August 2013

A Walk Through History

From left to right, Tarasco, Span, Desmond and Hairston pose with a statue of Buck Leonard.

From left to right, Tarasco, Span, Desmond and Hairston pose with a statue of Buck Leonard.

Prior to their contest with the Royals on Saturday, members of the Nationals were invited on a special visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. NLBM President Bob Kendrick – successor to the late, great, John “Buck” O’Neil – led the guided tour, while Ian Desmond, Scott Hairston, Denard Span and Tony Tarasco learned about the history of the Negro Leagues and the players that were among the best of all time.

Kendrick’s charming, spirited storytelling painted a beautiful portrait for a touring group and attracted as many as 40 other guests to join along, as he described everything from the speed of James “Cool Papa” Bell to the harsh travel conditions players had to deal with during an era of oppressive segregation.

A poignant, personal moment marked the highlight of the trip, when Hairston saw a showcased photograph of his grandfather, Sam, a star on the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 1940s. With his wife and two young sons in tow, Hairston was able to share a special moment with his family following the guided portion of the tour.

Sam Hairston, grandfather of Scott.

Sam Hairston, grandfather of Scott.

“It’s a very proud feeling – and also very emotional for me, because this is the first time I’ve been here,” Hairston said. “It’s really nice, especially for my kids and wife to see. Not only is it the history of our family, but it’s American history.”

Span, who visited Kansas City many times as a member of the Minnesota Twins, also paid his first visit to the museum. He said he learned a lot on the tour, and was thankful for the opportunity to be there.

“It definitely surpassed what I could have imagined,” Span said of the visit. “I enjoyed the stories about Josh Gibson and all the home runs, and how he was called the ‘Black Babe Ruth’ and Babe Ruth was called the ‘White Josh Gibson.’ The record books would have been written differently if those guys had been able to play in the big leagues, but I still feel like the Negro Leagues played a big part in society.”

Span was struck by the contrast between the five-star accommodations that players enjoy in today’s game and the hardships Negro League players faced to even find hotels that would accept them as paying guests.

“Those guys rode on broken-down buses and probably stayed in one-star hotels, if that, but they still found joy in playing the game that they loved,” Span said. “That just signifies that whole league and the character of those players.”

At the conclusion of the visit, the Nationals presented Kendrick and the Museum with a signed No. 32 Nationals jersey, the number worn by Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard when he played for the Homestead Grays. Tonight, the Nationals will take the field wearing throwback Grays jerseys, facing the Kansas City Monarchs in commemoration of the 1942 Negro World Series.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located near the intersection of historic 18th and Vine, just east of downtown Kansas City.

Highlights: 8.23.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

8.23.13 – Nationals 11, Royals 10

Stat of the Game: The Nationals rallied from a 6-0 deficit, their largest comeback win of the season.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tyler Moore continued his hot hitting, collecting three of the Nationals 13 hits. He has multi-hit games in each of his four games since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.

It Was Over When: Moore caught a short fly ball to left field for the final out, giving the Nationals their fourth consecutive win.

A Whole New Drew

One of the under-the-radar stories during the first seven games of the Nationals road trip has been the reemergence of Drew Storen as a successful member of the Washington bullpen. The 26-year-old right-hander has been nearly unhittable since returning from Triple-A Syracuse on August 16, allowing just one hit and no walks in five scoreless innings, while striking out six batters.

Storen said his resurgence has been sparked by a return to his former delivery, one that helped him earn 43 saves during the 2011 season.

“It feels good to get back to what I’ve always done, to pitch more athletically,” he said. “I’m throwing strikes and I feel like I’m getting on top of the baseball.”

Drew Storen has helped the Nationals to wins in four of the past six games.

Drew Storen has helped the Nationals to wins in four of the past six games.

Despite the tough reality of going down to the Minor Leagues, Storen stayed positive and focused on his pitching motion rather than his demotion.

“I treated it like a rehab assignment,” he explained. “I went down there and made it just about getting reps and building muscle memory with my mechanics.”

The return to form has given a lift to manager Davey Johnson’s bullpen, a unit that has been taxed of late thanks to a 15-inning win against the Braves on August 17 and a 13-inning victory over the Chicago Cubs on August 22, all without a break in the schedule.

Storen has found himself in the middle of each of those two victories, posting a perfect, three-strikeout inning in the Atlanta contest and earning his third save of the season with a strong 13th inning in Chicago. Should the Nationals need a closer in Friday night’s contest in Kansas City, Johnson won’t hesitate to call upon Storen, with regular closer Rafael Soriano scheduled to rest after pitching each of the previous three games.

“I think (Drew) made a lot of good adjustments, and he’s making more quality pitches,” Johnson said prior to Friday’s game. “If we get a lead, he’ll be closing this one out tonight. I’m happy with where he’s at, and I know he’s happy.”

What to Watch for: 8.23.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Washington Nationals (63-64) vs. Kansas City Royals (64-62)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-6, 3.38) vs. LHP Bruce Chen (5-1, 2.20)

Coming off a 3-1 series win over the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals continue their 10-game road swing with a trip to Kansas City for three games against the Royals. The Interleague series will mark Washington’s first visit to Kauffman Stadium since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005, and the first game in Kansas City for a D.C.-based team since August 22, 1971 – 42 years and one day ago.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper RF

4. Jayson Werth DH

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Adam LaRoche 1B

8. Tyler Moore LF

9. Anthony Rendon 2B

Gio Gonzalez LHP

MOVING DAY:

The Nationals announced a pair of roster moves Friday, as the team dealt catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Oakland Athletics and outfielder David DeJesus to the Tampa Bay Rays.

In return for Suzuki, Washington acquired pitcher Dakota Bacus, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who was a ninth-round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.  The 22-year-old was 9-5 with a 3.56 ERA for Beloit of the Class-A Midwest League this season, after going 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA, 12 hits, five walks and 35 strikeouts in 30 innings during his Rookie League campaign a year ago. Bacus will report to Hagerstown of the Class-A South Atlantic League.

Tampa Bay will send Washington a player to be named later or cash considerations in exchange for DeJesus, who was picked up in a deal earlier in the week from the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals recalled catcher Jhonatan Solano and left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno to replace Suzuki and DeJesus on the 25-man roster.

GOON SQUAD COMES ALIVE:

Despite a slow start to the season, the Nationals bench provided a spark in the series win over the Chicago Cubs. Scott Hairston gave the Nats a huge lift with a go-ahead, three-run homer on Wednesday, while Tyler Moore (four hits in the series), Steve Lombardozzi (double and home run Thursday) and Chad Tracy (game-winning RBI Thursday) came through in key situations.

200 CLUB

Washington Manager Davey Johnson earned his 200th victory with the Nationals Wednesday night, the third team he has piloted to 200 wins. He went 595-417 with the New York Mets, 204-172 with the Cincinnati Reds and is now 201-171 with the Nationals. He also tallied 186 victories for the Baltimore Orioles and 163 more for the Los Angeles Dodgers during his illustrious managerial career.

 

Highlights: 8.22.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

8.22.13 – Nationals 5, Cubs 4 (13 innings)

Stat of the Game: Steve Lombardozzi hit his first career home run from the right side of the plate, a solo shot in the 7th inning.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-5 with a solo home run in the top of the 1st, which gave the Nats their fifth player with 15 or more home runs this season (Adam LaRoche 18, Jayson Werth 18, Ian Desmond 17 and Bryce Harper 17).

It Was Over When: Drew Storen stuck his glove in front of a Dioner Navarro liner, deflecting it into a game-ending 1-4-6-3 double play.

Homecoming King

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

When Tanner Roark was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse a couple of weeks ago, it signified a lifelong goal achieved. At age 26, in his sixth full season of professional ball, he had finally reached the big leagues. And the way that the Nationals schedule shaped up, it meant a trip back to his home state of Illinois, with the chance to perhaps pitch at Wrigley Field, the park he grew up going to as a Cubs fan.

Roark’s brother Dillon took it upon himself to organize an outing for friends and family to see the pride of Wilmington, Ill. return home. A town of 5,757 people about 60 miles to the southwest of Chicago, Wilmington is a tight-knit community, but Dillon never expected the response to the Facebook invitation he put out a couple of weeks ago. Originally expecting just a handful of folks to make the trek, Dillon was overwhelmed when the event took on a life of its own.

The man of the hour, Roark signed dozens of autographs after the game.

The man of the hour, Roark signed dozens of autographs after the game.

By the time Wednesday night rolled around, the Wilmington faithful had filled two buses – 97 people in all – with an estimated 30-50 more caravanning in cars. In all, two to three percent of the entire town’s population, decked out mostly in Nationals red, hooted and hollered for much of the game from the right field bleachers.

“I had no idea it was going to be this big,” said Dillon after the game, standing on the street corner outside the gates, watching his brother swarmed amidst a mob of interview and photo requests.

Of course, Roark wasn’t the star of the evening simply for being on the team. While nobody could have planned it this way, he wound up entering the game in relief in the fifth inning. And while he admitted that the circumstances got to him a bit in his first inning, he escaped with the game tied 6-6.

“It was definitely nerves and adrenaline, both,” admitted Roark. “I know better, to calm myself down on the mound. To stop the hitting parade and just hit my spots.”

Another look at the mob that greeted Roark at the Wrigley Field gate.

Another look at the mob that greeted Roark at the Wrigley Field gate.

Roark returned to the hill for the sixth refocused and under control, striking out the top three batters in the Cubs lineup in order, sending his rooting section into a frenzy. In the top of the seventh, with two on, two outs and two strikes, Scott Hairston blasted a pinch-hit, three-run home run over the ivy-covered wall in left to put the Nationals back in front for good. In so doing, he also made Roark the pitcher of record, helping him earn the win.

Ben Stickel, one of Tanner’s friends “since they were babies,” was grinning ear-to-ear after the game, soaking in the whole experience. Having played baseball with Roark as kids, he could still barely believe what he had witnessed

“To see one of your buddies come out and step on a Major League baseball field, it just makes the story of the town,” he said. “Tanner’s a die-hard Cubs fan, ever since he’s been a little kid. A kid whose team he’s idolized his whole life, comes to Wrigley Field, steps on the mound, comes in and gets a win.”

Just the way everyone drew it up, right?

What to Watch for: 8.22.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Washington Nationals (62-64) vs. Chicago Cubs (54-72)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 2.93) vs. LHP Travis Wood (7-10, 3.13)

Stephen Strasburg takes the hill at Wrigley Field for the first time since Opening Day 2012, a game won 2-1 by the Nationals with some late heroics from Chad Tracy and Ian Desmond. The lineup he will face Sunday includes just two players who started that game for the Cubs, shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney. Chicago will go with All-Star left-hander Travis Wood, who is making his 91st appearance (87th start), but first against the Nationals.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Bryce Harper CF

2. Anthony Rendon SS

3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Wilson Ramos C

6. Tyler Moore 1B

7. Scott Hairston LF

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

POWER OF 3:

The Nationals came through with a trio of three-run innings against the Cubs Wednesday night, powering their way to an 11-6 victory in the Friendly Confines. Jayson Werth and Scott Hairston blasted three-run homers in the winning effort, giving Wilmington, Illinois native Tanner Roark his third win – in front of more than 100 family and friends in attendance.

MORE GOOD THINGS COME IN 3s:

Werth’s three-run shot came on a 3-0 pitch. It was the first such home run for the Nats since Bryce Harper took a 3-0 pitch into the second deck in Miami on August 29 of last season. Wednesday’s contest also marked the first time all season the Nationals hit more than one three-run homer in a game.

200 CLUB

Washington Manager Davey Johnson earned his 200th victory with the Nationals Wednesday night, the third team he has piloted to 200 wins. He went 595-417 with the Mets, 204-172 with the Reds and improved to 200-171 with the Nationals. He has also tallied 186 victories for the Orioles and 163 more for the Dodgers in his illustrious career.

Highlights: 8.21.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

8.21.13 – Nationals 11, Cubs 6

Stat of the Game: Scott Hairston‘s pinch-hit, three-run home run gave him his first roundtripper and first RBI in a Nationals uniform.

Under-the-Radar Performance: For the third time in five Major League appearances, Tanner Roark earned the win in relief.

It Was Over When: The Nationals added two more runs on Denard Span‘s RBI-triple and Ryan Zimmerman‘s RBI-single in the eighth.

What to Watch for: 8.21.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Washington Nationals (61-64) vs. Chicago Cubs (54-71)

RHP Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 1.85) vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (1-0, 0.69)

The Nationals send Ross Ohlendorf to the mound against the Chicago Cubs, his first appearance since going on the 15-day disabled list on August 4 (retroactive to August 1). Washington Manager Davey Johnson said he expects Ohlendorf to throw roughly 90 pitches in this evening’s contest. The Cubs will counter with former Baltimore Oriole Jake Arrieta, acquired on July 2 along with reliever Pedro Strop and cash considerations in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger. Arrieta has never bested the Nationals (0-1, 5.57 ERA in four starts), but has been excellent in his two big league starts since joining the Cubs organization.

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. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Ross Ohlendorf RHP

31 FLAVORS OF VICTORY FOR HAREN

Dan Haren continues to make career history, pocketing his first-career win at Wrigley Field – his 31st different park with a W – as the Nationals doubled up the Cubs, 4-2, on Tuesday night. The victory was his first since beating the Philadelphia Phillies on August 9, giving him wins against all 30 franchises. In between, Haren notched his first Major League save in a close-out effort against the Braves Saturday night.

NATS COME THROUGH IN CLUTCH

Despite a rough night in which Washington brought home just four of its 21 base runners, the Nationals made it count when it mattered most. Ian Desmond singled home Bryce Harper with nobody out in the ninth to extend the Nats lead to 3-1, and four batters later Denard Span brought home a two-out insurance run, when he plated Ryan Zimmerman to give the Nationals a 4-1 advantage.

NOT A MINOR ACCOMPLISHMENT

The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals are a stunning 45-8 (.849) this season, which began June 21. However the GCL Nats did lose 2012 No. 1 pick Lucas Giolito, who was promoted to the Short Season-A Auburn Doubledays – and promptly won his first start, a gem of a performance earlier Wednesday afternoon. Giolito went five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, while striking out four. He did not walk a batter.

Highlights: 8.20.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

8.20.13 – Nationals 4, Cubs 2

Stat of the Game: The Nationals had a season-high 21 men reach base safely (14 hits, seven walks), one more than the 20 they accumulated in a 14-1 drubbing of the Mets on July 28.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard did not allow any base runners in the seventh and eighth innings, holding onto the Nats slim 2-1 lead.

It Was Over When: Denard Span, a late-game defensive replacement, ripped a two-out, RBI single in the top of the ninth to give Washington a 4-1 advantage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 543 other followers