September 2010 hands out Billy Awards

The Nationals have been a disappointment on the field this season, but they still had players who performed up to their capabilities. With that in mind, hands out its team awards for the 2010 season.

MVP — The Nationals’ Bullpen: Almost two years ago, general manager Mike Rizzo called the bullpen incompetent. Entering Friday’s action against the Mets, Washington’s bullpen, led by Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, is one of the best in baseball. The relievers have pitched  a combined 530 innings with a 3.33 ERA. 

Comeback Player of the Year — Roger Bernadina: He missed most of last season because of a fractured right ankle. This year, Bernadina received his first chance in the big leagues and became one of the best young players on the team.

Best Pitcher — Stephen Strasburg: He came to the big leagues as advertised. He pitched in only 12 games, but he was dominate in almost everyone of them before having elbow reconstruction in early September. 

Rookie of the Year — Ian Desmond: You can’t shut manager Jim Riggleman up when it comes to Desmond. The skipper already proclaimed Desmond one of the leaders on the team because he is productive and plays hard for nine innings. For those reasons, Riggleman has allowed Desmond to speak his mind.  

Most Improved Player–Michael Morse: He has been in professional baseball for 11 years and most of hit has been spent on the disabled list. He even spent a brief time on the DL this season. But when he came back in mid-May, Morse was a productive hitter off the bench. People are now wondering if he can play every day. He must alter his swing to prove that he can do it on a regular basis. 

Chilly Billy–Adam Dunn: It was the best group of guys since the 2004 Expos. No one blamed the media for the team’s problems on and off the field. But Dunn deserves this trophy. Members of the media went to Dunn’s locker on a daily bases to ask about his free-agent status, below average defense or his majestic home runs. Dunn never turned them down.

Best Moment–Strasburg’s debut: Aside from a brief hiccup — a two-run homer — Strasburg was nothing short of astonishing in his big-league debut, whiffing 14 Pirates, including his last seven, over seven innings to earn the win.

Lifetime achievement award — Dave Jageler, Stan Kasten and Charlie Slowes: In his first press conference in May of 2006, Kasten vowed to improve the team’s depleted farm system, and he made good on the promise as the Nationals went from having one of the worst farm systems in baseball to a respectable one, thanks to strengthened scouting and player-development teams.

Despite the inconsistency on the field, Slowes and Jageler have kept Nats fans entertained on the radio with their quick wit and tell-it-like-it-is style. Here’s hoping they stay on the air another 30 years calling baseball games in DC. 

Muhammad Ali Award — Nyjer Morgan: On Sept. 1, Morgan charged the mound in the sixth inning and threw a punch at Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad, who threw a pitch behind the left-handed hitter. It marked the second time Volstad threw a pitch at Morgan. Two innings earlier, Volstad hit Morgan in the lower back. Morgan went on to steal two bases in the inning even though Washington was down, 14-3. The Marlins had a problem with Morgan dating back to Aug. 31, when he barreled into catcher Brett Hayes, who suffered a separated shoulder on the play.

Hustle Award — Willie Harris: He is hitting under .200, but that doesn’t stop him from playing hard all the time.

Catch of the Year — Morgan: In the bottom of the third inning on June 25th, it looked like Orioles outfielder Corey Patterson was going to hit a home run off right-hander J.D. Martin, but Morgan climbed the wall and robbed Patterson. Morgan didn’t have much to say about the catch, because Washington lost the game, 7-6.

“It was a nice catch, but the game hurts — losing to the ballclub over there,” Morgan said. “We have a really good team over here. We didn’t bury them. That’s what really hurts.”


Dunn may have played last game at Nats Park

Phillies pitching was able to stop first baseman Adam Dunn in a 7-1 victory over the Nationals on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. He went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and may have played his last home game in a Nationals uniform. He is a free agent after the season ends Sunday. 

A day after indicating that he wasn’t thinking about playing his last game at Nationals Park, Dunn acknowledged that he was trying to please the fans by trying to hit a home run during his four at-bats. 

The chant, “Sign Adam Dunn,” was heard every time Dunn came to the plate.

“Yesterday, when I was asked that question — how it could be the final game here — I thought it would be like any other game,” Dunn said. “And then you guys got me thinking, when I started to hear that stuff, I tried to hit every ball as far as I possibly could. I was trying not to do that, but I ended up trying to do that. I wish it would have ended better today but the Phillies whipped us.

“You can’t put it into words. That’s the first time in a long time I had the jitters. I haven’t had that in baseball in a long time. Tonight, for some reason, I had it. It was  pretty cool feeling.”
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he would not be happy if the Nationals weren’t able to sign Dunn to an extension. Zimmerman said it would be hard to find a power hitter to replace Dunn, who is hitting .262 with 38 home runs and 103 RBIs.

“It would be frustrating,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously, if you lose him, you lose a big piece of a lot. It’s hard to find a [cleanup] hitter like that. Obviously, he does a lot in here that you guys and the fans don’t get to see. He is a good teammate. To let him go, it’s going to be hard to replace him. When you go out and find a guy like that, it’s not only hard, but expensive.”

Strasburg ready to go back on field

A month after having elbow reconstruction, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg said he had his cast removed two weeks ago, is close to having his range of motion and should be rehabbing his right elbow soon.

Strasburg, who is continuing his studies at San Diego State University, said he watches the Nationals on regular basis and acknowledged that it’s sometimes hard to watch them because he is not out there. Strasburg is expected to be back on a Major League by the end of next year. 

“I wish I was out there with everybody,”  Strasburg said during a conference call. “I think the hardest part was being back [in California] and waiting for the surgery to happen. Once it was over with, it was  sense of relief. I knew everything was fixed and I’m closer to getting back out there.”

Strasburg was the talk of baseball after making his Major League debut on June 8 against the Pirates. A sellout crowd of 40,315 at Nationals Park saw Strasburg allow just four hits, and his 14 strikeouts established a club record. The 14 strikeouts by Strasburg in a Major League debut were one shy of the all-time mark of 15 set by Karl Spooner in 1954 and J.R. Richard in ’71.

But his season came to an end after he felt pain in the elbow on Aug. 21 against the Phillies.  Strasburg would have surgery a couple of weeks later. Strasburg made 12 starts and went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA.

“I’m chalking it up as a great season,” Strasburg said.  “It’s unfortunate for this to happen. While I was out there, I had more people become Nats fans. I know there are going to be there when I come back in a year. I’m not too worried about it. I’ll know I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can, be back out there and show people what I can bring to the table.”

Riggleman to be retained as manager

The Nationals are expected to announce by the end of this week that Jim Riggleman will be retained as manager, according to a baseball source.

Last offseason, Riggleman signed a two-year deal, but only 2010 was guaranteed. The team could have bought him out after this season.

Washington is 63-88 and has improved from last season, when it went 59-103. It was Riggleman who brought accountability back into the Nationals’ clubhouse for the first time since Frank Robinson managed the club from 2002-06.

Riggleman replaced Manny Acta as manager of the Nationals after the All-Star break last season. The club went 33-42 and finished the year on a seven-game winning streak.

This is Riggleman’s fourth managerial stint, after leading the Padres, Cubs and Mariners. His best season as a skipper was in 1998, when he guided the Cubs to the playoffs after they won a National League Wild Card tiebreaker over the Giants. The team lost to the Braves in the NL Division Series, 3-0.

Nationals renew affiliation with Class A Hagerstown

The Nationals announced the signing of a two-year player development contract with the Hagerstown Suns of the Single-A South Atlantic League.             

Among the familiar names to have played for the Suns since the Nationals began their affiliation with Hagerstown in 2007 are pitcher Drew Storen, catcher Derek Norris and outfielder Justin Maxwell.

Hagerstown is located almost equidistant from Nationals Park (73 miles), Double-A Harrisburg (77 miles) and Class Potomac (85 miles). More than half of the 16 South Atlantic League clubs reside within a six-hour drive of the nation’s capital.

“Our partnership between the Nationals and Hagerstown has fit well,” said Nationals president Stan Kasten. “We very much appreciate the proximity and hospitality that Hagerstown and the Suns provide our players. We are pleased to have both town and team as members of our affiliate family.”            

Riggleman wants to start winning

No matter what happens during the rest of the 2010 season, the Nationals will have a better record than last year, when they were 59-103. 

Entering Tuesday’s action against the Astros, the Nationals are 62-88. However, Washington has lost four straight and 10 out of its past 12 games. Manager Jim Riggleman is concerned that the recent losing streak may mask the progress the club has made this year.

“You worry about that a little a bit because the fans have supported us so well,” Riggleman said after the team’s 8-2 loss to the Astros. “I think people have gotten excited about some of the nice players we have put out there.

“But when you lose too much, they are going to get a little disillusioned with it. We can’t let that happen. We have to keep playing with energy, play hard, battle with energy and not take innings off. The other clubs are going to get you if they do that.”   

Morgan watching game with accuser

Center fielder Nyjer Morgan is currently watching the game between the Phillies and Nationals with Jake Kunkel, the man who accused Morgan of throwing the baseball at him at Citizens Bank Park on Aug. 21. Kunkel went to the game as Morgan’s guest.  

Morgan received an seven-game suspension by the league office, but after an appeal, was cleared of any wrong doing. Morgan maintained that he was trying to give a ball to a fan, but the ball went over the fan’s head and hit Kunkel

Morgan is currently serving an eight-game suspension for trying to knock down Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson — even though Anderson didn’t have possession of the ball — using inappropriate language toward fans at Sun Life Stadium and having a physical altercation with Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad.

Morgan and Kunkel are watching the game behind the Nationals dugout. Before the game, Kunkel was able to meet manager Jim Riggleman, who gave Kunkel and three of his friends a tour of the Nationals clubhouse. Kunkel then went in Riggleman’s office and talked baseball for several minutes.

Morgan suspended for eight games [updated]

Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan was suspended for eight games and fined $15,000 by the league office. The suspension will start Friday and he is expected to return to action on Sept. 25 against the Braves at Nationals Park.

Morgan will remain with the team in Philadelphia. He will practice with the Nationals, but will watch the games in the stands. Morgan will miss the three-game series against the Phillies, four games against the Astros and one against the Braves in Nationals Park.

“I will be with the team and roll on. I will show support,” Morgan said. “I will take batting practice and then watch the game.”

Morgan was appealing two suspensions, totaling 15 games, for hitting a fan with a ball at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, trying to knock down Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson — even though Anderson didn’t have possession of the ball — using inappropriate language toward fans at Sun Life Stadium and having a physical altercation with Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad.

Morgan felt the fine was steep, but said he respects the league office’s decision. He said he was cleared of any wrongdoing in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think the fine should have been that much, but I still respect MLB’s decision,” Morgan said. “Now I can move on and finish the season on a positive note.”

On Sept. 1, Morgan charged the mound in the sixth inning and threw a punch at Volstad, who had thrown a pitch behind the left-handed hitter. Two innings earlier, Volstad hit Morgan in the lower back. Morgan went on to steal two bases in the inning, even though Washington was trailing by 11 runs. The Nationals ended up losing the game, 16-10.

The Marlins had a problem with Morgan from the previous day, when he barreled into catcher Brett Hayes, who suffered a separated shoulder on the play.

On Friday, Morgan spoke to Bob Watson, Major League Baseball’s vice president of rules and on-field operations, for 4 1/2 hours at Nationals Park about what occurred at Citizens Bank Park and against the Marlins and Cardinals. Morgan was told not to speak to the media until a decision was reached by the league office.

Morgan is having the worst season of his career, hitting .258 with 23 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. After hitting .351 with Washington from the leadoff spot last year, Morgan was expected to be a catalyst this season. But he was so inconsistent that manager Jim Riggleman had to bat him near the bottom of the order, which upset the center fielder at times.

In retrospect, Morgan realizes he is having a season he would like to forget.

“I really let the fans down because they didn’t see the real T. Plush [Morgan’s nickname] this year,” he said. “I apologize to the fans for not coming through on a consistent basis.”


Twitter poll: Should Nats sign Dunn to extension?

Two nights ago, I asked my Twitter followers this question: Do you think the Nationals should sign first baseman Adam Dunn to an extension? Yes or No. Why? Most of the followers want Dunn back for 2011 and beyond. Here is what the followers had to say. 

@Sultan_of_Stat: Yes. Ryan Zimmerman obviously wants him to stay and we need to keep our franchise player happy within reason. Dunn is definitely within reason.

@jcj5y: I’ll take the guaranteed 35 HRs and shoddy defense over an unknown free agent who might hit .220 with 15 HRs and great D.

@MrJMadIV: Dunn should have been extended the day after the trade deadline passed.

@reifiss: Absolutely. Nats should sign with Dunn. Please! Just please.

@borzoi06: Yes. Yes. and YES. Nats should sign Adam Dunn because he’s good and a good fit for the team. Who could replace him?

@juliewright757: Yes, because he hits 40 home runs. A first baseman like Dunn don’t grow on trees!

@khillock: At the beginning of the season, I said no. But, since they didn’t trade him, not signing him would be a complete waste.

@tbridge: Yes. If he’ll take a three year deal.

@jypaulos: YES! He’s in top 10 in several offensive categories. He’s a leader in the clubhouse. He is third among NL first basemen in errors, but it’s his first full year at the position. Look at the slack they’re cutting Ian Desmond in his first year in the big leagues and he leads all of baseball in errors. It is a complete no brainer to resign Dunn. If Mike Rizzo does not re-sign him, I’m not coming to Nats games next year at all. I love the team, but I got to hit Rizzo in his pocket book.

@AlanClaffie: Sign him! Love having a 30-plus homer slugger on the team, and he seems to have a great attitude to boot. Hope he can stick around.

@jealle78:Yes, sign him! He’s a guaranteed 40 bombs, 100 RBI guy. So many player are risky, but he’s a guaranteed good ballplayer.

@DCyetti: I say do it, but be careful with three-years plus. Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore will come up. I think Morse can fill in at first base if Dunn leaves and the Nationals could go for an outfielder.

@XSP4: Yes! That production doesn’t grow on trees and it helps Zim a great deal.

@HendoDC: Yes. His bat pop produces runs and his height and reach make him a useful 1B.

@TheNatsBlog: Yes, if they can get him for less than four years. No, if not. The Nats need to think about the future beyond 2011.

@tylerradecki: Yes. No other replacement will come close to his production, and the team loves him and he wants to stay in DC.

@KimCinAZ: They should try to re-sign Dunn, but nothing generous. Depth chart is good/fluid — almost too fluid – with better defensive first basemen. Without his bat (homers and strikeouts) others will rise to the occasion and make fewer errors. My two cents.

@IBALLZACH: Obviously his production over the course of his career is simply amazing. Letting him go would be a monumental mistake.

@bart__davis: Yes. Good power hitter. Better defensively this year at first. Consistently hits around 40 homers.

@SodaPop6548: He isn’t perfect, but is a big part of our offense and a fan favorite. The fans want Dunn, so keep him around!

@swampudlian: Dunn extension: Yes, unless he asks for crazy money. Not re-signing him means they’re punting the 2011 season.

@AtomicOvermind: Barely tolerable defense, excellent bat, great for morale and makes Zimmerman better. Sign him, Rizzo!

@BrandonAKrueger: You may hate him, but he is by far a better option than what 25-30 other teams have. 

@Bill_TDS: No. Dunn is a born DH. No NL team should be willing to outbid AL teams for him.

@ilovethenats: I love Dunn!!! The man has what this team needs, a lot of heart and hits!

@JoshsThoughts: Save the money and wait a couple years when it’ll actually time to do something. Nationals won’t be in the position to win next year. Basically, just don’t overspend on anyone until Strasburg and Harper arrive.

@DroppingTheBall: Who replaces his production although his defense is not good? Would hate watching the lineup trying to score without him. 

@CapitolAvenue: No because the money would be better spent on player development.

@UnkleWheez: Yes, they should re-sign him. 1. Too hard to replace his impact in lineup. 2. Fits in the locker room 3. Cost too much for someone else.

Twitter poll: What do you think of Ray Knight?

Last week, I asked my Twitter followers this question: Nats analyst Ray Knight is doing an outstanding job as Bob Carpenter partner on MASN. How do you think Knight is doing? Why? The results were mixed. Here is what the followers had to say. 

@thebrowncoat: He is better than Rob Dibble. He doesn’t make me want to throw something through my TV screen at least twice an inning.

@rocket1124: A breath of fresh air. Smells like competence and real baseball insight.

@AlanClaffie: Knight can’t hold a candle to Dibble. I miss Rob every time a game starts and he’s not part of the broadcast team.

@danr: Ray Knight’s OK, but Dibble knew his pitching stuff. Learned a lot from him. His unpredictability kept my attention. 

@markbachrach: Nats broadcasts would be better if dissent was tolerated. Nats aren’t perfect. Why force broadcasters to pretend? I liked Rob.

@thom202: Paired with Bob Carpenter, they are the dull duo.

@pbsenerchia: I love Knight — knowledgeable, low-key, interesting and informative.

@szul: I liked Knight on the postgame show, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him stay on as the color guy permanently.

@emmi1966: I like his baseball knowledge; ability to get worked up a little; positive attitude; southern friendliness. Works well with Bob.

@tylerradecki: His only issues are with speech, knowledge is never a problem with Ray. Which is why he’s great for studio work.

@SodaPop6548: I think he’s doing a good job. Wouldn’t mind him sticking around.

@SeanMMcNally: Improvement over the previous color guy. Would like to see MASN look at other options for both slots next year, though. Ken Singleton would be an inspired get for MASN next year. Total pro, can do both play-by-play and color. He has local roots — ex-Expo.

@getxstoked: I miss Don Sutton, personally

@Swishy7: Bring back Dibble

@jypaulos: Ray Knight? My Vote-thumbs down. Neither Ray nor Bob have any opinions of their own. If they keep the Ray and Bob show next year, I’m going to the radio.

@joemktg: Ray offers tremendous technique and strategic insight, while butchering the English language and telestrator. Very entertaining.

@MikeHill_: Ray Knight is a World Series MVP. He signed my cap, He’s the man!

@nat_meg: Ray is an excellent analyst who knows his stuff, but he needs to work on his speaking skills.

@RegularRon: He bores me. And I miss Dibble.