Monday, April 30, 2012

April: Encouraging/discouraging

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Gio Gonzalez is one of four Nats starters with a sub-2.00 ERA.
After a rough trip out west that ended with four consecutive losses to the Padres and Dodgers, the Nationals are enjoying a much-needed day of rest. Here at the Insider, of course, there's no such thing as rest. (Those of you with children know what I'm talking about.)

So let's use this off-day, as well as the fact it's the final day of the month, to take a look at both the encouraging and discouraging developments of the season to date...

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals rotation has been, plain and simple, awesome. We're running out of superlatives to describe this group of starters, so let's just run through the stats. The rotation's collective ERA now stands at 1.78 (the Cardinals rank second in the majors at 2.57). Opponents are hitting .186 against Nationals starters. They rank second in the league with 129 strikeouts while issuing the second-fewest walks in the league (32). In 16 of 22 games to date, Nationals starters have surrendered zero or one earned run.

DISCOURAGING: Despite all those sparkling numbers, the Nationals' rotation has a collective record of 8-4. That's what happens when

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nats' offensive issues showing

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Rookie Tyler Moore recorded one of the Nationals' four hits on Sunday.
LOS ANGELES -- Bryce Harper strode to the plate late this afternoon, the shadows starting to creep onto the emerald green field at Dodger Stadium, and surveyed the situation.

Top of the ninth. Two outs. Man on first. His team trailing 2-0. A hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.

A home run, you know, would've tied the game.

"I was thinking the same thing," Harper said. "I wanted to hit a bomb, for sure."

What does this say about the state of the Nationals' lineup? Their best hope is for a 19-year-old with less than 24 hours of big-league

Werth misses game with severe migraines

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Jayson Werth was a late scratch from today's game due to severe migraines.
LOS ANGELES -- Already playing without their regular No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, the Nationals lost their No. 5 hitter before today's series finale when Jayson Werth reported to Dodger Stadium with what manager Davey Johnson called "severe migraines."

Werth said he felt fine when he woke up in his hotel room but was in considerable pain upon arriving at the ballpark about three hours before first pitch.

"When I told the doctor my symptoms, he said that it was a classic migraine," the veteran outfielder said. "It's surprising. I was fine when I woke up. As soon as I got here, I didn't feel so hot."

Werth did say he progressed somewhat as the day advanced, and by the seventh inning he was in uniform and in the dugout in case Johnson

Instant analysis: Dodgers 2, Nats 0

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Bryce Harper's leaping catch at the fence wasn't enough to lift the Nationals.
Game in a nutshell: Needing a win to avoid a series sweep and a four-game losing streak, the Nationals were done in again by a tepid lineup. Playing without Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse or Jayson Werth, they were shut out on four hits by Dodgers starter Chris Capuano and two relievers. Gio Gonzalez matched Capuano for five innings but was done in by shaky control in the sixth and wound up with his first loss of the season. Thus, for the first time since April 11, the Nationals are no longer in sole possession of first place. They're now tied with the Braves atop the NL East at 14-8.

Hitting highlight: Tyler Moore's first career hit came in his second career at-bat. The rookie left fielder poked a solid single to right-center in the top of the fifth to officially put himself in baseball's all-time register. Bryce Harper, meanwhile, recorded his second career hit: a single to right in the seventh off left-hander Capuano.

Pitching lowlight: Gonzalez may have established a new Nationals record with 25 consecutive scoreless innings, but he was by no means sharp during today's outing. After walking only four total batters over his last three outings, the left-hander issued five free passes in six

Game 22: Nats at Dodgers

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez tries to snap the Nationals' three-game losing streak today.
LOS ANGELES -- Lost amid all the hoopla of last night's game is a bit of a sobering fact: The Nationals are stuck in a three-game losing streak for the first time this season, facing something of a must-win situation in today's series finale at Dodger Staidum. No, a loss today isn't the end of the world. But it would make the overnight flight home a little more enjoyable and better set the stage for an important homestand this week against the Diamondbacks and Phillies.

With lefty Chris Capuano on the mound for Los Angeles, Davey Johnson is going with a right-handed-heavy lineup. He's got only two left-handed batters among his starting eight: Adam LaRoche and ... Bryce Harper. Yep, the kid will make his second start, and this time he'll be in center field.

Tyler Moore, meanwhile, has arrived at the stadium after flying in from Syracuse and will be available to make his big-league debut off the bench. Gio Gonzalez, who hasn't surrendered a run in any of his last three starts, gets the nod for the Nationals.

Plenty of updates and analysis to come live from Chavez Ravine, so please check back often...

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 4:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 189
Weather: Sunny, 69 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
SS Ian Desmond
3B Steve Lombardozzi
RF Jayson Werth 2B Danny Espinosa
1B Adam LaRoche

DeRosa to DL, Moore called up

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Tyler Moore will join the Nationals in time for today's game against the Dodgers.
Updated at 2:40 p.m.

LOS ANGELES -- One day after Bryce Harper made his ballyhooed debut, the Nationals are promoting another top prospect out of necessity.

First baseman/left fielder Tyler Moore has been recalled from Class AAA Syracuse and will be available to make his big-league debut in today's series finale against the Dodgers. Moore will take the roster spot held by veteran Mark DeRosa, who is being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle.

Moore, 25, has been the Nationals' best power-hitting prospect for more than two seasons, having clubbed 31 homers at Class A Potomac in 2010 and 31 more homers at Class AA Harrisburg in 2011. He was off to another hot start this season at Syracuse, compiling seven homers in his first 22 games.

A natural first baseman, the right-handed Moore recently began seeing time in left field, evidence the Nationals were considering a promotion

An epic debut, a crushing loss

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Matt Kemp watches his game-winning homer soar to center field.
LOS ANGELES -- It was everything Bryce Harper dreamed it might be, and maybe even a little more than he ever imagined.

A raucous, sellout crowd in an iconic ballpark. A laser beam of a double off the base of the center-field wall for his first career hit. A perfect throw from left field to the plate for what should have been a crucial out. A well-executed sacrifice fly to drive in what would have been the game-winning run.

And then ... well, allow Harper to tell you what was going through his mind as he watched Dodgers All-Star Matt Kemp launch the 10th-inning homer that sent the Nationals to a crushing, 4-3 loss late last night.

"That sucked," the 19-year-old said. "Seeing him hit a bomb, that was terrible."

What had all the makings of a banner night in Nationals history -- Harper went 1-for-3 with that double and an RBI, Stephen Strasburg tossed seven more brilliant innings and Henry Rodriguez was one strike away from wrapping up an epic victory -- came to a sudden and

Instant analysis: Dodgers 4, Nats 3 (10)

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Bryce Harper watches his first career hit (a double) sail to deep center field.
Game in a nutshell: A game with all sorts of delicious storylines -- including Bryce Harper's debut and Stephen Strasburg's first career start in Southern California -- more than lived up to its billing but ended in crushing fashion. Strasburg was brilliant over seven innings, striking out nine. And Harper dazzled the sellout crowd both with his bat (a double off the base of the center-field fence) and his arm (a missile to the plate that would have nailed Jerry Hairston had catcher Wilson Ramos not dropped the ball). Then with the game on the line in the ninth inning, Harper delivered again: His sacrifice fly to left brought home Rick Ankiel and gave the kid his first career RBI and what looked like the game-winning RBI. That was, until Henry Rodriguez entered in the bottom of the ninth and blew the save amid a flurry of base hits and wild pitches and sent the game into extras. Then Matt Kemp crushed a pitch from Tom Gorzelanny into the center-field bleachers to give the Dodgers a 4-3 victory.

Hitting highlight: Where would the Nationals be without Adam LaRoche right now? Seriously, how clutch has the veteran first baseman been for this offensively challenged team? LaRoche did it again tonight leading off the seventh inning in a scoreless game, belting a solo shot

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Game 21: Nats at Dodgers

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are both in the lineup tonight at Dodger Stadium.
LOS ANGELES -- In the ideal world, Bryce Harper would have made his major-league debut in Washington, in front of a stadium packed with Nationals fans. But if the 19-year-old had to be unveiled on the road, this might be as good a scenario as you could have drawn up.

Iconic Dodger Stadium on a Saturday night, just a short drive from Harper's hometown of Las Vegas. Stephen Strasburg, a Southern California boy himself, on the mound. And a couple of first-place clubs going head-to-head in a truly meaningful ballgame. Not bad, not bad at all.

Harper, as promised, will bat seventh and play left field. At 19 years, 195 days, he's the youngest major leaguer since Mariners ace Felix Hernandez made his debut in 2005 at 19 years, 123 days. I don't imagine King Felix's unveiling was as big a deal at the time.

As you can see from the photo credit above, I'm coming at you live from Chavez Ravine. Plenty of updates to come before, during and after this historic game, so please check back often...

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 9:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB Network (outside D.C. area),
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 187
Weather: Clear, 72 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to RF
SS Ian Desmond
3B Steve Lombardozzi
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

A new era begins

US Presswire file photo
Bryce Harper makes his big-league debut tonight in Los Angeles.
Everyone knew the day would come when Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg would take the field together as Nationals teammates for the first of many times. Nobody knew that day would come so soon.

It took an unusual alignment of stars for Strasburg and Harper's paths to intersect tonight in the city of stars. This wasn't supposed to happen for another month or two, but a rash of injuries to the heart of the Nationals lineup forced Mike Rizzo's hand, so tonight we will see this organization's two No. 1 draft picks together at last.

Nats-Dodgers. A couple of first-place clubs going head-to-head. Strasburg on the mound. Harper in the lineup.

Welcome to a new era of Nationals baseball.

Summoned from Class AAA Syracuse after only 20 games, Harper will make his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, batting seventh and starting in left field for a Washington club that desperately needs an

Friday, April 27, 2012

Game 20: Nats at Dodgers

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Ross Detwiler faces Clayton Kershaw tonight at Dodger Stadium.
The stars will shine bright in Hollywood tomorrow night, when Bryce Harper makes his major-league debut with Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the Nationals. But tonight's series opener at Dodger Stadium is no slouch of a ballgame.

Clayton Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, starts for Los Angeles. Matt Kemp, last year's NL MVP runner-up, has been playing out of his mind so far this season. And Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler only boasts an 0.56 ERA entering his fourth start of the year.

Davey Johnson will try out a new-look lineup for this one, trying to stack up as many of his best right-handed hitters as he can. Jayson Werth gets bumped up the No. 3 spot. Danny Espinosa gets bumped down to the 6-hole. Adam LaRoche hits cleanup, but he's the only left-handed batter in the lineup.

I'm not in town for tonight's game, but I've got good news: I just booked a morning flight to LAX, and I'll be reporting live from the scene at tomorrow's extravaganza (as well as Sunday's series finale). Until then, enjoy tonight's game and the conversation...

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 10:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 189
Weather: Clear, 66 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to RF
SS Ian Desmond
3B Steve Lombardozzi
CF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

Lidge to DL, Perry recalled

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Brad Lidge has a 5.14 ERA and two blown saves in four chances this season.
The Nationals placed Brad Lidge on the 15-day disabled list with an "abdominal wall strain" this evening and replaced the struggling reliever with fellow right-hander Ryan Perry, who was recalled from Class AAA Syracuse.

Lidge, 35, had been shaky in recent outings, including a blown save Saturday against the Marlins in which he walked three batters and served up the game-tying home run to Logan Morrison. He hadn't appeared in a game since.

The veteran right-hander opened the season as one-half of manager Davey Johnson's closing duo, sharing the job with the less-experienced Henry Rodriguez while regular closer Drew Storen recovers from elbow surgery. Lidge performed well out of the gate, notching the save on

Zimmerman to DL, Harper to be promoted

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Bryce Harper will make his major-league debut tomorrow night in Los Angeles.
Updated at 6:24 p.m.

The Nationals never planned to bring Bryce Harper to the big leagues this soon, but with their two best players now injured and an urgent need for an offensive spark, general manager Mike Rizzo made the surprising decision today to promote the 19-year-old outfielder after only three weeks spent at Class AAA.

Harper will make his debut tomorrow night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, starting in left field and taking the roster spot that will open up when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

"We still have a very good and committed developmental plan for Bryce in place," Rizzo said during a late-afternoon conference call. "I still believe very passionately in the plan, and I'm going to be very committed to it. But this was expedited by the circumstances and by two of our middle of the lineup guys going down in [Michael] Morse and Ryan Zimmerman. We felt we needed to bring in an impactful,

Can't survive the high-wire every night

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Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4 last night and is now hitting .209 for the season.
They've been walking a tightrope for three weeks now, occasionally teetering from side-to-side for a moment or two but always finding their center of gravity just in the nick of time.

Even the best acrobats, though, lose their balance every once in a while. So we shouldn't have been too surprised last night to see the Nationals slip and take a tumble, blowing a late lead to the Padres en route to a 2-1 loss.

Try as they might to defy the odds, you just can't win every single one-run ballgame, especially when you seem to find yourself in those nailbiters five or six times a week.

Thus, the Nationals wasted another superb outing by a member of baseball's best rotation. Edwin Jackson tossed 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, refusing to be the weak link of the bunch, and in the process

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Game 19: Nats at Padres

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The Nationals go for the sweep tonight at Petco Park.
The last time Edwin Jackson took the mound for the Nationals ... well, he gave up five times as many runs in the top of the first as the last four members of the rotation have given up in total. Think about that. Jackson gave up five runs in that disastrous first inning against the Astros, then Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann collectively gave up one run the next four games.

Jackson certainly doesn't want to be perceived as the weak link in the majors' best rotation, so you've got to believe he's motivated to come out tonight and show the Padres who's boss. San Diego sends right-hander Edinson Volquez, the former Reds ace, to the hill. He'll face a Nationals lineup that once again is without Ryan Zimmerman and will feature Chad Tracy at third base and in the No. 3 hole.

A victory tonight for the Nationals would be historic: No D.C. baseball club has ever opened a season 15-4. They have a chance to do just that and sweep the Padres in the process. Enjoy the game and the late-night conversation...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 10:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WFED (1500 AM), WNEW (1580 AM), XM 184
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 63 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Chad Tracy
1B Adam LaRoche

A rare chance to breathe easy

Associated Press photo
Adam LaRoche went 3-for-4 in last night's 7-2 victory in San Diego.
You'll have to forgive just about everyone who was inside the Nationals dugout late during last night's game showing off their pearly whites. They certainly haven't had many opportunities this season to smile wide while games were still underway.

Of their 13 previous victories, six had come by just one run, two had come by two runs, three had come by three runs and two had come by four runs.

Thus, a 7-2 dismantling of the Padres was welcome relief for a Nationals club that to date had experienced nothing but tense baseball through the season's first three weeks.

They needed this one, they really did. That may sound strange when you consider this is a 14-4 ballclub we're talking about, owners of the

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Zimmerman may need short DL stint

An MRI of Ryan Zimmerman's right shoulder confirmed the Nationals' initial diagnosis of inflammation to the AC joint, not a serious injury, but the third baseman may still need a brief stint on the disabled list.

Zimmerman told reporters in San Diego this afternoon he'll attempt to take batting practice before tomorrow's series finale at Petco Park. If that doesn't go well, he would likely need to receive a second cortisone shot (following one he received Saturday in Washington) and then be placed on the 15-day DL.

Any DL move would be retroactive to Saturday, because Zimmerman has not played since then, so he would be eligible to return as soon as May 6 (the Sunday night finale of the Nationals' home series against the Phillies).

Zimmerman's absence for any length of time would be a serious blow to a Nationals lineup that is already struggling to score runs without cleanup hitter Michael Morse (who won't be cleared to resume baseball activities for at least another month due to a strained lat muscle).

Game 18: Nats at Padres

US Presswire photo
The Nats look to make it two in a row today at Petco Park.
The bad news: Ryan Zimmerman is again not in the Nationals' starting lineup. The good news: He is listed on Davey Johnson's bench, so at this moment the Face of the Franchise hasn't been placed on the disabled list. I would seriously doubt Zimmerman is available to play tonight, though, because at the very least the Nationals want him to rest his ailing right shoulder for another day or two.

There's still no official word on Zimmerman's MRI results, which were expected to be revealed earlier today. As soon as anything is announced, I'll pass it along. (UPDATE: Here's the latest on Zim, in a new post.)

In the meantime, Chad Tracy (whose pinch-hit, two-run single last night propelled the Nationals to a 3-1 win) gets the nod at third base and will bat in Zimmerman's familiar No. 3 hole. Otherwise, Johnson's lineup has a typical look. Jordan Zimmermann gets the start.

As you know, I'm not in San Diego, so there won't be live updates. But as I said, check back for any news on the Zimmerman front...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WNEW (1580 AM), XM 188
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 69 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to RF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Chad Tracy
1B Adam LaRoche

Nats' success bordering on the absurd

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez tossed six more scoreless innings last night.
The clock had passed 1 a.m. on the East Coast when Henry Rodriguez threw the last of his 12 unhittable pitches in the bottom of the ninth, sealing the Nationals' 3-1 victory over the Padres.

Perhaps it was appropriate the Nationals' latest win -- the one that gave them the best record in the NL at 13-4 -- was wrapped up at such a late hour back in D.C. Anyone who stayed up til the end was probably operating with less than 100 percent brain function. And truth be told, you don't want to try to analyze this ballclub with all of your faculties intact.

What began as the feel-good story of a perennial loser suddenly enjoying success is now treading into the theater of the absurd.

How do you even try to explain what is transpiring right now?

-- Nationals starting pitchers are riding a 20-inning scoreless streak

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Game 17: Nats at Padres

US Presswire photo
The Nats open a six-game, West Coast trip tonight at Petco Park.
So much for Ryan Zimmerman having no doubts about his ability to return to play tonight. The star third baseman is not in the Nationals' lineup for their series opener against the Padres, apparently still bothered by the right shoulder inflammation that kept him from playing Saturday. Zim insisted the following day the injury was "nothing" and that he'd be good to go for the start of this West Coast trip. Obviously, that's not the case, which can't be considered good news for anyone. Stay tuned.

Steve Lombardozzi will instead start at third base tonight, with Mark DeRosa again taking Zimmerman's regular No. 3 spot in the lineup (though DeRosa will play right field, with Jayson Werth sliding over to center field because the Nationals are facing a left-hander in Clayton Richard).

Gio Gonzalez, makes his fourth start of the season, hoping to benefit from Petco Park's spacious gaps (not to mention a Padres lineup hitting a collective .214 so far this season.

I'm not on this road trip out west, so no live updates. Enjoy the game and the late-night conversation. (And for anyone still having trouble posting comments with the new log-in system, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to help navigate you through the process.)...

Where: Petco Park
Gametime: 10:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 189
Weather: Cloudy, 64 degrees, Wind 6 mph in from LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
RF Mark DeRosa
CF Jayson Werth

Carroll outrighted to Syracuse

Outfielder Brett Carroll, who was designated for assignment April 14, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Class AAA Syracuse.

The 29-year-old accepted the assignment and will join the Chiefs roster.

Carroll made the Nationals Opening Day roster and was originally expected to see significant playing time in center field, starting against left-handed pitchers. But the late-spring addition of Xavier Nady pushed Carroll out of the mix and he wound up receiving only two at-bats over the season's first week (also making three appearances as a pinch-runner).

When Rick Ankiel was activated off the disabled list April 14, the Nationals needed to clear a roster spot. Carroll was designated for assignment, leaving him in limbo for 10 days while he cleared waivers and while the Nationals sought trade requests.

Good test for Nats on West Coast

US Presswire photo
Davey Johnson and his club play their next six games in Southern California.
Until enough games are completed this season for us to make a reasonable determination how good the Nationals really are, each week will present a new challenge and an interesting test of this club's legitimacy.

The latest test begins tonight in San Diego, with Davey Johnson's team opening a six-game, West Coast road trip that concludes Sunday in Los Angeles.

Not that these are the two toughest teams the Nationals will face this season (though the Dodgers have gotten off to a fantastic start) but trips out west have never been easy for this franchise.

Consider the Nationals' all-time record at Petco Park (8-14) and Dodger Stadium (5-15). They've won only one series at either ballpark in their

Monday, April 23, 2012

Desmond erases doubts with hot start

US Presswire photo
Ian Desmond is hitting .294 with six extra-base hits so far this season.
There are any number of impressive and surprising aspects to the Nationals' red-hot start to the season. A major league best 2.34 ERA and 144 strikeouts. A National League best 12 wins. Six one-run victories. Five consecutive series wins.

And then there's Ian Desmond, whose strong start might be among the most pleasant developments for the Nationals. Chided by many last season when he got off to a sluggish start, the young shortstop is enjoying the good vibes and positive press that comes with the best opening two weeks of his career.

"What a difference a year makes," he said. "Last year, this time of the year, it was a huge struggle. I had eight errors. I was hitting about .200. We weren't really winning. This year, it's a new year. It's a fresh start, which is nice. Obviously, this is best start I've had in the big leagues. I'm feeling good about it."

Desmond has every right to feel good about it, as do his Nationals teammates and coaches. Entrusted with the leadoff spot despite his atypical hitting approach for that job, he's hitting .294 with six

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Zimmerman expects to play Tuesday

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman expects to return to the lineup Tuesday night in San Diego.
Ryan Zimmerman said his right shoulder felt "a lot better" this morning than it did yesterday and expressed complete confidence he'll be able to return to the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night in San Diego.

"Not that it was terrible the other day, but these next two days will be nice," he said shortly after today's game was postponed. "I really don't see any reason right now why I won't play on Tuesday."

Zimmerman was a late scratch yesterday with what the Nationals called "mild inflammation" in his right shoulder, an injury he believes was exacerbated by several diving plays he's made in the field in the last week.

There also was a headfirst leap into the plate during the eighth inning of Monday night's game against the Astros, a play Zimmerman jokingly referred to as a "fourth-and-goal pylon dive." While acknowledging that move "probably didn't help," he insisted he can't make a concerted

Why Strasburg won't skip a start

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make his next start Saturday in Los Angeles.
With today's series finale against the Marlins rained out and an off-day tomorrow in advance of a West Coast trip, the Nationals could have used this opportunity to skip Stephen Strasburg's next turn in the rotation and perhaps ensure their ace would be available to make a more-important start in September.

But the club has no such plans to fiddle with Strasburg's pitching schedule, and there will be no concerted effort to delay the eventual decision to shut him down once he reaches his innings limit for the season.

The same theory applies to everyone else on the staff as well, according to manager Davey Johnson.

"One of the worst things you can do to any pitcher is to give them too much time between starts," Johnson said today. "Regularity is what

Game postponed, no makeup announced

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Heavy rain forced the postponement of today's game at Nationals Park.
With rain falling all morning and no end in sight, the Nationals wasted no time postponing today's series final against the Marlins.

No makeup date was announced, but the two teams won't be sticking around to play tomorrow (a common off-day for both clubs). The Nationals are flying to San Diego this afternoon and will spend their off-day out west in advance of this week's road trip.

The game will likely be made up as part of a doubleheader later this summer. The Marlins make two more trips to Washington: Aug. 3-5 and Sept. 7-9.

Manager Davey Johnson said he won't make any changes to his rotation, so all five of his starters will now get six days of rest between outings. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson will

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Finding a way, yet again

US Presswire photo
Ian Desmond is mobbed by teammates following his game-winning sacrifice fly.
They were missing their No. 3 hitter, Gold Glove third baseman and Face of the Franchise, who was a last-minute scratch with shoulder inflammation. They were missing their current No. 4 hitter, given a day off by the manager. They've been missing their regular No. 4 hitter, sidelined through at least mid-June with a lat injury. And they saw one of their fill-in closers blow a ninth-inning lead in unsightly fashion for the second time in 10 days.

Rough day at the ballpark for the Nationals, huh?

Except for one small tidbit: They won again.

"It shows the character of this ballclub," manager Davey Johnson said following a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Marlins. "I didn't see any letdown on the ballclub, and I still had some bullets left to fire. We hung in there."

As impressive as many of the Nationals' MLB-leading 12 wins have been, most of them coming by way of brilliant pitching performances, perhaps more impressive has been the manner in which they've eked out a couple more wins on days in which it looked like the world was

Zimmerman on shoulder: "It's nothing"

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman won't return until at least Tuesday with shoulder inflammation.
Updated at 5:40 p.m.

Ryan Zimmerman missed today's game and will again sit out tomorrow series finale against the Marlins with mild inflammation in his right shoulder, but the Nationals third baseman insists the injury is not serious and won't become a lingering problem.

"It's nothing," Zimmerman said following today's 3-2, 10-inning win. "It's something I could've played through. It was bugging me a little bit, and it'd go away for a couple days. I've just been diving all over the place over there."

Zimmerman was originally in Davey Johnson's starting lineup but had trouble getting loose while taking batting practice earlier today. Johnson was informed about 30 minutes before first pitch.

"Ryan felt confident about it," the manager said. "I was going to give him off tomorrow anyway. He plays hard, and I don't want to wear him

Instant analysis: Nats 3, Marlins 2 (10)

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg tossed six more scoreless innings this afternoon.
Game in a nutshell: Stephen Strasburg was his usual brilliant self, shutting the Marlins out over six fantastic innings. But Anibal Sanchez was equally effective against a Nationals lineup that was without Ryan Zimmerman or Adam LaRoche. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth delivered a pair of late blasts to give the Nats a 2-0 lead, but Brad Lidge served up a game-tying homer to Logan Morrison in the ninth to blow the save. Thanks to a Gaby Sanchez error, Desmond had the opportunity to drive in the game-winner with a 10th-inning sacrifice fly.

Hitting highlight: Though he entered the day with a .309 batting average, Werth hadn't exactly been crushing the ball with authority. And after going 0-for-2 to start his afternoon, he found himself hitless in his last 10 at-bats. That was, until the bottom of the seventh, when Werth belted a 3-1 pitch from Sanchez down the left-field line and just over the fence for his first homer of the season.

Pitching highlight: You'd think by now the Marlins might have a little better idea how to handle Strasburg, since this was already the fifth

Eckstein tries to keep Tracy sharp

US Presswire photo
Chad Tracy is making his first start of the season today.
Nobody who wore a Nationals uniform this spring appeared in more Grapefruit League games than Chad Tracy. Only Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa got more at-bats.

And then the season began and Tracy went from a lineup regular to a guy getting at most one at-bat per game, usually in a key spot against a tough reliever.

That's not the easiest adjustment for any player to make, let alone someone like Tracy who already faced a difficult adjustment returning to the major leagues after spending last year in Japan.

"It's been tough," he said this morning. "When your consistent at-bats aren't there any more, it tends to be a little tougher. We've been doing a lot of stuff down in the cages to try to keep those at-bats that I had

Game 16: Marlins at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg makes his fourth start of the season today, facing the Marlins.
The Nationals own the second-best record in the National League. They lead the NL East. They've gone 7-2 on their first homestand of the season. And today they'll have Chad Tracy hitting cleanup.

Wait, what? Chad Tracy hitting cleanup? Yes, believe it. Davey Johnson has been wanting to give the veteran a start at some point, but he really only plays first or third base. So the manager is giving Adam LaRoche a breather this afternoon and using Tracy in his place. (FYI: Ryan Zimmerman is expected to get tomorrow's series finale off, and Tracy could get another start in his place, unless Davey decides to go with Steve Lombardozzi.)

The Nationals certainly hope they don't need a ton of offense today, not with Stephen Strasburg on the mound. This actually will be Strasburg's fifth career start against the Marlins. He hasn't faced any other club more than twice.

It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon for baseball ... for now. There's a big storm approaching from the south, but it's not expected to hit us until late in the afternoon. So we should be good today. Tomorrow will be another story. Plenty of updates to come...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WNEW (1580 AM), XM 183
Weather: Storms late, 75 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman Mark DeRosa
1B Chad Tracy

Detwiler, Ankiel spark tense win over Miami

US Presswire photo
Rick Ankiel and Ross Detwiler each came up big during tonight's win over Miami.
Davey Johnson couldn't wait to face the Miami Marlins. They're not the Nationals' biggest rivals. They don't have thousands of frenzied fans jamming Nationals Park. They just invariably win here.

Tonight, the Nationals reversed the trend, beating Miami 2-0 in a taut game before 24,640.

It was hardly easy. The Nationals got just four hits, three by Rick Ankiel, who made some outstanding plays: at bat, on the bases and in the field.

"He was basically our offense and our defense," Johnson said.

Read Rich Dubroff's full story on

Friday, April 20, 2012

Game 15: Marlins at Nats

Associated Press photo
The new-look Marlins make their first appearance at Nationals Park this year.
Davey Johnson had a somewhat interesting explanation for letting Tom Gorzelanny take a pounding during the sixth inning of last night's lopsided loss to the Astros. "Bullpen's been pretty taxed pretty much all year," the manager said. "It wasn't the case where I was going to throw the kitchen sink at them trying to win that ballgame. I want to go into the division series against Miami without an overburdened pen, so Gorzo kind of had to take it on the chin."

Saving his bullets for a mid-April series against the Marlins? Are these three games this weekend that important to the Nationals? Well, maybe. After enjoying some success against mostly NL Central competition, they get perhaps their first real serious test with Miami in town. The new-look Marlins got off to a rocky start (with Ozzie Guillen's suspension at the top of the list) but they've now won five of six.

So perhaps there is a little bit of pressure on the Nationals to continue their winning ways in a series that will feature some big-time pitching matchups. Ross Detwiler faces Carlos Zambrano tonight. Stephen Strasburg goes up against Anibal Sancehz tomorrow. And Gio Gonzalez meets Josh Johnson in Sunday's finale.

I'm off tonight, but Rich Dubroff will again have you covered on I'll be back at the ballpark tomorrow...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WHFS (1580 AM), XM 183
Weather: Partly cloudy, 71 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Long night for the Nats

Associated Press photo
Jason Castro scores one of the Astros' five runs in the sixth inning.
The high point of Davey Johnson's day came when he revealed during his afternoon media briefing that he had discovered the reason for his scratchy throat.

He was allergic to pollen, the first time he'd ever succumbed to an allergy, he revealed. Knowing what was wrong made him feel better, he said.

The Houston Astros' first inning made him feel worse. For the first time in their 51-year history, the Astros had three triples in an inning on the way to five runs off Edwin Jackson. Nationals pitching allowed season highs in runs and hits as Houston pounded the Nationals 11-4 before 18,045.

Rich Dubroff has the full story and reaction on

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Instant analysis: Astros 11, Nats 4

US Presswire photo
Edwin Jackson was torched for five runs in the top of the first inning.
Game in a nutshell: So much for the tried-and-true format of great pitching and a couple of late hits. Edwin Jackson put the Nationals in a 5-0 hole in the top of the first, but his teammates nearly bailed him out. Ryan Zimmerman's three-run homer in the third cut the lead to 5-4 and gave the home club some hope. But the Astros piled on Tom Gorzelanny during a five-run sixth, turning this game into a rout and denying the Nats a shot at their first-ever four-game sweep.

Hitting highlight: It didn't count for much in the end, but Zimmerman's three-run bomb in the bottom of the third was the latest sign that the Face of the Franchise's bat is starting to come around. Zimmerman already had five hits in his last 11 at-bats entering this game. He had hit several balls hard over the last two weeks, but that blast into the left-field bullpen was his first home runs of the season.

Pitching lowlight: Take your pick: Edwin Jackson or Tom Gorzelanny? At least Jackson rebounded from his five-run first inning to keep the

Rizzo on Harper, Moore and Brown

Though Bryce Harper's first two weeks at Class AAA have left plenty to be desired, the Nationals aren't concerned in the least about their top prospect's development.

Harper ended play today with a .232 average and only one RBI in 14 games for Syracuse, but slow starts are nothing new for the 19-year-old outfielder, who has struggled early at every stop he's made in the Nationals' farm system the last two seasons.

General manager Mike Rizzo said he's not surprised Harper has needed some time to get used to Class AAA pitching.

"I think it's an adjustment period for him," Rizzo said before tonight's game against the Astros. "It's a different kind of pitching than he's ever had in the minor leagues. You've got some hard-throwing prospects, and you also have some veteran, AAA/AAAA type of pitchers that can really pitch and command their stuff. They're not the blazing fastballs, but they try to get you out

Game 14: Astros at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The first-place Nationals go for a four-game sweep of the Astros tonight.
For the third time in four series so far this season, the Nationals have an opportunity to sweep their opponents. Stop and think about that for a moment. Pretty remarkable.

If they are to pull off a four-game whitewashing of the Astros, the Nationals will need another quality start from Edwin Jackson, who five days ago was absolutely brilliant in tossing a two-hit, complete game against the Reds. They'll also have to hope to continue their trend of scratching out just enough runs late to emerge victorious.

One significant lineup change for tonight: Ian Desmond is getting his first day off this season. That means Steve Lombardozzi will start at shortstop and hit leadoff. No other surprises from Davey Johnson.

Though I'm here at the ballpark for pregame news and notes, I'll actually be leaving shortly after first pitch. Have some family matters to take care of that will keep me from covering tomorrow night's game as well. Never fear, though, because long-time local scribe Rich Dubroff will have complete coverage on, and I'll be sure to link to his articles right here...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WHFS (1580 AM), XM 188
Weather: Partly cloudy, 67 degrees, Wind 4 mph RF to LF
SS Steve Lombardozzi
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

10-3 start validates Nats' confidence

If you read or heard anything that came out of the Nationals' clubhouse this spring, you know this team wasn't lacking in confidence entering the season.

Davey Johnson insisted there was more potential on this roster than his Mets clubs of the mid-1980s. Brad Lidge (who pitched for three pennant winners) insisted this was the most talented team he'd ever been on. Others openly said this club should be good enough to make the playoffs.

All of which would've looked quite foolish, of course, if the Nationals came stumbling out of the gates as they so often have during their eight seasons in the District. That, as surely you know, hasn't happened. And if you check the standings this morning, you'll see there's only one team in the National League with 10 wins right now. (Is it too early to talk about home-field advantage in the playoffs?)

OK, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are still 149 games to be played, and who knows what those 5 1/2 months will have in

For the Nats, the 8th is enough

Associated Press photo
Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche each drew key walks during the Nats' winning rally.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a ballclub willing to admit it tries to do nothing at the plate for seven innings before finally kicking into gear late, and you won't get the Nationals to admit such a ludicrous gameplan.

But don't undersell the idea. And don't for a minute believe the Nationals don't have a specific plan of attack to do some serious damage on opposing bullpens late in ballgames.

As Ryan Zimmerman put it: "Those are the at-bats that win or lose you games."

They proved that yet again tonight in rallying to beat the Astros, 3-2, scoring all three of their runs in the seventh and eighth innings after looking feeble at the plate against Houston starter Lucas Harrell.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Instant analysis: Nats 3, Astros 2

Associated Press photo
Jordan Zimmermann was fantastic, again. And got almost no run support, again.
Game in a nutshell: They've turned every game into a down-to-the-wire, heart-attack-in-waiting affair, so why stop now? Trailing 1-0 most of the night when they couldn't score a run to support Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals stormed back late and scratched out three late runs to pull off another one-run victory. At 10-3, they now hold a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL East.

Hitting highlight: For a team that has struggled so much with situational hitting the last two weeks, the Nationals finally got someone to deliver a quality at-bat in a crucial situation. With the bases loaded, one out and the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Wilson Ramos lofted a flyball to center field. That was more than deep enough to score Adam LaRoche with the eventual winning run.

Pitching highlight: Run support or no run support, Zimmermann has pitched brilliantly this season. He only allowed one run tonight, and that came without a ball leaving the infield. Zimmermann also didn't walk a batter -- he's issued only two free passes in three starts. It would be

Wang throws sim game, Lidge had vertigo

Chien-Ming Wang faced hitters in a simulated game earlier today, another key step toward the right-hander's return from a hamstring injury.

Facing batters at the Nationals' extended spring training complex in Viera, Fla., Wang threw 35 pitches

"He threw really good," manager Davey Johnson said. "The report I got was ... he had really, good, hard sink and a great curveball, which we saw in his last outing before he hurt his hammy."

Wang injured himself March 15 trying to make a play at first base, tumbling awkwardly to the ground. He opened the season on the 15-day disabled list but was able to keep his arm in shape while waiting for the hamstring strain to heal.

The plan from here for Wang is not entirely clear. Johnson said today the right-hander will begin a rehab assignment with one of the Nationals' minor-league affiliates in five days, but general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday that Wang would need to pitch in a second simulated game in Florida before heading north.

Once he does start pitching in minor-league games, Wang must come off the DL within 30 days. Whenever that day comes, the Nationals will

Game 13: Astros at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Rain could affect tonight's game against the Astros at Nationals Park.
Uh-oh, that's not an encouraging sight: The tarp is covering the infield here at Nationals Park, and the forecast is calling for rain showers throughout the afternoon and evening. Tough to say at this point if it'll be bad enough to cause a delay or even a postponement. If the rain continues to fall as lightly as it has all day, they should be OK to play through it.

If and when they do play, Jordan Zimmermann will take the mound for the Nationals, seeking to become the final member of the starting rotation to earn a win. Not that the right-hander hasn't deserved two W's already, having allowed one earned run in seven innings in both of his two starts to date. Unfortunately, Zimmermann has once again been the victim of terrible run support, as was too often the case last year.

Fellow right-hander Lucas Harrell, who has pitched well so far, gets the start for the Astros. It's obviously still early in the season, but the Nationals have a golden opportunity tonight to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the NL East. The Mets already lost to the Braves this afternoon, which means a win tonight would leave the Nats 2 1/2 games up on everyone else in the division.

Plenty of updates -- game and weather -- to come, so please check back...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WFED (1500 AM), WHFS (1580 AM), XM 188
Weather: Showers, 57 degrees, Wind 7 mph in from CF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Submit questions for Beltway Baseball

We're trying something a little different with some of our Beltway Baseball episodes this season. Instead of staying back in the studio, we're taking the show on the road. Er, actually home. To Nationals Park. When the team's in town.

Because we'll be on location this afternoon, we can't broadcast the show live. It'll be posted on the site once its been recorded and edited. But we still want to answer your questions on the Nats. So submit yours here in the comment field, and Chase Hughes and I will pick the best ones to answer when we record the show this afternoon.

Then check back later to watch the show.

Trust in self does Lidge well

US Presswire photo
Jesus Flores had some words of encouragement for Brad Lidge last night.
Brad Lidge has been through the wringer enough times over the years -- shoot, he's got 225 career saves, not to mention 44 career blown saves -- to know how to handle a little ninth-inning rally.

So when one-half of the Nationals' replacement closer while Drew Storen is injured entered for the top of the ninth last night with his team up 1-0, and then promptly put the first two Astros batters he faced on base, he reassured himself with three words that he always turns to in these situations.

"Trust your stuff," he said. "Trust your stuff and believe in what you've got. I've done it my whole career. And in situations like that where you just have to trust, almost all the time it ends up working."

Indeed it did. After giving up a leadoff double to Jed Lowrie and then walking J.D. Martinez, Lidge buckled down. He got Carlos Lee,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No margin for error? No problem

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez tossed seven more scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.04.
As the tying run stood on second base, Brad Lidge still needing to record three outs before letting that runner advance 180 feet, hardly anybody inside the Nationals dugout or in the field began to worry they might not pull off this 1-0 victory over the Astros.

"I was calm and collected out there," center fielder Jayson Werth said. "I knew he had it all the way."

"It was exciting," said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, even though his seven-inning gem was on the verge of being blown up. "I have all the confidence in the world in our bullpen. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for these guys."

Piece of cake, right? Well, not for everyone in a Nationals uniform.

"I mean, it's not easy on me," manager Davey Johnson said. "But ... we actually like it when it's close like that. It puts more on every at-bat, every pitch. We're playing games kind of like in a pennant race. And

Instant analysis: Nats 1, Astros 0

US Presswire photo
Jayson Werth's bloop double in the fourth led to the game's only run.
Game in a nutshell: It's become their tried-and-true formula: Get an outstanding pitching performance, then scratch out just enough offense to win. This time, the Nationals pulled it off by only the slimmest of margins. Gio Gonzalez tossed seven scoreless innings for the second straight outing. Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche produced the night's only run in the bottom of the fourth. And Tyler Clippard and Brad Lidge closed it out to leave the first-place Nationals 9-3.

Hitting highlight: The Nationals scored only one run, so not a lot of options to choose from here. Even that one run came about thanks to back-to-back bloop base hits from Werth and LaRoche in the fourth. Werth's ball just fell in front of a sliding Justin Maxwell in center field, resulting in a hustle double. LaRoche then dropped a single in between three Houston fielders in shallow left field to bring home Werth with the game's lone run.

Pitching highlight: What else can you say about Gonzalez? He's been nothing short of brilliant in the first two starts of his career at Nationals Park. And he's been remarkably consistent. Five days after allowing two hits over seven shutout innings against the Reds, the left-hander