By Daniel Popper
WASHINGTON — Nate McLouth found himself in a situation Tuesday night against the Astros that he hasn’t encountered too often this season: as a pinch hitter.
Nationals manager Matt Williams called the outfielder’s number with bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 5-5 tie. And McLouth delivered a sacrifice fly to left field on the first pitch he saw, scoring Ryan Zimmerman for what was eventually the game-winning run.
“He got a ball to hit out over first pitch and he did what he was supposed to do with it,” Williams said. “He went up there with a plan…and got the job done. It’s nice to see. Good for him.”
McLouth signed his two-year, $10.75 million contract with the Nationals before this season understanding his role as a bench player. But when Bryce Harper suffered a torn thumb ligament at the end of April, McLouth was forced into the starting lineup as a left fielder for over a month until Ryan Zimmerman’s return on June 3.
Now, McLouth is back to doing what he expected to entering this season. And while he noted the high pressures, limited opportunities and different in-game preparations that come with pinch-hitting, McLouth said he’s up for the task.
“It’s a tough gig sometimes just for the simple fact that it’s hard to get in a rhythm at the plate when you don’t get consistent at bats,” McLouth said. “But that’s my job.”
By Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON — Former Major League pitcher John Smoltz, now an analyst for MLB Network, feels the current four-game series between the Nationals and Braves is more important for the Nationals because they need to psychologically show they can beat the Braves.
Entering Thursday’s game, the Braves had won five out of six games against the Nationals this season, but Smoltz pointed out that the Braves have not played good baseball lately. Atlanta won 16 of its first 24 games, but has gone 19-28 since then. It doesn’t help that the Braves have been inconsistent on offense. The Braves’ pitching staff was off to a great start, but it has struggled lately.
“You have two teams that are going in opposite directions,” Smoltz said. “One [the Nationals] is trying to get healthy and the other team [Braves] is trying to get back to its winning ways. It’s been a rough stretch. It will be an interesting series, unless there is a sweep.”
Smoltz did not predict who will win the series, but he is impressed with the Nationals’ pitching staff. He said their pitching depth is so good that they can mix and match with any team. Smoltz also said the bullpen is underrated.
“[The bullpen] is probably the best in the National League collectively,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz believes the Nationals will be even better once their players are healthy. The biggest piece that is missing is outfielder Bryce Harper, who hasn’t played since April 25 because of torn ligaments in his right thumb. As of now, Harper is expected to be back by July 1.
Smoltz pointed out the Nationals have been inconsistent scoring runs because key players such as Harper, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos have been hurt at some point this season. Like Harper, Ramos is expected to be back with the team soon.
“Once they get healthy, they will score more runs than they have been scoring,” Smoltz said. “Left-handed, when you are missing LaRoche like you were and you are missing Harper. That’s a big left-handed weapon out of your lineup. The right-handed hitters have held their own, but they have to get some balance in their lineup.”
By Daniel Popper
WASHINGTON — Nationals Manager Matt Williams played 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants from 1987 until 1996, and faced Tony Gwynn of the division-rival Padres in multiple series every season.
Gwynn passed away Monday at the age of 54 after a long battle with salivary gland cancer. And Williams shared his thoughts on the death of the one of the greatest hitters to ever swing a bat.
“It was a marvel to see him take batting practice because he could do anything he wanted to do with a baseball,” Williams said. “He’d take any pitch and hit it wherever he wanted to hit it.”
Williams said the Giants, like many other teams, would try a variety of defensive schemes to try and take away Gwynn’s favorable hole in between shortstop and third base, where Williams played. However, the attempts were to no avail.
“He’d walk to the plate and see where you were, and then decide to hit it where you weren’t,” Williams said. “Pretty skilled, hand eye coordination, vision, all of those things that are very unique to a select few. You’d stand out there and try to defend it, and it he’d hit it by you. You’d just go ‘Well, I don’t know what to do.’ But we weren’t alone. That’s for sure.”
By Bill Ladson
SAN FRANCISCO – The Nationals have placed catcher Wilson Ramos on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday because of right hamstring tightness. The team is recalling catcher Sandy Leon to be the No. 2 catcher.
Wilson hurt the hamstring after batting in the ninth inning against Giants right-hander Juan Gutierrez. Ramos doubled to left-center field and felt pain as he was sliding into second base. Ramos left the game and was replaced by outfielder Nate McLouth. Ramos walked back into the dugout on his own power.
It marked the second time Ramos has been placed on the disabled list this season. The first time came a day after Opening Day after he broke his left hamate bone.
On Wednesday, Ramos was upbeat and “normal,” but he understood why he was placed on the DL. He realizes they need to have healthy catcher in case something happens to Jose Lobaton, who is in the starting lineup.
“They put me on the DL because they need to have somebody 100 percent in case Loby gets hurt or something like that. They need to get somebody ready,” Ramos said. “I want to work. I want to keep working. Let’s see how I feel the next couple of days.”
Ramos is in great shape, but Lobaton suggested to Ramos that he starts a new program in order to keep his legs healthy. Ramos agrees with his teammate. Ramos had hamstring issues last year and missed half the season.
“I need to do something different,” Ramos said. “I need to work more on my hammy. I need to work on my hammy because I don’t have any problem with any part of my body, just my hammy. I need to work 100 percent with my hammy.”
As for Leon, this is his second stint with the Nationals this season. He is having a productive year with the Triple A Syracuse, hitting .294 with six RBIs.
SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was named the National League Player of the Week, Major League Baseball made the announcement this afternoon on MLB Network.
In earning his first NL Player of the Week honors, Zimmermann went 2-0, allowed just seven hits, walked one and struck out 16 batters. He held opposing batters to a .121 batting average and 71 percent of the 216 pitches he threw were strikes. Both of his starts turned into shutouts for the Nationals.
May was rough for Zimmermann, who had 5.06 ERA during the month. In his first start in June, he looked like the pitcher who won 19 games for Washington last year, allowing five hits in eight innings and striking out four. It helped that he threw his slider for strikes.
This past Sunday, Zimmermann had a arguably his best start of his career, pitching a two-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Padres.
Zimmermann retired the first 16 hitters he faced and recorded seven strikeouts before Alexi Amarista singled to right field to record the Padres’ first hit. Zimmermann allowed two hits in the game and struck out a career-high 12 batters.
Zimmermann is the second pitcher in franchise history and the first since Jeff Fassero on June 29, 1996, to pitch a complete game shutout during which he allowed two or fewer hits and struck out 11 or more batters. Zimmermann is the first Major League pitcher to accomplish this feat since Shelby Miller did so against the Rockies on May 10 of last year after he allowed just one hit and struck out 13.
According to the Bill James Game Score, one metric for measuring dominant pitching mances, Zimmermann’s outing ranked as the best in Nationals (2005-present) history with a score of 95.
Zimmermann, who was named the NL Pitcher of the Month in July 2012, is the seventh Nationals player to win an NL POTW award, and earns the ninth such honor for the organization.
Zimmermann joins 3B Ryan Zimmerman (July 16-22, 2012; Aug. 15-21, 2011; July 30-Aug. 5, 2007), RHP Stephen Strasburg (June 7-13, 2010), OF Josh Willingham (July 27-Aug. 2, 2009), SS Cristian Guzman (Aug. 25-31, 2008), UTIL Willie Harris (July 17-20, 2008), and 1B Nick Johnson (May 31-June 6, 2005) as honorees.
By Daniel Popper
The Nationals drafted two sons of former Major Leaguers on Day 3 of the Fist-Year Player Draft Saturday.
In the 15th round (No. 545 overall), Washington selected first baseman Ryan Ripken, son of former Orioles great Cal Ripken, out of Indian River State (Fla.) College. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound left-handed slugger hit one home run and 24 RBIs in 42 games as a freshman this past season in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Ripken is a native of Hunt Valley, Md., and played high school baseball at Gilman School in Baltimore. The Orioles drafted him in Round 20 of the 2012 Draft, but he opted to sign with South Carolina instead. Ripken later transferred to JUCO after he was left off the Gamecock’s 35-man roster for the 2013 season.
In Round 32 (No. 964 overall), the Nationals drafted high-school center fielder Elliot Cary, son of former Tigers, Braves and Yankees pitcher Chuck Cary. Elliot Cary was the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year in Oregon and is committed to Oregon State for next year.
By Bill Ladson
SAN DIEGO — The Nationals selected first baseman Ryan Ripken, son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., in the 15th round of the First-Year Player Draft on Saturday.
Manager Matt Williams, who played against Ripken Jr. in the 1990s, thought it was great that Ryan will get a chance to prove himself in the Nationals organization.
“There’s immense pressure on that young man,” Williams said about Ryan. “It’s too bad, but I think he will handle it real well. Dad, uncle, grandfather, great bloodlines, great work ethic. We’ll be happy to have him. If he can bring that work ethic to us, it will be nothing but a benefit.”
By Bill Ladson
It was a weird 24th birthday for Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon during the team’s 6-0 victory over the Padres. In the first inning, Rendon put Washington on the board by hitting a two-run homer against right-hander Tyson Ross.
But Rendon would later leave the game in the top of the sixth inning because of a sore right thumb. He hurt it while making an error two innings earlier off the bat of Carlos Quentin. X-rays on Rendon’s thumb were negative. Rendon is listed as day to day.
“I feel all right. Pretty sore,” Rendon said. “I really didn’t feel it. It just went straight to numbness.”
Rendon has been one of Washington’s hottest hitters, going 12-for 29 [.414] with four home runs and eight RBIs in his last seven games. The Nationals are 6-1 in those games.
By Bill Ladson
* Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth was given a scheduled day off Friday against the Padres. According to manager Matt Williams, Werth needed the time off because he woke us Friday morning a little stiff. Werth has been an iron horse for the Nationals this year, playing in all 58 games prior to Friday’s action.
“We thought today would be a good day for him,” Williams said “We are not going to get another off day until we get home. Long road trip.”
In his Werth’s place, Nate McLouth received the start in right.
* Left fielder Ryan Zimmerman hasn’t missed a beat at the plate, going 4-for-11 [.364] with two RBIs since he was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Zimmerman said he is fortunate that he has been in the National League since 2005.
“I’ve been fortunate to be up here at a young age” Zimmerman said. “I’ve had a lot of at-bats, a lot of experience. I got to play a lot of games earlier in my career, so I kind of got to know my swing, know what kind of balls to handle.
“More importantly, you see a bunch of pitchers. There aren’t a lot of pitchers I haven’t faced. I think when you first come up, I think that’s the hardest part. You don’t know any guys. … I’ve been in this league a long time. I have a lot of experience.”
By Daniel Popper
With the No. 93 overall pick in the third round of MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals selected catcher Jakson Reetz out of Norris High School in Hickman, Nebraska. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound University of Nebraska commit burst onto the scene last August when he was named MVP of the Perfect Game All American Classic. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two stolen bases.
Reetz is considered a quality two-way player who has a strong arm behind the plate and can reach low 90s on the mound. He is largely a line drive hitter with a short swing, but has potential to build power. Baseball America ranked Reetz as the No. 62 overall prospect and top prospect in Nebraska entering the Draft.
The Nationals drafted right-hander Erick Fedde with No. 18 pick of the first round on Thursday night and added three more right-handed pitchers on Friday.
With the No. 124 overall pick in the fourth round, Washington selected Robbie Dickey out of Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. Dickey is committed to Texas State, but will likely forgo that opportunity to play professionally. The 6-foot-3 right-hander touches 97 miles per hour on his fastball and also throws a slider and changeup. He was perhaps the top JuCo prospect after the fall, but struggled with bicep tendonitis in the spring. He still posted a 2.74 ERA with 100 strikeouts over 85 1/3 innings.
With the No. 154 overall pick in the fifth round, the Nationals selected Drew Van Orden, a senior right-hander out of Duke. He had impressive numbers this past season for the Blue Devils, sporting a 3.19 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 87 1/3 innings.
With the No. 184 pick in the sixth round, Washington selected right-hander Austen Williams out of Texas State. Williams started the season throwing a fastball that ranged between 91 and 94 miles per hour, but it tapered off to 87 to 90 miles per hour by the end of 2014. He also throws a hard slider.
The Nationals broke their streak of three straight right-handed pitchers in the seventh round when they selected center fielder Dale Carey out of Miami with the No. 214 overall pick. Known for his defense — he posted a 1.000 fielding percentage in 2014 — Carey raised his offensive production that past season for the Hurricanes and batted .305 with seven home runs, 29 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .405 on-base percentage.
The Nationals took three more college position players in the final three rounds: Louisville outfielder Jeff Gardner in the eighth, Nevada first baseman Austin Byler in the ninth and Oklahoma Baptist outfielder Matt Page in the tenth.