Sunday, April 30, 2006

So Close

Who was that fat guy on the mound yesterday? Livan Hernandez pitched like the Livan of last year, finally holding the opposing team down. He got into a little bit of trouble in the first inning, allowing one run only because Jose Guillen dropped a can of corn. Seven innings, one unearned run, and no homers! I'll take it!

I only caught a few bits of the game, but from what I saw, Livan's velocity looked up. It looked like he was finally driving off his knee. A start or two back, after the game, he mentioned that he was finally at a point where he had to start trusting his leg. I guess yesterday was it.

A few extra MPH allows Livan to get the fastball by hitters occasionally, but what it really does is enhance his breaking pitches. With a greater variation between his two-seamer and his slider, he's really upsetting timing. He didn't strike out a ton, just four, but he allowed just three hits, too with two of those coming in that first inning.

  • Despite the bright side of pitching, the Nats still lost. Albert Pujols' late homer gave the Cardinals a one-run lead heading into the ninth.

    With two outs, the Nats loaded the bases on three straight walks, with Nick Johnson heading to the plate. Inexplicably, he swung at the first pitch. Worse, he tapped it weakly back to the pitcher. Game over!

    I can understand Nick's thinking in wanting to be aggressive there, but if you're going to swing, you've gotta hit a liner to the wall; it can't be a weak grounder. Inexcusable, but it does win him a Lame Duck. He went 0-5 and is 'down' to .352.

  • Friday night's game shows what happens when the Nats face a pitcher who's struggling to throw strikes. They beat the bejeesus out of him. Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman ripped two-run homers in the first, and the Nats cruised to an easy victory.

    Tony Armas had another effective outing, pitching six innings and getting five Ks. His slider is really biting this year, a sign that his elbow must really be feeling good, allowing him to get the proper torque on the pitch. He doesn't go very deep into games, but he's put the Nationals in a spot to win each of his games -- and that's all you can ask from a pitcher.

  • Royce Clayton sputted to life, hitting the ball hard for two doubles. He threw in another walk, only his second non-intentional BB of the year. Very quietly, Clayton's had a decent week, not that it's helped the Nats much in the win column.

  • Ryan Zimmerman wins the Majority Whip, not just for his homer, but for his tremendous defensive play in the seventh inning. He leaped high to his right, snaring a sure-to-be double as he stretched out his body as far as it would go. He stood up, took his time, and tossed the ball back to first for the sure double-play -- afterall, the runner was positive that the ball was in the corner! But his throw came short, pulled NJ way out in front of the bag, and forced Johnson to dive to tag the unlucky John Rodriguez, completing the double play. (Video)

    This catch was almost as good as the one he made last week, when he ran far down the line to make a diving catch as the ball floated in over his head.

  • Zach Day gets the start today, and Randy St. Claire thinks he's ready. They tweaked his arm angle a bit, lowering it to take some strain off his shoulder. Day's been hit hard this year, but a sinkerball pitcher in Coors just isn't going to work. The sinker works because of the movement, and movement is lessened in the altitude. It was pretty much a match made in hell.

    That being said, Day and Robinson are oil and water. Frank has to hate the kid, because he lacks fire. Day doesn't come across as overly confident, even as he's had a track record of success. Pitching, despite what Frank thinks, isn't necessarily about being a man. Walks aren't a moral failing, and Frank needs to let pitchers work out of their own mess sometimes. The two had a bit of a fallout last year, ultimately leading to Day's trade, and it'll be interesting to see if they can put it behind them, and if Day can regain the form he had two years ago, when he looked like he was on his way to being a strong #3 pitcher.

  • The Roster Rotation

    Nationals Farm Authority has been doing a good job of keeping up with the Nationals' recent roster shuffling, but there are a few things I wanted to expand on.

    There are two types of rosters that you'll hear thrown about, 40-man and Active (AKA 25-man roster). The 25-man roster is list of players eligible to play in major league games. They're the loveable losers we see futilely playing each night. This 25-man roster is a subset of the larger 40-man. So only players on the 40-man roster are eligible to play on the active roster.

    It's the process of shuttling players up and down from the 40 to the 25, as well as on and off the 40-man, which has been so interesting and complex this week.

    It started on Wednesday. The Nationals claimed Zach Day off waivers from the Colorado Rockies. Since the Nationals were already at 40 players on their 40-man roster, they had to remove one. They designated backup C Wiki Gonzalez for assignment. When a player is DFA'd, he's essentially put into transactional limbo. The team has 10 days to figure out what the hell to do with him. They can trade him, release him or some other options.

    In the Nationals' case, they'll likely try to outright him to the minors. When you outright someone, it's an attempt to remove them from the 40-man. To do so, though, the player has to pass waivers, meaning any other major league team can claim him and put him on their roster. (Since Wiki has options left -- and that's a completely different topic! -- the claiming team could stash him in the minors, assuming they have room for him on their 40-man roster)

    In short, Day was added to the 40-man, and Wiki was taken off.

  • That same day, Billy Traber was optioned back to the minors after his disasterous outing. Players have three years worth of options. After being placed on the 40-man roster for the first time (and I won't bore you know with the eligibility rules!), a player needs to be placed on the active roster, or they'll use an option year.

    Options allow a major league team to send players down to the minors freely during those three seasons. If a player is out of options, they'd have to pass through waivers first before being demoted, meaning any team could claim them. There are other exceptions and wrinkles to the option rule, but they're enough to make your head spin. If you're that interested, check out the transaction glossary.

    When the Nationals optioned Traber, it removed him from the 25-man roster, but not the 40-man. Accordingly, the Nationals recalled Jason Bergmann from the minors. Begmann was already on the 40-man, so he essentially just swaps roster spots with Traber.

  • The next day was Michael O'Connor's turn. He wasn't on either the 25-man or the 40-man, so it required dueling transactions.

    First, his contract was purchased. That's a term of art that simply means added to the 40-man roster.

    Since the Nationals were already at the 40-man roster limit, a corresponding move needed to be made. They designated outfielder Tyrell Godwin for assignment. Like Wiki earlier, Godwin's in transactional limbo. He, even more than Wiki, has a pretty good chance of passing through waivers, allowing the Nats to outright him to the minors, where he'll stay Nats' property, but just not counting against any rosters.

    Second for O'Connor, the team needed to clear room for him on the Active Roster. They optioned Brendan Harris back to New Orleans, just as they did with Traber. Remember, you have three year's worth of options. A player can be sent up and down as many times (pretty much) as the team wants within that year.

  • Today, Zach Day gets the start. When the team claimed him, they put him on the 40-man roster, but he needs to be added to the active roster to be eligible for the game. Rather than optioning another player down (not that there are many players with options left!), they put John Patterson on the 15-day disabled list.

    The DL is exactly what you'd expect. It clears up space on the active roster, but forces that player to stay out for those 15 days. In Patterson's case, they made it retroactive to April 22 (the day after his last game), meaning he'll be eligible to come off on May 7 at the earliest. Putting a player on the 15-day DL keeps him on the 40-man roster. There's a separate DL list, the 60-day DL, which also frees up a spot on the 40-man roster. Because of the length of time the player is required to be out, you see that used sparingly.

  • So a few weeks ago when the Nationals called up Saul Rivera from the minors, I grumbled a bit. It's not that Saul didn't deserve a chance. It was that he wasn't on the 40-man roster, so his addition to it started this latest roster squeeze we're seeing. It would've been easier for the Nats to have called up one of their players already on the 40-man.

    With the shuffling we're doing, there's a chance that we could lose Wiki or Godwin. Neither's great, but this team can't afford to give up any talent, even if Godwin stretches that word to within an inch of its life.

  • As the year goes on, you'll see these transactional terms used over and over. Keep an eye out for them, and maybe some of them will actually start to make sense!

  • Friday, April 28, 2006

    Frank Napping?

    It's hard to tell from the pic, but this is about the best I can get it. MLB.TV carried the Cardinals feed while live, and the announcers talked about how it looked like Frank was napping in the dugout during Thursday night's game. MASN's broadcast only had this quick shot of Frank, where he wasn't moving for a beat or two. A second or two after I snapped this screenshot, he moved, looking to his right and moving his arms.

    Did anyone else see anything? Does anyone have a better picture?

    We Mean It This Time!

    The Washington Post, fresh from burying Channel 9's report about ownership, does their own reportin' and stuff. They claim that MLB will have the owner named by next Thursday, the day they break ground at the new stadium site.

    For what it's worth, Bob DuPuy (file photo) says that the new owner will be voted on at next month's owner's meetings, and that they new administration will be completely in place by mid-June.

  • In the Rumor and Hearsay Department, a BPGer claims that the Lerners had a victory party the other night.

  • Random thought.... The Post article cites a meeting that Selig had with sports editors, and the Post's Assistant SE is listed as a contributor. Was that just DC-area sports writers? Was that something regular that the Commisar does? Was there something else they talked about? Something important off-the-record? Inquiring (and even lazy) minds want to know!

  • Cardinals, O'Connor

    One stinkin' play was all it took. It's probably not as memorable as Cristian Guzman's mudball from last season, but Ryan Zimmerman's first-inning error was all it took to deflate the Nats' chances.

    Mike O'Connor, who looked like he needs to go back to Degrassi when the game was over, pitched decently. Jitters led him to walk David Eckstein, but he made quick work of Hector Luna and the unstoppable Albert Pujols. He got Juan Encarnacion to hit a slow bouncer to third. Zimmerman got in excellent position, set himself with plenty of time, and just threw the ball in the dirt. E-5. It's a play that Nick Johnson could've (perhaps should've) made, but, regardless, the throw was inexcusable.

    If he makes that throw, Cardinal O'Connor's out of the first inning, unscathed. As it was, Jim Edmonds was up. He threw him a fastball in a good location (up and in, at the corner) and Edmonds just jumped on it. It wasn't a bad pitch. He just got beat by a borderline-Hall-of-Famer. That happens. 3-0, and you knew that Nats were done. (VIDEO)

    For his fielding butchery, as well as for the ohfer he took, Ryan Zimmerman wins another Lame Duck.

  • Jose Vidro hit into another double play. I'm getting sick of those, and I'm worried that it's just going to encourage frank to hit-and-run more.

  • Poor Juan Encarnacion (Encarnarcion to you former radio listeners). With the bases loaded, he hit a flare that dropped into left field. Great hit, right? Nope! The runner on third went back to the bag to tag as if it were a SF. When it dropped in, he was left flat footed, and Jose Guillen fired the ball to the plate for the force play. No RBI for Encarnacion, and not even a hit. Since there was a force in effect, he hit into a 150-foot fielder's choice, on the VERY rare 9-2 putout! (Ignore that the runner was probably safe!)

  • Alfonso Soriano butchered a few more plays in left. On the first, right after the Edmonds shot, he tried fielding a liner to left, completely misread it, then dived after it, missing it. The ball went for a triple. He needs to stop diving for balls like that. It's much better to just knock the thing down, and hold the runner to a single. It didn't cost the team anything, but it has in the past and will in the future.

    The other was laughably selected as one of the top plays of the game at MLB. Here's the video of him butchering another ball, resulting in an awkward sliding catch. At least he made the play, right?

  • It's been alleged (yeah, passive voice) that Frank Robinson was caught napping in the dugout. I've got my spies working on it. If I find pics, you'll have 'em!

  • More Evidence Against Bowden

    Doesn't this dumb bastard know about the fifth amendment?
    "You're supposed to have those problems in August and September," Bowden said. "You're not supposed to have them the first month of the year. But you've got to weather the storm."

    No, Jim. You're not supposed to have these problems at all.

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    New Owner Coming Soon....

    Bob Timmerman at the Griddle has the ownership post to end all ownership posts.

    He went through the Post's archives to show us what a C-Tease that MLB has been.

    Would you believe 23 (TWENTY THREE?!?!?) articles since the move about the ownership situation? It's been imminent for 3 farkin' years!

    Good job by Bob! Check out his post for the exhaustive, exhausting list.

    Hanged By His Own Testimony

    This blurb from Ladson needs very little commentary. It pretty much stands on its own. After the lessons of last season, and Bowden's constant preaching about the need for "Pitching, pitching, pitching," the son of a bitch has run out of pitchers already. We're not even a month into the season.
    Who will be the Nationals' starting pitcher on Sunday? There are three scenarios. There is a possibility that right-hander Zach Day may make the start, but he has muscle spasms in the back of the shoulder. He is going to have a bullpen session on Saturday to see how healthy he is. If he's not, he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list.

    There also could be the bullpen-by committee approach, but that will depend on how the relievers are used on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

    If the bullpen is overworked before Sunday's game and Day can't pitch, the Nationals are prepared to bring up right-hander Shawn Hill from Double-A Harrisburg. Hill has recovered from elbow reconstruction and is 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA in five starts. If he starts on Sunday, he will pitch on three days' rest.

    "We are in a pitching nightmare," general manager Jim Bowden said. "We need a starter for Friday and a starter for Sunday. Our ERA is over 5.00. We can talk about all the problems on this team, but you have to pitch. You can't give up five runs a game and expect to win."

    We can talk about all the problems on this team, which are YOUR responsibility, you drunken sack of crap. I'm sure that deep inside you feel bad and embarrassed about the pathetic state of the team that you've assembled, but that your overly large ego is going to prevent you from actually realizing it. You've had over a decade as a General Manager, and have never put together anything resembling a decent pitching staff. That's been your biggest failing. Don't give me that "pitching, pitching, pitching" crap because you've never cared about it.

    I SINCERELY, from the very pit of my heart, hope you never get to work in a front office again. I hope you're laughed out of major league baseball, and that you're stuck working in some independent league in a dusty part of the country, where you're lucky if there're 200 fans in the stands -- somewhere where they're cynical enough of the fast-talking city slicker that they won't fall for your sweet talk, and treat you with the cold shoulder and disrespect you deserve.

    Oh, and they're not laughing WITH you, Jim. They're laughing AT you.

    (Yes, I feel better now; thanks for indulging me!)

    Deal Or No Deal

    Channel 9 is sticking by their story that the Lerners are to be named owner soon, even as everyone else ridicules them, and denies their story. One change to their tune, though. Initially they had claimed that Smulyan had told them that MLB told him. Now they've changed that to Smulyan told them that he's "heard" from other sources. They also claim to have a few other sources, and on last night's newscast, said that some of Lerner's investing group have gotten the news. We'll see.

    Meanwhile, the Post has a story about nothing other than running MLB's contention that nothing has been decided (Oh, and a few cheapshots at Channel 9):
    Jack Evans, one of the top baseball supporters on the D.C. Council, scoffed when asked in a telephone interview whether he had been told by MLB that the Lerners had been selected.

    "Yeah, I'm sure that Bud Selig woke up yesterday and said: 'How can I release this information? Oh, yeah, let's call Channel 9!' " Evans said sarcastically, before adding that he has not heard of any final decision.

    Nice cheapshot. Channel 9's report didn't claim Selig as a source.

    Meanwhile, MLB got the propaganda machine humming along smoothly. Bob DuPuy (file photo) issued a strong denial. Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that they were leaning towards Lerner. Do you think that DuPuy would issue a confirmation of this? Of course not. They're going to do it on their own time table. Let me annotate his response for you:
    "There has been unfortunate [for who?] speculation rampant [yeah, Channel 9's website is my go-to place for info] in the media [singular, right?] in Washington, D.C., that Commissioner Selig [file photo] has selected one particular group [Ah, but what if it's a Lerner/Kasten combo? Would that still count as one?] to acquire the Washington Nationals and that a press announcement would be made this Friday [So if they do it another day, they can deny the report]. Those rumors are baseless. No [formal] decision has been made to date. The Commissioner and I [file photo] continue to meet with representatives of the groups and there will be an official announcement [even as we might've made an unofficial decision] when the decision is made."

    I'm not saying that Channel 9's report is right or wrong. I'm just saying that MLB's denial isn't to be believed. And given their track record of honesty and openness (HA!) with their ownership deadlines, I shouldn't have to tell you that!

    The Times, though, does get several anonymous league sources to say that it's all up in the air.

    Regardless of these reports, it's pretty clear that we're in the endgame stage. Selig claims that his fact-finding missions are over, so he should be ready to make a decision, provided no bright shiny objects catch his interest.

  • Late addition... T(h)om Loverro has a fun column about the crazy day yesterday, and how Jeff Smulyan tried enlisting Ken Griffey Jr to support his bid, but screwed it up in the same way as he screwed up the Mariners.
  • Sliders Get Us Every Time

    Barry Svrluga's game story on yesterday's 72-0 loss to the Reds highlights something I've been meaning to write, namely, this team's inability to hit good breaking stuff. Yesterday, Bronson Arroyo's slider was moving about as well as one possibly can, and the Nats bats were helpless against it.

    A great slider moves sharply near the end on a horizontal plane away from the batter. And yesterdays, Arroyo's slider had about as much bite to it as I've seen. He was just on, and would've been unhittable no matter where he pitched. Helpfully, has video of the Ks. If you watch it, look for how far the pitch moves away from right-handed batters. But also look at the goofy swings that Nats batters take. When a slider's cutting through the air as sharply as his, it's going to cause batters to lunge at the ball, bending over, and reaching out their arms helplessly. Even if they had been able to make contact with it, they wouldn't have been able to get it out of the infield. Arroyo didn't have the raw power of John Patterson, but his stuff was every bit as nasty.
    "We're a great fastball-hitting team," shortstop Royce Clayton said. "We get a guy throwing hard, we're going to put some good lumber on him. But we got to make adjustments against off-speed stuff."

    Robinson's assessment of yesterday's effort, when Ryan Zimmerman's fourth-inning single was the only hit: "We don't attack the pitcher's strong suit. We're a fastball-hitting ballclub and we make no adjustments."

    Frank, there was no adjusting to that slider.

  • Ramon Ortiz was better, but still not good. Somehow he struck out 6 Reds. At one point, the guys on the radio said he got his fastball up to 96. Was he throwing from the upper deck? If his velocity is up, that's what led to the strikeouts. Just as was the problem with Armas last year, Ortiz' pitches lacked just enough juice/movement to get by bats. Hopefully this wasn't just a one-game rennaisance. Maybe he was going through a dead arm period? We'll know during his next start.

    Ortiz was at the center of the key offensive (in several meanings of the word) play of the game. In the fourth inning, the first two batters reached. Austin Kearns hit a slow grounder back to Ortiz, who promptly airmailed the would-be double play ball into centerfield. His throw wasn't even close, sailing high and far above the bag. Had that play been made, it's likely that no runs would've scored. Instead, three did, and the game was essentially over.

    That same inning, Ryan Church made his first career error when he overran a ball in center, notable only because he had gone so long without making one.

  • It's a game that's hard to pick a Duck for, but in the end, I'll go with Royce Clayton, more as a catcup for past trangressions than anything particular he did in this game, other than his 2 Ks. (If you watch the video, he's the one who completely flails at the pitch as if he were a particularly delicate woman trying to kill a spider, and, yes, I realize that's borderline Keith Hernandez territory!)

  • Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Pitching, Pitching, Pitching!

    The Nationals have claimed Zach Day off waivers from the Colorado Rockies. To make room for him, they've designated Wiki Gonzalez for assignment (meaning he's off the 40-man roster, and if he clears waivers, which is likely, he stays Nats' property.)

    Michael O'Connor (06 stats)will be called up tomorrow from New Orleans to start. Either Jason Bergmann or Brendan Harris will likely be shipped down. And Day will join the Nats on Friday. (Perhaps in O'Connor's place?)

    O'Connor has pitched well in New Orleans, striking out 13 in 9.2 innings, but he has walked 7 -- which Frank definitely won't like!

  • More on O'Connor.

    He's a lefty who attended George Washington. He pitched all of last year with Potomac at Single-A. He had decent strikeout numbers, but his control looks a bit shaky. He gave up 14 homers in 167 innings pitched. (Career stats)

    I wouldn't expect a whole lot out of him tomorrow, and it'd shock me if he went more than four; Pujols and Rolen are going to eat him alive.

    It's sad that we're grasping at straws this early in the season. Pitching, pitching, pitching indeed.

  • Owner On Friday

    WUSA is reporting that the Lerner/Kasten group will be named owner of the team at a Friday news conference. Good news for sure! (thanks to Federal Baseball for the tip!)

    From the article, Smulyan himself is listed as one of the sources, as well as 'several others'. There's no reason to think that this isn't legit.

    I'll update as more stories come in.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Hasta La Vista, Traber Edition

    Billy Traber go on down! You're the next contestant on New Orleans' hottest gameshow, "Tick Off Frank!" Traber's down, Jason Bergmann's up, if only because the bullpen needs depth. John Rauch presumably slips into the fifth stot and should get one or two starts, at least.

    Pedro Astacio, as far as I know, is still throwing BP, so he's probably a month away.

    John Patterson is having forearm soreness, and has been pushed back, again. Sez the doctor: "It's pretty much a muscle strain," said Thomas. "We don't want to take the risk of changing his mechanics, so we'll hold him out. If we give him three to five days of no throwing, it could [get better] pretty quickly, because he is in terrific shape."

    Robert Fick is experiencing tendinitis in his throwing shoulder while rehabbing from elbow surgery. Typically a few days of rest clears that up. Typically.

  • The Beltway Boys has a terrific post on the racial aspects of the ownership debate, which is worth your time.
    There may be a tremendous black candidate out there for team president; I hope there is. But to exclude men like Stan Kasten simply because of their color smacks of .... well, you know what it smacks of. Smulyan made this announcement because he knows he's running third in the race to buy the Nats, and he's going to do or say anything to up his chances. This isn't the kind of guy I want to own the Nationals. I want an owner that acts, not re-acts.

  • Jim Bowden has his weekly self-serving GMing 101 column in the Examiner. This one's on his favorite topic, "Pitching, Pitching, Pitching!" He goes through the ways teams can acquire pitching, which he probably learned from losing so much pitching over the last year!

    The best take on it is from our friends at Yard Work. In a post entitled "Bowden Variations," they provide alternative suggestions for what Bowden could've said using the framework of one of his sentences. Here are my two favorite, but read the whole freakin' thing:
    I’ve had plenty of emails from fans suggesting that if I hadn’t signed Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman to deals that overestimated their actual market value, I could have bought more liquor and passed out instead of getting pulled over for DUI.

    I’ve had plenty of emails from fans suggesting that if we had an owner, I’d be working in a sausage stand outside of the Lowe’s home improvement center in Harrisburg, PA, and talking to customers about how Mike Kelly was THIS CLOSE to becoming the next Barry Bonds. You want peppers on that?

  • Meanwhile, Oleanders takes that Bowden article and looks at Bowden's track record, seeing if Bowden has followed his own advice. Here's his conclusion, but you'll have to check out his full post to see how he gets there:
    Overall Jim Bowden has gathered pitching, but none of actual talent. He’s just signing what is available and not strongly desired. When you consider the state of pitching in the majors, that gives you an idea of what type of player would be available. It’s not a horrible plan, but it only makes short term success possible. More worrisome is the non-building of the minors. It’s tough circumstances to be sure, but it seems that Bowden amkes deals with his job in mind, not the future of the franchise.

  • Oleanders has another excellent post about last night's game, showing how Frank's managing hurts the team, and ticks off pitchers.

  • Christina Karl, in the NY Sun, writes a good overview of the Nationals situation and some of the implications that state-run ownership has had on the franchise.

  • Frustratingly Maddening

    Congrats to Darrell Rasner John Halama Matt White Billy Traber for winning his first Lame Duck in what was a somewhat enjoyable, but typically frustrating Nats game.

    I got to the gate right at first pitch, so I just grabbed an empty seat in the back of the 300s for the first half inning before slogging up to my seats with the common folk. From my spot, it was easy to see that Traber had nothing, and he didn't have any command over the nothing he had.

    After Lopez and Aurilia reached on consecutive singles, they took off on a double steal. The Nats had the shift on with Adam Dunn at the plate and Ryan Zimmerman was close to shortstop. When the runners broke, Zimmerman held, giving LeCroy no chance to even make a throw. Traber's body language instantly changed. He started walking around the mound slowly, moved more deliberately, and lots his focus, hitting Dunn, then walking Kearns with the bases loaded. Three hard-hit balls later and the inning was over, but not before the Reds had digitized a four on the board.

    During the inning, you could see Frank get cheesed off. The more balls Traber threw, the further and further Frank leaned over the railing -- either in rage, or in resigned defeat.

    Frank didn't seem to pleased with Traber's last start, despite it's relative success, and he's certainly not thrilled with this one. Traber's going to have an extra short leash, no doubt, and he'd better pitch better next time agains the *gulp* Cardinals.

  • The good news is that there were lots of WTF Frank Senior Moment Candidates!

    In the fifth inning, Felix Rodriguez was pitching to Adam Dunn with a runner on second, and the Nats were down 2. FRodo got ahead 0-3, then threw three balls. With two strikes on a batter who's a TRUE strikeout machine, Frank calls for the Intentional Walk!? Huh? You have two fecking strikes on the batter, Frank! That Dunn later came around to score the eventual game-winning run just rubbed our nose in the poo.

    At the time I had a little bit of a problem with Gary Majewski relieving that early. I didn't know that they were saving Jon Rauch for Thursday's game to replace Patterson. But if you're going to have a parade of relievers, wouldn't it make sense to minimize their ABs? When FRodo came in in the top of the fifth, the pitcher's spot was due up in the bottom of the inning. Wouldn't that have been a perfect time to double switch Church or Jackson in for the 8th place hitter, Marlon Byrd? As it was, FRodo came up to the plate, quickly made an out, and Soriano hit his bomb to left, which brought the Nats to within one.

    The lineup construction stunk. Why was Royce Clayton batting second? Clayton's hitting .257/ .289/ .300. For comparison's sake, Cristian Guzman batted .219/ .260/ .314. He's almost as bad as Guzman!?1!!1?!1? Why, Frank, Why?

    There were probably a few more, but I ran out of room on my scorecard, and my blood pressure's rising enough as it is!

  • Alfonso Soriano made a good play and a bad play in the fifth inning, which cost the game. The Reds ripped two balls towards him, and both fell in for doubles. The first was actually a tremendous play. He was shaded a bit towards the line when the ball took off for the gap. Soriano ran a loooooong way at a full run to get to the ball which just missed his glove. Most outfielders wouldn't have been near the ball, and it was a good sign that he got that close.

    Later that inning, he had another challenge. But he failed. When the ball was hit, he took one of those stutter steps like he was coming in, then walked a few paces to his left before realizing the ball was a rocket. He half jogged/ran straight back towards the fence then twisted and turned a few times before turning on the jets to get to where the ball was going, completely butchering the play. Two runs scored because of that, and the Nats never recovered.

  • Cap'n Clutch, Jose Guillen was a disappointment again.
    --1st inning, runner on first, foul to third
    --3rd inning, runner on first, can o' corn to center
    --5th inning, runner on first, weak flare to second
    --7th inning, runner on first, walked (a good result!)

    I'm almost glad that Vidro made the final out of the game so as to prevent Guillen's throat from constricting as he tries to hit an eleven-run homer over the centerfield wall. A lot was made by certain beat writers about how Brad Wilkerson's strikeouts killed a lot of rallies last year. But are strikeouts any worse than weak flares to second or foul outs to third? For the most part, they're not. And focusing on them instead of looking at production in an overall context is silly.

  • Ramon Ortiz goes against Bronson Arroyo at noon today. If you're around, watching, listening, whatever, join us at Yuda's GameDay where we'll be whining about the game, and Frank's incompetence. The link's on the sidebar.

  • Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Catching Up Edition

    It's been a while, so there's lots to get to....

    In the wake of Alfonso Soriano's three homer game, there's been a flurry of reaction, looking back at the trade. (If you didn't see the bombs, here's the video)

    Nats Triple Play wonders if it's time to reconsider: "As much as it pains me to admit it (and it pains me deeply,) Trader Jim may have lucked into something here."

    Federal Baseball has been impressed by Soriano: "So, what's the scorecard right now? Pretty damned good for Jim Bowden, at the moment. And, while things can change from April to May, and May to June, and so forth (just ask '05 Vinny Castilla), we must not only accept this (as cynical observers of Bowden's decisionmaking) but enjoy it (as ardent fans). Soriano has been just short of awesome."

    Oleanders prefers to take the long view. "It’s natural we make a judgement on these stats. But it’s like we’ve looked up at the scoreboard in inning #1 and we’re up 2-0. That’s nice and all, let’s enjoy the lead, but let’s not proclaim the game over and the Nats champs just yet."

    All three posts are excellent and work in concert with each other. They're worth the few clicks.

  • Along the same lines, Jim Bowden now claims that he studied hit charts before making the Soriano trade, so that he knew that Soriano would be able to hit homers. While I have no doubt that someone in the front office at least made a rudimentary look at them, for him to crow about them now is silly.

    If hit charts were so instrumental in his evaluation, then why is Jim Bowden talking about a long-term contract extension for Jose Guillen when it's pretty clear, from those same hitting charts, that he's a horrible fit from the park?

    From the archives, right after the trade, I looked at the hitting charts and concluded that Soriano would be able to homer at RFK.

  • From that same game, here's the video of Ryan Zimmerman's tremendous diving catch on a soft flare to short left field. Watch how far he runs and the jump he gets on the ball.

  • Sports Illustrated says that the team is going to hell in a handbasket, but that there's a little bit of room for optimism.

  • Lots of ownership news and non-news.
    --Bobby DuPuy met with the Lerners; Malek/Zients are meeting with BeezleBud.
    --DC Gov't hacks are kvetching that they don't know the Lerners, even as they're obeying an MLB-imposed gag order that neither Smulyan's group (who was all over TV) or Malek's group (who has allegedly smeared every other group with a whisper campaign to the press).
    --Meanwhile, all groups are touting their blackness. Minority ownership is a worthy goal to be certain, but this parading around bothers me in some sense. Take Smulyan, for example. He made big news this week when he touted that his group would have an African American as team President. While I have no basis to judge the qualifications of Eric Holder, who was named as the leading candidate, pushing him out there does him a disservice and makes it seem like he's getting the position not because of his competence, but because of racial pandering. That's extremely unfair to Mr. Holder, and is the kind of politics this country could do without. It's a touchy subject, and I'll step back off the soapbox now.

  • John Patterson has had his start pushed back a day to Thursday. He was on schedule to pitch against the Reds on Wednesday, but will now face the Cardinals because of 'forearm stiffness' That frequently turns into tendinitis, and needs to be watched. Ramon Ortiz takes his spot, and will be bombed by the Reds.

  • Cristian Guzman has started playing intrasquad games, and should be ready to go to the minors for a rehab assignment in a week or two. Robert Fick, who's playing at Double-A, should be ready around May 7. Pedro Astacio has been throwing BP (funny, so has Livan!), and should be ready to go on a rehab assignment in a week or so.

  • Brendan Harris has been designated the team's emergency catcher. God help us if he sees time back there!

  • Bill Ladson opens the ol' mailbag again, but with attitude! According to him, the Nats should be perfectly fine with the completely unbalanced home schedule because back in his day, the Expos played all 162 games on the road and they walked everywhere to boot! Also, he feels that the Braves are better than the Nats because of their leadership. Yep. To prove this, he uses an anecdote about how no one talked to Jose Guillen after a recent bad throw. (Perhaps everyone on the team is afraid of the sonofabitch and they didn't want a bat as an appendage?)

  • Federal Baseball has a review of The Last Nine Innings.

  • Nats Blog has their weekly summary of Nat Stats. Would you believe Ryan Church as the Nats Most Valuable Player?

  • Nasty Nats takes issue with Sunday night's game and the caught stealings. Although I loathe both, I think that the two examples he uses were ok in the context of the game. On both plays, Royce Clayton was thrown out trying to steal while Brian Schneider was at the plate -- once on a straight steal, once on a hit-and-run. Given the batter at the plate and the pitcher on deck, as well as Clayton's decent base-stealing abilities, they seemed like a decent risk at the time. That they didn't work out is another matter.

    Still, Frank does HNR FAR too much. Has it worked even ONCE this season? Seriously. I can't remember a HNR single.

  • Identifying Pitches

    Just A Nats Fan asks about something that I've had a few emails on recently. How do you identify pitches? It's something that takes a little bit of time and some patience, but it can really enhance your enjoyment of the game. I like to try and guess what the pitcher's going to throw, and when you know what pitches he throws, you can see them try and set the batter up.

    (I'll describe pitch movement from the CF camera perspective since that's what you see on TV. I'll also describe it as if thrown by a RHP. Reverse the directions for a LHP)

    The fastball is the basic pitch that every pitcher throws. It's the pitcher's fastest pitch and typically the straightest. Although it says 'fast', that's a relative term. Livan's fastball is only about 85 MPH. Gary Majewski's is 95 MPH. Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox' knuckleball pitcher throws one that barely breaks into the 70s. Watch the arc of the ball, and if it doesn't move too much and it's the hardest one he throws, it's his fastball.

    There are two main types of fastballs, but identifying them can be a bit more difficult.

    A four-seam fastball (named for the way the hand grips the ball) is the fastest, typically moving hard and straight. John Patterson has the best four-seamer on the team. If you watch his fastball, it sails in straight at the target before wiggling half an inch or so -- just enough to disrupt the swing.

    A two-seam fastball doesn't move as fast, but it has more movement. Livan Hernandez throws a lot of these. (Livan's also the hardest pitcher to track pitches with because all his move so much and irregularly) If you watch his fastball, it will sail slightly from left to right (from the CF perspective) Sometimes there's a slight downward movement on the pitch. Typically, it's 2-4MPH slower than the four-seam, so it too will be the fastest pitches he throws.

    There are several other specific types of fastballs that are speciality pitches. Not every pitcher throws them. Ryan Drese throws a sinking fastball, which dives downward, so that the batter hits the top of the ball, driving it into the ground. There's a cut fastball (does any Nat throw one?), which has a subtle late break from right to left -- Mariano Rivera throws the most famous one. Hector Carrasco throws a split-fingered fastball which looks like a fastball rolling off a table, with a sharp break that typically ends with the pitch in the dirt. There's a forkball, too, but it's basically the same thing as the splitter, and if you can tell the difference from TV, you're better than me -- very few throw this one, although many Japanese pitchers do.

    Breaking balls are simply pitches that move through the zone because of the spin the pitcher puts on the ball. Announcers use it to mean a variety of pitches, and frequently use it when they're not quite sure what a pitch is. (Unless you're in the really good seats, it's frequently easier to tell pitches apart from your couch)

    A Curve Ball is a ball that, well, curves. Typically, it breaks from 12-6 on the clock face. Barry Zito of the A's probably has the best big curveball, and Livan throws a huge one. John Patterson's curve doesn't have the big up/down motion of Livan's, but it moves much more sharply, freezing the batters. Some pitchers throw a curve that has a little sideways movement, moving from 10-4 on the clockface. If a pitcher has a good curve, you'll see lots of swings that miss and lots of popups as the batter drops his hands to catch up to the movement of the pitch, getting the bat under the ball.

    For most pitchers, the curve is in the 80 MPH range, about 10-15 MPH below their fastball. You can recognize it from its slow speed and the up and down movement on the pitch.

    A slider is another type of breaking ball, but one that moves from right to left. A slider has a frisbee-like action to it, snapping off a sharp break as it runs further and further away from the batter. A good slider will run from 3-9 on the clockface, although there's typically a very slight downward movement (think 2:30-8:30). Tony Armas throws an excellent slider as does Chad Cordero.

    The slider is thrown harder than the curveball, but doesn't reach the speed of the fastball. Look for a pitch that moves right to left that's typically in the mid or high 80s.

    One of my favorite types of breaking ball is a screwball, but there are only two or three players who throw it. A screwball has the up and down movement of a curve, but it also moves laterally from left to right. It's a really freakish pitch that helps pitchers out against batters of opposite handedness. (ie for a RHP, it breaks away from a left-handed batter) Jim Mecir, who pitched with the Marlins, threw a nasty one. John Franco had a pretty good one too. It's a tough pitch to command, and it can really screw up your arm, which explains why so people throw it. To get a feel for what I mean, hold you hand out like you're gripping a door knob. When you throw a curve, it's a similar hand/wrist motion as opening the door. When you threw a screwball, quickly turn the handle the opposite direction. Feel that on the inside of your elbow? Now imagine throwing as hard as they do! Ouch!

    A change-up, or change of pace, is a pitch that aims to fool the batter. Ideally it's thrown just like a fastball, but because the grip is slightly different and because the ball is held further back in the hand, it comes out with much less velocity. The batter sees the arm movement, thinks fastball, and swings early, missing the pitch. When the batter swings and misses while looking especially goofy, chances are it's a changeup. Most changeups are going to be in the low 80s.

    Randy St. Claire has been teaching pitchers the changeup, and had great success with Hector Carrasco. He worked this spring with Chad Cordero, but I haven't seen Chad throw one in a game yet.

    Some pitchers will throw a variant called the circle change. If you make an OK sign with your hand and cradle the ball, you'll see how it got its name. This change, which Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux have perfected, looks very similar to the screwball I described above, with a break down and to the right, away from left-handed batters.

    There are a few knuckleball pitchers still kicking around. Tim Wakefield's the most famous. A knuckler is thrown, not with the knuckles, but with the fingertips. It's pushed or flicked out of the hand so as to eliminate any spin on the ball. Without spin, the seams of the ball interact with the wind and air pressure to make the ball move all over the place upredictably. The pitcher and catcher don't know where it's going, but neither does the batter. Knuckleballs are realllly slow.

  • All pitchers have a fastball and some sort of breaking ball. Starters typically have three, usually four pitches that they'll toss. Relievers need at least two to be successful even if, like Mariano Rivera, they only throw one with any sort of regularity.

    Follow the pitch with your eyes, track its movement, and make note of the radar gun readings. Those two will combine to give away the pitch, and with a few games worth of practice, you'll be able to tell even without the radar.

    Once you figure that out, start guessing along. Try and figure out what he's going to throw, and where he's going to throw it. Watch how John Patterson uses the fastball up and in to set up the curve ball low and away. Look for how a changeup allows a pitcher to blow a fastball right past the helpless batter. See how a pitcher tries to get Soriano to swing on sliders away off the plate with two strikes.
  • I Hate Rookie Pitchers

    Remember Wandy Rodriguez? Remember Ervin "Magic" Santana? Remember how spittle formed at the corner of our mouths in anticipation of lighting the rooks up? Remember how, instead, we foamed at the mouth because of the incompetence of our bats as said rookie pitchers shut us down? Unfortunately, I do too. And last night's game was a page out of last July's playbook.

    Elizardo Ramirez, who must really hate his parents, threw strike after strike, fooling the helpless Nat bats, as they were apparently looking for pitches in the dirt to swing at. Elizardo (File Photo) threw 94 pitches with over 2/3 of them going for strikes. I think he only went to a 3-ball count on two batters, walking just one. Elizardo (seen here warming in the pen) had an ERA near 7 at Triple-A [I'm a half-literate monkey. That's his Major League ERA. He's been quite good in the minors] , and still the Nats bats were unable to do anything. Depressing.

    Zimmerman stunk, again, leaving five runners on, and failing to come through in his critical eighth-inning AB. Jose Guillen had an RBI single in the sixth, but when the pressure was truly on in the eighth, he grounded out weakly. (With him, it's either a flyball to right-center or a groundball to the left side) Brian Schneider's corpse didn't sputter to life and there's a good chance he gets the night off with the Reds throwing a lefty. Church took an ohfer. Clayton hit a double, but still looked bad in his other bats. When things aren't clicking, it's damn ugly.

    But the Lame Duck goes to the portly pitcher, the stout soft-tosser, the King of corpulence, Livan Hernandez. (file photo) For the 25th straight game, he got bombed in the first inning as the Reds played pepper with the grass. Livan could've been out of it early had the umpire correctly called a tailing fastball that caught the corner of the plate a strike, but the ump didn't. And Livan has almost no margin for error.

    Tom Boswell (file photo) has an insightful column (who knew?) that gets to the heart of the Livan problem.
    after offseason knee surgery, Hernandez finds himself in a quandary. He no longer has pain, but now, because he's been careful not to injure himself again, he's not in normal regular season condition.

    "Last year I was running all spring and I won 12 games [by the all-star break]. I won 11 games in a row. This year, I have been riding the bike. Bike, bike, bike. But no running yet. I think now it is time to start again," he said. "I ran hard for the first time in Philadelphia [on a double] and nothing [bad] happened. It's time to see if it is 100 percent okay and do my regular routine again."

    That total conditioning routine is essential not so much because Hernandez is rotund, but because he is a classic low-body pitcher who needs drive from his huge thighs to get his fastball to 90 mph. This year, he hasn't topped 86. "He's not there yet," catcher Brian Schneider said. "He relies on location so much that the days he doesn't have his [perfect] control he's going to get hit harder than most guys."

    That makes perfect sense. I've said before that he's not really driving from the mound, and that pitching-wise, he seems to be treating his knee as if it were still last year. At least he seems to realize that he needs to challenge himself further, and to take the next step.

    Velocity by itself isn't that important. Jamey Moyer has pitched for eons without breaking 82. Greg Maddux probably barely reaches 87. But what is important is a variance in pitch speeds. And that's been missing from Livan's game. There's very little difference between his fastball and his slider, meaning that the batter's timing isn't being upset by the pitch. Although he occasionally throws a changeup, his primary off-speed pitch is his big looping curveball. He doesn't have great command of the pitch, and it's slow enough and lacks a hard bite, so that batters frequently have time to adjust to it, or they just let it fall harmlessly out of the strikezone. As a result, they're teeing off on his fastball, and the hanging sliders (of which there are many) he throws. It hasn't been pretty, but he's shown that when he bears down, he can perform.

    The Nats start Billy Traber tonight against Dave Williams (stats). Williams ain't much of a pitcher, but the way the Nats bats have gone the last two games, you don't need to be much of one to beat them.

    This is going to be a good test for Traber. Cinci's biggest bat is left-handed, but there's a lot of right-handed power in that lineup. Plus, they're generally a very patient team. He's going to have to have command of the outside corner, and keep the ball down. If he leaves it up and over the plate, they have enough power to knock him off the mound (or walk him off it!) Either way, it's a tough matchup for him.

    Monday, April 24, 2006

    Three Down, Twenty-Four To Go

    The Nats went 3-2 in an abbreviated week, thanks to a rainout and an off-day. The week was marked by the return of the Nats' offense, including two 10-spots hung on the woeful Phillies pitching staff. Of course, it would've been nice if they could've banked a few of those for last night's one-run performance!

    Nats Record: 3-2
    Overall: 7-11, fourth place
    Runs Scored: 88 (9/16)
    Runs Allowed: 98 (9/16)

    What's Good?
    1: The offense! Three Nats slugged over .800 on the week. Four batted over .400. They slugged nine homers in those five games.

    2: Tony Armas. He snuck in two starts, and pitched great in both, even if he didn't look his sharpest. He went 12.1 innings with an ERA just above two, and finished with just under 6 K/9. But the best part is that he's finally pitching quickly! Last year, a Tony Armas start was as dull and lifeless as one of my paragraphs. This year, he bounces up to the mound and fires sliders like he's parked at a meter.

    3: Billy Traber. He's not going to win a Cy Young this year, but he looked competent enough to be a capable fourth/fifth starter, something this team has desparately needed.

    What's Bad?
    1: Brian Schneider. His defense finally seems like it's getting there, but his offense is still slumbering like it's Mid-January. He batted a miserable .222/ .364/ .278 , but more importantly, failed to come through in a few key spots.

    2: The baserunning. This team continues to run into outs, especially as a result of the dreaded hit-and-run. The team stole three bases last week, but was also thrown out thrice. (Two of those steals came on one double-steal on a 3-2 count) Oy!

    3: The bullpen. No single reliever had horrid numbers this week, but collectively, they didn't get the job done. Majewski yakked it last night; Stanton and Eischen a few nights before.

    Game O' The Week
    Friday night's game had it all. If you're a fan of pitching, you had the prospect of a John-John pitching matchup, on which only Mr. Patterson delivered. And if you're a long-ball lovin' chick, you had Mr. Soriano's three looooong bombs. (Take that, Vidro!). Throw in a bullpen failure, and a late-inning rally, and the game had a little bit of everything -- but most importantly, a Curly W!

    Soriano had the flash, but Nick Johnson was the burning ember, hitting .435/ .480/ .826 in those five games, and led the team with six runs scored.

    Cy Young
    Despite Tony Armas' lower ERA, John Patterson wins this one for his 8 strikeout performance. If either he or Nick Johnson had figured out how to touch first base, he's taking a shutout into the ninth.

    He might play excellent defense, but his offense stinks right now. Hopefully this'll be the last LVP for Brian Schneider.

    Joe Horgan Award
    Livan Hernandez was buried by an ensuing bullpen meltdown but the portly pitcher's tatertastic tosses mashed the Nats' chances against the Phillies, in a game they should've won. Three more homers gives him 72 allowed on the year, and mean he's on pace to allow 4,237 homers by the end of the season. (note: numbers enhanced for dramatic effect)

    The Agony And The Ecstasy

    Sorry for the delay. Blogger is to the internet as Ramon Ortiz is to pitching....

    After weekends like this, I'm always amazed at how fickle emotions can be. If the Nats had played last night's 3-1 loss on Friday, and if Friday's 7-3 game were played yesterday, we'd all feel a lot better today.

    Friday night's game was tremendous. John Patterson and Alfonso Soriano were the stars, and both had Majority Whip caliber performances. But who does it go to?

    John Patterson pitched into the 8th inning, and was dominant. He struck out eight batters, and controlled the game until a brain cramp in the eighth. After Brian McCann hit a one-out double, Tony Pena hit a hard grounder to Nick Johnson that pulled him far from the bag. Both he and John Patterson hesitated on what should've been a fairly routine 3-1 putout, and the runner was safe. An ensuing triple (and Mike Stanton relief appearance) erased the lead and Patterson's win. Had either Patterson or Johnson made the play (and I think NJ could've made it on his own), no runs would've scored.

    Alfonso Soriano was nearly as dominant, but he, too, had a brain cramp, even as his third home run of the game sealed the win. All three homers came on fastballs, which were almost the last three fastballs he saw this series. (In last night's game, he got a steady diet of breaking balls and slop on the outside corner.) Soriano's homers were tremendous blasts, and the third one was an absolute monster, rising high over the deepest part of the gap to hit off the back wall -- one that he admired for a few moments before skipping into his tater trot.

    But his brain cramp was especially costy. Before the Nats coughed up the lead, Soriano hit a one-out double and tried to steal third, pointlessly. He was thrown out by a mile. Think about the situation. Yes, you can score from third on an out, but is that worth the risk of an out and the loss of a runner? While Soriano's a tremendous base stealer, with Vidro, Johnson, and Guillen coming up, he's almost as likely to score from second as he is at third. When you steal third, you need to be successful something like 90% of the time, and that's assuming that the batters behind you are average. With better-than-average hitters, as was the case here, you need to be safe every time.

    I love me some homers, but in the end, John Patterson gets the Whip. His brain cramp hurt, but I can't overlook how dominant he was before that. Soriano will have other days like this, even if they might not be as big, but it was John Patterson's dominance which forced Bobby Cox' hand. Had it been Ramon Ortiz throwing a shutout, do you think he would've pulled Smoltz so early, relying on his shaky pen?

  • Sunday's game was full of the same kinds of frustrations we had most of last season. Jose Guillen ripped a first-inning double way back into the right-center gap (when will he learn?) The Nats tried nursing that lead like it was a one-eyed kitten.

    Gary Majewski earns a Lame Duck for his heartless kitten-killing performance. His one inning of relief turned a thrilling 1-0 win into a demoralizing 3-1 loss. (Why is it that there seem to be more Braves fans in DC than at Braves playoff games?)

    It seems silly to say that someone with an ERA under 4 is shaky, but that's the sense I have. Majewski was almost criminally overused last season. Majewski started the year in the minors, and still pitched in 79 games and threw 86 innings. After Luis Ayala went down, Majewski was in the game seemingly every day, which can't be good for the ol' elbow. This season, he's been on an even greater pace: 94 games, 111 innings.

    Despite a mid-90s fastball, Majewski's not much of a strikeout pitcher. He K'd 5.2 per 9 last year, and is in the mid-4s this season. He's gotten by because he doesn't walk many, and he doesn't allow ANY home runs. In those 86 innings last year, he allowed just TWO homers. In 14.2 this year, he's allowed just as many.

    Is that a symptom of overwork? Is it just a statistical fluke early in the season? I hope it's the latter, and not the former.

  • Tony Armas had another effective outing, even as he didn't look too sharp. He was getting a ton of foul balls, which is always a bad sign with him. His velocity seemed down early, but as his velocity went up and the night got cooler, it seemed like he lost command of the pitches. Still, it's hard to argue with 6.1 shutout innings. The more I see him, the more I think Loaiza. He's not going to win us any games, but he's going to put us in a position where we CAN win the game more often than not.

  • Is it too early to wonder whether Zimmerman needs to spend some time in New Orleans figuring out how to recognize breaking pitches? Even if it is too early, you'd at least agree that he needs to be batting lower in the order, right?

  • Longtime readers know that I HATE HATE HATE the Intentional Walk (in 98% of cases), so it was especially agonizing seeing Bobby Cox do it twice, and have it work out both times!

  • The Nats have impressed me with their approach at the plate lately. For the most part, they seem to be waiting for a pitch to drive. Since it's essentially the same roster, I'm assuming that much of that is Mitchell Page's doing. Still, there are games, like last night's, that are agonizing to watch. John Thomson was on the ropes all night -- the Nats had 7 hits and 5 walks over his 6 innings of work, including 3 doubles, and could only score one!?

    Even if you don't like the outcome, there's something slightly encouraging in that.

  • Friday, April 21, 2006

    Bizarro Nats

    The Nats put another 10-spot on the board and chased a starting pitcher in the second inning. Who are these guys? It's amazing how quickly things can change in baseball. Literally one week ago, we were kvetching and moaning about how pathetic the offense is after Pedro Martinez, Brian Bannister, and Dutch Reuther's ghost held the offense, and no we're unstoppable! The truth is somewhere in between, and the Braves starting staff will probably knock some sense back into our head. But for now, let's enjoy the ride!

    The Majority Whip was about as easy a call as we've had. Nick Johnson has been on fire, and Philly pitchers are probably thrilled he's out of town. The Walking Stick went 4-4 with a walk, 3 RBI, 3 runs scored, and two homers -- both of which would've been out of RFK. The first was a mammoth blast to deep right which landed in the club level seats high above the field. He got a BP Fastball high and over the plate, and you could almost see NJ jump out of his shoes in anticipation of turning on the pitch an destroying it.

    For the season, he's batting an ungodly .400/ .529/ .745!? Small sample size and all that, but, man, that's dominant. Stay healthy, Nick!

  • The other story from the game was Billy Traber, who was solid, even if he wasn't dominant. Traber walked four batters, but his control didn't seem that bad. He throws a variety of pitches, and hit Schneider's glove more often than not. (It's not like when Ramon Oritz misses, and Schneider strains a muscle diving to the other side of the plate!)

    His pitches all seemed to have a ton of movement on them, so even though he doesn't throw hard, there's enough movement and variation to keep hitters off balance and miss the occasional bat. The bulk of Philly's lineup is left-handed, giving Traber an advantage last night. I'll be eager to see how he does against another team as Philly's right-handed bats stink for the most part.

    I'm definitely cautiously optimistic that we've found our fourth starter.

  • Alfonso Soriano had two more hits, and he's getting some praise in some of the recaps for the three leaping catches he made against the wall. Don't fall for it. On two of those, he didn't have to leap; he just misjudged the ball. He didn't seem comfortable near the wall, which is probably as much a function of it being 100 feet or so closer than the one at RFK. ;)

  • Jon Rauch, who apparently has been given the nickname "Wookie" by his teammates, pitched another 2.1 innings, saving the bullpen -- even as he's been the team's best reliever! He's down to a 1.59 ERA, and might be more valuable to this team in that role than as a starter.

  • The Nats come home for three games against the Braves, then three against the Reds.

    Today: John Smoltz v. John Patterson
    Saturday: John Thomson v. Ramon Ortiz
    Sunday: Kyle Davies v. Tony Armas

    All we need to do is make the starters work, and get into the soft underbelly of the Braves bullpen! Easier said than done, though.

  • Yeah, I mailed it in today. Sue me!
  • Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Mugshots Galore Edition

    Our friends at the Big Lead have found the Joy Browning mugshot. Pair it with the Jim Bowden mugshot, and you'll have the whole set.

    Their attorney issued a statement denying the domestic battery charges, but had no comment on the DUI. He's back in town now, so make sure your collision premiums are paid.

  • I hope Saul Rivera enjoyed his brief pay raise. He returns to New Orleans with an unblemished ERA as Billy Traber gets the callup to pitch tonight against the Phillies.

  • Cristian Guzman, who's recovering from a minor tear in his labrum, is expected to go on a rehab assignment this weekend. He's been taking BP and fielding some grounders, and has reported only a little tightness.

  • Robert Fick went 0-4 on the first day of his rehab assigment. It seems like they're going to give him plenty of time, and plenty of ABs down there.

  • Pedro Astacio had a bullpen session, but is still at least 3-4 weeks away from being ready; he'll need some time in the minors to knock the rust off his arm.

  • Svrluga has two book signings you may be interested in:
    Friday, April 21 at 12:30 p.m. at the Borders on L and 18th Sts. NW, right downtown, and Monday, April 24 at 7 p.m. at the Olsson's on 7th St. NW near Verizon Center.

    I haven't picked up his book yet, but there are two chapters of it available online if you want to get a feel for it. Here's the first chapter, which describes the difficult the club's employees faced while living in a trailer down by the river. Here's another chapter discussing Brian Schneider and his role as receiver of President Bush's first pitch.

  • Terrmel Sledge, who certain beat writers say is going to be a star, was sent to the minors by the San Diego Padres. I guess in fairness to the writer, he didn't say that he'd be a star in the majors. Expect Sledge to rip through the PCL, where he's likely to be an All-Star.

  • Spilt Milk Watch
    Brad Wilkerson  .200/ .250/ .367, 4 walks, 25!? strikeouts.
    Vinny Castilla .333/ .370/ .458, 7 RBI
    Jamey Carroll .278/ .316/ .278, no extra-base hits in Coors!?
    Terrmel Sledge .160/ .276/ .200, demotion to Triple-A
    Preston Wilson .241/ .290/ .466, 4 homers, 18 strikeouts
    Gary Bennett .222/ .222/ .222, 0 passed balls

    Claudio Vargas 4.82 ERA, 9.1 IP
    Zach Day 10.80 ERA, 13.1 IP
    Tomo Ohka 3.00 ERA, 18.0 IP
    Hector Carrasco 2.89 ERA, 9.1 IP
    Esteban Loaiza 8.59 ERA, 14.2 IP

  • Hocked Up By A LOOGY

    Live by the LOOGY. Die by the LOOGY. The Nats have two LOOGYs, short for Lefty One Out Guy. Yesterday, both LOOGYs pitched. And both LOOGYs failed. Unfortunately for the Nats, they failed at the wrong time, and turned a three-run lead into a one-run loss.

    Many statheads hate the idea of a LOOGY. Their line of thinking is that why would you put your 5th best relief pitcher in a critical situation? Wouldn't that roster spot be put to better use for another hitter, or a reliever who can go an inning or two?

    I don't think I'd take it that far. LOOGYs have their uses. But neither Mike Stanton or Joey Eischen are particularly effective LOOGYs. They're on the roster by virtue of their handedness, not their effectiveness. And after last night's game, it's debatable how long Eischen's going to stick around anyway.

    In the 8th inning, the recently ineffective Eischen was surprisingly brought in to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with the tying run on first. All he needed to do was get an out or two, and all he did was walk them. By the time an angry Frank stormed out of the dugout while raising his hand for Gary Majewski, the game was all but tied. Majewski did his job, getting a slow grounder to an infielder, but that allowed the run to score.

    Brief aside: That inning shows the worthlessness of relief pitcher ERAs and blown saves for middle relievers. The third run, which scored only because of Eischen's two walks, is charged to Livan, raising his ERA. None of Eischen's runners scored, so his ERA stayed the same, despite a disastrous outing. Further, he even earned a hold (depending on which company's definition you're using!). And his walks earned Gary Majewski a blown save for having to come into a no-win situation to clean up his mess. A quick scan at the boxscore doesn't tell you how brutal Eischen's performance was!

    Stanton was just as bad. In the bottom of the 10th, he started walking batters, too. Stanton faced three lefties in the bottom of the inning. He walked Bobby Abreu, walked Chase Utley, then allowed the game-winning single to Ryan Howard. Oy.

    LOOGYs faced five left-handed batters and five left-handed batters reached first base.

  • But the Lame Duck winner was Livan Hernandez, who pitched another stinktacular game. At least he spread out the three homers allowed throughout the game this time, instead of yielding them all in one inning. Yeah, he hit the bejeesus out of the ball (which is better than 6/8 of the lineup!), but so did the opposing batters.

    What's wrong with Livan? One of the Mets announcers threw out the idea that he could be tipping his pitches. Was he on to something? Was it a guess? Was it something he had picked up on, or was it something that the team had whispered into his ear?

    Or is it just his velocity? Livan's lucky if he can break 85 now. That's fine if you're Jamey Moyer, and you have a changeup that makes batters spin in circles. But it seems like Livan's fastball and slider come in at very close speeds. (Not to mention how often he's hanging his slider....) Since there's very little difference in speed, it's not going to fool batters as much. And his slider has never been one of those hard-biting pitches anyway. His only offspeed pitch is his big looping curveball, which, more often than not, drops low out of the strikezone. When he leaves one up, batters can hammer it, and since that's really the only offspeed pitch they have to look for, and because it's so slow, they have time to adjust.

    He didn't really look like he was pushing off the mound. Is his knee still bothering him? He didn't look like he was limping when he was running (although he almost did trip over his manboobs.) Maybe there's some sort of rotational pain he feels when he drives on the mound as opposed to running straight ahead. One of the *CL injuries is like that -- you can run forward, but the second you try to turn, you collapse into a puddle of Livan goo.

    Am I going to just keep asking questions without answering them? Perhaps?

  • Had the Nats held on, there's no doubt that the star of the game was the torrid Jose Vidro. He cranked out three hits, and had three huge RBI. But his glove was what was most impressive.

    In the bottom of the 8th, right after the score was tied and with the bases still loaded, Alex "Thank God For Bartman" Gonzalez hit a high chopper that bounced slowly up and over the pitcher's mound. Vidro was playing at his normal position at second, perhaps a little deeper, since there was a force, and came charging hard in towards the area between second and the mound. As he ran, he started to make a circle to scoop up the ball so that he'd have a better angle to throw. He gloved the ball off a short hop, pivoted, and threw all in one smooth motion as the momentum of his wind sprint carried him away from first. The throw had plenty on it, saving the game for others to blow later.

    Vidro's bat has been tremendous. The guy's hitting almost .400! But it's been his glove that's been the biggest revelation. His range is much improved over last year, and although no one's going to confuse him for Bill Mazeroski, he's comfortably no worse than average -- which is a HUGE step up over last year.

  • Remember yesterday when I glowed about the adjustements that Ryan Zimmerman was finally starting to make? If not, forget I said it. He stunk again, fishing at slop, and striking out three times. How soon until Bill Ladson, protector of the strike zone, starts ripping him?
  • Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    On The Third Win, Church Rose Again

    Ryan Church's grand slam was the offensive highlight of yesterday's 10-3 win of Philadelphia, which was much closer than it seemed.

    Church, facing Philly's crappiest reliever had a great at-bat. I really like his approach at the plate. Other than his tendency to freeze on inside fastballs, he really waits for his pitch, instead of flailing at any ol' junk at the plate. He fell behind 0-2 before taking a ball, then fouling off four pitches. When Geary came back with a fastball up and over the middle of the plate, Church turned on it, driving it over the right-field wall for the Nats' second grand slam. (The Worst National In History, Brad Wilkerson hit the other one [Sorry, Ladson told me to write that])

    But the true hitting hero, and the winner of the Majority Whip, is Ryan Zimmerman. One of the things I love about baseball is the game of chess opponents play. Sometimes it's in-game, but in Zimmerman's case, it's been over the long term.

    When he came up last year, he proved very quickly that he could turn and spray a fastball all over the outfield. Over the final two weeks, pitchers adjusted, and learned that he had a much more difficult time with breaking pitches away, dropping his batting average from the mid-.400s to the high .300s.

    So far this season, he's seen a steady diet of breaking pitches as pitchers try to exploit that weakness. Well, last night he adjusted. Twice, he got slop on the outside part of the plate, and twice he drove it to the opposite field, playing pepper with the practically immobile Bobby Abreu. His first big double broke a 1-1 tie; his second gave the team some breathing room, putting them up by 2.

    If he can learn, and keep making those adjustments, the fortnight slump he's been in will be a thing of the past before too long.

  • Tony Armas didn't look especially good last night, but he was effective. When a pitcher pitches effectively despite not having his best stuff, it's a good sign. There's been a lot to like about Armas' pitching, and it really does look like he's turned a corner after his arm/should/elbow/tonsil surgeries.

    Last night was an especially tough matchup for him. His best pitch is his slider, and the strength of Philly's left-handed batters negates much of the impact of that pitch. Still, he survived, and impressively had Ryan Howard falling all over himself.

    He didn't pitch deep into the game, but 6 innings and 3 runs is not bad against that team in that park. He definitely put the team in a position to win the game, and that's much better than the other three-fifths of the rotation.

  • When I heard that Daryle Ward got the start in right, in place of the still-injured Jose Guillen (who was on deck to PH before the game got blown open), I was pleasantly surprised. Ward is an atrocious fielder, a lumbering ox of a man. But this team needs offense in this park, and adding another powerful left-handed bat to the lineup was probably worth whatever defense he'd have cost the team. With the closeness of the fences in Philly, defensive mistakes aren't going to be as costly as they would be at RFK, where the ball could roll to Suitland.

    When Ward homered to lead off the second, it was just gravy, gravy that Ward probably tried lapping up.

  • Brian Schneider's bat finally looks like it's coming alive. It's going to take a while for his average to climb back up into the mid-.200s, but that's roughly what he's hit over the last week or so. It was nice to see the Phillies intentionally walk Royce Clayton (Their Up-Chuck moment of the game) to face Brian, only to have him get drilled by a pitch on an 0-2 count. IBBing Royce Clayton? We did see teams IBB Cristian Guzman last year, so anything's possible, I guess.

  • Ryan Church Fun Facts O' The Day:
    --He's slugging 1.000 (That'd be a record)
    --He's scored more runs than Royce Clayton, Matthew Lecroy, and Brandon Watson combined.
    --Tied for the team lead in homers, with as many as Jose Guillen, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Zimmerman, and Brian Scheider combined.
    --Third on the team in RBI
    --As many stolen bases as Ryan Zimmerman, Royce Clayton, Damian Jackson, and Brandon Watson combined.

    I guess they really sent a message to him with the demotion, huh? (What's the rolling eyes smiley?)

  • Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Kasten/Lerner Merge

    Surprising absolutely no one, Stan Kasten and Ted Lerner have merged their bids, effectively cementing their place as the team's new ownership group. Everything still looks like it's on track for an end-of-week naming, in time for the Nats' return from their Philly roadtrip.
    Kasten would become the Washington Nationals' president and would own an interest in the franchise under the agreement he struck with the Lerners, according to sources familiar with the process. Kasten, who until recently had headed his own group of investors, may bring some minority partners with him, which would contribute to the diversity of the Lerner group, sources said.

    Pack your bags, Tony Tavares. Thanks for your efforts, but don't let the door hit you on your ample ass when you leave. (Actually, let it. After the ticket snafus, it's the least you deserve.)

    Kasten is a professional, and he likes professional baseball men. There ain't nothing about Bowden that can be described as a professional baseball man. And after today's revelations, there's almost zero chance he survives. It wouldn't shock me to see one of his old Atlanta connections head to DC with him. Look for Frank Wren or Dayton Moore to fill the job, and to change the culture of this craptastic franchise.

    There's an owner's meeting scheduled for next month, so if everything remains on schedule, the keys will be turned over within a month, even if Kasten will effectively be running things by the end of the week.


    Jim Bowden Arrested

    You can't make this crap up! Jim Bowden was arrested Sunday night for drunk driving. He says he's going to plead not guilty. Tony Tavares says that the team isn't going to take any action at this point.

    But you've gotta believe that this will kill whatever slim chance he had of holding onto his job, right?

    More later when we know more of the story....

  • Need more snark? Check out the Primer Thread
  • WaPo's story is up. Nothing new or terribly exciting.
  • Thanks to NFA's Scott for pointing to this ESPN article which has much more (and damning) evidence:
    A Miami Beach police report said the 44-year-old Bowden refused to take a breath-alcohol test after he was stopped at 2:22 a.m. Monday. An officer said he saw Bowden run the stop sign on Collins Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the South Beach neighborhood. He failed field sobriety tests and was arrested, the report said.

    The report said that "a strong smell of an alcoholic beverage" emanated from the gray 2006 Cadillac STS that Bowden was driving and that he had "bloodshot eyes, glassy eyes, flush red face and slurred speech." The arresting officers concluded that Bowden "was unable to operate a motor vehicle safely."

    Under Florida's implied consent law, refusal to submit to a breath test results in an automatic driver's license suspension of at least six months. Bowden had a California driver's license when he was stopped and listed a Los Angeles home address, according to the police report

  • It gets interesting now. Apparently, Bowden's fiancee, Joy Browning, was also arrested for attacking Jim.
    A second police report said that about 10 minutes before Bowden was pulled over, two officers saw he and his girlfriend, 36-year-old Joy Browning, arguing along nearby Ocean Drive. After assuring police that everything was fine, they drove off and allegedly ran through the stop sign.

    Police then noticed that Bowden had scratches on his right ear and left cheek and told Browning she would be arrested for a domestic violence charge. She refused to get out of the car and struck one of the officers twice after he took her cell phone, police said.

    Browning faces a May 8 arraignment on charges of felony resisting arrest with violence, resisting arrest without violence and simple battery.

    Not a good week for Mr. Bowden, is it?
  • Because you know you want to, here's Jim Bowden's mugshot.

  • Monday, April 17, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Case Of The Mondays Edition

    Lots of little things to catch up on... Here goes....

    Ryan Drese left Friday night's game with a damaged Ulnar Collateral Ligament. UCL typically means Tommy John, which would essentially mean the end of his career. Hopefully it's not a tear, but a strain, and hopefully a month or two of rest is going to be enough to get him back on the mound.

    [Right after I hit post, Federal Baseball points to this AP article noting that Drese is out 4-6 weeks. It was 'just' a flexor tendon strain, and it won't require surgery.]

  • Robert Fick, who looks like he's going to be the backup catcher when he returns, is set to begin a rehab assignment with double-A Harrisburg.

  • Jose Guillen has a strained oblique, which kept him out of the last two games. I'm guessing that he overdid himself in the batting cage, and considering his shoulder and wrist, giving him some time off was the best course. I'd assume that he'll be out there tomorrow night.

  • Jose Vidro, who's been battling a strained hammie off and on since last week has said that he'll be good to go. He had the go-ahead PH sac fly in yesterday's game.

  • Royce Clayton had to leave the game after being beaned. Unfortunately, it wasn't a season-ending injury, so he'll be ready to make lots of outs starting tomorrow night. Frank put Brendan Harris there for a bit. I'd be interested to see what he can do, even if it's an offense/defense platoon.

  • Matt LeCroy, Felix Rodriguez, and Ramon Ortiz got lost on the way to the Stadium. Unfortunately for Nats fans, Ortiz figured it out.

  • Alfonso Soriano is a life saver. His errant foul ball nailed a woman in the gut last year, helping her to discover a tumor that she would've missed. Expect Bill Ladson to explain that Brad Wilkerson would've killed the woman with a wiff in his next mailbag.

  • Hey, speaking of the happy couple, Ladson uses his mailbag to take another shot at Brad Wilkerson. Asked about the Soriano/Wilkerson trade, he answers in screed form:
    this trade is going to be the steal of 2006. I have no doubts that getting Soriano was a great move. He is doing the job with the bat, and he's not bad as an outfielder. As I said the past, I had high hopes for Wilkerson a few years back, but he is a strikeout machine, and the Nationals don't miss that part of his game. We'll see how long Rangers manager Buck Showalter tolerates the whiffs.

    Take a look at Texas' team strikeouts from last year. Do you think that Buck Showalter, who's a better manager than Frank Robinson, gives a rat's ass about strikeouts? Texas led the American League in strikeouts and they finished third in the league in runs scored.

    Turning to our fair league, Cincinnati led the league with strikeouts, and also led with runs. The San Francisco Giants finished last in the NL in strikeouts, and finished next to last in runs scored with just 10 more than our pathetic team.

    Here's the NL top-10 batters for strikeouts:
    Dunn      CIN   168
    Burrell PHI 160
    Wilson TOT 148
    Wilkerson WSN 147
    Glaus ARI 145
    Bay PIT 142
    Edmonds STL 139
    Jenkins MIL 138
    Abreu PHI 134
    Cabrera FLA 125

    Are there ANY of those hitters that you wouldn't want on your team (Ignore Preston Wilson, ok? :P )?

    I'm not saying that Wilkerson's in the class of some of those players, and it's awfully hard to defend Wilkerson given his pathetic start to the season (much of which could be explained with the shoulder injury that's been lingering since last season). But Ladson's continued reliance on the strikeout to rip Wilkerson at every chance is misguided, and sometimes comes across as personal.

    Ladson also asserts that Terrmel Sledge is going to be a star. Sledge is 29 this year, has just 150 major league games in his career, and isn't even playing full time for his current team, the Padres. He's batting a meager .160/ .276/ .200.

    Does that look like a star? I have my doubts.

  • If you missed it last week, Tom Boswell has a decent column about the dysfunctional family that is the Nats. He takes Tony Tavares to task for not doing enough to protect the franchise and the players even as he acknowledges that his true employer is MLB. He brings the Tavares/Robinson hatred into a greater light, and raps Bowden on the "We"/"They" distinction he has depending on whether 'his' players are succeeding or 'they' are failing.

  • Mark Zuckerman takes the beat writer cap off and dons the columnist's mortarboard, explaining why the team needs a new owner, pronto!

    For what it's worth, Maury Brown, of the Maury Brown Blog (a Maury Brown Enterprises production) reports that Maury Brown says that the owner will be named on Friday. Expect a posting at when the new owner is named. This message brought to you by Maury Brown, Editor of

  • Our friends at Base Ball Bias, A Ryan Moore Production, say that the Nationals aren't loveable losers; they're just losers.

  • Just a Nats Fan points to a Washington Business Journal article that says that Sony and ProFunds Investing are negotiating for naming rights at the RFK Memorial Dump.

  • Federal Baseball has an interesting look at how relaxing may have enabled (will enable?) Ryan Church to have success. Oleanders and Morning Glories was impressed with the small things Church did, and says (probably correctly) that they could have just as large an impression upon the braintrust of the team as his homers did. Excellent post!

  • Nats Blog notes the recent slide of Ryan Zimmerman, but also that the Washington Post is breaking out the win probability charts -- basically, they take the current score, baserunners, and outs, and figure out what the probability is that each team wins the game using historical data. Good, fun stuff!

  • Nationals Farm Authority has been bringing the good stuff! 1)Kenny "Not Brandon Watson" Kelly to the DL with a strained hammie; 2)A quick look at soon-to-be callup Billy Traber, and a pointer to an online journal that Traber kept; 3)A mini-assessment of Saul Rivera, the player the Nats called up to eat innings out of the pen after Drese went on the DL. Presumably, he'll get the axe when Traber comes up Thursday.

  • The must-read o' the day is this look at Frank Robinson. Today is the 50th anniversary of his first major-league game. He singled and doubled against Congressman Vinegar Bend Mizell.

    If you've never done it (Hell, even if you have!) take a look at Frank's rookie season: .290/ .379/ .558; 38 homers; 83 RBI; 142 OPS+. And he was only 20 years old! (Last year, Todd Helton had a 144 OPS+; Nick Johnson a 139)

    Despite his inability to be a great manager, he WAS a great player, probably the most underrated player of all time. When you see him walk slowly around the field, it's hard to imagine his old body being an all-time great. But every now and then, you certainly see the fire which drove him.

    Baseball Crank has an appreciation of Frank, too.