Sports Fix, The Features

A Celebration Eight Years In The Making: The Nats Clinch Their First NL East Championship

(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page) © Cheryl Nichols Photography LLC

Ryan Zimmerman knew the 2012 Washington Nationals had a good team back in the spring. He acknowledged that they were young but if they could learn from the game and come together as a team that everything would eventually start to click.

It’s safe to say now, after years of hard work and determination as one of Major League Baseball’s best third basemen, that Zimmerman was right. The Nats clinched their first-ever National League East division title Monday night despite losing 2-0 against their long-time division rival the Philadelphia Phillies.

News of the title spread throughout the ballpark via the center field scoreboard in the middle of the ninth inning when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves, thereby securing the Nats’ place as NL East champions. Fans were in a frenzy as Michael Morse came to bat, leading off the bottom of the ninth. They sang A-Ha’s “Take On Me” in unison, as has become tradition at Nats Park when Morse comes to bat later on in the game. The roar of verbal thunder that spread through the Navy Yard air was one to be savored for years to come. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Cardinals Offense Pounds Jordan Zimmermann, Nats Fall 10-9

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison
Jordan Zimmermann
courtesy of Keith Allison

It was a game the Nationals could have won. A four-run first inning made the team’s offensive efforts look solid. But a short outing from starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann helped this game fall into the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup in a 10-9 loss.

Zimmermann lasted a total of three and one-third inning and gave up eight earned runs – the most of his career. His 93-pitch start also saw two hit batters and two homeruns from the Cardinals offense before he was replaced by reliever Craig Stammen in the fourth. Manager Davey Johnson indicated after the game that he’s not worried about Zimmermann’s shoulder or arm in general. He attributed this loss to being one of those games where it just gets away from the pitcher. According to Johnson, Zimmermann’s just as strong as ever. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Edwin Jackson Dominates The Cardinals, Nats Win 8-1

Photo courtesy of MudflapDC
courtesy of MudflapDC

Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson faced his former club, the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, for the first time on Monday night since being traded to Washington. It wasn’t a complete game shut it but it was pretty close. Jackson threw eight innings in an 8-1 game that ended in the Nationals’ favor to start out this three-game series.

The Nats 1-2 punch at the top of Manager Davey Johnson’s lineup came out of the gate strong to start. Outfielder Jayson Werth drew a walk off Jaime Garcia followed by a two-run laser of a homerun hit to the right field bullpen by rookie outfielder Bryce Harper in the first inning.

Washington maintained their lead for the game’s entirety and continued tacking on runs as they went, including a Werth solo homerun in the fifth. The Nats took advantage of Garcia’s exit in the sixth and went on to score a total of four runs in the sixth and seventh: Danny Espinosa scored on a Werth ground out off reliever Fernando Salas and Michael Morse scored on a Jesus Flores single off reliever Lance Lynn. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Nats Don’t Rally, Fall to Atlanta 5-1

Photo courtesy of oddlittlebird.
courtesy of oddlittlebird.

In comparison to the rest of this week’s three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals played poor defense and dropped a winnable game 5-1 after a ninth inning collapse. It didn’t help much that the offense struggled with runners on-base either.

Atlanta started to tack on their runs in the fifth inning. Starting pitcher Ross Detwiler issued a walk to Braves starter Kyle Medlen that served as a catalyst for the two-run rally. Second baseman Tyler Pastoricky and Medlen scored on a double to right-center field hit by outfielder Martin Prado putting the Nats in a 2-0 hole.

Washington stuck it out until the ninth, initiating what could have been a comeback in the eigth inning when the game was still within their reach. Atlanta only managed to score two runs before their three-run rally in the top of the ninth against reliever Tom Gorzelanny, but the Nats could only manage one run the whole game.

Outfielder Bryce Harper scored the Nats only run in eighth on a single hit to left field by outfielder Michael Morse  off Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty, making it a 2-1 game. But that was before a ninth inning got away from Washington.

While some of the evening’s missteps should be attributed to the fact that Detwiler didn’t make it long enough for a quality start, it didn’t start out that way. Detwiler cruised through the first four innings, having given up just three hits in that time, with two of the runners making it scoring position without making it home. His fast ball was absolutely dominated.

So what was his biggest weakness? According to Manager Davey Johnson, Detwiler didn’t mix in enough off-speed pitches to get the job done. Because, no matter how great his fast ball is — and it was great for the first half of the game — Johnson says you still need to mix in the off-speed stuff.

Detwiler only made it 5 and 1/3 innings, having given up seven hits, two earned runs, and one walk. He threw 78 pitches, 51 strikes, and struck out four. That’s when Craig Stammen entered the game for 1 and 2/3 innings of no-hit ball.

The ninth is where it got messy. It was Gorzelanny’s second inning of work. He managed to get through the eigth having faced just three batters, but as previously indicated, the Nats offense seemed to lose their footing and couldn’t muster a reaction.

Three runs home, two errors, a wild pitch, two hits, and a stolen base later, the Nats fell from a 2-1 deficit to a 5-1 deficit and couldn’t overcome that fact in the end. As it stands, though, Washington is still 30 games above .500 and maintains first place in the National League East with their closest competition – the Braves – still 6 games behind. So at the end of the day, all is not lost.

The Daily Feed

Detwiler’s Consistency and LaRoche’s Bat Win It For The Nats

Photo courtesy of Matthew Straubmuller
Nationals Pitcher – Ross Detwiler
courtesy of Matthew Straubmuller

The Washington Nationals avoided a sweep against the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday night in a battle of the southpaws between left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels and Ross Detwiler. Long Story Short: It was most certainly Detwiler’s night.

Manager Davey Johnson was acting like a proud papa in the post-game press conference while explaining how proud he is of young Detwiler, who went on to pitch seven innings of three hit ball in the 3-0 Washington win. Detwiler’s seven innings of three hit ball combined with a line of two walks and three strike outs over 88 pitches (54 strikes) proved to be an efficient outing for the lefty.

But it woudn’t be a win without some run support, right?

First baseman Adam LaRoche went 3-for-4 against Hamels with a leadoff, first pitch homerun – his twentieth of the season – to right field to put the Nats on the board early in the second inning. According to Johnson, LaRoche has been the glue of the team this season and this game most certainly proved that to be true. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

Espinosa Comes Up Big, Nats Beat Rays 5-2

Photo courtesy of MudflapDC
Future All-Stars
courtesy of MudflapDC

Left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez had a shaky start to Thursday night’s interleague game between his Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays.  Gonzalez faced seven batters in the second, allowing the Rays to take an early 1-0 lead, but the Nats came back from behind for a 5-2 victory.

Gonzalez had a lot of trouble, according to Manager Davey Johnson, due to “missing the plate” or at least that’s what home plate umpire Cory Blaser thought of his performance. He threw 98 pitches, 58 for strikes, over six innings and gave up seven hits, two runs, and two walks while striking out four and throwing one wild pitch. The minor setback was to no avail for Tampa Bay, though, because the Nats regained a temporary lead in the third inning before taking it all back in the sixth.

Second baseman and switch hitter Danny Espinosa went 2-for-4 and had a hand the two plays that put the Nats ahead to beat the Rays. Rookie left-handed starter Matt Moore gave the Nats some trouble but they still managed three hits and two runs off of him over five innings pitched. Moore’s struggles in the third came directly after Gio’s shaky second inning. That’s when Espinosa and outfielder Bryce Harper scored to take the Nats’ first lead of the night. Continue reading

Sports Fix

Nats Beat Mets in Extras, Bryce Harper Gets His First Walk-Off Hit

Photo courtesy of Rukasu1
courtesy of Rukasu1

What appeared to be a quick and easy game for Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann ended up being one of the most exciting extra-inning games of the 2012 season when Bryce Harper hit his first career walk-off – a single – to left field in the bottom of the twelfth inning aginst the New York Mets. Washington won 7-6 after battling through a four hour and fifteen minute contest and it was brutal.

Over the course of the night, both teams’ benches and bullpens were depleted to the point where position players would have needed to fill the role on the mound. Nats fans were treated to not just one but two starting pitchers on the mound including Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler – Detwiler ended up with the win, by the way, with two innings of work in the game.

What seemed to hold up the Nats eventual victory was Mets starter Chris Young who made his season debut, leaving men on base, and failing to come through in the clutch several times over before finally executing a combination resulting in runs scored. Young was effective, only giving up six hits and two earned runs of the three earned by Washington early on while throwing 52 strikes in 75 pitches.

Zimmermann posted similar numbers on the night lasting six total innings and giving up five hits, two runs, no walks, five strikeouts and two homeruns. That’s what hurt him – giving up two homeruns in the sixth inning with the lead – bringing the score to 3-2 in favor of the Nats.

Washington didn’t lose the lead in the sixth (they lost that honor in both the eighth and tenth innings) but that was the start of what ended up being a twelve-inning game. Coach Jim Lett’s bullpen got a full-group workout in during the game when Manager Davey Johnson started calling them over to the mound in the seventh inning.

Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny threw a scoreless seventh before Stammen gave up two runs in the eigth after inheriting a runner from Sean Burnett’s stint just two batters earlier. Tyler Clippard walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before retiring the side.

Once the game got to the eleventh, though, Johnson stuck with Detwiler and the Nats managed enough offense to win it. Michael Morse – who got his first hit of the season, a double in the fourth, since returning from the disabled list – did it again in the twelfth to leadoff and eventually scored on a passed ball at the plate. Then, as the story goes, 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper recorded his first walf-off hit with a single to left field. Jesus Flores scores. Nats win 7-6 and resume their place atop the standings in the National League East.

Sports Fix, The Features

A Shutout Win, And A Glimpse Of The Future?

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘oddlittlebird.’

On a warm Sunday afternoon on the final weekend of September, the Washington Nationals shut out a division opponent in a game with major playoff implications. The starting pitcher, a high draft pick and source of occasional frustration, pitched six shutout innings; Washington’s best offensive player smashed a two-run home run to break the game open in the late innings; and the team’s sterling bullpen pitched three perfect innings to secure the win.

OK, so the only team who had their playoff chances affected was the hapless Atlanta Braves, for whom the 3-0 loss was their 15th of the month of September. Atlanta’s lackluster performance, combined with the St. Louis Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, cut the Braves’ lead in the National League wild card race down to a single game with three still to play. Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

Neutered Nats Flop Against Fish, Lose 3-0

Friday night was never going to be easy for the Washington Nationals. A letdown of some kind had to be expected after an emphatic four-game road sweep of the New York Mets earlier this week, and the red flags waved even more frantically when Davey Johnson announced that he was giving both Michael Morse and Jayson Werth a day off. (And he meant it; Alex Cora was first off the bench to pinch-hit.) And that was before anyone bothered to check the statistics and note that Florida had had the Indian sign over Washington this season, with an 8-4 head-to-head record entering this three-game weekend series, the next-to-last of the season between these two clubs.

But no one expected the Nats to go down as meekly as they did in the 3-0 loss. Javier Vazquez, a pitcher who has generally been mediocre to below-average since being traded by the Montreal Expos to the New York Yankees prior to the 2004 season (exceptional outliers in 2007 and 2009 notwithstanding), recorded his first complete game since September 25, 2009 (when his Braves defeated, yes, the Nationals), and he needed only 104 pitches to do it. True to form, there was nothing particularly special about what Vazquez was doing. He threw his fastball for strikes, got ahead in the count, and took advantage of a Nationals lineup that seemed completely uninterested in working the count. Of the 30 batters that Vazquez faced, 17 either took a first-pitch strike or swung at the first pitch.

The Nationals were compliant in their own demise as well, making two foolish mistakes on the basepaths. The first came in the second inning with the score still 1-0. After Rick Ankiel had singled to center with one out, Espinosa flicked a ball into left-center field. The ball was cut off quickly by center fielder Bryan Petersen, but Ankiel was still able to advance to third. However, Espinosa either underestimated Petersen’s arm or thought it was the right time to take the double play out of the equation. Regardless of his reasoning, he was easily cut down at second base for the second out of the inning. Chris Marrero flied out to right field to end the once-promising inning.

The other, less forgivable lapse came in the seventh inning, with the score 3-0 but Vazquez wobbling for the first time all night. Ryan Zimmerman and Laynce Nix singled to lead off the inning before Ankiel (fooled by a curveball) and Espinosa (unable to catch up to a fastball) struck out swinging. Then, with Marrero at the plate in search of a first home run of his term with the Nats, pinch-runner Brian Bixler was picked off of first, despite the fact that second base was already occupied by the less-than-speedy Zimmerman and it was unnecessary for Bixler to take undue risks on the basepaths with the tying run at the plate. The whole sequence summed up the lazy, haphazard approach the Nats offense brought to the ballpark last night.

Lannan wasn’t much better, though he managed to wring six innings and a quality start (in name only) out of his evening. He struggled to locate his fastball and changeup in the early going and gave up six of the eight hits recorded off him in the first three innings. The pitches that weren’t hit were taken outside of the strike zone, and this is what led to Florida’s first run of the game. Gaby Sanchez and Petersen worked one-out walks in the second inning and advanced to third and second on a wild pitch. Sanchez scored on John Buck’s single to center, and if Petersen hadn’t stopped between second and third base to make sure the ball would drop, he would have scored as well. As it was, Lannan got out of the inning with no further damage after Vazquez failed to get a squeeze bunt down and got Buck thrown out at second base and Emilio Bonifacio grounded into an inning-ending force play.

The Marlins added their other two runs in the third inning as Omar Infante and Mike Stanton opened the inning with back-to-back doubles before Stanton came home on Sanchez’s single to center. Again, the damage could have been worse, but Petersen went too far when turning first base after his two-out single and managed to get himself thrown out 7-6-3.

It was, in short, the type of game that was to be expected on a cool Friday night in September when both teams are eliminated from the playoff race (mathematically as well as realistically).  If there’s anything positive to be taken from it, it’s that Saturday’s game shouldn’t be nearly as somnolent. After all, Werth and Morse should be back, and some kid named Strasburg is on the mound.

Sports Fix, The Features

Mental Errors Doom Nats In 4-2 Loss To Arizona; In Memoriam Mike Flanagan

Photo courtesy of
‘Desmond touches ‘em all’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

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

Sports Fix, The Features

Detwiler And Werth Lead Nats Over Snakes, 4-1

Photo courtesy of
‘Curly W’
courtesy of ‘BrianMKA’

After the emotional Sturm und Drang that was this past weekend’s three-game series against the Phillies, the Washington Nationals needed a nice, quiet game that wouldn’t overly tax the bullpen. Luckily, they got just that kind of performance from Ross Detwiler, who allowed just one run on six hits over 6.2 innings as the Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1 Monday night at Nationals Park.

On a night when most of the focus of the Washington brass and media was on Stephen Strasburg’s third rehab start with Class-A Hagerstown (for the record, Strasburg went three innings and allowed one earned run on two hits, walked one and struck out six while throwing 60 pitches in front of Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and principal owner Mark Lerner), the 25-year-old Detwiler continued to build on his impressive year, pitching into the seventh inning as a starter for the first time since June 20, 2009.

How much of Detwiler’s improvement is genuine progress and how much is a product of mere year-to-year statistical variance is hard to gauge. His strikeouts per nine innings ratio has jumped to 6.61, up from 5.16 in 2010, though he only managed just three strikeouts Monday night after fanning seven in his previous start against Cincinnati. Detwiler’s also been getting more ground balls with his more effective sinker. 48.9 percent of all balls in play against him have been grounders this season, up from an even 43% in 2010. As a result, both Detwiler’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and expected Fielding Independant Pitching (xFIP) have dropped by more than a run from 2010 (the FIP has fallen from 5.64 to 4.54, while his xFIP has fallen from 4.97 to 3.96).

But there’s no denying that the left-hander has gotten very lucky when it comes to stranding runners on base. Entering Monday night, Detwiler’s left on base percentage was an unsustainable 86.6 percent. Remarkably, he managed to bolster that number on Monday night, as Arizona stranded five of their seven runners while he was in the game. Indeed, the most crucial moment of Detwiler’s outing came in the top of sixth inning, when he allowed a single to Justin Upton and walked Chris Young to load the bases with two outs and Washington on top 4-0.  Henry Rodriguez was warming up in the Washington bullpen, and on another night, Nationals manager Davey Johnson might have pulled the trigger on a pitching change. But this time, he only visited the mound to have a word with Detwiler, and his faith was rewarded when Detwiler induced Paul Goldschmidt to ground into an inning-ending force play.

Along with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the development of Detwiler will be fascinating to watch. The good news is that the Nationals and their fans will have plenty of time to make a determination. Detwiler has one more full season before being eligible for arbitration, and he won’t be a full-fledged free-agent until after the 2015 campaign.

On the other side of the coin, the Nationals offense didn’t make Arizona starter Joe Saunders work particularly hard (he had only thrown 90 pitches when he made way for a pinch-hitter after six innings), but the Nationals didn’t to have particular trouble hitting certain of his pitches. As it turned out, Saunders’ two-seam fastball was particularly ineffective, and it was responsible for all of Washington’s runs. In the bottom of the second, Jonny Gomes dropped a two-seamer into right field to drive in Jayson Werth for the first run of the game. Two innings later, after a Ryan Zimmerman infield single and a walk by Michael Morse, Werth hit another Saunders two-seamer quite a bit farther. The ball sailed into the front row of the right-field seats for a three-run home run that turned a 1-0 lead into a 4-0 cushion and capped off a fine night at the plate for Werth (2-for-4 with his other hit a pulled double into the left field corner in the second). The well-paid right fielder is very quietly having a fine second half to the season, with a .358 on-base percentage and a .778 OPS in 137 plate appearances since the All-Star Break entering Monday night’s game. While those numbers still don’t measure up to his outstanding statistics in Philadelphia, Nats fans can now expect, rather than hope, that Werth has got his feet under him in the nation’s capital.

Sports Fix, The Features

King Richard: Ankiel’s Slam Helps Nats Over Braves, 9-3

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘oddlittlebird.’

A night after hitting two solo home runs in a series opening 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves, Rick Ankiel struck an even bigger blow. His grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead, and the Washington Nationals went on to beat Atlanta 9-3 in front of 24,326 fans at Nationals Park Tuesday night.

The grand slam was Ankiel’s only hit of the night (he finished 1-for-5), but it was the perfect capstone to a torrid homestand for the veteran pitcher-turned-center fielder. Ankiel entered Tuesday’s game with a .421 on-base percentage in 19 plate appearances during the homestand, while his two Monday night home runs goosed his slugging percentage up to .750. In the short term, Ankiel’s hot streak has been a timely contribution to Washington’s firepower while others have struggled. Most notably, Danny Espinosa has fallen off sharply from the giddy heights of, say, mid-July. The rookie second baseman’s one-out double in the bottom of the third was his first extra-base hit since July 17 (which also, coincidentally, came against the Braves). Between the next day’s 0-for-4 performance against the Houston Astros and the start of Tuesday night’s game, Espinosa –who went 2-for-5 on Tuesday night– had reached base just nine times in 57 plate appearances on four singles, four walks, and once taking first after being hit by a pitch. That worked out to  a .161 on-base percentage, while striking out 17 times.

Jayson Werth, who also went 2-for-5 Tuesday night  has been hot as well (.440 on-base percentage and 1.011 OPS on the homestand entering the game), and it was he who scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the second inning. Werth, showing the same aggressive baserunning that’s marked his game all season, led off the inning with a single to right and took off for second with Michael Morse at the plate. Morse struck out on a full count, but David Ross’ throw sailed into center field and Werth took third base before scoring on Ian Desmond’s sacrifice fly.

That lead only lasted until the top of the third inning, when John Lannan struggled for the only significant period in his 6.2 innings. Facing the bottom third of the Atlanta order, Lannan gave up singles to Ross and Jose Constanza. After Ross was retired on a failed sacrifice by starter Derek Lowe, Michael Bourn tied the game with a double down the right field line. Lowe himself came across when the next batter, Martin Prado, grounded out to Espinosa. The Braves increased their lead to 3-1 in the top of the fourth when Alex Gonzalez singled with one out, went to second on a single by Brooks Conrad, advanced to third on a deep fly ball by Ross, and scored when Constanzo drove a single over the leaping Ryan Zimmerman and into left field.

But in the fourth, it all fell apart for Lowe, who has been a consistent disappointment for Atlanta since signing a four-year, $60 million contract with the Braves after the 2008 season. On Tuesday night, his sinker wasn’t as effective as it should have been, and the Nats finally got the measure of him. After Jonny Gomes walked with one out, Desmond pulled a sinker into left field for a single. Wilson Ramos fouled off a changeup before lining a sinker the other way to load the bases. Lannan then chopped a ground ball to first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose throw home to force Gomes was much too high and forced Ross to come well in front of the plate to make the catch. Gomes finished the job by taking out Ross’ legs with his own. It was a violent, but legal, play by Gomes and it cut the margin to 3-2. Then Ankiel watched two cutters miss high and outside before driving a sinker into the storage area behind the center field wall. It happens that quickly sometimes.

Lowe made it out of the fourth without further damage to his ERA, but he only lasted two batters into the fifth. Left with no choice but to hope that his sinker would suddenly sink, Lowe kept throwing it, and the Nationals kept hitting. Specifically, Gomes lead off the fifth by tripling down the left field line and Desmond treated another thigh-high sinker with the contempt it deserved, lining it into the first row of the left field seats to make it 8-3.

Michael Morse rounded off the home run derby in style with a long home run into the first row of the right center field balcony off Christhian Martinez to provide the final margin of victory in the bottom of the sixth. But the story once again was Ankiel, who, while he is not likely to be back with the club in 2012, has given the club some very fine service in center field (a below-average bat, perhaps, but his defense has not been close to the disaster many feared it would be). On a team that is simultaneously building toward the future and struggling to put its offense together, performances like Ankiel’s on this homestand are so often the difference between winning and losing, progress and frustration.

Sports Fix, The Features

Ankiel’s Solo Shots Lead The Nats Over The Braves

Photo courtesy of
‘Teddy Didn’t Win…’
courtesy of ‘Tony DeFilippo’

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.

Sports Fix, The Features

Nats Come Up Just Short Against Marlins

Photo courtesy of
‘Nats Park’
courtesy of ‘oddlittlebird.’

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.

Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

Nats Fall To Fish As Zimmermann Can’t Right The Ship

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‘not too happy’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

The Washington Nationals are last in the National League East for the first time since June 14. They descended to this low point after losing 11-2 to the Florida Marlins Tuesday night in front of 24,650 on a relatively pleasant night (in meteorological terms, anyway) at Nationals Park. The loss is the seventh the Nats have suffered in their ten games since the All-Star break and this particular performance should choke out whatever life was left in any hope that Washington could make a surprise run up the National League Wild Card standings. It is true that the Nationals only have the sixth-worst record in the National League and are still only four games under .500 (49-53 after Tuesday night), but if their recent run of form is any guide, the relatively fertile period of mid-June has turned out to be a mirage and the club is regressing dangerously.

The tone for the evening was set by starter Jordan Zimmermann, who gave up a triple to the second batter of the game, Omar Infante. The Florida second baseman went on to score on an RBI groundout by Greg Dobbs, the first of five runs that Dobbs would drive in over the course of the evening. Zimmermann has been very, very good throughout this season for the Nationals, but he was off tonight, particularly in the first five innings. He was leaving far too many of his pitches up in the strike zone, and the Marlins treated his offerings with the contempt they deserved, banging out seven hits in the first five innings, with four going for extra bases. Even more disconcerting were the two hit batsmen on Zimmermann’s record, as many as he’d hit all season entering Tuesday night. Arguably the biggest moment in the game came with two out in the third inning, when Zimmermann hit Hanley Ramirez with an 0-1 fastball with the score already 2-0 in Florida’s favor after Zimmermann had coaxed a 4-6-3 double play out of Dobbs, with Emilio Bonifacio crossing the plate in the process. Two pitches to Logan Morrison later, the Nationals were behind 4-0 and Morrison was circling the bases after depositing his 16th home run of the season into the Nationals bullpen.

In fairness to Zimmermann, he has now pitched 126.2 innings this season, by far the most in his major league career, and with his much-noted 160-inning limit fast-approaching, it would not be in the least surprising to either see more outings like this one or to see him handled much more gently and with a much shorter leash.

The Nationals offense, true to usual form, was about as exciting to watch as molasses. Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

Rockies Hurt Lannan, Stifle Nats 3-2

Photo courtesy of
‘not too happy’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

If Thursday night’s 10-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs was a spectacular defeat for the Washington Nationals, Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies was more in keeping with past defeats this season, complete with offensive incompetence and a pinch of bad luck.

In this case, actually, the bad luck was a hammer blow in the form of a baseball off the bat of Ty Wigginton in the top of the fourth inning with Washington on top 1-0. John Lannan had started his outing crisply, and had made it through the first three innings without allowing a single baserunner. After Carlos Gonzalez struck out swinging at a two-seam fastball to lead off the fourth, however, things fell apart quickly for Lannan. Jonathan Herrera lined a four-seam fastball back up the middle for Colorado’s first hit (and base) of the night. Todd Helton pulled a two-seam fastball over the inner half of the plate into right field to put runners on first and second base. And then Wigginton lined another two-seamer straight at Lannan’s skull.

Replays were inconclusive as to whether the ball deflected off Lannan’s glove. What was more definitive was the ball striking Lannan in roughly the place where nose and left cheek come together. As the ball continued into center field and Herrera raced home to tie the game at 1-1, Lannan staggered to his knees for a few seconds before picking himself up and walking to the clubhouse under his own power, holding his cap to his face to staunch any bleeding. The official diagnosis was a nose contusion, and there remains a possibility that Lannan could make his next scheduled start after the All-Star Game.

Despite being allotted as much time as he needed to warm up, Ryan Mattheus seemed rattled by his early appearance in the game. He induced Mark Ellis to ground back to the mound, but double-clutched on the throw to second and only an apparently generous out call from Brian Knight gave the Nationals the second out of the inning. Mattheus was then called for a balk by home plate umpire Bob Davidson, which forced Helton home with the go-ahead run. That in turn was followed by an RBI single for rookie Cole Garner, which made the score 3-1 and was all the scoring Colorado would do or need.

The rest of the night was, for the most part, an exercise in futility by the Nats offense, beginning in the first inning, when they loaded the bases with nobody out against Jason Hammel on a Roger Bernadina double, a walk to Danny Espinosa and an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman. Hammel kept it together, allowing only a sacrifice fly by Michael Morse (which scored Bernadina to give Washington their early lead) before striking out Jayson Werth and inducing Rick Ankiel to pop out to second base. In the rest of his outing, Hammel faced 20 batters, and allowed just four of them to reach base (a walk to Espinosa in the third inning, a solo home run by Wilson Ramos that made the score 3-2 to Colorado, a two-out single to right by Werth in the sixth, and a single to right by Desmond in the bottom of the seventh that precipitated Hammel’s removal).

Hammel’s removal did not turn the tide in Washington’s favor. With newly-recalled Jesus Flores pinch-hitting in the seventh inning against Matt Reynolds, Desmond was picked off and caught trying to steal second. And the offensive ineptitude reached its climax in the 9th inning after a leadoff single by Morse. After Werth struck out flailing wildly at a pitch in the dirt, pinch-runner Brian Bixler, seeing the ball get away briefly from catcher Chris Iannetta decided to try to scamper over to second base. Iannetta recovered the ball in plenty of time to throw out Bixler, and Ankiel’s swinging strikeout ensured that the Nats would drop back to the .500 mark entering the final weekend of the season’s first half.