Results tagged ‘ San Diego Padres ’

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“No, not really.”

The media huddle is always a little larger when Stephen Strasburg pitches, but with the right-hander making his first-ever Major League start in his hometown of San Diego, where he both grew up and attended college, the questions are a little more pointed. So, really, didn’t pitching here amp him up a little more, knowing that 50 family and friends were in attendance, along with countless others who watched him in his collegiate days?

“It’s just another place to me, to be honest,” continued Strasburg, downplaying the larger storyline. “It’s my hometown. I’m an Aztec. But I look forward to pitching in any place in the big leagues.”

Strasburg's college diamond at San Diego state is just a few miles up the road from Petco Park.

Strasburg’s college diamond at San Diego State is just a few miles up the road from Petco Park.

The Padres were coming home following a 17-hit parade in an 8-4 win at Baltimore on Wednesday. That offense came to a grinding halt against Strasburg, though, who allowed just three hits over his eight innings of work.

“It was a good homecoming for him,” said manager Davey Johnson, but he didn’t dwell too much on the significance of his return to San Diego either, choosing instead to focus on the rest of the team’s contribution. “It was nice to see the offense come alive, give him some run support.”

In fact, the Nationals plated six runs behind Strasburg, the most help he has received in a start all season. Otherwise, Strasburg was largely his normal self, pitching more to contact as he has done all year long, which allowed him to reach the eighth inning for the first time in his career. Of course, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a little amped up.

“He was throwing hard,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki of how the hometown start may have shown through in Strasburg’s performance. “He wasn’t pitching 92-93 early. It was 96-97. It was coming in pretty firm.”

Strasburg is the most recent edition to the Aztec Wall of Fame, and is one of only two players with his number retired.

Strasburg is the most recent edition to the Aztec Wall of Fame, and is one of only two players with his number retired.

But that was not the only difference Suzuki noticed in his starter.

“He had a different mentality tonight,” Suzuki explained. “He wasn’t letting the little things bother him.”

That mentality, fittingly, is one he developed and refined just a few miles north of the waterfront up at San Diego State. It is something that Tony Gwynn, Strasburg’s college coach, saw in him before he ever became an All-American or the consensus number one pick in the Major League Baseball Draft.

“The stuff he does on the field, he really had to work at,” said the Hall of Fame outfielder on Friday, as he watched the highlights of Strasburg’s start from his office on campus. “All the other stuff, what you see now is what we saw when he came here as a freshman.”

Strasburg is only four years removed from his Aztec days, but it may seem like a lifetime ago to some who follow the sport. Bryce Harper’s own ascension amidst Strasburg’s rehab from Tommy John surgery shifted some of the attention away from the 24-year-old pitcher, at least until Sports Illustrated pasted him on the cover of their season preview issue in March. But all those accolades only came in the first place because of his off-the-charts work ethic, which had him beating coaches and players to the ballpark early Saturday mornings after his Friday night college starts.

The Golden Field Award - the counterpart to Strasburg's Golden Spikes Award, given to the school - sits in Tony Gwynn's office.

The Golden Field Award – the counterpart to Strasburg’s Golden Spikes Award, given to the school – sits in Tony Gwynn’s office.

“He outworked everyone in the country and it paid off on the diamond,” said Aztecs assistant coach Mark Martinez, who coached Strasburg for his three undergraduate seasons. “That’s very evident in how good he is.”

Strasburg acknowledged the difference in his approach Thursday night, one that showed flashes of his dominant self again. That should give Nationals fans hope, and should strike fear into the hearts of opponents around the league.

“I just wanted to do a better job of having a better mound presence out there.”

That presence was evident Thursday night, but reporters pushed Strasburg to explain a little more of what it meant to him.

“Just trying to go out there and let your teammates feed off of your confidence,” he elaborated. “When one thing doesn’t go the way you thought it would, don’t let it affect the next pitch. That’s what good pitchers do.”

Highlights: 5.18.13

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5.18.13 – Padres 2, Nationals 1

Stat of the Game: Jordan Zimmermann fired his third complete game of the season, needing just 85 pitches in an eight-inning effort. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Steve Lombardozzi delivered the lone RBI for the Nationals, with a two-out single in the sixth.

It Was Over When: Washington got two baserunners, but could not score in the ninth.

What to Watch for: 5.18.13

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Washington Nationals (23-19) vs. San Diego Padres (18-23)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-1, 1.69) vs. LHP Eric Stults (3-3, 4.57)

The Nationals can guarantee a series win as they send Jordan Zimmermann to the hill in search of his league-high eighth victory. Washington has won eight of its last 10 against the Padres, including season-series wins in both 2011 and 2012.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi LF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore RF

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

ADAM BOMBS

Adam LaRoche has homered in three consecutive contests, pocketing a total of four home runs during that stretch. With a homer tonight, LaRoche would match his career high with a four-game homer streak, accomplished when he hit five over straight games from September 3-6 vs. the Chicago Cubs last season.

START ME UP

Washington’s starting pitchers have rolled off a string of eight consecutive starts yielding two or fewer earned runs. The rotation has posted a 1.94 ERA (11 ER/51.0 IP) and 3.0/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (33 K/11 BB) during that stretch. For the season, Nationals starting pitchers rank second in the NL/MLB with a 3.13 ERA (90 ER/258.2 IP).

GOON SQUAD IS HEATING UP

Washington’s bench, affectionately know as the “Goon Squad,” has gone a combined 3-for-7 in the last three contests. Chad Tracy’s game-winning homer in the 10th inning on Friday marked both the first pinch-home run and pinch-RBI for the Nationals this season.

Father of the Goon Squad

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After making the Nationals as a non-roster invitee in 2012, Chad Tracy took no time at all to make his presence felt. On April 7 in Chicago, he came in with the bases loaded, one out, and the Nats down a run in the top of the eighth, and promptly doubled home a pair to lead the club to victory. Thus began the Goon Squad, Washington’s fearsome and versatile bench, with its leader, the veteran Tracy.

Just as he did early in 2012, Tracy provided the Goon Squad’s biggest moment to date on Friday night. After the Nationals surrendered a two-run lead in the ninth inning in San Diego, the tide seemed to have turned against them. But with two outs in the top of the 10th, Tracy turned on a hanging, 1-1 change-up out of the right hand of Huston Street, depositing it over the right field wall at Petco Park for a go-ahead home run to put the Nationals back ahead for good, 6-5.

An increasingly productive bench could be a sign of good things to come for the Nationals.

An increasingly productive bench could be a sign of good things to come for the Nationals.

“He’s a really good hitter,” said Davey Johnson of Tracy. “Last year he started fast, this year he started slow. But (the home run) makes up for anything he’s done in the past.”

There is something about being at the right place at the right time that often defines success for a bench player like Tracy. But Friday night’s heroics were the continuation of a stunning trend, one which indicates the Padres are always the right opponent for the leader of the Goon Squad. With his blast off Street, each of Tracy’s last three pinch-homers have now come against the Padres. And of the seven he has hit in his career, five have come against San Diego.

Other Nationals like Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman have both hit well against the Padres in their careers as well, each notching double-digit home run totals. But both track records pale in comparison to Tracy’s.

Meanwhile, Drew Storen survived a Padres rally in the bottom of the frame to notch his first save of the season, and the Cardiac Nats won the kind of gut-wrenching game on which they built their reputation last season. After a couple of close calls in low-scoring games in Los Angeles, the breakthrough may have meant just one win, but it may also have opened the door for a return of the Cardiac Nats, the team that went 27-21 in one-run games and 13-7 in a league-high 20 extra-inning affairs in 2012. This year’s club (7-3, 2-1) hasn’t seen nearly as many of the same opportunities, but a strong showing from the Goon Squad may change that in a hurry.

Highlights: 5.17.13

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5.17.13 – Nationals 6, Padres 5 (10 innings)

Stat of the Game: Chad Tracy launched his first home run of the season, a pinch-blast in the 10th to lift Washington to a 6-5 victory. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Adam LaRoche‘s second two-homer game of the season and 21st of his career extended his hit streak to a career-best 14 games.

It Was Over When: Drew Storen stranded the tying run at third and winning run at first in the bottom of the 10th to lock down his first save of the year.

Kindred Spirits of Hustle

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As the Nationals arrived at Petco Park to begin their four-game set with the San Diego Padres on Thursday, a special visitor awaited them. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M University quarterback, was in town for a training program with his personal coach and decided to drop by before the game.

Manziel and Harper chatted before Thursday's game.

Manziel and Harper chatted before Thursday’s game.

In addition to posing for a picture with fellow Aggie Davey Johnson, Manziel took batting practice with the Padres and appeared on the hometown broadcast that night. But Manziel was, in particular, also at this specific game for another reason: Bryce Harper.

Harper, who won the Golden Spikes Award in 2010 –baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman – had befriended the quarterback via Twitter. It’s only fitting that the two 20-year-olds got to know one another, considering that their all-out styles of play are what have put them in the national spotlight. Together, they are kindred spirits of hustle.

“You’re never going to see him not go all out,” said Manziel of Harper. “I play with my heart on my sleeve and he plays the same way.”

Of course, their paths to the top-ranked amateur players in their sports were wildly divergent. Several months after Harper found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated dubbed “Baseball’s Chosen One,” Manziel was just beginning to turn heads as an undersized signal-caller at tiny Kerville-Tivy High School in central Texas. And while they are the same age, Manziel recognizes that he still has plenty of work ahead of him to ascend to Harper’s level on the professional stage.

“He’s at the top,” said Manziel. “He’s at the highest level. I’m still working my way up there.”

As he often does, Harper shone brightly with the extra attention of the evening. And although Stephen Strasburg ruled the day with his solid start in front of family and friends in his hometown, Harper found a way to steal a bit of the spotlight with a 432-foot home run to center field.

Highlights: 5.16.13

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5.16.13 – Nationals 6, Padres 2

Stat of the Game: Stephen Strasburg logged a career-high 8.0 innings in his first-ever start in his hometown of San Diego. 

Under-the-Radar Performance: Adam LaRoche extended his career-high hitting streak to 13 games with a two-run home run in the fourth inning.

It Was Over When: Bryce Harper crushed an offering from Tyson Ross off the top of the batter’s eye in the eighth, providing the final margin.

What to Watch for: 5.16.13

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Washington Nationals (21-19) vs. San Diego Padres (18-21)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-5, 3.10) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (3-3, 5.15)

The Nationals head south for the second stop on their three-city California tour as the open a four-game, weekend set with the San Diego Padres Thursday night at Petco Park. Stephen Strasburg makes his first-ever Major League start in his hometown city, where he also attended college at San Diego State University.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Bernadina RF

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

GOING STREAKING

Adam LaRoche enters tonight’s action riding a 12-game hit streak, marking his career long and the longest hit streak by a Nationals player this season. During the stretch, which began on May 2, LaRoche has gone 16-for-41 (.390) with two doubles, a homer, five RBI, seven walks and six runs scored, posting a .469 OBP & .982 OPS. His hit streak, which has raised his average 85 points, began after hitting just .129 (11-for-85) in his initial 25 games this season.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Washington is 16-2 when scoring first this season, compared to 5-17 when its opponent gets on the board first. The Nationals have been outscored 16-22 in the first frame this season, but have outscored their opponents 21-10 in the second inning.

RISP FACTOR

Washington’s offense has gone two consecutive contests without recording a knock with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-13 in those games. The Nationals have gone hitless in 14 straight at-bats with RISP, since Roger Bernadina’s sixth-inning single on Monday at Los Angeles. During the current five-game rough stretch (1-4 record), Washington has batted just .133 (6-for-45) with RISP.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Districtly Speaking

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Hello Nationals fans,

I figured it was a great time to check in.

Before jumping into our 14-4 start, I want to talk about the Capitals and how their playoff run created its own set of challenges for me personally. I am on the West Coast with the ballclub and Wednesday’s  first pitch came just one hour before the Caps faceoff in Boston. A dilemma for sure, but one that could be overcome by technology.

The Caps moments after their game seven, overtime win. (Washington Capitals/Getty Images)

I had a heck of a time shifting between the game in front of me and the Caps game, which I was watching (between pitches) on my iPad. But, as day gave way to night, all of my hard work was rewarded as both the Nationals and Caps won. Later, I noticed that the Wizards won their 5th straight game for the first time since 2007. What an evening for DC sports fans!

As everyone reading this knows, Game 7s are special no matter the sport. However, it seems as if Game 7s in hockey are almost holy in nature. The Caps play last night certainly matched the game’s stakes.

Intense, physical, smart and concerted is how I would describe last night’s effort in a season-saving, 2-1 victory in Boston. And really, it had to be that way in order to advance.

The Bruins were game. This was hardly the case of a satisfied defending champ going through the motions. My eyes told me that the Bruins played well in each game of the series. But our Caps won the closest playoff series in NHL history against the defending Stanley Cup champions because they played slightly better. One goal better, in fact.

I am so happy for my friend, Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager George McPhee, head coach Dale Hunter and all of the players. I don’t think any DC sports fans will forget this series, Joel Ward’s goal or Braden Holtby’s playoff arrival.

Xavier Nady rounds third after his game-tying home run on April 13.

But now comes the hard part. Our Caps work is not done. We only know that they could play, under various scenarios, either the Rangers, Flyers or Devils in the second round. But before looking ahead, I hope for one night at least, the Caps enjoyed their spoils.

Back on the diamond, things are going well on all fronts, outside of the injury bug that has bitten our cleanup hitter (Morse), our closer (Storen), our most experienced starting pitcher (Wang) and now our best player (Zimmerman). Thankfully, we entered the season with depth all around the diamond. 162 games in six months is a grind and it is folly to believe that any club can go injury-free or even close to it.

But the bench has been up to the task. Through just 18 games, Chad Tracy (game-winning hits on Tuesday in San Diego and on April 7 at Wrigley Field), Xavier Nady (April 13 game-tying pinch homer vs. Reds, rally-sparking double on Tuesday at San Diego) and Steve Lombardozzi (4-for-5, 2 RBI on April 16 vs. Houston) have already played integral roles in victories this season.

There is also depth on the pitching staff. While we thankfully have not yet had to call upon our obvious rotation depth, it should be noted that all seven relievers have pitched important innings in close games this season. There really have been no exceptions. Winning streaks will do that and thus far our bullpen has more than held its own in contributing to our early season success.

Stephen Strasburg leads the best starting staff in baseball.

Which brings me to the starting rotation. There has been none better in baseball. And the gap is widening with seemingly every start. There really is not much to say other than Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler have collectively been beyond exceptional.

The formula from my seat has been a healthy share of strikeouts, precious few walks and keeping the ball in the ballpark.

And despite this early-season dominance, Davey knows we are in this for the long haul. The five starters have combined to throw just 110.2 innings this season. That ranks 16th in MLB and does not suggest even a whiff of overuse.

One thing that I have noted about Davey is his innate ability to balance tonight’s result with “tomorrow.” That is, an understanding of where we are in the scope of a game, a series, the season, and just as importantly, where these pitchers are in terms of their careers.

I am looking forward to our series this weekend against the Dodgers, who are playing as well as they have in a few years. I never miss our trip to Dodger Stadium, which really is on any short list of the top venues in all of sports. The place is oozing with history, the backdrop is spectacular and the fans are always knowledgeable.

Tonight’s finale at Petco Park is my 16th straight game. I hope we can finish off the sweep and keep the good vibes rolling.

Let’s go CAPS! … Let’s go NATS! …

The Goon Squad’s Sticky Situation

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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.

Gio Gonzalez is two scoreless innings away from a franchise record.

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.

Chad Tracy keeps swinging his way into Nats fans' hearts.

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.

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