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Friday, May 30, 2008

Across the Natosphere

Ray "Burger" King signed a minor league contract with the Houston Astros on Thursday. Earlier this season for the Nats, King pitched six and two-thirds innings with a 5.68 ERA, giving up nine hits and four walks, striking out one. It will be interesting to see if King has anything left in his sizable tank after the change of scenery.

WaPo's Nationals Notebook has some fluff on Luis Ayala and his durability and resilience. No comment from them on his "goodness".

WaTi's Notebook talks about Ryan Langerhans, his nice catch yesterday, and his perserverance making in back to the majors.

NFA is participating in a Mock Amateur Draft with a bunch of other minor league bloggers. The real thing is coming up next week. Interesting stuff for the uninitiated.

Kristen at We've Got Heart pines for Ryan Wagner and bemoans the sameness of a lot of these recent losses.

And Nats320 has an extensive piece about Chad Cordero and his philanthropy. SBF has a distinct writing style that takes some getting used to, but the story here is that Chad gives back--a lot.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

GB&U: Manning's Time Short?

RESULT: Nats lose to Padres 5-2.

GOOD: John Lannan. Another quality start, although not without it's share of trouble. Lannan wasn't extremely sharp (3 walks in 5 innings), but managed to hold the Pads to just two runs.

BAD: Wily Mo Pena. WMP went 0-for-3 and struck out thrice. His season average sits at .207. He looked like he was showing signs of making contact on the home stand, but this is getting real old, real fast. Of course, wen you're facing Wil Ledezma, you have to be worried about being over matched. Uh, that was sarcasm.

UGLY: Charlie Manning. One has to feel for a 29-year old getting his first shot in the big leagues, but there's usually a reason behind that. Manning was enjoying some real nice success at Triple-A before the call-up, and that's probably where he belongs. Problem is: if not him, who?

NEXT GAME: Friday night in Arizona. Tim Redding (6-3, 3.59) faces Micah Owings (6-2, 3.73). Gotta watch out for Owings hitting, too. He's hitting .286 (10-for-35) with a homer and three RBIs.

Padres Explode In Eighth To Down Nats 5-2

San Diego, CA--San Diego outfielder Jody Gerut hit a three-run home run off Washington Nationals rookie reliever Charlie Manning in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday and the Padres held on to win the game 5-2 and the series two games to one. In a battle of two of the lowest run-producing line-ups in the National League, San Diego triumphed by winning the rubber match and sending the Nats to a weekend series in Arizona bruised and feeling like they should have fared better against a team that came into play tied for the worst record in the majors.

When a team is struggling, sometimes one big hit makes all the difference, and the Padres got that hit from forgotten outfielder Gerut. Once a prized prospect in the Cleveland organization, Gerut has fought injuries and bounced to the Cubs and Pittsburgh -- with several minor league stops in between -- before settling this season in the Padres outfield, after a hideous start to the season from veteran Jim Edmonds, which found Edmonds placed on the waiver wire. Gerut hit 22 home runs in his rookie season with Cleveland in 2003 and, now healthy, is starting to produce for the Padres.

The ill-fated inning for Washington started with Saul Rivera on the hill, who had relieved starter John Lannan in the previous inning. Rivera (L, 3-3, 4.64) got the first out as Kevin Kouzmanoff grounded out, but shortstop Khalil Greene got San Diego's rally started with a single to center field. Michael Barrett then singled to right field, moving Green up to second. At that point, Manager Manny Acta went to the pen again, calling on the rookie to face Gerut, making his first at bat of the game after entering as a defensive replacement. Manning has done nothing but struggle since his recall last week, and he would fare no better against Gerut. Manning quickly got ahead in the count 1-2, but Gerut delivered the next offering into the right field grandstand for the 5-2 lead. Manning's ERA now stands at 9.00 after four appearances covering three innings.

The Nationals hitters were held down all day by five Padres pitchers. Starter Wil Ledezma went five innings, giving up one earned run on just two hits and three walks, striking out seven. He was followed by Bryan Corey, Cla Meredith (one earned run on one hit and one walk), Heath Bell (W, 2-3, 2.37) and Trevor Hoffman, who finished up after Gerut's heroics for his eleventh save of the season. Nats starter John Lannan threw six innings and battled some control issues, as he allowed five hits and three walks in five innings of work, but he mitigated the damage and only surrendered two earned runs, when Edgar Gonzalez drove in his little brother Adrian and Kouzmanoff with a bases-loaded single in the fourth inning.

The Nats' two runs were the manufactured kind. In the top of the fourth, Lastings Milledge bunted safely, stole second and third, and scored on an Elijah Dukes' sacrifice fly. In the seventh, Dukes walked with one out, stole second, took third on a ground out and scored on a Ryan Langerhans single.

The Nats were beneficiaries in Wednesday's game of Jesus Flores' grand slam, but when a team is struggling they can't always depend on that "one big hit" surfacing, and it was noticeably absent Thursday in sunny San Diego.

The Nationals travel to Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks Friday night. Tim Redding (6-3, 3.59) looks to get the Nats off on the right foot in Arizona against Micah Owings (6-2, 3.73) at 9:40 pm EDT.

NATS NOTES: With the loss, Washington stands at 23-32, last in the National League East.

Justin Maxwell, of Double-A Harrisburg, will miss up to six weeks with a right wrist injury. The team has released few details, but Harrisburg Manager John Stearns indicated there is concern with "possible ligament damage." Maxwell has been placed on the minor league 7-day disabled list.

Your 2008 NL All-Star Team

I love this game. I do it every year. Right after Memorial Day I predict the two all-star teams. The starters have to come from the official ballot (I take the voting leaders, however poor a choice that may be), then the reserves have to fill out the team just like the real game: 32-man rosters and taking one player from each team.

Stats are: (BA/OBP/SLG, HR/RBI/Runs/SB) (W-L, SV, ERA, WHIP, K/BB)

Starters (8):
1B Lance Berkman, HOU (.381/.469/.742, 16/46/56/10)
2B Chase Ultey, PHI (.309/.394/.638, 17/46/42/5)
3B Chipper Jones, ATL (.418/.495/.673, 12/35/38/0)
SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA (.291/.383/.482, 9/23/41/13)
C Geovany Soto, CHI (.304/.400/.569, 9/36/21/0)
OF Alfonso Soriano, CHI (.283/.329/.547, 11/29/25/3)
OF Kosuke Fukudome, CHI (.304/.407/.422, 2/19/32/4)
OF Ken Griffey, CIN (.244/.337/.369, 5/24/25/0)

Can't argue about with the voters on the infield, but the outfield choices are terrible. Cubs fans following tradition in Chicago about voting early and often.

Reserves (12):
1B Adrian Gonzales, SD (.279/.335/.558, 15/44/33/0)
1B Albert Pujols, STL (.356/.483/.617, 12/34/33/2)
2B Dan Uggla, FLA (.307/.386/.667, 16/38/41/2)
3B David Wright, NYM (.280/.383/.500, 9/36/32/7)
SS Miguel Tejada, HOU (.330/.359/.504, 6/37/43/4)
SS Rafael Furcal, LA (.365/.448/.597, 5/16/34/8)
C Brian McCann, ATL (.320/.383/.580, 9/32/27/0)
C Bengie Molina, SF (.339/.369/.534, 6/36/20/0)
OF Carlos Lee, HOU (.269/.310/.500, 11/45/26/3)
OF Nate McLouth, PIT (.310/.396/.597, 12/39/43/5)
OF Aaron Rowand, SF (.337/.405/.540, 7/32/23/0)
OF Ryan Ludwick, STL (.333/.413/.715, 13/39/32/2)

I took McLouth over Nady for Pirates rep, they both merit the nod. Reyes numbers don't match up to Tejada or others really. Ryan Ludwick? YES!

Starting Pitchers (7):
Brandon Webb, ARI (9-2, 0, 3.01, 1.10, 64/20)
Aaron Cook, COL (7-3, 0, 2.82, 1.20, 35/22)
Tim Hudson (7-3, 0, 2.90, 1.09, 48/16)
Tim Lincecum, SF (7-1, 0, 2.33, 1.28, 76/28)
Edinson Volquez, CIN (7-3, 0, 1.31, 1.21, 76/33)
Carlos Zambrano, CHI (7-1, 0, 2.33, 1.19, 55/24)
Ben Sheets, MIL (5-1, 0, 2.93, 1.06, 55/12)

Relief Pitchers (5):
Jon Rauch, WAS (3-1, 11, 2.36, 1.01, 22/4)
Brad Lidge, PHI (1-0, 12, 0.82, 1.00, 26/11)
Brandon Lyon, ARI (1-1, 12, 1.64, 1.00, 18/2)
Billy Wagner, NYM (0-0, 10, 0.41, 0.82, 25/4)
Kerry Wood, CHI (2-1, 12, 3.25, 0.83, 29/5)

Aaron Cook would be here even if I didn't need a rep for Colorado. Rauch covers the Nats, and I take Sheets over Haren and Dempster for my last starter.

I'll do the AL tomorrow.

Let the debates begin!

GB&U: Killing the Pain in San Diego

RESULT: Nats beat Padres 6-4.

GOOD: Jesus Flores! He hit his first major league GRAND SLAM off Shawn Estes to provide the big punch the Nats needed in this game. Flores is now hitting .344 after going 2-for-4 again. And did you catch Paul LoDuca in the MASN booth for the telecast, with don Sutton fighting laryngitis? I think he's got a future in broadcasting, maybe sooner than later.

BAD: Brian Sanches. He failed to record an out, allowing both hitters he faced to reach, including a two-run shot from Pads lead-off hitter Scott Hairston.

UGLY: Odalis Perez' mouth. Emergency root canal just hours before the game. He was all hopped up on painkillers all night. He was weak, groggy from the meds, and unsure of whether he could go six pitches or six innings. Ah, the miracles of modern medicine.

NEXT GAME: Get-away matinee in San Diego. John Lannan (4-5, 3.57) takes on Wil Ledezma (0-2, 4.65). Facing Webb and Haren this weekend, it would be nice to take 2-of-3 against the Padres, now tied with Seattle for the worst record in the bigs at 20-34.

Nationals, Flores Slam Padres

San Diego, CA--Jesus Flores hit his first major league grand slam, Lastings Milledge added a solo shot, and Odalis Perez had another quality start as the Washington Nationals hung on to defeat the San Diego Padres 6-4 Wednesday night.

Perez, pitching just hours after receiving an emergency root canal in the morning, was not perfect, but certainly good enough to keep the light-hitting Padres at bay long enough to allow Flores and Milledge to play hero with their big blasts. Perez (W, 2-4, 4.14) went six and one-third innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks. He struck out four and did not allow a home run. "It was tough," he said. "I couldn't sleep (Tuesday night). It was painful. I wasn't sure if I was going to pitch."

Perez was the inspirational leader for the team playing through pain, but Flores delivered the big blow when it counted. In the fourth inning, against Padres starter Shawn Estes (L, 1-1, 3.33), Aaron Boone reached on a single, Dmitri Young walked and Milledge was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for the young catcher, pressed into duty with injuries to veterans Paul LoDuca and Johnny Estrada. Flores was down in the count with one ball and two strikes, when Estes didn't locate a fastball, and Flores deposited it in the left center field grandstand, clearing the bases and giving the Nationals a 4-0 lead. Flores went 2-for-4 on the night with four RBIs, raising his season average to .344, best on the team. It was his second home run of the season.

The Padres scored in the bottom of the fifth when second baseman Tadahito Iguchi singled in outfielder Jody Gerut, but the Nats--specifically Milledge--would answer back in the top of the sixth. Milledge got behind reliever Mike Adams 1-2 just as Flores did with Estes, and Adams couldn't find the kill shot either. Instead, Milledge was the one with the dagger, as he blasted a shot to the middle deck of the mining company building beyond the left field fence, a tremendous blast that Milledge perhaps admired for just a fraction of a second before leaving home plate to round the bases for his third homer of the year.

Washington added an insurance run in the seventh. Felipe Lopez (2-for-4), battling a two-week slump, doubled to center and Cristian Guzman (3-for-5, .308) singled, moving Lopez to third. Aaron Boone, again starting for Ryan Zimmerman, hit a sacrifice fly to left to plate Lopez and give the Nats a cushion they almost needed.

In the bottom of the inning, rookie Luke Carlin doubled off Perez, and veteran Tony Clark followed with a double of his own, plating Carlin and ending Perez' evening. Brian Sanches relieved Perez, and promptly allowed a two-run shot to lead-off hitter Scott Hairston, his seventh of the season, followed by a single by Iguchi. Not wanting things to get out of hand, Manager Manny Acta went to the bullpen again. Luis Ayala entered and cleaned up the mess to escape without any further damage. Ayala pitching one and two-third perfect ball, and Jon Rauch earned his eleventh save, striking out two in the ninth inning.

The three-game series wraps up Thursday afternoon at 3:35 EDT, with John Lannan (4-5, 3.57) facing Wil Ledezma (0-2, 4.65).

NATS NOTES: The win moves the Nats season record to 23-31, eight games behind Florida in the NL East.

Ryan Zimmerman missed his third straight contest, nursing his sore left shoulder. He is still listed as day-to-day, but is hopeful to play in the weekend series against Arizona.

Catcher Paul LoDuca, on the DL with a broken right hand, provided color commentary in the MASN TV booth, filling in for Don Sutton, who has been battling a case of laryngitis this week.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Things You May Have Missed in the Natosphere

Bret Boone hangs 'em up. Valiant effort, but when it's time to go, it's time to go. This time it seems he knows it's time.

John Patterson released by Rangers. This link has a short note about it at the bottom. Bad news when you've been waived by two of the worst pitching teams in baseball. Maybe he wishes he would have had the surgery two years ago. He'd probably be back to his old self by now, instead of having to completely start over. What a shame.

Bill Ladson reports that Paul LoDuca felt "fine" after playing catch yesterday. I guess we'll have to wait and see what team management decides when the doctors clear him. It will be real tough to take Flores out of the line-up right now, as even GM JimBow admits in his rambling comments last week.

NFA reports that much-clamored for minor league outfielder Justin Maxwell has gone on the DL at Double-A Harrisburg. Many folks wanted Maxwell up with the Nats after Kearns' injury, but it will be a while before he's ready to play.

GB&U: Outhomered by Padres?!?

RESULT: Nats lose to Padres 4-2.

GOOD: Aaron Boone homers again! Who needs Zim? (uh, the Nats do) Anyway, Boone connected off of Randy Wolf in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead, a lead the Nats would hold for jst two innings. Boone has 5 homers, tied for second with Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman. The back-up corner infielder has more homers than the entire starting outfield, despite having less than one-third the number of at bats (339 for Milledge, Pena and Dukes, 80 for Boone).

BAD: Meathook: 0-for-4 with a K. His average is an even .200. He's just 7-for-35 overall with the one home run, coming Monday against Milwaukee.

UGLY: Rob "Mendoza" Mackowiak. Another pinch-hit appearance, another pop out. He's hitting .149/.255/.234 (7-for-47). Seriously, just let the pitchers bat!

NEXT GAME: Wednesday night from San Diego at 10:05 pm EDT. Odalis Perez (1-4, 4.13) versus Shawn Hill (1-0, 2.33). Estes is a remarkable story, pitching very well in three starts after missing almost all of 2006 and all of 2007.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Homers In Seventh Do In Nats

San Diego, CA--Adrian Gonzales and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit back-to-back solo home runs off two Washington Nationals relievers in the seventh inning to turn a tie game into a 4-2 victory before 18,774 at Petco Park in San Diego Tuesday night.

With two outs in the frame, Gonzales hit his fifteenth of the season on a 0-1 count with two outs from just promoted rookie Charlie Manning (L, 0-1, 7.71). Manning had successfully struck out Padres second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and got right fielder Brian Giles to ground out to short. But Gonzales made no mistake on the one-strike fastball, depositing it over the left-center field fence, taking a lead the Padres would not relinquish. Left fielder Wily Mo Pena tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, but came up empty. "I tried to get the ball in on him and the ball stayed up in the zone," Manning said. "I made a mistake and paid for it." It was Gonzales' fourth home run in his last six games.

Manager Manny Acta then pulled Manning in favor of Joel Hanrahan, who has been in command much better of late, but Kouzmanoff took the first pitch he saw from Hanrahan to almost the same spot in left-center that Gonzales hit moments before. Hanrahan got out of the inning and pitched the eighth as well. He went one and one-third innings, allowing just the one earned run on two hits and no walks, striking out three in the process.

It was a tightwalk all night for the Nats, as starter Shawn Hill was without his best stuff all night. He surrendered only two earned runs on five hits in five innings with five strikeouts. But he also walked five Padres, giving them plenty of base runners all evening. San Diego managed to cash in on Hill's mistakes in the third inning, as he walked Gonzales, Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene in succession, then gave up a single to catcher Michael Barrett (1-for-4, .188) on a 3-2 count with two outs.

The Nationals' pair of runs came in the first inning, as Aaron Boone -- filling in again for sore-shouldered Ryan Zimmerman -- homered against Padres starter Randy Wolf, driving in Cristian Guzman (2-for-4, .301), who had doubled the previous at bat. It was Boone's fifth home run of the season, tying him with Guzman and Nick Johnson for second on the team, behind Zimmerman's team leading eight. Although the Nats reached Wolf for seven hits, they could not push another run across the plate. Heath Bell (W, 1-3, 2.45) pitched a perfect one and one-third innings for the win and Trevor Hoffman added to his all-time lead in saves with his tenth of the season.

Game two of the three-game series is Wednesday night in San Diego, with Odalis Perez (1-4, 4.13) matching up with Shawn Estes (1-0, 2.33) at 10:05 EDT. Estes, 35, is making a comeback after missing most of 2006 and all of 2007 with injuries. He has started three games for the Padres and has yet to allow more than two earned runs.

NATS NOTES: The loss puts Washington's record at 22-31, nine games behind division-leading Florida.

Manager Manny Acta said Zimmerman (sore left shoulder) was available for pinch-hitting in the game. It was Zimmerman's second consecutive day off.

Hill pitched on eleven days rest, missing one start, during which he received a cortisone shot for the pain in his elbow. He's been unable to throw between starts as he is accustomed to, and after the game theorized that perhaps that's where the lack of command may be coming from. He threw 82 pitches, only 38 for strikes.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nats Fall to Brewers in Extra Innings 4-3

Washington, DC--On as perfect a summer day as one could ask for in the Nation's Capital, a Memorial Day crowd of 28,552 was witness to a memorable ball game despite the home standing Washington Nationals losing to the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in eleven innings.

The game time temperature at the park was 78 degrees, but felt warmer sitting in the beautiful sunshine that bathed most of the crowd. Emotions would rise with the afternoon temperatures, though, as disputed plays and frustrating results were cause for patrons to get hot under the collar.

The deciding inning was ugly for the Nationals, not for the fact they gave up the winning run, but how it went down. With Luis Ayala unavailable to pitch due to overwork earlier in the series, and closer Jon Rauch having already pitched in the ninth inning, Manager Manny Acta let Saul Rivera go back out into the heat for his second inning of relief work. Milwaukee's stout first baseman, Prince Fielder, led off the frame and doubled down the left field line. Manager Ned Yost ordered fifth-place hitter Corey Hart to sacrifice, and he did his job, moving Fielder over to third. Rivera struck out the next batter, Russell Branyan, on three pitches, and with two outs the home fans remained hopeful that Rivera would emerge unscathed.

It was not to be though, as Gabe Kapler singled on the first pitch he saw from Rivera to drive in Fielder and give the Brewers the cushion they would need. Rivera (L, 3-2, 4.26) managed to get out of the inning without another run, but it was not for lack of effort. He walked light-hitting catcher Jason Kendall and pinch-hitter Craig Counsell on eight pitches, and would throw three more balls to second baseman Rickie Weeks. But Weeks eventually rolled over on a slider and grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

The bottom of the ninth would find no triumphant retort. Brewers Manager Ned Yost summoned his closer of the moment, Salomon Torres, and Torres shut down any thoughts of an extra innings comeback. Aaron Boone (0-for-5) and Wil Nieves both grounded out to short and Lastings Milledge (1-for-5, .242) struck out to end the matinee.

The Nats did have a few offensive heroes on this day, though not quite enough. Cristian Guzman continued his strong spring, by going 2-for-5 with a home run (his fifth) in the bottom of the first inning to get the Nats started. Jesus Flores, who looks stronger everyday as the Nats regular catcher, went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .340.

The biggest and most exciting play of the day centered around the Nats' big man himself, Dmitri Young. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, with the Nats having just surrendered the lead in the top of the inning, Young sauntered to the plate with two outs and a chance to tie, and he came through -- although in a controversial and contested manner. On an 0-1 count, Young blasted a shot toward the Red Porch in left center field that found Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron racing back to the wall. Cameron leapt at the wall but could not come down with the ball, and the ball ricocheted back into center field. By the time Cameron was able to recover and track the ball down, Young had carried his large frame all the way into third base with what appeared to be a triple.

But no sooner had time been called than Manny Acta came confidently out of the dug out to confer with the umpires. Acta pointed out to the men in black that Young's blast had carried over the outfield fence and had, in fact, bounced off the front wall of the Red Porch, some three feet or so behind the center field fence before bouncing back into play. After deliberating, the umpires agreed that had indeed been the case, and awarded Young his first home run since August of last season. Yost came out to protest mildly, but left after getting the explanation from the umps.

After the game, Cameron suggested changing the color of the second wall to alleviate the confusion, as both walls are green. "They [the upmires] got it right," Cameron said. "They've got to change it or do something to fix that."

Nationals starter Jason Bergmann had another terrific outing, extending his scoreless innings streak to nineteen and two-thirds since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus. He pitched five and two-thirds scoreless on the afternoon, allowing four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

The Nationals travel to San Diego for a three-game series with the Padres starting Tuesday night. Shawn Hill (0-1, 4.08) returns to the mound to test his right elbow against Randy Wolf (3-4, 4.76). Game time is 10:05 EDT.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops Washington's record to 22-30, nine games behind division leading Florida.

Ryan Zimmerman had the day off to rest his sore left shoulder. He is listed by the team as day-to-day on the injury report.

The Nationals are 1-9 in their last 10 extra innings games dating back to last season.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

GB&U: Extra Innings Earns Split for Brewers

RESULT: Nats lost in 11 innings to Brewers 4-3.

GOOD: Dmitri Young. His first home run of the season to left center field, creating the first home run controversy in Nationals Park history. Knowing there is about three feet between the center field fence and where the stands start for the Red Porch, we knew it was a home run immediately, but it took the umpires meeting at second base to remind themselves of the rules. And poor Dmitri, having to hustle all the was into third when the umpires couldn't get it right the first time. That's a LONG way to go for big guy, trust me!

BAD: Middle Relief. Two runs is a tenuous lead anyway, but Manny had to trust the lead to the rookies yesterday and it did not survive. The starters have been really good for the most part this year, but they are going to have to start pitching into the seventh inning or Ayala and Rivera will be fried before 4th of July.

UGLY: Aaron Boone. Hitting third, he went 0-for-5 with two Ks and 3 left on.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday night from San Diego. Shawn Hill (0-1, 4.08) tests his sore elbow against Randy Wolf (3-4, 4.76)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

GB&U: Bounce Goes Nats Way For A Change

RESULT: Nats beat Brewers 7-6.

GOOD: Aaron Boone. 2-for-4, 2-run home run and two runs scored. Boone is hitting .324 for the season with 4 homers and 11 RBIs. Boone just keeps producing whenever he is called upon.

BAD: Much of the season, Tim Redding has been the rock of the rotation. But on Sunday, Redding was simply rocked. He allowed five earned runs on 10 hits and one walk. It would have been worse had he not struck out 7 strikeouts.

UGLY: Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder. Is it sore? Isn't it? Paul LoDuca said it was. Ryan said "Eh, not much." Manny Acta is giving Ryan the day of Monday either way. Stay tuned.

Honorable Mention GOOD: Elijah Dukes earned a one out, full-count walk to start the rally in the ninth inning. Dukes is getting beat up a little bit for his low, low batting average. But the truth is that Dukes has more of an idea when he stap into the batter's box than most of the players on this team.

NEXT GAME: Memorial Day, Monday at 1:35. Jason Bergmann (1-1, 5.47) looks to make it three straight strong starts against Brewers' ace Ben Sheets (5-1, 2.92). Take time during the festivities to remember those who served and those that gave their lives for your privilege to enjoy a baseball game on a warm summer afternoon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

GB&U: Friday Night (High)Lights

RESULT: Nats beat Brewers 5-1.

GOOD: William Moses Pena. He hits! Wily Mo line-drives his first home run of the season to left center, setting the tone for the victory over the Brew Crew.

BAD: Brewers middle infield defense. Shortstop JJ Hardy booted a routine grounder from Cristian Guzman, turning an inning ending double play into a 4-run rally for the Nats. Finally, a good bounce for the home team. The Nats scored 5 runs total on 3 hits: Pena's homer, Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double, and the hit that clinched it, Jesus Flores 2-run double.

UGLY: This game was decidedly absent of ugliness, so the ugly award goes to the Brewers bus drivers. The original team bus left before half the team was on it. After the rest of the team gathered in the player's lot, they got on the first bus that came around: it was a Nats Express bus! Hope Prince Fielder and Mike Cameron, among others, did not end up at RFK!

NEXT GAME: Tonight against Milwaukee's Best. John Lannan (4-4, 3.40) faces Seth McClung (1-1, 3.5).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Langerhans Contract Purchased By Nats

This just in from the Columbus Clippers website:

May 23rd, 2008


5/23 - OF Ryan Langerhans purchased by Washington
5/23 - RHP Brian Sanches purchased by Washington
5/23 - LHP Charlie Manning purchased by Washington
5/23 - RHP Chris Schroder optioned from Washington
5/23 - LHP Matt Chico optioned from Washington

Thanks to NFA for the heads up.

The 28-year old Langerhans is currently hitting 306/417/438 with the Clippers with three home runs and a team-leading 24 RBI. He is a fifth OF, another LH bat for the bench who can be a late inning defensive replacement.

The 29-year old Manning is 0-0 with six saves for Columbus over 19 appearances. In 27 2/3 innings of work, he has a 1.95 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 34 strikeouts and 13 walks. He likely assumes the LOOGY role out of the Nationals bullpen.

The 29-year old Sanches is 0-0 with seven saves for Columbus over 14 appearances. Over 18 1/3 innings pitched, he has a 0.98 ERA and 0.64 WHIP with 26 strikeouts and only three walks. His role is likely to replace Schroder as a RH option out of the bullpen.

Nationals Farm Authority always does stellar work with everything related to the minor leagues. If you don't read him regularly or have him bookmarked, you sure should.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kearns To Have Surgery; Will Miss 3-4 Weeks

Straight from the Nats Press Release:


The Washington Nationals today placed right fielder Austin Kearns on the 15-Day Disabled List (right elbow). The Nationals will make a corresponding roster move prior to tomorrow’s series opener vs. Milwaukee. Nationals Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Bowden made the announcement.

Tomorrow, Kearns will have arthroscopic surgery performed by Dr. Tim Kremchek in Cincinnati, OH, to remove loose bodies in his right elbow. He is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.

Kearns, 28, is currently batting .187 (28-for-150) with three home runs and 16 RBI in 42 games.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: Hard to imagine Kearns only missing 3-4 weeks with elbow surgery, but this certainly explains a lot of things with him this season. He says that he injured the elbow in BP up in Baltimore, but an acute injury that produces "loose bodies" sounds pretty fishy--pardon the pun. We imagine Kearns has been having trouble with the elbow for a while, but did not want to use it as an excuse for the poor play. Reason does not equal excuse, and pain sometimes is just pain and sometimes it's injury. Looks like this time it was injury.

The team has not issued a corresponding move as of yet. It will be really interesting to see which way they go with this. One guess: we'll see Ryan Langerhans back in the bigs. He's been hitting well in Triple-A, and has big league experience. Bowden said yesterday he wouldn't "rush" Maxwell or Daniel, so the guess here is ol' Langerhans, especially considering how right-handed the OF is.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

GB&U: Howard Double Dips

RESULT: Nats lose to Phillies 12-2.

GOOD: Um, wait a minute, let me think...ah yes: Jesus Flores went 3-for-4 with another double, his 5th on the season. Even better news, there are signs that even GM JimBow might be starting to get it. In the WaPo notebook yesterday, Bowden said that even once Lo Duca returns, "it's going to be extremely hard to take [Flores] out of the lineup if he plays like this." Unfortunately, JimBow also backed Lennie Harris in the same interview. And something about farting. Go read it to believe it.

BAD: Matt Chico and Chris Schroder. They were each merely bad last night. Chico gave up 4 earned on 7 hits and a walk, allowing 4 homers. Schroder, his rear end sore from riding the Columbus Shuttle, gave up 3 hits and 4 walks in one single inning, but only two managed to score.

UGLY: Ugly is spelled C-O-L-O-M-E. He struck out the first guy he saw, and then allowed the next seven to reach. He gave up six earned in one-third of an inning, turning a 4 run lead into an insurmountable 10 run lead. The Nats may not score ten runs this week!

Honorable mention (UGLY variety): Meathook tried to lazily scoop Dukes' relay throw in the sixth, allowing it to go into the third base camera well and two runs scored. Ugh.

NEXT GAME: Off tonight. Mike Cameron and the Brewers come to town this weekend. Odalis Perez (1-4, 4.34) against Jeff Suppan (2-3, 4.78) on Friday.

Long Balls Crush Nats

Washington, DC--The Philadelphia Phillies used Matt Chico, Jesus Colome and Chris Schroder for batting practice Wednesday night, as they erupted for four home runs and twelve runs total on fifteen hits to handily defeat the Washington Nationals 12-2. The crowd of 28,055 were witness to an ugly 8-run sixth inning, including seven straight Phillies reaching base.

Chico (L, 0-6, 6.19), filling in for Shawn Hill (cortisone shot in pitching elbow), was bad enough. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits and a walk in five innings--allowing three of the four Phillies homers. But Colome was simply atrocious. Unfortunately, there is just no other way to say it. He faced seven batters and managed to record just one out. He allowed six earned runs on five hits and a walk, including Ryan Howard's second home run of the game. Chris Schroder wasn't much better, but certainly was luckier, as he gave up just two earned runs in one inning of work on three hits and four walks.

The only Nats pitcher approaching competence Wednesday was Joel Hanrahan, who threw two innings of shut out ball--allowing just a single walk--to finish the game. The Phillies' arms must have been tired from swinging so much earlier in the game.

The hit parade for the Phillies started in the first inning. The second batter of the game, center fielder Shane Victorino, drilled a one-out double to left. Chico managed to retire Chase Utley, but the big man for the Phils--figuratively and literally--Ryan Howard followed with a double to deep left that easily scored Victorino to take the early lead. Pedro Feliz led off the second against Chico with his seventh home run of the year, and the rout was on. The fifth inning saw Victorino go deep with his second of the season and Howard become the first player to hit the upper deck in Nationals Park with a drive that still might be going.

It went from bad to ugly in the sixth inning. Colome entered to relieve Chico and was just tattooed. He actually got the first batter, Jayson Werth, to strike out, but that is the only out he would record. Feliz singled to center, and catcher Chris Coste reached on an infield single. Colome then issued a walk to Phils starter Jamie Moyer (W, 4-3, 4.37). Manager Manny Acta had every right to go pull Colome right there, but the slaughter would continue. Jimmy Rollins followed with a single that scored Feliz and loaded the bases. Victorino did more damage, singling to right field, scoring Coste. First baseman Dmitri Young couldn't handle Elijah Dukes' relay throw and the ball scooted into the camera well next to the Phillies dug out, allowing Moyer and Rollins to score, putting Victorino at third. Utley doubled, scoring Victorino, and Acta then mercifully yanked Colome.

The Phils fun did not end, however, as Howard ripped Schroder's first pitch on a line drive into the stands to the left of the Nats bullpen for his twelfth home run of the season. Chris Coste later singled in another run to close the inning with eight runs on eight hits and two walks.

The Nats scraped two runs together in the bottom of the seventh on a Ryan Zimmerman infield single and RBI single from Dmitri Young, but that is all the could muster against the ageless Moyer and reliever Clay Condrey, who was awarded a three-inning save. The Nats actually had twelve hits on the night, but only three extra base hits, two doubles by Felipe Lopez (2-for-5, .259) and one by Jesus Flores (3-for-4, .357). Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge each added two hits as well.

The Nationals have an off-day Thursday. Friday they face the Milwaukee Brewers, with Odalis Perez (1-4, 4.34) taking on Jeff Suppan (2-3, 4.78) at 7:35 pm at Nationals Park.

NATS NOTES: Washington's record stands at 20-28 after the loss, seven and one-half games behind Florida in the NL East. Philadelphia is 26-22, one and one-half games back.

Moyer made his Nationals Park debut, the 46th major league ballpark for the 45-year-old pitcher. Moyer moved into 57th place on the all-time list with his 234th career win.

Washington has lost five of six at home and six straight against left-handed starters. Including 8 runs tonight, Washington has been outscored 45-21 in the 6th inning this season.

Jesus Flores matched a career high with three hits, and has hit safely in seven of his last nine games, going 11-for-29 (.379) with 5 doubles.

Long Balls Crush Nats also posted at DC Sports Box

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2007

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

GB&U: Lopez Dogs It To First

RESULT: Nats lose to Phillies 1-0.

GOOD: Jason Bergmann. Where did this come from. All he's done since returning to the rotation is throw 14 innings of shout out ball against two of the better hitting teams in the National League. Totals: 14 IP, 0 runs, 8 hits, 5 walks, 14 Ks.

BAD: Jon Rauch. Charged with pitching the ninth and holding the Phils to a tie to give the home teama chance to win, Rauch came in and got smoked for three hits and a run--and it could have been more if not for a tremendous relay from Guzman and outstanding effort from Flores to block Dobbs off the plate and keep him from scoring.

UGLY: Down 1-0 with runners on first and third with two outs, and having just watched the previous two batters reach via walk--including several balls in the dirt--Felipe Lopez swung at a slider on the first pitched and rolled it over to second base. That's bad enough--TAKE A PITCH FELIPE!!! But as he jogged out of the box, Utley bobbled the slow bouncer. Had Lopez run hard from the start, it would have given Utley something to think about instead of calmly noticing that he had time, settle, and throw out the barely jogging Lopez. Bad baseball.

NEXT GAME: Tonight, the rubber match against the Phillies. Matt Chico (0-5, 6.07) takes Shawn Hill's scheduled turn and faces ageless Jamie Moyer (3-3, 4.89).

Photo courtesy of A. Amobi, DC Sports Box

Hamels Shuts Down Nats 1-0

Washington, DC--Despite seven innings of shut out baseball by starter Jason Bergmann, the Washington Nationals fell to the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0 Tuesday evening before 28,108 decidedly split fans at Nationals Park.

Bergmann made his second consecutive excellent start since returning from Triple-A Columbus. He went seven innings and allowed no runs, five hits and three walks and struck out five Phillies. His opponent, Cole Hamels, was just as effective pitching seven innings himself. He gave up four hits and two walks and struck out a season-high eleven. Neither pitcher figured in the decision, but both provided efforts worthy of a win.

But for all the starting pitching, the story of this game ended up to be a soft, sinking line drive off the bat of Phillies pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs in the top of the ninth inning which drove in pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett with the only run that would cross home plate on this cool but comfortable May evening. Nats closer Jon Rauch (L, 2-1, 2.78) was summoned to pitch the ninth, despite the game being tied. Usually, the tall righty enters only to protect a ninth inning lead, something he's accomplished safely ten times this season. Tonight he would not be as successful.

Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz led off the ninth with a hard hit double to left field. Bruntlett ran for Feliz, and advance to third on catcher Carlos Ruiz' sacrifice to Rauch. Dobbs then stepped in, and with a 2-0 count he lifted a soft liner that fell just in front of center fielder Lastings Milledge, who tried to deke Bruntlett into thinking he was going to make the play. Milledge could not, and Bruntlett strolled across the plate safely to take the first, and only, lead of the night.

Things might have been worse. With two outs, Shane Victorino sent a liner into left center that Milledge ran a long way and slid to cut off from going to the wall. He bobbled the pick-up slightly, and bounced his relay into shortstop Cristian Guzman, who filed a laser to catcher Jesus Flores. Flores blocked the plate masterfully since Dobbs beat the throw to home, and Dobbs was called out for the third out.

Unfortunately for the Nats, there would be drama but no pay off in the bottom of the frame.

Flores and Wily Mo Pena both struck out against Phils' closer Brad Lidge to start things off. Elijah Dukes then coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Rob Mackowiak pinch hit for Rauch and with the count 2-2, Dukes stole second without a throw. After two foul ball and another ball, Dukes stole third -- again without a throw. With Dukes at third, Mackowiak also drew a 3-2 walk.

Manager Manny Acta sent Willie Harris in to pinch run for Mackowiak, and the faithful believed that the Nats could make some late inning magic. But on the very first pitch he saw from Lidge, Felipe Lopez grounded to second baseman Chase Utley, who momentarily bobbled the lazy grounder. Lopez, however, inexplicably did not run hard on the play and Utley recovered and easily threw to first to put out the jogging Lopez. Lidge earned his eleventh save, and has allowed only one earned run in 20 innings pitched this season.

Veteran reliever Tom Gordon (4-2, 4.26) pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Phillies to earn the win.

Nats SS Cristian Guzman slides safely on a steal of second base against the Phillies.

Wednesday's match-up features Nats' lefty Matt Chico (0-5, 6.07) against the Phillies crafty veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer (3-3, 4.89). Game time is 7:10 pm from Nationals Park.

NATS NOTES: The loss sends the Nats overall record to (20-27), six and one-half games behind division-leading Florida. The Phillies (25-22) are one and one-half out.

Austin Kearns missed his third straight game with soreness in his right elbow. An MRI on Tuesday showed no significant damage though, and the team expects him to miss a couple more games to allow inflammation to settle before he plays again.

It was Kearns' 28th birthday, and a group of fans in the right field corner--which Kearns usually patrols--wore straw cowboy hats and made signs in his honor. He was even seen wearing one of the cowboys hats in the dugout pre-game.

Catcher Johnny Estrada, on the 15-day DL with soreness in his elbow, was examined by Dr. James Andrews who performed surgery on his elbow during the off-season. Dr. Andrews said that the soreness is not coming from the surgically repaired area and the discomfort is being triggered by irritation of the ulnar nerve, something he expects will recede with time and rehab.

Hamels Shuts Down Nats 1-0 also posted at DC Sports Box

Photos of Bergmann, Guzman courtesy of A. Amobi, DC Sports Box.
Photo of fans in cowboy hats (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lastings Milledge Takes Questions at ESPN Zone; Doesn't Know Riggo!

Washington, DC--In front of dozens of fans nattily attired in their Washington Nationals gear, Lastings Milledge spoke and took questions for about 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon before heading off to the stadium to prepare for that evening's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In an event sponsored by ESPN Zone and the team's public relations department, Milledge was affable and personable, joking with the fans and the event's moderator, team play-by-play man Charlie Slowes. Milledge took questions on a wide variety of subjects from fans and from Slowes, fans answered trivia questions about Milledge for game tickets and after the Q & A, fans were invited to meet Milledge and have him autograph whatever memorabilia that fans brought. Milledge even autographed the red-and-blue leather Nationals recliner that the ESPN Zone provided for him to sit in during the session.

The Nationals' center fielder was quite candid with some of his answers to the questions presented. Slowes asked, "With all the juggling Manager Manny Acta has done to the line-up, does it matter to you where you hit in the order?" Milledge replied, "It doesn't matter," but then offered, "Where you hit [in the order] does affect your game." As an example, he said hitting in the fifth spot in the order is a run-producing spot, so he wouldn't necessarily bunt or steal from there.

About the outfield defense, in particular getting used to play with the corner outfielders: "That's what spring training is for. We should be able to play together now."

A particularly telling segment took place when Slowes asked how much different playing in the big leagues is than the minors. Milledge responded that he has had a hard time picking up the ball off the bat, and pointed out that high school and minor league stadiums are usually single decked, and with the upper decks behind home plate -- especially in center field -- he's had a difficult time picking up the ball until it rises above the upper deck and gets into the sky. He said, "with wood bats, it's real easy to get fooled," and from center field one "has to read the ball, and you have to see it to read it." He also went on to say he's not a fan of the "funky" outfields in the major leagues, such as Houston's Minute Maid Park or Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park, where the dimensions are not uniform.

A fan asked Milledge about the controversy surrounding Maple bats, and whether he preferred Maple or the traditional Ash bats. He indicated that he preferred Maple, because it's a hard wood and there's less preparation needed for a Maple bat. Players with Ash bats need to "hone" the wood, usually using a piece of bone or rock to rub the handle smooth and hard, and with Maple bats, players can just take it out of the box and go to batting practice with it. Slowes offered that maybe, "it's a sign of the times," that players prefer the convenience over the preparation. Milledge also noted that Maple "cracks from the inside," whereas Ash "crumbles and splinters," so a player can't tell when the bat is ready to break. He theorized that may be the reason, along with the thinner handles, why so may Maple bats seem to travel further and faster when they break.

Milledge got surprisingly introspective when a fan asked about the early season struggles for the hitters.

It's a tough game out there," he said. "It's a game of failure. It's mentally draining, I can tell you that. I think this is one of the only games that really, really affects your family. It goes beyond just 'Ok, game. You didn't do good, go home. If you don't come through, if you don't get a hit, it's not that your family don't think you can do it, it's just that they want you to do so well. They're used to you being an all-star, an MVP, high school player of the Year, and then you get to the major leagues where everybody has been there at that stage of their careers. It's a toll, man, it's a toll on your family. But this is what we want to do. It's a dream, and we've just got to roll with it."

There were humorous moments as well. When a fan asked if the team's success at home since the Pope said Mass was just coincidence, Milledge said, "He [the Pope] should come and throw out the first pitch." Another fan wanted to know if Milledge knew the last player to wear jersey number 44 to bring a title to DC, even prompting him with "he has a radio show in town, nickname was 'Riggo'"; but Milledge had to confess he knew nothing about John Riggins. To be fair, Milledge wasn't even born when John Riggins led the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl.

GB&U: Redding Owns Phils

RESULT: Nats beat Phils 4-0.

GOOD: Tim Redding hasn't allowed an run--earned or otherwise--to the Phillies this year. The only two times the Phils have been shut out this season have been at the hands of Redding and the Nats.

BAD: Belliard goes on the DL, Kearns' elbow needed x-rays. What next? I'll tell ya. Shawn Hill had a cortisone shot in his right elbow and will miss his next start. Not good. Matt Chico will take his turn on Wednesday.

UGLY: Last night's starting corner outfielders: Wee Willie Harris in left and Rob "Mendoza" Mackowiak in right. Talk about underwhelming. At least they can go catch the ball.

NEXT GAME: Tonight against our neighbors up the road a bit on I-95. Jason Bergmann (1-1, 7.45) tries to follow up his outstanding starting debut against Phils' ace Cole Hamels (5-3, 2.89).

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Redding Strong Again; Nats Shut Out Phils 4-0

Washington, DC--Tim Redding, surely becoming the ace of the Washington Nationals' staff, threw six and one-third shutout innings as the Nats defeated division-rival Philadelphia Monday night 4-0. Redding had assistance by three relievers -- Saul Rivera, Luis Ayala and Joel Hanrahan -- in completing the whitewash of the Phillies.

Redding (W, 6-3, 3.16) allowed his share of base runners last night. He gave up seven hits and two walks, but pitched out of trouble all evening and did not allow a Phillie to cross home plate, as the visitors left nine men on base. Redding extended a scoreless inning streak to thirteen and one-third innings over the Phils this season. Both times Philadelphia has been shut out this season has been at the hands of Redding and the Nats. Phillies starter Brett Myers took the loss (2-5, 5.76), allowing three earned runs on eight hits and three walks, with a surprisingly low total of two strikeouts.

The Nats started their scoring in the bottom of the first against Myers. Cristian Guzman (3-for-4, 3 runs scored) reached on an infield single with one out, and Ryan Zimmerman doubled him to third base. Dmitri Young, in his first game at first base this season, lofted a sacrifice fly to center field that easily scored Guzman, giving the Nats the lead they would hold all night long. In the third, second baseman Felipe Lopez doubled to start the inning and went to third on Guzman's shallow single to center. Zimmerman (2-for-3) walked to load the bases, and after a Young strikeout, Lastings Milledge blooped a double down the right field line that scored both Lopez and Guzman. Milledge went 2-for-4, with two doubles, and two RBIs on the night.

The Nats last run of the contest came in the seventh inning against Phillies reliever Ryan Madson. Guzman -- DC's MVP so far this season -- doubled to lead off the inning, and Zimmerman followed up with his second hit of the contest. Guzman then came home on Young's double play to put the icing on cake.

The game ended with Joel Hanrahan striking out one of the NL's hottest hitters, Jason Werth, who had three home runs in a single game Friday night.

The series continues Tuesday at 7:10 pm with Jason Bergmann (1-1, 7.45) facing Cole Hamels (5-3, 2.89) for the Phillies.

NATS NOTES: The win moves the Nationals season record to 20-26, five and one-half games behind Florida. The Phillies fall to 24-22, and are one and one-half behind the Marlins.

The team announced that LHP Matt Chico will start Wednesday in place of Shawn Hill, who experienced significant discomfort in his pitching elbow after Friday's start against Baltimore. He received a cortisone shot in his right elbow Saturday and will need to skip a turn in the rotation. The team hopes that's all that he will need to miss.

Second Baseman Ronnie Belliard was placed on the 15-day disabled list after then game with a strained calf muscle. It's only the third time in his career that he has had to go disabled. The team will probably recall Chris Schroder on Tuesday before the game to take Chico's place in the pen.

Austin Kearns did not start for the second game in a row due to a sore elbow. He was x-rayed, but the team has released no further information by the time this story went to press.

Photo courtesy of K. Queen, DC Sports Box

Monday, May 19, 2008

Line-Ups, Get Your Line-Ups Here!

I usually don't post line-ups, as they aren't tremendously interesting usually. But today's has a couple of things that stand out:





First off--Is it me or do the Phillies have a lot more talent than the Nats on paper? Would you take ANY of the Nats starters over his counterpart for the Phillies except for Zimmerman?

Second--No Pena. No Dukes. No Kearns. Wee Willie Harris is in left with Rob "Mendoza" Mackowiak in right. And we get to see the return of D'Meat at first base. THis should be fun, boys and girls.

Just Throwing It Out There

What if I told you the Nationals could sign a true center fielder that hit .302/.379/.438 last season, with seven homers and stole 21 bases in 317 at bats? Do you think that player might be interesting to add to the mix that currently includes Lastings Milledge (.234/.305/.316, 1 HR, 14 RBIs), Austin Kearns (.187/.295/.267, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs), Wily Mo Pena (.214/.272/.238, 0 HR, 5 RBIs) and Elijah Dukes (.042/.143/.083, 0 HR, 1 RBI)?

Granted, this player is no spring chicken. He'll be 41 the last day of May. He's not the gold glove caliber defensive player he once was, and certainly not a piece of the long-term puzzle. But at this point, with the outfield defense as pathetic as it has been, especially over the weekend, wouldn't it be nice to have at least once PROVEN major league veteran in the outfield that could take charge defensively and provide some on-base percentage assistance to a team that is seriously deficient in that area?

The Nationals' team OBP is .315 WITH Nick Johnson's stellar .415 factored in. One shudders to think what it will be over the next 4-to-6 (6-to-8?) weeks without him.

Does anyone have Kenny Lofton's phone number?

GB&U: Drying Out

RESULTS: Nats beat Orioles 2-1.

GOOD: John Lannan. The "Good" award seems like it's the starting pitcher's award. Lannan (4-4. 3.40) went 7.1 with one earned, four hits, one walk and five strikeouts. He threw 71 of his 105 pitches for strikes, and his lone run scored AFTER he left the game.

BAD: Elijah Dukes. He went 0-for-3, lowering his average to .042. He has one hit and three walks so far this season in 27 plate appearances for a stellar .143 on base percentage.

UGLY: Mother Nature. The game was delayed two hours and one minute at the start, and endured another 27 minute delay in the eighth inning. Not the way you want to end a "road trip".

NEXT GAME: Monday night versus the dreaded Philadelphia Philles. Staff ace Tim Redding (5-3. 3.55) takes on disappointing Brett Myers (2-4, 5.91). As an aside, I spent Sunday afternoon and evening in south Jersey with my cousins at my aunt's 75th birthday party. They all wanted to know why I didn't write about the Phillies. Needless to say, I'll have plenty to say about the cheesesteak-lovers the next couple of days.

Nats Can't Quite Catch O's; Lose 6-5

Baltimore, MD--The Washington Nationals, finding themselves in a 6-2 hole entering the eighth inning, clawed their way back to within one run but could not get the final hit to push them over the hump as the Baltimore Orioles held on to defeat the Nats 6-5, in front of 32,622 at Baltimore's Camden Yards. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, O's reliever Jim Johnson struck out the season-long slumping Austin Kearns, who finished the at-bat by slamming his bat into the dirt around home plate in disgust. There would be no further comeback in the ninth inning.

As has been the story much of the first quarter of the season, the Nats offense couldn't get much going early, as Orioles starter Brian Burres threw six and two-third innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks. The Orioles struck early in the bottom of the first against Nats starter Odalis Perez. With one out, Melvin Mora doubled to left center and Nick Markakis singled through the box to drive Mora in. The Nats would tie it up in the second, as Dmitri Young singled, went to third on Aaron Boone's double, and scored on a ground out by Jesus Flores.

In the third, the Orioles would rally for three runs on five consecutive hits before an out could be recorded. Second baseman Brian Roberts started the hit parade, as he doubled to left just past Wily Mo Pena--a ball many outfielders would have caught. Roberts promptly stole third and scored on a Melvin Mora single. The next batter, Nick Markakis, delivered a no-doubt-about-it shot to deep center field that gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead. The Nats would halve the lead in the next inning, as Ryan Zimmerman hit his eighth home run of the season to left field.

The Orioles would close their scoring in the fifth, as Jay Payton hit a two-out, two-run home run to make the score 6-2. With the Nats struggling against Burres, it looked like that's all the scoring the Orioles would need. As it turned out, it was just enough.

The middle innings were pretty quiet for both teams, but the Nats would get into the Baltimore bullpen a little bit in the eighth. Chad Bradford relieved Burres, and he did not have his finest outing of the season. Wily Mo Pena singled to start the inning, but Felipe Lopez grounded to second, forcing Pena. Cristian Guzman followed with a single and Zimmerman grounded out, putting runners at second and third. At that point, Orioles Manager Dave Trembley summoned Dennis Sarfate, who immediately walked Dmitri Young to load the bases.

Aaron Boone delivered the first pitch he saw from Sarfate into left center, scoring Guzman and Zimmerman, cutting the lead to 6-4. Jim Johnson was called on to face catcher Wil Nieves, and Nieves fought two fouls balls off and finally coaxed a walk, loading the bases once again. Lastings Milledge was the next batter, and on a 1-1 pitch Johnson lost control and drilled Milledge in the left shoulder area, which forced in a run to make it 6-5. That is as close as the Nats would get though, as Kearns worked the count to 3-2 before striking out swinging and taking frustration out on his bat. Kearns went 0-for-4 on the night, lowering his batting average to .187 for the season.

In the ninth, Orioles closer George Sherrill easily sat down the Nats in order to register his league leading 17th save of the season.

Odalis Perez threw five innings, allowing six earned runs on ten hits and two walks, striking out two along the way. Joel Hanrahan pitched two scoreless innings, and Saul Rivera one inning, surrendering two hits but no runs.

Sunday is the finale of the three-game set. The Nats will send John Lannan (3-4, 3.74) to the hill against the O's Jeremy Guthrie (2-3, 4.18).

NATS NOTES: The loss sends the Nats' record to 18-26, seven games behind division-leading Florida. The Orioles are 23-19, just one and one-half games behind Tampa and Boston in the AL East.

Jesus Flores, the Nationals' starting catcher this evening, was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the sixth by home plate umpire Tim McClelland.

Nationals RHP Shawn Hill, Friday night's loser, had a cortisone shot in his right elbow on Saturday and hopes to make his next scheduled start against Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Photo (c) D. Nichols 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

GB&U: Lots Of Hits, Not Enough Runs

RESULT: Nats lose 5-3.

GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman: Zimmy went 3-for-5 with two RBIs. Hit the ball solid each time up.

BAD: Wily Mo Pena. 0-for-4, six left on base. BRUTAL defense. Three balls fell around him that any AVERAGE outfileder could have gotten to, including a ball that led to a run in the fifth. He's killing this team.

UGLY: Lastings Milledge's defense. As bad a butcher as Pena is, this team needs a take-charge excellent defender in center. Milledge ain't it. Every ball is an adventure out there. He makes some spectacular catches out there because he gets a lousy jump.

Honorable Mention: At some point, Jim Bowden HAS TO be held accountable for the roster he put together. If you're trying to build young pitching (Hill and Lannan qualify) you gotta have guys that can go get it and pick it up. Shoddy outfield D and a throwing error by Lopez led to three Orioles runs tonight.

NEXT GAME: Saturday evening Odalis Perez (1-3) faces Brian Burres (3-4).

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Return of D'Meat

The Nats officially activated Dmitri Young from the DL today. The line-ups haven't been posted yet, but I expect he'll be at DH with Boone at first for the interleague series over the weekend.

Here's a fun picture from a media event at a Safeway in Southeast last year. Funny story, when Cheryl and I got to the Safeway for the event, we were a little early, and naturally the first ones there. I was on the phone at the time, so Cheryl went up to the manager's desk to find out where the signing was going to be.

Well, the manager started asking Cheryl's opinion on where to set up, how to arrange the line, did we bring a tablecloth and pens, etc., all sorts of funny questions. Turns out, the manager thought Cheryl was the Nats rep and I was Dmitri Young! She had NO IDEA!!!

Not really relevant information, but an amusing little story for a dreary Friday afternoon. If you're going to Baltimore over the weekend, eschew the BBQ and get the crabcake sandwich. Use a fork and leave the stale bun alone, but the crabcake is surprisingly good.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2007

Thursday, May 15, 2008

GB&U: "Softball Girls" Take Three of Four

RESULT: Nats Win 1-0.

GOOD: Jason Bergmann. With seven inning of two hit-no run goodness. He even struck out nine! Ok, so Pelfrey counted for three of them. Still!

BAD: Should we re-name bad "Kearns"? 0-for-3, another dropped fly ball. How long do they let him bleed out there? Oh right, what option is there at this point?

UGLY: Nick Johnson out "4 to 6 weeks". With his history, write him off until the all-star break at least. Not good news to a team with very few selective hitters.

NEXT GAME: Friday night in Baltimore for the renewal of the "Battle of the Beltways"! Can you feel the artificially created excitement?!? I wish interleague play would go away. Shawn Hill (0-0) looks for his first DECISION in six starts against Garrett Olson (2-0).

See, I mentioned the Orioles on the blog. Thanks to several of you for noticing :-)

Here's something to either fire you up or piss you off!

Bergmann Outduels Pelfrey, Mets 1-0

New York, NY--In a classic pitcher's duel under the partly sunny skies in the old stadium in Queens, the Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 1-0, taking three out of four against their division foes in what is rapidly becoming an intense rivalry.

Both starting pitchers, Jason Bergmann for the Nats and Mike Pelfrey for the Mets, were very sharp all afternoon. Bergmann (W, 1-1, 7.45), making his first start of the season after being recalled from Triple-A Columbus to make the start, went seven innings and surrendered just three hits and two walks, striking out nine Mets batters. Pelfrey (L, 2-4, 4.17) carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning but the Nats caught up to him for a scratch run in the eighth. His final line read seven and two-thirds innings, one earned run, three hits, three walks and four strikeouts. Luis Ayala pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief of Bergmann and Jon Rauch held on in the ninth despite some drama for his ninth save.

The lone run came in the top of the eighth and made a winner out of Bergmann. Catcher Jesus Flores led off against Pelfrey and doubled to deep left field, one of the few hard hit balls all day. Willie Harris pinch-hit for Bergmann and sacrificed Flores over to third. Shortstop Felipe Lopez then lofted a fly ball deep enough to left field to allow Flores to carry home the only run the Nats would need on this day.

Bergmann looked to be still very strong in the seventh, as he struck out the bottom of the Mets order in succession, but was lifted for the pinch-hitter as the situation dictated he should, and the plan worked to the Nats advantage. Matt Wise took the ball from Pelfrey and ended the inning without any more damage, striking out Ryan Zimmerman to limit the damage.

The late innings featured some bizarre and ill-advised base-running gaffes by the Mets that would seal their fate. In the eighth inning, with Luis Ayala (1-3, 5.62) on the hill for the Nats, all-star shortstop Jose Reyes led off for the Mets with a bunt single. Second baseman Luis Castillo sacrificed and was thrown out by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

But Reyes wasn't happy with just being advanced to second. He inexplicably tried to take third on the play since Zimmerman was out of position after making the throw to get Castillo. Shortstop Cristian Guzman, however, noticed and raced to third to take the throw by Aaron Boone -- colliding with Reyes as they met at the bag -- and completed the third-to-first-to short covering third double play. David Wright popped out unceremoniously to end the inning.

In the ninth, still more blundering on the base paths cost the Mets again. Carlos Beltran led off against closer Jon Rauch (2-0, 8 saves, 2.61) with a single to right field. The next batter, Ryan Church, smacked a high fly ball down the left field line that Willie Harris laid out for and caught, sure to make the highlight reels on the eleven o'clock news.

Beltran promptly thereafter stole second and took third on a throwing error by Flores. With the count at 1-2, Mets struggling first baseman Carlos Delgado ripped a low line drive to first that Boone snared -- and he fired to third to catch Beltran napping for the game-ending double play.

The Nationals travel to Baltimore Friday for a three-game series entitled "Battle of the Beltways", as interleague geographic rivals weekend commences. Shawn Hill (0-0, 3.56) is scheduled to face rookie Garrett Olson (2-0, 2.95) for the Orioles.

NATS NOTES: With the victory, the Nats records moves to 18-24. They are currently six games behind first place Florida, who plays tonight in Cincinnati.

First baseman Nick Johnson will miss four to six weeks, as an MRI Thursday morning revealed a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, an injury sustained in his last at bat Tuesday evening. The team expects to activate Dmitri Young from the disabled list for the weekend series.

According to Manager Manny Acta, Young will see the bulk of time at first base, with Aaron Boone getting some starts, especially during interleague play. Young completed his rehab stint in Double-A Harrisburg in Thursday afternoon's game for the Senators, going 1-for-3, leaving his average during his rehab stint at .375.

Bergmann Outduels Pelfrey, Mets 1-0 also posted at DC Sports Box

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

The Verdict Is In: Johnson Out 4-6 Weeks

The bad news just hit the Natosphere like a ton of bricks. Nick Johnson, leading the team in on-base percentage and playing his usual stellar first base, will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist.

Dmitri Young will be activated for tonight's game and according to Manny Acta, will receive the bulk of playing time at first, being spelled occasionally buy Aaron Boone. Acta said Meathook won't be pushed at first since he's coming back from his own injury, but indicated that the doctors say that Young is back to 100%.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: Real bad news. If you know anything about Nick Johnson, it's that he is injury-prone, and that when he gets injured, takes longer than normal to heal. Fully expect Nick to be out up to the all-star break. This gives GM Jim Bowden one less tool in his box for mid-season trading, and severely depletes the already thin bench.

The primary benefactor: Rob Mackowiak escapes the chopping block once again.

GB&U: Shea Faithful Getting Restless

RESULT: Nats win 5-3.

: Tim Redding with six innings of two-hit ball. He's given up two or fewer runs in three of his last four starts.

BAD: Austin Kearns. 0-4. .196/.303/.280. He's SLUGGING .280?!?

UGLY: The Mets faithful really let the home team know what they were thinking as the Mets slinked off the field after the decisive seventh inning. Carlos Delgado is hitting .229.

Honorable Mention: Jesus Flores drew more raves from Manager Manny Acta as he fought back from an 0-2 count and came through with a clutch RBI hit while the game was still in doubt.

NEXT GAME: Thursday at 1:10 pm, get-away day against the Mets. Jason Bergmann (0-1) makes his first start of the season versus Mike Pelfrey (2-3).

Nats Spank Mets 5-3

New York, NY--Behind the strong pitching of Tim Redding and another home run by Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 5-3 Wednesday night, taking game three of this four game series.

Redding threw six innings of two-hit ball, walking four and striking four along the way. He gave up a David Wright single in the fourth inning and Brian Schneider's home run in the fifth, but those were the only Mets hitters to raise their batting average for the evening. Redding pushes his record to 5-3 for the season. He sports a nifty 3.55 ERA and has struck out 34 and walked twenty in 50.2 innings. He was won two of his last three starts and has allowed two or fewer runs in three of his last four starts.

The Nationals hitters did their damage in the sixth and seventh innings, which has been the Achilles' heel for the team all season. Zimmerman hit his seventh home run of the season, a solo shot, against former teammate Claudio Vargas (0-1) in the sixth, and the Nats exploded for four runs in the seventh, nickel-and-diming two Mets pitchers for two walks and three hits.

Outfielder Elijah Dukes coaxed a one out walk from Vargas, ending his night. Aaron Heilman relieved and got Wily Mo Pena to ground out, pushing Dukes up to second. Catcher Jesus Flores then fought back from an 0-2 count to drill a single to left that scored Dukes. Willie Harris pinch-hit for Redding and drew a walk, and lead-off hitter Felipe Lopez followed up with a single to right, scoring Flores and putting runners at second and third for the Nats best hitter in the first half, Cristian Guzman.

Guz fought off several tough pitches before finding one he liked, and he deposited that safely into center field, scoring both Harris and Lopez and giving the Nats a lead they would not relinquish. Heilman and the rest of the Mets left the field after the inning to a cacaphony of boos from the Shea Stadium faithful.

Saul Rivera and Luis Ayala pitched the seventh and eighth (per usual) and Jon Rauch pitched a dominating ninth inning, striking out two, for his eighth save of the season.

The series wraps up Thursday afternoon in New York, as Jason Bergmann (0-1, 11.68) makes his first start of the season against Mike Pelfey (2-3, 4.86).

NATS NOTES: The win raises the Nats season record to 17-24, six and one-half games behind division leading Florida.

Reliever Chris Schroder was optioned back to Columbus to activate Bergmann for the start. Bergmann was 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in five IL starts. In his final three assignments with Columbus, he went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA.

First baseman Nick Johnson returned to DC for an examination of his wrist after he sustained injury in his final at bat Tuesday night. The team is listing him as "day-to-day". Johnson said "I hope it's nothing serious, but today [Wednesday] it's pretty sore".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

GB&U: Game Two to New York

GOOD: Zimmy's two-run shot. He only went 1-for-4, which actually ups his average! But I'm not complaining about the power.

BAD: Luis Ayala--leading the league in appearances and generally ineffective of late. 1.1 IP, 2 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB.

UGLY: Outfield defense. Milledge with an official error inthe eighth leading to two runs, and Kearns unoffical error in the sixth, allowing MVP candidate Ryan Church to drive in two more runs against his former team.

NEXT GAME: Wedenesday against the Mets at Shea at 7:10 pm. Tim Redding (4-3) against the just-recalled Claudio Vargas (0-0).

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You...

From the Notebook on

"All I know is a starter's mentality," Chico said. At least for now, though, his numbers belie that. He has faced 17 batters out of the bullpen, walking one. His back-to-back two-inning stints on Friday and Saturday nights required 85 pitches and created more soreness than he'd feel after a typical start, he said.

Also, welcome to Chico Harlan, who takes over for Barry Svrulga as beat reporter for the Nats at the Post.

GB&U: Who Needs the Batters?

GOOD: O! Perez?!? What got into him last night? The pitching was: meh. The hitting was: WOO-HOO!!! 3-for-3 with two RBIs, very nice. He's now hitting .313 for the season (small sample size alert). And he gets his first win to boot (6.1 IP, 4 ERs, 11 hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks).

BAD: Need we say it at this point? Austin Kearns hitless in five trips, stranding five base runners. Kearns was the only starter without a hit. The damage could (should?) have been worse.

UGLY: Elijah Dukes whiffed in his only plate appearance, pinch hitting in the 9th. He's 0-for-12 since being activated.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday against the Mets at Shea. John Lannan (3-3, 3.40) v. John Maine (4-2, 3.00).

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can Something Be Done, or Do We Just Have To Wait It Out?

We're just about one quarter into the 2008 baseball season, and the Washington Nationals sit firmly in last place in the National League East. They have received decent starting pitching, but the complete lack of hitting and several key injuries (Cordero, Young, Dukes, LoDuca) have seriously hampered the Nats ability to compete so far this season.

They have also been a team of streaks, with the bulk of their victories for the year coming during the last home stand, the longest of the season, when they won eight out of the eleven games. They have won one of six since that point, and losing three straight to division leading Florida (what fire sale?) puts them at 8.5 games out in the division.

Sunday's game was indicitive of the Nats performance most of the season. Shawn Hill went seven innings, allowing just two earned runs on five hits and no walks, only to have the game end in defeat as the bullpen faltered and the offense couldn't bail out the bullpen. In both the eighth and ninth innings the Nats managed to get the lead-off hitter aboard only to have him die on the basepaths (Zimmerman ground into double play) or wither at first base, with skipper Manny Acta electing not to bunt with Lastings Milledge at first and Willie Harris at the plate.

The top four starters in the rotation--Shawn Hill (0-0, 3.56), Odalis Perez (0-3, 3.43), Tim Redding (4-3, 3.83) and John Lannan (3-3. 3.40) all are meeting or exceeding expectations, keeping the Nats in ballgames at least up to the sixth inning. Only Matt Chico has been terrible so far (0-5, 6.42) and he has been at least temporarily relegated to the bullpen as a long-man. With Mike O'Connor being sent back to the minors after Saturday's horrendous start, the Nats have yet to announce Thursday's starter.

The bullpen, which was expected to be the strength of this squad, has been erratic, probably due to overuse and adjustments to new responsibilities. With Chad Cordero out, Jon Rauch has been mostly excellent (2-0, 7 saves, 2.95) in his place, but cracks are starting to show elsewhere. Luis Ayala leads the NL in appearances (with 23) out of the primary set-up slot, and is showing signs of overuse, posting a 5.91 ERA to go along with a 1-3 record. Saul Rivera (3-1, 4.30) has been better than Ayala so far, but is also among the leaders in appearances (20). Jesus Colome's numbers (1-1, 3.48) belie the fact that he has allowed seven out of ten inherited runners to score. Joel Hanrahan has been good (31 Ks in 22.2 IPs) and bad (0-2, 4.76, 19 BBs, 4 WPs).

As for the hitting, the Nats are pretty much stuck where they are for now. They can expect Dmitri Young back soon--he starts his rehab assignment today in Harrisburg--and he hopes to be ready for the interleague series this weekend in Baltimore. Other than Young though, there are no more heroes on the horizon. The team that GM Jim Bowden has assembled must start producing or this team will languish at the bottom of the standings all summer. There is no help in the high minors, and the Nats must hope that the return of Elijah Dukes last week and the specter of Meathook looming will stir the Nats bats out of their season-long slumber.

As always, your comments and feedback are appreciated.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

Nats Lose 5-4; Swept by Marlins

Washington, DC--On a drizzly Mother's Day Sunday afternoon, it appeared the Washington Nationals had found the recipe to defeat the visiting Florida Marlins. Shawn Hill's seven strong innings pitched and home runs by little-used Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard gave the Nats a 4-2 lead entering the eighth inning. But overworked reliever Luis Ayala was unable to hold the Marlins at bay in the frame, as he allowed three earned runs on three hits--including two home runs--to allow the Marlins to complete the sweep and send the Nationals out on the road wondering what they have to do to actually win against the team from south Florida.

The decisive eighth inning was ugly indeed for Ayala (1-3, second blown save), making his league leading 23rd appearance of the season. Slap-hitting Alfredo Amezaga reached on an infield single to start the inning. It was a hard one-hopper to first that Boone was able to knock down, but Ayala couldn't get to the bag quick enough to get the speedy Amezaga. On the next pitch, Jeremy Hermida jumped all over Ayala's fastball and sent it screaming into the right field bleachers to tie the game. Ayala was able to coax Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu into making outs, but couldn't fool Marlins' red-hot second baseman Dan Uggla, who ripped a 2-2 pitch into dead-away center field stands, just barely avoiding becoming the first batter in Nationals Park history to reach the batter's eye. It was Uggla's second homer of the game and third of the series.

The Nationals were able to get their lead-off hitters on base in the bottom of the eighth and ninth innings, but to no avail. Belliard, one-for-three on the day with a homer and two RBIs, walked to start the eighth against Marlins reliever Renyel Pinto (hold--7), but Ryan Zimmerman promptly grounded into a double play to quash the burgeoning rally. In the ninth, Lastings Milledge led off with a walk, but Willie Harris popped out to right, Elijah Dukes popped out to second and catcher Jesus Flores bounced out to Marlins closer Kevin Gregg (save--7) to end the Mother's Day festivities.

Florida reliever Logan Kensing pitched the seventh inning, surrendering just one hit, and earned his second win of the season with no losses. Marlins starter Scott Olson settled down after a rough start to keep the Marlins in the game, and allowed four earned runs on six hits and two walks in six innings pitched.

Nationals' starter Shawn Hill deserved a better fate. He looked really strong all game, and allowed two earned runs on just five hits and no walks in seven innings. He gave up one run in the second as he hit Uggla, allowed a single to Luis Gonzales that moved Uggla to third, and a sacrifice fly to first baseman Wes Helms. Hill also surrendered Uggla's first home of the day, a solo shot in the sixth. Hill still has no decisions in five starts this season, with a 3.56 ERA, with 18 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched.

Aaron Boone, starting for Nick Johnson against the lefty, went three-for-four on the day, coming within a double of hitting for the cycle. He homered in the second, tripled in a run in the third and singled in the sixth. His last at bat ended with a fly out to right field.

Washington begins a four-game series with the division rival New York Mets Monday, with Odalis Perez (0-3, 3.43) facing Nelson Figueroa (2-2, 4.81) at 7:10 pm in Shea Stadium.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops the Nationals' record for the season to 15-23, 8.5 games behind division-leading Florida. Washington is 9-16 against division rivals and 1-8 against Florida this season.

Washington will be on the road for the next week, playing four in New York and a three-game weekend series in Baltimore, the traditional "geographic rival" portion of interleague play.

Reliever Chris Schroder was recalled from Triple-A Columbus, replacing left-handed starter Mike O'Connor, who was optioned back to Columbus following the game. O'Connor was 1-1 while with the big club, but was hammered in his only start Saturday evening.

The team has not announced a starter for Thursday's game in New York, which would have been O'Connor's turn to start.

Nats Lose 5-4; Swept by Marlins also posted at DC Sports Box

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008