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Alberto Gonzalez makes the most of his chance

Morning roundup

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.

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 30, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
 
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Next: Catching up with Danny Espinosa, Chris Marrero

Comments

"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."

Hasn't Riggleman's boss been quoted as saying that this is a performance-based league? Riggleman seems to think it's better to play confidently and lose than to perform well and win. Is that a mindset that bodes well for Riggleman's future with this team?

Posted by: nunof1 | June 30, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Our roster is a mess, and Riggs is doing what he thinks he should do with what he has. We need a starting 8. Kinda like every other team in baseball. A platoon in one position or another, fine.
But Riggs sees that that way he doles out playing time here and there is not conducive to getting good rhythm, timing and teamwork out of these guys.
We need a starting 8, or at least a starting 7 and a platoon somewhere.

It will help in every phase of the game.

Posted by: Sunderland | June 30, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I agree Sunderland, put your best 8 on the field as often as you can.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | June 30, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Maybe a combo of Gonzalez at SS and Desi at 2nd could work.

Posted by: hansenjo | June 30, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

"Riggleman simply does not operate like that."

No, his thinking seems to be that when you do well, you sit and make room for another bench player to get in some innings. This means that the SS from hell Desmond will be back in the lineup tonight, and so will Adam Kennedy, the has-been. The spark plugs of last night's game, Guzman and Gonzalez, will be watching from the dugout.

It's not about winning, it's about checking off the boxes that exist in Riggleman's tortured mind. Since the Nats are letting Dunn sway in the wind, and want to do a trade for him, it won't be long before Riggleman will have first base to play with as well. Morse vs. Kennedy?

Why not just use a dart board to work out the infield lineups? (Zimmerman excepted.)

Posted by: JohnRDC | June 30, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I'll eat crow on this one... put Gonzo in there again tonight... Desmond is still (hopefully) the long term answer... but maybe a short but extended period of coming off the bench will help him break out of his hitting/fielding funk... and if Gonzo is performing, well, like it has been said by Rizzo and others on this blog, performance demands playing time...

Now, if they could give Mr. Morgan at least a short but extended period of coming off the bench, too, that could be another boost...

Posted by: Ghost7 | June 30, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Adam Kennedy and Willie Harris have "earned" seats on the bench. I like Willie and he's had some great pinch hits, but it's not little league or a popularity contest. You field the best 8, either defensivley or offensively and stick with them.

Riggs is concerned about his bench players getting into a rythm. What about his starters staying in rythm?

Seems like he has his favorites too. Kennedy over Gonzalez and he keeps running Nyger out there to make mental errors in the field and on the basepaths the few times he even gets on base, but benches Guzman, who at least consistently bats around .300.

Posted by: Kolchak | June 30, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

@Ghost7. It's not always so clear cut. Based on performance (as explained in second paragraph above) Gonzo had no business in the game last night.

Posted by: marathoner | June 30, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Hope management send a great message and signs Dunn to an extension. Even if you put Morse at 1B full time after a trade, that means Morgan gets a free pass for the rest of the season and Harris gets more playing time. There is no doubt having Dunn at 1B is the best option available to us, we don't need to get another AAA prospect pitcher who might, if he improves, turn into a #5 starter.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | June 30, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Gonzalez is our best infielder (and our best middle infielder by a mile), so he absolutely deserved to play last night. And he'd still deserve to play tonight even if he'd gone o-fer. The way our 2B/SS's are booting the ball around, Gonzalez should be starting in one of those spots for the foreseeable future, and Dez/Guz/Kennedy can share the rest of the playing time.

Posted by: joebleux | June 30, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Not to be a skunk at the garden party or anything, but this is a good case of all being forgotten when we win. Had we lost, we'd be talking about 2 more Nyjer Morgan brain cramps last night--playing a single into a triple and almost getting cut down again on the base paths at the worst time. Either play could have been fatal to us. Happily they weren't, but how much longer can management put up with this?

Posted by: thelonghaul | June 30, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Desmond is going to have growing pains and I'm fine with that. We just can't have Desmond's growing pains, Nyjer's brain farts, and Adam Kennedy's washedupedness all in the same lineup. I'd move Nyjer to the bench for a while and Bernadina to center. Put Michael Morse in the field. Keep Gonzo at 2b and let Desi continue to boot balls at SS for the rest of this year. With only 1 defensive liability we can still win and Desi actually has a chance of getting better.

Posted by: PAskinsfan17 | June 30, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I think the real problem here is Guzman. If we moved him out somehow (ate his salary, whatever) we could platoon Kennedy and Gonzalez at 2B. I think Kennedy would get better offensively with more playing time, and obviously Gonzalez offers the best defense.

Guzman offers a whole lot of nothing. He is a contact hitter who goes super hot and super cold, he sucks at the top of the lineup because he doesn't walk, and his defense is subpar. We'd be better off with getting good defense from Gonzo and some more pop and consistency from Kennedy.

Posted by: autobits | June 30, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Gentelman Jim would be a perfect fit for any 10-12 yr old Little League team. Yah know the one where everyone has to play at least 3 innings and get one at bat!

Good grief Jim, play the 8 as Mike "The Emporer has No Cloths" Rizzo says are performing. Isn't this a perfomance league?

Posted by: TippyCanoe | June 30, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Riggleman is nuts. You simply got to punish players that perform poorly. You gotta let them stew for a while. They have to get down on themselves and come back with a fresh mindset or be sent DFA. As a manager, you have to be strong as unhappy players stew around you. Play the players that are playing well--regardless. I thought this guy was a manager. He seems, more everyday, like a chicken.

Posted by: richs91 | June 30, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

>Why not just use a dart board to work out the infield lineups? (Zimmerman excepted.)

Posted by: JohnRDC

Infielders - Gonzalez, Kennedy, Harris, Morse, Zimm, Dunn, Guzman, Desmond. Outfielders - Willingham, Morgan (chortle), Bernadina. All the guys listed came up playing those positions except Dunn. I finally realized that they don't like Morse in right field because they think he's a defensive liability, which gives even more credence to the fact that he's an infielder. See, Riggs is such a suck-up, he has to LEGITIMIZE the roster Rizzo the genius gave him. That's why he's always trying to give them at-bats. I count 8 infielders and three outfielders - NO WONDER this team doesn't have any power. On top of that, TWO of the outfielders don't have any long ball capabilities.
It's like when Rizzo said that x number of the players had played in the world series? Harris was one of them. Riggs knows this and tries to put his world series guy in the lineup. See how it works?

Posted by: Brue | June 30, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Which reminds me, how are the Cubs doing this year?
Yeah, that's what I thought.

****************
Riggleman is nuts. You simply got to punish players that perform poorly. You gotta let them stew for a while. They have to get down on themselves and come back with a fresh mindset or be sent DFA. As a manager, you have to be strong as unhappy players stew around you. Play the players that are playing well--regardless. I thought this guy was a manager. He seems, more everyday, like a chicken.
Posted by: richs91 | June 30, 2010 12:58 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 30, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

"You simply got to punish players that perform poorly. You gotta let them stew for a while. "

The beatings will continue until morale improves!

Posted by: joebleux | June 30, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"Riggleman is probably also torn about Adam Kennedy's recent dearth of playing time"

I think the bench is where he belongs at present. The guy is playing terrible baseball.

Posted by: muddapucker | June 30, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

"Riggleman is probably also torn about Adam Kennedy's recent dearth of playing time"

I think the bench is where he belongs at present. The guy is playing terrible baseball.

Posted by: muddapucker | June 30, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

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