Results tagged ‘ Craig Stammen ’
Stop us if this sounds familiar.
The Washington Nationals, trailing a tight, low-scoring game by one run in the top of the eighth inning, need a clutch hit late. This is, after all, their first time in such a position, with newfound expectations heaped on their collective backs, the attention of the sport and the nation at large turned to them for the first time in their young history. They need to find a way, through a raucous road crowd in one of baseball’s historic cities, to shut out the noise, the emotion, and find a way to win. Washington rides a three-hit day from Ian Desmond and a clutch hit late off the bench to a one-run road victory. It is Opening Day, April 5 in Chicago, and the Nationals have just beaten the Cubs to start the season.
Six months and two days later, Washington began its “second season,” the postseason, in remarkably similar fashion. The Nationals use another three-hit game from Desmond and a two-out, two-strike, two-run pinch-single – the very definition of clutch – from rookie Tyler Moore to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the National League Division Series. Of course, it was Chad Tracy who delivered the big blow on Opening Day, with his ninth-inning double. On Sunday afternoon, Tracy again played a role, despite never even crossing the lines onto the field of play. His announcement as the pinch-hitter for Ryan Mattheus (more on him later) in the top of the eighth prompted Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny to pull setup man Mitchell Boggs in favor of his lone lefty reliever, Mark Rzepczynski. Davey Johnson countered by pinch-hitting Moore, and the chess game continued. Matheny opted against a second pitching change, leaving right-handed closer Jason Motte in the ‘pen. Moore delivered. Checkmate.
Asked if it was the biggest hit in his career, Moore, the fresh-faced 25 year-old tucked into his stock, grey postseason sweatshirt, kept it simple.
“Uh, yeah,” he laughed.
However, none of those events would have transpired if not for the tremendous, history-making postseason debut of Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus. Already leading 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, St. Louis had loaded the bases with nobody out on an error, a single and a walk against Craig Stammen, prompting Johnson to go to his ground ball specialist. Even he couldn’t have imagined things would work out quite so well.
It wasn't pretty but we battled, the boys picked me up. Great job all around—
Gio Gonzalez (@GioGonzalez47) October 08, 2012
In a game in which the Cardinals seemed to constantly be on the verge of breaking out, Mattheus delivered in the biggest spot. For starters, he got cleanup man Allen Craig – a .400 hitter (50-for-125) with 74 RBI with RISP during the regular season – to hit the first pitch on the ground to shortstop, Desmond throwing home for the first out of the inning, the bases remaining loaded. Then, on the very next pitch, he induced an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play off the bat of 2012 All-Star Yadier Molina, becoming the first pitcher in the history of postseason play to record all three outs in an inning on just two pitches.
“I sold out to the ground ball,” he said with a smile after the nail-biting victory. “I’ve done it all year, that’s been my MO to get ground balls. Look at my numbers – I don’t punch very many guys out. So I’m not going to go in there and try to strike out the side.”
To call Mattheus an unknown factor would be an understatement. As the official scorer called out the afternoon’s final totals over the public address system in the press box, he mispronounced the reliever’s name, calling him “Math-A-us” rather than “Matthews,” though the right-hander surely could care less. He had just, after all, recorded the three biggest out of his career.
“Absolutely, no question about it,” Mattheus agreed when asked if Sunday’s performance topped his career highlights. “I don’t think we care if we stole it. Any one we can get is a win, no matter how we get it.”
Desmond had a different view of the outcome.
“I don’t think we stole it,” he said. “I think we earned it.”
Indeed, the Nationals earned it through a mix of quality pitching from the whole staff, combined with a couple of big hits in key spots. As anyone who has followed the team this year knows, that should come as no surprise.
“That’s really been the formula,” explained Desmond. “Just some timely hitting and some really, really good pitching.”
On that much, he and Mattheus agreed.
“I think that’s how this team’s been the whole year,” said Mattheus, reflecting back to Opening Day. “Some nights we pitch, some nights we hit. We try not to make too much of these games. Hopefully we can treat them like games in April. That was the most exciting day in my career so far, Opening Day, but this has to trump that.”
The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros opened their second and final series of the season with a pair of extra-inning games Monday and Tuesday night, and a pair of Nationals wins. But despite the apparent similarities, the defining plays of these two contests could not have been more different. We have already chronicled Houston’s defensive lapse from the 11th inning on Monday night that led to the game-winning run. However, to fairly and accurately chronicle the importance of Roger Bernadina’s jaw-dropping, game-saving catch for the final out of Tuesday night’s contest, we must look at it in the larger context – as a frontrunner for catch of the year in Major League Baseball.
Humor us, if you will. Watch the video below, no matter how many times you’ve already seen it, just so the play is fresh in your mind. Then, as we take you through our five reasons, we encourage you to read through each point individually, then watch the video again. By the end, you can tell us if you also believe that what the Shark reeled in last night was more impressive than any other catch made this season, including Mike Trout’s now legendary leap (video also below, for comparison).
Catch of the Year…Roger Bernadina
Or Mike Trout
1. The Amount of Ground Covered
Well positioned before the pitch, just to the left side of second base, Bernadina nevertheless had to run full tilt deep into the left-center field gap and leap, arms extended into the awkwardly shaped façade in front of the Nationals bullpen. But it’s not like he had time to set himself underneath the ball and try to time his leap – it was all on the run.
2. The Ballpark
Minute Maid Park is…unique. From the notoriously easy-to-reach Crawford Boxes in left field to Tal’s Hill in center field that rises behind the warning track and includes a foul pole in play, it is easy to forget the minefield that awaits outfielders in left-center. As you can see in the photo to the right, the angle of the wall changes every few feet, often causing awkward caroms and general confusion for visiting players trying to decide how to pursue fly balls in the area. Bernadina disregarded all of that, threw caution to the wind, and literally threw himself into one of the recesses of the wall, emerging with the ball.
3. The Game Situation
This cannot be overstated. After Washington had finally broken through in the top of the 12th with the first run scored by either team since the second inning, the Astros had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with two outs in the bottom of the frame. If Bernadina does not come up with that ball, the Astros not only tie it, they likely win the game on that play, with the runner on the move in the two-out situation. It’s that simple – the catch was literally the difference between a win and a loss. When is the last time you’ve seen that in a game?
4. Steve Pearce/Craig Stammen
You can tell the significance of any play in the game as much as anything by the reaction of the other players on the field. Steve Pearce was the runner at second on the final play Tuesday night, representing the tying run. Check him out on the replay (0:57), fist raised in triumph as he heads towards third base, confident he is watching a game-ending play of an entirely different nature.
Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) August 08, 2012
Meanwhile, Craig Stammen stood in the Nationals bullpen, just on the other side of the chain link fence from where Bernadina came crashing into the cutout. After the Shark came away with the ball, watch Stammen (at 0:11 and again at 1:03) jumping around, fists raised like a kid in the stands. Sure, Tyler Clippard’s primal scream and Jayson Werth’s bear hug speak volumes as well, but nothing matches Stammen’s unbridled joy from the ‘pen.
5. The Pennant Race
Oh yeah, the pennant race. As hot as the Nationals have been since the All-Star break, winning 14 of their last 18 games (including last night), the Atlanta Braves have kept pace. Washington held a four-game lead at the break, a mark that had not been matched until they were stymied by Cole Hamels and, some time later, Brett Wallace’s walk-off bid came to rest in Bernadina’s mitt. For the second time in four days, the Nationals have added to their division lead, and once again own the best record in baseball at 67-43. None of these things would be true if not for Bernadina’s catch.
Still want more on the Shark’s heroics? The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg also did a great job of capturing some of the initial reactions – on the field, in the clubhouse and around the Twitter-sphere.
It seems that with each and every passing week of this 2012 season, the Washington Nationals are finding increasingly more dramatic and creative ways to win baseball games. There have been late-inning rallies, beginning on the season’s first two days at Wrigley Field. There have been walk-off wins of nearly every variety, from wild pitches (twice), to sacrifice flies, to heart-stopping, come-from-behind home runs. There have been victories of nearly every shade, coming in just about any way the mind can dream up. And then there was Monday night.
After carving out a 4-1 lead, the Nationals found themselves in extra innings against an Astros team that had won just four its last 34 games. Fortunately for Washington, that Houston squad had yet to win any of its nine extra-inning contests, and the Nats – no stranger to free baseball – were not about to become their first victim. But for all of the timely, clutch hits the team has put together lately and, really, all season long, this game turned on something entirely different.
We will make our best attempt to describe the play on paper, though it deserves to be seen, if you haven’t already watched it. After Roger Bernadina pulled a single through the hole between first and second base to open the top of the 11th, new Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki bluffed at a bunt and took strike one. He squared again on the next pitch, popping the ball in the air in front of first base. Steve Pearce crashed from first, but the ball dropped in front of him, just as pitcher Wilton Lopez closed in to try to make a play of his own. Then, Pearce and Lopez literally crashed – into one another – with the ball glancing off the first baseman. Matt Downs came running in from third just as Pearce made a desperate effort to collect the ball and throw out Suzuki. Downs pulled up at the last second, flailing over Pearce as he dropped his elbow, the throw towards first instead sailing into foul ground and up the right field line.
Meanwhile, Bernadina raced from second to third, where Bo Porter held his hands up to stop the speedy outfielder, a prudent decision with none out in the inning. But the Shark had other plans. He blew right past Porter for the plate, and right fielder Brian Bogesevic’s throw, which seemed destined to make a close play at the plate, airmailed the catcher and went to the screen. When the dust settled, Bernadina had scored and Suzuki stood at third base.
The run would be all the Nationals would need to end a game they no doubt feel they should have won in much less time than the four hours and 15 minutes it took to complete.
Surely, they won’t be happy about the events that led up to the 11th inning on Monday, or that forced extra innings in the first place. The relief corps, which has been one of the most solid in baseball this season, suddenly became allergic to their own fastballs, falling behind hitters with off-speed pitches. After loading the bases in the eighth, Drew Storen escaped with the lead. When Tyler Clippard walked and hit a batter in the ninth, he did not. However, after allowing a game-tying double that left the winning run at third base with just one out, Clippard buckled down to strike out the next two batters, pushing the game to extra innings.
There was another bright spot from the relief corps’ performance, thanks to Craig Stammen. The same hurler who came up with 2.1 innings of clutch relief eight days prior in the Nationals maniacal, 11-10, multi-comeback game in Milwaukee, delivered again with 2.0 innings of hitless relief. No reliever in baseball has pitched at least two frames as often as Stammen, who did so for the 21st time on Monday. And so while the focus will remain, undoubtedly, on “what turned into a three-ring circus,” as Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes put it, the ultimate takeaway from Monday night is this: some way, some how, the Nationals just keep finding ways to win.
The Washington Nationals have made a name for themselves in the 2012 season by winning two different types of games. The first and more common type involves a healthy serving of solid starting pitching, a clutch piece of offense or two to snare the lead, and a lockdown performance by an ensemble bullpen. It is the kind of affair that the Nationals have found themselves involved in ever since their 2-1, Opening Day victory at Wrigley Field. But then there is that other kind of game, the nail-biting, nerve-fraying, mind-boggling variety that has made this season truly memorable.
This weekend’s matchups in Milwaukee provided one game from each mold. After splitting the first two of the four-game set with the Brewers, the Nationals sent hometown hero Jordan Zimmermann, originally from nearby Auburndale, Wisconsin, to make his first-ever start against the team he grew up supporting. The emerging ace delivered a sterling performance, allowing a single run on five hits, fanning six Milwaukee batters over six strong innings to extend his streak of throwing at least that many frames to 21 consecutive starts. In so doing, he lowered his ERA to the third-best mark in the National League at 2.28 and matched his career high with his eighth victory. He also improved to 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in the month of July, during which he allowed just four earned runs and four walks while fanning 31 in 37.0 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, the Nationals rookies came through with huge contributions again, as Corey Brown opened the scoring with a solo shot and Tyler Moore added a two-run bomb to provide more than enough cushion in a 4-1 final. In all, it was a solid, shutdown performance that both the team and the coaching staff could be proud of.
Then, there was Sunday’s game.
In a battle of 2004 first-round picks, it was the less-heralded Mark Rogers who seemed poised to best All-Star Gio Gonzalez, as Milwaukee had forged a 3-1 lead through five fairly normal innings. Right about then, all convention went out the window. The Nationals led off the sixth with back-to-back doubles from Ryan Zimmerman and Moore, cutting the lead to one and putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. But they failed to plate that tying run, and Milwaukee responded by scoring twice in the bottom of the frame to push the lead to 5-2.
In the seventh, Washington looked poised to strike again, using singles from Brown and Steve Lombardozzi followed by a walk from Bryce Harper (all rookies!) to load the bases for Zimmerman, again with none out. But Cody Ransom turned a slick 5-3 double-play, limiting the Nats to just a single run once more. And again, the Brewers came right back for two more runs in the bottom of the frame, sitting pretty with a 7-3 advantage though seven frames.
This is, as they say, about the time when things got really interesting. With one out and a runner on first, Roger Bernadina flipped an opposite field home run into the bullpen in left-center field to cut the margin in half. Jesus Flores followed with a single, Brown with a double, and Lombardozzi with an RBI-groundout to cut the margin to one and put the tying run at third with two outs. One wild pitch later, and it was suddenly tied at 7-7. But the Brewers were not about to go quietly. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez blasted back-to-back shots, reclaiming a two-run lead.
Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) July 29, 2012
For the fourth straight inning, the Nationals were looking uphill at a discouraging scoreline. And for the fourth straight inning, they mustered a rally. Mark DeRosa drew a one-out walk, bringing Michael Morse (featured in this homestand’s Inside Pitch… Pick one up at the ballpark!) to the plate as the potential game-tying run. After Milwaukee reliever John Axford forged ahead in the count, 1-2, his catcher set up low and inside for a fastball, anything to keep Morse from getting his arms extended. Axford missed his spot, leaving his pitch up and over the middle of the plate. Morse did not miss, sending the ball on a line over the right field wall, and once again, the game was tied.
Craig Stammen kept Milwaukee off the board in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, and neither team scored in the 10th inning. In the top of the 11th, Harper walked and Zimmerman singled, bringing Morse to bat with a chance to summon Beast Mode one more time. He delivered once again, pulling a double just inside the third-base bag to score both runners. Tyler Clippard would allow a solo shot to Corey Hart in the bottom of the frame, but shut the door in time to lock down the victory, with Morse himself gloving the final out on a foul pop in front of the Brewers dugout.
The games of this second variety, of the seemingly impossible string of back-and-forth momentum swings, of comebacks from the proverbial dead, seem to keep reaching more and more epic levels of absurdity at every pass. Sunday’s contest lacked only the walk-off hit, as it took place away from Nationals Park, but may have once again set the bar as the most dramatic of them all so far.
Perhaps most importantly, it capped a 6-1 road trip that kept the Nationals a full four games ahead of division rival Atlanta as the weekend came to a close. It also left them at 61-40, the first time the franchise has been this many games over .500 since its relocation to the Nation’s Capital. The Nats get a well-deserved off day on Monday, their only such breather in a 35-day stretch that sees them play 36 games, including seven more in a six-day stretch at home beginning on Tuesday. A word to the wise: take advantage of the day off yourself. You’re going to need every ounce of energy you’ve got left for the final 61 games of the regular season.
In the meantime, enjoy Morse’s theatrics one more time (as even Davey lets himself loose at the 1:04 mark) and both Bob Carpenter’s and Charlie Slowes’ calls of the action.
This is a story about a young, exciting team, built from the ground up through great drafts. It is a story about a dominating pitching staff helping lead the way through one of baseball’s toughest divisions. It is a tale of a team that endured injuries to its top outfielder, its franchise third baseman and its closer, yet found a way to keep winning games. It is about a franchise that has never enjoyed a season above .500, but suddenly found itself at 38-26 through its first 64 games, with a reason to believe it could look forward to exciting September – and possibly October – baseball.
This is a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
If the themes sound familiar, well, they should. The parallels between this year’s Nationals team and that Rays squad that shocked the baseball world by winning 97 games and the American League East crown, eventually going all the way to the World Series, are astounding.
To start, there are number one overall picks – David Price and Stephen Strasburg – lighting up radar guns. While Price did not make his debut until late in the season, the staff was led by James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, all 26 or younger. Similarly, the Nationals have their rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson behind Strasburg, with Jackson being the elder statesman at 28. Oh, by the way, where do you suppose Jackson was four years ago, when he was just 24? Sharing the Rays team lead in wins with Shields, as the fourth member of that 2008 rotation.
Tampa Bay also turned in by far the best year the franchise had ever seen without a single player, starter or reserve, batting over .300, finishing 13th out of 14 in the American League in hitting. But great pitching can help make up for a lot. Aside from the aforementioned starters, they also had great bullpen pitching, led by Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54 in 51 appearances), Chad Bradford (1-0, 1.42 in 21 appearances) and J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22 in 64 appearances). As we discussed when the homestand began, the trio of Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen have combined for a 1.65 ERA over their first 87.2 innings pitched this season, holding down the fort until closer Drew Storen returns.
The Rays survived the gauntlet of the AL East with just one 30-home run hitter, first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit 31. The Nationals top power threat so far has been first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is quietly having a terrific comeback season after spending most of last year on the Disabled List. LaRoche launched his 12th home run of the season Sunday, putting him right on pace for 30 this season.
Then there are the scintillating rookies – Evan Longoria and Bryce Harper – that have energized the fan base, and given each franchise a face recognized around the baseball world. Buoyed by that national support, the Rays had three players selected to the All-Star Game that July, the most the franchise had ever sent to the Mid-summer Classic. The third and final to go (joining Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro) was Longoria, who won the MLB Final Vote campaign. With Strasburg and Gonzalez seeming like strong candidates from the rotation, might Final Vote history repeat itself, giving Washington three All-Stars in 2012?
If the Nationals needed any consolation after one of the toughest weekends of the season, they need only look into the opposing dugout, at a franchise that has become the model after which many wish they could mold themselves. The Rays have averaged 92 wins each of the last four years, led by that core of young players and a strong pitching staff. If they can do it, why can’t the Nationals?
So, is this a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, or is it a story about the 2012 Washington Nationals?
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.
Craig Stammen is back in the Majors and he will be asked to stop the Nats five game losing streak.
The Nationals recalled Stammen from Triple-A Syracuse and placed right-handed pitcher Tyler Walker on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 20, with a right shoulder AC joint sprain.
Stammen, who will get the starting nod tonight at Atlanta, went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA during a three-start International League stint with the Chiefs.
The 26 year-old Stammen began the season with the Nationals and went 1-2 with a 5.43 ERA in 12 starts before being optioned to Syracuse following his June 6 start vs. Cincinnati. Five of Stammen’s 12 assignments rendered quality starts, but the Nationals went just 1-4 in those contests.
Stammen is 5-9 with a 5.23 ERA in 31 career starts with Washington spanning two seasons (2009-present).
The 34-year-old Walker is 1-0 with one hold and a 3.57 ERA in 24 games for the Nationals.
It is important to preface any baseball statistics or arguments made a half week into the season by saying they probably mean nothing and the records mean even less. The Pirates are undefeated and tied for the lead in the NL Central and the Dodgers are in last place in the NL West. Of course, you would rather be 2-0 than 0-2 but neither record wins a playoff spot.
The Nats look to salvage game three of their opening series against the Phillies. They will count on 26-year-old Craig Stammen, who had an impressive spring to earn the third spot in the rotation and the Nats are hoping that the third game is a charm.
“Some of the hard work has paid off, but what you do in the spring doesn’t matter,” Stammen said. “All this stuff gets thrown out when the season starts. So I have to continue the success in April.”
For Stammen to have success against the Phillies’ lineup, he will have to pound the strike zone and limit free passes, something John Lannan, Jason Marquis and the bullpen has struggled with in the past few days.
Walk this way.
The Nationals pitching staff has struggled with their control in the first two games. They lead the Majors with 17 walks, nine walks in game one and eight walks last night. The Red Sox are right behind them with 16 walks but that is in three games. These high walk numbers might be more indicative of the two lineups the teams are facing–the Phillies and Yankees, respectively–but it is never easy to win a game when a team walks eight or more batters. Last year, there were 203 times that a team issued eight or more walks and the outcome is what you may expect. The teams issuing the walks went 55-148 (.271) in those games.
The Nationals won’t average eight walks a game but of the 17 walks: six were on full counts, two were on four pitches, two were intentional and five of the batters eventually scored. Pitching around a batter with two outs typically produces a different result than walking the first batter. Last night in the top of the ninth, the Nats intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz with two outs and the next batter, Ryan Madson, struck out. On the other hand, walking the leadoff hitter of the inning always seems to haunt teams. The Phillies leadoff hitter has been issued a free pass six times and they have crossed the plate four times. Walks aren’t runs but they lead to runs.
There are 11 teams that have surrendered 10 or more walks so far this season. Their combined record is 9-17. The 10 teams with the lowest walk totals are 16-7. These statistics aren’t trying to show a cause-and-effect–there isn’t one–and maybe there isn’t even a correlation. A team wins the game by scoring more runs than the other team–thanks John Madden–but walks help the other teams score more runs. It is that simple.
1. Jimmy Rollins – SS
2. Placido Polanco – 3B
3. Chase Utley – 2B
4. Ryan Howard – 1B
5. Jayson Werth – RF
6. Raul Ibanez – LF
7. Shane Victorino – CF
8. Brian Schneider – C
9. Kyle Kendrick – SP
*Kendrick had a stellar spring and allowed just four hits (0 BB, 0 R) over his first 9.0 innings. He gave up two earned runs or less in all seven of his appearances (5 starts).
*Kendrick replaced injured right-hander Joe Blanton (left oblique strain) in the Phillies’ rotation.
*To pitch to Howard or not is a tough question because Jayson Werth has been just as lethal against the Nats. “You are between a rock and a hard place with those guys,” Manager Jim Riggleman said.
1. Nyjer Morgan – CF
2. Cristian Guzman – SS
3. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
4. Adam Dunn – 1B
5. Josh Willingham – LF
6. Willie Harris – RF
7. Adam Kennedy – 2B
8. Wil Nieves – C
9. Craig Stammen – SP
*Guzman gets his first start at SS after pinch hitting for Mike Morse and playing right field last night.
*Pudge gets a break because of the day game after a night game.
The Sunshine state definitely didn’t get its nickname on a day like today. The spring showers delayed the start of practice for the pitchers and catchers but it wasn’t too long before the sun appeared. Half the pitchers and catchers played long toss and the other half stretched on the main field. There were a handful of position players taking ground balls–Nyjer Morgan showed he could be a solid first baseman.
There is definitely an interesting contrast between work and play at Spring Training. For the most part, the veteran players know what they have to do to be ready when the season starts. Pitcher Craig Stammen said if you enter the Spring in-shape it is pretty easy. The younger players are just trying to soak it all in, ask questions and try to claim the few remaining roster spots. Spring Training is like the first 15 minutes of an NFL practice: stretching, drills and tossing the ball.
“Practice is pretty laid back,” Craig Stammen said. “This is about as hard as the first half of practice during high school football.”
“Spring Training is the best part of the year,” Willy Taveras said. “You practice in the morning and then you are done.”
“It was surprising to see how early the veteran guys get here and how hard they work,” Drew Storen said. “It’s not something I really expected and it’s something I learned from.”
To say it is easy would imply anyone could do it. To say it is exhausting would be an exaggeration. It’s hard and easy at the same time–hard just to make it to camp, even harder to make it out and easy compared to running a marathon. Of course, everything is easy expect for what is difficult. Then again, to say anything is easy in baseball is a lie. What’s the easiest thing to do in baseball? I bet you were thinking… “Laying down a bunt.” Don’t be fooled. I just took a crash course in bunting from Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein and realized there is nothing easy about it. Even if you properly position yourself, the thought of a 95 mph fastball in on the hands can leave a grown man’s pants wet.
“Everything looks easy on TV,” Eckstein said.
Don’t be fooled.
Line of the day:
“Is it ok if I keep my shirt off for the interview?” the always funny and far from flashy Eddie Guardado said to a TV reporter. “You know everybody would like that.”
It’s always interesting to see the numbers everyone is wearing. A lot of atypical baseball numbers make the way out of the wood work to accommodate the large number of players at camp. Thankfully they disappear when the season starts. Collin Balester is wearing No. 99 but he is game for rocking that number the whole season. Nats top catching prospect Derek Norris is wearing No. 62. Storen wore No. 26 for his introductory press conference, No. 17 in the AFL and now he is wearing No. 58. When he makes it to the Majors, don’t count on him wearing No. 58 and he won’t be wearing No. 26 now that Jesus Flores has claimed his rights to that number.
“I don’t know about the number 26 but hopefully something a little skinnier so it makes me look bigger,” Storen said. “These big numbers make me look skinny. I need to find a slimmer number but as long as I have a Nationals jersey on it doesn’t really matter.”
Livo is back:
Livan Hernandez is a member of the Washington Nationals yet again. He rejoins the Nationals after going 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Nats and Mets. After winning seven games in 23 starts for the Mets, Hernandez signed with the Nationals on August 25, and in eight starts, finished 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his second stint in DC. Hernandez recorded 18 quality starts in 31 assignments (58%) last season, including six in eight outings with Washington.
There isn’t a better way of saying “great job” or “welcome to The Show” than getting a shaving cream meringue pie square in the face. It screams good job, leaving both eyes squinting, stinging and blurry to make sure you remember you were important tonight. It is the single game version of the playoff clinching celebratory champagne shower.
The sour taste in the mouth and tears in the eyes are imperative, they are the robust rewards to make sure you –yes, you–know you won the game. It doesn’t taste like key lime or pumpkin pie–quite the opposite–but the shaving cream pie is a tasty treat in its own right.
Pieing has taken place in baseball for a while but there isn’t a documented beginning of the tradition. On the other hand, there is a start date for the pieing practice this season for the Nats. It began on April 20th after Jordan Zimmermann recorded his first Major League victory. Starting pitcher John Lannan is the Nationals pieing practitioner.
“I was the only pitcher in the starting rotation that wasn’t a rookie, so I took that role because of that fact,” Lannan said. “I get along with them so well that I want to be the guy that says here is a pie in the face. You did a good job. Welcome to the Big Leagues.”
Jordan Zimmermann… First start, first win and victim No. 1. Bam. As Zimmermann finished his post-game interview with Debbi Taylor, Lannan with teammate Scott Olsen emerged from the steps of the dugout. Taylor slyly stepped out of the way and as Zimmermann turned around to walk into the clubhouse, Olsen delivered a devastating Joe Louis left-hook that had Zimmermann looking like baseball’s version of Two Face. Zimmermann tried to avoid the second pie–a half hearted run along the warning track–but Lannan reared back, grabbed his right shoulder and made sure the left side of his face felt the fury too. A typically emotionless Zimmermann beamed ear to ear in a post-game interview.
“That was definitely shaving cream,” said Zimmermann that night. “It stung a little bit but I will be just fine.”
It didn’t stop there.
Craig Stammen… Welcome to The Show. Bam. Stammen had just pitched 6 1/3 innings allowing zero runs on six hits to get his first Major League victory at Yankee Stadium and handed the Nats a series victory over the Bronx Bombers. That has all the credentials for the pie platter. As Taylor distracted Stammen with a few post-game questions, Lannan locked in on his target, pitching a perfect pie game to the face has never been a problem.
Lannan isn’t known for his ninja like skills but he has an uncanny ability to successfully throw pie strikes each time.
“Debbi makes sure the interviewee is facing the field,” said Lannan conceding that Debbi is in on the pie prank. “So I come up through the stairs very secretively. I try to do it half way through the conversation because they know it’s coming but they forget because they are focusing on the question.”
Garrett Mock… Your five o’clock shadow is showing–here let me help you. Bam.
The next day… J.D. Martin… Shaving cream is a great way to cool down. Bam.
Ross Detwiler… Your 13th Major League start was memorable. Bam.
“I change it up,” Lannan said. “I do a little splatter. I do a little rub in the face and make sure it gets everywhere. My main goal is to make sure Debbi Taylor doesn’t get any shaving cream on her clothes.”
How can you get mad at someone who is that courteous? You can’t.
Lannan might have to change his tactics in 2010. Players adapt. Players get smarter. Players find a way to avoid the inevitable. Of course, not if you are always one step ahead of them. He can always take a page out of the Mark Lowe pieing text book–it’s not for sale and I guess it’s not actually a book but it’s on YouTube.
Last year, Seattles’ Mark Lowe pied the usual culprit J.J. Putz after he made his first start off the disabled list. During his post-game interview in the dugout, Putz constantly looked over his shoulder expecting a pie in his face. Lowe took the U.S. Army Rangers approach to pieing–attack when they least expect it. When Putz made it back to his locker, he thought he had all his bases covered to prevent a pieing.
“You guys need to make a wall so no one can get in here,” Putz said to the media members circled around him.
It turns out the Great Wall of China couldn’t have stopped Lowe. He was already inside the circle, nestled nicely in the cozy confines of Putz’s locker behind his shirts. Lowe emerged as Putz was answering his first question. We missed you… so here is a pie to your face. Bam.
“Welcome back big guy,” Lowe said.
Pieing is a treat best served quickly, unexpected and with shaving cream right between the eyes. Whip cream would make too much sense and actually taste good.
Lannan eventually worked outside of the pitching rotation. If your reputation is the “pie person”… you might as well make it a reality.
“Once I took over as the pie guy I had to get Justin Maxwell,” Lannan said, “after he hit the walk-off grand slam in the final home game.”
Justin Maxwell… that was an amazing way to close out the season at Nationals Park. Bam.
His pie days are by no means done, they might just be starting. There isn’t a hit list or wish list, just a few people he might be pieing soon… Stephen Strasburg.
“I am going to throw a 100 mph pie at his face,” Lannan said with a smile. “I am just kidding. Hopefully I get to pie him this year.”