June 2011

Tuesday’s lineups for Nats and Mariners

Ichiro – RF
Ryan – SS
Kennedy – 3B
Smoak – 1B
Ackley – 2B
Peguero – LF
Gutierrez – CF
Gimenez – C
Fister – P

Werth – RF
Bernadina – CF
Zimmerman – 3B
Nix – LF
Morse – 1B
Espinosa – 2B
Ramos – C
Hernandez – P
Desmond – SS

Nats agree to terms with 18 players including Skole

The Nationals have agreed to terms with 18 players selected in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, including fifth-round pick third baseman Matt Skole.

Skole, who played for Georgia Tech, hit .348 with 10 home runs, 58 RBIs and 44 walks in 61 games last season.

Skole, 21, posted a .445 on-base and .545 slugging percentages en route to Second-Team All-ACC honors. During his three-seasons with the Yellow Jackets, Skole hit .329 with 47 home runs and 179 RBI.

A look at the rest of the players who signed with the Nats:
Right-handed pitcher Brian Dupra (7th round)
Right-handed pitcher Manny Rodriguez (10th round)
Outfielder Caleb Ramsey (11th round)
Left-handed pitcher Blake Monar (12th round)
Shortstop Deion Williams (16th round)
Left-handed pitcher Todd Simko (21st round)
Right-handed pitcher Travis Henke (22nd round)
Second baseman Khayyan Norfork (23rd round)
Catcher Erick Fernandez (25th round)
Outfielder Shawn Pleffner (26th round)
Left-handed pitcher Bobby Lucas (27th round)
Right-handed pitcher Kenneth Ferrer (28th round)
Second baseman Trey Karlen (33rd round)
Right-handed pitcher Alex Kreis (35th round)
Left-handed pitcher Ben Hawkins (36th round)
Third baseman Bryce Ortega (41st round)
Right-handed pitcher Ritchie Mirowski (45th round)

Nationals sign Pleffner to professional contract

The Nationals have signed outfielder/first baseman Shawn Pleffner, their 26th-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. The University of Tampa was the first to announce the signing.

The left-handed hitting Pleffner hit .366 with four home runs and 39 RBIs for UT this past season. He was the first position player from the school to be taken in this year’s Draft.

General manager Mike Rizzo, who wasn’t available for comment, said Friday that the Nationals are close to signing 15 players taken in the Draft.

“After negotiating with them, we have about 15 players with contracts pending,” Rizzo said. “We are in communication with our upper picks. We feel that optimistic to get those guys signed. If we do, we feel we have the best draft in baseball.”

LaRoche returns to Nationals Park

After Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Orioles, Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche was spotted in the locker room, three days after he had surgery to repair labrum and rotator cuff tears in his left shoulder.

The doctors told LaRoche that he should be ready to perform baseball activities in six months.

“Talking to [Dr.] Wiemi [Douoguih], he is real comfortable the way the surgery turned out and what he saw. Now I just wait and stick with their program,” LaRoche said. “It’s sore now. It’s the first surgery I’ve ever had. I thought it would be a lot worse. It’s a good start so far.”

During Spring Training, LaRoche was diagnosed with a torn labrum, and he began to feel in mid-May that the shoulder was hurting his swing. In 43 games, LaRoche was hitting .172 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

While the shoulder didn’t hurt when he swung the bat, LaRoche felt it was weak, and the reason he could not generate much power.

“It took longer to realize that my shoulder had something to do with the lack of power,” LaRoche said.

The only time his shoulder was in pain was when he threw the baseball. LaRoche was originally told that he could play the entire season with the injury.

However, by May 22nd, LaRoche wanted to get a second opinion on the shoulder and went to New York the next day. The doctors ended up finding a tear in his rotator cuff as well.

“If anything else, I should have [received a second opinion] a few weeks before,” LaRoche said. “It’s good to get it over with. Now the struggle is going to be watching a bunch of games and not be able to play in them.”

Fans show up at Nationals Park

The Nationals and Orioles drew 107,615 fans during their three-game series this weekend at Nationals Park.

The huge turnout had a lot to do with the fact that the Nationals are playing well. They were in third place and on an eight-game winning streak before losing to the Orioles, 7-4, on Sunday.

Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth said when a team puts a good product on the field and starts winning ballgames, the fans will show up.

“I thought it was awesome,” Werth said about the crowds this weekend. “I think this town wants to support a winning team. If we keep winning and playing good, I think this town will be really proud of this team. They will show up every night.”

When Drew Storen entered the game Friday to pick up his 17th save, the crowd was loud when he jogged to the mound.

“That fires me up even more,” Storen said. “I’m already pretty pumped to come in. When you get that kind of ovation, you get that support, it goes a long way. It just makes it a lot of fun.”

The Shark swinging hot bat

Outfielder Roger Bernadina has been on a hot streak, going 17-for-46 [.370] in his last 12 games to raise his batting average to .281. He also has hit three homers in his last four games.

With Rick Ankiel on the disabled list because of a rib cage injury, Bernadina will get a chance to play every day. Bernadina will hit second against right-handers and ninth against left-handers.

“I’m in a groove right now,” Bernadina said. “I just want to keep it up. So far it is going good. I want to do my best, get better every day and go from there.”

Riggleman thinking about reaching .500

In between victories against the Orioles, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he is not thinking about the Wild Card race even though his team is four games behind the Braves.

Riggleman’s goal right now is to reach .500, and the Nationals have a chance to reach that magic number Sunday against the Orioles at Nationals Park.

“We are playing good baseball and made strides to get out of last place,” Riggleman said. “We can’t do anything else until we get to .500. That is our first goal. Then we can see if we can try to pinpoint some immediate short-term goals. When we were nine under .500, we were trying to get to .500. It was a long way to go.

“I feel great about the ballclub, but we are going to see teh Mariners. They have good pitching. Then we are going to see the White Sox. They are coming alive. It’s a battle every night.”

The 2011 Nationals are clearly Riggleman’s best team since he managed the 1998 Cubs, a team that won the National League Wild Card. However, he said all of the parts are not there with the Nationals — yet.

“We are still waiting on [Steven] Strasburg,” Riggleman said. “We are banged up with [Adam] LaRoche and [Rick] Ankiel. We don’t have everybody there, but nobody does. Getting Ryan Zimmerman back is huge. I feel like we are competitive every night.”

Q&A with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo

Before watching his team defeat Orioles, 8-4, and improve their record to 34-36 on Friday night, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke to MLB.com about the team’s recent success and plans for the future.

MLB.com: How do you think the Nationals are doing so far?

Mike Rizzo: I think we are playing good, solid baseball. I think we accomplished a lot of things. We were a poor defensive team the last couple of years. I think we drastically improved our team defensively. Our speed and athleticism has drastically improved. We were toward the bottom of the league in stolen bases and going from first to third. We are now doing all of those things.

Our starting pitching has been good It’s coming along really nicely. I think that coincides with the improved defense. Our bullpen has been solid. We feel that we are on the right track, we are going the right way.

Our hitting has been down this year and it has cost us a lot of ballgames, but when you are without Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, your three and five hitters for most of the season, it’s really hard to have a productive lineup. We are hoping that when Zim is [back to being the player of old], we hope to see more consistent at-bats and score more runs.

MLB.com: Before Zimmerman came back, the team was off to a slow start offensively. Why didn’t you panic and try to acquire a hitter via trade?

Rizzo: To panic shows a lack of confidence in the rest of the players. It would have been easy not to give Laynce Nix and Michael Morse a chance to perform or make a knee-jerk trade and give up a lot of young players for instant gratification. But we have a vision for not only this year, but down the road. That’s the biggest reason.

We have confidence in our entire roster. Coming into the season, we felt that we had as good a bench as anybody around with Nix, Jerry Hairston and Alex Cora. Unfortunately, those guys couldn’t be bench players. They had to be everyday players for us. What it did was, it gave opportunities. If you remember, when Zim went down, I said, “We are not looking at losing one of our star players. We are looking at it as an opportunity for somebody to step up. I think Morse and Nix have done that. We are reaping the benefits of it. Now that Zim is back, we feel comfortable.

MLB.com: Entering Friday’s action, the Nationals are 5 ½ games behind the Braves in the Wild Card race. Do you think the Nationals can compete for a playoff spot?

Rizzo: We feel we can compete with any team in baseball We are not worried about the Wild Card or how many games back in the standings right now. We are worried about tonight’s game against the Orioles. Our first order of business is to play good consistent baseball. We have to get a rhythm offensively, stay consistent defensively and pitch well. We think the standings will take care of themselves.

MLB.com: What is your biggest need right now?

Rizzo: Like any ballclub that we talk to, we are always looking to improve our starting pitching. We want front of the rotation guys. We are always looking to do that. We are always looking to improve ourselves with two-way players — offensively and defensively. We feel that is going to be our strength. That’s what we are always looking to acquire.

MLB.com: What about the leadoff position. Do you see Jayson Werth as a leadoff hitter long term?

Rizzo: I see Jayson as a middle of the order hitter. We would like someone within the ballclub or organization to step up and be that guy. If we can’t find that guy within the organization, we will look elsewhere.

MLB.com: What is the biggest disappointment you have this season?

Rizzo: The biggest disappointed is that we had some key injuries like every other team. When you lose players like Zimmerman, LaRoche and a potential No. 1 starter [Stephen Strasburg], those are things that effect your ballclub. I think that has been the most disappointment that we had.

MLB.com: What about the most exciting thing you have seen so far?

Rizzo: It is watching the development of these young players. The development of Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond has been unbelievable. The emergence of Jordan Zimmermann has been great to see.

MLB.com: The way the Nationals have been playing lately, are they buyers or sellers?

Rizzo: We are both buyers and sellers. We always have been, always will be. If we have a chance to acquire a player that is going to help us in 2011 and beyond, we are not going to shy away from that. If there is a trade to be made that will help us down the road, we will trade a player away to get a piece for the future. But we are not in sell mode. There are a lot of games to play, a lot of games to win. We are here to win games.

MLB.com: You pointed out recently that the Nationals had a great draft. How are you doing in terms of signing those players?

Rizzo: I think we are doing quite well. After negotiating with them, we have about 15 players with contracts pending. We are in communication with our upper picks. We feel that optimistic to get those guys signed. If we do, we feel we have the best draft in baseball.

MLB.com: You announced at Citi Field that outfielder Bryce Harper will not be in the big leagues this year. How is he doing in your mind at Class A Hagerstown?

Rizzo: He is a terrific player. His developmental curve is going quite well. He starting to get acclimated to the everydayness of professional baseball. He loves playing every day. His skills are going to take care of themselves. He is learning to play the outfield. He is much more fundamentally sound on the aspects of playing the outfield – angles, throws and those type of things. His bat has been great.

MLB.com: Once you are satisfied by what you have seen, can you say where Harper will go next?

Rizzo: I cannot say that. I will say that we are develop him at a pace that most benefits him in the long term. He is a special player. He will be developed at a rate that allows him to be an impactful guy.

MLB.com: How has manager Jim Riggleman done so far?

Rizzo: Jim has been great. He has the players playing hard for 27 outs each and every night — even when we had some down times. Through the good and the bad, he grinds it out every day and gives a good days’ work.

MLB.com: He has an option left on his contract. Would you want him back for next year if things continue to go well?

Rizzo: The option year is communicated between Jim and I. I’m with Jim every day. We continually talk about a lot of different things. We are going to let the season play on. We will address it when it needs to be addressed. Right now, it’s all about baseball, it all about winning games and about playing the Baltimore Orioles.

Nats don’t plan to put Ankiel on disabled list

As of now, the Nationals don’t plan to put outfielder Rick Ankiel on the disabled list because of a rib cage injury.

Manager Jim Riggleman plans to rest Ankiel for the entire three-game series against the Orioles. The skipper is hoping that Ankiel will be back in action when the Nationals face the Mariners starting Tuesday night.

Ankiel hurt himself after catching a routine fly ball from Cardinals third baseman Daniel Descalso for the third out of the top of second inning on Tuesday night.

Ankiel was supposed to bat in the bottom of the inning, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

Friday’s lineup for Nats, Orioles