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Challenges add up for the Nationals

Morning roundup

Wednesday night might bring the most challenging moment yet of the Nationals season. They just traveled across country following more than seven hours of delays. They lost Tuesday night after their ace yielded a blooper on an 0-2 slider to the opposing pitcher. They could use something good to happen, and they're going to send a rookie who hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in four starts against perhaps the best pitcher alive.

The Nationals have scored 3.5 runs per game in their last 11, and now they'll run up against Tim Lincecum. They're currently playing 20 road games in 26 days in six cities, five not in the Eastern time zone. The Nationals are 23-23, still surpassing expectation, but that's only good enough for a last-place tie in the surprisingly deep National League East. They don't have their starting, future Hall of Fame catcher. After they run Luis Atilano against Linceum, they'll oppose Barry Zito and his sub-3.00 ERA with Craig Stammen and his 5.96 ERA. Then they'll cull Saturday's starter from the minors to replace Scott Olsen.

The Nationals have stayed afloat this season by constantly meeting challenges -- playing without Ryan Zimmerman, navigating the league's roughest early-season schedule, surviving injuries to Jason Marquis and John Lannan, their No. 2 and No. 1 starter. All the factors conspiring together may make Wednesday night and the days that follow the most difficult test yet.

FROM THE POST

Sally Jenkins gives her first impressions of Stephen Strasburg and finds him to be in full control of himself and what's around him.

Livan Hernandez was cruising until the Giants stunned him in the fifth inning in a 4-2 Nationals loss that opened a 10-game road trip.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Toledo 6, Syracuse 3: Matt Chico allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks in five innings. Josh Whitesell went 2 for 4 with two doubles.

Harrisburg 2, Bowie 1: Andrew Kown allowed no earned runs in seven innings on five hits and one walk. Chuck James struck out four in two scoreless innings while allowing three hits and a walk to pick up the save. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 4.

Potomac 9, Kinston 4: Stephen Lombardozzi went 2 for 4 with a walk, a double and a triple. Wilberto Ortiz went 3 for 4.

Lakewood 9, Hagerstown 2: Destin Hood had a rare off night, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Mark Zuckerman has more on Livan Hernandez's "stupid" evening in San Francisco.

Fire Jim Bowden wonders if the Nationals improvement means they're much closer to winning a title, which is an interesting question.

Nationals Enquirer found someone trying to sell a June 4 ticket for $1 million.

Giants outfielder Aaron Roward knows firsthand that Bryce Harper has the potential to be really, really good.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 26, 2010; 8:02 AM ET
 | Tags: Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum, Washington Nationals  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Game 46 discussion thread: Nationals at Giants
Next: Where are all the runs?

Comments

As bizarre as Livo's 5th inning was, I'm still more comfortable pinning this one on the bats. And I'm looking particularly at you, Nyjer Morgan, and your lame pop-up with runners on second and third and one out in the third.

Posted by: SorenKierkegaard | May 26, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

As much as I want to believe otherwise, the Nats record is really a mirage and everything has been evening out these last 10 games (they're 3-7) and this will be more indicative going forward. There's just not enough talent or depth to keep hovering around .500 - they're improving, but let's not get ahead of ourselves like the guy at "Fire Jim Bowden".

Posted by: bendersx6 | May 26, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

This road trip could get really ugly . If I’m not mistaken, we’ve been historically bad (since ’05) against both S.F. and the Padres. Maybe the ‘Stros, too? We really needed that one last night.

Posted by: gonatsgo1 | May 26, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

On the other hand, we're not the same team that we were in 2005, and Lincecum has pitched into some bad luck this year, with the bullpen blowing games after his departure. I'm just saying...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 26, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

We had a reasonable expectation that for two starters, Lannan and Marquis. The rest was mushrooms and cow patties. Olsen had a nice run. Livan had a nice run, but sooner or later reality has to set in. The real question in my mind is how long will Nats fans pay to see Stephen Strasburg throw 75 pitches a game, or did they lower it to 60? Maybe we should have all the starters on lower pitch counts--that's a joke son.

Posted by: Juliasdad | May 26, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Adam, won't we need the temporary starter for the final game in Houston, as well as Saturday?

Posted by: CJArlington | May 26, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

@CJ -- I'm thinking that whomever will start on Saturday (I'm guessing JD Martin) will start the last game in HOU on the third. Then, the Nats will call up Strasburg and send Martin back down.

And I really think that Nyjer needs a few days off to work with Rick Eckstein on his approach at the plate. He needs to stop trying to bunt for base hits for awhile. My suggestion is to have Bernadina take over CF and have Kennedy start at 2B and Guzman start in RF (versus RHP). This allows the infield defense to remain better-than-average and keeps Guzzie's bat in the lineup. Against LHP, keep Guz at 2B and start Morse in RF.

Can someone contact Mr. Svruluga so that he can summon up the reverse-jinx for tonight's game? If Levale Speigner can beat Johann Santana in the Metrodome, then just about anything can happen. A kid can dream, can't he?

Posted by: erocks33 | May 26, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Agree Nyjer Morgan needs to sit. He really hurt us last night.
Also prediction: if the Nats can play just under .500 ball on this trip (don't forget we've got the Stros), then they will be 9 games over .500 at the end of June. Mark it.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Somehow we need to win one game against both SF and SD or this road trip could turn ugly. I'd consider 4-6 a success given the circumstances.

Posted by: slopitchtom | May 26, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Games like this one point to the need to add to the Nats' offense. Harper will help down the road, but for the present, the pressure seems on to re-sign Adam Dunn. Where else can you find a perennial 40 HR and 100+ RBI guy with a high OBP? His defense and lack of speed should lower his market value for the Nats to a range of affordability.

The Nats essentially got Dunn during a weak period in the market, and they signed him for $20 million over two years (newspaper reports hinted that he would have signed for four years at the time). Now you have to wonder if the Nats will pay Dunn's market value, whatever that is. Or will the Nats risk losing Dunn by waiting and hoping that Dunn will again fall to the Nats for less than market value?

Just guessing: the Nats will sign the guy, but will have to go to maybe 4 years, and pay a little more per year than his current $12 million. If Dunn wants more than that, then it gets to be tough on the front office.

If he goes, the Post will probably get ahold of some numbers that were on the table and we can judge whether the Nats should have sprung or not.

Posted by: EdDC | May 26, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"but let's not _______ of ourselves like the guy at 'Fire Jim Bowden'" should be everyone's credo regarding Stephen on Capitol Hill.

Morgan needs to chill out and realize he's not the main event. Take away his green light to steal, if they haven't already. Get banned from diving in the outfield for a few weeks. Always throw to the cut-off man. Then he'll hit the opposite way and go back to catching normally.

Posted by: Section506 | May 26, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Agree that it's the bats... but also wondering: do we have any kind of ETA on Wang and Detweiler?

Posted by: JefComment | May 26, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why Nieves keeps setting up low and outside for weak hitters....Lugo Sunday and Wellmeyer last night. It makes it much easier to just stick out the bat and trickle a hit down the right side. Didn't Nieves learn anything Sunday? This stuff is absurd. Bust these weaklings inside. It aint rocket science.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

ANd BTW if you're gonna tell everyone where youre pitching (Livo moving Bernadina back in right) maybe you wanna change it up a bit.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

"but let's not _______ of ourselves like the guy at 'Fire Jim Bowden'" should be everyone's credo regarding Stephen on Capitol Hill.
_______________________________________________________

Truer words have never be spoken or written in this case.

Posted by: Section505203 | May 26, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Given that the bats have been the problem lately, I'm wondering why they keep bringing no-hit Maxwell up when Chase Lambin seems to be hitting solidly at Syracuse. I don't know much about him other than his stats, but those seem to be pretty solid (and getting better from year to year) and he seems to play every position but pitcher and catcher. Is his defense that lousy that we can't use his bat?

Posted by: elijah383 | May 26, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

erocks33,

If you're going to sit down Nyjer for however long a period then don't know what else you can do except something along the lines you propose. Guzzie though, God bless 'im, has not really been tested on defense--that will be very interesting.

Unlike the pitching, which is holding up well despite injuries and for which help is on the way, the longer-term situation looks grim for position players. Failure of Maxwell to win RF job, dropoff of Morgan, and injuries to catchers are major blows. Write a blank check for Harper, sign him immediately, and put him in lineup one week after Stras's debut? Hope Rizzo has something better up his sleeve.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | May 26, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Meant to say Guzzie has not been tested in RF.

And maybe Lambin is next option--desperate times call for desperate measures.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | May 26, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Oops, I think that'd be Giants outfielder Aaron RowaNd. My husband and I always have chuckle when he's in the batter's box - he just has kind of a funny routine.

Posted by: PattyinSJ | May 26, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Cap -- I agreee that Guz has not been tested in RF, but at this point they need to keep his hot bat in there somewhere. And I'd prefer to keep the lefty bats of Bernie, Guz and Kennedy in there against RHP. If Nyjer must sit for awhile, then where would you play those three? AK20 has played only 61 innings in RF in his career (Guz now has a whopping 23 innings racked up in right), so I'd rather roll the dice with Guzzie in RF for a few games (with the speedy Bernadina helping him out in CF), and keeping AK20 at 2B.

Stay with the "hot" bats ...

Posted by: erocks33 | May 26, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Lambin is not on the 40-man. Don't know what his option status is, offhand. Maxwell can, and probably will, yo-yo all season. Hey, maybe he could drive Storen's car down next time?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 26, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Bernadina hardly moved to catch the flyball on that at-bat. Livan FTW.

**************
ANd BTW if you're gonna tell everyone where youre pitching (Livo moving Bernadina back in right) maybe you wanna change it up a bit.
Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 12:01 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 26, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

It's a long season. They're at .500, with most of the worst schedule behind them (which guarantees nothing, but still). Nothing is desperate at .500 in late May.
I understand there's some valium going unused in DC...
************
-desperate times call for desperate measures.
Posted by: CapPeterson1 | May 26, 2010 12:43 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 26, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

That said, if Morgan drove a car like he's been playing for the last few weeks, he'd be in traction by now.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 26, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

http://twitter.com/mlbtrnationals/status/14770207154

"From what I've heard @SI_JonHeyman is right - Stephen Strasburg is not likely to debut June 4th."

Posted by: AlexL925 | May 26, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Reality is starting to set in for the Nats. I was at the O's-Nats game on Saturday and they were lucky to escape with a win after falling behind 6-3. Stammen has been hit hard in almost every start this year and should be the first candidate to remove from the rotation when Strasburg comes up from the minors. The fact that the club is .500 minus its No. 1 and No. 2 starters at the start of the season is pretty remarkable.

The Nats are strong at the 3-5 slots in the batting order but have a huge hole in RF and Morgan has been a disappointment in CF. I think Rizzo realizes that they need at least 1 or 2 additional every day OF's plus another veteran starter to even think of contending. I could see them losing every game on this West Coast swing.

Posted by: wizfan89 | May 26, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Sec3,

I envy your serenity but when I consider that the only thing standing between us and a catching corps of Nieves and Maldonado (or should that be Maldonado and Nieves?) for the rest of the year is the battered, creaky back of one 38-year-old Pudge Rodriguez, the "d-adjective" comes to mind. Pass the valium, please.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | May 26, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh and will someone please let me know when we've come to "the easy part of the schedule"? Is it like the Biblical land of milk and honey? Or Winken, Blinken, and Nod? Will we have to cross the River Jordan to get there?

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | May 26, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

>>Oh and will someone please let me know when we've come to "the easy part of the schedule

Right after San Diego thru the end of June. Though the Nats, to be honest, look to make every game, regardless of opponent, a real dogfight--witness the Os series.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

@erocks33 sez: "and Guzman start in RF (versus RHP)."

Guzman is HORRID not torrid against RHP when he bats left. Its when he bats right handed against the lefties when he does his damage and is TORRID. He never walks if he can help it. He should not be batting second and I think that is a big part of the problem. As is Nyjer Morgan's slump or funk batting first.

Move them BOTH down lower in the lineup. Try Morse in right field perhaps at 1st base against left handed pitchers. Yes Bernadina in center field perhaps leading off with Willingham batting 2nd or 3rd. He is an OBP machine this year. Figure out if Morse or Desmond will walk enough to bat second.

Put Guz batting sixth or seventh where he belongs when he plays.

But JMax will start and lead off ... with Guz batting second. That is the Riggleman way.

Posted by: periculum | May 26, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The Nats problem is simple, PITCHING. Their starters have one ONE WIN in their last 20 starts. Unless they improve, and start winning, don't expect a .500 season, let alone a winning one.

Posted by: KenzAFan | May 26, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I think the 4th is completely sold out except for singles. Don't think there's a pair available. Good time for Rizzo to bristle at the 4th.
Good 1.
(As Elaine would say: Can you spare a square?)

Posted by: dovelevine | May 26, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

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