June 2013

The Fresh Grind

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There’s no other way to put it. This was a game the Nationals needed to win.

Especially after scoring just once behind Gio Gonzalez the night before, with the Indians winning in the bottom of the ninth. Especially with the offense responding for five runs, including three homers, through the first three innings behind Jordan Zimmermann. Especially after Zimmermann couldn’t hold that early advantage, the Indians chipping away and finally pushing ahead with a half-dozen two-out RBI.

And then, the hit that always seemed to be there in 2012, but seldom thus far in 2013, came to save the day. With two outs in the eighth, on an 0-2 pitch, pinch-hitter Chad Tracy smoked a rocket to the right of dead center field, the ball escaping the reach of a leaping Michael Bourn over the wall for a game-tying, solo home run.

Anthony Rendon's first Major League home run was a big one, giving the Nationals a crucial road win.

Anthony Rendon’s first Major League home run was a big one, giving the Nationals a crucial road win.

Then, again, the Nationals saw something they had seen precious little of to this point in the season. The baseball gods smiled down upon them, as with two outs in the ninth, Anthony Rendon skied a pop-up behind first base in foul territory. Nick Swisher backed up to make the play, but stopped as he seemingly expected to be called off by second baseman Jason Kipnis at the last moment. The ball dropped between them in foul territory, breathing new life back into the Nationals rookie’s at-bat.

Two pitches later, Rendon cashed in, sending a line shot to the opposite field for what would turn out to be the game-winning home run. As anyone who follows the game closely knows baseball has a funny way of doing that, of making teams pay for giving the opposition extra opportunities.

“(Jhonatan) Solano and I were calling it after the miscue on the pop-up,” said Tracy of Rendon’s blast. “We could have easily put our heads down and folded up. But that’s the makeup of this team, (even though) we may not have showed it a lot so far.”

The Nationals still needed to survive the bottom of the ninth, though, which included a two-out double, followed by a bullet off the bat of Bourn right at Adam LaRoche for the final out. A night after the first baseman’s throw to the plate was a hair late to cut down the winning run, he secured the game’s final out in his mitt.

Instead of another setback for Washington, it was a step forward, a return to a winning record. With Stephen Strasburg rejoining the club and taking the hill Sunday, the Nationals can set their sights on winning a third consecutive series.

Even in just his 16th Major League game, Rendon recognized the importance of that single result, of what it means to any team, in any season.

“It’s great to have the comeback win,” he said. “Especially when we had a pretty good lead at the beginning of the game. (The Indians) fought their tails off to come back. We never gave up, though. We kept going out there and kept grinding.”

It’s a win the Nationals needed, but on a larger scale it is the exact type of win the Nationals needed to prove to the rest of the league, and to themselves, just what this team is capable of accomplishing.

Highlights: 6.15.13

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6.15.13 – Nationals 7, Indians 6

Stat of the Game: The Nationals matched a season high by swatting five home runs off the bats of five different players (Desmond, Rendon, Tracy, Werth, Zimmerman).

Under-the-Radar Performance: Chad Tracy came off the bench to swat the game-tying blast on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the eighth inning.

It Was Over When: Anthony Rendon‘s first Major League home run snuck over the right-field wall in the top of the ninth to put the Nationals ahead for good.

What to Watch for: 6.15.13

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

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-3, 2.00) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (3-4, 5.33) 

Jordan Zimmermann takes the hill for Washington in search of his 10th win of the season, which would tie him for the Major League lead. He will be opposed by Scott Kazmir, who is a perfect 3-0 with a 3.68 ERA in four home starts this season, his first back in the big leagues following an injury during the 2011 campaign.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Marrero DH

8. Suzuki C

9. Kobernus LF

Zimmermann RHP

START ME UP

Following 7.0 innings of one-run ball last night from Gio Gonzalez, Washington’s starting staff ranks third in the National League with a 3.43 ERA (152 ER/398.1 IP) this season. Steve McCatty’s starters trail only the Cardinals (2.77) and Reds (3.16) rotations in the NL. Last season, Washington’s starting staff led the NL with a 3.40 ERA.

CATCH YOUR Z’S

Jordan Zimmermann has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 13 outings this season, and has also turned in 11 quality starts thus far. He carries a league-leading 0.89 WHIP and 4.69 K/BB rate, sixth best in the National League.

GOOD WOOD, SLICK LEATHER

Ian Desmond had hit career-high 15-game hit streak snapped last night, but he has still reached base safely in 16 straight contests, pocketing .383 batting average (23-for-60) and .422 on-base percentage with four walks, four doubles, two homers, seven runs scored and 12 RBI over that span. Defensively, Desmond has played a career-high 47 consecutive errorless games (190 total chances) since last committing a miscue on April 21 at New York (NL). This is currently the longest streak of its kind among big league shortstops.

Highlights: 6.14.13

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6.14.13 – Indians 2, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Gio Gonzalez allowed just three hits and a run, striking out eight over seven frames, but did not factor in the decision.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Kurt Suzuki scored Washington’s lone run, coming home on a wild pitch in the third.

It Was Over When: Adam LaRoche‘s throw home came in just behind Drew Stubbs’ slide in the bottom of the ninth.

What to Watch for: 6.14.13

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Washington Nationals (33-32) vs. Cleveland Indians (32-33)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.59) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (8-5, 3.68) 

The Nationals come into Cleveland winners of two straight games and two consecutive series, as they have floated back above the .500 mark with 97 games left in the regular season. Although he has not earned a win in his last six outings, Gio Gonzalez has compiled a 2.27 ERA over that span entering tonight’s series opener.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Bernadina LF

3. Zimmerman DH

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Tracy 3B

8. Suzuki C

9. Lombardozzi 2B

Gonzalez LHP

GIO BE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez’s 5-0 career mark (six starts) against Cleveland is tops among active players. Additionally, he is the only pitcher to have made as many as four starts at Progressive Field without suffering a no-decision or loss, going 4-0 with a 0.68 ERA (2 ER/26.2 IP) in his four outings at this ballpark.

GETTING OFFENSIVE

Washington has won four of its last five games, during which the club has batted .292 (49-for-168), averaged 5.0 runs/game (25 runs total) and 4.4 walks/game (22 walks total). The Nationals have gone 15-for-48 (.313) with runners in scoring position in their last five contests.

ALL-STAR NOD

It was announced yesterday that Davey Johnson will serve as a coach on Bruce Bochy’s staff for the 84th All-Star Game, which will be played July 16 at Citi Field in New York. Johnson, the National League Manager of the Year in 2012, skippered the New York Mets from 1984-2000 and guided the Mets to a World Championship in 1986. This marks his seventh All-Star appearance, as he managed the NL in ‘87, coached under Whitey Herzog in ‘86, and was a four-time All-Star as a player (‘68-70, ‘73).

Down on the Farm: Taylor Jordan

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Stop us if this sounds familiar.

A promising young pitcher, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery in 2011, is raising eyebrows and rising quickly through the organization. Following the same path as Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, and more recently Nathan Karns, another powerful right-hander is looking to claim the title of “next.” His name is Taylor Jordan, and if you don’t know who is already, you will soon.

Jordan began the 2013 campaign at High-A Potomac, where he cruised for six starts, amassing a 2-1 record and a 1.24 ERA (5 ER/36.1 IP). He also showed impressive peripheral numbers, striking out 29 while walking just six over that span.

That earned him a promotion to Double-A, long considered the truest test for a rising prospect. Through his first seven starts at his new level, Jordan has passed with flying colors.

Jordan has only gotten better since his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. (Paul Chaplin/PennLive.com)

Jordan has only gotten better since his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. (Paul Chaplin/PennLive.com)

“The competition is better,” says Jordan of the Double-A level. “The hitters have a much better approach. If you miss a pitch, it seems like they all have a chance to capitalize.”

And while it may indeed seem that way to Jordan, few if any actually have done so against him. Despite getting shelved by a rain delay just one inning into one of his outings, Jordan breezed to four wins in his first six outings before compiling a masterpiece in his most recent start, a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. He is now 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA (3 ER/41.0 IP) and has struck out 39 against just six walks. He’s holding opposing batters to a .181 average and has yet to allow a home run, his WHIP an eye-popping 0.78.

The lack of power numbers against Jordan is no coincidence. Ranked the Nationals 13th-best prospect coming into the year by Baseball America, his repertoire begins with a heavy, sinking fastball in the low to mid-90s, very similar to that of Ross Detwiler’s.

“Ever since I was 11 years old, or younger, my coach told me that I was a little sinkerballer,” recalls Jordan. “I didn’t really understand that, didn’t know what it meant at that time. I always had one, whether or not I knew what it meant.”

His natural movement had translated into great success so far. Combined with a change-up that sinks and fades away from lefties and a slider with hard, late break away from righties, the rest of Jordan’s repertoire more closely mimics Zimmermann’s, one which all of baseball has seen just how effective it can be this season.

Following in the footsteps of those who have undergone the same surgery, the same long road to recovery, has helped Jordan see the light at the end of the tunnel, making his current success that much sweeter.

“It’s nice to see that hard work has paid off,” he says of Strasburg and Zimmermann’s returns to the big leagues. “It’s a good thing to see other people who’ve had surgeries do well as well. It gives me hope that I’ll get there as well.”

If Jordan continues to succeed at the level he has to this point in the season, it won’t be too long before he gets that opportunity.

Highlights: 6.13.13

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6.13.13 – Nationals 5, Rockies 4

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond went 4-for-4, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs, including two on his seventh home run of the season.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano locked down his 17th save in 20 opportunities, stranding the tying run at first in the ninth.

One Good Ross Deserves Another

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The Nationals were expecting a lift from a player named Ross in this Colorado series, but it came a day earlier than anticipated. With the club slated to get Ross Detwiler back off the Disabled List on Thursday, it was Ross Ohlendorf – summoned from Triple-A Syracuse for a spot-start against a strong Rockies lineup at Coors Field – who provided an enormous performance Wednesday night.

Ohlendorf allowed just a single run on two hits over six innings of work as the Nationals emerged with a 5-1 victory to get back to the .500 mark at 32-32. The right-hander had enjoyed recent success at Syracuse, where he compiled a 1.56 ERA and 27 strikeouts over his final 17.1 innings of work. But his performance against the Rockies exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Ross Ohlendorf delivered a huge performance Wednesday night.

Ross Ohlendorf delivered a huge performance Wednesday night.

“I’ve been feeling really good all season,” said Ohlendorf, who has experienced a spike in his velocity and has seen his slider improve lately. “It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Ohlendorf had not pitched at Coors Field since July 28, 2010, when he was a member of the Pirates. With two outs in the first inning of that contest, Troy Tulowitzki ripped a liner back up the middle and off Ohledorf’s head, knocking him out of the ballgame. Nearly three years later, Ohlendorf took control in Denver.

“He used all his pitches, he went right after them,” said Davey Johnson when asked the most impressive aspect of the right-hander’s performance. “That ain’t easy in this ballpark.”

Johnson went on to indicate what the club made official today, that Ohlendorf’s tenure with the Nationals would last longer than just last night’s six sparkling innings.

“I’m going to try to find a way to keep him around,” Johnson said.

As Detwiler returns for Thursday’s start, the Nationals chose instead to option right-handed reliever Erik Davis to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will be available when the big league team again needs his services. Meanwhile, Ohlendorf will remain as the long man and emergency starter out of the Washington bullpen, giving the Nationals a Major League first.

With Detwiler’s activation, the Nationals become the first Major League team to ever employ a pair of players named Ross (though Ohlendorf’s first name is actually Curtis – Ross is his middle name). But that’s not the first bit of MLB history the two Ross’s have made. Detwiler’s first Major League start came at home against Pittsburgh on May 18, 2009, where he was opposed by none other than Ohlendorf, making them the first two players named Ross ever to face-off against one another in the Majors.

What to Watch for: 6.13.13

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Washington Nationals (32-32) vs. Colorado Rockies (35-31)

LHP Ross Detwiler (2-4, 2.76) vs. LHP Jeff Francis (2-4, 6.30)

Lefty Ross Detwiler comes off the disabled list to make his first start since May 15 in Los Angeles as Washington aims for a road series victory. The Nationals will leave the top seven in their batting order intact following last night’s 5-1 triumph behind a strong effort from Ross Ohlendorf.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Kobernus LF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Rendon 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

GOOD WOOD, SLICK LEATHER

Ian Desmond has hit safely in a career-high 14 straight games at a .358 clip (19-for-53) with three walks, four doubles, two homers, six runs scored and 11 RBI. Desmond now has five career double-digit hit streaks to his credit, two this season (also, 10 games, April 24-May 3). Defensively, Desmond has played a career-high 45 consecutive errorless games (177 total chances) since last committing a miscue on April 21 at New York (NL), which is currently the longest streak of its kind among big league shortstops. The longest previous string of errorless games during Desmond’s career was 39 straight games, May 5-June 21, 2011.

LAROCHE IS PERFECT FOR JUNE

With a knock in each game played in June, Adam LaRoche has strung together a nine-game hit streak, during which he has batted .323 (10-for-31) with four walks, four doubles, seven runs scored and three RBI. With a hit today, he would secure his second double-digit streak of the season. LaRoche posted a career-high 16-game hit streak from May 2-19.

KEEPING THE DET GROUNDED

Ross Detwiler was a consistent force in the rotation prior to his stint on the disabled list, never allowing more than three earned runs or walking more than two opposing hitters in his eight starts this year. The lefty, who relies on a sinking, two-seam fastball, has recorded a 1.30 GO/AO rate, and has allowed just three home runs in 45.2 innings pitched this season.

Highlights: 6.12.13

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6.12.13 – Nationals 5, Rockies 1

Stat of the Game: Ross Ohlendorf was brilliant in his spot start, allowing just a run on two hits over six frames to earn his first Major League victory since August 7, 2012.

Under-the-Radar Performance: In addition to extending his hit streak to 14 games, Ian Desmond plated three of Washington’s five runs.

It Was Over When: Desmond’s second hit of the game scored a pair of Nationals to put Washington ahead by four.

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