June 2012

More Moore-Moore

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Thursday night’s series finale between the Nationals and Rays featured one of baseball’s fun little idiosyncrasies, as a pair of rookies sharing the same last night faced off against one another. And while Tampa Bay starting pitcher Matt Moore came in with far more hype and national notoriety, it was the work put in by Washington first baseman Tyler Moore at the plate that swung the momentum of the game.

Tyler Moore out-shined his rookie namesake on Thursday night.

Matt Moore retired the Nationals offense on just eight pitches in the first inning. Meanwhile, his counterpart Gio Gonzalez struggled through his first two frames, totaling 50 pitches. When Moore came back to the mound in the second, he got the first two batters, but the other Moore – Tyler – was patient, took his time, and drew a walk, becoming the Nats first basreunner. Washington would go on to load the bases, and even though they did not score in the inning, the tempo had shifted.

Gonzalez did his part in the third, retiring the side on just five pitches to get Washington quickly back in the dugout, Then, on a hot, muggy night in the District, the Nationals really got after Moore, sending seven men to the plate – including another walk by Tyler Moore – and scoring twice to take the lead. By the time the young lefty was through three innings, his pitch count suddenly stood at 69, and the complexion of the game had shifted.

The Rays had one more chance to steal the game and the series in Washington, tying the contest against Gonzalez with a run in the top of the sixth. With Moore out of the game, thanks to a high pitch count, Joel Peralta was summoned from the ‘pen to face the leadoff man in the sixth – Tyler Moore. And although Moore did not reach base in his final at-bat of the evening, he did grind out an 11-pitch at-bat before finally lining out sharply to right field. His teammates would follow with a two-run rally off Peralta that would prove to be the difference.

While the less-heralded Moore confided after the game that there was nothing specific about his approach – or, for that matter, any notable change in the offense’s approach in general following that lightning-fast first inning – he knew his patience had paid off. In three plate appearances, the rookie had forced Tampa Bay hurlers to throw 22 pitches. Very quietly, as is his style, Moore out-shined his rookie namesake, and the Nationals did what they have done best all season: win another series.

The Nats head to Baltimore Friday night to face the Orioles, one of only five teams to take a series from Washington (15-5-3) in 2012, for the final three games of Interleague Play.

What to Watch for: 6/22

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Washington Nationals (40-27) vs. Baltimore Orioles (39-30)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.92) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (7-2, 2.87)

After recovering to win the final two games of their series against the Rays, the Nationals kick start a 10-day road trip in Baltimore with the Battle of the Beltways. Earlier in the season, Washington’s American League neighbor took two of three in the Nation’s Capital. The Nationals will look to return the favor and improve upon their 15-5-3 series record this weekend.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi LF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse DH

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Bernadina RF

9. Flores C

J. Zimmermann RHP

FORTY-SOMETHINGS

At 40-27, the Nationals reached the 40-win plateau in fewer games (67) than any DC-based team since the 1933 American League Champion Nationals (40-23, 63 games).

DAVEY’S CHARM

This weekend, Davey Johnson returns to Oriole Park in uniform for the first time in nearly 15 years. With Baltimore, Davey helped the O’s claim four AL flags (1966, ‘69-‘71) and two World Championships (1966, ‘70). He also played in three All-Star Games (1968-‘70) and won three Gold Gloves (1969-‘71) as an Oriole. Johnson also managed the O’s for two seasons (1996-’97), compiling a 186-138 (.574) record winning AL Manager of the Year in 1997.

HARP-WARMING TALE

In 27 games dating back to a 9-3 win on May 20 vs. Baltimore, Bryce Harper is hitting .327 (34-for-104) with four doubles, three triples, five homers, 15 RBI, 14 walks and 21 runs scored (.974 OPS).

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What to Watch for: 6/21

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Tampa Bay Rays (38-30) vs. Washington Nationals (39-27)

LHP Matt Moore (4-5, 4.16) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-3, 2.52)

The Nationals and Rays meet for the rubber game in this series after Washington held on for a hard-fought, 3-2 victory on Wednesday night to snap a four-game losing streak. This is the final game of the homestand for Washington before beginning a 10-game road trip in Baltimore Friday night.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

Espinosa 2B

Harper CF

Zimmerman 3B

Morse RF

Desmond SS

Moore 1B

Nady LF

Flores C

Gonzalez LHP

RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

Washington, having split two games against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, plays its third rubber game of 2012 tonight. The Nationals won their two previous rubber games, 5/3 vs. Arizona (2-1) and 4/11 at New York (NL) (4-0). In 2011, the Nationals finished 9-14 overall in rubber games.

DC’s 1-2 PUNCH

The Nationals are 22-5 (.815) this season in games started by Stephen Strasburg (winner on Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay) and Gio Gonzalez, who starts tonight in the series finale. Gio (11.1 K/9.0 IP) and Rays’ starter Matt Moore (9.4/9.0 IP) are two of eight qualified lefties fanning 1.0+ batter per inning.

2ND-PLACE HOLD-ER

With a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, Sean Burnett pocketed his 52nd hold as a member of the Nationals and moved past Jon Rauch (51) and into sole possession of second place on the club’s all-time list. Only Tyler Clippard (74) has more career franchise holds than Burnett.

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Leaving Their Feat

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The Nationals put their athleticism on display twice last night, with both feats coming from surprising sources.

In the top of the sixth inning, Tampa Bay had the tying run at second base with two outs, trailing 3-2. Jose Molina, who had driven a deep home run to left field earlier in the game, flared a ball to shallow left. Steve Lombardozzi – the converted second baseman who had never played in the outfield before this season – understandably took his first step back, as all outfielders are told to do. Then, realizing the ball was coming down in front of him, he broke forward into a run and dove face first to make the snag, preserving the one-run lead in a game that would end without either team scoring again.

The other feat was perhaps even more out of left field, so to speak. Back in the first inning, with Bryce Harper at second base and no outs, Ryan Zimmerman hit a chopper to Rays shortstop Elliot Johnson, who threw towards third to try to nab Harper advancing. The ball skipped away from third baseman Sean Rodriguez, and was heading directly toward Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, who had dropped to his knees to guide Harper to slide. Porter sprung up from the ground, narrowly avoiding the ball, which trickled all the way to the steps of the Rays dugout, eventually falling in. That allowed Zimmerman to go to second base and Harper to advance home and score, neither of which would have happened if Porter hadn’t used every ounce of effort to get out of the way.

So, we leave it up to you, the fan. Vote in the poll below and tell us which of Wednesday night’s acrobatics most impressed you.

What to Watch for: 6/20

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Tampa Bay Rays (38-29) vs. Washington Nationals (38-27)

RHP Chris Archer (0-0, -.–) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (8-1, 2.45)

Stephen Strasburg will start tonight against the Rays in the second game of the series, as he looks to put an end to the Nationals four-game losing-streak and improve upon his 8-1 record.  Meanwhile, the Rays counter with Chris Archer making his Major League debut for Tampa Bay after being promoted from Triple-A Durham earlier this week.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Lombardozzi LF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Strasburg RHP

FACING A NEW FACE

Chris Archer takes to the hill tonight for the Rays, making his MLB debut against the Washington Nationals. The Nationals (2005-present) are 3-4 all time when opposed by a starting pitcher making his MLB debut. The last time Washington faced a starter making his MLB debut was September 7, 2010 when the New York Mets Dillon Gee made his first MLB start.

STRASBURG LOOKS TO JOIN LIVO

With a win tonight, Stephen Strasburg would become the first National since Livan Hernandez in 2005 to earn a win in six consecutive starts. Strasburg’s .889 winning percentage trails only the New York Mets R.A. Dickey (.917) and his eight wins are tied for fourth in the National League.

DC’S 1-2 PUNCH

With Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez set to oppose the Rays the next two nights, note that the Nationals are 21-5 (.807) in games started by their top two starters this season.

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What to Watch for: 6/19

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Tampa Bay Rays (37-29) vs. Washington Nationals (38-26)

LHP David Price (8-4, 3.01) vs. RHP Chien-Ming Wang (2-2, 4.67)

The Nationals look to get back on track as they welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to start another home series. After last weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Nats are hoping to get back on the winning track and expand upon their four-game lead in the National League East.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Flores C

9. Wang RHP

NATIONALS LOOK TO GET BACK ON TRACK

The Nationals look to bounce back after being swept at home for the first time in 2012. Washington is 7-5 against the American League this season and can record a winning Interleague record for the second consecutive season by winning at least three of the final six games this week.

DAVEY MAKES IT 30

With tonight’s tilt against the visiting Rays, manager Davey Johnson will have managed against each of MLB’s 30 franchises. In addition, Johnson managed Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist during the 2005 World Cup played in The Netherlands.

ZIMMERMAN NEARING 1,000

With 993 in the bag, Ryan Zimmerman is just seven hits shy of recording his 1,000th career hit. While Zim would be the seventh player to record a 1,000th career hit as a National, he’d be the first to do so exclusively as a National.

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Rays of Hope

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This is a story about a young, exciting team, built from the ground up through great drafts. It is a story about a dominating pitching staff helping lead the way through one of baseball’s toughest divisions. It is a tale of a team that endured injuries to its top outfielder, its franchise third baseman and its closer, yet found a way to keep winning games. It is about a franchise that has never enjoyed a season above .500, but suddenly found itself at 38-26 through its first 64 games, with a reason to believe it could look forward to exciting September – and possibly October – baseball.

This is a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Strasburg has led the game’s best pitching staff.

If the themes sound familiar, well, they should. The parallels between this year’s Nationals team and that Rays squad that shocked the baseball world by winning 97 games and the American League East crown, eventually going all the way to the World Series, are astounding.

To start, there are number one overall picks – David Price and Stephen Strasburg – lighting up radar guns. While Price did not make his debut until late in the season, the staff was led by James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, all 26 or younger. Similarly, the Nationals have their rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson behind Strasburg, with Jackson being the elder statesman at 28. Oh, by the way, where do you suppose Jackson was four years ago, when he was just 24? Sharing the Rays team lead in wins with Shields, as the fourth member of that 2008 rotation.

Tampa Bay also turned in by far the best year the franchise had ever seen without a single player, starter or reserve, batting over .300, finishing 13th out of 14 in the American League in hitting. But great pitching can help make up for a lot. Aside from the aforementioned starters, they also had great bullpen pitching, led by Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54 in 51 appearances), Chad Bradford (1-0, 1.42 in 21 appearances) and J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22 in 64 appearances). As we discussed when the homestand began, the trio of Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen have combined for a 1.65 ERA over their first 87.2 innings pitched this season, holding down the fort until closer Drew Storen returns.

Adam LaRoche has stood alone as the Nationals top power threat.

The Rays survived the gauntlet of the AL East with just one 30-home run hitter, first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit 31. The Nationals top power threat so far has been first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is quietly having a terrific comeback season after spending most of last year on the Disabled List. LaRoche launched his 12th home run of the season Sunday, putting him right on pace for 30 this season.

Then there are the scintillating rookies – Evan Longoria and Bryce Harper – that have energized the fan base, and given each franchise a face recognized around the baseball world. Buoyed by that national support, the Rays had three players selected to the All-Star Game that July, the most the franchise had ever sent to the Mid-summer Classic. The third and final to go (joining Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro) was Longoria, who won the MLB Final Vote campaign. With Strasburg and Gonzalez seeming like strong candidates from the rotation, might Final Vote history repeat itself, giving Washington three All-Stars in 2012?

If the Nationals needed any consolation after one of the toughest weekends of the season, they need only look into the opposing dugout, at a franchise that has become the model after which many wish they could mold themselves. The Rays have averaged 92 wins each of the last four years, led by that core of young players and a strong pitching staff. If they can do it, why can’t the Nationals?

So, is this a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, or is it a story about the 2012 Washington Nationals?

Yes.

Weekly Review (6/11)

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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 action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Nationals entered the week in first place in the National League East, coming off a weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox. The road trip continued to Toronto for the first of a three-game set, in which they pounded out 14 hits to help Edwin Jackson to his third victory of the season. Upon further review, we discovered an odd but fortuitous connection between Jackson’s starts and the bat of Adam LaRoche. Meanwhile, the Nationals announced the signing of 23 recent draft picks, including six of their top 10 selections. In game two of the series, Bryce Harper and company accepted the challenge to “Be Bold” as they crushed three home runs in support of Stephen Strasburg in a 4-2 triumph to win their fifth straight. A different rookie stepped up to be the hero of game three, as Tyler Moore hit his first two Major League home runs and drove in five RBI to key a 6-2 victory, a series sweep, and a season-high sixth consecutive win.

Back at home, as the team relaxed on their off-day Thursday, members of the Nationals ownership group enjoyed a unique experience, thanks to the US Navy. Meanwhile, we took advantage of the break to answer a number of your questions surrounding the Ignite Your NATITUDE Tweet-up, more commonly known as #IYNT.

The club returned home to face the Yankees on Friday as we celebrated the US Army’s 237th birthday. At the same time, Ian Desmond encouraged fans to start a new patriotic tradition in our Nation’s Capital for the National Anthem. Unfortunately, the team and could never really get rolling against Phil Hughes, dropping a 7-2 decision. A tough call on what would have been the go-ahead run in the eighth inning doomed the two teams to a 14-inning battle on Saturday. Even with seven hitless innings from the Nationals underrated bullpen, New York eventually prevailed, 5-3. In the finale, despite our clairvoyant tweet, the Yankees completed the weekend sweep to run their winning streak to nine games.

Mon @ TOR: W, 6-3

Tue @ TOR: W, 4-2

Wed @ TOR: W, 6-2

Thu: OFF

Fri vs. NYY: L, 2-7

Sat vs. NYY: L, 3-5

Sun vs. NYY: L, 1-4

Weekly Record: 3-3

Names and Numbers

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With 40 rounds and over 1,000 picks, the MLB First-Year Player Draft can be confusing to follow. That was even more the case for the Nationals this season considering first-round pick Lucas Giolito joins current starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, and second-round selection Tony Renda shares nearly the same name with 2011 first-rounder Anthony Rendon. If that wasn’t enough, third-rounder Brett Mooneyham was selected fresh out of Stanford University, while Brandon Miller, the player the Nats selected next, set numerous records in his time as a power hitter for… wait for it… Samford University.

To help clear it all up here is a more detailed look at those who signed from the Nationals top 10 selections.

Tony Renda: 2B, University of California, Berkeley

Renda, the Nationals second-round selection, was a junior playing second base for the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears. Where he truly excels, however, is at the plate.

“In our opinion, Tony has the quickest bat in the draft,” Nationals Director of Scouting Kris Kline said of Renda immediately after the organization selected him.

Brandon Miller, the Nationals fourth-round pick. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)

This season, Renda had a .342 batting average, five home runs, and 27 RBI. As a sophomore in 2011, he was named Pac-10 player of the year, and was selected as one of 50 players on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Watch list as the nation’s top amateur baseball player. Look out for Renda’s performance with the Short-Season Auburn Doubledays, as he takes his first step on the long ladder of professional baseball.

Brandon Miller: OF, Samford University

The Nationals selected Samford University’s school record-setting alumnus, Brandon Miller, with their fourth-round pick. In the 2008 draft, the Red Sox picked Miller, a high school senior at the time, in the 33rd round. A true power hitter in college, Miller led the nation with 23 home runs this season, and was 15th with 65 RBI.

Miller “has middle of the lineup power,” said Nationals Area Supervisor Eric Robinson. “[He] reminds me of our own Tyler Moore.”

Washington took Spencer Kieboom in the fifth round. (Rex Brown/Clemson University)

Spencer Kieboom: C, Clemson

Spencer Kieboom (KEE-boom), a duel citizen of the US and the Netherlands, was the Nationals’ fifth-round selection. He struck out only 17 times in 204 at-bats this season. Kieboom was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in both 2011 and 2012, and was an All-ACC Academic Team member in 2011. After signing with the Nationals, Kieboom sent the following thank you message to his fans on Twitter:

“These past three years at Clemson have been some of the best years of my life, Clemson baseball is and always will hold a special place in my life. I wouldn’t have traded these past three years for anything.”

Hayden Jennings, OF, Evangel Christian High School (LA)

While Jennings may not have had the same hype as Bryce Harper did going into the draft, he is another left-handed hitting outfielder who just happens to share the exact same birthday as Harper. Jennings hails from Shreveport, LA and the 19 year-old was set to head to LSU this fall until he signed with the team a week ago. Last Thursday, he was sitting at his kitchen table surrounded by his parents and three sisters, when he officially inked his deal with the Nats. Jennings joins the Nationals after leading Evangel Christian High School (LA) to a state championship during his junior season in 2011. He was named the Shreveport Times All-City Player of the Year and Class 2A Most Outstanding Player as a senior this season.

Derek Self, a senior out of Louisville, went in the ninth round. (University of Louisville)

Derek Self: RHP, University of Louisville

Derek Self was the Nationals ninth-round pick out of the University of Louisville, where he pitched for four years. In his first three seasons with the Cardinals, Self had a 14-3 record in 70 appearances (15 starts). Following his junior season, Self was taken in the 27th round by the Oakland A’s, but opted to head back to school for his senior year, where he led the team with seven saves in 26 appearances out of the bullpen. While he started the 2012 season as the Cardinals set-up man, he eventually took over as the closer. In 2009, Self pitched the final three innings in Louisville’s College World Series Regional win over Middle Tennessee State, where he threw 27 of 29 pitches for strikes.

Craig Manuel: C, Rice University

Craig Manuel comes to the Nationals from Rice University, where he was the second of eight Owls selected in the 2012 Draft. This past season he was on the national watch list for the Johnny Bench Award as the best Division I catcher. In his four years with the Owls, Manuel led his team to four straight Conference USA Championships, four NCAA appearances and was error free in 463 attempts. But it wasn’t just behind the plate that Manuel excelled. He finished his collegiate career with a .291 batting average and 100 RBI in 209 career games.

“I think he’s one of the top catchers in Division I, and he may be one of the best situational hitters in college baseball,” Manuel’s Head Coach at Rice, Wayne Graham said.

What to Watch for: 6/17

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New York Yankees (39-25) vs. Washington Nationals (38-25)

RHP Ivan Nova (8-2, 4.64) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (3-3, 3.02)

The Nationals and Yankees take the field for the series finale this afternoon at Nationals Park. While both bullpens must recover quickly from yesterday’s 14-inning affair, Edwin Jackson is looking to give the Nats the proper start they need to defeat New York. Happy Father’s Day!

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Lombardozzi LF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Solano C

9. Jackson RHP

AVOIDING THE BROOMS

The Nationals will try to avoid their first home sweep of 2012 today. To date, the Nationals have been swept twice this season, both of which came on the road (at Los Angeles, at Miami). In fact, the last team to sweep the Nationals in D.C. was the Marlins, who won three times in three days July 26-28, 2011. While the Nats have dropped two straight, they have won six of eight and eight of their last 11 contests.

JUNE PITCHING BOON

During a 9-4 June, Steve McCatty’s starting rotation has yet to allow more than three runs in a game and has limited opposing teams to two runs or less ten times in 13 contests. In fact, as good as the starting staff has been (3.02 ERA, .218 batting average against) during June, the bullpen has performed better (2.82 ERA, .189 BAA).

DESMOND MATCHES CAREER HIGH

With his game-tying home run in the eighth inning yesterday, Ian Desmond matched his career-high with 10 home runs on the season. He also hit 10 in 2010, but did not hit his tenth until September 14th at Atlanta.

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