September 2010

Nats vs. Mets and two MLB debuts

Today’s lineups are a glimpse of the future…and the past. The game features two starting pitchers making their Big League debut. The last time that happened in Washington, DC was over 100 years ago. Dixie Walker Sr. of the AL Nationals and Bill McCorry of the St. Louis Browns faced off on September 17, 1909 at American League Base Ball Park–the first time either starting pitcher had stepped on a Major League mound.

 

Mets (67-71):

1.    Angel Pagan – RF

2.    Luis Hernandez – 2B

3.    Carlos Beltran – CF

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    Mike Hessman – 3B

6.    Lucas Duda – LF

7.    Henry Blanco – C

8.    Ruben Tejada – SS

9.    Dillon Gee – SP (0-0, MLB Debut)

*Josh Thole plated two of New York’s three runs yesterday, going 1-for-2 with a walk and two RBI in the loss.

 Nationals (60-78):

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.      Danny Espinosa – 2B

8.      Wilson Ramos – C

9.      Yunesky Maya – SP (0-0, MLB Debut)

 

*With yesterday’s 13-3 mauling of the Mets, the Nationals have won seven of their last 11 contests, dating to August 26. In that same span, Washington has outscored its opponents, 85-55, and has led MLB in runs (85), runs per game (7.7), batting average (.316) and OPS (.876). The 85 runs also account for more runs scored than in any other 11-game span of the Nationals history since the move to Washington (2005-present).

*Danny Espinosa is 9-for-16–a ridiculous .562 batting average–in his first five games as a Major Leaguer. He is the first Nationals rookie to register more than five RBI in a single game.

Danny Espinosa makes Nationals Park debut a memorable one


Danny Espinosa at Nats Park.jpgMichael Morse, Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina stood at home plate waiting for Danny Espinosa to round the bases. Espinosa had just blasted a grand slam on a 1-0, 93 mph fastball to the first row of the second deck, right above the Nats bullpen, to give the Nats a 12-3 lead. Right as Espinosa touched home plate, the three of them turned around and started walking to the dugout without a word, hand shake or high five for Espinosa.

Welcome to the Majors, rookie. The silent treatment never felt so good. Espinosa couldn’t help but smile as he walked back to the dugout by himself looking up to the 20,224 fans on their feet.


Adam Dunn Michael Morse Roger Bernadina c.JPGBernadina was the first person to end the joke; he stopped on the first step of the dugout, turned around and patted Espinosa’s head. Espinosa was quickly engulfed by his teammates and the fans cheered for a curtain call.

It didn’t take Espinosa a long time to reach the summit of the dugout steps, he just needed a little help from his teammates to begin the journey–a handful of steps. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez pushed him on his way and before he knew it, he lifted his helmet and waved it over his head. On his way back down, he received a courtesy Brett Favre-like butt slap from Pudge. It is a Labor Day he will never forget.

“That was awesome,” Espinosa said. “It was the biggest rush. I could see my family. I saw all the fans. It was such a huge rush. I had a bunch of adrenaline going through my body. I was so excited.”

He has arrived. In his first game at Nationals Park and in just his fifth Major League game, he is staking his claim as an important piece of the Nats future. He finished his Nationals Park debut going 4-for-5 with two home runs and 6 RBI. His only out was a fly ball to left center that was almost a home run. He is just the sixth player this season to collect at least four hits, two home runs and six RBI in the same game. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the Major Leagues began tracking RBI in 1920, Espinosa is the first player to have at least two home runs and six RBI in one of his first five games in the Major Leagues.

His performance ranks up there with a couple other memorable Nationals Park debuts. I don’t think anyone would argue that Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off home run to open the park in 2008 and Stephen Strasburg’s 14 strikeout gem against the Pirates in June are the two most memorable moments during the short three year history of Nationals Park–they were also the two most-hyped games played at the park. Ian Desmond’s debut last season and Espinosa’s debut didn’t receive as much hype but they were memorable in the sense that the two showed fans the possibilities of their potentially prosperous future. Desmond went 2-for-4 with four RBI in his Major League debut but the most memorable part of that night was when he blast a 434 foot three-run home run to the Red Porch in center field.

“It’s still pretty close to the front of my brain,” Desmond said.

Espinosa’s debut at the Park will be in his head for a while too.

“That was just a great performance,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “It was a special day for him. It was a great day. It’s a great compliment to our scouting and player development to bring those two guys [Espinosa and Desmond] along the way they have and get them ready to play in the Big Leagues.”

It is still early–just a year into Desmond’s career and five days into Espinosa’s–but the two of them are giving fans a glimpse of the Nats possible double-play combination at short and second. Desmond has been on a tear since July 27: he is second in the Majors with a .383 average (51-for-133) over that span and Espinosa is batting .563 (9-for-16) with three home runs and 10 RBI in his first five games.

“Those two guys right up the middle–nothing is cast in stone–but it’s encouraging that two good athletes can play there for a while,” Riggleman said.

It may only be five games into his Major League career, but Espinosa is giving the fans and his teammates something to cheer about, even if they pretend to ignore him.

Happy Labor Day

Three quick things:

 

1. What a gorgeous Labor Day at Nationals Park! The sun is shining, the breeze is light and a good quarter of the NatsTown population is wearing either white or a seersucker suit.

 


jzimm.JPG2. Jordan Zimmermann starts today, coming off a real gem last Tuesday against the Marlins. He pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball, walking none and fanning nine–a career best. He retired the last fourteen batters he faced, eight of them by strikeout. Talk about dominance. More importantly, Zimmermann proved he could come back just as strong as ever from Tommy John surgery last August. “It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Zimmermann said. “I kept the ball down and actually got some fastballs inside, which I didn’t do in my first start.” He has not earned a decision in either of his two starts this season and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with his first win?

 

3. Danny Espinosa gets the start at shortstop. Espinosa collected a hit in his first career at bat last Wednesday–a RBI double at that. Then, in his first career start two days later, Espinosa hit a long ball to the opposite field. Three innings later, he collected another opposite-field hit with an RBI double–from the opposite side of the plate.

 

“It’s a big part [of my game]. They can’t just pitch me one way. I’m not just a dead-pull hitter,” said the switch-hitter who has shown a knack for going the opposite way all season in the Minors.

 

“He’s got great talent and a great natural gift, but he’s just a gamer,” said teammate Drew Storen who played with Espinosa in the Arizona Fall League and Double-A Harrisburg this season. “He’s just a dirtball. He works really hard on the field but also off the field. I’m excited to see him here. I was fired up when I walked in here and saw his jersey hanging in his locker.” Jim Riggleman expects Espinosa to see “significant” playing time for the duration of the season.

 

Today’s lineups…

Mets (67-70):

1.    Angel Pagan – CF

2.    Luis Hernandez – 2B

3.    Chris Carter – RF

4.    David Wright – 3B

5.    Ike Davis – 1B

6.    Lucas Duda – LF

7.    Josh Thole – C

8.    Ruben Tejada – SS

9.    Mike Pelfrey – SP (13-8, 3.72 ERA)

 

 Nationals (59-78):

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.      Danny Espinosa – SS

9.      Jordan Zimmermann – SP (0-0, 4.50 ERA)

Nyjer Morgan and the malice in Miami


Nats-Marlins benches clear.jpgIf you haven’t seen the fight yet,
you can see it here–we will nickname it the malice in Miami. Nyjer Morgan has never been shy of being the center of attention from his military-like salute in the outfield to his alter ego Tony Plush, but last night’s fight capped off an interesting week for the former hockey player–the type of publicity T. Plush isn’t searching for.

Morgan was suspended last Wednesday for seven games because of an incident with a fan in Philadelphia–he appealed the suspension thus being able to play. On Friday, he was picked off of first base in the bottom of the eighth. Willie Harris would hit a home run on the next pitch. On Saturday, he ran into/threw an elbow at the Cardinals’ catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate in the 8th inning despite the fact that there wasn’t even a play at the plate. Needless to say, Morgan missed home plate and cost the Nats a run. He was held out of Sunday’s game because of that play for what Manager Jim Riggleman referred to as an “unprofessional play.”

On Tuesday, in the top of the tenth inning with no score, Morgan plowed over catcher Brett Hayes on a close play at the plate. Morgan was called out. Could he have slid? Yes. Would he have been safe sliding? Maybe, but hindsight is 20-20. Morgan chose not to slide and opted to lower his shoulder to try to knock the ball loose. What would typically just be a footnote in a 1-0 loss became the main story. Collisions at home plate aren’t rare and by no means did this seem like a dirty hit but because of the incident on Saturday the collision on Tuesday was viewed as malicious by the Marlins. The Nats had no problem with the play. The Marlins had a different opinion.

It was expected that the Marlins would retaliate. Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad didn’t throw at Morgan when he led off the game but when Nyjer batted in the fourth with the Marlins leading 14-3, Volstad plunked him with a 92 mph fastball in the ribs. Morgan flipped his bat to the dugout, took off his elbow protector and ran to first base. That’s baseball–it’s a game that polices itself. What would have been a dead issue was quickly reignited when Morgan threw gas on the fire by stealing second base on the next pitch and third base two pitches later. Morgan was out to prove a point and the Marlins believed he was breaking one of the unspoken rules of baseball.

When Morgan returned to the plate in the sixth inning, the Marlins were determined to teach him a lesson. Volstad threw a 91 mph fastball behind Morgan and the rest is history. In a game, where your reputation often becomes the reality, it will be interesting to see what happens to Nyjer Morgan but here are some comments about last night’s event:


Nyjer Morgan in Miami.jpgMorgan on being hit once:

We police it. It was a hard play yesterday. I understand they had to get me back a little bit. It’s part of the game. I’m a hard player. I’m going out there and just playing the game. I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys? All right, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Morgan on being thrown at the second time:

“That was garbage. That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of those things. I’m a solid, hard-nosed player. When I’m out there between the lines, I’m out there to win and I’m out there to play hard, and play hard for this organization.”

Jim Riggleman on Morgan stealing second and third:

“You know, my feeling has always been, if you hit somebody, then you did what you set out to do. You hit him, and now if he decides to run on you, that’s his business. I got no problem with that. We decide when we run. The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run. We will decide when we run. Nobody will decide when we run.”

Ryan Zimmerman:

“We knew he might hit him one time for I guess what they thought was a dirty play yesterday. I’ve known Brett [Hayes] since college. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, I don’t think it was a dirty play yesterday. I wouldn’t say it was the cleanest play, but in baseball terms, that’s been done a million times and no one’s said anything. Nyjer doesn’t want to hurt anyone. No one wants to hurt anyone. I guess we thought they might hit him. They hit him once, and that’s fine. But to hit him twice, that was a little … I wouldn’t say that’s the right way to go about things. Even to hit him once is questionable. But to hit him twice? I don’t know.”

Third basemen Wes Helms:

“I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up. There’s no place in baseball for that. You’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, we had to show him that we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us after last night.”

“I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game. I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get back at us. That’s the only reason we went after him the second time. If he wouldn’t have stole the bases, I think it would have been over with, but since he stole the bases it kind of pumped us up a little more.”

Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa get the call

It is the first day of September and that means one thing in the baseball world: September call-ups. The Nats recalled Wilson Ramos and selected the contract of Danny Espinosa–two players the Nats are hoping to be instrumental in their long term plans. Teams are allowed to add any player on the 40-man roster to the active roster–essentially raising the limit from 25 to 40 player but don’t expect the Nationals to add an additional 15 players, maybe five or six.

 

The 23-year-old Ramos is the prized catching prospect the Nats acquired from Minnesota on July 29 in exchange for NL All-Star closer Matt Capps. This is his second stint with the Nats. He debuted with Washington on August 19 at Atlanta when fellow catcher Wil Nieves was placed on the Temporary Leave List. Ramos is batting .258 (8-for-31) with one RBI in eight Big League contests with Minnesota (seven games) and Washington (one) this season.

 

Ramos hit .258 with 17 doubles, eight home runs and 38 RBI in 91 Triple-A games this season, including a .329 mark with three home runs and eight RBI in 19 August contests with Syracuse.

 


Danny Espinosa.jpgEspinosa won’t get the start tonight in Miami but it is only time before we get a glimpse of the possible double play combo of the future: Espinosa and Ian Desmond. Espinosa made the transition from shortstop to second base when he was called up to Triple-A Syracuse last month.
Espinosa has always stood out because of his defense, with good range, sure hands and an above-average arm. At California State University-Long Beach as a freshman, he beat out All-Star Evan Longoria for the shortstop position. And Cal State-Long Beach or Shortstop U has a reputation for producing shortstop prospects: Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria (now a third baseman).

 

He is a switch-hitter who can drive the ball from both sides and hits for power. The 23-year-old focused on his approach at the plate in the Arizona Fall League in 2009 and it paid off. He worked with Hitting Coach Brian McArn (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics) to strengthen his approach at the plate and help him get his foot down early.

 

In 123 combined games with Syracuse (24 games) and Harrisburg (99), Espinosa hit .268 with 18 doubles, 22 home runs, 69 RBI, 41 walks and 25 stolen bases this season at the Minor League level. On August 8, Espinosa became the second player in professional baseball to earn 20-homer, 20-stolen base status this season. There are currently five professional 20-20 players, including Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez (29 home runs, 20 stolen bags) and Arizona’s Chris Young (22, 26).

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