Hello again Nationals fans,
As I talked about in my last blog, Dodger Stadium is one of the iconic venues in all of sports, and it is fitting that a 19 year-old kid from Las Vegas will be making his much-anticipated big league entrance on this stage.
As “Hollywood” as this script seems, this was not how it was supposed to happen. Sure, the scenic backdrop, the 50,000-plus fans and the A-list celebs will be fantastic for the history books, but Bryce is here tonight on someone else’s terms.
Unfortunately, Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder soreness has prompted a DL stint. Thankfully, this won’t be a prolonged absence for Ryan, but it does leave an immediate void in Davey’s lineup.
So, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson talked. And they talked again. Ultimately, it was determined that they needed another left-handed bat in the lineup, and an outfielder if possible.
So, Mike went to chilly, Rochester, NY and watched Bryce play three games. He saw enough to know that this is what he had to do. He diverted from his plan. But how many of us see our best laid plans executed exactly as we scripted? Not nearly enough. That’s just reality.
So, when Mike called me yesterday with the news that he planned to recall Bryce on Saturday, I was taken aback. Like most, I did not see this happening so quickly.
Mike told me that Bryce was the best fit for what Davey needed, especially with Zimmerman and Michael Morse on the shelf.
He also told me that Bryce’s development plan is still not finished. There is a good chance that he’ll need more time, more reps and more at-bats at Triple-A. But that is a discussion for another day.
Bryce should not be seen as a panacea. He’s not our run-production savior. That would be unfair.
But Mike does think – and I agree – that Bryce can provide our roster a healthy jolt.
So, let’s see what he can do. Let’s dig deeper than his batting average, his power output and instead keep our eyes open for his total game – the base running, the defense, the throwing arm. Let’s resist the urge to make grand conclusions based on ridiculously small sample sizes.
But, at the same time, let’s have fun. On a personal level, I am thrilled that I am in Los Angeles and will be at Dodger Stadium tonight.
It all starts for Bryce tonight, fittingly in Tinseltown.
The first page of what we believe will be a special Hollywood script.
Up goes the curtain: it’s time to enjoy the show.
He is here. With the Nationals already making headlines with their hot start to the 2012 season, perhaps the biggest splash of the year will be this weekend, as top prospect Bryce Harper will make his much-anticipated debut. The 19 year-old, who was the first overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, will join the team on Saturday in Los Angeles. Harper is scheduled to make his home debut when the Nationals return to D.C. to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, May 1.
There will be plenty more to come throughout the weekend, but this much is certain: the future is now in Washington D.C.
Hello Nationals fans,
I figured it was a great time to check in.
Before jumping into our 14-4 start, I want to talk about the Capitals and how their playoff run created its own set of challenges for me personally. I am on the West Coast with the ballclub and Wednesday’s first pitch came just one hour before the Caps faceoff in Boston. A dilemma for sure, but one that could be overcome by technology.
I had a heck of a time shifting between the game in front of me and the Caps game, which I was watching (between pitches) on my iPad. But, as day gave way to night, all of my hard work was rewarded as both the Nationals and Caps won. Later, I noticed that the Wizards won their 5th straight game for the first time since 2007. What an evening for DC sports fans!
As everyone reading this knows, Game 7s are special no matter the sport. However, it seems as if Game 7s in hockey are almost holy in nature. The Caps play last night certainly matched the game’s stakes.
Intense, physical, smart and concerted is how I would describe last night’s effort in a season-saving, 2-1 victory in Boston. And really, it had to be that way in order to advance.
The Bruins were game. This was hardly the case of a satisfied defending champ going through the motions. My eyes told me that the Bruins played well in each game of the series. But our Caps won the closest playoff series in NHL history against the defending Stanley Cup champions because they played slightly better. One goal better, in fact.
I am so happy for my friend, Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager George McPhee, head coach Dale Hunter and all of the players. I don’t think any DC sports fans will forget this series, Joel Ward’s goal or Braden Holtby’s playoff arrival.
But now comes the hard part. Our Caps work is not done. We only know that they could play, under various scenarios, either the Rangers, Flyers or Devils in the second round. But before looking ahead, I hope for one night at least, the Caps enjoyed their spoils.
Back on the diamond, things are going well on all fronts, outside of the injury bug that has bitten our cleanup hitter (Morse), our closer (Storen), our most experienced starting pitcher (Wang) and now our best player (Zimmerman). Thankfully, we entered the season with depth all around the diamond. 162 games in six months is a grind and it is folly to believe that any club can go injury-free or even close to it.
But the bench has been up to the task. Through just 18 games, Chad Tracy (game-winning hits on Tuesday in San Diego and on April 7 at Wrigley Field), Xavier Nady (April 13 game-tying pinch homer vs. Reds, rally-sparking double on Tuesday at San Diego) and Steve Lombardozzi (4-for-5, 2 RBI on April 16 vs. Houston) have already played integral roles in victories this season.
There is also depth on the pitching staff. While we thankfully have not yet had to call upon our obvious rotation depth, it should be noted that all seven relievers have pitched important innings in close games this season. There really have been no exceptions. Winning streaks will do that and thus far our bullpen has more than held its own in contributing to our early season success.
Which brings me to the starting rotation. There has been none better in baseball. And the gap is widening with seemingly every start. There really is not much to say other than Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler have collectively been beyond exceptional.
The formula from my seat has been a healthy share of strikeouts, precious few walks and keeping the ball in the ballpark.
And despite this early-season dominance, Davey knows we are in this for the long haul. The five starters have combined to throw just 110.2 innings this season. That ranks 16th in MLB and does not suggest even a whiff of overuse.
One thing that I have noted about Davey is his innate ability to balance tonight’s result with “tomorrow.” That is, an understanding of where we are in the scope of a game, a series, the season, and just as importantly, where these pitchers are in terms of their careers.
I am looking forward to our series this weekend against the Dodgers, who are playing as well as they have in a few years. I never miss our trip to Dodger Stadium, which really is on any short list of the top venues in all of sports. The place is oozing with history, the backdrop is spectacular and the fans are always knowledgeable.
Tonight’s finale at Petco Park is my 16th straight game. I hope we can finish off the sweep and keep the good vibes rolling.
Let’s go CAPS! … Let’s go NATS! …
This article is not about pitching. We swear. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t get a couple things out of the way before we get to the meat and potatoes of this piece, which we promise is really about hitting. Thankfully, though, the pitching has been nails. That’s especially good, since here at Curly W Live, we don’t have any nails left after biting them off over the course of the season’s first 17 games, 14 of which have been decided by three runs or less.
It is said, around the game, that good starting pitching can be contagious. One starter feeds off another, and if everyone is throwing well, there is a pressure to keep up, not to be the one to let the rest of the guys down. We have seen plenty of that dynamic through the first three weeks of the season, but Gio Gonzalez may have taken the concept to new heights.
After an uninspiring first start of the year, the Nationals new lefty has been nearly unhittable in his last three outings. In addition to not allowing a single run over that span, Gonzalez has allowed just 10 batters to reach base over 20 innings (six hits, four walks), while striking out 21. That 20-inning scoreless streak sits just one frame shy of the franchise record since the team returned to D.C. in ’05. John Lannan and Drew Storen share the mark of 21.0 innings, with the former setting the mark in 2008 and the latter matching it in 2011.
Anyway, back to the offense, and to the rather remarkable statistic the bats managed to produce Tuesday night. The Nationals scored three runs against the Padres at Petco Park. All three were driven in by pinch-hitters, specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters. And even more specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters facing left-handed pitching, something you rarely see.
Late-game scenarios, especially in close games, where pinch-hitters are often used, create situational opportunities. For Chad Tracy, who singled home a pair of runs to put Washington ahead for good in the seventh inning, the at-bat marked his first off the bench against a left-handed pitcher this year. Rick Ankiel, who had the night off due to the lefty starter, had to fight off a tough pitch, serving it up the middle on a broken bat single to add the final insurance run with two outs in the top of the ninth.
While the Nationals will no doubt look for more production out of their starting lineup, the story of the year so far on offense has been the deep bench and its clutch, late-game production. If Washington plays another couple of tight, low-scoring games in San Diego this series (and really, does anyone think they won’t?), look for the Goon Squad – the affectionate nickname for this year’s offensive support staff – to play a big role in the outcome.
With the postponement of Sunday’s game giving us likely the only consecutive days without Nationals baseball until the All-Star Break, we figured it might be a good time to take stock of the team following the first homestand and point out a few truly ridiculous numbers. For those of you well-versed in your statistics, we’ll make the following disclaimer: small sample size alert. After all, we’re only 16 games into a 162-game season (9.9%), and baseball is all about how trends play out in the long run, not a few handfuls of contests. Nevertheless, the following statistics are rather absurd.
For this discussion, we take a closer look at WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), a very useful way of determining how effective pitchers are at keeping opponents off the base paths. Since 1901, only 140 pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title have posted a WHIP below 1.00, or an average of 1.25 pitchers per year. Since the year 2000, just 14 have accomplished the feat, three of which came last year (AL MVP/Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander – .920, NL Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw – .977, and Cole Hamels – .986). Needless to say, to be in the company of those select few puts one in rarefied air, among the top pitchers of the generation, if not all time.
Why is this so important? We all know that the Nationals starting pitching has been superb to this point, but for any to notch sub-1.00 WHIP would be quite a feat, something never accomplished by a qualifying starter since the move to Washington in 2005 (Jordan Zimmermann was the closest last season, at 1.15). As it turns out, there are multiple starters out of the five on this year’s staff currently posting sub-1.00 WHIPs. Specifically, there are five of them.
That’s right, each and every one of the Washington Nationals starting five has allowed an average of less than one baserunner per inning. Ross Detwiler, who ranks second in the National League in ERA at 0.54, has the highest (aka, worst) of the lot at a 0.94 mark. Stephen Strasburg (0.92) and Gio Gonzalez (0.91) rank slightly ahead of Detwiler. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson’s mark of 0.84 is even more eye-popping, and Zimmermann’s 0.71 is downright silly.
For some additional historical perspective, only one pitcher has logged a WHIP of under 0.90 since 1996, which was Pedro Martinez (0.74) in his historic 2000 campaign, widely regarded as the greatest single pitching season in the last generation. That year, Martinez notched a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 217.0 innings pitched while throwing four shutouts for the Boston Red Sox, all in the midst of a hitter-dominated era.
Right now, Zimmermann is ahead of even that pace. Again, we are working off a small sample size, one that is hardly projectable for the remaining 90% of the season. Nevertheless, wow.
Last week, Curly W Live readers voted that the starting rotation has been the most impressive component of Washington’s hot start. So, we ask you now: who has been the most impressive starter so far? The best part about this poll: there are no wrong answers.
Here at Curly W Live, we are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we will ask players, front office members, coaches and prospects nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then take our favorite submission through Facebook and Twitter from the fans for the final question. Stay tuned all season long for the chance to ask your favorite National whatever you’ve always wanted to know. Today, we bring you Jordan Zimmermann.
1. You grew up in Auburndale, WI (pop. 738) and attended Auburndale High School. Describe “Bring Your Tractor to School Day.”
We have one day out of each year where the kids can bring their tractors to school and park them right in the parking lot. It’s kind of a neat thing for the guys who live or have worked on the farm. Unfortunately – well, fortunately I guess – I didn’t live on a farm so I drove the car to school.
2. Do you ever get any cheese jokes about your fastball, with people knowing you’re from Wisconsin?
No, but a couple guys around here call me “The Cheesehead.” That’s about as far as it goes with the cheese jokes.
3. You went to school at UW-Stevens Point. How big of an adjustment was it for you coming to a major city like D.C.?
It’s definitely been an adjustment since I got drafted playing in bigger cities. I started up in Vermont which is not that big. I’m from a town of 750 people so any city is going to be huge compared to that. Getting to D.C., I lived on the outskirts – I never really lived down town. I stay in the Alexandria/Arlington area and just find an easy way to get to the ballpark and get home. I’m not much for traffic, so it’s one of those things where I need an easy commute.
4. How many times out of 10 does someone spell your name wrong?
People spell my name wrong ALL the time. I think a lot of people get me mixed up with Ryan Zimmerman and he has one ‘N’ at the end of his name and I have two at the end of mine. I used to correct people all the time but I am getting to the point I just let it go and no one knows the difference anyways.
5. Did you know there was a Jordan Zimmerman (one “n”) who pitched for the Mariners in 1999?
I’ve gotten some fan mail from a couple people where I open it up and there is a picture of this guy, who is not me. I just sign the card and send it back. (No, not really)
6. Did anyone ever call you JZ growing up? What about after Jay-Z became popular?
I never had a nickname Jay-Z growing up at all. I’ve had a few other nicknames but not Jay-Z.
7. What’s the background on the number 27?
I didn’t really have a choice on the number 27. When I got to Spring Training, I went into Wally’s (clubhouse manager Mike Wallace) office and he said, “What number do you want? We have 27, 33 and a couple other numbers left.”
I said, “Well, I guess I will take 27.”
8. How did you feel about your “immaculate inning,” where you struck out the side on nine pitches on May 6, 2011 vs. the Marlins?
I just got through the first guy and got through the second guy and then the umpire kind of gave me a generous call. I threw one up and in and I was lucky enough that he swung at it and I got out of the inning. I didn’t even realize it until after the game when they brought it up in the post-game interview.
9. What do you think would be a good nickname for the starting staff?
I’m not sure about nicknames but since we all throw above 90/92 and Stephen can throw above 100, something with flames, I guess. Flame Chuckers, or something (laughing).
10. Fan Question, from Joshua N. via Facebook: Are you guys in the starting rotation having as much fun as it looks like you’re having?
Definitely. We’ve got a young staff and we’re all around the same age. It works out that we can joke around with each other and we can pick each other’s brains. We’re having a great time and we’re all pitching pretty well now. So far, so good.
The Nationals began their 2012 campaign exactly two weeks ago, at the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field. Since then, they have packed as much gut-wrenching, will-testing excitement into the beginning of their season as any fan could hope for. If you still have fingernails left, scroll down and take a look at five of the most astounding facts of the young season so far, then vote for your favorite in the poll at the end of the post.
Make Your Best Pitch: The Nationals Staff
The pitching staff has a collective 1.92 ERA through the first 13 games, more than a half-run better than the next closest team in the league. Nats pitchers have allowed just two home runs while striking out 121 batters in 122 innings, both best in the game. Edwin Jackson – the author of the most impressive individual outing of the year to date – has the HIGHEST ERA in the rotation at 2.57, which also includes Stephen Strasburg (1.42), Jordan Zimmermann (1.29) and Ross Detwiler (0.90). Fellow newcomer Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, has been downright unhittable at home in D.C. His modest line through two starts at Nationals Park: 14.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 15 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP.
Crazy 8’s: Runs in 8th inning or later
Washington has scored 17 of its 49 runs this season (35% of the offense) in the eighth inning or later. The Nationals used the eighth inning to power themselves to victory once again on Wednesday, scoring the decisive pair of runs to flip a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 victory.
One-Run Fun: Plenty of one-run games
The Nationals have played 13 games so far in 2012. Eight of those contests have been decided by a single run, with Washington owning a 5-3 record in such
affairs. Washington did not play its eighth one-run game in 2011 until May 12, the 37th game of the season. The experience gained from these pressure-packed battles should serve the club well as the season unfolds.
Comeback To Me: Come-from-behind wins
The Nationals have trailed early and come from behind in half of their 10 wins thus far. That’s right, five of the team’s 10 wins have been of the come-from-behind variety. In fact, the team has led at some point in all but two games so far – the near-comeback on the third day of the season against the Cubs, after trimming a four-run deficit to one, and the near-sweep of Cincinnati, when Washington climbed out of a five-run hole to force extra innings, only to fall in 11 frames.
First!: Quickest team to 10 wins
As Henry Rodriguez took just seven pitches to close out the Astros in the ninth inning on Wednesday, the Nationals finished off their 10th win before the Texas Rangers could put away the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That meant that Washington was the first team in Major League Baseball to hit the double-digit win mark. As the Dodgers lost Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Nationals own the best record in the National League.
Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.
Despite continued production from Adam LaRoche in the cleanup spot, the Nationals dropped their series opener against the Mets by the same 4-3 margin as their finale against the Cubs to open the week, leaving them at 2-2 following their consecutive wins to open the 2012 season. However, a trip to the MLB Fan Cave seemed to lighten the mood, and the team responded behind dominant outings from both Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg. In all, the pitching staff allowed just two runs combined in the final two games of the road trip as Washington earned its second series win in a row to start the season.
The team returned to Washington for the home opener on Thursday against Cincinnati and continued its winning ways, as face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman scored the game-winning run in extra innings on a wild pitch. As impressive as Gio Gonzalez was on the mound in the victory, it was his first Major League hit that provided the afternoon’s most memorable moment. The Nationals made it two straight extra-inning, walk-off wins on Friday as Jayson Werth finally concluded the four-hour, four-minute affair with and RBI-single in the 13th frame. Edwin Jackson ran the Nats win streak to five with one of the best performances of his career, a bullpen-saving, 92-pitch masterpiece in which he surrendered just two hits and retired 22 of the final 23 batters he faced. Despite coming back from a five-run deficit to force extra innings on Sunday, the Nationals could not quite pull off a victory, settling for the 3-1 series win over the Reds following an 8-5, 11-inning defeat.
The 7-3 record marked the best 10-game start since the franchise relocated to Washington, and the four-game attendance of 129,034 on Opening Weekend was nearly 20,000 fans more than the first four home games in the park’s inaugural year in 2008. We celebrated by eating (all of the) new menu items available at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk.
Mon @ NYM: L, 3-4
Tue @ NYM: W, 6-2
Wed @ NYM: W, 4-0
Thu vs. CIN: W, 3-2 (10)
Fri vs. CIN: W, 2-1 (13)
Sat vs. CIN: W, 4-1
Sun vs. CIN: L, 8-5 (11)
Weekly Record: 5-2
Well, alright, more like 275 words and an .800 batting average. And it would have been 1.000 for Steve Lombardozzi in Monday night’s game if he had accomplished in his fifth at-bat what he did in each of his first four: reach base safely. The infielder, getting just his second start of the young season, singled his first three trips to the plate before coming up in the game’s biggest spot, with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 2-2 ballgame. After quickly falling behind 0-2, he laid off a curveball in the dirt, then flipped Houston Astros starter Joe Weiland’s next pitch down the left field line, over the head of third baseman Chris Johnson, plating the go-ahead scores with a two-run double.
So what does the picture have to do with anything? Instead of posting the usual photo of Davey Johnson’s lineup card to the Nationals Facebook account, we instead used a batting practice shot of Lombardozzi to highlight his spot-start, as he spelled Danny Espinosa for a night. Lombardozzi returned the favor, posting a career night (literally – the four hits were the most for a game in his brief stretch in the Majors so far).
We’re not ready to make any proclamations about a “Facebook bump” or any direct correlations just yet, but we figure it’s worth another shot. So our poll question today: who should we feature in this afternoon’s lineup post? Vote below, and the most popular pick will earn himself a photo post.
When baseball fans think of ballpark food, they usually expect hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack. But food options have multiplied over the last couple of decades, and here in D.C., we’ve got some fantastic choices. When we heard that there were new food items available from Blue Smoke, El Verano Taquería and Box Frites at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk for the 2012 season, we weren’t sure quite what to expect. Needless to say, we were impressed by both the variety and the quality of the new additions.
The folks from Union Square Events were nice enough to let us here at Curly W Live drop by and sample their new items on Friday, April 13. With the Nationals sporting the best ERA in baseball heading into play on Sunday, we thought some pitching analogies would be appropriate to help describe these new culinary delights.
Comes With: Lettuce, Tomato & Buttermilk Ranch Sauce
Available At: Blue Smoke
For those looking for something different, and perhaps lighter, than the traditional red meat offerings at the ballpark, the fried chicken sandwich from Blue Smoke is a great option. For one, it is very lightly battered, so you’ll get plenty of actual chicken in your sandwich. The toppings provide a crisp, fresh balance, and the ranch is a nice touch. Moreover, the chicken is very juicy, not dry at all. Want to keep it simple and reliable? Here’s your dinner.
Comes With: All-Beef Hot Dog, Potato Bun, Buffalo Blue Cheese Sauce, Pickled Carrot and Celery
Available At: Box Frites
We couldn’t have a sampling without a hot dog on the list, but the Buffalo Dog is unlike anything you’ve ever tried at a ballpark. Smothered in a buffalo blue cheese sauce with heaps of pickled carrots and celery, it explodes with bright, complex flavors. Oh, and you’re going to want to order it with a side of the Sweet Frites, lightly salted sweet potato fries that come with a delectable dipping sauce.
Comes With: Fire-Roasted Tomato salsa, Chopped Onions & Fresh Cilantro, Corn Tortillas
Available At: El Verano Taquería
Vegetables in a tortilla? At a baseball game? We’ll just call this the surprise of the tasting, and wow, were they good. The veggies have tons of flavor on their own, and the addition of the onions and cilantro only add to that. For those Nats fans who love their Mexican food, you will not be disappointed. This is a great veggie option for you non-meat eaters at the park. Of course, if you’re craving Mexican food and still want to appease your carnivorous cravings, there’s always…
The Slider: Barbacoa Quesadilla
Comes With: Lime Crema
Available At: El Verano Taquería
With a healthy serving of spiced, shredded beef, this is easily the most filling of the items we tasted, perfect for those with a big appetite. The beef is slow-cooked in chipotle and guajilo peppers, giving it quite a kick. The jack cheese, flour tortilla and lime crema provide a cool counterbalance contributing to a really tasty meal.
Comes With: Food Coma
Available At: Box Frites
If you survive this food gauntlet and still have room for dessert, you’ll find yourself safe at home with the Fried Pie from Box Frites. You can certainly split it between a couple friends, but you probably won’t want to. Served hot with all the apple-cinnamon goodness and caramel sauce you could hope for, it’s as American as baseball itself. There is also a mixed berry and apple offering, if you’re so inclined.