September 2010

Unpacking at the Hotel

Once we get off the plane, there are two more buses waiting for us on the tarmac–talk about door to door service. Same as before, there’s one for players and one for coaches and staff. On the other side of the plane, Wally is already unloading the equipment, with one of those conveyer belts coming out of the plane and straight into the back of an Atlanta-based moving truck.

The buses load up quickly, and we’re off to the hotel. It’s all of 20 minutes through Atlanta, and it’s an easy trip on a Sunday night.

Upon arrival at the hotel, there’s a table of envelopes in the lobby, one for each member of the traveling party. What are the chances that Nationals Director of Team Travel Rob McDonald hand-wrote everyone’s name in the fancy calligraphy on each envelope? He is a man of many talents, so I wouldn’t put it past him.

Anyway, inside was our room key and some brief information for our stay. The players’ personal luggage will arrive shortly and be brought to their rooms. Again, it’s quite impressive how simplified they make things on the road. No long lines for individual check-in at the hotel, no fumbling for credit cards or hotel loyalty numbers.

And as a bonus–there’s another drink and cookie station by the elevators before you head to your room to turn in for the night. Life on the road is good indeed.

Planes, Trains and buses

It is amazing the convenience of chartering a flight. No long check-in or security lines. You literally step off the bus and climb the stairs to the plane. This is clearly a huge advantage for the Nationals, or any professional sports team that spends this much time on the road. Minimize distractions and down time and allow the guys to recharge for the few hours they’re away from the park.

There’s only one team plane, so the players, staff and media are all together now. Many of the football scores that they were checking in the clubhouse have now gone final, and with fantasy implications aplenty, talk tends to focus on the surprise performances from week one, or the upcoming Redskins game later that night. Just from overhearing some of the guys’ conversations, it’s clear they are sports fans–not just baseball fans–in the truest sense.

On your way to your seat, you pass a number of coolers with Gatorade and waters, or snack baskets with assorted chips. One member of the traveling party noted that this is the best time to load up on snacks and drinks for the entire trip. We’re clearly underprepared to reap the full benefits of this bounty–for our next road trip, we’ll be sure to bring a bigger carry-on.

Speaking of carry-on luggage, pitcher Miguel Batista seems to be toting something other than the customary backpack or laptop case. It looks like a musical instrument case, but it’s not entirely clear what instrument. We’ll try to get to the bottom of it by the end of this trip.

Now for the good stuff:  They actually provide a choice of meals on the flight, and not those dinky snack boxes you get on some airlines these days. We’re talking rotisserie chicken, chicken Caesar salad or crab cakes. Against our better judgment (again, we’re biased based on our prior experiences with standard airline fare), we opted for the crab cakes, and were pleasantly surprised. A round of cookies followed–the chocolate chip earns full marks. We were told there’d be parfaits and candy too, but, out to the right side of the plane – there’s the Atlanta skyline which means it’s time to land. Maybe the candy and parfait will be parting gifts when we de-plane.

Notes from NatsTown hit the road to Atlanta

Notes from NatsTown hit the road on Sunday, taking you behind the scenes on the three game roadtrip to Atlanta. Following the series finale vs. Florida, it was an as-expected subdued post-game clubhouse. There was no music or light-hearted banter. A handful of players spoke to the assembled media, others hit the showers or grabbed a quick bite to eat. Some guys were checking football scores–if nothing else it was good to get their minds off of baseball. Otherwise, it was time to finish packing their luggage for the trip to Atlanta

Meanwhile, Clubhouse Manager Mike “Wally” Wallace and his staff was feverously racing around packing bags and crates, then loaded them onto moving trucks to be driven to the airport. For the players and staff, security actually happens at the ballpark. It’s not unlike what you’d expect at the airport with ID checks, metal detection wands, etc., but it’s just different being next to the bus outside the Nationals clubhouse.

All of the players and staff wear suits, or at least a sports coat. Team broadcasters also travels with the team, riding in the bus with coaches and front office staff. It was a quiet bus ride to Dulles International Airport, as most everyone was checking blackberries before the nearly-two hour charter flight to Atlanta. The players travel on their own bus, but with surprisingly little traffic, everyone arrived at the airport within about 30 minutes of departing Nationals Park.

Inside Pitch Live with Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman 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:


zimminsidepitchlive.jpgSome exciting young players are breaking into the lineup–Ramos, Desmond, Espinosa, etc. What do you feel about the direction of some of the young players and the team?

This is the first year where we’ve really had a chance to see what we’ve heard about the last two or three years. The last two or three years have been tough. We’ve lost a lot of games. It’s been a struggle, but we’re finally starting to see what they’ve been drafting, what they’ve been telling us is coming. This is the first year that I can honestly say we’ve taken a step forward talent-wise. We always think we can win, but every night we have a chance talent-wise as well. It’s going to be exciting to watch those young guys grow up, be here for a while and help us take this to the next level.

Last year you were an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove. You’ve had another good season. How does this year compare to last year, personally? Are you better in ways?

Last year is going to be tough to beat. I knew that coming in. But you’ve got to try and get better every year. The key to this game is to be consistent. I think after three or four years, I’ve finally learned what I have to do to be ready to play every day. I think that’s the big thing to keep in mind with all these young guys. It takes two or three years to find out what you need to do to get yourself ready.  They’re going to have to learn and learning at this level is not easy. Obviously they’re very talented, but it takes a little while. I feel like I’m finally to that point in my career and I want to do all I can to help them get to where I’m at, so we can do better as a team.

When you’re standing in the batter’s box waiting for the pitch and all the fans are calling your name, does that juice you or distract you?

I can’t hear it. On deck you can hear some things, but I really make a conscious effort not to look in the stands, because I know if I look once, I’m going to look every single time I go out there–because there are a lot of distractions, a lot of things going on. I try and stay focused. But when you get in the box, everything goes blank. You can’t hear anything because you’re concentrating so much.

One of the most disappointing things to a fan is to see a young player come up, only to get injured. Maybe they are demanding too much production too soon. Are the teams doing anything different nowadays in terms of training to prevent this?

Training has come a long way in baseball. It used to be you play your season and you show up for Spring Training. Now, if you don’t work out in the offseason, you’re going to be a step behind. I think that aspect of the sport has come a long way. I think as far as taking care of young players, I think they baby pitchers a lot. Obviously they invest a lot of money in them. It’s kind of a delicate situation. You have innings counts, pitch count. It’s a lot different than it used to be. As far as young position players like Danny or Ian, those guys are young and they’re in really, really good shape. If they get hurt, it’s almost a freak accident. As far as Jim [Riggleman] giving them days off, I think it’s more mental. Because they’ve always been the best at everything they’ve ever done. So they come up here and they fail a little bit. Sometimes you need a day just to take a step back and watch the game and regroup. Jim is really good at giving that.

But you were drafted in ’05 and in the Major Leagues within a couple of months. You didn’t have that failure in the Minors because you were up so quickly. What set you apart to allow you to do that? You didn’t have a lot of days off your first year.

I thought if I took a day off I might get sent down. I figured I’m here. I’m might as well play. Now I’m to the point where I get a couple days off a year. You have aches and pains and some days, honestly, when you get to the Park, you’re really contemplating taking the day off. But once the game starts and you get into the momentum of the game, everything kind of goes away.

What’s it like changing first basemen? Adam Dunn is about 12 feet tall. Is it difficult to adjust your game when someone else comes in?

It’s different but it’s not too bad. Obviously, Adam’s a very nice target. It’s nice having him over there. He’s worked very hard this year and has gotten a lot better. He’s going to be, I think, an above average first baseman. It would be nice for him to be here for awhile. But anyways…(laughing). When Ronnie Belliard used to play over there, it was tough.

When you were a kid playing baseball, when were you better than the other kids? Was it always that way, or did you start out the same and suddenly get better?

I never really thought I was better. I just had fun playing. I played baseball, basketball–I played everything when I was little. I just enjoyed being outside and playing with my friends. It’s one of those things where I guess it kind of just happened. I never really thought that I was the best at anything. I liked to go outside, have fun, be competitive and do things with my friends. Obviously as you get older, into high school and college, you realize things because people tell you. But when I was young, I just enjoyed playing.

Opera in the Outfield

If you thought nothing could be farther from a baseball field than an opera house, the majority of the time you would be right. But this time you are wrong because on September 19 at 2 p.m., Nationals Park will host its third “Opera in the Outfield,” when Verdi’s A Masked Ball is simulcast right here, live on one of America’s largest HD screens free for everyone to watch.

 In fact, the opera’s female lead, soprano Tamara Wilson, thinks any baseball fan would enjoy the show, even if you’ve never been to an opera before. “Think of it this way. If you’ve never been to a baseball game, you wouldn’t know an RBI from a base hit. But you’d learn,” she said. “Even if you don’t know anything, you’re going to go to a game, you’re going to get the beer and peanuts and you’re going to be happy just watching because it’s a fun time. In opera, people feel afraid if you don’t know everything…There’s a sense of intimidation about it. But it’s the same thing. If you go once or twice, you’ll start to feel at ease a bit and just enjoy what’s happening on stage.”

And if you thought the opera is a place for only the uppity, elderly, or rich, again, you’re wrong–this post was written to turn conventional wisdom on its head. This event is completely free and offers an enjoyable ballpark atmosphere, complete with concessions, kid-friendly activities and prizes all while you watch the opera. “Pre-game” and intermission activities include a T-shirt toss, photo-ops with Screech and a picnic contest, while giveaways include opera ticket packages, baseball tickets and Target gift cards.

New this year, the “Take Me Out to the Opera” Songwriting Contest offers entrants a chance to create opera-themed lyrics to the popular baseball song. Winners will be announced during the “Seventh Aria Stretch,” with the top place winner’s song performed live by a crowd of thousands of opera-going fans.

“Opera in the Outfield” is part of the Washington National Opera’s Access to Opera initiative, which brings free and low-cost opera to new audiences through discount tickets, public school programs and adult enrichment.

“I think opera is accessible in general, but there’s a stigma to it,” said Wilson, who didn’t attend her first opera until college but now stars in them. She says she was absolutely “mesmerized” by her first opera “because there’s something so dramatic about the music and then having these singers without microphones belt their hearts out.”

This particular opera tells the powerful story of love, revenge and murder. A Masked Ball (Un Ballo in Maschera) centers on the true story of the murder of 18th-century Swedish King Gustavas III, who falls for the wife of his best friend, Count Anckarstrom. Their forbidden love proves fatal when the Count discovers the King’s secret passion and joins a conspiracy to murder him during the court’s grand masked ball. The opera is performed in Italian with English subtitles projected on the National’s scoreboard.

If you like baseball, you just might enjoy this opera too. “If you haven’t been to an opera before, I say, try it, and then make your own opinion,” Wilson said.

For more details, including how to enter the “Take Me Out to the Opera” Songwriting Contest, or to reserve seating for this FREE event, just click HERE.

Last chance to fry the Fish

Marlins (72-69):

1.    Emilio Bonifacio – 3B

2.    Logan Morrison – LF

3.    Hanley Ramirez – SS

4.    Dan Uggla – 2B

5.    Chad Tracy – 1B

6.    Mike Stanton – RF

7.    Cameron Maybin – CF

8.    Mike Rivera – C

9.    Chris Volstad – SP (9-9, 4.96 ERA)

* With yesterday’s 4-1 victory, the Marlins have won nine of their last 10 games against the Nationals.

* Thanks to an RBI single in the 8th inning of yesterday’s game, Logan Morrison has now reached base safely via hit or walk in 31 consecutive games.

 Nationals (60-82):

1.      Ian Desmond – SS

2.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF  

6.      Michael Morse – RF

7.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

8.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

9.      Jordan Zimmermann – SP (0-0, 3.86 ERA)

* The Nationals scored 30 runs in three games from September 4-6, but have scored just five in the four games since.

Bullpen means business

With the improved pitching of Jason Marquis, who has given up just six runs in his last four starts (24.0 innings), the Nationals hope they do not have to go to the bullpen early today. But if they do, they are in good hands. Washington’s bullpen has fired 17.0 consecutive scoreless innings over its last five games to lower its collective ERA to 3.48. That’s its lowest point since it stood at 3.48 on July 9. It’s also good enough for seventh in the Majors. What else is the bullpen ranked seventh in the Majors for? Strikeouts per 9.0 innings. If the current pace of 8.33 batters fanned per 9.0 innings is maintained, this year’s bullpen would hold the top single-season mark posted in the franchise’s 42-year history.

 

Now this guy might not have much to do with the bullpen’s ERA on the season or the number of strikeouts it has accumulated, but last night, Joe Bisenius took the Major League mound for the first time since April 7, 2007. He pitched a scoreless inning for the Nationals, and one that showcased his upper-90′s fastball–constantly. Of his 22 pitches, 18 were fastballs, most them coming in at 97 and 98 mph. “The velocity speaks for itself,” said Manager Jim Riggleman. “Just very encouraged by what I saw out there.” But his location wasn’t too shabby either. 16 of Bisenius’ 22 pitches were thrown for strikes. Bisenius said it “felt good to get out there, get under the lights,” but after more than six years of playing mostly in the Minors and a move from the Philadelphia franchise to Washington, “good” is probably an understatement for Bisenius.

 

Marlins (71-69):

1.    Emilio Bonifacio – 3B

2.    Logan Morrison – LF

3.    Hanley Ramirez – SS

4.    Dan Uggla – 2B

5.    Chad Tracy – 1B

6.    Mike Stanton – RF

7.    Cameron Maybin – CF

8.    Brad Davis – C

9.    Anibal Sanchez – SP (11-9, 3.45 ERA)

  Nationals (60-81):

1.      Danny Espinosa – 2B

2.      Ian Desmond – SS

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF  

6.      Michael Morse – RF

7.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

8.      Wilson Ramos – C

9.      Jason Marquis – SP (2-7, 7.14 ERA)

Nats-Marlins: Round Two

Marlins-Nats, Round Two. Well, not really. The last time these two teams squared off, they literally squared off. There were six ejections, eight suspensions and one I-got-to-watch-that-one-more-time-fight. The dust has finally settled and there has been eight days to calm the tensions, so players on both team hope the malice in Miami is a thing of the past. It will be interesting to see how things do play out over the course of the weekend. The two teams won’t meet again this season.

 

The instigator of it all–Nyjer Morgan–is in the lineup, as of now. He had his appeal hearings for his two suspensions this morning, but it is possible that the verdict isn’t reached until after the weekend. It is interesting to note that Morgan is batting eighth. For whatever the reason, it might be strictly based on his production. He is batting .256 with a .316 OBP. He is 2-for-10 batting eighth this season.

 

Marlins (70-69):

1.    Emilio Bonifacio – 3B

2.    Logan Morrison – LF

3.    Hanley Ramirez – SS

4.    Dan Uggla – 2B

5.    Wes Helms – 3B

6.    Mike Stanton – RF

7.    Cameron Maybin – RF

8.    Brad Davis – C

9.    Alex Sanabia – SP (3-2, 4.50 ERA)

 

Nationals (60-80):

1.      Danny Espinosa – 2B

2.      Ian Desmond – SS

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Roger Bernadina – LF

6.      Michael Morse – RF

7.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

8.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

9.      John Lannan – SP (7-6, 4.73 ERA)

 

Livan looks to close the series with a win

It is an early start for the rubber game of the Mets vs. Nats series at Nats Park and with a win the Nats will move to 3-0-2 in series play against the Mets and 9-6 overall, guaranteeing at least a tie in the season series. For what it is worth–probably nothing–the Nats are 10-10 in rubber games in 2010, including a 6-2 mark in DC but they have dropped 9 of their last 12 rubber games after starting the year 7-1.

 

The crafty, curveball crawling, 85 mph fastball hurling Livan Hernandez toes the rubber for the Nats. Yeah, it will be back-to-back games that a Cuban-native has started a game for the Nats. And now you are trying to remember the last time that happened. Well, the last time two Cuban-born teammates got the starting nod in consecutive games was Sept. 17-18, 2005, when Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (loss) and Jose Contreras (win) toed the rubber for the White Sox against the Twins at the Metrodome.

 

Hernandez has struggled in his last three starts going 1-2 with a 12.00 ERA (20 ER/ 15 IP) with a .394 BAA but with a win today he would move to 10-10 with an ERA possibly under 4.00 on the season and the Nats would move to  15-14 when he starts. Not bad for a pitcher who the Nats signed to a Minor League contract during Spring Training.

 

Yesterday, Yunesky Maya and Dillon Gee squared off as they made their Major League debuts. Today, Hernandez and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey square off in a match-up of two surprising seasons and feel-good stories–both pitchers were signed as Minor League free agents in the offseason. Hernandez has been so instrumental in the Nats rotation–he hasn’t missed a start–the Nats signed him to a one year contract, ensuring he won’t need to wait around for a contract for the fourth straight season.

 

Dickey has traveled back and forth between the Minors and Majors his entire career, but after he was called-up on May 19 this season, he hasn’t looked back. He is 9-6 with a 2.91 ERA.  He tied a career high in wins and set a career high in innings pitched (139.1), games started (21) and quality starts (15).

 

Mets (68-71):

1.    Angel Pagan – RF

2.    Luis Hernandez – 2B

3.    Carlos Beltran – CF

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    David Wright – 3B

6.    Chris Carter – LF

7.    Josh Thole – C

8.    Ruben Tejada – SS

9.    R.A. Dickey – SP (9-6, 2.91 ERA)

*Yesterday, Dillon Gee took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his Major League debut. He is just the third pitcher over the last five seasons to take a no-hitter into the sixth in his first outing in the Big Leagues. Gee fired 7.0 innings of one run, two-hit ball to earn the win.

Nationals (60-79):

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.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

8.      Danny Espinosa – 2B

9.      Livan Hernandez – SP (9-10, 3.81 ERA)

UPDATE: Rodriguez has been scratched, Espinosa will hit 7th, Ramos will hit 8th and play catcher.

Yunesky Maya makes debut against the Mets


yunesky maya pc.JPGCuban right-hander Yunesky Maya makes his Major League debut tonight. Many years ago, Maya was the bat boy for the team Livan Hernandez played for in Cuba. They are teammates once again.

Maya went 1-1 with a 0.87 ERA (1 ER/10.1 IP) in two starts with the Chiefs. The 28-year-old made five Minor League starts this season, going 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA and a .225 batting average against.

Maya signed with Washington on August 3, 2010, after a stellar career in Cuba. He went 13-4 with seven complete games and a 2.22 ERA last season with the Pinar Del Rio Vegueros of the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s equivalent of Major League Baseball) en route to being recognized as the circuit’s top pitcher.

During his six-year career in Cuba, Maya went 48-29 with a 2.51 ERA. He went a combined 1-1 with a 0.87 ERA in six games/one start pitching for Cuba in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“I’m very happy for anybody who comes over from Cuba,” Hernandez said. “I was in the same situation in ’95. I heard they were going to sign him. I’ve seen him pitch in Puerto Rico. I think he’s got everything he needs to pitch in the Big Leagues.”

In other notes:

The Nationals recorded their 60th win yesterday, significant in the sense that it bested the ’08 and’09 win totals of 59. The Nationals won 73 games in 2007 and 81 in 2005. It seems unlikely that the Nats will win 81 games but with 15 home games remaining it isn’t out of the question to finish the season 14-10 and win 74 games–a 15 game improvement.

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