Results tagged ‘ Chad Tracy ’

The Goon Squad’s Sticky Situation

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This article is not about pitching. We swear. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t get a couple things out of the way before we get to the meat and potatoes of this piece, which we promise is really about hitting. Thankfully, though, the pitching has been nails. That’s especially good, since here at Curly W Live, we don’t have any nails left after biting them off over the course of the season’s first 17 games, 14 of which have been decided by three runs or less.

Gio Gonzalez is two scoreless innings away from a franchise record.

It is said, around the game, that good starting pitching can be contagious. One starter feeds off another, and if everyone is throwing well, there is a pressure to keep up, not to be the one to let the rest of the guys down. We have seen plenty of that dynamic through the first three weeks of the season, but Gio Gonzalez may have taken the concept to new heights.

After an uninspiring first start of the year, the Nationals new lefty has been nearly unhittable in his last three outings. In addition to not allowing a single run over that span, Gonzalez has allowed just 10 batters to reach base over 20 innings (six hits, four walks), while striking out 21. That 20-inning scoreless streak sits just one frame shy of the franchise record since the team returned to D.C. in ’05. John Lannan and Drew Storen share the mark of 21.0 innings, with the former setting the mark in 2008 and the latter matching it in 2011.

Anyway, back to the offense, and to the rather remarkable statistic the bats managed to produce Tuesday night. The Nationals scored three runs against the Padres at Petco Park. All three were driven in by pinch-hitters, specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters. And even more specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters facing left-handed pitching, something you rarely see.

Chad Tracy keeps swinging his way into Nats fans' hearts.

Late-game scenarios, especially in close games, where pinch-hitters are often used, create situational opportunities. For Chad Tracy, who singled home a pair of runs to put Washington ahead for good in the seventh inning, the at-bat marked his first off the bench against a left-handed pitcher this year. Rick Ankiel, who had the night off due to the lefty starter, had to fight off a tough pitch, serving it up the middle on a broken bat single to add the final insurance run with two outs in the top of the ninth.

While the Nationals will no doubt look for more production out of their starting lineup, the story of the year so far on offense has been the deep bench and its clutch, late-game production. If Washington plays another couple of tight, low-scoring games in San Diego this series (and really, does anyone think they won’t?), look for the Goon Squad – the affectionate nickname for this year’s offensive support staff – to play a big role in the outcome.

Better Late Than Never

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There are two ways that a ball club can improve its performance from year to year. The first is by acquiring players to give themselves a stronger roster – very simply, making the team more talented. The other path to improving a club’s record comes by finding ways win the games it’s not necessarily supposed to win. You know, the ones where there’s a late deficit to overcome, where the offense has done little to inspire confidence, but breaks out of its shell just in time to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Adam LaRoche tied a career high with four hits, including a big two-run home run.

The Nationals certainly added to their talent pool in 2012 by acquiring a couple nice pieces to their starting rotation and getting a number of players back from injury on both sides of the ball. But the story in the early going of the 2012 campaign has been their late-game comeback ability. Through two contests, 10 of the team’s 16 hits and seven of their nine runs have come in the eighth inning or later.

Of course, winning late is nothing new for the Nationals. Seven of their 17 wins in September of last year were of the come-from-behind variety. Much of that same team has been on the field these first two games in Chicago, but there are a couple of noticeable differences, and each has been key in Washington’s victories.

Nationals fans may not have known much about Chad Tracy before this week, but the hero of the season so far is quickly gaining notoriety in D.C. He delivered again on Saturday with another late, two-out hit, plating a pair of runs to put the Nationals ahead for good.

The other big game on Saturday belonged to Adam LaRoche, who not only put Washington ahead early with a two-run home run off the foul pole in right, but also tied a career-best with four hits overall.

Danny Espinosa started the Nats' five-run, eighth-inning rally.

Looking to Sunday’s series finale, the Nationals will hand the ball to Jordan Zimmermann for his first 2012 start. If Washington can give him some early support against Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs, the team will be looking at a franchise first – a three-game road sweep to open the season.

Danny Espinosa – who homered to kick-start the five-run, two-out, eighth-inning rally – expressed appreciation for what his team has been able to do so far, but also wouldn’t mind seeing some of those runs come earlier in the game.

“We want to fight, try to jump out early and hopefully get the lead,” the second baseman said after Saturday’s win. “[But] it’s nice to know that we have the ability to come back, we don’t die, we continue to fight.”

We’ll see which variety of game the team plays in the final game of Opening Weekend.

Open For Business

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Whew. If there was any question of how the Nationals would respond to the pressures of expectation in 2012, they showed some good signs in their first game of the season on Thursday. However, we’ll all have to wait until Saturday before enjoying chapter two.

The quirky schedule gave the team a day off Friday after just the one game. While players might normally want to save that break for a time later in the season, our fans could certainly use the chance to catch their collective breath after a nerve-wracking, gut-checking, come-from-behind victory over the Cubs on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. This is the type of game they should come to expect, though. With the way this Nationals team is built, there are likely to be a good number of well-pitched, tight, low-scoring affairs all season long. And there will be 161 more games in the next 180 days, so brace yourselves.

Stephen Strasburg looked like a seasoned veteran through seven solid innings in his first Opening Day start.

The opener had a bit of everything to make for an exciting affair: great starting pitching, would-be home runs (knocked down by the wind), sparkling defense, and a pair of late rallies, one to tie the score and the other to put Washington in front for good. Many of the offseason storylines were tested immediately. Could the top two spots in the order get on base? Check – Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa combined to reach safely in five of their 10 plate appearances. How would Stephen Strasburg fare in his first Opening Day start? His line – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 K – suggests he was more than up to the task. And what kind of impact could we expect from Davey Johnson’s revamped bench? Look no further than Chad Tracy’s double, which led to Brett Carroll scoring the game-winning run in the ninth. It’s as strong a first impression as Johnson could have hoped for from this group in its collective debut. So on a day when the team managed just four hits, the rest of the pieces came together to get the Nationals that all-important first Curly W.

We need not worry about Ryan Zimmerman, either, whose 0-for-2 (with two walks) performance would have been a 2-for-2 with a pair of home runs, if not for the sharp, gusting wind coming in off Lake Michigan and directly over the center field wall. The third baseman showed just how deep his value really is, though, with two superb defensive plays. He bailed out Wilson Ramos on a pick and swipe tag to catch Alfonso Soriano stealing in the fourth inning, before reversing roles and gunning down Joe Mather at the plate in the ninth (with Ramos applying the nice tag) to preserve the one-run victory.

Jayson Werth couldn't be happier to be reunited with teammate Brad Lidge.

Jayson Werth also had a potential run-scoring, extra-base hit knocked down by the wind early. However, he came up with a great defensive play of his own and battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a bases loaded walk, forcing in the game-tying run in the eighth inning. That’s what team leaders are supposed to do: find ways to contribute, no matter what the circumstance. Werth is one of the best in the game at finding ways beyond the box score to do that. Don’t take our word for it, though. Pick up the first edition of Nationals Magazine when you’re at the ballpark starting next week and read all about it.

There should be no lingering questions surrounding Brad Lidge and his stuff at this point, either. One of Johnson’s fill-in closers (along with Henry Rodriguez), Lidge utterly overwhelmed Reed Johnson with a slider and froze Marlon Byrd with a perfectly painted fastball to end the game. He could be the steal of the offseason for Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo, providing veteran leadership to the back end of the bullpen and the occasional save when called upon.

Nevertheless, it will be great to get Drew Storen back, as it will be to have outfielders Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel in Washington again. Morse and Ankiel are both on rehab assignments with Double-A Harrisburg, which is playing just up the road in Bowie this week.

In the meantime, breathe easy and enjoy the day off. There’s been plenty to talk about, but we’re just one game in. At the end of the day, though, the team is 1-0. And that’s as good of a place as you can be one game into the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season.

Almost the Real Deal

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There was something about Wednesday’s contest against the Mets in Port St. Lucie that felt a little more real than the previous games leading up to it. Fans who have followed the team closely, through the end of last year and the offseason additions over the winter, understand this. The Nationals were guided in this contest by their great pitching, with Jordan Zimmermann starring in the lead role, tossing six innings of two-hit, scoreless ball. Runs were at a premium, with only Ryan Zimmerman’s sacrifice fly in the third and Jayson Werth’s solo home run in the fourth bringing anything other than goose eggs to the scoreboard through the first six frames.

We had some lively, bilingual company in the press box in St. Lucie on Wednesday.

When Lucas Duda’s chopper escaped the leaping reach of Chad Tracy at first and rattled down amongst the bullpen chairs, allowing Jason Bay to score all the way from first, it was obvious this would be one of those nail-biters. Even in Spring Training, the crowd was very much involved in the result. You could feel the sway of emotions as the Nationals scored in the top of the eighth to re-establish the two-run cushion, only to have the Mets close the gap to one again with a run in the bottom half.

Even without Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in their familiar eighth and ninth inning roles, the bullpen acquitted itself nicely. Henry Rodriguez, locking up his second save in three days, got some help on a nice diving catch by Corey Brown in right,. It all incorporated the feel of a regular season, intra-division game, full of drama up until the final out was recorded. It was the type of game many of those who follow the organization expect to see the team play this year – well pitched, low scoring and close. All in all, it almost felt like the regular season.

Almost.

After all, sitting to our right in the press box was a trio of Spanish broadcasters, announcing (live?) into their microphones about happenings around Mets camp. We picked out names like Ronny Cedeno and Johan Santana, and even a “los Nacionales de Washington.” With all the commotion in the box, we almost missed the fact that Ian Desmond’s four-hit game makes him 11-for-his-last-26.

We caught another impressive performance from Henry Rodriguez (and ensuing celebration) from the seats.

To clear our heads, we went down to field level to watch Rodriguez put the finishing touches on this one. The Venezuelan has quietly put together a very impressive spring campaign, holding the opposition scoreless in all nine of his outings, allowing just three hits and two walks while fanning seven over 9.0 innings of work. His success in smoothly converting both save opportunities presented to him this week can only help his chances of officially stepping into the closer role until Storen’s return.

We’ve officially hit the home stretch of Spring Training, with just six games left before the season officially begins a week from Thursday (!) at Wrigley Field. Here are the Nationals spring results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – L, 5-1

@ Baltimore – L, 12-3

vs. New York (NL) – W, 12-0

vs. Houston – W, 7-4

@ Miami – L, 3-1

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-2

Split Squads Thursday: vs. Atlanta, 1:05pm, @ Detroit, 6:05pm

Overall Record: 8-14-3

Still A Little Green

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The Nationals celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the ballpark on Saturday. The home side donned green hats against their alternate red tops and, well, let’s just say we’re glad that particular uniform combination won’t travel north to D.C. when camp officially breaks.

The Nationals also nearly got the chance to celebrate a walk-off win over the Miami Marlins. Washington got runners to the corners with nobody out in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth inning, but could not push across the winning run, leaving the team with its third tie of the spring. It’s good to see those situational hitting circumstances present themselves throughout Spring Training so players can get used to them before April.

The green hats the Nationals wore on Saturday stuck out a bit against their red jerseys.

Miami Manager Ozzie Guillen elected to let his pitchers hit, something you don’t see a lot of in Spring Training. The Nationals stuck with the DH, in the person of Mark DeRosa, and it paid off. DeRosa’s walk in the first inning moved Danny Espinosa to third base in front of Chad Tracy’s RBI groundout for the team’s lone run. DeRosa also added a double in his second at-bat, as he continues his productive spring.

Meanwhile, Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler came up with two on and one out in the second inning, a promising run-scoring situation. After failing to get a bunt down and running the count to two strikes, he broke his bat on a Jordan Zimmermann offering, grounding to Tracy at first, who started the 1-6-3, inning-ending double play.

The starting pitching was good again on Saturday, as Zimmermann scattered six hits over 4.0 scoreless innings, striking out three without a walk. The Nats held the Marlins scoreless until John Buck’s solo shot leading off the sixth, which tied the game at one run apiece.

With the game still tied, 1-1, in the top of the ninth, the Marlins got runners to first and second with one out for Jeff Dominguez. The infielder hit a humpback line drive toward left-center field, but shortstop Andres Blanco made a great leaping catch, transferring the ball to his open hand and flipping it to Steve Lombardozzi at second, all before hitting the ground, to double off the runner and end the inning.

Obscure stat of the day: Koehler won 22 games in a span of 24 decisions between September 4, 2009 and May 21, 2011. He then lost his next six decisions before winning seven of eight to finish last season.

On a somewhat related note, good luck saying Miami relief pitcher Steve Cishek (pronounced SEE-sheck) five times fast.

With another tie in the books, here are the Nationals results to date as they take on the Tigers Sunday at Space Coast Stadium:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-7-3

Life on the Berm

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As the Nationals face Atlanta on a warm spring evening in Lake Buena Vista, we’re in Braves country, but there is a smattering of Nationals red throughout the seats. With Stephen Strasburg starting and Bryce Harper playing in center field, there are number 37 and 34 jerseys visible dotting the crowd.

We make our way down the left field line and atop the berm, which wraps around from halfway down the line to left-center field, passing the “All-You-Care-To-Eat” tent (just $25!) on the trip. Among the ushers standing along the top ridge is Debbie H., a self-described snowbird from Highland, Md., who spends roughly half the year in the Orlando area. Although she’s not even a huge baseball fan, she applied for a job working at Champion Stadium last season, and has loved her time here. This is her sixth game of the spring, all of which have been spent on the berm.

“I love it,” she says of her job. “I’m glad I took it.”

She highlights the freedom that the open, grassy space offers to fans, including the ability to shed their shoes and socks, almost like an outdoor concert.

“A lot of people like to be able to lay down, spread out, get some sun,” she says, which is certainly the case this evening, as we are squarely in the sun field for this 6:05 start.

There's plenty of room to spread out on the berm in Lake Buena Vista.

Debbie has also noticed the influx of Washington fans at this particular game. One of her favorite parts of the job is to be able to chat with fans of the different teams that visit Lake Buena Vista each March.

“Some people take their vacation because the Nationals are here,” she explains. “I think it’s really neat that people are willing to follow their teams during Spring Training.”

We make our way to the far outfield end of the berm and shuffle down towards a quartet of fans. The first one we meet is Pat S., who is wearing a Racing Presidents shirt and who is out here celebrating his birthday. Born in St. Mary’s County, Md., he and his wife now live in the Orlando area. While he used to attend 12-14 games each spring, this is his first of 2012. He wasn’t going to miss Strasburg pitch. But does he always sit on the berm?

“Absolutely,” says Pat.

“Everywhere we go,” chips in friend David T., who also lives in Orlando but originally hails from northeastern Pennsylvania. “I like it because I can lounge out and hang out.”

Pat sheds a different perspective on why he likes the view from the grass.

Playing catch in the twilight on the berm.

“I’m an outfielder when I play softball, so this is where I view the game from,” he explains. “Anywhere else to me just looks so abnormal that I can’t judge the game or watch the game.”

As we sit there, Chad Tracy pops a two-run shot over the right-field wall, opposite of where we are sitting. Two batters later, Jesus Flores powers one out to nearly the same spot, leveling the score at 3-3. While a two-home run inning that ties the game would normally be cause for a raucous celebration, the combination of the road environment, the relative insignificance of a Spring Training result, and the relaxed nature of life on the berm make this just another moment in the game to enjoy.

We chat baseball with Pat and David for a while longer and the sun finally dips below the top of the seats on the first base side. In that ideal moment, the sting of the glare is suddenly gone, and the temperature eases a few degrees cooler to perfection, the twilight settling in above us. As we soak in the splendor of the display, Pat draws our attention to the scene unfolding in front of us.

“Does it get any better than this?” he ponders.

In the space between us and the wall, a group of about six kids, boys and girls, ranging several years in age, have gathered and paired off to play catch in the grass. With the contest itself in the background almost an afterthought, the pure joy of the game takes precedence over anything that might be happening on the field. As we thought about Pat’s question, we found it impossible to disagree.

The First Round

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On our second day here in Viera, we snuck over to the minor league complex a few hundred yards north of Space Coast Stadium to catch up with some of the up-and-comers in camp. We spoke with pitchers Alex Meyer and Danny Rosenbaum as well as outfielders Michael Taylor and Destin Hood, then followed up with infielder Anthony Rendon in big league camp. We’ll be providing full prospect watch pieces (as we did with Tyler Moore) on each of them in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime, we spoke with Rendon about what he’s learned his first couple days in camp.

For those unfamiliar with Rendon, he was the Nationals’ first-round pick last year’s First-Year Player Draft, going sixth overall. Many insiders considered the Rice University junior to have the best bat in the Draft, after he hit 26 home runs and drew 65 walks while striking out just 22 times in his sophomore season. The 21-year-old is experiencing his first Spring Training starting this week and soaking in the experience.

- WATCH THE VIDEO HERE -

Curly W Live: It’s your first camp. How is it coming in and being a professional for the first time? Do you feel like a professional yet?

Anthony Rendon: Yeah, I guess so, I’m out of college (laughing). It’s a great experience down here, I wasn’t expecting this much, but everybody’s been pretty nice to me. I’ve had a lot of free time, but everything’s been scheduled out pretty good. I’m just happy to get into a routine.

CWL: Who were you most excited to meet and start working with?

Rendon takes a minute to sign for a fan.

AR: I was excited to meet everybody in the Nationals organization as a whole. If I’m going to be part of this organization for a long time, I’ve got to get used to everybody.

CWL: How much anticipation was there for you to get down here and start playing?

AR: I was really excited. I haven’t been playing for a long time. You know, the offseason really kills you. You start getting that itch, once you see the high school kids start to play, then the college kids start to play. You see your old teammates playing and you have to wait another week or so to start playing. So I was really excited to get down here and get started.

CWL: What are you looking to accomplish in your first professional season?

AR: I’m just trying to get used to everything, trying to get into a routine. I want to be out there every day, trying to be an everyday player throughout the whole season. I just want to play 130 games, or however many games I play. Because I know I’ve had a history of missing out, I want to try to leave that in the past and move forward.

CWL: Have any of the veterans tried to help you out at all?

AR: I talked to a couple of the guys, I told (Chad) Tracy and (Adam) LaRoche, “I need tips for the first Spring Training”. They told me to just stay quiet and be observant, just try to take everything in and not try to do too much. Take it easy, don’t try to go out there and showboat, just try to be the first guy out here and get used to it.

***

Stay tuned through the weekend, as we’ll have coverage of a very special event here at Space Coast Stadium. In advance of the second annual Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic (check out highlights from last year’s event here), following the Nationals-Red Sox exhibition game at Nationals Park on April 3, the team will join Nats at Spring Training. This Friday and Saturday the team will visit Space Coast Stadium in Viera to work out and meet with Nationals players in preparation for the Celebrity Softball Classic. More on that and everything else happening here at Nationals Spring Training coming up later this week.

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