July 2011

Airman wins D.C. Lottery $1 Million Grand Prize at Nationals Park

Staff Sergeant Timothy Ruch came to Nationals Park on July 5 to enjoy a game of baseball with his friend on what, he later realized, was a special night to honor military families with First Lady Michelle Obama. By the end of the evening, he was a million dollars richer.


On his way out of the ballpark, Tim purchased a D.C. Gold Scratcher from one of the two D.C. lottery vending machines on the main concourse. When he scratched off his ticket, he was shocked at what he saw.

“I was sitting right behind the Nationals dugout for the game and got to see the First Lady up close,” Ruch said. “I had seen the machine earlier in the day and I told my friend that I was going to put in 40 bucks, just for fun. I put the money in, and the first ticket I scratched off said $1 million dollars! I was walking right past the outfield and I kissed the ground right out there.”

When he called his wife to tell her the news, she was skeptical.

“She didn’t really believe me at first,” Ruch recounted. “So I had my buddy take a picture of the ticket with his camera phone and sent it to her. About five minutes later she called me back ready for me to get home and show it to her.”

Ruch became the first to win the D.C. Lottery’s $1 Million Grand Prize. In the three weeks since, he has considered various ways to spend his new riches.

“It’s been crazy,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do the smart thing with the money, putting it away for my nieces and nephews for college, trying to pay off some more bills, and relax a little bit. We might splurge and buy a few things here and there, but I’m not going to go crazy.”

After serving in the U.S. Air Force for more than eight years, he hopes to now use his winnings to settle down in the D.C. area.

“I got back in March from Iraq,” Ruch said. “I was there from September through March, so it was my first Nationals game of the season. I’ve got another year and a half on my enlistment, and my wife’s got two years. We’re actually closing on a new house, hopefully by next week. A month ago I didn’t know if we would be able to afford a house, and now I think we’ll be okay.”

Last Friday night, the D.C. Lottery presented Tim with a ceremonial check in honor of his win before the Nationals took on the Mets. Ruch and his wife took in batting practice from the field and spent some time with the team that had brought him luck.

“Just being able to be down on the field with the Nats is pretty cool,” Ruch said. “I’m a big Nationals fan and to actually be on the field with them, and winning with them, has been pretty great.”

Nationals players and coaches visit Walter Reed Hospital

Last Friday, Washington Nationals players and coaches made their annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the last time they’ll visit the facility before the hospital closes its doors next week. The facility has been the U.S. Army’s flagship medical center since 1909 and has served more than 150,000 patients from all branches of the military. After more than 100 years in action, its doors are set to close on September 15.

While the sight of the ballplayers produced smiles on the faces of many patients and their families, the players and coaches were struck by the sacrifices these servicemen and women had made for the sake of their country.

“You see a 19-year-old kid with his legs missing, and it’s pretty tough to take,” pitcher John Lannan said. “These guys are doing something they believe in and we’re proud to have them out there fighting for us.” 
 

Nationals P John Lannan and 3B Coach Bo Porter entering Walter Reed Hospital.

The Nationals came away with a new found appreciation for the dedication of the armed forces. What they saw made them realize how truly lucky they were.

“When you come here, everything is put into perspective,” infielder Alex Cora said. “Even if we win, it’s just a game. Winning or losing, first place or last place, it’s just a game. We’re lucky to do what we do. It’s because of these people we have the freedom to live and do the things that we do on a daily basis, because of their sacrifice for us.”

The Nationals are used to being seen as role models in the community, but on the day of their visit, they admired the positive attitudes they saw from the military patients.

“I think they are more of a role model to me”, said Lannan. “They are as much of a role model to me as I am to them. I hope those guys realize how much we support them and how much we appreciate everything they do.”

Nationals-Marlins, Round 2

After a rough start to the home stand, the Nationals will look to bounce back tonight. Livan Hernandez is on the mound for the Nats against Javier Vazquez.
Here are tonight’s lineups:

Marlins:
Emilio Bonifacio – 3B
Omar Infante – 2B
Greg Dobbs – 1B
Hanley Ramirez – SS
Logan Morrison – LF
Mike Stanton – RF
Mike Cameron – CF
John Buck – C
Javier Vazquez – P

Nationals:
Jerry Hairston – LF
Alex Cora – SS
Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
Michael Morse – 1B
Laynce Nix – RF
Danny Espinosa – 2B
Rick Ankiel – CF
Jesus Flores – C
Livan Hernandez – P

*The Nationals placed Jonny Gomes on their 25-man roster today. To make room for this move, Matt Stairs was designated for assignment. Stairs hit .154 with one double and two RBI in 56 games this season with the Nationals.

*Livo is 13-12 with a 3.65 ERA in 34 starts against the team he won a World Series with. He has struck out the Fish 142 times.

 

Nats acquire Jonny Gomes from Reds in trade

Shortly before tonight’s game against the Florida Marlins, the Nationals acquired outfielder Jonny Gomes and cash considerations from Cinncinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds received Nationals Minor Leaguers outfielder Bill Rhinehart and LHP Chris Manno.

Gomes has previously played for Tampa Bay and Cinncinnati over the course of nine seasons in MLB. He has a career on-base percentage of .330 due to more than 250 walks. In his career, he has hit 109 doubles and 115 home runs and has 352 RBI. He has historically fared well against left-handed pitching, hitting .281 with 41 doubles and an .886 OPS against southpaws.

Manno was with Single-A Hagerstown and Rhinehart was at Double-A Harrisburg at the time of the trade. Manno earned 12 saves over 34 appearances this year. Rhinehart was batting .283 with 59 RBI over 89 games with Harrisburg.

Nationals-Marlins, Game 1

After more than two weeks away from Nationals Park, the team returns home to face the Marlins this evening to kick off a nine-game home stand. Jordan Zimmermann takes the mound against the Fish.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

 

Marlins:

 

Emilio Bonifacio – 3B

Omar Infante – 2B

Greg Dobbs– 1B

Hanley Ramirez – SS

Logan Morrison – LF

Mike Stanton – RF

Mike Cameron – CF

John Buck – C

Ricky Nolasco – P

 

Nationals:

 

Roger Bernadina – CF

Danny Espinosa – 2B

Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

Michael Morse – 1B

Jayson Werth – RF

Laynce Nix – LF

Wilson Ramos – C

Ian Desmond – SS

Jordan Zimmermann – P

 

*Against the Marlins, Zimmermann has a 3.43 ERA with 22 strikeouts over 21 innings pitched.

 

*This season, the Nats have a home record of 28-18. Dating to May 31, they’ve been 16-6 at Nationals Park.

Wang nearing return to Majors

After finishing their road trip in California yesterday, the Nationals get a well-deserved day off. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to get excited about. This coming homestand, fans may be able to finally see the long-awaited return of Chien-Ming Wang to the mound.

Wang, who first signed with Washington as a free agent in early 2010, has spent the last two seasons recovering from shoulder surgery. In his most recent rehabilitation start at Triple-A Syracuse, Wang threw 96 pitches over five innings, and 63 of those were strikes. Depending on how he feels today, he may finally be activated from the disabled list and be able to pitch on Friday.

Wang has not pitched in the Majors since the 2009 season, when he was with the New York Yankees. He originally signed with New York as an amateur free agent before the 2000 season. He is only the fourth Major Leaguer from Taiwan, joining the likes of Chin-Feng Chen, Chin-Hui Tsao and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Wang played for the Yankees from 2005-2009, and was considered the ace of their staff in 2006 and 2007. In both of those seasons he won 19 games, finishing amongst the Major League leaders in wins. In 2006, he finished second to Johan Santana in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award, and he finished in the top 10 of voting for the AL MVP Award. In 2007 he continued to play superbly, finishing with a .731 win percentage and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

Despite the overwhelming positives, Wang has struggled to recover from a number of injuries that plagued him in 2008 and 2009—a pulled hamstring, torn ligaments in his right foot, as well as his previously mentioned shoulder issues—but has so far proven he’s recovered during his time in the Minors. His velocity has been back to where it was before, as his fastball has been clocked in the low-to-mid 90s.

No official announcement has been made regarding Wang’s return to the Big Leagues, though, given his progress since last year, it’s likely to happen sooner than later. If he returns to the rotation during this homestand, another player would have to be sent down in order to make room. Keep following us and check back here for any further news regarding Wang.

Strasburg Sighting

 

If all goes well, Nationals fans could see Stephen Strasburg back in a Major League uniform by the end of this season.

It was reported this week that the pitching phenom and 2009 first-overall Draft pick hit 95 miles per hour with his fastball off a mound in a simulated game. He’s been throwing live batting practice at the Nationals’ Spring Training Complex in Florida and has been increasing his pitch count. It’s clear his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery is going smoothly so far.

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo told the media recently that he wants Strasburg to throw 50 innings before he returns to the Majors. That would mean he’d pitch several more simulated games in Florida before moving onto rehabilitation assignments in their Minor League system.

If we look at Jordan Zimmermann’s recovery from the same injury and the same surgery last year, it’s clear Nats fans have the right to be optimistic about Strasburg. Zimmermann pitched in 10 Minor League starts last summer beginning on July 3, and made his return to the Big Leagues at the end of August. In his time in the Minors last year, he pitched to a 1.59 ERA with 31 strikeouts. His return to the Majors came almost exactly a year after he underwent Tommy John surgery—and on the day of his season debut we learned that Strasburg would take the same journey Zimmermann had just completed.

Zimmermann has been solid in his starts since returning from surgery, so it may be fair to expect Strasburg to do the same. Though we may only see the fireballer make a select few Major League starts this season, the excitement level from his Major League debut is sure to return to Nationals Park.

And just think—should his progress continue at its current pace, wouldn’t a one-two punch at the top of the rotation like Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann be pretty spectacular in 2012?

Ryan Mattheus & Katy Perry: an unlikely winning combo

Nationals fans have had their share of memorable at-bat/walk-out music over the past few seasons, and this year is no different.

All-Star Tyler Clippard previously came out to the song “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America. The song became popular enough that eventually the LCD screens around the ballpark would display falling peaches as Clippard warmed up. He now uses “Ready or Not” by The Fugees, a song that, coincidentally enough, came out in 1996—the same year that “Peaches” was released.

Then you have Michael Morse. It’s no secret that Morse loves the ‘80s, especially when he alternates between classic Beastie Boys and A-Ha for the soundtrack to his introductions. Fans now associate “Take On Me” with the power-hitting first baseman.

“I love all kinds of music. But I really like ‘80s music, especially the one-hit wonders. I started with ‘Take on Me’ and I thought the fans liked it a lot, so I can’t stop now,” Morse said.

At the Nationals Dream Gala this year, many players had put together baskets of their favorite things to sell at auction. In Morse’s basket was a “Totally ‘80s” CD, which contained nothing but one-hit wonders from his favorite decade.

More recently, you have relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus joining the “odd music” club. Most other players on the team, and especially in the bullpen, come out to hard, heavy rock music or hip-hop. Not Mattheus.

He went with a somewhat more effeminate choice—Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Because he’s a rookie, some may be inclined to think that the pop hit was chosen as a method of hazing from his teammates. That’s not actually the case.

“It’s kind of a funny story. I was out before the season with a teammate from Double-A, and we were just talking about our walk-out music,” Mattheus said. “We were playing some pool and putting some money in the jukebox, and that song actually came on, and we both started singing.”

After his karaoke moment was over, Mattheus decided he liked the feel of the song enough to have it associated with him during a game.

“I was like ‘this is kind of a feel-good song, I think I’ll make this my walk-out song,’” he said. “And he told me to go for it.”

Mattheus went on to use the song once the season started for him in the Minors, and kept it once he got his call-up to the Nationals. He has no plans to stop using it anytime soon.

“I’ve been successful, so there’s that superstition there for me to hold on to it. It took some guts to do it up here on a bigger stage, but I like it,” he said. “Hopefully it keeps working.”

Congressional Baseball Game Tonight at Nats Park

Capitol Hill is taking over Nationals Park. On Thursday, July 14, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will take the field for the Congressional Baseball Game to raise money for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

The tradition of the Congressional Baseball Game dates back to 1909, although it was discontinued through 1961. It was revived in 1962 and has been played annually ever since. Thursday’s game marks the 50th edition of the “modern game.”

“The Washington Nationals are proud to host the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park,” said Nationals Principal Owner Robert K. Tanenbaum. “For generations, baseball has been uniting Americans and this event is one more example of that long standing tradition.”

As the home of the national pastime in the Nation’s Capital, Nationals Park has served as the venue for this annual tradition since 2008.  Games have also previously been played at Griffith Stadium, RFK Stadium and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

Members of Congress will play seven innings in a best of five game series for the championship trophy. The Democrats currently lead the series 2-0, while Republicans lead the overall series 38-34-1.

Founded by Representative John Tener of Pennsylvania, the Congressional Baseball Game is Washington’s version of the Midsummer Classic. The game often comes with plenty of fanfare and notable guests. Commissioner Bud Selig has previously attended, as well as Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Frank Howard, among many others. In addition, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner were both in attendance last year.

This year, Joe Barton (R, TX-6) will lead 40 Republicans against Mike Doyle (D, PA-14) and 21 Democrats. The Democrats are seeking their third win over the Republicans, which would allow them to claim the championship trophy.

Nationals Park’s gates open at 5:30 p.m. with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.

Washington Pitchers & All-Star Game Wins

You could probably describe Tyler Clippard’s All-Star Game experience as a little out of the ordinary.

With the American League leading 1-0 in the top of the fourth inning, Clippard was brought into a jam to get the final out and prevent any more damage from being done. With runners on first and second, National League Skipper Bruce Bochy called to the bullpen for Clippard to face Adrian Beltre. Clippard quickly worked the count to 0-2, and then tried to throw an up-and-in fastball that didn’t quite get up-and-in enough. Beltre smoked it to left field for a single.

The Astros’ Hunter Pence got the ball on the hop and made the decision to throw it to home to catch a charging Jose Bautista, who was attempting to tack on an extra run. Bautista was out by about five feet at home plate. Inning over.

Fast forward to the bottom of the fourth. Two runners are on, and the Brewers’ slugging first baseman Prince Fielder is in the box for the NL. He tears the leather off the ball on a home run to center field, giving the National League a 3-1 lead. The NL would go on to win 5-1, and since Clippard was the pitcher of record when his team got the winning run, he got the win.

Clippard’s pitching line for that game would be: 0.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 3.00 WHIP. He got the win despite not even retiring a batter.

This is, oddly enough, the second year in a row that a Nationals pitcher pitched just a third of an inning and ended up with the win. Matt Capps, then the Nats’ closer, struck out the one batter he faced to end an inning in the 2010 All-Star Game. He was the pitcher of record when the NL took the lead, so he was credited with the win.

Even stranger is the fact that both Clippard and Capps were brought in to relieve a Phillies’ pitcher—Clippard came in for Cliff Lee, and Capps came in for Roy Halladay.

On a historic level of coincidence, Clippard is now the second Washington pitcher to get the All-Star Game win without having retired a batter. In 1954, Dean Stone was a representative for the Senators. He, like Clippard, was brought in to get out of a jam. But when Red Schoendienst was caught stealing home, the inning ended. Stone was the pitcher of record when the American League took the lead, so he got the win—but unlike Clippard, since the out was recorded on a caught stealing, he never actually faced a batter.

On the all-time list of winning pitchers in the All-Star Game, only four of them pitched a third of an inning. Three of them played for Washington—Stone, Capps and now Clippard. It’s an odd little tradition that’s happened for DC pitchers, but that’s one of the things that makes this game worth following, isn’t it?

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