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A Quality Save, A Very Quality High-Five

Ahh, so that's what a save looks like. In fact, it's worth watching again, only because Julian Tavarez, after notching the final strikeout, released all of that ninth-inning pressure in the form of a spastic celebration. First, he bolted from the mound and flailed his lanky arms as if electricity was running through them. Then, there was something resembling a quick dumbbell curl. Then, he greeted catcher Jesus Flores with high-five that registered about 93 mph on the radar gun.

By no means does this blog post intend to be some overreactive ode to Tavarez, The Answer. There's plenty of reason to think any team entrusting him with its ninth innings is bound to blow a few. Earlier in the year, after all, Manny Acta made it a point to use Tavarez situationally, more against righties; lefties are hitting .302 against Tavarez for his career. Now, as a sometimes-closer, Tavarez will face anybody and everybody. He'll be in fewer positions to thrive.

Still, his save last night was impressive -- and it gave a glimpse of the quality Washington needs at the back end of its bullpen. Confidence. Tavarez has it in spades. That's apparent, for one thing, every time you talk with the guy: He leans in close, drawing his voice to a whisper, as if revealing directions to some secret fountain of youth. (One tip of his, which might not stand the test of evidence, but oh well: Never drink beer. Beer makes you fat. Hard alcohol just passes through you. So for Julian? Johnnie Walker, yes. Beer, never.)

Anyway, last night Tavarez faced four hitters. Three were lefties. It didn't matter. He induced two easy groundouts, then allowed a single, then K'd Shane Victorino.

It's a small sample size, yes, but already Tavarez looks like a smart signing. He has appeared in 12 games this year. Opponents are hitting .171 against him. (And lefties are just 3-for-15.) Most important, he's able to keep the ninth inning save situation in perspective.

(Lean in close. He's talking, again, in that conspiratorial whisper.)

"I closed some games in 2003, I did it for the Rockies (in 2000) for like two or three games, and I was not putting it in my head -- like, 'I am closing, I am closing.' Nothing like that," Tavarez said. "I was putting it in my head that I have to get three outs. I always prepare for anything. Whatever it takes. You wait for that phone call and you go in the game. You still grab the ball and the glove and go to the mound and pitch, right? So, that's how I think, that's how I do it. And tomorrow, you need a starter? Oh yeah, give me the ball. Put the ball on the floor and I will fight for it. Baseball, man."

By Chico Harlan  |  April 30, 2009; 8:46 AM ET
 
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Comments

Mock was not bad last night. A fairly good team effort. Let hope Cabrera is together tonight.

What are the prospects for 10 straight?

Posted by: mjames0 | April 30, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

"The team is 5-15 and the ones questioning the management are the pariahs. Speaks volumes of the expectations around here."

Phil Wood (perhaps you've heard of him?) has probably forgotten more baseball than any of us here have ever known, and he came out strongly in the "don't fire Manny" camp last night in a little editorial spot on the MASN pregame show. Afterward, both Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight (you know, the guy that y'all seem to think is angling to get Manny's job) were strongly in agreement with what Phil had just said. And I mean strongly.

So yes, you "fire Manny" types probably are the pariahs here.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I like Tavarez's attitude. I also like his statements last night about Hanrahan, saying that he knows that Hanrahan will win his starting job back.
Even if Tavarez is wrong, he's good to express confidence in the guy.
Now, if Joel could just get some confidence in himself...

Posted by: usmc53 | April 30, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Johnny Walker or not, oldest guy on the roster or not, if you watch the pre-game warmups, Tavares looks like he's in the best shape of any of the pitchers, maybe anyone on the whole team except Dukes. His running is effortless--he sort of glides. Maybe beer is bad.

Posted by: chiefwj | April 30, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

yeah we need to defer to the all knowing phil wood. being the laughingstock of baseball for two years in a row is AWESOME, because phil's extensive major league experience says so. and as a former player and or manager his opinion means much more.

Posted by: MrMadison | April 30, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Maybe beer is bad" !!?? I think we need to report abuse. That is the single silliest thing ever said on the NJ.

:-)

So I wonder when Wells will get a crack at a save.

Posted by: twinbrook | April 30, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm starting to really like this guy.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 30, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Beimel is filthy and there is only one reason not to appoint him closer - that sometimes the 8th inning or other situations are more dire and require the better pitcher.

Posted by: dclifer | April 30, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

"yeah we need to defer to the all knowing phil wood. being the laughingstock of baseball for two years in a row is AWESOME, because phil's extensive major league experience says so. and as a former player and or manager his opinion means much more."

Well, Ray Knight agreed with Phil Wood, and Ray Knight is both a former player and a former manager. Perhaps you've heard of him?

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I would rather get kicked in the ding ding than agree with Nunof1 but, he has a solid point.

The pariahs in here are the "Fire Manny" folks. You guys are the minority but, you are vocal, I will give you that.

You all are also entitled to your opinion, whether I agree with it or not. And if we are awful come mid July, I very well may be a pariah too.

I just wish you all would give the man some time, this season to get it turned around before you all call for his head. We are 20 games in for Lord's sake.


Posted by: Section505203 | April 30, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

how about letting Beimel and Tavarez switch off on being the 8th or 9th inning guy, depending on the situation, theyre the only two pitching with confidence, oh and Wells is doing well too

Posted by: destewar | April 30, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

OF course, Phil and Ray Knight are siding with Manny. Don't they pretty much have to? They cannot go on TV and try to get Manny fired. They have to work with the guy nearly every day. So, of course they have to protect him - whether they want to or not.

I don't pretend to know what Ray Knight would say in private. For all I know, maybe he really likes Manny.

Think back to last year - every Knight Ray had something negative to say about the Nats hitters, their approach, their lack of patience and discipline. But never did he say "fire Lenny Harris." Why? Because Ray had to work with Lenny, and it's just not professional.

As for me, I say, "Fire Manny." It's a 5-15 team that lost 102 games in 2008 and came out of spring training not ready to excel. Am I a pariah? Nope - there's too many people on my side. Ray Knight is not a pariah either, too many people on the Keep Manny side as well.

Posted by: comish4lif | April 30, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

"But never did he say "fire Lenny Harris." Why?"

I would guess that when Ray was playing, he never felt the need to blame others for his screwups. And so when a player's not performing, he doesn't instinctively run around looking for secondary and tertiary causes. He affixes the blame where it belongs, on the person making the mistake.

Posted by: joebleux | April 30, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

"And tomorrow, you need a starter? Oh yeah, give me the ball. Put the ball on the floor and I will fight for it. Baseball, man."

That gets my vote for "Best Player Quote of the 21st Century." Hopefully that attitude will rub off on the others (not just pitchers - everyone on the team) as the season progresses.

Posted by: MikeH0714 | April 30, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

"OF course, Phil and Ray Knight are siding with Manny. Don't they pretty much have to? They cannot go on TV and try to get Manny fired. They have to work with the guy nearly every day. So, of course they have to protect him - whether they want to or not."

Phil Wood and Ray Knight don't work with Manny every day. In fact, I bet weeks go by when they don't even see him. They're in the studio or in that tent in the CF plaza, not in the locker room doing interviews or traveling with the team (that's Carpenter, Dibble and Debbie Taylor). Of course they're not going to go on a virulent "fire Manny" campaign, but if they ever want to say something like "you know, maybe it is time to think about a managerial change" there's no one to stop them. Dibble has shown this year that the MASN folks can be critical of the team without getting fired. But Wood and Knight are not only not making any subtle comments that a change is in order, they're coming out loud and clear against it. And no one is telling them to do that.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

yep heard of ray knight. yep, still think manny needs to go. sue me.

Posted by: MrMadison | April 30, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

nunof1, Ray Knight has recently questioned whether there is the necessary leadership in the clubhouse. One instance was after the Dukes sunglasses incident, he said that there needs to be someone who can get in Dukes's face when something like that happens, and whether it should be the manager or a veteran player, he didn't know.

When a guy with clubhouse experience like Knight questions whether there is the necessary "leadership" in the clubhouse, and says something like "I don't know if it needs to come from the manager, or someone else," that is certainly at least a subtle comment that he believes a change is in order. It actually struck me as much more than subtle, but hey what do I know, I'm not the great Phil Wood.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | April 30, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

so the manager cannot be held responsible for the teams bad play. got it. what CAN the manager be held responsible for them?

Posted by: MrMadison | April 30, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Julian is colorful. His antics earned him a nickname that sounds close to "Batship," even though I don't remember Marvel ever giving Batman a boat. We need someone like that around here. Who knows if he keeps it together for more than a month or two, but enjoy the ride.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | April 30, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Ray Knight IS a pariah, just not for that reason.

Posted by: Section506 | April 30, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"When a guy with clubhouse experience like Knight questions whether there is the necessary "leadership" in the clubhouse, and says something like "I don't know if it needs to come from the manager, or someone else," that is certainly at least a subtle comment that he believes a change is in order. It actually struck me as much more than subtle, but hey what do I know, I'm not the great Phil Wood."

Then how do you explain Ray Knight's vehement agreement with what Phil Wood had to say last night? I can only paraphrase what Knight said, of course, but he came right out and said that Manny is not the problem with this team and that he should not be fired. There was nothing subtle about it, either.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

furthermore, is ANYONE being held responsible at all? we cant blame manny, and the two worst pitchers on the team are still here while better pitchers are being demoted and released. can anyone at all be blamed?

Posted by: MrMadison | April 30, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the MASN guys aren't as free to express their opinions as you think, and someone talked to him. Or maybe Knight is in fact angling for the job, and he is being careful with what he says. Sometimes you can't believe everything that these guys say, sometimes it is just spin or it otherwise serves some ulterior motive--but you know already know that.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | April 30, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"we cant blame manny, and the two worst pitchers on the team are still here while better pitchers are being demoted and released."

I suppose you're referring to Rivera and Hanrahan here. They may still be around, but they're on a very short lease. Their roles have been reduced. Hanrahan is probably still here because he has no options left. If he doesn't step up in his new role, he probably will get released eventually. Rivera will probably go down when Beimel comes back off the DL, unless he makes some dramatic turnaround in the next week or so. (And from the looks of him the other night, he's nowhere near doing that.)

So yes, people are being held to blame here - specifically the players. Ask Lastings Milledge about that if you don't believe me. Just because the ax doesn't fall as quickly as you'd like doesn't mean it's not happening.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Without a dominant and confident closer, I think "closer by committee" is a good approach. Use Taveras when it looks like you'll have a righty or two coming up in the 9th, and Bemeil when you're going to face Utley and Howard. Work in Wells when he matches up well with certain hitters. Maybe even let Wells or Tavarez pitch both the 8th and 9th if they are throwing well. With this bullpen, I think we're better off not always using on pitcher per inning. And let's get Hanrahan some work in the 6th or 7th, especially if we're behind, and rebuild his confidence.

The key to all of this is throwing strikes. You can't protect leads if you walk people.

Posted by: Section222 | April 30, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Sometimes you can't believe everything that these guys say, sometimes it is just spin or it otherwise serves some ulterior motive--but you know already know that."

Well, you are obviously choosing to believe some of it. How do you decide what you're gonna believe and what you're not gonna believe? Do you use the theory that if they hint at something they're speaking the truth, but if they flat out say something they're only doing it because they're being told to? Or do you use the theory that if you agree with what they're saying or hinting at it's the truth, and if you don't agree it's a lie? Myself, I prefer to take what they say at face value and presume that they're grown men and can speak for themselves. I doubt that Ray Knight is so desperate for a job that he'd let himself become basically a hand puppet parroting the company line. He's still married to Nancy Lopez, so there aren't any alimony issues that would make him desperate for income, after all.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Generally speaking, I listen to what the person said, use my instincts and judgment, and draw conclusions from it. No agendas here when it comes to Manny. But anyway, you yourself have previously said that you don't take everything at face value that comes from the Nats and that no one should do so, so let's not just argue for argument's sake, ok?

As to Knight, what were the specifics of what he said as to why Manny is not the problem? Did he give any details or otherwise substantiate his views? If so, I would be more likely to credit that than just a blanket statement; kind of like how most sports fans know not to give much credence to an owners' expression of "full support" for his manager/coach.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | April 30, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

and now that I am at an actual computer and not on my cell phone, I can give a more in-depth opinion. Then you can understand exactly where I am coming from. I'm not just ranting when I say "Fire Manny".

I spent all of last season defending Manny. He had a cruddy team, and I realized that. All of the same excuses and rationales being made now, I made last year. I was full-on in the Manny bandwagon.

The Nats went out this offseason and improved in nearly every facet. I spent all offseason preaching this to the RickFelts and co. of this board. This team is far better in terms of flat-out talent than last year's team was. I said this before, and I still believe it. They aren't a playoff team, but they are a middle-of-the-pack team, as far as talent goes.

There is no reason this team should be the worst in baseball.

You folks believe that Manny still has the "crappy team" excuse to fall back on. I do not. He's got the talent around him to produce a competitive, 75-win, "middle-of-the-pack" team. Not a team that continually finds the most embarassing ways to lose, and is the joke of baseball.

It is his job to ensure that the players play to their capabilities, and they are playing far below that in every aspect except hitting. It is Manny's job to do things like have the team take an indepth fielding practice when they go to a new stadium that they've never seen before.

It's his job to pitch the guys out of the bullpen in the correct situations, rather than stubbornly sticking with his favorites in situations where they fail repeatedly and consistently, and assigning strict "roles" to certain pitchers that he never deviates from even if the situation warrants it.

You say "Milledge", I say Manny had little to do with that decision. I say that was done despite Manny, and if he had to decide, Milledge would still be the everyday CFer.

in 2007, Manny did a lot with a little. in 2008 he did nothing, with less than nothing. in 2009, Manny is doing less with much more than he had last year, or the year before. This year's team is the best team, talent-wise, that we've had since 2005. No excuses from my point of view. Now it is time to either move this team in the right direction, or get someone who will.

Each season Manny has been here, the team has gotten worse record-wise. Right now, I believe, this team has a worst record than last year's team had 20 games in, but I could be mistaken.

I think Manny would make a wonderful Minor League Manager, where player development trumps winning. He's got the temperament for player development in spades. But I do not believe he is the Manager that is going to take us to where we need to go.

If Manny changes somewhat, and gets this thing turned around, I'll happily back off my views. But I don't see any indication of that happening anytime soon.

Posted by: MrMadison | April 30, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Well, he does have at least part of a point about the beer. I mean, hard alcohol has plenty of calories too. But beer does have more, because it has those tasty tasty carbohydrate calories in addition to the alcohol calories...

Posted by: duffin_j | April 30, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

"As to Knight, what were the specifics of what he said as to why Manny is not the problem? Did he give any details or otherwise substantiate his views?"

Well, as I said already he spoke AFTER Phil Wood's editorial comment. The thrust of Wood's comment was that the problems with this team have been due to players failing to execute, not with bad in-game decisions by the manager or failure of the manager to properly prepare or motivate the players. After Phil handed it back to Johnny and Ray, both of them basically summarized what Phil had said and agreed with it, in a totally non-subtle and non-hinting fashion.

And here's something Knight added, over and above what Phil Wood said. Knight claims that sources within the Mets organization have told him that the instant Manny gets fired he will be sitting next to Jerry Manuel in the Mets dugout as bench coach and manager-in-waiting. As Knight said "You don't want that."

If I've got this wrong, surely one of MASN's other 8,999 viewers will jump in to correct me.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, maybe Manny will be the next Willie Randolph. We certainly don't want that.

Manny's buddies Bernazard and Minaya are on their last legs in New York anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much about this.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | April 30, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Phil-de-Wood baseball guru and general all around DC good guy, plueeeze!

When Phil-o still had that useless two hour "once a week" baseball gig over on Redskins 24X7X365 he made about as much sense as Mad Dog Russo would make talking about a 1967 hit song by Otis Day and the Knights. Which basically means he knows nothing.

Manny gives Olsen the hook in the 6th, if Mock imploded (lucky for Acta that he didn't) then I'm sure Philo, Ray and Johnny might all be singing a different tune.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | April 30, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"Manny gives Olsen the hook in the 6th, if Mock imploded (lucky for Acta that he didn't) then I'm sure Philo, Ray and Johnny might all be singing a different tune."

Their comments last night were made before the game, not after, so this speculation is irrelevant.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 30, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"let the hitters see nothing but junk"

—Dibble or was it Carpenter said about using Wells and Tavarez to finish the game.

It's better than the "meatballs" Hanrahan was throwing. Wells had a little trouble but he got the job done.

Nice win.

Posted by: richs91 | April 30, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Chico, I think your posts actually get better by the day.

-----

Then, he greeted catcher Jesus Flores with high-five that registered about 93 mph on the radar gun.

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 30, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Madison,

It pains me more than you can imagine to say this but.... nunof1 is right.

Wow, that hurt even more than I imagined it would.

a) Manny should stay. He has the temperment, people skills, and background in the game that this young and developing team needs.

b) If Ray Knight and Johnny Holliday support the manager, it's not for fear of losing a job or maintaining a cordial working relationship. Ray, despite whatever faults the masses here on NJ see, is a good baseball man. And Johnny's been a respected reporter for many years. Their integrity would, I believe, drive their comments.

c) The lack of a clubhouse presence falls on Bowden, not Manny. Zimmerman's a quiet kid and they've not brought in someone to set and enforce some informal team standards as in many successful locker rooms. But if they brought in Pedro..... :)

You make compelling arguments for relieving Manny of his duties. But Stan believes he's got a future managerial star on his hands. An awful lot of smart baseball people agree, won/loss records notwithstanding. If Manny were fired he'd have another job VERY quickly. Despite the improved roster you quite rightly refer to, Manny still has little to work with. The team has lost at least 5 games where Manny's made all the right moves to put the team in position to win... Add those games to the win column and we're a .500 team. If we were 10-10 we'd ber overachieving! But Manny can't throw, catch, or hit for these guys. If they fail to do the jobs they're paid for when he calls on them to do so, it ain't Manny's fault. And it's not like there's some deep pool of talent to draw from on his bench or in the minors.

Posted by: outsider6 | April 30, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The one thing I love about Nats games these days is that they are never dull especially when we have the lead going into the late innings.

Is it going to be "Oh YEAH!!" or "Oh NOOOO!"

I was sitting on the edge of my seat watching Wells and Tavares finish off the Philllys last night.

Posted by: EKruse | April 30, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I've been out all day and am catching up with post reading (comments not so much yet). Just wanted to say that this was a fun post to read, Chico. Thanks!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 30, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

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