Riggs wants his job he plays the best players and that is not Morgan.....Did not you all tell me this is all about trying to get something for Morgan and playing up his positives (like there are any) for a possible trade before cutting him?

MGG said...

I think you give Morgan two more ST starts. If he goes 0-3 again you simply cut bait or see if anyone his a glimmer of interest.

If that happens opening day OF should look like Werth-Bernadina-Morse. Morgans been too consistently bad for me to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Big Cat said...

Interesting, they had Brown in center after knucklehead came out. You would think Bernadina would be a better fit in center cause of his speed

Anonymous8 said...

JayB, who is talking about Morse? He wasn't a problem last year. Nyjer was the problem last year. It is just one game for Nyjer and I say that as a guy who doesn't like the guy. I just think you give Nyjer a few weeks to see if he is the same low OBP guy he was last year.

JayB said...

I think Riggs has a Achilles heel just like Rizzo....Riggs loves his vets to the end and Rizzo is very proud and hates to see his errors....Morgan was his first big trade...he wants to prove he was a fault in my view...Morgan is never going to be a part of a winning team. He is all about me type who does not have the fundamentals to make enough of his limited tools.

JayB said...

Nope you make a statement to your fans and organization and your you should have done last cut a guy who is not in your plans and go with fundamentally sound options you have on the roster already.

320R2S15 said...

JayB is right about the Rizzo/Morgan situation. He wants to be right about NM. I remember that game vs the O's last year when morgan threw his glove. I got lucky and scored some seats right behind Rizzo, it was raining and all the swells took off for shelter. I stood up and booed the most unprofessional play I'd ever seen in my life. Rizzo turned arround and looked at me like I was the biggest a$$hole on the planet. I've been hot and cold on Rizzo ever since, although I think in terms of the big picture, Rizzo is doing well.

JD said...

I welcome the 1st day excitement from the posters led by JayB and I,m all from playing sound baseball and having wonderful attitudes but games this early mean nothing; did you see the players playing on both sides after the 1st 3 innings? these are not even prospects; let's not draw ANY conclusions at lest until late spring when we see a better picture and real players are battling for the last few spots.

Morgan is not playing because Rizzo traded for him; he is playing because the brass feels that he is their best available option for leadoff and center field; can we stop beating the drums for his execution until we see that someone can do a better job over a long haul? (longer than 1 ST game).

Mark; I,m disappointed that you joined in the 'looking at 1 ST game through a microscope' with some of the other posters. I think you all made up your mind about things ahead of time and are jumping at any evidence to support your point of view; hopefully our management has the smarts to look at the bigger picture.

JayB said...

JD...there is more than enough data on Morgan....he is who he is....a me first, weak armed, hockey player who has no basic baseball 101 skills or desire to learn it.

Roger B. is a much better option for CF...Morse and Rick A. are fine in LF....What are you expecting to change with Morgan at age 31?

P. Cole said...

Is that Espinosa's broken hand up in the air?

Someone tell that boy its February 28th.

John C. said...

Mark, I love this blog, but I'm a little mystified at how a pitching line that involves five hits, two runs and a home run in three innings against a lousy team can be said not to hurt his cause. Gaudin is what he is, a marginal #7 starter/long man in the bullpen who gets occasional shots to pitch in the bigs when teams are facing an injury crunch. I'd like to hope that the Nationals are beyond that at this stage. Gaudin isn't old, but to say he has limited upside is to be kind. I might start him ahead of Chico or Martis, or let him duel it out with Mock and Stammen, but I can't see putting him ahead of Detwiler or Maya.

Calle Real N20 said...

JD, your statements are wise. Let's give Riggs time to sort out a starting line up. That's part of what ST is about.

Right now, when I look at Nyjer I don't see the guy who hit, caught and ran well early on after the trade, but the out of control, immature and non-lefty hitting character of last year. That's a perception we'll all feel till he makes us view him differently.

But let's not forget that if he were to get past all that and play up to his full potential, he could be one of the best CFs in the league. The physical tools are there.

It's worth it to spend a few weeks of ST to see which guy he turns out to be. Major League managers don't have the luxury of cutting guys after a single ST game. Before they're traded or thrown away, players have to be tested to see who they really are. The jury is still out.

JD said...


The point is that they didn't release him during the off season (I wouldn't have minded if they did). So if they brought him to camp then let the games sort it out; just not 1 game.

nationalsanthems said...

Why is Werth necessarily a lock in right field? He could be fine in center, with Bernadina in left and Morse in right. Bernadina may not be a great fit in center because the CF has to "quarterback" the outfield, that is be dependable in terms of choosing to dive vs. playing off the hop, hitting the cutoff man, making the right call on who should take the ball, backing up the play correctly, etc. and they don't seem to trust Bernadina to do that. (Why they trust Morgan to do that is completely beyond me.) Werth seems like a decent fit there, with plenty of speed and a good head. It is very demanding with a lot of running on every play if only to be in position to back up another player, and Rizzo would prefer to play him in right to save his energy for offense and keep him in better shape throughout his contract. But he may be a reasonable short term solution until they bring up (or go get) a fast non-knucklehead with even average offensive production to take over.

A DC Wonk said...

"Yes Rizzo failed to get starting pitching help"

Sigh. Here we go again. Rizzo being criticized for not -- within 18 months -- turning around a team that lost over 100 games three years in a row.

Let's see . . . last year they lost Strasberg, Marquis, and Detwiler to surgery. Lannan was, for most of the year, a bust. Zimmermann was still recovering from surgery the year before. And, despite all that, as Boswell points out, Nats pitching allowed *132 fewer runs* than the year before, the second-best upgrade in baseball.

When you desperately need almost everything, you can't solve it all in one year, not even two years. All the more so when MLB scr3wed your farm system for half-a-decade, resulting in few prospects, and fewer things to bargain with.

Thanks to Rizzo, the Nats are improving immensely. They have a very solid infield, and three of them might be solid for a number of years to come. Catching -- I suspect that between Flores and Ramos at least one will work out well. Outfield is closer to set: Werth was a great addition, obviously. Morse and Bernadina might work well. (And, perhaps Harper by the end of next year). Relief pitching looks well above average. Starting pitching, obviously, needs work -- if JZimm and Strassy can come back, that's got some real potential.

You can't turn around a complete and utter disaster overnight (how many years of Bowden did we have?). We're getting there, making great progress. And Rizzo can't be faulted for not turning it around faster than you'd like. Rizzo's not perfect, but he's been pretty darn good. (Let's also not forget that the cleaned up the Dominican Republic mess, and successfully stared down Boras in getting Strassy and Harper signed at the last minute).

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