Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hitting the halfway point on a high

Associated Press
NEW YORK — There have been plenty of days over the last three months when the Nationals don't look anything like a World Series contender, an offensively challenged, defensively sloppy bunch that has put forth way more lifeless performances this season than anybody expected.

But there have also been a handful of days — though admittedly only a few, and usually scattered about — when these Nationals do put it all together and walk away from the ballpark having every reason to believe they can go on the kind of sustained tear that defined their breakthrough 2012 season.

Today was one of those days. Whether it's a positive omen of more good things to come or just another blip in a mediocre season remains to be seen. But as they showed during a 13-2 demolition of the Mets, the Nationals do have the ability to overwhelm any opponent they face.

"We know we've got the lineup that can go out any given day and put up 15 hits and 10 runs, and it just hasn't happened," said Adam LaRoche, who ignited this offensive explosion with a second-inning homer off Zack Wheeler. "This isn't going to happen every day, obviously, but I think it should a lot more often than it has."

The season is now officially halfway complete, and the Nationals sit one game over the .500 mark at 41-40. They've hovered right at, right above or right below sea level for the last six weeks, never getting real hot, never getting real cold. But they've now won seven of their last 11 games, and tomorrow they'll get their most-important player back after a lengthy absence.
Read more

Instant analysis: Nats 13, Mets 2

Associated Press
Ian Desmond congratulates Adam LaRoche after his second-inning homer.
Game in a nutshell: With a young pitching phenom on the mound in Zack Wheeler, runs figured to be at a premium for the Nationals today, right? Right? Uh, maybe not. This previously lackluster lineup went bananas, scoring five early runs off Wheeler and then torturing the Mets bullpen late to set a season-high in runs scored. (Though, to be fair, two of the runs came against Anthony Recker, a backup catcher who pitched the top of the ninth.) Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Kurt Suzuki and Ian Desmond all homered. Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, tossed seven scoreless innings, firing more strikes than he ever had in his big-league career. Put it all together, and you've got the most-lopsided victory of the season for the Nationals. They've reached the midpoint of the season at 41-40, and now they head home, where Bryce Harper awaits, ready to come off the DL.

Hitting highlight: Obviously, there were no shortage of offensive highlights today, but let's focus on what the Nationals did early

Game 81: Nats at Mets

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
NEW YORK — And so the most anticipated season in Nationals history has reached its midpoint in a most surprising state. The Nats enter today's series (and first half) finale at 40-40, a full 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East and still trying to find their way before it's too late.

Help is on the way, with Bryce Harper due to come off the DL tomorrow for the start of a seven-game homestand. Today, the Nationals will have to try to generate some offense against another young Mets phenom: Zack Wheeler. The rookie right-hander actually arrived in New York with a higher ceiling than Matt Harvey, though obviously Harvey's results at the big-league level have been out of this world.

Gio Gonzalez starts for the Nationals, trying to get his team back over the .500 mark before heading home. Updates to come...

Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 89
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 80 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Harper: "Everything feels good"

By Ben Standig

BOWIE — Those on hand Saturday night at Prince George's Stadium witnessed perhaps the fourth and final game of Bryce Harper's minor league rehab assignment. They also caught the Nationals slugger looking at a third strike, twice. His other two trips to the plate for the Bowie Baysox ended with a walk and an infield popup.

Hardly ideal, obviously, but there were positives to take away for the outfielder, who hasn't played for the Nationals since May 26 due to left knee bursitis. Harper played the full nine innings for the first time during the current four-game rehab stint. He had three at-bats versus an actual major-league starter, Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, and scored a run. There were also no misadventures on the base paths and in the field.

Fine, let's stop stalling. After two games at Class-A Potomac and two with Harrisburg, everyone wants to know the following:

1) How does Bryce's knee feel?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Stuck in neutral

USA Today Sports Images
NEW YORK — Only 15 hours removed from what their manager called their "biggest win of the year," the Nationals emerged from the dugout at Citi Field again, handed the ball to a promising rookie hurler for his big-league debut, prepared to take their hacks against a struggling right-hander with an inflated ERA and perhaps finally get themselves on the sustained roll that has eluded them all season.

What transpired was an all-too-familiar sight for this team. No offense, combined with bad defense and inconsistent pitching, produced another uninspiring loss, this time by a 5-1 count to the Mets that felt like so many other losses that preceded it over the last three months.

"You can't explain it," Davey Johnson said. "It was an uplifting game last night, and today was a downer."

One step forward, one step backward. That about sums up 2013 so far for the Nationals, who have only one game remaining in the season's first half and find themselves right where they've been nearly the entire time: Back at square one.

They're 40-40, the 18th time this season they've sat at exactly the .500 mark. They haven't ranged three games better or three games worse since May 18, a full six-week stretch now of mediocrity in its purest form.

Positive momentum? The Nationals seem to be proving there is no such thing.
Read more

Instant analysis: Mets 5, Nats 1

USA Today Sports Images
Taylor Jordan allowed one earned run in his major-league debut.
Game in a nutshell: In his big-league debut, Taylor Jordan battled through some early wildness and shaky defense behind him. The rookie acquitted himself fairly well, but he couldn't overcome forces beyond his control. Three combined errors by Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond (two of them coming on one play) produced two unearned runs and gave the Mets the lead. The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, was silenced yet again by Dillon Gee, who allowed only one run over six innings. And there was no late comeback this time, with the Mets beleaguered bullpen taking care of business to close this one out. Thus, the Nats again failed to carry over any momentum from the previous night's inspiring victory, and their on-again, off-again season continues. They have remained within 2 games of the .500 mark, in either direction, every day since May 19.

Hitting lowlight: As was the case Friday night, the Nationals were handcuffed by a Mets right-hander for most of the game. Unlike the previous night, they weren't able to flip the switch once they got

Game 80: Nats at Mets

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
NEW YORK — Hello again from Citi Field, where the Nationals look to make it two in a row against the Mets this afternoon, sending Taylor Jordan to the mound for his big-league debut.

Jordan kind of burst on the scene out of nowhere. He wasn't in big-league camp this spring. He opened the season at Class A Potomac, got bumped up to Class AA Harrisburg and dominated (7-0, 0.83 ERA). The 24-year-old actually grew up near Viera, Fla., pitching at Brevard Community College before the Nats made him their 9th-round pick in the 2009 draft. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011 but has fully recovered. And now he's in the Big Apple, making his major-league debut for a team trying to claw its way back into a pennant race.

Given the situation, Davey Johnson is trying to take as much pressure off Jordan as he can. Kurt Suzuki is starting a day game after a night game, providing veteran influence behind the plate. Johnson didn't say much to the right-hander when they met this morning; he just wants the kid to go out there and pitch, not thinking too much about who he's facing.

It's always fun watching somebody make their debut, and today should be no different. So check back here for updates along the way. And if you missed the news earlier about Ross Detwiler's stiff back, here's the full story about the left-hander...

Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB Network (outside D.C. market),
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 89
Weather: Partly cloudy, 81 degrees, Wind 11 mph out to RF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Stiff back for Detwiler, Davis recalled

USA Today Sports Images
NEW YORK — Ross Detwiler is dealing with stiffness in his lower back, an ailment that could prevent the Nationals left-hander from making his next start.

That revelation, combined with some other developments over the last couple of days, prompted the Nationals to add another arm to their bullpen today: Right-hander Erik Davis was recalled from Class AAA, with outfielder Jeff Kobernus optioned to Syracuse to make room on the roster.

Detwiler showed no signs of injury during his start Friday night against the Mets, in which he allowed three runs (two earned) over five innings.

"He threw a lot of pitches in five innings," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought he threw the ball well. I didn't notice anything

"Biggest win of the year"

USA Today Sports Images
NEW YORK — Davey Johnson called it "our biggest win of the year," a sentiment shared by others inside the Nationals clubhouse.

Perhaps more significant, more than one player noted the familiar feeling that accompanied Friday night's 6-4, come-from-behind victory over the Mets, one that included several late clutch hits and then a shutdown performance from the bullpen.

"That's stuff we did last year," reliever Drew Storen said. "That's what's fun about it. That's exciting. Especially on the road here, it's a big win for us."

Indeed, this was the kind of victory that was commonplace in 2012 but has for some reason eluded the Nationals in 2013, perhaps owing to their maddeningly inept offensive numbers when a game is on the line. Entering Friday, this team was hitting a collective .203 against opposing relievers, .192 in "late-and-close" situations and a scant .151 with a .199 on-base percentage in the ninth inning.

So imagine how the visiting dugout at Citi Field felt after the Nationals went 5-for-10 with four doubles and a walk in the eighth and ninth innings against five members of Terry Collins' New York bullpen, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 victory that catapulted this club back over the .500 mark.
Read more

Friday, June 28, 2013

Instant analysis: Nats 6, Mets 4

USA Today Sports Images
Ross Detwiler allowed three runs (two earned) over five innings.
Game in a nutshell: Talk about a tough assignment. A Nationals lineup that has struggled all season to produce was being asked to get hot against perhaps baseball's best pitcher so far in 2013: Matt Harvey. And the young right-hander was even better than advertised, striking out 11 without issuing a walk over seven innings, his only blemish a solo homer by Ian Desmond in the fifth. So when the Mets scratched out four runs off Ross Detwiler and Ross Ohlendorf, the Nats found themselves in a hole that felt even bigger than a three-run deficit. Ah, but all they needed was to get Harvey out of the game and take their hacks against the New York bullpen. Which they did in impressive fashion. They loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, and then Ryan Zimmerman brought them all home with a bases-clearing, game-tying double off Brandon Lyon. Desmond then delivered yet again in the ninth, following up Jayson Werth's double off Bobby Parnell with a two-bagger of his own to give the Nationals the lead. Kurt Suzuki added a sac fly for a big insurance run. With Rafael Soriano unavailable after making three straight appearances, Drew Storen closed this one out and catapulted the Nationals over the .500 mark once again.

Hitting highlight: The highlight of the night: When Terry Collins took the ball out of Harvey's hand and gave it to his bullpen.

Jordan ready for Sat., Harper ready for Mon.

NEW YORK — Taylor Jordan is in New York, ready to make his big-league debut on Saturday, though confined to his hotel room tonight while his soon-to-be teammates open their series against the Mets.

The Nationals will officially promote Jordan from Class AA Harrisburg for tomorrow afternoon's game at Citi Field, though MLB rules prevent the right-hander from being in the clubhouse until the transaction actually takes place. So the 24-year-old right-hander will watch on TV tonight, studying the Mets' lineup in anticipation of his big-league debut.

Manager Davey Johnson has no first-hand knowledge of Jordan, relying only on reports he's received from his minor-league staff, but he intends to give the rookie a fair tryout over the next week or two.

"I haven't even seen him throw. I've just gotten good reports," Johnson said. "I imagine for sure he'll get at least a couple, two or three starts. ... We did the same thing with [Nate Karns]. Give him some experience up here, and that's what it's all about. And then

Game 79: Nats at Mets

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
NEW YORK — Good afternoon from Citi Field, where tonight the Nationals open a weekend series against the Mets, beginning with an awfully tough matchup against the dynamic Matt Harvey.

The Nats have already gotten a good look at Harvey this season; he beat Stephen Strasburg with an electric performance here back in April. So they know they've got their work cut out for them tonight. They can only hope Ross Detwiler is up to the challenge himself after some recent shaky outings.

Still waiting on the Nationals' lineup, which I don't believe will include Bryce Harper. Though I suppose you never know...

Updates to come...

Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, Ch. 9,
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 185
Weather: Chance of storms, 80 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to RF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Coaches, teammates on Taylor Jordan

Photo via
Harrisburg pitcher Taylor Jordan could be on his way to the majors very soon as Nationals manager Davey Johnson and others in the organization have sent strong signals that the 24-year-old will take Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation this weekend in New York.

While Jordan was not permitted to speak with the media about his potential call-up, I caught up with several of his coaches and one of his teammates on Thursday to talk about what to expect from the young right-hander if he does indeed start against the Mets.

Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart gave a breakdown of Jordan’s repertoire:

“He can get it up to 95, he’s got a sinker that he can throw, and he can spot it pretty well. He commands the fastball fairly well. He’s got a changeup that has a little split action, it can drop on occasion straight down. And a slider that’s a serviceable pitch.”

Menhart says Jordan is ready for the big leagues and has the mindset to take the challenge head-on:

“If he goes, I think he’ll perform similar to the way he’s done here. I don’t think the level is going to dictate his effort or his angst. He’s the kind of kid that has no pulse when he pitches. He’s that kind of special where he does have the ability to go pitch to pitch and focus on that particular pitch at that one time. Just because it’s the big leagues or wherever, I don’t think it really matters for this kid.”

Ask anyone who has seen Jordan pitch and his unusual delivery is often cited as a big part of his game. Jordan comes over the top with his arm and does a good job hiding the ball.

VIDEOS: The Baseball Show

On last night's Baseball Show, Mark and Jim Duquette discussed Bryce Harper's recovery and whether he should return to the Nats earlier than planned. He has looked like the same old Bryce in three rehab appearances and could certainly help the Washington lineup this weekend in New York.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Harper looks ready after third rehab game

After three minor league rehab appearances - most recently on Thursday night in Bowie with the Harrisburg Senators - Bryce Harper has shown pretty much all he can show as he continues to recover from left knee bursitis. 

Over his three rehab games, Harper has homered, drawn walks, and done just about everything he can on the base paths. He’s gone from first to third, first to home, he’s slid into base head first, he’s even slid leading with the left knee. 

Baserunning was said to be the key to Harper getting the clearance to return to the Nationals. If that was the most important test, he seems to have passed.

In Thursday’s outing Harper went 2-for-4 with a two-RBI triple, a walk and a single. He looked every bit the player he usually is at full health, after playing two games in Potomac that tested his knee in a variety of ways.

Harper left the game after playing six innings, he was originally planned to play nine. But Thursday's game was a long one, taking nearly two hours just to get through the first three innings. 

Senators' manager Matt LeCroy said the length of game was the reason he was pulled.

Instant analysis: D'backs 3, Nats 2 (11)

USA Today Sports Images
Denard Span leaps at the wall to snag Jason Kubel's second-inning drive.
Game in a nutshell: A premier pitching matchup between Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin absolutely lived up to the billing. The two young aces nearly posted identical pitching lines, each allowing only a two-run homer over seven strong innings. Ian Desmond went deep in the fourth to give the Nationals the lead, but Aaron Hill answered with the game-tying blast in the sixth. That left this game in the hands of both bullpens. Drew Storen turned in his most dominant performance of the season, striking out the side in the eighth. Ian Krol escaped a self-made jam in the ninth, continuing his scoreless streak of nine appearances to begin his big-league career and helping move this game into extra innings. In the eleventh, the D'backs took the lead on a Didi Gregorius bunt single to bring home A.J. Pollock. It would prove to be the go-ahead run as Heath Bell earned his 14th save of the season.

Hitting lowlight: After Desmond's home run in the bottom of the fourth, the Nationals managed five singles and a walk, but failed to score another run. They finished the day with 11 strikeouts as a

Harper on target for Monday return

Associated Press
Bryce Harper's rehab tour will shift tonight from Virginia to Maryland and up one class in the Nationals' farm system, putting the star outfielder on track to come off the disabled list on Monday.

After playing the last two nights for Class A Potomac, Harper is scheduled to play nine innings tonight for Class AA Harrisburg, which is in nearby Bowie for the weekend. He would then sit out Friday before returning to Bowie on Saturday.

"I'd like to see him go nine innings, then probably take tomorrow off, then go back and play again," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just make sure everything's normal and stays calmed down."

Harper got five plate appearances over the last two nights at Potomac, going 2-for-4 with a homer, a double, a walk and a

Game 78: Diamondbacks at Nats

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
When the Nationals take the field later this afternoon for their series finale against the Diamondbacks, they'll find themselves in a rare position: With an opportunity to sweep a series of at least three games. This is only the fourth time this season they've been in such a position, the first time since April 28 when they lost the finale of a four-game series with the Reds.

It feels like ancient history at this point, but this was a regular occurrence around here last season. The Nationals had 19 opportunity to sweep a three- or four-game series in 2012, underscoring just how much they've been fighting an uphill battle in 2013.

If you're going for a sweep, who better to have on the mound than Stephen Strasburg, looking to continue his recent hot streak? Unfortunately, the D'backs are sending a mighty impressive young pitcher to the mound themselves in Patrick Corbin, the 23-year-old lefty looking to improve to 10-0 on the season.

It's going to be another hot, muggy, potentially stormy day at the park. If you're headed over here, bring your umbrella and/or poncho. If you're stuck at work, check back here for updates throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 184
Weather: Chance of storms, 85 degrees, Wind 12 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth

MLB Power Rankings: Central dominance

Photo by USA Today
By Steve Roney

The National League Central division is ruling baseball like never before, with the two best teams in the majors and a third (Cincinnati) not far behind. How many divisions throughout history boast have boasted a third-place team that would be atop many other divisions? The guess here is few.

Here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out:

1. St. Louis Cardinals (48-30; LW: 1) - Roney: Prince Albert has been gone for a while now, so it's no surprise that they don't miss him...but I'm still a little surprised. Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and especially Swiss army knife Matt Carpenter are an offensive force themselves.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates (48-30; LW: 7) - Roney: Former No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez is finally cultivating an average (currently .242) that's at least vaguely acceptable when paired with his light tower power (19 HRs so far, 30 last year).

3. Boston Red Sox (47-33; LW: 3) - Zuckerman: Jacoby Ellsbury is 32-for-35 in stolen base attempts. And he hasn't even faced the Nats pitching staff!

4. Texas Rangers (45-33; LW: 9) - Hughes: Their pitching has been questionable over the last month, but they're still winning. Having Yu Darvish pitch every fifth day doesn't hurt.

5. Cincinnati Reds (45-34; LW: 2) - Roney: Every starter on the team has a sub-4.00 ERA, and none better than Mike Leake, who has rebounded from seasons past to be the Reds' most effective starter (7-3, 2.61).

6. Oakland Athletics (46-34; LW: 5) - Hughes: As a team, Oakland has drawn the most walks in the majors. For comparison's sake, the Nats have four players with 20 or more walks while the A's have ten.

Harper homers in second rehab game

Bryce Harper appeared in his second rehab game with the Single-A Potomac Nationals on Wednesday night, going 1-for-3 with a solo home run in three at-bats.

Harper was the team’s designated hitter due to rainy conditions at Pfitzner stadium in a last minute move. He was originally slotted to play in left field.

Facing Myrtle Beach Pelicans starter Jerad Eickhoff, Harper struck out in his first at-bat. In his second time up he hit a home run to right field.

In Harper’s third at-bat he fouled a pitch off his right foot and needed a moment to shake it off. He then lined out to right field to end his day.

Rookie becoming invaluable to Nats lineup

Associated Press
Anthony Rendon has had the uncanny ability to hit a baseball where they ain't since the moment he first picked up a bat as a child in Houston. So why would the fact he's now trying to perform that same task in a slightly larger venue faze the Nationals rookie one iota?

"The game hasn't changed since I was a little kid," Rendon said. "The strike zone, the plate's the same size. The bases probably got a little longer, but that's pretty much it."

Calm, cool and collected, Rendon couldn't appear to be any more comfortable than he is these days in the big leagues. Since he returned from the minors three weeks ago, he's done nothing but notch hits. And more hits. And even more hits.

He was back at it again Wednesday night, recording hits in each of his first three at-bats and then nearly homering in his final plate appearance, pacing the Nationals' lineup during a 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks.
Read more

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Instant analysis: Nats 3, D'backs 2

Associated Press
Jordan Zimmermann allowed two early runs and earned his NL-leading 11th win.
Game in a nutshell: Some early offensive fireworks by each team probably surprised everyone in attendance, but pitching quickly took over after that. Jordan Zimmermann allowed two runs in the top of the first, then put up six consecutive zeroes in his latest dominant start at home. The Nationals chipped away at Wade Miley, getting a run in the first on Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double, a run in the fourth on Tyler Moore's solo homer and the go-ahead run in the fifth when Denard Span and Anthony Rendon singled and Span scored on Zimmerman's double-play grounder. Tyler Clippard tossed a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth to earn his 21st save, give Zimmermann his 11th win and get the Nationals back over the .500 mark, with a chance to sweep the series tomorrow afternoon.

Hitting highlight: He's impressed nearly every game he's played over the last three weeks, but Rendon really stood out in this one. The rookie second baseman had hits in his first three at-bats, a pair of singles to center field and a double to right. He continues to hit

Nats injury updates: Ramos, Garcia close

Photo by USA Today
Nationals manager Davey Johnson gave injury updates on several key players before Wednesday’s game, including the fact catcher Wilson Ramos and pitcher Christian Garcia are nearing their returns.

Ramos is aiming to be back on July 4 as the Nats take on the Brewers. He has been out since May 15 after aggravating his strained left hamstring in a game against the Dodgers.

Garcia is pitching at Triple-A Syracuse now, but is four or five outings away from being ready for his call-up. Garcia has yet to pitch for the Nats this season after tearing a tendon in his forearm back in spring training.

With an offense among the worst in the majors, Johnson is looking forward to Ramos’ bat being back in the lineup.

“No question,” Johnson said. “He’s a tremendous catcher and he’s got tremendous bat potential too. They both handle the pitching staff real good too. He’s got a little more thump in the bat and I’m looking for anything at this moment.”

Game 77: Diamondbacks at Nats

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
It's another steamy, potentially stormy afternoon in the District, where the Nationals and Diamondbacks continue their series with another strong pitching matchup. Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball for the Nats, looking to become the NL's first 11-game winner this season. Left-hander Wade Miley, last year's NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Bryce Harper, starts for the Diamondbacks.

Ryan Zimmerman, meanwhile, is expected back in the Nationals' lineup after he sat last night to let his right shoulder rest. Zim did come off the bench to pinch-hit, but it'll be interesting to hear what he has to say about that shoulder and whether this is still a lingering concern long-term or not.

Jayson Werth also is expected to play, though he'll probably be hampered in the field once again. Werth clearly wasn't running at full speed last night, and he acknowledged afterward he may have to just deal with this groin strain for a little while.

Updates to come, so please check back...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 183
Weather: Chance of storms, 82 degrees, wind 6 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth

Nats who's hot/who's not-6/26

Photo by USA Today

By Michael Huberman

Record: 4-3
Runs per game: 4.42
Opponent runs per game: 3.85
Team slash: .252/.298/.395
Opponent slash: .259/.295/.381
Team ERA: 3.52


Stephen Strasburg, SP – 1-0/1 ER/7 IP/5 H/9 SO

After his dominant outing Friday night against the Rockies, Strasburg has now given up just two runs in twelve innings since coming off the disabled list. Some will look at Strasburg’s 4-6 record and think he hasn’t performed up to expectations, but a closer look at his number reveals just how good he’s been this year. As Mark Zuckerman highlighted in his piece on some of the Nats’ more surprising stats, Strasburg ranks in the top ten in the National League in ERA (2.40), strikeouts per nine innings (8.97) and hits per nine innings (6.67).

Jordan Zimmermann, SP – 1-0/0 ER/8 IP/6 H/9 K

Zimmermann latest outing served as yet another piece of evidence to support his candidacy to start the All-Star Game for National League. The competition is tough with Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Patrick Corbin, and Matt Harvey all having legitimate cases to make the start. Whether Harvey gets the nod in front of the hometown Citi Field crowd remains to be seen, but Zimmermann’s numbers (10-3, 2.26 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 5.07 K/BB ratio) stack up well against his rivals.

Harper looks good at Potomac

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Bryce Harper made his first rehab assignment with the Single-A Potomac Nationals on Tuesday as he continues his return from left knee bursitis. Harper played three innings and had two at-bats, going 1-for-1 with a double, a walk, and a run against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

In Harper’s first at-bat against pitcher Alec Asher, he took a ball before hitting a pop fly to shallow left field. Normally a routine out, shortstop Edwin Garcia dropped it out of his glove on the play. Harper reached second and looked smooth on the base path, it was ruled a double.

While at second, Harper took a significant lead with right fielder Michael Taylor up at the plate. After throwing several pitches, Asher threw behind Harper and got him on the pickoff attempt. Harper slid head first into the bag, but looked fine trotting back to the dugout after getting up.

Baserunning is a key focus for the Nats at this point in Harper's recovery and he passed his first test with no issue.

Depleted, yet still productive

USA Today Sports Images
Davey Johnson took his customary seat in the interview room at Nationals Park Tuesday night and let out a sigh.

"It's never easy," the 70-year-old manager said, "is it?"

Well, no. The Nationals' 7-5 victory over the Diamondbacks should never have been that close, with the tying run standing on first base in the ninth inning and the home club coming this close to blowing an early 6-run lead.

But ignore, for a moment, the near-collapse late and focus instead of the events of the game's first five innings, in particular the bottom of the third, when a typically moribund Nationals lineup exploded for five runs to match its most-productive offensive frame of the season. Denard Span singled to drive in a run. Jayson Werth singled to drive in a run. And Adam LaRoche produced the biggest blast: a three-run homer to complete the huge inning.

That sudden burst of lumber allowed the Nationals to open up a big lead and allowed this admittedly tight ballclub to play loose for a change, knowing the game wasn't going to completely turn around on one swing.
Read more

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Instant analysis: Nats 7, D'backs 5

USA Today Sports Images
Gio Gonzalez allowed two runs to earn his first win since May 5.
Game in a nutshell: Fielding a lineup without Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper or Wilson Ramos, and with an apparently gimpy Jayson Werth batting third, the Nationals figured to struggle at the plate all night. So imagine everyone's surprise when they busted out for five runs in the bottom of the third, capped by Adam LaRoche's three-run homer. They added another run in the fifth and then a much-needed insurance run in the eighth after the Diamondbacks had started to chip away at the lead, drawing as close as two runs late. Gio Gonzalez gladly accepted all the run support, earning his first win since May 9 in the process. Rafael Soriano earned his 20th save. And the Nationals got back to the .500 mark with a solid victory in the opener of this three-game series.

Hitting highlight: How rare was the Nationals' five-run explosion in the bottom of the third? Well, it was only the third time all

Day off for Zim with shoulder discomfort

USA Today Sports Images
Davey Johnson has felt all along that Ryan Zimmerman's surgically repaired right shoulder wouldn't be 100 percent healthy until sometime in midseason, so the Nationals manager wasn't particularly surprised when his third baseman noted some discomfort in that shoulder last week.

"I said in the spring that with as hard as he's been working with it, it was going to take him at least until the middle of June to where he'd get over the hump with his shoulder," Johnson said. "I think we're pretty close."

Close, but not all the way there yet, so Zimmerman got a rare night off Tuesday to let the shoulder rest.

Johnson insisted Zimmerman would be available to pinch-hit in this game and that he'd be back in the lineup Wednesday. But after hearing the veteran slugger mention the discomfort a few days ago, Johnson decided to find a break in the schedule for him. Since the Nationals also had Monday off, Zimmerman is getting a full 48 hours to rest.
Read more

Game 76: Diamondbacks at Nats

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After a rough end to their weekend and then an off-day, the Nationals are back at it tonight, opening a new series with the NL West-leading Diamondbacks, all the while keeping an eye on what's happening down the road in Woodbridge, where tonight Bryce Harper is scheduled to play three innings for Class A Potomac. Chase Hughes will be on-site and will have updates on Harper's rehab, so be sure to check the site for that.

Back here on South Capitol Street, the Nationals have Jayson Werth back in their lineup after he left Sunday's game with what appeared to be a groin injury. But, in a surprise development, Ryan Zimmerman is not listed on Davey Johnson's lineup card. You wouldn't think he'd need a day off after the club didn't play yesterday, but perhaps there's a little nagging something going on. Stay tuned.

Gio Gonzalez gets the start, hoping to continue his impressive run while actually earning the win for a change. Right-hander Trevor Cahill is on the mound for Arizona.

Updates to come...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 184
Weather: Partly cloudy, 90 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

Around the NL East: Times are tough

Photo by USA Today
By Steve Roney

Remember the success, the optimism, and the results produced by the NL East the past few years? Last season, two playoff teams, with a third (New York) finishing at .500. The year before, in 2011, two winning teams, and two within sniffing distance of .500. 2010 was the same, with the fourth-place Mets finishing with a winning percentage of .488.

Now, however, it's the Braves (owners of the sixth-best record in baseball), and then a relatively huge gap -- for this early in the season, anyway -- and then everybody else. Only the Nationals, at 37-38, are close. Contrast that with the AL East, where any of the five teams would be in at least second place were they located in the NL East, as all boast winning records.

Atlanta Braves (44-33)

The only divisional team with it's head above water, Atlanta has held the course after a hot start, with a 12-11 record for the month of June so far. Obviously there is half a season left, but unless Washington pulls itself together and starts scoring some runs, the Braves likely won't need to do much better than they have been. If not the Nats, who's going to catch them, the Phillies? I like Atlanta's odds.

As with seemingly every team, the injury bug is complicating things somewhat, as top slugger Evan Gattis is still on the DL. Brandon Beachy, who was targeting a return from Tommy John last week, is still on the mend as well; for most teams this would be very, very discouraging news, but Atlanta's pitching staff has been very good one through five -- only Tim Hudson (4.10) has an ERA above 3.75. Beachy will be an important piece, for sure, but right now they can afford to take their time with him.

Player of the Week: Chris Johnson, 3B: 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .292 AVG

Moore recalled, Haren placed on DL

USA Today Sports Images
The Nationals' roster replacement for an injured Dan Haren won't be another pitcher, at least not yet. The club recalled outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore from Class AAA Syracuse, giving manager Davey Johnson another bat for the start of this week's series against the Diamondbacks and perhaps some insurance in case Jayson Werth isn't ready to return from a groin injury.

Moore returns to D.C. after a 12-game stint with Syracuse, hitting .178 (8-for-45) with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI. Demoted earlier this month after a wretched start to his season — he hit .158 with two homers in 38 games — the 26-year-old hoped to get his swing back on track in the minors.

The Nationals probably would have preferred to keep Moore in Syracuse a bit longer, but they could suddenly find themselves needing another right-handed outfielder on their big-league roster after Werth had to depart Sunday's game with a tight groin.

Werth said he hoped the injury wasn't serious and that he might be able to return tonight, but the Nationals don't want this seemingly minor injury to turn into something far more damaging the way

Surprising stats

USA Today Sports Images
It doesn't matter how many baseball games you've watched in your lifetime, your eyes have a way of deceiving you. You may think you know what you're seeing, but the truth often bears little to no resemblance.

Take the 2013 Nationals. You think you know this team inside and out, right? I certainly did ... until I started doing some research and came up with these following statistical surprises that will leave you scratching your head, furrowing your brow and rethinking everything you thought you knew about these Nationals.

For example, did you know that...

Stephen Strasburg ranks in the top 10 among all NL pitchers in ERA (2.40), hits per nine innings (6.67) and strikeouts per nine

Monday, June 24, 2013

Harper to play at Potomac tomorrow

 Photo by USA Today
After two successful rounds of batting practice at Nationals Park the last two days, Bryce Harper will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Potomac tomorrow night.

Harper originally didn't expect to be ready to appear in a game until Wednesday at the earliest but bumped up the schedule after another strong BP session today at the ballpark, according to a source familiar with the Nationals' plan for the 20-year-old outfielder.

On the 15-day DL since late May with bursitis in his left knee, Harper has ramped up his baseball activities in recent days and put on a show during BP in front of fans Sunday morning. He returned to the park today for another hitting session in front of team personnel and emerged with no issues in his knee.

Harper plans to play three innings and start in left field tomorrow night for Potomac, then increase his workload each subsequent day. If all goes well, he could possibly come off the DL in time for some of this weekend's series at the Mets. If he's not quite ready by then, he'd almost certainly return for the Nationals' homestand that begins June 30 against the Brewers.

Who replaces Haren in rotation?

USA Today Sports Images
Dan Haren's placement on the disabled list, while not a total shock, does leave the Nationals scrambling to find a replacement starter by the end of the week. That's a short-term problem. Long-term, they also need to figure out what exactly they intend to do with the final spot in their rotation.

Do they give Haren another shot once he's deemed healthy, or have they seen all they need to see out of him? Do they have a viable alternative in-house, whether a journeyman veteran like Ross Ohlendorf or a highly touted (though still really green) prospect like Nate Karns or Taylor Jordan? Or does Mike Rizzo need to go look outside the organization and make a bold deal for another starter before the July 31 trade deadline?

Before we get to the long-term question, let's quickly address the short-term one. The Nationals don't have to make an immediate decision, because they don't need a replacement starter until Saturday in New York at the earliest.

The easiest answer would seem to be handing the ball to Ohlendorf, who has been great in two appearances so far (one start, one

State of the Nats-6/24

Photo by USA Today
Team Record: 37-38 (13-14)

N.L. East Standings

Offensive Game of the Week: Adam LaRoche 6/20 vs. Rockies – 3-for-4, 2 RBI, 3B, R

Pitching Line of the Week: Jordan Zimmermann 6/20 vs. Rockies – 8 IP, R, 0 ER, 6 H, BB, 9 S)

Top Storylines

Bryce Harper’s recovery – Harper is continuing his road back from left knee bursitis, but could make significant strides this week. He is expected to make a minor league rehab assignment with the Potomac Nationals on either Wednesday or Thurdsay and could set himself up for a return early next week. How he progresses through his minor league appearances should be interesting to watch. Harper wants to play six or seven games to get his timing back, but Davey Johnson may want to promote him sooner.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nats' comeback falls short vs. Rockies

One day after falling down early thanks to a miserable outing by Dan Haren, the Nats once again found themselves playing catchup because of their starting pitcher. This time it was Ross Detwiler who turned in a disastrous start, allowing seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings of work, including two home runs and nine total hits.

The Nats rallied to cut the deficit to one, but it was not enough in their 7-6 loss to the Rockies on Sunday. Detwiler dug a large hole and continued what has been a rough month for Nationals starters. In June they hold a 4.43 ERA as a rotation through 20 games.

Manager Davey Johnson attributed Detwiler’s bad day to pitch selection.

“He’s been relying since he’s been here on his fastball, and it’s a good fastball hitting club,” Johnson said. 

“If you don’t hit your spots on sinkers down and away, they’re going to hurt you. First ball he gave up to Cuddy was a four-seamer out over the plate. It’s a good fastball hitting club, and you have to use set-up pitches. He’s still early in doing that.”

Detwiler’s afternoon started to turn in the second inning when he allowed a solo home run to Michael Cuddyer. He then allowed three more runs in the third and another three in the fourth.

Haren to DL, Werth pulls groin

The Nationals will place starting pitcher Dan Haren on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder injury, manager Davey Johnson announced on Sunday.

Haren had experienced tightness in his shoulder during his previous two starts, having trouble getting his arm loosened up.

"I’m not really concerned about it, but they wanted me to take some time to get 100%," he said. "I definitely don’t want to use this as an excuse for the first three months of the season. That was more due to lack of execution, instead of an injury."

Johnson said it was a tough decision for he and general manager Mike Rizzo to make.

"He wasn’t particularly pleased to go on the disabled list, but he knew it was probably the best thing," Johnson said.

Instant Analysis: Rockies 7, Nats 6

Photo by USA Today
Game in a nutshell: The Nats were beaten by the Rockies for the second time in as many days due to another unfortunate outing by their starting pitcher. A day after Dan Haren failed to get out of the fourth inning, Ross Detwiler suffered the same fate. Detwiler gave up a solo home run to Michael Cuddyer in the second inning and allowed three runs in each of the next two frames. He ended the day with seven earned runs overall in what was his worst start of the season. Just like Haren, he gave the Nats an early deficit that was too much to overcome. The Nats rallied to score six runs, but it was too little too late. They fell just short of the comeback.

Hitting highlight: The Nats nearly came back in the eighth inning with four runs in the frame. Steve Lombardozzi and Denard Span started things off with a pair of singles and Jeff Kobernus then walked to load the bases. A Ryan Zimmerman single and Jhonatan Solano double brought home four runners to make it a one run game. That one run, however, held up for the Rockies.

McCatty on Haren's struggles

Photo by USA Today
A day after Dan Haren got shelled once again in a 7-1 loss to the Rockies, Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty explained how it is likely a mechanical issue for the veteran pitcher that has contributed to his struggles this season.

McCatty thinks past injuries to Haren’s hip and back may have altered his motion, specifically with his arm slot and release. Haren may still be compensating for where he used to feel pain and is coming too far around on his release instead of following through with a forward motion.

McCatty said they have not ruled out an injury, but more will be known on Monday after Haren throws a bullpen session.

“In the past, I know last year he had a little problem with his hip and back. When you have a problem somewhere else, sometimes it transfers to other parts of your body,” McCatty said. 


Game 75: Rockies at Nats

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats and Rockies face off in their series finale today, as long as the weather holds up that is. It was raining heavily through the morning and scattered thunderstorms are expected throughout the day. There does, however, appear to be a window in the afternoon to get the game in.

Ross Detwiler (2-5, 3.34 ERA) is making his his 11th start of the season and his second against the Rockies in just the last ten days. On June 13 Detwiler took a no decision after allowing three earned runs in five innings in Colorado. The lefty has a 6.19 ERA through four total appearances against the Rockies.

Pitching for Colorado is left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (7-4, 3.21) who allowed three runs against the Nats on June 12 in a Rockies loss. He is 3-2 with a 4.84 ERA against the Nationals in six career starts.

Jayson Werth is back in the Nats' lineup after a one-game absence due to an illness. He is hitting cleanup with Adam LaRoche and Denard Span getting the day off.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500)
Weather: Scattered thunderstorms, 85 degrees
CF Jeff Kobernus
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth
SS Ian Desmond
1B Chris Marrero
C Kurt Suzuki
LF Steve Lombardozzi
LHP Ross Detwiler

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rockies roll past Haren, Nats

Photo by USA Today
With three straight wins heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Colorado Rockies, the Nationals saw whatever momentum they had dissipate and quickly. As he has almost all season, starter Dan Haren immediately found trouble and left his team little chance at all in a 7-1 blowout.

Haren’s day was rough from the beginning with a solo home run by the Rockies’ second batter, D.J. LaMahieu. Three innings and five more earned runs later for the 32-year-old Haren and his day was done. He walked off the mound after recording just ten outs with many in the crowd of 35,787 letting him hear it with boos.

For a pitcher with Haren’s resume, it’s not often he’s heard this type of reaction from a home crowd. But given his outing and season overall – he’s now worst the majors with a 6.15 ERA - Haren feels it is deserved.

“No one wants to be booed. I'd probably boo myself, too,” Haren said. “I'm not doing well and the fans have a right to express how they feel. I wish I could perform better for them.”

Another unfortunate start for Haren and he’s now allowed 20 earned runs in his last 18 1/3 innings pitched. It is the worst stretch Haren can remember going through as a major league pitcher.

Instant Analysis: Rockies 7, Nats 1

Photo by the Associated Press
Game in a nutshell: Dan Haren's unfortunate season continued on Saturday as he fell into trouble quickly in the first inning. Haren was all over the place with two wild pitches, a hit batter, and countless balls that sent Jhonatan Solano chasing to make stops. He gave up three runs early and allowed three later to eliminate any real chance for the Nats to win. After falling down early, the Nationals' offense reverted back to its ineffective ways and made for an easy day for Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin. Chacin cruised through seven innings with five hits, one walk, and zero runs allowed.

Hitting lowlight: In this game, there weren't many hitting highlights besides a solo home run by Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth inning. The Nats had six total hits, but couldn't get anything in bunches. Their 6-8 hitters (Bernadina, Lombardozzi, and Solano) combined to go 0-for-8. Washington left 11 total batters on base today.

Harper says Tuesday is unrealistic

 Photo by USA Today
A day after Davey Johnson projected Tuesday as Bryce Harper’s target date for a rehab assignment, the Nats outfielder said that may be wishful thinking. 

Harper himself doesn’t expect to play until Wednesday or Thursday and hopes to have as many as six or seven minor league games before he is brought back up to join the Nationals.

Tuesday, that’s kind of early,” Harper said. “I’m thinking Wednesday or Thursday maybe. I’m not sure. We’ll see how I feel. If I feel good, then I’ll go play. If I feel something isn’t right, then I’m not going to go play. It depends on how I’m feeling.”

Johnson said on Friday he didn’t think Harper would need a lot of time in the minors, maybe three games or so. Harper would like to be there longer.


Game 74: Rockies at Nats

Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
With their first three-game winning streak in over a month, the Nationals will look to make it four against the Rockies on Saturday in an early afternoon game. Dan Haren (4-8, 5.72 ERA) takes the mound for his second start against Colorado this season. He took the loss on June 11 after allowing two homers and five earned runs.

Jayson Werth has been a late scratch from the Nats' lineup with no reason provided. Davey Johnson said before the game Werth had been seeing a specialist for a variety of things, but that his hamstring was okay.

"No, I think he’s alright there. I think he’s fine," Johnson said.

We'll see what he has for us after the game.

On the hill for the Rockies is RHP Jhoulys Chacin (5-3, 4.26). He gave up two earned runs on seven hits in five innings on June 11 against the Nats.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the game...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 12:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500), XM 183
Weather: Mostly clear, 83 degrees
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Steps in the right direction

Associated Press
A dominant performance from the presumptive ace of the staff. Some clutch hits late from a couple of star position players. Big strikeouts in big spots from a key reliever late. And some spectacular defense at critical moments to preserve a 1-run lead and close out an impressive victory.

Not a combination of events seen on a regular basis out of the Nationals over the last three months, but developments that have become more commonplace over the last three nights and were all on display Friday night during a 2-1 win over the Rockies that featured plenty of impressive performances.

There was Stephen Strasburg tossing seven innings of one-run ball, striking out nine and showing some emotion on the mound after Ryan Zimmerman's circus catch ended the seventh. There was Zimmerman delivering the game-tying double in the sixth and Ian Desmond delivered yet another go-ahead homer one inning later. There was Drew Storen striking out Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer back-to-back with a man in scoring position in the eighth. And there was Adam LaRoche sprawling to his right to snag a hot shot to end the game and give the crowd of 34,917 one last reason to roar.

Above all else, there was the entire Nationals roster gathering at the center of the diamond, exchanging high-fives for the third straight night, having just secured their longest winning streak in six weeks.

"I think most of all, we've been playing better baseball," Zimmerman said. "That's the most important thing. You get wins and kind of win ugly. They're wins and they're great, but it doesn't really get that momentum going. The past four or five games, we've really started playing like we should have been playing. Hopefully that'll carry over into some more wins."
Read more

Friday, June 21, 2013

Instant analysis: Nats 2, Rockies 1

Associated Press
Stephen Strasburg allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings.
Game in a nutshell: For five innings, this looked like so many other games we've seen this season. Stephen Strasburg pitched great but made one small mistake that proved costly. The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, was completely shut down by little-known right-hander Tyler Chatwood. Another frustrating night at the ballpark? Well, no. For that, you can thank Ryan Zimmerman (who doubled with two outs in the sixth to drive in the game-tying run) and Ian Desmond (who once again homered to put the Nats ahead late). Drew Storen then came up huge in the eighth, striking out Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer in succession to strand the tying run in scoring position. Rafael Soriano closed it out in the ninth — with help from Adam LaRoche, who made a spectacular play at first base to end it — and that secured the Nationals' first three-game winning streak since May 8-10. They're also back over the .500 mark at 37-36.

Hitting highlight: Zimmerman's game-tying double was nice, sure. But how can we not spotlight Desmond, who for the third