June 2011

Burnett receives confidence boost vs. Cardinals

Entering Thursday’s action, Nationals reliever Sean Burnett was having a season to forget. He allowed 15 runs in 22 2/3 innings.

Manager Jim Riggleman didn’t use Burnett that much recently because the starting pitching went deep in the game. After the pitchers were done after seven innings, for example, the skipper would use setup man Tyler Clippard for the eighth inning and Drew Storen to close.

“If the starters are going seven, [we should go right to] Clip and Storen because of the way they have been throwing,” Burnett said. “I had an opportunity earlier in the year. I put myself in a situation [where] I struggled. I don’t blame them for going with the two hot hands.”

However, Burnett was needed during Washington’s 7-4 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night. He entered the game in the 10th inning with the score tied at 4 after Clippard and Storen allowed solo home runs to Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, respectively.

Burnett faced the heart of the order. After getting Colby Rasmus to groundout to start the inning, one would have thought that Riggleman was going to take Burnett out of the game and get a right-hander to face Pujols. But Riggleman decided to leave Burnett in the game.

“When he got Rasmus out, I felt Burney was throwing the ball well,” Riggleman said. “To be honest with you, with Pujols, it doesn’t matter who is throwing. You have to make good pitches.

“Pujols doesn’t care if it’s a right-hander or a left-hander. If he hits a home run off a left-hander, you might feel like you should have a righty, but it doesn’t matter. Pujols hits them against everybody. As good as Burney was throwing, that was as good of a chance that we had to keep Pujols in the ballpark.”

Burnett kept Pujols in the ballpark. Pujols flew out to right field for the second out of the inning. After Matt Holiday walked, Lance Berkman struck out looking to end the inning.

Burnett acknowledged that he received a confidence boost after Riggleman allowed him to stay in the game to face Pujols.

“I expect myself to stay in that situation, to get those guys out,” Burnett said. “It was a confidence boost at the same time. I had good outings this year. I’ve been lights out and then I have been bad. It was a confidence boost to get through that lineup the way I did.”

Wednesday’s lineup for Nationals, Cardinals

Theriot – SS
Rasmus – CF
Pujols – 3B
Berkman – 1B
Brown – RF
Jay – LF
Molina – C
Schumaker – 2B
McClellan – P

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

Starting pitching doing wonders for Nationals

Starting pitching is the reason the Nationals are never out of a ballgame this season. They rank seventh in the National League with a 3.76 ERA.

Lately, the starting staff has been even better. In their last 13 games, Washington starters have allowed two earned runs or fewer 11 times. They are 6-3 with a 2.25 ERA during that span.

Manager Jim Riggleman said he never had a starting staff that threw better than the one he has right now.

“I’ve never had a club that has done that anywhere. This is really good pitching. It’s really a lot of good performances,” Riggleman said. “When your starters get you 18 to 21 outs, you have a really good chance because you are going to get some matchups you prefer late in the ballgame.”

Nationals react to revamped lineup

The Nationals are last in the Major Leagues in offense, so manager Jim Riggleman decided to revamp the lineup before the team’s 2-1 victory over the Padres on Saturday.

Outfielder Jayson Werth hit leadoff, pitcher John Lannan hit eighth followed by left fielder Brian Bixler.

Only Bixler did anything worth talking about, going 2-for-2 with a walk. Werth and Lannan went a combined 0-for-6.

Shortstop Ian Desmond thought Riggleman made a great decision because the team needs to score runs.

“That’s a great idea. That’s unbelievable managing. Bixler plays nine innings, has a great game, runs the bases well,” Desmond said. “We have been looking for a leadoff hitter. If you take the contract away and just think about the baseball player, Jayson actually fits there pretty well. He is a smart base runner, he steals bases, he gets on base, he sees a lot of pitches. It’s nice to have him up there.”

Lannan didn’t know he was batting eighth until he arrived at the ballpark. Before the game, Lannan was hitless in 23 at-bats.

“It was different, but it worked,” he said. “At first, I just heard that Werth was leading off and then I found out I was batting eighth and I said, ‘OK, that’s different.’ But it worked out.”

The last time Werth hit leadoff was June 2, 2010 against the Braves. Before Saturday’s lineup was announced, the leadoff spot had been a disaster this season, hitting .209 with a .267 on-base percentage entering Saturday’s action.

“I feel comfortable hitting anywhere in the lineup,” Werth said before the game. “We need to freshen up the lineup with [Ryan Zimmerman] not being here. We try to mix it up a little bit and see if we can put up a bunch of crooked numbers. You are only leading off the first time.”

Werth most likely will lead off again against the Padres on Sunday, but Riggleman seemed to have doubts that right-hander Jordan Zimmermann would bat eighth. The Nationals will face right-hander Tim Stauffer.

“I’m not sure what we will do tomorrow. It’s different against the righty,” Riggleman said. “It will be a little different on how we will put it together. We are thinking ahead to getting Zim [Ryan Zimmerman] back next week. We’ll thinking about how we’ll put it together with him, too. I’m going to give it some thought tonight.”

Bernadina, Desmond dealing with injuries

Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina and shortstop Ian Desmond are dealing with leg issues and most likely will not play against the Padres on Sunday.

Bernadina was scheduled to hit ninth in manager Jim Riggleman’s revamped lineup Saturday, but was a late scratch of because of left hamstring tightness.

Bernadina has had problems with the hamstring for several days, but managed not to miss a game until Saturday.

Bernadina said his leg didn’t feel right once he started shagging fly balls before Saturday’s game. He then went into the trainer’s room to get some treatment.

As for Desmond, he has been dealing with issues with his left quadriceps for several weeks. On Saturday, it was pretty clear that something was wrong. He was struggling to run from first to home on a Danny Espinosa double in the first inning.

After the game, Riggleman said that he planned to give Desmond the day off Sunday and put him back in the lineup Tuesday against the Cardinals.

Hairston to play Saturday vs. Padres

Nationals third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. hasn’t been able to play the last three games because of lower back stiffness, however manager Jim Riggleman said that Hairston will be able to start at third base against the Padres on Saturday evening at Petco Park.

Hairston said the back problems occurred when he woke up Tuesday morning. He went to AT&T Park in San Francisco early to get treatment, but his back stiffened up by the middle of the game.

In the fifth inning against the Giants, Hairston was in the batter’s box and in pain while swinging the bat. After walking to load the bases, Hairston left the game and was seen walking gingerly into the clubhouse.

Mattheus promoted to big leagues, Kimball placed on DL

The Nationals selected the contract of right-hander Ryan Mattheus from Triple-A Syracuse and placed right-hander Cole Kimball on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

Mattheus posted two saves and 10 scoreless innings during nine relief appearances with the Chiefs. Including a 13-game stint with Double-A Harrisburg, he is 2-1 with six saves and a 1.46 ERA in 22 appearances in 2011.

Mattheus, 27, is 3-2 with six saves and a 1.25 ERA in 32 games four starts since returning from July 2009 “Tommy John” ligament-replacement surgery on July 31, 2010.

Mattheus was acquired from the Colorado Rockies on July 31, 2009, just weeks after his ligament-replacement surgery, as part of a three-player trade that sent left-handed pitcher Joe Beimel to Colorado. He is 32-42 with 23 saves and a 4.93 ERA in 193 games/88 starts during his career.

Kimball, 25, is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 12 games this season with Washington.

Zimmerman to have rehab assignment in Syracuse

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to begin a Minor League rehab assignment for Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at 7:00 PM.

The plan is for Zimmerman to play Saturday and Sunday, take the day off Monday and then be taken off the disabled list before the Nationals play against the Cardinals on Tuesday at Nationals Park.

Zimmerman was a combined 6-for-12 (.500) with two RBIs in rehab stint games for Class-A Hagerstown and Class-A Potomac. Zimmerman has been recovering from a torn abdominal muscle and has not appeared in a Major League game since April 9. He underwent surgery on May 3.

Zimmerman has played in eight games with the Nationals this season. He is 10-for-28 [.357] with one home run and four RBIs.

Nationals looking into remarks made by Houchins

On Wednesday, the last day of the First-Year Player Draft, Nationals scouting director Kris Kline was talking about Zach Houchins’ abilities as a hitter. Houchins, a shortstop from North Carolina, was the team’s 15th round pick. He already has made a commitment to East Carolina University.

On Thursday, however, local reporters were trying to get the team’s reaction to racial remarks made by Houchins on his Twitter account, which was deleted later that night.

“We’re aware of, and are investigating, the statements,” general manager Mike Rizzo said through a team spokesman.

Espinosa injured in ninth inning vs. Giants

During the ninth inning of their 3-1 loss to the Giants on Wednesday afternoon, the Nationals found themselves in controversy.

On a 2-2 pitch with two outs, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa was hit on the right hand by a Matt Cain pitch. However, home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook and third-base umpire Greg Gibson ruled that Espinosa swung at the pitch to end the game.

The replay showed that Espinosa, who was in serious pain, did not swing at the pitch. Manager Jim Riggleman argued with Holbrook, but the play stood. After the game, Espinosa was seen with a patch on his left hand and declined to talk to the media.

Riggleman said he wanted an explanation on why Espinosa was called out, but Riggleman didn’t get an answer.

“The third-base umpire had it as a swing, the home-plate umpire had it as a swing,” Riggleman said. “What I was asking was, if it hit any part of the bat, then it’s a foul ball. That’s the explanation I was trying to get. I was never really told that the ball hit only him.

“You can’t walk off the field, the game is over and say, ‘OK, the game is over. We lost, you won. We don’t say anything.’ I was just trying to ask the umpires for somewhat of a lengthy explanation. I wasn’t going to argue with them. I just wanted a clear explanation and I didn’t get it.”