Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where'd Those Unloveable Losers Go?

With a win in this afternoon's game against the struggling Andy Pettite, the Nats will have taken their second straight series, after having only won 3 before this week. Not bad at all. Worst case, they split four with the Astros, which certainly isn't something to be ashamed of.

Mike O'Connor continued his balls of steel pitching, equaling the always dominant Roy Oswalt. I really don't know how O'Connor does it. His stuff isn't that good, and he doesn't really have much location. But, boy, he gets results. His fastball floats in there with a little bit of zip. His curveball (which is probably his best pitch) bends down steeply. And his changeup just sorta floats -- it's really not much of a pitch, as Morgan Ensberg's homer can attest.

But his pitching is greater than the sum of its parts. He, more often than not, throws strikes. And he does a damn fine job of mixing up his pitches, both for speed and for location. He keeps the hitters off balance, getting by on guile, not stuff. He's a fun guy to watch -- and he wins his second Majority Whip, despite only tossing six innings.

Alfonso Soriano led off the first inning with a broken-bat liner over short, which barely blooped over Everett's glove. Then Oswalt did what he does, putting the Nats bats to sleep for a loooong time.

By the time Damian Jackson led off the 6th with a double, it felt like it was do or die time. Matt LeCroy (who had replaced the concussed Wiki Gonzalez -- as bad a defensive catcher as I've seen) came up, looking to advance the runner, but could only hit a grounder to short, leaving Jackson stuck at second. Marlon Anderson pinch-hit for O'Connor and moved Jackson to third with his grounder to second, but with two outs, it was worthless. The inning came down to Soriano, probably the one Nat you'd actually want up there.

Then the mini miracle happened. Oswalt started his windup, then for no apparent reason, he stopped, which would be a balk. Realizing his screwup, he took a few steps towards third base, as if he were on a Sunday stroll, casually gazing over his shoulder to see if the third base ump was falling for his acting job. Unfortunately for the Nats, he did, at least until Frank woke up from his nap and stormed to home plate. He asked for, and got an appeal. The umps conferred, and correctly called the balk. Jackson sauntered home; the game was tied.

The Nats had one of those eighth innings that they did so many times last year, stringing together a few big hits, getting that one big hit they needed at exactly the right time. Bang! Zoom! They pushed four across, and the Astros were done. (MLB.com has the condensed video of the 8th inning rally, showing all the plays. Check it out!)

  • Santiago Ramirez made his major league debut, pitching a scoreless inning. He was utterly dominant in Triple-A. It'll be interesting to see if he can stick around, since Felix Rodriguez is doing absolutely nuttin'.

  • Very quietly, Joey Eischen has put together a decent stretch. He has a truly bizarre statline. He's striking out a TON of batters -- lefties have been pretty helpless against him. He's just walking the park, and yielding line drives -- even as the latter seem to have decreased in recent days.

    I still don't want to see him in a critical situation (and yeah, today's appearance probably was one), but he might have a little bit of juice left -- enough, at least, to earn him a trade to a LOOGY-wanting contender. Remember that Detroit was sniffing around him in spring training. At this point, getting anything for him is a bonus.


  • Jose Guillen left the game in the second inning with a bruised cornea. Apparently he scratched himself in the eye with his batting gloves during BP. My question is this... That's not an injury that was magically going to get better between BP and gametime. Why was he in the lineup in the first place? This is another case where Guillen's putting himself above the team, forcing Frank to burn a player (Byrd) and putting him into the lineup in a place that's not optimal for the team.

    So much is made of being a man on this team, yet crap like this happens all the time. Playing through injury is important, for sure, but playing through one when it's costing the team -- as Guillen did with his torn labrum last season -- is just senseless. And now that Guillen is feeling the added pressure of trying to put up numbers in a contract year, well, it's going to take a strong manager to tell him when. Unfortunately, it seems that Frank's an enabler.

  • Over the last 5 games or so, it seems like the Nats have made a conscious effort to work on hitting breaking pitches, especially sliders. They've been lining them back up through the middle, staying back and settling for singles -- the right approach.

    I'd be interested to see one of the beat writers see if this is a teamwide push, or if it's just a fluke. It certainly seems like their approach has changed -- even as their overall plate patience (taking pitches, walks, etc) has tailed off.

  • Heartbreaking news, but I'm taking a few days off. I'll wait while you grab a kleenex. [pause] I'll be back next week, hopefully with news of a long winning streak.

    We play the Dodgers this weekend, and I'd encourage you to check out Dodgers Thoughts and 6-4-2, which are linked on my blogroll on the right. They're both pretty damn good, and I know the latter, especially, will appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    For the Nats news, pick one of the billion or so Nats Blogs, also linked on the right. There's been a lot of good stuff in them lately that I've been terribly deficient in linking to.

    In the meantime, enjoy the games!

    Abajo Bowden!

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