By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — The Nationals collected 15 hits in a 9-2 victory over the Rangers, but Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa went 0-for -3 in the contest. But talk to manager Matt Williams, and Espinosa had impressive at-bats.
In the third inning, Espinosa hit the ball hard, but grounded out to second base. After he was walked intentionally an inning later, Espinosa flied out to center field in the sixth before grounding out to third baseman Adrian Beltre in the eighth.
“Although he didn’t get any hits tonight, he saw the ball really good tonight. He was right on everything. That’s a good sign, too,” Williams said. “He has been making some adjustments and he is working extremely hard the last three days to make those adjustments. I think the fruits of that labor showed up a little bit.”
Espinosa acknowledged that he is trying to shorten his swing from the left side of the plate. Espinosa hasn’t had a hit since May 20th. But Espinosa felt comfortable in the batter’s box Friday.
“I always try to shorten my swing as much as I could,” Espinosa said. “When you close your front side, your swing gets longer, you are fighting with your body, but it felt good today.”
By Bill Ladson
In the sixth inning of Friday’s 9-2 victory, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos reached base on a five-ball walk. The rules state that a player can reach base on a four-ball walk. It seems almost everyone lost track of the count, except Ramos.
According to Ramos, when the count reached 3-2, Rangers catcher Chris Gimenez asked home plate umpire Scott Barry what the count was and Barry replied, “2-2.” Ramos thought for sure the count was 3-2 and Barry repeated the count as 2-2. Even the Nationals’ scoreboard said the count was 3-2. Barry then put his hands up and reiterated that the count was 2-2. Barry was not available for comment.
“In my mind, I was thinking it was 3-2,” Ramos said. “That’s OK. I received the walk any way.”
Even Nationals manager Matt Williams thought Ramos had walked a pitch earlier, but didn’t argue the count with Barry.
“You always say, ‘Were we right on the count,’ so we looked at each other and went, ‘Huh, I thought that was ball four.’ We have a lot going on over there, talking a lot about different situations, so we missed that one.”
During Ramos’ first at-bat in Saturday’s game, will the umpires make up for Friday and give Ramos a three-ball walk?
“I don’t think they are going to give that one to us,” Williams said. “I’ll ask him when I go up there [Saturday]. We’ll see.”
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON –Nationals third base Ryan Zimmerman is close to a rehab assignment. He could start as early as this weekend, according to a baseball source. It’s not known which Minor League affiliate he will play for.
Once he starts, Zimmerman most likely will be a designated hitter for a couple of games. After that, he could play third base, left field or first base. Zimmerman is going to play all three positions once he returns to the big league level, the source confirmed.
During the off day Thursday, Zimmerman worked out at third base without any problems. Two days before that he was working out at first base. As of two weeks ago, Zimmerman was working out in left field.
“I think the most important thing is getting back into the lineup and swinging the bat and hopefully helping us score some runs,” Zimmerman told the local media yesterday. “I feel comfortable whatever makes sense for me to help the team win. I’m not sure if I could pitch or catch, but I feel like I could play pretty much anywhere else on the baseball field and not look out of place. I take pride in being a pretty good athlete.”
Zimmermann missed almost two months of action because of a fractured right thumb he hurt against the Braves on April 12th.
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON – Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez threw a bullpen at Nationals Park during Thursday’s off day, according to a baseball source, and the session went without a hitch.
Gonzalez next move will be having a simulated game Sunday and then have a rehab assignment five days later. It’s not known which Minor League affiliate he will play for.
The Nationals placed Gonzalez on the 15-day disabled list on May 18th because of left shoulder inflammation. Gonzalez has been dealing with shoulder problems dating back to his April 23 start against the Angels, but he said it was nothing to be concerned about. However, he had one of his roughest starts on May17th in a 5-2 loss against the Mets, allowing five runs in three innings.
After the game, he declined to discuss his shoulder problems, saying he had to gut it out on the mound. Gonzalez was placed on the DL the next day.
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is having the best year of his career, thus far. Entering Friday’s action, Stanton was hitting .318 with a National League-leading 15 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Nationals infielder Greg Dobbs played with Stanton for three-plus years, and Dobbs is not surprised by the season he is having.
“He is getting better so quickly at his age. He understands the strike zone so much better. His pitch selection has improved dramatically. He is just an athletic phenomenon. I was fortunate to play with him for 3 1/2 years and how he goes about his business. He takes it very seriously. A lot of people think he just shows up to the park and just plays the game. No, he has a very strong work ethic. He takes what he does very seriously.”
Ever since he entered the league in 2010, Stanton has been a nuisance to the Nationals. During his career, Stanton is 70-for-258 (.317) with 21 home runs and 50 RBIs. At Nationals Park, Stanton has a .336 batting average with 14 home runs and 27 RBIs.
Asked why he is having so much success at Nationals Park, Dobbs said, “There are just some places where guys just really love to hit in, and this just happens to be one of those parks for him. He feels comfortable in the box. He sees the ball well here, obviously. I just think it’s one of those things where he feels very comfortable hitting here.”
By Daniel Propper
WASHINGTON – The Nationals are 9-15 during the month of May due largely to their struggling offense.
The team has compiled a .231 batting average in 24 games this month, which is tied for third-worst in the league. Washington is also second-to-last in the Majors in runs scored during May with 77 and its .298 on-base percentage ranks 25th.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said hitting coach Rick Schu who explained why the team is not hitting. “Wherever you’re at, it’s a little bit of a mental and little bit of a mechanical thing.”
Granted, the Nationals suffered a number of injuries to key players in the first month of their 2014 campaign.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was batting .364 with two home runs and six RBIs before fracturing his right thumb on April 12, an injury that has already forced him to miss 41 games. Meanwhile, left fielder Bryce Harper tore a ligament in his left thumb sliding into third base against the Padres on April 25, and has missed 28 games.
In addition, first baseman Adam LaRoche missed 14 games with a right quad strain during a stretch spanning from May 10 to May 24. He hit a two-run home run during his second game back Monday afternoon against the Marlins, but the Nationals still lost, 3-2.
“Probably more than anything, just get these guys to stop pressing,” Schu said. “LaRoche came back in the lineup, guys started relaxing a little bit more. Zimm’s getting close. And once we get those guys back in the lineup, I think it takes the pressure off the other guys trying to do too much.”
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — Outfielder Nate McLouth had his best game as a member of the Nationals on Wednesday, going 4-for-4 with a walk and driving in two runs in an 8-5 loss to the Marlins.
Prior to the game, McLouth was off to a slow start, hitting .143 with just one home run and one RBI. Before the productive game, McLouth said he had a positive attitude, because he remained confident in his approach at the plate.
“It was nice [to have a game like that]. I’ve been grinding. It’s really nice to come through for your team at the plate a little bit,” McLouth said. “There is certainly a chance to exhale a little bit.”
During the game, McLouth received a scare while Washington was trying to rally in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and McLouth on third, Anthony Rendon hit a line-drive foul ball that hit McLouth on the left foot. McLouth was down for the count, while manager Matt Williams and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz came to his aid. McLouth was in foul territory when he was hit.
“It’s sore. It got my big toe, actually. It got the sole of my shoe, so I was a little sore, but it’s fine,” McLouth said.
By Bill Ladson
* Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler has been having a hard time on the mound lately. In his last eight games, Detwiler has allowed 13 runs in 10 innings. His last appearance was in Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Pirates. He entered the game in the eighth inning, allowing blooped double to Chris Stewart, which should have been caught, and an RBI single to Josh Harrison.
Nationals manager Matt Williams thought Detwiler had a better outing Thursday than he did in previous appearances.
“The double that hung up there a little while, it was placed perfectly. And then [there was] a ball hit off the end of the bat [for a single],” Williams said. “The results don’t say it. [Detwiler] worked quicker and he had good tempo tonight. But I think, overall, he pitched better tonight than he did in his last couple of outings.”
* Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche went 0-for-2 in his first rehab game for Class A Potomac on Thursday. He is expected to play another rehab game for Double A Harrisburg on Friday. LaRoche is currently on the 15-day disabled list because of a right quad strain. He could be back with the Major League club on Sunday against the Pirates or Monday against the Marlins.
* The Nationals have been having a tough time scoring runs, so one would think that manager Matt Williams would be aggressive on the bases on Thursday against the Pirates. In the seventh inning, after Nate McLouth reached base on a bunt single, Kevin Frandsen came to the plate. One would have thought that McLouth would have tried to steal second base. But McLouth stayed on first and Frandsen hit into a double play.
“[McLouth] has the green light,” Williams said. “Franny got to 1-1. If we get to a [ceratin] count, I could certainly put it on. [McLouth] has the green light [to steal] if he feels it. But we got a double play out of it.”
* Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is 46-for-116 [.397] with 13 home runs and 28 RBIs during his career against the Nationals . On Thursday, he drove in two of the three runs in a 3-1 victory over the Nationals.
In the third inning, McCutchen came to the plate and was hit by a pitch, scoring right-hander Edinson Volquez to make it a 1-0 game. Two innings later, Pirates retook the lead as McCutchen singled to center field, scoring Harrison.
In the ninth against closer Mark Melancon, the Nats put runners on first and second with two outs, but Anthony Rendon lined out to McCutchen, who made a sliding catch to end the game.
“[McCutchen] is the MVP for a lot of reasons,” Williams said. “He is a good player, a really good player. I don’t think he is going to go after that ball if he feels like he didn’t have a chance to catch it. It was a good play.”
By Andrew Simon
WASHINGTON — A few hours after Nationals manager Matt Williams said he would stick with the scuffling Denard Span as his leadoff hitter, Span rewarded that faith with one of the best games of his career on Tuesday.
Span went 5-for-5 with two doubles, two RBIs, a stolen base and two runs scored in a 9-4 win over the Reds. In the process, he lifted his batting average from .239 to .263 and his on-base percentage from .287 to .308.
It was the sixth five-hit game in Nationals history (since 2005) and first since Ian Desmond on Sept. 15, 2011. It also was the seventh five-hit game in the Major Leagues this season and the third of Span’s career — but first since 2009, his first full big league season.
“Those are special,” Williams said of the performance. “Those don’t happen very often, so good for him.”
And good for the Nats, who improved to 13-5 this season when Span reaches base safely at least twice. But that hasn’t happened often enough for Washington, which entered Tuesday last in the Majors in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, with Span occupying that position in 35 of 44 games.
It’s Span’s second straight season getting off to a slow start. Last year, he hit .258 with a .310 on-base percentage through Aug. 16 before hitting .338 with a .375 OBP the rest of the year to finish within striking distance of his career numbers.
Tuesday showed Span’s full arsenal of offensive skills when he’s clicking. He opened the bottom of the first inning by taking Johnny Cueto the other way for a single on a rare first-pitch swing. In the third, he dropped a bunt toward third base, with his speed helping force a bad throw that scored a run and put Span at third. In the sixth, he singled and stole a base in his first at-bat and ripped a two-run double in his second — the latter hit off lefty Sean Marshall (Span came in hitting .190 against southpaws). Finally, in the eighth, he enjoyed a bit of luck that he might have been due for, hitting a blooper to shallow center field that eluded the Reds’ defense for a double.
Despite all of that, Span said he was already trying to put the game behind him.
“It was just one day. Had a good day. Today was my day,” Span said. “Saw the ball good, and I’ve got to do it again tomorrow. That’s what it’s all about. Whether I go 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, my mindset the next day is yesterday is yesterday and I’ve got to do it again.”
Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
By Andrew Simon
WASHINGTON — After enduring his second straight short and ineffective start on Saturday, Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez didn’t directly answer questions regarding his health. Gonzalez had some trouble with shoulder tightness earlier in the season and was asked how he felt after giving up five runs in three innings to the Mets.
“It’s one of those things you’ve just got to grind through,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just trying to find out what it is, and hopefully something positive comes out of it.”
Asked again if he was dealing with anything health-wise, Gonzalez added, “Realistically, arm was dropping a lot. I guess we’ll see.”
The 28-year-old, who has made at least 32 starts in four straight seasons, came out of his April 23 start against the Angels after five innings due to shoulder tightness. He’s stayed on schedule since then, pitching four more times.
Over his last two outings, Gonzalez has allowed 12 earned runs on 16 hits over 7 1/3 innings, walking five and striking out eight. He’s thrown more than 23 pitches per inning and seen his ERA rise from 2.91 to 4.62.
Gonzalez said his arm slot has been off, with his pitches getting up in the strike zone. Manager Matt Williams has noticed that Gonzalez hasn’t been able to find consistency with his release point like he usually does as a game goes along.
However, Williams said he couldn’t attribute the issues to an injury, as Gonzalez hasn’t lost velocity. On Sunday, he threw his fastball at 90-94 mph.
“He’s had a little tight shoulder earlier this year but he’s continued to pitch and tells us he feels good, so I don’t know,” Williams said. “I don’t see that.”
Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.