August 2010

Inside Pitch Live with Willie Harris

Willie Harris spent some time prior to Saturday’s game in the PNC Diamond Club, fielding questions from fans and  moderator Dave Jageler for another installment of Inside Pitch Live:

inside pitch-willie harris.jpgHow do you approach pinch hitting and have so much success, as you did Friday night when you hit a home run as a pinch hitter?

My mindset is sort of like a leadoff hitter. I treat it like I’m leading off the game, even though it’s the eighth inning, or the seventh, or the ninth and I’m facing the closers and the setup man. I don’t think people really understand how tough that is. You’ve been sitting on the bench for eight innings and now you’re asked to go up and give a good at bat against closers, Broxtons and guys who throw 97, 98 miles an hour. but you know that comes with the territory. That’s my job and I take pride in it. I go out there and give it my best effort every time.

You’ve made several game-ending defensive plays over the years, especially against the New York Mets, you always seem to do it to. Of all the great catches you’ve made since you’ve been with us, is there one that stands out as a favorite?

Yes, it was the one at Shea Stadium. I think Jon Rauch was on the mound. Ryan Church hit a looping, lazy fly ball down the left field line. I had to run a long way and made a diving play. I think about that catch sometimes when I get down and out and it picks me back up and makes me believe in myself all over again. I think that’s the best one.

You had a great one earlier this season to save a game at the Mets. I went into the park the next day and my buddy who works in the Mets scoreboard room turns to me in the ninth inning and says, “I think we’re going to win it, as long as we don’t hit it to Willie Harris.” They know. You’re in their heads.

It feels good to get that type of respect around the game. The next day, Rod Barajas came up to me and told me, “Willie, David Wright told me to hit the ball anywhere except for left field.” That makes me feel good. It makes me feel good to know guys around the league know what type of outfielder I am. For the most part, it’s for my pitchers. I try to make plays for my pitchers because I know how hard it is to go out there and try to get a guy out, so I try to make it as easy as possible for our pitchers.

When you get on base, what are you and the first baseman talking about? What’s that exchange like?

For the most part, it’s, “How’ve you been doing?” “Hey Dave, how you doing, man? How’s the season been going for you?” That’s it.

Who are some of the talkative guys? It seems like the other team is always chatting up Dunn. Or Dunn’s chatting them up.

Yeah, Dunn’s a big time chatter. I think the guy around the league who really talks the most is Ryan Howard. He’s always referring to you as, “Hi, Mr. Harris,” or “Hi, Mr. Morgan,” or whoever the guy on first base is. Prince Fielder is pretty silent. You’re not going to get a lot of words out of Prince. He’s a lot bigger than I am, so I just go ahead and take my lead and leave him alone. For the most part, everybody’s pretty friendly.

If you could pick any position to play every day, which would it be?

Second base. I came up through the Minor Leagues as a second baseman, made it to the Big Leagues with the White Sox playing second base. I refer to it is second base is like staying at home and going to the outfield is like staying at a hotel. Second base is my natural position. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play there this year. But we still have five weeks left. Who knows what may happen?

We all know you can hit the long ball, but when you have to put down the bunt, you’re very capable of that too. Have you thought about maybe training some of our pitchers on how you bunt?

No I haven’t thought about that. You know, bunting is something that people feel should be very easy. It’s not easy at all. You’ve got guys throwing 93 miles an hour sinkers, cutters, the ball’s moving all over the place. Granted, we all feel like the pitcher should get the bunt down, but if he doesn’t, don’t give up on him. Just try to understand what you’re asking the guy to do. It’s not as easy as it looks.

You are a very professional player, a role model for a lot of the younger guys. Your presence is probably very important to a young club. How do you work with the other guys to get them better?

I pick my spots. I know the younger guys. I know they look up to me. I’m not having the type of year that I would like to have personally, but I know that those younger guys look at me to see how I handle it. So that way, when they go through their struggles and their problems, they know how to handle it. You never get down on yourself. You always stay upbeat and you try to stay even keeled. I look at it as, I’m going to have more good days than bad days. Baseball is a game of failure. You go up to hit 10 times and you get three hits, you’re a star, even though you made seven outs. It’s a game of failure. So when things aren’t going so well, you have to remember it’s going to get better. I just pick my spots. I’ve had talks with Desmond. I’ve pulled him to the side and chewed him out a couple of times, Bernadina. I’ve had talks with those guys, so that when they do get to a point where they go on a 0-for-8 or 0-for-nine skid, they know how to handle it and it doesn’t wear them down mentally.

Who’s the toughest starting pitcher you’ve faced?

There’s a few. I don’t want to miss anybody. Chris Carpenter the other night was really good, Lincecum…Ubaldo Jimenez, there you go. He’s the toughest one of them all. Him and Strasburg and pretty similar actually–they both throw hard, they’re both big guys. I think Ubaldo Jimenez is the toughest pitcher I’ve faced this year.

Who have you had real success against? Not to say, “Hey, I want to hit against this guy,” because it may change, of course.

I’ve had success against Jair Jurrjens from the Braves. And he’s a really good pitcher. They’re all good pitchers. Some days you’re going to get him, some days he’s going to get you. You just have to keep going and keep grinding and keep battling out.

How much time do you spend watching video and prepping for games?

At the beginning of every series, when we’re playing a team that we haven’t played for awhile or a team that we haven’t played this year, all the hitters and the hitting coach and Jim Riggleman and the coaches, we have our meetings. We go over the pitchers. We go over how strong an outfielder’s arm is as opposed to another outfielder. We go over their lineup, who may bunt, who may hit and run. So we’re prepared. We do all the preparation work, but sometimes we go out onto the field and we just make too many mistakes.

We put the work in. People may say, “They need to work harder.” We make a lot of errors. We’ve got a lot of young guys. But at the same time, I don’t think we should be making mental errors. Errors are going to happen. It’s baseball. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to make errors. But I think we can cut down on the mental errors and take some of that pressure off our pitchers and quit giving teams extra outs to work with. Good teams like the Cardinals are going to take advantage of that. We just have to narrow that down and put it into better perspective.

If you hadn’t been a baseball player, what would you have been?

Football! That was easy. I was going to Florida State to play wide receiver, believe it or not, as small as I am, but I was blazing fast back then. What happened was, I got drafted in baseball and I realized, Willie, you’re not very big. You have safeties in the NFL twice my size and twice as fast as I am, so I figured I better go try to hit this ball and leave that football alone. Thank God, everything worked out well for me. I’m healthy and I’ve had a decent career.

A dark Strasmas: Strasburg likely out 12 to 18 months

strasburg 100 c.jpgThe day after Bryce Harper was drafted, Stephen Strasburg made his MLB debut–a memorable 14 strikeout performance at that. The day after Harper was introduced at Nationals Park, GM Mike Rizzo announced Strasburg has a torn elbow ligament and will most likely need “Tommy John” surgery. It also comes one day after pitcher Jordan Zimmermann made his first Major League start since he had “Tommy John” surgery on August 19, 2009.

Strasburg will travel to the West Coast for a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum, the surgeon who performed “Tommy John” surgery on Zimmermann. It is more of a technicality than anything else because Rizzo doesn’t expect to get a different opinion. He fully expects the 2009 No.1 pick will need the operation that requires 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation.

“I look at the bright side,” Rizzo said. “‘Tommy John’ surgery is a surgery that we’ve had great success at. The success rate for guys coming back from ‘Tommy John’ and retaining their stuff is very good.”

It will never be known if this was inevitable for the 100 mph hurler, Strasburg. Was it the Major League workload? Was it his mechanics? Was it the torque his arm experienced after each throw? There are probably a hundred different variables that contributed to the tear–we won’t try to weigh one over another. The first sign that Strasburg injured his elbow was on Saturday after he threw a 1-1 change-up to Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown. As he grimaced and shook his elbow, the Nationals collectively held their breath but the Nationals don’t have any regrets.

“The player was developed and cared for in the correct way, and things like this happen,” Rizzo said. “Pitchers break down, pitchers get hurt and we certainly are not second-guessing ourselves… frustrated? Yes. But second-guessing ourselves? No.”

After his Major League debut, it was a foregone conclusion that Strasburg was from a different planet. Then Strasburg showed his first sign of being a human on July, 27 when he was scratched 20 minutes before the game because he couldn’t get warmed-up and experienced inflammation in his right shoulder. He was placed on the 15-day DL and would make just three more starts.

The book is closed on his rookie season: 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA (68.0 IP/ 22 ER) with 92 strikeouts and a .221 BAA. He never pitched more than 7.0 innings or less than 4.1 and never threw more than 99 pitches in a start.

There is hope that this will just be a footnote in Strasburg’s career and strictly based on how others have recovered from Chris Carpenter to AJ Burnett there is a good chance it will be. On the bright side, Strasburg will be just 24 years old when Spring Training starts in 2012. Whether he is ready to go, time will tell but he will have a new ulner collateral ligament and he will be as determined as ever to prove himself once again.

Bryce Harper Q&A

Bryce Harper 6.JPGBefore Bryce Harper was introduced to Washington, he sat down with Notes from NatsTown for a Q&A. He isn’t new to answering questions. It is apparent he has answered them all before.

Why did you decide to sign instead of returning to school?

It’s always been my dream to play pro baseball. Just to be able to start in an organization that is up-and-coming and has a great group of guys–a lot of veterans and a lot of young guys, great guys in the Minor League system, with some guys from Team USA also–A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray. We’ve got a lot of veterans also with Pudge Rodriguez, Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg. We’re an up-and-coming team and we’re going to try to win a World Championship.

Is it exciting to think you will be playing with these guys?

That’s been my dream ever since I was seven, eight years old. Growing up watching these guys and seeing what they were doing–it’s incredible to be up here finally. I can’t wait to get started and have some fun.

How different is your life from where you could be–starting your senior year of high school?

It would be way different. I wouldn’t be here. I would be starting school, going school shopping. But I wouldn’t take any of this back. I couldn’t stand high school. I hated high school with a passion. After my brother left–when I was a freshman and he was a senior–after they all left, that group of guys left, I didn’t want to be there anymore. I thought I was with them. I thought I was supposed to be graduating that year, hanging out with all his friends and stuff. My sophomore year I was like a ghost. I went to school, but nobody really noticed me. I just came to school, didn’t dress up or anything–just a ghost. I just worked out and went out to the field and went the baseball route. That’s how I’ve always been my whole life.

At your age, are you still growing physically?

I think I grew like an inch in a month. Last month my knees were hurting real bad so I think I was growing. I think I still got room to grow–size 15 shoes, 6’5,” 230–that’d be nice.

What parts of your game are you looking to improve in the player development system?

Power. No, probably everything. I can always get better at everything. Everybody can always get better. I have a long ways to go. I’m not where I want to be right now. I’m in the Minor League system, but I’m not where I want to be. I want to be up there with all the big guys, with the big club, playing. I can do better in every aspect–hitting, throwing, running, outfield, catching–whatever they need me to do. I can get better in everything.

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

Gorgeous. No (laughing). If I had to describe myself in one word, Hercules. I guess…

Bryce Harper 7.JPGWhat’s the derivation of number 34?

I wore seven my whole life. Seven’s been my number for forever and then I went to this team, I think I was nine or ten years old, and one of the kids on the team already had it. So 34 is three plus four is seven. I stuck with that.

Finish the sentence… in 2011 I will…

In 2011, I will go to the moon. No (laughing). I don’t know. …Hopefully be a National.

Who are three people you know would be in the stands watching you play an important game?

My dad, my mom, my brother and sister. That’s four. Sorry.  I’ve got four people that are probably going to be there the first day I get there, unless my brother’s trying to win a national championship in South Carolina.

What’s your approach at the plate?

See a pitch. Hit pitch. See it and hit it. That’s baseball. It doesn’t matter as long as you see it and hit it. You see a ball up and you try to drive it the opposite way. That’s huge on my part. I love hitting the ball oppo–I think that’s the biggest thing about me that people don’t know. I love hitting the ball off oppo. Left-center’s my power.

Bryce Harper says hello to section 236

Bryce Harper 1.JPGIt is Bryce Harper day at the ballpark. The Fauxhawk-sporting, black hair dyed, 2010 No. 1 Draft pick officially signed his contract today along with 157 other items: 11 dozen balls, 15 bats and 10 jerseys. He did a photo shoot–it was obvious that this was his millionth photo shoot of his young career. The 17-year-old, would-be-senior-if-he-was-still-in-high-school was a pro. He could have told the photographer how to do his job, not really, but it is only fitting two different people asked facetiously, “So have you done this before?”

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Bryce Harper 3.JPGWhat he definitely has done before is take batting practice. Harper took early BP with Adam Kennedy, Justin Maxwell and Kevin Mench while a handful of Nats players, along with the entire Scott Boras camp standing nearby and watching. It wasn’t like watching Josh Hamilton–the king of batting practice shows–but a few shots were memorable. He hit a total of ten home runs in five rounds. He started off with a few bunts to get loose and then he sprayed the ball to all locations of the field. On the final pitch in the first-round, he unleashed the hammer that is Bryce Harper. It was easy to see why he has been labeled the Lebron James of baseball. Lebron James dunks. Bryce Harper hits home runs. He blasted a shot to the third row of section 236–that would be the third deck. It was definitely hard to not think, “Wow, how did he do that?”

Jason Marquis looks to build off last start

Jason Marquis will face his former club tonight as he tries to chip away at his ERA. When Marquis had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow on May 14th, he went to the DL with a 20.52 ERA–a combination of only three starts, a few innings pitched and a lot of earned runs–but since his return earlier this month, he’s been steadily lowering that number.


“I’ve been working hard to get back to where I need to be,” Marquis said. “I was sick and tired of embarrassing myself out there.”


And the strategy has been successful. Marquis turned in his best outing in a Nationals uniform last time he was on the mound. In Friday’s game at Philadelphia, he allowed just one run on four hits  in five innings. Despite taking the loss in a 1-0 game, it was his longest outing on the mound this season.


“The results are a lot better than what they have been,” Marquis said. “I lost control of some counts, which I was unhappy about. But you still have to make pitches and get out of jams–and it’s a step in the right direction.”


Marquis did walk four in that game, but when it counted, he allowed Philadelphia to go only 1-6 with runners in scoring position. Remember, Marquis won 23 games during a two-year stint (2007-08) with the Cubs. Only two other guys, namely Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano, won more games for the Cubs in the same two-year span. He is also one of just ten Big League pitchers to have a double-digit win total every season since 2004. He is the only guy to do it exclusively in the National League.


In other ERA news, last night Miguel Batista (2.0 innings), Collin Balester (1.0), and Craig Stammen (1.0) combined for four innings of one-hit relief and didn’t allow a single run. Considering last year’s bullpen ranked last in MLB with a 5.04 ERA, this year’s 3.52 ERA thus far seems miniscule. It’s also good enough for eighth in MLB. The improvement of -1.52 points paces the Majors and second place isn’t even close–the Padres claim a -0.96 improvement. In fact, it ranks number five in the greatest bullpen ERA shrinkages since 2000.


Now for those lineups:

Cubs (53-74):

1.    Kosuke Fukudome – RF

2.    Starlin Castro – SS

3.    Marlon Byrd – CF

4.    Aramis Ramirez – 3B

5.    Micah Hoffpauir – 1B

6.    Alfonso Soriano – LF

7.    Blake DeWitt – 2B

8.    Geovany Soto – C

9.    Ryan Dempster – SP (11-8, 3.56 ERA)

*Alfonso Soriano clubbed his 20th home run of the season last night, a three-run shot in the second inning. He has now hit 20 or more long balls in nine consecutive seasons.

 Nationals (53-73):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Ian Desmond – SS

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF 

6.      Michael Morse – RF

7.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

8.      Wil Nieves – C

9.      Jason Marquis – SP (0-6, 11.39 ERA)

John Lannan looks to continue his streak

John Lannan back in red c.jpgJohn Lannan gets his turn on the mound tonight and Nats fans are hoping that he has regained his stride. He is throwing with confidence after he dealt with a little midseason adversity and Double-A demotion. His hair is longer and he wears his socks low but those are just minor changes.


“John really did a good job for us in his last start,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “He got us into the sixth inning. He got us deep enough in the ballgame where we had good bullpen matchups. I felt the ball was sinking pretty good. His change-up and breaking balls were pretty good, so, knock on wood, it looks like he is back on track.”


The major changes include three wins in just four tries since being recalled from Double-A Harrisburg. Those three wins came after a no-decision and mark the first time Lannan has won three consecutive starts in his career. He failed to win even three games in the first 14 contests he played prior to the Minor League stint. His ERA at the time was 5.76, but his ERA in the four games since is 3.09. Lannan looks like the pitcher who gave the Nationals plenty of innings the previous two years.


“I feel that I’m close, and I’m going to keep on getting better with each start,” Lannan said. “The main thing for me is to go out there and be confident in my stuff and throw each pitch with a purpose. I’m more sure of my stuff since I came back.”


Willie Harris agrees. “They sent him down to the Minor Leagues. He went down there, persevered and faced a lot of adversity,” he said. “He came back. He is a different person.”


The Nationals could use Lannan’s positive momentum tonight after last night’s forgettable 9-1 defeat. And luckily, Lannan understands what it takes to come out of a rut.


“It was an experience that I wouldn’t take back. One thing I did learn was to take the positives from each day no matter how bad the day is. Just work on what you thought was positive and move forward.”


Hopefully he is able to instill that mindset in the rest of his teammates tonight.


Cubs (52-74):

1.    Blake DeWitt – 2B

2.    Starlin Castro – SS

3.    Xavier Nady – 1B

4.    Aramis Ramirez – 3B

5.    Jeff Baker – RF

6.    Geovany Soto – C

7.    Alfonso Soriano – LF

8.    Tyler Colvin – CF

9.    Carlos Zambrano – SP (4-6, 4.97 ERA)


*Last night, starting pitcher Casey Coleman earned his first Major League win and collected his first Major League hit with an RBI single in the 5th inning.

 Nationals (53-72):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF 

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Michael Morse – RF

8.      Alberto Gonzalez – SS

9.      John Lannan – SP (5-5, 5.13 ERA)

*Currently hitting .301, Ryan Zimmerman is attempting to become the first Major League third baseman based out of DC to hit .300-plus since “Buddy” Lewis hit .317 for the 1940 Washington Senators.

*The bullpen has fanned 8.20 batters per 9.0 innings this season, a tally that if maintained would be the best single-season mark posted by a Nationals bullpen since MLB returned to DC.

Strasburg back on the DL

The Nats officially placed Stephen Strasburg on the 15-Day Disabled List, retroactive to August 22, with a right forearm flexor strain and recalled right-handed pitcher Collin Balester from Triple-A Syracuse.

It doesn’t come as a surprise. That Nationals are taking every precaution possible with their prized possession and that’s why GM Mike Rizzo decided to send Strasburg to the 15-day disabled list. It was obvious Strasburg was in pain on Saturday in the bottom of the fifth inning after he grimaced and shock his right arm following a 1-1 change-up to Phillies Domonic Brown. Strasburg, 21, is 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts with Washington.

Balester is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances with Washington this season. The 24-year-old is 4-12 with a 5.85 ERA in 27 games/22 starts during his Big League career (2008-10). After beginning the season in the Syracuse rotation, Balester went 1-0 with a 3.92 ERA and .209 batting average against in 25 relief outings with the Chiefs.

Nats-Cubs game 1

As everybody waits for the official word on Stephen Strasburg’s injury or condition, the Nats’ season continues tonight against the Cubs.

The Nats open a seven game homestand against a deflated and defeated Cubs team that is playing their first game with Interim Manager Mike Quade at the helm. Their former Manager Lou Piniella abruptly retired yesterday–six weeks earlier than expected to take care of his ailing mother. The Nationals had planned on presenting a plaque to Piniella commemorating his great career. The plaque featured a young Piniella in a Curly “W” cap during his season with the Peninsula Senators in 1963, the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Senators at the time.

Lou Piniella.jpgThe road hasn’t been a friendly place this season for the Nats. They went 2-4 on this most-recent six-game road trip to lower their record to 22-44 away from the friendly confines on Nationals Park. The Nats bats were kept at bay and they scored two runs or less in four of the six contests. It didn’t help that the Nats batted .143 (5-for-35) with RISP over the weekend against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. It also didn’t help that the Nats were blanked twice thanks largely to the efforts of Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

It’s not all bad. The Nats are back at home where they are 31-27 and they are 13-12 in games started by Livan Hernandez. Not to mention, they are facing a Cubs team that ESPN’s Senior National Columnist Gene Wojciechowski called “borderline unwatchable.”

“The Cubs are borderline unwatchable and completely irrelevant. They were so fired up for Sunday’s game–Lou Piniella’s last as Cubs manager–that they lost only 16-5. They haven’t quit; they just can’t do any better.” -Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN

Cubs (51-74):

1.    Blake DeWitt – 2B

2.    Starlin Castro – SS

3.    Marlon Byrd – CF

4.    Aramis Ramirez – 3B

5.    Xavier Nady – 1B

6.    Tyler Colvin – RF

7.    Alfonso Soriano – LF

8.    Geovany Soto – C

9.    Casey Coleman – SP (0-1, 7.82 ERA)


Nationals (53-71):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Willie Harris – RF

8.      Alberto Gonzalez – SS

9.      Livan Hernandez – SP (8-8, 3.06 ERA)

The Presidents journey to Vermont

Presidents in vermont.jpgThe Racing Presidents journeyed to Burlington, Vermont to watch the Short-season Vermont Lake Monsters last night. Teddy, George, Abe, Tom participated in their first Lake Monsters game.

They met with local fans and searched for the Lake Monster himself–they came up empty much like Teddy does on the race track. The Presidents put on their dancing shoes and had a dance-off with the Lake Monsters mascot, Champ, in the bottom of the second and fourth inning. He isn’t called Champ because he can dance.

The main event–the Presidents Race–took place in the bottom of the third inning. Tom and Abe started off neck and neck, but Abe pushed Tom into the backstop as they rounded home plate giving George a chance to make his move and he didn’t look back. George won the first Presidents Race in Vermont. Yes, Teddy still remains defeated. At the same time, he is really consistent and that’s what baseball is all about.

Rizzo gets pied

The highlight of last night–technically early morning–definitely was General Manager Mike Rizzo being pied with whipped cream by President Stan Kasten. Rizzo then donned the Elvis wig which has become the staple of the Nationals post-game celebration for the player of the game–Rizzo was the negotiator of the night.


You can watch it here on CSN or you can just follow the storyboard.

Rizzo pied 0 c.JPG
Rizzo pied 1c.JPG

“There is one more thing I have to do,” Kasten said, “when we celebrate victories here.” BAM.


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