April 2013

What to Watch for: 4.15.13

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Washington Nationals (7-5) vs. Miami Marlins (2-10)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-0, 2.08) vs. Wade LeBlanc (0-2, 3.27)

The Nationals hit the road for a six-game swing through Miami and New York, opening with a three-game series with the Marlins tonight. Washington swept the Fish to open the season back in D.C. just two weeks ago.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore 1B

7. Lombardozzi 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

ATTENTION SPAN!

Denard Span’s .423 on-base percentage is noteworthy beyond the fact that it ranks sixth among all Major League leadoff hitters. In recent years, Washington struggled mightily ranking 18th (.325 in 2012) and dead last (.285 in 2011) in on-base percentage from the leadoff slot.

EXTRA, EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT!

The Nationals pace the NL as 39.8 percent of their hits in ‘13 have gone for extra bases. Washington’s 93 hits include 18 doubles, two triples and 17 home runs. The Mets rank second in extra-base hit percentage at 39.4%.

CATCHING CAP

Davey Johnson and his 1293 career managerial wins appear poised to move into the top 30 all-time in the coming days. Johnson currently ranks 31st on the all-time list and trails Hall-of-Famer Cap Anson, who posted 1295 wins and a .578 winning percentage in 21 seasons (1875, 1879-98) primarily as a player/manager with the Phillies, White Sox, Chicago Colts and Giants. Before the season ends, Johnson has a strong chance to also catch and surpass Hall-of-Famer Ned Hanlon (#29, 1313 wins) and Chuck Tanner (#28, 1352 wins).

Remembering 42

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Every year on April 15, at ballparks across the country, young baseball fans will look down at the field and notice something different. Each and every member of both teams wearing the same number on the backs of their jerseys. Inevitably, those who do not know the reason will ask, ‘Why is every player wearing the number 42?”

Perhaps this year, the question will have already been answered.

Kendra Gaither (right) with several Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars at Nationals Park on Sunday.

Kendra Gaither (right) with several Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars at Nationals Park on Sunday.

With the feature film “42” opening in theaters nationwide last weekend, the story of Jackie Robinson has taken center stage. His stellar, 10-year, Hall-of-Fame career transcended the field of play, impacting society in a way that no other athlete has in recent memory. Deservedly, Jackie Robinson’s iconic number 42 jersey is the only one retired across the game of baseball.

“I see him as transformative, the way that he continued to advocate outside of baseball,” said Kendra Gaither, a volunteer and chair of the Mid-Atlantic Scholar Advisory Committee of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. “The integration of baseball and the transformation that Jackie Robinson helped to bring about in baseball was really a larger measurement of what was happening in our own society. That’s why I think the story of Jackie Robinson continues to grow.”

Gaither brought a group of scholars to the Nationals-Braves game on Saturday, after which they departed for a screening of the film. While the Nationals unfortunately do not play at home on Monday, they honored Robinson Saturday and will do so again on the road in Miami, as the entire sport dons Robinson’s 42 for tonight’s games.

The Nationals own Bryce Harper, a proud student of the game’s history, has listed Robinson as one of his personal heroes. Harper, of course, took home the Jackie Robinson Award as the top rookie in the National League last season. The award was named after Robinson, who won it himself in 1947, overcoming immense social and cultural pressures to help lead the Brooklyn Dodgers all the way to the World Series in his very first season.

“It’s incredibly moving to see all the players wearing 42,” said Gaither, who has taken part in Jackie Robinson Day at Nationals Park for the past two seasons. “To be able to come to Nationals Park and see how much it also means to the players and the fans that are here, it’s incredibly inspiring.”

The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded by Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, and has thrived for over 40 years, helping more than 1,400 students with a better than 99 percent graduation rate. To learn more about the Jackie Robinson foundation, please visit www.jackierobinson.org.

What to Watch for: 4.14.13

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Atlanta Braves (10-1) vs. Washington Nationals (7-4)

LHP Paul Maholm (2-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.82)

Washington looks to wrap up a winning homestand as the Nationals try to salvage the final game of a three-game set with Atlanta Sunday afternoon. In a battle of undefeated southpaws, the Nats send Gio Gonzalez against Braves lefty Paul Maholm.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

FOR STARTERS …

The Braves have handed the Nationals a pair of losses here the last 48 hours despite strong efforts on Friday from Ross Detwiler (7.0 innings, one run allowed) and on Saturday from Stephen Strasburg (6.0 innings, two unearned runs allowed). Collectively, Washington’s two starters have posted a 0.69 ERA (1 ER/13.0 IP), a 4.0/1 K-to-BB ratio, and a .191 batting average against in the two losses.

MASHING MEANINGFULLY

Bryce Harper team-best fifth homer in the first inning on Friday provided Washington an early 2-0 lead. Four of Harper’s five homers this year have either tied the game or given the Nationals the lead.

EXTRA, EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT!

The Nationals pace the NL as 41.6 percent of their hits this season have gone for extra bases. In ‘13, Washington’s 89 hits include 18 doubles, two triples and 17 home runs. The Mets rank second in extra-base hit rate at 39.4%.

Guess Your Players’ Pups

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In honor of our first Pups in the Park of 2013, we’re sharing photos of some of our players’ dogs with you. But which pup belongs to which player? Vote below, then check the comments for the answers!

If you weren’t able to make it for today’s Pups in the Park, we’ve got three more dates scheduled for 2013, so get your tickets now before they’re gone.

Bentley

Miley

Swag

Copper

Hollywood

Highlights: 4.13.13

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4.13.13 – Braves 3, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Stephen Strasburg surrendered just a pair of unearned runs over six innings of work, striking out seven Atlanta batters, but took the tough-luck loss.

Under-the-Radar Performance: The lone tally for the Nats came off the bat of Danny Espinosa, who drilled his first home run of the year off Braves starter Time Hudson in the fifth inning.

It Was Over When: The Braves added a key insurance run in the top of the ninth, as Jason Heyward was able to leg out the back end of a potential inning-ending double-play ball with the bases loaded.

What to Watch for: 4.13.13

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Atlanta Braves (9-1) vs. Washington Nationals (7-3)

RHP Tim Hudson (1-0, 3.27) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 4.38)

The Nationals and Braves meet for the second of this three-game set following Atlanta’s 6-4, 10-inning victory Friday night. In a matchup of Opening Day starters, Tim Hudson and Stephen Strasburg meet up in the Saturday matinee.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Strasburg RHP

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

At 7-3, the Nationals have matched their finest 10-game start since arriving in D.C. in 2005. Last season, Davey Johnson’s Nationals also jumped out to a 7-3 start and subsequently won seven of their next eight to post a 14-4 mark at the conclusion of play on April 25.

DET OF GRATITUDE, AND LITTLE ELSE

Despite facing two of baseball’s best offenses (Reds, Braves) and twice departing in line for the win, Ross Detwiler has been rendered a pair of no-decisions in two starts this season. Detwiler is, in fact, one of only two big league pitchers to work at least 13.0 innings and allow one earned run or less, but go without a win this season. The other is Carlos Villanueva, who has tossed 14.0 innings of one-run ball over two starts for the Cubs.

SPAN THE MAN

Denard Span has reached base safely at least twice in seven of Washington’s 10 contests this year. He has enjoyed three multi-hit efforts as well as a trio of multi-walk contests. Span has registered at least one hit and one walk five times already this year.

Highlights: 4.12.13

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4.12.13 – Braves 6, Nationals 4 (10 innings)

Stat of the Game: Ross Detwiler delivered another stellar outing, not allowing his first earned run of the season until there were two outs in the seventh inning, a string of 12.2 innings overall to begin the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: After swiping just one bag in the season’s first nine game, The Nationals stole four times without getting caught Friday night, with four different players – Ian Desmond, Byrce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth – each notching a steal.

It Was Over When: Ramiro Pena’s two-run home run cleared the wall in right field to put Atlanta ahead in the top of the 10th inning.

What to Watch for: 4.12.13

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Atlanta Braves (8-1) vs. Washington Nationals (7-2)

RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 9.00) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (0-0, 0.00)

The Nationals take on the division-rival Braves for the first time in 2013 after finishing off their second consecutive home sweep to key a 6-0 record so far at Nationals Park. Washington went 10-8 vs. Atlanta last season, including a 5-4 mark at home.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

TOP HEAVY

During the Nationals three-game sweep of the White Sox, the top three hitters in Davey Johnson’s lineup – Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper – combined to hit .471 (16-for-34) with a double, two home runs, seven RBI, four walks, two stolen bases and 11 runs scored.

ATTENTION SPAN!

Denard Span’s .475 on-base percentage is noteworthy beyond the fact that it ranks fourth among all MLB leadoff hitters. As recently as 2011, Washington ranked dead last in MLB with a .285 OBP from the leadoff slot. Last year, the Nationals improved to 18th in MLB with a .325 OBP from those batting first in Davey Johnson’s batting order.

GRAND-IOSE OCCASION ON THE HORIZON

Ryan Zimmerman has played in 999 career games. Zimmerman will become the first National to play in 1000 games in tonight’s series opener vs. Atlanta.

Welcome to the New Age

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There was a time, not long ago, when Ryan Zimmerman represented one of the only true threats in the Washington lineup. He trailed only Adam Dunn in intentional passes during the latter’s two-year stint in The District, and still led the 2012 Nationals in that category. Considering that, the thought of a player – any player – being intentionally walked to get to Zimmerman would seem almost farcical.

And yet, that’s exactly the situation in which the Nationals found themselves Thursday night, with Chicago White Sox Manager Robin Ventura electing not to pitch to Bryce Harper and face Zimmerman instead with two on and two outs in the fourth inning of a game Washington led 4-3 at the time.

Ryan Zimmerman is surrounded by a lineup chalked full of talent.

Ryan Zimmerman is surrounded by a lineup chock full of talent.

Unsurprisingly, the plan backfired. Zimmerman kept his head down and extended through a pitch low and away from White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod, sending it darting through a steady wind and over the head of right fielder Alex Rios for a two-run double to break the game open. What may be much more surprising is that the pitch driven by Zimmerman was Axelrod’s 103rd of the night, after the starter had recorded just 11 outs.

The difference in this year’s Nationals lineup from those of years past is both its balance and its incredible patience, the tendency for every batter to grind out each plate appearance, making the opposing starter sweat for each and every out. Consider the first inning Thursday night, in which Washington scored just once, but forced Axelrod to throw 40 pitches to just six total batters, an average of nearly seven pitches per plate appearance.

With Zimmerman moving to the fourth spot in the order this season, opposing starters have to contend with a prototypical leadoff man in Denard Span, the active Major League leader in pitches per plate appearance Jayson Werth, and the dynamic, unpredictable Bryce Harper before ever even getting to The Face of the Franchise, Mr. Walk-off himself. Thursday night, that meant 20 pitches – six to Span, 10 to Werth and four to Harper.

The outfield trio of Span, Harper and Werth wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers.

The outfield trio of Span, Harper and Werth wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers.

“That’s the point of the left-right-left-right  in the lineup,” said Zimmerman, referring to the symmetrical balance achieved in the offseason by the addition of Denard Span. “There’s really not anyone in our lineup you’d rather pitch to. There really aren’t any breaks anywhere in our lineup.”

Given the many ways Washington’s batting order is capable of hurting opponents, it’s only fitting that no White Sox starter survived the sixth inning in the series, the three hurlers combining for just 14.1 total innings. That’s what happens when a group of players learns that they don’t have to try to be the hero – if they are pitched around, the guy behind them will pick up the slack.

“That’s their decision,” said skipper Davey Johnson with a wry smile after the game, about the White Sox choice to walk Harper to get to Zimmerman. “I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”

The decision to walk anyone in front of Zimmerman is not one that had crossed opposing managers’ minds in quite a while. In fact, only one batter had been intentionally handed first base in front of Zimmerman since 2009, when on September 3, 2011, Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked by Mets reliever Bobby Parnell to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, as New York clung to a 7-6 lead. In that instance, Zimmerman delivered – what else – a two-run hit to right field, as the Nats walked off to an 8-7 victory.

Highlights: 4.11.13

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4.11.13 – Nationals 7, White Sox 4

Stat of the Game: A batter (Bryce Harper) was intentionally walked in front of Ryan Zimmerman for the second time in four years, after which Zimmerman swatted a two-run double to open up a three-run advantage.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Harper reached base four times, thanks to a pair of walks and singles, raising his batting average to .417 and on-base percentage to .447.

It Was Over When: The White Sox had closed the gap to two runs at 6-4, but Ryan Mattheus froze Paul Konerko with a 3-2 slider for strike three to strand two runners in scoring position and end the sixth inning, after which point Chicago would not threaten again.

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