July 2013

What to Watch for: 7.22.13

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Pittsburgh Pirates (57-39) vs. Washington Nationals (48-50)

 RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19) vs. RHP Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61) 

The Nationals welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second series of their current 10-day, 11-game homestand, with the four-game set kicking off tonight. Washington will send Dan Haren to the mound in a battle of right-handers as the club looks to halt its three-game slide.

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. Haren RHP

DAN IN REAL LIFE

Although the Nationals have lost the last 10 games Dan Haren has started, the veteran right-hander has been sharp since coming off the disabled list, carrying a 10.0-inning scoreless streak into tonight’s start. The righty has fanned five or more batters in seven of his last nine outings, and has punched out 45 in his last 42.2 innings of work.

A WERTHY RETURN

Jayson Werth is batting .322 (46-for-143) with 20 walks, seven doubles, eight home runs, 23 runs scored, 25 RBI and a .400 OBP in 40 games since returning from the DL (right hamstring) on June 4. Werth’s 1.061 OPS in July ranks fifth in the National League, behind only Hanley Ramirez (1.204), Jonathan Lucroy (1.150), Andrew McCutchen (1.113) and Brian McCann (1.109).

IF THE SCHU FITS

The Nationals announced Monday that they have promoted minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu to the Major League level. Schu has spent the past four years with the Nationals and has been a coach for 16 seasons following a nine-year big league career. Schu has worked with current Nationals Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina in the minors, as well as both Chad Tracy and Scott Hairston during his time with Arizona (2004, ’07-09), where he served as the Diamondbacks hitting coach.

Highlights: 7.21.13

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7.21.13 – Dodgers 9, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Jayson Werth homered twice to provide the entirety of the offense, and is now batting .322/.400/.538 with eight home runs in 40 games since returning from the disabled list on June 4.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ross Ohlendorf delivered six innings of relief out of the bullpen, allowing just two runs.

It Was Over When: The Dodgers sent 11 men to the plate and scored seven times in the second inning.

What to Watch for: 7.21.13

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Los Angeles Dodgers (49-47) vs. Washington Nationals (48-49)

 LHP Clayton Kershaw (8-6, 1.98) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-4, 2.58)

Washington and Los Angeles meet for the final time this season, with respective aces Clayton Kershaw and Jordan Zimmermann facing off. Kershaw owns the league’s lowest ERA, which he will put on the line this afternoon against the Nationals. Zimmermann already beat the Dodgers once this year in L.A. on May 13, allowing two runs over 7.2 innings of work.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Harper LF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Hairston LF

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

GG, GIO

Gio Gonzalez matched his career high with 11 strikeouts over 6.0 scoreless frames in a no decision Saturday night. Gonzalez also fanned 11 in his last previous no decision, a 6-2, 11-inning Nationals victory on June 19 at Philadelphia. Since May 12, the lefty has the second best ERA in the National League (third in MLB) at 1.97 (19 ER/86.2 IP) over which he has struck out 84 batters.

ZIMMERMANN’S HOME IS HIS CASTLE

Jordan Zimmermann enters today’s series finale riding a 14-game home winning streak, spanning 22 D.C. starts back to May 17 of last season. Nine of his league-leading 12 wins have come at home this year, where he is 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA (15 ER/77.1 IP) in 11 outings.

THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER

When scoring three or more times this year, the Nationals are 43-11 (.796), and when scoring five or more they are 37-2 (.949). However, when plating two or fewer runs, Washington is just 5-38 (.116). Only Miami (49 times) has scored less than three runs more often.

Highlights: 7.20.13

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7.20.13 – Dodgers 3, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Gio Gonzalez was brilliant, matching a career high with 11 strikeouts over six scoreless frames.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Ryan Zimmerman and Chad Tracy each collected three hits.

It Was Over When: Los Angeles plated a pair in the 10th to break the 1-1 tie.

What to Watch for: 7.20.13

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Los Angeles Dodgers (48-47) vs. Washington Nationals (48-48)

 RHP Zack Greinke (8-2, 3.49) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 3.03) 

The Nationals started the second half of their season behind their ace Stephen Strasburg, who tossed his 12th quality start of the season but did not factor in the decision on Friday night. Tonight the team looks to get back in the win column as they send Gio Gonzalez to the hill against one Donald Zackary Greinke. Greinke carries a five-game winning streak into the matchup, while Gonzalez has won four straight, but has not lost since May 27.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Harper LF

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Tracy 1B

8. Ramos C

9. Gonzalez LHP

BREAKING EVEN

At 48-48, the Nationals currently own a .500 record for the 20th time this year (excluding season-opening 0-0 record). Recently, the Nationals have sported methodical 27-27, 28-28, 29-29, 31- 31, 32-32, 33-33, 34-34, 36-36, 37-37, 38-38, 39-39, 40-40, 42-42, 47-47 and now 48-48 records.

BEING IAN

Ian Desmond has hit safely in second consecutive games, going 10-for-29 (.345) with three walks, two doubles and one RBI. Desmond has already posted a pair of double-digit hit streaks this season: 15 games (career high, May 27-June 13) and 10 games (April 24-May 3). Defensively, Desmond has posted a .988 fielding percentage in 77 games at shortstop dating to April 22, second-best in the National League.

POWER OUTAGE

The Nationals have not homered in their last five games or since blasting four solo home runs in a 5-1 victory on July 10 at PHI. The five-game homer drought is the Nationals longest since Sept 12-16, 2011 (five games). Washington last went as many as six games without a long ball June 1-6, 2010.

Gio Gonzalez: Positive Energy

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The video below is a supplemental bonus feature for the Gio Gonzalez: Positive Energy cover article in Issue 9 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.

Plus, check out our District 9 with Ian Krol, where he reveals the mystery behind his Twitter handle.

IP9_Gio_Medium

Guest Blog: Looking Forward

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As you may recall, we gave away the opportunity to blog with us for a day as part of the 13 Days of NatsFest. And while it’s been six months since then, we didn’t forget about our winner. Her originally planned date got washed away by the rain, but we were able to get her out to Nationals Park Friday night for the first game of the season’s second half. This is the story of her experience behind the scenes at the ballpark.

Looking Forward

by: Michelle Hendley

The Nationals were back from the All-Star Break, rejuvenated and filled with optimism for what the second half can bring. The majority of the players were healthy for the first time in what seems like a century. Errors were down and hitting was up. Yesterday’s pitching match-up, featuring former Marlin Ricky Nolasco and Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, was a rematch of Opening Day. Though the late July heat was stifling, the excitement was clearly evident on the field, and everyone was hopeful that the team could pick up some momentum heading into the second half.

Strasburg survived the heat to post a quality start.

Strasburg survived the heat to post a quality start.

The excitement was palpable for me as well. While I have been to many Nationals games as a spectator – probably more than I could count –  this was the first time that I had experienced the game up close and personally as a member of the press. As someone who grew up in a sports-mad family, working in the media for a professional team is as close to a dream job as I could get. Whether it was related to me being scared or me being realistic (probably a bit of both), I took a job in another field immediately after college. However, in the back of my mind, I always did wonder what path pursuing my dream would have taken me on, and today was the day for me to find out. Who knows what I may decide to do after that?

While the crowds gathered outside, eating at the food trucks and playing games, I started by observing Davey Johnson’s pregame press conference. Well, to be completely honest, I started by disregarding the GPS and getting myself a little lost on my way downtown. But I digress. Davey injected his trademark bit of humor into the briefing as we got updates from him. He was incredibly optimistic about the prospects of the team heading into the second half, telling everybody that, “We are right where we need to be.”  He’s definitely got a point. With the exception of Ross Detwiler and his lingering soreness, he’s got as close to an Opening Day lineup as he has had since, well, practically Opening Day. Davey wrapped up his presser, and I headed down to batting practice.

The ball just sounds different coming off of Harper's bat.

The ball just sounds different coming off of Harper’s bat.

Now, to say it was hot was probably the understatement of the decade. It was hot in the sense that I could have probably fried an egg on the warning track. While I was prepared for several players to hit in the air conditioned, indoor batting cages, I was surprised to see all of the players out there taking their hacks. I had been told that Bryce Harper’s batting practice was not necessarily just worth seeing, but worth hearing. It really was. If you ever find yourself in the park early enough to catch him, take the time to do so. The best way I can describe it is that the sound of the ball hitting the bat echoes like a sonic boom. It’s really impressive – but so is pretty much everything he does.

I settled in the press box for the start of the game. The view is really beautiful, although I caution you if you’re afraid of heights. You could see the vast majority of the field perfectly, allowing me to get a good grasp of everything that was going on during the game.

As the game progressed, I had a feeling that even though rest and a seemingly fresh start can really boost morale and infuse positivity, they aren’t necessarily magic. All bad things don’t turn into good things overnight. The most you can hope for is progress, and although the Nationals lost, they definitely showed progress. In tough conditions, Strasburg pitched superbly. The Nationals made several defensive gems, and put nine hits up on the board. Historically, Ricky Nolasco has had a lot of success against the Nationals, but they put up a great fight. There is a lot to build upon in this second half, and the team needs to continue to look forward. As Davey said, wrapping up his postgame presser, “Tomorrow is another day.”

You can’t keep looking back and talking about what you could have done differently – a lesson that applies to both baseball and life. All you can do is to continue to improve. I think the team is learning that. And I think I am as well.

Highlights: 7.19.13

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7.19.13 – Dodgers 3, Nationals 2

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each collected multi-hit performances in the first game after the All-Star break.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Stephen Strasburg allowed just two runs over seven frames for his 12th quality start of the season.

It Was Over When: Andre Ethier broke a 2-2 tie with a ninth-inning home run for the last score of the game.

What to Watch for: 7.19.13

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Los Angeles Dodgers (47-47) vs. Washington Nationals (48-47)

RHP Ricky Nolasco (6-9, 3.76) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-7, 2.99)

The Nationals look to get off on the right foot when they kick off the season’s second half with a critical 11-game homestand, which includes a three-game set against the Dodgers that starts tonight. Stephen Strasburg, who is third in the National League with a 1.65 ERA at home, will face Opening Day opponent Ricky Nolasco (then of the Marlins). Strasburg has allowed one earned run or less in six of nine starts in The District, including four starts allowing no earned runs.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Harper LF

5. Werth RF

6. Desmond SS

7. Tracy 1B

8. Ramos C

9. Strasburg RHP

REST FOR THE WEARY

The Nationals closed the season’s first half by playing the maximum of 20 games in 20 days. Washington went 11-9 (.550) in that span and outscored their 6 opponents by 16 runs (94-78). At 48-47 (.505), the Nationals entered the All-Star break with a winning record for the second consecutive season. Washington has completed the season’s first half at .500 or better each of the last 3 seasons (49-34 in ‘12, 46-46 in ‘11).

HOME COOKIN’

At 27-18 (.600), Washington is one of five National League squads playing .600 baseball or better at home this season. The Nationals are joined on this Senior Circuit short list by the Braves (31-15, .674), Reds (30-16, .652), Pirates (32-18, .640) and Cardinals (27-16, .628).

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The Nationals (48-47, -14) and Yankees (51-44, -2) are the only two Major League teams to sport winning records despite carrying a negative run differential for the season.

The Second “Half”

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There has been plenty written about the Nationals the past few days and what it will take for them to play in October this season.

We’ll leave the “to reach x wins, they need to go xx-xx the rest of the way” predictions to others. As Davey Johnson and his troops have expressed over recent weeks, what the team needs to do is play at the level its capable of with more consistency. It doesn’t really matter how many games are left, or against whom. We all know this team is capable – when they are playing their best – of beating anyone.

Davey Johnson is looking for more consistency from his club in the second half.

Davey Johnson is looking for more consistency from his club in the second half.

They’ll get their first test immediately out of the All-Star break. The suddenly hot Los Angeles Dodgers come to town to open an 11-game, 10-day homestand, during which they will throw recently acquired Nationals nemesis Ricky Nolasco, along with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Things don’t get easier from there, as the contending Pittsburgh Pirates visit for four games beginning next week. The homestand concludes with a Matt Harvey-headlined doubleheader followed by a pair of weekend games against the scrappy New York Mets.

Of course, the Nationals will counter with arguable the healthiest team they’ve fielded since the first week of the season. With the lineup at full strength, the only pieces missing are Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus, both expected back off the disabled list soon. Washington will also be throwing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the three Dodgers games, putting its own best pitching foot forward. Dan Haren, who has a 1.64 ERA (2 ER/11.0 IP) and 14 strikeouts in his two outings since his own return from the DL may be starting to show signs of being the solid veteran pickup that Mike Rizzo and company were hoping for when they signed him last offseason. With Taylor Jordan solidly holding down the fort at the back of the rotation in the meantime, the starting staff looks poised to lead the way.

Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano has closed out 25 of 29 save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA on the season. Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in the game, winning six games out of the ‘pen while posting better than a strikeout per inning and a sub-2.00 ERA. Ian Krol and Fernando Abad have given Washington two lefty relievers they did not have at the beginning of the year, both joining Clippard in the sub-2.00 club thus far. Factor in some solid contributions out of the long-man spot by Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 1.74 ERA) and the bullpen looks as solid as it has all year.

It’s taken a few months for all these pieces to come together and be on the field at the same time. But with a fully rested and healthy squad coming back from the All-Star break, these Nationals look as well constructed as they have been all year to finally put together the extended run that has thus far eluded them, the one they all know they will need to bring October NATITUDE back to The District.

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