Results tagged ‘ Pittsburgh Pirates ’

Stealing A Win

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Over the course of a 162-game season, you have to find any number of different ways to win games to have a successful year. While the Nationals never really came up with the big hit they were looking for on Saturday, they nonetheless discovered a new and creative way to snag a crucial 5-4 road victory over the Pirates, setting them up for a possible series win to close the road trip.

After not hitting a sacrifice fly since April 17 – a span of 16 games – Washington hit three on Saturday, accounting for 60 percent of its scoring. The third and final one proved to be the difference, and was set up by perhaps the unlikeliest turn of events possible, a double-steal from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. Not only was it the first stolen base for either player this season, but it was the first time Zimmerman had ever stolen third in his career. Both got such a good jump off Pirates reliever Tony Watson that catcher Russell Martin could not even get a throw off.

Ryan Zimmerman is greeted at home plate after scoring the game-winning run.

Ryan Zimmerman is greeted at home plate after scoring the game-winning run.

“I would have thought those were the last two guys that were going to steal,” said Tyler Moore, who apparently wasn’t alone in that assessment, and who delivered the third and final sacrifice fly moments later to plate Zimmerman with winning run. “But they got it done. That was huge. Trent (Jewett) had the guts to send them, and it ended up winning us the ballgame.”

Sometimes that’s exactly what a team needs to get going. Other than Wilson Ramos’s big two-run single that tied the game in the sixth, the Nationals did not have a hit in their other 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. But they drew six walks and were thrice hit by pitches to go along with their six base hits, putting constant pressure on the Pittsburgh pitching staff. They had a runner in scoring position in every inning after the first, and middle-of-the-order stalwarts Zimmerman and LaRoche each reached base four times. There were signs of better at-bats, the kind of patient, grind-it-out style that the team showed in its victories early in the season.

So to what should one attribute the change in approach? For one, Davey Johnson held a team meeting, something he does not do often, before the game. Ironically, he did the exact same thing during a lull in the 2012 season, before the 31st game (also started by Stephen Strasburg), against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Not so ironically, the result was the same. The 2012 edition went on to win its next three games and 11 of 17 to follow.

“That’s how you win Manager of the Year right there,” joked Ian Desmond as the media entered the clubhouse after the game, referring to the honor bestowed upon Johnson last year.

Just how much correlation exists in the cause and effect between the meeting and the team’s performance is open to debate. But it’s hard to argue with the results.

Highlights: 5.4.13

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5.4.13 – Nationals 5, Pirates 4

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman each reached base safely four times and each earned their first steal of the season, on a double-steal in the ninth. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Roger Bernadina made a huge defensive play, gunning down Russell Martin trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double leading off the bottom of the ninth.

It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano whiffed Jordy Mercer to shut the door on his seventh consecutive save opportunity, his 10th in 11 tries overall this season.

What to Watch for: 5.4.13

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Washington Nationals (15-15) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (17-12)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.13) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (3-1, 2.83)

The Nationals look to get back to their winning ways with Stephen Strasburg on the hill following last night’s series-opening defeat. Washington has not been more than a game above or below .500 since being 13-11 exactly one week ago.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Desmond SS

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Moore RF

7. Ramos C

8. Bernadina CF

9. Strasburg RHP

PIVOTAL PRODUCTION

Ian Desmond (17), Danny Espinosa (9) and Steve Lombardozzi (2) have combined on 28 extra-base hits, tops among MLB middle-infield units. Philadelphia and Colorado are tied for second with 23 apiece.

IRREGULARS

While the Nationals welcomed Ryan Zimmerman (DL, hamstring) back into the lineup on Friday, it is worth noting that Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, Denard Span and Wilson Ramos have all missed time this season while dealing with injury or illness. Davey Johnson was last able to pen a lineup that included his standard starting eight (LaRoche 1B, Espinosa 2B, Desmond SS, Zimmerman 3B, Harper LF, Span CF, Werth RF, Ramos/Suzuki C) on Sunday, April 14. Washington’s record this season with Johnson’s standard starting eight is 6-4.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

Using their opponent’s record on the date of the game, the Nationals have played a team sporting a .500-or-better record in 25 of 30 games this season. The five exceptions all came against the Marlins, not including the Fish’s 0-0 record on Opening Day.

Highlights: 5.3.13

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5.3.13 – Pirates 3, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Adam LaRoche reached base safely three times, via two opposite-field singles and a walk. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Denard Span made a pair of rangy defensive plays in center field, despite having fouled a ball of his foot in the first inning.

It Was Over When: The Nationals could not convert with runners at the corners, down by two in the eighth inning.

What to Watch for: 5.3.13

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Washington Nationals (15-14) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (16-12)

LHP Ross Detwiler (1-2, 2.03) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (2-2, 2.83)

Dan Haren turned in his best start yet as a National as Washington earned a split of the four-game set in Atlanta with a 3-1 victory Thursday night. Nationals pitching has allowed just one run in the last 21 innings heading into tonight’s series opener in Pittsburgh, which will pit two of the top 20 ERAs in the league against one another with Ross Detwiler (ninth) and A.J. Burnett (20th) matching up.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Desmond SS

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Moore RF

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

ATTENTION SPAN

In Thursday’s win at Turner Field, Denard Span sparked the Nationals offense with three hits (two doubles, two RBI, a walk and a run scored). In so doing, he reached base four or more times for the 34th time in his career. Span’s teams are now 24-10 (.706) when he reaches base four or more times in a single game (1-0 with Washington, 23-10 with the Twins).

EXTRA, EXTRA

Nearly 30 games into the season, Ian Desmond has more extra-base hits (17) than singles (16). Desmond is one of only nine big leaguers with at least 100 plate appearances on the season to be able to stake this claim, joining Mike Napoli, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Anthony Rizzo, Coco Crisp, J.P Arencibia, Adam Dunn and Chris Young.

NEW FRONTIERS AHEAD

The Nationals are 8-8 this season against NL East rivals after posting MLB’s top intra-division winning percentage last season (48-33, .593). Starting with tonight’s lid-lifter at PNC Park, the Nationals will play 18 straight games outside the division.

Canceling The Noise

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As Greg Maddux so astutely pointed out to Tom Glavine in the hilarious Nike ad from the late ’90s, chicks dig the long ball. In fact, so does every baseball fan and writer, as home runs are, incidentally, the loudest happening on a baseball field. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that Justin Upton and the hard-swinging Atlanta Braves garnered many of the season’s early headlines.

While the Nationals have plenty of potential for pop in their own lineup, there is no denying that the pitching will lead them as far as they go this season. So it was only fitting that, after an 8-1 loss which left their final April record at just 13-14, Washington quietly rebounded with a pair of dominant pitching performances to earn a four-game split of a tough road series in Atlanta.

Dan Haren and the Nationals are quietly back within 2.5 games of first place.

Dan Haren and the Nationals are quietly back within 2.5 games of first place.

Following Jordan Zimmermann’s beauty on Wednesday, veteran Dan Haren shredded his way through the Braves lineup with stunning efficiency on Thursday, allowing just a solo home run over eight innings.

At one point, Nationals pitchers had retired 28 straight Atlanta hitters, one better than the equivalent of a perfect game over the two-day stretch. They ran up an 18-inning scoreless streak as well, and have allowed just one run over their last 21 frames entering this weekend’s series in Pittsburgh.

It was, perhaps, a bit ironic that on the day that Upton was honored with the National League Player of the Month – and Evan Gattis the NL Rookie of the Month – it was the rival Nationals bullying their way to another big road win, sucking the air out of the Turner Field crowd.

Even more so, the Nationals were able to jump on nemesis Kris Medlen early for the only three runs they would need. They didn’t do it by leaving the ballpark, but rather thanks to a pair of doubles by the pesky, opportunistic Denard Span, who scored the game’s first run, then scooted a ball down the third base line to plate the rest of the Washington scoring an inning later.

And so, quietly, the Nationals have put a lackluster April behind them, and are just 2.5 games back of first place in the first week of May. With the ever-improving Ross Detwiler set to take the hill Friday night, Washington looks to carry that momentum, led by their pitching, into the Steel City.

What A Difference A Day Makes

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The Washington Nationals head into a three-game series in Boston Friday night in a situation that surprises many on the outside of the baseball world. The Nationals reside in first place in the NL East, while the Red Sox pull up the rear of the AL East, albeit with a winning record of 29-28. Peripheral fans, who see Boston as a perennial playoff contender and winner of two of the last eight World Series, and the Nationals as a franchise with no winning seasons under its belt, might feel that the natural order of the game has been turned on its head this season. But really, that transformation began exactly two years ago, in what may arguably have been the most significant 24-hour period in the history of the young Washington franchise.

Bryce Harper has been one of the biggest stories of the 2012 season.

The first round of Major League Baseball’s 2010 First-Year Player Draft was televised on MLB Network, beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, June 7. The number one overall pick had been preordained for months, as the Nationals had made clear their intentions to select 17 year-old catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper out of Southern Nevada College, much the same way they had taken San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first selection the year prior. They did so just a few minutes after 7 o’clock, and so began this defining 24-hour stretch.

Fittingly, Strasburg – after overwhelming batters at each of his Minor League stops – had been summoned to make his Major League debut the very next day. He took the field in front of more than 40,000 raucous fans at Nationals Park and turned in a performance for the ages, striking out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates, including the last seven batters he faced that night, to set a new franchise record.

24 hours after Harper was drafted, Strasburg took the baseball world by storm.

While it was just a single game, and Harper was still unsigned, seemingly several years away from the Major Leagues, there was good reason to hope for a bright future as a Nationals fan.

Fast-forward two years, and here we stand, with Harper having just recorded his first Major League walk-off (and the first by a teenager since 1988), and Strasburg putting up All-Star-caliber numbers atop the rotation. It is only fitting that the two phenoms take their show on the road this weekend to one of baseball’s most hallowed grounds, Fenway Park, where Strasburg will face the Red Sox for the first time in his career Friday night.

It is amazing to think what a difference two years makes, but perhaps more so, the difference those pivotal 24 hours made – from a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. on June 7 to the same time on June 8, two years ago.

Meanwhile, Strasburg, Harper and the first-place Nationals will take the field a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. Friday night (7:10, to be exact), seeking their first-ever win at Fenway.

The Bucs Stopped Here

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In case you hadn’t heard, Stephen Strasburg is still Stephen Strasburg. The 23 year-old right-hander took on the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday night for the first time since his Major League debut back in 2010. Those who remember Strasburg’s first big league start – and really, how could you forget it? – recall his utter dominance, as he struck out 14 batters over 7.0 innings of work. Not everyone remembers just how that outing ended though. The righty fanned the last seven batters he faced, striking out the side in his final two frames.

Fast-forward to Thursday night. After allowing a leadoff single to Jose Tabata in the first, Strasburg got Alex Presley to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, then struck out Andrew McCutchen, who had been the Nationals albatross all series long, to end the inning. From there, he struck out all three batters he faced in the second inning. Ditto in the third. Just like that, he had done it again, tying his own franchise mark with seven consecutive strikeouts.

Strasburg has struck out 27 Pirates in 13 career innings against Pittsburgh.

Even more impressively though, was that it came against these same Pirates. Doing the quick math, if one goes back to his first start, Strasburg struck out 14 of 16 Pittsburgh batters he faced. Those are numbers reserved for Little League contests or video games, not Major League Baseball games.

Meanwhile, Adam LaRoche continued to crush the ball through the chorus of boos that greeted him at every plate appearance in his former home. For the second time in the series, he used the longball to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. Any short-list of early candidates for National League Comeback Player of the Year must include LaRoche, who leads the team in batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.421), slugging (.582), home runs (6) and RBI (21). To put that in perspective, LaRoche owns a higher batting average, slugging percentage and more RBI than Cincinnati first baseman (and 2010 NL MVP) Joey Votto, who the Nats will see for a three-game set beginning tonight.

Washington, which will need to find an offensive lift here or there from the outfielders replacing Jayson Werth during his time on the shelf, found two of them Thursday night. Roger Bernadina flashed his power for the first time this year, dropping a home run to dead center field to open the sixth inning and get the Nationals on the board. Then in the ninth, with the Nats clinging to a one-run lead, Rick Ankiel found the seats in right for a huge insurance run to provide the final 4-2 margin of victory.

Strasburg will deservedly dominate Friday’s headlines, just as he did the Pittsburgh lineup, but the complete team effort was just the type of game a team that had dropped six consecutive road games and three straight overall needed before heading to face a tough opponent in Cincinnati. It was also a nice reminder that as historically good as everyone in the rotation has been, Strasburg will continue to set the bar.

You’re up, Gio.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: NATITUDE Park

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Hello again Nats fans,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go Caps!

Let’s go Nats!

Please enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day!

Return Of The “Pack”

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Preparation for the upcoming season extends to every facet of the organization, including our gameday staff. One of our most important teams of staff members, which you will most certainly recognize if you have ever been to a game at Nationals Park, is the NatPack.

Have you ever wondered just who these young men and women are who come together to help make your in-park experience as fun as possible? Have you ever wished you were one of them? We will hold a two-day tryout – Saturday, January 28 and Sunday January 29 at Nationals Park – to find the best of the best for this year’s NatPack. With the excitement building around the 2012 season, these tryouts promise to be full of Nationals fans looking for a chance to represent their favorite team on the field.

Do you think you have what it takes to make the team? NatPack vets Katie and Kenny share their experiences, their advice and what they are looking forward to in 2012.

Curly W Live: What does it take to be a member of the NatPack?

Katie shows her support for Michael Morse as a candidate in the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote.

Katie: You have to be outgoing, personable and enthusiastic so you can give the fans a memorable and positive experience every time they come to the ballpark. You also need to be able to handle the pressure of working a live event because things will not always go as planned.  At any moment, you need to be ready to step up and handle what is thrown your way.

Kenny: You have to be comfortable talking to people and have an outgoing personality. You also have to have a positive outlook on things and circumstances, as certain situations such as the final score or other factors may not turn out your way during a game.

CWL: What has been your favorite moment at the ballpark?

Katie: I had the opportunity to work the game where Stephen Strasburg pitched his Major League debut.  I have never seen the stadium buzzing with that much energy and it made my role even more exciting!

Kenny: My favorite moment at the ballpark last season was the concert that featured Lifehouse after the game.  It was the first time be a part of. It’s always good to say that you witnessed something or were a part of something the first time it occurred.

CWL: What has been your favorite off-the-field memory?

Katie: The unveiling of the new jerseys.  We had the chance to help advertise the new look of the team.

Kenny: The road trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium (PNC Park) and taking the Racing Presidents with us.  This has been an annual trip for the last few seasons, but this year we were able to take some of our new NatPack members and Racing Presidents.  It’s nice to interact with fans from a different team and just see how other entertainment teams operate.

CWL: What keeps you coming back to be a part of the NatPack year after year?

Katie: The whole team we work with. They are all so amazing, and we have created many memories together as a family. Everyone is so dedicated to their jobs and it makes it a fun experience for all. Mingling with fans and keeping them happy is just part of my everyday job and it gives me a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day to know that they are going home happy.

Kenny escorts Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes.

Kenny: I keep coming back to be a part of the NatPack year after year because I have unfinished work to be completed. I have been a part of the NatPack since the very beginning in 2005 but I have not been able to see the team make it the playoffs or make it to the World Series. With all that I have seen, and all that I have accomplished with the Nat Pack I feel as though seeing my team make the playoffs and win the World Series would be perhaps the final hurdle.

CWL: What is something you didn’t know about the Nat Pack until you arrived?

Katie: It is a job that involves a lot of teamwork and loyalty to your fellow NatPackers. If you can’t work together and communicate with each other, the job will not be easy.

Kenny: I didn’t realize how long a baseball season could be, especially when you’re working 50% or more of the games. I have gotten used to it and very much enjoy spending a good portion of my spring and summer entertaining fans and watching baseball. 

CWL: What is your best piece of advice for all aspiring NatPack members?

Katie: Be yourself and don’t hold back.

Kenny: For any and all aspiring NatPack members my best piece of advice is to be as creative as possible.  As a member of the NatPack you have to have a winning attitude and you have to be on top of your game at all times, as the fans expect nothing but the best from you.

Auditions for the 2012 NatPack take place on Saturday, January 28 and Sunday, January 29 at Nationals Park. Send a photo, resume and cover letter here by Monday, January 23 for your chance to join in on the fun.

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