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Believe it or not, Stephen Strasburg didn't have his best

Morning roundup

With the bases loaded in the seventh inning last night and Eric Hinske at the plate, the Nationals and Braves were still tied. Stephen Strasburg, still just a rookie, still in just his fifth start, was on the mound. His pitch count had climbed past 80. Manager Jim Riggleman never even considered taking him out.

"With all due respect to our pitchers," Riggleman said, "there's nobody I can put in there to try to get us out of there better than Stephen."

Strasburg is obviously the best the Nationals have, even when he believes he is not at his best. Strasburg last night talked about battling through his start and being human. For most pitchers, shutting out the Braves over six innings and allowing three runs following a crucial in the seventh is something to celebrate. For Strasburg, it was something to endure.

"When you have those type of outings when your stuff is not really there, the top pitchers in the league are going to get through it," Strasburg said. "For the most part, I did well enough. I kept the team in the ballgame. But things aren't working for us right now. We've got to keep our heads up. We've got to go out there and keep working hard."

After throwing an unreal 75 of his 95 pitches for strikes in his last start, Strasburg did falter with his typically precise control at times. He threw first-pitch balls to 15 of the 25 batters he faced. He walked Chipper Jones, the leadoff batter in the seventh, on four pitches.

"Can't really place too high expectations on myself out there," Strasburg said. "I understand I'm not going to have lights-out stuff every time out. I'm human. I really tried to go out there and overcome all the obstacles. I don't really know what the obstacles were, but I just wanted to go out there and battle. That's what being a good pitcher is."

Falling behind early in counts led to Strasburg using his curveball less than in any other start. Of his 92 pitches, Strasburg threw about 10 curves, about 50 fastballs and about 30 changeups. He used the abandonment of his curve as a lesson for future starts.

"Definitely, next time around, if my pitches aren't working I'm going to have to stick with them a little bit more," Strasburg said. "Because I'm going to need them. I can't just eliminate one pitch because it's not really working early on. They're going to figure it out pretty fast when you're only throwing two pitches."

Again, even though Strasburg believed he was not at his best, he held one of the National League's best lineups to zip, zilch, nothing for six innings. Because of that rough seventh inning, it wasn't good enough.

"I feel for him," Riggleman said. "I feel for the whole ballclub. We're all agonizing. We're going through a real tough time - one of the tougher times that I've been through as I've been fortunate enough to manage in the big leagues. This is one of the tougher stretches I've experienced. I know the players feel that way. Stephen feels that way. He did his job for us."

Strasburg has run into scorching opposing pitching. The Nationals' bats have stayed silent while he's been on the mound. Riggleman credited the other starters.

"Maybe they just said, 'You know what? I'm going to match up with this guy, and I'm going to beat him,' " Riggleman said. "They got pride, too. The opposing pitchers going back to Pittsburgh, they all threw great games against us."

Strasburg was not at his absolute best last night. And he still provided the Nationals a chance to win, a chance they again could not take advantage of.

FROM THE POST

Stephen Strasburg again received little support in a 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves last night. The Nationals have scored one run in his past three starts, and Ian Desmond pitched in a critical error.

Dan Steinberg praises Rob Dibble for crushing the Nats.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 9, Pawtucket 4: Jason Botts went 2 for 3 with a home run and 5 RBIs. Shairon Martis allowed three earned runs on six hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. Josh Wilkie pitched a perfect ninth and lowered his ERA to 1.67.

Harrisburg 3, Portland 0: Aaron Thompson, Jack Spradlin and Adam Carr combined for eight hitless innings. Zech Zincola lost the no-hitter by allowing a double in the ninth. Thompson allowed no hits in six innings while walking six and striking out six. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 3.

Kinston 6, Potomac 5: Stephen Lombardozzi went 3 for 4 with a home run and a walk.

Hickory 2, Hagerstown 0: Daniel Rosenbaum allowed one earned runs on four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out four. Eury Perez went 2 for 3.

Vermont 2, Tri-City 0: Ronnie Labrie went 2 for 3 with a home run. Taylor Jordan allowed no runs on two hits and three walks while striking out five in five innings.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Howard Bryant and Jerry Crasnick debated whether Stephen Strasburg should be an All-Star this year.

Strasburg is improbably exceeding expectations, Tyler Kepner writes.

Closed to where he grew up, Matt Capps is thinking about his late father, Guy Cutwright writes.

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 29, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
 
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Next: The Nationals' record is down, but they aren't

Comments

I know the knives (if not bigger weapons) are out among many of the chatters here, but Rizzo is in a very tough spot. His team has three big flaws: weak starting pitching because of injuries and the decline of John Lannan, a slumping offense and a terrible defense. Only the last one was predictable and even there, the Nats are worse than you could have expected.

The starting pitching will probably improve with Marquis, Detwiler, (hopefully) Olsen and Lannan all coming back in the next month. But you can't fix the offense AND the defense at the same time. Rizzo's got to pick one.

I'd go with defense. Put Gonzo in the mix at SS and 2B, alternating with Desmond and Kennedy. If Desmond is at SS, hope Gonzo and/or Kennedy can help him somehow. Sacrifice Guzman's bat for better defense.

Play Bernadina in CF (actually, this might also help the offense if you put him in at leadoff). Play Morse in RF and platoon him either with (gulp) Willie Harris or Morgan. You might even have to give Maxwell another shot as a backup defensive replacement.

You can then try to pursue some trades to improve 2B or RF (or CF, if you keep Bernadina in RF). But the first step would be to cut way back on the fielding mistakes.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 29, 2010 6:23 AM | Report abuse

It was a tipping point last night: when you've got Strasburg on the bump with ESPN coverage, you can't perform the way they performed at the plate and in the field...especially in the field. Changes are forthcoming.

I want Desmond to learn from mistakes, and I want Morgan to succeed. Neither is happening right now, and the club needs to be strong up the middle. However, Guzman is not the SS replacement, Bernadina is untested in CF, and I don't see anyone in Syracuse or Harrisburg who can do any better without making matters worse at the plate.

So the answer is to think long term: what combinations can be put into play that will help guide the decision-makers on future moves? Gonna have to bit the bullet at SS and coach him up (recall the work that Zim did last year on his throws?). Get Morse into RF and switch Bernadina to CF. Is Kennedy a better choice as a DP combo with Desmond?

Think long term and lower thy expectations.

Sidebar: the Dibble and Knight commentary is very entertaining and refreshing. Carpenter is smart enough to get out of Dibble's way when Dibs is on a roll.

Posted by: joemktg1 | June 29, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

I am sure it's been said before, but I'll ask again:
How many more of Morgan's brain cramps must we endure before Riggleman benches him?
That throw in the 7th that allowed the runner at first to advance was ridiculous. The bloom has long been off the rose in this case and it is time to make some changes before things really get out of hand.

Posted by: TimDz | June 29, 2010 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I am sure it's been said before, but I'll ask again:
How many more of Morgan's brain cramps must we endure before Riggleman benches him?
That throw in the 7th that allowed the runner at first to advance was ridiculous. The bloom has long been off the rose in this case and it is time to make some changes before things really get out of hand.

Posted by: TimDz | June 29, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Sorry 'bout the double post....

Posted by: TimDz | June 29, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Fire Ekstein now and offer Frank Robinson the job. Bench Morgan now. Bring up Burke for Nieves, Lambin for Harris and Maxwell for Kennedy. Try this lineup for the remaining 12 games before the All-Star break:

Guzman, 2B
Bernadina, CF
Willingham, LF
Dunn, 1B
Zimmerman, 3b
Morse, RF
Desmond, SS
Rodriquez, C
P

Stick with the same lineup and order for awhile, quit moving guys in and out. Rest Rodriquez when you have to.

Try it


Posted by: Log711 | June 29, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Under Riggleman, the Nationals are still the worst defensive team in baseball.

Posted by: JohninMpls | June 29, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Clearly the talent is not on this roster and if Riggs is a good MLB manager then he's unlucky because it seems virtually every move he does backfires. Troubling is Morgan - he's not some 21 year old rookie you hope matures, he's already at the tail end of his career yet still can't keep his head in the game. Desmond you stick with because, well, we need to know if he's the long term answer or just someone we are hoping turns out to be good despite himself. What is equally disturbing is the lack of fire on this team; I'd love it if someone, anyone took a bat to a water cooler or blew up at an umpire.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | June 29, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Going back to last year when the Pirates had their fire sale and were roundly panned for it, their GM basically said "We're not winning with these players now, so what's the difference"? Well, we see how untalented Morgan is, and we all know the glaring holes that exist in this lineup, so the Nats have to consider at least a moderate blowup of this team. You can come up with any lineup combo you want and it still isn't very good. And players who you consider part of the future are not performing like Desmond - I'm sorry what part of his 6 year minor league career were the Nats looking at when they tabbed him to be a future star? He is very poor defensively and an average AT BEST hitter. Right now everything but 3B should be in play, and there's just not enough in the minors to provide any kind of relief.

Posted by: bendersx6 | June 29, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I understand why people want to see the roster blown up, even moderately. But if we don't think these guys are good enough, why would someone else want them and give us something decent for them?

Posted by: baltova1 | June 29, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

By the way, if you want something else to worry about, go look at the tape of Joel Zumaya blowing out his elbow last night, and realize that could be one of our pitchers, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 29, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

No, he didn't have his best stuff, but it should have been good enough, and WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD ENOUGH if the Nats had a Major League shortstop and a Major League centerfielder. Morgan is a fielding disaster - he isn't even smart enough to make throws we're taught in Little League.

And when your shortstop leads the Majors in errors, you gotta replace him with SOMEBODY. Call somebody up - it doesn't matter. It's not likely you'll replace him with somebody worse in the field.

Combine that with an offense that just doesn't have what it takes to score runs and we'll be lucky to have Stasburg beyond his initial contract.

Posted by: kemp13 | June 29, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

We all know the members of the Bowden - All - Fail Team .

But now the question is who, if anybody, belongs on the Rizzo -All-Fail Team ?

I'll throw out Bruney to start.

Posted by: CBinDC | June 29, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Log 711 is right when he says Riggleman has to quit switching guys in and out of the lineup. Either pick the best defensive lineup or the best offense lineup (this removes Morgan in either case) and stick with it only changing when guys need a day off (should be rare) and if there are injuries. He appears to be guessing at the best lineup every day. Any one of us on this blog could do that. "Trying hard and working their butts off" is not acceptable at this level. You have to get results. If trying hard was the main criterion, Manny and a bunch of other talented players would not be in the Majors. People put up with their crap because they get results. Acta wes a nice and tried hard, but he's about to get fired for the second time in two because he failed to get results. Riggs is on his way out too after that disgraceful showing on national TV last night.

Posted by: Kolchak | June 29, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I'm extremely discouraged, but I seem to be more optimistic than others here. I think the problem is the middle infield, period.

Friday night -- Guzman makes a play, we go to extra innings.

Sunday afternoon -- Kennedy makes a play, we go to extra innings

Monday night -- Desmond makes a routine play, SS is out of the seventh and who knows what happens.

I don't think Riggleman has any decent options at SS or 2B. This is Rizzo's fault, and it may take an offseason, but I think it will be corrected.

I am perplexed by all the Nyjer bashing here but its so widespread I'm willing to concede I might be wrong. He makes some mistakes, but I don't see those mistakes losing us games like the shoddy middle infield play.

My main question for the management is why Michael Morse is deemed unacceptable to play 2b or SS if that's where he came up. Can he really be worse than the four we are running out there now?

My main criticism of management is why Adam Dunn has not be re-signed yet. Is the team going to be better if they let him walk? Absolutely not, they are going to be worse. Much worse. And there's only so much any fan can take.

Posted by: raymitten | June 29, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm extremely discouraged, but I seem to be more optimistic than others here. I think the problem is the middle infield, period.

Friday night -- Guzman makes a play, we go to extra innings.

Sunday afternoon -- Kennedy makes a play, we go to extra innings

Monday night -- Desmond makes a routine play, SS is out of the seventh and who knows what happens.

I don't think Riggleman has any decent options at SS or 2B. This is Rizzo's fault, and it may take an offseason, but I think it will be corrected.

I am perplexed by all the Nyjer bashing here but its so widespread I'm willing to concede I might be wrong. He makes some mistakes, but I don't see those mistakes losing us games like the shoddy middle infield play.

My main question for the management is why Michael Morse is deemed unacceptable to play 2b or SS if that's where he came up. Can he really be worse than the four we are running out there now?

My main criticism of management is why Adam Dunn has not be re-signed yet. Is the team going to be better if they let him walk? Absolutely not, they are going to be worse. Much worse. And there's only so much any fan can take.

Posted by: raymitten | June 29, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Rizzo is on the record (the Post) saying that the majors are a "performance league" and players have to produce. Very well. Sit Morgan and Desmond; they aren't performing or producing.

Posted by: fpcsteve | June 29, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

This team has been formed over the past several off-seasons, with the Nats almost always choosing low-cost options, whether under Bowden or Rizzo: never trading for players who even make average MLB salary, drafting low-cost players (unless they are stuck with having to draft SS or Harper), avoiding the higher-cost international guys and only signing the bargain ones, and staying away from free agents (except for two modest-price exceptions). These rules are not set by the two GMs.

If the Nats had been in the business of opening up the payrolls and other budgets, they would be much further along by now. Cincy, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee are teams with modest budgets--and indeed below MLB average. The Nats could aspire to respectable levels of expenditure to produce major league product. And these are not short-term solutions. Once you build talent on the club, you can trade that talent for good prospects. And if your players are not traded and sign elsewhere, you still get those high draft picks as compensation. This approach always works. It does not fail.

A bright spot in the Nats' low-budget approach is that the Nats will still be in line to get a good draft pick next June. Over the years that will pay off to some degree, even if the Nats' payrolls stay near the bottom of MLB. The Nats will get to a winning record some day--over .500 anyway--even with their frugal approach to baseball.

Posted by: EdDC | June 29, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

The Lerners are SOOOO cheap .....

How CHEAP are they ?

They are so cheap they want royalties for using their name in blog posts.

Posted by: CBinDC | June 29, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

"Maybe they just said, 'You know what? I'm going to match up with this guy, and I'm going to beat him,' " Riggleman said. "They got pride, too. The opposing pitchers going back to Pittsburgh, they all threw great games against us."
=================================
Do the Nationals not have enough pride to say "You know what? I'm not a horrible baseball player. I'm going to beat him"

Sadly they answer is no. Everybody in this organization from the top on down is just collecting a paycheck. Some more than others

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 29, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Hey Gang-haven't posted for a minute because...well, what can you say? Slow Lerners prudence with the dollars? Stanks' bluster? The Rizz being handcuffed or not very good? I'm gonna return to my one of my perennial tropes-the fiery leader/enough of this crap player we don't seem to have. Now, I have no idea what will become of Desi....I still have my hopes.....BUT:BUT BUT BUT....can you imagine oh, say, Thurman Munson, letting this guy be essentially your public team leader? The guy who post game is the player assessing the state of the team? Not just a rookie, but one mired in a string of atrocius games!And while I can salute him for his self confidence ("I want that ball again, etc.) after the way you've played, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! Don't tell us how good you all are GONNA be...SHUT UP and PLAY that way.But the fact that the rest of his teammates are letting him assume this "spokesman" role is , for me, what I find most troubling about this team.Like I said....imagine a Munson or Robinson-heck, even a Longria maybe-letting him run on like some savvy vet who has assumed the leadership role. Sad...just sad...and, on another familiar theme-gawd, ANOTHER missed opportunity. On the natinal? stage, we look like Throw Right and the 7(8) dwarfs. Hey, Slow Lerners-you realy want a rerun of Walter Johnsons' career? >Sigh<....Oh well, we have ONE WS to look forward to in the next 20 years, right? What's that you say-oh, yea-free agency....
And at 10:40 a.m, Tony K's radio show is getting ready to talk with Dibble. Might be interesting, if you are so inclined
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | June 29, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link to the Capps piece. I'd noticed that he steps to the back of the mound and stands there with head bowed for a moment after entering a game, and I'd wondered whether he might be communing with his father at those times. It must have been tough for him to return to that ballpark for the first time after his dad's death. Such firsts can be tough following the loss of a loved one, in my experience.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 29, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

"My main question for the management is why Michael Morse is deemed unacceptable to play 2b or SS if that's where he came up. Can he really be worse than the four we are running out there now?"

In 55 games at shortstop for Seattle in 2005, Morse had 12 errors and a .946 fielding percentage. He's played only two major league games at short since then. So the answer to your question would appear to be yes.

Posted by: nunof1 | June 29, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Strasburg pitched well. The team is just terrible. Baseball is a team game. One player is not going to win you a pennant. Long way to go for the lowly Natinals.

Posted by: smfoster3 | June 29, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

In the words of the immortal Casey Stengel, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
Earl Weaver had guys like Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich in the infield and they drilled extensively in the spring on fundamentals. I believe the Nats need it right now. Show up early and drill until it is 2nd nature.

Posted by: chopin224 | June 29, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm the guy from GA who earlier blasted the idiots at Turner Field who chanted "overrated" at Steve Strasburg, I know these are tough days for you guys. . But I became a Braves fan in 1969 (when I as 9) They won the division (the first there were divisions) that year and I was happy. Then I endured almost 20 years of almost unbroken misery before we became a competitive team. Chin up! You'll get there too. If The Tampa Bay Rays did oit, you can, too.

Posted by: vrnnwillis75 | June 29, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

i have never been one to boo or bash but why is morgan getting picked off base and caught stealing...he himself is taking the nationals out of big innings...throwing to the correct base from the outfield is middle school 101...perhaps morgan's hip hop approach needs to be examined and if i were the manager would be on a last chance already...each and every day a different nationals players lack of defense or lapse in judgement costs a game...to be a contender that has to stop...just who is accountable on the nationals anymore??

Posted by: wmnatzakanian | June 29, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

One of the best pitcher now a day and no hitter, that get to hurt.

Posted by: Jjesse285 | June 29, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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