April 2013

District 9: Julie Alexandria

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We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. On the docket today, new MASN sideline reporter, Julie Alexandria.

1. You’ve held quite a number of jobs already in your career. What do you think is the most interesting part of your resume?

I think the most interesting thing, if not the most random thing on my resume, would have to be The Maury Povich Show – and I promise it was not as a guest spot. I was actually a guest host for one show. But he happens to be a huge Nats fan, and his dad (Shirley) has a long history here.

2. You’re also a championship figure skater. At how high of a level did you compete?

I was a competitive figure skater for a really long time. I competed on a precision team, which is basically like synchronized swimming, or cheerleaders all doing the same formations, on ice. I competed up to a national level with the Superstars from Paramount, California. I also competed solo, by myself, up to the age of about 16. Then school took over and I had to make a choice. I do skate in my spare time, I keep it up, I try to skate as much as possible. But in New York (offseason home) in the winter it’s great, because there are so many outdoor rinks. So I’m always in search of a good ice skating rink.

3. In addition to hosting and reporting, you’ve also been a stand-up comedian. Do you have any funny stories?

(Laughing) Oh gosh. Yeah, I did some improv and some stand-up comedy for a while, I tried it out. It’s very difficult! It’s so much harder to make someone laugh than to make someone cry. It was a good challenge. I actually found out that I could do a really good Christopher Walken impression.

Care to demonstrate?

Depends on where it will be used. I’ll do it when the cameras aren’t rolling.

4. We know you just got to D.C., but have you found any favorite spots in town yet?

I actually just arrived to Washington on Sunday. I am fresh off the train. I have a lot of recommendations of where people have told me to go. I haven’t been to any restaurants yet, I haven’t seen anything, been to any museums yet, but I hope to go on an off-day.

5. You’ve worked in baseball before. What was your best memory of your time spent working around the game?

My best memory working in baseball would have to be Spring Training. There’s nothing like Spring Training. The access that fans get, the ability to be right there, up close and personal with their favorite players. It’s just a fun time. It’s before any interviews or detractors, and you’re just able to have fun and watch some baseball in a free and open setting.

6. You’ve also covered a lot of football in your career. What are some of the similarities and differences in the two sports?

I covered college football for three years, and I’ve also covered baseball for three years. So I think the similarities are in the players. I have such a great time interviewing them. That’s really my favorite thing to do, just to sit down and get to know the player, get to know who they are off the field as well as on the field. Get to know the human side of their sport, what it is about their sport that they love, that makes them want to get up and play every day.

They are very different. In my college football experience, they are younger. Baseball players are some of the smartest players.

7. What was the draw for you to come back to baseball and work with one team for the whole season?

Last season I covered college football and we were basically going around to a new school each weekend. There were some repeats, but the rosters were so big and so deep at every position. So it was great to be able to make the decision to come to one team, to get to really know the players, to be really involved and steeped in the culture, to get to know the fans, to get to know the entire baseball culture. I love baseball. I’ve always been a baseball fan. So that was really appealing to me, to be sticking with the same team, getting to know how their story is woven into the season, getting to know how they react to different pitchers, how they react in different cities, to different fans, what that experience is like.

8. Have you heard about the Nationals walk-off celebrations and, if so, how have you prepared yourself for them?

I have heard about said celebrations. Word around the campfire is that you guys like to take Gatorade and like to dump it on said sideline reporter and player during the interview. What is that? What is that? Really, is that an initiation thing? Is that something you do just to see the reaction? Or is it something you do specifically to ruin my outfits. I really don’t know, I’m really scared. I’m scared for my wardrobe, I’m scared for my hair. You don’t want to see this (pointing hair) without product in it, especially in the summer here in D.C., we’re going to have a problem. I’m a little wary.

I think of all the messages I received on social networking sites once people found out I was coming to the Nationals, every single one of them was about the Gatorade bath. Let me tell you something – I’ve got a plan. I’ve got a plan that might just get me through and avoid a few of those said Gatorade baths. Does it get old?

No, not really.

You guys just keep doing it. I’ve seen a couple of the slow motion ones online. Does that cancel out the pie? Does the Gatorade bath mean you also get a pie, or if you get the Gatorade bath, then you don’t get the pie? Do I get a pie with my Gatorade bath? How does that work?

Usually just the player gets the pie. Usually.

Is this in my contract somewhere? In my contract, does it say that I have to get a certain number of Gatorade baths? I would like to know.

Have you already signed it?

I did sign it. I should have asked.

9. What are you most looking forward to this season working with the Nationals?

I am definitely looking forward to meeting the fans the most. That is probably one of my favorite parts of the sport. And I think Nats fans are pretty awesome. From what I know of them, they are fantastic and they love their team. And they have a real reason to cheer for these guys this year. I’m really looking forward to meeting the players and traveling with the team, and again, being with the team the entire season to see what that’s like, really getting to know them as people as well as players.

And I’m really looking forward to a Gatorade bath. Just a couple. Not too many.

Highlights: 4.26.13

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4.26.13 – Nationals 1, Reds 0

Stat of the Game: The Nationals conspired to throw their second straight one-hitter, the first time a Washington team has achieved the feat since August 10-11, 1917.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Bryce Harper‘s one-out triple led to the only run of the game, as Jayson Werth singled him home with one of his two hits on the night.

It Was Over When: Jordan Zimmermann woke up Friday morning. The righty needed just 91 pitches to record his first career shutout and his second complete game this season.

What to Watch for: 4.26.13

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Cincinnati Reds (13-10) vs. Washington Nationals (11-11)

RHP Homer Bailey (1-1, 3.24) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-1, 2.67)

The Nationals snagged the opening contest in this four-game set with an 8-1 victory behind Gio Gonzalez last night. They send team wins leader Jordan Zimmermann to the hill against Reds starter Homer Bailey, who has a 0.90 home ERA, but allowed seven earned runs in just 5.0 innings in his lone road start of the season thus far.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 3B

3. Harper LF

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

FIRST THINGS FIRST

With the Nationals claiming Thursday’s series opener, 8-1, over the Reds, it should be noted that the Nationals have not lost a home series in which they won the series opener since September 5-8, 2011 vs. Los Angeles (Washington lost that series, two games to one, despite a series-opening victory). Since that series setback, Washington is 16-0-3 in series play at Nationals Park when earning a win in the series lid lifter.

AGGRESSIVE APRIL

Bryce Harper has already set a Nationals (2005-present) club record for home runs in April with eight. His long ball on Thursday moved him past Alfonso Soriano, who previously held the same April mark (seven in 2006). Harper’s 16 RBI is just one shy of matching Adam LaRoche (17 in 2012) and Ryan Zimmerman (17 in ‘06) for the club’s RBI standard in April.

JORDAN RULES DC

Jordan Zimmermann gets the starting nod for Washington hoping to extend his pitching excellence in the Nation’s Capital. Since the beginning of last June, Zimmermann is 7-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 starts at Nationals Park, during which Washington is 10-3 as a club.

Making The Adjustment

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It was only a matter of time.

That was the sentiment expressed by Davey Johnson and echoed from locker to locker throughout the Nationals clubhouse Thursday night following a complete and dominant 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Entering the evening on a four-game losing skid and looking to even the season series with the Reds at 2-2, Washington needed a good showing. They got it out of the gates from ace southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who silenced the powerful Cincinnati lineup. The Reds managed only a single hit through eight frames against Gonzalez, who walked two and struck out seven for his second win of the season.

Gonzalez shut down the Reds once again Thursday night.

Gonzalez shut down the Reds once again Thursday night.

It was a bit of a perfect storm for the lefty, who, in stark contrast to his 21-win season last year, had struggled to get ahead of hitters in his first four starts of 2013. For whatever reason, though, Gonzalez has always matched up well against the Reds, and he continued his mastery Thursday night.

“My job is to make sure we stay in the game as long possible,” said Gonzalez, who certainly did that, improving to 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA (3 ER/26.0 IP) in four career starts versus Cincinnati. “They’ve got a great hitting lineup…you’ve got to just go out there and trust your stuff.”

Perhaps more surprising, the Nationals offense came to life against a crafty soft-tosser in Bronson Arroyo. When bats are struggling, a pitcher that nibbles with a myriad of crooked deliveries is hardly a recipe for turning things around. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did, led by three-RBI nights from both Danny Espinosa and Denard Span. While Span’s slap-hitting style may have lined up well against Arroyo, it was Espinosa who provided the most crucial hits, plating Ian Desmond for the first run of the game on an RBI-double in the second inning before crushing a two-run shot into the home bullpen to break the game open in the third.

“In the past, I’d probably try to be real aggressive and swing real hard to generate power for the ball,” Espinosa said of facing a pitcher like Arroyo. “But tonight I didn’t. Tonight I let it come to me and just tried to get a good pitch…I thought that was a pretty easy swing on my home run. I thought they were both pretty easy swings.”

Ever solid on defense, Espinosa's bat came to life on his birthday.

Ever solid on defense, Espinosa’s bat came to life on his birthday.

While Gonzalez’s adjustment was more about getting back to what worked for him last season, Espinosa’s represents a more significant change from the player with whom most Nationals fans are familiar. All spring, Johnson encouraged his young second baseman to make his swing more compact, an adjustment that led to a .333/.358/.474 Grapefruit League slash line. To date, Espinosa had not been able to carry that success into the regular season, but Thursday night provided a glimpse of what it might look like if he does.

“His goal is to improve every year,” explained Johnson of Espinosa. “I feel like with what he was working on in the spring and what he did in the spring that it’ll start paying off for him.”

Espinosa acknowledged as much, but to see the results of his adjustment play out in a Major League game helped him be more circumspect about his change in approach.

“I was swinging too hard the last two years,” Espinosa explained of his approach. “In the minors, I never swung like that, I don’t know where it came from. I needed to get back to using my hands and not trying to use my legs to generate so much.”

If Gonzalez has regained his feel for the strike zone and Espinosa has found comfort in a simpler swing, it will go a long way in helping the Nationals climb back above .500 and stay there.

Highlights: 4.25.13

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4.25.13 – Nationals 8, Reds 1

Stat of the Game: Gio Gonzalez allowed just one hit over eight innings of work, striking out seven to earn his second win of the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: While Danny Espinosa homered and plated three on his 26th birthday, Denard Span also had three RBI, collecting three hits as well.

It Was Over When: Espinosa’s two-run shot in the third opened up a 6-0 lead from which Washington would never look back.

What to Watch for: 4.25.13

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Cincinnati Reds (13-9) vs. Washington Nationals (10-11)

RHP Bronson Arroyo (2-1, 3.54) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.85)

The Nationals and Reds open up a four-game weekend set as southpaw Gio Gonzalez takes on veteran righty Bronson Arroyo Thursday night. Gonzalez is 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA (2 ER/19.0 IP) in three career starts against the Reds, including his stellar Nationals home debut last year, in which he twirled 7.0 innings of two-hit, shutout ball.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 3B

3. Harper LF

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

BUZZARD’S LUCK

The Nationals currently rank 14th in the National League and 24th in Major League Baseball in batter BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) at .273. By excluding all homers, free passes and K’s produced by the offense, BABIP measures the percentage of batted balls that fall for hits and is a product of team speed, how hard a team hits the ball, the efficiency of the defense and random luck. With the addition of Denard Span, the ‘13 Nationals are likely faster than the ‘12 squad, which ranked fourth in the NL and fifth in MLB with a .308 BABIP. Washington’s drop off (-.035) in BABIP from 2012 to ‘13 is the largest in MLB.

FOR STARTERS

After Stephen Strasburg allowed just 3 runs on 5 hits in 7.0 innings on Wednesday, Nationals starting pitchers have now allowed three earned runs or less in eight of the last nine games.

GOOD COMPANY

Ian Desmond’s NL-leading 12 extra-base hits (eight doubles, one triple, three homers) are tied with the Yankees’ Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Jed Lowrie for the MLB lead among middle infielders.

Helping Heroes Heal

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There are some things in life that, no matter how many times you experience them, are always striking. One of the more extraordinary aspects of the Washington Nationals recent visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda was the mutual admiration and gratitude from both the players and the veterans and families they visited. It is a sentiment often expressed by both sides, but the repetition of thanks does not draw away from its significance.

As they have done annually since 2005, a group of Nationals players and coaches made the trek before Tuesday night’s game to spend a couple of hours with wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed. A total of 11 players – Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen and Chad Tracy – along with coaches Randy Knorr and Jim Lett and broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler visited with inpatients in the hospital as well as those working on their physical therapy at the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC). In between signing autographs and posing for photos, the team spent time listening to individual stories and thanking the veterans for their service. The ability to honor  members of our military is a unique opportunity that comes with playing here in D.C., one that Nationals players are keenly aware of.

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Of course, that support did not end with Tuesday’s visit. The Nationals will kick off the Patriotic Series, presented by SAIC, this Saturday, April 27 with Military Appreciation Day as they take on the Cincinnati Reds. Military members – active duty, dependent, reservist, or retiree – with a valid military ID will receive two free tickets, to that night’s game while supplies last, where Nationals players will sport their Patriotic Blue uniforms for the first time this year. Please visit http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ticketing/military.jsp for more details.

For more information on the Washington Nationals Military Initiatives, visit http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/community/military_initiative.jsp

Highlights: 4.24.13

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4.24.13 – Cardinals 4, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Jayson Werth mashed his fourth home run of the season, giving him the second most on the team behind only Bryce Harper (seven).

Under-the-Radar Performance: After a three-run first inning, Stephen Strasburg allowed just two baserunners over six scoreless frames the rest of the way.

It Was Over When: Washington could not capitalize on a pair of threats with the potential go-ahead run on base in the sixth and seventh innings.

What to Watch for: 4.24.13

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St. Louis Cardinals (12-8) vs. Washington Nationals (10-10)

LHP Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.22) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-3, 2.96)

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg makes the 50th start of his young career Wednesday afternoon as the Washington squares off with St. Louis for the final time in The District in the 2013 regular season. These two teams will not meet again until a three-game set under the Gateway Arch September 23-25.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Moore 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Espinosa 2B

7. Rendon 3B

8. Solano C

9. Strasburg RHP

BRYCE AND THE NL’S BIG 5

Bryce Harper ranks among the National League’s top five in the following categories: OPS (second, 1.156), multi-hit games (second, 10), slugging percentage (second, .718), total bases (second, 51), home runs (tied-second, seven), hits (tied-second, 26), extra-base hits (tied-third, 11), batting average (fifth, .366), batting with RISP (fifth, .538) and outfield assists (tied-fifth, two).

JIM LETT’S BUDDING BULLPEN

Jim Lett’s bullpen has excelled since embarking on last week’s road trip, going 1-0 with a 1.99 ERA (5 ER/22.2 IP) in seven games (Jordan Zimmermann tossed a complete game on April 15 at Miami). Lett’s relievers have posted a 6.0/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to a .167 batting average against during the seven-game revival.

TOUGH SLEDDING

The Nationals are five games into a 19-game stretch in which they will exclusively play teams with .500-or-better records: three at New York (1-2), three vs. St. Louis (0-2), four vs. Cincinnati, four at Atlanta, three at Pittsburgh, two vs. Detroit.

20/20 Vision

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“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

Alright everyone, time for some perspective.

If all you read about the Nationals season so far were the comments left on various social media forums, you would probably surmise that the world had tilted off its axis, sending Nationals Park hurtling into an alternate universe where Bryce Harper was fighting off an alien invasion with nothing more than a bag of bats. At the very least, you’d think the District Nine were off to some frighteningly horrible start through their first 20 games – perhaps a league-worst 5-15 mark, or something of the like.

Ross Detwiler has turned in four straight quality starts to open the year.

Ross Detwiler has turned in four straight quality starts to open the year.

But no, through 20 games – during which the team has openly admitted it has not played its best baseball – the Nationals are 10-10. Through 20 games last season, they were 14-6 (before dropping to 14-9). While that 20-game sample may seem significantly better, it’s really just four games in the standings.

Conversely, there are signs this team is starting to improve its play. After averaging an error per game through the first 18 contests, the Nationals have played error-free ball the last two nights, over which their numbers four and five starters have combined with the bullpen to allow just five runs in 18 innings (2.50 ERA) against one of the top offenses in the National League. All they need is for the bats to get going, an adjustment they also needed to make early last season.

Still, through 20 games this season, the Nats have scored 74 runs. Through 20 games last year, they had scored 71.

Now, let’s put the opening of the season in some greater historical perspective. Here are the records of the last five World Series Champions through 20 games:

2012 San Francisco Giants: 10-10

2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 11-9

2010 San Francisco Giants: 12-8

2009 New York Yankees: 10-10

2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 10-10

Sensing a trend? Great, stay with us – it only gets better. We caught up with Yahoo! Sports Baseball Columnist Jeff Passan on Tuesday morning about what he thought of Washington’s start.

Bryce Harper has been the most consistent offensive performer so far.

Bryce Harper has been the most consistent offensive performer so far.

“A team’s last 20 games tells you a lot more than their first 20,” he explained. “By June 1, you should have a pretty decent idea of how good (the Nationals) are, and I think they’ll be right where everyone expects them to be.”

Passan picked the Nationals to go to the World Series. Last year. He’s been following the rise of the team for quite a while, and is not the least bit worried. However, even his deadline may be a bit premature. Here were the five eventual 2012 MLB Division Champions records (other than the Nationals) entering play on June 1 last season:

New York Yankees: 27-23

Detroit Tigers: 23-27

Oakland Athletics: 22-29

Cincinnati Reds: 28-22

San Francisco Giants: 27-24

Yes, that’s right. The other five Division Champions were a combined two games over .500 on June 1 (127-125), a full 30 additional games past the point where your Nationals sit today.

Baseball is a long season. It is not football. Every game does not make or break you. It seems we forget this each year, when baseball flows away from our conscious, hibernating in its cave until the earth defrosts again and spring arrives. We seem to take our frantic sense of football urgency with us into the beginning of the baseball season, to overvalue both wins and losses in dramatic fashion.

Last year’s Nationals lost three or more consecutive games eight times. They lost five in a row twice. There’s a pretty good chance this year’s team will endure similar stretches as the season goes on. These Nationals have also shown they’re capable of winning streaks, such as their resounding 3-game sweep to start the season. There’s every reason to believe that there are many more of those runs to come.

But for now, Nationals fans, it’s still just April 24 and your team is 10-10, sharing second place in the NL East. Sit back and enjoy the ride, we’ve still got quite a long ways to go.

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