August 2013

The Dream at 50

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Sports bring people together in a way nothing else can, as evidenced by one of baseball’s proudest moments when Jackie Robinson made his debut in 1947, breaking the color barrier.

However, many people may not realize that this momentous occasion occurred seven years before the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision and 16 years before Martin Luther King Jr.’s Great March on Washington, which took place on August 28, 1963.

Fifty years ago today, King delivered his most seminal speech, proclaiming his dream; a message that resonated through the National Mall to the quarter million people in attendance. And while the process of realizing that dream endures, great strides have been made in the last half century. This is especially true in sports, where players of all races and ethnicities stand as teammates and competitors, side-by-side.

Sports can often serve as a catalyst for social change, and baseball is proud to have such a great leader as Robinson as a role model for equality in our game. In his spirit the Washington Nationals are dedicated to continuing to make a positive social impact here in D.C. As part of this commitment, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation invests money and resources to our local community, and will open the doors to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7 this fall.

Major League Baseball also carries on the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement through programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. Likewise, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s mandate to encourage minority hiring for the top positions in the game was the first of its kind in professional sports in 1999, predating the NFL’s Rooney Rule by several years.

So as we pay tribute today to Dr. King and his dream of equality, let us also celebrate the role baseball has played toward equal civil rights in America.

Highlights: 8.27.13

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8.27.13 – Nationals 2, Marlins 1

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond had three hits, including an RBI-single with two out in the first that proved to be the difference.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Four Washington relievers – Tanner Roark, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano – combined to throw four innings of one-hit, scoreless relief.

It Was Over When: Soriano locked up his 34th save, inducing a game-ending groundout from Adainy Hechavarria.

What to Watch for: 8.27.13

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Miami Marlins (49-80) vs. Washington Nationals (65-65)

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-4, 3.82) vs. RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 2.58)

With a successful 6-4 road trip behind them, the Nationals begin a six-game homestand tonight with the first of three against Miami, whom they swept at home to open the season. Washington has won 11 of its last 16 games, and looks to continue its winning ways with its next 19 contests coming against the Marlins (49-80), New York Mets (58-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (60-71).

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Ross Ohlendorf RHP

AUGUST HEAT

After struggling offensively for much of 2013, the Nationals rank third in the National League in runs per game in the month of August. Washington has scored 108 runs in 22 games this month (4.9 per game). Only the St. Louis Cardinals (5.4 runs in 25 August contests) and Arizona Diamondbacks (5.0 in 23 games) have scored more profusely than the Nationals this month. 

GOING STREAKING

With Sunday’s four-hit effort at Kauffman Stadium, Denard Span has hit safely in nine straight games, at a .400 clip (16-for-40) with two walks, a double, two triples, a homer, five runs and four RBI. Span is in search of his first double-digit hit streak as a member of the Nationals. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper is 13-for-33 (.394) with six walks, five doubles, a homer, six runs scored and six RBI during his current eight-game hit streak. Harper has yet to register a double-digit hit streak at a big leaguer.

GOOD WOOD

The Nationals are 5-1 and have scored at least four runs in each of their last six games, during which they are batting .314 (72-for-229) with 28 walks, 14 doubles, two triples, and nine home runs, all of which have yielded a .387 on-base percentage, a .511 slugging percentage and an .898 OPS. Washington has also gone (.316, 18-for-57) with runners in scoring position in the same six-game span.

Not A Minor Accomplishment

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The Washington Nationals farm system hasn’t so much met expectations in 2013 as it’s surpassed every one.

Ranked the No. 13 farm system overall in the preseason by Baseball America, the Nationals have surged to the third-best organizational record at 403-322 (.558) overall, trailing only Houston (.572) and San Francisco (.564). Three of Washington’s seven affiliates are playoff-bound, with a fourth in a close division race.

None of this is entirely unexpected either. Under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nats have gone from the Minor League cellar six years ago to a brief stint at No. 1 in last year’s Baseball America preseason rankings. Not to mention that this farm system has cultivated such talent as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In fact, 11 players on Washington’s active roster have come through its Minor League system.

Lucas Giolito, Washington's top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Lucas Giolito, Washington’s top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Perhaps most remarkable has been the Gulf Coast League Nationals, which have notched the most impressive mark in all of professional baseball. Since the season began on June 21, the Rookie-level entry has gone 48-9 (.842), better than even the tremendous run by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who posted a 47-12 (.797) record in the same span. The GCL Nationals lead their division by 24.0 games, have 13 more wins than the next best team in the league, and clinched their playoff spot long ago.

Obviously, such a run requires more than just luck. The GCL Nationals are tops in the league in most meaningful statistical categories. Their 2.49 team ERA and .279 team batting average pace the field, while their 5.52 runs per game is more than six-tenths of a run better than the next closest total. They boast the league’s leader and runner-up in ERA among qualifiers, 21-year-old righty Wander Suero (8-1, 1.65) and 20-year-old southpaw Hector Silvestre (7-0, 1.82). Righty Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, drafted 16th overall out of high school in 2012, has returned from Tommy John surgery and was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn in the New York-Penn League after notching a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

Like the GCL Nats, the High-A Potomac Nationals have put up ridiculous numbers in the Carolina League. Potomac is 81-51 overall, having already locked up a playoff spot by winning the Northern Division’s first-half championship with a 42-27 record. They’re currently 7.5 games up on Lynchburg in the second half, and will earn home-field advantage in all three Carolina League Division Series contests if they secure the second half title as well.

Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Zach Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Cutter Dykstra has helped pace Potomac on its most recent tear. During the P-Nats recent 10-game winning streak (August 10-20), the infielder racked up a .316/.447/.421 line. He also reached base in a league-best 29 games, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in the process. Meanwhile, right-hander Blake Schwartz is 11-4 with a 2.56 ERA and leads the league with a 1.03 WHIP.

The Low-A Hagerstown Suns (77-53) are also headed to the postseason, while the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (72-63) are a half-game up in their Eastern League division, where the top two teams reach the playoffs. The Suns are pacing the South Atlantic League with 5.03 runs per game, benefitting from a fairly balanced lineup. They’ve also recently added 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen, who was 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 rate with Auburn. The Senators, meanwhile, boast a pitching staff that leads the league with a 3.46 ERA. Nationals third-rated prospect A.J. Cole — who earned the save in the 2013 Futures Game — is sitting at 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA since being promoted in late July.

Though the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs have posted just a 65-72 record, they have their bright spots as well in prospects like Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters. Kobernus served a brief stint in the big leagues and earned International League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18. He leads the team and is second among Nationals farmhands with a .324 batting average. Walters, meanwhile, has slugged 29 home runs, 10 more than the next closest total in the organization. The infielder has posted a .531 slugging percentage on the season, especially impressive from the shortstop position.

Ryan Zimmerman: Mr. Walk-Off

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The videos below are supplemental bonus footage of some of Ryan Zimmerman’s walk-off home runs, featured in the Mr. Walk-Off cover article in Issue 11 of Inside Pitch. For the full story, be sure to pick up a copy this homestand at the the ballpark.

6.18.06 vs. New York Yankees

3.30.08 vs. Atlanta Braves

9.6.09 vs. Florida Marlins

7.6.10 vs. San Diego Padres

7.31.10 vs. Philadelphia Phillies

8.19.11 vs. Philadelphia Phillies

7.26.13 vs. New York Mets

IP11_Zim_Medium

District 9: Wilson Ramos

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We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. This Q&A originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 10 of Inside Pitch.

1. How happy are you to be back in the lineup after missing some games early in the season?

I am very happy because I want to help the team.  It’s not easy to watch the game on TV – I’m happy to be back here with my teammates.

2. What emotions did you go through when you hit the go-ahead home run and had 5 RBIs in your first game back?

I was excited. I felt the same way as I did when I played my first game in the Majors. That was a great moment for me.

3. Did that rank among your best games ever? How did it compare with your walk-off base-hit against the Phillies last year and walk-off homerun against the Mariners three years ago?

For me, those three were all special moments. The biggest one was when I hit the walk-off homer, but July 4th was exciting, too.

4. What do you feel are your strongest qualities as a catcher?

My strongest qualities are throwing runners out on the bases, blocking balls in the dirt and just calling the game. I think calling the game is the most important thing for the catcher.

5. What’s your favorite part about calling a game?

The best part is when I put zeroes on the scoreboard. It’s great when I put something down (a sign) and the pitchers trust me.

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6. Growing up in Venezuela, who were some players that you looked up to? Did you have any role models?

When I was young, I followed Ivan Rodriguez’s career. Getting an opportunity to play with him here was unbelievable for me.  I also followed Miguel Cabrera when I was coming up.

7. Which is better for you – hitting a home run, or blocking the plate to get a guy out at home?

Those two are both good, but I feel most excited when I hit a homer. That’s the better moment for me. Blocking the plate is also good, but you don’t want to get hit, so a homer is better.

8. What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?

Stay healthy. After the surgery last year and two times on the DL this year, I don’t want to think about that. I just want to concentrate on staying healthy for the rest of the season. That’s the most important thing for me right now.

9. Do you have any team goals for the rest of the year?

Make it into the postseason. That’s the first step. You have to make it into the playoffs first, and then fight for the World Series.

District 9: Adam LaRoche

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We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. This Q&A originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 7 of Inside Pitch.

1. After the first two months, how would you describe your 2013 season?

I can tell you I had a lot more fun month two than I did month one. I’m getting closer to where I want to be with each day and each game that goes by.

2. How have your years of experience helped you and your teammates stay relaxed through the good times and bad?

It’s great because I can relay to these guys the importance of not panicking over a small slump. The longer I’ve played, the more I know that when I look back at the year the numbers will be fine, and the production will be there. There’s nothing to worry about.

3. Even when you’re struggling, discuss how your defense never takes a day off.

It is two separate parts of the game. You’ve got to be able to learn not take a bad at-bat into the field, and to not take an error in the field to your next at-bat. If you’re not hitting, you can at least do something productive.

NATSST_02162013_DM

4. Does the fact that the baseball carries farther in warmer weather give you more confidence at the plate?

It’s almost like going to smaller ballparks. The ball flies, so even if you’re in a deep rut there’s a little bit of hope in the back of your mind. You’re thinking, ‘Man, I could miss one here and still hit it off the wall or hit a home run.’ It’s the same thing when it warms up.

5. With the heat rising, do you anticipate your teammates getting hot as well?

They say hitting can be contagious, and I’ve actually seen it over and over. A couple guys get going and other guys get going at the same time. That’s just a part of baseball.

6. With three multi-home run games to your credit already this season, is it any coincidence that you hit them in bunches?

It may have something to do with getting the first one early and going up with a little differ­ent outlook. Confidence is everything in this game. Once you hit one and you’re feeling good that day, you get into that groove.

7. You’ve won a Gold Glove Award and a Silver Slugger Award. What would it mean to you to add an All-Star appearance to your career accomplishments?

I thought last year I had a good shot — at least I was in the conversation. If and when that happens it would be pretty special to add to the list.

8. As you’ve grown up, how have you found the balance between baseball, family life and your offseason, off-the-field pursuits?

It has been easy for me, it always has. Without going into crazy detail, I’m a religious person. I feel like this is why I was put in this position of playing baseball … to be an influence. I choose not to let the game of baseball dictate who I am as a person.

9. What is it like having your son Drake with you on the road?

It’s awesome. Do you want to interview him?

What to Watch for: 8.25.13

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Washington Nationals (65-64) vs. Kansas City Royals (64-64)

RHP Dan Haren (8-11, 4.64) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (8-7, 3.13)

Former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim teammates Dan Haren and Ervin Santana hook up in Kansas City, with Haren and the Nationals seeking a three-game road sweep for the first time this season. Washington, which moved above the .500 mark for the first time since the All-Star break, is riding a five-game winning streak and has won 11 of 15 contests. The Royals, meanwhile, have lost seven in a row and 10 of 12. Denard Span has five hits and four RBI lifetime against Santana, while Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have each gone deep against the homer-prone right-hander.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF
2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
3. Bryce Harper RF
4. Jayson Werth DH
5. Ian Desmond SS
6. Adam LaRoche 1B
7. Wilson Ramos C
8. Tyler Moore LF
9. Anthony Rendon 2B
Dan Haren RHP

SWEET FIFTEEN

Jordan Zimmermann earned his 15th victory of the season Saturday night, becoming just the fourth Nationals pitcher to reach that plateau since the club arrived in The District in 2005. He joins Gio Gonzalez (21, 2012), Livan Hernandez (15, 2005) and Stephen Strasburg (15, 2012) in the 15-win club. The last time a D.C.-based pitcher won more than 15 games and another player repeated the feat the next season was 1940-41, when Sid Hudson won 17 games in 1940 and Dutch Leonard followed that up by winning 18 in 1941.

MORE MOORE, PLEASE

Since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on August 17, Nationals first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore is batting .524 (11-for-21), raising his average 62 points on the season. The Nationals are 8-1 in the last nine games in which Moore has played.

THE POWER OF 3

When scoring three or more runs this year, as they did again Saturday night, the Nationals are 59-15 (.797). When plating two or fewer runs, Washington is just 6-49 (.109). The Nationals are an amazing 42-4 (.913) when they score five runs or more in a game.

Highlights: 8.24.13

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8.24.13 – Nationals 7, Royals 2

Stat of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann earned his National League-leading 15th win of the season, matching the total accrued by Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tyler Moore had yet another multi-hit game, his fifth straight since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.

It Was Over When: Fernando Abad struck out David Lough with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the 8th inning.

What to Watch for: 8.24.13

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Washington Nationals (64-64) vs. Kansas City Royals (64-63)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (14-7, 3.37) vs. RHP Wade Davis (6-9, 5.43)

The Nationals earned a hard-fought victory over the Kansas City Royals Friday night, battling back from a 6-0 deficit to earn an 11-10 win. They will go for their fifth win in a row Saturday, as Jordan Zimmermann takes the hill in search of his first career road win in Interleague Play. Washington batters have been all over the base paths in the past four contests, collecting 49 hits and drawing 24 walks. The Nationals will don throwback Homestead Grays jerseys tonight, while the Royals play as the Kansas City Monarchs.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman DH

3. Bryce Harper RF

4. Wilson Ramos C

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Tyler Moore LF

8. Chad Tracy 3B

9. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

Jordan Zimmermann RHP

ROAD LESS TRAVELED

With Friday’s 11-10 win at Kansas City, the Nationals have won a season-high four consecutive road games. The Nationals hadn’t won four straight on the road since August 29-September 12, 2012, and their last five-game road surge came during an eight-game road winning streak from July 28-August 11, 2012.

THE POWER OF 3

When scoring three or more runs this year, as they did Friday night, the Nationals are 58-15 (.795). When plating two or fewer runs, Washington is just 6-49 (.109).

KANSAS CITY HERE WE COME!

With Friday’s Kauffman Stadium baptism complete, the Nationals have now played games in 33 different ballparks since the franchise relocated to D.C. in 2005. With Kansas City now scratched off the list, the last big league frontier the Nationals have yet to visit is Oakland – and next season’s Interleague rotation is scheduled to yield games against the AL West. In terms of ballparks, the Nationals have played games at every current MLB venue except Target Field in Minneapolis and O.co Coliseum in Oakland.

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