Thursday, May 18, 2006

Meatballs For Everyone

Will wonders never cease? (Don't they have to sorta begin before they can cease?) The Nats did about the only thing they're capable of doing lately, hitting for power, and beat the Cubs, sparing them from the complete embarassment of being swept by the Cubs.

I read a stat, which be damned if I can find again, that the Nats are leading the league in the percentage of their runs scored coming via homer. The number was roughly 47%, and after today, that number ain't going down. Five runs came on four homers: Zimmerman, Soriano, Anderson, Jackson.

Earlier this season I had noted that the Nats approach at the plate was light year's better than what it was last year. Over the last few weeks, though, they've reverted back to form, swinging at crap, and generally looking like they don't have much of an approach at the plate. That's leading to some of the offensive struggles -- they only managed 2 walks today, 8 for the series. That's not a horrible total, but they stuck out 28 times. While focusing solely on Ks is overated, that 25/8 K/BB ratio is ghastly.

While I'm sure Frank wants the team to hit more doubles and singles, I'd focus on having better at bats in general. Because lately, the Nats are hitting only when the opposing pitcher makes a mistake.

Look at today's game, for example:
1) Ryan Zimmerman's homer came on a meatball of a changeup right over the plate. If you watch the video, it'll show the standard view. Just concentrate on where that pitch is when the bat makes contact. That's a mistake!

2) Damian Jackson's was a better swing, but this is a situation where (being the 8th place hitter) Wood was probably trying to pitch around him. He left a fastball up and in, but in the zone, which Jackson does a good job of turning on.

3) Soriano's was a complete meatball. Soriano only drives fastballs, and he gets one right down the middle of the plate, which he'll rarely miss.

4) Anderson's was a pretty good piece of hitting, especially coming off the lefty, but, again, focus on the location -- a fastball low, but splitting the plate in half.

I'm not trying to disparage the hitters. When it came down to it, they DID hit the balls. But the Nats are a fastball hitting team. And they're a mistake hitting team. They got both today.

When the pitcher has good offspeed stuff, or a decent slider, the Nats have no chance. Carlos Zambrano shut them down with a hard fastball and slider, the same formula that worked for Bronson Arroyo. Witness Sean Marshall's one-hitter yesterday. He kept the bats fooled by mixing up speeds, and varying the location. The Nats just couldn't get their timing.

  • Ramon Ortiz was effective through five innings. Then came the sixth, where he seemed to just run out of gas. Frank stuck with him a batter or two long, and it made the game interesting, but somehow they held on.

  • Gary Majewski did a yeoman's work, earning himself a Majority Whip. He was pressed into two innings of service when Frank Robinson did his typical chew through the bullpen routine, using John Rauch and Mike Stanton for two outs. And since Frank doesn't understand what a double switch is, it was either Majewski for two or Felix Rodriguez and Joey Eischen. AIEEE!

    Majewski, who supposedly had rotator cuff tendinitis, has pitched quite well over the last few weeks. He wasn't economical, throwing 44 pitches, but he was effective overall.

    He's still a bit of a quandary to me. His fastball is thrown very hard, and his slider's a decent enough pitch, but he still doesn't strike that many batters out, just 13 in 22 IP. That's a decent enough total, but for a guy with a 95MPH fastball you'd expect more. He survived last year because he didn't allow homers. His two this season match his two from the 86 IP he threw last year.

    For now, it's six scoreless appearances, but, more importantly, he seems to be out of Frank's doghouse, and back into the 8th inning role, at which he excels.

    Now if Frank starts using Rauch in the 7th and extending him like he has with Majewski, we've got ourselves a bullpen!

  • The game ended on a bizarre play. With the tying runs on base, non-entity Neifi Perez bunted with two outs. He hit a weak ball right back to a no-doubt surprised Chad Cordero -- who probably had to stop himself from laughing before throwing the ball to first.

    Nats.com offers the story that, after walking Jacques Jones, the tying run, Frank Robinson stormed to the mound, challenging Cordero, asking him if he "was the right man for the job." That's probably one of the few times that challenging a pitcher like that is a good move. Cordero did need to stop nibbling (perhaps gunshy after all the strikes the Braves peppered around last week?), and Frank knew what he needed to do to get him to stop.

  • Damian Jackson butchered another ball, proving that he's not capable of playing shortstop at the major league level. (and we got rid of Jamey Carroll for that?)

  • With Jose Guillen out with a strained hamstring, Frank started Daryle Ward in right, but benched Ryan Church. It looked like Frank had worked out the CF platoon, but his comments to nats.com indicate he's basically making it up day to day since both players are 'equal'. Alrighty....

    The one good thing that's come out of the last few days is that Frank's realizing that Marlon Anderson is quite a versatile player. He's played him in the outfield in each of the last two games. Marlon, despite being overpaid, is a pretty good NL bench player because he can play the IF and the corner OF. It's just that Frank was letting him waste, never giving him a shot at the OF til recently.

  • Dave Jageler did the radio broadcast solo today, and was excellent. I really have grown to like Dave's calls; he's got a smooth voice, and doesn't rare into the screaming territory that his partner tends to visit from time to time.

    It was also a treat not having a booth where numbers were constantly being shouted. Charlie Slowes has an unfortunate habit of just reading stats off the stat sheet, as if he were reading the phone book. It doesn't make for good radio. And when that mixes with the CONSTANT out-of-town score updates and the godawful Stock Updates, it's complete number overload.

    Dave stuck to the minimum using just enough numbers to illuminate; with Charlie there, it's sometimes like being stuck in a tanning booth.

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