July 2013

What to Watch for: 7.26.13 – Game 2

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New York Mets (46-53) vs. Washington Nationals (49-54)

RHP Matt Harvey (8-2, 2.23) vs. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 2.03) 

NATIONALS GAME 2 LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Lombardozzi LF

8. Ramos C

9. Ohlendorf RHP

*    *    *

Don’t let that windup fool you.

Ross Ohlendorf’s delivery has been described as “old-school.” Sure, it’s a swinging, kicking windup that hearkens back to baseball’s bygone times. And, yeah, it might betray a little vintage sensibility.

Still, the Nationals right-hander is hardly stuck in the past. In fact, that retro motion might be more a sign of progress than anything else.

The fact that the motion is reminiscent of legends like Bob Feller “wasn’t a motivation at all,” Ohlendorf said. “I knew that they used to do it…I’ve liked it a lot. I feel like it’s helped me pitch well.”

Ohlendorf has pitched so well out of the Nationals bullpen that he’ll take that swinging style onto the mound with him today as he makes his second big league start of the season. His presence on the Major League roster was meant to be short-lived, but after an impressive spot start in Colorado while Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg were on the Disabled List in June, manager Davey Johnson knew he had to find a way to keep Ohlendorf around.

Ohlendorf has used his old school delivery to great success so far this year.

Ohlendorf has used his old school delivery to great success so far this year.

He might have his pitching motion to thank for that.

A veteran of seven Major League seasons, Ohlendorf switched to the vintage delivery method this year, though he can’t pinpoint exactly when he made the change. Starting with his hands together, he raises them slightly before swinging his arms behind his back with a step back on his left leg. His hands meet again once more when he finally grips the ball from his mitt. His elbows fold in, and then, stepping forward on his left foot with all that momentum, he lets it fly.

“It helps me, gives me rhythm and it helps me stay loose and the ball has been coming out well pitching that way,” he said after his Washington debut.

So far, it seems to be working for him. After struggling over his last three seasons with Pittsburgh (2010-11) and San Diego (2012) and battling injuries, Ohlendorf has posted some impressive numbers in eight appearances with the Nats. After that initial win at Coors Field, the Princeton graduate has provided solid innings in long relief with a 2-0 record and a 2.03 ERA to show for it. He’s recorded 21 punch outs to just six walks.

His velocity is also spiking. Throughout his career, Ohlendorf’s fastball has averaged 90.8 mph and he hasn’t hit the upper 90s in a few seasons. This year, he’s averaging 92.6 mph, and hit 97 on the gun in Sunday’s relief appearance against the Dodgers. That’s helped in coming out of the bullpen. Accustomed to starting ballgames — he’s had 74 starts in his 116 Major League appearances —Ohlendorf says his location isn’t as sharp as if he’d warmed up to start the game.

“My command isn’t as good necessarily right away for an inning or so because I’m throwing hard,” Ohlendorf said. “But as I’ve kind of eased in to the later innings of a game, my command has gotten sharper and I haven’t needed to throw as hard.

“I feel like my command is usually sharper starting. I think it’s a little more difficult to have command right away out of the bullpen.”

With so much working in his favor these days, Ohlendorf can expect to be a more permanent fixture among the Nationals stable of arms. That’s what Johnson had in mind when he refused to send him back to Syracuse.

Now that the novelty of Ohlendorf’s windup has worn off, his impressive numbers have instead begun to define his year with the Nationals.

What to Watch for: 7.26.13 – Game 1

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New York Mets (45-53) vs. Washington Nationals (49-53)

RHP Jenrry Mejia (NR, -.–) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-5, 3.01) 

The Nationals look to continue their winning ways following yesterday’s ninth-inning, walk-off victory over the Pirates as the welcome the Mets for a day-night doubleheader to open a four-game series over the next three days. Jordan Zimmermann will take on rookie Jenrry Mejia, making his 2013 debut in the opener.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Span CF

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

HARPER’S HEROICS

Bryce Harper’s game-ending, two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning capped a 9-7 win over the Pirates Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park. Harper’s blast was made necessary only after the Pirates, who trailed 7-3 after eight innings, plated four runs in the top of the ninth to extend the contest. Harper became the first 20 year-old to club a game-ending blast since Miguel Cabrera turned the trick on June 20, 2003 vs. Tampa Bay as a member of the Marlins. Harper’s shot was his first long ball since July 1 and it also rendered Washington’s first game-ending home run of 2013.

K STREET

In Washington’s last two games, Stephen Strasburg (season-high 12 strikeouts, Wednesday) and Gio Gonzalez (11 K, Thursday) have combined on 23 strikeouts to establish a team-mark for the most strikeouts posted a consecutive games by Nationals (2005-present) starting pitchers. With their respective 12- and 11-K efforts the last two days, Strasburg and Gonzalez also became just the second set of Nationals starters to register double-digit strikeout tallies in back-to-back games. John Lannan (11 strikeouts, April 17 at New York) and Tim Redding (10, April 18 at Florida) were the first to turn this trick back in 2008.

RISPY BUSINESS

The Nationals pounded out 14 hits, 5 of which came with RISP (Washington entered the game in a 13-game 7-for-81 rut with RISP) and 11 of which came from Davey Johnson’s 1-4 hitters (Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman with three, Adam LaRoche with two).

Walk-Off Wonder

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The Nationals came into Thursday’s game desperately needing a win. For eight innings, it looked like they had finally broken through after dropping the first six games out of the All-Star break against a Dodgers squad just coming into its own and a Pirates team that has been as strong as any in baseball all season long. But it took another late rally in the ninth, a show of resiliency this team has been searching for, to deliver a Curly W.

Kurt Suzuki singled with one out, and after Roger Bernadina grounded into a 4-6 force out, The Shark stood at first as the winning run with two outs for the top of the order, in the form of Bryce Harper. The Nationals 20-year-old All-Star worked the count to 1-1, then extended through a cutter on the outer half from Pittsburgh reliever Bryan Morris. With the speedy Bernadina off and running on contact, the line shot looked like it might split the left-center field gap for a double. But as the ball continued to carry, center fielder Andrew McCutchen pulled up at the wall, watching as it cleared the #NATITUDE sign and dropped into the second row of the Red Porch.

Harper, who opened the game with a great diving catch before closing it with the home run, seemed more relieved than excited by his heroics.

Harper's walk-off blast was the first of his career.

Harper’s walk-off blast was the first of his career.

“I’m just happy we won the ballgame,” he said. “I’m serious. I could care less if it went over the fence or if it was a double off the wall.”

Whether the win provides the momentum swing to get the Nationals several wins in a row, to get them on a streak, remains to be seen. They will have a great chance on Friday, as they will face the Mets twice in a matter of hours, a doubleheader to start a four-game series over the next three days. The last time Washington faced their division rivals from Queens, they put up a season-high 13 runs. The resurgent offense was perhaps more important than the actual victory, as it will need to reemerge for the Nationals to take advantage of the series in front of them.

“I think it was just more important for us to get some hits,” said Ian Desmond of the bats Thursday, which produced 14 of them, two more than Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday’s games combined.

Nevertheless, Desmond recognized the difference in the clubhouse in terms of approach as the club looks ahead at the final 60 games of the 2013 campaign.

“I’m trying to take these games almost as playoff games. We’ve gotta win.”

Ryan Zimmerman, who was one of three Nationals with three hits (along with Harper and Steve Lombardozzi), echoed those sentiments.

“We needed a win,” he admitted. “It didn’t matter how we got it, although that’s the most exciting way you can get one.”

And while it may not have gone just how they envisioned, the Nationals will take every win, exciting or otherwise, that they can get.

Highlights: 7.25.13

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7.25.13 – Nationals 9, Pirates 7

Stat of the Game: Bryce Harper hit his first career walk-off home run, snapping the Nationals six-game losing streak.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Steve Lombardozzi had three hits, including two doubles, and made a pair of sterling defensive plays to help quash early rallies.

It Was Over When: After the Pirates scored four times in the top of the ninth to tie the game, Harper’s blast cleared the wall to the left of center field.

What to Watch for: 7.25.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (60-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-53)

RHP A.J. Burnett (4-7, 3.07) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.89)

Washington turns to Gio Gonzalez to snap a season-high six-game skid and get back into the winning column for the first time since the All-Star break. Gonzalez has won his last four decisions, and his 2.04 ERA (21 ER/92.0 IP) since the beginning of May is second-best in all of Major League Baseball.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Zim 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Span CF

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

CENTRALLY LOCATED

Gonzalez is 9-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 13 starts against NL Central foes since joining the Nationals (2012-13). Washington is 12-1 in those Gonzalez starts.

FIVE ALIVE

Jayson Werth’s two-run, ninth-inning shot on Wednesday night at Nationals Park was his fifth home run in the last four games. He became the first National to go deep five times in a four-game span since Adam LaRoche turned the trick on September 3-6, 2012 during a four-game sweep of the Cubs. Incidentally, Adam Dunn hit 5 home runs in a three-game span for Washington, July 7-9, 2010. Werth’s 1.157 OPS in July paces all of Major League Baseball.

BELOW THE SURFACE

The .539 winning percentage (278-235) posted by the Nationals Minor League system currently ranks fourth among MLB’s 30 franchises. Washington trails only Houston (first, .576), Texas (second, .566) and San Francisco (third, .543). The Nationals system has registered winning records each of the last five seasons (2008-12), but has never finished among the top five.

Krol, Rendon Host PLAY Clinic

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On Tuesday, Nationals trainers and players hosted the PLAY Clinic, in partnership with the Taylor Hooton Foundation and MLB Charities. PLAY, which stands for Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth, is a public awareness campaign founded in 2004 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage daily activity among youth.

Rendon pitches during the Home Run Derby.

Rendon pitches during the Home Run Derby.

“Childhood obesity was rising in the early 2000s and they were directly tying Type II diabetes to inactivity with kids,” said PLAY campaign coordinator Zachary Reed, who hopes this clinic will encourage kids to be active for at least 60 minutes each day. “From the year 2000 to the year 2004, it had spiked. About 25% of kids were obese, so the campaign was founded to get kids out for some more activity.”

More than 60 children from Kyle’s Kamp and Ward 7 in Washington, D.C., were on hand at Nationals Park to learn about various topics including healthy eating, injury prevention and strength and conditioning, while also improving their baseball skills.

Brian Parker of the Taylor Hooton Foundation kicked off the clinic with a chalk talk about the dangers of steroid abuse. Head trainer Lee Kuntz then demonstrated proper stretching techniques in the Nationals bullpen to warm up the kids for the day’s activities. Second baseman Anthony Rendon and pitcher Ian Krol also stopped by to share their daily routines with the children, from agility drills to the importance of staying hydrated.

“It’s great that the kids are able to meet the players and see a little bit of what we do throughout the day. We hope to instill those [lessons] and get kids back into baseball,” said Kuntz.

Children were also taught how to stay properly hydrated in the heat.

Children were also taught how to stay properly hydrated in the heat.

“They realized how important it is to get outside and be active,” said Krol. “In this day and age, you see all the kids with electronics like iPads and they don’t get to experience great things like sports and other activities.”

One of those fun activities was their own Home Run Derby, the “grand finale and the fireworks” of the PLAY clinic, as Kuntz described it. For many kids, including the Kelley brothers – Jaden, 8, and Cristopher, 9 – the derby was their favorite part of the day.

It is now their charge to incorporate the invaluable lessons they learned in their everyday lives. “Stay healthy, drink water and eat vegetables,” was Jaden’s key takeaway from speaking with Rendon and Krol.

With the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy expected to open later this fall for youth in Wards 7 and 8, many of these PLAY clinic participants will have the opportunity to continue to learn and practice the fundamentals of baseball and softball while also taking part in health and educational programs.

PlayClinic4

Highlights: 7.24.13

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7.24.13 – Pirates 4, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Stephen Strasburg became the first National League pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) with eight or more innings pitched and 12 or more strikeouts while allowing two or fewer hits and no walks in a loss.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jayson Werth homered for the fourth time in five games. Eight of Washington’s 13 runs since the All-Star break have come on Werth homers.

It Was Over When: Neil Walker whiffed on a tag of Wilson Ramos, but was given credit for the out, starting a game-ending, 4-3 double play.

What to Watch for: 7.24.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (59-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-52)

LHP Francisco Liriano (9-4, 2.44) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.97)

The Nationals look to end their season-high five-game losing streak as they send Stephen Strasburg to the mound to face Francisco Liriano. It will be Strasburg’s first appearance against the Pirates at home in D.C. since his Major League debut on June 8, 2010, in which he fanned 14 in a 5-2 victory.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Hairston LF

2. Rendon SS

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Ramos C

7. Span CF

8. Lombardozzi 2B

9. Strasburg RHP

THE BUC STOPS HERE

Strasburg has had great success against the Pirates thus far in his career, going 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA (7 ER/20.0 IP) and 35 strikeouts (15.8 K/9 IP) against just four walks (8.75 K/BB rats) in his first three starts. The Nationals have won all three of those games against Pittsburgh.

‘CATT’S MEOW

Gio Gonzalez (ninth, 2.89), Stephen Strasburg (12th, 2.97) and Jordan Zimmermann (14th, 3.01) all rank among the National League’s top 15 in ERA this season. Nationals Pitching Coach Steve McCatty’s rotation is the only one in Major League Baseball with three pitchers ranked among their respective league’s top 15 in ERA. Only St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle and Texas have two pitchers ranked on either of those lists.

WERTH THE WAIT

Jayson Werth is batting .322 (48-for-149) with 20 walks, seven doubles, 10 home runs, 25 runs scored, 29 RBI and a .401 OBP in 42 games since returning from the Disabled List (right hamstring) on June 4.  Werth’s 1.126 OPS in July ranks third in the National League behind only Hanley Ramirez (1.167) and Andrew McCutchen (1.147).

Highlights: 7.23.13

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7.23.13 – Pirates 5, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Tyler Clippard continued his dominant stretch with two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 ninth inning, and has allowed just one hit over his last 12 appearances (12.0 IP), striking out 15.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Rookie Taylor Jordan delivered another solid start, tossing a career-long 7.2 innings.

It Was Over When: The Pirates added a pair of runs in the eighth inning to stretch the margin to four runs.

What to Watch for: 7.23.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (58-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-51)

 RHP Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89) vs. RHP Taylor Jordan (0-2, 3.32)

The Nationals continue their homestand with a battle of two right-handed rookies, as Taylor Jordan and Gerrit Cole square off in D.C. Jordan is still in search of his first Major League win, despite pitching well thus far.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Span CF

8. Ramos C

9. Jordan RHP

WERTH-WHILE READING

By homering twice on both Monday vs. Pittsburgh and Sunday vs. Los Angeles, Jayson Werth became the first National (2005-present) to hit two home runs in consecutive games. The last franchise player to accomplish this feat: Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, September 17-18, 2000. Werth is batting .322 (48-for-147) with 20 walks, seven doubles, 10 home runs, 25 runs scored, 29 RBI, and a .402 OBP in 41 games since returning from the DL (right hamstring) on June 4. Werth’s 1.152 OPS in July ranks third in the NL behind only Hanley Ramirez (1.197) and Andrew McCutchen (1.118).

NATIONALS FACE ANOTHER ROOKIE

Gerrit Cole will be the 12th different rookie starter the Nationals have faced this season (the other 11: Tony Cingrani, Robbie Erlin, Jose Fernandez, Kevin Gausman, Donovan Hand, Shelby Miller, Wily Peralta, Jonathan Pettibone, Burch Smith, Julio Teheran (faced three times) and Zack Wheeler. Washington is 6-7 when facing these rookie starters in 2013.

SPAN’S FANS

As he does once every month during the season, Nationals center fielder Denard Span hosted his “Span’s Fans” event before the team took on the Pirates. Span’s Fans is a season-long program that treats children from single-parent families to a day of Nationals baseball. The group will enjoyed a private meet and greet with Span as well as a special batting practice viewing and tickets to the game, complete with NatsBucks.

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