Results tagged ‘ Josh Willingham ’

What to Watch For: 9/12

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Washington Nationals (88-54) vs. New York Mets (65-77)

LHP John Lannan (2-0, 3.46) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (3-4, 3.04)

The Nationals continued their winning ways Tuesday night, as Tyler Moore’s seventh-inning, pinch-hit, two-run home run turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and an eventual 5-3 Washington victory. New York native John Lannan will make his first start since his September recall as the Nationals look for a three-game sweep of the Mets at Citi Field to open the road trip.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Bernadina LF

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombardozzi 2B

9. Lannan LHP

GREAT 8

With another RBI on Tuesday at Citi Field, Ryan Zimmerman has now plated at least one RBI in eight consecutive contests. That is the longest such streak posted by a Nationals player since the club landed in D.C. in 2005. Zimmerman is 21-for-65 (.323) with five home runs and 16 RBI during his 15-game hitting streak, which is tied with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez for the longest current streak in MLB.

LANNAN’S CANNON

John Lannan, a native of Long Beach, NY and a Chaminade High School graduate, will take on the Mets in his third start of the season for the Nationals. He is 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in his two starts, with his last one coming August 3 in a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins. In his final two starts for Triple-A Syracuse, Lannan tossed complete-game shutouts August 25 at Gwinnett and August 30at Charlotte. Lannan has not pitched at Citi Field since earning the win there on April 10, 2010.

HARPER GETTING CLOSE TO THE HAMMER

After going 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI last night vs. New York, Bryce Harper now has 11 RBI against the Mets this season, the most by a rookie against the Mets since former National Josh Willingham posted 12 in 2006 as a member of the Florida Marlins.

DATE IN DC BASEBALL

September 12, 1962: At Memorial Stadium, 27 year-old Senator fireballer Tom Cheney sets a major league mark for K’s in a single game by striking out 21 batters in complete-game, 16-inning, 2-1 victory over the Orioles.

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2011 Winter Meetings Q&A with GM Mike Rizzo

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You asked, and Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo is ready to answer. We gathered questions from Nationals fans far and wide for this exclusive fan Q&A with the man tasked with shaping your Washington Nationals.

From Facebook, Bryce J. wants to know: Higher priority, finding a dominant #2 to follow Strasburg in the rotation or a positional player to shore up the 3-4-5 while Harper learns the ropes?

Mike Rizzo: I think it’s imperative to find both. We feel we have in-house candidates for the number two starter behind Stras’. Jordan Zimmermann had a terrific year last year, really a breakthrough year for him. We expect bigger and better things – it will be his first full season off of Tommy John surgery – so we’re excited for big things from him. We’re always looking to improve the rotation. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching in this division, so we’re always in the market for that.

A big bat would be something that would really jump-start our offense. We feel like we’re going to be stronger and better than we were last year with the current players that we have. We feel like a year of experience for our young, middle-of-the-field guys like Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond is going to do nothing but help them. We’re looking for another outstanding season from Michael Morse, a healthy season from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, and a bounce-back season from Jayson Werth, so we feel like we’re going to be better in that regard. But you can never have too much offense, and good, young two-way players – offensively and defensively with athleticism – are always what we’re looking for.

On Twitter, @gonastynats asks: So what IS #RogerBernadina’s future w/ the #Nationals? Is he our CF next year, or what?

MR: Roger is a terrific talent, he’s got great skills. He’s a guy who can play defense at all three outfield positions, gives us some pop from the left side of the plate, can steal you a base when he has to steal a base, and he’s got great versatility. He’s going to be a big part of our ballclub and is going to compete for the CF job. In the worst-case scenario, he’s going to be a terrific fourth outfielder for us that who can fill in for extended periods of time. He brings great energy on the baseball field and a great attitude in the clubhouse.

Our email inbox was overflowing as well. Don B. has an interesting idea for the starting rotation: Since there are a number of promising young arms, could it be possible to have a six-man rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Wang, Peacock, Milone, and Lannan, perhaps keeping Zimmermann on a five-day schedule?  In addition to getting a longer look at the young prospects at the major league level, it would cut down on Stephen Strasburg’s starts and consequently, his innings.  If he is on an innings limit, this could allow him to pitch deeper into the season.  Is this a possibility?

MR: We’re not going to go to a six-man rotation. What we’ll do, we’ll keep the traditional five-man rotation and we’re going to protect Stras’ whenever we can and whenever possible. And we’re going to have two or three quality pitchers in the Minor Leagues that are ready to come up and ready to pitch extended and important innings in the Major Leagues. We’re going to extend our pitchers out, but be prudent about it knowing in the back of our minds that we’ve got really good quality pitchers to summon from the Minor Leagues when need be.

While Danny B. writes in about the outfielders: What outfielders are being targeted by the Nationals?

MR: We’ve overturned every stone. We’ve talked to every team where we think a center fielder fits for us. The trade market is very difficult for such a quality position; they are in high demand. We’ve kicked the tires on many center fielders via the trade route, we’ve looked internationally for some international talent and we’re looking at all aspects to try and improve our ballclub.

We feel that we do have an in-house candidate with Jayson Werth. He can always move and play center field, if we have to have him play there, which opens up a whole different pool of players for our corner outfield position.

Jim W. surely has his wish list, but wants to know what are the top priorities for the Nats this offseason: What are the top three needs in acquisitions going into the 2012 season?

MR: We certainly would like to upgrade our rotation with an arm that could fit in with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and give us a real potent top three guys in the rotation – to go along with Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone. We like to have great depth and versatility there. So that’s our number one priority.

Number two is probably to find an answer in the outfield, going the center field route, or moving Werth to center field and going the corner outfield route.

And lastly, to strengthen our bench. We need good veteran players off the bench to allow Davey Johnson to do what he does best, which is to strategize and control the game at the end with pinch hitters and really out-managing the guy in the other dugout.

Our loyal readers here on the Curly W Live blog also chimed in with some great questions in the comments, led by Donald L. He wants to know, what’s the word on Yoenis Cespedes?

MR: Cespedes is a big, powerful center fielder with a great skill set. We scouted him extensively in world competitions with our scouts. I personally went down to the Dominican to see a private workout with him. He’s an impressive young man with great physical skills. He’s got great strength and great speed, and shows flashes of being a five-tool player. With our knowledge of him and his skill set, he’s a guy that we’re monitoring seriously.

Meanwhile, Dan D. wonders if a familiar face from the past could fill a hole in the Nationals outfield plans. Could Josh Willingham fill in as RH bat, 5th OF and 1B? Great pop, good guy, fans like him.

MR: Josh is a terrific talent. He’s way over-qualified to be a fifth outfielder or a right-handed bat off the bench. This is a guy who came off last season with 29 homeruns and 98 RBI’s in a tough Oakland ballpark to hit in. He’s going to get an everyday job somewhere and he’s going to be a guy who fits in somebody’s outfield as a regular. He’s a great quality person, and a great human being, and a guy we really like around here.

That’s it for the Winter Meetings Q&A, thanks for all of the great questions! Check back throughout the offseason for the inside scoop on your Washington Nationals.

Quote Sheet: Jim Riggleman from Winter Meetings

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Curly W Live programming to bring you some insights from Manager Jim Riggleman on the signing of Jayson Werth and the state of the rest of the roster. Keep checking back for more musings from Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner throughout the week.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Actually when I got here, I knew that we had made this trade.  Mike and I talked a lot about players like Jayson and others, and you know, I knew who Mike had his sights on.  You know, we had expressed it thoughts on a lot of players, but you know, it was very much under the radar, kept quiet, and so I basically found out when I got here.

 

            Q.  How does it feel for the first time in your career to have money to spend on players?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t know if it’s the first time.  I felt that I’ve been fortunate to manage in places and owners have always been generous in trying to put the best players we can out there.

            Sometimes your ownership group is trying to get players, and the players don’t take the money.  You know, you offer good money and they find something else somewhere.  But you know, in this case, I think it’s very encouraging, not only with Jayson, but with Bryce Harper and the commitment to Ryan Zimmerman a few years ago; I think that there’s a history here of trying to go out through the ballclub, whether it’s through trades, free agents, whatever, but there’s a great commitment to player development.

            I think this is a great sign for the organization and our fans that the ballclub is serious about having a better future for this organization.

 

            Q.  You talk about messages, in terms of the money that you’re paying Jayson says that you believe we can be a middle of the lineup, superstar‑caliber player.  In Philadelphia, he had other bats around him.  Do you feel he can be that kind of guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think that ‑‑ we are not really approaching it as, okay, you have to be the centerpiece of this organization.  You know, we just feel like he’s a very good player that has done some great things in Philadelphia.

            And you’re right, he’s around a lot of good players, but we can put players around him.  We still have Ryan Zimmerman there and we have Willingham there and we have a first baseman that will drive in runs one way or another.  He’s not going to feel that he’s alone there in the lineup.

            His athleticism and his talent, he’s surrounded by other good athletes, and you know, we just want to play baseball.  We are not looking for him to come in redefine his numbers.  If he does what he’s done in the past, that’s a great thing and if he does a little more, a little less, it’s still going to be a great thing, because he’s really done some great things last few years.

 

            Q.  Have you had a chance to talk to him at all?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I have not talked to him yet, no.

 

            Q.  Assuming you get a first baseman, your outfield looks a little crowded; do you feel like there are enough at‑bats for everyone there and do you feel that you have an excess there and maybe need to make a move to open spots for other guys?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, I think we want to have about five guys there, and if you add up what we have got there now, that’s about what we have.  Will something else happen?  Yeah, it might happen.  There might be another acquisition, might be a trade that clears it up.  We really are early into not just the Winter Meetings, but we are still early into the off‑season.  A lot of things can still happen.  I’m not sure how it will shake out exactly.  But you know, we just try to divvy up the at‑bats as best we can and keep guys as productive as we can.

 


            
Q.  Would you feel comfortable with the infield now, or do you feel like you need another utility‑type guy for insurance or just to have another body?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think maybe in a perfect world, maybe is that player will be able to do a little bit of both, move around.  In the National League, it’s nice to have guys who can go in the infield and outfield and have a guy or two like that.  So that might be something to look at.

            No, I’m very happy with Gonzalez, Espinosa, Desmond right now. 

 EspinosaGonzalez.jpg

            Q.  Is your first impulse, where to bat Jayson; the Phillies were reluctant to bat him in the 3‑hole, he batted 5 and sometimes in the 2‑hole.  What are your thoughts of him and Zimmerman and how you might do that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think it depends on who plays first base and where that person hits and what kind of protection that person can give for either Ryan or Jayson.

            My recollection is there were times where Howard and Utley were both hurt at the same time and Jayson did fill that spot in the middle pretty good at third or fourth and productive.  If that is where he is at, that will be fine.

            I think what happens, if Willingham is out there, he’s good protection for Ryan.  If it’s a left‑hand hitting first baseman, it might be protection there in that way.

 

            Q.  How important is it to you to acquire the kind of bench guys, that can play infield, outfield, that have more versatility from multiple guys to give you options late in the game, and was that a problem last year?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, it really wasn’t a problem.  I don’t ‑‑ again, I think we might have put Gonzalez out there a couple of innings one time, at least we talked about it.

            I think Gonzalez could do that.  But you know, Willy could do that last year, he could go in the infield or outfield last year.  It just so happens we had so many infielders, we didn’t use him in the infield very much.

            It’s comforting to know, as the game plays out, and you have to do certain things in the game, the way the lineups turn over, that you have somebody that can fill a lot of different roles.

            It’s nice to know that Jayson is a very comparable center fielder as well as right fielder.  We are getting more athletic, is what it amounts to.  We are getting a little more versatile, a little more athletic.

 

            Q.  Is Nyjer your center fielder or is it a competition between him and Roger going into the spring?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think Nyjer is our center fielder.  I think Bernie played his best baseball defensively in left, did okay in right, did fine in center but I thought he really excelled in left field.

            You know, Josh is out there, so Bernie is going to be fighting for at‑bats.


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           Q.  You mentioned left‑handed hitting first baseman provides protection; how much does Pena fit that bill?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  We are like a lot of teams.  We like Carlos Pena.  We really liked Adam Dunn.  Adam Dunn did a great job for us and we appreciate everything he did.  We made what we feel is a good offer to Adam and Adam and his agent did a great job; they got a better deal.  But that left‑handed bat there was nice to have, and you know, we feel like Carlos is a guy who can do that.  There’s three or four other names, you know, that can do it. 

            Whatever comes up, I’m sure it’s going to be a good option.

 

            Q.  A lot of people were surprised that Jayson got as much money as he did.  What’s your reaction to that?  Were you in on the dollars?  Did you have any idea?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I’m not in on that.  But the thing is, the money, you know, when you’re managing, the players play.  The money doesn’t play.  You put a ballplayer out there.  You don’t put the money out there.

            You know, one of our brightest spots on our team last year was a minimum‑salary guy in Ian Desmond.  We had great things out of our higher‑paid players, also.

            You know, when you’re managing the players, you just feel fortunate to have them and you don’t look at how much money they make and judge it.  You just evaluate the talent that you have, and sometimes the guys that don’t make much money play good and sometimes the guys that make a lot of money have a down year.

            You just try to make the best acquisitions that you can and have the best player development that you can have feeding your big league club and hopefully it all comes to fruition.

 

            Q.  Did you have a chance to watch Bryce Harper in the Fall League?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I only saw him in the instructional league, very impressive.  Bryce, he’s met every challenge.  He met the challenge of going into college early; the challenge of playing in the instructional league and in the Fall League as a young guy.  He’s met every challenge tremendously.  He’s fit in well with his teammates.  He’s done everything that could be asked of him, and you know, he’s just on a time frame of, go play baseball and sooner or later, he’s going to be in the big leagues.

 

            Q.  In Spring Training, what is sort of the plan, just in terms of ‑‑ does he get a locker in the big league clubhouse or is he a Minor League guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You kind of forget.  He’s on the 40‑man roster, so he’s in the big league ‑‑ in that case, he’ll be there.

            He’ll get a lot of attention, I’m sure, just as Stephen Strasburg did last year.  But he’ll be in big league camp and get some at‑bats.  If the at‑bats look like they are starting to get too infrequent, we will get him down to Minor League camp where he’s pitching every day.

 

            Q.  But he’ll get at‑bats in the big league exhibitions?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Yeah, we’ll get him some at‑bats.

 

            Q.  Can you talk about Stephen, how is he progressing?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, my understanding is he’s doing very well, but the process is what it is.  It’s a 12‑ to 18‑month process, and each goal that he tries to reach with his rehab, he’s meeting those goals.  We anticipate it’s going to be 12 to 18 months just like originally said.


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            Q.  If you guys are not able to get that big name pitcher that might still be out there, how comfortable are you with what you have in your rotation at the moment?  Is it set in stone already, are there spots up for grabs or how would you look at that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Our rotation, there’s 5‑ to seven starters there right now that Mike wanted to add somebody to it.  But that’s very difficult to do.  And Mike’s made great efforts to do it.  As I said, there’s been one or two guys who were offered nice contracts that they got something somewhere else and stayed where they were at originally or whatever.

            So it’s been difficult to add a quality starter.  So as Mike continues to look for that and that opportunity to add there, we are really focusing on some bullpen stuff.  We feel like our bullpen did a good job last year but maybe we can strengthen our strength.

 

            Q.  What would that look like, adding another guy who could fill a specific role or a closer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think we would add a closer.  I think as Mike has indicated, ideally we would get somebody who maybe has had some experience in the ninth inning but not necessarily a classic closer.  Those guys are just not going to show up.

            So I think with Clifford and Storen and Burnett, we have got guys there that are not intimidated by the ninth inning, but if we can add another guy or two, that is also comfortable pitching in the 7th; that on a given day, needs to pick up the slack and go into the ninth for us, and again, he’s not ‑‑ the ninth inning isn’t too big of a situation for him to handle.

 

            Q.  Do you see deciding on one of those guys as your closer or is it going to be maybe just all three of them will pitch the ninth inning depending on circumstance?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  In a perfect world, you have a guy who does it, but our guy who we kind of look to do that down the road is Storen and that being the case, we want to allow him to gravitate towards that.

            If it happens sooner than later, it’s great, but if he gets some help doing it in the meantime, again, I’ll point to a couple of the best closers, really, didn’t pitch the ninth inning until they were about 25, 26 years old; Mariano Rivera and a few others.  They kind of found their way in the seventh and eighth inning for a couple of years and when Wetteland moved on, Mariano took it over and others have done the same thing.

            I think that that has proven to be a real good way for a guy to acclimate himself to that ninth inning is to get a little history behind him in the seventh and eighth, and Drew has got a little of that.  He’s pitched some in the ninth.  But again, we are not going to deny him if he’s clearly that option there, but we are not going to force it to happen, either.

 

            Q.  This off‑season, we have seen four managers hired, that have been with teams before.  You’ve been through that experience, I wanted to ask you, what is it like to try to get that second, maybe third job, what the process is like?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Well, you know, these jobs are precious.  It’s hard to get a Major League managing job.  Just as Terry Collins spoke about that last week.  I completely understand what he’s saying.  These jobs, Major League coaching jobs, these are precious positions.  You work your whole life in baseball once you’re not a player to get into a position to coach and/or manage.

            So you know, quite often what happens is you get a job because the ballclub is struggling.  The Giants job ain’t going to be open, you know what I mean; Bruce Bochy has got that.  There are many capable people who have gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs, and many capable people who have not gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs.  When you get the opportunity, you are fortunate to get it.  You don’t really reflect on, you know, whether you were lucky or whatever.  You just appreciate the opportunity.

 

            Q.  As far as getting that second or third opportunity, what was the process like?  Was it a matter of staying in touch with general managers?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I never stayed in touch with any general managers.  I just stayed in the game.  I went from ’99 to really middle of ’08, and never spoke to any general managers.  I just was working in the game and had various positions in the game and a position to manage arose, and I took it.

            It’s not a job you apply for.  These things evolve.  You don’t ‑‑ people know that ‑‑ we all know each other in the game.  Everybody knows what everybody wants to do.  But when I was coaching, I really appreciated the opportunity to coach.  Again, those are precious positions, and so I felt very fortunate to be coaching.  When I got the opportunity to manage, I took it.

 

            Q.  If Adam wasn’t signed and went to Chicago, there were stories written that Zimm was upset; has Mike talked to him since?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I’ve talked to him and we have texted a lot here lately.

            My message to Zimm was before Adam left, I hope we get Adam left, but if we don’t, Mike is going to have something there.  So when this has happened, with Jayson being there, it’s got be to comforting for Zimm to know that we are not tossing in the towel.  But there are going to be other examples between now and Opening Day that Zimm will be encouraged by.

 

            Q.  How challenging is it with turnover one year to the next in terms of free agency and trades in terms of how to handle that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think we’ll have four or five guys from our bullpen last year that I have a lot of history with and I know maybe what the limits are that they can go to.  When you get new guys there is an adjustment period that you can go through and hopefully figure that out through conversations and through Spring Training and watching them work and how they respond on a second day and how they respond on three out of four days work or something.

            Spring Training is a pretty long process in today’s world.  By Opening Day, you have a pretty good feel for what a guy can handle.


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            Q.  What improvements would you like to see in Nyjer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think that, basically, the thing that we want Nyjer to do is get on base, a little higher rate, and to be there to be knocked in.

            The game is full of statistics, and there’s so many numbers out there.  But when it comes to offense, you’re either knocking them in or you’re scoring.  The rest of it is a little bit of eyewash.

            We want Nyjer to score and to score, he’s got to be on base.  We know he can do it.  He’s shown he can do it.  We just hope that he’s getting on base at a little higher clip, and that’s going to mean a little improvement against left‑handed pitching basically.

30 Players in 30 Days: Josh Willingham


Josh Willingham handshake.jpgNationals fans had to say goodbye to Josh Willingham nearly two months early this season due to a nagging knee injury. It first forced Willingham out of the lineup and then to the operating table for season-ending surgery on August 18. Willingham said the pain started in April, but by looking at the numbers, no one would have ever guessed it. He opened up the first week of the season with a home run, seven RBI and five walks in six games–not to mention a .421 batting average, a .520 on base percentage and a .684 slugging percentage. He didn’t stop there. In an impressive month of May, he hit seven homers and drove in 22 runs on the way to a 1.037 OPS.

Willingham played brilliantly throughout the first half of the season, bringing himself into the All-Star conversation while maintaining a 30-home run, 100-RBI pace to go along with improved, solid defense with only one error committed. He isn’t known for making dazzling, over-the-wall catches like Nyjer Morgan, or blasting monstrous long balls as far as Adam Dunn, but for what it’s worth, Willingham still makes the catches and still hits the home runs. Why else would they call him “The Hammer”? But his play, much like his personality, often flies under the radar. He’s the good guy who gets the job done quietly.

Willingham has been the model of consistency since he started receiving regular playing time in the Majors in 2006 for the Marlins. He has maintained an OPS in the .800s for five consecutive years, and his home run production has remained steady–over six years, he averages a home run every 21 at bats, never wavering much higher or lower from year to year.

Willingham is a reliable, solid all-around player who can be counted on to contribute in a variety of ways. He’s powerful enough to rip the long ball, yet patient enough to wait for a good pitch–he swung at just 39.1 percent of the pitches he saw this year and led all Nationals with a .389 on base percentage. Unlike the average power hitter, he racks up walks, not strikeouts. He’s quick and smart enough to steal, collecting eight stolen bags on the season before being shut down early. Willingham is no one-trick pony and that could make for a raise in arbitration this offseason.

July 27 is a special day in baseball


willingham1.jpgOn this day last year, Josh Willingham made Major League history by blasting two grand slams and tallying eight RBI in the Nationals’ 14-6 win over the Brewers at Miller Park. Willingham became just the 13th player in MLB history, and just the third NL player ever, to hit a pair of bases-loaded homers in a single game.

 

Interestingly enough, Willingham was not the first player to accomplish the feat on July 27. Rudy York of Boston hit a pair of grand slams on July 27, 1946, as his Red Sox beat the St. Louis Browns 13-6.

 

In fact, looking back through the years, July 27th holds claim to several odd events in baseball history:

 

1918: Brooklyn starting hurler Henry Heitman makes his Major League debut against the St. Louis Cardinals, but after giving up four hits to the first four batters he faced, he was yanked from the game. The 21-year-old right hander never pitched again in the Majors, completing one of the shortest careers in the Big Leagues ever.

 

1930: Cincinnati’s Ken Ash earned his last Major League victory with just one pitch. Ash came in as a reliever in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, no outs and the Cubs up by one run on his Reds. On his first pitch, he got Chicago’s Charlie Grimm to hit into a triple play, and although removed for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning, Ash was credited in the 6-5 win.

 

1947: Jake Jones of Boston hit a triple that traveled just 60 feet in the Red Sox’s 4-3 victory over the Browns at Fenway Park. Hall of Fame umpire Cal Hubbard awarded Jones the three bases when St. Louis pitcher Fred Sanford, threw his glove at the roller traveling outside the third base line to prevent it from potentially rolling fair.

 

1966: The Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled a lower court decision that required the Braves to return to Milwaukee, holding that the state did not have the jurisdiction to keep the Braves from moving to Atlanta.

 

1998: In a sport where records are made to be broken, Tyrone Horne completed a feat that had never been accomplished before and has yet to be touched again–hitting for a home run cycle in a professional baseball game. His two-run homer in the first inning, grand slam in the second, solo shot in the fifth and three-run blast in the sixth propelled his Double-A Arkansas Travelers to a 13-4 victory at San Antonio.

 

2010: ???

 

Braves (57-41):

1.    Martin Prado – 2B

2.    Jason Heyward – RF

3.    Chipper Jones – 3B

4.    Brian McCann – C

5.    Eric Hinske – LF

6.    Troy Glaus – 1B

7.    Alex Gonzalez – SS

8.    Melky Cabrera – CF

9.    Tommy Hanson – SP (8-6, 4.12 ERA)

 

* Atlanta dropped two of three games in their weekend series at the Marlins, marking its first series loss to an NL team since it lost two of three at Philadelphia over two months ago (May 7-9).

 Nationals (42-57):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Roger Bernadina – RF

7.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Stephen Strasburg – SP (5-2, 2.32 ERA)

 

* Washington is the only club to sport three teammates ranked among the NL’s top 15 in OPS, thanks to Ryan Zimmerman (8th, .903), Adam Dunn (4th, .935) and Josh Willingham (15th, .880). In the AL, only Boston can match this claim, thanks to their trio of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz.

* Nyjer Morgan has been successful on eight of his last nine stolen-base attempts. His eight swipes this month are tied for the Major League lead with the A’s Coco Crisp, the Mets’ Angel Pagan and the Diamondback’s Chris Young.

Nats are back at home vs. Reds and lineups

Back at Home

The Nats are happy to be back at home after two long road trips–they played 19 of their last 24 games on the road and went 9-15 in that stretch. It is easy to look back on the last 24 games and change a play here and a play there–by doing so, the Nats could easily have gone 14-10. But that isn’t possible. The stretch from now until the All-Star break could be a defining time for the 2010 season: Stephen Strasburg joins the rotation on Tuesday and 22 of the next 34 games are at home.

Odds are it will be a close game

The offense has struggled to score runs and that has led to a number of close games. Since May 5, 22 of the Nationals’ 29 games have been decided by two runs or less (9-13 record), including 13 contests decided by one run (6-7 record). Washington has played an MLB-leading 33 games decided by two runs or less. At the same time, the Reds have played in 31 games decided by two runs or less.

Where is the (glove) love?

On the ten game road trip the Nationals pitchers posted a 2.90 ERA (87.0 IP/ 28 ER) but they were hampered by 14 errors that led to 17 unearned runs.

“A week ago I would say we’re playing good defense,” said Riggleman. “The errors were misleading. I think the errors are misleading, but we haven’t played good defense the last week. I don’t know if we’re not concentrating as much pitch to pitch. I don’t know what’s going on. Our error total has been more reflective in the last week, so we have to cut back on that. No question.”

Hammer Time

Josh Willingham is having one of the best first two months of his career. The key to his success is staying laid-back and low key and that’s not hard for a person who embodies those words–Riggleman considers him the “ultimate professional” and “the guy you want your daughter to marry.” Willingham is batting .277 with 10 home runs, 30 runs, 37 RBI and a .428 OBP.

They are quite the numbers. There are only four players in the Majors with at least 30 runs scored, 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 25 walks and a .400 OBP in the Majors. Willingham is the only outfielder. The other three are all first basemen: Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau and Miguel Cabrera.

Lineups:

Reds (31-23):

1.    Orlando Cabrera – SS

2.    Brandon Phillips – 2B

3.    Joey Votto – 1B

4.    Scott Rolen – 3B

5.    Jay Bruce – RF

6.    Jonny Gomes – LF

7.    Drew Stubbs – CF

8.    Ramon Hernandez – C

9.    Aaron Harang – SP (4-5, 5.48 ERA)

 Nationals (26-29):

1.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

2.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Roger Bernadina – RF

7.      Ian Desmond – SS

8.      Wil Nieves – C

9.      Livan Hernandez – SP (4-3, 2.15 ERA)

Monday morning short hops

·         The Nats wrapped up opening week with back-to-back wins against the Mets. The Nats are .500 for the first time since April 5, 2008 after a 5 RBI day by Josh Willingham and a brilliant pitching performance by Livan Hernandez. The Hammer hit a grand slam in the top of the first off of Johan Santana–originally ruled a triple only to be overturned by instant replay. It was Willingham’s fifth grand slam of his career and the first since he became the 13 player to hit two in one game on July 27 last season at Milwaukee. According to the Elias Sports Bureau… “Willingham’s first slam was for the Marlins on Aug. 11, 2007 off the Mets’ Guillermo Mota at Shea Stadium. No player has hit bases-loaded homers at both Shea and Citi Field for the Mets, but Willingham and Albert Pujols have done so as visitors.”

 

·         Stephen Strasburg earned his first professional victory, leading the Harrisburg Senators to a 5-4 win over the Altoona Curve. Strasburg’s final line was: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 82 pitches, 55 for strikes.

“I definitely was super excited,” Strasburg said. “There definitely was a lot of anticipation for this outing. I went out there, from the get-go, I knew I was moving a little too quick out there. I had the adrenaline pumping. I was able to settle down and keep the team in the ballgame. Lucky enough, the bats came alive.”

·         Drew Storen closed out the first game for Stephen Strasburg and earned his first save of the season.

“I don’t want to be the guy blowing his first win,” Storen said. “Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. Hopefully, it won’t be the last time for me doing that.”

·         Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore writes Scott Olsen will replace Garrett Mock in the Nationals rotation and will start the Thursday game in Philadelphia.

·         ESPN’s Keith Law’s take on Strasburg’s Double-A Debut–Insider only.

“Strasburg’s velocity was incredible; he hit 99 with his first pitch and reached that mark two other times in the third inning. He didn’t throw a fastball under 97 until the fourth. Over his final two innings, he was 94-97, although he threw several pitches in the 94-96 range that had the slight tail of a two-seam fastball. His fastball command wasn’t great, although that may have been more a function of situation than inability to locate. His best, most consistent pitch was his curveball, 78-83 mph with incredibly sharp two-plane break and a downward finish, and he threw it for strikes most of the day. His worst pitch was, as before, his changeup, still a work in progress, although he threw several that were plus in the 87-88 mph range with hard downward tail; he overthrew several changeups, some as hard as 92, and didn’t locate the pitch well, throwing many (if not most) below the zone.”

·         Wall Street Journal’s Robert Costa sat down with Nationals season ticket holder and Pulitzer Prize writer George F. Will to talk about everything and anything baseball related.

“In baseball, if you’re a terrific young athlete, you’re going to spend some time on a bus, going from Laramie to Carlsbad,” Will said. “If you go to Ohio State and they make you into a running back, you’re able to go straight into the NFL. Or in college basketball, it’s one and done–you have a great year and then you’re rich, really rich. Baseball remains a humbling game, and partly because of that I think it’s still a pretty admirable slice of young American manhood.”

Countdown to Opening Day: 10 till ’10

There are three weeks (four Mondays) until Opening Day on April 5 at Nationals Park. Spring Training games are in full swing and Stephen Strasburg pitched three scoreless innings yesterday to extend his scoreless streak to 5.0 innings. Ian Desmond continues to show he should be an everyday shortstop. In nine games, he is batting .455 (10-for-22) with one home run and leads the Grapefruit League with 11 RBI. We are counting down the final few weeks of the offseason highlighting 10 memorable moments, jaw-dropping catches and walk-off wins. You have seen them before but you’ll want to see them again.

 

Last week we highlighted John Lannan’s complete game shutout against the Mets on July, 21.

 

This week we highlight Josh Willingham defying the odds. The Hammer turned July 27, 2009–a mundane Monday in Milwaukee–into a magical memory when he hit two grand slams in one game. For perspective, there have been 17 perfect games, 15 four home run games but just 13 players have hit two slams in the same game. The odds are nearly impossible–there is a better chance you are randomly selected from a hat filled with every American’s name. “It was pretty unbelievable,” Willingham said. “That’s about all I can say really. You don’t get a chance to do something like that often.” And by often, he means next to never. Click here to view it on NatsHD or here…
20090727 Wilingham Two GS_h.mpg …to view Willingham’s magical night in Milwaukee.

Spring Training is the place to be…


Strasburg 12.jpgAs we arrived at Space Coast Stadium with the sun shining, the temps in the mid 60’s and signs of baseball all around: green grass, fans decked out in Nats gear and players making the voyage from the fields to the clubhouse. It dawned on me right as we pulled in the parking lot that…

Spring is by far the best season in the world just like water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen–simple common facts, right? Of course, it never occurs to you while you are drinking a glass of water that it is two parts hydrogen or one part oxygen. But after you take a year of chemistry, you don’t even care anymore what it is… you just accept it as a fact and vow never to take another chemistry class again. It’s the same thing for spring, when you are at the Nats Spring Training Complex you are amazed at how peaceful and easy going it is… it is at that moment you accept it as fact that spring is the best season and vow to make the migration to Florida each year.

It is a new beginning for everyone and everything. It provides a new start for the players, a rebirth for all living plants and a second chance for people who already forgot what their New Year’s resolution was. 

Let me get a little more cliché and sentimental… as W. Earl Hall said… I know I just name-dropped him like he is Ryan Zimmerman but truth be told Google doesn’t even know who he is, they just know he said this… “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” Morphine? Nope. THC? Not a chance. Nicotine? Never. Vicodin? Vastly overrated.

We could add to that… while watching a baseball game speculating and daydreaming about the upcoming season. The start of Spring Training has an innate ability to make fans, and players alike, daydream of how their season will turnout and reason why they have what it takes to win the World Series. The records are wiped clean, the potential is endless and every team is in first place till April 5. Cliché comments become cool and the term “Making the trip North” typically reserved for Minnesotans going to their cabins becomes a common catchphrase.

Science has also never explained the tranquilizing effect of the start of Spring Training and the endless possibilities: all the what ifs, maybes, dreams and if only’s.

You have all heard them before and probably made the arguments yourself.

They added A, B and C in the offseason and bolstered the bullpen with D. What if E has a breakout year now that he is healthy? If only player F, has the season he had two years ago. If player G, pitches like he did in September for the entire season and now that player H will be on the team for a full season…We are a playoff team for sure.

It is just simple math: A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H=playoffs. Right?

All you need is a carefully crafted argument, selective statistics and a few leaps in logic that hopefully go undetected. 82 percent on the time you will win every time–push at worst–and by the time the actual records are final, the argument will have been forgotten just like the Spring Training games themselves–just don’t write down your predictions.


Space Coast Stadium 10.jpgSo let the argument begin why the Nationals will finish at or above .500… forget the fact that only seven teams since 1961 (the year the schedule was expanded to 162 games) that have won 60 games or fewer in one season have gone on to finish at or above .500 the following season. (I am excluding strike years.) Here are seven reasons why they will be the eighth.

1.      It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Nats ended on a seven game winning streak and posted a 33-37 record after July 21st. They are better defensively and if they would have kept that pace over the season they would have finished 76-86. They are a better team now then when the season ended too.

2.      Maybe, just maybe John Lannan is the best pitcher nobody has heard of… just look at the numbers against a pitcher everybody has heard of.

 ALCS MVP CC Sabathia vs. John Lannan

 Number of games started allowing three runs or less:

Sabathia:         23

Lannan:           23

 ERA in those games:

Sabathia:         1.78 ERA (32 ER/ 161.2 IP)

Lannan:           2.24 ERA (39 ER/ 156.2 IP)

 Individual Record in those games:

Sabathia:         18-0

Lannan:           9-5

 Team Record in those games:

Sabathia:         20-3

Lannan:           12-11

 

Lannan’s biggest problem last year was the Nats offense. He was second from the bottom with a 3.71 run support average for pitchers with at least 200 IP. The Rays Matt Garza bested Lannan with a 3.68 RSA. It is the one statistic you never want to lead in.

  1. Remember the Opening Day bullpen last season? I didn’t think so. Here is why you have forgotten about them. The seven relievers: Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Mike Hinckley, Wil Ledezma, Saul Rivera, Steven Shell and Julian Tavarez are about as memorable as the movies Glitter, Gigli and The Hottie and the Nottie combined. They recorded seven blown saves in the first 21 games and 20 by the All-Star break with a 5.21 ERA. The bullpen has been bolstered–beefed up more than Popeye’s bicep–and if Matt Capps is the closer the Nats think he can be, the one he was in 2007 with 2.28 ERA, it will be game over in the ninth.

4.      The Nationals just got a small dose of Nyjer Morgan last season before he fractured his left hand at the end of August but it was enough to give Nats fans an everlasting high. He was electric at the top of the order and changed the total complexion of the offense and defense while adding speed to a lineup of lumberjacks. In 49 games with the Nats, he batted .351 (67-for-191) with 35 runs and 24 stolen bases. If he can provide that excitement, speed and defense for an entire season… Wow.

5.      What if Willingham plays the entire season like he did in May, June and July. He struggled for the first time in his career to find playing time and never was comfortable at the plate in April, batting .143. The “Hammer” returned in May. From May 5 to August 18, he batted .330 (86-for-261) with 18 home runs, 48 RBI and an on-base percentage of .430. He had a forgettable September so I won’t try to remember it. Willingham will be the everyday left fielder so don’t expect him to struggle at the start this season.

6.      Maybe Elijah Dukes finally has a breakout year. Just think if he can hit 20 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 RBI in the 6th hole?

7.      It is only time before Stephen Strasburg arrives in the Majors. And now daydream for a second about this possible rotation on July 1 as the Nats open a four game series against the Mets: Jason Marquis with a first half stuff like last year, Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered with a hard sinker circa 2007, John Lannan as his normal self and Stephen Strasburg starring as the savior he was anointed as in The Passion of the Christ before Jim Caviezel stole the role because he actually looked the part. The only question remaining is who of the five to seven qualified pitchers in the organization will be the fifth starter?

Gotta love Spring Training.

 

Nats Caravan Day 4: Blogging from the Bus

Notes from NatsTown is blogging from the bus throughout the Nationals’ 2010 Winter Caravan.

Today is the fourth and final day of the 2010 Winter Caravan.

10:16 a.m.–As we were walking to the elevator, Adam Dunn appeared out of nowhere and jumped like Michael Jordan onto Josh Willingham’s back. Needless to say, they both fell to the ground like a bag of bricks.

“That definitely felt like 260 pounds,” Willingham said. It might have been the first time Dunn has sneaked up on anyone.

10:29 a.m.–Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow. We just left Nats Park. It is only fitting that the Caravan experiences some weather related problems after the Nats had a billion (22) rain delays during the season. This Caravan operates on the same motto as the United States Postal Service. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop this Nats Caravan.

Our first stop is the Children’s Hospital and then we are heading to the PG Sports Complex to sign a few autographs. We are concluding the 2010 Caravan at White Flint Mall.


CH Riggleman.jpg
CH Ryan Zimmerman.jpg11:11 a.m.–As Brian Bruney colored, “You would be the best kindergarten teacher if you didn’t play baseball,” Dibble said. That is tough to debate.

11:32 a.m.–“I can’t lose weight,” Dunn said. Piece of advice: “If you lose weight, you lose bombs.”

11:33 a.m.–“Dunn can you smile for me so I can take a picture of you,” a lady asked. “I can smile with best of them,” he said. “That is a beautiful smile Mr. Dunn,” she replied.

11:39 a.m.–Tuneesha Watson has a granddaughter in the ICU that wasn’t able to attend. She filled in perfectly. She collected an autograph from each player for her granddaughter. “It is so cool to have the players here today,” she said. “The kids will remember this forever.”


CH Nyjer Morgan.jpg12:01–We have left the Children’s Hospital.

1:13–The snow continues to fall but the wheels keep on turning.  It definitely made the trip longer… we are right by Fed Ex Field and the traffic is as congested as if it there is a Redskins game today.

1:36–Dunn threw his phone to Zimmerman as if it was a football.  It landed well short and hit the ground. “My phone is unbreakable,” Dunn said. Zimmerman threw it back. It hit the wall…a chair… and finally stopped moving when it hit the ground. It was safe… and it’s definitely unbreakable.


PG Check Giving.jpg2:17–The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation granted the Forestville Boys & Girls Club with $5,000 to assist with programming and equipment needs. The Forestville Boys & Girls Club is an organization with a 49-year history of teaching boys and girls the fundamentals of baseball.  Their work has enabled thousands of children and teens to engage in tournament competition and to learn the values of teamwork and embrace the game of baseball.


 
PG Standing By the kids.jpg“We are honored to partner with the Nationals organization on this extremely important project, and extend our heartfelt appreciation for their support of our County’s youth,” said Samuel J. Parker Jr., Chairman of the Prince George’s County Planning Board.  “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship as we work together to teach our young people the fundamentals of leadership and responsibility through the fundamentals of the game of baseball.”


PG Signing Line.jpg3:02–Our boy Robert Probst from Dover, Del., wasn’t deterred by the snow and made the trip to the autograph session. If you remember from Day Two, he drove to Woodbridge on Thursday night. “I told you I would be here today,” he said. “There is nothing that could have stopped me.” He is also like the USPS. He left his house at 11 a.m. and it took him three and half hours to drive the 80 miles. See ya at NatsFest Robert.

3:34–We are now departing the PG County Sports Complex… and it continues to snow.

3:46–The electronic sign on 495 reads: “EXPECT MAJOR DELAYS… CHOOSE ALTERNATE ROUTE.”  Right at this moment the traffic is flowing freely (sounds more like a description of a river)… if only we knew what was ahead of us.


Road Traffic.jpg4:08–The Beltway just became a parking lot. We are seven miles away from our destination.


Road Crash.jpg4:40–We have gone two miles in 32 minutes… one of the few crashes.


Road Deer.jpg4:49–This picture doesn’t do justice but there were at least 20 deer prancing and dancing in the snow as if Santa was coming.

4:58–Riggleman made a trip to the front of the bus to talk to Harold the bus driver and possibly call in a reliever to speed things up. He returned to reveal the problem. “I think I found out what the problem is,” Riggleman said. “Traffic jam.”


Road Mustang.jpg5:03–Yeah, that car is stuck. It might have been the highlight on the journey. To its credit the car was more determined than The Little Engine that Could. There was just one problem–this car couldn’t. The Mustang tried to get out about every 30 seconds. We kept cheering for it… it didn’t exactly help.

5:25–3.6 miles away. I would be surprised if we arrive by 6 p.m.

5:45–“We are still 2.2 miles away,” Willingham said. “Does anyone have a DVD we can watch.”

6:04–We are sooooo close yet so far away. We just drove in a circle around the mall.

6:13–We made it. It only took 2 hours and 39 minutes to travel 22.2 miles.


Mall Signing Line.jpg
Mall Ol Roy.jpg7:17–The Caravan is over. It was a fantastic four days. Be sure to make it to NatsFest tomorrow.

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