June 2013

District 9: Wolf Blitzer

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The video below is a supplemental bonus feature for the District 9: Wolf Blitzer, from the 2013 Nationals Yearbook. For the full interview, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2013 Nationals Yearbook at the the ballpark.

A Whole New Yearbook

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The 2013 Nationals Yearbook has arrived and is now available at Nationals Park. See the cover below, and be sure to pick up a copy the next time you’re at a game!

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The Walking Dead

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For six innings Wednesday night, as they have much of the season to date, the Nationals struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. And then, slowly, piece by piece, the offense collected itself, as the bats awakened just in the nick of time to force extra innings and steal a win to end a long, grinding road trip.

The bats lay dormant, unable to generate anything more than Adam LaRoche‘s second-inning single through six frames. Meanwhile, two batters in, the Phillies were out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of Michael Young’s two-run home run. Gio Gonzalez settled in after that, as he did not allow a hit the rest of the way through seven innings of work. He notched 11 strikeouts, the most he’s ever recorded as a member of the Nationals, matching his career high.

Jayson Werth deilvered a pair of clutch, two-out, RBI-singles to force extra innings.

Jayson Werth deilvered a pair of clutch, two-out, RBI-singles to force extra innings.

Finally, a solid, patient at-bat by Ryan Zimmerman led to a one-out walk in the seventh, and he stood at second base with two outs and Jayson Werth coming to the plate. The former Phillie reached out and rapped a single to right field to score the run and cut the lead in half, a big clutch hit in a season sorely needing more of them.

After a quiet eighth frame, the Nationals would be tasked with trying to deliver Jonathan Papelbon his second blown save in three nights after entering the series a perfect 13-for-13 on the season. Denard Span, whose job in most any situation – but especially this one – is to get on base, did just that, chopping an infield single. He remained at first until, with two outs, LaRoche walked, bringing up Werth once more. He, of the “be ready to eat some face” comment following the tough loss the night before, ripped another two-out, RBI-single, this one to left, as Span flew around third, scoring the tying run without a throw. But, as had been the case Monday night in Papelbon’s blown save on Chad Tracy‘s pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike home run, the Nationals were unable to push ahead. Ian Desmond struck out, stranding runners at the corners, spiking his helmet in frustration.

“After the at-bat against Papelbon, I’m just thinking, ‘Give me one more chance,’” Desmond said after the game.

The Washington bullpen conspired to afford Desmond and the Nationals that opportunity. Tyler Clippard fired an inning and two thirds of scoreless ball, giving way to Ian Krol, who got Dominic Brown – Monday’s hero – to end the bottom of the ninth. After the Nationals offense threatened, but failed to score, in the top of the 10th, Drew Storen fanned a pair and put up a zero in the bottom half, taking the game to the 11th inning.

Ian Desmond's first career grand slam won it in the 11th.

Ian Desmond’s first career grand slam won it in the 11th.

With one out, it was again Zimmerman who got the wheels turning, lacing a low liner to the left-center field wall for a double. That prompted Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and the Phillies to play matchup, deciding to intentionally walk LaRoche to get to the man with both of Washington’s RBI, Werth. An unintentional walk later, the bases were loaded, Desmond stepping to the plate with the second chance he begged for earlier. After falling behind 0-2, the shortstop worked the count back to 2-2, where he annihilated a hanging slider from Michael Stutes into the seats beyond the left-center field wall.

“I did the same thing I always do,” said Desmond when asked about the blast after the game. “See the white ball, put the barrel on it.”

Before Desmond had reached the jubilant visitors dugout, rivers of Phillies fans had already begun streaming for the exits, an actualized shifting of the tides. Rafael Soriano quietly shut the door, and the Nationals returned to Washington with an enormous win and a positive end to their road trip, thanks to perhaps the biggest swing of the season from their shortstop.

“He’s quite a character,” said Nationals skipper Davey Johnson of Desmond. “He’s got a lot of big hits for us in the past.”

It was Desmond’s first career grand slam (and Washington’s first of the season), but he has had plenty of success with the bases loaded, as it was his 17th hit in 40 such at-bats, good for a .425 batting average. The timing and importance of the blast hearkened back to Desmond’s game-winner on May 2, 2012, when he swung a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory with a two-out, walk-off blast off Arizona’s J.J. Putz.

“That’s like how I remember it from last year,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki of the feeling in the dugout after the blast. “It was pretty exciting.”

If Wednesday night’s series finale in Philadelphia turns out to be a microcosm of the 2013 Nationals season, recounting what has happened to date and foreshadowing what lies ahead, we are all in for a nerve-fraying, heart-stopping, hair-graying ride before the year is done. But if the ending portends anything of the future, it will have been worth the ride.

Highlights: 6.19.13

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6.19.13 – Nationals 6, Phillies 2 (11 innings)

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond blasted the first grand slam of his career and the first Nationals slam of the season to break a 2-2 tie in the 11th.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jayson Werth had a pair of two-out RBI to bring the Nationals back late and force extra innings.

It Was Over When: Desmond crushed a hanging, 2-2 slider from Michael Stutes over the left-center field wall.

What to Watch for: 6.19.13

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Washington Nationals (34-36) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (35-37)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.40) vs. RHP Kyle Kendrick (6-4, 3.76)

The Nationals wrap up their nine-game, three-city road swing, concluding a stretch of 38 games in which 28 have been on the road. Gio Gonzalez will look to get back in the win column for the first time since May 5 at Pittsburgh. Gio’s lack of victories over his past seven outings has been no fault of his own, however, as he has posted a sterling 2.12 ERA (11 ER/46.2 IP), a 1.07 WHIP and a .185 batting average against over that stretch.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Lombardozzi LF

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

BENCH (IM)PRESS

Including Jeff Kobernus’ pinch-homer in the eighth inning last night, Washington’s bench (including all players not starting on any given day) is 5-for-13 with a double, three home runs and three RBI in the last five contests. Chad Tracy contributed two of the aforementioned home runs, a game-tying pinch-homer in the ninth inning of Saturday’s win at Cleveland and a game-tying blast in the ninth inning on Monday at Philadelphia.

SINGLE CRUISES

The Nationals have blasted eight home runs in their last four contests, all of which were hit with the bases empty (eight of the nine homers hit on this road trip have been solo shots). In all 39 of the 63 homers Washington has hit this season (62%) have been solo trips around the bases. 10 teams in the Major Leagues have higher percentages of solo homers in 2013, paced by Philadelphia (72%, 49/68).

THE ROOKIE IS RAKING

Anthony Rendon has reached base safely in 16 straight MLB games, pocketing a .462 on-base percentage (22 hits, eight walks) during astretch that spans two stints with the Nationals. During this stretch, the rookie posted a career-best 10-game hit streak from May 2-June 16.

What to Watch for: 6.18.13

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Washington Nationals (34-35) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (34-37)

LHP Ross Detwiler (2-4, 3.02) vs. LHP Cliff Lee (8-2, 2.55) 

Denard Span is back in the lineup for Washington following a night off last night, after he fouled a pitch off his foot Sunday in Cleveland. Span is a career .350 hitter (7-for-20) against Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who will be opposed on the mound by Nationals southpaw Ross Detwiler, seeking his first win since May 10.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombardozzi LF

9. Detwiler LHP

ADDITION BY DIVISION

Washington has amassed just a 12-13 division record so far in 2013 (Atlanta 3-7, Miami 5-1, New York 2-3, Philadelphia 2-2), but has 51 games remaining within the National League East this season, including tonight’s tilt in Philadelphia. The Nationals were a combined 42-30 in division play last season.

DECIPHER THE PHIFER

The Nationals have hung three losses on Clifton Phifer Lee in his eight career starts against them, tied for second most among National League clubs (Atlanta 4, St. Louis 3). The most recent of those losses came in Lee’s last start against Washington, a 5-1 Nationals victory on October 3, 2012, in which he allowed two home runs, one of them to Ryan Zimmerman.

ONE-RUN FUN

Despite Monday night’s 5-4 setback, Washington owns the National League’s best record in one-run games at 18-13 (.619). Nine of the Nationals last 15 games have been decided by a single score (5-4). The club also own the league’s best mark (19-3) when scoring last in a game.

50 for 20

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Ian Desmond has been brewing something special lately.

Even as the Nationals have been swaying around the .500 mark this season, they’ve been fortunate enough to boast some exceptional performances. Anchoring the pitching rotation is Jordan Zimmermann, who is tied for second in the National League wins and is seventh with a 2.44 ERA. Rookie left-hander Ian Krol has been impressive in short relief, and Ross Ohlendorf — he of the vintage kick-and-deliver windup — shone in his Nationals debut Wednesday in Colorado.

A Gold Glove finalist last season, Desmond is stating his case again this year.

A Gold Glove finalist last season, Desmond is stating his case for the award again this year.

Then there’s Desmond. Fresh off a career-high 15-game hitting streak that ended Friday night in Cleveland, Desmond has quietly provided consistency in a lineup desperately in need of a spark.  After batting .220 in May, Desmond turned it up, starting with a visit from Baltimore on May 27. Since then, he’s hit .357 (25-for-70) and is a scorching .385 so far in June. He’s also reaching base at a .439 clip for the month.

During a 3-2 win over the New York Mets on June 4, Desmond was 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, and RBI and a run scored. In a doubleheader against the Twins on June 9, Desmond belted three hits, tallying two RBI and two runs scored in the afternoon bill, while providing the game-winning RBI double in the seventh inning of the nightcap. He knocked in three of the Nats five runs in a win over the Rockies on June 12, all with two outs, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk. The next day, he added four more hits on a 4-for-4 outing with an RBI and a run. The Nats won 5-4.

The shortstop has 14 RBI through 14 games in June to bring his total to 34. He’s also leading the team with 73 hits.

If that’s not enough, Desmond’s stepped up his game on defense as well. After a shaky start of the season, during which he committed seven errors in the first three weeks, Desmond hasn’t had a miscue since April 21. That’s a career-high 50 games without a mistake in the field, the longest active streak among Major League shortstops.  His recent performance hearkens back to a stellar 2012 in which Desmond was a Gold Glove finalist.

That’s the kind of production that will hopefully rub off on the rest of the clubhouse as the season wears on. Perhaps it’s already starting to: rookie infielder Anthony Rendon has hit safely in 10 straight games and first baseman Adam LaRoche strung together a nine-game hitting streak of his own to start the month. On the defensive side, Ryan Zimmerman has committed just two errors since May 18.

If nothing else, Desmond is providing a blueprint for the rest of the lineup to follow. Hopefully his performance is a harbinger for things to come.

What to Watch for: 6.17.13

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Washington Nationals (34-34) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (33-37)

RHP Dan Haren (4-8, 5.70) vs. LHP John Lannan (0-1, 6.14) 

The Nationals make their first of three trips to Philadelphia this season as they open a three-game set against former teammate John Lannan at Citizens Bank Park. Dan Haren toes the rubber for Washington, as the club looks to push back over the .500 mark for the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Kobernus CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. Desmond SS

6. Marrero 1B

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombardozzi LF

9. Haren RHP

STREAKING SHORTSTOP

Ian Desmond has reached base safely in 18 straight contests, pocketing a .364 batting average (24-for-66) and .417 on-base percentage with five walks, four doubles, three homers, eight runs scored and 13 RBI over that span. Desmond has recorded hits in 16 of the aforementioned 18 games, including a career-best 15-game hit streak. Defensively, Desmond has played a career-high 49 consecutive errorless games (200 total chances) since last committing a miscue on April 21 at New York (NL), marking the longest current streak of its kind among big league shortstops.

MINOR (LEAGUE) VICTORIES

The Hagerstown Suns yesterday secured a postseason berth with a 38-29 (.567) first-half record in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Manager Tripp Keister’s Suns have won their last three contests and are 5-1 in their last six games. Last week, Brian Daubach’s Potomac Nationals (42-27, .609) grabbed a postseason spot when they were crowned the Carolina League’s First Half Northern Division Champs.

PHINDING PHOOTING IN PHILLY

Washington is 18-12 (.600) against the Phillies under Davey Johnson, including a 4-1 mark in one-run contests. Before going 10-8 against the Phillies in 2011, the Nationals/Expos had won only two season series from Philadelphia the previous 14 years.

Highlights: 6.16.13

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6.16.13 – Indians 2, Nationals 0

Stat of the Game: Anthony Rendon had three of Washington’s seven hits, and is now batting .361 on the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Stephen Strasburg allowed just one hit over five innings, but absorbed the tough-luck loss.

It Was Over When: The Indians added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to stretch the lead to its final margin.

What to Watch for: 6.16.13

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Washington Nationals (34-33) vs. Cleveland Indians (33-34)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (4-4, 4.08)

Following Saturday night’s thrilling, 7-6 victory, the Nationals activated Stephen Strasburg for the series finale in Cleveland. Strasburg was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA (4 ER/25.0 IP) in his final four starts before landing on the Disabled List.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman DH

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Tracy DH

8. Solano C

9. Bernadina LF

Strasburg RHP

THE ROOKIE IS RAKING

Anthony Rendon brings a nine-game hit streak into today’s contest, having batted at a .429 (15-for-35) clip with three walks, five doubles, his first career homer, six runs scored and five RBI during the stretch. He has posted multi-hit efforts in five of the nine contests. Rendon has also reached base safely in 13 straight MLB games, pocketing a .472 on-base percentage (18 hits, 7 walks) during that stretch that spans two stints with the Nationals.

INTERLEAGUE UPDATE

After today’s matinee tilt against the Indians, the Nationals will take a 43-day hiatus from Interleague Play before opening a two-day series at Detroit on July 30. Washington is 9-5 against the AL this season, having gone 3-1-1 in series play against the junior circuit. The Nationals lead the National League and are tied with Tampa Bay (9-1) for the Major League lead with nine Interleague wins this season.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

In addition to GM Mike Rizzo, who came from a baseball scouting family (grandfather Vito, father Phillip), three Nationals players have followed in the footsteps of their big-league dads: Adam LaRoche (father Dave LaRoche played 14 seasons, ‘70-83), Steve Lombardozzi (father Steve Lombardozzi Sr. played six seasons, ‘85-90) and Jayson Werth (grandfather Ducky Schofield played 19 seasons, ‘53-71; stepfather Dennis Werth played four seasons, ‘79-82).

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