Results tagged ‘ Rick Ankiel ’
With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to take a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. We wrap up our series with story of pitcher-turned-position-player Micah Owings.
The story of Rick Ankiel’s conversion from a former top prospect pitcher to a successful Major League outfielder is well known to fans of the Nationals. Ankiel played his past two seasons in a Washington uniform, patrolling center field with his cannon arm and showing flashes of the pop that led him to 25 home runs back in 2008. But the main reason that Ankiel’s transition was so notable was how rarely it has ever been accomplished. In Micah Owings, the Nationals have another player making the leap this season.
Owings showed promise on the mound, though he compiled a fairly average 32-33 record and 4.82 ERA over his six years. But the signs of his potential as a hitter have always been there. He still holds the Georgia state high school record for career home runs as a prepster, and carried that success at the plate with him into the professional ranks. Owings burst onto the Major League scene with a .333/.349/.683 line, blasting four home runs and seven doubles in just 64 plate appearances in his rookie campaign of 2007 to win the Silver Slugger Award.
In fact, despite generally receiving only a couple of plate appearances every five days, he owns a career .283 batting average and .503 slugging percentage, both marks higher than many Major League regulars. Now 30, Owings has decided to try to get the most out of what his body has left and make an honest run at converting to an everyday player.
“It was just to find out what kind of abilities I really have,” he explained of his decision to make the permanent switch. “I don’t want to look back 15-20 years from now and say ‘what if I would have tried it?’”
The idea for the change was in the works for a while before Owings finally pulled the trigger. But with a number of familiar faces from his Arizona days in Nationals camp – both on and off the field – the Nationals seemed like a perfect club to take the leap with.
“There are a lot of great guys, and they’ve been receptive,” said Owings of his new teammates easing his transition. “Even being in a different Spring Training zone. I’m used to being in Arizona for Spring Training. So totally being able to separate, being down here in Florida has been great. I’m really looking forward to it as camp develops.”
As for a position in the field, Owings is content to fit in wherever he can. Manager Davey Johnson has been impressed with what he’s seen so far, and obviously has no concerns about his new project’s arm strength. But at 6’5” and 220 pounds, don’t expect Owings to follow in Ankiel’s footsteps in center field any time soon.
“I don’t want to compare myself to him – he’s a great athlete,” said Owings of Ankiel, though he has tapped the trailblazer for his advice. “I was able to pick his brain last Spring Training, when I was kind of chewing on it. He shed some insight. I didn’t even have to say anything, he just said “Do it,” because he knew what I wanted to talk about.”
That reassurance, plus the confidence he will build with every game, every at-bat, every swing here in Spring Training has Owings optimistic about the process. He also looks forward to bringing a more mature approach to learning the other half of the game at the highest level.
“I’m just focusing in on the things I can control,” he said. “A lot of those things that we can’t control as players – umpires, calls, errors – those ate me up from a pitching standpoint early on. Hopefully I can remember that heading into this path.”
Owings won’t have to wait long for his first opportunity. He’s slated to DH, bat ninth, and play the full nine innings in Washington’s spring opener against the Mets Saturday afternoon.
While this year’s Washington roster seems mostly set, it is important not to underestimate the potential impact of Non-Roster Invitees on the structure of the club that will break camp at the end of March. Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Rick Ankiel, Corey Brown and Brett Carroll all played small roles for the Nationals in 2012, and Chad Tracy – yes that Chad Tracy – was himself an NRI last year. Tracy staked his claim as one of the best pinch-hitters in the game and earned a contract extension for 2013 near the end of last season.
The Nationals announced three more additions to their list of Major League Spring Training Non-Roster Invitees this week, adding Jeremy Accardo, Micah Owings and Chris Snyder. All three have interesting storylines or ties to the organization, but perhaps none is more compelling than that of Owings, who came to terms with Washington on Wednesday.
For those unfamiliar with his Major League exploits, Owings is most well known as one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball over the past six seasons. While his career ledger on the mound is 32-33 with a 4.86 ERA in 138 appearances (68 starts), he has batted .283 (58-for-205) with an eye-popping .503 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, only Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Tyler Moore (and Jhonatan Solano, in limited time) posted a higher slugging mark for the Nats last season than Owings’ career line.
His first season was his best, as he posted a .333/.349/.683 line to win the National League’s Silver Slugger Award in 2007, the same hardware Stephen Strasburg laid claim to last year. However, the 30-year-old Owings has shown enough continued promise at the plate that he will now attempt the same transformation as former National Rick Ankiel, moving from the mound to become a hitter.
“He’s worn all of the opposing clubs out at one point or another,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti of Owings. “So if you’ve seen the guy swing the bat the last couple of years, you’re intrigued. He’s a decent athlete as well.”
As you may remember, Ankiel had a pair of very strong seasons in his first two years after making the switch, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 110 over 167 games, posting a very comparable line to that of Owings, batting .270 with a .515 slugging percentage. Like Ankiel in 2007, Owings plans to focus entirely on his future as a hitter from here on out.
“We’re going to give him a go as a position player and see what happens,” explained Minniti. “We’re committed to it. He’s committed to it. We’ve got a couple of people here who know him from the past, including our hitting coordinator Rick Schu.”
Of course, just as he knows Chad Tracy (another player he drafted with Arizona) going into last year, Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo is very familiar with Owings. He was in charge of the Diamondbacks’ drafts when Arizona selected the Gainesville, Georgia native in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Likewise, Rizzo was at the helm of the draft when his former organization selected Snyder back in 2002, the catcher the Nationals acquired earlier this week.
Snyder brings veteran depth with a decent eye (with a career on-base percentage 104 points above his batting average) and a little pop (hitting double digit home runs three times) to the Washington catching corps. The former Diamondback, Pirate and Astro provides a little extra insurance behind the plate as Wilson Ramos completes his rehab process heading into Spring Training.
“We like to go to camp with the proper amount of catching, and we felt like we wanted to add one more,” said Minniti of the Snyder addition. “We’ve got a couple of young guys that are very capable, but it just gives us a little more flexibility, having a good veteran to compete.”
A right-handed reliever, Accardo is the only one of the late additions who hasn’t played previously under Rizzo. However, he provides the Nationals with an interesting statistical note, as the fourth pitcher entering camp with a season of at least 30 saves under his belt in his career. While the former Blue Jay and Giant accomplished that feat back in 2007, he nevertheless merits inclusion with Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano and Drew Storen as the only such foursome reporting to a Major League camp this year.
It’s an election year in Washington, which means we’ll all be subjected to months of campaigns, contentious debate and awkward dinner-table conversation about politics. But there’s another set of voting which we can all get behind: 2012 All-Star voting! Using the hashtag #VoteNats on Twitter, we will be encouraging you to vote as many times as possible between now and 11:59 p.m. on June 28. Join us and let’s get as many of your favorite Nationals as possible into this year’s All-Star Game!
First Base – Adam LaRoche | #LaRocheIn12
If any Nationals position player has been deserving of an All-Star nod, it’s been LaRoche. The team leader in RBI through mid-May, Washington’s cleanup hitter has been the stabilizing force in an often shifting lineup. LaRoche has also been quietly spectacular at first base, making his case as arguably the MVP of the team so far.
Second Base – Danny Espinosa | #EspiIn12 | @DannyEspinosa18
Espinosa got off to a slow start on offense to begin the year, but as of May 23, he has collected three home runs in his last dozen games and continues to play stellar defense up the middle. Four of his eight multi-hit games have come since May 12, a period over which he is batting .297. He also continues to torch lefties, to the tune of a .300/.400/.467 slash line.
Third Base – Ryan Zimmerman | #ZimmIn12
Since bouncing back from an early season injury, Zimmerman has batted .273 and has shown signs of heating up lately, going 7-for-15 with a double and a home run in the three-game Battle of the Beltways Series against Baltimore. He also provides his trademark Gold Glove defense at third base, where he has already compiled a reel of highlights this season.
Shortstop – Ian Desmond | #DesiIn12 | @IanDesmond20
Nationals fans have been waiting to see what might happen when everything clicked for their shortstop. Desmond has been a true two-way talent in 2012, showing tremendous range with a cannon arm on defense and lighting up opposing pitchers with his power. He leads the team with 24 extra-base hits (13 doubles, one triple, eight home runs), including one of the biggest hits all year, a walk-off blast to beat the Diamondbacks in early May.
Outfield – Rick Ankiel | #AnkielIn12
Ankiel can still punish a mistake, as evidenced by his blast off Roy Halladay in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, one of his three longballs to date this year. But the converted pitcher will always be known for his lockdown defense, especially his arm, which may be unrivaled by any center fielder in the National League. Simply put, don’t run on Rick.
Write-In Outfielder – Bryce Harper | #BryceIn12
What else can you say about a 19 year-old rookie who has been asked to step in and play all three outfield positions, hit anywhere between second and seventh in the lineup, come up from the minors to inject an offensive spark into the team, and who has responded to the challenge? It will take a write-in campaign to get him to Kansas City for the mid-summer classic, but we get the feeling he might just find his way there. Harper has heated up with four multi-hit performances in his last five games, including a huge night against Roy Halladay Tuesday.
Write-In Second Baseman – Steve Lombardozzi | #LomboIn12
There’s that other rookie on the club putting up some pretty impressive numbers as well. He has filled in as the super utility man, playing at second base, third base, and recently in left field. He does a little bit of everything on offense, and his versatility was never more visible than when he single-handedly beat the Astros with a career night on April 16.
Feel free to write in any other Nationals position player you think is deserving to represent the National League at this year’s festivities. Remember that the pitching staff is arranged by the manager and coaches, but rest assured that the Nationals should be well-represented, as the only staff in the Major Leagues with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87) and an MLB-best 375 strikeouts.
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.
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.
Two up, two down. The Nationals have done everything the rowdy crowds at Nats Park could have asked for so far this weekend, coming from behind for the second game in a row to beat the rival Phillies, this time by a 7-1 score. Jayson Werth’s game-changing, two-out, three-run laser beam into the visiting bullpen in the fifth inning will be the moment everyone remembers from this contest, but fans would be remiss to overlook the huge performances by Gio Gonzalez, Rick Ankiel and Chad Tracy.
The Phillies offense got to Stephen Strasburg for a pair of home runs in Friday night’s game, but had no such luck against Gonzalez on Saturday afternoon. In fact, Philadelphia managed just four hits, scoring once in seven innings against the Nationals left-hander. Gonzalez struck out seven in another sparkling performance and now leads the National League with 41 punchouts on the season. He also improved to 2-0 in three starts at home, where he has allowed just nine base runners in 21.0 innings of work, striking out 22 and posting a 0.43 ERA.
Ankiel, meanwhile, has very quietly caught fire. He turned in his second consecutive three-hit performance to open the series, raising his average to .309 for the season. With the range and arm he possesses in center field – and if the Nationals continue to get this kind of offensive production from him – Ankiel could be a vital piece for the team throughout the 2012 season.
Tracy provided the final bit of support on Saturday, a two-run blast in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the game on ice. It was the second home run of the season and the second in as many days for the lefty, who has found himself starting at first base in the wake of Adam LaRoche’s absence from the lineup the last few games.
Over the first two games of the series, the Nationals have pounded out 29 hits, following up on their 14-hit performance Friday night. They have now out-hit the Phillies 29-11 through the first two games of the series. While the Phillies can claim some injury woes of their own, all the Nationals have accomplished, it should be noted, has happened without the help of their top three offensive threats – Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche.
“They’re short-handed,” said manager Davey Johnson after the game. “We’re short-handed, maybe more than them. This shows that we can compete with them.”
It certainly does. The Nationals will go for the sweep in front of a National audience beginning at 8:05pm on Sunday, as Nationals Park hosts ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball for the first time since the park opened in 2008.
“It should be exciting,” said Johnson, of the nationally televised affair. “I don’t have to give any motivational speeches.”
This article is not about pitching. We swear. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t get a couple things out of the way before we get to the meat and potatoes of this piece, which we promise is really about hitting. Thankfully, though, the pitching has been nails. That’s especially good, since here at Curly W Live, we don’t have any nails left after biting them off over the course of the season’s first 17 games, 14 of which have been decided by three runs or less.
It is said, around the game, that good starting pitching can be contagious. One starter feeds off another, and if everyone is throwing well, there is a pressure to keep up, not to be the one to let the rest of the guys down. We have seen plenty of that dynamic through the first three weeks of the season, but Gio Gonzalez may have taken the concept to new heights.
After an uninspiring first start of the year, the Nationals new lefty has been nearly unhittable in his last three outings. In addition to not allowing a single run over that span, Gonzalez has allowed just 10 batters to reach base over 20 innings (six hits, four walks), while striking out 21. That 20-inning scoreless streak sits just one frame shy of the franchise record since the team returned to D.C. in ’05. John Lannan and Drew Storen share the mark of 21.0 innings, with the former setting the mark in 2008 and the latter matching it in 2011.
Anyway, back to the offense, and to the rather remarkable statistic the bats managed to produce Tuesday night. The Nationals scored three runs against the Padres at Petco Park. All three were driven in by pinch-hitters, specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters. And even more specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters facing left-handed pitching, something you rarely see.
Late-game scenarios, especially in close games, where pinch-hitters are often used, create situational opportunities. For Chad Tracy, who singled home a pair of runs to put Washington ahead for good in the seventh inning, the at-bat marked his first off the bench against a left-handed pitcher this year. Rick Ankiel, who had the night off due to the lefty starter, had to fight off a tough pitch, serving it up the middle on a broken bat single to add the final insurance run with two outs in the top of the ninth.
While the Nationals will no doubt look for more production out of their starting lineup, the story of the year so far on offense has been the deep bench and its clutch, late-game production. If Washington plays another couple of tight, low-scoring games in San Diego this series (and really, does anyone think they won’t?), look for the Goon Squad – the affectionate nickname for this year’s offensive support staff – to play a big role in the outcome.
Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.
After a long spring, the Nationals made their much-anticipated return to Washington to begin the 2012 season. Following one final game in Florida against the Red Sox at their brand new Grapefruit League home, JetBlue Park, the two teams squared off again in our Nation’s Capital. While the Nationals made a valiant comeback, rallying from a 6-0 deficit to take a late lead, the real story of the day came in the second game played on the field, as the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team soundly defeated a group of D.C. celebrities.
The Nationals hit the road to officially open the season, sending Stephen Strasburg to the hill at historic Wrigley Field for his first-ever Opening Day start. Washington couldn’t break through to provide the heralded right-hander with any run support during his seven strong innings, but rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to steal a 2-1 victory. Meanwhile, as the team enjoyed an off-day on Friday, outfielders Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse were just up the road from D.C. in Bowie, MD on Major League rehab stints with the Harrisburg Senators. Both players looked just fine at the plate, as each homered in a 5-2 victory.
On Saturday, the Nationals continued their come-from-behind ways, trailing by two late before a five-run, two-out rally in the eighth inning keyed a 7-4 victory. Sunday’s game began to follow the same script, as Washington cut a three-run deficit to one on Adam LaRoche’s two-out, two-run shot in the ninth. However, the team’s third comeback attempt in three days came up just shy in a 4-3 loss to the Cubs.
Thu. @ CHC: W, 2-1
Sat. @ CHC: W, 7-4
Sun. @ CHC: L, 4-3
Weekly Record: 2-1
With the Nationals enjoying an early off day Friday following their thrilling, 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Opening Day, we decided to make the 20 mile drive northeast from Nationals Park to Price George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Bay Sox. Why, you might ask, would we do such a thing? We wanted to check in on Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse, both on Major League rehab assignments with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, who opened their season in Bowie. We also wanted a chance to see a couple of prospects – Destin Hood and Danny Rosenbaum – play in a real game.
While we didn’t get a chance to see Rosenbaum, a starting pitcher whose turn of the rotation lands on Sunday, we got more than our fill of Ankiel and Morse, despite each taking only three at-bats. They each looked healthy enough right from the start. Ankiel swatted the first pitch he saw deep out of the park to the opposite field, and Morse followed with a ringing double off the wall in right-center. Morse saved his best at-bat for last, though, blasting a towering shot the opposite way that hung in the air forever and still got out on a chilly Maryland night.
We also saw prospects Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus each deliver two-hit nights, both using their speed to their advantage. Both put pressure on the defense with bunts and both stole a bag, contributing to the 5-2 victory. While Hood had an off night at the plate, he looked impressive in his batting practice rounds and clearly is a player to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.
Back to big league ball today, as Nationals fans will get their first regular season look at Gio Gonzalez at Wrigley Field. We’ll have more here at Curly W Live following the game.
Whew. If there was any question of how the Nationals would respond to the pressures of expectation in 2012, they showed some good signs in their first game of the season on Thursday. However, we’ll all have to wait until Saturday before enjoying chapter two.
The quirky schedule gave the team a day off Friday after just the one game. While players might normally want to save that break for a time later in the season, our fans could certainly use the chance to catch their collective breath after a nerve-wracking, gut-checking, come-from-behind victory over the Cubs on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. This is the type of game they should come to expect, though. With the way this Nationals team is built, there are likely to be a good number of well-pitched, tight, low-scoring affairs all season long. And there will be 161 more games in the next 180 days, so brace yourselves.
The opener had a bit of everything to make for an exciting affair: great starting pitching, would-be home runs (knocked down by the wind), sparkling defense, and a pair of late rallies, one to tie the score and the other to put Washington in front for good. Many of the offseason storylines were tested immediately. Could the top two spots in the order get on base? Check – Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa combined to reach safely in five of their 10 plate appearances. How would Stephen Strasburg fare in his first Opening Day start? His line – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 K – suggests he was more than up to the task. And what kind of impact could we expect from Davey Johnson’s revamped bench? Look no further than Chad Tracy’s double, which led to Brett Carroll scoring the game-winning run in the ninth. It’s as strong a first impression as Johnson could have hoped for from this group in its collective debut. So on a day when the team managed just four hits, the rest of the pieces came together to get the Nationals that all-important first Curly W.
We need not worry about Ryan Zimmerman, either, whose 0-for-2 (with two walks) performance would have been a 2-for-2 with a pair of home runs, if not for the sharp, gusting wind coming in off Lake Michigan and directly over the center field wall. The third baseman showed just how deep his value really is, though, with two superb defensive plays. He bailed out Wilson Ramos on a pick and swipe tag to catch Alfonso Soriano stealing in the fourth inning, before reversing roles and gunning down Joe Mather at the plate in the ninth (with Ramos applying the nice tag) to preserve the one-run victory.
Jayson Werth also had a potential run-scoring, extra-base hit knocked down by the wind early. However, he came up with a great defensive play of his own and battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a bases loaded walk, forcing in the game-tying run in the eighth inning. That’s what team leaders are supposed to do: find ways to contribute, no matter what the circumstance. Werth is one of the best in the game at finding ways beyond the box score to do that. Don’t take our word for it, though. Pick up the first edition of Nationals Magazine when you’re at the ballpark starting next week and read all about it.
There should be no lingering questions surrounding Brad Lidge and his stuff at this point, either. One of Johnson’s fill-in closers (along with Henry Rodriguez), Lidge utterly overwhelmed Reed Johnson with a slider and froze Marlon Byrd with a perfectly painted fastball to end the game. He could be the steal of the offseason for Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo, providing veteran leadership to the back end of the bullpen and the occasional save when called upon.
Nevertheless, it will be great to get Drew Storen back, as it will be to have outfielders Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel in Washington again. Morse and Ankiel are both on rehab assignments with Double-A Harrisburg, which is playing just up the road in Bowie this week.
In the meantime, breathe easy and enjoy the day off. There’s been plenty to talk about, but we’re just one game in. At the end of the day, though, the team is 1-0. And that’s as good of a place as you can be one game into the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season.