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Mike Rizzo talks injuries, roster moves & more

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by Amanda Comak

ATLANTA — Washington Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the media before this afternoon’s game at Turner Field to discuss a litany of topics that have arisen in the season’s first two weeks.

Here’s some of what Rizzo discussed, from injuries to roster moves and the growing rivalry with the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsOn how he feels the team is positioned after losing Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman to early injuries: 

“We feel as good as we can with the glut of injuries that we’ve had to key players. We’re talking about your middle-of-the-lineup bats. But we prepared for it this offseason with the acquisitions of (catcher Jose Lobaton) and key guys like (Kevin Frandsen) and (Nate McLouth). We still feel good about the roster.”

On if he feels the Nationals are just not catching any breaks early, with regard to injuries:

“No, nobody cares. The rest of the league doesn’t care. We’re just trying to work our way through it. We’ve got a game every day. That’s the one thing about baseball. The everydayness of it is really what separates the sport. That’s why we have 40-man rosters, that’s why we have Minor League systems.

“Injuries happen and you have to prepare for them. We think we’re well-prepared and well-positioned to handle them. We’ve got games to play and games to win.”

On how Denard Span is doing after being placed on the 7-day DL Saturday with a concussion:

“We’re going to have the doctor re-examine him tomorrow in Miami. He’s going to do some physical activities, and then we’ll take it from there.”

On Ryan Zimmerman’s prognosis after fracturing his right thumb on Saturday night:

“It’s a clean fracture. I saw the X-rays and I talked to the doctor. He’s going to see a hand specialist (at the Cleveland Clinic) on Monday. We’ll get a diagnosis and make our plans from there.”

On infielder Zach Walters, who was called up to replace Zimmerman on the roster

“He’s capable of playing (second base, third base and shortstop). His natural position is shortstop. He’s got the skillset to play shortstop. He’s going to play all the different positions, and being a switch hitter off the bench with power helps us.”

On Doug Fister’s rehab from a strained lat muscle:

“Doug’s involved in his (throwing) program. He’ll progress to another bullpen (on Monday), throwing all this pitches, and he’ll take the next step depending on how it goes.”

On his opinions of the job manager Matt Williams has done in the season’s first 11 games: 

“It’s the same game he’s always watched. Putting the lineups together, running the game in his mind (it’s not unfamiliar to him). Besides the newness of instant replay, it’s baseball as usual.

“He’s got a great support system around him with the coaches. It’s baseball 24/7 with Matt and the rest of them. They’re constantly in the clubhouse talking baseball. It’s a great dynamic and it’s enjoyable to see.”

On his evaluations of Danny Espinosa thus far this season as he bounces back from 2013: 

“We’re glad we drafted him and developed him. We’ve always valued him as a really good Major League player. It’s time for him and for other players on the team to show (what they can do).”

On how he views the Nationals’ games against the Braves: 

“(I’ve seen) great games. They’ve come on the winning side of it more often than we like, but we feel confident against this team. We feel we’re better than this team. We respect them, we respect the organization, but we don’t fear them . We think we’re the better team and we think at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top.”

Nationals recall INF Zach Walters, place 3B Ryan Zimmerman on DL

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by Amanda Comak

ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals recalled infielder Zach Walters from Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday morning and placed third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-day Disabled List with a right thumb fracture.

Washington Nationals v Detroit TigersWalters has worked to a .290 batting average in nine games for Triple-A Syracuse this season, with a .303 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage. He’s clubbed three doubles and a triple, and driven in three runs.

 This will be the second Major League assignment for Walters, 24, after he hit .375 (3-for-8) in nine Major League games last September. Walters entered the 2014 season ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the Nationals’ organization, according to industry insider Baseball America.

The injury to Zimmerman is another difficult one that the Nationals will have to overcome.

Through his first 10 games of the season, Zimmerman is batting .364 with a .405 on-base percentage and .636 slugging percentage. He’s hit two home runs and three doubles, walked three times and driven in six runs.

“It’s a big (loss) but we don’t have a choice,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said after Saturday night’s game. “We’ve got to go play and compete and win games. We’ll have to do that starting tomorrow.”

090312-114 ryan zimmermanHitting in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup, Zimmerman has been an integral part of an offense that has helped the Nationals average 5.27 runs per game – the second-highest average of any team in the National League (Colorado leads with 5.50).

Zimmerman suffered the injury on Saturday night against the Atlanta Braves when he dove into the second base bag. 

“You feel bad for him,” right fielder Jayson Werth told reporters after Saturday’s game. “It’s such a freak injury on a play like that. But we’ll be all right. We’ve got some good players. We’ll manage. Any time you lose a guy in the middle of your lineup it hurts. But we’ve got guys who can play here, and I think we’re bringing up a kid who can play. We’ll have to figure out a way.”

Williams indicated that the Nationals will likely go with Anthony Rendon at his natural position, third base, in the interim with Danny Espinosa shouldering the primary load at second base. Walters will certainly be an additional infield option for Williams to utilize.

“It’s not our first choice, certainly, but the fact that they can play multiple positions is good in times like this,” Williams said. “Certainly never want to miss somebody like Zim for that amount of time, but it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it now except play.”

Nationals select RHP Blake Treinen, recall OF Steven Souza Jr., option RHP Aaron Barrett and place OF Denard Span on 7-day DL

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by Amanda Comak

ATLANTA – In need of bullpen reinforcements after a taxing few games, the Washington Nationals selected the contract of right-hander Blake Treinen from Triple-A Syracuse and optioned right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett there on Saturday.

Additionally, the team recalled outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and placed outfielder Denard Span on the 7-day Disabled List with a concussion.

2014 Washington Nationals Photo DayTreinen, 25, made one start for Triple-A this season, tossing five innings and allowing just three hits. He did not allow an earned run, walked two and struck out four batters.

A power right-hander, Treinen has a 3.73 career ERA in 69 Minor League games (38 starts). This will be his first Major League assignment.

A seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft (No. 226 overall), Treinen was acquired by the Nationals, along with right-hander A.J. Cole and left-handed reliever Ian Krol, from the Athletics in the three-team trade in Jan., 2013, that sent outfielder Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners.

Treinen drew raves this spring as he participated in his first Major League camp. His fastball was routinely clocked in the mid-upper 90s and evaluators inside the Nationals’ organization, and out, were impressed by his performance.

A starter for the majority of his career, Treinen provides the Nationals with the luxury of being able to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen. The team is currently in a stretch where they will play 20 consecutive games without an off day.

The Washington Nationals play the Miami MarlinsSouza Jr., one of the Nationals’ top 10 prospects as ranked by Baseball America, is hitting .273 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage in seven games for Triple-A Syracuse this season. Souza has clubbed two home runs, walked six times and struck out on just four occasions.

A third-round selection of the Nationals in the 2007 First Year Player Draft (No. 100 overall), Souza Jr., 24, has hit .247 in 629 Minor League games with 209 extra-base hits (117 doubles, 15 triples and 77 home runs) and 351 RBI. Since the start of the 2012 season, Souza Jr. has posted a .296 batting average. This will also be his first Major League assignment.

Barrett, a rookie who made the Nationals out of Spring Training after a strong performance in Major League camp, pitched in six games (4.1 IP) and did not allow an earned run. Of the 16 batters Barrett faced, he allowed just one hit, walked only two and struck out six.

Despite his youthful status on the Nationals’ roster, manager Matt Williams rarely hesitated to trust Barrett with getting big outs. He made his Major League debut in the ninth inning of a tie game on Opening Day, and was summoned to face Giancarlo Stanton, one of the most feared power hitters in the Major Leagues, on Thursday in a one-run game.

Span, the Nationals’ starting center fielder, is hitting .222 this season with a .300 on-base percentage, three doubles, a triple, four walks and four RBI. He suffered the injury in a collision with Braves second baseman Dan Uggla on the basepaths on Friday night.

Additionally, infielder/outfielder Jeff Kobernus was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day Disabled List with a left hand fracture. Kobernus underwent surgery on his hand this week.

Highlights from a sweep-clinching victory

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by Amanda Comak

“I don’t need to go out there and trick guys, and I don’t need to go out there and be perfect. I’ve just got to attack the strike zone, let my stuff work and get much better results that way.” — Stephen Strasburg after tossing 6.2 innings of one-run ball and striking out 12.

“To see him go out and execute it today, exactly the way he wanted to change and what he was going to mess with, was pretty good to see. That’s maturity. Everyone forgets how young he is. He’s going to keep on getting better and better, and today was proof of that.” — Ian Desmond on Stephen Strasburg

“This is the type of ball that we can play. You’ve got to keep tacking on runs late. These teams in our division, they can hit. So they’re going to be doing the same. But I think night in, night out if we come in here looking to outslug the other team, we’re going to be in good shape.” — Jayson Werth after the Nationals hit their second late-inning grand slam in as many games.

“We were already winning. ‘Come through’ is what Aaron Barrett did.” — Ian Desmond, when asked how he felt to ‘come through’ for the team with his grand slam that blew open a close game, referencing Aaron Barrett striking out Giancarlo Stanton to keep it a one-run game.

“The next one better be in the dirt.” — Catcher Sandy Leon to Aaron Barrett after Giancarlo Stanton crushed a slider foul. Stanton struck out on the next pitch.

Highlights from a Grand evening at Nationals Park

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by Amanda Comak

“When you’re put in that situation and the game is on the line, you want to come through for your teammates. I was happy to do that.” – Jayson Werth after his eighth-inning grand slam gave the Nationals a 10-7 victory.

“Knowing Jayson, if a pitcher looks at him wrong, he’ll take that personally. Them blatantly walking (Anthony Rendon) to get to him, you typically don’t walk to get to your 3-hole hitter, especially a veteran guy that’s proven he can get big hits. But they chose to, and it worked out in our favor this time.” – Craig Stammen, who turned in an outstanding 3.1 innings of relief to keep the Nationals in the game, on Werth’s slam.

“I’m just happy it went over the wall and we got three runs out of it.” – Bryce Harper on his majestic three-run home run into the third deck that got the Nationals back into the game.

“Any time you’re down five, it’s tough to come back. But they fought tonight. I’m proud of them for it. They stayed in it. Bryce’s homer helped. Even after they tied the game late, they still fought, which they’re happy with and I’m happy with.” — manager Matt Williams on the Nationals’ comeback.

Matt Williams discusses replay that overturned Ian Desmond’s home run

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by Amanda Comak

The roars from the sold-out crowd at Nationals Park on Friday afternoon began the moment shortstop Ian Desmond connected with David Hale‘s first-pitch curveball to open the bottom of the fifth inning.

They only increased as Desmond motored toward second base. And as Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton threw his hands up in the left field corner, the cheers reached a crescendo. Desmond crossed home plate.

The Nationals had tied the game on an inside-the-park home run by their two-time Louisville Silver Slugger shortstop.

At least, that’s what the implication was when none of the umpires on the field signaled that the play was dead, and Upton proceeded to retrieve the ball from underneath the padding in the left field wall and throw it back to the infield.

But Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged the play. The instant replay crews in New York overturned the call, citing rule 7.05(f) and ruling that the ball was lodged in the padding of the wall. Desmond was awarded second base, and the Nationals’ first run was taken off the board.

Here’s what Nationals Manager Matt Williams had to say about the play after the game, which ended as a 2-1 Braves victory.

“(The umpires) told me that from replay, the ball was lodged between the pad and the dirt. I question that because when (Upton) had to, he reached down and threw it in. That was my question. He threw up his hands. Generally that is an indication that the ball was lodged, but when there was no signal from the umpire, throwing his hands up saying it was a double or lodged, Justin reached down, picked it up and threw it in.

“By that time, Ian had scored. They reviewed it and determined that it was lodged under the fence.”

“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure we get calls right,” Williams continued. “I have question with that one though because of what happened after the fact — the fact that when (Upton) had to, he reached down and threw it in.

“(The umpire didn’t signal) so, for me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, tells me that he didn’t think it was lodged. But it is a reviewable call and a reviewable play, so they did and determined that it was a double and the ball was lodged underneath the pad.”

Nationals place C Wilson Ramos on DL, recall C Sandy Leon

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by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK – Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos underwent successful surgery on Wednesday to remove a fractured hamate bone from his left hand.

042112-171 wilson ramosRamos, who visited with hand specialist Dr. Kenneth Means on Tuesday, had the operation Wednesday and he will begin his rehab immediately. The team placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 1, before Wednesday’s game, and recalled catcher Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg.

The bulk of the Nationals’ catching responsibilities will now fall to Jose Lobaton, but his ability to handle the daily load of a starting role was a large reason why the team acquired him in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of Spring Training.

Lobaton caught 100 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, leading their vaunted pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League, while hitting .249 with 24 extra-base hits.

Leon, long thought to be one of the organization’s best defensive catchers, has proven more than capable in his brief Major League stints. In 2012, appearing in 12 games, Leon was 8-for-30 (.267) with a .389 on-base percentage.  Leon has thrown out 169 of 353 (48%) would-be basestealers the previous four minor-league seasons (2010-13).

The Nationals will no doubt miss Ramos, behind the plate as well as at it, and they’ll be patient as their bedrock catcher works to return from this injury strong and ready to return as their everyday backstop. In the meantime, the team will not be set adrift with the likes of Lobaton and Leon leading them behind the plate.

Get well soon, Wilson.

Must C Curtains: Wilson Ramos homers and drives in five runs after returning from the Disabled List in 2013.

Opening Day highlights

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by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK — Early Monday morning, Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams shrugged his shoulders and issued a platitude about his nervous energy. “Opening Day,” Williams said a few hours before his first game as a Major League manager. “If you can’t get excited about Opening Day, something’s wrong.”

But almost as soon as the game began, excitement likely gave way to anxiety and stress. The Nationals’ first game of the season contained enough drama to fill a week’s worth of games, and while the victory — a 9-7 win in 10 innings over the New York Mets — was sweet, the prospect of at least 161 more ahead was perhaps the day’s most intriguing thought.

Through photos and videos, here are some of the highlights from a beautiful first day of the season:

Adam LaRoche gets the Nationals on the board with this lofty two-run home run.

Anthony Rendon’s first big hit of the day was this RBI-double.

Denard Span was in the thick of things all day, including on this game-tying double.

Anthony Rendon then gave the Nationals their 10th-inning cushion with this big three-run shot.

Here’s how the first Curly W of the season went into the books.

Stephen Strasburg struck out 10 in six innings of work. 

Opening Day Memories

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by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK — The wait is almost over. In less than 24 hours, Opening Day of the 2014 baseball season will be upon us.

opening weekThis will be the Washington Nationals’ 10th Opening Day since baseball returned to D.C., and there have been plenty of memorable Opening Day moments in that span.

Who could forget Ryan Zimmerman christening Nationals Park with a walk-off on Opening Day in 2008? Or Bryce Harper smashing two home runs on his first Opening Day in the Major Leagues  – becoming the youngest player ever to do so — just last year.

But each player has their own memories of Opening Day, and it’s a special day in the baseball world. Some stand out for obvious reasons. Craig Stammen said the most memorable Opening Day for him was his first, and it also happened to be one President Barack Obama attended at Nationals Park. He shook the President’s hand. That in itself was pretty memorable.

Here are a few others, in their own words:

Adam LaRoche: “It was in Chicago (in 2012). I had like four punch-outs with the bases loaded. Luckily we won or it wouldn’t be real funny. I’ve got to be the first guy to leave like 20 guys on base through one game. I remember thinking after that game ‘Whoa, this might be a rough year.’”

To be fair to LaRoche, he was only 0-for-3 in that game, and he walked to load the bases in the eighth inning which led to the Nationals’ first run. He also went 5-for-9 with two home runs in the final two games of that opening series against the Cubs, and went on to have one of his finest seasons in the Major Leagues. 

Gio Gonzalez: “(My most memorable Opening Day) was at home against Cincinnati (in the 2012 home opener). That was when I got my first Major League hit and when I was warming up, to stretch and go out there, I thought I had plenty of time to just stretch, hear my music, get ready to go. I ended up telling (pitching coach Steve McCatty), ‘I got this. I’m ready to go.’  He said, ‘You know, you’ve got to stretch a little early because of (all the ceremonial events that go on before the game on Opening Day).’

“Next thing you know it was like 12:55 p.m. and the game was at 1 p.m. and I turned to Cat and I was like, ‘Cat, I don’t think I got this.’ I ended up not even long-tossing or throwing just went straight from stretching to the bullpen… Show and go. Sometimes it works.”

Gonzalez threw seven shutout innings that day, allowing just two hits and striking out seven.

Doug Fister: “I got called up in 2009. My first Opening Day was in 2010 in Seattle. There were a couple of us who were fairly new and our biggest thing was trying not to trip on the red carpet. They had carpet that ran from center field all the way to the line (that we had to run down during introductions).”

Matt LeCroy (bullpen coach): “My first one (in the Major Leagues). That was my debut. My first at-bat I hit a double and got a standing ovation. We were in Minnesota at the Metrodome. I made the team out of spring. I was 23 or 24 years old. It was awesome. My whole family was there. I’d just gotten married. I don’t remember (the other at-bats). But that first one was pretty cool.”

Nationals unveil Youth Baseball Academy

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by Amanda Comak

The moment was a long time coming. It took years of vision, attention to detail and a commitment to build something truly unique.

But Saturday morning, even a little rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the entire Washington Nationals organization as the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy was officially unveiled with a ribbon cutting ceremony in advance of the team’s exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers at Nationals Park.

Washington Nationals players pose with students from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

Washington Nationals players pose with students from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

“I’m elated,” Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, one of the Nationals’ Principal Owners and Co-Chair of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Board, told reporters. “I don’t even know what the words are for (my feelings today). It’s been a long time coming so I’m really trying to savor the morning.”

The Academy is a year-round educational and athletic facility designed to provide quality after-school and summer learning programs for boys and girls in Washington, D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

It is the result of a unique public-private partnership that includes the Washington Nationals, the Nationals Dream Foundation, the D.C. government, Events DC, the National Park Service and the local business and philanthropic community.

The Academy uses baseball and softball as vehicles to help develop literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, as well as healthy lifestyles through fitness, proper nutrition and cooking lessons in a safe, nurturing environment. Program partners include Higher Achievement and Brainfood.

ybaThe facility features three playing fields and an 18,000 square foot “educational clubhouse” with year-round batting cages, seven classrooms, a cutting-edge teaching kitchen and community event space.

“Our thinking right off the bat was that we’re modeling it after an organization in Harlem called RBI, and their focus is on academics,” Tanenbaum said. “The idea is that baseball and softball are wonderful. And creating a culture for baseball and softball in the inner-city is essential. But you need to support it with academics.

“Upstairs (at the Youth Baseball Academy) you’ll see eight beautiful classrooms and a teaching kitchen. That’s really the core of what we feel we’re providing to the community. The after-school mentoring and after-school academic enrichment is just essential. Of course, we’re the Washington Nationals, so baseball and softball is pretty important, too.”

The entire Washington Nationals’ roster, along with manager Matt Williams and his coaching staff, as well as the front office and ownership, attended Saturday’s ceremony. Invited guests included D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray; Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor, Department of the Interior; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander; Events DC President and CEO Greg O’Dell; and Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Chair Rodney Slater.

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