Any Washington Nationals fan who bothered to sit through the entirety of Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks would probably have felt a nasty shock of recognition. For one night, the Nationals of April and May re-emerged and reminded the 17,881 in attendance that there was a time when the team was in the bottom half of the National League table in every major offensive statistical category. They allowed 24-year-old Lynchburg native Daniel Hudson to come within one out of a complete-game shutout before back-to-back solo home runs by Laynce Nix and Jonny Gomes forced Hudson to yield to J.J. Putz, who forced Wilson Ramos to lift a foul popout to Lyle Overbay to end the game. Continue reading
Since Rick Ankiel returned from the purgatory that his pitching career had become and made his debut as an outfielder in August of 2007, he has hit 56 home runs. Prior to Monday night’s 5-3 Washington Nationals win over the Atlanta Braves, Ankiel had hit two home runs in a game on four occasions. Facing right-hander Jair Jurrjens, Ankiel took his career home run total to an even 60, hitting two solo shots into the right field seats as the Nats notched their third win in a row against a division opponent.
Ankiel’s first home run, a solo cannon shot into the right-center field seats to lead off the bottom of the first inning, was impressive enough. But it paled in comparison to his second homer, another solo job that was blasted into the second deck down the right field line. As anyone who makes a habit of watching games at Nationals Park can tell you, those seats aren’t reached cheaply.
The pitching match-up certainly didn’t favor the home side. Jurrjens, a 25-year-old from Curacao, had not lost a start since June 14, and is surely on the watch list for the National League Cy Young Award. By contrast, Livan Hernandez had not won a start since June 26, and hadn’t even made it past the 4th inning in two of his previous three appearances. In the first inning, the Cuban looked to be continuing his poor run of form. After giving up a lead-off single to Michael Bourn on the second pitch of the game, Martin Prado turned on a curveball that missed the left field foul pole by, at most, a foot. The next pitch was scalded to Ryan Zimmerman, who snagged the line drive on the back hand and threw to first in plenty of time to double off Bourn, who was left standing at second wondering how on earth the ball hadn’t gone for extra bases.
The themes of danger and escape recurred throughout Hernandez’s six-inning, six-hit, one-run outing. In the third, he gave up a one-out single to Jose Constanza, who was promptly thrown out trying to steal second by Wilson Ramos. In the next inning, Hernandez allowed back-to-back one-out singles by Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla before hitting Jason Heyward on the leg with a pitch to load the bases. The next batter, David Ross, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Hernandez helped his own cause considerably on two occasions. In the second inning, Hernandez gave his team a lead that they never relinquished when his two-out single to right field scored Jayson Werth to put Washington on top 2-1. But his most spectacular moment came in the fifth. After a lead-off single by Alex Gonzalez, Jurrjens (batting in the 8th spot) dropped a very well-placed bunt in front of the plate. Springing off the mound with alacrity, Hernandez spun and fired a bullet to the covering Desmond at second to start the 1-6-3 twin killing, the third double play turned by the Nats on the evening.
The only mistake Hernandez made was in the second inning, when he left a sinking fastball up in the zone for Uggla to catapult into the right-center field bleachers to tie the game 1-1. But even in this, Hernandez could commiserate with closer Drew Storen, who gave up Uggla’s second home run of the night with one out in the ninth inning. That made the score 5-3, and when Heyward followed with a single to right, nerves were jangling in the crowd of 19,940. But Storen managed to blow a full-count fastball by Ross and induce Gonzalez to ground into a 5-4 force-out to end the game.
At least on Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals had the decency to make it interesting. Before losing 7-5 to the Florida Marlins and dropping further into the basement of the National League East, Washington managed to piece together four hits and a walk to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth. The last of those hits — a two-run single by Michael Morse — scored two runs and brought Laynce Nix, who had already hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth to make the score 3-1 Florida at the time. Nix came within a foot of tying the game, lifting a Leo Nunez change-up very high in the air and very far into left field. But the ball had been hit a little too close to the end of Nix’s bat, the ball settled into Mike Stanton’s glove instead of in the Nationals bullpen, and Washington had officially lost eight of their last eleven games dating back to the All-Star Break.
The Nationals needed a hero in the bottom of the ninth to secure a victory against the Florida Marlins Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, no heroics came to fruition and Washington dropped the contest 1-0.
Marlins right-handed pitcher Leo Nunez walked Jayson Werth to lead off the ninth inning and gave up a single to Laynce Nix to follow. With men on base, it looked like the Nats could pull off a late rally. Adam LaRoche, who has been struggling along with a .192 batting average, reached first after going 0-for-3 to start the day. That hit moved Werth to third and forced Nix out at second.
The next two Nats batters, Wilson Ramos and Jerry Hairston, Jr., popped out, stranding Werth and pinch runner Brian Bixler on the corners to end it. Continue reading
The most wins any Nationals pitcher has under his belt is 26. That record is held by right-handed pitcher Livan Hernandez who signed a minor-league contract with the Nationals today, which includes an invitation to Spring Training.
Hernandez is back in Washington after going 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA in 31 starts last season (having split his time between DC and New York with the Mets).
Word on the street (aka MLB.com) is the Nats have been looking for a second veteran starter since they signed right-hander Jason Marquis to a two-year deal in December.
Hernandez now enters the competition to fill the final two starting spots in Riggleman’s 2010 rotation.