* Today, the Nats are fielding their first Nyjer Morgan starting lineup. Nick Johnson is back in the No. 2 spot, mostly because Johnson's patient approach will give Morgan a better window for base-stealing. Cristian Guzman, who previously batted either first or second in every game he's started this year, was dropped to sixth.
"We want to take advantage of that .325, .330 that he's having," Manny Acta said. "We want him hitting with those guys on base, because we feel sometimes his at bat comes up after the eighth hitter and the pitcher, and right now, the way our offense is, we want to see him hitting guys with runners on base."
During today's media press conference, I mentioned to Acta that his starting lineup, excluding pitcher Ross Detwiler, had just one player (Ryan Zimmerman) under 29. I started yammering about a 'team in transition,' blah blah blah, and the question I was trying for became kind of convoluted. Acta wanted me to try again. So I cut to the chase. Question: Do you feel like you're managing a bunch of guys who might not be here in a month?
His answer: "I don't look at it that way. I hear people sometimes talk about, 'Well, this guy is 29 years old.' How long is The Plan? Why [can't] a guy who's 29 be here for seven more years? He's only going to be 36. I mean, how long is The Plan? Twenty years? I don't feel for the plan to be in order you just have to have a bunch of 22-year-old guys in here. I think if the guys prove to be part of what we're trying to do here, it doesn't matter if they're 29 or 22. Because a 29-year-old hasn't even hit the peak of his career. So I don't feel that way. I think that is gonna be determined by how a guy plays, his character, and what our front office decides to do."
* Acta held a very brief team meeting today, about five minutes, before batting practice today. He spoke briefly about the little things -- situational hitting, in particular -- that cost the team in its previous two series. Written on the clubhouse white board, by the way: "Whether you think you can or can't, you are probably right!"
* The Nats have signed fourth-round pick A.J. Morris (RHP, Kansas State) and 10th-round pick Paul Applebee (LHP, UC Riverside). I'll pass along the bonus info once I have it. With Morris in the fold, the Nats have now signed their four highest draft picks, excluding No. 1 selection Stephen Strasburg.
* A little about NJ favorite J.D. Martin.
Really, the only thing left for J.D. Martin to improve upon is his level of competition. Yesterday, Martin, 26, was one of three Class AAA Syracuse players -- along with second baseman Seth Bynum and outfielder Jorge Padilla -- elected to the International League all-star game.
This year, Martin has been among the most dominant pitchers in baseball, no matter the level. In each of his last seven starts, he's allowed either one or zero earned runs. He has a 0.89 WHIP. (For perspective, only one qualifying major league starter, Dan Haren, has a WHIP under 1.00.) He also has a 8.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. (More perspective: Only three major league starters, Haren, Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke, have strikeout-to-walk ratios above 6.00, and none is as high as Martin's.)
But Martin, for all his numbers, remains a curious case. A first-round draft pick (35th overall) by Cleveland in 2001, Martin has never pitched in the big leagues. He's already aged beyond ideal prospect years, and he's stuck in an organization loaded with young pitching talent. He doesn't throw all hard, relying on his cutter and his command. Even this offseason, when the Nationals signed him to a minor league deal, he was seen as little more than Class AAA depth.
Despite his success, which he attributes, quite simply, to strike-throwing, Martin knows he faces an uphill climb to the big leagues. Asked about Washington's stockpile of young arms, Martin said, "I try not to think about things out of my control, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind."
At the end of a respectable 2008 season with the Cleveland organization, Martin was released. He needed a new home -- a second organization. With Cleveland, he'd gradually lost the first-round glimmer: He had elbow problems in 2003, then full-blown Tommy John in 2005. The injuries forced him to become a different pitcher. Perhaps not as sexy, but smarter.
"I feel like I can make adjustments now," said Martin, who throws his fastball between 85-90. "I can read hitters' swings. And now it's just throwing strikes. I have great fielders behind me this year, and that just gives me so much confidence."
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