Results tagged ‘ Chicago White Sox ’

A Close Second, With Number Two

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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.

COVER PHOTO_VEEPOver 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.

- SEE THE FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE -

What to Watch for: 4.12.13

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Atlanta Braves (8-1) vs. Washington Nationals (7-2)

RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 9.00) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (0-0, 0.00)

The Nationals take on the division-rival Braves for the first time in 2013 after finishing off their second consecutive home sweep to key a 6-0 record so far at Nationals Park. Washington went 10-8 vs. Atlanta last season, including a 5-4 mark at home.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

TOP HEAVY

During the Nationals three-game sweep of the White Sox, the top three hitters in Davey Johnson’s lineup – Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper – combined to hit .471 (16-for-34) with a double, two home runs, seven RBI, four walks, two stolen bases and 11 runs scored.

ATTENTION SPAN!

Denard Span’s .475 on-base percentage is noteworthy beyond the fact that it ranks fourth among all MLB leadoff hitters. As recently as 2011, Washington ranked dead last in MLB with a .285 OBP from the leadoff slot. Last year, the Nationals improved to 18th in MLB with a .325 OBP from those batting first in Davey Johnson’s batting order.

GRAND-IOSE OCCASION ON THE HORIZON

Ryan Zimmerman has played in 999 career games. Zimmerman will become the first National to play in 1000 games in tonight’s series opener vs. Atlanta.

Welcome to the New Age

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There was a time, not long ago, when Ryan Zimmerman represented one of the only true threats in the Washington lineup. He trailed only Adam Dunn in intentional passes during the latter’s two-year stint in The District, and still led the 2012 Nationals in that category. Considering that, the thought of a player – any player – being intentionally walked to get to Zimmerman would seem almost farcical.

And yet, that’s exactly the situation in which the Nationals found themselves Thursday night, with Chicago White Sox Manager Robin Ventura electing not to pitch to Bryce Harper and face Zimmerman instead with two on and two outs in the fourth inning of a game Washington led 4-3 at the time.

Ryan Zimmerman is surrounded by a lineup chalked full of talent.

Ryan Zimmerman is surrounded by a lineup chock full of talent.

Unsurprisingly, the plan backfired. Zimmerman kept his head down and extended through a pitch low and away from White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod, sending it darting through a steady wind and over the head of right fielder Alex Rios for a two-run double to break the game open. What may be much more surprising is that the pitch driven by Zimmerman was Axelrod’s 103rd of the night, after the starter had recorded just 11 outs.

The difference in this year’s Nationals lineup from those of years past is both its balance and its incredible patience, the tendency for every batter to grind out each plate appearance, making the opposing starter sweat for each and every out. Consider the first inning Thursday night, in which Washington scored just once, but forced Axelrod to throw 40 pitches to just six total batters, an average of nearly seven pitches per plate appearance.

With Zimmerman moving to the fourth spot in the order this season, opposing starters have to contend with a prototypical leadoff man in Denard Span, the active Major League leader in pitches per plate appearance Jayson Werth, and the dynamic, unpredictable Bryce Harper before ever even getting to The Face of the Franchise, Mr. Walk-off himself. Thursday night, that meant 20 pitches – six to Span, 10 to Werth and four to Harper.

The outfield trio of Span, Harper and Werth wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers.

The outfield trio of Span, Harper and Werth wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers.

“That’s the point of the left-right-left-right  in the lineup,” said Zimmerman, referring to the symmetrical balance achieved in the offseason by the addition of Denard Span. “There’s really not anyone in our lineup you’d rather pitch to. There really aren’t any breaks anywhere in our lineup.”

Given the many ways Washington’s batting order is capable of hurting opponents, it’s only fitting that no White Sox starter survived the sixth inning in the series, the three hurlers combining for just 14.1 total innings. That’s what happens when a group of players learns that they don’t have to try to be the hero – if they are pitched around, the guy behind them will pick up the slack.

“That’s their decision,” said skipper Davey Johnson with a wry smile after the game, about the White Sox choice to walk Harper to get to Zimmerman. “I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”

The decision to walk anyone in front of Zimmerman is not one that had crossed opposing managers’ minds in quite a while. In fact, only one batter had been intentionally handed first base in front of Zimmerman since 2009, when on September 3, 2011, Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked by Mets reliever Bobby Parnell to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, as New York clung to a 7-6 lead. In that instance, Zimmerman delivered – what else – a two-run hit to right field, as the Nats walked off to an 8-7 victory.

Highlights: 4.11.13

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4.11.13 – Nationals 7, White Sox 4

Stat of the Game: A batter (Bryce Harper) was intentionally walked in front of Ryan Zimmerman for the second time in four years, after which Zimmerman swatted a two-run double to open up a three-run advantage.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Harper reached base four times, thanks to a pair of walks and singles, raising his batting average to .417 and on-base percentage to .447.

It Was Over When: The White Sox had closed the gap to two runs at 6-4, but Ryan Mattheus froze Paul Konerko with a 3-2 slider for strike three to strand two runners in scoring position and end the sixth inning, after which point Chicago would not threaten again.

What to Watch for: 4.11.13

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Chicago White Sox (4-4) vs. Washington Nationals (6-2)

RHP Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Dan Haren (0-1, 13.50)

Following a second consecutive victory last night over Chicago, the Nationals take aim at their second three-game sweep in as many home series to open the 2013 season. Dan Haren makes his D.C. debut as Washington looks to improve to 6-0 in front of the home crowd.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Haren RHP

THE FIX FOR 6

Washington is 5-0 at Nationals Park to begin the 2013 campaign. This marks the first time in modern baseball history (since 1900) a team from the Nation’s Capital has won its initial five home contests in a single season.

GET HOME EARLY

With Wednesday’s 5-2 win, the Nationals improved to 13-2 in April home games under skipper Davey Johnson (5-0 in ‘13, 8-2 in April ‘12).

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

The Nationals lead Major League Baseball with a .518 slugging percentage this season, as an MLB-leading 49.3 percent of their hits have gone for extra bases (67 hits have included 16 doubles, two triples and 15 home runs). The Blue Jays (44.6%) rank second on this list.

Second Chance To Make a First Impression

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You remember Gio Gonzalez’s first start of last year, right? Who could forget when the charismatic southpaw took the Nationals fan base by storm, delivering seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball, and introduced an adoring crowd to his trademark grin when he delivered his first Major League hit in the home opener? First impressions can go a long way to establishing relationships between players and fan bases.

Dan Haren gets his first shot in front of the home fans tonight.

Dan Haren gets his first shot in front of the home fans tonight.

Except, of course, that wasn’t Gonzalez’s first start as a National. That less-than-memorable occasion actually occurred at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on April 7, 2012, when he allowed four runs on seven hits, failing to make it out of the fourth inning. Gonzalez’s first outing was quickly overshadowed by the lefty’s success in his initial opportunity in front of the home fans five days later. He used that success to shoot out to a 7-1 start en route to a Major League-best 21 wins and a third-place finish in the National League Cy Young voting.

All of this should provide solace to Dan Haren, who makes his home debut Thursday night in Washington. With three times as many Major League wins (119) and All-Star appearances (three) under his belt as Gonzalez had entering last season, the veteran righty doesn’t have anything to prove. But a return to the form that saw him compile a 2.81 ERA and 41 strikeouts to only five walks over his last eight starts of the 2012 season would go a long way toward further endearing him to the home crowd here in The District.

Haren’s teammates have done everything in their power to set the stage. With Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory over the White Sox, the Nationals moved to 5-0 at home to begin the season and 6-2 overall for the 2013 campaign. The bats continued to deliver, as Ian Desmond led the charge with a trio of extra-base hits. Since suffering their first loss of the year, a shutout last Friday night in Cincinnati, the Nats offense has scored 25 times over the past four contests, plating no less than five runs in each game in support of their pitching staff.

If Haren can accomplish what Gonzalez did last year, Nationals fans will no doubt welcome him with open arms as the newest member of K Street.

What to Watch for: 4.10.13

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Chicago White Sox (4-3) vs. Washington Nationals (5-2)

RHP Gavin Floyd (0-1, 3.00) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50)

The Nationals and White Sox match up in the middle contest of a three-game set, after Washington rode four home runs to an 8-7 victory in the series opener Tuesday night. Last night’s victory marked the first ever win at home over Chicago’s American League ballclub at Nationals Park.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

TRIPLE DOUBLE

Adam LaRoche collected his first two hits of the season last night, as he homered in each of his final two at-bats. With the multi-homer game, LaRoche becomes the third National in just seven games this season to turn the trick, joining Bryce Harper (April 1 vs. Miami) and Wilson Ramos (April 6 at Cincinnati).

POWER PACKED

The Nationals have blasted 14 home runs in their first seven games of the 2013 season. That is a 10-homer increase on the initial seven games of last season. In fact, Washington’s previous homer high in the first seven games of a season was 10 in 2006.

I WOULD WALK 500 MORE

Jayson Werth notched his 500th and 501st career RBI last night, thanks to a two-run home run in the sixth inning. Werth is also closing in on half a thousand in another counting stat, as he needs just 23 more walks to reach 500 for his career.

What to Watch for: 4.9.13

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Chicago White Sox (4-2) vs. Washington Nationals (4-2)

RHP Jake Peavy (1-0, 1.50) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.00)

Following an off day on Monday, Washington opens up a six-game homestand with three matchups against the Chicago south siders, beginning tonight. The Nationals and White Sox share identical 4-2 records entering their first meeting since the 2010 season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Gonzalez LHP

FAMILIAR START

At 4-2, the Nationals have matched their finest six-game start since arriving in D.C. in 2005. Last season, Davey Johnson’s Nationals also won four of their first six en route to a 7-2 start.

CATCH THIS!

Through six games, Nationals catchers Wilson Ramos (.444, 2 HR, 3 RBI) and Kurt Suzuki (.333, HR, 3 RBI) are a combined 7-for-16 (.438) with two doubles, three home runs, six RBI, three walks and four runs scored. Ramos and Suzuki have combined on a 1.500 OPS, which ranks second in MLB among catching corps (Cleveland, 1.517).

500 CLUB LOOKING FOR NEWEST MEMBER

With 499 in the bag, Jayson Werth is just one RBI shy of reaching the 500-RBI plateau for his career. 93 of Werth’s 499 career RBI have come with the Nationals. 300 of his RBI came as a Phillie, 90 as a Dodger, and 16 as a Blue Jay. Werth is also just three home runs shy of 150.

Spring Into Fall

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The closer you follow baseball, the more you realize how year-round the sport really is. The average American may take notice around Opening Day, then have their fandom tail off as their team is eliminated from contention, perhaps watching the World Series, if they are so inclined. The more passionate follower is more likely to count down the days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, their baseball awareness stretching from mid-February to the end of October. But for the true obsessives (like us), there are compelling games for the Nationals being played even now, as the Arizona Fall League began this week at the Spring Training complexes around Phoenix.

For those unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a prospect showcase, where all 30 Major League teams send some of their top talent, often including players whose regular seasons were limited for whatever reason, to see how they perform in a highly competitive environment. The 30 clubs are combined into six squads, with five MLB teams apiece represented on each. Last year, the Nationals were assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions, with Bryce Harper the most well known representative of the organization. In 2012, they are members of the Salt River Rafters, along with the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies and Blue Jays.

This year’s crop of Nationals prospects includes:

Matt Skole (second from left) was honored as the Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Pitchers 

Aaron Barrett

Paul Demny

Cole Kimball

Ryan Perry

Infielders

Jason Martinson

Anthony Rendon

Matt Skole

Outfielders

Brian Goodwin

We will be conducting a more thorough Down on the Farm report for many of these prospects this offseason, but wanted to give special attention to one – Matt Skole – whom we have already profiled before here on Curly W Live. The 2012 Nationals Minor League Player of the Year, Skole has busted down the Fall League doors, batting .533/.650/.867 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI through his first four games on the circuit. His early success among some of baseball’s elite prospects helps back up the case that his tremendous 2012 numbers were no fluke. The third baseman batted .292 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs and 104 RBI in just 118 games between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in his first professional season.

Make sure to check in to Curly W Live on Wednesdays throughout the offseason for more on many of the Nationals rising stars. And if you’d like to keep up with the AFL on a daily basis through the end of the season in mid-November, check out the home of the league here, complete with scores, stats, stories and more.

Down On The Farm: Alex Meyer

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What do we really know about Alex Meyer? It’s hard to say, at this early juncture, but this much is for sure – he’s got a build pitching coaches dream of, standing at an eye-popping 6’9”. After two pedestrian years at the University of Kentucky, Meyer really impressed in his junior year, going 7-5 with a 2.94 ERA, a very low mark going up against metal bats in the SEC, one of the premiere baseball conferences in America. He also lowered his walk rate while striking out 9.8 batters per nine innings, and yielded only two home runs in 101.0 innings pitched. Although Meyer still walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in his final collegiate year, a control issue not uncommon with tall hurlers, Nationals director of player development Doug Harris isn’t worried.

“Anytime you have a guy who is that size, they tend to have more difficulty than smaller guys holding their delivery together,” explains Harris. “I think he’s done a great job with that. He’s got very good body control for a big man. It’s something that he’s going to continue to learn as he does get bigger and stronger, being able to repeat more consistently.”

Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams echoes Harris’ assessment of the lanky righty, noting that height is not necessarily the determining factor in creating a repeatable delivery.

From left to right: Alex Meyer stands a head taller than fellow 2011 draftees Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin.

“I think it’s the athleticism, the body awareness and the feel that you have of what you’re doing out there,” says Williams. “There are guys that are 5’9” that have trouble keeping their mechanics together, keeping their delivery together. You’ve got to keep an eye on it obviously, but he’s seemed to pick up on the things we’ve talked to him about and taken them out into the game.”

While Meyer did not pitch at all professionally last year, he did go to the Nationals instructional league, where Williams got his first look at the young pitcher from Greensburg, Indiana. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a power slider that sits in the mid-80s, Meyer acknowledges that the continued development of his changeup will be crucial to his success as a professional. Just like any first-year pro, the pitch itself is also a work in progress.

“I feel good with where it’s at,” Meyer says of his off-speed pitch. “It still needs a good amount of work, but now that I’m down here with the coaches I feel like it will progress at a quicker rate than it was there.”

The Nationals certainly see the potential in Meyer. Enough so that the club selected him with the 23rd overall pick in last year’s draft, a compensation pick from the Chicago White Sox for the loss of free agent Adam Dunn. That continued a tradition of University of Kentucky stars going in the first round to Washington sports franchises. Most D.C. sports fans know that John Wall, the number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, was a prodigy with the Wildcats for a year before entering the league. But Kentucky also boasts Victoria Dunlap, the first-round selection of the Washington Mystics last year.

“There’s a good contingent of Kentucky players in the D.C. area,” acknowledges Meyer, who had a funny story involving Wall after being drafted. “All of the sudden, my friends started telling me ‘John Wall is following you on Twitter,’ which was cool. I knew John, though if he remembers me I’m just the tall baseball player that he met a couple times. But he was a good guy when I met him.”

Meyer’s modesty in acknowledging the moment is not something lost on Williams. The coach is encouraged as much by his young hurler’s attitude and approach as he is by his electric arm.

While the media spotlight is on big league camp, there are plenty of interesting stories on the Minor League side of the complex.

“I think the biggest thing with Alex is that he’s not that arrogant guy that’s a number one draft choice, who’s got a lot of money and thinks everybody owes him everything,” says Williams. “He knows he’s going to have to work. He’s been wonderful with us. He’s trying to soak in as much information as he can.”

Meyer will look to parlay that information into a successful inaugural season in the Nationals farm system. His biggest focus for the year is not on hitting specific statistical goals or advancing to any particular level of the system. Instead, he is concerned mostly with trying to make the successful transition from the amateur ranks.

“You want to play well, that’s the first thing that sticks out,” he explains. “I’ve got to get used to throwing every five days, adjusting from a seven-day college rotation, which is a pretty big difference. When I came down from the instructional league and I was trying to adjust, it took me a little bit. My arm was a little tired, trying to come back, was a little stiff, but I threw through it. By the end I liked it, I felt stronger.”

There is more to the process of adjusting to the professional ranks than what happens on the field, though. Meyer shows his keen understanding of the changes in lifestyle that await him, supporting Williams’ observations about his maturity and character.

“There’s the whole aspect of really being on your own,” says Meyer. “You’re traveling, you’re going on seven-day, 10-day road trips. When you’re in college, you’re gone three days, then you’re back Monday for class. So it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period. I just want to mature and figure things out, and obviously I want to pitch well and see what happens from there.”

We know we won’t be the only ones keeping an eye on Meyer as he tackles his first year in the minors. We’ll keep tabs on him and the other prospects featured in Down on the Farm as the season wears on.

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