May 2011

Nats looking for center fielder, leadoff hitter

The Nationals are looking to trade for a center fielder and leadoff hitter, according to a baseball source, who also said the club is willing to overpay to get what they want.

Some members in the organization don’t think Roger Bernadina is a center fielder. They feel he belongs in one of the corner spots. Bernadina has been getting most of the playing time in center field lately.

Rick Ankiel, the team’s other center fielder, has not been productive, hitting .214 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Even worse, the Nationals are not getting any production from the leadoff spot. Entering Tuesday’s action, Washington’s leadoff hitters are hitting a combined .195 with a .250 on-base percentage.

If the Nationals look to trade catcher Ivan Rodriguez or reliever Todd Coffey, don’t be surprised if the Nationals ask for a center fielder or leadoff hitter in return.

Tuesday’s lineup for Phillies, Nationals

Phillies
Rollins-SS
Polanco-3B
Utley-2B
Howard-1B
Ibanez-LF
Ruiz-C
Brown-RF
Mayberry-CF
Lee-P

Nationals
Bernadina-CF
Desmond-SS
Werth-RF
Morse-1B
Espinosa-2B
Pudge-C
Hairston-3B
Bixler-LF
Marquis-P.

Seventh inning key in Nats’ defeat

The Nationals had a chance to score at least the tying run in the seventh inning of a 5-4 loss to the Phillies at Nationals Park on Monday.

Down by that same score and Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay on the mound, Washington had Ian Desmond on first and Alex Cora on third with no outs. Rick Ankiel came to the plate for Washington and hit a ground ball to Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco. Cora broke for the plate and was caught in a rundown before being tagged out by Polanco.

Asked if Cora should have been running on contact, manager Jim Riggleman said, “No question. … If you don’t go, they turn two [the double play] on you and you are standing on third. So we are standing on third with two outs. … You have to go there.”

With only one out, the Nationals showed why they are one of the worst offensive teams in the Major Leagues. Danny Espinosa flied out to left field and Jayson Werth struck out swinging to end the inning.

Although Washington had Halladay on the ropes, Espinosa didn’t feel the team picked up a moral victory.

“A loss is a loss. It doesn’t feel any better,” Espinosa said.

Nats’ Burnett takes responsibility for Monday’s loss

It was last year when reliever Sean Burnett was arguably the Nationals’ MVP. In 73 games, he had a 2.14 ERA and was given a two-year, $3.95 million extension with a mutual option for 2013.

This year, Burnett is having a season he would like to forget. In 25 games, the left-hander has allowed 12 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. Even worse, Burnett has inherited 17 runners, and nine of them have scored.

One of those inherited runners scored the tying run Monday in a 5-4 loss to the Phillies at Nationals Park. Placido Polanco scored on a single by Ryan Howard. Burnett, who ended up becoming the losing pitcher, would later allow the go-ahead run to score on a sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez.

After the game, Burnett felt bad that he prevented teammate Livan Hernandez from winning his fourth game of the season.

“I feel good, I feel strong, but I’ve been terrible,” Burnett said. “There is no way to explain it — flat out terrible. It’s [not good] to let another win by Livo go down the drain. To score four off [Phillies right-hander Roy] Halladay — three home runs — it’s a game we should win. It’s terrible.”

Burnett said poor execution is the reason for his disappointing season. He acknowledged that he has had problems with all of his pitchers. Currently, Burnett doesn’t have a solution on how to fix his problems on the mound.

“The things is, I have good outings and bad outings,” Burnett said. “I just have no consistency right now. You can’t have good starts slip away. It’s unfortunate and not acceptable. I hold myself to a higher standard. I’m the first to take blame on this one.”

Monday’s lineups for Nats, Phillies

Phillies
Rollins – SS
Polanco – 3B
Utley – 2B
Howard – 1B
Ibanez – LF
Ruiz – C
Brown – RF
Mayberry – CF
Halladay – P

Nationals
Ankiel – CF
Espinosa – 2B
Werth – RF
Nix – LF
Morse – 1B
Ramos – C
Hairston – 3B
Cora – SS
Hernandez – P

Desmond’s defense nearly flawless, offense must improve

In 2010, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond led the Major Leagues in errors with 34. During the first month of this season, it looked like Desmond would continue to be a defensive liability, for he had seven errors by April 25th.

However, since that date, Desmond has committed one error and that came on May 5 against the Phillies.

Desmond said recently that he changed his routine on defense starting with this past offseason. Instead of working out with teen-agers at Sarasota [Fla.] High School, his alma mater, Desmond decided to work out at the IMG academy, where he took groundballs on a regular basis.

“In the past, I took my groundballs in my high school,” Desmond said. “As much as those kids appreciate me going there and working with them, it was more important for me to go and get my work in and take care of business. [At the academy], it was strictly me. I could work on my throwing, I didn’t have to go by [High School's] practice plan, things like that.

“Defense is my main priority. … I want to be a better defender. It’s paying it’s dividends now. It also helps that the team is better [on defense], also. We are all playing better as a cohesive unit. A lot of communication is going out there and everyone is in the right position.”

Now, Desmond must try to fix his offense. Entering Monday’s action against the Phillies, Desmond is hitting .223 with three home runs and 16 RBIs. He is one of the reasons the Nationals are one of the worst offensive teams in the Major Leagues. After Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Padres, Desmond acknowledged that he and the other position players on the Nationals need to step up and help the pitchers win games.

“We have to start scoring runs for our pitching staff,” Desmond said. “They have been pitching great and we can’t score runs for them. We have to find a different answer.”

Heat bothers Nats’ Maya in season debut

A few hours after getting recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday, right-hander Yunesky Maya pitched his first game of the 2011 season.

Maya lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowed four runs on six hits, but didn’t figure in the decision as the Nationals lost to the Padres, 5-4, at Nationals Park. Maya struck out three and walked two.

The walks came in the fifth inning when he was charged with three runs. In the first three innings, Maya retired nine out of the first 10 hitters he faced, while being given a 2-0 lead. However, Maya ran out of gas in the fourth inning, admitting that the heat was getting the best of him. The game-time temperature was 80 degrees.

“I felt very good the first couple of innings. … “I wasn’t hitting my spots in the fifth. That’s what opened the floodgates,” said Maya through interpreter Javier Castro, an assistant to clubhouse manager Mike Wallace. “I wanted to work fast the first three innings, but in the fourth and fifth, the heat got me a little bit. That’s why I was stepping off [the mound] a little bit, taking my time getting a little second wind. It’s not the same from the stretch than from the windup.”

In his next start, Maya said he wants to improve his control.

“I always have to work on things after every start,” Maya said. “I’m going to work on [my control]. It isn’t there yet. I’m trying to hit my spots. I don’t want to walk anybody.”

Maya was promoted to the big leagues after going 1-4 with a 3.79 ERA in nine starts for Syracuse. He had a feeling that he would get back to the big league. Maya made his Major League debut last year and was allowed 17 earned runs in 26 innings. He is still looking for his first big-league win.

“I’m always positive. I did my job down there,” Maya said. “You always have to be ready because you are never going to know when you are going to get that call. I thank them for the opportunity.”

Nats’ Hairston issued one-game suspension

Major League Baseball issued a one-game suspension and an undisclosed fine to Nationals third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. for his aggressive actions, which included making contact with umpire Ed Hickox during the bottom of the seventh inning of the team 2-1 victory over the Padres on Friday.

Hairston had been scheduled to serve his suspension Sunday, however, he elected to appeal.

Hairston was not surprised that that he was fined, but expressed disappointed that he was suspended.

“I didn’t push him or shove [Hickox] in any way and the video clearly shows that,” Hairston said. “I don’t know what [MLB was] seeing. It’s as clear as day in the video. I made a strong argument. I thought I was in the right.

“This is the big leagues. You are going to have your ups and downs as far as disagreements with umpires. I respect an umpire. Never have I pushed or shoved an umpire and I never will.”

With Padres left-hander Clayton Richard on the mound and Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa on first base, Hairston called time out. Hickox declined, while Richard threw the pitch. Hairston quickly went back in the batter’s box and flied out to center fielder Cameron Maybin for the second out of the inning.

Instead of running to first base, Hairston argued with Hickox, claiming that Richard was quick pitching him and wasn’t giving him enough time to setup in the batter’s box.

Within seconds, Hickox ejected Hairston and almost hit manager Jim Riggleman in the face accidently as he was waving his arm to indicate that Hairston was out of the game. Hickox was not available for comment.

“I never cussed at him. I pleaded my case. That’s all I did,” Hairston said. “Sometimes, I’m an emotional guy. I’m very high strung. I can be a little bit showy, at times. I guess that is the word. But I never pushed or shoved. The video speaks loud and clear.”

Richard and Hairston were teammates with the Padres last year, and Hairston claims Richard is known to quick-pitch hitters. Hairston said that Richard learned how to pitch that way by watching White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle. Richard and Buehrle were teammates in 2008 and ’09.

“I played with Clayton Richard and he quick pitches — big time,” Hairston said after Friday’s game. “He held the ball and I stepped out. As soon as I stepped back in the box, he was coming. You just can’t do that. You have to let the hitter get set.”

Sunday’s lineup for Nationals, Padres

Padres
Tekotte–CF
Bartlett – SS
Ludwick – LF
Hawpe – 1B
Headley – 3B
Denorfia – RF
Phillips – C
Forsythe – 2B
Moseley – P

Nationals
Bernadina-8
Desmond-6
Werth-9
Nix-7
Morse-3
Ramos-2
Hairston-5
Cora-4
Maya-1

Pudge denies Padres a run on play at plate

During their 2-1 loss to the Padres on Saturday afternoon, the Nationals were able to prevent Padres third baseman Chase Headley from scoring in the ninth inning, thanks to catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

With runners on first and second, two outs and reliever Henry Rodriguez on the mound, Logan Forsythe singled to left field. It appeared that Headley was going to score, but Rodriguez was able to scoop up Laynce Nix’s throw from left field, block the plate and tag Headley for the third out of the inning.

Rodriguez was jumping up and down with excitement that he was able to get that last out.

“The most important play is to see the ball when it comes,” Rodriguez said. “See where the runner is, … what direction the ball is coming to home plate and try to make adjustments.”

Rodriguez didn’t give an answer on whether or not the rules should be changed to protect catchers behind the plate. However, Rodriguez said a catcher should sometimes make adjustments when it comes to collisions at the plate.

“Sometimes you have to be careful during plays like that, especially when it’s late in the game.” Rodriguez said. “When someone needs to score, you have to be smart. I’ve been in situations where I was hit very hard early on in my career, but I learned from those things.

“Sometimes you have to be smart to block the plate and sometimes you have to make adjustment how to get outs.”

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