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Relievers As Hitters

The Nationals, by now, are familiar with bizarre losses. But losses where the game-winning run is scored by a 31-year-old AL relief pitcher who hasn't batted in almost three years...? Well, that is what happened in tonight's 4-2 loss to the O's at Nationals Park. With the game tied at 2 in the 12th, Danys Baez came to the plate with two outs. He flubbed one down the line. Neither Kip Wells, coming off the mound, nor Ryan Zimmerman, charging from third, had a play on it. Baez, just like that, was 270 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run.

"That was long," Baez said of the initial 90-foot sprint. "It was really long. I've never been on those bases before during the game."

So what happened? Wells allowed back-to-back doubles, the O's scored two runs, and George Sherrill came on in the bottom of the 12th for the save. The Nats are now 12-29.

A few quick notes...


* The attendance was only 22,556, a serious drop from the first Friday night game against Baltimore at Nats Park in 2008. (That one drew 35,830.) For this night, the stadium was decked out with "Battle of the Beltways" signage. The Nationals wore their alternate red uniforms, and during the national anthem, the contingent of Baltimore fans let out a hearty "Ohhh."

Asked about the interest in this series, Manager Manny Acta said, "It's picking up, but what is it gonna take? Both of us to get out of the cellar. That's the bottom line. Everybody in the Baltimore area is rooting for their team and on with the plan of rebuilding, and same thing with our fans over here. But as [president] Stan [Kasten] usually says, you get the attendance you deserve, and not until both teams become more competitive in their own division, I don't think the rivalry will pick up as much."

* Good bullpen work today for the Nats. Ron Villone, surviving with nothing faster than 88 and nothing slower than 79 mph, chewed through the middle of the O's order in the 8th. Jason Bergmann worked a scoreless ninth -- though he walked the lead-off man in the tenth. But Joe Beimel took over from there (and you can't overstate how badly the Nats need him back in good form), finishing the scoreless frame by striking out Nick Markakis.

* Jordan Zimmermann (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) had none of the standard first inning troubles today, and he credited this to a new pre-game approach, a one-inning simulation in the bullpen. "I went out there [in the bullpen] a little earlier and threw some more pitches. Randy Knorr went out there and stood in, three hitters, just like the first inning... so I think it helped today. This is the best I've felt so far since I've been here. All of my pitches were working."

By Chico Harlan  |  May 22, 2009; 11:51 PM ET
 
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Next: Early Returns On A Green Rotation

Comments

What incredibly bad luck. The starting pitcher and most of the relievers did ridiculously well, all things considered, but the BATS (other than Zimmerman), dem BATS, uggghh...

One of these days it'll all come together for a few games. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 23, 2009 12:17 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure it can all be blamed on bad luck. I think the last 2 games indicate a reversion to the mean. Our offense is cooling off just as our pitching is heating up.

Posted by: grandstander | May 23, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

I thought the pitching looked good with the exception of Kip Wells. Yes, Wells had a good start here, but that seems to be gone now. I think it's time to give the guy a ride and see what Clippard can do up here in the majors.

Posted by: tengoalyrunr30 | May 23, 2009 12:42 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes, a loss is just a loss, but this game reminded us that yes, Jordan Zimmermann is going to be a great pitcher.

Jim Palmer was very impressed by his stuff, and boy, was he dominant (other than the home run pitch).

Lannan is the real deal, as is Zimmermann. That's two. I'm not as sure about Shairon Martis, but it takes more than luck to be at 5-1. Ross Detwiler looked good, but one start does not a prospect make.

But I'll tell you, Craig Stammen impressed me perhaps more than the others this season. He threw strikes, he pitched to contact, and he made easy outs.

There has been much talk about what Manny should have done in the 7th inning in that game.

My take:

You want the kid to leave the game feeling good about himself. It would have made sense to let him start the 7th but have a reliever ready to go in case things got out of hand. I would have had Stammen on a short leash, one runner and he was done.

I know he had a miniscule pitch count, but rookie pitchers can go from Sandy Koufax to Sandy Duncan really fast. The l-o-n-g LaRoche homer unnerved him and he lost his confidence.

I understand that our bullpen sucks, but in that one instance, a 6.1 inning, one or two run effort by Stammen that the team lost would have held more value than what ended up happening.

I think this young rotation just could be the real deal.

Posted by: rushfari | May 23, 2009 1:39 AM | Report abuse

Rushfari:

Stammen's outing went bad so fast, there wasn't much Manny could do to stop it... but had he a little more time, I bet he would have pulled him sooner...

I agree with you about the rotation. The piece they're missing is the cagey veteran that knows how to win 15 games a season and pitch 200 innings... to show the kids how it is done.

As for the bullpen, I actually think it is better than they have shown. When they throw strikes, they're average... when they don't (which is often), they're arsonists. I think a lot of the reason the bullpen struggles with control is that they're not trusting the defense (all those errors) and they're trying to be perfect. Combine that with the umps calling the zone a little tighter, and the bullpen becomes nibblers and the other team is a mousetrap.

I am not saying that the bullpen is good... I am saying they're probably 40th percentile, which for a team like the Nats that has starters that can go six or seven and hit the cover off the ball, is good enough. They just have to get the confidence to let the other team put the ball in play... and the defense has to stand up behind them. The last two games, the defense has looked very good, and I think that is encouraging to the bullpen.

I've written about this a couple times in my blog...

Posted by: wigi | May 23, 2009 2:16 AM | Report abuse

Martis is still 5-0, Rushfari, but I agree with grandstander that the bats cooling off is to be expected. We've seen enough of Martis to be able to believe that he can be a success: the complete game spoke loudly. But even if the young pitching gets it all together quickly, it'll be tough to salvage this season.

Even so, I hope we don't deal NJ just for a middle reliever like DelCarmen. Those guys don't have much shelf life. And what reasonable alternative do we have at 1B for NJ? Surely not Dunn. DaMeat?

Posted by: nats24 | May 23, 2009 2:33 AM | Report abuse

If they need a crafty veteran maybe they need to bring up JD Martin. He has 8 years of minor league experience. That ought to make some of you happy.

Posted by: natsguy | May 23, 2009 2:57 AM | Report abuse

I doubt DaMeat will even see a start this season. Eldred would most likely be called up in the case of an NJ trade.

But yeah, I'd hate to just give him away for some schmuck like delcarmen. He's got value, let's trade him for such, please, and stop acting like we're a farm team for other northeastern contenders.

Posted by: grandstander | May 23, 2009 3:37 AM | Report abuse

"I agree with you about the rotation. The piece they're missing is the cagey veteran that knows how to win 15 games a season and pitch 200 innings... to show the kids how it is done."

Baseball is not that complicated. Stammen proved it by throwing strikes and let your fielders work like professionals. Stammen did something that Cabrera has failed to do all season--act like a pitcher instead of a thrower. In reality what are our pitchers going to learn that St. Clair or Knorr can not teach them? Most of their development comes from within themselves--their willingness to listen, their desire to work, their study of the game. Much more than another pitcher what the rotation needs is a savvy, veteran catcher who does not call an inning of all sliders for Hanrahan, does not call for down and in pitches to Ryan Howard and who blocks pitchers when he calls for low sliders. When that becomes the additional piece this young rotation will be just fine.

Posted by: driley | May 23, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Chico - Was the game played during the Memorial Day Weekend last year?

That could be the reason for the dropoff in attendance.

Just a thought.

Posted by: dmacman88 | May 23, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Jordan Zimmermann (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) had none of the standard first inning troubles today, and he credited this to a new pre-game approach, a one-inning simulation in the bullpen. "I went out there [in the bullpen] a little earlier and threw some more pitches. Randy Knorr went out there and stood in, three hitters, just like the first inning... so I think it helped today. This is the best I've felt so far since I've been here. All of my pitches were working."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Very encouraging!

Posted by: dmacman88 | May 23, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Before everyone gets all lathered up about the starting five (three of which I think have lots and lots of upside) the real test next week for Stammen and Detwiller will be against the Mets and the Phills. Remember lots of BIG crowds in both stadiums and lots of media buzzing around. Those two guys will go from an empty cave to rabid if not down right nasty fans screaming at every turn. So all and all I would say next week will be much better calculus to see if these two boys have staying power. One thing is for sure as a STH last nights crowd was the smallest in my mind in the 5 years that they have been playing the BLOWS. Come on folks come out to the Park the Nats need your support.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | May 23, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

TippyCanoe: There's something about seeing the Orioles' uniforms in DC that turns me off. I was a big Os fan in the Eddie Murray Rick Dempsey Jim Palmer days, but I lost interest when Peter A took over. Now that we have baseball in DC (AAA variety), I don't care if I ever see those black/orange uniforms again.

Posted by: JohnRDC | May 23, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to rushfari, wigi, and driley for the thoughtful, and encouraging, posts. Nice to wake up to those rather than multiple rants and screeds despite the loss.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 23, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Also, I have to say that I was kinda liking the exchanges between Palmer and Dibble. As for that other O's broadcaster, eh. Didn't really care for all the O's commercials, although the one with the couple looking at photos of players was cute.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 23, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

"Even so, I hope we don't deal NJ just for a middle reliever like DelCarmen. Those guys don't have much shelf life. And what reasonable alternative do we have at 1B for NJ? Surely not Dunn. DaMeat?"

While I'd personally rather see them target prospects who might not be ready for another couple of years I have no problem getting Delcarmen. Delcarmen would be by FAR the best reliever we have and maybe the best since Cordero was lights out a 3 years ago. He is a really good reliever and is only 27. I believe that he would have 2 additional arb. years after this year so the Nats have some control.

I think Nats fans have grossly overvalued Johnson. You asked yourself what kind of shelf life Delcarmen has, well exactly what kind of shelf life does Johnson have. He's injured every year (which is why his value is so low). And after this year he's a free agent so in reality best case scenario, Johnson's shelf life is 4 more months.

Posted by: Steveo11 | May 23, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Went to the game last night. This loss is clearly on our hitting, not the bullpen. Wells pitched two innings, 20 out of 28 pitches were strikes. He just got snakebit, although he bears some responsibility for Baez's hit. Everyone seems to think that no one had a play on that ball, but if Wells had stayed away from it and let Zim charge it, Zim might have made the play. If you watch the replay, you can see Zim back off because he thinks Wells is going to pick it up and throw to first. Perhaps Baez would have beat it out anyway, but Wells should have at least let the best fielding third baseman in the league take a shot at it.

Nonetheless, Wells pitched decently, as did the entire bullpen. But when you get one hit in the last eight innings, you're going to lose. At least this time, we didn't lose because of errors, wild pitches, or walks. That sure was a nice change.

Thanks to Chico for the reporting about RZnn's preparation for the game. Someone asked Acta about that in the post game interview and he blew the question off, saying something like, "well, he got hit in the second inning rather than the first, so I guess it didn't matter much." Lame.

Posted by: Section222 | May 23, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

New post.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 23, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I said it once and I'll say it until i'm white in the face(trust me i ain't even close) don't trade NJ unless you get frontline prospects or someone's #3 starter on a winning club preferably the Bosox's if they don't want to do that then screw em let em try to win the division with a hole in their line up Nick can hit and can handle the glove. NO! the season is not lost we need to win say 5/6 games in a row and then take two of three for about 4/5 series and we can hang close to 500. My worry is Manny "no fire"Acta, you got to be passionate about this game and i'm sorry i just don't see it when you are seventeen games under 500 you need to rally the troops let them know that what's going on is unacceptable. Standing there when you see you're player getting called out on a bang-bang play at first in a tie game doesn't cut it, go out there question the ump let them know and your players know your head's in the game and you're not in a catatonic state of mind. Rizzo needs to do something and fast or else he'll be on the next thing smokin out of town along with Manny.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 23, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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