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Tools of awareness

So this 10-game homestand closes out this afternoon with the final game against the Orioles, and quite a bit hinges on it, I suppose. First, this team doesn't want to completely kill the momentum it established by winning six of the first seven games at RFK - including the first two series wins of the year - by getting swept. That it would be to the team just up the B-W Parkway matters more to the fans, for sure, but this team isn't really in the mood to be swept, period.

Here's the lineup, and we'll get to some thoughts in a moment:

Lopez - 4
Guzman - 6
Zimmerman - 5
Church - 7
Kearns - 9
Belliard - 3
Flores - 2
Logan - 8
Bowie - 1

So with Micah Bowie in the rotation, I got to thinking about Brian Schneider (even though he's not catching today). Schneider came to spring training knowing he was going to have to learn a ton of different pitchers, breaking guys in, learning their stuff, teaching them the Nationals' gameplans, showing them what he knows about hitters.

So I asked him about it this morning.

"You got guys coming up here I haven't caught since spring training," he said. "It's tough, being able to talk to them about what's been working for them down there, to what might work here. Where to set up. What counts to get out there on the corners. There's a lot of things going on, but it's all about what's going to make them the most comfortable."

Before each game, Schneider, pitching coach Randy St. Claire and the starter that day sit down and discuss the "gameplan," which is basically how the Nationals will approach each hitter. "Don't throw this guy breaking stuff on the inside part of the plate," or, "This guy will chase a two-strike pitch in the dirt." That kind of thing.

Schneider is in a different position now than he has been in the past because it is his call about how to stick to the gameplan. Take last year. Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio all felt they knew themselves better than Schneider did, and they had records against certain hitters, and Schneider would find them shaking him off quite a bit. Sometimes it worked out really well. When Ortiz took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Cardinals in September, he spent much of the afternoon shaking off Schneider.

Now, though, the staff has so little familiarity with both the hitters and the majors, Schneider is driving the train a lot more. It's allowing him to develop as a game-caller.

"I don't know if I'm better at it," he said. "I've always had confidence in the stuff I put down, but it allows me to work hitters that I know. I know what the gameplan is, and I know I'm going to stick with the gameplan. Every now and then, I'll go away from the gameplan. Sometimes it's by mistake, sometimes it's because I see something that the hitter's doing. If I have confidence in someone's off-speed pitch, and it's 1-2, I'll throw a pitch with purpose to set up the next pitch. If these guys aren't shaking me off, I know what the next pitch is going to be, so if I want to set a pitch up, I can. It feels good. Sometimes it's frustrating when you think you got a guy set up, and the pitcher doesn't want to throw it. Of course, sometimes a guy shakes me off and they strike him out. It works both ways, but I think in general it's nice when he's just going with me."

"It's kind of fun, because these guys are trusting me a lot. We go back in between innings, we talk about some things, and they're telling me, 'Whatever you want, man, I'm throwing it.'"

But with the revolving door, he's also having to adjust on the fly. During Mike Bacsik's impressive six-inning outing last night - when he didn't allow a run - Schneider didn't learn what he needed to know about Bacsik's changeup (that it was running a bit) until the second or third inning.

Then, there are the practical matters.

"It's been tough," he said. "The other day, I didn't say 'Hi' to Traber until he was on the mound."

Something to keep in mind as you watch he and the pitching staff work on the upcoming seven-game road trip.

Enjoy the afternoon.

By Barry Svrluga  |  May 20, 2007; 12:29 PM ET
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Next: Guess the Rotation, Round 2


Schneider has proven himself to be a very good game caller. The inexperienced pitchers on this level should pay attention to what he has learned through the many games he has called. It would be nice to end this homestand with a win before heading to Jimbos old haunting ground and the grievance happy Reds.

Posted by: SC Nats Fan | May 20, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The top of the 4th today demonstrated a couple examples of what I think is an underrated part of the game: running on 3-2 counts.

When a pitcher continues to get into 3-2 counts, like Bowie was doing, runners are set in motion, opening up holes and getting extra bases on a clean hit.

The first O's run was set up by what would've been an easy double-play ball on any other count, then driven in on another 3-2 pitch allowing the runner to 1st and 3rd again. Instead of either a double play or 1st & 2nd, it is consecutive 1st and 3rd situations w/one out.

Even when the Nats pitchers have been effective, they're been getting into deep counts. That's why getting ahead of hitters is so important - which everyone knows. But, in addition to seeing more pitches, the deep counts drive pitch counts up, getting the starter out earlier, and exposing the bullpen night after night. With spot starters so tied to a pitch count, it makes a big difference.

The Nats this season have more first-pitch swinging than I can remember (although it seems to me less since Lenny Harris came on board). This keeps the other starter in longer, gives teammates less chance to see the pitcher's stuff, etc etc etc. While I understand guys like Church sitting on the first (perhaps only) fastball he gets, up and down the lineup, I think we're giving up something.

So, sorry for the long post, but the O's seem to be taking more pitches and working the counts, which over the course of a series takes its toll (esp. with an already depleted staff and close, extra-inning games). While it is more of an AL strategy, I think the Nats could learn a lesson here. Not to mention put more 3-2 counts in OUR favor on the bases. Go Nats!

Posted by: ShawNatsFan | May 20, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Hey ShawNatsFan,

... you've made an important observation. It's something which a team must decide to do as a whole, I believe. I have only one consideration to make: making the opposing pitcher work for the out - i.e working him deep into the count - is a basic fact of baseball, IMHO, not something simply attributable to the American League only.

Posted by: david f watts | May 20, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Dat's my Nookie! Thank God Logan's back and healthy.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 20, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Anybody else not able to see "Nats Xtra" on MASN2? There's O's Xtra on MASN, and Star Trek on My20, but MASN2 only has BookTV.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 20, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Attaboy, Nook!

Posted by: natsfan1a | May 20, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Flores should be playing 50 percent of the time. He's shown he's ready. Has more upside potential than Brian.

Posted by: swanni | May 20, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Nats come thru just in the nook of time before this roady to cincy. 7-3 homestand sure beats 6-4, has a better ring to it. 12 in row to 500...GO NATS STAY HOT

Posted by: SC Nats Fan | May 20, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

news on Church? I heard on the radio that he thought his arm was broken (??), and he certainly had to take a moment to pull himself together before going to 1st. I was sure Manny was going to pull him as soon as he was hit. He's been hitting so well on the road, it would suck if he had to sit down.

Posted by: Atlanta | May 20, 2007 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Baseball is a game where you keep your win chances alive, in large part, by hanging on and exploiting the other team's mistakes. The Nats illustrated that today.

Despite the indignity of being struck out 12 times by Bedard, our guys hung in there and stuck it to the Baltimore bullpen, which is known to have its issues. My mouth watered both Friday night and today when Baez took the mound; on both occasions, the Nats were able to get to him for a couple of runs -- including, today, the run that made the difference.

Didn't Logan look good today? Exavier Prente, ya little run factory you.

Awesome way to cap a sweet homestand! Oh you Nats!

Posted by: Hendo | May 20, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

They said Church only had a contusion, no break. He'll be listed as day-to-day.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 20, 2007 7:17 PM | Report abuse

BTW Barry, thanks for the great item on Schneider. As I recall, you (or someone at the Post) did a nice article at the time Mike O'Connor was promoted last season that also gave interesting insights.

That said, I wonder what Flores' approach is. Does he rely on Schneider for mentoring, or does he have his own way to work? What do the pitchers think of Flores? (Me, I think he's pretty darn good, but I can't pitch a lick.)

Posted by: Hendo | May 20, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Barry, Barry, Barry,
You write a story about the trade with the Reds and you don't even mention that Kearns has been a bust thus far? The article makes it sound like Kearns and Lopez are putting up big numbers while the Reds have been on the short end. The latter is true, but the former is not.

Was this a make-up call for Jimbo? After you deigned to write about the Rosenthal Report?

Posted by: Swanni | May 21, 2007 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry Acta chose to use Jon Rauch for two innings Saturday night. In addition to being less effective in the 7th (Nats pitchers have to be perfect to expect to win), in that same inning he failed to take notice of the fact that Brian Roberts was 1/3 of the way to third base and Guzman was creeping behind him toward second ready for a pickoff throw.

Inexplicably, Rauch turned to the plate and delivered the ball to Schneider, allowing a double steal.

Posted by: JohnR (VA) | May 21, 2007 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Just as we were bemoaning the lack of outfield power, along comes Justin Maxwell who is having himself a pretty fair year in low-A Hagerstown. Barry did a nice item this past Wednesday on the up-and-comers for the Suns, in which Maxwell's performance this season got a favorable mention.

Maxwell, who's from Bethesda via UMd, is hitting .278/.376/.602 in Hagerstown. He got his eleventh HR in a 3-for-5 performance yesterday afternoon. There is hope.

Posted by: Hendo | May 21, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

... the blogger William Yurasko said "With the exception of some small ball in the 3rd that put the Nats ahead 1-0, yesterday's game was kind of a yawner." Which only goes to prove that some people - those who call themselves fans but 1/ don't really understand the game, and 2/ feel the game must satisfy their expectations, rather than those of the team - will never get it.

... and now to Nook Logan, I remain unconvinced. Don't get me wrong; in the aftermath of yesterday's game, I'm thrilled for him and for the team, but I still feel he is unproven. Maybe we'll all be satisfied when he has more performances like yesterday's and becomes more of an experienced bench guy - a journeyman who can be counted on. I believe that's all we can expect from him. But having said this, I will end my comments on this one note: if Nook Logan can quickly become the speed demon, base-running threat we expect he can be, all will be forgiven (in my mind) and I'll clamour for him to be the everyday starter. That's where his forte lies; that's what he's shown in snippets so far (2 yesterday were a good start); that's what he has to offer to the team ... and soon.

... last point. Barry reported: "Bedard's legs had worn first, in part because he had run the bases for the first time in his career." Thanx to the dreaded DH, we now have major league baseball players who are untrained and unable to play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Disgraceful.

Posted by: david f watts | May 21, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

May sound crazy, but I would like to see Logan bunt at least twice a game. He can't hit -- but he's a very good bunter. With his speed, even an average bunt gives him a better than average chance of getting on.

Which is a better chance than if he swings the bat.

Of course the infielders will creep up a bit more, but let 'em. That will increase his chances of scooting a grounder through the holes.

Posted by: swanni | May 21, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Ouch. Austin Kearns' stats to date as a Washington National:

ABs: 376
Hits: 93
Batting average: .247

HR: 12
RBI: 52

Posted by: swanni | May 21, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Don Sutton chewing gum during the broadcast? Didn't his mother teach him to chew gum with his mouth closed? I can hear it all night long when the games are on MASN or MASN2, didn't hear it so much on 20.

Not nearly as bad as the picture glitches every few minutes though.

Posted by: Prophet | May 21, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Is Swanni an editor? I ask that because his constant complaining brings to mind Mark Twain's description of editors as "someone who's never satisfied until he's pissed in the stew".

On a happier note, Barry, thanks very much for the detailed post on Schneider and the art of catching. But I'm a little surprised a piece with that much detail and evident effort in writing didn't get saved to run as a sidebar or Notebook for those who spend their $.35 to read your work. (Ooops. Now I'm the one sounding like an editor.)

Posted by: Section 502 | May 21, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Stew?! This team is more like Hamburger Helper!

Posted by: swanni | May 21, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse


Nowhere in the story -- nowhere -- does it, as you said, "makes it sound like Kearns and Lopez are putting up big numbers." Their numbers aren't in there. It does, however, say that, "The Nationals ended up with players who they expect to be keepers as they build what they hope will be a contending team." Why does it say that? Because it's true. You might disagree. I might disagree. The Nationals, however, expect Lopez and Kearns to be part of a contender. Whether they're right about that or not will be the kind of evaluation that will either make them a success or a failure.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | May 21, 2007 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Worst loss of the year - blowing a 6-0 lead to the Reds.

Posted by: Ed | May 21, 2007 10:03 PM | Report abuse

utterly speechless. Nats up 6-0, then bend over for a 8-6 defeat. What the $%&$#!!!

Posted by: Cap Chris | May 21, 2007 10:03 PM | Report abuse

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