Results tagged ‘ Mike Rizzo ’
The 2013 season is not yet over. But the dream of defending the National League East crown, of a repeat trip to the postseason has come to an end.
While the end always stings, it did not come as suddenly or unexpectedly as the end of the 2012 season. And while it may have technically ended at the hands of the Cardinals, there wasn’t much of a sense of any connection between the end of last year and the end of this year. It was simply happenstance that the Nationals should make their lone trip to St. Louis at the end of September, after staving off elimination for weeks, and that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should each squeak out runs against inferior opponents just minutes earlier to create such a scenario.
The odds were stacked against Washington as early as April, when Atlanta built a division lead it would never relinquish. They grew longer with injuries to key cogs in the offense and the rotation, and with the way the National League shook out, a high-80s win total was simply not good enough to knock on October’s door this year.
“It’s tough,” said Davey Johnson after Monday night’s 4-3 defeat. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done.”
This will be Johnson’s last year in uniform on the bench for Washington, which surely adds to that emotion. But there is solace in knowing that he will be back in the front office next season, helping President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo as the club looks to improve in 2014 and beyond.
“I’m not worried about the organization,” he expressed. “The organization’s in great shape.”
Ian Desmond, who has been the first to stand up and face the media in the wake of any tough loss this season, concurred in his assessment.
“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place, with a better group of guys,” he said.
Even as the national media has portrayed Jayson Werth as the emotional leader of this club, and continued to focus on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg as the name-brand stars, it was Desmond who stayed consistently, statistically great the past two seasons, no matter what happened around him.
His final 2012 line looked like so: .292/.335/.511 with 60 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a team-leading 5.0 fWAR.
With five regular season games remaining in 2013, he’s compiled a .285/.337/.463 line with 61 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a 5.1 fWAR, again best on the club.
“For me personally, I just play the game the way I know how to play the game,” he said Monday night. “I don’t turn the dial up. The dial’s already turned up.”
Desmond’s ability to stay healthy has helped him remain consistent in a year of turbulence. That quality is one that Harper, who remained in his full jersey, sitting at his locker well after the conclusion of the game, looks to draw from heading into the offseason.
“I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night,” Harper said, looking ahead to next season, referencing time missed due to injury this year.
But before all attention turns to 2014, Washington can still make life tough on these Cardinals. With two more games in St. Louis, the Nationals can go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the NL Central, perhaps pushing the Cards into the one-game Wild Card.
“We’ve got an opportunity to rain on their parade a little,” said Desmond, well aware of the situation.
And so, with that, we’ll say the words that baseball people never dare to speak aloud.
Let it rain.
The Washington Nationals farm system hasn’t so much met expectations in 2013 as it’s surpassed every one.
Ranked the No. 13 farm system overall in the preseason by Baseball America, the Nationals have surged to the third-best organizational record at 403-322 (.558) overall, trailing only Houston (.572) and San Francisco (.564). Three of Washington’s seven affiliates are playoff-bound, with a fourth in a close division race.
None of this is entirely unexpected either. Under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nats have gone from the Minor League cellar six years ago to a brief stint at No. 1 in last year’s Baseball America preseason rankings. Not to mention that this farm system has cultivated such talent as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In fact, 11 players on Washington’s active roster have come through its Minor League system.
Perhaps most remarkable has been the Gulf Coast League Nationals, which have notched the most impressive mark in all of professional baseball. Since the season began on June 21, the Rookie-level entry has gone 48-9 (.842), better than even the tremendous run by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who posted a 47-12 (.797) record in the same span. The GCL Nationals lead their division by 24.0 games, have 13 more wins than the next best team in the league, and clinched their playoff spot long ago.
Obviously, such a run requires more than just luck. The GCL Nationals are tops in the league in most meaningful statistical categories. Their 2.49 team ERA and .279 team batting average pace the field, while their 5.52 runs per game is more than six-tenths of a run better than the next closest total. They boast the league’s leader and runner-up in ERA among qualifiers, 21-year-old righty Wander Suero (8-1, 1.65) and 20-year-old southpaw Hector Silvestre (7-0, 1.82). Righty Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, drafted 16th overall out of high school in 2012, has returned from Tommy John surgery and was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn in the New York-Penn League after notching a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League.
Like the GCL Nats, the High-A Potomac Nationals have put up ridiculous numbers in the Carolina League. Potomac is 81-51 overall, having already locked up a playoff spot by winning the Northern Division’s first-half championship with a 42-27 record. They’re currently 7.5 games up on Lynchburg in the second half, and will earn home-field advantage in all three Carolina League Division Series contests if they secure the second half title as well.
Cutter Dykstra has helped pace Potomac on its most recent tear. During the P-Nats recent 10-game winning streak (August 10-20), the infielder racked up a .316/.447/.421 line. He also reached base in a league-best 29 games, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in the process. Meanwhile, right-hander Blake Schwartz is 11-4 with a 2.56 ERA and leads the league with a 1.03 WHIP.
The Low-A Hagerstown Suns (77-53) are also headed to the postseason, while the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (72-63) are a half-game up in their Eastern League division, where the top two teams reach the playoffs. The Suns are pacing the South Atlantic League with 5.03 runs per game, benefitting from a fairly balanced lineup. They’ve also recently added 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen, who was 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 rate with Auburn. The Senators, meanwhile, boast a pitching staff that leads the league with a 3.46 ERA. Nationals third-rated prospect A.J. Cole — who earned the save in the 2013 Futures Game — is sitting at 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA since being promoted in late July.
Though the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs have posted just a 65-72 record, they have their bright spots as well in prospects like Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters. Kobernus served a brief stint in the big leagues and earned International League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18. He leads the team and is second among Nationals farmhands with a .324 batting average. Walters, meanwhile, has slugged 29 home runs, 10 more than the next closest total in the organization. The infielder has posted a .531 slugging percentage on the season, especially impressive from the shortstop position.
Washington Nationals (52-56) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (46-62)
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-6, 3.19) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 2.83)
The Nationals have offered a couple of lengthy extensions to players in the last couple of seasons, first signing Gio Gonzalez to a five-year deal with a sixth year club option last January, then following that with Ryan Zimmerman’s seven-year deal, which will retain the Face of the Franchise for the foreseeable future. But Thursday evening, the club offered arguably its most important extension yet, to its top executive, Mike Rizzo.
In addition to a multi-year contract renewal, Rizzo was promoted to President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, a show of faith for the tremendous strides he has made with the Nationals organization. During Rizzo’s tenure as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and GM, Washington saw its farm system rise from dead last all the way to the top of the Baseball America rankings and saw the Major League club go from 103 losses in 2009 to 98 wins last season. The club now consists of one of the youngest, most cost-controlled rosters in the game, with a large window of contention and a bright future ahead.
“It’s humbling and very fulfilling for me,” said Rizzo in the dugout at Miller Park before the Nationals opened the final third of the 2013 season against the Milwaukee Brewers. “I’m not going to change the way I do my job one bit. I’m going to attack the job the way I always have, with hard work and good decisions, and continue to hire good people and let them do their work.”
Rizzo has been in charge of Washington’s drafts since the 2007 season, when he signed Ross Detwiler and second-round pick Jordan Zimmermann, out of little-known Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper number one overall in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, but also the likes of Taylor Jordan (ninth round, ’09) Nathan Karns (12th round, ’09) and quick rising Minor League arms A.J. Cole (fourth round, ’10) and Robbie Ray (12th round, ’10).
“I think it’s great,” said manager Davey Johnson of Rizzo’s promotion and extension. “I’ve made no secret I think he’s a great baseball man.”
1. Harper LF
2. Rendon 2B
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Werth RF
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Desmond SS
7. Span CF
8. Ramos C
9. Zimmermann RHP
A WERTHY P.O.M. CANDIDATE
During the month of July, Jayson Werth led the National League in OPS (1.072), on-base percentage (.450) and RBI (22). He also ranked among the Senior Circuit’s top five in home runs (tied-second, seven), batting average (second, .367) and slugging percentage (fifth, .622).
CLASS OF 2005
A closer look at where Ryan Zimmerman ranks among the MLB Draft Class of 2005, which included, among others: Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Gordon, Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Upton.
Home Runs: Second, 165 (Braun, 211)
RBI: Second, 647 (Braun, 681)
Hits: First, 1208
BELOW THE SURFACE
The .547 winning percentage (309-256) posted by the Nationals Minor League system currently ranks fourth among Major League Baseball’s 30 franchises. Washington trails only Houston (.573), Texas (.566), and San Francsico (.554). The Nationals system has registered winning records each of the last five seasons (2008-12), but has never finished among the top five.
As a nod to the tremendous support the Nationals get from their fans each game, the club hosted its annual Season Plan Holder Appreciation Day on Saturday before an afternoon contest against the New York Mets. More than 4,800 full and partial Season Plan Holders took part in the event.
The interactive festivities included a Kids Carnival, an Ultimate Access Lounge, a Season Plan Holder Picnic Area and the opportunity to purchase exclusive game-worn items at the Nationals Authentics booth on the main concourse. Attendees could also participate in a Q & A on the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk hosted by Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler with General Manager Mike Rizzo and Director of Player Development Doug Harris. Each gave candid answers to questions regarding the 2013 season, the team and the Nationals farm system.
The main event was an on-field photo opportunity with Nationals players and coaches, in which fans lined the warning track for a chance to take a photo with their favorite Nationals personalities. Many players and coaches stopped for autographs or a handshake, with manager Davey Johnson the first to appear on the field and the last to leave.
The Nationals also hosted their annual toy drive with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and their Toys for Tots program. New toys and monetary donations were collected prior to Season Plan Holder Appreciation Day as well as Saturday afternoon’s Nationals-Mets game.
Check out the gallery below for photos from the event.
There has been plenty written about the Nationals the past few days and what it will take for them to play in October this season.
We’ll leave the “to reach x wins, they need to go xx-xx the rest of the way” predictions to others. As Davey Johnson and his troops have expressed over recent weeks, what the team needs to do is play at the level its capable of with more consistency. It doesn’t really matter how many games are left, or against whom. We all know this team is capable – when they are playing their best – of beating anyone.
They’ll get their first test immediately out of the All-Star break. The suddenly hot Los Angeles Dodgers come to town to open an 11-game, 10-day homestand, during which they will throw recently acquired Nationals nemesis Ricky Nolasco, along with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Things don’t get easier from there, as the contending Pittsburgh Pirates visit for four games beginning next week. The homestand concludes with a Matt Harvey-headlined doubleheader followed by a pair of weekend games against the scrappy New York Mets.
Of course, the Nationals will counter with arguable the healthiest team they’ve fielded since the first week of the season. With the lineup at full strength, the only pieces missing are Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus, both expected back off the disabled list soon. Washington will also be throwing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the three Dodgers games, putting its own best pitching foot forward. Dan Haren, who has a 1.64 ERA (2 ER/11.0 IP) and 14 strikeouts in his two outings since his own return from the DL may be starting to show signs of being the solid veteran pickup that Mike Rizzo and company were hoping for when they signed him last offseason. With Taylor Jordan solidly holding down the fort at the back of the rotation in the meantime, the starting staff looks poised to lead the way.
Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano has closed out 25 of 29 save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA on the season. Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in the game, winning six games out of the ‘pen while posting better than a strikeout per inning and a sub-2.00 ERA. Ian Krol and Fernando Abad have given Washington two lefty relievers they did not have at the beginning of the year, both joining Clippard in the sub-2.00 club thus far. Factor in some solid contributions out of the long-man spot by Ross Ohlendorf (2-0, 1.74 ERA) and the bullpen looks as solid as it has all year.
It’s taken a few months for all these pieces to come together and be on the field at the same time. But with a fully rested and healthy squad coming back from the All-Star break, these Nationals look as well constructed as they have been all year to finally put together the extended run that has thus far eluded them, the one they all know they will need to bring October NATITUDE back to The District.
Washington Nationals (46-42) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (43-46)
RHP Dan Haren (4-9, 6.15) vs. LHP John Lannan (1-3, 5.15)
The Nationals finished a three-game sweep of the Padres to cap their final homestand before the All-Star break with a 5-2 mark. Washington will put its four-game winning streak on the line, opening a four-game set in Philadelphia Monday night before traveling to Miami for the final series of the season’s first half.
There’s plenty of other news in Washington, where Dan Haren will come off the Disabled List to make his first start since June 22. The Nationals placed left-hander Ross Detwiler on the 15-day disabled list earlier this week, and optioned Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse to help make room for Haren. The other spot on the roster will be filled by veteran outfielder Scott Hairston, who was acquired for Ivan Pineyro, a right-handed pitcher who had been in Single-A in the Washington system.
The move was lauded by Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, who was happy with the extra depth he now has from the right side on his bench.
“He’s the kind of player we need,” said Johnson before Monday night’s game. “You need a veteran presence on the bench. He knows the pitchers, knows what he needs to do.”
Hairston certainly knows the Phillies well. He is 12-for-30 (.400) with five doubles and five home runs in his career against tomorrow’s scheduled starter, Cole Hamels. Hairston’s success against lefties (over .500 career slugging percentage) and particularly those in Philadelphia were two of the reasons the Nationals pulled the trigger on the trade prior to this series, according to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo.
“He fit the parameters of what we were looking for in terms of the history of exactly what he was brought in here to do,” said Rizzo.
One other piece of news broke shortly before the game Monday night. Bryce Harper, already elected as the youngest National League starter in All-Star Game history, has been chosen by captain David Wright to participate in the 2013 Home Run Derby, taking place at 8:00 p.m. ET next Tuesday, July 15. Harper will be joined by Wright as well as Colorado Rockies outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer.
1. Span CF
2. Desmond SS
3. Harper LF
4. Zimmerman 3B
5. Werth RF
6. LaRoche 1B
7. Rendon 2B
8. Ramos C
9. Haren RHP
This is Washington’s second of three visits to the City of Brotherly Love this season, but their second in 19 days. Ian Desmond’s 11th-inning grand slam on June 19 allowed the Nationals to claim the series finale of the three-gamer here, June 17-19. Desmond’s game-winning slam has sparked a 12-6 surge for the Nationals, who have sliced 3.0 games off the Braves lead in the NL East in that span.
Scott Hairston is a .244 career hitter with 126 doubles, 103 home runs, 298 RBI and 289 runs scored in 10 big league seasons. He has a trio of 15-homer seasons to his credit, including a career-best 20-home run effort in 2012. Hairston’s average of one homer every 22.3 at-bats ranks 21st among active right-handed hitters (min. 2,500 plate appearances). Hairston was originally drafted in 2001 by Mike Rizzo, who at the time was Arizona’s Director of Scouting. Hairston’s older brother, Jerry Jr., played for the Nationals in 2011.
Stephen Strasburg (sixth, 2.45), Jordan Zimmermann (seventh, 2.57) and Gio Gonzalez (16th, 3.14) all rank among the NL’s top 20 in ERA this season. Among teams with at least three qualified starters, the Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez triumvirate is baseball’s best, as they’ve combined on a 2.67 ERA (104 ER/344.0 IP) this year. St. Louis (2.91 ERA from Adam Wainwright-Shelby Miller-Lance Lynn) and Cincinnati (3.16 ERA from Mike Leake-Mat Latos-Bronson Arroyo) rank second and third, respectively, on that list.
Washington Nationals (34-33) vs. Cleveland Indians (33-34)
RHP Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (4-4, 4.08)
Following Saturday night’s thrilling, 7-6 victory, the Nationals activated Stephen Strasburg for the series finale in Cleveland. Strasburg was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA (4 ER/25.0 IP) in his final four starts before landing on the Disabled List.
1. Span CF
2. Rendon 2B
3. Zimmerman DH
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Werth RF
6. Desmond SS
7. Tracy DH
8. Solano C
9. Bernadina LF
THE ROOKIE IS RAKING
Anthony Rendon brings a nine-game hit streak into today’s contest, having batted at a .429 (15-for-35) clip with three walks, five doubles, his first career homer, six runs scored and five RBI during the stretch. He has posted multi-hit efforts in five of the nine contests. Rendon has also reached base safely in 13 straight MLB games, pocketing a .472 on-base percentage (18 hits, 7 walks) during that stretch that spans two stints with the Nationals.
After today’s matinee tilt against the Indians, the Nationals will take a 43-day hiatus from Interleague Play before opening a two-day series at Detroit on July 30. Washington is 9-5 against the AL this season, having gone 3-1-1 in series play against the junior circuit. The Nationals lead the National League and are tied with Tampa Bay (9-1) for the Major League lead with nine Interleague wins this season.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY
In addition to GM Mike Rizzo, who came from a baseball scouting family (grandfather Vito, father Phillip), three Nationals players have followed in the footsteps of their big-league dads: Adam LaRoche (father Dave LaRoche played 14 seasons, ‘70-83), Steve Lombardozzi (father Steve Lombardozzi Sr. played six seasons, ‘85-90) and Jayson Werth (grandfather Ducky Schofield played 19 seasons, ‘53-71; stepfather Dennis Werth played four seasons, ‘79-82).
On Wednesday morning, a vision seven years in the making finally came to fruition.
From the very beginning, the Lerner Family envisioned that the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation would be a way for people to channel their passion for the game of baseball into making a difference in the community. Similar to their plan to build the team on the field, the Lerner’s were committed to building something meaningful with long-term value off the field as well.
The first ambitious project stemmed from a conversation between Dr. Fran Cogen and Dream Foundation Chair and Nationals Principal Owner Marla Lerner Tanenbaum. It focused on bringing a world class, state-of-the-art diabetes treatment and research center to the District. What began with a passionate exchange of ideas seven years ago became a reality when the Nationals and Children’s National Medical Center cut the ribbon on the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex.
Tanenbaum conveyed just how much the project meant to her family, the team and the Dream Foundation in her speech on Wednesday:
“The Dream Foundation was originally created to develop and support programs that could positively change the lives of people in our community…The Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex is an example of baseball bringing out the best in people and I can’t begin to express how excited we are to be here today.”
In addition to the team’s principal owners and several front office executives, Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo as well as Nationals players Ross Detwiler, Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Mattheus, Stephen Strasburg and Chad Tracy were all on hand to commemorate the occasion, which also included a special appearance from Screech.
As Dr. Cogen said in her address to the standing room-only crowd on hand for the event, “Visions can be helpful, but without people to support you, they remain visions.” Thanks to the help of the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, she had the support she needed to make an idea become reality. On Wednesday Dr. Cogen was officially named Director of the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex.
“It’s surreal,” she said after soaking in the moment. “It’s like taking a vision in your head, thinking this is what one would want to do, and actually seeing it come true before your eyes.”
Tanenbaum shares Dr. Cogen’s passion for this project, and used her own term to describe its completion.
“To use the word in our foundation, it’s a dream,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
The complex provides a place where children can go for treatment and education about diabetes, but its mission is more than that. It also includes a family reception area, resource and media center, as well as a playroom for young patients and their siblings. The design, with soft lighting and colors, gives the facility a feel more akin to an after-school center than a hospital wing. It even includes a galley kitchen and exercise room to help emphasize nutritional education and physical education, two key components in fighting diabetes.
“I come to work every day hoping that I can do some good,” said Cogen, who believes this facility allows her team the opportunity to take their care to an unprecedented level. “Putting our own diabetes team together with multiple specialists can deliver a win.”
Opening the doors Wednesday provided the first of hopefully many victories. As the Dream Foundation broadens its focus to its other major projects, like the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7, the completion of the Diabetes Care Complex marks an important milestone in the history of the charitable arm of the organization.
“It’s remarkable to see the kids walk through the door,” said Tanenbaum, when reflecting on the mission of the center to help find a cure for the disease. “Hopefully, though, one day, they won’t have to use it at all.”
Until then, the doors will be open at the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex for the children of the Capital Region.
After seeing the film “42,” Commissioner Bud Selig felt that it was very important for everyone, especially young people, to see the movie. So over the past few weeks, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs teamed up to offer high school students a private screening and panel discussion with members of the baseball community about the impact of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on American history.
Last Friday, nearly 400 D.C. public high school students were treated to a special showing, followed by an open question and answer session with Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler, EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, center fielder Denard Span, first base coach Tony Tarasco and Kendra Gaither from the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Given the ability to ask nearly anything and everything, the students asked questions about the challenges of being a professional athlete, the impact of Jackie Robinson, and battling racial prejudice, both on and off the field.
In one of the best questions of the day, Rizzo was asked if he thought he could have made a move as bold as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey’s in signing Robinson as the first African American player in the Major League Baseball.
“It’s difficult to put yourself in his shoes,” Rizzo admitted. “Not only was that a baseball decision, it was a social decision that sent ripples throughout the world.”
All the panel participants stressed the importance of remembering just how big of a story Robinson’s ascent to the Major Leagues was, and how his influence extended far beyond the playing field. After all, he made his debut in 1947, more than 16 full years prior to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” often thought of as the centerpiece of the American Civil Rights Movement.
“With the passage of time, there’s an opportunity for amnesia,” explained Gaither, whose work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation is an ongoing effort to fight such an occurrence. “A movie like this reminds us of what life was really like back then.”
For his part, Span expressed not only gratitude for the doors the previous generations opened that allowed him to do what he does, but also pride in the opportunity to so publicly celebrate Robinson’s legacy every April 15.
“It’s a day that I look forward to every year,” he said of MLB’s league-wide day of recognition, on which all players wear the number 42. “We get a chance to honor a special individual.”
When asked if they thought they would have had the bravery to do what Robinson did, Span and Tarasco had slightly different takes. While the current player expressed hope that he could have done the same, Tarasco was more forthcoming.
“Honestly, I don’t think I could have,” he said.
Ultimately, though, Robinson’s success signified something greater to Tarasco. His biggest takeaway from the film was that the spirit of the team won out over individual prejudice, a sentiment that will never be forgotten and will never go out of style.
“It’s not about who’s right, it’s about what’s right.”
— DC Public Schools (@dcpublicschools) May 11, 2013
Through the first 23 games of the season, Nationals fans had caught glimpses of the reasons Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on his three major offseason acquisitions, Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano and Denard Span. But although Haren earned his first Nationals win on April 11, Soriano had converted six of seven save opportunities and Span had shown an early propensity to get on base, none of the three had turned in a starring performance.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, as 38,903 red-adorned fans were treated to a beautiful day of baseball loaded with great pitching, clutch hitting and a pair of spectacular defensive plays.
Haren turned in his strongest start to date, in which he was largely dominant over six solid innings, striking out five Cincinnati batters without a walk. Soriano slammed the door shut on the Reds hopes, fanning two of the three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 ninth. But Span stole the show, leaping into the left-center field wall to rob Joey Votto of extra bases in the sixth, then ranging far to his right to corral a line drive off the bat of Zack Cozart with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, one that looked like it might very well erase Washington’s three-run advantage.
“I got great jumps on both of those balls,” said Span after the game. “The Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today. It’s just fun for me to be able to go out there and show my speed and grab my ball like that in the gap.”
Haren and Span also got the scoring started, each placing two-out, RBI-singles between the Cincinnati defense in consecutive at-bats in the second inning.
With impressive performances all around by the newcomers, one could be forgiven for forgetting Bryce Harper’s team record ninth April home run, which also gave him the franchise mark for RBI (18) in the season’s opening month. And while all that may not have added up to anything nearly as historical as what happened in the first two games of the series, it was a recipe for success in one of the most complete games the Nationals have played so far this year.
“I was kind of disappointed when I gave up the second hit today,” joked Haren about having to follow back-to-back one-hitters as he improved his home record to 2-1 this year. “I finally feel like part of the team. I’ve got to be like this or better the rest of the year.”
If Haren can replicate Saturday’s success on the mound and Span can do the same in the field, Soriano will have that many more opportunities to untuck his jersey after he puts opposing lineups down for the count.