Alberto Gonzalez makes the most of his chance
Before Sunday, Alberto Gonzalez had become virtually a forgotten part of the Nationals. He had started three times since the end of April until Manager Jim Riggleman inserted him at shortstop. On Monday night, Riggleman started him again, this time at second base.
In those two games, Gonzalez went 0 for 6 with four strikeouts, including a pivotal whiff Monday with one out that stranded the go-ahead run at third base. The Nationals needed to win, needed to break a vicious five-game losing skid, and so surely the brief experiment with Gonzalez would end.
And yet, there was Gonzalez's name on the lineup card Tuesday afternoon. Riggleman had given him another chance, sitting Ian Desmond. "It's just, I've got to get Gonzalez a few games," Riggleman explained. "Gonzalez is a part of this ball club that I can't ignore."
"I was so happy," Gonzalez, who speaks little English, said in a group interview that frankly took some courage from him. "I feel good. I feel happy. I feel much better knowing three days in a row, I play."
Gonzalez, of course, repaid Riggleman with what he deemed the best game of his career: He went 4 for 4 with an RBI single and a run and made a couple plays at short. Gonzalez was in the thick of what might have been - given the crispness of their play, the quality of their opponent and the margin of victory - the Nationals' most complete win of the season.
Gonzalez had been in the lineup for the third straight day based on what seemed like Riggleman's guilt. Riggleman indirectly blamed himself for Gonzalez's critical strikeout Monday night. Before Tim Hudson threw Gonzalez what Riggleman called "an unhittable slider" that he whiffed at for strike three, Gonzalez fouled back two pitches.
"If I had not let him sit as long as I had, he would have had a better chance in that at-bat last night," Riggleman said. "He would have contact. Those pitches would have been put in play, the ones he fouled back."
Normally, a 4-for-4 night would mean an automatic start the next day. Riggleman, though, did not commit to putting Gonzalez back in the lineup for a fourth straight day.
"I got to think about it," Riggleman said. "I've got a lot of things to consider. Certainly, I'll give that some strong consideration. When you play around with taking guys out and putting guys in, you get into their heads a little bit. I don't want anybody doubting themselves or doubting my confidence in them. I'll give that some thought."
My interpretation: Riggleman would like to find a way for Gonzalez to play today, but he does not want Desmond to stew any longer on his crucial error Monday night. Riggleman is probably also torn about Adam Kennedy's recent dearth of playing time - if he's giving Gonzalez a chance, what message is that sending another of his veterans? Some will be of the opinion that Riggleman should not bother thinking about confidence and focus solely on performance. That's probably a fair argument, but Riggleman simply does not operate like that.
On Tuesday, anyway, it paid for the Nationals and for Gonzalez. The Nationals won by won by five runs or more for just the sixth time all season. It will ring hollow if they revert back to their losing ways tonight with J.D. Martin on the mound, but for one night they proved to themselves they could still play clean baseball.
"If we continue to play that type of baseball," Riggleman said, "we've got a chance."
FROM THE POST
Craig Stammen returned from his brief stint in the minor leagues and led the Nationals to a thorough, 7-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves, his first win since April 19.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 6, Syracuse 1: The Chiefs managed three hits. Chris Duncan went 1 for 2 with a double. Returning from the disabled list, Jesse English allowed no runs in 1 1/3 innings of relief, striking out one and walking two.
Harrisburg 8, Portland 4: Jesus Valdez and Michael Martinez each went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run. Chris Marrero went 2 for 5. Tom Millone allowed four runs on six hits and no walks in six innings, striking out four. Rafael Martin pitched two scoreless, hitless innings of relief, walking two and lowering his ERA to 2.57.
Shortstop Danny Espinosa, first baseman Chris Marrero, reliever Rafael Martin, infielder Michael Martinez, starter Tom Millone and catcher Jhonatan Solano made the Eastern League All-Star Game, which will be held in Harrisburg on July 14. Harrisburg Manager Randy Knorr will manage the team.
Potomac was postponed.
Lakewood 2, Hagerstown 1: The Suns lost by giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Justin Bloxom went 1 for 4 with a home run. Paul Demny allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and two walks, striking out five.
Vermont 4, Tri-City 0: The Lake Monsters improved to 9-3. Chad Jennings allowed no earned runs on one hit and one walk in five innings, striking out seven. Jason Martinson went 2 for 3 with a double. David Freitas went 2 for 3 with a walk.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Last night the Nationals got just what the doctor ordered, Mark Zuckerman writes.
Ben Goessling gives Jim Riggleman credit for tinkering with his lineup.
On Monday night, Stephen Strasburg was must-see and the Nats were hard to watch, Danny Knobler wrote.
Rachel Robinson was honored at Nationals Park, Bill Ladson writes.
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