August 2013

What to Watch for: 8.20.13

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Washington Nationals (60-64) vs. Chicago Cubs (54-70)

RHP Dan Haren (7-11, 4.79) vs. LHP Chris Rusin (2-2, 3.06)

Washington takes on the North Siders in the second of a four-game set at Wrigley Field. The Nationals send veteran righty Dan Haren – who leads Nationals starters in wins (three), batting average against (.174) and ERA (2.45) since the All-Star break – against Cubs lefty Chris Rusin. Haren has allowed just three home runs in 44.0 innings since coming off the disabled list, but will face a tough test with the wind blowing out on a warm night in Chicago.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Bryce Harper CF

2. Ian Desmond SS

3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Wilson Ramos C

6. Tyler Moore 1B

7. Anthony Rendon 2B

8. Scott Hairston LF

9. Dan Haren RHP

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Ian Desmond’s 52 extra-base hits (33 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs) pace all big league shortstops. The 52 XBH are 10 more than any other MLB shortstop (Troy Tulowitzki, 42). Furthermore, with 33 in the bag, Desmond’s next double will establish a new career high (also 33 in 2012).

A WHOLE NEW DREW

Drew Storen has been sharp since his return from his stint at Triple-A Syracuse. The righty pitched an inning in all three games of the Atlanta series, allowing a single hit without a walk or a run scored while striking out five of the 10 batters he has faced.

NOT A MINOR ACCOMPLISHMENT

The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals are a stunning 43-8 (.843) this season, which began June 21. The .557 overall winning percentage (379-302) posted by the Nationals Minor League system ranks fourth among MLB’s 30 franchises, behind only San Francisco (.569), Houston (.568) and Texas (.560).

What to Watch for: 8.19.13

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Washington Nationals (60-63) vs. Chicago Cubs (53-70)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (14-6, 3.02) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (6-11, 4.29)

The Nationals made a trade Monday afternoon, acquiring Chicago Cubs outfielder David DeJesus for a player to be named later. DeJesus brings a veteran, left-handed presence, along with the defensive versatility to play all three outfield spots. He’s also a familiar face for several Washington players, including Gio Gonzalez, Scott Hairston and Kurt Suzuki. All four played together as members of the Oakland A’s in 2011, while DeJesus and Hairston also shared a clubhouse in Chicago this season.

DeJesus didn’t have far to go to join his new team – he literally walked out of the Cubs dugout earlier this afternoon, crossed behind home plate, and disappeared into the Nationals dugout on the first base side.

On the field, DeJesus brings the same approach to the plate as other Nationals veterans, especially Jayson Werth. While he carries a career slash line of .290/.366/.448 against right-handers, DeJesus’ 4.07 pitches per plate appearance would put him in the top 10 in the National League with enough at-bats to qualify.

“My game is grinding out at-bats and making the pitcher work,” he explained.

Off the field, the 33-year-old hopes to provide an affable, congenial voice for a young club trying to come into its own.

“Try to be a leader, someone the young guys can learn from,” DeJesus said, when asked about what he brings to the club. “That’s my role, and I’m going to take that to heart.”

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Adam LaRoche 1B

6. Ian Desmond SS

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

ON SCHEDULE

The Nationals second half record is just 12-16, but they could be in store for a strong finish. Washington is 2-13 in the second half against the teams with the top four records in baseball (Braves, Tigers, Dodgers and Pirates) but 10-3 against everyone else (Mets, Brewers, Phillies and Giants). Beginning with today’s contest with the Cubs, the Nats play 27 of their remaining 39 games against teams currently at least 10 games below the .500 mark on the season.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Last season, the Nationals went 29-13 against the NL Central, and their corresponding .690 winning percentage paced the Senior Circuit against the division. Washington is just 12-15 (.444) against the NL Central in 2013, including a 1-2 record against the Cubs. The Nationals have seven games remaining against NL Central competition (four at Chicago, three at St. Louis).

D.C.’S HIT MAN SOON TO BE EXPOSED

Jayson Werth’s .334 batting average would rank a close second in the National League to Atlanta’s Chris Johnson (.335) with enough plate appearances to qualify. Werth’s 371 plate appearances are 10 shy of the 381 required (123 games x 3.1 plate appearances per game) to qualify for the NL batting title. His 4.28 pitches per plate appearance would also be tops in the National League (Paul Goldschmidt, 4.19).

What to Watch for: 8.18.13

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Washington Nationals (60-62) vs. Atlanta Braves (75-48)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-5, 3.42) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (9-6, 3.08)

A little less than 13 hours after wrapping up a marathon 8-7, 15-inning win, the Nationals will send Gio Gonzalez to the mound in search of a series victory over the Braves. Sunday’s matchup will be Gonzalez’s fourth against Atlanta this season, including his third at Turner Field. The southpaw has stifled the Braves in his last two outings against them, allowing just three runs on nine hits in 14 innings, walking two and striking out 12.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Bryce Harper LF

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Adam LaRoche 1B

6. Ian Desmond SS

7. Chad Tracy 3B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

BULLISH ON THE ‘PEN

Following Stephen Strasburg’s early exit Saturday, the Nationals bullpen fired 14 innings, striking out a Major League record 19 Braves (1971-present). The combination of Tanner Roark, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen and Dan Haren, who earned his first-career save, pitched what amounted to a full game, tallying eye-popping numbers: 9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 16 K. Meanwhile, rookie left-hander Ian Krol, following a tough loss the previous night, navigated the Nationals through the pressure-packed 10th and 11th innings without allowing a run.

MOORE, TYLER PLEASE

Tyler Moore was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse prior to Saturday night’s game, and went 2-for-4 with a run scored while playing eight innings of flawless defense at first base. During his recent stint with the Chiefs, Moore compiled a .367/.442/.664 slash line, blasting eight home runs and plating a whopping 38 RBI in 33 games. Moore was lifted in the ninth in favor of Adam LaRoche, and the move paid off – albeit six innings later – when LaRoche belted the game-deciding home run.

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Some staggering numerical mementos from Washington’s 15-inning 8-7 win at Turner Field:

0 number of Braves hits with runners in scoring position in 15 innings

1 position players remaining on the bench for either team (Kurt Suzuki)

2 number of career 15th-inning homers hit by Adam LaRoche (also August 24, 2007 for Pittsburgh at Houston)

4 number of extra-inning games between the Braves and Nationals this season

10 minutes first pitch delayed by rain

18 combined number of pitchers to pitch in the game

19 strikeouts notched by Washington’s bullpen

35 number of wins, against just 12 losses, when the Nationals score last in a game

44 combined players used by both clubs

126 plate appearances in the game

319 career appearances for Dan Haren upon earning first career save

329 minutes passed during game’s duration

513 pitches in game (335 strikes)

1413 days since the Nationals last 15-inning game, a 2-1 win over the Braves on 10/4/09. Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman & Tyler Clippard (Nationals) and Adam LaRoche, Brian McCann, Rafael Soriano and Kris Medlen (Braves) also played in that contest.

Saturday Night Fever

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“I feel like we were just destined to win that game, some way, somehow.”

Those words came from Dan Haren, maybe the most unlikely of heroes from a game full of them, saturated with storylines from both dugouts.

Saturday night was supposed to be about Bryce Harper, about unwritten baseball rules, about the rising tension between the Nationals and the Braves as they battled through the dog days of summer. But amidst a bizarre game in which two of the best young pitchers in baseball each failed to escape the second inning, it became a story of a true team effort in which 21 of the 25 men on the Washington roster played a role. In the end, the Nationals prevailed after 15 innings and nearly five-and-a-half hours, by a final of 8-7.

Adam LaRoche provided the decisive blow with his team-leading 18th home run.

Adam LaRoche provided the decisive blow with his team-leading 18th home run.

While any 15-inning affair will naturally be referred to most commonly as a marathon, this division rivalry felt more like a long distance relay race, with one reliever handing the baton to the next, over and over again. In all, 18 different pitchers were used by the two clubs – nine each – including the starters, each club’s entire seven-man bullpen, and two more starters to close it out.

Along the way, Washington set a number of records. The 15 innings matched the longest game in Nationals history, equaling the 2009 season finale, a 2-1 win over none other than the Braves at Turner Field. The five-hour, 29-minute affair was the lengthiest in terms of time elapsed. Meanwhile, the 19 strikeouts compiled by the Washington bullpen shattered the all-time Major League mark, at least as far back as anyone can be sure. The records for such a stat only date back to 1971, to which point the highest total ever compiled by a relief staff in a single game was 16. But considering the way the sport had evolved, with increased strikeout rates and higher bullpen usage, it’s hard to imagine any club amassing a comparable total in any previous era.

Following Stephen Strasburg’s second-inning ejection, Tanner Roark was the first Nationals reliever to answer the call, entering a 4-2 game and providing four innings of one-hit, scoreless relief with six strikeouts. Drew Storen tossed a perfect seventh inning, striking out the side. Ian Krol rebounded from a tough Friday night outing to put up two more scoreless frames in extra innings, and Craig Stammen followed a two-inning stint Friday night with a 55-pitch, three-inning scoreless stretch to get the game to the 15th inning.

Dan Haren earned his first Major League save in relief.

Dan Haren earned his first Major League save in relief.

Of course, in the midst of the impressive relief outings, the Braves tied the game in the ninth, making all of the extra pomp and circumstance necessary in the first place. But neither team would score again until the 15th inning, when Adam LaRoche punished a hanging breaking ball from Kris Medlen for a moonshot to right field, the ball searing through the mist at Turner Field before coming to rest in the bleachers, a dozen rows deep, giving the Nationals the lead once more.

That left the game to Haren, summoned from the bullpen to make his first relief appearance since 2004. Haren had thrown his routine side work prior to the game, tossing 30-35 pitches, which he followed with an upper body workout. But when Strasburg’s evening was cut short, several hours earlier, he offered up his services, should they be needed. They were.

“I’m proud of him for even doing that,” said Randy Knorr, who took over as manager when Davey Johnson was ejected along with Strasburg. “A lot of guys wouldn’t even have gone down there after throwing a bullpen.”

Haren allowed a single, but that was all, striking out Jordan Schafer flailing at a splitter, his bat sent cartwheeling towards the Braves dugout to end the game. That netted Haren first Major League save, and only his second as a professional, the other coming more than 12 years prior as a member of the New Jersey Cardinals of the Short-season New York Penn League on July 15, 2001 against the Lowell Spinners.

“I’m only supposed to do media every five days,” Haren joked as the huddle approached his locker after 1 a.m. local time.

In the end, the Nationals went home with a big road victory in Atlanta. Their reward. Both clubs get a whopping 12 hours and 46 minutes between the final out and the first pitch on Sunday afternoon. Haren summed it up best when all was said and done.

“Five-hour games are fine when you win them. But when you lose them, they really stink.”

Highlights: 8.17.13

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8.17.13 – Nationals 8, Braves 7 (15 innings)

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche‘s 15-inning home run was the deciding blow in the longest game in franchise history at five hours, 29 minutes.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tanner Roark tossed four innings of one-hit, shutout relief, striking out six batters.

It Was Over When: Dan Haren earned his first Major League save with a scoreless 15th inning.

What to Watch for: 8.17.13

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Washington Nationals (59-62) vs. Atlanta Braves (75-47)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 2.83) vs. LHP Mike Minor (12-5, 2.87)

Stephen Strasburg takes the hill in Atlanta, six days after his first career complete game and shutout, a four-hit, 99-pitch masterpiece over the Philadelphia Phillies in which he walked just one and struck out 10. Tonight will mark Strasburg’s 12th start vs. Atlanta, his most against any opponent. In his 11 previous career outings against the Braves, Strasburg owns a 3.43 ERA (22 ER/57.2 IP), 70 strikeouts and a 3.5/1 strikeout-to-walk rate.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Tyler Moore 1B

8. Scott Hairston LF

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

AS THE ROTATION TURNS

Through the last turn of the Nationals rotation, no Washington starter has allowed more than a single earned run in his respective start, with only two total earned runs allowed over the five games (0.58 ERA):

Stephen Strasburg: 9.0 IP, 0 ER

Gio Gonzalez: 4.0 IP, 0 ER

Jordan Zimmermann: 6.0 IP, 1 ER

Dan Haren: 6.0 IP, 1 ER

Taylor Jordan: 6.0 IP, 0 ER

MOORE, TYLER PLEASE

Tyler Moore was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse before tonight’s game and is in the starting lineup at first base. During his 45-game stint with the Chiefs, Moore compiled a .312/.395/.584 slash line, blasting 10 home runs and plating a whopping 46 RBI. Since the All-Star break, those numbers have been even better (.371/.451/.676).

SOMETHING IN THE GULF

The Gulf Coast League Nationals are a stunning 42-8 (.840) this season, which began June 21. With 10 games remaining on the schedule, the GCL Nationals have a shot at setting a mark for best winning percentage recorded by a domestic Short season/Rookie League team. The 1979 Paintsville Yankees (52-13, .800) of the Rookie-level Appalachian League hold the current record.

What to Watch for: 8.16.13

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Washington Nationals (59-61) vs. Atlanta Braves (74-47)

RHP Taylor Jordan (1-3, 4.14) vs. LHP Alex Wood (2-2, 2.78)

Rookies Taylor Jordan and Alex Wood will square off in game one of a three-game series, the final matchup between the Braves and Nationals in Atlanta this season.

Jordan will be making his ninth start of the season, his first against the Braves, while Wood faces the Nationals for the first time after 20 appearances, including five starts. Wood, the 85th-overall pick (second round) in the 2012 Draft out of the University of Georgia, will be the third pitcher from his Draft class to face the Nationals this season; Washington roughed up fourth-overall pick Kevin Gausman of the Orioles on May 28 at Nationals Park, and faced Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez (82nd overall/second round) on three occasions earlier in the year.

Both Jordan, a lanky right-hander, and Wood, a tall, sturdy lefty, induce ground balls at a high rate. Jordan has a ground out/air out ratio of 1.69:1, inducing eight double plays in 45.2 innings, while Wood has posted a 1.71:1 GOAO with three double plays turned behind him in his 45.1 innings of work.

Wood features a deceptive delivery that is equally tough on righties and lefties, holding left-handed hitters to a .200 batting average and right-handed hitters to just a .207 mark. He has been even stingier with runners in scoring position, holding opponents to a .146 (6-for-41) batting average against in those situations.

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. Taylor Jordan RHP

D.C.’S HIT MAN SOON TO BE EXPOSED

With a .331 batting average entering play Friday, Jayson Werth would rank second in the National League behind Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson (.337) with enough plate appearances to qualify. Werth, currently at 357 plate appearances, will need 145 more trips to the plate over the Nationals final 42 games (3.45 per game) to qualify for the 502 necessary to win the batting crown. Meanwhile, Johnson is just 5-for-32 (.156) in his last eight games against Nationals pitching.

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Ian Desmond’s third-inning double on Thursday was his 52nd extra-base hit (33 doubles, two triples, 17 homers) of the 2013 season. No other Major League shortstop has more than 40 extra-base hits this season. Desmond’s 33 doubles trail only Manny Machado (42) and Matt Carpenter (40) among all big leaguers, leaving him in a five-way tie for third with Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Chris Davis and Jay Bruce.

DAVEY’S LAST STAND

Nationals Manager and former Braves second baseman Davey Johnson will make his last appearance in Atlanta this weekend. Johnson’s 42 home runs as a second baseman (43 total) in 1973 as a member of the Braves remains the top output by a second sacker in baseball history. Dan Uggla, with 35 in 2011, is the only other Braves second baseman to crack more than 21 long balls in a single campaign. Uggla is currently on the disabled list following corrective eye surgery this week.

Reasons For Hope

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Before heading to Nationals Park to prepare for Tuesday’s game, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman had some important business across town. Through a partnership with Hope for Henry, the two infielders spent some time at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, lifting the spirits of pediatric cancer patients undergoing treatment.

DSC_1594Zimmerman, who annually visits children in local hospitals, appreciates the perspective he gains from meeting children who are fighting for their lives.

“A lot of these kids are fighting battles that we’ve never even had to think about,” he explained. “It’s pretty amazing to see what they go through.”

Desmond is one of the club’s most community-minded players, but made his first hospital visit. He was overwhelmed by the positive attitudes from the children and families he encountered.

“To be able to see kids, parents and family members in such positive spirits when things are stacked against them, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s encouraging and motivating, and it’s just a blessing to be able to be here and interact with them.”

DSC_1627Laurie Strongin founded Hope For Henry after her eldest son lost his battle with cancer. Every week, Hope For Henry hosts in-hospital parties and events that help promote comfort, care and recovery for the patients and their families. For Laurie, professional athletes taking a genuine interest in children struggling with unimaginable circumstances is what she envisioned when she started the foundation 10 years ago.

“This is our second event with the Washington Nationals and it is a total delight to work with them,” Strongin said. “The players make the kids so happy. (It’s great) for them to meet their heroes while they’re in the hospital and really have a chance to visit with them.”

Hope For Henry provided pizza and cupcakes along with baseballs, baseball cards and wristbands that Ryan and Ian gave to the kids. Each child also had their picture taken by a Hope for Henry photographer, who printed the photos on-site so they could be autographed by the players before the visit was over.

DSC_1622Considering their circumstances, the children were all in remarkably high spirits,  none more so than three-year-old Jakyle. Wearing his Nationals jersey, Jakyle was overcome with exuberance when Zimmerman and Desmond walked in. This particular moment had a lasting effect for both Nationals.

“He’s only three years old and has been through more than a lot of people have been through in their whole lives,” said Zimmerman. “For him to have some fun and jump around and go crazy, it’s humbling.”

For more information about Hope For Henry, visit http://www.hopeforhenry.org.

Highlights: 8.15.13

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8.15.13 – Giants 4, Nationals 3

Stat of the Game: Dan Haren continued his run of solid starts since his return from the disabled list, allowing a single run on three hits over six innings.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jayson Werth collected two more hits and is now batting .331 for the season.

It Was Over When: Down to their last strike, the Giants flipped the script with a three-run home run to snap Washington’s five-game winning streak.

What to Watch for: 8.15.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-67) vs. Washington Nationals (59-60)

 RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.71) vs. RHP Dan Haren (7-11, 4.99)

The Nationals finish up their series against the Giants and their nine-game homestand this afternoon, as they aim to bring their record to an even .500. Jordan Zimmermann won his career-high 14th game of the season thanks to Denard Span, who sealed the victory with a game-saving catch. With Dan Haren on the mound, the Nats look to extend their five game win streak and go for their second straight series sweep.

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. Anthony Rendon 2B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Dan Haren RHP

SWEEP POSSIBILTIES

The Nationals will attempt to complete their third-ever sweep of the Giants in this afternoon’s series finale. Washington swept a home series from San Francisco in both 2012 (3-0) and 2006 (3-0). The Nationals have also won seven straight home games over the Giants. Washington has likewise won seven consecutive home games over the Marlins and Cardinals, but never reached the threshold of eight straight victories in D.C. over a single opponent.

SEVENTEEN AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN

The Nationals are the only team in the National League with four players with 17 or more home runs. Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, and Jayson Werth all share the team lead with 17 each. Only two other Major League teams – Toronto and Los Angeles (AL) – have as many as four players with 17 or more home runs.

SUMMER’S SCORCHER

Jayson Werth leads Major League Baseball in batting average dating to the beginning of both July and August. Since July 1st, Werth has hit .413. Detroit’s Victor Martinez has the next best average hitting .381 in that span. Since August first Werth is hitting .528 with Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen in a distant second at .474.

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