June 2012

What To Watch For: 6/8

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Washington Nationals (32-23) vs. Boston Red Sox (29-28)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-1, 2.35) vs. LHP Felix Dubront (6-2, 3.75)

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

On this date two years ago, with the entire MLB community watching, Stephen Strasburg made his MLB debut in a 5-2 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Strasburg allowed just two runs on four hits in 7.0 innings of work. In front of a packed house of 40,315 fans, he struck out 14 batters, the most in franchise history since baseball returned to the District in 2005. Tonight against Boston, Strasburg will pitch in New England for the first time since closing for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Torrington Twisters in the summer of 2007.

SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON

The Nationals franchise, which began in Montreal in 1969, remains in search of its first victory at Fenway Park. The Nationals or Expos have been swept here three times and been outscored, 69-20. Washington returns to Fenway Park for just the second time, and the only National that remains in place from Washington’s other three-game visit, June 19-21, 2006, is Ryan Zimmerman.

UNTIL NEXT TIME, NATIONAL LEAGUE

Beginning with a three-game set this weekend at Fenway Park, the Nationals begin a stretch of 15 straight contests against the American League. During that stretch, they’ll face off against the Red Sox (June 8-10) at Fenway Park, against the Blue Jays (June 11-13) at Rogers Centre, against the Yankees (June 15-17) and Rays (June 19-21) at Nationals Park, and at Camden Yards vs. the Orioles (June 22-24). Washington is 1-2 this season in Interleague Play, after hosting the Orioles from May 18-20 at Nationals Park. The Nationals (‘05-present) are 57-69 all-time against the AL, including 22-41 on the road and 35-28 at home.

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A Day in the Life of a Phenom

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At 11:20pm on Tuesday night, right about the time most 19 year-olds were probably studying, watching television, or grabbing a late-night bite, Bryce Harper was rounding first base, his sinking liner to left field having fallen just fast enough to produce an historic, game-winning hit. Following a mobbing by his teammates and a Gatorade dousing by Michael Morse, he participated in the standard rounds of post-game interviews before turning in for the night.

There would be no rest for the weary, though, as Harper was due at Bonnie Brae Elementary in Fairfax at 11:00am to read to a group of third graders.

From there, it was off to the ballpark for an interview with Nationals radio man Dave Jageler.

Then, Harper headed into the traditional media and batting practice routine, and on to the next game of the series at 7:05 p.m. against the Mets where he was once again batting second in the lineup and playing center field. Sure enough, the first ball put into play by a visiting batter was David Wright’s bloop into shallow center. How did Harper do?

It’s all in a day’s work for the league’s youngest superstar.

What to Watch for: 6/7

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New York Mets (31-26) vs. Washington Nationals (32-22)

RHP Robert Alan Dickey (8-1, 2.69) vs. RHP Chien-Ming Wang (1-1, 6.43)

As the Nationals lead the series (2-0), the Mets are hoping to prevent the home team from walking away with a series sweep this afternoon. Mets’ pitcher R.A. Dickey, is coming off of a shutout, when he faced the Cardinals last Saturday, while Nationals starter Chien-Ming Wang makes his first home start of the season.

ADAM’S BOMB PROVIDES NEEDED SUPPORT

After Bryce Harper reached on an error and Ryan Zimmerman followed with a walk, Adam LaRoche hit his ninth home run of the season to put the Nationals ahead 3-0 in the first inning last night. With one swing, LaRoche provided Edwin Jackson with more run support than he received in five of his previous 10 starts as a member of the Nationals.

SERIES BUSINESS AT NATS PARK

With last night’s 5-3 victory over the visiting New York Mets, the Nationals now boast a 6-1-3 record in series at Nationals Park in 2012. A victory today would give the Nats their second home sweep of the season (Miami, 4/20-21).

MORSE CODE

Michael Morse plated his first RBI of the season last night with a single to right field in the fifth inning, plating Ryan Zimmerman. After going 0-for-9 since his return from the DL, Morse now has four hits in his last seven at-bats, with two doubles and an RBI.

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What to Watch for: 6/6

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Game 54: New York Mets (31-25) vs. Washington Nationals (31-22)

RHP Jeremy Hefner (1-2, 5.60) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (1-3, 3.17)

Tonight, the Nationals are looking to secure a second win over the Mets in game two of the series at Nationals Park. After the 12 inning-long battle last night in which Washington used each of its relief pitchers, starter Edwin Jackson is toes the rubber for the Nationals tonight.

DRAFT

The Nationals notable selection of the second day of the MLB First-Year Player Draft was University of California-Berkeley second baseman Tony Renda. He hit .342 with 16 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBI as a junior in 2012. His 16 stolen bases led his club and ranked second in the Pac-12. For his efforts in 2012, Renda was named Third-Team TPX All-American by Collegiate Baseball as well as First-Team All-Pac-12.

EXTRA! EXTRA!

With his game-ending hit in the bottom of the 12th inning last night, Bryce Harper became the first teenage to record a game-ending hit since 1988. With RBI in the 8th, 10th and 12th innings, Ian Desmond became the first big leaguer since Cincinnati’s Art Shamsky in 1966 to tie a game three separate times in the 8th inning or later.

BIG EAST

The Nationals are 13-7 against NL East competition (4-1 vs. ATL, 2-3 vs. MIA, 4-2 vs. PHI, 3-1 vs. NYM) and their .650 intradivision winning percentage is tops in the NL East.

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September Comes Early

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Of the 26,256 fans who paid to see the Nationals and Mets duke it out over 12 thoroughly entertaining innings Tuesday night, those that stuck out the entirety of the affair were treated to almost everything the game of baseball has to offer. A tightly fought contest throughout between the division rivals, with first place in the National League East on the line, there was even a slight chill to the air, which only added to the feeling that – despite the calendar reading June 5 – it felt like September baseball.

Tuesday’s contest certainly was not the prettiest of games, nor the most cleanly played. It may not have appealed to the baseball purist. But can you imagine if that was your very first game? If your introduction to watching the sport in person was punch followed by counterpunch, heapings of clutch hitting, costly errors and bases loaded situations, all wrapped into a three-comeback, 12-inning, four-hour 15-minute marathon, ending on the first walk-off of Bryce Harper’s career? Where do you go from there?

For at least one fan at the ballpark last night, it was their first Nationals game. Of course, the walk-off part is nothing new to fans who have been coming all season. In their 26 home games so far this year through Tuesday night, the Nats have walked off a Major League-leading six times, five of which have come in extra innings. They’ve done so twice against the Reds, and once apiece vs. the Marlins, Phillies, and now, the Mets.

The Nationals mob Harper following his first career walk-off hit.

Harper’s walk-off hit was the first by a teenager since Gary Sheffield, as a rookie playing for the then-American League Milwaukee Brewers, singled home pinch-runner Mike Felder in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, on September 9, 1988. For those trying to do the math, that was more than four years before Harper was born.

That storyline overshadowed a tremendous game from Ian Desmond, who almost single-handedly kept the Nationals alive long enough to allow Harper’s heroics to even happen. After the Mets pushed in front for the first time with two runs in the top of the eighth, Desmond drove home Ryan Zimmerman with a two-out hit in the bottom of the frame to tie it up. When New York forged ahead once again in the 10th, Desmond hit a screaming liner to shortstop that ate up Jordany Valdespin, allowing Zimmerman to score the tying run again. And when he batted in the 12th, following Michael Morse’s leadoff double, he came through once more, ripping a two-bagger of his own down the left field line to level the score at 6-6 and set the stage for Harper’s game-winner four batters later.

A single game-tying RBI makes for a decent night. To turn the trick twice is quite an accomplishment. But to help your team come from behind to tie the game three times in the same night, all in the eighth inning or later? That is a truly impressive performance, punctuated by a stellar, pure reaction defensive play on a bad hop at shortstop that shows just how complete a player Desmond is growing into this season.

Yet, it is the sign of a truly epic game that Desmond’s performance will be forgotten by many, or at least take a backseat to the ending, complete with the compulsory Gatorade bath. It was fitting that by the time eventual winning pitcher Ross Detwiler departed the bullpen and made his way to the mound for the 11th inning, the only man left in uniform behind him was Nationals Bullpen Coach Jim Lett, who saw each of his hurlers contribute to the victory. And the best part about it? We get to do it all over again tonight, and 55 more times after that at home this season.

 

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Developing from Within

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Hello everyone. Welcome to another big week here at Nationals Park.

Take a look around you. We have a full-fledged pennant race going on. And like many Nats fans, I have never had so much fun.

Just knowing that every game means something – every division game essentially constitutes two games – this race has taken my scoreboard watching ups and downs to new levels. Can you imagine this in September?

How about witnessing history on Sunday afternoon as Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper became the first pair of rookie teammates in modern-day MLB history (since 1900) to begin a game’s first inning with back-to-back home runs.

Rookie Steve Lombardozzi has found a home at the top of Manager Davey Johnson’s lineup.

These two young guys seem to provide a thrill or two every night. Even though the Braves came back to win Sunday’s finale, I took solace in knowing that Steve and Bryce are homegrown products. Is there anything better for fans than cheering for players unearthed, drafted and developed in your own system?

Lombardozzi is literally homegrown, as he hails from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland.  Upon Lombardozzi hitting his first big league homer, I was able to congratulate his father, Steve, on his son’s big moment. His urge was to run out to the bullpen to get the ball, but I told him we had it under control.

Speaking of homegrown, on Monday night we drafted righthander Lucas Giolito from Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles with the 16th pick in the 2012 Draft.

In talking to Mike Rizzo, Roy Clark and Kris Kline, they conveyed to me that Lucas is the epitome of what a high school power pitcher should look like. He’s already 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and has not turned 18 yet.

Entering the new year, Lucas’ talents had him on a short list of players to be considered for the draft’s top overall selection. Lucas unfortunately strained his right elbow during his senior season at Harvard-Westlake. But he was immediately examined by some of this country’s foremost doctors who happen to reside in the L.A. area. We have been made privy to all of his medicals and felt totally comfortable calling his name at pick #16.

Then, in the second round, Rizzo took Cal-Berkeley second baseman Tony Renda, who is said to have strong offensive skills (he was the Pac-10 player of the Year as a sophomore) and even better intangibles. In the third round, we tabbed Brett Mooneyham, a lefty out of Stanford University who is 6’5″ and 225 pounds. Power pitching!

The beauty of this is that despite Lucas’ supreme talent, there is no urgency on our part. Remember, we have a fleet of young power pitchers in place for the next 4-5 years. Their names: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Detwiler. So, when Lucas and his power arm are good and ready to ascend to the big leagues, we’ll find the space.

Adam LaRoche is among the leaders in All-Star votes at first base in the National League.

Most scouts will tell you that Day Two of the Draft is a much better reflection of a club’s scouting department and its depth than Day One, which is overflowing with high-end talent. I am always excited to chat with our scouts who really are the vanguards of the sport. There is no ‘tomorrow’ in this game without a scout nearby.

I am looking forward to getting up to Fenway Park this weekend as interleague play restarts. I am also even happier that Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are slated to face Boston’s deep lineup. Should be a fun weekend test for Davey and the boys.

Reminder to get out and vote for your favorite Nationals as part of MLB’s All-Star Vote, whether it be at Nationals Park or online.

I have already punched a few ballots and am especially hopeful that Adam LaRoche can get some much-deserved traction. And don’t forget you can vote for both Harper and Lombardozzi as write-in candidates.

Enjoy the games everybody … and see you soon at Nationals Park.

2012 Draft: Top Ten Rounds Recap

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The 2012 First-Year Player Draft is in full swing, with rounds 2-15 taking place on Tuesday. The Draft got started with a televised round one on Monday night, and will conclude with the final 35 rounds taking place on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a little more on the Nationals top 10 selections from this year’s crop.

1. RHP Lucas Giolito | 6’6” – 230 | Harvard-Westlake HS, North Hollywood, CA | 16th overall

See our complete breakdown of Giolito here.

2. 2B Tony Renda | 5’8” – 180 | University of California-Berkeley | 80th overall

The 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year, Renda has drawn Dustin Pedroia comparisons due to his surprising power at his size. A plus defensive second baseman, Renda hit .342 with 16 2B, 5 HR and 27 RBI in 54 games for the Bears en route to being named a 2012 third-team TPX All-American in 2012. Renda leaves Cal tied for fourth on the schools all-time career doubles list with 51. In 2012, he led the Golden Bears with 16 SB and 29 BB.

Scout’s Take: In our opinion, Tony has the quickest bat in the draft. He has always hit. He brings controlled aggression and a strong, compact swing. He has tremendous makeup and is a great kid. Kris Kline, Nationals Director of Scouting

3. LHP Brett Mooneyham | 6’5” – 235 | Stanford University | 111th overall

Mooneyham was selected as a fourth-year junior out of Renda’s college rival, Stanford. The tall lefty was the Cardinal’s number two starter this season, following eighth overall selection Mark Appel (PIT). Mooneyham went 7-5 with a 4.26 ERA over 14 starts and was fourth in the Pac-12 with 90 strikeouts.

Scout’s Take: A plus athlete with a fastball that touches 97 to go along with a plus curveball and changeup. Mooneyham projects as high as a number three starter. His father, Bill, was a former Major Leaguer. - Kline

4. OF Brandon Miller | 6’1” – 208 | Samford University | 144th overall

A senior redraft by the Nationals, who also selected him in the 48th round in 2010 (the Red Sox selected him out of high school in ’08), Miller led NCAA with 23 HR while being named 2nd team Louisville Slugger All-America. He leaves Samford as the career leader in HR with 39.

Scout’s Take: A redraft out of Junior College, he has middle of the lineup power. Miller is a versatile catcher who profiles both at right field and catcher and has great makeup. His profile reminds me of our own Tyler Moore. – Eric Robinson, SE Area Supervisor

5. C Spencer Kieboom | 6’0” – 220 | Clemson University | 174th overall

A junior, Kieboom was rated the #84 prospect in the preseason by Baseball America. The backstop is a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member

Scout’s Take: We thought Spencer was one of the best defensive catchers in the country. He hit very well during ACC play. He’s a workhorse. – Nationals Assistant GM Roy Clark

6. OF Hayden Jennings | 6’0” – 170 | Evangel Christian Academy (LA) | 204th overall

Jennings logged a .439 batting average along with a 0.00 ERA in three pitching starts. The outfielder hit 12 home runs as a leadoff man, driving home 31 RBI and swiping a perfect 23-for-23 on the base paths. Jennings was an honorable mention All-American as a junior in 2011.

Scout’s Take: He’s a center fielder that can really run. He’s a plus defensive player overall and a leadoff hitter. - Kline

7. RHP Robert Benincasa | 6’1” – 180 | Florida State University | 234th overall

In 29 appearances in 2012, Benincasa allowed just five earned runs in 35.0 innings pitched (1.29 ERA), going 4-1 with a team-leading 15 saves along the way. He was named first team All-ACC, a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, a third team All-American by Collegiate Baseball ,and a finalist for Stopper of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Scout’s Take: He’s put up tremendous numbers this year. He goes 90-92 with a sinker and uses the slider as an out pitch. He’s a strike thrower with good command and good feel. He should progress quickly through the system. – Kline

8. SS Stephen Perez | 5’11” – 175 | University of Miami | 264th overall

While he may be better known for his fielding, Perez led the University of Miami with four triples, 18 stolen bases and 32 walks. He also ranked among team leaders in doubles (tied-second, 12) and home runs (second, five).

Scout’s Take: Perez is a switch hitter that displays some power from the right side. He’s a very solid, smart base runner. He is a slick fielder up the middle. He displays some flash, some flare, some excitement. - Kline

9. RHP Derek Self | 6’3” – 205 | University of Louisville | 294th overall

Selected in the 27th round as a junior by Oakland, Self returned for his senior year and led the Cardinals with seven saves in 26 relief appearances. The righty posted a modest 3.41 ERA, but his 23-5 strikeout to walk ratio bodes well, and only five of the 34 hits he allowed went for extra bases.

Scout’s Take: We’ve been watching him for two years. Has a hard slider and his fastball is 90-93. He began the season as Louisville’s setup man but eventually took over the closer role. – National Crosschecker Jeff Zona

10. C Craig Manuel | 6’1” – 205 | Rice University | 324th overall

Manuel showed a great eye at the plate, drawing 18 walks while striking out just 13 times his senior year. The backstop also logged a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage behind the plate.

Scout’s Take: He’s been a starter for 3 years and has handled all of their big pitchers. Very good receiver, very good thrower. His coach called him one of the best situational hitters in college baseball. – National Crosschecker Jimmy Gonzales

What to Watch for: 6/5

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Game 53: New York Mets (31-24) vs. Washington Nationals (30-22)

RHP Chris Young (0-0, -.–) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.80)

For the first time this season, the Washington Nationals will be playing the New York Mets at Nationals Park. In their last encounter April 9-11, the Nationals won the series (2-1) at Citi Field.

NATS DRAFT ANOTHER GIO

Lucas Giolito, who stands 6-foot-6 and 230 lbs, is the first prep player selected by the Nationals with their top selection in a draft since 2006, when they tabbed 1B/OF Chris Marrero out of Monsignor Pace (FL) HS. Giolito went 9-1 with 78 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 70.1 innings as a senior at Harvard-Westlake.

BIG EAST

The Nationals are 12-7 against NL East competition (4-1 vs. ATL, 2-3 vs. MIA, 4-2 vs. PHI, 2-1 vs. NYM) and their .632 intradivision winning percentage is tops in the NL East.

HOME COOKING

The Nationals are 16-9 at home, where their .640 winning percentage ranks 2nd in MLB behind only LAD’s .700 mark at Dodger Stadium.

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Don’t Call Him Little Gio

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“With the 16th selection of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the Washington Nationals select…”

There were months of planning and anticipation leading up to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig saying those words from the stage in New York City Monday night. And while the Nationals did not make headlines before the draft as they had in each of the past few seasons, they found a way to make some noise with their mid-round pick.

Coming off the first overall selection in 2009 (Stephen Strasburg) and 2010 (Bryce Harper), and a pair of first-round selections in 2011 (Anthony Rendon at #6, Alex Meyer at #23), the organization was out of the spotlight for the first time in a while. But they were able to find a pitcher who was talked about earlier in the year as a possible number one overall pick in right-handed pitcher Lucas Giolito.

The Nationals tabbed prep RHP Lucas Giolito as their first round selection Monday night. (AP)

A 17 year-old from North Hollywood California’s Harvard-Westlake Prep, the 6-foot, 6-inch, 220-pounder has been clocked with a fastball as high as 100 miles-per-hour and possesses a sharp, 12-6 breaking ball in the mid 80s. His physical makeup drew comparisons to Roy Halladay from both Nationals AGM & VP of Player Personnel Roy Clark, as well as the MLB Network crew covering the draft. But a strain of his ulnar collateral ligament gave teams just enough pause for Giolito to fall to the Nats at 16.

After making the comparison to Halladay, Clark explained the pick thusly at the press conference on Monday night.

“A top of the rotation guy that you can get at 16? It was a no-brainier for us.”

Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo detailed the reasons the organization was happy to add Giolito to the illustrious list of first-round selections since the franchise’s relocation to our Nation’s Capital.

“Lucas has the body, power arm, character and make-up to become a front-line starter in the big leagues,” said Rizzo. “This is the type of player, the type of ceiling, and the type of stuff we want in this organization.”

It will be up to Rizzo and company now to sign Giolito, who has a college commitment to nearby UCLA.

“This is one of those moves where five years from now you might look back and say, ‘even if he misses a year, what does it really matter?’” said MLB Network’s Peter Gammons during live coverage of the draft immediately after the pick. “The Nationals look like they’re going to be so good that they’re not going to have many shots at this kind of player.”

With a rotation that already includes young hurlers like Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann under team control for the next several seasons, plus Meyer and Matt Purke developing in the pipeline, adding Giolito can only strengthen an already formidable collection of young power arms.

The 2012 First-Year Player Draft will continue with rounds 2-15 beginning at noon on Tuesday, and conclude with rounds 16-50 on Wednesday. Make sure to follow @Nationals on Twitter for updates on all the organization’s selections, along with exclusive quotes from baseball operations executives on the top 10 picks.

Nationals Double Up On League Awards

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Gio Gonzalez was a perfect 5-0 in five May starts.

Not only did the Nationals win a pair of National League Awards on Sunday, they also doubled up in one category, taking home the honors for the second straight month. Gio Gonzalez was named NL Pitcher of the Month and Bryce Harper was honored as NL Rookie of the Month for May by Major League Baseball.

Just as he follows Stephen Strasburg in the rotation, so does Gio in winning his award. Strasburg took home the award in April, meaning that Nationals pitchers have been the only ones to win so far in 2012.

Gonzalez won all five of his May starts, finishing the month a perfect 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA (8 ER/32.0 IP). The southpaw allowed just 17 hits, with opponents batting just .156 against him. He walked 13 while striking out 45 in that span, a rate of 12.6 K/9 IP. He fanned at least nine batters in four of the five outings, and has hit double-digit totals in two of his last three starts heading into Sunday’s affair vs. Atlanta.

Overall, Gonzalez sits at 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA, and ranks in the top five in the National League in wins (T-4th), ERA (2nd), strikeouts (T-2nd), WHIP (0.94, 2nd), opponents batting average (.156, 1st), and K/9 IP (11.53, 1st).

Bryce Harper notched 13 extra-base hits in May.

It should also be no surprise that Harper stepped in to swipe the award for National League Rookie of the Month in May. The 19 year-old posted a slash line of .271/.355/.505, sending 13 of his 29 hits for extra bases (five doubles, four triples, four home runs). The young outfielder also scored a team-high 21 runs in May, five more than the next highest total (Ian Desmond, 16). Finally, he showed off his impressive plate discipline by drawing 13 walks, second on the team only to Adam LaRoche’s 15 for the month.

Of course you can read all about both Harper and Gonzalez when you come to the ballpark (warning: shameless plug alert), as they are featured in the brand new Nationals Magazine that debuted this homestand.

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