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Losing By Narrow Margins

Good (bleary-eyed) morning to you. Whoever thought the first starting pitcher in Nats camp to earn a win in 2009 would be Shawn Hill? If you dare for more depressing reading, the hastily concocted game story -- the deadline special -- is available here.

In the end, the six-hour game the Nats played last night/this morning deserves to stand as a catalog of missed opportunities. Washington crammed about a series' worth of fizzled rallies into one game. Rather than itemize everything, I'll list the three most costly moments.

Costly moment No. 1: In the ninth inning, with the Nats down 5-4, Wil Nieves came up to pinch-hit for Saul Rivera. The bases, per usual, were juiced. Mike Gonzalez was pitching. Gonzalez got an early edge, starting off 0-2, but then something happened. He tried to make the perfect pitch, missing high. Next pitch, he missed high again. Same on the fifth pitch. The count was full. Gonzalez's pay-off pitch was even more outside, and probably just as high as any of the three previous balls. The pitch was practically headed to Tennessee. Nieves swung anyway. Swung and missed. Although Washington tied the game with the next batter, when Lastings Milledge pinged a ball back to the mound that deflected off Gonzalez's glove, the Milledge play would have given the Nats a 6-5 lead, not a 5-5 tie, had Nieves simply not swung.

Costly moment No. 2: In the third inning, the Nationals got the first two on; Shairon Martis dribbled a single up the middle, and then Milledge was hit by a pitch. (That's one way he reaches base with relative regularity, actually.) Ryan Zimmerman later doubled to left, giving the Nats at least one run, and then Adam Dunn was walked, quasi-intentionally, after Lowe fell behind. So the bases were loaded. And that brought up Nick Johnson and Elijah Dukes. On the eighth pitch of a full count at bat, Johnson went down swinging. Dukes went down on four pitches, finally whiffing at an outside breaking ball.

Costly moment No. 3: In the seventh inning, again the Nats had the bases loaded. Again there was one out. Milledge was up... and he worked the count to 3-1 against pitcher Jeff Bennett. Okay, so here's the question: Does Milledge deserve blame for swinging at the next pitch? I say no. It was a right-down-the-middle gift. The beauty of a 3-1 count is that, sometimes, you get pitches just like this one. If you don't swing, it's a full count, and you give up some of the hitting advantage anyway. BUT -- if you do swing, you darn well need to make it count. Nobody second-guesses a grand slam hit on a 3-1 pitch. (By the way, offer your counterarguments below, if you have them.) Milledge made a decision. He swung. And that swing produced the one worst-case scenario. He scorched the ball to third. Right at Chipper Jones. Who turned a quick 5-4-3 double play. The inning was over, and again, the Nats didn't score.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 11, 2009; 9:23 AM ET
 
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Next: Saturday's Mid-Day Reading

Comments

Reposting from previous:

Hey can someone tell me why we let Emilio Bonifacio go? I thought at the time the Nats traded Jon Rauch for him and they said he was our future 2nd baseman. So why did they let him go? He's lightnin' it up in Florida... I would've certainly like to have him in our lineup, he's getting a lot of infield hits with all that speed.

Posted by: rachel216 | April 11, 2009 9:28 AM |

Posted by: rachel216 | April 11, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I've been very hard on Milledge, but I do NOT blame him for swinging on a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded. He's paid to hit the ball, and that's a hitter's count. It was a strike, so if he lets it go by, it's 3-2, and he has to protect the plate anyway, and maybe the 3-2 pitch is a strike, but harder to hit. I say he did the right thing.

Milledge made good contact last night even when he hit it right at people. I hope last night was a turning point for him.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 11, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Last night gave us things to be encouraged about:
1) Bullpen pitched 6 innings in regulation and only gave up 2 runs.
2) We are hitting. The hits weren't timely (tons of missed opportunities with bases loaded), but 14 hits is a very nice offensive outing, and I believe the hits with runners in scoring position will come.

If the starting pitching starts to hold up, I think we start winning some games.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 11, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree it's painful to watch Bonifacio play so well while Olsen seems to be very average and Willingham (who I do think is quite talented) is mainly relegated to a bench role. However, I do think Emilio will come back to earth and end up as a .240ish hitter with no power. Must admit, it's hard to watch at the moment, though...

Also I am coming around to JayBeee on Milledge. It was so so so so frustrating to watch him hit that double play ball on a 3-1 count. And I disagree with Chico about the blame -- he is totally to blame, and here's why: You have to know who you are. Milledge should know that he doesn't have the best plate instincts. Part of being a good player is knowing what you excel at and what you do not (and part of coaching as well is making sure players know their limitations). Milledge should be given a hard take in that situation. Dunn and Dukes, for example, should be allowed to make the judgment. And Milledge needs to know that.

Posted by: HenryStin | April 11, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

p.s. Kudos to Shawn Hill for a nice outing and a W last night. I hope he does well in San Diego.

Posted by: usmc53 | April 11, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I agree...no problem swinging at 3-1 fastball if you as Milledge.

Chico, you missed the run that did not score that would have won the game for Nats in the bottom of the 9th. Milledge should have scored in the 3rd on Zimm's double. You and Bob C and ABM are the only ones who do not understand why....Bob C is still calling it a Ground Rule Double but not questioning why Milledge only got one base.....classic Bob C.

Posted by: JayBeee | April 11, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

New posted.

I totally agree with driley. Sometimes it seems as if two thirds of the NJ posters could do a better job of managing the team and roster. And its not a Bowden thing any more --- its a Rizzo and Acta problem.

People screamed for Dukes to be put in --- low and behold --- he delivers. What does it take to see that Milledge costs runs in center field? Send down a blazing Bergman so you can have three lefties in the pen? Shawn Hill at his best is 200% better than Cabrera or Olsen if they just "eat innings". Some seriously bad decisions --- and I'm an Acta supporter.

Let's hope that this team (and Manny's command) begins to pull it together before the sniping begins. If the players themselves get as disgruntled as angry NJ posters --- then things will get ugly.

Posted by: nattydread1 | April 11, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I loved Bonafacio, while recognising his flaws. I didn't like the trade because it stank of Bowden. But lets wait until June before we go crazy. Bonafacio started of hitting great guns for us too (ah, for one glorious month he and Gonzalez stealing, turning double plays, diving around the diamond snaring line drives. It was truely a happy time for this lost Expo fan) before he started swinging at everything. This trade could still turn out to be a garbage for garbage. Which is what it looked like at the time.

I also agree with usmc53. Milledge is a good player, who may possibly turn into a very good player. But he is not a center fielder or a lead off man. Play him in his natural position, and bat him further down the line up. He has never come across as steely, and putting this much responsibility on him seems like a bad idea.

Posted by: soundbloke | April 11, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Chico:

Costly moment #1 was when Milledge didn't score from second on the one out double by Zimmerman. Instead of going half way to third and watching for a catch by Francour he goes back to second to tag. Charley and Dave on the radio really ripped him for that and rightly so. Looks like LM's lack of situational awareness is turning him into the new F. Lopez.

Posted by: SackMan | April 11, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

No doubt that Milledge should have scored in the 3rd inning. The question is that with one out, why was he going back to tag up at second on the fly to the right field wall? I can see him doing that with no outs, but should the ball have been caught and he ends up at 3rd with two outs, what good does that do? He should have been halfway to 3rd and then scored easily. Made no sense.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 11, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Yup SBF had a good point on that as well.....standing on 3rd base with two outs has little value in the 3rd inning. No question about it, Milledge blew that completely......Any Chance Chico has the guts to ask Acta about it or follow up with sound baseball logic and quotes from Charlie and Dave when Acta blows him off?

Posted by: JayBeee | April 11, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I can't fault Milledge for swinging at that 3-1 pitch... that is a hitter's count, he thought he got a pitch he could hit, he took a good swing at it and he hit it hard... right at 3b... that is just baseball...

On the other hand, agreed, how did he not score from 2nd on a double earlier in the game?

All in all, though, he hit the ball hard 3 times, twice the opposite way, so good for him...

Dukes still looked better, though! And what an arm he has, too...

Posted by: rumbly45 | April 11, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I am not a baseball guy but I could do better than Rizzo . As to the manager, give me those coaches including the bench coach and I could do a better job than Acta.

The following is a profile of the Nats. Tell me where I am wrong.

Bad Personnel decisions
Bad situational hitting
Bad baseball execution
Questionable game management
No baseball fundamentals
Poor return on investment

Posted by: mjames0 | April 11, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Even though it looks minor (they're calling him "day to day"), I can't help but be frustrated by Dukes getting hurt on the last play of the game last night. He gets 3 hits, he looks like he's getting comfortable and will really contribute, and he immediately gets injured. Total bummer. I hope he's back in the lineup soon.

Go Nats!

Posted by: usmc53 | April 11, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Hate to get bummed this early in the season but so far it seems a repeat of last year -- lack of timely hitting, bad baserunning, impatience at the plate in key situations and, oh yeah almost forgot, weak starting pitching. The talent appears to be here this year but it seems like the team is tight. I think this is a product of the building process -- more new faces and untried youngters. The uncertainty factor is still high with the crowd in the OF and the NJ injury vigil. Hopefully things will turn around before my
FIOS service is instaalled.

Posted by: SackMan | April 11, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

to those criticizing Carp, the Braves' announcers called it a sac fly

Posted by: sjt1455 | April 11, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Based on Milledge's baserunning they were correct.

Posted by: JayBeee | April 11, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Hey Chico,

Here is where a full time baseball columnist would come in handy. Any chance Dave S....is going to write something about the Nats and their roster and lineup decisions so far?

I know Boz doing golf and these types of game decisions are under his pay grade anyway.....we need a baseball writer who is willing to dig into the game issues we are seeing here. Club is 0 - 4 here seems like a good time for a Columnist opinion.

Posted by: JayBeee | April 11, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

from the last post

***********
BASEBALL AMERICA'S MIDSEASON REPORT
Top Pitcher
Stephen Strasburg, rhp, San Diego State
--
Strasburg ... is on pace to break Ryan Wagner's Division I record of 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings, set in 2003. Strasburg is averaging 17.7 strikeouts per nine.
Posted by: AlexL925 | April 11, 2009 4:36 AM
*****************

So we would have Strasburg AND Ryan Wagner!! Oh, wait ...

Posted by: CEvansJr | April 11, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone else play last night besides Milledge and Shawn Hill? Sure doesn't seem like it, does it?

Posted by: nunof1 | April 11, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Ah the voice of reason

Posted by: mjames0 | April 11, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

You can't blame Milledge for ripping the heck out of a 3-1 pitch. 90% of the time if you hit a ball that hard it's a hit. You can only ask a hitter to have a good at bat and that's what Lastings did.

Posted by: tallbaby2121 | April 11, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

didn't see the play in the third inning, but if he thought the ball was likely to be caught (and judging from reports here, he wouldn't have been the only one who did), then tagging isn't completely unreasonable, even on Francour, a plus arm in right. Even with two outs, there are more ways to score from third than second, and if the ball is caught, there will be two outs whether he tags or not.
But it's still not the right play, because if you can't score from second on a double, there's a good chance you won't make it to third on a catch, and you don't ever want to make the last out at third base.

Posted by: CEvansJr | April 11, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Beliard hasn't done much this year but error after error. Maybe Willingham would be a better fit. He's used to playing 1st base but let's try him at 2nd. If nothing else he's got a good bat, and he wants to play, I get the impression Beliard is just taking up space.

Posted by: darchibald2 | April 11, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

and to be fair, on some teams, a runner on third with two outs and the middle of the order coming up does score occasionally.

Posted by: CEvansJr | April 11, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

The Reverse Soriano! Hey, maybe he could learn to pitch every fifth day, too.

**********
Maybe Willingham would be a better fit [at second]. He's used to playing 1st base but let's try him at 2nd.
Posted by: darchibald2 | April 11, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: CEvansJr | April 11, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Hey Nunof1

From my perspective the play of Hill and Milledge is important. We are struggling for starting pitching and our FO gives away a guy who goes 5 innings and surrenders 2 runs. If he had done that with our team we might have a win now. Concerning Milledge, he has had a major impact on our record todate, so that deserves mentioning.

Why don't you comment on the team as opposed to constantly sniping at the posters.

I am not a big fan of our FO but I try to make constructive comments on the team. The comments might not be positive but they are an attempt to be constructive. You my friend bring nothing, that is your one constant.

Posted by: mjames0 | April 11, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

mjames0:

because that is nunof1's game; it makes him feel important; the competition is the only reason he is here; and not the competition on the field; a petit, petty little garcon indeed.

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

In the meantime, Acta says, 'it's a funny game'. Not when you're around, dude. Notice how Dunn's already fed up with the coaching - and 'no plan'. 16 LOB

From mlb.com:

>Left-fielder Adam Dunn didn't pull any punches how he felt about the lack of offense on the club. The players and the coaching staff must find a way to make it better.

"You can't win games like that," Dunn said. "That's something that has to be addressed. We have good enough people -- not just players, but the coaching staff -- to address that problem. That's why we are not winning these games."

Asked how to address the problem, Dunn said, "You have to put an emphasis on it and bear down. That's the time when you bear down and have a plan. Those are the important times in baseball. It's tough to win without scoring runs, and you are not going to get a lot of bases-loaded walks."

Posted by: Brue | April 11, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I think it's totally appropriate to start some focus on Manny. I didn't see the third inning fly but it's right to say Milledge should have been halfway with less than two outs. Third base coaches call but something that's planned in advance between Acta and the managers.

Also, why would he ever have Flores bunt in the 7th with no one out? I'm no sabermetrician but we score three runs the inning before and have momentum. The Braves bullpen is shaky and not throwing strikes. We get the leadoff guy on, then give them an out with a guy who has some power. Then Milledge ends up with an inning ending double play instead of an RBI double play. Milledge should have had the green light there - no better count than 3-1 to do some damage on. But a double play shouldn't have ended the inning there.

Posted by: natslifer | April 11, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I am reading Dunn's quotes. You know I could see this guy calling Lerner and Kasten and asking for a meeting.

Manny - take charge or it looks like someone else will.

Posted by: mjames0 | April 11, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

"Why don't you comment on the team as opposed to constantly sniping at the posters."

I don't know. It just seems odd to me that the Nats lost a close game last night, in ten innings, and based on the comments here there's no one to blame for that except a centerfielder who really didn't play all that badly last night and a pitcher who was on the mound in a game 3000 miles away.

And as for comments on the team and the game, look back at last night's threads. I made lots of them.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 11, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"Also, why would he ever have Flores bunt in the 7th with no one out? "

Maybe he considered the fact that the pitcher's slot was up next behind Flores. Not your best hitter (even if it's a PH, who's coming in cold). Move the runner to second, and with one out even a wimpy hit from the pitcher's slot scores him.

But what do I know? I never comment about the team or the game, I just snipe at posters. That's how I roll.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 11, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Also, it avoids the possibility of an inning-killing GIDP from Flores, a slow runner.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 11, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I thought Francouer had Ryan's ball all of the way. On replay it looked like it fell four feet in front of the wall, totally lost at the last second. Milledge has been hung in effigy for being too aggressive in his base running on similar situations. I can not fault him for playing it safe with less than two outs and going for third base after a tag.

His hit into the double play was a good stroke, unfortunately it was right at Jones. It was a much better at bat than most of Nick Johnson's were last night--three K's and two of them at crucial times.

Martis seemed to be doing very well, showing poise after allowing the first batsman in each inning to get on with a hit. I have a funny feeling that the pitch that was thrown after St. Clair's visit to the mound was in response to a "just get it over the plate" kind of plea. It seemed that his concentration was getting jerked around by the rain and the lightning overhead. I think he will do much better on the next outing.

All in all that game held my attention to the end--the Nats are playing better baseball now. A win is very close on the horizon.

Posted by: driley | April 11, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

No need to revisit the Hill or Bonifacio situation its over and done move on, we got bigger fish to fry we need to get off the schnide,we need to win the last two games of this series so we can go home on some kind of winning streak.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 11, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of tonight's game, does anyone know yet if it will be Holden McGroin or Kearns in RF? Willingham maybe? Someone wake Chico up in time to post the lineups.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 11, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

>Martis seemed to be doing very well, showing poise after allowing the first batsman in each inning to get on with a hit.

His fastball looks pretty mediocre. I was under the impression that he threw harder. It's downright scary when he gets in in the middle of the plate. I guess if he has his changeup working, he's alright, but lord help him if he gets behind and has to throw fastballs. It's gonna be a real chore for him this year. I guess all you can do is hope that he keeps the ball down.

Posted by: Brue | April 11, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I agree why all the hype on Milledge and the baserunning "mistake" which i didn't think was THAT bad....when you have an arm like Francour you usually shade more to 2nd...had he caught the ball there is no way Milledge could have advanced to third. As for the double play bad luck...i thought he had a good pitch and should have swung just didn't get the job done. What I don't get JayBee and the other Milledge haters...why no criticism for Nick Johnson....he played AWFUL....both guys hit into a double play....Johnson went 1 for 6 with 3 strikeouts and 6 runners left on base. Milledge went 2-5 with one strikeout and 4 men left on base. Milledge also got hit by a pitch so he was onbase 50% of the time. Johnson on the other had only reached base once and shouldn't have ever even been there. That was a routine fly ball that Diaz lost in the lights or whatever. So if there is anyone to blame for why we lost last nights game (outside of Nieves) its Nick Johnson. You can attack Milledge for his performance in the first couple of games but not last night. He was fine defensively and had maybe one potenial base running mistake. But had Francour caught the ball and Milledge didn't advace to 3rd wouldn't that have been a mistake as well???

Posted by: Steveo11 | April 11, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Also JayBee, why do you keep bringing Bard up "Use Dukes injury to keep Bard around", "have 40 man spots for Bard and Estrada"....Nieves is the catcher that needs to go not Bard...Bard was a very smart move by Rizzo (keeping 3 catchers less so)

Posted by: Steveo11 | April 11, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

No Steveo11 it would not have been a mistake not to advance if he caught the ball. That is the point of going half way.....if it is not caught you score....that would have been one of many runs we did not get that would have won the game.

Bard and Neives you choose which one you want....both have holes and strenths...not a pig deal...that was the point....we could have keep Hill on the 40 man and dropped on of them or Motz.......

Posted by: JayBeee | April 11, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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