What's wrong with ...
Extra! Extra! Lineups now added at the bottom of this entry.
So we quickly leave behind what we thought was the most compelling question about the Nationals - What's wrong John Patterson? - and sub in a couple of other words to come up with a new most compelling question about the Nationals - What's wrong with Chad Cordero? (Of course, What's wrong with Shawn Hill? could easily become the most compelling question about the Nationals, but I don't have any updated on his jammed left (non-throwing) shoulder yet, so we'll get to it later.)
Let's go back to the spring and summer of 2005, when Cordero was 23 and all the rage in Washington. The question then, if you remember, was simply: How does he keep getting guys out with a fastball that's 91 mph at its best and off-speed stuff - a slider and a changeup - that's average at best?
I was fascinated by this question back in 2005, and in preparing to do a long profile of Cordero at the all-star break - you may recall that, as he converted 27 straight save opportunities in the first half, Cordero was an all-star - I asked around about it. Here's a quote from that profile from pitching coach Randy St. Claire.
"His fastball is deceiving. It's where it comes from. He's a short-armer. Short-arm guys, they have that deception. It comes from behind the head, so the hitter doesn't see it till real late. When you get a long-arm guy, hitters see it for a long time. With Chad, you don't see it till the last minute."
All that made sense at the time, and indeed, it still does. But you recall those heady days in 2005, Cordero didn't seem to fall behind hitters. In his first 45 appearances that year, he walked only 10 guys - eight unintentionally. This year, he has eight appearances and seven (7) walks already, none of them intentional.
Later that summer, Cordero's reliance on his fastball became something of an issue, particularly when he blew a save or two during a late-July swoon in Atlanta, when everything continued to crumble for the once-in-first-place Nationals. It made sense. But the real difference? It was location. St. Claire said that then, and he says it now.
Flash forward to last week in Atlanta, when Cordero came painfully close to blowing what ended up being his only save thus far this year - a 2-0 victory over the Braves. Cordero has had such trouble with Chipper and Andruw Jones over the years, and they have been told to swing early in the count against him because he likes to establish the fastball, that he and catcher Brian Schneider decided to work them - and, indeed, the entire Braves' lineup - with a steady diet of sliders and changeups. In fact, in an inning that I believe lasted 33 pitches, Cordero said he threw only about six fastballs. The final out, you'll recall, was recorded when Scott Thorman, hitting with a full count and the bases loaded, swung at a 3-2 slider in the dirt that certainly would have been ball four.
"Gutsy call," Schneider said afterward. "But I thought we had to do it."
Not everyone agrees. I had a long talk with St. Claire last week about all this. He believes that Cordero's best pitch is still his fastball. He endorses showing hitters that he can throw his slider and his changeup for strikes - and even believes that doing it with the first pitch is a good idea. But at the end of the day, St. Claire believes that those pitches should be used just to get the hitter thinking, and that Cordero's main thought should be to put the fastball exactly where he wants it - spots where even if guys make contact, they can't drive the ball.
So ... is this a full-fledged crisis? He's 1 for 3 on save opportunities and has a 5.40 ERA, and has yet to throw a 1-2-3 inning. But I'm not sure it's a crisis. It's still the first month, and he has plenty of time to solve this, and he's not going to lose his job because of it. The Nationals either need him to be their closer for the long-term, or they need him to pitch well in that role so that another team wants to give up a couple of very good prospects for him.
The upshot: If the Nationals have a 5-4 lead headed to the bottom of the ninth tonight, Chad Cordero will be taking the mound.
The minors: Did anyone notice Tony Batista fell a single short of the cycle for Columbus two nights ago? No? Don't worry. Last night, the Clippers broke out for a season-high eight runs - and lost anyway. Batista had two doubles. Honest Abraham Nunez (just off DL) hit his first homer in the ninth inning to pull the Clippers within one of Durham, but they lost anyway.
Shawn Hill: You have to hope this isn't a devastating situation. I rewrote my notebook late last night to update the injury. Think of it this way: If the guy hadn't gotten two hits last night - twice as many as he had in his career - he might have gone seven or eight innings last night, and it's possible we wouldn't be talking about this situation.
Instead, he was on third, got caught in a rundown, dove back into the bag, jammed his left shoulder - and then felt sore when he went out for the sixth and gave up Aaron Boone's two-run homer. As scary, to me, was his admission afterward that he is still bothered by forearm tightness, a condition he firmly believes is a muscle problem and is not linked to his elbow, but it's been around since spring training and hasn't gone away, so ...
I promise to get you an update before tonight's game. Time to head to the clubhouse.
(Back from clubhouse. Here's your lineups.)
Lopez -- 6
Belliard -- 4
Zimmerman -- 5
Young -- 3
Kearns -- 9
Church -- 8
Schneider -- 2
Snelling -- 7
Chico -- 1
Ramirez -- 6
Uggla -- 4
Boone -- 5
Willingham -- 7
Borchard -- 9
Ross -- 8
Olivo -- 2
Wood -- 3
Sanchez -- 1
Notice no Cabrera and no Jacobs for Florida. Cabrera still sitting out with teh strained oblique muscle that kept him out yesterday, though Fredi Gonzalez said there's a chance Cabrera could go through his pregame workout and decide he was OK. That would change the whole lineup. Jacobs hurt his thumb on the hard smash from Chris Snelling that won the game last night. He had X-rays on the thumb, which were negative, but it's heavily wrapped, and he won't play.
Could the Nationals win tonight, thus win a series for the first time this year, and move into -- gulp -- third place in the NL East?
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