May 2013

What to Watch for: 5.31.13

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Washington Nationals (27-27) vs. Atlanta Braves (32-21)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.49) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.67)

The Nationals enter a three-game road series against division-rival Atlanta with Stephen Strasburg on the hill in a battle of right-handers. Washington split its other series at Turner Field earlier this season, winning the final two contests of the four-game set. Strasburg comes into tonight’s game with a 0.96 ERA (3 ER/28.0 IP) and 27 strikeouts over his last four starts.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi LF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche DH

5. Desmond SS

6. Bernadina RF

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

DAVEY’S 300TH

Tonight’s game marks the 300th contest that Davey Johnson has skippered for the Nationals. Johnson was named the team’s fifth manager on June 26, 2011, and he penned his first lineup card the following day when Washington opened a three-game set on the road against the Angels. Here’s a look at how Johnson’s first 300 with the Nationals stack up to his the first 300 at his previous stops:

Team             Years                First 300 gms         Accomplishments (first 300 gms)

Washington     ‘11-current         165-134 (.552)            ‘12 NL MGR, ‘12 NL East Champs

L.A. – NL         ‘99-00                150-150 (.500)           —

Baltimore        ‘96-97                174-125-1 (.580)        ‘96 Wild Card

Cincinnati       ‘93-95                 161-138-1 (.537)        ‘94 NL Central Champs

New York-NL   ‘84-90                 174-126 (.580)           —

ROAD WARRIORS

The Nationals continue a seven-game road trip from Baltimore (0-2) to Atlanta, tonight opening a 3-game set against the Braves. This weekend’s series at Turner Field completes a 32-game stretch for the Nationals that has included just 10 home games. Washington is 14-15 thus far in this span.

Highlights: 5.30.13

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5.30.13 – Orioles 2, Nationals 0

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren worked into the eighth inning allowing just two runs, tossing his fifth quality start of the season. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Roger Bernadina hit in all four games vs. Baltimore, finishing the series 5-for-16 with a double and two home runs.

It Was Over When: The Orioles added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to push ahead 2-0.

What to Watch for: 5.30.13

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Washington Nationals (27-26) vs. Baltimore Orioles (29-24)

RHP Dan Haren (4-5, 5.43) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia (1-2, 4.61)

For all the things Ryan Zimmerman has done as a Washington National, Wednesday night brought with it a career first: a three-home run game. Zimmerman hit his three rockets in typical fashion, too, pulling one into the bullpens in left-center, squaring the second shot to straightaway center, then going with a high fastball and blasting the final shot out to right. And while the accomplishment was somewhat overshadowed by the game’s final result, it was a great sign for a crucial member of Washington’s lineup.

With both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth still out, the month-long resurgence of Adam LaRoche has helped to fill the offensive void. But a hot-swinging Zimmerman – who doubled his yearly long ball total with his three Wednesday night – marks another key component to the bats supporting the excellent job done by the pitching staff so far this season.

“Tonight everything kind of came together in one game,” said Zimmerman Wednesday night, a statement that was not just limited to hit power display.

Coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, Zimmerman has been working to find his groove again defensively at third base. The one-time Gold Glove Award winner looked every bit of that, turning in a pair of highlight-reel defensive gems.

It was a nice (if entirely coincidental) touch that Zimmerman’s career game would come on World MS Day, the day dedicated to awareness of the condition from which his mother suffers.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Bernadina RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche DH

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Tracy 1B

8. Suzuki C

9. Espinosa 2B

RHP Haren

GOOD WOOD

After plating just 22 runs in nine games (2.4 runs per game) from May 14-22, Nationals bats have warmed up by averaging 5.2 runs per contest since. During the six-game offensive surge, Washington has hit .293/.336/.498 with 11 doubles, two triples and nine home runs. Washington’s .834 OPS ranks fifth in MLB in that span.

THE ORIOLE (PARK) WAY

Before Wednesday’s 9-6 setback at Oriole Park, the Nationals had allowed just seven total runs in their previous four games at Baltimore. Unfortunately for Washington, those four previous contests at Camden Yards included just a single win (3-1 on June 23, 2012) and a trio of 2-1 setbacks.

CATT’S MEOW

Steve McCatty’s starting staff has fashioned a 3.42 ERA this season that currently ranks third in MLB behind only the Cardinals (2.61) and Reds (3.19). Last season, Washington paced the National League and ranked second in MLB in starters ERA at 3.40.

Highlights: 5.29.13

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5.29.13 – Orioles 9, Nationals 6

Stat of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman homered in each of his first three at-bats for the first three-homer game of his career. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Roger Bernadina also homered, marking the second straight game in which he has gone deep.

It Was Over When: The Orioles turned a three-run deficit into a three-run advantage with a six-run seventh inning, providing the final margin.

What to Watch for: 5.29.13

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Washington Nationals (27-25) vs. Baltimore Orioles (28-24)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-2, 1.71) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (4-2, 3.68) 

The Nationals blasted four home en route to a 9-3 victory and a split of the home half of this year’s Battle of the Beltways. The series shifts north up I-95 for the final two games as Jordan Zimmermann looks for his league-leading ninth win in Washington’s lone trip to the Charm City this season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Bernadina RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Tracy DH

8. Suzuki C

9. Espinosa 2B

RHP Zimmermann

A WINNING MAY IS JUST A VICTORY AWAY

The Nationals are 14-11 in May with three games remaining on the month. Thus, Washington is one win shy of clinching a winning May, which is no small feat considering 18 of May’s 28 contests are road contests and the weighted winning percentage of the Nationals nine opponents in May is .508. Dating to September 2011, the Nationals have played winning baseball in seven of the last eight months.

THE AMERICAN WAY

The Nationals are 6-1 this season against the American League (3-0 vs. Chicago, 2-0 vs. Detroit, 1-1 vs. Baltimore). Washington is also 24-16 in interleague play since the beginning of 2011 and the corresponding .600 winning percentage paces National League clubs (fourth in MLB) during that two-plus year span.

TEN-ARD SPAN?

Denard Span has hit safely in nine straight games at a .317 clip (13-for-41) with three doubles, a triple, four runs scored, three RBI and a stolen base. Span is one game shy of registering the fifth double-digit hit streak of his career. In Span’s final campaign with the Twins (2012), he posted a career-high 12-game hit streak from April 18-May 1.

Turning On The Heat

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When a team is looking to find its offensive stride, as the Nationals have been through much of the early part of the season, they will try just about anything to get going. As baseball is arguably the most superstitious of sports, lineup shuffles will give way to bizarre rituals, including – but certainly not limited to – beard growing. Even manager Davey Johnson has gotten in on the act, sporting an ever-lengthening gray goatee over the recently concluded five-game homestand.

And while Washington’s offense began to pick up a tad – the bats registering three straight double-digit hit totals during the Philadelphia series for the first time since doing the same against the White Sox April April 9-11 – the Nationals hadn’t put together a real breakout game yet. That task was even taller with four regulars – Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth – each out of the lineup nursing various injuries.

The Nationals got production and power from all over the lineup Tuesday night.

The Nationals enjoyed production and power from all over the lineup Tuesday night.

But the game finally came on a rainy Tuesday night in D.C., and against one of the more unlikely foes available, no less. All year long, the toughest opposing pitchers against the Nationals lineup have been of the young, flame-throwing variety. From the Mets Matt Harvey (who, admittedly, has shut down pretty much everyone) to Los Angeles hurler Clayton Kershaw and his 1.68 ERA, Washington’s bats had struggled to find their timing. All that changed against Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman, who was brushing 98 on the Nationals Park radar gun.

Denard Span lashed the first pitch of the game for a loud out, then Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman each singled to set the stage for the red-hot Adam LaRoche. After laying off the first two pitches out of the strike zone, LaRoche turned on an offering from Gausman and blasted it into the right-centerfield seats. Four batters in, 3-0 Nats.

“When you see a couple guys getting on him early, it boosts everybody’s confidence,” said LaRoche of the first-inning outburst.

For a team that had gone 19-4 when scoring first and 22-4 when plating at least three runs this season, it was a welcome early sign. But what followed in the next eight innings may have signified a much more profound change.

Nathan Karns impressed enough in his first Major League start to earn another Sunday.

Nathan Karns impressed enough in his first Major League start to earn another Sunday.

The Orioles came back to tie the game in the fourth against Nathan Karns, called up from Double-A Harrisburg to make his Major League debut. No sooner had Baltimore done so than Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina, two Nationals still looking to find their groove at the plate, went back-to-back off Gausman, each on a two-strike pitch, to reestablish the three-run lead.

And while four home runs (LaRoche would add another late) will pretty much always win you a game, it was the notable lack of another number that should have Washington fans excited.

In spite of the powerful swings and the high velocity pumping in from the opposing starter, Washington struck out just once Tuesday night. Compare that to the eight whiffs they had against Harvey and the Mets or the 12 against Kershaw in Los Angeles.

LaRoche’s second home run in the eighth inning provided mere icing on the cake of this game and his torrid month of May. After a slow April, the slugging first baseman has put on a display this month, batting .341/.422/.648 with seven homers and 19 RBI, with still three games to play before the calendar reaches June.

With temperatures projected in the 80s and 90s all week in Baltimore and Atlanta, perhaps the Nationals bats will follow the weather and heat up for good, just as they did last season. And despite Moore’s claim that he hopes Davey “looks like Santa by the end of the year,” if LaRoche and the offense can maintain anything close to their recent output amidst the rising temperatures, the skipper may shave his beard sooner rather than later.

What to Watch for: 5.28.13

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Baltimore Orioles (28-23) vs. Washington Nationals (26-25)

RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 7.20) vs. RHP Nathan Karns (0-0, 0.00) 

The bats never got hot as the Nationals dropped the first game of the 2013 Battle of the Beltways yesterday. Washington looks to turn it around in a clash of rookie pitchers in the final game of a five-game homestand. Right-handed prospect Nathan Karns will get the start for the Nats, while the Orioles will put 22-year-old Kevin Gausman, who is making his second big league start, on the mound.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Bernadina RF

8. Suzuki C

9. Karns RHP

HERE’S TO A SWEET 16TH

Tonight, Nathan Karns will become the first pitcher to make a Major League debut for the Nationals in a starting role since Tommy Milone burst on the scene on September 3, 2011 vs. the New York Mets in a start that is likely best remembered for him homering on the first pitch he saw. Karns will be the 16th pitcher to debut in the big leagues in a starting role for the Nationals. The Nationals are 9-6 in these 15 debuts and the starters in those games are collectively 4-5 with a 5.40 ERA (45 ER/75.0 IP). The most recent of these 15 neophytes to pocket a debut win was Stephen Strasburg, June 10 vs. Pittsburgh.

LONG STREAK OF LONG BALLS

The Nationals have hit at least one home run in 72 consecutive series. The last time Washington played a homerless series was during a four-game set at Citi Field, September 12-15, 2011. As the Nationals did not homer in yesterday’s two-game series opener, the streak is on the line tonight.

STINGY WITH THE LONG BALL

Jim Lett’s bullpen has not allowed a home run at Nationals Park since April 12. Since then, Nationals relievers have tossed 46.2 homerless innings of relief at home, good for a 2.89 ERA over that span.

Highlights: 5.27.13

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5.27.13 – Orioles 6, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman had Washington’s lone multi-hit game and has hit safely in every game this homestand, raising his May batting average to .313. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Nationals pitchers stranded 14 Orioles baserunners on the afternoon.

It Was Over When: After Washington cut the deficit to 4-2 in the sixth, Baltimore responded with runs in each of the next two innings.

What to Watch for: 5.27.13

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Baltimore Orioles (27-23) vs. Washington Nationals (26-24)

RHP Jason Hammel (6-2, 5.37) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 3.66) 

After a slow start to yesterday’s game, the Nationals posted their highest single-inning output this season when they scored five times in the seventh. With Gio Gonzalez on the mound today, the Nats look to keep their bats hot as they face the Orioles in the first game of the 2013 Battle of the Beltways.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Bernadina RF

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

SUNDAY BEST

Washington topped the Phillies, 6-1, in the rubber game of a three-game set on Sunday at Nationals Park as Stephen Strasburg tossed 8.0 innings of one-run ball to out duel fellow-San Diego native Cole Hamels. In their first career matchup, Strasburg and Hamels matched zeros through six innings, but the Nationals broke the scoreless seal as Michael Young’s throwing error (at home plate) on Jhonatan Solano’s bags-loaded, 60-foot dribbler begat a five-run uprising in the seventh. Strasburg helped his own cause with two hits, including a double.

THE AMERICAN WAY

The Nationals are a perfect 5-0 this season against the American League (2-0 vs. Detroit, 3-0 vs. Chicago). Washington is also 23-15 in interleague play since the beginning of 2011 and the corresponding .605 winning percentage paces National League clubs (fifth in Major League Baseball) in that two-plus year span.

10 AGAIN

With 10-, 11- and 10-hit efforts the last three days, the Nationals have tallied three straight double-digit hit totals for the first time since sweeping a three-gamer from the White Sox, April 9-11 in D.C. (13, 11, 10).

The Reemerging Ace

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Baseball is a funny game to write about. Conclusions can be drawn from every minute action, but almost none of them are warranted. Those who have pontificated on Washington’s 3-0 start, or the Nationals ensuing ebbs or flows that have rendered them anywhere from five games over .500 (7-2) to a game under the break-even mark (13-14) since then have probably overreacted in both directions. As Davey Johnson loves to say, you’re never as good as you look when you win and never as bad as you look when you lose.

To that end, many of those who cover this game – and especially the Nationals – from afar were quick to jump to the conclusion this season that Stephen Strasburg was no longer the ace of Washington’s talented rotation. Never mind the fact that neither Strasburg nor the Nationals ever held him on such a pedestal above the rest of the staff. And certainly not to take anything away from Jordan Zimmermann, who has been arguably the most consistent starter in the game for the first two months of the season, but Strasburg’s dominance has slowly reemerged atop the rotation.

Strasburg has been a man on a mission since his return home to San Diego.

Strasburg has been a man on a mission since his return home to San Diego.

Ever since pitching in his hometown of San Diego two weeks ago, Strasburg has looked like a different pitcher on the mound. He tossed a career-long eight innings in that start, matching that workload again in front of 39,033 at Nationals Park on Sunday. Over his last four outings, the righty has allowed just three earned runs on 18 hits and eight walks in 28 innings (good for a 0.96 ERA) while fanning 27.

Only three times in his excellent 2012 campaign did Strasburg work seven full frames with nine or more strikeouts and no walks, in a loss April 28 at Los Angeles and in wins over the Braves on June 2 in D.C. and over the Mets July 25 in New York.

“It’s all about making adjustments,” said Strasburg of his game. “I didn’t start the year where I wanted to be, but all that matters is how you finish.”

Teammate Ian Desmond thinks Strasburg may be better than ever before.

Teammate Ian Desmond thinks Strasburg may be better than ever before.

The Nationals are certainly hoping Strasburg’s return to elite form can help guide their own rise. To that end, after being shut out by Cole Hamels through six frames, the offense scored five runs in the seventh, the team’s highest single-inning output since September 24 of last year. If the Washington bats can heat up with the weather, and Strasburg’s newfound dominance continues, it could be a lethal combination for NL East opponents.

Ian Desmond, who has been in The District ever since Strasburg’s heralded arrival in 2010, spoke the most telling words about the rise of the Nationals ace.

“This is probably the best we’ve seen him since he got to the big leagues,” said Desmond, despite noting his early high-strikeout performances.

The staff as a whole has already posted the third-lowest ERA in the league this month at 3.10, its ever-improving ace leading the charge.

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