December 2012

Top 12 of ‘12: #1 – Werth Walks Off

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Top 12 Number 1Their backs against the wall, trailing the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals two-games-to-one in the best-of-five National League Division Series, the Washington Nationals needed a hero to keep their season alive. A nervous energy reverberated through Nationals Park around the 4:07 p.m. first pitch, one that only built as a 1-1 contest remained deadlocked late into the game. After six solid innings, Ross Detwiler turned the ball over to the bullpen, handing the reins to Game 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann, pitching in relief for the first time in his Major League career.

While that may have seemed like a bold move by manager Davey Johnson, there was something in the air on that night of October 11 in D.C. Zimmermann ignited the hometown crowd of more than 44,000 by punching out the side, pumping his fist as he came off the mound. Tyler Clippard did the same in the eighth, whiffing Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday and Yadier Molina. Drew Storen struck out two more in the ninth, the fans reaching a fever pitch as the game went to the bottom of the ninth still level at 1-1 and the top of the Nationals lineup due to lead off.

Enter Jayson Werth. Hitless in three plate appearances so far, the grizzled veteran dug in against Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn and quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count. But he stayed alive, spoiling off anything Lynn could throw at him, not biting on breaking balls out of the zone as he worked deeper in the count. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, he skied a foul ball toward the Nationals dugout, with the catcher Molina and first baseman Allen Craig converging near the rail. But the ball came down just out of reach, then ricocheted off a bench in the Nationals dugout, hitting Craig in the face on the rebound. Second life given, the electricity built once more, through two more fouls on pitches nine and 10, and a close take on the 11th offering from Lynn. After one more high foul pop into the stands on pitch number 12, the stage had been set.

In the ninth inning, in the 10th month, on the 11th day, in the 12th year, Werth dug in for the 13th pitch of the at-bat. At that moment, Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes recalled on the air a time, a month or so earlier against the Marlins, when Werth battled through a similarly long at-bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth, only to homer off Heath Bell to tie the game. Lynn set and delivered a fastball that started over the outside corner, but ran back toward the middle of the plate. Werth was not about to foul this one off. His laser beam to left field kept rising and rising as it pierced through the October night, the wave of realization sweeping from home plate to the visitor’s bullpen – where the ball clanked off the back wall – that this playoff battle had been finished in the most dramatic moment of this young franchise’s history.

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Down on the Farm: Rob Wort

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Following Baseball America’s ranking of the Top 10 Nationals prospects earlier this week, we turn our attention to a prospect whose journey has largely escaped the spotlight to this point. Rob Wort, the Nationals 30th-round draft pick in 2009, burst onto the scene this past season with the highest strikeout rate in all of Minor League Baseball.

Featuring a power fastball/slider combo, the lean, 6-2, right-handed reliever wrapped up his second full season at High-A Potomac with eye-popping numbers. In 56.2 innings, Wort notched 95 strikeouts against just 19 walks, earning 13 saves for the P-Nats and a spot on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort's solid campaign landed him on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort’s solid campaign landed him on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort’s performance was even more impressive in comparison with his peers. Among the more than 2,300 Minor League pitchers to complete at least 40.0 innings in 2012, Wort ranked first in both strikeouts per nine innings (15.1) and strikeout percentage (41.3). The only two professional pitchers with more dominant strikeout numbers than Wort were Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, both of whom had historically great seasons in the Major Leagues.

Chris Michalak, Potomac’s pitching coach and a former Major Leaguer himself, has overseen Wort’s development at two Minor League stops. Before his 2012 breakout season, Wort was at his best in 2010 at Low-A Hagerstown – with Michalak coaching him there as well – where he went 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. After Wort suffered through a lackluster 2011 campaign, the newly promoted Michalak guided a change in approach for the 23-year-old hurler.

“The biggest thing (prior to 2012) was that Rob was able to get by with his fastball and a little different arm angle,” Michalak said. “This year we worked on two things: using his backside and legs to leverage the ball and get later movement on his pitches, and developing his slider. His slider became a legitimate out pitch down and away to right-handed hitters.”

Opposing righties stood little chance against Wort this past season, batting a meager .174/.243/.265 and striking out an astonishing 69 times in 144 plate appearances. Lefties fared only marginally better, hitting at a .247/.349/.392 clip with 26 punchouts in 86 trips to the plate. This was a huge improvement for Wort, after lefties batted .354/.475/.625 and struck out just eight times in 64 plate appearances against him in 2011.

Wort notched the highest K rate in the Minor Leagues in 2012.

Wort notched the highest K rate in the Minor Leagues in 2012.

Michalak explained the specific changes that led to Wort’s dramatic improvement against batters from the left side of the plate.

“We wanted to give him more weapons against left-handed hitters,” Michalak said. “Rob tried out a new two-seam fastball and a change-up, which added a couple of wrinkles to what he was doing before. Those became effective pitches for him.”

Should Wort continue his development and eventually earn his way onto the Nationals roster, he would join Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle as the second Major League player to attend both Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, Mo.) and Jefferson College (Hillsboro, Mo.). Buehrle was also a late round pick, going to the Chicago White Sox in the 38th round in 1998. Michalak, who was a 12th-round selection out of college and fought his way to the big leagues for the first time at age 27, thinks his pupil has a good shot.

“This year really opened up (Rob’s) eyes a little bit, gave him confidence he could get there,” Michalak said.  “If he continues to make adjustments throughout each season, throughout his career, and he’s not afraid to take those adjustments into the game, I don’t see why he doesn’t have a chance.”

Top 12 of ‘12: #2 – Harper Steals Home

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Top 12 Number 2Years from now, when we look back at the turning point in the history of the Nationals franchise on the field, we may well pinpoint a three-day stretch in early May of 2012. After a hot start to the season, Washington hosted its bitter rival, the five-time defending division champion Philadelphia Phillies, in a much-anticipated weekend set in the Nation’s Capital. With the Take Back the Park campaign in full swing in the stands, the series became known as NATITUDE Weekend. The hometown nine responded on the field, winning in walk-off fashion in the opener, then riding Jayson Werth’s mammoth, three-run home run to a blowout victory on Saturday afternoon.

But while NATITUDE Weekend was the larger turning point in this budding NL East rivalry, the first inning of the series finale provided its signature moment. With the game airing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball – the first such primetime national telecast since the first game ever played at Nationals Park in 2008 – the eyes of the baseball nation were fixed on Phillies ace Cole Hamels as he tackled his first run through the Washington lineup. After two quick outs, he faced 19 year-old Bryce Harper, batting third for the first-place Nats in just his eighth Major League contest. Hamels promptly plunked Harper in the back on the first pitch of the at-bat – an act he would later admit was intentional – sending the rookie to first base. It was a seemingly harmless price to pay for his “message.”

But when Werth singled to left field, Harper motored around second and tore for third, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre, who could do nothing to stop him. After the next batter, Chad Tracy, fell behind 1-2 in the count, Hamels lobbed a pick-off throw to first base and Harper measured out a long secondary lead from third, behind the left-handed hurler’s back. When Hamels repeated his check on Werth, once more casually easing the ball over towards first, Harper took off for home. First baseman Laynce Nix had no recourse to prevent the inevitable, his futile throw to the plate arriving behind the phenom’s slide. With his first career steal, Harper became the first teenager to swipe home since Ed Kirkpatrick in 1964. In so doing, he brazenly defined NATITUDE and set the visceral tone for a season that would end with Washington’s unseating of Philadelphia as champions of the National League East.

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Top 12 of ‘12: #3 – The Phantom Slam

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(AP/Jeff Roberson)

(AP/Jeff Roberson)

Some of our Top 12 of ’12 are all about context; they are big moments specifically because of when they happened. When Wilson Ramos flew to his walk-off, the drama was heightened because it was the first game of the year against the rival Phillies. When Ian Desmond “dunked” vs. the Diamondbacks, the home run was magnified by the fact that the Nats trailed with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. When The Shark flew into the crevasse in front of the visitor’s bullpen at Minute Maid Park, the significance of the catch itself was magnified by its game-saving nature. Moment Number 3 requires no such context.

On September 29, in the middle contest of a three-game set in St. Louis, the Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning, thanks to a Bryce Harper single, Ryan Zimmerman double and Adam LaRoche walk. That brought up Michael Morse, who drove the first pitch from Kyle Lohse to the opposite field, the ball carrying over Carlos Beltran’s head in right towards the wall. Although it appeared to clear the wall, then bounce back onto the field, the ball was ruled in play. Confusion reigned on the basepaths, as Zimmerman retreated to third, forcing LaRoche back to second, and a once-trotting Morse scampering back to first, where he was tagged before sliding back into the bag. The umpires went to video to confirm exactly what had happened, and emerged a few minutes later from the clubhouse tunnel signaling for the grand slam.

Then, things got really weird. The runners had begun the slow trot around the bags (again), but were ordered back to their original bases to play out the home run in full effect. Harper was brought back out of the dugout to third, with the domino effect pushing a confused Morse all the way back to the batter’s box. As the broadcasters chuckled in amazement, Morse looked back at Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, wondering exactly what to do once he had returned to the box. He decided to pantomime the swing once more, with no bat in hand, then began his trot around the bases. With over 42,000 confused fans in the stands and both Washington broadcast teams doubled over in their respective booths, the Beast rounded the bags, slapped his helmet, and returned to the dugout with a four-run lead, MLB’s Oddity of the Year, and the first home run ever hit in the Major Leagues without a bat.

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The Top 10 List

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Earlier today, Baseball America unveiled its annual Top 10 Prospect List for the Washington Nationals heading into the 2013 season. There has been a lot of movement since last season, with only four of last year’s prospects returning to the list. The reason for this is two-fold: some names, like Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi, have become fixtures at the Major League level, while others have been traded in deals for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, making the Nationals imminently more competitive in the present. In both senses, the farm system has done its job. But that hardly means it is now bereft of top-level talent.

The complete list, along with more information on each player, is listed below. We have already covered a good number of the prospects in our Down on the Farm reports this past season, and will pick up the rest during the 2013 campaign.

1. Anthony Rendon – INF | Last Year: 2

Considered by many to be the top bat in the 2011 Draft, the Nats snagged Rendon with the sixth overall pick. After dealing with an early-season injury, the Rice University product rebounded for a strong season, moving quickly through the system and finishing in the Arizona Fall League.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

2. Lucas Giolito – RHP | Last Year: N/A

Taken with the 16th overall selection, the Nationals went for upside with Giolito, who showcased some of the best raw talent of any hurler in his draft class. Though he missed the end of his senior year of high school with an injury and has since had offseason surgery, Mike Rizzo and company are very high on the young pitcher, as are industry insiders like ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DRAFT REPORT -

3. Brian Goodwin – OF | Last Year: 5

Another fast riser through the system, Goodwin crushed the South Atlantic League in the first half of his inaugural pro campaign to earn a two-level promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. He joined Rendon in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game, where he homered as part of a 2-for-5 performance.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

4. Matt Skole – INF | Last Year: 21

Skole opened eyes in his first full professional season. The Georgia Tech product clobbered 27 home runs in just 101 games at Low-A Hagerstown to earn South Atlantic League player of the year, even with a late-season promotion to Potomac. He showed tremendous patience, batting a combined .291/.426/.559, collecting 99 walks and 104 RBI. But despite the impressive display of power and run production, the biggest accolades for Skole within the organization came from as a result of his huge strides forward on defense at third base. That earned him Nationals Minor League Player of the Year honors.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

5. Nathan Karns – RHP | Last Year: N/A

The highest mover from last year’s list (from being unranked in a group that runs 30 deep), Karns improved upon an encouraging 2011 season by lowering his walk rate and increasing his strikeouts, yielding tremendous results. He fanned 148 batters in just 116.0 innings, winning 11 games over two levels en route to the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

6. Christian Garcia – RHP | Last Year: N/A

It seems that on every team, every year, there is a surprise Minor Leaguer who breaks out and makes the big leagues as a September call-up. Garcia was that surprise this year, though his talent was well documented. Fully recovered from a second Tommy John surgery, the righty flashed a high-90s fastball and devastating slider to a 0.86 ERA with 66 strikeouts in just 52.1 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. He impressed enough in his debut to earn a spot on the playoff roster, and will likely have an impact as a member of the Nationals pitching staff.

- READ OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEW -

7. Eury Perez – OF | Last Year: 22

A September call-up like Garcia, Perez was primarily used as a pinch-runner in the Majors in 2012, where the Nationals took advantage of his blazing speed. He actually posted better numbers in Triple-A than at Double-A last season, combining for a .314/.344/.361 line and 51 steals between three stops in the minors. Perez will still be just 22 on Opening Day, and will be in Major League camp come Spring Training.

8. Sammy Solis – LHP | Last Year: 8

Taken by the Nationals in the second round out of the University of San Diego back in 2010, Solis missed the 2012 season due to injury. Washington has high hopes for the lefty, who is on track to be fully healthy by spring after posting an 8-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in 17 A-ball starts back in 2011.

9. Matt Purke – LHP | Last Year: 7

A third-round selection out of TCU in 2011, Purke made just three starts at Hagerstown this year before being shut down. The 6’4”, 205-pound lefty pitched well in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 and got some time against Major Leaguers in Spring Training this past season. With at least two plus pitches, Purke will be worth keeping an eye on this year.

10. Zach Walters – INF | Last Year: 19

Walters was the return chip from the Jason Marquis trade in 2011 and has proven to be a consistent, heady player as he has moved through the system. With his athletic, strong body and a plus arm, he’s a switch-hitter whose solid defense profiles across the infield. He reached Triple-A by the end of 2012 and, at just 23 years of age, seems to have a bright future ahead.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

Ross & Craig’s USO Tour – Show On The Road

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Earlier this offseason, General Martin Dempsey – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – invited Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen on the annual USO holiday tour. While abroad, Detwiler and Stammen have sent us daily journal entries detailing the events of their trip. In the interest of security, these updates – including dates and locations – are delayed several days before their release.

From: Craig Stammen | Dec 13, 2012

The morning began at 6:45 a.m. down in the lobby. Today we would be going on an aircraft carrier to do our first show. The USS John C. Stennis would be our destination in the middle of the Persian Gulf, 50 miles off the coast of Iran. Now it’s about to get real! The next 12-15 hours would be some of the most memorable of my life.

From left to right: Stammen, Caps forward Matt Hendricks, Iliza Shlesinger, Kellie Pickler and Detwiler.

From left to right: Stammen, Caps forward Matt Hendricks, Iliza Shlesinger, Kellie Pickler and Detwiler.

We boarded the COD in full chest and headgear. We would be flying approximately 40 minutes before landing on the deck of the carrier, with only a cable to stop us, just like the fighter jets. We were warned that this would be quite the experience, but that the takeoff when we left would be more exhilarating. The landing turned out to be an indescribable experience. We landed so quickly after having been going so fast, I have really no idea what I felt or what had even happened. All I know is we were on an aircraft carrier.

We were paraded around the entire ship by all of the highest-ranking naval officers on the boat. They took us up to the Captain’s chair to watch the F-18s take off and land. This was the coolest thing I think I’ve ever watched in person – yes, even better than a Notre Dame football game. Later, we were allowed to move outside to watch more planes land. Being outside was an even crazier experience. As the plane landed and came to a stop via the cable, the noise and power of the plane would shake your body to the bone. It felt like your insides were moving!

After this exhilarating experience we were shown several other parts of the ship as we neared our first show! Our job for the show was to bridge the gap between the comedian and the musician. Sweeeeeet! What were we going to do, play catch with each other? The show turned out great. There were about 3,000 crew able to attend the show, and some of them were Nats fans! We talked for about 10 minutes and threw some signed souvenirs into the crowd.  Success on the first day!

Stammen and Detwiler check out the cockpit of a jet aboard the USS Stennis.

Stammen and Detwiler check out the cockpit of a jet aboard the USS Stennis.

Iliza was extremely funny and the crew loved her. Kellie did her thing as well. Next we took a few pictures and signed autographs and got to know some of the troops a little better. They were in such high spirits and even though I don’t think many of them knew who I was, they were very appreciative of us being there. What an honor to be able to do the things I did today. As things wrapped up, we said our final thank you’s, goodbyes, and good lucks. It was now time to be catapulted off the ship!

We were warned for a few days straight how nuts this would be. It was an adrenaline rush like no other. After we were in the air, I immediately wanted to do it again – how selfish! Sergeant Major Battaglia would explain to us that many people who had been in the armed forces for 30+ years have never been able to land and take off from a carrier like we just did. Well, all I can say is that’s another thing off my bucket list, even though, before this trip, I never thought it would have been on my bucket list to begin with! I’m running out of superlatives to describe this, but wow!

Our next stop was the naval base in Bahrain. We were given a tour of the facilities, watched the General address and answer questions for the troops stationed there, and were given a bomb dog demonstration.  A dog named Cherry was the most impressive canine we saw. Big, strong and smart – a beautiful animal helping protect the USA.

We finished the day by taking photos with a lot of families on the base. A few crazy Nats fans actually knew who we were! Kellie stole the show being at the center of all the pics! The day was finally over and I was done – literally I had no energy left. However, a two-hour power nap got me ready for dinner with the “talent,” minus Kellie. By now, we were all comfortable with each other and some of us had nicknames. We had Thickness and Cindy Lou Who leading our laughs for the night!

All in all, we’ve not only been enjoying once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but we’ve also been building great friendships along the way. I can’t wait to see what’s next…

2012 Player Review: Steve Lombardozzi

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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 take a closer look at another of Washington’s impressive rookies, Steve Lombardozzi.

While Bryce Harper captured the lion’s share of attention among Nationals rookies in 2012, there were a number of other first-year players who left an indelible mark on the campaign. One such player was Steve Lombardozzi, who as a 23 year-old broke camp with the big league club for the first time, following a September call-up the year prior.

Lombardozzi proved he belonged in the Major Leagues and became a crucial part of the Goon Squad.

Lombardozzi proved he belonged in the Major Leagues and became a crucial part of the Goon Squad.

Primarily a middle infielder, the Nationals called upon the Fulton, Maryland native to fill a number of roles early in the season when injuries had left the club short-handed. He played both left field and third base on multiple occasions in April and May, sparking the team when he got his opportunities. In his first home start of the year on April 16, he notched a career-high four hits and drove home the game-winning RBI in a 6-3 win over Houston. Lombardozzi also had three hits in each of the two wins over the Phillies during NATITUDE Weekend.

The former 19th round draft pick proved to be a huge part of the Nationals success. He batted .348/.392/.435 over 23 games in the month of May, when Washington leaned on him the most. But Lombardozzi really made his mark and secured his spot on the squad by posting a .308/.379/.385 line as a pinch-hitter as part of the Goon Squad. Factor in his defensive versatility, and he afforded Davey Johnson a myriad of options in late-game situations.

Lombardozzi’s impact in 2012 did not end in October, though. He teamed up with his dad – a former big leaguer himself – to spearhead Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  Through their hard work, the affectionately nicknamed “Lombo Combo” collected and donated 27,784 pounds of food and supplies to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

A local boy made good, Lombardozzi quickly grew into a fan favorite this year. He will not become arbitration eligible until 2015 and remains under team control through the 2017 season.

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

Top 12 of ’12: #4 – “The Catch”

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Top 12 Number 4The game-ending walk-off is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, as evidenced by five Nationals walk-offs making our Top 12 of ’12 list to this point. A game-ending defensive gem, one that robs the opposing team of a walk-off hit, happens far less frequently. Roger Bernadina’s August 7 play – simply known as “The Catch” – was one such moment that Nats fans won’t soon forget.

Nine games into a stretch of 17 contests in 16 days, the last thing the first-place Nationals were hoping for was a second consecutive extra-inning affair with the 36-74 Houston Astros. But after needing a three-ring circus to end an 11-inning contest the night before, the Nationals and Astros took a 2-2 game into the 12th inning before Danny Espinosa singled home Cesar Izturis to give the Nats a one-run lead. Davey Johnson summoned Tyler Clippard to close out the game, but the righty ran into trouble after a leadoff single and a two-out walk put the tying and winning runs on base for Brett Wallace.

On the fifth pitch of their battle, Clippard grooved a fastball over the middle of the plate and the left-handed hitting Wallace barreled it up, driving the ball deep toward the wall in left-centerfield. With both runners on the move with two outs, the only thing separating Houston from victory was The Shark. Bernadina raced at full throttle toward the alley – then, in a gravity-defying instant, leapt, glove outstretched, and met the ball at its apex before disappearing behind a padded concrete pillar in front of the visitor’s bullpen. After a heart-stopping moment, Bernadina emerged with the ball securely in his glove while reliever Craig Stammen celebrated in the ‘pen behind him. The Nationals won the game, went on to sweep the series from the Astros and cemented “The Catch” as the signature defensive play of the 2012 season.

- SEE THE REST OF THE TOP 12 OF ’12 -

Ross & Craig’s USO Tour – Q&A With Det

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Earlier this offseason, General Martin Dempsey – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – invited Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen on the annual USO holiday tour. While abroad, Detwiler and Stammen have sent us daily journal entries detailing the events of their trip. In the interest of security, these updates – including dates and locations – are delayed several days before their release.

Curly W Live: There were a lot of unknowns heading into your trip. How did the journey start?

Ross Detwiler: We were headed to the Air Force base and I had no idea what to expect. I knew we were going to be flying on the Blues and Whites, but other than that, I really had no expectations. We had a 6.5-hour plane ride over to Ireland where we stopped to refuel and had some breakfast. We got to go to the duty free shop there and then we got back on the plane another for another 6.5 hours to Bahrain.

CWL: When did they first make you aware of your destination?

RD: Once we were on the plane they told us we were going to Bahrain. That’s when we knew where our first stop was.

Detwiler poses with sailors aboard the USS Stenis.

Detwiler poses with sailors aboard the USS Stenis.

CWL: Describe your transportation – we hear it’s the same type of plane as Air Force Two?

RD: I actually haven’t seen the front of the plane yet, where most of the military travels, but there’s a big office right in the middle, which is General Dempsey’s quarters. In the back, there are two tables set up with two seats on either side of the table, which is where the higher-ranking officials sit – it’s like a little war room for them. Then there is a partition, and that’s where we’re sitting. We have two seats on either side and I’ve been snuggled up next to Stammen so far (laughing). We had assigned seating when we got on.

CWL: You’ve got country musician Kelly Pickler on this trip, who is the only entertainer who has done USO tours in the past. As the veteran of the group, has she given you any pointers?

RD: Each trip goes to different countries and different bases, so that’s what makes it different for her (Pickler), but she kind of told us what to expect. She’s really been a big help, because going in we had no idea what to expect, we didn’t know what the morale of the troops was going to be. We’re here to help that, but you don’t know how good or how bad it is. The two stops we’ve had so far, the morale’s been great, they’ve been really into the shows, and it’s actually been a whole lot of fun.

CWL: So what exactly does one of your shows entail?

RD: Our comedian, Iliza Shlesinger, goes first. She’s hilarious – she goes for about 20-25 minutes and the troops are just cracking up the whole time she’s up there, having a great time. And then Craig, Matt Hendricks and I get up there and we just thank them for what they’re going through here. It’s tough to know what to say to them, because they’re making the ultimate sacrifice to let us live the lives that we’re living. So we kind of take the show down a little bit, then Kellie comes on for the finish. It’s just good to be able to get up there and say thanks to that group of people, to shake their hands, take pictures and sign autographs afterward.

Detwiler and Stammen land on the USS Stennis.

Detwiler and Stammen land on the USS Stennis.

CWL: What’s your role in the show?

RD: We don’t have much time, we’re just going out there to say thank you, tell a personal story or two. They’re not there to see us, they’re there to see the performers do their job. They can’t really see us play a hockey game or a baseball game or anything.

CWL: Have you found that a lot of the troops recognize you?

RD: There’s a number of people from D.C. out here who are huge Nationals fans. They follow as much as they can. They can’t really watch on TV, but they follow us on the internet. It’s just kind of tough. They’re doing their job here, and with the time difference and all that, they can only follow online. But they are excited to follow us as a nice getaway from their job.

CWL: You left your honeymoon in Hawaii early to be here. How’s your new bride holding up with you away?

RD: She’s off in 80-degree weather and we’re stuck here in negative 10 degrees (laughing). She’s kept up with some emails to let me know how she’s doing, but it’s tough, because we can’t really tell her where we are. It’s got to be kind of nerve-racking for her to not know where I am when I’m halfway around the world.

CWL: What has been the most memorable moment of the trip so far?

RD: The first stop at the aircraft carrier off the coast of Bahrain. I didn’t know what to expect. The landing on an aircraft carrier is just unbelievable. We got to see the jets take off as they went on their training missions. You know that they take off, but once you see it, it’s incredible how little room they have. They go from 0-180 miles an hour in less than two seconds, then they’re off the flight deck and over the ocean. And that led into our first show, when we had no idea what to expect. We’re on the second deck of this aircraft carrier and the place is just packed. Thankfully, once Iliza went out there and had everyone rolling around laughing it took away some of the nervousness. We knew the morale was high, especially once Kellie went up there and everybody was singing along with her songs.

Top 12 of ‘12: #5 – Dirty Dozen

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Top 12 Number 5For the bulk of the season, the Nationals vaunted pitching staff – the best in the National League in 2012 – led the way for the eventual NL East Champions. With a slew of injuries to position players over the course of the year, Washington never really had its full complement of everyday starters on the field at the same time. But in late August, the Nats finally put together as close to a fully stocked lineup as they had seen all year. After pummeling the Cardinals, outscoring them 31-14 over a four-game set, they entered a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs with a chance to pad their division lead.

After eking out a 2-1 victory behind a strong performance from Ross Detwiler in the series opener, the bats caught fire like never before. On September 4, five Nationals combined to set a new franchise record by belting six home runs in an 11-5 thumping. How in the world could they follow up that act? By doing the exact same thing the next night, crushing six more longballs in a 9-1 victory, giving them 12 in just a 16-inning offensive span. Adam LaRoche led the way with three bombs in two nights, while Bryce Harper accounted for a pair of the blasts. At the height of the air horns and Chuck Brown’s Bustin’ Loose looped on repeat over the ballpark’s PA system, three Nationals – Roger Bernadina, Harper and LaRoche – homered in the same inning, all in a four-batter span, sparking the coining of a new phrase: The Nat Trick.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the display, though, was that eight different players contributed to the power barrage, helping Washington to a series sweep. The Nats went on to hit 194 home runs for the season, smashing the old Washington mark of 164 from 2006, as well as the franchise record of 178, set by the 2000 Expos.

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