March 2010

Twitter poll: Should Nats honor Andre Dawson?

On Wednesday, I asked a question to my Twitter followers: Do you think the Nationals should honor Andre Dawson for going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year?

Of the 30 people who responded, 20 felt Dawson should be honored by the Nationals, while 10 felt the team shouldn’t acknowledge him because he never played in Washington. Dawson was a member of the Expos from 1976 to 1986.  

Here’s what “The Hawk”  had to say when asked if the Nationals should honor him. 

“That would be a decision they would have to make,” Dawson said Wednesday. “I really don’t know how to answer that other than I would be honored and thrilled [if they did]. That would be up to them.”

Here’s what some of the Twitter followers had to say:

@cristomac24: He was an Expo. The Nats used to be the Expos.

@alexander_swann: Of course, the Nats should honor Andre. The Expos alumni need a home. 

@frostyeod: He is a heritage player. He should have a plaque at Nationals Park 

@ajfroemming: As a kid who grew up as a Cubs fan, I love the Hawk, but this is a different team in DC. I would rather honor Harmon Killebrew.

@RoscoeNats: Absolutely, the Nats should honor Andre Dawson and the Expos. They’re not alienating Senators fans by doing it.

@cnichols14: I do — out of respect for the franchise. I think I am in the minority, though.

@doubleuefwhy: He never played here. Let the Cubs and Montreal Canadiens honor Dawson.

@federalbaseball: Honoring Dawson would be a nice gesture for Expos fans, but I doubt the Nats will do it.

@murber74: No. I know it’s controversial among Nats fans, but he never played for the Washington Nationals.

@JonathanGrella: I love “The Hawk,” but no. He has as much connection to D.C. fans as Ryan Zimmerman does to Montreal fans. Honor Dawson where he played.

@gofish128: The Marlins are honoring him and he only played for them for two seasons.

Martin optioned to Triple-A Syracuse

The Nationals optioned right-hander J.D. Martin to Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday. With the move, the team has 36 players remaining in camp.

Martin pitched in only three Major League games and had 6.30 ERA, however he threw a lot on the Minor League field because the club had its share of rainouts and too many pitchers in camp.

Martin was competing against right-hander Garrett Mock and left-hander Scott Olsen for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.       

General manager Mike Rizzo said sending Martin to the Minor League was one of the toughest moves he had to make this spring.

“It was really tough call. It’s a very small margin with him and the other candidates for that job,” Rizzo said. “The other two candidates give us a better chance at this point to get guys out in the Major Leagues early in the season. We told J.D. to go down there and keep working on his craft and we expect to see him in the big leagues soon.” 

Martin took the news well and said the lack of work on the Major League side had nothing to do with him getting demoted.

“I wasn’t too surprised. My reaction was, I have to keep working harder. That was the only thing that was going through my mind,” Martin said. “I don’t think [the rainouts and too many pitchers in camp] can hurt you. You still get innings in, whether it’s intrasquad games or actual games. I don’t think it hurt me.” 

Guzman plays second base

Cristian Guzman started at shortstop against the Marlins on Tuesday. By the bottom of the seventh inning, however, he was switched to second base.

It was the first time Guzman has played the position in his career. He wasn’t challenged in the game, however, catching a pop up off the bat of Mike Lamb. 

Guzman was able to get one more at-bat in the top of the eighth before leaving the game.

Manager Jim Riggleman said Guzman will start at second against the Cardinals on Wednesday at Roger Dean Stadium.  

Mock has disappointing outing

A couple of weeks ago, it seemed a certainty that right-hander Garrett Mock was in the Nationals’ rotation because he didn’t walk a batter in his first nine innings this spring.

But, before Tuesday’s action, he had allowed five runs in his last nine innings. That’s not including the disappointing outing last week against the Minor League Astros in which he gave up three home runs.

Now Mock finds himself competing against left-hander Scott Olsen and right-hander J.D. for the final spot in the rotation.

Mock didn’t do himself any favors Tuesday afternoon against the Marlins, allowing six earned run — four earned — in 4 2/3 innings. Even worse, he walked five batters and struck out three. He threw 96 pitches, 57 strikes.

“The outing speaks for itself. I can’t say much about it. You saw it,”  manager Jim Riggleman said. “He was good for two or three hitters in a sequence. He would throw to a couple of hitters and leave the balls up in the zone and get hit.”

Mock’s worst inning was the fifth. He was able to get two quick outs, but he walked Ronny Paulino and gave up a double to Gaby Sanchez to put runners on second and third. Mock had Bryan Petersen, 0-2, but Mock couldn’t throw a strike and walked Petersen to load the bases.

Mock was taken out of the game in favor of right-hander Jason Bergmann, who allowed five straight hits before retiring Mike Lamb to end the inning. 

“His stuff wasn’t bad, but he was throwing a lot of pitches per inning,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said about Mock. “Ninety-six pitches, you should pitch seven innings. There were some foul balls, but you still have to be more aggressive because he wasn’t able to get out of that inning. … I don’t know if he was tired. I don’t think so. He didn’t make the pitch he needed to make.”

Mock most likely pitched his final game of the spring. Did he hurt his chance to be in the starting rotation?

“No, I don’t think so,” Riggleman said. “The choices are not that varied. We know we are going to pick between him .J.D. and Olsen. They are doing OK, but none of them are grabbing the job.”                

Nats need to determine right field, bullpen

Before playing their home opener Monday against the Phillies, the Nationals have to determine who will platoon with Willie Harris in right field and be their seventh man out of the bullpen.

With Harris as the left-handed hitter, Washington is looking for a right-handed hitting complement. The choices are Mike Morse and Willy Taveras. Entering Tuesday’s action, Taveras had slim lead to be the guy, hitting .289. But Morse has come on strong lately, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored to raise his average to 288 after the Tuesday’s game against the Marlins. Taveras went hitless in three at-bats in the same game.

Versatility may be the deciding factor, however. While Taveras can play all three outfield positions, Morse can play at least six — corner outfield spots and all four infield positions.

“I’m just playing. I’m just having fun. The competition is the last thing I’m thinking about,” Morse said. “When I go out there and have fun, my talent comes out. Whatever happens, happens. I think one of us can help the team out. I’m going to keep trying to get some quality at-bats.”

As for the bullpen, the Nationals are seriously thinking about adding an extra reliever and not carry that fifth starter. The Nationals don’t need the fifth man until April 11 against the Mets.
Left-hander Jesse English and right-hander Todd Walker are two guys who have a chance to claim that final spot. Since his first outing of the spring, English hasn’t allowed a run in last five innings and has struck out eight batters.                          

“He’s pitching well,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He is a guy who is taking advantage of an opportunity. He is competing for a job and he making a nice statement for himself like Craig Stammen did. So we have to consider that when we put the roster together.”

In his last six outings, Walker has allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, while striking out five batters. It helps that he is healthy and his pitching mechanics are in order.

Walker couldn’t say that early in the spring as he gave up 11 runs in his first two outings. Walker had lower back issues, but decided to gut it out. It proved to be a mistake, but Walker never used his injury as an excuse. He wanted to make early impression by overpowering hitters. 

Riggleman names four pitchers for rotation [updated]

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman named four members of his rotation Monday. He said John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Craig Stammen and Livan Hernandez will be the four pitchers in that order. 

The order of the rotation was first reported by MLB.com on Sunday. 

Lannan will be the Opening Day starter against the Phillies on April 5 at Nationals Park. Marquis, Stammen and Hernandez will soon follow.

“I know they can pitch,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “We are not going to be the 96 mile an hour, jet blowing, No 1. Type starters who are 6-foot-6, but we have guys who sink the ball.

“When you have guys who can throw it up there and have some sink, throw strikes, mix in their off-speed pitches and compete, you know you have a good chance. Yes, I’m happy with [the rotation].”

Of the four starters named, Stammen and Hernandez appeared to be longs shots when Spring Training began. 

Stammen had bone ships removed from his right elbow last September and it appeared he would start the season in the bullpen or be sent down to the Minor Leagues. It turned out he was the second-best pitcher behind Stephen Strasburg. Stammen allowed five earned runs in 14 1/3 innings and struck out 10 batters.  

“The spring has gone well, so far,” Stammen said. “I came in healthy. My arm has felt really good the whole time. I had some success on the mound. Some of the hard work has paid off, but what you do in the spring doesn’t matter. All this stuff gets thrown out when the season starts. So I have to continue the success in April.”

Hernandez didn’t come into camp until late February and had to get into pitching shape. His first start wasn’t until March 14, but the late start didn’t hurt him as he allowed two earned runs in eight innings. 
      
“I feel really happy. I worked hard since I came to Spring Training,” Hernandez said. “I came to Spring Training knowing I could still pitch and help the team win.”                  
                  
The team must decide on who the fifth starter will be. Garrett Mock, Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin are competing for the final spot.

Not long ago, Mock was considered part of the rotation, but he has given up five runs in his last nine innings. That’s not including the disappointing outing last week against the Minor League Astros in which he gave up three home runs.

Olsen knew Sunday was his last chance to prove to the Nationals that he should be in the rotation. It turned out Olsen made the team’s decision even tougher in a 9-3 victory over the Braves. 

Olsen pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up one earned run on seven hits. He struck out four and walked none. It was Olsen’s best outing of the spring.

As for Martin, he gave up five runs in five innings against the Tigers last Thursday. The first inning was Martin’s only bad inning as he blanked Detroit in the next four frames.

The last time Martin pitched in a big-league game prior to that game was March 10 against the Cardinals. Rainouts and too many pitchers in camp were the reasons Martin didn’t see action until Thursday.

But it wasn’t like Martin was rusty. He pitched in simulated games and on the Minor League field.

Nats to name four pitchers in rotation

The Nationals are expected to name the first four pitchers in their rotation Monday.

They will announce that John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Craig Stammen and Livan Hernandez will be the four pitchers in that order.

Lannan will be the Opening Day starter against the Phillies on April 5 at Nationals Park. Marquis, Stammen and Hernandez will soon follow.

The team must decide on who the fifth starter will be. Garrett Mock, Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin are competing for the final spot.

Not long ago, Mock was considered part of the rotation, but he has given up five runs in his last nine innings. That’s not including the disappointing outing last week against the Minor League Astros in which he gave up three home runs.

Olsen knew Sunday was his last chance to prove to the Nationals that he should be in the rotation. It turned out that Olsen made the team’s decision even tougher in a 9-3 victory over the Braves. 

Olsen pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up one earned run on seven hits. He struck out four and walked none. It was Olsen’s best outing of the spring.

As for Martin, he gave up five runs in five innings against the Tigers last Thursday. The first inning was Martin’s only bad inning as he blanked Detroit in the next four frames.

The last time Martin pitched in a big league game prior to that game was March 10 against the Cardinals. Rainouts and too many pitchers in camp were the reasons Martin didn’t see action until Thursday.

But it wasn’t like Martin was rusty. He pitched in simulated games and on the Minor League field. 

Maxwell optioned to Triple A Syracuse

The Nationals optioned outfielder Justin Maxwell to Triple A Syracuse on Sunday. The team now has 36 players in its big-league camp.

Manager Jim Riggleman was hoping that Maxwell would be on the team’s 25-man roster, but the latter ended up having the worst Spring Training of his career, going 5-for-49 [.102]  with a homer and four RBIs. Maxwell told Riggleman that he found his swing the last few days, but it proved to be too late. Maxwell will now work on his hitting skills with Syracuse hitting coach Jerry Browne.

“I have to be honest. I wanted Maxwell to make the ballclub,” Riggleman said. “That’s the way I came into the spring. He is really a good makeup guy. He is a great athlete, but he is just having some problems with the bat and we have to go in a different direction for a while. I know he is going to play for us soon. We have some other options right now.”

Olsen has something to prove Sunday vs. Braves

Left-hander Scott Olsen is pitching against the Braves at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday afternoon and this could be his last chance to show that he belongs in the Nationals’ rotation.

Washington is looking to fill its last two spots and right-handers Livan Hernnadez and Craig Stammen are the leading candidates to be the fourth and fifth starters. Olsen, on the other hand, has given up 10 runs in 9 1/3 innings. Olsen, who coming off shoulder surgery, has showed the organization that his velocity is back in the low 90s. It’s just a matter of getting hitters out on a consistent basis.

“He is another guy who has made progress,” Manager Jim Riggleman said.  “… We don’t want to put everything on velocity, … but we have some tough choices to make, so we would like to see him get people out.”

If Olsen doesn’t make the rotation, the Nationals could option him to Triple-A Syracuse or release him.  

Riggleman said he hopes to name his starting rotation by Monday. Left-hander John Lannan will be Washington’s Opening Day starter followed by right-handers Jason Marquis and Garrett Mock.

Walker making case to be in bullpen

The Nationals’ bullpen appears to be set with Miguel Batista, Jason Bergmann, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard.

However, right-hander Tyler Walker is making a case that he should be part of the relief corps. In his last six outings, Walker has allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, while striking out five batters. It helps that he is healthy and his pitching mechanics are in order.

Walker couldn’t say that early in the spring as he gave up 11 runs in his first two outings. Walker had lower back issues, but decided to gut it out. It proved to be a mistake, but Walker never used his injury as an excuse. He wanted to make early impression by overpowering hitters.  

“It was a combination of a tight back, bad mechanics and overthrowing. I tried to compensate for a tight lower back,” Walker said after Saturday’s game against the Braves. “I never refused the ball. That’s the type of player that I am. I’ll take the ball no matter what. You want to show the team you can pitch through a nagging injury. My back is feeling better and the mechanics are getting ironed out. I feel like I’m ready to go.”

This past offseason, Walker signed a Major League deal for $650,000. If he starts the season in the Minors, he will earn $120,000. Asked if Walker was safe to be on the 25-man roster because he has a track record of getting hitters out in the big leagues, manager Jim Riggleman said, “I wouldn’t say he is safe to be on it. You do the math and we could only carry 11 or 12 pitchers. So he’s not safe, but [he’s not out either].”

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