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Some Thoughts On Sliders In The Dirt

After tonight's game, a 2-1 loss to the Pirates, the Nats optioned reliever Garrett Mock to Class AAA Syracuse. This reduces their bullpen to a mere eight members, which will be its standard operating size going forward. Mock wasn't too happy about the move, but said, "The thing that got me in trouble wasn't the big home run. It wasn't anything other than that I didn't throw enough strikes."

Hmm, sound familiar?

In the game story that I just filed, I give the full blow-by-blow description of tonight's ninth inning, where Joel Hanrahan came on in a 1-1 game and summarily loaded the bases with singles. At that point, he started throwing his slider in the dirt. Again and again and again. Three times, catcher Wil Nieves blocked it. The fourth time, with a 1-2 count on Adam LaRoche, Hanrahan's 60-foot slider dropped just in front of home plate and skipped through the catcher's legs. Freddy Sanchez, on third, rushed home. The Nats had given themselves a 2-1 loss.

After this one, Hanrahan had plenty of interesting things to say about both his slider (why it works or doesn't) and his mental approach. But before I give you the transcript of the Hanrahan interview, know this...

* After Hanrahan loaded the bases, he threw sliders almost exclusively. Manager Manny Acta wasn't impressed with that pitch selection -- which is dictated by the catcher. "There, they just didn't mix it very well," Acta said. "They threw about seven or eight in a row. Once you throw the fastball up in the zone like he does at times, then you throw the slider down [and] you change the eye-level on a guy's swing. But when you throw five or six down in the dirt, the guys, they're not going to chase it."

* Nieves said he was calling for all those low sliders because he wanted to force a groundout. "We were just trying to keep the ball down so they can hit a ground ball," Nieves said. "Just keep the ball down, on the ground hopefully."

OK, now Hanrahan. Here's the post-game chat.

---

Q: It's your out pitch, and the one you like to throw the most. What happened there with that wild pitch slider?

Yeah, it's a good out pitch for me. It's my strikeout pitch. Right now I'm just not giving it a chance. They're not swinging at it, and I'm not getting it close to the strike zone. Every one I'm throwing is 60 feet, and that's not going to cut it.

Q: Is it a case of trying to put too much on it?

Yeah, it's a little bit of that and a little bit of mental. Trying to tell myself, Let's make a good pitch with this slider and just getting it in there for a strike. And then I'll bounce it. I've just got to get back to throwing that slider for a strike and being able to have two pitches for them to think about.

Q: Manny came out once, Wil came out to the mound twice. What was the message?

Just to slow down and take it pitch-by-pitch. Sometimes I get going too fast out there and I was to strike somebody out when it's 0-0, and then Wil came out when LaRoche was up and he said, 'You're not finishing on your slider.' Because I threw one or two that were up. He said, trust me, you know I can block it, and Wil blocks that ball probably 99-percent of the time. It's just an unfortunate break. When things are going bad, bad things happen.

Q: Are you guys in the bullpen maybe too uptight?

We were. We were a little uptight, but we kind of all talked and we all said, Take the pressure off. We already have the worst bullpen stats in the league, and if they change us out they'll change us out. We've just got to go out there and kind of say, Screw you, this is what we're going to do, this is what we've got, and we're coming after you.

Q: Is that kind of reflected in the fact that you kept coming back to that slider with a runner on third?

Well, with LaRoche he knows I'll probably throw him a slider. I've had success with him with the slider, and he swung at the first two and then he swung at the next two. He made the adjustment and I didn't. It took me two pitches to recognize the adjustment. I have to recognize that after that 0-2 slider, hey, he didn't even give a half-decent attempt at that.

Q: When the slider is working for you, is it almost hitting the ground anyway?

When that pitch is working, I can do both. I can throw it for a strike when I need to, or I can get it where it actually looks like a strike and then it goes down into the ground. Right now, I'm just throwing it at the bottom of the strike zone and it's going down. They look at it, recognize it, and say, That's a ball. Whereas when I'm going good with that pitch, I can get it thigh-high and it will break down under the knees.

By Chico Harlan  |  May 21, 2009; 12:13 AM ET
 
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Next: Fielding Problems -- Part 43 In An Ongoing Series

Comments

I have a thought on them, too.

UGH

Posted by: Section506 | May 21, 2009 12:30 AM | Report abuse

I don't like to blame the manager or the pitching coach. However, this post concerns me. I know Acta doesn't like to call pitches from the dugout but maybe he should, in such situations. I know that ultimately it's up to the pitcher to execute. Still, if Acta isn't happy with the pitch selection he should give Nieves the sign he wants. If Hanrahan shakes it off, then Acta can have a long talk with him to find out why. I just don't think the manager should watch his closer bounce pitch after pitch in the dirt and not try to alter that sequence.

Posted by: grforbes | May 21, 2009 12:50 AM | Report abuse

some thoughts on this post:

no s*** sherlock. how about some news besides "nationals bullpen cant throw strikes" who calls the pitches during the game, is manny involved, do some research, ask some questions get to the bottom of something!

Posted by: formerlylove1 | May 21, 2009 1:13 AM | Report abuse

* After Hanrahan loaded the bases, he threw sliders almost exclusively. Manager Manny Acta wasn't impressed with that pitch selection -- which is dictated by the catcher. "
By Chico Harlan | May 21, 2009; 12:13 AM ET
There you go.

Posted by: caese | May 21, 2009 2:29 AM | Report abuse

Since when is pitch selection dictated by the catcher? Pitch selection is suggested by the catcher. The pitcher can shake him off or throw what he's calling for. It comes down to the pitcher, who is the one who throws the ball.

Posted by: shepdave2003 | May 21, 2009 5:50 AM | Report abuse

"He made the adjustment and I didn't. It took me two pitches to recognize the adjustment."

Meathead, the sliders only work if you're mixing in the fastball...

Posted by: bromisky | May 21, 2009 6:07 AM | Report abuse

This one is on the catcher. Call for a low slider, block the low slider. Call for a fastball, catch the fastball. When a runner is on third it makes a difference.

Posted by: driley | May 21, 2009 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Another huge weakness that hit home for me last night was the lack of major leagure ready position talent in the minors. Maxwell might be a nice kid and a local one to boot, but he is not a future starter by any stretch. The Nats bench is very weak right now, with only Harris a reliable hitter. It's going to be painful, but you must consider trading Guz (his value will never be higher), Dunn, and NJ to get some ready and near-ready position and pitching players in your system.

Posted by: bendersx6 | May 21, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse

"It's going to be painful, but you must consider trading Guz (his value will never be higher), Dunn, and NJ to get some ready and near-ready position and pitching players in your system."

You trade all those guys and the stadium will be EMPTY after the all star break. Nick is tradeable because it's his contract year, but the other two, no way. You have to give the fans SOME reason to come to the games. Otherwise, there will be NO revenue stream to sign Strasburg or anyone else to fix this team.

Not to mention that without those three we might lose 130 games and really will be the Detroit Lions of baseball.

Posted by: brube | May 21, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Keep Johnson. He can field adequately, he hits LH and RH pitchers, he hits in the clutch. Try to extend his contract.

Trade Dunn. He's a liability anywhere you place him in the field. At first base, he's a disaster. He can't hit lefties and can't hit in the clutch.

Posted by: gibson0 | May 21, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

The debacle continues, this is not funny it is pathetic. Amazing what BS Acta keeps shoving out there.

Truth be told..., how many times have we seen Flores and Nieves glancing over to the dugout between pitches and then in the same sequence the camera will pan over to the dugout and the "Sabermatric Genius" is touching his nose, to the ear and the cap. Now maybe its just me, or maybe Nieves and Flores are checking out some MILF sitting near the dugout and Sabermatrics is playing with his hands but somebody ain't telling the truth.

The mound to the plate is 60ft 6inches, Joel if the ball is landing at 60ft your 6 inches away from your intended target. If your other pitches can reach the target in a somewhat straight line why did you go with the one pitch that might not make it 60ft 6inhces.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | May 21, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

managers signal for more than pitches. he could signal for a pickoff attempt, pitchout, intentional walk, etc. the catchers generally look over to the bench when someone is on base.

the battery is the problem.

Posted by: longterm | May 21, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

"The mound to the plate is 60ft 6inches, Joel if the ball is landing at 60ft your 6 inches away from your intended target."

Unless his target is the dirt right in front of home plate. Hence, "burying one in the dirt."

It's the 58 feet pitches or the 60 feet and 3 inches pitches that worry me, not the 60 footers.

Posted by: Section506 | May 21, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Manny is a nice guy, but can we put him on injured reserve or send to minnors for some work on his managment skills. 100 loses last year and on track for the same in 09 it is time for some new on field leadership.

Posted by: Champions | May 21, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I can't get the sound of circus music out of my head.

Our bullpen is horrible. We all know that.

It's time to start addressing the defensive issues. That's something that can be improved by coaching.

The Nationals have 43 errors in 39 games. The Phillies have 11 errors in 38 games.
The NL average (and AL average) is 24 errors in 40 games. Wrap your heads around those numbers. It's no fluke. The Phillies are that good for a reason, and the Nats are this bad for a reason.

Posted by: Roscoe4 | May 21, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Good times.

In other news, my condolences to Scott Schoeneweis and his family on the sudden death of his wife.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Nieves has a guy on the mound with 95 mph stuff with two outs, an 0-2 count, the go ahead run on third and he is looking to pitch to contact? Trying to get the ground ball? On this club that cannot catch the ball very well of late? With this pitcher that is struggling with his command and confidence? Not sure I understand that logic at all.

Manny explaining post game how he was not happy with the pitch selection and how he noitced that they called for like 7-8 sliders in a row is comical. Like as if he was in the stands next to me watching it all. This poor pitch selection problem has costs us several games and Manny still leaves it up to the catcher, this one a career minor leaguer, to call the pitches with the game on the line?? Manny has gotta go. He has got to go NOW!

Posted by: dfh21 | May 21, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Even our "Natinals" radio announcers cant get it right. They called the last out a homerun. They were too busy giving each other high fives, for about a good 20 seconds, to notice that the ball was caught. When things go bad everyone seems to lose their focus.

Posted by: Bob_L | May 21, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Managers have different philosphies on pitch calling. Some let the catcher call the game, some call most every pitch from the dugout, some mix it up and reserve pitch calls for stress situations and/or younger pitcher/catchers.

What I find the most troubling is that if Manny as he said didn't like the pitch selection of "7 or 8" sliders in a row, then insert yourself after the 3rd or 4th one. Call something else at that point from the dugout.

I won't pretend to know how Manny is perceived in the clubhouse by his players. But some guys, the late Johnny Oates for one, were always just too darn nice. The respect as a person is there but not so much as a leader or authority figure. I don't know at all if this is the case here or if Manny just isn't comfortable calling pitches at all. Either way it's troubling.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 21, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Rocies Manager Clint Hurdle benched perhaps his best player - Tulowitzki - last night because he swung at too many pitches. The story I heard on XM was that Hurdle has been giving the team hell about fundamentals, but says his team is playing with 'clinched fists' (meaning playing tight). His approach to solving the team being uptight wsa to bench a player for not being disciplined enough. Tulo commented to reporters that it is really hard to loosen up when your manager is yelling at you to play better all the time.

It's an interesting contrast to what is happening here in Washington. We often comment that Acta does not seem to be displaying enough passion and that he is not getting the team to play sound fundamental baseball. But we also hear that the clubhouse is relaxed and everybody gets along.

So, two teams, two managers, two approaches, similar results - poor fundamentals. It seems to me from very far away that Hurdle is losing the Rockies clubhouse with his approach. Acta it would appear is not losing the clubhouse (just the games).

So what is the right approach?

Posted by: natbiscuits | May 21, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

As in most things in life... somewhere in between. It's the good managers who know when to yell and scream and when to let guys play. It's the good ones how far/hard to push so that they're respected when they do and not just seen as being an @$$h0l3.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So what is the right approach?

Posted by: natbiscuits | May 21, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 21, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

"So what is the right approach?"

Trade Acta for Hurdle straight up?

[Not seriously; but it would be an interesting experiment, no?]

Posted by: diogenes_quixote | May 21, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I've known of high school batteries that received better coaching than Manny provided last night. The post-game press conference is not the time to voice criticism of pitches called. Does he know that he, or his pitching coach, are allowed a visit to do a little coaching during the inning? When his starting catcher is out of the game, maybe he should either be calling the pitches, or have a sign to call for a specific pitch in a specific count.

The more I learn about Manny, the less I think of his managing capabilities.

Posted by: MartinZook | May 21, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

We play better defense last night, we likely win 1-0.

I am going to start waving the flag for funadamental baseball. Hit your cutoff man. Throw accurately to the right base. Know the situation before the ball is put into play so there's no hesitation...and while you're at it...everybody takes bunting practice for five hours today.

Posted by: Roscoe4 | May 21, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Good, and thoughtful, post, natbiscuits.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"So, two teams, two managers, two approaches, similar results - poor fundamentals. It seems to me from very far away that Hurdle is losing the Rockies clubhouse with his approach. Acta it would appear is not losing the clubhouse (just the games)."

Where do they publish the clubhouse W-L stats anyway? The Washington Redskins have become renowned for winning the offseason every year. Maybe the Nationals can gain some traction in this town for leading the league in clubhouse wins.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 21, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

From a few posts back. Judging by a recent piece by the ombudsman, 506, there are rules, but the Post has no intention of enforcing them, so really, there are no rules. It was also suggested that commenters might wish to attempt policing the blogs/forums in which they take part.

---

Okay, so there are no rules anymore.

Posted by: Section506 | May 20, 2009 11:57 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Links re. ombudsman and online comments:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2009/02/25/LI2009022502075.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ombudsman-blog/2009/05/my_sunday_column_about_how.html

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I could'nt agree more with Martinzook! Why does he let these kids keep screwing up---then mention that he did'nt like what was going on out there LATER???

Posted by: ripndot | May 21, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Vigilante justice!

Posted by: Section506 | May 21, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

"I've known of high school batteries that received better coaching than Manny provided last night. The post-game press conference is not the time to voice criticism of pitches called. Does he know that he, or his pitching coach, are allowed a visit to do a little coaching during the inning?"

Perhaps you failed to notice that Manny Acta had already used his one allowed mound visit to Hanrahan earlier in the inning? According to reports, he told Hanrahan to settle down. (That's the executive summary. A detailed transcription of Manny's remarks was not made available to this reporter.) At any rate, it doesn't really matter whether the pitches are called by the bench, the catcher or the pitcher himself if the pitcher can't execute and throw the selected pitch. If Hanrahan is bouncing his slider in the dirt more often than not, then yeah sure they could have him throw a steady stream of fastballs. But no matter how fast they are, sooner or later he'd hang one and the batter would tee off on it. No pitcher in the big leagues can get by with just one pitch. Hanrahan has shown that he only has one pitch that he can throw with any consistency at all, and that's his fastball. It's been the pattern with him for well over a year now. Thus, designating Joel Hanrahan for assignment would be too kind of a fate for him now. He needs to be designated for firing squad, where his only hope would be that the rifleman also has a tendency to bounce them in the dirt.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 21, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

>Manny explaining post game how he was not happy with the pitch selection and how he noitced that they called for like 7-8 sliders in a row is comical. Like as if he was in the stands next to me watching it all. This poor pitch selection problem has costs us several games and Manny still leaves it up to the catcher, this one a career minor leaguer, to call the pitches with the game on the line?? Manny has gotta go. He has got to go NOW!

lol I can't even watch that degrading crap anymore. There are some givens in life, and one of them is that the definition of a loser is someone who blames his tools and not himself. 11 and friggin 28 and he still has a job. Getting swept by the PIRATES. AT HOME

Posted by: Brue | May 21, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

One of the links that I posted was wrong (I used the link in the second ombudsman piece and that link was not to the referenced article).

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/08/AR2009050802842.html?sub=AR

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

That seems to be the idea, 506.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

"I know Acta doesn't like to call pitches from the dugout but maybe he should, in such situations."

Or while a relief pitcher is running to the mound, talk with the catcher about the approach they want to take/scouting report on the hitter, etc. I realize Hanny started the 9th, but Manny could've pulled Wil aside during the bottom half of the eighth. Who knows, maybe he did. But they need to be on the same page, and if Manny sees them calling/throwing slider after slider and has spent his trip to the mound already, then they should have some signals to relay pitches. Geez!

Posted by: dclifer97 | May 21, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

"You trade all those guys and the stadium will be EMPTY after the all star break. Nick is tradeable because it's his contract year, but the other two, no way. You have to give the fans SOME reason to come to the games. Otherwise, there will be NO revenue stream to sign Strasburg or anyone else to fix this team."

The revenue stream is there. There's TV, revenue sharing, etc. It's winning that puts butts in the seats, and at this point, 35 wins vs. 60 wins is immaterial. If you can get a *real* prospect for any of our established players, take it. NJ won't be on any Nationals team playing in october. We all know that. Same with Guzman. Dunn, *maybe*, but probably not.

Not that I'm saying we can get much for them, but if we can get anything, we might as well look into the trade.

Posted by: Section406 | May 21, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Watch what happens if another team happens to get swept by the Nats... Remember what happened in Baltimore last year.

~~~~~~~~~~

Getting swept by the PIRATES. AT HOME

Posted by: Brue | May 21, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 21, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

"lol I can't even watch that degrading crap anymore."

Can you stop posting, too?

Posted by: Section506 | May 21, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

No way you trade Dunn. His simple presence in the lineup has transformed a meager offense into one of the best in baseball. We need to upgrade the pitching, but not at the expense of regressing the offense.

Posted by: kingtutts | May 21, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I saw someone last night wearing a "Run Teddy Run" t-shirt. Clever, but equally aggravating.

Then it donned on me. Teddy will continue to lose until we have a winning season. This charade has been built up so much that they can't end it with only 10K in attendance. Not to mention the superstitious cache, "Teddy won and it's our first post-season. Teddy is our lucky charm!" I'm afraid that unless they end it this weekend against the O's or when Boston comes to town, we will be subjected to it for years to come.

Posted by: dclifer97 | May 21, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

when will the option hanrahan to free agency? he is terrible

Posted by: MondoTE11 | May 21, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Agree, dclifer, that the Teddy losing thing has run its course, as it were.

At least there would be Schadenfreude potential with that scenario, Rickety (but first the Nats would have to sweep someone, ummm...).

Also, new post.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 21, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

>Can you stop posting, too?

Not when I continue to be right. Don't kill the messenger. It's for your own good. You just don't know it yet.

Posted by: Brue | May 21, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Where is the pitching coach in all of this? Could he not visit the mound after a couple of sliders and provide some advice (i.e. do some coaching)?

Posted by: jmkpaint | May 21, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"So what is the right approach?"

the right aproach is TEACHING and setting the EXPECTATIONS so everything is clear cut. Think about it from a school perspective. You probably had teachers who were very relaxed and very uptight, generally you liked the relaxed ones more and disliked the uptight teachers more... The question is who taught you more... The answer is that either style could be used for management, but if the teacher doesn't Teach you what is expected you and then hold you to that standard then they aren't very good whether they are relaxed or uptight. I know they have been working on fielding lately so I'm not going to harp on the "teaching style" because I'm not there, but maybe after having consistently bad fielding over the years you have to start to believe it might be Manny... I hear a lot of talk about only AA pitchers or players but those players are playing well. Fundamentally, Justin Maxwell hit the cut off Man (Guzman) to allow a double play yesterday. He should have got a ATTA BOY!!! On the flip side, Dunn missed three cutoff guys, and none of them went into pursuit of the ball... NO ACCOUNTABILITY!!! Acta is a great guy, but we need to change the teacher, because I think the students aren't learning under him.

Posted by: PNatsFan | May 21, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

teddy needs the w worse than us

Posted by: bford1kb | May 21, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

PNatsFan: I agree with your assesment of Acta I like him too just not as the manager of this team,what were they doing in spring training? i mean it is maddening to watch this lack of execution night in night out failure to lay a bunt down, etc. I swear i would have benched Dunn after that display last night(failure to hit the cutoff man) and Hanrahan show's no confidence when he enters a game i mean Laroche of the Pirates looked horrible at the plate last night and you get ahead of him in the count 0-2 and wind up throwing a wild pitch after pussy footing around with his weak hitting azz, Hell Son throw your best stuff!!! PNatsFan you are on the money it is time for a change.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 21, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Not sure if what Hurdle did with Tulo will work or not. We will see what happens next time Tulo bats. If he can have smart at bats like Hurdle is trying to teach him, he'll get to stay in the lineup.

I got the feeling from reading here: http://www.rotoworld.com/content/playerpages/player_main.aspx?sport=MLB&id=4156
that this was Hurdle trying to get Tulo's attention after talking to him "ad nauseum" didn't seem to sink in. If Tulo wants to complain about being tight, he should try listening to his manager who is trying to teach him something.

Posted by: comish4lif | May 21, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Bad begets bad. Negative thinking draws more and more and more. It all started with the losing streak right out the gate. Losing right out the gate is never good, even if you do play from April to October.

They really need to trade for two solid veteran pitchers with a winning, cocky attitude. One a starter and the other a closer. Coaches send these kids out to pitch and after that they are on an island. It doesn't matter if they used to play. The confidence level of this bullpen is close to breaking, the starting pitching has gained some composure and consistency but I note Manny's kid gloves treatment: bring them out on a good note.

Posted by: periculum | May 21, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

For the thirty or so hangers-on on this blog: What can Manny do? Should he emulate Hurdle? Or should he slip further into comatoseness? Beats me. Either way, he's toast, IMHO.

Switching to the Cubs-Cardinals, you saw two old pros (La Russa and Piniella) going at it, inning after inning, prowling their dugouts, pawing the ground like hungry panthers. Now that was a show.

I do not understand guys like Hanhrahan. Here he is given a golden chance on a mediocre team to show he deserves a spot on a big-league roster, and all he does is shoot himself in the foot, over and over. Does he really want to get his ticket punched to Woodbridge? It looks to me that he wants out of the big leagues ASAP. Why I don't know. Beats me. As Yogi would say, with Hanrahan it's got to be 90% mental and the other 50% is execution.

Posted by: JohnRDC | May 21, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

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