Results tagged ‘ 2010 30 in 30 ’
This is the final 30 in 30 segment and it is only fitting that we conclude with the first player that comes to mind when people think of the Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman. He won’t say it himself but he is the face of the franchise. There is no way around it. He was the Nationals first draft pick in 2005 and made his Major League debut three months later, batting .397 (23-for-58) in 20 games. If there is one player that embodies the Washington Nationals, he is the person. He is also the person that has welcomed the past two No. 1 picks–Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper–to the Nationals ballclub, making him the unofficial jersey presenter at press conferences.
“It’s going in my next contract,” Zimmerman said.
The mild mannered, overly polite Zimmerman is slowly becoming the main voice in the clubhouse, a role he has grown into over the last few seasons. He leads with his actions but he is starting to feel comfortable with voicing his opinion when he feels it is necessary.
The 26-year-old–yes, it is hard to believe he is just 26–set career highs in batting average (.307) and on-base percentage (.388) en route to his second straight Silver Slugger award in 2010. He was beat out by Scott Rolen for his second Gold Glove but Zimmerman is a vacuum at third base, nonetheless. According to fangraphs.com, he has the best range in the Majors and saved 13.9 runs last season, third best among third basemen.
“Part of my goal and part of my progression is to become an average hitter as well as a power hitter,” Zimmerman said. “When you look at guys who hit .300 and have the ability to hit 30 home runs and drive in a 100 runs in a season, there are only a handful that are out there. If you can do that consistently every year, you become one of the elite players in the league. That’s my goal and pretty much everyone’s goal.”
Zimmerman is right. There are only a handful of players that can post a .300 average with 100 RBI and 30 home runs in a season, but Zimmerman is starting to be one of those rare offensive players. There have only been six players each of the past two seasons to post such numbers–Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are the only two players to do it in 2009 and 2010. Zim was five home runs and 15 RBI short this season and eight batting points last season but it is safe to pencil in those type of numbers for Zimmerman next season. You can also count on him to hit a few walk-off home runs in 2011. He has a history of getting it done in big time situations. From the time his Major League career began on September 1, 2005, he has hit seven game-ending home runs–more than anyone else since that date. Andre Ethier and David Ortiz hold second place with six.
On September 7, 2005, the Nationals were 3.5 games behind the Astros in the Wild Card race and Zim got the start at shortstop–his only start at short in the Majors. Zimmerman hasn’t been part of a playoff race since 2005 and he is ready to change that.
Anyone who follows baseball–or just turned on their TV this summer–heard the name Stephen Strasburg. He attracted (unwanted) attention with every breath he took and every pitch he threw. People eventually ran out of adjectives when trying to describe him and they were never short on hyperbole. He is a difference maker. He singlehandedly sold-out ballparks and his Major League debut will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
It marked the first time any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball struck out 14 without a single walk in his debut. So what more can be said? You can find out everything you could ever care to know about him with a five second Google search. So instead of recapping his already recapped season or projecting his already projected return from Tommy John surgery, we will just reminded you of how good he is with a few quotes from his debut that you probably haven’t forgotten about.
Strasburg debut–Tuesday, June 8, 2010
“I’ve never seen anything like this. Never. Nothing close.”
“That was unbelievable. I can’t imagine a better game that I’ve been to. That was everything they hoped it would be and more.”
“The Nationals made their way down from Montreal in 2005, but it was only on Tuesday night, it seems, that they arrived.”
-Joe Sheehan, SI.com
“To overmatch Major League hitters in your Major League debut like that made this historic in so many ways… I’ve never seen anything quite like that. It was more than a baseball game. It was more than about the winning and the losing of the game. It was about this guy and seeing what he could do for the first time. I figured, well, if he pitches six innings and is competitive and strikes out six or seven, that will be a great debut. Instead he doubled it, as far as the strikeouts go. No walks, 14 strikeouts–only guy to ever do that in his Major League debut. You have to say that a few times to really appreciate it, because again, no one’s ever done that before.”
-Tim Kurkjian, on Mike and Mike, June 9
“For magic and hope in the Nation’s Capital, we have to turn to baseball, in particular one Stephen Strasburg, a.k.a. Baseball Jesus, a.k.a. Mr. Precedent, a.k.a. Stratosphere, a.k.a. I have never seen anything like this kid in my life! I don’t enjoy having to use an exclamation point there, because I’m generally against them, but he is why they were invented.”
-Steve Tuttle, Newsweek editor and web columnist
“Strasburg put on a 94-pitch clinic, illustrating why the Nationals were willing to invest a record $15.1 million in him after a down-to-the-wire negotiation with agent Scott Boras last summer… Boras’ reputation for hyping his clients is legendary, but Strasburg’s debut made you wonder if he has been undersold.”
-Phil Rogers, LA Times reporter
“When you see somebody with that kind of stuff, with that kind of head on his shoulders, you know he’s going to be successful. You know that. He was a sophomore in college and you just knew — he’s got it. And it is a hard thing to kind of point your finger at. But I think you saw that tonight.”
“I’ve been catching a lot of guys, but this kid is unbelievable!”
-Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Washington Nationals catcher
“I’ve been in this game for 32 years. I’ve seen everything. And I get chills when he lets that first pitch go.”
-Donald “Spin” Williams, Washington Nationals Minor League pitching coordinator
“Anything he throws, if he throws it the way he can, you can’t hit it.”
-Steve McCatty, Washington Nationals pitching coach
“Strasburg doesn’t get caught up in it. He doesn’t watch himself on TV, which means he probably doesn’t watch TV at all.”
– Drew Storen, Washington Nationals reliever
“He’s the only guy in baseball who lives up to all the stories you hear.”
“I’ve had a front-row seat to the whole thing. It’s been an unbelievable experience because I got to experience Minor League baseball and even the Big Leagues with and without Strasburg, so you kind of see the Strasburg effect first hand. It’s nuts. His first game here, obviously, you saw it at full force. But when he pitched in Cleveland too, you could really see that factor when they’re selling his jerseys in their stadium. And you just have people in Strasburg jerseys showing up to the Cleveland Indians game. It was just very weird. And it’s cool because he’s good for baseball and I think that’s the big thing.”
As you read this, Drew Storen is probably either in class or studying for one. Such is the life of a young professional baseball player, right? Not exactly. A Wall Street Journal study found that only 26 players and managers on last year’s rosters graduated from a four-year college. That averages to less than one per team. But we’ve known for a while, Storen is not the average Major Leaguer. While others hide from the media, Storen gladly obliges to every interview request. Nor is he the average guy. Storen grew up playing H.O.R.S.E. with then-Pacers star Reggie Miller and is friends with Gordon Hayward and Toby Gerhart. Based on these aberrations from the “norm,” you shouldn’t be surprised that while other Major League stars spend their offseason either back home, catching up with family, or playing in fall and winter leagues, Storen is immersed in student life at Stanford University, living in a dorm and moving closer towards earning a degree in Product Design.
Then again, it wasn’t long ago that Storen was last taking classes at Stanford–a year and a half ago to be exact. At that time, he had no Major League contract, but was pacing the Cardinals in wins, saves, ERA and appearances. Then, on June 9, 2009, the Nationals selected Storen with the 10th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Storen signed less than 24 hours later, breezed through three levels of Minor League ball and played in the Arizona Fall League, where he first befriended Stephen Strasburg. He started off the 2010 season saving Strasburg’s first Minor League game, showing him how to use an inflatable pool raft as a mattress on long bus trips and answering more media questions about Strasburg than about himself. Storen made his Big League debut on May 17, less than a year after signing. Despite how much has changed in so little time, despite how many planes, buses and trains he has been on in the past year, Storen remains focused on his goals, especially when it comes to getting an education. “I think I’d be disappointed in wasting a Stanford education,” Storen says. “I need to utilize it. If baseball doesn’t work out, I can fall back on my education.”
Perhaps it is that same drive to see goals to completion that will ensure Storen’s success in the Major Leagues. His work ethic is matched with a deeply competitive nature. He lives for the spotlight and enjoys the pressure, at one point admitting he prefers playing in a stadium of booing fans. “That gets you fired up,” Storen said. “Obviously it’s great to have a good crowd and I’ve gotten great ovations every time I’ve thrown [at Nationals Park]. So that’s always cool, but it’s always a lot more fun when people are cheering against you.”
Storen was at season’s best form when the Nationals traded away All-Star Matt Capps to the Twins for catching prospect Wilson Ramos at the end of July. Fans looked to Storen to “seal the deal” as the Nationals closer. He didn’t. At his worst, he gave up four runs in the ninth inning, including a walk-off home run to Jayson Werth, to lose the game at Citzens Bank Park. But manager Jim Riggleman explained that the team has different plans and is, perhaps, a little more patient than the fans. “I don’t think we’ve anointed anybody as the closer,” he said. “We’re hoping someday Drew is that guy that can pitch in the ninth. We’re not saying it’s now. We’re not saying it’s next year.”
Some fans expressed disappointment over his late season performance, expecting Storen to shine when given the opportunity to play a bigger role out of the bullpen. However, despite how fans felt regarding whether or not Storen lived up to the great expectations before him, Storen still ended the season with favorable numbers. He did not allow a run in 38 or 54 appearances while allowing just 14.8 percent of inherited runners to score, best among all Nationals relievers. Storen was only given the opportunity to save the game seven times, all in the last two months of the season, so for all the premature discussion concerning whether or not he is the closer of the future, time will only tell to what capacity Storen best serves the Nats.
Even though the Nationals didn’t make it to the World Series this year, “Pudge” Rodriguez did–sort of–when he returned to his former home in Texas to catch Nolan Ryan’s ceremonial pitch before Game 3 between the Giants and the Rangers. It certainly will not be the last time Pudge is asked to take part in such a ceremonial pitch. The future Hall-of-Famer has amassed 14 All-Star selections, 13 Golden Glove Awards and seven Silver Sluggers in 20 years in the Big Leagues. And he’s not done yet.
He’s 183 hits away from recording his 3,000th hit. He’s smashed over 300 home runs as a catcher alone–that’s good enough for second most among all catchers since 1974. Over his career, he’s thrown out 41.6 percent of baserunners attempting to steal–the third highest percentage of any catcher of all time.
The Nationals knew on December 11, 2009–the day they signed Pudge to a two-year contract–exactly what they were getting. While Pudge’s name will go down among the greats, the team did not expect a season highlighted by career highs or even numbers comparable to his best years. Yet the team got exactly what it wanted from Pudge Rodriguez in 2010.
The Nats leaned on Pudge’s veteran leadership and his proven experience all season. In June, he returned from the 15-day disabled list just in time to catch Stephen Strasburg’s introduction to the Majors–the 14-strikeout, zero-walks-in-seven-complete-innings debut that will go down as one of the greatest debuts of all time. Then in September, he spent the month mentoring Wilson Ramos, the Nationals probable catcher of the future.
Pudge is a stable force, a durable presence behind the plate who saw action in 111 of 162 games in 2010. He is the experienced veteran whose reputation precedes him. Nationals coaches know full well the effect Pudge has on other teams, simply by his presence alone.
“We got Pudge [behind the plate], you see opposing players aren’t trying to run on us very much,” First Base Coach Dan Radison explained. “Their steal attempts, I’m sure, are way down against the Nationals because of his abilities and his reputation. A catcher that people know can really throw, basically they don’t run as much. So while he might not be leading the League in throwing guys out, there ain’t nobody going.” (Note: he did, however, lead the League in 2006 by throwing out 45.7% of baserunners attempting to steal).
Young and old alike respect him. Rookie Drew Storen explained the type of eye-opening experience professional players undergo playing alongside him. Storen says the first time he realized he had finally reached his childhood dream occurred one day in Spring Training: “I would say the first time that it kind of hit me, okay this is kind of cool was when I came in to pitch against the Braves and Pudge was catching. He came out to the mound when I came into the game. That was probably the first time that I really thought this is kind of cool.”
Pudge’s value is in his unparalleled experience that allows him to be a contributing factor both in the clubhouse and on the field. One day, Nats fans will look back and be thankful for this opportunity to watch a legend play in a Nationals uniform, although for two way-too-short years.
Craig Stammen’s season was the definition of erratic–he moved from the Nationals’ starting rotation to the Minors then back to the Majors and finally to the bullpen. His games were nearly as unstable as his place on the pitching staff. At times, he looked commanding, while other times, he lost control. He did throw the ball harder this season, but a mildly faster fastball that averages around 90 mph and a tighter curveball, don’t always translate to immediate success.
Stammen started the season in rocky fashion, managing just 6.1 innings combined in his first two starts while giving up 11 runs and striking out just one. He immediately improved in his next two starts, this time going a combined 15.0 innings while giving up just five total runs and striking out eight.
Stammen was optioned to Triple-A ball to make room on the active roster for Stephen Strasburg on June 7. He went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three solid starts for the Syracuse Chiefs and returned to the Nationals starting rotation later that month. The move would last a little over a month, during which time Stammen went 3-2 in seven inconsistent games–the type that have defined his short career as a starting pitcher. In Stammen’s return on June 29 against the Braves, he pitched 7.1 innings of two-run ball, holding opposing batters to a .192 average to earn the win. But in his very next start on July 4, Stammen lasted only 3.1 innings before giving up seven earned runs, walking three and walking away with the loss.
Stammen was again taken out of the starting rotation on August 8, but this time he was moved to the bullpen, where he would remain, with moderate success, for the rest of the season. Unlike most starting pitchers, Stammen did not publically grumble about the move, saying, “I’m just Craig, a little old 12th rounder. It’ll be alright. Whatever they want me to do is what I’ll do. Start, come out of the bullpen, clean the balls off.” He previously worked as a reliever in the Minors and left the University of Dayton as the all-time saves leader. “It doesn’t really bother me. It’s not like it’s a demotion,” Stammen said of the move.
This is only Stammen’s second season as a Major League pitcher, so it is way too early to give up on him due to his lack of consistency. The Nationals do have use for him, but the question is, where? Will he pan out as a starter next year? Most likely, he will prove more valuable as a long reliever who may get called on to start from time to time if a vacancy in the rotation arises.
It took Alberto Gonzalez a while to get to the States in 2003, not because he was searching for a team to sign him, but rather because he was searching for a visa and proper paperwork. “It was hard,” he said. “The Venezuelan government doesn’t want to give them to you because they think you are going to stay in the U.S. to live after you are done playing.”
It didn’t get any easier when he finally got to America.
“It was just me and my wife,” Gonzalez said. “My family is still in Venezuela. It was hard being here alone at first.”
It hasn’t been any easier cracking the starting the lineup on a consistent basis either. At the same time, Gonzalez hasn’t had a problem becoming the Nats super utility man. He can field all four infield positions with Gold Glove-like skills too. He played in 105 games (71 starts) and had 291 at-bats last season. And with the log jam at second base this season, he saw his at-bats drop drastically. He was used primarily as a defensive replacement and appeared in 114 games–but started just 37 of them. He registered only 186 at-bats and never got in a groove offensively. The most consistent playing time he received all year was at the end of the season when he filled in for an injured Ryan Zimmerman at third base for ten games.
It appears Gonzalez will be used in the same role next season but with the departure of Adam Kennedy, his playing time could increase. He has expressed interest in playing more but with Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa entrenched as infield starters, it seems inevitable that Gonzalez will once again be a spot starter and defensive replacement for the Nats.
The Nationals bullpen ranked last in the Majors with a 5.04 ERA in 2009. In 2010, the revamped bullpen was the Nats knockout punch. They posted a 3.33 ERA, good enough for fifth in the Majors and fourth and the NL. It was a night and day difference from last season. Contrasting bullpen ERAs from ’10 to ’09, the Nationals paced the Majors with an improvement of -1.71. San Diego was second with an improvement of just under one run. Doug Slaten was one of the reasons for the improvement.
The 30-yead-old lefthander was claimed off waivers in October and earned a spot in the bullpen in May, after a dominate performance at Triple-A Syracuse, pitching 17.0 scoreless innings of relief.
“He’s was outstanding down in Triple-A,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He earned his way up here. We try to reward success down there, and certainly he’s pitched well.”
Slaten was lights-out after July 24 for the Nats. He went 2-0 with two holds, a .176 BAA and a 2.29 ERA (5 ER/19.2 IP) in 23 appearances. Overall, he wasn’t the go-to pitcher in pressure situations but he pitched well when his name was called. He didn’t allow a run in 37 of his 49 outings and only allowed 15.4 percent of the inherited runners to score, bested only by Drew Storen’s 14.8 percent on the Nationals.
After the best season of his career, Slaten proved he can be a lefty specialist–lefthanders hit just .151 (11-for-73) against him this season–and a strong sixth or seventh member of a bullpen.
Scott Olsen is once again eligible for arbitration and the Nationals are once again left with the decision on what to do with him. Last year, they didn’t tender his contact and he became a free agent, only to later sign with the Nats. It was strictly a financial move and it saved the Nationals a substantial amount of money. The Nationals now have to answer the same question this offseason: to tender or not to tender, that is the question.
When the Nats acquired Olsen from the Marlins before the 2009 season, he was a durable pitcher that started at least 31 games the previous three seasons and had never been on the DL. It hasn’t been the same story with the Nats. Olsen has been plagued by a nagging left shoulder injury and in two seasons with the Nationals here are his numbers: 6-12 with 95 strikeouts and a 5.76 ERA (92 ER/ 143.2 IP) in 26 starts (28 games).
In 2008 with the Marlins, Olsen went 8-11 with 113 strikeouts and a 4.20 ERA (94 ER/ 201.2 IP) in 33 starts. It isn’t proof that he can be a No. 1 starter, but if the Nationals can get those 2008 numbers out of him as a fourth or fifth starter, they wouldn’t complain.
At times during the season, Olsen was great. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Braves in May, at the same time extending his scoreless streak to 20.0 innings. But the high points were few and far between and the low points seemed to keep getting lower. He experienced shoulder tightness in the middle of May and was sent to the DL once again. Olsen came off the DL on July 29 but he never could settle into a comfort zone. He went 1-6 with 8.72 ERA (32.0 IP/ 31 ER) and a .331 BAA over seven starts.
“As a starting pitcher, getting into a rhythm of every five, six days, I would say it’s more difficult to come off the DL, be up and down, do all this stuff,” Olsen said. “By no means is that an excuse. When I’m out there, I’m out there. I’m feeling fine. I just got to be better. It’s just the bottom line.”
Olsen was moved to the bullpen in September and he pitched four perfect innings in his first relief appearance. It was an impressive outing but Olsen doesn’t see himself as a reliever.
“I’d like to start,” Olsen said. “I don’t want to be a bullpen guy.”
If he is healthy in 2011, he won’t need to worry about pitching out of the bullpen, no matter where he is playing.
It was a few minutes before a game and there were a handful of fans circled around the photo well at Nationals Park, adjacent to the Nats dugout. They were waiting patiently–lined up three, four, five deep. There were kids with baseballs, dads with jerseys and a mom with a pink bat. There was just one player present and it wasn’t a surprise that it was Ian Desmond. He has made it a daily practice to give fans what they want–jaw-dropping defensive plays and his autograph. No one walked away empty-handed.
Everyone got an autograph and everyone left smiling. It is the Ian Desmond way: no shortcuts and stay until the job is finished. That’s why he takes extra ground balls. That’s why he practices the minor details of his position like throwing the ball sidearm to second base instead of overhand to save precious milliseconds.
His ability to make unbelievable plays and his production at the plate earned him the starting position after Spring Training, and he showed he can play every day at the Major League level. He batted eighth the majority of the season but when Cristian Guzman was traded to the Rangers at the end of July, Desmond moved into the two hole and with it came better pitches. He saw more fastballs and strikes, a benefit for a free swinging hitter. His numbers improved drastically and from July 27 to September 22, Desmond hit .335 (62-for-185) with four home runs and 22 RBI in 51 games.
“There’s no way around it–you get better pitches to hit when you’ve got Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman hitting behind you,” Desmond said.
He also improved defensively too but Desmond is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to his defense–he makes the ‘how-did-he-do-that,’ Gold Glove play look routine but he has occasionally made the routine play look challenging.
“But it’s plays that are made that maybe some other people don’t make that’s impressive about Desmond,” Riggleman said. “Last year, there were plays that weren’t made that aren’t scored errors that were killing our pitching staff. Guys are making plays now, Desmond especially.”
Riggleman was never short of compliments about his rookie shortstop. He glowed when he talks about him and thinks Desmond is a special player with a charismatic personality that will make a difference in the Nats clubhouse.
“I absolutely think it’s infectious,” Riggleman said. “That’s what’s going to get us over the hump, that type of mentality, that type of attitude. It’s a real pleasure to have him.”
It hasn’t been easy for Desmond but it wasn’t easy getting here either. It took five years, a broken hand and a Single-A demotion. But it was the up-and-down journey in the Minors, that gave him the wisdom and the knowledge to know that he can’t take it for granted. But you can take it for granted that Desmond will always be exciting to watch.
Nyjer Morgan was finally getting comfortable at the plate. After struggling in May and June, Morgan turned the corner at the end of June–right about the same time he started to heat up in 2009 when he was acquired by the Nationals from the Pirates. From June 29 to August 22, Morgan was the player that made him an instant fan favorite in Washington. He batted .300 (39-for-130) with nine RBI, 15 stolen bases and a .348 OBP. He was the hard-nosed, 100 percent effort ballplayer that made a difference with his glove and on the base paths. But right as Morgan was playing his best baseball of the season, there were a series of unfortunate events that unfolded in a 10 day span. It was a strange week to say the least. Any of the events looked at alone were rather minor, but each incident was magnified due to the proximity of the previous episode.
Here is a recap:
· Morgan was suspended on August 25, for seven games because of an incident with a fan in Philadelphia–he appealed the suspension and continued to play.
· On August 27, he was picked off of first base in the bottom of the eighth. Willie Harris would hit a home run on the next pitch.
· On August 28, Morgan was moved to eighth in the lineup. In the eighth inning, he barreled into the Cardinals’ catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate despite the fact that there wasn’t even a play at the plate. Morgan actually missed home plate and cost the Nats a run.
· He was held out of the game on August 29 because of that play for what Manager Jim Riggleman referred to as an “unprofessional play.”
· On August 30, Morgan expressed his displeasure with Riggleman for publicly criticizing him. “He just basically did a cardinal sin,” Morgan said. “You don’t blast your player in the papers.”
· On August 31, in the top of the tenth inning in a scoreless game against the Marlins, Morgan plowed over catcher Brett Hayes on a close play at the plate.
· On September 1, as expected, the Marlins retaliated. Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad didn’t throw at Morgan when he led off the game. It was a little surprising he wasn’t hit in the first inning but when Morgan batted in the fourth inning with the Marlins leading 14-3, Volstad plunked him with a 92 mph fastball in the ribs. Morgan flipped his bat to the dugout, took off his elbow protector and ran to first base. That’s baseball and Morgan knew it was coming–it’s a game that polices itself. What would have been a dead issue was quickly reignited when Morgan threw gas on the fire by stealing second base on the next pitch and third base two pitches later. Morgan was out to prove a point. The Marlins believed he was breaking one of the unspoken rules of baseball.
· When Morgan returned to the plate in the sixth inning, the Marlins were determined to teach him a lesson, once again. On his next at-bat, Volstad threw a 91 mph fastball behind Morgan. He charged the mound, igniting a brawl that could have qualified for a pay-per-view event.
· He was suspended eight games for the fight, and for those counting at home, it increased his total suspension to 15 games. He appealed both suspensions and the League eventually threw-out the seven game suspension from Philadelphia. On September 17, he began serving his eight game suspension for what was dubbed “The Malice in Miami.”
Now, it is just water under the bridge and Riggleman and Morgan have settled their differences but it was a contentious time for the two of them. “Let’s just say we weren’t double dating at the time,” Riggleman said.
It was that kind of season for Morgan: it was a fight from the beginning to the end–figuratively and unfortunately, literally. So what is next for Nyjer Morgan? For as bad as it was at times for him this season, he proved in 2009–be it just a few months with the Nationals–that he can be a solid leadoff hitter and create havoc on the base paths. Morgan plans on doing that in 2011.