If you follow the Nationals Minor League system at all, the name Nathan Karns probably sounds familiar. Often the subject of our in-park Down on the Farm reports during the 2012 season, the tall right-hander worked his way from the bullpen to the starting rotation, then impressed enough to earn a mid-season promotion to a higher level, where he continued to succeed. When the dust had settled on his campaign, he was awarded the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts.
As a result, Karns was one of two players (along with fellow hurler Erik Davis) that the Nationals added to the 40-man roster last week. We will get into more detail about the particulars of that designation next week in advance of the Rule V Draft, but suffice it to say that the organization has liked the early returns from Karns thus far in his professional career.
At 6’5”, 230 pounds, Karns has the big, projectable pitching body type that makes scouts drool. Originally drafted in 2009, Karns fell to the 12th round and got hurt before ever pitching as a professional, requiring labrum surgery in his throwing shoulder that cost him his entire 2010 season. As a result, he did not begin his journey into the professional ranks until 2011 at age 23, where he put up some silly numbers in Rookie Ball (two hits, six walks and 26 strikeouts in 18.2 scoreless innings pitched) and continued to find success despite some wildness following a promotion to Short-Season Auburn.
The Texas Tech product, who turned 25 earlier this week, expanded upon the success he found at the lower levels of the system in 2011, enough to earn Baseball America’s designation as the number 15 prospect in the Carolina League this season. This year, Karns amassed an 11-4 record and a 2.17 ERA (28 ER/116.0 IP) over 24 appearances (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. While many numbers pop off the stat sheet – anything from his 1.01 WHIP to his 148 strikeouts in just 116 innings – perhaps the most impressive one has been the Texan’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. In 171.1 total innings as a professional, Karns has allowed just three home runs, or less than one for every 57 innings of work. Even Gio Gonzalez, who was the best qualifying starter in the Majors at limiting the longball, allowed nine in 199.1 innings, a rate more than two-and-a-half times as great as Karns.
The good news is that even areas of potential weakness improved this season for Karns. There were concerns about his control in college, where he averaged about 6.0 walks per nine innings over his last two years in Lubbock. The right-hander improved slightly in his first season as a pro (5.4 BB/9.0 IP), then lowered his walk rate to 3.6 – a 33 percent drop – this season. Factor in higher strikeout totals, and Karns made a significant jump from a modest 1.79 to a commendable 3.15 K/BB rate.
Karns’ strength lies in his best two pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 96, complemented by a swing-and-miss, plus breaking ball which he will showcase at his next likely stop, Double-A Harrisburg. He will need to continue to develop his off-speed pitch there to give himself three plus pitches, the full arsenal to progress to the highest level of the game in a starting role.
After much speculation about how they would handle center field for the foreseeable future, the Washington Nationals answered that question today, acquiring Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. In exchange, Washington sent Minor League right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer back to the Twin Cities.
“He fits very well for us,” said EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo of Span. “His skill set is something we have been looking for for some years now. He’s a front-line defensive center fielder and a consumate leadoff type hitter.”
Span is expected to lead off and play center field for the Nationals in 2013, allowing Bryce Harper to shift to a more natural corner outfield spot and Jayson Werth to return to the middle of the lineup. Rizzo cited the Nationals wealth of defensive outfielders, mentioning that all three were capable of playing center field at a Major League level.
“I’m definitely excited, I’m very excited to be coming to Washington,” said span of his trade to the Nats, specifically singling out Harper and Werth. “I’m ready to be coming to a team that is already in place to win. They’re definitely going to elevate my game, just playing alongside them.”
Rizzo also said on Thursday that he has had his eye on Span for a while now, and even saw him play as a prepster at Tampa Catholic High School. He explained that discussions with the Twins have been ongoing for the past three to four weeks, but that they accelerated at the General Managers Meetings in Indian Wells earlier this month.
Span has compiled a career .284/.357/.389 Major League slash line playing almost entirely in center field over the last five seasons for the Twins. He has also stolen 90 bases over that time, including 17 in 128 games last year. Rizzo believes that speed may develop even farther with Span’s move to the more small ball-oriented Senior Circuit.
“We think he’s really going to come into his own as a base-stealer here in the National League,” the GM said, also noting Span’s strong ability to make contact. “He’s one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out.”
The 28 year-old whiffed just 62 times in 568 plate appearances in 2012 while drawing 47 walks. Born in D.C., the Tampa, Florida native was originally selected 20th overall by Minnesota in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. After spending his first 10 years as a professional with Minnesota, Span said his change of scenery makes him a little nervous, but more so excited.
“That’s the greatest feeling any ballplayer can have is know they’re wanted,” said Span of Washington’s – and particularly Mike Rizzo’s – desire to acquire him. “I could hear it in his voice, how excited he was to have me.”
With the trade, the Nationals do not give up any Major League talent while acquiring a player in Span who is under contract for the next two seasons with a team option for 2015. Meyer, the return in the trade, just finished his first professional season, which he split between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.
“To get a good, established Major League player at Denard’s age with the contract that he has, you have to give up a quality player,” said Rizzo, explaining that it is always a tough decision to part with young prospects, but that it was the right time for the move. “We feel that we have great depth in the Minor League system.”
With tonight’s trade, the Nationals have filled the first missing piece of their 2013 puzzle.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we break down the remarkable first season of the heart and soul of the Nationals pitching staff, Gio Gonzalez.
When the Nationals sent four prospects to the west coast on December 23, 2011 in exchange for an All-Star but relatively unknown pitcher, some Washington fans were troubled. They had watched their team build steadily through the draft, relying on developing prospects to pull them to the brink of a potential breakout year. If there were any doubts as to the validity of the deal, EVP of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo put them to bed as best he could just two days later, showing the utmost confidence in his new left-hander by signing him to a five-year extension with options for two more seasons. Soon, the rest of the fan base would come to understand that they had not just acquired a promising young left-hander – they had just landed Gio Gonzalez.
Armed with a lively, mid-90s fastball, arguably the best left-handed curveball in the game, and one of the sport’s biggest personalities, Gonzalez turned out to be just what the talented young Nationals team needed. Slotting into the rotation as a southpaw presence between right-handed flamethrowers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez immediately gave Washington one of the best young staffs in the game for years to come. And from his sparkling D.C. debut in the home opener (7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) to a formidable stretch run that saw him win five of his final six games with a 1.35 ERA and notch his first career shutout, the 27 year-old anchored the best staff in the National League. He finished the year with more wins than any pitcher in the game (as well as the lowest home run rate and OPS against), and was squeezed out for second place in the National League Cy Young race.
Gonzalez is signed through the 2016 season, with a team option for 2017 and a vesting option for 2018 that will kick in should he reach 180 innings the year prior. We’ve already written plenty about Gio this season, so relive his memorable 2012 campaign in the articles below, and allow yourself to dream of what may come in the rest of his Nationals tenure.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we look at perhaps the most surprising contributor this season, reliever Christian Garcia.
Most Nationals fans had never heard of Christian Garcia at the beginning of Spring Training. Nearly all knew his name by the time the 2012 season was over. An impressive stint as a September call-up gave Washington another promising power arm near the back of the bullpen. But you have to look beyond Garcia’s accomplishments once he got that call-up to understand just how good of a year he had already put together before ever reaching the Major Leagues in the first place.
In 58 relief appearances between Double-A Harrisburg, Triple-A Syracuse and Washington, the 27 year-old righty went 2-1 with a 1.11 ERA (8 ER/65.0 IP), converting all 21 of his save opportunities (all in the minors). He allowed just 58 baserunners (39 hits, 19 walks), good for a 0.89 WHIP, while striking out 81 batters, a rate of better than 11 per nine innings pitched. Those are the type of eye-popping, head-turning numbers that accompany an arsenal topped by a high 90s fastball and a late-breaking, hard-diving slider, like the one Garcia possesses when he is healthy.
Unfortunately, those last four words – when he is healthy – have followed Garcia around for much of his career and adversely impacted his Major League aspirations. Formerly a starter in the Yankees system, the 6’5” righty was originally drafted in the third round out of high school by New York back in 2004, but had never advanced beyond Triple-A. While his career Minor League numbers – a 3.22 ERA and 10.1 K/9 IP – showed his potential, Garcia had been sidelined with elbow trouble, undergoing not one, but two Tommy John surgeries to replace the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.
While an often daunting rehab process awaits, with advancements in modern medicine, today’s pitchers have achieved remarkable recovery rates from a single Tommy John surgery. However, considering how crucial the UCL is to the success of a pitcher, it should come as no surprise that patients who have undergone multiple surgeries, as Garcia has, face an even more challenging road to recapturing their original form. For him to be pitching at all, much less to the degree of success he found in 2012, is already remarkable. It also explains why the Nationals were able to ever have the chance to sign a talent like Garcia to a minor league free agent deal in the first place.
There is some debate as to whether Garcia will return to a starter’s role in 2013, or work out of the bullpen. One thing is for sure – the Nationals found a diamond in the rough in Garcia, who will no doubt be a prime candidate to compete for a spot on the staff this spring.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. After a short hiatus, we are back at it with one of the Washington backstops, catcher Jesus Flores.
With the myriad of injuries beset upon the Nationals catching crew in 2012, there was one constant behind the plate, one man who was there, day in, day out, working with the pitching staff. Jesus Flores had nearly as many at-bats (277) as the fellow quintet of backstops he shared time with combined (303), appearing in over half of Washington’s games this year. Defensively, he caught nearly 47 percent of all innings thrown in 2012 by Nationals pitchers.
Flores was thrust into the starting role after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on a rainy Saturday night, May 12 in Cincinnati. When Chase Headley ran over Sandy Leon – the latter only a couple innings into his Major League debut – just 72 hours later, even more pressure landed on Flores to handle the league’s best pitching staff. He responded both defensively and offensively with his best stretch of the season, batting .320/.352/.500 through June 3, his first 15 games following Ramos’ injury.
Flores’ offensive contributions this season were sometimes obscured, though. His first home run of the year was overshadowed almost immediately, as it was followed by Stephen Strasburg’s first roundtripper of his Major League career, when the duo went back-to-back off Orioles starter Wie-Yen Chen on May 20 at Nationals Park. Flores’ next three longballs all came against Atlanta, each in crucial wins. He opened the scoring off Brandon Beachy with a solo shot in the fifth inning of a 2-0 victory on June 2, then went deep against Randall Delgado on June 29 to help Washington to a 5-4 triumph. Finally, his three-run blast off Paul Maholm on August 21 provided the difference in a 4-1 Nationals victory.
Meanwhile, the backstop continued to improve defensively. After never posting a range factor above 7.00, Flores notched a 9.16 mark over 80 games in 2012, while logging a career-high 687.2 innings behind the plate. He held down the fort throughout the spring and early summer until the arrival of Kurt Suzuki in early August, at which point he returned to his backup role for the stretch run.
With Ramos set to return sometime next spring, the Nationals will have some decisions to make about the future of their deep and experienced catching corps. Flores is entering the final of his four arbitration years (he was a Super Two, starting back in 2010), and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season.
As you know by now, we’re all about showing gratitude for your NATITUDE. That’s why, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are teaming up with Steve Lombardozzi Jr. and Sr. to help collect supplies for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. Plus, we’re giving you some extra incentive to join us. Share photos of your Thanksgiving NATITUDE with us on Instagram from now through Tuesday night (6 p.m. ET) for a chance to win a Steve Lombardozzi autographed bat or ball! Just tag your photos with #NATITUDE for your chance to win.
Looking for great photo ideas? Why not join the Lombardozzis at the Nationals Clubhouse Team Store at Tysons Corner Center on Saturday from 1–2 p.m. with your donations? The father-son duo will be available for photos with fans who donate items to the drive, a joint effort between the Lombardozzis, the Nationals, JK Moving Services – the team’s Official Mover – and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. In addition, all those who contribute donations will receive 15% off their purchase on full price merchandise at any of the Nationals Clubhouse Team Store locations.
The Lombardozzis will head out to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, MD from 3–4 p.m. They will then join JK Moving Services in delivering the items using a donated 35-foot long JK truck to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, N.J., on Tuesday, November 20.
Click here for a list of items to bring, and see below for all drop-off times this weekend. Now get out there and Ignite Your Thanksgiving NATITUDE!
Nationals Clubhouse Team Store
1961 Chain Bridge Rd., Suite E-5U, VA
Fri.-Sat. (Nov. 16 & 17): 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sun. (Nov. 18): 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Dulles Town Center
Nationals Clubhouse Team Store
21100 Dulles Town Circle, Suite 156, Dulles, VA
Fri.-Sat. (Nov. 16 & 17): 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sun. (Nov. 18): 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
17301 Old Vic Blvd., Olney, MD
Fri. (Nov. 16): 8 a.m.–3 p.m. in the front office, 3 p.m.–6 p.m. in the Kane Center Gym
Sat.-Sun. (Nov. 17 & 18): 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Kane Center Gym
Nationals fans who attended games early in the season may remember Ryan Perry’s name and wonder why he is the subject of a Down on the Farm report. Wasn’t he, after all, a Major Leaguer already? In fact, Perry has pitched parts of the past four seasons in the big leagues, logging a 6-6 record and a 4.36 ERA over 169.1 innings pitched, all out of the bullpen. While he has showed promise since his debut as a 22 year-old back in 2009, he had yet to progress in the way that his powerful arsenal of pitches promised.
As such, Perry and the Nationals both came to the same conclusion earlier this year – perhaps it was time to give starting a shot. Often times starters from the college ranks will move into the bullpen as they reach the higher levels of the Minor Leagues. Perry, however, possesses a potent array of pitches, including a high-90s fastball to go along with his changeup and slider. It was that raw talent that led the Tigers to draft him with the 21st overall selection back in 2008. But the transition to using those weapons over 100 pitches or more, instead of simply an inning or two, required an overhaul in approach. So the 25 year-old Perry packed his bags for Double-A Harrisburg to stretch out his arm, build his workload and try to make the successful conversion to the rotation.
“I’ve been in the big leagues, but I’m still learning,” Perry reflected when we caught up with him towards the end of his Minor League season in Harrisburg back in August. “There are still many things for me to learn and to hone in on to get back there.”
Perry made 13 starts for the Senators, his 2-4 record undermining his 2.84 ERA (23 ER/73.0 IP) over that span. He allowed just three home runs, while posting an impressive 1.11 WHIP and striking out more than twice as many batters (46) as he walked (22). That was enough for the Nationals to send Perry, along with some of their top prospects, to the Arizona Fall League.
Perry has been on both sides of the success spectrum so far in the AFL. He allowed seven runs over just 5.0 innings in his first two starts, walking four while striking out five. But he rebounded to throw four perfect frames in his next start, then followed that up with five innings of one-hit ball, completing a nine-inning stretch in which he allowed just one baserunner while fanning seven.
While his overall ERA sits a shade below 5.00 at 4.98, his peripheral stats have mirrored those he put up in Double-A. With a 1.15 WHIP and a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk rate, the tall, powerful righty continues to show the type of promise the Nationals were hoping when the two sides agreed to the experiment earlier this year. Keep an eye on Perry and the rest of the Nats prospects as they wrap up their AFL schedule this week.
For better or for worse, Major League Baseball’s top pitching and player awards are not determined the same way. Critics hem and haw over what exactly “most valuable” means when it comes to determining the league MVPs each year. But the Cy Young is simply given to the pitcher considered, objectively, to be the best overall. There is no such thing as the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. For the Nationals in 2012, that’s a shame, as no pitcher was more valuable in the National League than Gio Gonzalez.
We here at Curly W Live are fully aware that wins should hardly be the decisive metric in determining a pitcher’s value, but Gonzalez’s totals were, nonetheless, impressive. The southpaw was the first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins this season, finishing with a Major League-best 21 victories. In so doing, he became the first D.C. lefty to win at least 20 games since Earl Whitehill in 1933, 79 years ago.
But let’s dive into the statistics that really set Gonzalez apart. The Hialeah, Florida native led all qualifying pitchers in either league with a .206 batting average against. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched, the highest rate of any pitcher to throw as many innings (199.1) as Gonzalez did. The 27 year-old lefty allowed just nine home runs all season, for a league-leading rate of just 0.4 per nine innings pitched. Considering that he pitched half his games in the 14th-highest ranked offensive ballpark by Park Factor, those numbers are all the more impressive next to Mets ace R.A. Dickey’s (Citi Field, ranked 23rd) and Clayton Kershaw’s (Dodger Stadium, 25th).
Gonzalez was particularly strong in August and September as well, when the team needed him to step into the role of the top pitcher in the rotation. After earning his second consecutive All-Star bid, Gonzalez led the Nationals pitching staff down the stretch. He won eight of his final 10 starts while fashioning a 2.00 ERA over that span to help Washington win its first-ever NL East crown. He was even stronger in his final six regular season outings, going 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA (6 ER/40.0 IP) holding opponents to a .171 average.
While Gonzalez won’t be able to celebrate with any official hardware like Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and Manager of the Year Davey Johnson, he’ll no doubt take solace in the fact that he led his team to the playoffs, something to which neither of his fellow Cy Young finalists can lay claim.
At nearly 70 years of age, there isn’t much that Davey Johnson has yet to accomplish in the game of baseball. He has already won a World Series as both a player and a manager, one of just five living men to do so. Coming into 2012, he had skippered three different franchises to the playoffs. And yet, he managed to notch a whole bevy of firsts in his first full season at the helm of the Washington Nationals. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the second BBWAA Manager of the Year Award of his career.
He guided the franchise to a Major League-leading 98 wins, 17 more than the previous franchise high, set back in 2005. That success translated into the franchise’s first NL East title and Washington D.C.’s first postseason berth in 79 years. Mind you, of course, that while nobody else predicted such unprecedented success from the club, Johnson calmly and confidently told the baseball world exactly that – his team would be in the playoffs, all the way back before Spring Training began.
Despite a ton of early-season injuries to a good portion of his starting lineup, Johnson’s club either led the NL East or shared its top spot for all but 10 days this season. When the dust had settled, they owned the best run differential in Major League Baseball, outscoring their opponents by 137 runs over the course of the year.
Johnson, along with Executive VP of Player Personnel and GM Mike Rizzo, made the decision to keep Ross Detwiler in the Major League rotation at the end of Spring Training. That, along with the healthy returns of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson gave the skipper the National League’s best rotation ERA at 3.40. Once fully healthy, his offense went on to produce 194 home runs, second most in the league, establishing both franchise (1969-‘12) and D.C. baseball (1901-‘71, 2005-‘12) single-season marks.
Johnson registered the seventh 90-win campaign of his managerial career and joined the legendary Billy Martin as the game’s lone skippers to take four different teams to the postseason. Since shifting from a consulting role and returning to the dugout to assume the Nationals managerial helm on June 27, 2011, Johnson’s Nationals are 138-107 (.563). Just how good has he been at guiding his young squad? In that same time span, only the Braves (139) have won more games among NL teams.
Among those to manage 1,000 or more games, Johnson’s career winning percentage (1,286-995, .564) ranks second among all living managers behind his former skipper, Earl Weaver (.583). He will have one more season to improve upon those impressive credentials, having agreed to manage the 2013 season before retiring from the bench, back to the Nationals front office in 2014.
Congratulations, Davey. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for your grand finale.
Nationals fans were introduced to Steve Lombardozzi in September of 2011, but they truly got to know the rookie as a clutch performer this last season. In 2012 he hit .305 with men on base, .327 with two outs, and a whopping .600 (!) with 12 of his 27 RBI coming with the bases loaded. Now, Lombardozzi and his father, Steve Sr., who hit .427 in leading the Minnesota Twins to the 1987 World Series Championship, are coming through for their neighbors in a time of need. The Lombardozzis are teaming up with the Nationals and JK Moving Services, the team’s Official Mover, to support relief and recovery efforts in the areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy and they are asking for your help as well.
Whether you live in D.C., Virginia, or Maryland, you are encouraged to bring whatever items you can to one of our drop-off locations this week. Locations include the Nationals Clubhouse Main Team Store at Nationals Park from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through Friday (November 13-16). Nationals Clubhouse Team Stores at Tysons Corner Center and Dulles Town Center will also be accepting donations from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today through Saturday (November 13-17) and from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday (November 18). Plus, all those who donate items will receive 15% off their purchase on full price merchandise at any of the Nationals Clubhouse Team Store locations, a little gratitude from us for your NATITUDE.
The most-needed items at this time include the following:
- Canned foods including soups, stews, chili, tuna, peanut butter and canned milk (pop-top preferred, but please avoid glass containers)
- Bottled water – One liter or smaller bottles for easier transport
- Powdered milk, baby formula and bottles
- Personal care items including disposable diapers, soap, wipes, toilet paper, first aid kits and feminine products
- Household items including garbage bags, zip lock bags, paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, duct tape, matches, batteries, flashlights, disinfectant and cleaning materials
- Disposable charcoal grills and charcoal
- New blankets and sleeping bags
Items will also be collected at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, where Steve Sr. serves as Head Baseball Coach, in the front office and in the Kane Center Gym Lobby today through Sunday (November 13-18). The Lombardozzis and JK Moving Services will then deliver the collected items in a donated, 35-foot long JK truck to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, N.J. on Tuesday, November 20.
In addition to these efforts, MLB and MLBPA jointly contributed $1 million to organizations helping communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Additional information is available at mlb.com/sandyrelief.
Here are the full addresses and hours of operation for all drop-off locations:
Nationals Clubhouse Main Team Store
Nationals Park Center Field Gate at Half & N Streets, SE, Washington, DC
Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Friday, Nov. 16: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Nationals Clubhouse Team Stores – Tysons Corner Center & Dulles Town Center
1961 Chain Bridge Rd. Suite E-5U, Tysons Corner, VA & 21100 Dulles Town Circle, Suite 156 Dulles, VA
Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Saturday, Nov. 17: 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 18: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School
17301 Old Vic Blvd., Olney, MD
Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Friday, Nov. 16: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Front Office; 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. in Kane Center Gym Lobby
Saturday, Nov. 17 & Sunday, Nov. 18: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Gym Lobby