Saturday, June 30, 2012

"He was white as a sheet"

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Stephen Strasburg was pulled in the fourth inning with "heat-related issues."
ATLANTA -- The official temperature at Turner Field when Stephen Strasburg took the mound Saturday afternoon was 104 degrees. One hour earlier, as Strasburg was getting ready to warm up for his start against the Braves, that number actually sat at 106 degrees, officially the hottest reading ever recorded in the city's history. The Clean Air Campaign classified this as a "Code Purple" day, which means the air quality reached "very unhealthy" levels.

Strasburg thought he had prepared for this. He'd known since making his last start Monday in Colorado -- where the gametime temperature was a record 100 degrees -- what awaited him in Atlanta, and according to teammates had been taking precautions for several days in anticipation of this outing.

But as the Nationals right-hander very slowly walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning, his shoulders slumped, his uniform sopping wet, it was obvious to Davey Johnson what needed to be done.

"When he came back in, he was white as a sheet," the manager said.

Instant analysis: Braves 7, Nats 5

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Stephen Strasburg departed after only three innings with "heat-related issues."
Game in a nutshell: The thermometer read 104 degrees at gametime, an all-time record in Atlanta, and that spelled trouble for Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals. Strasburg lasted only three innings before he had to be pulled with "heat-related issues," and that forced Davey Johnson into using struggling long reliever Chien-Ming Wang in what was at the time a 3-2 game. Wang immediately gave up four runs in two innings, leaving the Nats in a 7-2 deficit. To their credit, they chipped away and got back to within two runs thanks to RBI hits from Tyler Moore, Jesus Flores and Adam LaRoche. In the end, the Nationals simply couldn't make it all the way back.

Hitting highlight: LaRoche has been in something of a prolonged slump for more than a month, but perhaps this game will help him snap out of it. The veteran first baseman roped two doubles and also drew

Game 76: Nats at Braves

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg takes the mound in scorching-hot Atlanta today.
ATLANTA -- I know it was a rough night and has been a rough day for many of you back in the D.C. area. Here's hoping everyone is managing to stay cool and that some of you are getting your power back. We had no storms here in Atlanta, but it's equally as hot, maybe hotter, with the thermometer expected to top out at 104 degrees right around 4:05 p.m. today when Stephen Strasburg and Mike Minor take the mound at Turner Field.

We'll see how Strasburg deals with the scorching heat, and we'll see if the Nationals' lineup can continue to produce the way it has the last four days. Through the first 71 games this season, this team averaged eight hits. Through the last four games, it's averaging 16 hits.

If you're able to watch the game today, enjoy. If not, I'll have plenty of updates and analysis right here...

Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Sunny, 104 degrees, Wind 3 mph out to RF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

A defining blast for Morse

Associated Press photo
The Nationals' dugout was all smiles after Michael Morse's go-ahead home run.
ATLANTA -- As he grabbed a bat and helmet before the eighth inning Friday night, Michael Morse stopped to let manager Davey Johnson his hamstring was acting up a little bit and that he might need a pinch-runner if he reached base.

"It's fine," Morse insisted later. "It was tightening up a little bit in Colorado. He told if I feel anything to let him know, so I said: 'I feel a little bit. A little tired.' That was it."

Yes, that was it in more ways than one. Because when Morse promptly crushed the first pitch he saw from Chad Durbin into the right-center field bleachers, he no longer had reason to test that weak hamstring. He could take as much time as he needed to trot around the bases, his solo homer having just given the Nationals a 5-4 lead over the Braves they would not relinquish.

As Johnson said to Morse as the latter returned to the dugout: "That's

Friday, June 29, 2012

Instant analysis: Nats 5, Braves 4

Associated Press photo
Tyler Clippard is congratulated after escaping a ninth-inning jam.
Game in a nutshell: Apparently, the Nationals' scoring barrage this week wasn't entirely a product of Coors Field. Those bats were nearly as hot here in Atlanta, leading to a 15-hit night. Michael Morse led the charge with four hits, Ryan Zimmerman added two of his own, Ian Desmond chimed in with a two-run double and Jesus Flores clubbed a solo homer. That all put Ross Detwiler in position to earn the win, but the left-hander (after six dominant innings) crumbled in the seventh, giving all four runs back (the final two on Andrelton Simmons' homer). No worries, because Morse immediately responded with a homer off Chad Durbin in the top of the eighth, and Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard finished things off to seal a tense victory and give the Nationals a 4 1/2-game lead over the Braves.

Hitting highlight: What's been the key to the Nationals' sudden resurgence at the plate? How about the resurgence of Morse as a

Storen likely 2 weeks from return

ATLANTA -- Drew Storen took another important step today in his return from elbow surgery -- one of his final steps -- when he threw 40 pitches to live hitters in the cage at Turner Field prior to the Nationals' series opener against the Braves.

Though the Nationals aren't setting an exact timetable for the reliever's activation off the disabled list, the club's July 13 second-half opener in Miami is a target date.

"I'd say that's probably a really good timeframe there," maanger Davey Johnson said.

"I mean, it seems logical," Storen added.

Storen, who has yet to pitch this season following surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, will throw a two-inning, simulated game on Monday in Washington, then begin a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate sometime later in the week. That would give him ample time to make several game appearances (including on

Game 75: Nats at Braves

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats open a big, three-game series at Turner Field tonight.
ATLANTA -- The Nationals' long, 10-day road trip enters its final leg tonight here in Atlanta, where the thermometer has been reading triple-digits all afternoon with no signs of cooling down. Into this caldron of fire steps Ross Detwiler, who flew from Colorado to Georgia yesterday and thus didn't get to experience that 11-inning debacle in person.

After asking their relievers to churn out eight innings in that wild game yesterday, the Nationals could desperately use a quality start out of Detwiler, who has reached the seventh inning only once in 10 previous starts this year.

The Nationals could also use a continuation of their offensive explosion from Coors Field. The air here certainly isn't as thin, though the scorching hot temperature should help the ball fly somewhat.

Plenty of updates to come live from Turner Field, so please check back often from the comforts of your air-conditioned living rooms...

Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Sunny, 101 degrees, Wind 6 mph LF to RF
LF Steve Lombardozzi
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

All-Star odds

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Ian Desmond is making a late push for All-Star consideration.
Fan voting for the 83rd All-Star Game officially came to an end at midnight, so if you were planning a last-minute ballot-stuffing barrage in support of the Nationals, you're too late.

Not that it was likely to do much good. The chance of any position player getting voted in as an All-Star starter is miniscule, considering none of the eight guys on the ballot (Wilson Ramos, Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel, Jayson Werth) ranked even in the top five at his position when the most recent totals were announced Tuesday.

That doesn't, however, mean the Nationals won't be well-represented 11 days from now when Kansas City hosts the midsummer classic. Quite the contrary, they're poised to send multiple players to the game for the first time since 2005 and perhaps even send more than two players for the first time since the franchise arrived in town. Those selections will just have to come from fellow player balloting or the selection of National League manager Tony La Russa.

Rosters will officially be announced Sunday afternoon, so there's not much wrangling or posturing left to do. With that in mind, let's run

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Instant analysis: Rockies 11, Nats 10 (11)

US Presswire photo
Edwin Jackson gave up eight early runs but remarkably got off the hook.
Game in a nutshell: Remember everyone was complaining about the Nationals' impotent lineup and its inability to generate anything of consequence? Nothing a few days at Coors Field can't fix. For the third straight day, the Nationals tallied at least 10 runs, a first for the franchise since the 1995 Expos did it and a first for a D.C. baseball club since 1951. Unfortunately, this time their pitching staff also gave up double-digit runs, eight of them charged to starter Edwin Jackson. Tom Gorzelanny gave up two more out of the bullpen, but his teammates rallied to bail out the pitching staff. Michael Morse clubbed a three-run homer in the third, Ian Desmond clubbed a two-run homer in the fifth and Bryce Harper clubbed the game-tying homer in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for extra innings. Eventually, the Nats bullpen couldn't hang on. Craig Stammen, in his third inning of work, surrendered the game-winning, RBI single to Marco Scutaro with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, a frustrating way for a long day to end.

Hitting highlight: It had been a rough few days for Harper, who faced a steady stream of sliders and other assorted junk on the outside corner (or beyond) from the Rockies' pitching staff, especially

Game 74: Nats at Rockies

US Presswire file photo
The Nats try to win three in a row at Coors Field this afternoon.
Having thoroughly decimated the Rockies' MLB-worst pitching staff over the last two night, the Nationals today try to do it once again. And once again, they'll be facing a struggling left-hander in Josh Outman, whose name sounds a bit ironic given his 8.64 ERA entering play today.

Adam LaRoche is back after taking a day off, but red-hot Tyler Moore remains in the Nationals' lineup, shifting back to left field. Jesus Flores is back behind the plate after getting last night off.

Edwin Jackson takes the mound, looking to keep his ERA under 3.00 and to give himself a winning record for the season and for his career (he's 64-64 at the moment).

As has been the case the last three days, I'll chime in with some thoughts along the way. And since it's a day game, I'll post some instant analysis as soon as it ends as well. Enjoy the matinee...

Where: Coors Field
Gametime: 3:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 188
Weather: Partly cloudy, 92 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to LF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

He might just make it after all

US Presswire photo
Tyler Moore is hitting .455 with four homers and 10 RBI in 11 games this month.
Yes, the entire Nationals lineup has turned things up a notch or five the last two nights in Denver. Twenty-three runs scored in 18 innings? Not even the most cockeyed optimist out there could have predicted that.

But let's turn our attention away for a moment from the sudden resurgence of the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche and focus on really the only player who has consistently produced at the plate this month: Tyler Moore.

Yes, the 25-year-old rookie has been tearing the cover off the ball since the Nationals called him back up from Class AAA Syracuse on June 7. In 12 prior games -- his first 12 in the big leagues -- Moore looked a bit overwhelmed. He hit .158 (3-for-19), didn't drive in a run and didn't draw a walk.

Fast-forward to last night's game at Coors Field, when Moore demolished another home run into the thin mountain air and added two more hits for good measure to continue his remarkable turnaround. In

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Game 73: Nats at Rockies

US Presswire file photo
Jordan Zimmermann hopes to get plenty of run support tonight at Coors Field.
After a record-setting offensive performance last night, do the Nationals enter tonight's game with any positive momentum? Well, the old baseball adage insists that "momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher." So who are tonight's starting pitchers?

For the Nationals, it's Jordan Zimmermann, owner of a 2.89 ERA and 12 quality starts in 14 tries this season. And for the Rockies, it's Edwar Cabrera, 24-year-old left-hander making his big-league debut after 15 starts at Class AA. We shall see how that matchup works out.

Couple of changes to Davey Johnson's lineup: Adam LaRoche (who clubbed two homers last night) gets the day off. Tyler Moore will move to first base, with Mark DeRosa starting in left field. Jhonatan Solano gets the nod behind the plate. Marco Scutaro, meanwhile, is back in Colorado's lineup two nights after getting drilled in the head by a Stephen Strasburg fastball.

As you know, I'm not in Denver for this series, but I'll try to chime in with some thoughts along the way. And as always, the comments section is open for business...

Where: Coors Field
Gametime: 8:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 188
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 84 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

A breakthrough or a blip?

US Presswire photo
Michael Morse collected four of the Nationals' 21 hits last night.
As the hits kept piling up and the balls kept soaring out of Coors Field, the smiles inside the Nationals' dugout kept getting bigger and bigger.

If ever a team needed a 12-run, 21-hit performance, this was it. For the first time in a long time, the Nationals were able to rest easy knowing they had a comfortable lead in hand. Not since a 7-2 victory in Atlanta on May 27 had they won a game by more than four runs.

And they hadn't hit like this since ... well, they hadn't hit like this any previous game this season. You have to go back to May 20, 2011 to find the last time the Nationals scored at least 12 runs (they racked up 17 that night in Baltimore). And you have to go way back to July 11, 2009 in Houston to find the last time they compiled 21 hits (the club record since the franchise arrived in Washington). And you can go back as far as you want but you won't find any previous game in which the Nationals pounded out 11 extra-base hits as they did last night.

Yes, in one fell swoop, this team managed to take the heat off its hitting coach, raise its season batting average four points (from .238 to .242) and slugging percentage eight points (from .387 to .395) and perhaps

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Game 72: Nats at Rockies

US Presswire file photo
The Nats try to bounce back tonight in Game 2 of 4 at Coors Field.
They've lost seven of 10, during which time they've scored an average of 2.5 runs per game while posting a collective .558 OPS. (If they were one individual player, that would rank 163rd of 164 qualifying major-league hitters, ahead of only Kurt Suzuki.) Yet the Nationals arrive at Coors Field this evening still holding a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East over both the Braves and Mets, the second-largest lead of any of baseball's six first-place clubs.

Make no mistake, though: The Nats need to start hitting. They know this, and they know they've been presented a great opportunity to start clicking offensively this week in the mile-high air of Denver, against a Rockies pitching staff that owns the majors' worst ERA (5.29) by leaps and bounds.

They couldn't make a dent into Jeff Francis or Josh Roenicke last night. They'll attempt to do it tonight against rookie left-hander Christian Friedrich (who has lost his last three starts) and whatever reliever Rockies manager Jim Tracy plucks from his bullpen around the fifth or sixth inning.

Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, seeks to accomplish what Stephen Strasburg could not last night: Earn his 10th win of the season. As you know, I'm not in Colorado for this series, but please continue the conversation below, and I'll even attempt to chime in with some of my own thoughts during the game...

Where: Coors Field
Gametime: 8:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 189
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 91 degrees, Wind 10 mph LF to RF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

Rattled by the Rockies

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg came undone in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Rockies last night was disappointing/frustrating/maddening/pick another adjective for a number of reasons, but let's focus on the two most significant ones...

1. Stephen Strasburg came undone during what proved to be the decisive bottom of the sixth inning.

How often does Strasburg take the mound with a lead in hand, give it back and wind up taking the loss? Well, in 31 career starts prior to last night, he had never done it.

But in that fateful bottom of the sixth at Coors Field, Strasburg (who one inning earlier had staked himself to a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI double) imploded in a manner we had never seen before.

It began with a Dexter Fowler leadoff triple down the right-field line, then turned scary when Strasburg drilled Marco Scutaro in the head

Monday, June 25, 2012

Game 71: Nats at Rockies

US Presswire file photo
Coors Field hosts Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals tonight.
Stephen Strasburg has never pitched at Coors Field before, but he has pitched at high altitude. This is a guy, remember, who played in the Mountain West Conference while at San Diego State and appeared plenty of times in Colorado and Utah. Still, it will be interesting to see how the altitude affects Strasburg tonight, if at all, especially his curveball.

The Rockies' starter is Jeff Francis, a veteran left-hander who was at one point the ace of this staff but these days is struggling both to stay healthy and effective. Don't look for Francis to throw more than 85 pitches; Colorado manager Jim Tracy is experimenting with a four-man rotation, a move that requires each starter to avoid triple-digit pitch counts.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for a Nationals lineup that desperately could use a breakout game. Ryan Zimmerman is again batting third, with Michael Morse right behind him. Tyler Moore, meanwhile, starts in left field, and with today's move to place Xavier Nady on the DL (while activating Mark DeRosa) don't be surprised if Moore gets even more playing time.

I'm not in Denver for this week's series, so please enjoy the game and the conversation here as always...

Where: Coors Field
Gametime: 8:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 188
Weather: Clear, 95 degrees, Wind 12 mph out to CF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

DeRosa activated, Nady to DL

The Nationals swapped veteran bench players on their roster today, activating Mark DeRosa off the 15-day disabled list while placing Xavier Nady on the 15-day DL with right wrist tendinitis.

DeRosa, 37, will be in uniform and available for tonight's series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field. The corner infielder/outfielder's return appeared imminent in recent days, even though he produced just one hit in 11 at-bats during a four-game rehab assignment with Class A Potomac.

DeRosa had been out since late-April due to a left oblique strain. He was hitting just .081 (3-for-37) before landing on the DL.

Nady's wrist injury wasn't previously known, but the 33-year-old outfielder was struggling at the plate, hitting .157 with three homers and six RBI in 40 games mostly off the bench.

A model of consistency

US Presswire photo
The Nats went 18-14 during their just-completed stretch against East division foes.
Some 5 1/2 weeks ago, the Nationals opened what they knew would be as daunting a stretch of baseball as any team was likely to face this season: 33 consecutive games against opponents from only the NL East and AL East, all of them boasting winning records at some point.

Well, that stretch -- it wound up as only 32 games because of a rainout against the Braves -- finally came to an end yesterday in Baltimore. And what did we learn about the Nationals throughout it all?

If anything, we learned this club is remarkably consistent, and that should be a harbinger of things to come.

When the stretch began on May 18, the Nationals were 23-15, a half-game back of Atlanta in the NL East. Their pitching staff boasted a

Sunday, June 24, 2012

One run won't cut it for Nats

Associated Press photo
Sean Burnett gave up the game-changing, two-run homer to Matt Wieters in the eighth.
BALTIMORE -- As consistent and as dominant as their pitching staff has been since Opening Day, the Nationals have known all along there will be days when they simply need to score a few more runs and take some of the pressure off those electric arms who take the mound in succession inning after inning, day after day.

That's why Ryan Zimmerman is attempting to play through a nagging shoulder injury, why the veteran third baseman received a pain-killing shot one hour before Sunday's game in what could become a recurring theme for the rest of the season.

Zimmerman knows the Nationals' lineup needs all the help it can get right now, and who better to provide that spark than a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner?

"We need to score more," he said. "That's not in question."

True, Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles was a direct result of Sean

Instant analysis: Orioles 2, Nats 1

US Presswire photo
Bryce Harper singled in the first and doubled in the sixth.
Game in a nutshell: The final game of this year's Battle of the Beltways featured a taut pitcher's duel, with the Nationals plating one early run (via a Ryan Zimmerman RBI single, of all things) and then hoping beyond hope baseball's best pitching staff could make that one run hold up all afternoon. They very nearly pulled it off, with Ross Detwiler tossing five scoreless innings in his return to the rotation and Craig Stammen tossing two scoreless innings of relief. But Sean Burnett, who had given up just one home run over his last 50 appearances, served up a towering, two-run shot to Matt Wieters in the bottom of the eighth. And just like that, the Nationals were subjected to a crushing, 2-1 loss that clinched the season series for Baltimore (4-2).

Hitting highlight: Barely 24 hours after finally admitting his shoulder is bothering him and affecting his performance, it was only fitting that

Storen OK with setup role

US Presswire photo
Drew Storen has yet to pitch in a game this season.
BALTIMORE -- Drew Storen believes he can close in the big leagues. He did, after all, save 43 games for the Nationals in his first full season in the majors. But if manager Davey Johnson believes the team is best served by keeping Tyler Clippard in the ninth-inning role moving forward, Storen is OK with that.

"It's fine," Storen said this morning. "He's supporting the guys who have gotten this team to where it's at. Tyler's been that guy. He's been that guy for the 2-3 years he's been here. He's supporting him."

Out since mid-March due to a bone spur in his right elbow that required surgery, Storen has nearly completed his rehab program. He headed back to the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., today and will throw to live hitters there tomorrow. He'll then rejoin the Nationals in Atlanta on Friday and possibly pitch a simulated game.

Storen remains on target to come off the disabled list right after the

Game 70: Nats at Orioles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler tries to pitch the Nats to a series victory at Camden Yards.
BALTIMORE -- How much is Ryan Zimmerman's right shoulder affecting his ability to play for the Nationals? Apparently not enough to warrant a day off right now.

Yes, Zimmerman is back in Davey Johnson's lineup for today's series finale against the Orioles, back at third base and in the No. 3 spot in the batting order. This despite a .218 average, .590 OPS and last night's admission that he may need a cortisone shot and another DL stint at some point.

Ross Detwiler, meanwhile, makes his return to the rotation today after spending the last three weeks in the bullpen. The left-hander believes he's built his arm strength up enough to approach 100 pitches if needed, but we'll see how far Johnson lets him go.

It's another beautiful day for baseball. Plenty of updates to come...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MASN2, CH. 50,
Radio: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 178
Weather: Partly cloudy, 91 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to LF
LF Steve Lombardozzi
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

An "insane" pitching staff dominates again

US Presswire photo
Edwin Jackson earned the win and lowered his ERA to 2.91 in the process.
He's been the Nationals' No. 4 starter, technically speaking, since Opening Day. There is nothing about Edwin Jackson, however, that resembles a No. 4 starter.

Fourth starters don't boast a 2.91 ERA in late-June. Fourth starters don't boast a 1.04 WHIP. Fourth starters don't have seven consecutive quality starts.

And fourth starters don't carry a perfect game into the fifth inning and a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning as Jackson did Saturday night during a 3-1 victory over the Orioles.

"That's insane," closer Tyler Clippard said. "It makes us smile. ... I just can't imagine what those other teams are thinking when Edwin is our fourth guy. It's a joke. He's probably the No. 1 starter on more than half the teams in the league."

Actually, Clippard is spot-on with that assessment. There are 15 major-league rotations right that do not include one starter with a sub-3.00

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Zim may need shot, DL stint

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman went 0-for-4 Saturday night to bring his average down to .218.
For weeks as he struggled to catch up to fastballs and seen his batting average tumble to depths not before seen during his career, Ryan Zimmerman insisted his right shoulder wasn't a significant issue.

But after Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Orioles, the Nationals third baseman acknowledged for the first time his shoulder was bothering him at the plate and admitted he may need to make another stint on the disabled list to address the problem.

"I've been hitting for a while here [in the big leagues], and I don't miss fastballs the way I've been missing fastballs," he said. "So it's frustrating, but I've just got to continue to do my treatment and stuff, and hopefully it will improve and we'll get to that. But if things keep going the way they've been going, we're going to have to do something."

The first step, according to manager Davey Johnson, could be a cortisone shot to alleviate pain in the shoulder. That would sideline

Instant analysis: Nats 3, Orioles 1

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche singled in the second and homered in the fourth.
Game in a nutshell: After getting shut down all Friday night by Jason Hammel, the Nationals pounced on Wei-Yin Chin early in tonight's game (though a costly, two-run error by Wilson Betemit played a big role). Adam LaRoche's leadoff homer in the fourth, though, gave the Nats a 3-0 lead and provided Edwin Jackson some cushion. Jackson didn't need any cushion whatsoever through six spectacular innings, but Adam Jones' homer in the seventh cut the lead to 3-1 and ultimately put the game in the hands of the Nationals' bullpen. These days, that's a good thing. Michael Gonzalez and Sean Burnett each induced double plays to end the seventh and eighth innings. And Tyler Clippard finished things off for his 12th save in as many tries since taking over as closer.

Hitting highlight: Was this the night the heart of the Nationals' lineup finally got itself back on track? Well, not Ryan Zimmerman, who

DeRosa could be back in days

US Presswire photo
Mark DeRosa will play nine innings for Class A Potomac tonight.
BALTIMORE -- The Nationals expect to have utilityman Mark DeRosa back from the disabled list within days, perhaps in time for Sunday's series finale against the Orioles.

DeRosa is starting in left field for Class A Potomac tonight and is scheduled to play nine innings for the first time since landing on the DL with a strained left oblique muscle. If that goes well, manager Davey Johnson suggested the 37-year-old could be in uniform as soon as Sunday at Camden Yards.

"He's going to play nine innings tonight and see how he comes out of that, and we'll take it one day at a time," Johnson said. "He could be here tomorrow or another 2-3 days. We'll see."

DeRosa was hitless in his first four at-bats on rehab, though he did draw two walks last night. Afterward, he exchanged emails with his

Game 69: Nats at Orioles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Edwin Jackson faces Wei-Yin Chen tonight at Camden Yards.
BALTIMORE -- We're four games into the six-game Battle of the Beltways for 2012, and by virtue of last night's 2-1 victory the Orioles have already clinched at least a split of the season series. For the Nationals to keep it at that, they'll need to win tonight and again tomorrow at Camden Yards.

Which means they'll need to get their lineup going tonight against Wei-Yin Chen. They've already beaten Chen this year, scoring six runs in 4 1/3 innings off him on May 20, so that's an encouraging sign. No surprises in Davey Johnson's lineup. As he indicated after last night's game, he's sticking with slumping Ryan Zimmerman in the No. 3 spot. Michael Morse again serves as DH, with Tyler Moore in left field and Xavier Nady in right field.

Edwin Jackson, meanwhile, gets the ball for the Nats, looking to duplicate his eight innings of one-run ball against Baltimore on May 18 (albeit in a game the Nationals eventually lost).

I'm back at the park tonight, so look for plenty of updates throughout the evening...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 7:15 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox (Regional)
Radio: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 186
Weather: Clear, 88 degrees, Wind 9 mph LF to RF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
DH Michael Morse

No offense for Zimmermann again

Associated Press photo
Danny Espinosa and his lineup mates totaled one run on five hits last night.
Perhaps you've read this story before: Jordan Zimmermann pitches well for seven innings but makes one costly mistake, all the while his teammates are completely shut down by the opposing starter.

It's become a broken record, and it remained on continuous loop last night in Baltimore when the Nationals lost 2-1 in the opener of this weekend's Battle of the Beltways series.

Zimmermann's one mistake: He left a second-inning fastball up to Mark Reynolds, who belted it for a solo homer. His teammates' entire offensive output against Jason Hammel: one unearned run on five hits.

Rich Dubroff has the full story and reaction on

Friday, June 22, 2012

Game 68: Nats at Orioles

US Presswire file photo
Round 2 of the Battle of the Beltways begins tonight at Camden Yards.
We have finally reached the final series of the Nationals' 32-game stretch against nothing but NL East and AL East opponents. They've already guaranteed they'll wind up with a winning record during this span, having gone 17-12 to this point, but they'd certainly like to add another couple (or three) victories to the pile this weekend against the Orioles.

The Nats also are motivated to take this series after losing two of three to Baltimore last month in D.C. Jordan Zimmermann did not pitch in that series, so he'll be making his first start of the season against the Orioles tonight (he has faced them three previous times in his career, going 1-1 with a 2.75 ERA).

Jason Hammel (who did face the Nats last month and came away with a win) is on the mound for Baltimore, so Davey Johnson is using his standard lineup against right-handers ... with one twist. Since they're in an American League, Michael Morse will serve as designated hitter for the seventh straight time). Roger Bernadina takes his spot in right field.

Unfortunately, I'm not able to cover tonight's game at Camden Yards. Rich Dubroff will have the full report on, and I'll be sure to post links here later. Enjoy the game...

Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 182
Weather: Scattered storms, 87 degrees, Wind 8 mph LF to RF
LF Steve Lombardozzi
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

15 years later, Davey returns to Baltimore

Associated Press file photo
Davey Johnson last managed a game in Baltimore in 1997.
He's been too busy managing the first-place Nationals to contemplate such matters, so Davey Johnson was taken aback Thursday when someone mentioned it had been 15 years since he managed his final game with the Orioles.

"Time flies," he said.

Tonight, Johnson will be in the dugout at Camden Yards for the first time since 1997, the year he guided Baltimore to its lone AL East title of the last 28 years, then abruptly resigned over a spat with owner Peter Angelos on the same day he was named AL Manager of the Year.

The Orioles haven't experienced a winning season since, but they'll enter tonight's opener of Round 2 of the Battle of Beltways with a 39-30 record, good enough for second place in the division.

"I think it's great," Johnson said of Baltimore's success this season.

Left to hit, Espinosa delivers

US Presswire photo
Danny Espinosa delivers his go-ahead double in the bottom of the sixth.
Every ballplayer has his own reaction when an opponent intentionally walks the batter in front of him. Some gear up even more than they normally would. Some don't treat it any differently than any other at-bat.

Danny Espinosa? He gets mad.

"I don't gear up, but I definitely take it personally in the sense that I want to get 'em," he said. "I want to make 'em pay for what they're doing."

Boy, did Espinosa make them pay for it Thursday night. After watching the Rays intentionally walk Adam LaRoche with two outs in the sixth inning of a tie game, the struggling Nationals second baseman stepped into the left-handed batter's box and delivered perhaps his biggest hit of the season: a two-run double that propelled his team to a 5-2 win and

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Instant analysis: Nats 5, Rays 2

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez allowed two runs over six innings to improve to 9-3.
Game in a nutshell: On a steamy night on South Capitol Street, the Nationals stayed hot against the Rays. A couple of runs in the bottom of the second put them ahead, and though Gio Gonzalez gave the run back, the left-hander battled his way through an effective outing and kept the game tied entering the bottom of the sixth. That's when Danny Espinosa delivered a clutch, two-out, two-run double off Joel Peralta to give the Nats a 4-2 lead and put Gonzalez in line for the win. They added an insurance run on Roger Bernadina's double in the seventh, then saw relievers Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard slam the door on the Tampa Bay lineup, in the process giving the Nationals another series victory over a tough AL East opponent.

Hitting highlight: It looked like this would be another one of those nights when Espinosa looks unstoppable from the right side (and only

2nd time has been charm for Moore

US Presswire photo
Tyler Moore is hitting .471 (8-for-17) since his return from Class AAA.
Just about every ballplayer, upon getting promoted to make his big-league debut, tries to insist the game is no different at this higher level of competition than it was at every previous level.

It's not always as easy as it sounds, though, as Tyler Moore found out last month when he first joined the Nationals.

"Yeah, exactly. It is the same game, but also there's a lot of stuff that comes with that game, too," Moore said. "There's a lot more fans. The stadiums are bigger. It makes your adrenaline get up a little more. You just have to learn how to calm yourself down and realize it is a game, and I play the best when I'm calm."

These days, Moore is feeling plenty calm with his surroundings. After struggling during his first big-league stint, he has returned and

The top 5 MVP candidates in each league

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Game 67: Rays at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez faces Matt Moore in tonight's series finale at Nationals Park.
How good has the 1-2 punch of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez been this year? Well, consider that the Nationals' record when either of their aces starts is an astounding 22-5. (We'll ignore for a moment the fact they're 17-22 when anyone else starts.)

So the odds would appear to be in the Nats' favor for tonight's series finale against the Rays. Except that Gonzalez has lost two of his last three outings. And Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore has won his last three starts. Hmm...

As he's now prone to do when facing a left-hander, Davey Johnson is benching both Steve Lombardozzi and Adam LaRoche. It'll be Xavier Nady in left field and Tyler Moore at first base tonight.

One Rays note: Joel Peralta is expected to have his suspension handed down by MLB this afternoon, so there's a good chance the pine-tar-using reliever won't be available and his team will be down a man for this game.

Updates to come...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 178
Weather: Mostly clear, 94 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to CF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

Beltway Baseball - 6/21/12

We had plenty to discuss on this latest episode of Beltway Baseball: The pine tar incident, Ryan Zimmerman's struggles, the decision to put Ross Detwiler back in the rotation.

Amanda Comak of the Washington Times and I also looked at which teams in the NL East the Nationals should be most concerned about over the rest of the season. And Chase Hughes of and I answered your questions as well.

Enjoy the show...

The stopper does it again

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg improved to 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA after seven strong innings.
He's all of 23 years old, with only 31 big-league starts to his name. The Nationals don't care. They've anointed Stephen Strasburg their ace, and there's no one they'd rather have on the mound when they really need to win a ballgame.

"He's a true No. 1," manager Davey Johnson said. "And he's still learning. I think the best is yet to come with him."

A scary thought, indeed, because even at this relatively novice stage of his career, Strasburg is already establishing himself as one of the true stoppers in the sport.

Take Wednesday night's 3-2 victory over the Rays. The Nationals entered this one on a four-game losing streak, perhaps starting to question their ability to beat the elite competition they're currently

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Instant analysis: Nats 3, Rays 2

US Presswire photo
Steve Lombardozzi slides in safely in the bottom of the first.
Game in a nutshell: First of all, rest assured there were no pine tar incidents in this one. Just a clean, well-played ballgame featuring a couple of dominant pitching performances. Stephen Strasburg's dominance (seven innings of two-run, 10-strikeout ball) was expected. Chris Archer's dominance (he retired the last 11 batters he faced in his big-league debut) was not. In the end, the three runs the Nats scored in the first inning held up the entire way. Strasburg made it through seven innings on 111 pitches, then turned things over to Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard to close it out and snap the Nationals' four-game losing streak. Oh, and Joel Peralta did manage to retire two batters out of the Tampa Bay bullpen without getting ejected.

Hitting highlight: There weren't many to choose from, since the Nationals scored three runs in the bottom of the first and then did

Maddon, Johnson ignite war of words

Associated Press photo
Joe Maddon called out counterpart Davey Johnson following Tuesday's game.
The Great Pine Tar Incident of 2012 is over as far as Davey Johnson and Joe Maddon are concerned. The war of words between the two big-league managers, on the other hand, is just heating up.

One day after Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected before throwing a pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning for having an excessive amount of pine tar in his glove, the attention shifted to the two veteran managers, who traded verbal insults via the media and turned this already spicy story even hotter.

Following Tuesday night's game, Maddon directed his anger at Johnson, saying his counterpart's decision to have umpires check Peralta's glove based on information he got from the pitcher's ex-teammates with the Nationals was "real cowardly" and "kind of a [wuss] move."

Asked for his response on Wednesday, Johnson started off in a cordial manner, keeping his focus on the actual incident.

"My only comment to him is: 'Read the rule book,'" Johnson said. "It's simple. I've been involved in every conceivable kind of thing you can

Detwiler to start Sunday, Wang to bullpen

US Presswire photo
Ross Detwiler tossed 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief last night.
One night after watching Chien-Ming Wang labor through another start while Ross Detwiler dominated out of the bullpen, Nationals manager Davey Johnson has decided to have the two pitchers swap roles again.

Detwiler will return to the Nationals' rotation and start Sunday's game in Baltimore, with Wang returning to a long reliever's role as the club tries to get the veteran right-hander back on track.

The decision was made in the wake of Tuesday night's game, which saw Wang last only 3 1/3 inning and allow five runs on seven hits and three walks, then saw Detwiler retire 11 of the 12 batters he faced out of the bullpen.

"If you had compared [Detwiler's] performance last night with his last two outings, it's a totally different pitcher," Johnson said. "He was

Game 66: Rays at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg tries to end the Nationals' four-game losing streak tonight.
There will be plenty of side drama to tonight's game, with everyone wondering whether there will be any recourse for the Nationals ratting out Rays reliever Joel Peralta's pine tar-laden glove, not to mention Joe Maddon's less-than-complimentary feelings about Davey Johnson.

But of far more importance to the Nationals is the need for a win. They've lost four straight, and the last thing they want to do is extend the streak to five. Fortunately, Stephen Strasburg is on the mound tonight. The Nats have given their ace the ball three times this season while they're stuck in a losing streak of at least three games. Strasburg has won all three games: May 10 at the Pirates, May 20 against the Orioles, June 2 against the Braves.

Strasburg was supposed to be opposed tonight by Jeremy Hellickson, but the budding Rays right-hander was placed on the DL with a shoulder injury. So instead it'll be righty Chris Archer making his big-league debut.

Plenty of updates to come...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 187
Weather: Mostly clear, 93 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to CF
LF Steve Lombardozzi
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Submit questions for Beltway Baseball

A four-game losing streak. Ryan Zimmerman's struggles. Michael Morse's potential breakout. Oh, and pine tar inside Joel Peralta's glove. Yes, there's plenty going on in NatsTown right now.

Good thing we're taping a new episode of Beltway Baseball this afternoon at Nationals Park.'s Chase Hughes and the Washington Times' Amanda Comak will join me to discuss all those topics and more.

And, as always, we'll take your questions on the Nats. Submit them here in the comments section, and then we'll pick the best ones to answer on the air. The full episode will be posted tomorrow morning.

Sticky situation

US Presswire photo
Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected for having pine tar in his glove.
At the end of a frustrating -- and, as it turned out, controversial -- night at the ballpark, the Nationals find themselves in something of a sticky situation.

And that has nothing to do with the pine tar found on Rays reliever Joel Peralta's glove before the bottom of the eighth inning on Tuesday, though that violation of the baseball rule book became the primary topic of discussion inside both clubhouses.

No, of greater importance to the Nationals right now is what to do with the one weak link in their otherwise dominant rotation. After watching Chien-Ming Wang struggle yet again through 3 1/3 laborious innings -- the No. 1 culprit in his team's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay -- manager Davey Johnson couldn't definitively say whether the veteran right-hander will remain as his fifth starter.

"I know how good he can be," Johnson said. "My job is to try to get everybody doing the things they're capable of doing. That's my job. If I thought he could get better out of the bullpen or starting, that would

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Instant analysis: Rays 5, Nats 4

US Presswire photo
Chien-Ming Wang gave up five runs in only 3 1/3 innings.
Game in a nutshell: The night began as a referendum on Chien-Ming Wang's status as the Nationals' No. 5 starter and the possibility of Ross Detwiler taking his spot. But the entire storyline turned in the top of the eighth when Rays reliever (and 2010 National) Joel Peralta was ejected for having a foreign substance in his glove. Memories of the 2005 brawl between the Nats and Angels when Jose Guillen tipped off Frank Robinson about Brendan Donnelly having pine tar in his glove immediately came rushing back. In the end, this bit of controversy didn't help the Nationals' cause, because Tampa Bay's Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney shut the door in the bottom of the eighth and ninth, quashing any potential game-winning rally. Thus, the Nats still lost their fourth straight game ... though they did create some intrigue for the rest of this series.

Hitting highlight: Michael Morse asked Davey Johnson the other day to drop him in the lineup because he was "killing the team." Johnson

Game 65: Rays at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chien-Ming Wang faces David Price in tonight's series opener at Nationals Park.
Licking their wounds after a sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Nationals don't get any break this week. The Tampa Bay Rays come to town beginning tonight, and they'll have their ace (former No. 1 draft pick David Price) on the mound for the opener of this interleague series.

With the left-hander on the mound, the Nationals counter with a right-handed heavy lineup. That means Danny Espinosa is leading off, with Tyler Moore in left field and Steve Lombardozzi on the bench. Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are hitting in the prized No. 3 and No. 4 spots; each slumping hitter is currently taking a round of early batting practice with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo all watching from the behind the cage.

Chien-Ming Wang, meanwhile, gets the ball for his fourth start of the season, hoping this will be the start he completes six full innings for the first time. The Nationals could certainly use a quality outing out of the veteran right-hander.

Updates to come...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 187
Weather: Partly cloudy, 85 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to LF
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse

Makeup vs. Braves on July 21

The Nationals' rained out June 1 game against the Braves will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on July 21, the club announced today.

Fans who held season tickets or mini-plan tickets to the postponed game may use them for admission to the first game of the doubleheader, scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. Fans who held single-game or "Red Carpet Rewards" tickets for the originally scheduled game will need to exchange them for tickets of equal or lesser value for the makeup game.

Any fans who cannot attend the July 21 makeup may exchange their tickets for any remaining "regular" or "value" home game this season, subject to availability.

A separate ticket will be required to enter the ballpark for the 7:05 p.m. nightcap against Atlanta, which includes the postgame concert by The Wallflowers.

Werth targeting Aug. 1 return

US Presswire photo
Jayson Werth has been a presence in the Nats dugout while on the DL.
Jayson Werth's broken left wrist is recovering well, and the Nationals right fielder remains on target to return to the club around August 1, perhaps earlier.

Werth, who suffered the injury May 6 while diving for a ball against the Phillies, is now six weeks removed from surgery to repair the clean break. The veteran outfielder spoke to manager Davey Johnson yesterday and expressed optimism about his recovery.

Werth's cast has come off, but he likely won't be able to resume baseball activities until mid-July. He'll then try to ramp things up quickly in an attempt to return to the Nationals' lineup for the final two months of the regular season.

"[Doctors will] probably need to X-ray it in a couple weeks, but they felt like he was coming along probably a little ahead of schedule," Johnson said. "But he's still probably not going to be able to do anything until

Congressional clown question, bro

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid channels his inner Bryce Harper.

Nats sign Hill to minor-league deal

US Presswire photo
Veteran Koyie Hill is a career .210 hitter in parts of nine big-league seasons.
The Nationals have signed veteran catcher Koyie Hill to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Class AAA Syracuse.

Hill, 33, is a career .210 hitter in parts of nine seasons with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Cubs. After serving in a semi-regular capacity with Chicago the last three years, Hill appeared in only 11 games this season, hitting .179. He was designated for assignment last week and became a free agent after refusing an assignment to Class AAA Iowa.

After a run of injuries to Wilson Ramos, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado, the Nationals found themselves thin on catchers at the minor-league level. Syracuse currently has a catching tandem of Jeff Howell and James Skelton, though Skelton just landed on the disabled list himself.

Hill, a switch-hitter, could wind up as the Nationals' backup catcher at some point this season if the club feels the need for some veteran assistance for starter Jesus Flores.


As the Nationals prepare to open another tough interleague series against another tough AL East opponent (the Tampa Bay Rays come to town tonight), it's time for another look at both the encouraging and the discouraging developments surrounding this team...

ENCOURAGING: The pitching staff continues to excel. Sure, there have been a couple of bumps along the way, but the staff's 2.96 ERA so far in June is significantly improved from May's 3.56 ERA. In 14 games this month, Nationals starters have yet to surrender more than three earned runs.

DISCOURAGING: The lone hiccup in that rotation has been Chien-Ming Wang. The Nats have gotten a quality start in 12 of their last 16 games. One of those non-quality starts was pitched by Gio Gonzalez, who lasted only 4 2/3 innings against the Braves on June 3. The other three all

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nats getting bullpen back in order

US Presswire photo
Ryan Mattheus returned from the disabled list yesterday.
They've gone through four different closers. They've had five different guys succumb to injury. And they've been forced to readjust roles far too many times already in a season that's only 2 1/2 months old.

Through it all, the Nationals bullpen has managed to get the job done and enters the week third in the NL with a 3.11 ERA, second in the league with a .217 opponents' batting average and third in the league with a .655 opponents' OPS.

"I think the bullpen has performed great," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Yeah, they've been mixing and matching, and there's been role adjustments and personnel adjustments and a lot of different things going on. But I think they've done great."

Successful or not, the Nationals have been counting down the days until they could get their full complement of relievers back together as one

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sweep exposes Nats' lineup woes

Associated Press photo
Derek Jeter scores on Mark Teixeira's first-inning sacrifice fly.
That the Nationals could get swept by the Yankees over a frustrating week of baseball and still emerge holding a four-game lead in the NL East is a tribute to how far this organization has come.

That they could own baseball's fourth-best record in mid-June despite their two best offensive players from 2011 collectively hitting .225 with three homers, 26 RBI and a paltry .604 OPS is downright remarkable.

For much of the last 2 1/2 months, the Nationals have managed to win games in spite of that lack of production from the heart of their lineup, specifically Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. Eventually, though, manager Davey Johnson knew he was going to need to count on those big bats producing in big spots, and it finally happened this weekend.

In dropping three straight games to the Yankees -- including Sunday's 4-1 series finale -- the Nationals scored a total of six runs. The biggest culprits: Zimmerman and Morse, who went a combined 4-for-26 with