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Pitching at its best

When I spotted Lenny Harris after yesterday's game, the Nats hitting coach looked at me with a shrug and made a frantic curling movement with his right hand, recalling a balloon that's just been popped. "That slider," he said, shaking his head.

He was referring, of course, to the CC Sabathia Show. It's taken over Milwaukee. And yesterday, it steamrolled right over the Nats.

No team yet in the NL has solved the guy. Sure, he was a Cy Young winner last year in the AL with Cleveland. But several who saw him yesterday said that he's reached an entirely new level since jumping leagues. "He's more of a pitcher now," is how Austin Kearns described him -- meaning, he doesn't just try to blow you away with 97-mph smoke.

Part of CC's improvement was expected. Facing NL lineups will always help a guy's performance, especially the first time around. No matter. Sabathia makes the short list (and maybe tops the list) of the best pitching performances against Washington this season.

Manny Acta, when asked about the best he's seen this year, mentioned Tim Hudson. You might also make a case for Matt Cain or Brandon Webb or Dan Haren. Here's my top-5 list, rank-ordered.

1. CC Sabathia (Aug. 8) -- 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K, 103 pitches
2. Brandon Webb (May 31) -- 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, 113 pitches.
3. Tim Hudson (April 11) -- 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 96 pitches
4. Cole Hamels (May 20) -- 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K, 110 pitches
5. Matt Cain (July 23) -- 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 113 pitches

Oh, and it gets no easier (well, maybe a little easier) for the Nats today. They face Ben Sheets. When I asked Acta after last night's game what kind of challenge that Milwaukee 1-2 presented, he said, somewhat jokingly, that I worry too much, and that it's a good thing I don't play for his team, because that's not the kind of attitude you can take into an at bat.

"Man," one team employee said, "I think you were just benched."

By Chico Harlan  |  August 9, 2008; 8:51 AM ET
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Next: Tonight's lineups today


Wouldn't it be nice if Chico were asking that of Manny in Spring Training '09 about his own team?

"What sort of challenge do the Nats put forth at the top of the rotation present to other teams with signings of Sabathia and Sheets?"

Followed in the rotation by Lannan, Balester and Zimmermann.

Ahh....hey, a guy can dream.

Posted by: Ryan | August 9, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

This looks like a great rotation for our 2009 Nats. I suggest the Lerners open their pocketbooks immediately and do whatever it takes to get these guys in uniform. Anything less is cheapness:

1. CC Sabathia
2. Brandon Webb
3. Tim Hudson
4. Cole Hamels
5. Matt Cain

Posted by: Suicide Squeeze | August 9, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

A fair comeback to Manny would have been to ask what type of attitude did Lopez and Estrada take into their ABs to earn them in July?

Acta really seems to have taken back the team....the story that needs to be written is how did he lose it for 4 months of the season and who is accountable for the product he put on the field.

Lopez is benched and on his way out of STL all is good.

Posted by: JayB | August 9, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Going back for a moment to Lopez' comments on signing with St. Louis, it would appear that Chico's earlier posting - and/or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch piece that he cited - omitted some of the player's more balanced and positive comments. From a Belleville News-Democrat piece:

"It wasn't a shock," Lopez said. "They're trying to get young players over there. I just wasn't in their plans for the future. They're looking more for youth. I'm not saying I'm old; I'm only 28. I thought it was a good move for both parties. They let me go and it gives me a chance to go to the postseason with somebody. I think it was a class act by them to do that."

Full story here:


Posted by: natsfan1a | August 9, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

eh, apologies for the paren nesting (and tip of the hat to OG) - I started out with the URL embedded in my comments and then pulled it out.

Posted by: natsfan1a | August 9, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

This looks like a great rotation for our 2009 Nats. I suggest the Lerners open their pocketbooks immediately and do whatever it takes to get these guys in uniform. Anything less is cheapness:

1. CC Sabathia
2. Brandon Webb
3. Tim Hudson
4. Cole Hamels
5. Matt Cain

I know you're kidding but they better damn well go after Sabathia.

Posted by: Section 111 (Formerly 223 @ RFK Stadium) | August 9, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

"Bergmann is inconsistent."

I think this is really wrong and unfair to Jay. He's not inconsistent. He's an extreme flyball pitcher (more than any pitcher in the league) and he has a huge lefty-righty split. That means that when some of those FBs drift out (as they inevitably will--it's not a repeatable skill to keep your HR/FB rate down), his box score will look a lot worse. That's just good luck vs. bad luck, and it comes with the territory with him.

If he loses command at all (as all pitchers do from time to time) and then is forced to challenge a lefty, then he's going to get hurt (see the Dunn homer in the Cincy start a few weeks back). That's not inconsistency or lack of mental toughness. That's just his weaknesses as a pitcher showing up. Now, you can argue that you don't want a pitcher with a 50+% FB rate in your rotation. That's fair. But to attack him like he has some kind of mental weakness of moral failing is unfair and actually quite disrespectful to him.

Now, I'm sure as a young guy that he has his moments of lost composure. But it doesn't help to have your organization pull the plug on you after 2 bad innings. Seriously--the first inning against the Phils in his first start and the fifth against the Marlins in his second start, and he was pulled from the rotation. And then one bad bullpen inning against the Braves and the kid's in Columbus being told that he has a lack of mental toughness.

At that point, a young pitcher needs his team to say, "It's sample size. Shake it off. You'll be fine." I think Manny and St. Claire would have done that. But Bowden, impatient, young pitcher-hater, blame-shifter, and player-blamer, decides he's gotta "send a message" and send down one of the few useful youngish SPs he has on the big club. And don't think for one second that the fact that Bowden inherited Bergmann from the Expos doesn't make him faster to throw the kid under the bus.

You can disagree with me about Bowden's motives, that's fair. But there's no evidence whatsoever that Bergy is any more or less inconsistent than every other pitcher in MLB.

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | August 9, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

SoCH: I agree with most of your logic on this point. Bergmann still has a tendancy to get cautious and tries to guide pitches after an error or a couple of long balls. If he can get past that (and he's showing that he can), I think he's clearly in the mix for 2009.

Posted by: BIM | August 9, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I too saw those Lopez quotes....while not as offensive as the others, they still cry, ME, ME, ME.....a Lopez trademark.

Posted by: JayB | August 9, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Who's this Lopez guy everyone is going on about? He must be a pretty important influence on this blog's daily lives, to judge by the obsession with his interviews in a midwestern daily paper's sports section.

Posted by: Just sayin | August 9, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

National Farm Authority is reporting that there is a chance that the signing of A. Nieto may be announced this coming Monday.

Posted by: Section 204 Row K Seat 11 | August 9, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Right, he's dead to us as are all former Nats.

Posted by: Just saying | August 9, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

@BIM--I'm sure that's true. I'm not saying he's perfect--I'm just saying that his peripherals are actually quite stable (in fact his BB rate has improved a lot this year). Your observation that he tends to nibble when he's getting knocked around I haven't really noticed but I have no reason to dispute it. My point would be a) isn't it only the rarest of the rare young pitcher who arrives in the bigs with enough confidence to pitch through trouble trusting your stuff 100%? and b) *if* this is his problem, then the organization yanking him from the pen to the rotation and from the bigs to the minors over and over for 3+ years is unhelpful at best, torpedoing the kid at worst.

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | August 9, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

""Bergmann is inconsistent."

I think this is really wrong and unfair to Jay. He's not inconsistent."

Bergmann has been the definition of inconsistent for the Nationals over the past two years. From six walks in a game to near no-hitter before he got hurt last year, then those Godawful outings against the Marlins and Braves early this season to the three-game scoreless inning streak after he got sent down and straightened himself out. If that's not inconsistent, then what is it? Manic-depressive, maybe? You can debate the reasons for it - and personally, I don't think he's been "jerked around" at all, he's been sent out there every five days to work out his demons and whether that's been in DC or the minors is immaterial because he was the only one who could straighten himself out and they gave him a place to do it - but he's been inconsistent as hell. Hopefully he's straightened himself out now at last.

Posted by: Ray King's Gut Feeling | August 9, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

tgvfaayy hucimbxr slalqlvf [URL=]yykuskgj[/URL] pzynzvzi

Posted by: nspnmdwn | August 9, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Starting staff for 2009 (pick 4 or 5).
Redding, Lannan, Bergmann, Balester, Hill, Clippard, Detwiler, J. Zimmerman, Van Allen, Willems. If you only pick four, who do you target as a free agent, and how much are you willing to spend?

Posted by: BIM | August 9, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

@Ray--here's a list of SPs who have given up at least 5 runs and 7 runs in 2 separate outings this year:

Matt Cain
Josh Beckett
Justin Verlander
A.J. Burnett
James Shields

Bergy had the bad luck of having those starts back to back to start the season.

If you want a pitcher who NEVER gets knocked around, then you better stop following human beings. Maybe in video game baseball.

If you want to measure his consistency, look at his BB%, GB/FB%, SO% from year-to-year.

Those are the things a pitcher has control over, and if you look at the sample size large enough you'll see he's actually quite consistent. An extreme FB guy who kills righties but gets killed by lefties, and who gets enough Ks and few enough walks to be a useful back end starter but who will probably always give up too many homers to ever really be a front-end guy.

That's who he is. Consistently. Like I said, it's fair to say you don't want a guy who gives up 50+% FBs, but accusing him of being mentally weak because he doesn't have Jake Peavy's stuff is just crummy.

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | August 9, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Speaking in tongues already? Does that mean Boni is Brett Butler?

What did the article either Dave or Chico did talking to other scouts say? Something like, "I don't understand why they mess with Bergmann. Just send him out every 5th day and he'll be a fine #4 starter."

I hope they follow that advice. I don't think a spot should be conceeded to anyone like Zimmermann who has not yet pitched. That's a little like Hughes and Buchholz or even Kei Igawa. Bergmann's earned it. Let them pry his cold dead hands off his slot by beating him out (figure of speech, only, channeling my inner Charles Heston).

Ben's chili dogs are made from . . .!

Posted by: PYBNL | August 9, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The best thing that ever happened to Bergmann was when JimBow sent him to Columbus, where # Steve McCatty, Pitching Coach at the Clippers, shortened his windup to a semi-stretch and sent him back as a Major League pitcher. I don't know what they're paying McCatty, but it isn't enough, and they should pay extra to keep him. Detroit tried to imitate his fix with Dontrelle. To lay Bergmann's inconsistency at JimBow's feet, to ignore this, well, it's just crazy, stupid, scary, obessively hatefully crazy.

Posted by: flynnie | August 9, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Bernie Mac just died. The world is a sadder place, and today is a sad day.

Posted by: flynnie | August 9, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh, if only ...

Speaking in tongues already? Does that mean Boni is Brett Butler?
Posted by: PYBNL | August 9, 2008 11:51 AM

Posted by: CE | August 9, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

SoCH hits the Bergmann nail on the head with the fly balls. He pitched well on the road against the Snakes and gave up four solo homers. Complete game, as I recall. He will do that. Also, as he noted, leftys get to him.

My observation on Bergmann is that when he is on, his fastball rides up and in to RH batters at 91. His slider drops low and away at 84 and his curve bites hard in the 70s. He can be virtually unhittable when all three are working (like against the Mets at Shea). He really struggles when one of the three (usually NOT the curve) aren't working. To me, that is the source of his inconsistency. On a good day he can throw two pitches with almost the same motion that end up 2 feet apart in the strike zone!

I would be quite comfortable seeing the guy start 30 games next year. I always find it interesting to watch him pitch, trying to decide in the first couple of innings whether the 'good Bergmann' or 'bad Bergmann' will show up. Chris Needham did a nice statistical analysis of Jason before he shut down his blog. I hope he reads this and can provide a link to the analysis.

I have never thought Jason's problems were mental. Always wondered if something physical prevents him from being consistent with the slider and fastball. A tweaked elbow, tired arm, whatever.

Posted by: Dick | August 9, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

"If you want a pitcher who NEVER gets knocked around, then you better stop following human beings. Maybe in video game baseball."

If you've got a pitcher who comes out of spring training with high expectations, and then he starts the season with three bad outings in a row (sure, every pitcher melts down occasionally, but three times in a row to start the season?), and that pitcher has options left, then you send him down to the lower-pressure environment of the minors to work out his problems, be they physical or mental. That's not jerking the pitcher around, it's plain common sense.

Posted by: Ray King's Gut Feeling | August 9, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

you don't mean this, from last year, do you?
May 14, 2007
Luck Is The Residue of Design

Chris Needham did a nice statistical analysis of Jason before he shut down his blog. I hope he reads this and can provide a link to the analysis.
Posted by: Dick | August 9, 2008 1:15 PM

Posted by: ce | August 9, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I think that Bergmann definitely belongs in the 2009 rotation. I have nothing to base this on except the feeling of confidence that I feel when I know he will be a starting pitcher that night. The "good Bergmann" is outstanding and would have won a whole lot of ballgames this season on a different team.

Balester needs some work. Should he be learning his curve ball at the major league level? I guess the answer is yes when you wonder who would take his place now. I eagerly anticipate every Balester start. He seems like a young lion trying his first hunts. I can see the future lethality and the hunting instinct already present. It is going to be a lot of fun watching him grow. I see him being our #2 pitcher in about two years. I feel like this season has shown that this starting pitching staff is already good. We are one pitcher away from being real good. Perhaps that pitcher is Sean Hill version 3.0, or Jordan Zimmermann or a stud free agent (the least likely possibility). With out improved defense in the outfield and the infield it is going to be fun being on the Nats pitching staff. All you have to do is trust your stuff.

Posted by: Dale | August 9, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

...with *our* improved defense

Posted by: Dale | August 9, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

When are we going to try and do a waiver/trade with Odalis Perez? He's had a decent year with an era just a hair above 4. He is a lefty. I don't think we'll get much, but I would think we should be able to get a decent single A player and it would free up a roster spot for Clippard, Jordan Zimmeran, or Martis.

Then again I thought we could get a single A player for Lo duca and Lopez, and that didn't happen.

Posted by: out with the old | August 10, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

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