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Nationals Manager Matt Williams reaches out to DCPS baseball coaches

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by Amanda Comak

It wasn’t long after Matt Williams was named the Washington Nationals manager last fall before he began to figure out where his help might be needed most in the D.C. community. Little more than a month after he was appointed as the fifth field manager in Nationals history, Williams found himself enjoying lunch at the Red Porch on a cool day among men with whom he shared an interest: teaching the game of baseball.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams with DCPS coaches.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams with DCPS coaches.

Williams welcomed a group of District of Columbia Public Schools varsity baseball coaches to Nationals Park that day, and talked with them about the challenges they face in trying to foster the game in the District.

A few months later, each coach received a letter from Williams.

“As a leader of a team, I am aware of the challenges that you face as a coach,” Williams wrote to each coach. “While neither I, nor the Washington Nationals, will have a solution to all of your struggles, I am interested in helping you achieve success.

“One of the challenges that resonated with me during our question-and-answer session was your need for baseballs. Therefore, I’d like to give you 30 practice baseballs for your team’s use during the remainder of this season. Hopefully these baseballs will be of help to you and your kids.”

Last week, as a follow-up to that first meeting, a group of those same coaches enjoyed the Nationals game against the Marlins.

Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams greeted a group of DCPS baseball coaches before the Nationals' game against the Marlins on May 28.

Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams greeted a group of DCPS baseball coaches before the Nationals’ game against the Marlins on May 28.

“They’re teaching our young baseball players how to play the game and it’s hard for them to have support,” Williams said last week. “There’s very little funding. They work long hours. They have to find places to practice and they have to find baseballs, so I’m helping them do that. I just want to help them coach and help them teach.”

Williams, who made good on his promise and donated 30 practice baseballs to each team, welcomed the coaches onto the field during batting practice. He set each coach and an assistant up with tickets to the game, and offered each $20 in Nats Bucks to use within the ballpark that night.

“At times, coaching may feel like a thankless job,” Williams wrote. “However, as mentors to student-athletes, you have a sizable impact on these kids’ lives. I am incredibly grateful for the time and energy that you commit to the youth in our community.”

Nationals Game Notes — June 1 vs. Texas Rangers

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Game #55: Washington Nationals (27-27) vs. Texas Rangers (28-28) | 1:35 p.m. | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Ups: RHP Tanner Roark (3-3, 3.47 ERA) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (4-2, 2.35 ERA)
Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark was a 25th-round selection of the Texas Rangers in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, part of a class that included first baseman Justin Smoak, left-hander Robbie Ross and right-hander Joe Wieland, among others. Roark was dealt to the Nationals on July 31, 2010 in exchange for shortstop Cristian Guzman.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM, also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: The game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

In seven at-bats dating to the seventh inning on Friday night, Anthony Rendon is 6-for-7 with five singles and a solo home run. He entered this hot stretch mired in a 5-for-43 slump. Rendon paces the Nationals with 21 extra-base hits (11 doubles, four triples, six home runs) and slugging percentage (.441) among qualified Nationals.

Here are the lineups for tonight’s match-up:

Nationals (27-27)

7  Denard Span  CF
6  Anthony Rendon  3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche 1B
3   Wilson Ramos C
20 Ian Desmond SS
15 Nate McLouth LF
8  Danny Espinosa 2B
57 Tanner Roark P

Rangers (28-28)

19 Daniel Robertson LF
1  Evlis Andrus SS
51 Alex Rios RF
29 Adrian Beltre 3B
16 Donnie Murphy 1B
2 Leonys Martin CF
60 Chris Gimenez C
3  Luis Sardinas 2B
11 Yu Darvish P

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Stephen Strasburg stars in ‘This is SportsCenter’ ad

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Washington Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg stars in a brand new ‘This is SportsCenter’ ad, which debuted on Sunday night.

The ad, which was filmed in January, features the Nationals’ ace hanging out in the lunchroom at the ESPN headquarters while D.C.-area native Bram Weinstein searches the freezer frantically for his lean cuisine.

We won’t give away any more, just take a look for yourself:

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.”

Recapping Mike Rizzo’s Facebook Q&A

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Tuesday night, as part of the Washington Nationals’ first Social Fan Event of the season, Washington Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo took some time to answer questions from the team’s most loyal Facebook fans. In the third inning of the Nationals’ 5-0 victory over the Miami Marlins, Rizzo answered several queries.

Here’s a recap of the Facebook Q&A:

FB---RizzoChatWashington Nationals: Hi everyone, Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo is here to start answering some of your questions!

Ralph Thompson Jr.: Here are two – how does the GM see the farm system going forward? Are there lots of prospects in the lower minors?

Washington Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo: Thanks for the question, Ralph Thompson Jr. We feel good about our entire Minor League system. We believe our last couple of drafts have been very successful. We’ve got a lot of power arms coming and some exciting position players also.

Ben Gerow: Do you like to watch every game or have someone tell you about it (a la Moneyball)?

MR: Hi, Ben Gerow. I watch every game, in person, home and away.

Stacey Cottrell: What’s your opinion on instant replay? Do you believe it should be in the MLB and if so to what extent.

MR: Thanks for the question, Stacey Cottrell. I believe that the Major League umpires do the best job of any of the professional sports. With that said, it makes sense — with the technology that we have — to get each and every call right, so we are proponents of it.

Kristen Hottle: What’s your favorite, or best, experience with the Washington Nationals so far?

MR: That’s a tough question, Kristen Hottle. Probably the day that we clinched the National League East title.

Nathan Marquez: Who opened the first “door” to the Front Office for you? And why did they open it for you instead of the others wanting a shot?

MR: Thanks for the question, Nathan Marquez. I would have to say Joe Garagiola Jr. gave me my first opportunity in the front office. He hired me to be the Director of Scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks and my time in Arizona was extremely valuable.

Stefany Needel Meyer: Which off-season transaction was he the most proud of (or which was the most difficult deal to get done)?

MR: Thanks for writing in Stefany Needel Meyer. I think the most important one was the hiring of Matt Williams as our manager at the outset of the offseason.

Nancy Edwards: What is your personal dream for the Nationals Baseball Youth Academy?

MR: Hi, Nancy Edwards. Thanks for asking about the Youth Baseball Academy. We are very excited about it. We have a vision of helping all underprivileged children in Washington D.C. by giving them a strong foundation — a place to be, where they can learn skills not only for baseball but for life, and a good safe place they can come after school and improve themselves.

Steven Graves: What is the situation with (Ryan) Zimmerman? Go Nats!

MR: Hi, Steven Graves. Thanks for the question. Ryan Zimmerman is very important to all of us. We feel that he’s had this soreness in his shoulder before. He knows that we know how to handle it, and we’re just going to manage it throughout the rest of the season.

Aaron Thackery: Mike, A+ thank you for building a respectable ball club. Here’s my Q: have you ever considered switching (Jordan Zimmermann) and Strasburg in their rotation positions?

MR: Hi, Aaron Thackery. Interesting suggestion. But the way the rotation sets up is really only the way it goes the first couple of times through the rotation. After that, with days off and that kind of thing, it’s whoever is available and whatever time their number comes up.

Clark Townsend: Seems like after the 2015 season will be a big decision year for you. Has Mr. Lerner given you a blank checkbook to get (Wilson) Ramos, (Ian) Desmond and (Jordan Zimmermann) extensions done?

MR: Thanks for writing in, Clark Townsend. Ownership has given us all of the resources that we need to put together a quality baseball team, and a quality franchise, and will continue to do so.

Dena Olyaie: If you could have a walk out song, what’d it be?

MR: Haha, Dena Olyaie. I guess it would have to be the theme from Rocky.

Nancy Edwards: What do you see as role of social media for the Nats organization?

MR: Good question, Nancy Edwards. I think Social Media is a great way for the Nationals to get our message out. It’s a great way to engage with fans and connect them more to our team and our game. It also helps us call attention to the many wonderful off-field things the organization does.

Washington Nationals: Thanks, everyone for the questions. That’s all the time Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo has tonight. We hope you enjoyed it!

Calling all Facebook Fans to Tuesday’s Social Fan Event

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When the Washington Nationals’ promotional schedule was unveiled earlier this year, you may have noticed four nights devoted to “Social Fan Events.” These are nights designed exclusively as a way to say thank you to, and engage with our most loyal social media fans.

The first of these events is Tuesday night, April 8, when the Nationals take on the Miami Marlins at 7:05 p.m. and it’s geared toward our Facebook fans!

FacebookTAs a part of this event, our Facebook fans can enjoy discounted tickets with added value to spend throughout Nationals Park, the opportunity to claim a limited edition T-Shirt (pictured), and exclusive gameday experiences. You can get all of the details, including an easy link to purchase tickets through this event, right here. 

Upon entering the ballpark, please stop by the Social Fan Table at Section 103 for more details on what’s planned, find out how to pick up the limited edition T-shirt and enter for your chance to take part in the gameday experiences! 

Here’s a rundown of some of the fun stuff we’ve got planned for Tuesday night — both on our Facebook page as well as inside the ballpark, rewarding our Facebook fans.

Event highlights include:

  • A top secret, once-in-a-lifetime experience that will make you the envy of all your friends, followers and fans!#
  • Exclusive batting practice viewing from the warning track!#
  • Run out on to the field as part of the Starting 9!#
  • One lucky fan will help deliver manager Matt Williams’ official lineup card!
  • One lucky fan will get to yell “Play Ball” to start the game!
  • Exclusive Facebook Q&A with Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo.
  • See your best photos from the night on the NatsHD scoreboard
  • And much, much more!

# Experience to be awarded exclusively at the ballpark after first gates open (4:30 P.M.) 

We hope you’ll join us!

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.”

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. 

Daily Wrap: Barrett reacts to making MLB team, Frandsen signs & more

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by Amanda Comak

JUPITER, Fla. — The daily rhythm in Spring Training is relentless. Each day blends into the next as teams inch closer to playing games that count and partaking in moments that really matter. And, as is often the case in baseball, what sometimes moves the meter outside the walls of the clubhouse often gets less attention inside of it. Injuries hurt, but become accepted and moved past. Players come and go as trades and signings happen. It’s an existence that is always in motion.

But one thing that never gets old is the moment a player finds out he has made the Major Leagues for the first time. It’s wonderful in its purity.

2014 Washington Nationals Photo DayWashington Nationals right-hander Aaron Barrett got to experience that very moment on Tuesday, when manager Matt Williams summoned him into his office and told him the one thing Barrett had waited the better part of a lifetime to hear: he is a big leaguer.

“It was one of those moments I’d dreamed about all my life, initially getting the call,” Barrett said, standing outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. “For me, I pictured myself being at Double-A, Triple-A, and getting the call-up for that experience. To get the call to make the team out of camp, it was unbelievable. Just a great feeling.”

Barrett was in the weight room after Tuesday’s game when he was told the manager wanted to see him. He’d been expecting the meeting to come at some point, knowing they’d need to summon him if they were planning to cut him, too. Only Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty were in the office.

“Hey, we have some tough decisions that we have to make, and you’re one of those tough decisions,” Williams told Barrett.

“He looked at me, and it was a five- to 10-second pause there that, I think (to me) it lasted 10 minutes,” Barrett said. “And then he dropped the news. He said ‘Congratulations, you made the team.’ I just got very emotional, started tearing up a bit. Tears of joy. McCatty gave me a hug.”

As Barrett made his way back into the clubhouse and word began to spread, teammates made their way over to offer congratulations to the right-hander. But his next stop was the Nationals’ dugout at Space Coast Stadium, where he called up his wife, Kendyl, on FaceTime and shared his good news.

“(At that point) I was just overwhelmed with tears,” Barrett said. “To get to this point, it was just so surreal.”

“(My wife) was so shocked,” he added. “We’ve been through a lot as far as the whole Minor Leagues. She’s working and supported me throughout the whole Minor Leagues. To finally get that call that I made the team, she was just overwhelmed. She started crying. I started crying. It was just an awesome moment that I’ll never forget.

Washington Nationals spring training“After that, my parents and grandparents (who are in town coincidentally), I called them right after. They were just stoked. We went out to dinner last night, had a good time, celebrated a little bit. But overall, this is the start to  a new journey. I plan on taking this step to the next level and continuing to work each and every day to get better so I can stay up here as long as I can.”

Barrett earned his way onto the team, without doubt, putting together quite a resume this spring. On Wednesday, knowing he’d be heading north with the team, Barrett extended his scoreless streak this spring to 10.2 innings. For the humble 26-year-old, it was the culmination to a long, winding journey and a tremendous story of perseverance.

“You come into camp, and for me, I was looking to get a few innings here and there. It was my first camp, just got added to the roster,” Barrett said. “I put myself in position to make the team, and now to be on the team, competing, now let’s go win some ballgames. Just an unreal experience. I’m ready to help the ball club, in whatever role that is.”

Next up: Opening Day

“I’m sure it’s going to be pretty exciting. I’ve never been part of that, obviously, so I’m sure I’m going to soak in as much as I can. Especially Opening Day and the home opener in D.C. I’m going to soak in every single moment that I can.”

Quote of the Day: Matt Williams on Bryce Harper after Harper was ejected from Wednesday’s game by first base umpire Jeff Gosney for expressing disagreement with an out call at first base.

“He said the magic word. I don’t know what he said, but the umpire told me he said something to him. The question I had with it was, did he say something? I didn’t see him make a gesture toward him or anything. But he said the magic word. So I had to go out there and have a discussion about it… Evidently the umpire thought he was addressing it to him, so that’s why he took the action he did. I think everybody’s a little chippy at this point. Everybody’s ready to go. And Bryce is fiery. If he said something he shouldn’t have said, the umpire felt it was appropriate to do that.”

Incidentally, Williams understands how hard it can be to control your emotions when you’re on the field. The Nationals’ manager was once ejected from a rehab game when he was a player. 

“I’m playing third base. I’ve got four at-bats that day, and it’s kind of my last few days to get back to playing in the big leagues. A play at third, I tagged him, I thought he was out. Umpire said safe. I said, ‘No, he’s out.’ We went back and forth and he tossed me. And I went, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got three more at-bats!’ It was too late at that point. No do-overs.”

“(But) it’s important for (Harper) to stay in games for us. Especially that early. As it turned out, he would have gotten a couple more at-bats and it could’ve made the difference. … I just think there’s a way to do it. You can express displeasure with a call and not push it over that edge. But again, we love the way he plays the game, because he’s all-out. He desperately wants to win, so we love that about him. But in a situation like that, he just has to not take it too far. That’s all. It happens.”

 Video highlights:
Gio Gonzalez fans four Cardinals in five innings of work:

Danny Espinosa flashes the leather with a tremendous play:

Caleb Ramsey gets the Nationals on the board with a two-run single:

Gio Gonzalez shows off his cat-like reflexes in the first inning:

Stephen Perez smacks a triple in the ninth inning off Trevor Rosenthal:

Notables:

The Nationals signed infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen to a Major League deal on Wednesday, giving Williams another versatile player to have on the bench. Frandsen, 31, will join the Nationals for their Grapefruit League finale on Thursday against the New York Mets. He elected to become a free agent on Tuesday after the Philadelphia Phillies outrighted him on Sunday. Read all the details on Frandsen’s signing here… The Nationals now have 29 players in camp, including right-hander Erik Davis, who is on the 60-day disabled list. The team will have to cut three more players before Opening Day on Monday.

March to Baseball Week 3 Winners

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20Another week of March is in the books, and that means two things for Nationals fans: We are now just five days away from Opening Day, and we’ve got our next batch of March To Baseball winners!

Thanks to all who have already joined the fun this month as we count down the final days until the 2014 season by giving away a prize a day to all Full, Half and Partial Season Plan Holders who renew or purchase new 2014 Season Plans this month.

If you’ve already renewed, you’re already entered. And as the days dwindle before the 2014 season kicks off, the prizes get even more fantastic.

To enter, just visit nationals.com/marchtobaseball. Don’t miss out!

Congratulations to our latest winners…

March 14: Billy Joel Concert Tickets and Parking — Cathy A. from Annandale, VA

March 15: View batting practice with Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu — Stu S. from McLean, Va.

March 16: Two Club Level tickets and $50 NatsBucks — John F. from Bethesda, Md.

March 17: Visit the MASN broadcast booth with Bob Carpenter and F.P Santangelo — Mike M. from Quantico, Va.

March 18: Have your catered birthday party at Nationals Park — James S. from Germantown, Md.

March 19: Deliver the Nationals’ lineup card to the umpires before a game — Cynthia C. from Herndon, Va.

March 20: Wave the GEICO flag during the Presidents Race — Rob S. from Washington, D.C.

March 21: Autographed Bryce Harper jersey — Kesh T. from McLean, Va.

March 22: Sit at a table at the annual Board of Trade Welcome Back luncheon — Kathleen S. from Fairfax, Va.

March 23: Announce “PLAY BALL!” before a game — Dave B. from Arlington, Va.

March 24: Two Gold Glove Club tickets and a parking pass — Dave S. from Vienna, Va.

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