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Norris returns, Willingham produces, more on 'luck'

A few quick, mid-afternoon tid-bits:

*Minor league catcher Derek Norris, regarded as the No. 2 prospect in the Nationals organization, was reinstated to Class A Potomac this morning from the disabled list. Norris had been receiving extensive at-bats in extending spring training in Viera, Fla., after recovering from soreness in his hand and wrist, a lingering complication from hamate bone surgery.

*Just for comparison's sake, here's a look at the production of Josh Willingham, who reached signed a one-year, $4.6 million deal to avoid arbitration this offseason, compared to Mets left fielder Jason Bay, whom the Mets signed to a four-year, $66 million contract this offseason.

Willingham: .263 AVG, .408 OBP, .516 SLG, .924 OPS, 6 HR, 18 RBI, 146 OPS+

Bay: .248 AVG, .346 OBP, .389 SLG, .735 OPS, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 97 OPS+

I present that with the knowledge that 31 games is still a narrow sample size and that Bay is historically a very streaky hitter, the kind of slugger who, just when you forget about him, can carry a team for a month or two. And of course, service time is responsible for much of the contract disparity.

With the Mets on tap for the Nats tonight, bringing up the Bay comparison is just a dramatic means to make this point: Willingham stands out among his peers. Among National League left fielders, he ranks tied for second home runs, second in on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage, third in OPS and third in RBIs. He compares so well despite a .275 batting average on balls put in play, which is below league and well below Alfonso Soriano (.368) and Ryan Braun (.388), the two left fielders who edge him out in most categories.

"He's just going to give you a great at-bat every time, whether he hits a homer or not," Adam Dunn said. "He puts the ball in play and gets on base. He's a very underrated player."

By the way, Willingham, 31, is on record as saying he would like to sign an extension and remain in Washington. The Nationals own his rights until the end of next season.

*Several comments made some great points in the previous item about the Nationals' close games and run differential. One more that I overlooked: In games started by Jason Marquis, the Nationals were outscored 26-15. Take out the minus-11 from a pitcher operating with a tattered elbow and their overall run differential becomes minus-6.

Also, as a few commenters pointed out, good managing matters in close games. One scout, speaking in general about the Nationals turnaround, told me the other day, "Give some credit to the manager."

In general, I wanted the point to that post to not be that the Nationals have been lucky, but that winning one-run games with such frequency can be a dangerous way to make a run at contention. I hope that's what came through.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 10, 2010; 2:38 PM ET
 
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Comments

"In general, I wanted the point to that post to not be that the Nationals have been lucky, but that winning one-run games with such frequency can be a dangerous way to make a run at contention. I hope that's what came through."

That's exactly the point I took from it, and it's completely valid for reasons many posters discussed. The question is whether management will seize the opportunity and make the moves that will seize the opportunity they have made for themselves:

1. Strengthen middle relief NOW. Whatever logic was associated with holding Storen down on the farm until June has evaporated. His situation is different from Strasburg's for several different reasons, and he should be brought up ASAP.

2. Strengthen the rotation soon. Much as we might wish otherwise, Livan is no more ageless than anyone else. And the holes left by Marquis and Lannan will become more pronounced. Don't rush Strasburg, Detwiler and Wang, but don't use their existence as an excuse not to make other moves if necessary in the short term.

3. Do more to emphasize run production. I'm not convinced that a RF free-agent signing is the right move. Maybe it's just making sure guys spend more time with Eckstein, working on their plans, etc. It's unlikely a trade would produce a major-league ready right-fielder that would make a significant difference, and the failure of either Maxwell or Bernadina to hit decently has hurt. A significant contribution on either of their part (assuming Maxwell is called up) would be a huge improvement. And be careful about running yourself out of big innings.

Posted by: Meridian1 | May 10, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion what was lucky was signing Livo. We almost didn't!How bad would we be if someone else had taken a shot on him and he pitched the way he has. IMHO he's the SOLE reason we're where we are now. Every time he starts we have a shot at winning the game.Who else on this team can you say that about??

Posted by: ripndot | May 10, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Meridan about Storen, in general. We could feel the crunch of this twenty day stretch on the bullpen for the rest of the season. But Jesse English and Aaron Thompson are also viable options. I'm typically conservative in these matters, but it may be time to cut bait with Bruney.

Also, I'd like to see them bring up Mike Morse and give him a couple of weeks in RF. He may be the additional bat for which we are looking.

Posted by: lowcountry | May 10, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I hate to keep saying this, but Livo will regress to the mean, he just will. This is not the first time he's ever been on a hot streak (though it's close to the hottest he's ever been), and we will see a cold streak at some point, because -- and I say this lovingly -- a pitcher who maxes out at 89 mph and relies on spots and movement is just a BP pitcher when he doesn't hit his spots and the ball doesn't move.

We signed Livo because he can pitch forever, everything else is just a lucky bonus. We will say "sweet!" Dibble-style and not imagine he is the first of his kind in major league history -- a reliable innings-eater who at 35+ became Cy Young.

Posted by: Section506 | May 10, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I disagree strongly with the view that Livan, good as he's been, is the only reason the Nats are better. I beleive the biggest reason is that their bullpen is perhaps 200% better at protecting late close leads, as compared to last year's sad group. The 7 victories in one-run games just wouldn't have happened last year. Don't forget that this was the highest bullpen ERA in baseball last year, and underwent 2 attempts at total reconstruction. I share the concerns about getting Clippard & Capps some help, but don't disregard the huge difference with last year's bullpen.

Posted by: vamikey | May 10, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Right, the difference is not necessarily luck. Maybe better to think of it as intangibles.

Posted by: KenNat | May 10, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we signed Livo because he can pitch forever but also, it increasingly seems, because he brings a veteran presence to the clubhouse. IMO, The veterans have been one of the most significant differences in the team this year. If memory serves me, about this time last year we were having a discussion right here about Zimm's leadership abilities - he had been ordained as the clubhouse leader after all of three years of experience.

Livo has been tremendous on the mound but, I suspect, has made some signifcant contributions when he is not pitching as well.

506 is right, he will regress; even if not all the way to the mean. Let's just hope it happens on August 1 - after we trade him to the Yankees.

Posted by: lowcountry | May 10, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

The reason this team is winning close games is because of CONFIDENCE. Manny Acta's Nats would fold tent every time things got hairy, but this current group knows that if it's in the ballgame they can win the ball game. That comes down to:

*The Manager
*Having a Hall of Fame catcher with 20 years experience and a ring now working behind the plate.
*A guy like Livo, who's currently playing with a chip the size of Texas on his shoulder for not getting any Major League offers in the off-season. Everyone talks about having a guy like Livo and how he can "tutor" the young guys, but I think what he is actually doing is setting the bar for the young guys. He is setting the standard for what the other starters need to achieve, and for the most part they're doing it.

Come the All-star break we'll have a glut of starting pitching...one or more will be shipped out for a right-fielder and/or more middle relief.

Posted by: MBUSA | May 10, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Dang... it's a good thing he's not hitting 91/92 on the radar gun or the ol PED questions might show their ugly head.

As a fan, I've been "stuck" with Livo for so long... first as a Giants fan while living in the Bay Area and now the on/off/on/on again relationship since the Nats came to town. I can honestly say that yesterday was the 1st time I said "Awesome... Livo's starting. We have a decent chance to win today."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We will say "sweet!" Dibble-style and not imagine he is the first of his kind in major league history -- a reliable innings-eater who at 35+ became Cy Young.

Posted by: Section506 | May 10, 2010 3:11 PM

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 10, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Livan won't continue to have a sub 1.00 era but there is a good chance he continues to pitch at a good enough level to stay in the rotation all year. He's come into the season in far better shape than in years past and has no guaranteed contract. Pretty good incentives to stay healthy, pitch well and mentor a young staff.

Any calls to bring up Storen or Strasburg prior to June 1 are panic, short term thinking. By keeping both guys down for one more month we keep them an extra year and save millions. In 2015 when those two guys are cornerstones of a playoff team, we can thank the patience of the management staff now for an extra year of cost-contained superstars.

Bullpen is 100% the reason we're above .500. Last year by this point the bullpen had already blown 9 saves, a depressing situation for starters and hitters alike. Pitcher for pitcher we are improved in 2010 (Burnett, Walker, Batista, Bruney, English, Clippard, Capps) over opening day last year (Beimel, Hinckley, Ledezma, Shell, Tavarez, Rivera and Hanrahan).

Credit to Riggleman for managing the team and bullpen well. Credit to Ivan Rodriguez for starting hot and for handling the pitching staff better than anyone from last year.

Posted by: tboss | May 10, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

BTW the Nats have 2 hitting dead spots--rf and 2b. In the what could have been category, Orlando Hudson is hitting almost .300 while Mr. Kennedy is in the 240s. Hudson in the 2-hole coulda really jump-started this offense and been dynamic. And he was ours for the taking. That's waht cheap will getcha.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 10, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Remember the movie "The Natural" Livo is our Roy Hobbs what was the name of that team the Knight's and were they not pathetic like our Nat's last season yeah,yeah,yeah, i know it was just a movie but just sitting in my cubicle day dreaming before the owner's son comes down the hallway trying to talk about the Braves, LOL!.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 10, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

"BTW the Nats have 2 hitting dead spots--rf and 2b. In the what could have been category, Orlando Hudson is hitting almost .300 while Mr. Kennedy is in the 240s. Hudson in the 2-hole coulda really jump-started this offense and been dynamic. And he was ours for the taking. That's waht cheap will getcha.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 10, 2010 3:42 PM"

...Can someone give that jukebox a bump...seems to be skipping again.

Posted by: Naugatuck-Nats | May 10, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Remember the movie "The Natural" Livo is our Roy Hobbs what was the name of that team the Knight's and were they not pathetic like our Nat's last season yeah,yeah,yeah, i know it was just a movie but just sitting in my cubicle day dreaming before the owner's son comes down the hallway trying to talk about the Braves, LOL!.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 10, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

after hudson's ignorant comments about why jermaine dye isn't playing I'm glad he is not around and dye probably isn't worth half of what he wanted, bernadina's bat will continue to improve, not to mention the fact that we can put a defensive outfield of willie, nyjer and berny which is just plain filthy, yes I know ham is too good not to play but still when I saw those three standing out there on saturday in the late innings I could not control my enthusiasm for the defensive group we had going, I'd love to see a power bat off the bench and get rid of maxwell or taveras or both

Posted by: bford1kb | May 10, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Reasons we are better than last year and winning close games:
1. Riggleman instead of Acta. Acta seems to have managed with his eyes closed. I like that Riggleman is into every facet of the game including making the umpires aware that he on that top step.
2. Rizzo's line up. He is not trying to showcase a player to line up a trade. No more LoDucas/Estradas/Lopezs. This team is built with cogs that work with each other instead of grinding the teeth off the gears as Bowden's lineups did. Team chemistry has been debated here on and on but the lack of it was evident in past seasons.
3. Leadership. Zim was not ready to assume the role in past seasons and there was a void of leadership on the team. This year Zim has more presence and the addition of Rodrigues has helped considerably. I have yet to see a team that follows a leader who is failing on the field. Remember LoDuca's exhortations?
4. Produce or go away philosophy. Examples: Marquis, Mock, Maxwell. I know, I know, we are using the theory that 'you stink so bad that you must be hurt' philosophy but it seems to be working in at least the pitchers' cases.
5. Subtraction of Hanrahan/Milledge, addition of Morgan. We are still reaping the benefits of that one.
6. True luck. Not so much in bapip or whatever but measured in acquiring pitchers who have mended well: Olsen and Livan. Will the luck continue with the healing of Marquis, Detwiler, Zimmermann and Wang? Even two of this group returning would be excellent.
7.Getting Dunn out of the outfield. I never ever never want to see him with an outfielder's glove on again. Oh, the horror!

All in all I believe we have turned a corner. We have a chance to win each game now and what more could we have dreamed of a year ago?

Posted by: driley | May 10, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

"Every time he starts we have a shot at winning the game.Who else on this team can you say that about??"

Olsen. And even Stammen, more often than not.

Posted by: nunof1 | May 10, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

1. Drew Store is not middle relief. That role was supposed to be given to Clippard (faux left-hander because he does so well against them) and Miguel Batista. Not Storen. If Storen comes up his role will likely be most similar to Bruney (setup) ... plus Walker and Burnett. Batista, Bruney and Burnett like to walk hitters with RISP and in Batista's case, allow inopportune home runs that lead to blow outs. And so Batista has been relegated to a mop-up role.

But right now Clippard is filling everyone's role except Closer. So, if Storen can come up and do what Bruney is supposed to that would definitely help!!! While they're at it maybe Kown and Peralta should come up as well? Maybe even Chuck James, JD Martin?

2. Livan is pitching in fantasy territory. But all those who think he must fall back hard to earth, ask yourself this one simple question: What if he continues to pitch allowing almost NO WALKS? What if the defense continues as it has and perhaps even improves with time? What if the rest of the bullpen gets its act together? How many times have we seen Livo rescued by a web gem this year? So, even if he "comes back to earth" maybe it will still be good enough to get to the all star game and perhaps 16-17 wins? In the end perhaps his fate is more in the hands of the GM and manager.


3. Hudson at second base? Guzman is playing there an awful lot and getting paid 8 million. What would you do with him? He is hitting just as well as Hudson and his fielding at second is such that he appears to be holding his own. Get over Hudson. It sounds like crazy Ivan Ladson.

Posted by: periculum | May 10, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Hudson at second base? Guzman is playing there an awful lot and getting paid 8 million. What would you do with him? He is hitting just as well as Hudson and his fielding at second is such that he appears to be holding his own. Get over Hudson. It sounds like crazy Ivan Ladson.

Posted by: periculum

Agreed. The middle-infield rotation is working. For whatever reason(s), Desmond, Guzman, and Kennedy are coming up bigger than the sum of their individual skills. Here is another thing to consider: Kennedy plays 3 positions (2B, 3B, and 1B). Hudson plays one position (2B) and would take away that flexibility.

Posted by: fpcsteve | May 10, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

The other reason why the Nats' record and run differential are out of whack is that Riggleman has clearly (so far, anyway) settledf on one set of reliever to pitch when the Nats are ahead, and another set to pitch when the Nats are behind. The gas-can crew pitching when the Nats are behind have been horrific, meaning that deficits get larger. The crew pitching when the Nats are ahead have been good, which ordinarily would mean thatr leads increase. But the Nats' late-inning hitting in games they lead hasn't been that great (probably due in part to the defensive replacements and ouble switches), so the Nats tend to win by a run or two the games they lead late, and tend to lose by a lot the games in which they fall behind.

Posted by: JOC44 | May 10, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

This next stretch of games will tell the tale(NY,COL,&St.Lou.)about these Nats the Mets are hot, ten of eleven and the Rock's can't wait for us to get there, it will take a collective effort for us to come up a winner on this road trip. A quick note on bford1kb's comments concerning Hudson's take on Jermaine Dye's situation Hudson is not ignorant that's his opinion i'm not going to rehash why or why not Dye decided to stay at home(i think he's crazy for turning down a million or millions)but calling him ignorant imo is out of line.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 10, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

you're alright, Kilgore. keep up the good work.

Posted by: hungrypug | May 10, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

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