May 2012

A Fan’s Guide to NATITUDE Weekend

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Well, it’s finally here. Welcome to NATITUDE Weekend at Nationals Park, the first three-game set of the year against the rival Phillies. If you are planning to attend any (or all) of this weekend’s games, here’s a handy guide to help arm you with the NATITUDE you need to show the Philly fans who decided to make the trip south to Our Park that Washington is ready to turn the tide both on the field and off.

1. Knowledge is power

Stephen Strasburg was named National League Pitcher of the Month for April.

The Nationals are off to a great start to 2012, and it helps to understand just how good they’ve been so far. As any Phillies fan will tell you, pitching is all-important in building a winner. So far, the Nationals have had the best staff in the game, and by a decent margin at that. Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to start the series opener on Friday, just took home National League Pitcher of the Month honors for April after going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32.0 IP), striking out 34 batters while walking just six over his first five starts of the year. In fact, four of the five Nats starting pitchers – including all three slated to start in this series – have ERAs under 2.00 going into Thursday night’s game. That’s something neither Phillies starters Cole Hamels (2.78) nor Roy Halladay (3.40) can claim.

2. Understand your history

Yes, the Phillies have won five straight National League East titles. You already know this, but you will no doubt be reminded of it several times this weekend. However, were you aware that the Nationals beat Philadelphia, 10-8, in the season series in 2011, including the final five games? Before completing a four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park in September, the Nats won their last home game over Philadelphia in an extra-inning walk-off affair. Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman cleared the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off grand slam.

3. Speaking of walk-offs…

Ian Desmond has played the hero recently for the Nationals at home.

The Nationals enter their series finale with the Diamondbacks Thursday night with a 9-3 home record, best in the division. Four of those victories have come in walk-off style, including Wednesday’s dramatic, two-out, two-run, come-from-behind, game-winning home run off the bat of Ian Desmond. The winning run in those games has been scored by four different players (Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Desmond), so you never know who the hero might be when you come to the ballpark.

4. There’s this guy named Bryce

They may boo him, but every opposing fan will have their eyes trained on home plate when 19 year-old Bryce Harper digs in. The outfielder turned in the first three-hit game of his young career on Wednesday, and is already altering games on defense with his cannon of an arm. Make sure you’re in your seat when Harper bats – you just might witness a piece of history.

5. Root, root, root for the home team

Bring your passion and energy to Our Park to cheer for the Nats. It’s going to be a fun, rowdy environment for sure, so bring your yelling voice. But should you run into some unruly visiting fans, don’t worry about wasting it on them. Let them regale you with stories about their .500 ballclub, and about how good they used to be. You know, in the past. Just take the high road and Ignite Your NATITUDE to support the NL East-leading Nats, the most exciting young team in baseball.

See you at Our Park this weekend!

Rizzo Brings NATITUDE to the NPC

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Nationals EVP and General Manager Mike Rizzo will be speaking at the National Press Club luncheon on Friday, May 4, as the organization kicks off NATITUDE Weekend at Nats Park.

Nationals fans are invited to attend and hear directly from Rizzo about the club’s fast start and the young and exciting players that are taking the field this season. The Press Club luncheon will run from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., and tickets are still available. If you’re interested in attending, you can make advance reservations by calling (202) 662-7501 or emailing reservations@press.org. The cost of luncheon admission is $19 for National Press Club members, $30 for their guests, and $37 for the general public.  Tickets must be purchased at time of reservation.

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray issued a proclamation declaring May 4-6, the dates of the Nationals first home series of the year against the rival Philadelphia Phillies. What better way to ring in the biggest home series of the year to date than by listening to your GM talk about Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and the rest of the 2012 Nats?

See Mayor Gray’s proclamation below, and get fired up for NATITUDE Weekend with Mike Rizzo at the NPC on Friday!

Down on the Farm: Danny Rosenbaum

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With the recent promotion of both Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore, we have had to shelve our Down on the Farm pieces we were planning to roll out in April. We listened to your calls for a report on Destin Hood. In fact, we took them seriously enough that we decided to put it into print, and will have it for you in the next edition of Nationals Magazine, available in-park for all June and July home games. But we’ve also been sitting on another particular prospect watch piece for a couple of weeks. That turned out to be fortuitous timing for us, as the man in question – left-handed starter Danny Rosenbaum – has gone out in the meantime and proven exactly why he should be featured in this space, and why you should read all about him below.

Currently heading up the rotation at Double-A Harrisburg, Rosenbaum was pointed out to us by Director of Minor League Operations Mark Scialabba back in Spring Training. If the southpaw was under the radar before the season started, this former 22nd-round pick out of Xavier need not worry about that for long. Blessed with a low-90s fastball that he can both cut and sink, a curveball and a developing changeup, he has succeeded at every level of the system so far, and is opening eyes and making headlines in 2012.

Rosenbaum (front right) jogs with fellow pitching prospect Alex Meyer (front left) and others in Viera this spring.

Rosenbaum has quietly posted impressive numbers at every stop so far in the Minor Leagues. However, he’ll have a hard time staying a secret for much longer with the tear he’s on right now in the Eastern League. Following another sparkling start on Monday – in which he struck out five without a walk, allowing six hits over 7.0 scoreless frames – Rosenbaum’s 2012 numbers are bordering on the absurd. His ERA stands at 0.76 (3 ER/35.2 IP) and he has struck out 23 against just two walks. He leads his circuit in ERA, innings pitched and WHIP (0.70), and is currently in the midst of a 24.2-inning scoreless streak that stretches all the way back to April 13. Opponents had hit just .232 against the lefty in his career before this season; in 2012, they are batting just .180.

Since beginning his professional career with the Gulf Coast Nationals Rookie League team in 2009, the lefty has posted a sub-2.50 ERA at each stop along his path through the minors. He has been remarkably consistent along the way as well, carrying a BB/9 of around 2.5 and a K/9 above 7.0 at every level. Never a high strikeout pitcher, his strong K/BB ratio and a very low home run rate (just 13 allowed over 388.0 innings in his career) have allowed him to continue to succeed.

“Danny’s kind of a later round draft pick who came in here and put up numbers right away,” said Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris. “He had a chance to advance and he’s been challenged with his progression.”

Rated just 23rd in Baseball America’s preseason organizational rankings and sixth among left-handed pitchers (those numbers coming before four of those above him, including fellow southpaw Tom Milone, were traded to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal), Rosenbaum has clearly exceeded outside expectations. But Scialabba suggests he may even be better than Milone, who is off to an excellent start out in Oakland.

“He compares with Milone physically,” said Scialabba. “But I think his stuff might even be a little better.”

In referencing a prospect, it always helps to try to make such comparisons, in order to help project the type of player he might become as he fully develops. When you are Jewish and left-handed, of which Rosenbaum is both, Sandy Koufax references are inevitable. There has been a deeper connection to the Dodger great than just that in Rosenbaum’s life, though, as he explains.

“Growing up you always heard about Sandy Koufax, who played at the University of Cincinnati,” he said, referencing the school the cross-town rival just a few miles down the road from Xavier. “People were always saying ‘Oh, there’s the next Sandy Koufax.’ It’s a real privilege to even be considered in the same sentence.”

Rosenbaum has been nearly perfect for Double-A Harrisburg this season. (Will Bentzel/Harrisburg Senators)

A better recent comparison for Rosenbaum on the field might be Ted Lilly, a similarly-sized lefty with a strong cutter/curveball/changeup repertoire. Rosenbaum has actually posted better Minor League numbers in nearly every statistical category (save for strikeouts) than Lilly, who was twice an All-Star and posted double-digit win totals in nine consecutive Major League seasons. Lilly was a fairly low profile, 23rd-round pick by the Dodgers, but earned his way to the Major Leagues through his competitive, workman-like approach on the mound. While Rosenbaum was disappointed on draft day, he hopes to follow a similar path.

“I just used that as fuel for the fire, to really go out there and prove myself,” said the southpaw of his selection, which came 651 picks after the Nationals took Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009. “It was a great situation, because there were all new front office people here. They came and talked to us and said ‘We don’t care if you’re a first-round draft pick or a 50th-round draft pick, everyone is right here,’” he recalled, holding his hand parallel to the ground to show that all players, regardless of their status as an amateur, would be evaluated by the same standards as professionals.

That came as a huge relief to Rosenbaum, who took the message to heart: for better or for worse, nothing you have done to this point matters. Coming off what he considered a disappointing final year at Xavier, it allowed him to have a new approach, one he has carried with him throughout his Minor League career.

“I just try to start each year over from the beginning,” he said. “If I have a good year, great, that’s awesome, but I just try to go back to Spring Training in better shape, with better conditioning, and better stamina than I had the year prior. That’s how I approach every offseason: just work harder than I did before.”

After proving himself over the past few years, Rosenbaum draws rave reviews from anyone and everyone in the Nationals front office. His tough mental approach has led him to become stronger physically as well, something that Harris believes will be the tipping point for his future success.

“He’s a strong-bodied kid,” explained Harris. “His body has continued to evolve. He has a better understanding of what he needs to do, particularly in his core and his lower half to allow him to be as successful as he can possibly be.”

That approach won’t change for Rosenbaum, who has seen his hard work translate not just into numbers, but more importantly, a shot at the ultimate goal of making the Major Leagues.

Harper Comes Home

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On June 8, 2010, the Washington Nationals lived quite probably the most exciting day in the history of the young franchise. In front of a packed house, heralded young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, selected first overall in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft one year prior, made his much-anticipated debut. He did not disappoint. Striking out 14 batters over seven innings and leading the Nationals to victory, Strasburg ushered in a new era of Nationals baseball to D.C.

Bryce Harper makes his D.C. debut Tuesday night.

Some could argue, though, that the new era truly began a day earlier, when the franchise used its second consecutive number one overall pick on 17 year-old Bryce Harper, the most talked about position prospect in decades to come out of the amateur ranks.

Just shy of two years later, it is Harper who comes to Washington tonight to make his own debut in the Nation’s Capital. He will be hard-pressed to eclipse Strasburg’s legendary effort (the “14-K Gold” headlines, et al), but if you know anything about Harper, you know he will try.

Of course, the young slugger’s Major League debut came over the weekend under the lights in Los Angeles, and included a go-ahead RBI in the ninth inning and a highlight reel catch the next day as he slammed into the center field wall. But tonight, Nationals fans get their first opportunity to see Harper (and don’t forget Tyler Moore) up close and in person for the very first time. Tonight, the movement that began with Strasburg two years ago takes its next big step.

You’ll never have another chance to see Bryce Harper’s first game in Washington. This is something you can tell your children and grandchildren about. Who knows what he will do, how tonight will turn out? The only thing you have control over is whether or not you will be here to watch it happen.

See you at the ballpark.

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