Results tagged ‘ Kurt Suzuki ’

Weekly Review: 4.8.13

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It was an exciting first week of the 2013 season, as next year finally arrived. The Nationals opened their campaign as defending National League East Champs against the Marlins in Washington on Monday. Bryce Harper took no time building off last year’s Rookie of the Year campaign, homering in each of his first two at-bats of the season, backing Stephen Strasburg in a 2-0 victory in front of the largest regular season crowd in Nationals Park history. Despite the star power on display, the quiet return of Wilson Ramos may have been the most impressive storyline of the day.

After an off-day Tuesday, the Nationals shut out Miami again on Wednesday, with Gio Gonzalez doing it all himself, tossing six scoreless frames and homering for the game’s first run in a 3-0 final. Meanwhile, Roger Bernadina introduced a new term into the ever-growing Shark lexicon. On Thursday, Washington rounded out a season-opening sweep with a 6-1 win, becoming just the fourth team in Major League history – and the first since the 1979 Astros – to allow just one run over its first three combined games.

The first road trip of the year began inauspiciously, as Washington was blanked, 15-0, in the series opener Friday night in Cincinnati. However, the club responded in a big way, launching five home runs, including two in the 11th inning, to capture a thrilling, nail-biting, cardiac arrhythmia-inducing victory on Saturday. Kurt Suzuki got into the offensive act with a three-run shot in the Sunday finale, but the Nats dropped the game, 6-3, and the series to the defending NL Central Champs.

Overall Record: 4-2

Highlights: 4.7.13

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4.7.13 – Reds 6, Nationals 3

Stat of the Game: The Reds had 11 hits, but 10 of them were singles, as Jay Bruce’s first-inning double marked their lone extra-base hit of the day.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Kurt Suzuki accounted for all of Washington’s scoring with a three-run, first-inning home run, giving Nats backtops their third home run of the series.

It Was Over When: Cincinnati added three more in the sixth to take its second three-run advantage of the game, then turned the ball over to the bullpen, which kept the Nationals off the board the rest of the way.

Recovery Act

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Opening Day brought Nationals fans plenty of early-season excitement, from Bryce Harper’s power display, to Stephen Strasburg’s quiet dominance, culminating in Rafael Soriano’s closing introduction.

Each of those performances were thrilling in their own way, but going back to the beginning of Spring Training, none were as unexpected and inspiring as Wilson Ramos earning the Opening Day start behind the plate.

Quietly, Wilson Ramos's return was perhaps the most impressive story on Opening Day.

Quietly, Wilson Ramos’s return was perhaps the most impressive story on Opening Day.

When pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Florida on February 11, Ramos was just easing his way into action after recovering from a right knee injury suffered last May in Cincinnati. The damage required two surgeries, with the repair to his anterior cruciate ligament not taking place until July 18 – leaving just seven months until the start of camp.

With such a brief amount of recovery and rehabilitation time, the common question was not whether Ramos would able to start on April 1 against the Miami Marlins, but if he had progressed enough to land on the Major League roster or instead would begin the year on the disabled list.

Slowly but surely, Ramos began erasing doubts. The 25-year-old Venezuelan caught his first bullpen session on February 14, then participated in sliding drills on March 2. He made his first in-game catching appearance March 5 during a Spring Training contest against the Houston Astros, then caught a full game for the first time on March 22 – just 10 days before Opening Day.

His breakthrough occurred with five days to go. In a March 27 split-squad game against the Atlanta Braves, Ramos belted two mammoth home runs, driving home four runs in the 11-2 victory. No longer saddled with concerns about his knee, Ramos was able to cut loose with his swing, displaying the power that made him one of baseball’s top hitting catchers during the 2011 season. He was almost all the way back.

Then, at 1:09 p.m. on Monday, it became official. Given a “carrot for hard work” by manager Davey Johnson, Ramos found himself catching Strasburg’s gem and batting eighth in Johnson’s lineup. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then singled sharply through the hole on the left side of the infield in his second. He masterfully blocked balls in the dirt. He caught a laser of a throw from Harper in the seventh inning, then fired to first base, trapping Placido Polanco in a rundown. Eventually, he tagged out Giancarlo Stanton trying to score to complete the rare 7-2-3-4-2 double play, helping Strasburg out of his only jam of the afternoon.

Ramos will rest every other day to start the season, sharing time with Kurt Suzuki and continuing to build up strength. But now, unlike the beginning of spring, the common question is not whether or not Ramos will play, but what he might be able to accomplish now that he’s back behind the plate.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Excitement in the Air

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Hello everyone.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that I don’t have to remind you that Opening Day is less than a week away. I’m pumped up for the season to get started, and I know all of you Nats fans are also. During my nearly month-long stay in Viera, I spoke with hundreds of our fans. The common theme down there was unbridled enthusiasm.

Now I am back here in D.C. and the messaging is identical.

Is this is the most anticipated season in D.C. sports history? While this is not for me to say, I have to think it is at the very least on a short list.

  • Friday’s 2:05 p.m. exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park will feature a Jordan Zimmermann-Andy Pettitte pitching matchup. And here’s hoping that future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s ankle allows him to play, not only Friday, but all season.
  • Interesting to hear that Davey plans to really split time behind the plate between Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Both are wildly popular in the clubhouse and among the pitching staffs. I think Davey’s direction here tells us that he is quite confident in Wilson’s knee and overall fitness.
  • Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina represent perhaps the finest bench in MLB. I know that Davey views all four as talents capable of starting. And this does not include the backup catcher, Ramos or Suzuki.
  • If you have not picked up on this yet, … Micah Owings can really HIT. I really enjoyed getting to know Micah during spring training.
  • Gazing at the schedule, it is still strange to see that we’ll be hosting the Chicago White Sox for three games from April 9-11. I keep reminding myself that this new day and age of interleague play will take some getting used to. It will also be fun to see the Detroit Tigers visit D.C. for a two-game set, May 7-8.
  • More than a few fans mentioned they are pumped to see William Howard Taft (Bill) and Teddy interact. This historically fiery relationship is one to keep an eye on all summer. I understand there has been a lot of trash talking already between the two already. Best of luck to Bill on his upcoming racing debut.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank and wish Kristina Akra, formerly of MASN, all the best on her new career path. For those that do not know, Kristina recently accepted a new job with the MLB Network. She will thrive there, but at the same time, her warm smile and enthusiasm will be missed here with the ballclub.
  • Sports Illustrated, one of the preeminent publications in our industry, came out today with their prediction of the Nationals as World Series favorites. While I’m thrilled about their optimism, as well as that of all others (like ESPN The Magazine) who have tabbed us to be successful this year, I know there is much work to be done before we get to any of that. So I’ll just echo Davey’s remarks today: “It’s better than being picked to come in last!”

See you all on Friday…

Ace for an Ace

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Jordan Zimmermann was dominant against the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers on Monday, setting down the final 18 batters he faced after allowing a leadoff single to begin the game. And as impressive as he was in dismantling one of the best offenses in baseball, he accomplished a feat even more rare off the field just last week.

As they have done each of the last three years, a collection of Nationals players, coaches and staff joined together for a par three scramble challenge on the Doral course near Space Coast Stadium last Monday night. With the off day on Tuesday, the tradition allowed for the group to come together off the field and bond over some friendly competition.

Zimmermann was as stellar on the mound yesterday as he was on the course last Monday night.

Zimmermann was as stellar on the mound yesterday as he was on the course last Monday night.

If you didn’t already know, the Nationals feature a number of very good golfers, mostly members of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen. Each group of four on the course had a designated A, B, C and D player, based on respective skill. Zimmermann, whose golf score hovers around his fastball – somewhere in the mid-90s, according to the pitcher – was the “C” player on Tyler Clippard’s squad, which began the day on the third hole, just over 100 yards long. And while Clippard may have been the designated “A” player, it didn’t take long for Zimmermann to establish himself as the ringer of the team.

“First swing of the day,” explained Zimmermann. “I pulled my pitching wedge, spun it back, and it went in.”

A hole-in-one on his very first swing, and style points to boot with the backspin.

Along with Clippard, Zimmermann’s team included Syracuse Chiefs hitting coach and “B” player Troy Gingrich, as well as Nationals strength and conditioning coach John Philbin, holding down the “D” player spot. Together, they combined to go 11 under par over 18 holes, forcing a playoff.

On the first playoff hole, Zimmermann again stepped up to finish what he had so masterfully started.

“He buried a 20-footer to win,” said Clippard, whose team knocked off the foursome of Drew Storen, Rick Eckstein, Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Paul Menhart and Kurt Suzuki.

It was both Clippard and Zimmermann’s first win in the tournament’s three-year history, but Philbin’s second consecutive win. Simply known as “Coach” to most in the clubhouse, they gave him a hard time for backing into his success again.

“Somehow Coach always finds his way onto the winning team,” said Zimmermann, who certainly earned the right to make the joke.

The par three scramble challenge will no doubt remain an annual tradition, as it is one of the only times all year the entire team is able to convene outside of the ballpark, just relax, and enjoy each other’s company.

“I wish we could do it once a week,” said Clippard of the event.

Of course, winning probably helps.

Returning Returns

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The Nationals announced Wednesday night that they have acquired right-handed pitchers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, as well as a player to be named later from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse.

Originally drafted by the Nationals, the highly-regarded Cole returns to Washington.

Originally drafted by the Nationals, the highly-regarded Cole returns to Washington. (Burlington Bees)

Cole, who was originally selected by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 First-year Player Draft and traded to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez last offseason, returns to Washington. The 6’4”, 21-year-old hurler ranked as the A’s number three overall prospect and top pitcher, according to Baseball America’s rankings released in November. Cole also came in at fourth in Washington’s rankings the year prior. He split his 2012 season between Low-A Burlington and High-A Stockton, putting up an impressive 6-3 record and 2.07 ERA (22 ER/95.2 IP) with 102 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 19 Midwest League starts. He ranked top-five in the Oakland organization in both ERA and strikeouts.

Treinen, 24, was taken by the Athletics in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft out of South Dakota State University. He compiled a 7-7 ledger with a 4.37 ERA (50 ER/103.0 IP) over 24 appearances (15 starts) in the hitter-friendly California League last year. Like Cole, he also posted great peripheral numbers, striking out 92 while walking just 23 (4.00 K/BB rate) on the season.

Washington will also receive a player to be named later from Oakland in the deal, the third made between the two clubs in the last 13 months. In addition to the aforementioned Gonzalez trade, the two defending division champions swapped backstops in August, with the Nationals receiving Kurt Suzuki for minor league catcher David Freitas. Washington also acquired right-handed pitcher Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown from Oakland in December of 2010 for outfielder Josh Willingham.

2012 Player Review: Michael Gonzalez

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we take a closer look at the other left-handed Gonzalez on the Nats pitching staff, Michael.

Every year, some teams make big splashes around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, slinging prospects for superstars, or vice versa. The Nationals made one modest trade, landing catcher Kurt Suzuki, but one of their more intriguing pickups came well before then. In need of an extra reliever due to a bullpen thinned by injury early in the season, Washington took a flyer on veteran free agent lefty Michael Gonzalez.

Michael Gonzalez stranded more baserunners than any other Nationals reliever.

Michael Gonzalez stranded more baserunners than any other Nationals reliever.

While he flew under the radar much of the season – as non-closing relievers often do – Gonzalez played an integral role in Washington’s 2012 success. The 34 year-old found a home as both a lefty specialist and a high-pressure situational pitcher for the Nationals.

The Corpus Christi, TX native got off to a great start, as he did not allow a run in his first 11 appearances out of the bullpen and carried an ERA under 3.00 until the final week of the season. As expected for a southpaw with a sweeping delivery, he was particularly strong against left-handed hitters, holding them to just a .179/.257/.269 line with 23 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. But it was his success in high leverage situations, the ones that often dictate the outcome of close games, where he truly shined.

Gonzalez was often called upon to get the Nationals out of jams, coming on with runners on base in the middle of innings. In his 47 appearances, he came on 18 times with a runner on base and 12 times with more than one. Of the 33 total basrunners Gonzalez inherited, only seven scored, meaning he stranded 26 of them (79%), the most of any Nationals reliever this past year. He also notched 39 strikeouts in just 35.2 innings of work, good for 9.8 K/9.0 IP.

Originally a 30th-round pick by the Pirates back in the 1997 Draft, Gonzalez has put together a solid 10-year Major League resume, with a career ERA of just 2.94 in nearly 400 innings, all out of the bullpen. As a free agent, it remains to be seen whether Gonzalez – who has also pitched for the Pirates, Braves, Orioles and Rangers – will return to the Nationals for the 2013 season.

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

2012 Player Review: Jesus Flores

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. After a short hiatus, we are back at it with one of the Washington backstops, catcher Jesus Flores.

With the myriad of injuries beset upon the Nationals catching crew in 2012, there was one constant behind the plate, one man who was there, day in, day out, working with the pitching staff. Jesus Flores had nearly as many at-bats (277) as the fellow quintet of backstops he shared time with combined (303), appearing in over half of Washington’s games this year. Defensively, he caught nearly 47 percent of all innings thrown in 2012 by Nationals pitchers.

Flores hit three of his six 2012 home runs vs. Atlanta, each in a key victory.

Flores was thrust into the starting role after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on a rainy Saturday night, May 12 in Cincinnati. When Chase Headley ran over Sandy Leon – the latter only a couple innings into his Major League debut – just 72 hours later, even more pressure landed on Flores to handle the league’s best pitching staff. He responded both defensively and offensively with his best stretch of the season, batting .320/.352/.500 through June 3, his first 15 games following Ramos’ injury.

Flores’ offensive contributions this season were sometimes obscured, though. His first home run of the year was overshadowed almost immediately, as it was followed by Stephen Strasburg’s first roundtripper of his Major League career, when the duo went back-to-back off Orioles starter Wie-Yen Chen on May 20 at Nationals Park. Flores’ next three longballs all came against Atlanta, each in crucial wins. He opened the scoring off Brandon Beachy with a solo shot in the fifth inning of a 2-0 victory on June 2, then went deep against Randall Delgado on June 29 to help Washington to a 5-4 triumph. Finally, his three-run blast off Paul Maholm on August 21 provided the difference in a 4-1 Nationals victory.

Meanwhile, the backstop continued to improve defensively. After never posting a range factor above 7.00, Flores notched a 9.16 mark over 80 games in 2012, while logging a career-high 687.2 innings behind the plate. He held down the fort throughout the spring and early summer until the arrival of Kurt Suzuki in early August, at which point he returned to his backup role for the stretch run.

With Ramos set to return sometime next spring, the Nationals will have some decisions to make about the future of their deep and experienced catching corps. Flores is entering the final of his four arbitration years (he was a Super Two, starting back in 2010), and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season.

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

What to Watch For: 9/30

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Washington Nationals (96-62) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (85-73)

LHP Ross Detwiler (10-7, 3.28) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (17-7, 3.69)

With their extra-inning victory Saturday night, the Nationals inched within a single win or Atlanta loss of clinching the National League East. They look to do so – and to win the series against the Cardinals – this afternoon with St. Louis native Ross Detwiler on the hill, pitching in his hometown as a Major Leaguer for the first time.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

From catcher Kurt Suzuki, on his two-out, two-run, game-winning hit in the 10th inning following an intentional walk to Danny Espinosa:

“You want to be in those situations…you want to go up there and make them pay.”

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

THE NEXT MAGIC MOMENT

Having clinched a spot in MLB’s postseason, the Nationals now turn their attention to winning the NL East…Washington’s magic number to clinch the NL East is ONE game.

OCTOBER BASEBALL

The Nationals – via a 4-1 home win over Los Angeles on September 20 – have assured The Nation’s Capital of its first postseason October baseball since the 1933 AL Nationals lost a five-game World Series to the Giants. Those AL Nationals also won AL pennants in 1924 (World Champions) and ‘25. This mark’s the second post-season trip for the franchise, as Montreal lost to the Dodgers in the five-game ‘81 NLCS.

96 CURLY W’s IN THE BOOKS

With four games remaining, Washington has already established a franchise best with 96 wins and needs three wins to match the best mark by a D.C.-based team (‘33 Senators). The Nationals are the first ballclub from the Nation’s Capital to eclipse the 90-win plateau in 79 years or since the pennant-winning 99-win ‘33 AL Nationals. This is the ninth 90-win campaign posted by a D.C. baseball team…from 1913-33, the AL Nationals posted eight 90-win seasons: 1933 (99 wins), 1925 (96), 1930 (94), 1932 (93), 1931 (92), 1924 (92), 1912 (91), 1913 (90).

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Two Swings, One Number

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Baseball is a sport of routines, of countless situations played over and over again. It is a game that, more often than not, rewards those teams that are able to consistently take advantage of the opportunities afforded them to score runs and win games. However, one of the greatest parts about baseball is the likelihood of seeing something you’ve never seen before in each and every game. There are so many different ways for any given situation to unfold that no two games would ever play out exactly alike, even if – by some miracle – the box scores looked identical.

This anachronism played true to form on Saturday night, when the Nationals needed just two swings to take control of their fate, beating the host Cardinals in 10 innings to lower their NL East magic number to one. The first swing happened with no bat and no ball, and was a first for everyone in the ballpark, no matter how much baseball their eyes had seen. Michael Morse stepped into the box with the bases loaded and drove a ball the other way, clearing the right-field wall before caroming off the electronic billboard behind it and back into play. Initially ruled a single on the field, confusion reigned among the Nationals runners on the base paths, with Morse eventually being tagged out sliding back into first. Following a review, the umpires determined correctly that the ball had in fact cleared the wall for a grand slam.

Home runs have been overturned before in baseball since the advent of replay, but none have played out quite the way this one did. Morse, who had stayed at first base during the review, began running the bases when home plate umpire Cory Blaser gave the home run signal. However, he was ordered to go back to the base where he started when the play began. Initially he circled back around second to first, but was eventually sent back to home plate, with Bryce Harper – who began the play at third base and had been in the dugout for several minutes after scoring – summoned to return to the field as well. Upon arriving back at the batter’s box, Morse, not knowing what to do, took a phantom swing, then went into his home run trot, even tossing in his trademark helmet slap as he rounded the bases. Fittingly, a full moon rose from behind the outfield bleachers the next inning, looming over the spot where the ball had left the yard.

The Nationals would not score again until the 10th inning, after the Cardinals had come back to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth. This time, they did so on a play that baseball lifers have seen time and time again, one that anyone who has been following the Nats closely down the stretch over the past few weeks could see coming a mile away. Adam LaRoche, who led the inning off with a single, stood at second base with two outs following a Roger Bernadina sacrifice bunt and an Ian Desmond fly out. With Danny Espinosa at the plate, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk Espinosa, rather than let his reliever, Fernando Salas, face him.

Kurt Suzuki’s clutch double brought the Nationals to the brink of history.

In theory, the move was a shrewd one. Espinosa had found success against Salas in the past. Perhaps he remembered Espinosa’s triple off Salas on April 20 last season. He almost certainly had images of Espinosa’s three-run, walk-off home run that Salas served up in Washington a couple months after that. Perhaps it was as simple as wanting a righty-righty matchup instead of letting a left-handed batter (or switch-hitter, batting left) beat him. But Kurt Suzuki has not been just any right-handed hitter of late.

Since August 25, the Nationals trade acquisition has batted .322 (29-for-90) with a .522 slugging percentage and 20 RBI in just 27 games. He has supported the “Kurt Klutch” nickname he earned at Cal State Fullerton, where his two-out, RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh inning led the Titans to a 3-2 victory and College World Series title in 2004.

While the intentional walk can serve many purposes in the game, a two-out intentional walk means only one thing from the opposing manager: “I’ll take my chances against you.” Better not to do so facing a guy with a “Klutch” nickname. Suzuki ripped a two-run double to the base of the fence in left-center, providing the decisive blow.

The culmination of the two swings have left the Nationals on the brink of their first-ever National League East title which they could wrap up as soon as today. They need a single win (or Atlanta loss) to make it official here, fittingly, on the home field of the defending World Series Champions.

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