Results tagged ‘ Jayson Werth ’

Defensive miscues haunting Nationals

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — The Nationals’ defense has been an issue all season, but the sloppiness seemed to rise to another level during Thursday night’s 8-0 loss to the Cardinals.

The Nats committed a season-high four errors that helped bring in two unearned runs, and that doesn’t even include some of their other miscues in the field. It was only the 12th game with at least four errors in the franchise’s 10-year Washington history, and the first since July 15, 2011, against the Braves.

“Those happen,” Nats manager Matt Williams said of the mistakes. “ It just seems like it’s happening an extraordinary amount to us.”

Williams isn’t imagining things. Washington now leads the Major Leagues with 20 errors on the season, including seven by shortstop Ian Desmond, who committed two on Thursday. By contrast, the Orioles have an MLB-low three errors, and several other teams remain in single digits.

Of course, errors don’t tell the whole story, but advanced metrics aren’t smiling on the Nats’ gloves either. Even before Thursday’s showing, they ranked 23rd in the Majors in FanGraphs’ defensive value and 26th in Baseball Prospectus’ defensive efficiency.

Friday might have been the low point — or at least the Nats will hope it was.

The Cardinals started a three-run first-inning when Desmond mishandled Matt Carpenter’s grounder and pitcher Taylor Jordan did the same on Kolten Wong’s. In the fourth, Desmond made a bad throw to first, and on the next play, umpires ruled that second baseman Danny Espinosa dropped Desmond’s flip while transferring to his throwing hand. In the sixth, Desmond failed to make a play on Adam Wainwright’s grounder into the hole, although that was ruled a hit. And finally, in the eighth, right fielder Jayson Werth lost Yadier Molina’s line drive in the lights as it sailed past him.

First baseman Adam LaRoche said he doesn’t see any trend in all the miscues.

“Some of it gets magnified, you kick a couple of balls,” he said. “Maybe we’re pressing a little. It’s the same way at the plate. Like tonight, nothing going on, guys trying a little too hard to expand the zone and you end up looking worse. It could be the same way defensively. We have a really good defensive club, is the thing. It’s not showing right now, but I have a feeling that by the end of the year those numbers are going to be our specialty. We are just too good defensively to make the kind of errors we are.”

Williams isn’t prescribing any radical fixes. The team will prepare the way it already was scheduled to on Friday, which means a full session of ground balls.

“We just keep grinding away at it,” he said.

Follow Andrew Simon @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

Aaron Boone’s take on Nats

Aaron Boone played one year for the Nationals, in 2008. However, he is best remembered for hitting the game-winning home run that helped Yankees win the 2003 American League pennant.

Now a baseball analyst for ESPN, Boone, 40, spoke with MLB.com on Friday about the 2013 Nationals and their chances of making the postseason.

MLB.com: What do you think of the Nationals’ latest run?

Aaron Boone: I think it’s too little, too late, but stranger things have happened over the last couple of seasons. Obviously, they are going to try to continue it at a lights out level during the final month of the season.

Obviously, you have to go on a 20-5 run, but then they need help from other teams. Those things have happened over time. No question. But they are still well behind at this point.

MLB.com: How surprised were you that the Nationals were inconsistent for most of the season?

Boone: I was. I thought, provided their pitching stayed healthy, it would carry them and [they'd] be in a position to win the division or at least get a wild card. [The pitching] hasn’t been as overwhelming as we anticipated. The bullpen is very average – at best. I think what has hurt them this year is that the bench hasn’t been very good. It seems they don’t have anybody they can plug in or step in during the course of the season. That adds up.

MLB.com: The overall offense hasn’t been good for most of the season.

Boone: I still think this offense is solid all around, but when your starting nine aren’t completely healthy and you don’t have pieces to plug in — they haven’t had a guy off the bench that’s had a big year for them, a person they can plug in for a week or two. There has been a really big drop off that I’ve noticed. Outside of the main core guys, they’ve had some struggles.

MLB.com: Do you think the Nationals made a mistake by letting lefty relievers like Tom Gorzelanny go?

Boone: When I looked at this team in Spring Training, … everyone felt like, well, their starting pitching is so good and then with [Tyler]Clippard, [Drew] Storen and [Craig] Stammen and adding Soriano in the back end, [the Nationals] have guys who can neutralize the lefties – how Clippard has been over his career [against lefties]. They thought they could get away with it. … I think going in, it’s the one area I thought they would have a concern, but I thought the overall strength of the bullpen would be able to counter it. It is something that has bit them a little bit.

MLB.com: What do you think about the way Jayson Werth has carried the Nationals the last two months?

Boone: It has been really awesome. He has been a beast. This is what they’ve signed him to do. You have to tip your cap for what he has done and what he has been able to put together. Obviously, he is right in the middle of being on a nice little run and giving them a fighter’s chance down the stretch.

MLB.com: How are things going with you health-wise?

Boone: I’m doing really well. I’m enjoying my gig. It’s a lot of fun to be able to cover game that I love and have a small part in the sport. It has been a blessed transition for me.

After Braves’ sweep, Nats’ pressure lifted

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

The Nationals entered 2013 with legitimate World Series aspirations, as well as the enormous pressure that comes with them.

With each loss, that pressure grew. The Nats pressed. The pressure grew. The season snowballed to the point of potential failure, a three-game series against the Braves last week. The pressure bottlenecked at that series, and when the Nationals were swept by Atlanta, extinguishing any hopes of a second straight National League East title, that pressure vanished.

The Nationals have won five straight since.

“Maybe we just said, ‘Screw it,’” Jayson Werth said. “We just got our [butts] kicked. What do we got to lose? It was definitely a flip that was switched. Hopefully it was the right one.”

After every brief winning streak this season, players were asked if this would be the streak to ignite their season. And after every ugly loss, they were asked if they had finally hit rock bottom. Tyler Clippard said that being swept by the Braves was finally it.

“This game, it kind of beats you down so bad at times that I feel like we hit rock bottom and we’re like, ‘All right, let’s just go out there and play and not worry about what’s going on and who is winning what games and focus on ourselves,’” he said. “Unfortunately we did lose three to the Braves, but it let us take a step back and be like, ‘All right guys, let’s just play baseball and see what happens.’ And that’s what we’re doing right now and it’s a lot more fun that way, these last five games.”

Manager Davey Johnson always says that baseball is 90 percent mental. Early in the season, he tried to build confidence in his bench and bullpen by using struggling players in important situations. He has shuffled the lineup to help hitters find a mental comfort zone. But when asked Wednesday if this winning streak was the result of lifted pressure, Johnson said the Nationals are simply playing better baseball.

“Throughout the lineup we’re swinging the bats better,” Johnson said. “Water seeks its level and sooner or later everybodys going to start getting hits with runners in scoring position. We’ve got too good of talent.”

Harper’s big bunt: Nats surprise, reap benefits

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper owns one of baseball’s most violent and dangerous swings, so when he walks to the plate in a crucial situation with a runner in scoring position, he is expected to use it.

The Nationals defied those expectations during a key moment in Saturday night’s 8-5 comeback win against the Phillies.

It was Harper’s run-scoring bunt in the seventh inning that tied the game and set up Jayson Werth’s dramatic go-ahead home run one batter later. Asked to grade the bunt after the game, Werth gave it an “S for surprising,” and it certainly was that.

The Nationals entered the seventh training, 4-3. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel replaced starting pitcher Cliff Lee with another left-hander, Jake Diekman, and Nats skipper Davey Johnson sent up pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi.

Lombardozzi got things started with a walk, moved to second on Denard Span’s sacrifice and then boldly stole third to move 90 feet from tying the game with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate.

“Well, [Diekman’s] real slow to the plate,” Johnson said. “He’s like 1.6, 1.7 [seconds]. That’s what you do. But [Lombardozzi’s] a smart baserunner. He had a good jump and he got in pretty easy.”

Zimmerman walked to put runners on the corners for Harper. On one hand, the 20-year-old is one of Washington’s deadliest hitters, not your usual candidate for a bunt. In his career, Harper had never driven home a run with a bunt, and he had used them for five sacrifices and one hit.

But a couple of factors, other than the element of surprise, made the bunt a more appealing proposition. For one thing, Harper hasn’t been the same offensive threat he was early in the year, entering Saturday hitting .225 with a .734 OPS since April 28. He went into that at-bat hitting .174 against lefties, with 26 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances. And lefties are 6-for-35 (.171) with 10 Ks against Diekman this year.

Johnson called for the bunt, later saying his reasoning was simply to, “get a run in.” Third base coach Trent Jewett passed Harper the signal to safety squeeze, meaning he only tries to bunt on a strike, and Lombardozzi only breaks for home if Harper gets it down.

Harper took a slider just inside for ball one. He later said Jewett took the bunt off on the 1-0 pitch, a slider down and away that Harper swung through. Jewett signaled for it again on the next pitch, and Harper hung with a slider up and inside. He got it in the air, but in the right spot, the ball shooting toward second base and reaching Chase Utley on one hop. With no play at home, and no chance for a double play, Utley took the force at second, and the game was tied.

“I mean, he hung a slider, so it kind of caught me off-guard a little bit,” Harper said. “I think if it was a fastball, it would’ve gone straight into the ground, because he has pretty good two-seam action on his fastball. The slider, I tried to hit it into right field, it looked like. Thankfully it fell in front of Utley and we got that run.”

Of getting called on to squeeze in that spot, Harper said, “I love it. I think it’s great.” It may have been a surprising call, but it worked.

“The last thing you want to do right there is hit into a double play,” Werth said. “Sometimes, first and third with one out and the game on the line like that, a bunt’s a good play if it works out. But a guy like Bryce, you want to see Bryce swing the bat. But when the guy he’s facing is a nasty lefty, Charlie Manuel would always talk about being creative in the moment. Bryce was definitely creative in the moment right there.”

Nationals need production at No. 2

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

At 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nationals manager Davey Johnson had an epiphany. He called Ian Desmond and told the shortstop that he would be swapping spots in the lineup with right fielder Jayson Werth. Desmond would hit second, Werth sixth.

When asked why he made the switch, Johnson didn’t have much of an answer.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Because I’m supposed to do something.”

On Thursday, Desmond and Werth went a combined 6-for-7 with four runs scored. On Friday, they went 4-for-8.

“I like the energy Desi brings down there,” Johnson said, “and Jayson seems to relish where he’s hitting, too.”

It was a subtle change, but an important one. Entering Friday’s game, the Nationals had gotten the least production out of the No. 2 spot in the order in club history. No. 2 hitters are batting .222 this year with a .268 on-base percentage and a .608 OPS. Since the franchise arrived in Washington in 2005, those marks rank second to last, last and last in team history.

Johnson said Friday that this lineup probably isn’t permanent, but it should be. Desmond, a career .273 hitter, has hit .285 in the No. 2 spot while in the Majors. Werth’s average in the No. 2 hole, however, is significantly lower than his career norm. When he bats second, his average is .243 compared to .268 overall.

Johnson admits that Werth has a different approach when he hits lower in the lineup.

“I think he likes that. I think he also likes the fact that five or six, you generally have a lot of guys on,” Johnson said. “He’s more aggressive when he’s in that spot. And I like that about him.”

Nats’ Johnson plans to make changes to lineup

After watching his team get swept by the Cardinals, Nationals manager Davey  Johnson announced that infielder Steve Lombardozzi will start at third base against the Reds on Thursday.

The Nationals are looking for someone who can spark the offense at the top of the lineup. Lombardozzi will most likely hit second, which means Anthony Rendon will sit on the bench and Jayson Werth will move down in the order and hit fifth.

During the three-game series against the Cardinals, the Nationals scored three runs on 17 hits. Washington is now on a six-game losing streak at home.

“I’m going to have to juggle it up and do a few things tomorrow. Change the mind set,” Johnson said. ‘I’m going to get Lombo in the lineup, get him hitting in the top of the order. Move Werth around. He said some things to me after the ballgame. So just shake some things up a little bit. Little different roles.”

Lombarzozzi has been productive coming off the bench this season, going 10-for-29 [.333]  with three RBIs. When second baseman Danny Espinosa was out of the lineup because of a hand injury last week, Lombardozzi went 7-for-21 (.333) with three RBIs.

“Lombo is a great player. He has a little bit of stability. He is not a guy that goes out of his comfort zone,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He is a very disciplined player. His routine as far as at-bat to at-bat and defensively, he is that sound [player] that we need.”

Werth, was hitting second, agreed with Johnson about putting Lombardozzi near the top of the order.

“He could help jump-start the offense. That’s fine,” Werth said. “I don’t care where I hit. We need to do something to switch it up and get the offense going. We are not manufacturing runs, not getting timely hits. Like I said, things are not going our way. Hopefully, that will help.”

Rendon has struggled since he was promoted to the big leagues on Sunday.  After four games, he is 2-for-15 with an RBI. Rendon replaced Ryan Zimmerman, who is on the disabled list because of a hamstring injury.

“Zimmerman is a big part of our lineup. He is right there in the middle. He could hit three or four either way,” Werth said. “That is a guy you are going to miss no matter what. Even without him, our lineup is pretty tough. We have to get by without him for now. It doesn’t seem like he’s too bad, so he’ll be back soon. In the meantime, guys are going to have to step up.”

Game 153: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog. The Nationals go for the series win against the Cardinals today at Nationals Park, where it’ll be Stephen Strasburg vs. Jake Westbrook. As always, follow along on Nationals.com throughout the game.

It was an awfully quite Nationals clubhouse this morning, understandable considering last night’s grueling 10-9 loss to the Cardinals. Unprovoked, Davey Johnson began his post-game meeting to the media with, “Well that had to be the longest nine-inning game I’ve ever been involved in.”

That sure wasn’t an understatement, as the three-hour, 29-minute game saw 24 hits between the two teams and a combined 11 pitchers used. Even a four-run first inning wasn’t enough for the Nats, who relinquished their lead after a four-run Cardinals fourth inning and again after St. Louis scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

Today, Strasburg looks to clinch the series for the Nats while making what should be one of this last two or three starts of the season. That was the number Johnson gave earlier in the week, and as inexact as it seems, the Nats have remained consistent with their approach to Strasburg. Johnson has said there is a plan in place, even if it hasn’t been disclosed to the media.

The good news for the Nats is that after exiting last night’s game in the ninth inning with hamstring cramps, Jayson Werth is back atop Washington’s lineup today. Adam LaRoche does get what appears to be a day off, though.

An update on Bryce Harper is coming in the notebook, and until then, here are the rest of today’s lineups.

Cardinals (72-61)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. David Freese 3B
  6. Bryan Anderson C
  7. Pete Kozma SS
  8. Daniel Descalso 2B
  9. Jake Westbrook RHP

Nationals (80-52)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Michael Morse LF
  5. Chad Tracy 1B
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Kurt Suzuki C
  9. Stephen Strasburg RHP

Werth exits with hamstring cramp, “hopefully it’ll be nothing”

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Jayson Werth exited Saturday’s 10-9 loss to the Cardinals prior to the ninth inning with a hamstring cramp.

With the score tied 9-9 as the Nationals took the field, Eury Perez — called up earlier in the day as rosters expanded to 40 players– made his Major League-debut in center field as Werth remained in the dugout. Werth finished the game 1-for-5 with one run scored and two strikeouts, lowering his batting average to .313.

Perez never got to bat, though he did field a fly ball for the final out of the ninth.

“It just felt intelligent not to play any longer, so [manager Davey Johnson] took me out,” Werth said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve cramped up during a game, so hopefully it’ll be nothing and I’ll be back by [Sunday], but we’ll see. I don’t think it’s too serious, though.”

Werth added it’s been “four or five years” since he’s cramped up during a game, but Johnson confirmed the issue wasn’t anything serious.

“He was cramping real bad,” he said. “He didn’t pull nothing, so he should be OK.”

Harper heating up, benefiting from Werth leading off

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — All of a sudden, Bryce Harper is heating up.

After seeing his batting average dip to .250 during the Nationals’ five-game road trip last week, the young center fielder is 5-for-14 (.357) with three home runs and six RBI over his last three games. Harper’s struggles had magnified his recent displays of emotion on the field, most recently his 9th-inning ejection on Wednesday after slamming his helmet into the ground following a double play.

Thursday night in the series-opening 8-1 win over the Cardinals, Harper hit his 15th home run of the season in the first inning of a 2-for-3 day at the plate. He nearly added another dinger in the third, sending Jon Jay leaping into the center-field wall before hauling in a deep fly ball.

“I’m just trying to stay within myself,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to use my hands and work up there, see some pitches and get the pitch I can drive.”

After batting .282 in the first half of the season, Harper has seen an increasing amount of outside and off-speed pitches aimed at forcing the rookie out of his comfort zone. Given his outbursts on the field, common thought suggested that Harper’s struggles at the plate were indeed making him over-extend himself at the plate.

“He’s all in all the time,” manager Davey Johnson said. “But he’s gotten a little calmer with his lower half. He can get real aggressive with his lower half, and he’s calmed down quite a bit. That’s when you get antsy, and that doesn’t help your swing.”

Harper has also benefited from the return of Jayson Werth, who has looked very comfortable batting in the leadoff spot. When batting first in the lineup this season, Werth is batting .350 with a .797 OPS (.350 on-base percentage, .447 slugging.) For the season, Werth is boasting a .825 OPS (.384 on-base percentage, .441 slugging).

“I really like guys that can get on base and also produce runs,” Johnson said of Werth and Harper atop his lineup. “Both can run, both basically make [opposing pitchers] throw it over. It’s great.”

While Harper denied seeing a change in how opposing pitchers have attacked him — both during his recent hot streak and with Werth batting in front of him — he did admit to benefiting from Werth’s patient, productive presence.

“I think having Werth hit in front of me just gets me going and he sets the tone,” Harper said. “It just calms down and just lets me go up and there just swing it.”

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