Results tagged ‘ Sean Burnett ’

2012 Player Review: Sean Burnett

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We move to the bullpen for our first reliever on the list, Sean Burnett.

One of the most overlooked aspects of any Major League team is the bullpen, especially looking beyond the more defined “closer” role. Your standard relief corps includes seven pitchers at any given time, complementing the five-man starting rotation as part of a 12-member pitching staff. And while some of the six outside the closer may generally fit into certain roles, lefties like Sean Burnett often fill the void wherever and whenever they are needed.

The gregarious Burnett filled a number of bullpen roles this season.

To that end, Burnett served Davey Johnson’s bullpen in a number of different capacities in 2012. After using him more in situational spots that called for a lefty-lefty matchup early in the year, Johnson called upon Burnett as a closer for a pair of key saves, May 14 vs. San Diego and May 21 at Philadelphia. The southpaw then settled into more of a setup role, consistently pitching the full eighth inning in front of Tyler Clippard and then Drew Storen, upon his return from injury. And though Burnett’s 2.38 season ERA is certainly indicative of the type of year he put together, a deeper look into his numbers reveal an even more impressive performance.

Burnett posted an ERA below 1.75 in three of the season’s six months, including an April that saw him allow just five hits and two walks while fanning 10 over 6.2 scoreless frames. He held opponents scoreless 58 times in his 70 relief outings, the most appearances made without allowing a run of any hurler on the staff. For whatever reason, his pedestrian 4.26 daytime ERA (9 ER/19.0 IP) turned into a head-turning 1.43 (6 ER/37.2 IP) mark at night. Burnett’s other impressive splits came in his ability to limit lefties to a .211 average (19-for-90) with 28 strikeouts, and the fact that opponents batted only .169 (13-for-77) with runners in scoring position.

The lefty posted career-best walk and strikeout rates in 2012.

However, arguably his most valuable set of numbers were Burnett’s improvements to his strikeout and walk rates. After averaging 3.9 free passes and 6.2 punchouts per nine innings (good for a 1.60 K/BB rate) for his career, the southpaw allowed just 1.9 walks per nine in 2012 while striking out 9.1 (a 4.75 K/BB rate). For some perspective, no other regular bullpen member cracked a rate of 3.00, and even the most efficient members of the vaunted starting rotation checked in no higher than 3.56 (Jordan Zimmermann) and 4.10 (Stephen Strasburg).

Burnett and the team hold a mutual option for next season. It has been reported in the past week that Burnett may decline that option, but that the 30 year-old is interested in working out a longer-term deal here in Washington.

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

2012 Player Review: Corey Brown

What to Watch For: 8/30

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St. Louis Cardinals (71-59) vs. Washington Nationals (78-51)

LHP Jaime Garcia (3-5, 4.15) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (7-9, 3.72)

The Nationals return home coming off an 8-4 win Wednesday night in Miami to open a season-long, 11-game homestand with four games against the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals beginning Thursday night in D.C. Former Cardinal Edwin Jackson faces his old team for the first time since winning a ring with them last season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

By hitting a pair of homers Wednesday at Marlins Park, Bryce Harper became just the third teenage center fielder to register a multi-homer effort. Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. (twice in ‘89: May 30 at NYY and July 5 vs. MIN) and Chicago’s Brian McCall (September 30, 1962 at NYY) predated Harper.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Tonight, Edwin Jackson will face off against the club he spent part of the 2011 season with, eventually earning a World Series ring with the Cardinals. He helped St. Louis earn a postseason spot by going 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 games/12 starts with the Cards. From there, he went 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four October starts. Edwin earned the win, with the Cardinals facing elimination, in Game 4 of NLCS. As he makes the start tonight, note that he is winless against five franchises during career, one of which is St. Louis.

WORTH NOTING

The Nationals are 7-2 in their last nine games at home against the Cardinals. However, Washington is just 1-10 at the newest version of Busch Stadium since 2008. Washington has won five of the last seven one-run games in the series. None of Washington’s five current starting pitchers have ever earned a win at the Cardinals expense. Sean Burnett bested the Cardinals on June 29, 2004 at PNC Park to notch his first big league win. Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein served as Triple-A Memphis hitting coach in ‘07 and assisted Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa at the 2005 All-Star Game at Detroit. Eckstein is also the older brother of SS David Eckstein, who was named World Series MVP in 2006. MASN’s Bob Carpenter is a St. Louis native who spent 10 seasons broadcasting Cardinals baseball on radio and TV. WFED’s Charlie Slowes began his broadcasting career at St. Louis’ KMOX, where he performed various on-air duties during broadcast of the Cardinals, the NFL Cardinals, the Blues and St. Louis University basketball from 1984-86.

DATE IN D.C. BASEBALL

August 30, 2010 – Ryan Zimmerman’s game-winning, three-run home run in the third inning triggered a 9-3 win at FLA. The blast broke a left-field electronic scoreboard that was left reading “Sun Life Stadiu” (the “m” was suddenly missing).

August 30, 2011 – The Nationals pounded out 12 hits, eight of which went for extra bases (four doubles, four home runs), in a 9-2 victory at Atlanta. In the win, Livan Hernandez worked 7.0 innings of two-run ball to register his 44th and final victory as a member of the Washington Nationals.

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All Is Good And Nothingness Is Dead

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In 2002, the Oakland Athletics played one of the most gut-wrenching games in recent memory. Sitting on the brink of history, having won 19 contests in a row, they were just one triumph shy of setting a new American League record for consecutive victories. After taking the first two in a series from Kansas City, they needed only to close them out for a three-game home sweep to accomplish the feat. With one of their aces – Tim Hudson – on the mound, their chances seemed promising.

Through three innings, it was all unfolding according to plan with the A’s building an 11-0 lead. But then, a funny thing started to happen. The hapless Royals started to claw back. They got five runs in the fourth – normally quite a feat, but it was less than half the deficit they had dug themselves, so the party continued, undisturbed. The margin remained at 11-5 all the way to the eighth when, suddenly, they scored twice more, and had two more runners on for their superstar, Mike Sweeney. The A’s went to their best setup man, Jeff Tam. Sweeney drilled a towering, three-run shot into the left-field seats, and suddenly it was 11-10.

The A’s celebrated after surviving disaster, but might they have been better off with a loss? (AP)

Celebrations were over, replaced by a nervous murmur. The A’s failed to score in the eighth, and amazingly, Kansas City pushed across a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 11.

That’s the thing about baseball – there is no clock to run out. You can’t simply “manage the game,” the way you can with a 30-point lead in basketball or football. You have to earn every last painful, desperate, gut-wrenching out. And, sometimes, you forget how to do that.

Of course, those who have seen Moneyball already know how this story ends. Scott Hatteberg, pinch-hitting with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took ball one, then turned on the next pitch, sending it soaring deep into the California night and the history books.

It’s hard to say what the Athletics learned that day, as they got away with their mistakes. Their collapse, as stunning as it was, did not ruin their historical moment. But, as the movie fails to show, they did not carry any of their momentum with them. The team traveled to Minnesota the next day, where they would be shut out, ending the streak. That same Minnesota team would end up celebrating a Game 5 elimination victory back in Oakland just a month later, dispatching the A’s from the postseason.

Could one make the argument that the A’s would have learned more from such a loss, than from the historic victory?

The Nationals did not get away with their mistakes last Friday night. In the opener of a crucial intradivision series, what started out like a dream turned into a nightmare, as Atlanta fought its way back from an early 9-0 deficit to earn an 11-10 win in 11 innings. Not even Danny Espinosa’s game-tying, ninth-inning home run – after Washington had fallen behind 10-9 – was enough to bail them out. The Braves kept coming, and for one night, all seemed lost.

Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina helped get the Nationals back on track.

The Braves momentum carried into the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader, where the Nats were shut out for just the second time all season, and the first time at home. A steady mist descended upon Nationals Park all day long, and into the night cap. It was a scene more befitting of Washington State than D.C., the dense clouds and light rain swarming the combined crowd of nearly 70,000 spectators all day and for much of the evening. In fact, the rain had been falling since the sixth inning of Friday night’s affair, right when the game had begun to turn on the Nats.

The offensive drought continued through the first four frames of Game 2. But then, a funning thing happened – the sky, both literally and figuratively, stopped falling. After 13 innings of stunned, scoreless ball, the Nationals went back to work, trailing just 2-0, thanks to arguably the biggest pitching performance of the season from perhaps its most unlikely hero: John Lannan. Summoned from Triple-A under the new rule that allows for an extra man to be added to the roster specifically for doubleheaders, Lannan pitched with the knowledge that he would likely be sent back to the minors following the game, regardless of the outcome. And after a shaky first that saw him escape with just two runs of damage, he was nearly unhittable the rest of the night.

That left Washington within striking distance in the bottom of the fifth, and strike the Nationals did, bit by bit. They pushed across a single run to finally get in the scoring column, but missed the chance for more. In the sixth, they did so again, tying the game, but failing to seize the lead. So they just kept coming. Roger Bernadina, filling in for Bryce Harper after he left the first game with a bruised ankle, drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh. In the eighth, Harper came back. He laced a pinch-single, stole second (!) and scored on Espinosa’s single, adding a crucial insurance run. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, who had both been out of sorts the night before, combined to slam the door shut as they have done much of the past two months.

Few hitters have been as hot as Ryan Zimmerman over the past month.

After all the doom and gloom following Friday night’s affair, what happened in the 36 hours to follow? The Nats took two of three from their closest division rival, including both a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory and an emphatic, 9-2 rout in which the home side banished any lingering effects from Friday night’s letdown.

That’s the thing about adversity – it can crush your spirits, take you out of your element, and turn the tide of a pennant race. Or, it can bring out the best in your character and – by showing that you won’t succumb to the pressure, but rather will rally back stronger than ever – be an even bigger blow to your opponents. The Nationals will have to prove themselves six more times against the Braves before the regular season concludes, but after last weekend, they walked away from their biggest setback no worse for wear, maintaining the same 3.5-game cushion with which they entered the series.

Then they went to New York, winning a crazy, extra-inning affair by scoring six runs in the 10th inning on Monday night, and finally triumphing over Mets ace R.A. Dickey on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they completed the three-game sweep with a 5-2 win, their fifth straight. Their NL East lead sits at 4.5 games over the Braves, and more than 10 against everyone else in the division.

Time will tell if this was that moment for the Nationals, and if the offense will continue to batter the ball the way it did to open and close this weekend’s series. But one thing is for sure: what has not killed this Washington squad so far in 2012 has only made it stronger.

Spin City

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Unbelievable. That’s a word often thrown around the English language, when really we mean incredible, or spectacular, or amazing. There’s a difference. Unbelievable literally means, as the great Jack Buck so famously put it, that we don’t believe what we just saw. There are incredible, spectacular, amazing games all the time around the game of baseball. What transpired Tuesday night between the Nationals and Mets in eight innings of pure, efficient, low-scoring baseball and two innings of sheer insanity, was hard to grasp.

Detwiler is now 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 14 K in 14.0 IP vs. the Mets this season.

The Nationals played the type of game we’ve become accustomed to seeing them play all season long – close, low-scoring, and well-pitched. Following seven shutout innings from Ross Detwiler (who has dominated the Mets, allowing just one run over 14 innings against them this season), the bullpen was set up perfectly with a 2-0 lead for Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard.

Burnett twirled a scoreless eighth, and then everything went bananas. Clippard, who had not blown a save since being inserted into the closer’s role in mid-May, gave up singles to the first two batters, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. After a big strikeout by Scott Hairston, Mets Manager Terry Collins made the unthinkable, yet totally logical decision to pinch-hit for struggling, high-priced slugger Jason Bay with a rookie who had only 77 Major League at-bats under his belt. That rookie, Jordany Valdespin, belted a ball deep to right-center field that would video replay would confirm to be a home run, putting the Mets ahead, 3-2, and seemingly dealing the Nationals a crushing blow to open the second half of the season at home.

Danny E-SPIN-osa’s two-out, two-strike game-saver negated Jordany Valde-SPIN’s late heroics.

But the Nats weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. With two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Washington was down to its last strike, as Danny Espinosa stood in against Mets closer Bobby Parnell. After surviving five straight breaking balls from the righty, Espinosa ripped a 98 mile-per-hour fastball right past Parnell and into center field for a base hit, tying the game at 3-3 and sending the affair to extra innings.

The pendulum of momentum swung again in the top of the 10th as Josh Thole put the Mets ahead once again, driving a two-out, opposite field double to make it a 4-3 game. But that only set the stage for an even more remarkable finish.

The Nationals sent three rookies to the plate to start the inning with the game on the line: Jhonatan Solano, Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper. Solano, pinch-hitting, roped a single over the shortstop to open the frame. Lombardozzi dropped a percet sacrifice bunt, easily moving the runner into scoring position. Then it was Harper’s turn. He wasted no time, lacing a shot to the wall in right-center field to score Solano and tie the game once more, belly flopping into third base with a game-changing triple.

From there, the Mets intentionally walked both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond to load the bases with one out, setting up the force. Collins was once again rewarded for his decision-making – at least initially – as Adam LaRoche bounced a ball to first base, which Ike Davis turned into a force out at home, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for yet another rookie, Tyler Moore, who had homered earlier in the game. As it turned out, Moore never needed to take his bat off his shoulders in his final at-bat.

Zimmerman and company celebrate another walk-off Curly W.

Pedro Beato, the reliever summoned specifically to face the right-handed slugger, bounced a 1-2 breaking ball in front of home plate. The ball took a high, soaring carom off the catcher, allowing Zimmerman – who stalled initially – to almost jog home from third with the winning run.

It was the Nationals eighth walk-off win of the year, and arguably the most exciting game of the season. In all the madness, it was almost enough to forget the most unbelievable story of the entire night: Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win in the first game of the second half of the season. Why is that significant? Those who attended the 2012 home opener can certainly tell you, as that game ended the exact same way: with Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win.

Considering the way the first half of the season played out, if you believe in omens, there could not have been a better one to begin the second half at home.

What to Watch for: 7/16

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Washington Nationals (51-35) vs. Miami Marlins (42-46)

RHP Edwin Jackson (5-4, 3.73) vs. RHP Carlos Zambrano (4-7, 4.20)

The Nationals take on Miami tonight in the finale of the four-game set, looking for a series victory. Earlier in the season, the Fish swept the Nats in Miami (3-0). Edwin Jackson toes the rubber this evening looking to push Washington’s overall record against the Marlins (4-4) over .500 for the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

ED-WINNING WAYS
Jackson goes for his fifth win in his last seven starts tonight against the Marlins. In his last start on July 4, he outpitched San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, allowing four runs on five hits in 5.2 innings. He will face Marlins starter Carlos Zambrano for just the second time in their respective careers, with the last matchup coming on June 23, 2009 at Detroit when Jackson was a member of the Tigers and Zambrano was with the Cubs.

FISH FRIED
Thanks to a dominant start from Stephen Strasburg and three scoreless innings from the bullpen, Washington blanked the Marlins 4-0 on Sunday in Miami. Strasburg (10-4) reached double digits in wins with six innings of shutout ball in which he fanned seven and walked just one. Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard combined to record the final nine outs, preserving the Nationals fifth shutout of the year.

DOUBLE-DIGIT DANDIES
When Strasburg pocketed his 10th win yesterday, he and Gio Gonzalez (12-4) became the first pair of NL teammates to reach the 10-win plateau. San Francisco’s Matt Cain (10-3) and Madison Bumgarner (11-5) became the second NL pair a few hours later when Cain logged his 10th win. The AL’s lone 10-win pair is Texas’ Matt Harrison (12-4) and Yu Darvish (10-6).

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Surviving The Gauntlet

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The baseball season is full of many tests. This year, the Nationals schedule has them slated to face a total of 20 other Major League squads: the five American League East clubs joining the standard 15 National League teams on the slate. Much of what was considered the “easy” portion of the schedule came early, giving those who doubted the team’s April success grounds for an ominous warning: just wait until May 18.

Ian Desmond has delivered clutch RBI all season long.

That was the day the Nationals began a stretch of 32 straight games (originally 33, but one was postponed due to rain) in which they played every member of both the NL and AL East, including five games against Atlanta and six versus Baltimore. Washington entered that portion of the schedule at 23-15, a half-game back of the Braves and just two games ahead of the Mets, with the Marlins another game behind in a very tight division race. Even though Washington dropped a tough loss on Sunday to close that stretch, they still finished the gauntlet with an 18-14 mark, leaving them at 41-29 overall, three-and-a-half games clear of the second place Mets and four ahead of the Braves. The Nationals also put some distance between themselves and both the Marlins (eight back) and Philadelphia Phillies (nine back).

They have done this with the same formula they have used all season long: excellent pitching and clutch hitting, often from different sources each night. While Adam LaRoche has continued to provide the power and Ian Desmond keeps delivering big, two-out RBI, others have left their marks as well. There was the Stephen Strasburg’s first Major League home run to help beat the Orioles. Bryce Harper’s first Major League walk-off to grab first place back from the Mets. Ryan Zimmerman’s bases-clearing double against Tim Hudson and the Braves. The Tyler Moore show in Toronto.

Tyler Clippard has arguably been baseball’s best closer the last five weeks.

Through it all, though, there has been a larger revelation, one that has come so quietly that no matter how much attention we draw to it, it never seems to be enough. Tyler Clippard has emerged as not only the closer of the Nationals, but one of the best in the game since he has stepped into the role. In addition to a perfect 12-for-12 mark in save opportunities, Clippard has put up the following line in 16 appearances against Eastern Division foes since May 18:

15.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 20 K

To summarize: Clippard has allowed just two hits (and seven total baserunners), while recording 46 of the most important outs of the last five weeks. He has struck out 20, four times the number he has walked, and a rate of better than 11.7 per 9.0 innings pitched. He recorded the final out in 12 of those 18 wins, including three straight on the road at Fenway Park. His seven Interleague saves matched Yankees closer Rafael Soriano for the most in baseball.

Despite Sunday’s blip, Sean Burnett has been terrific setting up in front of Clippard. When roommate Drew Storen returns, the back of the bullpen will only get that much stronger.

While beating Major League teams is never easy, the Nationals do play seven of their final 13 games before the All-Star Break against the Colorado Rockies, owners of the highest staff ERA in the Majors at 5.33, easily more than two runs per game higher than Washington’s 2.95 mark. It might be just the opportunity the pitching-lead Nats need to get their bats going, heading into the season’s second half.

What to Watch for: 6/21

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Tampa Bay Rays (38-30) vs. Washington Nationals (39-27)

LHP Matt Moore (4-5, 4.16) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-3, 2.52)

The Nationals and Rays meet for the rubber game in this series after Washington held on for a hard-fought, 3-2 victory on Wednesday night to snap a four-game losing streak. This is the final game of the homestand for Washington before beginning a 10-game road trip in Baltimore Friday night.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

Espinosa 2B

Harper CF

Zimmerman 3B

Morse RF

Desmond SS

Moore 1B

Nady LF

Flores C

Gonzalez LHP

RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

Washington, having split two games against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, plays its third rubber game of 2012 tonight. The Nationals won their two previous rubber games, 5/3 vs. Arizona (2-1) and 4/11 at New York (NL) (4-0). In 2011, the Nationals finished 9-14 overall in rubber games.

DC’s 1-2 PUNCH

The Nationals are 22-5 (.815) this season in games started by Stephen Strasburg (winner on Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay) and Gio Gonzalez, who starts tonight in the series finale. Gio (11.1 K/9.0 IP) and Rays’ starter Matt Moore (9.4/9.0 IP) are two of eight qualified lefties fanning 1.0+ batter per inning.

2ND-PLACE HOLD-ER

With a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday vs. Tampa Bay, Sean Burnett pocketed his 52nd hold as a member of the Nationals and moved past Jon Rauch (51) and into sole possession of second place on the club’s all-time list. Only Tyler Clippard (74) has more career franchise holds than Burnett.

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Rays of Hope

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This is a story about a young, exciting team, built from the ground up through great drafts. It is a story about a dominating pitching staff helping lead the way through one of baseball’s toughest divisions. It is a tale of a team that endured injuries to its top outfielder, its franchise third baseman and its closer, yet found a way to keep winning games. It is about a franchise that has never enjoyed a season above .500, but suddenly found itself at 38-26 through its first 64 games, with a reason to believe it could look forward to exciting September – and possibly October – baseball.

This is a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Strasburg has led the game’s best pitching staff.

If the themes sound familiar, well, they should. The parallels between this year’s Nationals team and that Rays squad that shocked the baseball world by winning 97 games and the American League East crown, eventually going all the way to the World Series, are astounding.

To start, there are number one overall picks – David Price and Stephen Strasburg – lighting up radar guns. While Price did not make his debut until late in the season, the staff was led by James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir, all 26 or younger. Similarly, the Nationals have their rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson behind Strasburg, with Jackson being the elder statesman at 28. Oh, by the way, where do you suppose Jackson was four years ago, when he was just 24? Sharing the Rays team lead in wins with Shields, as the fourth member of that 2008 rotation.

Tampa Bay also turned in by far the best year the franchise had ever seen without a single player, starter or reserve, batting over .300, finishing 13th out of 14 in the American League in hitting. But great pitching can help make up for a lot. Aside from the aforementioned starters, they also had great bullpen pitching, led by Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54 in 51 appearances), Chad Bradford (1-0, 1.42 in 21 appearances) and J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22 in 64 appearances). As we discussed when the homestand began, the trio of Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen have combined for a 1.65 ERA over their first 87.2 innings pitched this season, holding down the fort until closer Drew Storen returns.

Adam LaRoche has stood alone as the Nationals top power threat.

The Rays survived the gauntlet of the AL East with just one 30-home run hitter, first baseman Carlos Pena, who hit 31. The Nationals top power threat so far has been first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is quietly having a terrific comeback season after spending most of last year on the Disabled List. LaRoche launched his 12th home run of the season Sunday, putting him right on pace for 30 this season.

Then there are the scintillating rookies – Evan Longoria and Bryce Harper – that have energized the fan base, and given each franchise a face recognized around the baseball world. Buoyed by that national support, the Rays had three players selected to the All-Star Game that July, the most the franchise had ever sent to the Mid-summer Classic. The third and final to go (joining Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro) was Longoria, who won the MLB Final Vote campaign. With Strasburg and Gonzalez seeming like strong candidates from the rotation, might Final Vote history repeat itself, giving Washington three All-Stars in 2012?

If the Nationals needed any consolation after one of the toughest weekends of the season, they need only look into the opposing dugout, at a franchise that has become the model after which many wish they could mold themselves. The Rays have averaged 92 wins each of the last four years, led by that core of young players and a strong pitching staff. If they can do it, why can’t the Nationals?

So, is this a story about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, or is it a story about the 2012 Washington Nationals?

Yes.

Lombo Support

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The Nationals are enjoying a number of new luxuries this Spring Training that the organization has never experienced to this point in its existence. The young, talented rotation may be the main component lending to heightened expectations, but there is a subtler, more under-the-radar quality to this team that may prove crucial over the course of the 162-game regular season grind: depth. There is veteran depth in the bullpen, thanks to the addition of Brad Lidge, and in the lineup with the versatile Mark DeRosa. But another player in the DeRosa mold, one with great versatility and a solid bat, who could make a big difference for the 2012 Nationals, is infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond give the Nationals solid, everyday players at both positions up the middle. But Lombardozzi’s ability to play defensively at each spot (and even spell Ryan Zimmerman at third on the occasional day off) makes him a viable option in that third middle infielder role. The Nationals have had a handful of players fill that role over the past few years (Alex Cora, Alberto Gonzalez, Felipe Lopez), but none have brought the offensive promise that Lombardozzi has displayed lately.

Lombardozzi tags out Dee Gordon in a game at Nationals Park last year.

After a slow start, Lombardozzi’s bat has heated up as of late, and he put together his most impressive performance of the spring on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a solo shot off CC Sabathia in Washington’s contest against the Yankees in Tampa. He is now batting .333 in the Grapefruit League, a notable improvement off the .194 he batted in his first 31 Major League at-bats last season.

“It’s not just my on-base percentage, I need to do everything well,” explained Lombardozzi. “But I take pride in getting on base and getting things going as a table-setter.”

Of course, for those who have followed Lombardozzi’s Minor League career, his recent success should come as no surprise. The son of the former big league infielder of the same name, he has batted .298 with a .369 on-base percentage over his four-year Minor League career. He’s coming off a 2011 year that saw him set career highs in batting average (.309) and home runs (eight), and set a new high with 30 stolen bases while being caught just eight times (78.9% success rate). With the Nationals looking for high on-base percentage players in front of the powerful bats in the middle of the lineup, Lombardozzi’s ability to do just that could earn him one of the final spots on the 25-man roster.

Lombardozzi won't forget that his line in Friday's box score any time soon.

“I’m very excited to be in big league camp and try to win a job out of spring,” he said. “I think the future of this team is real bright.”

As for the game today, Gio Gonzalez looked solid again, allowing his first run of the spring, but fanning six in just 3.1 innings of work, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Yankees would eventually win in 10 innings, but not before Sean Burnett, Ryan Perry and Tyler Clippard each contributed a scoreless inning of relief. Washington returns home to Space Coast Stadium for a pair of games this weekend, beginning with the Marlins on Saturday.

Here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

Overall Record: 5-7-2

Washington Nationals Miracle Field opens in Montgomery County

With the help of the Washington Nationals, kids with special needs throughout the Washington Metropolitan area will now have a place to play baseball! On Monday, August 1, the ballclub celebrated the opening of the Washington Nationals Miracle Field in Montgomery County with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Nationals pitchers Sean Burnett and Jordan Zimmermann, manager Davey Johnson, third base coach Bo Porter and Principal Owners Mark D. Lerner and Judy L. Lerner were all in attendance to help open the field.

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The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation partnered with various civic and community organizations from Montgomery County to construct the Miracle Field, which was built to provide children with disabilities a place to play baseball safely. Located in South Germantown Recreation Park, the field is made up of a cushioned synthetic turf that allows children using wheelchairs and walkers to “run” the bases without fear of injury.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, more than 30 children were given their first opportunity to play on the field, a sight Nationals manager Davey Johnson was particularly thrilled to see.

“I’ve raised a few children who had special needs,” Johnson explained. “This warms my heart seeing these kids running around, having this facility to play on. I’m actually more proud to be a part of this than the World Championship teams I’ve been with.”

The Washington Nationals Miracle Field is the first of its kind in the D.C. region and in the state of Maryland, and it will serve as the new home for the Miracle League of Montgomery County. Currently, there are 240 Miracle League organizations across the country that provide opportunities for more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.
 
“We’re serving a great need: to break down a lot of the barriers that are out there that separate kids who don’t have special needs with those who do,” Montgomery County councilmember Craig Rice said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids with special needs and developmental disabilities to get outside.”

Brian, a 17-year old who suffered a brain injury as a child and is now in a wheelchair, was one of the many Miracle League athletes in attendance at Monday’s event. His mother Debbie extolled the virtues of the new Miracle Field. 

“I think it’s very important,” she said. “There are a lot of recreational activities for children who do not have severe disabilities, but it’s very limited for children who can’t walk. This is amazing. It’s going to help a lot of the children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in team sports.”

Children with disabilities often struggle to participate in recreational activities because of physical barriers, but the new field will help minimize these obstacles and make playing baseball a possibility.

“This means so much to these kids because they get to be a part of something that they hadn’t been a part of before,” Councilmember Rice added. “They get to be outside, and play and enjoy a team sport. We know that builds character; that’s why we encourage sports as a part of our daily lives as kids grow. I think we need to continue to do that, especially for our children with special needs.”

The highlight of the day for all involved was seeing the pure joy that the new field provided to all of the children in attendance.

“It just touches your heart,” Johnson said. “You learn so much from these children. It’s just special; I can hardly put it in words. It’s just wonderful.”

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