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Well, it’s finally here. Welcome to NATITUDE Weekend at Nationals Park, the first three-game set of the year against the rival Phillies. If you are planning to attend any (or all) of this weekend’s games, here’s a handy guide to help arm you with the NATITUDE you need to show the Philly fans who decided to make the trip south to Our Park that Washington is ready to turn the tide both on the field and off.
1. Knowledge is power
The Nationals are off to a great start to 2012, and it helps to understand just how good they’ve been so far. As any Phillies fan will tell you, pitching is all-important in building a winner. So far, the Nationals have had the best staff in the game, and by a decent margin at that. Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to start the series opener on Friday, just took home National League Pitcher of the Month honors for April after going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA (4 ER/32.0 IP), striking out 34 batters while walking just six over his first five starts of the year. In fact, four of the five Nats starting pitchers – including all three slated to start in this series – have ERAs under 2.00 going into Thursday night’s game. That’s something neither Phillies starters Cole Hamels (2.78) nor Roy Halladay (3.40) can claim.
2. Understand your history
Yes, the Phillies have won five straight National League East titles. You already know this, but you will no doubt be reminded of it several times this weekend. However, were you aware that the Nationals beat Philadelphia, 10-8, in the season series in 2011, including the final five games? Before completing a four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park in September, the Nats won their last home game over Philadelphia in an extra-inning walk-off affair. Two days before that, Ryan Zimmerman cleared the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off grand slam.
3. Speaking of walk-offs…
The Nationals enter their series finale with the Diamondbacks Thursday night with a 9-3 home record, best in the division. Four of those victories have come in walk-off style, including Wednesday’s dramatic, two-out, two-run, come-from-behind, game-winning home run off the bat of Ian Desmond. The winning run in those games has been scored by four different players (Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Desmond), so you never know who the hero might be when you come to the ballpark.
4. There’s this guy named Bryce
They may boo him, but every opposing fan will have their eyes trained on home plate when 19 year-old Bryce Harper digs in. The outfielder turned in the first three-hit game of his young career on Wednesday, and is already altering games on defense with his cannon of an arm. Make sure you’re in your seat when Harper bats – you just might witness a piece of history.
5. Root, root, root for the home team
Bring your passion and energy to Our Park to cheer for the Nats. It’s going to be a fun, rowdy environment for sure, so bring your yelling voice. But should you run into some unruly visiting fans, don’t worry about wasting it on them. Let them regale you with stories about their .500 ballclub, and about how good they used to be. You know, in the past. Just take the high road and Ignite Your NATITUDE to support the NL East-leading Nats, the most exciting young team in baseball.
See you at Our Park this weekend!
Hello again Nationals fans,
As I talked about in my last blog, Dodger Stadium is one of the iconic venues in all of sports, and it is fitting that a 19 year-old kid from Las Vegas will be making his much-anticipated big league entrance on this stage.
As “Hollywood” as this script seems, this was not how it was supposed to happen. Sure, the scenic backdrop, the 50,000-plus fans and the A-list celebs will be fantastic for the history books, but Bryce is here tonight on someone else’s terms.
Unfortunately, Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder soreness has prompted a DL stint. Thankfully, this won’t be a prolonged absence for Ryan, but it does leave an immediate void in Davey’s lineup.
So, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson talked. And they talked again. Ultimately, it was determined that they needed another left-handed bat in the lineup, and an outfielder if possible.
So, Mike went to chilly, Rochester, NY and watched Bryce play three games. He saw enough to know that this is what he had to do. He diverted from his plan. But how many of us see our best laid plans executed exactly as we scripted? Not nearly enough. That’s just reality.
So, when Mike called me yesterday with the news that he planned to recall Bryce on Saturday, I was taken aback. Like most, I did not see this happening so quickly.
Mike told me that Bryce was the best fit for what Davey needed, especially with Zimmerman and Michael Morse on the shelf.
He also told me that Bryce’s development plan is still not finished. There is a good chance that he’ll need more time, more reps and more at-bats at Triple-A. But that is a discussion for another day.
Bryce should not be seen as a panacea. He’s not our run-production savior. That would be unfair.
But Mike does think – and I agree – that Bryce can provide our roster a healthy jolt.
So, let’s see what he can do. Let’s dig deeper than his batting average, his power output and instead keep our eyes open for his total game – the base running, the defense, the throwing arm. Let’s resist the urge to make grand conclusions based on ridiculously small sample sizes.
But, at the same time, let’s have fun. On a personal level, I am thrilled that I am in Los Angeles and will be at Dodger Stadium tonight.
It all starts for Bryce tonight, fittingly in Tinseltown.
The first page of what we believe will be a special Hollywood script.
Up goes the curtain: it’s time to enjoy the show.
When Drew Stubbs singled home Miguel Cairo in the top of the second inning of Saturday’s Reds-Nats affair in Washington, it looked like this might finally be the day the offenses broke out and delivered a high-scoring game. Following consecutive extra-inning games, in which the two teams combined for just eight runs in 23 innings, the early sign of life seemed to indicate a shift, the 74-degree first pitch temperature and out-blowing breeze priming the afternoon for an offensive explosion.
Who knew in that moment, with the Reds still threatening to add on in the inning, that Cincinnati would not log another hit the rest of the afternoon against Nationals starter Edwin Jackson. The hard-throwing righty retired 22 of the final 23 batters he faced, polishing off a two-hit shutout by inducing a weak pop to shallow center field from Joey Votto, one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
Jackson is perhaps best known around the baseball world for his bizarre, 149-pitch no-hitter, which he threw with Arizona against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 25, 2010. He walked eight batters in that contest while striking out just six, but gutted out a marathon performance to earn his place in the baseball history books. In many ways, though, his performance on Saturday in front of 35,489 frenzied fans surpassed his no-no from 16 months prior.
First, there was that lone baserunner after the second inning, a four-pitch walk to Chris Heisey to open the eighth inning. As dominant as Jackson had been, there suddenly appeared to be a crack in the armor, the crowd that had given him multiple standing ovations quieted to a nervous murmur. Tyler Clippard scrambled to get warm in the bullpen as pitching coach Steve McCatty paced out to the mound for a chat. What did the coach have to say?
“It’s your game,” said Jackson, recounting McCatty’s pep talk after the game. “Just get these people out. Throw every pitch with conviction.”
Manager Davey Johnson, the lifelong baseball man, actually found himself nervous in the moment.
“When I’m seeing a gem and we need it, lights out, it makes me nervous,” Johnson said. “I usually don’t get nervous. But when you see something like that – he had a low pitch count, just a dominating game. From a manager’s standpoint, you don’t want anything to go wrong. You kind of protect against all contingencies.”
After all, even though Jackson was the only National who pitched on Saturday, this game meant something to everyone on the staff. Following those back-to-back extra-inning games, both bullpens were spent, leaving few options for the skippers. Perhaps the biggest number of the night was 92: the total number of pitches it took Jackson to finish what he started, a full 57 pitches fewer than his no-hitter.
Meanwhile, the offense did its part, responding when Jackson needed it to by tying the game in the bottom of the second. Jayson Werth – fresh off his game-winning hit in the fifth hour of the game the night prior – legged out the back end of a double play and eventually scored the game-tying run with two outs to level the score at one apiece. An inning later, Adam LaRoche came through again, following a walk to Danny Espinosa and a single from Ryan Zimmerman, with a two-run double into the right-center field gap. The Nationals would only add one more tally the rest of the way, but it was more than enough for Jackson.
After all, Jackson has had plenty of experience finishing off a masterpiece, going back again to his no-hitter in 2010. For all the grief he has received for that non-conventional feat, Jackson nevertheless got the outs he needed – all 27 of them – while pitching with just one run of cushion the entire game. And who, do you suppose, plated the lone run in that game? Why, Adam LaRoche, of course. His solo shot in the second inning was the lone score in a 1-0 game. Both players have looked very much at home, united once more in Washington in the season’s opening stretch.
Ed. Note: Here at Curly W Live, we will be taking a closer look at some of the top up-and-coming prospects in the Nationals farm system throughout the 2012 season. Make sure to vote in our poll at the end of this article to help determine which player we will profile next.
There have been plenty of heralded prospects making their way up the ranks of the Nationals farm system over the last few years. Strong, talent-rich drafts have stocked Washington’s minor league affiliates to the point that prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade – which sent four of the club’s top 13-rated prospects to the Oakland Athletics – Baseball America had the Nationals ranked as the top overall minor league system in the game heading into 2012. Even after that deal, there are plenty of big names left, led of course by Bryce Harper. Those who keep their eyes on the minors will get their first glimpse of the likes of Anthony Rendon and the first regular season action for Matt Purke, who made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League. These few will dominate the headlines, but we begin this season’s slate with one of the most promising power hitters in the system, Tyler Moore.
At the minor league level, where seasons are shorter and younger players are still filling out their athletic frames, large power totals are rare. In fact, only 15 minor leaguers hit 30 or more home runs in 2011, and only two have turned the trick in each of the last two years. The first name may ring a bell: Paul Goldschmidt. He was the rookie phenom who, after swatting 35 longballs for Double-A Mobile, was called up in September and played a key role in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ run to the National League West crown. The other player was Moore, a soft-spoken first baseman who, even after such an impressive two-year run, still does not appear in Baseball America’s top 10 prospect list for the Nationals.
Ranking or no ranking, that kind of power will earn you some respect and, in Moore’s case, some investment from the organization. The slugger was added to the 40-Man Roster in November, along with Eury Perez, Jhonatan Solano and the recently traded Derek Norris, to prevent him from being selected by another club in the annual Rule V Draft.
“This was his protection year,” explained Doug Harris, the Nationals Director of Player Development. “With power being a premium in today’s game, we felt like it was an easy decision for us.”
While Harris was not yet with the organization back when Moore first came into the system, he saw him as an opposing player while Harris was with the Cleveland Indians and Moore was at Low-A Hagerstown in 2008.
“As an opposing scout watching him, he was a guy that could always impact the baseball,” recalled Harris. “When he was in Hagerstown, it was really pole-to-pole power. Really his best power was to right-center, which is a true indicator of a guy who has a chance to come into bigger power down the road. So you saw glimpses of it, and I think a lot of the doubles he hit in Hagerstown got turned into home runs over the last couple of years.”
After hitting 30 two-baggers but just nine home runs in 111 games at Hagerstown in 2009, Moore got off to a rough start his next season at High-A Potomac. In 79 games through July 12, he had collected 47 RBI, but was batting just .191. Moore made an adjustment, though, and turned his season around completely. Over his final 50 contests, he went a staggering 76-for-193 (.394) with 21 home runs and 64 RBI. He would go on to lead the Carolina League in home runs (31), RBI (111), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.552), extra-base hits (77) and total bases (277), earning both league MVP honors and the Nationals Organizational Player of the Year. Moore put together another impressive campaign last year in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, where he matched his home run total of 31, and again lead the league in RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.
In fact, in 189 games played since his remarkable turnaround, the 6’2”, 210-pound righty has swatted 52 home runs and driven in 154.
“When you break down the 2010 season that he had at Potomac…he really came into his own in the second half,” explained Harris. “It’s a credit to him. He’s a tireless worker, he never wavered in his approach or his intent day-to-day, and it really speaks volumes about who he is.”
Like many sluggers with such impressive power numbers, Moore also racks up his fair share of strikeouts, averaging 125 K’s over the past three seasons. However, he has also batted a very respectable .277 over that same stretch and it’s hard to argue with the run production.
Clearly, the Nationals have seen something in Moore’s potential ever since he was just a prep player at Northwest Rankin High School in Brandon, Mississippi. They actually drafted him on three separate occasions: in the 41st round straight out of high school in 2005, in the 33rd round after a year at Meridian Junior College in 2006, and finally in the 16th round after two years at Mississippi State in 2008. Moore signed at last, and has spent each of the last four seasons at a different level of the farm system, slowly playing his way up to Double-A in 2011. Now, as he enters his first big league camp in Florida, Moore will face new pressures and expectations from the Nationals staff. So, just how high is Moore’s ceiling?
“I think a lot of that is really up to Tyler,” said Harris. “He’s obviously put together two very productive years back-to-back. He’s going to be given an opportunity at a higher level and a chance to continue to show what he’s capable of doing. I know that our Major League staff is excited to get a glimpse of him in Spring Training.”
As for how Moore will respond to the challenge, Harris is not worried.
“Tyler is a very high-character young man, a tremendous teammate,” said Harris. “He’s an early-to-the-ballpark kind of guy. He blends with every mix of player. He’s a quiet leader, not a big-time vocal leader, but he’s got a great presence and he’s very well-liked amongst his teammates.”
Those traits should serve him well, as Harris suggested that the coaching staff may try Moore out at several defensive positions to see where he can best fit into the Nationals’ future plans. Originally drafted as a third baseman, he has played exclusively at first base (or been a designated hitter) in his 448 career minor league games. Harris said the staff has tried him in the outfield a bit as well, and that they will continue to “kick the tires” on that experiment moving forward. Either way, it will just be one more adjustment, something Moore has shown that he’s good at making.
“There’s an adjustment period going to a new level each year,” said Harris. “I know that he’s preparing himself to be ready to go out of the gate this year. He’s a kid that’s had to earn everything he’s got.”
While Moore seems destined for Syracuse in April, if he is able to find similar success at the Triple-A level in 2012 as he has the past two years, fans in the District may get a glimpse of him before the year is out.