This was a game which started out looking like a good old-fashioned slugfest. The Cardinals, led by All-Star first baseman Albert Pujols (arguably the best player in baseball) crushed a 2-run homer to open up the first inning, and then Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman answered that with one of his own in the bottom of the inning.
Nats starter Daniel Cabrera, despite establishing an ignominious team-record for wild pitches with four in the game, pitched well-enough to keep the Nats in the game.
The Nats even led, 4-3 at the end of the 6th inning, before the Cardinals tied it up in the 7th, 4-4. The 8th inning went scoreless, and the stage was set for a toe-to-toe battle in the 9th.
Then the wheels fell off of the proverbial bus.
The Nats allowed 11 walks the entire game, five by Daniel Cabrera and six by the bullpen. By the time Joel Hanrahan came in and BALKED the first batter he faced, not only had the wheels come off the bus, but the bus was in flames and plunging over the cliff.
Once again, the Nationals came into the 9th inning with a chance to win and...swooned. There's just no other way to look at it.
There is good news, though. Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 19 games, and the month of April is now officially over.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This was a game which started out looking like a good old-fashioned slugfest. The Cardinals, led by All-Star first baseman Albert Pujols (arguably the best player in baseball) crushed a 2-run homer to open up the first inning, and then Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman answered that with one of his own in the bottom of the inning.
In an effort to boost the bullpen, the Nationals acquired 26 year-old right-hander Logan Kensing from the Florida Marlins for right-hander Kyle Gunderson.
Lefty-reliever Joe Beimel is due to return from the D/L very soon, but will throw at single-A Potomac to ease his way back to the big club.
Shortstop Cristian Guzman returned to the club from the D/L.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/30/2009 10:29:00 PM
Starter Scott Olsen got a nice win and the bullpen-by-committee did the job, especially Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells, and the Nationals avoided a sweep in Philadelphia by winning 4-1.
Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to a club-record 18 games, and had a double, and the club welcomed back Willie Harris who, along with Anderson Hernandez and Elijah Dukes, were the hit-men for the evening.
A nice end to an otherwise ugly road trip. Glad to have them back home.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/30/2009 10:16:00 PM
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I just don't know what to say about this one. Except for Adam Dunn's upper-deck blast of a homer to avoid a shutout, the Nats didn't really have a bright spot tonight. The Phillies just owned them.
Starter John Lannan needs a win.
Perhaps things will look up when our D/L clears up a bit and we get Willie Harris and Cristian Guzman and Joel Beimel back.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 11:19:00 PM
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 05:59:00 PM
Nats news: Hanrahan out as closer, bullpen-by-committee for time being, Beimel to close when he comes off D/L.
I take satisfaction, but no joy, in this bit of news from the Nationals: Hanrahan out as Nationals' closer.
Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells will be the late-inning setup men. When Joel Beimel gets off the disabled list, he will be the closer, which greatly pleases me.
I don't dislike Hanrahan, but until he can do the job, I don't want him closing. Perhaps he's not cut out to be a closer? Maybe he'd do better as a setup man? There has to be another suitable role for him.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 04:29:00 PM
Monday, April 27, 2009
As an old-time radio character sometimes said, "I is regusted." Well, if he were a Nationals fan, that would be the understatement of the still-young season.
When have the Nationals ever had FIVE home runs in a game and lost? For that matter, when have they ever had five home runs in a game?
This was as down and dirty a slugfest as I've ever watched on a ballfield (at least in the 4+ seasons I've watched the Nationals.) The Nats had 11 runs on 12 hits, including TWO homers from Ryan Zimmerman, who also extended his hitting streak to 16 games. Nick Johnson, Elijah Dukes, and Adam Dunn all went long, in a ballpark where home runs are a staple.
But the Phillies had two - count 'em, TWO - Grand Slams. One from Ryan Howard (no surprise) and the second from Raul Ibañez, which finally put the Phillies ahead in the 8th for good.
The Nats had the Phillies. Like Rasputin, the Phillies kept coming back to life just when we thought they were dead. But they never led the game until the bottom of the 8th inning.
I hate to point fingers, but tonight fingers NEED to be pointed. Relief pitcher Garrett Mock and closer Joel Hanrahan. They sinned by walking batters in a crucial situation (inexcusable) and not trusting their stuff, not elevating their pitches and throwing off the hitters' timing. Joel Hanrahan has no business being our closer if he's going to keep blowing it in crucial situations. Stick him in the bullpen, send him down to AAA Syracuse, but for crying out loud, take him OUT of the closing role! As it stands, he cannot get the job done, and he's had every chance. I'd like to see Beimel as the closer, once he returns from the D/L. In his post-game interview, Manager Manny Acta declined to say whether or not Joel Hanrahan was going to remain the closer, but I have to believe that Manny can read the writing on the wall in front of him and even his legendary patience must have its limits.
The Phillies are not a bad or even mediocre ball club, they are the defending World Series Champions. A team is not going to beat them if they make mistakes against them. Maybe a team doesn't have to play "perfect" baseball against them, but you cannot give them more than a couple of mistakes because they will make you pay for them.
On "Nats Extra" after the game, I watched a VERY agitated Ray Knight describe what he saw going wrong. It was somewhat cathartic for me to watch, as we never see anyone actually ON the club get angry about these things. As a former World Series M.V.P. and Major League Manager, Knight's perspective really helped me to resolve my own frustrations about the team.
This April has been a disaster for the Nationals. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, but decisions need to be made now.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 10:30:00 PM
So far, Jordan Zimmermann is no fluke. He threw a beauty on Sunday (but was quite critical of his own performance), winning his second consecutive start and dropping his E.R.A. to 2.38 while striking out five, walking two and only allowing one earned run.
The offense did their part, too, notching 13 hits, including some great homers from Austin Kearns and Jésus Flores.
Finally, a road win!
Too busy this weekend to really go into better detail, so here's the wrap.
Now let's see if the Nats can take this upswing into Philadelphia and get Shairon Martis his 3rd win.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 08:57:00 AM
I was at work and couldn't watch this one. but I was going to turn on the radio and follow it.
After getting a little busy, I finally pulled up the game around 1:30, and saw that it was the bottom of the 1st inning.
The Nats were already behind 3-0.
Rather than distract myself with the radio, I just kept checking the score online. It just kept getting uglier. I saw those errors in the box and just sighed and went back to work.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 08:48:00 AM
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Santana's "black magic" pitching spells trouble for Nats as rally falls short, lose to Mets 4-3, fall to 3-12
For the most part, I think that the Nats did pretty well last night against Mets ace Johann Santana. Against a guy like that, I think that you just have to battle as best you can and hope that he, or his teammates, makes a mistake. The guy is a workhorse. He threw 104 pitches in six innings, 75% of them for strikes, striking out 10, walking one, and only allowing Nick Johnson's home run (his first this year) to spoil his shutout. So what do you do with a pitcher like Santana? Outlast him. Hang in there and try to get to the bullpen, and that's what the Nationals did. Down 3-1, Jésus Flores hit a 2-run homer, his first of the season, to cut their deficit to 4-3 and, with no men out, the Nats had a few more chances to tie thinngs up, but it wasn't to be.
I feel badly for Nats starter Scott Olsen. He had a quality start, but didn't get enough help on defense.
Ah, well. If they're not going to win, at least don't embarass yourselves or your fans. Those close losses stink, but they stink less than the dominating blowouts. When the score goes the other way, that's pretty sweet.
At least the Nats had a nice, new, clean visitor's locker room to work out of, right?
Let's see what Daniel Cabrera can do today.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/25/2009 09:49:00 AM
Thursday, April 23, 2009
First of all, I blame myself for this loss. I jinxed the team.
I got to Nationals Park early and walked around the place a bit, just taking in the sunny, but breezy, weather and talking to friends, and then I happened to see team president Stan Kasten walking towards me. "Are we going to sweep?", I asked, making a sweeping motion with my invisible broom. Catching my eye, he asked, "What?" I repeated my question, and Kasten quickly put his finger to his lips and went, "Ssshhh!" I had to laugh, but I didn't realize how right he was going to be.
The Nationals demonstrated once again that they are a pretty good team for the first eight innings, as starter John Lannan battled the Braves Jair Jurrjens, scoreless inning for scoreless inning, and the bullpens continued to blank each other through the eighth inning. The game was moving along quickly, probably to the relief of shivvering fans whi might have forgotten to dress warmly for the evening.
Then came the ninth inning. Neither Garret Mock, nor Mike Hinckley were able to get more than two men out, and managed to walk three batters, including the winning run.
Talk about frustrating. Some losses are harder to swallow than others, but probably none more so than the ones where your team has chances to win and cannot capitalize on them, and when your team hurts its own cause. Walking batters is a pitcher's sin, and isn't tolerated for long.
I was glad to get out to the park early, hoping to catch Nationals batting practice. Unfortunately, I wasn't in time, and only caught a little bit of Braves practice instead. I ran into "Coach" Ron Simms, usher extraordinaire, and spent some happy moments catching up with him. He showed me his daughter's wedding pictures and his we talked about his improved health and other things. Suddenly, a batting practice ball landed in the stands near us. I looked at Coach and he said, "It's all yours". So I went and searched for it and spotted it about the same time as a visiting Cubs fan, and I managed to beat him to it. He and I talked, he was a nice guy and we discussed the ballpark a bit. I decided to give the baseball to Coach Simms, because I knew that he would give it to a little kid and make them happy.
I also got to catch up with Mr. Charles Wells, who supervises ushers, and Tony, another usher. These guys really enjoy their jobs and like helping people.
I finally ran into Roy, who still works the Diamond Club, and then went upstairs to see his wife, Ellie, and catch up with them. They are the sweetest people, and getting to spend a few moments swapping stories with them is always a treat.
I feel as though I'm almost caught up with my entire "summer family". That means a lot to me, it makes each visit to the ballpark just that much more special.
I bought a program, and was pleased to see that it was wrapped in plastic, to protect it from the anticipated rain (which never came, thankfully). That was a nice touch, one that I really appreciate. Another example of the organization trying to pay attention to the little details.
My friend Mark showed up to take in the game with me, and we got caught up from last season as well. I bought some Hard Times Chili Mac with cornbread (an old favorite of mine) and , having not had any lunch, I couldn't resist the chili nachos, which I shared with Mark. My souvenir soda came in a cup with the season schedule on it, which I'm glad to see again. The cups from the first couple of seasons had the schedule on it and I really liked that, it was a great feature that's often useful.
Before the game, I ran into the girls from We've Got Heart, and they introduced me to Mike from Nationals Fanboy Looser. Nice to see more of the Nat-mosphere in attendance.
Well, not a great game, unless you enjoy pitcher's duels (which I do), and the way they lost was just awful, but now I can add that experience to the list of, "Strange things that I've witnessed on a baseball field."
Now I can put away my scarf, gloves and Nationals jacket until late September (October? Someday...) as by the time they return, it will be May and warm.
A well-needed day off and then up to brand-new Citifield and the New York Mets for the weekend. That ought to be interesting.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/23/2009 08:38:00 AM
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
1) I'd like to apologize to starter Jordan Zimmermann for continually misspelling his name the other night. (As this blog is, obviously, the linchpin in the Nat-mosphere, he will notice this immediately and sleep much more soundly, I'm sure). I'll have to come up with a mnemonic device to remember how to spell his last name and Ryan Zimmerman's last name. Let's see...
"Ryan" has one "n", and "Jordan" has......one "n". Rats. That won't work.
Ah, I've got it! Ryan was our first "Z-man", and Jordan is our second "Z-mann". Get it? How's THAT for clever?
2) Oh, and while I'm on the subject of spelling and words, I think that the debate has been settled by no less authority than the Nationals themselves. The term shall, henceforth, be known as the "Nat-mosphere", not the "Nat-o-sphere" because, as we all saw last week, the Nats have no "o". I like how some have interpreted that uniform "o"-mission (pun seriously intended) to be a veiled swipe at Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles, especially those Orioles fans who insist upon shouting "O!" during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, which disrespects the song, in my opinion. Hey, do the Atlanta fans shout "braves!" at the end of the song? Not that I've heard of.
3) [Jerry Seinfeld voice] "What's the deal with Comcast and MASN 2? Every....single...time...I try to set my DVR to record a Nats game on MASN 2, Comcast has the listings for that time slot(s) as "Book World", or "Tonight from Washington", or some such listing, rather than "MLB Baseball". [/END Jerry Seinfeld voice] So I wind up having to record HOURS of "U.S. Senate" feed from C-SPAN (Congratulations to Christopher Hill, confirmed by the Senate as our new Ambassador to Iraq on a 73-23 vote, by the way.) I don't know if MASN 2 is at fault or Comcast, but for crying out loud, someone needs to get their act together on this.
4) Personal gripe: Why on earth didn't the Nationals postpone Monday night's game? The weather forecast had been for rain and thunderstorms for several days before Monday, and it just seems ludicrous to have put everyone through the wet misery of that rain game. Oh, sure, it turned out well, the Nats won after all, but in front of how many fans? A bus-load, perhaps? This made no sense on several grounds:
A) The opponent was Atlanta. We play them several more times this season, it should be very easy to make that game up, unlike a visiting west coast team, for example, which only visits us once.
B) It was a Monday night, for goodness sake, the day of the week which usually has the lowest-attendance anyway. This was like a gift from the rain Gods! Make up the game on a Saturday or Sunday as a double-header when the crowds are better.
C) April games here have lower-attendance, because the kids are still in school. Make that game up in June, July, or August and you are guaranteed a larger crowd. Even if it rains then, you already have more people in the ballpark spending money on food and trying to keep their kids amused.
I can understand if it was after Labor Day, and you really have no opportunities to make up the game, or getting an umpiring crew in is difficult, but it's April!
I say that this was a bad call. Did the team stores and the vendors really make money that night? I think not. I think that they lost money that could have been recouped 10-fold during the summer.
5) The Nationals REALLY have to work on Metro and the last-train departures. I really do feel sorry for those poor fans who went to Monday night's rain game who took Metro and were forced to leave before the end of the game, lest they miss their trains. They deserved to see the end, to see that win. My gosh, that's like taking a girl out on a date for four and a half hours, and then another guy gets to drive her home.
Take heed, Nats-fans-who-Metro: Watch the weather reports. If there's even a possibility of a 2-hour rain delay during a night game, you run the risk of missing the end of the game.
6) Much has been made of the gesture of the Little Leaguers who want to pay Elijah Duke's $500 fine, and I have mixed feelings about that. While it is a generous and laudable gesture on their part to want to send a message to the club (and to Dukes) that they were grateful for his time spent with them, people have to remember that he was PAID for his appearance (from what I've read). And Dukes probably makes more on his contract than all of the Little Leaguers parents, collectively, per annum. At least the Nats will give the money to charity or towards their charitable works, but I dunno, something about that still irks me a little bit. My respect for Dukes as a person went up after I read about all of this, though.
7) There have been some calls in certain quarters for the Nationals to fire Manager Manny Acta due to this poor start, and because these critics don't feel as though he can get the club to a consistent winning level. I am not one of those people. Granted, I'm no expert, but of all of the problems with the club at this time, I don't believe that the Manager is one of them. It is still a very young club. All along, I've felt that 2009 was the watershed year, the year that the club loses all benefit of the doubts of the past several years (i.e. no owner, playing in the canyon of old R.F.K. stadium, etc..) 2008 was a real setback, with all of the injuries, but I don't think that firing Manny is going to solve any problems, either real or imagined. I like Manny's character, his self-discipline and the integrity that he projects and the respect that he has from other baseball people. He's like a young Joe Gibbs in a baseball uniform with a Spanish accent, in that regard (Manny's a LOT taller, though). We do not need to bring in some loud-mouthed egoist who wants to see his name in the sports pages every day, some strutting martinet on a power-trip.
For the critics, especially in this political town, maybe it would be easier to think of Manny Acta like Barack Obama: a good, highly-competant guy who has inherited a lot of big problems. No, he's not going to please everybody, but I have to believe that there are much worse alternatives.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/22/2009 10:51:00 AM
I'm beginning to wonder of there is some sort of weather correlation between the Nats and their victories. Two consecutive wet games, two consecutive wins. That certainly bodes well for this evening.
The night began with another hour-long rain delay, but Shairon Martis then took the mound for the Nats, and while he had a scary first inning, allowing three runs, he collected himself and managed to get through five more innings without trouble and notch his second win of the season.
The Nats rally began with Adam Dunn's 420-foot home run blast straight towards the batter's-eye in the sixth inning, cutting their deficit to 3-2, and then Austin Kearns tripled, and Josh Willingham came through with a pinch-hit to give them the lead, 4-3.
The bullpen did their job, and closer Joel Hanrahan managed to get the save. Mike Hinckley, who is credited with a hold, said afterwards that he gave all the glory to Jesus. At the risk of making light of Hinckley's religious faith (which I do not; I respect Hinckley and I respect his faith) I might suggest that he give some of that credit to his catcher, Jésus Flores, who called a great game and took quite a beating behind the plate. With all of the new pitchers he has to work with, I think that attention must be paid to the vital role of catcher Jésus Flores in the Nats battery success.
It is worth noting that the Atlanta Braves made a couple of key errors, possibly weather-induced due to the wet conditions, but this win was all Nats. I liked how they are being aggressive on the bases.
Wow, this is their first series victory of the season! That calls for for a small celebration, doesn't it? Now let's see if they can break out the brooms tonight, as John Lannan tries for his first victory. Goodness knows, he's overdue and has pitched well enough to earn them.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/22/2009 10:19:00 AM
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Washington Nationals have glimpsed part of their immediate future in the form of pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, and his performance in last night's 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves was certainly brighter than the weather.
After a two hour, ten minute rain delay, the game began and "J-Zim" quickly dispatched his first three batters with seven pitches. The evening was set for a pitcher's duel as the Braves Derek Lowe was his usual sharp self, and limited the Nats to only three runs in his six innings of work.
Zimmerman threw 71% strikes in his six innings, struck out three and walked one. He allowed one home run and established his initial Major League ERA at 3.00.
I had tickets to the game, but I didn't go. I was convinced that the game would be rained out. I worked late, and listened to Charlie and Dave on the radio on my ride home. Right when they brought on Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo, at 8:15, I saw some flashes of lightning in the sky. I really thought that I'd made the right decision. Certainly, this game would be postponed, I reasoned. It's Atlanta, not some west coast team, we play them many more times, it's early in the season, plenty of time to make it up in a sensible fashion. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Between the rain, fog, mist, and cool temperatures, it just seemed like a miserable night to be out at the ballpark. The game went on, at 9:15, and then they had another rain delay in the 8th inning, at 11:16. Play resumed at 11:49, and ended just over five hours after it was supposed to begin, at 12:12, but the actual playing time was only two hours and twenty four minutes.
I feel sorry for the fans who took Metro and actually sat through that messy weather, only to be informed at 11:45 that the last Metro trains would be leaving soon, so they had to rush out of the stadium to make their trains, never getting to see and enjoy the end of the game. That's too bad.
J-Zim looked great. By all accounts, his control, attitude and temperament are first-rate, and I can't wait to see him play in person and witness that 95 mph fastball for myself, as long as I get a little bit drier weather, please. He also knows how to execute a nice sac-bunt, which always helps. I like how he allowed a walk, then gave up a 2-run homer to Matt Diaz, but came right back to retire six of seven batters. That kind of steely mindset will serve him well.
I'm excited about our new arrivals, especially the youngsters. Justin "J-Max" Maxwell stole his first Major League base last night, pitcher Garrett Mock got in the game, as did Alex Cintron and Kip Wells.
So, 2-10. Expo-nentially (that's a joke, by the way) that's quite a percentage increase. Hopefully, we can keep that rolling.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/21/2009 09:08:00 AM
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Deja-vu all over again. Another 9th inning implosion as Nats lose 3rd straight to Marlins, 7-4, fall to 1-10.
Man, I'm glad to see the Marlins leave town.
Today, the Nats put forth another good effort through 8 innings only to collapse in the 9th and lose.
What can you say after this? At least Joel Hanrahan escaped any culpability, he wasn't sent in to pitch in the 9th.
I don't know what the deal is with Saul Rivera, usually a bullpen reliever put in to close today, but he's not the same pitcher he's been the last two years, he's worse. Quite simply, he's not throwing strikes and he's consistently getting behind the batters.
For my part, I changed my blog template (like it?) to see if that might send the team some good mojo. Alas, it didn't help. I may have to change it again.
For the most part, starter Daniel Cabrera did his job, even though he committed the unforgivable sin of actually walking the opposing pitcher.
On MASN, Bob Carpenter made a comment which made me laugh, yet turned out to be quite prescient. When the Nats went up 2-0 early, Carpenter commented, "Somewhere in the Marlins dugout, someone is saying, 'We've got them right where we want them'". Alas, his comment was right on the money.
The offense was getting on base, but they kept stranding runners. I don't know yet how many runners they left there, but through the first five innings, they'd stranded ten. TEN runners! I'm not certain that I want to know what the final total was.
I'm kind of glad that I wasn't there for this one. Gray sky, chilly and a little breezy.
I have tickets to tomorrow night's game, but the forecast is for rain all day long, so it might be another postponement. It will be too bad if that happens. I'm anxious to see the Major League debut of Jordan Zimmerman, one of the team's best young pitching prospects. Also, in Manager Manny Acta's postgame press conference, he made it clear that there would be an all-new bullpen tomorrow. The phones are ringing in Syracuse tonight.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/19/2009 05:16:00 PM
I was disappointed that I wasn't able to use my tickets to the Nats/Marlins game yesterday, but it was a 1:05 game, and I work Saturdays. To compound my envy for those who A) didn't have to work, and B) were going to the game, the weather was 100% glorious, as almost-perfect a spring day as one could wish for in Washington. To make matters even more vexing, it was schedule-magnet giveaway day. Fortunately, I was able to give my tickets to a friend.
If you had the opportunity to go to the game and turned it down because of the Nats record, I think that you kind of missed the bigger picture of what baseball joy is all about; watching your favorite team on a beautiful afternoon. I mean, really, is there a nicer way to spend an ideal spring afternoon? Isn't that what so many of us missed about growing up in D.C. from 1972 until 2005?
So with no T.V. available to me, I did what any other devoted Nats fan would do when confronted with such barriers: I simply put on Charlie and Dave and played out the action in my head (oh, and on the gameday feature of Nationals.com)
Things certainly looked bright at the end of the first inning, as Austin Kearns hit a grand slam to put them up 5-0. The Nats were getting hits galore, and their fortunes were looking as bright as the sky over Nationals Park.
That was the good.
The club had a sad scare late in the game when Roger Bernadina, playing centerfield for Elijah Dukes, who was being disciplined for being 5 minutes late for work, went way back to the wall to snag a long fly ball and made a spectacular catch and throw, but fractured his ankle in the process and had to be helped off the field. He had two screws inserted into his ankle, and will be out for several months, and the club has called up Justin Maxwell from AAA Syracuse to fill in for him.
That was the bad.
With starter Scott Olsen and the bullpen having allowed only 4 runs, the Nats were one out away from victory at the top of the 9th, when closer Joel Hanrahan allowed a home run with a man on base to suddenly tie the game, 6-6. The game went into 11 innings, and the Marlins chalked up 3 more runs and the Nats lost 9-6.
That was the ugly.
What are the odds that a closer is going to have two consecutive blown saves, on consecutive days, to the same opponent, both of which were home runs which tied the game? I hope that Hanrahan's teammates kept all sharp objects away from him and confiscated his shoelaces afterwards.
After the game, I was certainly conflicted. I sure was disappointed in the surprise loss, and I didn't have to eat my heart out that I'd missed a great win (I still wish I'd been there for Kearn's grand slam, though) and I didn't feel so bad that I'd been inside on such a great day.
There's been a lot of chatter online about the Nats decision to sit Elijah Dukes for being 5 minutes late to work. Dukes had been doing something for Little Leaguers, some sort of community outreach that the Nationals encourage the players to do, even though this wasn't a club-sponsored event. Not only was Dukes on the bench for most of the game, and fined $500, supposedly he's been threatened by acting General Manager Mike Rizzo with being sent down to AAA Syracuse if it happens again.
I think that this whole situation is ridiculous. There have to be extenuating circumstances and a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the club. It isn't as though he was late because he was out drinking all night and overslept, for crying out loud. But being threatened with being sent down to the minors? Good grief.
Dukes is obviously turning his life around from his troubled past and doing what the club asks of him. The $500 fine I have no problem with, that is still a punishment.
I'm beginning to wonder if sitting Dukes wasn't an excuse to give Bernadina some playing time. Manager Manny Acta is having trouble trying to accomodate all of his outfielders so this might have been a perfect act of expediency on his part.
But what an odd confluence of events which has sent Bernadina to the disabled list. I just learned that the Nats have already sent 7 players to the disabled list this season. Shades of 2008, and let's hope that it doesn't get any worse.
I hope that after Sunday, that we're done with the Marlins for a while.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/19/2009 01:21:00 PM
Friday, April 17, 2009
Friday, April 17th was a gorgeous spring evening for baseball. Too bad I didn't have tickets, but I usually forgo Friday night games anyway because I have to be at work so darned early on Saturdays. And if there is a rain delay (or extra innings, as tonight's game had), it just increases my anxiety of being able to drag my butt out of bed Saturday morning in time to be at work when I need to.
Tonight's game might have been worth the effort, though. Starter John Lannan ("The Walrus", I call him) had a wonderful game, the bullpen was terrific, especially our new setup man, Joel Beimel, who ROCKS, and poor Joel Hanrahan blew his save with the home run he allowed.
Alberto "The A.G." Gonzalez might just be the most exciting player we have right now (I'm also thinking that he needs a better nickname. The joke was, he has the exact same name as a recent Attorney General, so perhaps we should just call him, 'Top Cop"? Heck, I dunno, I'm just spitballing here.) Don't get me wrong, I love Cristian "All-Star, 5 for 5" Guzman, but Gonzalez brings a lot to the table. I'm pretty happy with the Nats shortstop situation right now.
Manager Manny Acta got ejected for only the second time in his brief career, and at the moment (top of the 10th inning) I still don't quite know why, but I'm slightly bemused because I was there in Philadelphia when Acta got his first career ejection, two seasons ago, and there was no question why at the time. Funnily enough, John Lannan was also pitching that day (it was his Major League debut) and due no doubt to jitters, he hit two Phillies batters, Chase Utley (broke Utley's hand, too) and Ryan Howard, and umpire Hunter Wendlestead (sp?) tossed him and then tossed Acta, who came out to defend his player. Even MASN color commentator, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, thought that Wendlestead made a bad decision there. And, oh, were the Philly fans in a heated lather over that! They were calling for Lannan's head.
My gosh, it's great to see some Nats offense. They didn't have a lot of runs tonight, but they sure had a lot of hits, 12 to be exact.
No, the Nats didn't win, but they played well against the team with the best record in baseball. They led most of the night and only made one error. If it weren't for that one hanging breaking ball from Hanrahan in the 9th, they would have pulled it out 2-1.
Yeah, I hate losing as much as the next fan, but there is losing and there is losing badly, and the Nats didn't lose this one badly. It gives me hope for tomorrow and Sunday. It's an encouraging loss, not a horrible, dispiriting, crushing loss.
If this team continues to compete like this, the victories will certainly come in due course.
And someday soon, they should be able to string two victories together. And won't that be grand?
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/17/2009 10:18:00 PM
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The 1988 Orioles can relax, no challenge to their 0-22 start this year as Nats beat Philies 8-2 to advance to 1-7.
What a relief. Nice to get that first one out of the way, and in such high style, too. Home runs from Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Elijah Dukes, and Alberto Gonzales. Starter Shairon Martis got a nice win, too. Great performances from all of the "new" guys; Willingham, Gonzales, and Roger Bernardina, who got a nice stolen base.
This is the kind of performance that I think most of us were expecting seven games ago. Let's just hope that the team got off to a slow start and needed time to "find" itself.
Another couple of nice things: no errors, and not many stranded baserunners, only eight, I think. Much better than those games last week, such as the one where the Nats stranded 15 (or was it 16?) men on base.
All in all, a great treat for all of the Nats fans who showed up at the park this evening. Tonight's game wasn't in my package, alas.
Oh, and those new "alternate" uniforms are pretty darned snazzy. They remind me a bit of the Braves alternate home uniform introduced a season or two ago. Frankly, I like them better than the "official" white with red home uniform. The blue hat is cool, with the red, white, and blue interlocking "DC", but I'd prefer to see a red, white, and blue curly "W" instead. I vote that the club wears that uniform at home for the rest of the season.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/16/2009 11:54:00 PM
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Well, it's been almost an entire year between blog posts. Miss me? (Don't answer that).
I was quite excited a year ago when the new stadium was opening and I thought for certain that the 2008 Washington Nationals would be more competitive than the 2007 squad, if for no other reason that the smaller dimensions of the new park would allow for more offense than the canyon of R.F.K. ever could.
Then came the collapse.
Sometime around July 4th, I even stopped going to the games, as real life interfered which necessitated a move and all of the expenses that entails, not to mention the time involved. The Nationals didn't make it too tough on me to miss their home games, they obliged me by losing and giving me little reason to regret my stadium non-attendance.
The other problem was the ballpark itself. Oh, it's beautiful and clean and has plenty of food and drink and fun opportunities for families, and the Metro system makes it pretty easy to get to. The scoreboard is terrific and as far as I'm concerned the only "bad" seats are ones where you cannot view the scoreboard. Volumes were written last year by more patient bloggers than myself, as well as the working press, about the virtues and vices of Nationals Park, but my single biggest problem with it was that it isolated me from a lot of the people I enjoyed seeing, and because there are no large parking lots which bring in most of the fans, I couldn't really bump into friends on my way out of the games the way that I could at R.F.K. So that took away a lot of the fun for me. I do like the new ballpark - really, at the end of the day, what's not to like if you're an average (or even above-average) fan?
With the way things went in 2008, I didn't feel much like blogging about the team. Honestly, who really wants to read a litany of losing? It just gets tiresome, and I was completely uninspired. There's also been an increase in the number of baseball blogs which are either devoted to the Nationals or include them often enough in their content. I salute them for their efforts. They must not just have the time, which has to be considerable to do any justice, but also the passion and inspiration to do it.
It also didn't help that the Nationals traded away two of my favorite players (Ryan Church and Brian Schneider) for Lastings Milledge, who has been lauded up and down for having such promise, yet he has struggled so mightily since joining the club that seven games into this season, they've already sent him down to minor-league Syracuse. That really hurt me as a fan, I loved both of those players, and miss them terribly. I'm just happy, for their sakes, that they went to a more successful organization, the New York Mets.
What people must never forget about the 2008 Nationals as they marched to 122 loses and became the worst team in MLB is the plague of injuries that they suffered. The squad which took the field on Opening Day was completely devastated by injuries and if I remember this correctly, every player who was on the field on Opening Day went to the D/L at least once by the All-Star break. The only bit of pleasantry was seeing SS Cristian Guzman become the team representative to the All-Star game, after suffering such terrible campaigns in 2005 and 2006.
So many players have come and gone. The only ones left from Opening Day of the inaugural 2005 season are 1B Nick Johnson (finally healthy again? Fingers crossed!) and Guzman. I realize that cuts and trades are the nature of the game, but it would be nice to have a little more stability and continuity.
The post 2008 off-season of moves was interesting, all the way up through spring training. The Lerner family attempted to land free agent Mark Texeira, who decided that the allure of New York Yankee pinstripes and more-likely post-season glory was more valuable to him than the money that the Lerners offered as well as closer proximity to his family in Maryland. They did succeed in signing slugger Adam Dunn which promises to add excitement at the plate and veteran leadership in the locker room. They traded for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen from the Florida Marlins. There are far too many other personnel changes to list, (including the coaching staff) but those were the major acquisitions.
To the surprise of few (and the delight of many, according to many blogs and published comments) the Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden resigned after facts came to light about one of their highly-touted Carribean prospects, who turned out to be older than originally thought and even his name was not what everyone thought that it was. Bowden resigned during the ongoing investigation, and was never actually charged with anything, but after the 122-loss season and allegations of misconduct in the club's Carribean operations, Bowden claimed to resign so as not to be a distraction to the team. Some of his assistants, including José Rijo, the head of their Carribean operation, also resigned or were let go. No immediate successor has been named, but assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo has taken on some General Manager duties and team President Stan Kasten is, essentially, also the General Manager for the time being.
The Nats had a good Spring Training and their minor leaguers are showing promise. All signs have pointed to a better 2009 season that 2008 was.
Well, that remains to be seen. As of today, Wednesday, April 15th, the Nats are 0-7. They've definitely had more offensive production, but they've also been stranding far too many baserunners. They definitely need some tweaking and tinkering and Manager Manny Acta has his hands full.
The Nats home opener, two days ago, was somewhat more sedate due to the 0-6 record, the overcast sky and cool weather, and the decision by President Obama not to honor one of D.C.'s oldest professional baseball traditions, the throwing-out of the honorary first pitch by the current President. Many fans were disappointed by that.
I'm not certain how many fans thought that the Nats had a real chance against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning World Series Champions, but considering that the Nationals made three errors and starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera had a weak outing, they may have been lucky to only have lost 9-8. Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman all had home runs, which made things exciting, and Cristian Guzman went 5 for 5 at the plate, but pulled his hamstring running to first base.
Before the game began, the team had a moment of silence for Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhardt, who perished with two others in a car crash last week after Opening Day. Adenhardt had many local connections, having been a Maryland native. A further sad pall was cast over the day's festivities by the sudden death of Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, in the Nationals press booth, less than three hours before the start of the game. Kalas, a broadcasting legend both in MLB and the NFL, had been ill, but no one suspected that he wasn't well enough to travel. I have to believe that his sudden death gave the Phillies players added incentive to win that day's game on his behalf.
After a day off, the Nationals were to resume their 3-game series with the Phillies, but the game was postponed due to the day's continued rainfall. Perhaps it was a mercy, in that it gave Guzman and other players more time to rest.
So that's the "Reader's Digest condensed-version" of recent and near-recent events surrounding the Nationals. For my part, I've had to scale down from a full-season ticket plan to a 40-game plan due to economic reasons. I am already missing knowing that I can attend any game that I wish to (or not). I've moved over from the 1B side to the 3B side to be in the shade during the day games. Really, in relation to the field, I'm about where I was at R.F.K. Stadium, perhaps a tad bit closer to home plate. I have no complaints.
So far, I've seen usher Tim Harris and beer vending legend Neal. Nice to catch up with old friends. There are still many people who I'm anxious to see though. I hope to catch up with many more people at the ballpark before the end of the month.
I didn't get to the ballpark as early as I would have liked, so I missed some of the Opening Day ceremonies, but I bought a beer from Neal. I haven't tried any of the new food offerings yet from the new food vendor, but I look forward to some of my favorites: Five Guys burgers, Ben's half-smokes and some chili and cheese nachoes.
Many comments have been made about the new bronze statues in the Centerfield Plaza area, of D.C baseball legends Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard. None of the comments have been positive. I have to agree. Sadly, I think that those statues are as ugly as sin and they do not do dignified justice to their subjects. A tremendous opportunity for truly majestic and dignified statues has been squandered. Such a pity. Those men deserve better. If I get to see Frank Howard again soon, I will offer him my regrets that his statue wasn't nicer.
I had a really nice chat with a couple of Phillies fans sitting near me. They were greatly outnumbered by Nationals fans on Opening Day, but I really detected an improved attitude by them over recent years. I think that because they won the World Series last October, after a 28-year drought, their fans have less of a chip on their shoulders. I could be wrong, though. Perhaps by mid-season their frustrations will return and they'll be back to their old selves again. There was one Philly fan nearby me who made a couple of rude comments, but perhaps winning gives them license to make such comments. Hopefully, I'll find out the answer to that question myself some day.
I'm not a "fair weather" fan, but for me the simple facts are that I go to the Nationals games to have fun and enjoy myself, and when they are losing so badly and not putting a team on the field that I really want to watch, I lose a lot of incentive to go and have even less incentive to want to share my thoughts about it. They don't have to win 120 games to satisfy me as long as they are a COMPETATIVE team playing baseball worth watching. They don't have to win the division to keep me interested, just keep my hopes up, that's all I ask. The Nationals aren't "loveable losers", they are a young team trying to find itself, but it gets rough when you have to listen to a constant barrage of criticism and bragging from Orioles fans, Mets fans, Phillies fans, Braves fans, et. al. And blogging isn't my job, it is something that I do to share the joys of Nationals baseball with my family and friends and whomever else cares to read these miscellaneous ramblings of mine. But the Nationals have to give me something joyful to write about first.
Despite all of their troubles and loses, Nationals baseball is STILL better than no baseball at all to me. I love meeting other fans, even fans of other teams and just having nice discussions about baseball. At it's best, it's completely wonderful.
I remain hopeful, if guarded, about their prospects for this season.
Look for me in section #112, row HH. I'll be the guy in the red Nats cap. Say "hello" if you have the time.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/15/2009 09:25:00 PM