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Sitting at .500, the Nationals are gaining notice

When Nyjer Morgan walked up to the plate yesterday, he would turn to the Rockies catcher, Miguel Olivo. "I'm stealing on you, I'm stealing on you," he said, playful but still audacious. Morgan had been caught by Olivo earlier in the series, but that only emboldened him.

When Morgan walked in the middle innings, he bolted for second - and Olivo threw him out. Olivo smiled at Morgan as he ran back into the dugout.

Morgan's brashness represented where the Nationals are right now. They're not perfect, but they're confident and making other teams take notice. The Nationals just finished playing a 2009 playoff team, and another one, the Dodgers, are coming into town today. After playing 10 of their first 16 games against reigning playoff teams, the Nationals are at .500.

"You want to make that other club feel like, 'Boy, those guys are tough. That's a tough ball club to play,' " Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I think that after teams play us, that's the way they feel. We're not satisfied with 8-8, because we know we haven't played yet like we can."

Riggleman served as Rockies Manager Jim Tracy's bench coach for four years when Tracy managed the Dodgers. Tracy has seen a change in the Nationals from last year to this.

"I see a greater sense of awareness right now on the players' parts of what it is they have to do in different situations," Tracy said. "It's just a different ballclub. There's a higher energy level. There's a lot of things that are a lot different. They're headed in the right direction. Simple as that."

FROM THE POST

Ubaldo Jimenez dominates the Nationals in a 2-0 Rockies win, and also gives them a glimpse of what they'll be getting once Stephen Strasburg arrives.

Charles Krauthammer explains that his love for the Nationals comes from their losing.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 8, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 1: Shairon Martis allows one run in four innings. Josh Wilkie allows only one hit in three innings while striking out three. His ERA is 0.93.

New Brunswick 2, Harrisburg 1: Bill Rhinehart goes 3 for 4 with two doubles. Danny Espinosa goes 2 for 4. Matt Chico allows one run on two walks and five hits in six innings.

Frederick 12, Potomac 1: The Keys score 11 runs in the eighth and ninth to break a 1-1 tie after seven. A.J. Morris allowed no earned runs in five innings on three hits and two walks.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

The Nationals' respectable start is not an illusion, Jayson Stark says.

Bryce Harper's attitude could be an issue: "It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid."

The saga involving the Artist Formerly Known as Smiley comes up in this well-done examination of baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Stephen Strasburg appeared on "Baseball Tonight" and chatted a bit. (Thanks to prolific commenter Juan-John.)

By Adam Kilgore  |  April 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
 
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Next: Luis Atilano makes it to Washington

Comments

If Harper is really that big of a jerk, I hope they don't take him.

Posted by: FriendofalltheWorld | April 23, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Strasburg was on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" yesterday. Here's some of what he had to say:

http://basehocsoc.blogspot.com/2010/04/strasburg-on-espns-baseball-tonight.html

Posted by: Juan-John | April 23, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Meh, what 17 year old doesn't have his head up his own a$$?

Posted by: Kev29 | April 23, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Have you spoken to a 17 year old male lately? Let alone one who has been hyped up to be the next great thing? Of course he's going to be full of himself. Check his background, talk to his teachers (he was a good student from all reports), etc. etc. and unless he has a record or greets little children with curse words, you take him. Life, baseball included, has a way of humbling folk, so let him mature, but let it be as a National.

Posted by: jfromPG | April 23, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Tough call on Harper. ARod is arrogant as the day is long and has a huge sense of entitlement. But, I've never seen him taunt anyone and his teammates seem to like him. I guess we'll have to trust Rizzo and the boys on this one. Maybe they're confident that a few choice words from the likes of Zimm, Dunn, Pudge, Hammer, et al will straighten him out.

BUT, this worries me. A lot. Brutal decision. You can't trade picks like in the NFL so they have to either draft him and hope he works out or justify not taking the best player. I don't envy them on this one.

Posted by: Avar | April 23, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

"what 17 year old doesn't have his head up his own a$$?"

Yes, but scouts are used to seeing 17 year-olds, and this one apparently stands out. As far as A-Rod not taunting, he allegedly did just that by jogging across the mound after a foul ball in yesterday's game. Not sure at all the Nats need to draft Harper and hold their noses on this one. He's only 17, at least 2-3 years away, and still just playing in junior college. College prospects might be a better fit. I'll trust the scouting staff on this one.

Posted by: LandoverHillsBoysClub | April 23, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Check out the link to Jayson Stark, get past the piece about the Nats not being an illusion, and read down to where Cal Ripken's interested in a serious job with his former team's organization. Look what Stark has to say at the bottom:

"Now that this story is out there and Ripken himself is on record as having interest, it puts immense pressure on Angelos to find a way to make this happen -- before, say, the Nationals hire the guy.

"'If you're Peter Angelos, you can do a lot of things," said an official of one AL team. 'But one thing you can't do is run Cal Ripken out of Baltimore.'"

Imagine the Nats hiring Cal for a serious front office job. The mind boggles...

Posted by: gilbertbp | April 23, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Didn't the Nats just dump a player in Dukes who had all the talent in the world and whose only problem was between his ears? Still, you'd like to think there are veterans on this roster that can take a kid at 17 and knock some sense into him, especially if he is the player everyone says he is. He's awfully young, and you hope he'd be open to advice from guys who have been around for a while.

Posted by: jburksva | April 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Harrisburg played New Britain (not New Brunswick) last night. It's near Bristol, so that's how Strasburg got to be on Baseball Tonight.

Posted by: Cosmo06 | April 23, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I would like to know a lot more before I jumped on Harper as a choice. Saw him on tv and he's an arrogant jerk (beyond the usual 17 year old kid stuff). Joe Mauer he's not. He'll be extremely difficult to sign and a potential disruption. I would like to see what else is out there. You never have enough pitching. Clearly we have to defer to Rizzo, but I would be happy to give Harper a pass. Worst outcome would be to draft him, then fail to sign.

Posted by: JamesFan2 | April 23, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

A Ubaldo Jimenez heater under his whiskerless chin would probably set him straight. He's probably not seeing any of that at CSN.

Posted by: SpashCity | April 23, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

A-Rod may not taunt the opposition but, he does slap the ball out of the hands of people trying to tag him out, he shouts 'mine' when running the bases to throw off people trying to catch fly balls, and he gives press conferences blaming everyone for his failure but him...

A-Rod, unlike Dukes has a proven track record in the majors. This article makes me want to pass on him simply because the odds are always better that he is going to resemble Dukes more closely than A-Rod.

Posted by: soundbloke | April 23, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

No, no, no, no, no. His character DOES matter. And I guarantee it matters to Rizzo too.

I was very surprised to see at 17 years old he's already an entitled punk. Rizzo has spent the last year getting rid of that kind of thing.

After hearing this, my money is on Rizzo not taking him.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 23, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, these are who our young people are in today's scciety not all of them mind you but far too many for my liking, as the father of a 17 yr. old well rounded young lady i come into contact with her peers quite a bit, now keep in mind my wife and i are rapidly approaching 60 so we are not the average age of 17yr old's parents trust me it's an eye opener even though these are private school kids from upscale background's(drug use,suspension's) are not uncommon so the new's about Harper is not surprising the fact that his parent's allowed him to quit high school so he could enhance his baseball career got my attention, Rizzo and his people hopefully have a handle on this kid, remember Al Kaline(HOF/Tigers) was a kid when Detroit signed him.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 23, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

No, no, no, no, no. His character DOES matter. And I guarantee it matters to Rizzo too.

I was very surprised to see at 17 years old he's already an entitled punk. Rizzo has spent the last year getting rid of that kind of thing.

After hearing this, my money is on Rizzo not taking him.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 23, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

oops. Sorry for the double post.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 23, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

went looking for early scouting reports on ARod before he was drafted...came across this:

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=schwarz_alan&id=1813664

pretty interesting, but not exactly what I was looking for

Posted by: SpashCity | April 23, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

This is going to be a tough call for Rizzo. As well as concern about his character, the negotatiotions with Boras will be more difficult than when we signed Strasburg. Strasburg had, realistically, no options other than signing what was a very respectable offer. Harper has more options, and therefore more leverage.

I wonder if Rizzo could work out a sign and trade deal? Sign the kid for 4 years and $20 million and trade him to the Red Sox for a load of prospects and an MLB outfielder. Or something along those lines.

Anything in the MLB rules that bar this?

Posted by: Sunderland | April 23, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

After signing a draft pick, I think teams have to wait at least one year before that player can be traded.

I think...

Posted by: SpashCity | April 23, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Why don't they just trade the draft pick? You can do that right?

Posted by: soundbloke | April 23, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Nope, MLB rules say that you can not trade a draft pick.

Spash, thanks for the response, I'll see if we can verify this.
I'm betting you're right, as a sign and trade is just a way around trading a draft pick.
And I don't recall ever seeing one before.

Posted by: Sunderland | April 23, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Wow! - "The Anti-Joe Mauer"

Those are stinging comments from scouts who typically are prone to parse their words. I will say (without offering too much of a judgment) that the footage of Harper at the HR contest struck me as a bit unseemly. It was all so produced.

Besides, who needs the kid? We've got Super Willie in RF :)

Posted by: lowcountry | April 23, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Sunderland.

It's a joke. A joke that got old on this blog about two years ago. But a joke non-the-less.

Posted by: soundbloke | April 23, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Elijah Dukes

Lastings Milledge

Marlon Byrd

and several others had considerable talent.

They also exuded negativity.

The Nats gradually got rid of these guys.

Kasten and Rizzo have made clear that they will not tolerate anyone with negative attitudes.

There is no need to spoil the current positive milieu with a negative guy.

I like the idea of drafting a talented collegian who has showed some maturity.

Posted by: johnbartelloni1 | April 23, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I watched Harper last weekend. He was clearly the best player on the field. He player right field, pitched and caught in the 2 games I saw. Hit a home run in each game. He is one wired kid. The thing I remembed most is, after his second home run, he gave this glaring stare into the bleachers with his Alice Cooper-like black smeared on his face. I want to cut him some slack because he's so young, etc., but it was apparent that he is not a normal kid.

Posted by: reno1 | April 23, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

There has to be a degree of latitude given for a 17 year old kid. I thought my mess didn't stink then too and I was a mere college recruit, let alone the surefire 1st pick for the last 3 years.

I played with Teixiera and he had a pretty strong arrogant streak. And now? You don't hear word one about him being any kind of clubhouse problem.

You absolutely draft him and you work with him. Talent like this doesn't just happen to fall to you. Strasburg and now Harper could quite literally change the franchise forever and you cannot pass that up.

Posted by: ArtMonkToTheSticks | April 23, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

I am most worried about Boras. Being a high school kid, he has more flexibility to hold out for more money than Stras did. The results from the first part of this season show that this organization need pitchers. Being the cheap owners they are, my best guess is that we go for a pitcher who will command slightly less money.

Posted by: Tom8 | April 23, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The other side of the Harper story is that a circa .500 Nats team has some leverage that a .275, projected 100 loss team does not.

If the team keeps playing well, the desperation factor goes out the window.

Posted by: lowcountry | April 23, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

A Rod is a tool:
http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Dallas-Braden-blasts-A-Rod-for-breaking-unwritte?urn=mlb,236110

I think I'll have to side w/ the pitcher here. I equate this to a defensive player in football walking through a huddle on the way back to the other side of the ball...

Posted by: -CN- | April 23, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Harper sounds like the baseball version of Todd Marinovich.

Posted by: RireGrist | April 23, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

So, he's an extremely arrogant 17-year-old elite athlete. Some learn humility along the way, some don't. We're still over a month away from the Amateur draft.

Posted by: BinM | April 23, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't really care if the kid is a jerk, I care that he's 17 and a catcher. his body is still growing a lot, meaning that we can't be sure if he's injury-prone yet, and the position second worst position for career-ending injuries. Spend the money on someone else.

Posted by: Section506 | April 23, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Boy, are we working up excuses not to sign the obvious choice. I'd be willing to bet Harper won't be nearly as arrogant as what seems to be the concensus. And I don't always trust the concensus. If worse comes to worse, trade him when he's eligible. There certainly will be some team willing to take a top talent, arrogant or not.

Posted by: jcampbell1 | April 23, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I care that he's a Jerk, I care that he's a non-New Yorker bleating about playing for the Yankees already (not for nothing but you have to earn that), I care that he can not sign and still make money next year and I care about the stuff 506 said.

Thank, excuse me, see you and good-bye kid.

Also, this is just on report...

Posted by: soundbloke | April 23, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Haven't had time to read all of the posts or comments, so perhaps this is redundant, but thanks for the background on Morgan's interactions with Olivo. Watching the game on tv last night, I was a little peeved at Olivo's grinning after throwing Nyjer out. Now I get it. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Haven't had time to read all of the posts or comments, so perhaps this is redundant, but thanks for the background on Morgan's interactions with Olivo. Watching the game on tv last night, I was a little peeved at Olivo's grinning after throwing Nyjer out. Now I get it. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Haven't had time to read all of the posts or comments, so perhaps this is redundant,"

It is now!

Posted by: Section506 | April 23, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Sorry about the double-post. It's been slow for me to get posts through here lately, and the site seems to be chugging away trying to talk to Facebook when I do. Eh, don't bother trying, Posties. I don't have an account on Facebook, nor is it likely that I will have one in the future. (Yeah, I'm a Luddite. That's how I roll. :-))

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

The Lastings Milledge/Elijah Dukes examples that people list are not just a failure in character. There was a serious deficit in the ability to live up to the hype on the field of play. I think that any team and especially the Nats should take the kid with the most talent and ability. We still have holes to fill on this team right now and I am sure we will have a few in 3 years as well. We need to get some more powerful bats in the organization and Harper fills that need.

Posted by: driley | April 23, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Marlon Byrd????!! What??
The guy is loved in Chicago, he's a model citizen, there was even a bit of a dust-up when someone called him "the Anti-Milton Bradley."

And while I'm at it, Milledge was more of a run-of-the-mill clueless kid than a real problem, IMO. If he'd hit, he'd still be here. But then, so would Dukes, probably.
But

***************
Elijah Dukes
Lastings Milledge
Marlon Byrd
and several others had considerable talent.
They also exuded negativity.
The Nats gradually got rid of these guys.

Posted by: johnbartelloni1 | April 23, 2010 10:44 AM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Apparently other teams are noticing us so well that we are sometimes either caught stealing or picked off at first! In his favor, Olivo seems to be one of the best catchers in the league.

Aside from that, though, our speed is the one of the most surprising things this season so far.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | April 23, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I always liked Marlon, and leave us not forget his part in the 30-3 game up the pike... :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 23, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Surprised this punk kid hasn't gotten a fastball in the earhole yet.

Posted by: DesertNat | April 23, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Surprised this punk kid hasn't gotten a fastball in the earhole yet.

Posted by: DesertNat | April 23, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

How do you know he hasn't, DesertNat?

It might explain a few things.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

You know these kids today: in one earhole, out the other.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Our greatest weapon is speed, and attention to details.
*************
Aside from that, though, our speed is the one of the most surprising things this season so far.
Posted by: poncedeleroy | April 23, 2010 1:17 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

But he could be OUR jerk!

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 23, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I will not make a political joke on a baseball blog. I will not make a political joke on a baseball blog.

-----

Charles Krauthammer explains that his love for the Nationals comes from their losing.

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 23, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

1a, what was so cute about Olivo smiling was that the camera cuts to Morgan who is trying to glare back as he walks to back to the dugout but a smile is trying really hard to get through the glare. It was ADORABLE. Cracked me up.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 23, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Our greatest weapon is fear, and surprise.

Posted by: TomServo | April 23, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Only in Washington is .500 wonderful. I guess the playoffs are next.

Posted by: melba1 | April 23, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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