Author Archive

Desmond: ‘Harper knows what he is doing’

By Bill Ladson

BALTIMORE — Entering Friday’s action against the Giants, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is hitting .234, ninety-six points lower than last year’s batting average. But good friend, Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond, isn’t worried about Harper. Desmond is a person who should know Harper. They were teammates from 2012 to 2015.

Desmond acknowledged that Harper is in a funk at the plate, but Desmond pointed out that Harper is doing other things to help the Nationals. Harper, according to Desmond, has a high on-base percentage [.378] and is doing well defensively in right field.

“I’ve been watching him from afar,” Desmond said. “He is a professional hitter. He knows what he is doing. He is in a funk, but he is [still] getting on base and still helping the team. I’ve seen him in the highlights making great defensive plays. He is still an asset to the team. His bat in the lineup — whether he is hitting or not — is a bonus.”

Desmond still keeps in touch with some of his former teammates, but he said most of his focus is on the Rangers. Desmond is an MVP candidate, while playing a Gold Glove center field. He leads the team in RBIs and has a team-leading .298 batting average entering Thursday’s action against the Orioles.

“I left there and I kind of made a decision to cut the cord a little bit,” Desmond said. “I focus my attention the Rangers. I’ll shoot Jayson [Werth], Bryce or Zim [Ryan Zimmerman] or [Anthony] Rendon a text here and there. I still love a lot of people in the Nationals organization, certainly a lot of fans that I miss — people around the city. I try to stay in contact as much as I can, but I’m focusing on the Rangers 100 percent.”

Best, worst deadline deals in Nats history

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON – It’s too early to tell if the Nationals made a great move by acquiring closer Mark Melancon before non-waiver Trade Deadline.

However, the Nationals made their share of deadline deals dating back to their first year in 2005. Here are three of their best and worst deadline deals since their first year of existence.

THE BEST

July 30, 2010: The Nationals send SS Cristian Guzman to the Rangers for RHP Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark.

The results: The Rangers wanted Guzman for the pennant stretch, but he wasn’t productive and was left off the playoffs roster. Tatusko never reached the big leagues. The last time he played professional baseball was in 2014 for the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization. But Roark turned out to be a gem for Washington. He was one of Washington’s top starters in 2014, winning 15 games with a 2.85 ERA. Two years later, manager Dusty Baker often calls Roark a horse for going deep in games. Entering Monday’s action, Roark was fourth in the National League in innings pitched [136.2] and is second on the team in victories with 10.

June 28th, 2009: The Nationals send OF Ryan Langerhans to the Mariners for OF/INF Michael Morse.

The results: Both players were underachieving, so a change of scenery was needed. Langerhans didn’t do much with the Mariners, hitting .200 in two-plus seasons.  Morse, on the other hand, was productive during his three-plus years with Washington. First he became a productive hitter off the bench and then became the team’s MVP by hitting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2011. The next year, he helped the Nationals win their first-ever division title.

June 30, 2009:  The Nationals send Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan to the Pirates for reliever Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan.

The results:  You could almost call this deal even. Milledge was too inconsistent offensively and a below average center fielder, while Hanrahan had problems getting people out before he was dealt.  To Hanrahan’s credit, he became an All-Star twice in Pittsburgh before going down with Tommy John surgery. Sean Burnett became a quality reliever for Washington in three-plus years and helped the Nationals win their first-ever division title in ’12. Morgan had a nice two months with the Nationals before breaking his thumb sliding into third base against the Cubs. He was gone a year later as general manager Mike Rizzo traded him to the Brewers for Cutter Dykstra

 THE WORST

July 13, 2006: The Nationals traded SS Royce Clayton, Ps Bill Bray, Gary Majewski and Daryl Thompson to the Reds for INF Felipe Lopez, OF Austin Kearns and RHP Ryan Wagner.

The results: Of the seven players traded, only Bray produced. He became a solid lefty specialist for the Reds.  Kearns was supposed to be the most important player in the deal, but he was often injured. When he was on the field, Kearns had a tough time hitting the baseball. In three-plus years in Washington, Kearns hit .242 with 34 home runs and 159 RBIs.

July 30, 2011: The Nationals trade Jerry Hairston Jr. to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Erik Komatsu.

The results:  Hairston was having a solid season off the bench for Washington before he helped the Brewers win their first division title since 1982. In 11 postseason games for Milwaukee, Hairston hit .385 with four RBIs. Komatsu never was given a chance to show what he could do with the Nationals. He was plucked by the Cardinals in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. By May of 2012, he was sent back with the Nationals before he was released by the club two years later. He last played professional baseball for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League.

July 31, 2014: The Nationals trade infielder Zach Walters to the Indians for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera.

The results: Walters became a walking vagabond around the league. He is already with his fourth club [Dodgers] since 2010. Cabrera was supposed to help the Nationals offensively and be a spark plug at second base. Cabrera was a disappointment with the bat and looked like he lost his range at second base. He became a free agent after ’14 and signed with the Rays.

Nats’ Ross showing signs of coming back

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Nationals right-hander Joe Ross, who is on the disabled list because of shoulder inflammation, threw on flat ground before Saturday’s game against the Mets at Citi Field.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux observed the session and felt Ross was taking baby steps toward getting back on the mound.

“Rest is what he needed,” Maddux said. “He is throwing free and easy right now. He is doing some baby steps to get it back.”

Ross is expected to have a bullpen session during the All-Star break. The Nationals don’t need a fifth starter until they play the Padres on July 22 and manager Dusty Baker is hoping that Ross is ready to pitch by that time.

“We just don’t know when he’ll be back. He is training hard, working hard,” Baker said. “I see him in better shape when he comes back compared to when he left.”

Ross was placed on the 15-day disabled list last Sunday after the velocity on his fastball dropped significantly against the Reds the day before. Ross has a sinker that averages 93.5 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. During that game, it listed his sinker as only averaging 91.8 and sitting in the high 80s during the fifth inning. At first, Ross said he was OK. He just had poor command, but then told Baker that he had shoulder discomfort. That’s when the team decided to shut him down.

Werth has big hit against Phillies

By Bill Ladson

PHILADELPHIA — Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth had arguably the biggest hit in Friday’s 9-1 victory over the Phillies.

In the first inning, Washington already had a 1-0 lead when Werth swung at a pitch from right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and doubled to left-center, scoring Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy.  Werth ended up going 2-for-5. Maybe it helped that Werth was given a day off on Thursday against the Braves.

“Jay looked like a young man today,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Yesterday, he said he treated his body with massages. Whatever he did yesterday, it worked today.”

Werth wasn’t so sure if the day-off helped him have a productive day against Philadelphia.

“I felt pretty good,” Werth said. “Dusty is trying to keep everybody fresh in April. I’ll take off-days when I can get them, especially early in the season. As the season goes on, there are going to be fewer and fewer off days.”

 

Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?

By Bill Ladson

This past season, many experts expected the Nationals to run away with the National League East title, and then win their first World Series title. But that didn’t happen. Not only didn’t they reach the postseason, the Nationals finished in second place. Here’s a look at the Nats’ 2015 Major League roster: Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?

They’ll be back
OF Matt den Dekker: The Nationals need another lefty off the bench next to Clint Robinson. Once he returned from Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 28, den Dekker was more consistent at the plate, hitting .320. It helped that he changed his swing. He now has a right leg kick that allows him to recognize a lot of pitches.

LHP Gio Gonzalez: He will be the first to say that he has to throw less pitches in the games he starts. Next year could be his final year with the Nationals. He has a lot to prove in 2016.

OF Bryce Harper: What more can you say about the man they call Bam-Bam? He slugged his way into the Nationals’ record books. He set season records in on-base percentage, OPS, home runs for a left-handed hitter and slugging percentage.

C Jose Lobaton: His season wasn’t as good as it was last year. At times — like Wilson Ramos — he would have problems catching throws from the outfield. However, pitchers still enjoyed throwing to him.

3B/2B Anthony Rendon: He was the club’s Most Valuable Player in 2014. This past season, he was arguably the most fragile player. He played in only 80 games because of a knee sprain and quad sprain. Rendon spent most of his time at second base. If the Nationals trade Yunel Escobar, Rendon will be back at third.

RHP Tanner Roark: Unlike Ross Detwiler, Roark was a team player after losing his job in the rotation because of the signing of Max Scherzer. If the team needed a long man – no problem, he was the guy. Setup man? No worries. If the Nationals needed an emergency starter, Roark came through. Roark deserves to be back in the rotation.

1B Clint Robinson: This 30-year old was clearly the team’s Rookie of the Year. He always came up with big hits and was a pretty good defensive first baseman.

RHP Stephen Strasburg: He was injury prone for most of the first half of the season. Once Strasburg came back from his oblique injury, it was like watching the rookie who blew away the Pirates during his Major League debut in 2010. It will be interesting to see if the Nationals sign him to a long-term deal. He is a free agent after the 2016 season.

RHP Max Scherzer: He proved that he was worth the seven-year, $210 million contract. Two no-hitters, four complete games, 14 victories and 276 strikeouts made him the ace of the rotation.

RF Jayson Werth: The unofficial captain of the Nationals, Werth had to go on the disabled list twice because of shoulder and wrist injuries. It will be interesting to see where he fits in the lineup. If the Nationals are unable to acquire a leadoff hitter, look for Werth to hit at the top of the lineup.

He’s ready, but …
OF Michael Taylor: No lie, one Major League scout compared Taylor’s defense to Willie Mays. Taylor is a good one out there and will win a Gold Glove soon. What about his bat? There are days he can look awful, especially when he is at the top of the order. Put him near the bottom of the order with runners on base, he has a high batting average.

LHP Felipe Rivero: By the end of the season, he was the only jewel in the bullpen. Former manager Matt Williams used him as a closer after the team suspended Jonathan Papelbon. Will Rivero be the closer next year? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

RHP Joe Ross: Doug Fister lost his starting job because of Ross. He gave the Nationals quality innings, but he was shut down late in the season because his arm was tired.

SS Trea Turner: Turner looks like a 15-year-old kid, but he plays like a veteran. He is going to be one heck of a hitter and defender when it’s all said and done. Turner will be the starting shortstop in 2016.

Something to prove
RHP A.J. Cole: He wasn’t given much a chance to prove himself. When he did pitch, Cole was hit hard. Hard to tell what his future is with the team at this point. Entering this past season, Cole was the second-best prospect in the Nationals organization, according to MLB.com. Now, he ranks sixth.

LHP Matt Grace Another guy from the farm system, Grace couldn’t keep the ball down during his first stint with the team. When he came back late in year, he was much better. He will be given every chance to make the 2016 team out of Spring Training.

INF Wilmer Difo: He had a nice season in the Minor Leagues, but when he was promoted to the Major Leagues, Difo wasn’t given much of a chance until the second-to-last day of the season against the Mets. In that game, Difo broke his hand and most likely will miss the Arizona Fall League season.

RHP Taylor Jordan: Once a candidate for the rotation, Jordan had several stints with the team. His future seems to be as a reliever.

RHP Rafael Martin: He is hard to figure out. One day, Martin can get hitters out. Other days, he throws batting practice.

C Pedro Severino: He catching skills are as advertised. He even has speed on the bases and behind the dish. One cannot judge his offense on one at-bat. It would not be a surprise if he was given every chance to make the team out of Spring Training.

RHP Blake Treinen: People from the front office to the players have bragged about his 98-mph sinker. That sinker had trouble staying down, and left-handed hitters hit Treinen hard. It will interesting to see what he does to improve his pitching repertoire when Spring Training starts.

Sammy Solis: Read Martin.

Possible trade chips
RHP Drew Storen: He was arguably having his best season of his career until the Nationals traded for Jonathan Papelbon to become the closer. After Papelbon joined the team, Storen had a 6.75 ERA and broke his thumb after he allowed the game-winning homer to Yoenis Cespedes in September. A change of scenery may do Storen some good.

3B Yunel Escobar: He could be a man without a position for the Nationals. The team would like to have Rendon back at third base. While Escobar had a great year with the bat, he was below average with the glove.

2B Danny Espinosa: He had a productive season coming off the bench and still was a solid defender. It was a year where he played all four infield positions and left field. He could become Ben Zobrist of the National League if he wants it. But he’ll respond by saying he’s not a bench player.

OF/1B Tyler Moore: When he plays often, Moore can provide power. He is almost useless when he comes off the bench. He is up for arbitration for the first time.

Wilson Ramos: Give him credit, he has caught three no-hitters during his career and he stayed healthy throughout the season. Privately, some people in the organization worried about his game-calling skills and he had problems catching throws from the outfield. To make matters worse, he had his worst season as a hitter.

All but gone
SS Ian Desmond: The Nationals offered him a lucrative deal last year, but he turned it down and will become a free agent after the World Series. Desmond is coming off his worst season and it will be interesting to see who much he gets in the open market.

RHP Doug Fister: The Nationals gave him a short leash to get his act together on the mound. When he didn’t get the job done as a starter, he was put in the bullpen as a long man. Fister said he would like to become a starter again, but that will not happen with the Nationals.

RHP Casey Janssen: He was supposed to replace Tyler Clippard as the setup man, but he was hit hard during the second half of the season. Janssen has a $7 million option left in his contract, but that is not expected to be picked up.

Jonathan Papelbon He was supposed to make the bullpen even better, but he didn’t get many save opportunities and then was suspended the final four games of the seasons for having a run-in with Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo would be considered a genius if he can acquire anything good for him. Papelbon is past his prime.

LHP Matt Thornton: He is 39 years old and he still has fire in his stomach to play another year. He wasn’t bad with the Nationals, but it’s doubtful he will play another season with them.

2B Dan Uggla: For a guy who wanted to play every day, Uggla wasn’t bad as a reserve. Who can forget the big home run he hit against the Braves on April 28?

RHP Jordan Zimmermann: Both the Nationals and Zimmermann tried to get a deal done, without much success. He is clearly the best starting pitcher in Nationals history, but he will take his services elsewhere.

The injured
RHP Aaron Barrett: He got off to a slow start and then needed Tommy John surgery. He probably will not be a factor in 2017 because he’ll be recovering from the procedure.

RHP David Carpenter It looked like the Nationals have found their eighth-inning setup guy, but he hurt his shoulder before the All-Star break and never returned to action.

OF Reed Johnson He wasn’t given much of a chance to play because of a torn tendon in his foot and a broken rib. Reed plans to play another year and realizes that he may have to sign a Minor League deal in order to join a team.

OF Nate McLouth: He didn’t play an inning because of shoulder problems. He would later have a cleanup procedure in the shoulder. He will become a free agent and will not return to the Nationals.

CF Denard Span: The Nats had to use four people at the leadoff spot because Span missed a lot of time because of back tightness, abdominal and hip problems. Span is a free agent and most likely will not be back with the team.

RHP Craig Stammen: He was the MVPM which means Most Valuable Player Missing. Stammen missed most of the season because of a forearm injury. He can pitch the middle innings and be a valuable setup guy. While he was gone, the Nats had serious problems replacing him.

1B Ryan Zimmerman: He played less than 100 games for the second straight year because of foot and oblique problems. He plans to change his workout routine this offseason. When he’s healthy, he can carry a team for a while.

Nats’ Rizzo: ‘We’ll make decisions sooner rather than later’

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Before the last game of the season against the Mets, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo talked to the local media, but didn’t say whether he was going to dismiss manager Matt Williams and some of his coaching staff.

Rizzo said the process will begin once the team flies out of New York on Sunday evening. The meetings will start as early as Monday.

“We’ll make decisions sooner rather than later about personnel on the field, off the field and in the front office,” Rizzo said. “We are not going to let people twist in the wind. We want to make out decisions and move on.”

Entering Spring Training, the Nationals were expected to be World Series contenders, especially after they signed right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year $210 million contract. But the Nationals will finish in second place behind the Mets and not reach the postseason. It didn’t help the team was hit by injuries and didn’t have a productive bullpen.

“We are going to investigate all those things after the season when we do our postseason analytics on what went wrong,” Rizzo said. “Suffice to say, no one is more disappointed than I am about the way the season transpired.

“But I see a lot of positives that come out of the season. We’re playing extremely hard at the end of season, even with very little on the line. I credit that to a bunch of professional players and a coaching staff that really cares. We’ve seen a lot of good things happen with our young players, who have emerged. We are going to bring some positives out of it. We are not happy about what happened [this season] and we are disappointed in it.”

Two players who most likely will not be back with the Nationals are right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond. Both are free agents after the season and not close to re-signing with Washington. Rizzo called them two of his favorite players.

“They mean the world to me,” Rizzo said. “Personally, I was one of the instrumental guys when we drafted Jordan Zimmermann. We signed him, developed him. We had the controversial shutdown to extend his career and he pitched admirably and unbelievably for us. He is close to my heart.

“Ian Desmond is the rock of the organization. When I became the GM, he became the everyday shortstop and blossomed into one of the best players in all of baseball. They are in the last year of their decision making years. It will be difficult both personally and professionally. But that’s baseball. On both sides, we have made attempts to put these guys under contract for extended period of time. It hasn’t worked out to this point. I never shut any doors about any players. If this is the last game both of them play for us, I will remember them fondly as two of my most favorite players I’ve ever been around.”

Nobody has talked to Nats’ Williams about job status

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Despite the reports that he is going to be dismissed as manager of the Nationals, Matt Williams said nobody in the front office talked to him about his status with the club. He is said he is focusing on the final three games of the season against the Mets.

“Nobody has spoken to me at this point and, frankly, it’s not a concern of mine right now. We have a guy [Bryce Harper] who is a potential MVP on our team and we have three games to play. That’s what I’m concentrating on. That’s what I know right now. As of today I have a job to do a couple of time and we’ll go from there.”

It was a bad month of September for Williams. The Mets swept a crucial three-game series from the Nationals at Nationals Park during the second week of September. By Sept. 26, the Nationals were eliminated from postseason contention as the Mets won the National League East title.

A day later, teammates Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon were involved in a dugout confrontation. It was a fight that Williams claimed he didn’t see until he saw a video of it later that night. Papelbon ended up getting suspended four games because of the fracas.

Then reports surfaced in the Washington Post that Williams lost the club, doesn’t communicate well with his players and players questioning how Williams handled the bullpen, which turned out to be its weakest link.

Asked why he didn’t defend himself after the reports came, Williams said, “I personally feel that it’s my job to be a calming force as opposed to a disruptive one. We have a lot of talented players on this team that I support whole heartedly every single day. I will not stop doing that – ever. Believe me when I tell you this.

“So with that being said, I’m not going to subject this team to any more distractions. There no need for further distractions at this point. What’s important is that we finish this season strong, Beyond that, it noise.”

Williams said he talks to Nationals management every single day, but wouldn’t tell the local media what has been said between the two parties.

Williams declines to responds to criticism

By Bill Ladson

ATLANTA — Over the last few days, Nationals manager Matt Williams has been criticized by the press for things like the way he communicates with his players and the way he handles the bullpen.

Asked to respond to the criticism that has been written about him recently, Williams said, “If we are going to talk about, it’s going take longer than a conference like this. I think you have to have all the facts and I mean all of them. That being said, I’ll hold my comments now because all of the facts are not out there. It doesn’t feel good. … It is what it is, and we will move on from today. I would say we have a few games to play. We need to play well. That’s what I’m concentrating on now, and we’ll deal with it at the appropriate time.”

Nationals announce organizational award winners

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

WASHINGTON – Before Saturday’s game with the Phillies, the Nationals named first baseman Jose Marmolejos their Minor League Player of the Year and right-handed pitcher Austin Voth their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Austen Williams received the third-annual Bob Boone Award.

Here is the link to the full release, full with the players’ stats and previous winners: http://curlyw.mlblogs.com/2015/09/26/nationals-announce-2015-organizational-awards/

September 27: Phillies @ Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (78-74, -7.5 in NL East), Philadelphia Phillies (58-96, eliminated)

Streaks: Nationals: W1, Phillies L1

First pitch: 4:05 p.m. ET

Watch & Listen: MASN2 /106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Taylor 8, Rendon 4, Harper 9, Escobar 5, Robinson 3, Desmond 6, den Dekker 7, Lobaton 2, Gonzalez 1

PHI Lineup: Galvis 6, Blanco 4, Altherr CF, Ruf LF, Francoeur 9, Kratz 3, Asche 5, Rupp 2, Harang 1

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

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