August 2013

Spanning The Ages

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Denard Span has maintained since his arrival in the Nation’s Capital that he takes more pride in his defense than his offense. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, taking extra bases away from Joey Votto and Zack Cozart of the Reds, Carlos Ruiz and Darin Ruf of the Phillies, Jason Kubel of the Diamondbacks, and others.

Perhaps it’s because of all those other plays that we’ve seen over the course of his first season in a Nationals uniform, but when the ball left Hunter Pence’s bat with two on and two out in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, there was a sense of confidence that Span would find a way to track it down. Track it down he did, notching the catch of the year for Washington and securing the fifth straight win for the Nationals.

Like a walk-off home run, the game-saving grab stands out above other tremendous defensive plays more because of its situational importance than the shear athleticism involved. Because of the situation and the location of Span’s catch, it was most obviously evocative of Roger Bernadina’s game-saver in Houston last season. But where does Span’s snag rank among the top game-saving catches in franchise history? We’re letting you decide from among our favorites. Watch them below, then vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.

Span Saves The Day: 8.14.13

The Shark’s Disappearing Act: 8.8.12

Willie Harris Leaves Them Loaded: 4.10.10

Highlights: 8.14.13

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8.14.13 – Nationals 6, Giants 5

Stat of the Game: Ian Desmond‘s 17th home run of the season – the longest of the year at Nationals Park (448 feet) – put him into a four-way tie for the team lead.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jordan Zimmermann notched his National League-leading 14th win, extending his career high.

It Was Over When: Denard Span tracked down Hunter Pence’s deep liner in the left-center field gap to save the day, stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base.

What to Watch for: 8.14.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-66) vs. Washington Nationals (58-60)

RHP Tim Lincecum (6-11, 4.18) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (13-6, 3.10)

Rafael Soriano notched his 30th save of the season Tuesday night, tossing a 1-2-3 ninth to seal Washington’s 4-2 win over the Giants. In so doing, he became the sixth player in Major League Baseball history with at least 30 saves for at least three different teams and the Nationals became the sixth different franchise with three different 30-save closers in a least three consecutive years:

30+ saves on 3+ teams:
Randy Myers (Reds, Padres, Cubs, Orioles)
Lee Smith (Cubs, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels)
Jose Mesa (Indians, Mariners, Phillies, Pirates)
Billy Wagner (Astros, Phillies, Mets, Braves)
Doug Jones (Indians, Astros, Brewers)
Rafael Soriano (Rays, Yankees, Nationals)

3+ different closers with 30+ saves in 3+ consecutive years:
Florida Marlins (2004-2007): Benitez, Jones, Borowski, Gregg
Cincinnati Reds (1989-1991): Franco, Myers, Dibble
Atlanta Braves (1997-1999): Wohlers, Ligtenberg, Rocker
Oakland Athletics (2001-2003): Isringhausen, Koch, Foulke
Toronto Blue Jays (2005-2007): Batista, Ryan, Accardo
Washington Nationals (2011-2013): Storen, Clippard, Soriano

In addition, the Nationals have seven different saves leaders in the past seven years:

2007 Chad Cordero (37)
2008 Jon Rauch (17)
2009 Mike MacDougal (20)
2010 Matt Capps (26)
2011 Drew Storen (43)
2012 Tyler Clippard (32)
2013 Rafael Soriano (30)

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. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

START ME UP

Tonight’s matchup of starters is a rematch of the last time Tim Lincecum pitched in Washington, on July 3, 2012 against Jordan Zimmermann. In that game, the Nationals tagged the former Cy Young Award winner for eight runs, seven earned, in just 3.1 innings of work. Meanwhile, Zimmermann allowed just two runs (one earned) in six solid frames as Washington went on to defeat San Francisco, 9-3.

A WERTHY CONTENDER

Jayson Werth’s .410 batting average since July 1 is easily the best in all of baseball, well ahead of his next closest competitor – Detroit’s Victor Martinez – who clocks in at .384 over the same span. Werth’s .327 season average would rank third in the National League if he had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title (Chris Johnson .337, Yadier Molina .330).

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Ian Desmond’s fourth-inning double on Tuesday was his 50th extra-base hit (32 doubles, two triples, 16 homers) of 2013. No other MLB shortstop has more than 40 extra-base hits this season. With 32 in the bag, Desmond’s next double will match his career high (33 in 2012).

Highlights: 8.13.13

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8.13.13 – Nationals 4, Giants 2

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche‘s two-run shot in the sixth broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Nationals to their fourth straight victory.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Tanner Roark earned his second win in four days, allowing one unearned run over two innings of relief.

It Was Over When: Kurt Suzuki‘s eighth-inning sacrifice fly scored Jayson Werth with an insurance run to provide the final margin.

What to Watch for: 8.13.13

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San Francisco Giants (52-65) vs. Washington Nationals (57-60)

LHP Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.75) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 3.52)

The Nationals host the defending World Champions for the opening tilt of a three-game set. Washington swept San Francisco at home last season, going 5-1 overall in the season series. In honor of International Left-hander’s Day, tonight’s pitching matchup includes Major League Baseball’s two winningest southpaws over the last two seasons: Gio Gonzalez (28 wins in ‘12-13) and Madison Bumgarner (27).

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

4. Jayson Werth RF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Scott Hairston LF

9. Gio Gonzalez LHP

99 PITCHES, NO PROBLEM

Stephen Strasburg tossed the first shutout of his career in Washington’s 6-0 home win on Sunday vs. Philadelphia, becoming the first Nationals pitcher to post a shutout at the Phillies expense. Strasburg (99 pitches) became just the fourth National to toss a shutout in less than 100 pitches (also: Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, Pedro Astacio).

START ME UP

Steve McCatty’s starting staff is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA (16 ER/57.1 IP) in nine August contests to date. In those nine games, the starting staff has yielded just one homer while posting a stingy .218 batting average against and an admirable strikeout to walk rate of 3.73.

THE POWER OF 3 (AND 5)

When scoring three or more runs this year, the Nationals are 51-14 (.785). Additionally, when the Nationals tally five or more runs, they are a robust 41-4. Conversely, when plating two or fewer runs, Washington is just 6-46 (.115).

Community Weekend Recap

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The Nationals celebrated the work of Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and its community initiatives August 9-11, holding the organization’s annual Foundation Weekend during the team’s series with the Phillies.

The Dream Foundation kicked off the festivities with the fifth-annual Green Up Day at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, teaming up with Anacostia Riverkeeper to rebuild natural barriers and remove invasive plant species that contribute to soil erosion at the wetlands. Close to 100 volunteers from the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force and KPMG, as well as Nationals fans and front office staff, came out to support the project.

“The Nationals have a commitment to the environment and we’re playing off of that,” said Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, Dream Foundation chair and one of the Nationals principal owners. “We’re hoping to expand that into the community.”

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens serves as a natural filter for the Anacostia River watershed and flood plain for the area.  Storm water overflow from the river accumulates in the Gardens; it is cleansed and partially absorbed as it passes through the vegetation, preventing or mitigating flood damage..  The filtered river and rainwater then flows back into the Anacostia. The volunteers reinforced bank stabilizers installed at last year’s Green Up Day, replenished soil in several eroded areas, and planted native grasses  and trees to aid in soil and plant retention.

“I’m a Nationals fan, so I thought it would be fun to be involved with the Nationals in one way shape or another and do something that’s good for the city,” volunteer Frank Santi said. “This is a great place.”

For their efforts, Green Up Day volunteers received a T-shirt, tickets for Sunday’s game and a free lunch at Nationals Park courtesy of Hard Times Cafe. Additionally, a select group was recognized for its work as part of the pregame ceremonies on Sunday.

Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder praised the efforts of the Dream Foundation and the newfound attention the Nationals have helped steer toward the river next to which Nationals Park sits.

“It’s a very natural partnership for us to work with our most famous neighbor to bring local awareness to the Anacostia and both the trouble that it faces and the amazing beauty it can offer,” Bolinder said.

Other Dream Foundation projects were recognized over the weekend as well, including the Neighborhood Initiative, which benefits local non-profit organizations in the Southeast/Southwest D.C. neighborhoods, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, and the newly opened Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex at Children’s National Medical Center.

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The Stras SHO

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Several times each season when Stephen Strasburg takes the hill and cruises through two or three innings without allowing a hit, the press box begins to buzz.

“He’s got no-hit stuff tonight.”

“I know it’s early, but…”

Etc., etc.

With all his pitches working, Strasburg dominated for his first career shutout.

With all his pitches working, Strasburg dominated for his first career shutout.

Any such talk was wiped away on Strasburg’s very first pitch of Sunday’s game, as Jimmy Rollins lobbed a broken-bat floater into right field for a leadoff single. But the Phillies would manage just three more singles and a walk the rest of the way, as Strasburg completed his first-ever shutout in a 6-0 Nationals victory.

Impressively, he combined the dominant power pitching that he burst onto the scene with in his first big league start, with the more pitch-to-contact-heavy approach he has implemented this season. Despite striking out 10 Philadelphia batters, the 25-year-old needed just 99 pitches and faced just 29 batters, two over the minimum.

“It’s something you try to do every time out,” said Strasburg of his performance. “Try to get more outs with less pitches.”

He fanned seven different Philadelphia starters, with only Chase Utley and Erik Kratz bucking the trend. Instead, those two combined to make seven outs in just five at-bats, as Utley twice grounded into double plays.

Perhaps most impressively, Strasburg did all of this after enduring an early scare, when he stumbled a bit off the mound after spiking a changeup past the ankles of Domonic Brown. The trainers went out to check on the right-hander, and both Strasburg and Davey Johnson would later confirm that he had tweaked his groin on the delivery.

Jayson Werth kept hitting, while Ian Desmond provided a jolt of energy.

Jayson Werth kept hitting, while Ian Desmond provided a jolt of energy.

Ironically, it was something that only happened in the first place – and that he would only feel afterwards – as a result of flying too far open to his glove side, a mechanical glitch that he has worked to rein in all season. Perhaps the added awareness helped Strasburg stay on a better line to home plate, as he would go on to strike out seven of the next 10 batters he faced following a walk to Brown, his lone free pass of the afternoon.

“If he didn’t fly open, it didn’t bother him,” said Johnson after the game. “Obviously it didn’t bother him.”

The masterful performance overshadowed other story lines, like the fact that the 6-0 victory gave the Nationals their first-ever home sweep over their division rivals. Former Phillie Jayson Werth also collected his second straight three-hit game, and is following his NL Player of the Month Award in July with a .571/.647/.821 slash line thus far in August. The Nationals showed aggressiveness on the basepaths, with Ian Desmond scoring from second base on a fielder’s choice, coming all the way home after the ball trickled away from Kratz following Utley’s bounced throw home on a force attempt. And there was terrific defense, capped by Ryan Zimmerman’s diving snare of Kevin Frandsen’s liner to end the game, which, of course, brought the storyline full circle, back to Strasburg’s shutout.

“You expect more of those from him, with his talent,” concluded Johnson.

Strasburg’s next scheduled start will come against the Braves in Atlanta this weekend.

Highlights: 8.11.13

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8.11.13 – Nationals 6, Phillies 0

Stat of the Game: Stephen Strasburg needed just 99 pitches to record his first-ever complete game and shutout, holding the Phillies to just four hits while striking out 10.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jayson Werth turned in his second straight three-hit game and now owns an August slash line of .571/.647/.821.

It Was Over When: Ian Desmond scored from second base on Wilson Ramos‘ fielder’s choice to put Washington ahead 5-0 in the fifth inning.

What to Watch for: 8.11.13

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Philadelphia Phillies (52-64) vs. Washington Nationals (56-60)

RHP Kyle Kendrick (9-8, 4.29) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-9, 3.01)

The Nationals take aim at a three-game sweep of Philadelphia as they send Stephen Strasburg to the hill. Despite winning six of the past seven home series from the Phillies, Washington has never swept its division rival in D.C.

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. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

CLIFF JUMPING

The Nationals overcame a four-run deficit – their largest of the season – against Cliff Lee and the Phillies in Saturday night’s 8-5 victory. Entering the contest, Lee had a personal record of 84-1 when being staked to a lead of four runs or more in his career (he received a no decision). Also, Lee’s teams had won 86 of the 92 games in which he had pitched with at least a four-run cushion.

WERTH ANOTHER LOOK

Since July 1, Jayson Werth leads all National League players in all three Triple Crown categories with a .404 batting average (46-for-114), nine home runs and 27 RBI. The .404 mark is also the best in Major League Baseball over that span, easily in front of Adrian Beltre’s .370.

BANNER START FOR TANNER

With two perfect innings of relief, Tanner Roark collected his first Major League win in just his second appearance out of the bullpen. Roark needed only 12 pitches – six per inning – to set the Phillies down in order twice. The righty has allowed just one baserunner in his first four innings with the Nationals and has faced the minimum 12 batters over that span.

Meaningful Milestones

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As a baseball player, you can’t always control when you will hit certain career milestones. Often times, they occur simply within the flow of the game, perhaps having little impact on the actual result. Two Nationals players hit memorable milestone marks Saturday night, one helping directly contribute to the other.

After an RBI-single his second time up got the Nationals on the board, Jayson Werth stood at 998 career hits. In the sixth inning, he would fight through a classically Werthian at-bat, fouling off four pitches before swatting a single the other way and eventually scoring Washington’s third run. That set him up for a chance to reach the 1,000 mark in his next at-bat, which came in a tie game against Phillies reliever Zach Miner with a runner at first and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The normally methodical Werth took no time to make his presence felt, jumping on a first pitch slider and wrapping it inside the left field foul pole for a go-ahead, two-run home run. He even took a curtain call following the blast, which put the Nationals ahead for good.

“Unbelievable moment for him, to get his 1,000th career hit on a homer against them,” said Bryce Harper after the game, referencing Werth’s achievement coming against his former club.

While Werth himself downplayed the significance of the milestone occurring against the Phillies, he nevertheless took a moment to savor the accomplishment, one he didn’t even realize he was on the precipice of reaching. He was watching tape in the clubhouse after his third at-bat when batting practice pitcher Ali Modami made him aware of the situation.

Bryce Harper and Craig Stammen nailed Jayson Werth with the postgame Gatorade bath.

Bryce Harper and Craig Stammen nailed Jayson Werth with the postgame Gatorade bath.

“When you start out playing this game, however many years ago, it’s one of those benchmarks you put on the list of things you want to accomplish,” said Werth after the game.

Perhaps overshadowed by Werth’s heroics was the yeoman work put in by Tanner Roark in just his second big league appearance. Coming on in relief of Taylor Jordan, Roark needed just 12 pitches to navigate two scoreless frames on the mound, keeping the Nationals in the game. When Washington pushed in front in the seventh, it lined Roark up for his first Major League win.

“Yeah, I realized it,” said Roark of the situation setting up to possibly provide him with his first victory, a smile creeping out of the corner of his mouth. “Most important, we got the win. The team got the win.”

Both Werth and Roark’s milestone performances proved vital to that happening, though.

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