Results tagged ‘ Bryce Harper ’

Nats notes: Williams to ‘address’ closer situation

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — After Rafael Soriano’s rough second half continued with a blown save in Friday’s loss to the Phillies, Nationals manager Matt Williams stopped short of announcing a change in closers but said he will “address” the situation.

“It’s not an easy decision,” Williams said, following Soriano’s three-run, two-homer ninth inning. “None of them are. But we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that — he’s been around the block.”

Williams said he will talk with the veteran and “see where we’re at,” on Saturday. The Nats used nine relievers in Wednesday’s crazy win over the Dodgers and then eight on Friday, so even with a 10-man bullpen thanks to expanded September rosters, options will be a bit limited for the second game of the series.

But if Williams wants to turn to someone other than Soriano, he has choices. Tyler Clippard saved 32 games in 2012, a year after Drew Storen saved 43. Lefty Matt Thornton has saved 23 over an 11-year career.

“We’ll address it,” Williams said. “Again, I’m not gonna let [the media] know exactly what’s gonna happen right now, but we have guys that have done it, so we have multiple options. I can give you that. Depends on who’s available, who’s fresh, who’s not. But we have multiple options, which is a good thing for us. Guys who have been there before.”

Soriano entered Friday’s ninth inning with a 7-4 lead but gave up a leadoff single to Domonic Brown before Carlos Ruiz mashed a two-run homer. Two outs later, Ben Revere tied the game with his only his second career homer, in nearly 2,000 plate appearances. Both long balls came on two-strike sliders up and out over the plate.

Since the All-Star break, Soriano has allowed 15 earned runs, 27 hits and seven walks over 19 1/3 innings, but he said he feels fine physically and with his fastball. He plans to watch video and sit down with pitching coach Steve McCatty on Saturday. He’ll also throw in the bullpen for McCatty in an effort to figure out what’s wrong.

Told of Williams’ comments, Soriano said he and his manager share “good communication.”

“I talk to him in Spring Training,” said Soriano, who has converted 31 of 38 chances this season. “That be my job in the ninth, and right now it not be too easy to do. I have to do it better. I gotta figure out what’s going on right now and do it better.”

Meanwhile, teammates Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span all expressed support for Soriano.

“He’s our closer,” LaRoche said. “He’s done it for a long time, he knows what he’s doing and he knows how good he is. He’s put up some really good years. It’s really easy through a short stretch to second guess what somebody is doing.

“I think this will pass and nobody will think twice about it. He’s just going through one of those stretches where nothing is working out. Good pitches are getting fouled off. The ones that were getting hit right at somebody are hitting a gap or leaving the ballpark. He’ll be all right.”

 

A couple of other notes from a wild night at the ballpark:

– Harper and Span combined for a costly mistake in the 11th inning when they collided while going for Brown’s fly ball into the left-center gap, allowing it to drop for a two-base error. Brown later scored the go-ahead run.

“It got to the point where I thought I could get it, [Span] called it, and we bump into each other,” Harper said. “Center field priority, of course. I got to get out of there.”

Added Span: “I saw him in my peripheral [vision], but I thought he was going to veer off and just didn’t. I’m pretty positive he didn’t hear me. Just miscommunication, basically.”

– Span picked up his 1,000th career hit with a first-inning single and tipped his helmet to the crowd after receiving a big ovation.

“It was definitely touching, heartfelt, and just unbelievable,” he said. “The fans, they’ve embraced me, really since the second half of last year. It was just a good feeling when the fans acknowledge you for your hard work.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Williams: With Harper’s approach, homers ‘will come’

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — When Bryce Harper led off the bottom of the ninth inning on Wednesday night with a line-drive single to center field, it set up the Nationals for their ninth straight victory and fourth walk-off in five games. But it also could be a sign that Harper is setting himself up for a big stretch run.

Harper’s hit off D-backs reliever Evan Marshall was his third of the night. More important, in the opinion of manager Matt Williams, is the fact that Harper sent the ball back through the middle of the field in each of his four at-bats.

“If he stays through the middle like that, the home runs will come,” Williams said. “They will come. They will come on hanging breaking balls and changeups left up in the zone if he can stay middle of the diamond. And he’s working hard on that, so I’m proud of his approach tonight.”

It’s been a trying season for Harper, who hasn’t enjoyed a sustained hot streak at the plate since last April, before injuries sidetracked what was shaping up to be an MVP-caliber campaign.

He began 2014 by hitting .289/.352/.422 in 22 games before tearing a thumb ligament and missing a little more than two months. After returning, he struggled to get comfortable at the plate, tinkering with his stance and posting a .220/.324/.322 line over his first 35 games back.

But Wednesday was Harper’s fifth multi-hit effort in his last 13 games, and he’s 15-for-49 (.306) over that span, with five walks and three home runs.

“It’s one of those things where you take off all that time, you’re trying to find something that works,” Harper said. “I’ve switched so many times, my stance and for my hand, for me knee, for so many things. So to be able to go in there every single day and feel good with my swing and where it’s at right now, not changing anything, stay with everything I’ve been doing, it feels very good.”

Harper benefited from a scoring change in the first inning, when D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill made a diving stop on his grounder up the middle but threw high to second while trying for a force. Initially ruled a fielder’s choice, it later became an infield single. Harper then singled up the middle on a grounder in the fourth, before Hill made a diving stop for a fielder’s choice in the sixth.

In the end, Harper had his fourth three-hit game of the season and first in more than a month.

“I’ve been battling every single day,” he said. “I’ve been trying to come in here and work my tail off, trying to get that rhythm, trying to get that feel of where I want to be. The next month-and-a-half, hopefully I can take off and help this team win some more ballgames.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Fully stocked Nats lineup doing damage

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Saturday was the Nationals’ fifth game since Bryce Harper’s return made their starting lineup whole again, and the offense broke out with a season-best performance in a 13-0 drubbing of the Cubs.

Matt Williams’ lineup card demonstrated the depth at his disposal, with the trio of Harper, Desmond and Ramos — capable of anchoring a batting order — filling the three slots ahead of pitcher Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs had to scramble for pitching after trading scheduled starter Jeff Samardzija on Friday night, and the Nats’ bats took advantage with season highs of 13 runs and 19 hits.

“It’s not easy to pitch to this lineup,” said Ramos, who went 2-for-5 with a double. “The leadoff guy, the eight guy, everybody can hit the ball well, so right now it’s hard for them to face us.”

Here’s a look at some numbers that stand out from the win:

  • At 13-0, this was the biggest shutout victory of the season by any team. In terms of Nationals history (since 2005), it was by far their biggest winning margin in a shutout. Previously, Washington’s biggest shutout victory was by 10 runs.
  • The Nats had scored in double digits only three previous times this season, with a high of 11. Two of those games came in April, and the last was May 31 against the Rangers.
  • Ten Nationals recorded at least one hit on Saturday, including all eight starting position players, pitcher Gio Gonzalez and substitute Kevin Frandsen. Seven players recorded an RBI.
  • The Nats’ eight doubles was a club record (since ’05). The last time it happened in franchise history was Sept. 18, 1998, when the Expos had eight against the Phillies. Two of the two-baggers in that contest came from third base coach Bob Henley and TV analyst F.P. Santangelo.
  • The Nats batted around twice and had another frame in which they sent eight hitters to the plate. The only time they went down in order was in the eighth.
  • Anthony Rendon stroked a career-high three doubles and has 21 for the season. In his last 31 games, he’s hitting .341/.396/.603.
  • In his last 16 games of June, Jayson Werth hit .145/.264/.177 with two extra-base hits (both doubles), four RBI and 16 strikeouts. In his first four games of July, he’s 9-for-14 with five doubles, two homers, eight RBI and two strikeouts.
  • Ryan Zimmerman went 4-for-5 on Saturday, his second four-hit game of the season, with the other coming April 3 against the Mets. Before this season, he had eight such games, but none since July 28, 2011. Zimmerman is batting .357 (15-for-42) with six doubles, a homer and eight RBI over his last 11 games.
  • Since coming off the DL for the second time this year, Ramos is 9-for-26 (.346) with a double and a home run.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nats’ Harper back in lineup

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — The Nationals activated outfielder Bryce Harper from the 15-day disabled list ahead of Monday night’s game against the Rockies. He will be in the lineup playing left field and hitting sixth.

“I’m excited. I come in here and I’m able to get back out there for a team that is in contention,” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m excited to be back.”

Harper hasn’t played a Major League game since April 25, when he tore an ulnar collateral ligament in the left thumb while sliding headfirst into third base against the Padres. A little over two months later, Harper said he is not going to change his running style. He plans to slide into the bases headfirst and feet first.

“Sliding headfirst is what I’m comfortable doing. I’m going to keep doing it,” Harper said.

Before he was activated, Harper played five Minor League games this past week and went a combined 9-for-14 [.643] with four home runs and 10 RBIs for Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. His best game was on Saturday, when he hit three home runs for Harrisburg. Harper had the day off Sunday.

“I felt good at the plate,” Harper said. “That’s the only thing I really cared about. I cared less about being on base or in the outfield or anything like that. It’s always a process. With my swing, I felt pretty good. It was where I needed to be. I’m very excited to come back and hopefully help this team win.”

With Harper coming back to the Major Leagues, it means that Ryan Zimmerman will go from left field to third base, while third baseman Anthony Rendon will return to second base. Danny Espinosa will return to the bench.

Harper said Zimmerman should stay in left, while Rendon should stay at third.

“Rendon is a great third baseman and should be playing third and we have one of the best [defensive] second baseman in Danny Espinosa,” Harper said. “Of course you want the best hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team.”

It will be interesting to see how this new arrangement works out, as Zimmerman, who has won a Gold Glove at third, said recently that he is more comfortable in left field and that Rendon is the best man to play third base. Rendon has been playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third.

“Going out to left field gave us the best chance to win. It’s a good problem to have. Too many good players and not enough spots,” Zimmerman said recently. “I’ll see what happens. I’m pretty comfortable in left and I think Anthony is a hell of a third baseman. I think there is no doubt right now he is better over there than me. But you have to have your best players in the lineup somehow. Whatever [manager] Matt [Williams] needs me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

As one source said, “the team needs to get better offensively.”

Harper improves a lineup that has been sputtering since he went on the disabled list. During Harper’s absence, the Nationals hit .237 with a .304 on-base percentage. The team also went 30-27 during his absence.

Harper is expected to balance a lineup that was mostly right-handed. Harper and Adam LaRoche and Denard Span are expected to be the left-handed hitters in the lineup.

“Just his mere presence in the lineup is going to be huge,” an American League scout said about Harper’s return. “I think [the Nationals] will become even better because you have to respect Harper’s bat. [When] you have Wilson Ramos [behind the plate], the Nationals should be clicking on all cylinders.”

One baseball source also said that some of the starting players will rotate on occasion. Not only will Zimmerman play third base, he will continue to see playing time in left field and at first base. Harper could see time in all three outfield spots, while Span and Jayson Werth could get days off.

With Harper back on the team, the Nationals optioned Xavier Cedeno to Triple A Syracuse.

Source: Harper to begin rehab assignment Monday

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment at Class A Advanced Potomac on Monday, according to a baseball source. The club has not confirmed that schedule, however, and manager Matt Williams said on Saturday that he wasn’t aware that was the plan.

“I heard a vicious rumor going around that he’s going out Monday,” Williams said. “Is that his plan? I don’t know, because nobody’s told me. But sometime during the next road trip, he’ll go out. He did some early work today — no hitting today. We don’t have anything on the field tomorrow as of right now, so he won’t get back on the field tomorrow, either. I’m sure he’ll hit in the cage tomorrow and then see how he feels and then make a decision.”

After finishing their home series against the Braves on Sunday, the Nats will begin a seven-game trip in Milwaukee on Monday. Their next home stand will begin June 30 against the Rockies, with Harper potentially returning from the disabled list during that eight-game block.

Harper hasn’t played since April 25, when he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb. Williams said he likely will play about seven rehab games, starting with five innings in the field and two at-bats. He will see time at all three outfield positions and also serve as a designated hitter at least once.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nationals’ offensive struggles continue in May

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.”

 

Nationals notes, 5/16

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Here are some quick Nationals notes before the start of a three-game series against the Mets on Friday night. More to come soon on Nationals.com.

  • Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, on the disabled list since April 13 with a right thumb fracture, still has not been cleared to begin strengthening the thumb, according to manager Matt Williams. He will have another X-ray taken Monday, at the five-week mark since the injury. If doctors believe the fracture has healed, Zimmerman then will be cleared to work on regaining strength, at which point he could progress to throwing a ball and swinging a bat. However, Williams said there is no specific timetable for his return. The Nats will continue to proceed with caution, because if Zimmerman were to re-fracture the thumb, it would be another eight-week recovery from that point.
  • Left fielder Bryce Harper has had the stitches removed from his left thumb, which is now in a brace following surgery on a torn ligament. Williams said that Harper is scheduled to make another visit to Cleveland to visit a specialist next week.
  • Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, on the 60-day DL all season with a lumbar strain, was in the Nats’ clubhouse on Friday, two days after making his first Minor League rehab start, for Class A Advanced Potomac. Ohlendorf was shelled for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings, but Williams said he was able to hit 90-94 mph with his fastball and had no physical issues. Ohlendorf will continue making rehab starts every five days, as the Nats want him to prepare as a starter.
  • With first baseman Adam LaRoche on the disabled list, Williams said Greg Dobbs could see some starts at first base after joining the club on Friday. Dobbs got 13 pinch-hit appearances but never played the field for the Marlins before his release, and after signing with the Nats, he spent a few days at extended Spring Training in Viera, Fla., getting his legs under him and collecting at-bats. Dobbs said he was happy to end up in Washington, as he had wanted to sign with the club as a free agent before the 2012 season, believing it was ready to win.

Steven Souza Jr. returns to Nationals

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Before Triple-A Syracuse played at Indianapolis on Saturday, Steven Souza Jr. was informed he wouldn’t be in the lineup. Instead, he would be heading back to Washington.

The Nationals officially recalled Souza for his second big league stint on Sunday morning, when they placed Bryce Harper on the 15-day disabled list with a left thumb sprain. Souza was in the Washington clubhouse prior to Sunday afternoon’s game against the Padres.

The 25-year-old outfielder said he feels a little more more at ease this time after his first trip to the Majors, from April 12-18, while Denard Span was on the 7-day disabled list.

“It’s kind of those first-day jitters where you don’t even know anything. You don’t know to put butter on your toast or what,” Souza said. “[Now] it’s more of how are we going to win this game, how can I help this team win, how can I be a part of this and kind of focus on that.”

Ranked by MLB.com as the Nats’ No. 14 prospect, Souza made his Major League debut on April 13 at Atlanta and picked up his first career hit on April 15 in Miami, a single to center field off Marlins lefty Dan Jennings. In all, he played five games and went 1-for-4 with a walk before being optioned back to Syracuse.

Even with Harper out, Souza might not see the field much more this time around. Manager Matt Williams indicated that Nate McLouth will see most of the starts in left field against right-handed pitchers, with Kevin Frandsen and Tyler Moore serving as options against lefties.

The brief demotion to Syracuse did give Souza a chance to log some much-needed swings. In four games there, he went 5-for-11 with a double and three RBI. For the season, Souza is hitting .333/.463/.545 with two homers and 10 RBI in 41 Triple-A plate appearances.

“Those ABs were huge, just to get in the rhythm of playing every day and getting some consistent ABs,” Souza said.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

Thumb still swollen, Harper sits out (updated)

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — A day after coming out of the Nationals’ win over the Padres with a jammed left thumb, Bryce Harper was not in the club’s starting lineup for Saturday afternoon’s game. Kevin Frandsen started in left field in his place, but manager Matt Williams said Harper would be available off the bench “for sure.”

Harper suffered the injury diving headfirst into third base on a fourth-inning triple and came out an inning later. X-rays were negative, but Harper continued to experience swelling on Saturday, according to Williams. He is scheduled to see a hand specialist at some point during the day. [UPDATE: Williams said after the game that Harper saw the specialist during the game and is undergoing an MRI, with results likely available by Sunday. Harper probably will sit out Sunday's game as well, which would give him three straight days of rest, including Monday's off-day.]

“There’s some swelling there, so we just want to make sure we knock it out,” Williams said.

* In other news, Williams said pitcher Gio Gonzalez was doing “fine” after coming out of Wednesday’s start with tightness in his left shoulder. Gonzalez did some throwing on Thursday, took batting practice on Friday without problems and likely will throw a bullpen session on Sunday.

“We anticipate him being OK,” Williams said.

On Monday, the Nats get their first off-day in three weeks, and Williams will use it to give each member of the starting rotation an extra day of rest, instead of skipping someone.

* Right-hander Doug Fister (right lat strain) still is scheduled to make his first Minor League rehab start on Sunday at Class A Advanced Potomac.

* The hand specialist who saw Harper also examined catcher Wilson Ramos and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, recovering from a hamate fracture and a thumb fracture, respectively. Williams said Zimmerman still is “some time away” from be able to grip a ball.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nats Grapefruit League Notes, 3/1

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest between the Nationals and Braves at Space Coast Stadium featured two teams that figure to be fighting each other for the National League East title. But after a brisk first two innings from starters Jordan Zimmermann and Julio Teheran, the game devolved into a sloppy affair that lasted three hours, 59 minutes and featured 31 runs, 37 hits, 14 walks, six errors and numerous misplays.

For what it’s worth, the Nats outlasted the Braves, 16-15. Here are some notes and observations from a long and crazy day at the ballpark:

– Zimmermann was on point, throwing 15 of his 20 pitches for strikes and getting five ground balls in six batters during two scoreless innings. As mentioned in today’s notebook, Zimmermann mixed in some nice changeups, a part of his repertoire that that he has developed very gradually in recent years.

– Bryce Harper played his first game of the spring, going four innings in left field and taking three plate appearances. He lined out sharply to first base, walked twice and stole a base.

– The Nats went 3-for-3 on steals in the third inning, with Denard Span stealing one on his own before pulling off a double steal of third and second with Harper. New manager Matt Williams wants his players to run the bases more aggressively, and they appear to be doing that in the early going.

– Most of the Nats pitchers after Zimmermann had a tough time, but veteran righty Luis Ayala — competing for one the last two bullpen spots — stopped the bleeding. He came in to protect a one-run lead with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth and induced an inning-ending double play, then pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. Ayala is a sinkerball artist who posted an excellent 59 percent groundball rate last season, mostly with Atlanta.

“He’s a guy that can have really quick innings,” Williams said. “An aggressive opposition, ball sinking down and in, a lot of ground balls. So that’s why we’re considering him and that’s why he’s here and it was a perfect situation today for him.”

– Michael Taylor, who is considered a strong defensive prospect in center field, had a rough day after entering the game in right. He made two errors on one play to allow Matt Lipka to circle the bases on a bloop hit down the line and later dropped a line drive into the right-center gap.

“We want to make sure he gets some reps out there,” Williams said. “Today’s a rough day for any right fielder, but he’ll get some more reps out there, too.”

Tomorrow: The Nats are back at Space Coast to take on the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. Doug Fister will start in his Washington debut, and fellow newcomer Jerry Blevins is scheduled to pitch as well. Jayson Werth is supposed to play for the first time this spring.

Looking ahead: Ross Detwiler will start against the Yankees on Monday in Tampa, and Stephen Strasburg will take the ball against the Braves on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista. That would leave Gio Gonzalez as the one expected member of the rotation yet to pitch.

Worth noting: Although he called Saturday’s defensive sloppiness an “aberration,” Williams said his club will address the issue in a previously scheduled situational defense practice on Sunday.

Worth quoting: While passing a group of reporters in a hallway shortly after the game, Nats coach Mark Weidemaier, who is in charge of the club’s defense, quipped, “Coached the [heck] out of ‘em today!”

Further reading: Today’s notebook on Nationals.com also includes info on how Danny Espinosa will split his time between second base and shortstop this spring, the approach Williams wants prospect Zach Walters to take at the plate, and lefty Tyler Robertson aiming for a bullpen job.

Follow me on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB

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