Results tagged ‘ ESPN ’

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: NATITUDE Park

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Hello again Nats fans,

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the season thus far.

I’d like to start with last weekend’s crowds at ‘NATITUDE Park.’ I am very proud to say that over 100,000 were in attendance for the three-game set against the rival Philadelphia Phillies. D.C. baseball fans left little doubt that they take their baseball seriously. Taking two of three from the Phillies is always welcome, but to do so in front of back-to-back-to-back large crowds made the weekend memorable for all.

Bryce Harper has provided an extra spark for the Nats lineup.

Being a part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was a thrill for all of us. It was our first ESPN Sunday Night game since Nationals Park opened on March 30, 2008. Everything looked fantastic, as usual, in HD and the entire atmosphere was electric.

How about Bryce’s steal of home on Sunday? Not only won’t that moment be forgotten, it’s likely to be talked about with reverence for years to come. I have had friends tell me this week that the swipe was Bryce’s “arrival” on a national stage.

I know that Jayson Werth and Bo Porter both had a hand in educating Bryce on Cole Hamels’ pickoff tendencies. That was a true team effort. All in all, everything about last weekend went perfectly, Sunday’s result and especially Jayson’s wrist injury notwithstanding.

As I write this, the Nationals are caught in a three-game losing streak. The bats have been a tad flat, but that should be temporary, especially with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche now back in the lineup. And Mike Rizzo tells me that Michael Morse and his Beast Mode are progressing quite well. We can really use that jolt in the middle of the lineup.

I’d also like to recognize the strong play of LaRoche thus far. He’s leading the club in the Triple Crown categories: a .316 batting average, five homers and 19 RBI. After an injured left shoulder hindered his play last season, I am glad to he is back this season and playing at the levels he expects for himself. Rizzo calls Adam a two-way player. In my mind, he is a three-way player, as there is also no finer gentleman or community advocate in our clubhouse.

Adam’s homer in the ninth inning on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh was the 1,000th home run hit by the Nationals since arriving in Washington in 2005. I remember being at the Nationals first game in Philadelphia and watching Terrmel Sledge launch our first homer at Citizens Bank Park. Why does that initial game in April of 2005 seem like such a long time ago? And at the same time, why does it seem like yesterday? I suppose that is the nature of this game.

Stephen Strasburg returns to the hill for the Nationals Thursday night.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the continued excellence of Steve McCatty’s starting rotation. Collectively, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are the best rotation in the game right now. I don’t think anyone can objectively argue this point. Consider, in 16 the last games, the rotation has posted 15 quality starts and allowed one run or less 8 times. That’s sustained dominance.

Tonight, Strasburg takes the mound at PNC Park. Here’s to this three-game slide being temporary!

The NHL playoffs, and the Capitals series with the New York Rangers, also have my attention.

Game 6 was really something last night. I attended the game with Drew Storen as my guest. Drew along with many of his teammates, are really enjoying the Caps and their march through the Eastern Conference. Incidentally, Drew’s elbow is feeling fantastic and he is very anxious to get back on the mound.

As for the game, Ovechkin’s early goal really set the stage for loud evening at the Verizon Center. In between the pipes, Braden Holtby played with a grace and poise well beyond his years. He’s been just fantastic.

After further review, I just noted that the Nationals play in Cincinnati on Sat. at 7:05 p.m. And the Caps play Game 7 that same night at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m.

Nearly simultaneous starts, again? That’s two straight weekends! Not that I am counting!

We will start at our homestand Monday night against the San Diego Padres. Please come out and support the team. They are playing great ball and as we all know they are fun to watch.

Let’s go Caps!

Let’s go Nats!

Please enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day!

Q&A with Buster Olney

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With Washington baseball stepping into the national spotlight tonight on Sunday Night Baseball, Curly W Live took a moment to catch up with one of baseball’s foremost authorities – ESPN’s Buster Olney. He shared his thoughts on the 2012 Nats, the importance of this weekend’s series, the power of NATITUDE, and of which superstar pitcher tonight’s starter Jordan Zimmermann most reminds him.

Curly W Live: What has stood out to you the most about the Nationals so far?

Buster Olney: Well, the pitching is reaching its potential. I’ll make a lot of stupid picks every year, but I felt kind of smart by picking (the Nationals) to make the playoffs before the year started. I thought the biggest thing was that when you were going to play the Nationals in a series, you were going to have really tough at-bats. And I think that’s what we’ve seen. My favorite stat so far this year is the fact that they’ve allowed fewer homers as a team than Ervin Santana has. They’re the first team since the ’97 Braves to finish the month of April having allowed fewer homers as a team than some individual pitchers. That’s pretty high praise. So I think their pitching has been good. Obviously offensively they’re a work in progress with Bryce Harper coming up and (Ryan) Zimmerman having been out and (Adam) LaRoche having been out, so it will be interesting to see if they get better. And I think this weekend is one of those weekends – and I agree with what (Phillies outfielder) Hunter Pence said – the Nats have a chip on their shoulder.

CWL: How important is this weekend’s series for the team?

Olney, right, chats with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo before Sunday night’s nationally televised game.

BO: I think it’s important. If the Phillies were to get swept in this series, I don’t think it would bother them, because they’ve been there. But I think there’s one thing that has to happen, and I talked to Shane Victorino about this yesterday. Every team that is growing has to learn how to win games against good teams. He talked about how there was a time when the Phillies were the team trying to win those games, and now it’s the Nationals. So I think in that regard, it’s an important series where you can match up. We saw Pittsburgh last year. They were good, they were competing in their division, and then they absolutely hit a wall and fell apart. I think for the Nationals, the question is, ‘How do you get through those grind-it-out parts of the season?’ And I think they’re doing that, because when you look at their run production – I think going through Thursday they were 28th out of 30 teams in runs scored – that tells you that they’re winning close games. They’ve had the walk-off wins. That’s a really good sign.”

CWL: That said, do you expect the Nationals to get a big boost from when Ryan Zimmerman returns?

BO: No question. And Ryan’s one of the best players in baseball. I think when you add him, it’s going to be a plus. At some point, your pitching staff is going to hit a lull, no matter how good it is, every staff has it. So you’ve got to win your share of 8-6 games, and they just need to be more capable of doing it when that time comes.

CWL: How has your impression of the Nationals changed this year?

BO: The energy level is coming, it’s that thing about NATITUDE. And I agree with what Davey Johnson said – once you start winning games, people will start coming into your park. When I covered the Orioles in 1995-’96, they owned that park. And as time went on, it became more of a Red Sox park, more of a Yankee park. And I think as time goes on and these guys are playing well, there will be more attention in this city, they’ll draw more people, and there will be a higher percentage of Nats fans. That’s the thing that jumped out at me: the ratio of Nats to Phillies fans has certainly gone up.

CWL: Let’s talk about the other Zimmerman(n), tonight’s starter, Jordan. What are your thoughts on him?

BO: I think he’s underrated nationally in that people don’t realize quite how good he is. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch. He reminds me so much of Matt Cain of the Giants, in that he’s just a plow-horse. And I say that with 100% respect – his mother grew up on a farm, so I think he’ll take it that way. He’s got that mentality where nothing is going to bother him. He’ll just go out and pitch his game. He’s not going to worry about peripheral stuff, he’s just going to go out and compete. He’s a tough kid. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch pitch. And the more that Nationals succeed, the more people are going to get to know him and understand that he’s comparable to someone like a Matt Cain.

Thanks again to Buster for taking the time to chat before tonight’s series finale. First pitch on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball is at 8:05pm.

The Good View

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The Nationals hit the road again today, heading to Lake Buena Vista to pay a visit to the Atlanta Braves for the first time this spring. Champions Stadium is located at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, immediately adjacent to Walt Disney World. As such, the back of the concourse is built into a larger set of structures, resulting in some bizarre architecture for a ballpark. Instead of the usual slow curve of the concourse and tunnels below, there are lots of right-angled turns, which can leave you perplexed after a while about exactly which direction you are headed.

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones. We found MLB Network’s Peter Gammons roaming the tunnels under the ballpark and followed him – and the music – to find our way out. What music, you ask? That of the world famous Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet, practicing prior to the game. They would play both pregame and during inning breaks, lending a sense of a bygone era to the Spring Training atmosphere.

Past and future met today as Dale Murphy and Bryce Harper chatted pregame.

There was a great moment on the field during the end of batting practice, about an hour before today’s game. As Bryce Harper signed autographs down the left field line, Davey Johnson yelled over to him from the batting cage. Harper trotted over to find a special guest who had requested his presence.

“Harp, I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time,” said the jovial, giant, middle-aged man adorned in Braves warm-up gear. “I’m Dale Murphy.”

Wait, what? If that all sounds a bit backwards to you, one can only imagine what the 19-year-old prospect – who was all of seven months old when Murphy played his last game in 1993 – must have thought. It was no surprise, though, that Murphy received the louder round of applause when introduced prior to the game from the pro-Atlanta crowd in Lake Buena Vista.

It is said that one of the great things about baseball is that you see something new every day at the ballpark. While there was nothing notable during the game to match that description, there was during the ceremonial first pitch. After sailing the first attempt wide left to the backstop, the young boy given the honor got a second chance, this time firing a strike. We are at Disney World, after all, where dreams come true (it says so right on the sign!).

Gio Gonzalez was very solid in his first outing of the spring, allowing just one single over 3.0 innings of scoreless work, striking out both Matt Diaz and Michael Bourn. Meanwhile, the offense was strong in support, as both Jayson Werth and Mark DeRosa contributed early solo shots and Chad Tracy plated a pair with a two-out double in the third. The DeRosa home run was especially encouraging, given the multiple wrist surgeries he has overcome just to be able to swing a bat again.

We joked with DeRosa, referencing a remark he had made a couple of weeks ago around the batting cage, that he had not hit a home run in two years. It turns out he hit one last spring as well, with the Giants.

The Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet warms up in the tunnel before the game.

“It definitely feels good,” he said. “I’m really trying not to get too high or too low because I’ve been through such a tough last two years.”

The tendon sheath that had caused him so much pain and time on the DL finally came fully off the bone in his right wrist last May. As awful as that may sound, it may have turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. DeRosa has been pain free through the offseason and the first couple weeks of camp.

“I haven’t been treating it, icing it, nothing,” he said of the ailment that has suffocated his last two seasons. “So I’m just knocking on wood every day, waking up excited to get to the field and finally play healthy.”

Anthony Rendon also collected his first hit of the spring on a double in the eighth and came around to score on a Tyler Moore sacrifice fly for the final run of the game in the 5-2 Nats victory.

We’ll return to Viera tomorrow, as the Nats get their first look at the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Here are the Nationals 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 – Wednesday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 2-2

Weekly Review (2/27)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday morning of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Spring Training began as Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera. Although the official position player report date was not until midweek, most players were in camp several days early. Senior Director of Media Relations John Dever began his (almost) daily musings on the notable events each day in Spring Training. Anthony Rendon stopped by to showcase his sweet swing and chat for a few minutes about his first big league camp.

We enjoyed a visit from ESPN on campus at Space Coast Stadium, and were even able to snag an interview with Tim Kurkjian about his outlook on the team. Also, a rocket launched from the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

The Nationals proudly hosted the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team for a couple days of practice in advance of their April 3 game at Nationals Park (following the Nationals-Red Sox exhibition).

The franchise’s first-ever draft pick and everyday third baseman since the end of the 2005 season, Ryan Zimmerman signed an extension that will keep him in a Nationals uniform through at least the 2019 season, with an option for 2020. Both Dever and Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner opined their perspectives of the signing.

Worldwide Leader In Viera

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

Well, it started out gray and misty here on Thursday, but by the time workouts started (10am) and ended (Noon-ish), we were all enjoying partly cloudy skies and temps approaching 80 degrees. No complaints from here.

*Our third base coach, Bo Porter, is fantastic in every sense of the word. He is a great person. Engaging. He’s passionate. And he eats better than all of us. How do I know? He walked into Davey Johnson’s meeting this morning at around 8 a.m. with a plate of (are you ready for this?) … broccoli. Yes, I said breakfast. I gawked. I was stunned. So, later in the day, I asked him about it. He confirmed that when at all possible, he eats broccoli during breakfast AND asparagus for dinner. I got the idea this is most days. Remarkable! This made me realize that I might be playing from behind even with my bowl of Special K in the mornings.

The folks from ESPN are in Viera today.

*Today, we welcome Tim Kurkjian and John Kruk to Viera as the ESPN Spring Training Bus rolls through town. So look for updates tomorrow on ESPN’s various platforms. On the way to work today, I heard “Timmmay” being interviewed as part of ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike Show. Tim was reporting from Mets camp, but when Mike Greenberg asked Tim about the competitive and improving NL East, he mentioned only the Phillies, Braves and Marlins. Tim began his answer with a gentle reminder that (paraphrasing) the Nationals have improved quite a bit too…”

*ESPN’s aforementioned Bus Tour arrival also reminds me that in 2010, as part of the same Tour, Tim became the first national journalist to conduct a one-on-one interview with Stephen Strasburg. I remember it vividly, as both Mike Rizzo and I surmised that that Tim was the perfect person to help usher Strasburg into this portion of his profession. I hope to remind both Tim and Stephen about this later today.

*Speaking of Strasburg, as yesterday’s P+C workout was coming to its conclusion, I could not help but notice that #37 was leading the charge during a significant portion of our conditioning drills, especially the pole runs, which take place as the pitchers run (at a brisk pace) from foul pole to foul pole along the warning track (130-150 yards?). They do this same drill 3-4 times. There are many other agility type drills, but as a runner myself, I always like to see which pitchers stand out at that distance.

*You have to love baseball lingo. On multiple occasions today when talking to the press, Johnson referred to Gio Gonzalez’s curveball as a “Snapdragon.” Or is it “Snap Dragon?” Either way, it just sounded good and folksy coming from Davey. This note also serves as a forewarning, as Gio’s “Snap Dragon” is a true weapon. It’ll be interesting to see how he uses that pitch against the fleet of NL hitters who have never seen him before. Should be fun to watch.

Oh, later in the same media session, Davey, when speaking to Gio’s strong build, said he “looks relatively normal for a lefthander.” I bet that was Davey’s bias as a former position player coming through.

*Did a little research last week and I noticed something that amazed me. And fans of Danny Espinosa (now No. 8) should take note: No switch-hitter representing the Nation’s Capital (AL Nationals, Senators, expansion Senators or NL Nationals) has ever hit a homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.  It is about time this ends! I say that 2012 is the year.

*The following local stations are in town now and I bet they are capturing the positive vibe that continues to permeate Nationals camp: Comcast SportsNet, WJLA (Tuesday), WRC-4 and WTTG-Fox. WUSA is scheduled to be in town next week, and Channel 7 will return next week too.

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