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On Zimmerman's return, Maxwell's future and a fresh bullpen

The Washington Nationals just completed an 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers to register a winning record (6-5) for the first time since April 4, 2008.

The story from Saturday's game focused on the No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 hitters -- catcher Ivan Rodriguez, right fielder Justin Maxwell and pitcher Livan Hernandez, who pitched a four-hit shutout for his his 48th career complete game and eighth shutout, but first since 2004. He has not allowed a run in two 2010 starts. Rodriguez, who was celebrated more for his defense than his offense when he was signed during the offseason, drove in three runs and is batting .419 nearly two weeks into the season. Maxwell concluded a whirlwind of a week -- one that included the birth of his daughter and a promoting to the big leagues -- with a home run in his first Nationals Park start of the season.

But here are some other key topics that were not included in the story...

- Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman excelled in his return to the starting lineup, hitting two doubles and driving in two runs. He also played stellar defense, including a diving stop on a hard grounder in the ninth inning.

It was the type of play that Zimmerman did not need to make -- he's suffered from a sore hamstring, and the Nationals already held an eight-run lead -- but it helped preserve Hernandez's shutout. It's characteristic of Zimmerman, who hustled out a ground ball despite his injury on Friday and proved to Manager Jim Riggleman he was ready to return to the lineup.

"I think anytime your best players are also high-character people, that's huge," Riggleman said. "Playing hard, diving for balls, when you're well into the lineup or way behind in the ball game, still trying to make plays and hustling and those things, your teammates see that and it's a leadership quality. Other players see it and can feed off it. ...The example I always use with people when I try to get guys to always give a good effort is back in they day of Dale Murphy and Andre Dawson won MVPs on last-place clubs. They played hard every day, gave everything they had every day. Ryan, early on his career here, is showing to be one of those people."

- Maxwell's performance bodes well for the Maryland alum, who has an opportunity to earn consistent playing time in the right field platoon. The Nationals like Maxwell's raw power, speed on the base paths and ability on defense, but he has not yet become a consistent performer in the major leagues. The weekend games against a pair of Brewers' left-handers were a chance for Maxwell to prove he can remain on the team as the right fielder who faces left-handed pitcher.

"They told me when I first came here that I'd probably start against most left-handed pitching," Maxwell said. "So, I take a look at the schedule coming up and see what guys are going to throw so I can get ready, because I know that's what my role is right now."

The major leagues allows for more planning because pitchers are set in advance and there is more video and scouting available. Maxwell started preparing for Brewers left-handed pitcher Randy Wolf after his pinch-hit at bat on Friday, and his ability showed with a two-run home run in the second inning on Saturday to the deepest part of the ballpark.

"That's why Maxwell was a high draft pick," Riggleman said. "We're kind of hoping that he can do that kind of thing now. You're never asking people to hit home runs, but the ball really does jump off his bat, and all the other athleticism speaks for itself, the way he can cover ground and so fourth. We hope he can kind of put some days together here as we're going to see some left-handed pitching."

- You'll never find a manager complain about good starting pitching, but the Nationals have a problem that was unthinkable during the first week of the season. With starters going deep the past few games, highlighted by Hernandez's complete game, the Nationals' bullpen is too fresh.

"We got some guys now there that need to throw," Riggleman said, identifying Tyler Walker and Miguel Batista as two relievers requiring action. Had Hernandez lost his shutout, Riggleman would have inserted those two right-handed relievers into the game.

Riggleman is thankful that his starting pitching has preserved the bullpen -- particularly during a stretch of 15 games without an off day. But relievers need work, too, which is a good problem for a manager to have.

"It's a little bit like hitters," Riggleman said. "You can't let them get too much rust on them and then ask them to go in there and perform well. But we wanted Livo to get the opportunity to get the shutout."

By Zach Berman  |  April 17, 2010; 5:37 PM ET
Categories:  Justin Maxwell , Livan Hernandez , Ryan Zimmerman  | Tags: Jim Riggleman, Justin Maxwell, Miguel Batista, Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Walker, Washington Nationals, livan hernandez  
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Comments

- Maxwell's performance bodes well for the Maryland alum...

Do you really want to give Justin Maxwell the keys to the throne after one hit? It was nice as he needed it real bad but lets not get carried away until we can see some consistency.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 17, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see more of J-Max. He covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and he was making good contact all day long.

The only knock that I could see from the nosebleeds is that he bites on stuff he shouldn't.

Posted by: CapitolWill | April 17, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Definitely felt like confidence was an issue for Maxwell in Spring Training... he played well for us last September... hopefully he is turning it around here in 2010... lord knows we need a bat in RF...

Way to go, Livo!

Posted by: Ghost7 | April 17, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

For IMMEDIATE Posting:
Nationals Lead, repeat LEAD, MLB in Stolen Bases a/o this posting.

Posted by: Smoca021 | April 17, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the first time the Nats have had a winning record this late in April since 2005.

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 17, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

JiM: In early October 2005, we were 81-80. This is the latest point in a season since that time that we've been over .500.

In other news, the Marlins have found a way to stop the Phillies, as they have a shutout going into the 9th. Not an easy task! Out west, the Rockies have a no-no going against the Braves in the 8th. And hopefully we can advance our lead over the LAST-PLACE Mets, as they are being shut out. Unfortunately, their opponents - the Cardinals - also refuse to score and they are headed to the 16th frame.

Posted by: thepostischeap | April 17, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Jiminez of Colorado throws first no-hitter of the year against the Braves CF'er Dexter Fowler saves the no-no with a running catch in the gap.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 17, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

The series against the Rockies is going to be tough. I just hope we can split it.

Posted by: CapitolWill | April 17, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Jason Marquis needs his "A" game tommorow after two start's he's been pretty much hammered so this start tommorow needs to be a confidence builder, the bat's seem to be comming around and Pudge is ol man river(just keeps rolling along) Desmond has a cannon at SS and as the cutoff man he'll make opposing 3rd bs. coach's think twice about sending a man on ball's hit in the gap, looking for the sweep on Sunday.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 17, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

LOLOLOL.

Felipe Lopez has taken the mound inthe top of the 18th!

Posted by: amorris525 | April 17, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

OMG! FLop on the mound! It is great. It is on Fox right now!

Posted by: twinbrook | April 17, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

News flash: FLop pitching for the Cardinals in the top of the 18th of a 0-0 game vs. the Mets.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | April 17, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

And he got out of it with no runs scored. Man, the Mets really must suck!

Posted by: twinbrook | April 17, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

I saw FLop's name as the pitcher on ESPN's website and I thought it was a mistake. Wow, that's funny! Neither team must want to win that game...

Posted by: thepostischeap | April 17, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

If the Cards win here in the 18th, FLop would be the winning pitcher!!!

Posted by: thepostischeap | April 17, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

I get it now.Felipe's attitude was so bad here because they didn't let him pitch.Today they must be using Little League rules,where everyone has to play.

Posted by: seanmg | April 17, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

No W for FLop. Whoever thought a 4:00 baseball game would preempt the 10:00 news?

Posted by: thepostischeap | April 17, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

FLop (Cancer) actually looked pretty look. Let's put it this way: he didn't look any less motivated on the mound than it did in the infield.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | April 17, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

And K-Rod just gave up the game tying hit!1-1 going into the 20th.

Posted by: seanmg | April 17, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I was wanting to watch some news and landed on the Cards game. They had the hitter and Lopez in tight and shots and I'm wondering what the...? Then they pulled back and I realized he was pitching. He did better than Mather. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 17, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

And we have a winner, the Mets take it in 20 innings. Don't worry, we're still two games up on them in the standings...

Posted by: thepostischeap | April 17, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

1/2 game out in the wild card race.

#4

Posted by: db423 | April 17, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

J-Max remains the guy I'm rooting for the hardest. He has all the tools. If he can become a solid, consistent hitter, this team suddenly looks very different, even this year -- and the future is very bright with a core like Zimm, Desmond, J-Max, Strasburg and Storen. Filling in the pieces around them would be very doable -- a lot of those pieces may already be in the system (Norris, Espinosa, Hood/Burgess, Zimmermann, Detwiler, McGeary, maybe Dunn or Marrero) and the best may be yet to come (Harper).

Even this season, though, if J-Max is firing on all cylinders, this becomes a very solid defensive team and a tough lineup up and down the order. Since my DC United has taken over the mantle from last year's punchless and defenseless Nats, I'm going to do my living and dying with the Nats this summer. J-Max can make that a lot of fun.

Posted by: fischy | April 18, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Agree with fischy. J-Max is the big story from yesterday. If he can hit even .250 with a little pop -- which should be well within his reach -- he improves the team tremendously. If he eventually can manage .280 with a bunch of doubles and maybe 15 HR, you can pencil him in for the next 10 years and you have a solid outfield with maybe Bernadina as a fourth outfielder (or traded for some other missing piece).

He strikes me as one of these guys who needs the vote of confidence to settle down and perform. I hope the Nats give it to him and keep him around, give him the playing time he needs, and evaluate him over the long term. If he feels like every at bat may be his last, I suspect he will press too hard, as he did in spring training. It's a different kind of pressure than game pressure.

Also, Riggleman was spot on what he said about the value of having star players who are also "high character" guys (Zimmerman) and Maxwell strikes me another one of those "high character" guys who could become a team leader and really popular player. Let's hope he succeeds and that Rizzo looks really smart for dumping Elijah Dukes (who, I believe, is still looking for a job?).

Posted by: Meridian1 | April 18, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

Mets-Cards game may be the most exciting of my lifetime. Glad I didn't watch any of it.

Wonder if Livan and his junk makes other teams like those women in Bad Santa -- don't hit right for a week.

Also glad Zimmerman is finally stepping it up.

Finally, must admit I was all set for a glum whiney season, and here we are. Don't want to miss the fun, don't want to get over being grumpy prematurely. My own fault for giving in to all the negativity.

Posted by: markfromark | April 18, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse

I like Maxwell. I'm rooting for him.

According to the Major League equivalency calculator which translates AAA stats into projected major league stats, here is what we can expect from him this year if he's gets about 400 ABs.

BA: .202
SLG: .318
OBA: .279

HR: 10
RBI: 33

I'm glad he contributed yesterday. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

#4

Posted by: db423 | April 18, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

I wonder what the Nats have to do to get a spot on the front of the sports section. Shut-out? Check. Complete game? Check. Have their season actually occurring right now? Check.

Seriously, WaPo. This is ridiculous.

Posted by: JennX_ | April 18, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

This city is a football town first, and a hockey town second.

The Nats are an afterthought, and will continue to be until we win some meaningful games.

For now, we can all take pride on starting the bandwagon.

Posted by: CapitolWill | April 18, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

"Hockey town second" is a very recent innovation. So there is hope. Too bad Abe Pollin didn't buy the Nats and sell them to Ted. Leonsis.

Posted by: markfromark | April 18, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Re: Maxwell. I'm glad he contributed yesterday. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

#4

Posted by: db423 | April 18, 2010 8:48 AM


Agreed. JMax is a kid we are all rooting for and my hopes is that GM Rizzo gets it right. Mike Morse IMO has a better bat from the right side although I like JMax with the glove.

Long term, I don't think either are the answer in RF.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 18, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

True, Mark, and I expect that those who jumped on the hockey bandwagon (What's up with that, anyway? It's baseball only for this gal. ;-)) will jump on the Nats bandwagon when we're winning consistently.

---

"Hockey town second" is a very recent innovation.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 18, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

With the Caps come from behind win, the 20 inning marathon in St. Louis and the no no pitched by the Rocks in Atl. last night, the Nats 8-0 shutout by Livo to ecslipse the .500 mark gets no love from the national medial. Thats ok though, keep ignoring the team, I love it. The last place Mets on espn today and tomorrow, thats ok, we know the Nats are the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball. We'll just keep on sneakin up on everybody, so, shhhhh, everybody just keep it quiet. GO NATS.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 18, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

coked:

After all the gags & roster-bashing the 'Worldwide leader" put the Nationals through, they have to ignore the team when they play well - Otherwise, they look like knuckleheads.

Posted by: BinM | April 18, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

look like....they are knuckleheads

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 18, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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