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Nationals getting defensive

Last night, after Ryan Zimmerman's big night, the Florida Marlins had one chance to maybe beat the Nationals. They trailed 5-1 and, with two outs, had the tying run at the plate. Ronny Paulino drilled a line drive to right-center field. Nyjer Morgan made his ridiculous catch. "That's why they got me here, to play defense" Morgan said. "Sometimes, I tell the boys I would rather play defense than hit."

Morgan, since he brought it up, is batting .350 over his past nine games and is up to an .834 OPS for the season. But he's right - his best contribution is on defense, a major factor in the Nationals' turnaround and hot start.

The beautiful thing about pitching and defense is how they feed off one another. The Nationals have yielded three unearned runs this year, which is tied for second in major leagues. Last year through 23 games, the Nationals had allowed 19 unearned runs. And that's not all. Manager Jim Riggleman, answering a question about Ian Desmond, spoke to another important fact about their defense. The Nationals aren't just making the plays. They're making more plays.

"It's not so much errors," Riggleman said. "There's going to be some errors. It's plays that are made that maybe some other people don't make that's impressive about Desmond. Last year - not so much at shortstop, but everywhere - there were plays that weren't made that aren't scored errors that were killing our pitching staff."

"Our defense last year was one of the things we had to improve on," Olsen said. "He was kind of the start of it, bringing him over here. He's been spectacular out there for all the pitchers. You feel real comfortable right now with the defense we have and the way they're playing."

FROM THE POST

The Nationals reached their high-water mark as Ryan Zimmerman returned with a bang and Scott Olsen shut down his former team in a 7-1 win over the Marlins.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 2, Toledo 1: In his Class AAA debut, Drew Storen allowed no runs on three hits in 1 2/3 innings, striking out one. Pete Orr went 2 for 3 with a triple and two RBI. Eric Bruntlett went 2 for 4. Starter Andrew Kown allowed no runs on four hits while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings.

Altoona 7, Harrisburg 4: Danny Espinosa went 1 for 4 with a home run. Aaron Thompson allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out four in 6 2/3 innings.

Lynchburg 8, Potomac 2: Starter Marcos Frias did not record an out, allowing five earned runs on six hits and a walk.

Augusta 14, Hagerstown 6: Josh Smoker lasted just two innings, allowing five runs, three earned, on three homers and six hits and three walks. Justin Bloxom went 3 for 5 with two doubles.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

This is a good take on the Nationals' Pythagorean winning percentage by Capitol Punishment.

The Palm Beach Post offers the Marlins side of things.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 1, 2010; 10:40 AM ET
 
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Comments

I'm so happy I can't stand it.

We must not let the Marquis de Sad come back. TWENTY RUNS in 8 innings? Sheez.

Posted by: NatsFly | May 1, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

This club has the right attitude; fundamental baseball, it keeps you in the game and allows you a chance to win those one run games that give you confidence as the season progresses, this would not have happened last year for whatever reason the Nat's didn't do well when it came to playing good sound fundamental defense, now it's a completely different approach and the credit has to go to Riggleman his no nonsense attitude about the game has cahnged this team for the better and it 's reflective in a winning team.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 1, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I like the new, improved Nats. IMO, Rizzo should get credit for the personnel changes he's made, whether in the FO/scouting system or on the field.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 1, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Desmond seems to be answering those questions positively, Willingham has stepped it up, both Maxwell and Bernardina are good gloves (if only they can hit), Kennedy is solid (if only he could hit), and Dunn seems to me to be improving (and starting to hit). Morgan, Zimm and Pudge have always been outstanding. The utility guys are good gloves. Oh, for a summer of good baseball!

Posted by: markfromark | May 1, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Compare this year's lineup to the one they ran out at the beginning of last year - there are six places where there's a clear defensive upgrade: Pudge vs whoever, Kennedy vs whoever, Desmond vs Guzman, Willingham vs Dunn, Morgan vs Milledge (!!!), and Harris/Maxwell/Bernadina vs Dukes. (Sure, when Guzman plays we're giving back one of those upgrades.) Not sure Dunn vs. Nick is an upgrade at first, but Nick was fading defensively and Dunn is coming along a bit, so it's not necessarily a big downgrade. The last guy, of course, is merely one of the best defensive players in the game.

And the numbers show it too. Last year the team was first in the NL in errors, last in fielding pct, and 14th in Defensive Efficiency Rating (measuring the rate the team turns batted balls in play into outs). So far this year they're 6th in FP and fewest errors, and 4th in DER. You go from basically worst in the league to above average defense - yeah, that's a big difference. If that's something they can keep up all season, then you can legitimately think they can hang around .500, or maybe even better.

Posted by: whereswilky | May 1, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Point being, I think Rizzo has to get the bulk of the credit for getting some players who can catch the ball to replace some who couldn't.

I'm not knocking Riggleman - he's doing a nice job -- but I don't see how you can say his "attitude" is the reason we have better defense at catcher, 2B, CF, and RF. It's that we have better defensive players.

Posted by: whereswilky | May 1, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I don't care who gets the dang credit...just win baby.

Posted by: cokedispatch | May 1, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

The big difference is Riggleman, without a doubt. Manny was 21-61 or whatever, and Riggs was a few games under .500 with basically the same team. Sure there were changes, but they weren't huge enough to explain the difference in winning %. Acta never would have asked Guzman to move to 2B, because he had no balls. Riggs doesn't care. Either you get with the program or he'll play someone who will. Last year's guys were just happy to get a paycheck and wear a uniform, this year's team is expected to produce. That's the difference when you're dealing with pros - you have to find a way to get performance out of players who get guaranteed money. It's not based strictly on ability. Players get paid for the numbers they produce, managers get paid on wins. Those are two entirely different things, and you have to convince the players that sacrificing to win is worth it. Otherwise, you get what you got last year with Manny. Nothing.

Posted by: Brue | May 1, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, ww, you laid it out nicely. Bullpen changes have been a factor as well, imo.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 1, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

As far as the record, I should say, not as far as defense, although it's kinda hard to defend against a dinger.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 1, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

there's a clear defensive upgrade: Kennedy vs whoever, Desmond vs Guzman...

Posted by: whereswilky

I agree and disagree with whereswilky. Here is why: Kennedy is an upgrade over Hudson. Lots of people wanted to sign Hudson to play 2B. But Kennedy plays three positions (2B, 3B, and 1B) and gives the Nats flexibility and depth. Hudson plays one position. I disagree with whereswilky on Desmond/Guzman for this reason: Desmond, Guzman, and Kennedy are creating a flexibile, productive middle-infield rotation. Another post today wanted to give credit to Rizzo and the FO for the improved Nats. Here is one place you can do that. Some posts this spring wanted Hudson because they assumed his higher asking price meant he was better than Kennedy. Others wanted to get rid of Guzman. Rizzo brought Kennedy here and kept Guzman here. It's working. Hats off to Rizzo, Riggleman, and the FO. Go Nats!

Posted by: fpcsteve | May 1, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

who wants to bet Strasburg gets promoted Monday morning?

Posted by: chillsonic | May 1, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

who wants to bet Strasburg gets promoted Monday morning?

Posted by: chillsonic | May 1, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Off topic, but condolences to Clay Hensley, who got news of a death in his family after the game.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 1, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Brue: Right on point my friend with your assement of Riggleman; Before the season there were numerous post to get rid of Guzman and Gonzalez not to pat myself on the back but i defended Guz because of his bat and Gonzalez because of his glove and his knack for getting clutch hits now to be sure we're only one month into the season but where would this team be without either one of these two players?

Posted by: dargregmag | May 1, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Kilgore touches on a turning point here - The Nationals are a much better team defensively right now than they were in the past. Desmond, Kennedy, Morgan, & the RF mash-up all show greater range over the players they replaced, while both Dunn & Willingham have shown improvements at their respective positions. Toss in RZim, & Pudge as proven Gold-golve winners, & this team looks solid defensively.

Kudos to Rizzo on the acquisition of the replacements, and to Riggleman (& his staff) for working with the players already on-board to make them better all-around players.

Posted by: BinM | May 1, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Don't know if anyones interested but I've been trying to start up Nationals message board for a little while now. If anyones interested ExtremeNats.com would love to have some of you guys over there!

Posted by: ExtremeNatscom | May 1, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Now, if McCatty can just re-convince Lannan that he can work the inside half of the plate against LH-hitters, the team could be headed for good times.

Posted by: BinM | May 1, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I know all of 1/2 Street is feeling good about our long term pitching depth, but now that cliff Lee is certain to go to free agency, I hope the Nats make a play for him. Considering how dominant he was against the NL while in Philly, he'd be a proven and legit No. 1 that would without question deflect the pressure off Strasburg to assume the title of staff ace.

Just a thought, because the hitting is fine and only going to get better once we get a legitimate gap power RF.

Posted by: mjsciann1 | May 1, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't normally root for paying 8-figure salaries for what somebody did elsewhere, but in Lee's case, facing the Phils 18x/a, that would be mighty tempting, if they keep up this optimistic pace this year (and I don't see why they can't. Might not, sure, but they might, with only neutral luck.)

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 1, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

OK, I'll bite: What's the eephus over there? What's different there?
********************
Don't know if anyones interested but I've been trying to start up Nationals message board for a little while now. If anyones interested ExtremeNats.com would love to have some of you guys over there!

Posted by: ExtremeNatscom

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 1, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

You know what we could use, maybe? A digest of the out-of-town game summaries. What did the opposition have to say about the Nats game?
Because you know the other teams' local media wasn't going on about the Nats' pitching--they were mostly on about their guys (not) hitting. The Dodgers, particularly, IIRC.
Just a thought.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 1, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

The difference, Sec3, is that it's Xtreme!

I was just thinking about Cliff Lee last night (and not in a dirty way). And I don't root for salaries, regardless of their size.

Posted by: Scooter_ | May 1, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Cliff Lee is a nice pipe dream in May, but let reality settle in and see where we are in October. Lannan, Stammen, Olsen, Marquis, Atilano, Livo, Detwiler, JZimm, Wang, Strasburg, & 5-6 others could all be clamoring for starting jobs come 2011.

W-aaa-yyy too early in the season to be looking at something like this.

Posted by: BinM | May 1, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

In a way, BinM, yes it is. In another way, though, it seems unlikely that five of the dudes you mention will be better than Lee. (Let's see how his arm holds up, of course.)

Remember, you don't *have* to finish only 3 games out of first to sign a big free agent.

Posted by: Scooter_ | May 1, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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