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A Strong Start, A Strong Fastball

Plenty to talk about after tonight's 5-4 Nats win against Pittsburgh. Joel Hanrahan got a dramatic save. The Nats got a much-needed break from all the losing. The clubhouse stereo even got some long-awaited post-game usage. (It had been weeks since anybody conducted interviews down there as the music played.)

But here are a few quick exit notes...

* Anderson Hernandez, who exited the game after his second at bat tonight, dislocated his right pinky finger and is day-to-day. (Earlier, the team had described the injury as a sprain, but that's probably misleading. Oh well. Plenty about this injury seems peculiar. Hernandez doesn't even know how he hurt himself. Does anybody have some grainy 8 mm footage?) "He still doesn't know how he hurt it," Manny Acta said. "All he knew is that he was taking his batting glove off and [the pinky finger] went all the way to the palm of his hand. He just got scared, starting saying it was broken, and we sent him in [for X-rays] and it was just dislocated. If we need him he could probably play tomorrow."

* Craig Stammen had a terrific debut, though it fell apart at the end as he faced Pittsburgh's lineup for the third time.

His pitching line entering the seventh inning: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K

His pitching line after he was pulled: 6-1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

Maybe some will criticize Acta for leaving the rookie in there as things fell apart, because the manager is normally very cautious when handling his young pitchers' psyches. But Acta, asked about the decision to stick Stammen, emphasized just how quickly things got messy there in the seventh. We're talking about a six-pitch span, essentially, in which Pittsburgh got its final three hits. Only after the first of those hits -- an Adam LaRoche homer -- did Acta even activate his bullpen.

"The damage, as you said, came quick with the two-run homer and all that," Acta said. "But the way he was throwing the ball, we felt good about him."

* This was a big save tonight for Joel Hanrahan, who just one night earlier threw a bases-loaded wild pitch (a slider in the dirt) and took a loss. Tonight, we saw a different Hanrahan. He threw 19 pitches -- and 17 fastballs.

Said Acta: "He's been preached to lately about, you know, go ahead and get beat on your best pitch. He's got a very good fastball, and just try to execute the slider after you get ahead in the count. Tonight he went out there and carried the gameplan and it proved to him that it worked."

Hanrahan agreed. (Most of his fastballs, by the way, were 95 mph or 96. His final pitch of the game, a 3-2 strikeout pitch to Delwyn Young, was 97.)

"It's part of something I've been trying to work on, challenging the hitter more," Hanrahan said. "I got my good fastball back now, so I've got confidence in it."

By Chico Harlan  |  May 21, 2009; 11:54 PM ET
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Next: Morning Reading


Stammen was great and Joel got the save, but don't forget Julian coming in after warming up quickly and keeping the game in control, going 1.2 scoreless innings. Let's have a little love for Tavarez!

Posted by: skippy1999 | May 22, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

stammen better stay man

Posted by: formerlylove1 | May 22, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

I look forward to reading the usual complaints. Acta was too quick to pull the starter (oops! tonight he was too slow) and Acta is a fool for trusting Hanrahan (oops! tonight he got the save).

It probably won't matter. The posters here will always find something to criticize. It might be nice if some of the crew decided to take a day off and gave it a rest for 24 hours though.

Posted by: grforbes | May 22, 2009 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Manny for president.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 22, 2009 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Manny is a great guy, but on field leadership is all about results. Great leaders can take the same team others have and due to their better example, will, devotion, motivation and luck get more out of the players and team as a whole.There is more to get out of this team and it is not being done. I was at the game last night and it is always great to win, but we need a leader who will motivate someone to step up and become the closer, not just giving Hanrahan a third and forth chance.

Posted by: Champions | May 22, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Agree that it was a well-pitched game all around, skippy.

Acta thought that the pitcher had enough stamina to continue (hey, I thought it was funny, Rob).

I think that you are correct about the naysayers, gforbes. (shhh, don't wake them up.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 22, 2009 6:31 AM | Report abuse

The TV guys speculated that Anderson Hernandez's injury happened when he smacked his helmet -- I'll leave going back to the DVR to others.

Posted by: tailwagger | May 22, 2009 6:50 AM | Report abuse

I was at the game last night and can't fault Manny for waiting until he did to take out Stammen. Maybe I'd have yanked him after the double, when the score was still tied, but it's a debatable point and given his low pitch count and the way our bullpen has performed, I can't fault him. Also, Tavarez may not have been ready.

Great performance by Stammen. Will be interesting to know if he just ran out of gas or they figured him out. He was hit pretty hard there.

And props to Tavarez absolutely. I admit I sat there expecting it all to come apart when he (and, later, Hanrahan) came in.

Most distressing thing to me: the percentage of no-shows. I understand that ticket sales won't be brisk when a team is losing the way the Nats have, but the number of vacant seats in the lower bowls within the infield (excluding the always-empty presidential sections) reveal that a very large of season tickets, held by law firms, etc., can't even be given away. They're sitting in someone's desk drawer, even on a beautiful evening.

The Nationals, I remember reading, have had a higher percentage of no-shows than the MLB average ever since 2005. I suppose in a city where the high rollers bill by the hour, that's to be expected. I wonder if it will change when they get better.

Posted by: Meridian1 | May 22, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

It's very clear why Hernandez got hurt. It's all on the medical and training staff who do not have one hour mandatory pinky finger training routines every day during spring training. In addition, the Nationals rarely take pinky finger before games, which they should be doing EVERY DAY! And the one day they did, Hernandez was five minutes late because he was donating a kidney to a dying kid, but Acta played favorites and did not fine him for it.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 22, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

It looked like he ran out of gas quick, the motion seemed more labored and the balls were up.

With all the emotion of his first start & being perfect through 4, not surprising.

Hard to say whether he'll be a force as a starter but he has the stuff to pitch in some role.

Posted by: sjt1455 | May 22, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

These Nats never fail to disappoint. Here I was accepting that Tavarez would blow it all up or that the offense wouldn't come through or that Hanrahan would wild pitch someone to the plate and instead they finished it up textbook.

Oh you Nats!

Posted by: Section506 | May 22, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I don't think you can find any fault with Manny keeping Stammen in for the 7th. Dude only had 68 pitches through 6. Had he been pulled after 6 - especially if the Nats had gone on to lose the game - the clamor for his head would be louder than ever. Stammen got tagged on the 3rd time through the order. Not terribly surprising. Like Chico said in the post, the bullpen wasn't even up and throwing entering the 7th because the guys was on cruise control - and quite frankly if you're Manny, how excited are you about the potential for a complete game from your starter who at that point was on an 11 pitch per inning pace? Perhaps they could have gone out to talk to him a few times, stalled a bit during the spots where he got rocked while Tavarez got loose but that's the only nitpicky thing that I can say about it. Things fell in place last night. Everyone needed that win.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 22, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

What a great nights sleep. Thank you Nats. Suns shining, a great day for bird hunting.

Posted by: cokedispatch | May 22, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

I was there, and it look like Stammen's velocity was down a little. Maybe they could have stalled a bit to get Tavarez in after the double, but all's well that ends well. Hanrahan looked more like he did last year. I'd rather see him lose giving up a homer on a 97 MPH fastball than on a slider to the backstop.

Posted by: p-man | May 22, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

So I've got the future rotation coming from this mix:


I wouldn't trade any of them right now, but at some point you get to trade one or two to fill another need. Let's see, what do we need?

Posted by: natbiscuits | May 22, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm not an Acta fan, but I'll admit that getting Hanrahan to rely more on his fastball is a net plus.

Manny's glass is half full for me today :)

Posted by: diogenes_quixote | May 22, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

hanrahan's reluctance to use his fastball more kind of verified a feeling of mine that the nats relievers are reluctant to pitch to contact to get outs. but then again with that stellar defense walks might be the most painless way to lose games.

Posted by: surly_w | May 22, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Obviously w/ hindsignt Stammen shouldn't have started the 7th. But, I love the move. He was cruising, let him see if he can get 7. I want to see Manny let these guys start the 7th more often. W/ our offense, forget the pinch-hitter and let the pitcher who is performing try to keep going. I hope this is a trend even though it almost burned us last night, still the right call. Go Manny! Go Nats!

Posted by: Avar | May 22, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Boy am I happy! And happy I was at the game last night. Chico, thank you for the terrific gamer and article on the meeting. Loved the backstage info and the stuff about parallel trust shown by Manny to Hanrahan and the minor league coaches to Stammen. All in all, pop pop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is. (Guess you have to be a certain age to remember that jingle...)

Posted by: Section109 | May 22, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I remember it, 109...

Also, new post up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 22, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

That reminds me. How is Dibble old enough to remember My Three Sons? Or is that a function of cable and syndication?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 22, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

With all due respect to how strong Stammen looked, Hanrahan's save I think is the bigger story. Not only did he throw 17 fastballs, Chico, one of the two sliders he threw (on an 0-2 count) hung and got smacked into CF - that was the last one he threw, I think.

Not like he commanded the FB a whole lot better - Bard was reaching out for the ball like a baby going for a bottle, but here's the difference - you can miss with a 96mph FB and get away with it. You can't with a hanging 85mph slider. Stay with the FB Joel - just mix in a slider rarely to keep them honest. Yes, you might give up a homer now and then, but if they drive your best pitch out, well, you know, sometimes the other guy wins.

As for Stammen - it looked to me like he suffered from that typical rookie "Third time through" thing - by the time guys were getting their third look at him, they had a game plan for what he was trying to do. Next time around (hopefully, Tuesday at CitiField) he needs to change up the approach for that third time through. Looked promising, though.

Here are the things to love about this rotation: Nobody's over 25. Strasburg isn't in it (yet). Nobody nibbles (unlike in the bullpen). They've all got good enough stuff to get hitters out. The offense is good enough to cover for a few rookie mistakes.

It's a fun team when they win.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | May 22, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Acta punting this season's bad pitch selection onto Hanrahan's shoulders is a bit much. The catchers are calling for the pitches, Joel is not shaking them off at all. Nieves wanted the slider over and over the other night, so Hanrahan threw it.

Posted by: dfh21 | May 22, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I am 42 -- My Three Sons: Ernie, Chip and Robbie the father and Uncle Charlie. Cable came to Scranton in 1975. My guess it got to Dibble's house at about the same time.

Posted by: dfh21 | May 22, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I think Manny probably should have considered that Stammen hadn't been allowed to pitch into the 7th inning for a month -- and been quicker to get someone ready. Still, it went south very quickly.

Posted by: fischy | May 22, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Love it - I knew they would win tonight! I'm rooting for Joel and Stammen!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | May 22, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Er - last night. Apparently I'm in a time warp.

Posted by: PattyinSJ | May 22, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Let's do the time warp again - in the new post.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 22, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Meridian1, I'm with you on the no-shows. Attendance is about half what it was in 2005. Have to disagree with you and others on Manny's perpetual lack of readiness for when the starter is sputtering. He needed someone waring up at the beginning of the 7th. Don't wait. You've got 8 relievers!

Posted by: paulkp | May 22, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

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