Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Key Start

The game just started, and I'm looking forward to this one as much as I've looked forward to most any Nats games in some time. I don't really care about the wins/losses tonight. It's all about how well Jason Bergmann pitches.

Someone reminded me of something I had written about him earlier this year about Bergmann, after it finally looked like he was harnessing his talents.
He keeps that low-90s fastball up higher in the zone. It's not overpowering on its own, but you can see the late tail on it, tugging it away from bats at the last minute.

Then he throws that mid-80s slider, which zipped away from right-handed batters, rolling further and further away. On the rare time a batter made contact, it was a slow tapper foul. When it's away and had as much movement as it had last night, it's practically unhittable.

His other main pitch is a sharp little curveball. It's not a huge 12-6 break, more of a short, quick break that comes in in the mid-70s. He pounds that pitch low in the zone. But to the batters, who have to be wary of that high, tailing fastball, it starts out high like the #1 does. They have to swing early in case it is, leading them to pop the curve, as they slow and drag the bat through the zone, hoping to catch a piece of the much-slower pitch.

When all three are moving, and he's spotting each of those three, batters have no chance. Some of the swings the Braves got tonight were laughable. They missed the fastball by a foot. Or they lunged and flailed at a slider a foot off the plate. It was a pleasure to watch.

I have a strong memory of those pitches. I can picture them in my mind and how each counterbalances the other. Tonight is key -- though certainly not the final determining factor. He's been pretty much terrible since returning from his elbow injury at the end of June, including two disastrous starts that looked like the Bergmann of old.

He needs that tight breaking ball -- both the slider and curve -- to keep opponents off balance. And tight breaking balls make elbows bark. And it was the combo of a change in his grip and Bowden's complaining that caused something to click way back in April.

Can he keep it up? Will he be able to maintain the same grip on his breaking pitches without blowing out the elbow? Will any changes to his motion/delivery he has to make to compensate for the elbow injury reduce their effectiveness?

We're about to find out. And those, perhaps, are the last questions the Nationals can answer this year.

  • FIRST INNING: I'm not counting every pitch, but... he threw only two non-fastballs. One sharp curve -- looked solid -- low, just out of the zone. That's the one the Braves flailed at helplessly. Then he threw what looked to be a change in there. I don't really remember him throwing one before.

    Fastball's moving a bit, but it's slower than usual, topping out at around 91. Might just need more time to warm, or he's holding back a bit. With the movement, I wonder if he's throwing a two-seamer?

  • SECOND INNING: Couldn't let this one pass, as Sutton continues to praise Schneider for anything and everything. He talked about how "Snyder" is unlucky because of the 'quality of contact' he makes. One problem. Check out the LD% rate. Schneider is hitting liners at a career low. Sure, he's not finding the holes, but that's because a 10-hopper to short only gets past Jeter. (or Lopez)

    Well, he let loose with the breaking pitches this inning. I counted 10-15 or so. I don't think he threw one for a strike, save for the CB he hung over the zone that was smacked through the short/third hole. His curve looks pretty poor today. Two of them were really sloppy, but luckily out of the zone. The Slider is consistenly low and away (to a RHB). That's the spot he needs to throw it, but he needs to be near the zone.

    FB is alllll over the place. He's got almost no command of it, and it's s-l-o-w, 89 or so. There's no consistency of the movement in it, which shows how little command of it. Sometimes it spins hard to the right. Sometimes there's little lateral movement. I wonder if the side spin is more of a cutter movement than a two-seamer?

    Not a good start.

    He lost command of the slider that inning. Location was bad, but more important the quality. It just sorta rolled up there, lazily. Had it been in the zone, it would've been hammered. Last out of the inning was a lazy slider in the zone that was lined hard to short.

    The homer to Kent was on a good-quality curveball. The location stunk on ice though, catching a chunk of the plate, low. Obviously, he needs to keep it down, but he's hurt as much by the location of that one as he is by his inability to command the FB, especially up in the zone. If he's getting the hard stuff up, and getting it for strikes, that curveball is a hell of a lot harder to hit lower, even if it's catching too much of the plate.


    He seems to have settled down with his command quite a bit, getting more consistent movement on the FB. It took him a while, but he's settling into a bit of a groove with it.

    So, overall... decent movement on the breaking pitches, just horrible command of location. They haven't really been hitting him terribly hard, likely because of the movement. But at the same time, there's not enough sharp movement to miss bats, as shown by his 1 strikeout.

    Not great. Could've been worse. Next start'll be interesting...

    Enough for tonight.


    • Chris-
      do you really see Bergmann as part of a (successful) 2008 rotation? I am not anti-Bergmann by any stretch, but given the promise shown by any number of nats starters (and the promise of FA $) I've sort of written Bergmann off. I guess I'd love to be proven wrong...
      (as martin comes home to tie the game...)

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 10:48 PM  

    • promise shown by which starters?

      As far as I see it, the '08 starters clearly better than Bergmann are.... Hill, and...?

      That's the disappointment of this year. We sorted through the pitching, but unless Hanrahan gets his ass in gear, we'll be just as hard up next year.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 10:50 PM  

    • Yikes, I've only seen the bottom of the second, and boy were those pitches up down left right and rarely center. Yikes!

      By Blogger Unknown, at 8/28/2007 10:55 PM  

    • I dunno...
      I thought Chico basically aquitted himself well. Then there's the Lannen/Hanrahan combo. Plus whatever we can hope to see from the kids (Detweiller (sic), Smoker, et all) in 2008. With some FA $ that gets close to a rotation.

      Bergmann always struck my (admittedly completely uneducated eyes) as a protypical Nats 2007 starter - a marginal prospect who overachieved for a brief moment (a la patterson, basic, o'connor, etc) but really isn't a realistic part of a winning team's rotation.

      but, again, i wish him no ill and really have no idea what I'm talking about....

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 10:55 PM  

    • But he does seem to be throwing pretty hard, no? I could imagine him settling down . . . .

      By Blogger Unknown, at 8/28/2007 10:56 PM  

    • Hey, none of us know. Some of us just speak louder and pretend to be authoritative! ;)

      Chico won't ever succeed if he doesn't throw strikes. He'll have a chance next spring, but he seems like he'd be a better choice to be a mid-season callup as injury/crappiness take their toll.

      No chance in hell that Detweiler, Smoker or (realistically) any of the Vermonsters make it up next year. They're just too young. And too far away.

      I guess Lannan's a possibility, but he looks like a 4th starter to me. I can't point to any of his pitches and say, "wow, that's a major-league pitch."

      When Bermgann's throwing his curve and slider for strikes, he's got two.

      Of course, his problem -- save for those 6 starts or so before his elbow injry -- was his complete inability to actually command anything, so....

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 10:59 PM  

    • The gun has him in the 89 range. That's a lot less than he was throwing earlier this year... 93 or so.

      Could be different guns/ways of measuring, of course.

      That doesn't so much matter is his lack of command for it. I get the feeling he only has a rough idea of where it's going from pitch to pitch.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 11:00 PM  

    • I guess all I'm saying is that I've seen a ton (a f-ing ton) of Nats games over the past few years and Bergmann has always struck me much more like the flash in the pan guys than someone who would really be a credible professional starter. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't LOVE for him to be a top guy (as I said, I've spent more time than I wish to admit to watching these games and reading your danged blog) but I have always assumed this was a case of a guy getting into the "zone" for a short period of time.

      It seems like "THE PLAN" has potential for getting some legit arms into the organization, so maybe if the vermonsters aren't ready in 08 I'll just bide by time for 09.

      But what do I know? Fick is my favorite Nat...

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 11:11 PM  

    • I should ban you for that last part! ;)

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 11:13 PM  

    • I know...gawd bless spanky. I went away for a week and was sure they had DFA'ed him when they traded for Wily Mo. FickLove is a tough thing.

      As a side note, who should I redirect my childrens' affection toward assuming a fickless 2008? Zimmerman, et all don't count - we need to root for a marginal scrapper with a good backstory.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 11:17 PM  

    • Frankly, I think you should have your children taken away, but... ;)

      How about whoever the backup is next year? Brandon Harper 2.0?

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 11:20 PM  

    • Pull up a chair and let me tell you about midseason call up Marco Estrada . . .

      By Blogger Unknown, at 8/28/2007 11:20 PM  

    • Estrada sounds more promising than Harper 2.0...

      Although it's going to be hard to replace those flares to the left fielder.

      Plus, who's going to run the kangaroo court???

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 11:24 PM  

    • Have you noticed yet that the more the player sucks the better they say they are in the clubhouse? ;)

      I'm sure someone will step up into the void.

      Someone who doesn't scream FUCK every three words.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 11:25 PM  

    • yeah, and the pound of chewing 'bacco probably isn't the best image for my little ones to deal with.

      ok, we're done with ole #13. but we need a scrapper that we can root for in '08 and beyond (other than meathook and other neer do wells)

      my middle child is quite fond of belliard's hair, but I'm not sure that is enough to merit cult status...

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 11:31 PM  

    • Could do worse than Belliard, I suppose. Although he's not really the model of physical fitness; he's got the physique of a blogger.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/28/2007 11:34 PM  

    • the physique of a blogger...but the hair of...a blogger?

      gawd bless the second child.

      fick, on the other hand, has the hair of someone in need of a hug.

      bergmann seems to have settled down and is being penciled in as the #3 starter next year...

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/28/2007 11:37 PM  

    • There has to be a whackjob left-handed relief pitcher out there in the mold of Joey Eischen that could be latched onto. Maybe Ray King could step it up a little for those of you looking for a cult figure.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/29/2007 10:34 AM  

    • In addition to Hill, I think that Tim Redding has pitched well enough to be ahead of Bergmann heading into Spring Training next year. That said, other than Hill and whatever high-priced free agent pitcher that they sign, every starting pitcher will have earn a job next Spring.

      If had to guess at the the April 2008 rotation, I would say:

      1. Shawn Hill
      2. Free Agent
      3. Tim Redding
      4/5. The best among Bergmann, Chico, Hanrahan, Lannan, Balester, O'Connor.

      It won't take much for Redding to fall in the 4/5 group, but he has been a very reliable starter since the end of June.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/29/2007 10:35 AM  

    • Good call. I was thinking of Redding, but forgot to mention him.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 8/29/2007 10:35 AM  

    • Chris - best line of the year so far...."...a ten hopper to short."

      Keep up the good work!

      By Blogger Ray Firsching, at 8/29/2007 10:57 AM  

    • Anonymous,

      Praytell who is that # 2 starter the Nationals are going to sign? Shoot, point out to me what # 4 starter they can sign. Here's the list and it isn't pretty.

      Kris Benson * BAL
      Paul Byrd * CLE
      Shawn Chacon PIT
      Matt Clement BOS
      Bartolo Colon LAA
      Scott Elarton CLE
      Josh Fogg COL
      Casey Fossum * TB
      Freddy Garcia PHI
      Livan Hernandez ARZ
      Jason Jennings HOU
      Brian Lawrence * COL
      Jon Lieber PHI
      Kyle Lohse PHI
      Rodrigo Lopez COL
      Wade Miller CHC
      Eric Milton CIN
      Odalis Perez * KC
      Joel Pineiro * STL
      Kenny Rogers DET
      Curt Schilling BOS
      Carlos Silva MIN
      Julian Tavarez * BOS
      Brett Tomko * LAD
      Kip Wells STL
      Randy Wolf * LAD
      Jaret Wright BAL
      Victor Zambrano NYM

      Let's also remember that outside of Shawn Hill, it's unlikely that any other Nationals pitcher could start for any team still in contention. That really drives the point home for me. Whatever "we" think the Nationals pitching staff has going for it, the fact remains that compared to the rest of baseball it's among the worst and will still be among the worst next year. Thankfully though this 5 game losing streak and the shellacking they're going to take in Sept should bring everyone back to reality.

      By Blogger RPS, at 8/29/2007 12:16 PM  

    • I got the over on 66 wins. Which means I gotta go 8-and-21 to win this thing. It's going to be life and death to win my over 66 wins bet. They look horseshit. Last night, runners on first and second, none out, down by a run, top of the sixth, with Saito working the ninth, so they really only have two more tries at it. Horseshit Church up. Situation cries for a bunt to me. Not to Manny. He hits away, 4-6-3, third DP pill of the night. Good night. Today's it's Penny so that's lights out. So I really gotta go 8-and-20. Not even .333. I think they'll land on 65, if I had to pick a number.

      Five in a row. A 3-and-1 start to a roadtrip now will probably end 3-and-7. Rauch with eight wins is going to be their high-water mark. Amazing. Eight wins leads a staff. Unbelievable.

      Sounds like Manny's getting ready for another clubhouse meeting. Looks like he's got the over on 66 as well:

      "You have to remind them it's not over," Acta said. "This month, it could become a long month, and I don't want to go home thinking that, 'Yeah, we just won more than 40, like everybody thought.' I want to have a little more satisfying ending. It's not going to be easy. We never said it was going to be easy."

      Here's the bottom, bottom line: Except for Zimm, nobody is going to be on this team when, and if, it ever contends. Meat will be with me in the retirement home. Church/Horseshit Kearns/Wily Mo are fourth/fifth outfielders at best. I wouldn't mind letting go of Lopez, I'm sick of him failing to pick up rollers. Nookie isn't much but at least he's not the one-dimensional, slow, white, semi-power-hitting, big-hole-in-swing guys like Zimm, Church, Kearns et al.

      And I am SO SICK of Schneider. He's this year's Veeds. Batting 2-for-40 (that's .020) with runners in scoring position, two out. That's worst in baseball. You can look it up. Just horseshit. Plus, he's only merely adequate defensively, nothing special. Has dropped a couple of balls on their most recent close plays at the plate, which was like two months ago. Play the kid Flores 130 games and you'd have a wash.

      Yours, in Section 311 on Labor Day. Big three with the Marlins. Gotta win two of three, from my standpoint. Will have the mother-in-law in tow. She's good luck. They're like 4-and-2 with her. Maybe they should play her at short...

      Read Boz today. He rips 'em as the no-spend, no plan, fifth-worst attendance in the league that can't even build parking lots at Anacostia Downs, or whatever they're going to call that corporate tent. I wish they'd never leave RFK; I'm going to have to cash in an annuity to afford this new playpen.

      Friend of STAN

      P.S. Bronx is Burning finale was boffo. I loved the ending. Billy throwing down shots, pounded, in some lowlife Manhattan bar, shitfaced, with some dipshit18-something coming up to him saying, "Aren't you Billy Martin?" Not anymore. He's actually John Turturro.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/29/2007 1:23 PM  

    • Friend of Stan is a person after my own heart. I loathe seeing Schnieder's name in the lineup. How it's possible to be the worst regular and overrated at the same time is beyond me. I hope there is a big housecleaning this winter if for no other reason then I want new below-average to average players to dislike.

      I actually looked at the schedule this morning and said 11-18 the rest of the way. I figure they can go 5-4 against the Giants and Fish and 6-14 against the playoff hopeful. If they can't get 6 wins, it will mean they were swept at least once.

      By Blogger RPS, at 8/29/2007 1:55 PM  

    • With Shawn Hill on the mound, I would not count out the Nats chances against Penny today.

      If I could, I would take the over right now, but must admit that I did not have the balls to do so when the season started.

      Agree 100% on Schnieder, and would only add that the Nats, by over-playing Schnieder, they have made a below-average offensive player worse.


      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/29/2007 3:41 PM  

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