Last Friday, Nationals radio broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler attended an event at the Library of Congress which featured a great number of baseball artifacts on display. Many of the items were donated by Bob Wolff, the legendary Washington broadcaster who was part of the class inducted into the Washington DC Sports Hall of Fame prior to Sunday’s game on the field at Nationals Park.
“There were a lot of articles related to Jackie Robinson, including a handwritten letter from Robinson to Branch Rickey,” explained Jageler of the collection.
Among the pieces of history was a single, typewritten sheet written by one legendary baseball man about another one who, unbeknownst to either at the time, would ascend to legendary status himself.
The page was a scouting report written by a then-adviser for the St. Louis Cardinals about a young, Minor League second baseman. It read as follows:
September 14 & 15, 1964
Rochester vs. Jacksonville
JOHNSON, DAVE (Rochester Infielder)
Tall, slim right hander now playing second base. 21 years old. First year player. Good looking fielder. Good batting form. A major league possibility. Try to include him in any possible deal with Baltimore.
Yes, that’s the same Branch Rickey, the one depicted by Harrison Ford in the recently released “42” about the life of Jackie Robinson, sharing his thoughts on the Nationals very own Davey Johnson.
Johnson, at age 21 in his first professional season, swatted 19 home runs while compiling a .264/.345/.458 line that season, also helping turn 62 double plays as a second baseman. Three years later, he would begin the 13-year Major League career that included four All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and a pair of World Championships.
“I knew Davey would be very flattered to know that Branch Rickey thought he was a tradable commodity,” said Jageler, who shared the story with Washington’s manager last weekend.
Needless to say, Rickey had a good eye for young talent.
Through the first 23 games of the season, Nationals fans had caught glimpses of the reasons Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on his three major offseason acquisitions, Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano and Denard Span. But although Haren earned his first Nationals win on April 11, Soriano had converted six of seven save opportunities and Span had shown an early propensity to get on base, none of the three had turned in a starring performance.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, as 38,903 red-adorned fans were treated to a beautiful day of baseball loaded with great pitching, clutch hitting and a pair of spectacular defensive plays.
Haren turned in his strongest start to date, in which he was largely dominant over six solid innings, striking out five Cincinnati batters without a walk. Soriano slammed the door shut on the Reds hopes, fanning two of the three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 ninth. But Span stole the show, leaping into the left-center field wall to rob Joey Votto of extra bases in the sixth, then ranging far to his right to corral a line drive off the bat of Zack Cozart with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, one that looked like it might very well erase Washington’s three-run advantage.
“I got great jumps on both of those balls,” said Span after the game. “The Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today. It’s just fun for me to be able to go out there and show my speed and grab my ball like that in the gap.”
Haren and Span also got the scoring started, each placing two-out, RBI-singles between the Cincinnati defense in consecutive at-bats in the second inning.
With impressive performances all around by the newcomers, one could be forgiven for forgetting Bryce Harper’s team record ninth April home run, which also gave him the franchise mark for RBI (18) in the season’s opening month. And while all that may not have added up to anything nearly as historical as what happened in the first two games of the series, it was a recipe for success in one of the most complete games the Nationals have played so far this year.
“I was kind of disappointed when I gave up the second hit today,” joked Haren about having to follow back-to-back one-hitters as he improved his home record to 2-1 this year. “I finally feel like part of the team. I’ve got to be like this or better the rest of the year.”
If Haren can replicate Saturday’s success on the mound and Span can do the same in the field, Soriano will have that many more opportunities to untuck his jersey after he puts opposing lineups down for the count.
The Nationals have a short turnaround for Saturday’s matinee versus the Reds following Friday night’s contest, but we felt it was important to take a moment to truly appreciate what the team has accomplished over the last couple of nights.
On Thursday, Gio Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano combined to throw just the second one-hitter in the history of the young Nationals franchise. On Friday night, Jordan Zimmermann did all the work himself, needing just 91 pitches to finish a one-hitter of his own, his first career shutout.
It was the first time since August 10-11, 1917 that a Washington-based baseball club had one-hit an opponent on consecutive days, when first Walter Johnson, then a trio of Senators did so to the Chicago White Sox. Perhaps more impressively, it was the first time the Cincinnati Reds had been one-hit in back-to-back games since July 5-6, 1900, nearly 113 years ago.
For some perspective, the Brooklyn team that accomplished that mastery of the Reds was called the Superbas. The Flatbush Nine would not first begin adopting the nickname Dodgers for 11 more years, and would not make the permanent switch until 1932.
Gonzalez had shown that he was capable of such a performance as far back as last season’s home opener against this same Reds club, which he shut out on just two hits over seven frames. But the progression for Zimmermann, who turned in his first-ever nine inning complete game just two starts ago in Miami, was truly impressive.
“Since I’ve been here, that’s the best-pitched game I’ve seen,” stated Davey Johnson following Zimmermann’s latest gem.
Part of that was due to Zimmermann’s stunning efficiency, but a good deal of it can be attributed to the opponent he silenced. The Reds came into this series with the second-highest run-producing offense in the National League, just one run behind league-leading Colorado. They had posted double-digit run totals five times in their first 22 games before arriving in D.C. this weekend. And they scored 27 runs over the three-game set between these teams just three weeks ago in Cincinnati.
With their performances the past two nights, Gonzalez and Zimmermann made all of that seem about long ago as the age of the Brooklyn Superbas.
It was only a matter of time.
That was the sentiment expressed by Davey Johnson and echoed from locker to locker throughout the Nationals clubhouse Thursday night following a complete and dominant 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Entering the evening on a four-game losing skid and looking to even the season series with the Reds at 2-2, Washington needed a good showing. They got it out of the gates from ace southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who silenced the powerful Cincinnati lineup. The Reds managed only a single hit through eight frames against Gonzalez, who walked two and struck out seven for his second win of the season.
It was a bit of a perfect storm for the lefty, who, in stark contrast to his 21-win season last year, had struggled to get ahead of hitters in his first four starts of 2013. For whatever reason, though, Gonzalez has always matched up well against the Reds, and he continued his mastery Thursday night.
“My job is to make sure we stay in the game as long possible,” said Gonzalez, who certainly did that, improving to 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA (3 ER/26.0 IP) in four career starts versus Cincinnati. “They’ve got a great hitting lineup…you’ve got to just go out there and trust your stuff.”
Perhaps more surprising, the Nationals offense came to life against a crafty soft-tosser in Bronson Arroyo. When bats are struggling, a pitcher that nibbles with a myriad of crooked deliveries is hardly a recipe for turning things around. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did, led by three-RBI nights from both Danny Espinosa and Denard Span. While Span’s slap-hitting style may have lined up well against Arroyo, it was Espinosa who provided the most crucial hits, plating Ian Desmond for the first run of the game on an RBI-double in the second inning before crushing a two-run shot into the home bullpen to break the game open in the third.
“In the past, I’d probably try to be real aggressive and swing real hard to generate power for the ball,” Espinosa said of facing a pitcher like Arroyo. “But tonight I didn’t. Tonight I let it come to me and just tried to get a good pitch…I thought that was a pretty easy swing on my home run. I thought they were both pretty easy swings.”
While Gonzalez’s adjustment was more about getting back to what worked for him last season, Espinosa’s represents a more significant change from the player with whom most Nationals fans are familiar. All spring, Johnson encouraged his young second baseman to make his swing more compact, an adjustment that led to a .333/.358/.474 Grapefruit League slash line. To date, Espinosa had not been able to carry that success into the regular season, but Thursday night provided a glimpse of what it might look like if he does.
“His goal is to improve every year,” explained Johnson of Espinosa. “I feel like with what he was working on in the spring and what he did in the spring that it’ll start paying off for him.”
Espinosa acknowledged as much, but to see the results of his adjustment play out in a Major League game helped him be more circumspect about his change in approach.
“I was swinging too hard the last two years,” Espinosa explained of his approach. “In the minors, I never swung like that, I don’t know where it came from. I needed to get back to using my hands and not trying to use my legs to generate so much.”
If Gonzalez has regained his feel for the strike zone and Espinosa has found comfort in a simpler swing, it will go a long way in helping the Nationals climb back above .500 and stay there.
There are some things in life that, no matter how many times you experience them, are always striking. One of the more extraordinary aspects of the Washington Nationals recent visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda was the mutual admiration and gratitude from both the players and the veterans and families they visited. It is a sentiment often expressed by both sides, but the repetition of thanks does not draw away from its significance.
As they have done annually since 2005, a group of Nationals players and coaches made the trek before Tuesday night’s game to spend a couple of hours with wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed. A total of 11 players – Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen and Chad Tracy – along with coaches Randy Knorr and Jim Lett and broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler visited with inpatients in the hospital as well as those working on their physical therapy at the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC). In between signing autographs and posing for photos, the team spent time listening to individual stories and thanking the veterans for their service. The ability to honor members of our military is a unique opportunity that comes with playing here in D.C., one that Nationals players are keenly aware of.
— Zach Duke (@zach_duke) April 23, 2013
Took a trip out to @wrbethesda today.One of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had.These people truly are my heroes.
— Chad Tracy (@catracy18) April 23, 2013
— Ryan Mattheus (@RyanMattheus) April 23, 2013
Of course, that support did not end with Tuesday’s visit. The Nationals will kick off the Patriotic Series, presented by SAIC, this Saturday, April 27 with Military Appreciation Day as they take on the Cincinnati Reds. Military members – active duty, dependent, reservist, or retiree – with a valid military ID will receive two free tickets, to that night’s game while supplies last, where Nationals players will sport their Patriotic Blue uniforms for the first time this year. Please visit
for more details.
For more information on the Washington Nationals Military Initiatives, visit
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
Alright everyone, time for some perspective.
If all you read about the Nationals season so far were the comments left on various social media forums, you would probably surmise that the world had tilted off its axis, sending Nationals Park hurtling into an alternate universe where Bryce Harper was fighting off an alien invasion with nothing more than a bag of bats. At the very least, you’d think the District Nine were off to some frighteningly horrible start through their first 20 games – perhaps a league-worst 5-15 mark, or something of the like.
But no, through 20 games – during which the team has openly admitted it has not played its best baseball – the Nationals are 10-10. Through 20 games last season, they were 14-6 (before dropping to 14-9). While that 20-game sample may seem significantly better, it’s really just four games in the standings.
Conversely, there are signs this team is starting to improve its play. After averaging an error per game through the first 18 contests, the Nationals have played error-free ball the last two nights, over which their numbers four and five starters have combined with the bullpen to allow just five runs in 18 innings (2.50 ERA) against one of the top offenses in the National League. All they need is for the bats to get going, an adjustment they also needed to make early last season.
Still, through 20 games this season, the Nats have scored 74 runs. Through 20 games last year, they had scored 71.
Now, let’s put the opening of the season in some greater historical perspective. Here are the records of the last five World Series Champions through 20 games:
2012 San Francisco Giants: 10-10
2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 11-9
2010 San Francisco Giants: 12-8
2009 New York Yankees: 10-10
2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 10-10
Sensing a trend? Great, stay with us – it only gets better. We caught up with Yahoo! Sports Baseball Columnist Jeff Passan on Tuesday morning about what he thought of Washington’s start.
“A team’s last 20 games tells you a lot more than their first 20,” he explained. “By June 1, you should have a pretty decent idea of how good (the Nationals) are, and I think they’ll be right where everyone expects them to be.”
Passan picked the Nationals to go to the World Series. Last year. He’s been following the rise of the team for quite a while, and is not the least bit worried. However, even his deadline may be a bit premature. Here were the five eventual 2012 MLB Division Champions records (other than the Nationals) entering play on June 1 last season:
New York Yankees: 27-23
Detroit Tigers: 23-27
Oakland Athletics: 22-29
Cincinnati Reds: 28-22
San Francisco Giants: 27-24
Yes, that’s right. The other five Division Champions were a combined two games over .500 on June 1 (127-125), a full 30 additional games past the point where your Nationals sit today.
Baseball is a long season. It is not football. Every game does not make or break you. It seems we forget this each year, when baseball flows away from our conscious, hibernating in its cave until the earth defrosts again and spring arrives. We seem to take our frantic sense of football urgency with us into the beginning of the baseball season, to overvalue both wins and losses in dramatic fashion.
Last year’s Nationals lost three or more consecutive games eight times. They lost five in a row twice. There’s a pretty good chance this year’s team will endure similar stretches as the season goes on. These Nationals have also shown they’re capable of winning streaks, such as their resounding 3-game sweep to start the season. There’s every reason to believe that there are many more of those runs to come.
But for now, Nationals fans, it’s still just April 24 and your team is 10-10, sharing second place in the NL East. Sit back and enjoy the ride, we’ve still got quite a long ways to go.
On April 27 last year, the Nationals were on the road in Los Angeles when they discovered they would be without the services of their franchise third baseman for a couple of weeks. Ryan Zimmerman landed on the 15-day disabled list, prompting Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo to make a move everyone knew was coming, but more quickly than most expected. Washington recalled Bryce Harper, who made his electrifying debut the next night under the bright lights.
On Sunday, a week shy of a year since Harper’s debut, another similar situation has opened a door for a Nationals minor leaguer. What Davey Johnson announced after Washington’s rousing, Harper-fueled, 7-6 win Saturday was confirmed on Sunday. The Nationals officially recalled top prospect Anthony Rendon to take Zimmerman’s spot on the roster.
“I guess I was pretty surprised,” said Rendon Sunday morning, standing in front of his Major League locker for the first time, a pair of cowboy boots at the Houston native’s side. “It was so early in the season, I wasn’t expecting it.”
Much of the same could have been said about Harper a year ago. However, Rendon does not arrive with nearly the same level of hype, nor expectations as Harper. There is no permanent opening on the roster for him to logically fill at this point. Johnson made it clear on Saturday that the intent is for him to fill Zimmerman’s shoes until he recovers. After that, the club will have a decision to make.
Rendon’s job, as long as he is up, is to make that decision as tough as possible.
Hitting together with Harper, Danny Espinosa and Chad Tracy in batting practice Sunday, Rendon laced eight balls into the seats in his five turns in the cage, crashing another two off the wall in left. His most impressive shot clanked off the giant, hydraulic red apple raised up 20 feet high behind the 408 mark in dead center wall at Citi Field.
“I’m excited, that’s awesome,” said Harper upon learning that Rendon would get the chance to prove himself. “He’s a special talent, and it’s exciting to have a guy like that up here. It’s going to be fun to watch him play.”
Prior to the game on Saturday, Rizzo admitted that he never expected Rendon to still be on the board when the Nationals were to pick with the sixth overall selection in 2011. When he was, there was no way he could pass on the kid many believed to have the best bat in a talented draft class. Now Rizzo will get to watch his first-round selections from back-to-back drafts on the field together for the first time at the Major League level.
So, is Rendon ready for the Major Leagues, ready to hit against the top pitchers in the game with the added pressure of the big stage?
“There’s only one way to find out,” said the 22-year-old confidently. “That’s to be here.”
He’ll get his first chance Sunday, hitting sixth and playing third base in his debut.
Washington Nationals (9-6) vs. New York Mets (7-7)
RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 2.95) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (3-0, 0.82)
When Stephen Strasburg made his first career start against the New York Mets back in 2010, he was just five outings removed from his electrifying, 14-strikeout debut, and the talk of the town around Major League Baseball. He was clearly the most dynamic, exciting player on a team whose other most notable star held down the fort as the defending National League Silver Slugger at third base, an award he would go on to win again that season.
Now, nearly three full years later as the Nationals face the Mets for the first time in 2013, it is young hurler Matt Harvey of New York commanding the buzz. Having won each of his first three starts with a sub-1.00 ERA, the eyes of New York and beyond will be on the young right-handed fireballer Friday night as he takes on the Nationals. Harvey represents another emerging star to go alongside David Wright, the Mets two-time Silver Slugger-winning third baseman.
And who will be opposite Harvey on the mound? Why, fellow 24-year-old Strasburg, of course.
The two might have met up in a parallel universe last season, but instead it was John Lannan, returning to his home in New York, who bested Harvey as the Nationals snagged a 1-0 September 12 road victory. Harvey struck out 10 in that affair, but lasted only five frames, needing a full 106 pitches. With Denard Span recovered from the flu that ailed him earlier in the week and back atop the lineup Friday night, you can be sure Washington will look to grind away at the youngster, as they have done to many opponents so far this season.
1. Span CF
2. Werth RF
3. Harper LF
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Tracy 3B
7. Lombardozzi 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Strasburg RHP
TWO OF A KIND
With his seven innings of one-run ball Wednesday night vs. Miami, Ross Detwiler earned his first victory of the season. He also became just the second pitcher in the history of the Nationals/Expos organization to ever start the season with three starts of at least six innings and one or fewer runs, joining future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez (1994).
DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS
Bryce Harper shook off the flu to go 4-for-5 with a double, a run scored and an RBI in Wednesday’s series finale in South Florida. The defending NL Rookie of the Year is off to a hot start, batting .364/.417/.673 with a team-high five home runs and a share of the lead with 11 RBI (Ryan Zimmerman). Harper ranks in the top 15 in the National League in batting (tied, eighth), on-base percentage (15th) and slugging percentage (sixth).
With Wednesday night’s victory in Miami, Davey Johnson and his 1,295 career managerial wins have moved into the top 30 all-time. Johnson is currently tied for 30th on the all-time list with Hall-of-Famer Cap Anson, who posted 1,295 wins and a .578 winning percentage in 21 seasons (1875, 1879-98) primarily as a player/manager with the Phillies, White Sox, Chicago Colts and Giants. Before 2013 ends, Johnson is likely to surpass Hall-of-Famer Ned Hanlon (#29, 1,313 wins) and Chuck Tanner (#28, 1,352 wins).
Earlier today, Chad Tracy – the leader of the Goon Squad – made it official and joined the Twitterverse (follow him @catracy18). He joins an ever-growing number of Nationals players now active on the platform. And just like Denard Span did in Spring Training, and Ryan Mattheus did last season, Tracy is asking for your help to design his profile.
Old school has officially met new school.My first tweet ever is now in the books #goonsquad
— Chad Tracy (@catracy18) April 17, 2013
Check out the headshots (we’re partial to the Jedi, hooded look, but hey, it’s up to you) and backgrounds below and make sure to cast your vote for each one. There’s no limit on how many times you can choose, so vote early and often! We’ll tally up all the totals on Friday and Chad will update his profile before the Nats take on the Mets in their next series.
Profile Avatar – Option 1
Profile Avatar – Option 2
Profile Avatar – Option 3
Profile Background – Option 1
Profile Background – Option 2
Profile Background – Option 3
The Racing Presidents are off and running again in the 2013 season, with new addition Bill joining the daily scamper from the center field wall to the home dugout at Nationals Park. However, there was another participant present at one of the first races of the young season, marking the race’s first venture into Vice Presidential territory.
Over the weekend prior to the Nationals-White Sox series, Teddy announced that the Racing Presidents would run their first relay race of the season since the field expanded to five. When George and Tom partnered up, then Abe and Bill formed their own pact, the lovable Teddy was left to his own devices to find a running mate. Searching online, he asked around for suggestions for #TeddysRunningMate, and offers flowed in from around the interwebs.
As luck would have it, Teddy found someone perfectly suited to run with – Selina Meyer, the fictional Vice President from HBO’s “VEEP.” The two were spotted around Washington in the days leading up to the race, and seemed primed for victory as Teddy stormed out to an early lead in the Tuesday night race.
But given Teddy’s less than illustrious history, combined with Selina’s propensity for finishing second, it should have come as little surprise that the two were unable to collaborate on a victory. They fumbled their baton exchange, leaving Selina with a ton of ground to make up in the race’s second half. And while she made a valiant effort, per the usual, she finished second.
That left Teddy – along with rival Bill – still winless for the 2013 campaign, as both continue to search for new and inventive ways to break the tape first…or at least ensure their counterpart’s defeat.