April 2013

What to Watch for: 4.30.13

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Washington Nationals (13-13) vs. Atlanta Braves (16-9)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 4.30) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (2-1, 4.50)

The Nationals look to level this series at a game apiece following a 3-2 setback Monday night. Gio Gonzalez takes the hill for Washington as the club looks to move back above the .500 mark and cut into Atlanta’s 3.5-game division lead.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Espinosa 2B

3. Harper RF

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Tracy 3B

8. Ramos C

9. Gonzalez LHP

NEW FRONTIERS AHEAD

After the completion of this week’s four-game National League East tussle at Turner Field, the Nationals (6-7 against NL East) will play 18 straight games against foes outside the division.

PIVOTAL PRODUCTION

Ian Desmond (14), Danny Espinosa (9) and Steve Lombardozzi (2) have combined on 25 extra-base hits, tops among MLB middle-infield units. The Phillies (21) rank second behind the Nationals.

JIM LETT’S BUDDING BULLPEN

Jim Lett’s bullpen has excelled of late, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA (8 ER/34.2 IP) in 14 games dating to April 15. Lett’s relievers have posted a .178 batting average against and been touched for just two home runs during the 14-game revival.

A Story About Dave and Jack

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Last Friday, Nationals radio broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler attended an event at the Library of Congress which featured a great number of baseball artifacts on display. Many of the items were donated by Bob Wolff, the legendary Washington broadcaster who was part of the class inducted into the Washington DC Sports Hall of Fame prior to Sunday’s game on the field at Nationals Park.

“There were a lot of articles related to Jackie Robinson, including a handwritten letter from Robinson to Branch Rickey,” explained Jageler of the collection.

Among the pieces of history was a single, typewritten sheet written by one legendary baseball man about another one who, unbeknownst to either at the time, would ascend to legendary status himself.

The page was a scouting report written by a then-adviser for the St. Louis Cardinals about a young, Minor League second baseman. It read as follows:

 

September 14 & 15, 1964

Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester vs. Jacksonville

JOHNSON, DAVE            (Rochester Infielder)

            Tall, slim right hander now playing second base.            21 years old.            First year player.            Good looking fielder.            Good batting form.            A major league possibility.             Try to include him in any possible deal with Baltimore.

BRANCH RICKEY

Yes, that’s the same Branch Rickey, the one depicted by Harrison Ford in the recently released “42” about the life of Jackie Robinson, sharing his thoughts on the Nationals very own Davey Johnson.

Johnson, at age 21 in his first professional season, swatted 19 home runs while compiling a .264/.345/.458 line that season, also helping turn 62 double plays as a second baseman. Three years later, he would begin the 13-year Major League career that included four All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and a pair of World Championships.

“I knew Davey would be very flattered to know that Branch Rickey thought he was a tradable commodity,” said Jageler, who shared the story with Washington’s manager last weekend.

Needless to say, Rickey had a good eye for young talent.

Highlights: 4.29.13

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4.29.13 – Braves 3, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Washington collected four consecutive singles to score twice in the second inning, but could not add on in the frame and did not score the rest of the way.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Chad Tracy had two hits and an RBI in a spot start at third base.

It Was Over When: The Nationals could not capitalize on a chance to take the lead in the sixth, and Atlanta pushed ahead on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh.

What to Watch for: 4.29.13

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Washington Nationals (13-12) vs. Atlanta Braves (15-9)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.18) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 5.48)

Washington hits the road to open a four-game series and seven-game swing tonight in Atlanta. Stephen Strasburg takes this hill against the Braves for the second time this season after allowing just a pair of unearned runs over six innings in his other start.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Espinosa 2B

3. Harper LF

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Tracy 3B

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

BAGS PACKED

Starting tonight, 22 of the Nationals next 32 games through June 2 will take place on the road. Those 22 road contests not only begin at Turner Field, they end here too, as Washington returns to Atlanta for a three-game set, May 31-June 2. The Nationals are 4-5 thus far on the road in 2013. Last season, Washington posted Major League Baseball’s best road record at 48-33 (.593).

TRENDS FOR 2013

Washington is 11-1 when scoring first, but just 2-11 when their foe draws first blood. When totaling nine or more hits, the Nationals are a perfect 9-0. Washington is plating 5.8 runs per contest in 13 wins, but only 1.4 per contest in 12 losses to date. Despite the lukewarm start offensively, the 2013 Nationals have actually out scored the ‘12 Nationals by 11 runs (93-82) through the initial 25 games of their respective seasons. Washington is 4-1 in one-run games.

WINNING MONTH TO MONTH

The Nationals are 13-12 with two games remaining in April. With a win Monday and/or Tuesday at Turner Field, the Nationals would post a winning month of April. In 2012, Washington played winning baseball every month of the season: Sept./Oct. (18-13), August (19-10), July (17-9), June (15-10), May (15-13) and April (14-8). Dating back even further, including September of 2011, Washington has currently posted seven consecutive winning months.

Highlights: 4.28.13

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4.28.13 – Reds 5, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond collected two hits, including his National League-leading 10th double, plating Washington’s second and final run.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Craig Stammen had another big outing out of the Nationals bullpen, tossing two perfect innings of relief with two strikeouts.

It Was Over When: The Nationals got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but could get no closer.

What to Watch for: 4.28.13

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Cincinnati Reds (13-12) vs. Washington Nationals (13-11)

LHP Tony Cingrani (1-0, 2.25) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (1-1, 1.38)

The Nationals look for their first four-game sweep of the season as they take on the Reds in a battle of southpaws. Ross Detwiler puts his team-leading ERA on the line against promising Cincinnati rookie Tony Cingrani as each look for their second win of the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Espinosa 2B

3. Harper LF

4. Werth RF

5. Desmond SS

6. LaRoche 1B

7. Rendon 3B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

ONE (BE)FOR(E) THE ROAD

With Saturday’s 6-3 victory, the Nationals (4-2) clinched the season series win from Cincinnati. Washington has won two straight season series from the Reds for the first time since the Expos turned the trick in 2002 (5-1) and ‘03 (4-2). A win on Sunday would render a winning homestand for the Nationals, who were swept, three straight by the Cardinals to start the ‘stand earlier this week. In today’s finale, the Nationals will also attempt to register their first win on a Sunday in four tries this season.

BRYCE’S BIG LEAGUE BORN-ON DATE WAS ONE YEAR AGO TODAY

Exactly one year ago today, Bryce Harper made his MLB debut, going 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI in a 10-inning, 4-3 setback at Dodger Stadium. In a year since, Harper has played in exactly 162 games, which is the equivalent of one full big league campaign. During those 162 games, Harper is 175-for-616 (.284) with 31 doubles, 10 triples, 31 home runs, 77 RBI, 68 walks and 115 runs scored (tied for second in MLB). Those numbers render a slash line of .284/.356/.518.

OUTFIELD IS LOCKED IN AT THE PLATE

Nationals outfielders have combined on a .859 OPS, which currently ranks second in the National League and third in Major League Baseball. In eight previous seasons in D.C., the top OPS posted by a Nationals outfield was .804 in 2006.

Acquiring An Understanding

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Through the first 23 games of the season, Nationals fans had caught glimpses of the reasons Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on his three major offseason acquisitions, Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano and Denard Span. But although Haren earned his first Nationals win on April 11, Soriano had converted six of seven save opportunities and Span had shown an early propensity to get on base, none of the three had turned in a starring performance.

That all changed Saturday afternoon, as 38,903 red-adorned fans were treated to a beautiful day of baseball loaded with great pitching, clutch hitting and a pair of spectacular defensive plays.

Span saved at least four runs Saturday with two stellar catches.

Span saved at least four runs Saturday with two stellar catches, including this one of Joey Votto’s sixth-inning drive.

Haren turned in his strongest start to date, in which he was largely dominant over six solid innings, striking out five Cincinnati batters without a walk. Soriano slammed the door shut on the Reds hopes, fanning two of the three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 ninth. But Span stole the show, leaping into the left-center field wall to rob Joey Votto of extra bases in the sixth, then ranging far to his right to corral a line drive off the bat of Zack Cozart with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, one that looked like it might very well erase Washington’s three-run advantage.

“I got great jumps on both of those balls,” said Span after the game. “The Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today. It’s just fun for me to be able to go out there and show my speed and grab my ball like that in the gap.”

Haren and Span also got the scoring started, each placing two-out, RBI-singles between the Cincinnati defense in consecutive at-bats in the second inning.

With impressive performances all around by the newcomers, one could be forgiven for forgetting Bryce Harper’s team record ninth April home run, which also gave him the franchise mark for RBI (18) in the season’s opening month. And while all that may not have added up to anything nearly as historical as what happened in the first two games of the series, it was a recipe for success in one of the most complete games the Nationals have played so far this year.

“I was kind of disappointed when I gave up the second hit today,” joked Haren about having to follow back-to-back one-hitters as he improved his home record to 2-1 this year. “I finally feel like part of the team. I’ve got to be like this or better the rest of the year.”

If Haren can replicate Saturday’s success on the mound and Span can do the same in the field, Soriano will have that many more opportunities to untuck his jersey after he puts opposing lineups down for the count.

Highlights: 4.27.13

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4.27.13 – Nationals 6, Reds 3

Stat of the Game: Bryce Harper‘s fourth-inning home run was his ninth of the year and plated his 17th and 18th RBI, setting club records for the month of April in each category.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Denard Span had two hits and made two terrific, run-saving catches in the outfield to preserve the Washington lead.

It Was Over When: Span ranged far to his right to snare a bases-loaded, two-out liner off the bat of Zack Cozart in the seventh, keeping the Nationals ahead by three the rest of the way.

What to Watch for: 4.27.13

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Cincinnati Reds (13-11) vs. Washington Nationals (12-11)

RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 3.81) vs. RHP Dan Haren (1-3, 7.36)

Washington is coming off consecutive one-hit performances in the first two games of this series, which have helped the Nationals get back over the .500 mark on the season. Dan Haren looks for his second home win of the season as he squares off with fellow right-hander Mike Leake, who started the lone game the Nationals won in their recent series at Cincinnati.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Espinosa 2B

3. Harper LF

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Rendon 3B

8. Suzuki C

9. Haren RHP

ONE HIT, ZERO TOLERANCE

Washington blanked the Reds, 1-0, on Friday night at Nationals Park as Jordan Zimmermann posted the first shutout of his career. Zimmermann one-hit the Reds with Xavier Paul’s third-inning single serving as his lone blemish, walking one and struck out four. In the 4th, Bryce Harper tripled and scored the game’s lone run one batter later via Jayson Werth’s RBI-single.

CATT’S MEOW

Nationals starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or less in 10 of the last 11 games. During this 11-game span, Steve McCatty’s starters have compiled a stingy 3.20 ERA (25 ER/70.1 IP).

APRIL POWER BRINGS MAY FLOWERS

With four games remaining in the month, note that the Nationals have already hit 26 home runs and could challenge the team mark for April home runs (30 in ‘06). With 26 in the bag, the ‘13 Nationals have already secured the second-most powerful Opening Month in the club’s nine-year history.

One-Hit Wonders

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The Nationals have a short turnaround for Saturday’s matinee versus the Reds following Friday night’s contest, but we felt it was important to take a moment to truly appreciate what the team has accomplished over the last couple of nights.

On Thursday, Gio Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano combined to throw just the second one-hitter in the history of the young Nationals franchise. On Friday night, Jordan Zimmermann did all the work himself, needing just 91 pitches to finish a one-hitter of his own, his first career shutout.

Zimmermann threw his second complete game in his past three starts Friday.

Zimmermann threw his second complete game in his past three starts Friday.

It was the first time since August 10-11, 1917 that a Washington-based baseball club had one-hit an opponent on consecutive days, when first Walter Johnson, then a trio of Senators did so to the Chicago White Sox. Perhaps more impressively, it was the first time the Cincinnati Reds had been one-hit in back-to-back games since July 5-6, 1900, nearly 113 years ago.

For some perspective, the Brooklyn team that accomplished that mastery of the Reds was called the Superbas. The Flatbush Nine would not first begin adopting the nickname Dodgers for 11 more years, and would not make the permanent switch until 1932.

Gonzalez had shown that he was capable of such a performance as far back as last season’s home opener against this same Reds club, which he shut out on just two hits over seven frames. But the progression for Zimmermann, who turned in his first-ever nine inning complete game just two starts ago in Miami, was truly impressive.

“Since I’ve been here, that’s the best-pitched game I’ve seen,” stated Davey Johnson following Zimmermann’s latest gem.

Part of that was due to Zimmermann’s stunning efficiency, but a good deal of it can be attributed to the opponent he silenced. The Reds came into this series with the second-highest run-producing offense in the National League, just one run behind league-leading Colorado. They had posted double-digit run totals five times in their first 22 games before arriving in D.C. this weekend. And they scored 27 runs over the three-game set between these teams just three weeks ago in Cincinnati.

With their performances the past two nights, Gonzalez and Zimmermann made all of that seem about long ago as the age of the Brooklyn Superbas.

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