Results tagged ‘ Kurt Suzuki ’

Taking stock of the Nats’ dwindling playoff hopes

By Andrew Simon

The Nationals saw a victory slip through their fingers in agonizing fashion on Thursday against the Giants, who snapped their five-game winning streak and put a damper on their flight to Atlanta for Friday’s series opener against the Braves.

On one hand, the Nats had righted themselves after a sweep by the Braves and closed their homestand on a 5-1 run. Catcher Kurt Suzuki felt the momentum was still there.

“We won two series in a row, going to Atlanta feeling good about ourselves,” he said. “Hey, you never know.”

With baseball, one never does know. Strange things happen. But at this point in the season, with the Nats clinging for dear life to the fringes of the playoff chase, every game takes on monumental importance. Washington can’t afford to have many more slip away.

Just how dire is the situation?

At 59-61, the Nats trail the Reds by 9 1/2 games and the D-backs by 3 1/2 for the second NL Wild Card spot (the Cardinals hold the first Wild Card and are only a half-game in front of Cincinnati). Odds calculated by Baseball Prospectus give the Nats a 1.7 percent chance to make the postseason, while the website coolstandings.com figures about the same, at 1.9 percent.

Of course, teams have come back from long odds before. Take the breathtaking 2011 season, which came down to the final day. The Rays’ playoff odds dipped as low as 0.5 percent on September 3, while the Cardinals’ chances fell to 1.1 percent on Aug. 27. Both teams stormed back to claim Wild Card berths, and St. Louis won the World Series. Even if it’s faint, there is hope.

If the Nats were to stage their own miraculous comeback, what would it look like? They have 42 games remaining, one more than the Reds. Putting aside the D-backs and assuming the Reds remain the team to catch for the second Wild Card, here are a handful of scenarios that would result in a tie:

Reds go 25-16 (.610)… Nats go 35-7 (.833)

Reds go 21-20 (.512) … Nats go 31-11 (.738)

Reds go 20-21 (.487) … Nats go 30-12 (.714)

Reds go 16-25 (.390)… Nats go 26-16 (.619)

There are several other factors to keep in mind as Washington tries to make this a reality.

  • The Nats still haven’t won more than five straight all season and they have only three four-game winning streaks. Their best 10-game stretch is 7-3, and they’ve done that only a few times.
  • They have limited chances to gain ground directly. Their season series with Cincinnati is finished. They do close their schedule with three against St. Louis and three against Arizona, games that could wind up being do or die.
  • They just finished a nine-game homestand, part of a stretch in which they played 20 of 25 at Nationals Park. That leaves them with 26 road games and only 16 home contests remaining, not good news for a club with a 23-32 road record.
  • They will need to take advantage of their 23 remaining games against the Mets, Phillies and Marlins, the three teams behind them in the division. The Nats are 20-14 so far in those season series. They also get four against the 52-68 Cubs. On the other hand, they’ll need to figure out a way to beat the Braves over six more meetings after starting 3-10 against them.
  • The Reds play 23 of their final 41 at home, where they are 37-21. About half of their remaining schedule is against teams with winning records, including four against the D-backs and seven against the Cardinals. The D-backs play 24 of 43 on the road, where they are 26-31, but have only 14 left against winning teams.

Which Nats players could go after 2013?

After the 2013 season comes to an end, the Nationals are likely to make changes  to improve the club for next season. Here are the current Nationals who may not be with the club next year.       

OF Roger Bernadina: As one person put it, “[Bernadina] has been a disappointment this year.” He not only has problems swinging the bat, but Bernadina has made some fundamental mistakes on the bases. As one evaluator put it, “[general manager Mike] Rizzo has never been a fan of Bernadina’s.”

Bernadina is arbration eligible after this season and there is a good chance he will be non-tendered.

2B Danny Espinosa: Shoulder and wrist injuries are the reasons Espinosa is having his worst year in 2013.  If he comes back to the big leagues for Washington, he most likely will be a reserve. He could be an everyday player elsewhere. He must cut down on the strikeouts to become an everyday player again.

RHP Dan Haren: Despite pitching well in the last month or so, Haren doesn’t think he will be back with the Nationals next year because of the season he has had, overall. He is 7-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 21 starts. The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal to be one of their five starters this year.

1B Adam LaRoche: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is arguably having his worst year defensively, with a team-leading 17 errors. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still having throwing issues because of the surgery he had on his right shoulder. In fact in early June, Zimmerman said he expects the shoulder to be in rehab mode for the rest of the season, but it will not keep him out of the lineup. It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base as early as September. That could mean trading LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman at the position.

OF Denard Span: The Nationals thought he would be their ideal leadoff man after they acquired him from the Twins for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Span is hitting .263 with a .312 on-base percentage. Even worst, he has a .167 batting average against left-handers. It’s not known if Span will get another chance next season.

Brian Goodwin is not ready to take over center fielder. The Nationals could try to acquire a center fielder this offseason. For example, Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent after the season. He currently has a .409 on-base percentage with the Reds.

C Kurt Suzuki: Most of the playing time behind the plate has gone to Wilson Ramos, so it is doubtful Suzuki will have his option vested for 2014. The Nationals have a plethora of quality catchers in the farm system, so it looks like Suzuki will take his services elsewhere after next season.

INF Chad Tracy: The leader of the Goon Squad, Tracy is not having a productive season like he did last year. Entering Tuesday’s action against the Giants, Tracy is 18-for-102 [.176] with three home runs six RBIs. He is not the only one who is not producing of the bench. The bench is one of the reasons the Nationals have been inconsistent this season.

Nats’ Ramos named Opening Day catcher

Moments after the Nationals lost to the Yankees, 4-2, Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced that Wilson Ramos will be the Opening Day catcher against the Marlins on Monday. However, Ramos will alternate behind the plate with Kurt Suzuki, who will start against Florida on Wednesday. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will pitch that day.

Ramos recovered from a devastating right knee injury and had a great exhibition season, hitting .333 with two home runs and five RBIs. He also played solid defense behind the plate. Johnson told Ramos the good news during batting practice.

“With the progress he has made — … [Ramos] had been out all year and rehabbing hard. He has looked great all spring behind the dish and he has bounced around better than I’ve seen him in the years I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “I look at both Ramos and Suzuki as No. 1 catchers.”

According to Ramos, he worked hard to get his right knee back in shape within 10  months. He hurt the knee last May against the Reds.

“Now I’m here 100 percent. That’s the most important thing for me and the team,” Ramos said.

Ramos is OK with alternating behind the plate with Suzuki. In fact, Ramos  said expects to learn a lot from six-year veteran.

“I know he can teach me a lot. He has more experience than me at this level,” Ramos said. “I have a lot of things to learn from him. … It feels great that I’m working with him. We have to talk a lot about the pitching staff. We have a young pitching staff, so we need to work hard this year. We have to talk to each other and get to work.”

Suzuki wants to stay with Nats past this season

Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said he would love to stay with the Nationals past this season. He feels the team will be successful for years to come.

Suzuki said he hasn’t talked to the team about an extension. As of now, he just plans to get ready for the season.

“I love it here. I love the guys in the clubhouse. It’s a fun clubhouse. I got know quite a few of these guys really well,” Suzuki said.  “They are just great guys to be around. The other part that doesn’t hurt, it’s a really good team. It’s going to be a really good team for a long time.”

After joining the Nationals on Aug. 3, Suzuki put up respectable numbers, hitting. 267 with five home runs and 25 RBIs. He also proved to be an above average game caller. Suzuki was acquired from the Athletics because the Nationals were unhappy with Jesus Flores’ game calling behind the plate.

Suzuki said a change of scenery helped him put up respectable numbers in the nation’s capital. When he joined the Nationals, Suzuki was having the worst year of his career, hitting .218 with a home run and eight RBIs.

“A lot of times, a lot of people say a change of scenery helps. In my case, it did,” Suzuki said. “It was nice coming over here. It was a different clubhouse, a different group of guys. They made it easy for me because the transition was so easy. I wasn’t performing up to my standards in Oakland and Rizz [general manager Mike Rizzo] believed in me. When your GM believes in you like that and he brings you over with the best record in baseball, it makes you as a player feel confident.”

Suzuki benefiting from hitting work with Eckstein

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — For his first two weeks in a Nationals uniform, Kurt Suzuki’s role with his new team was one-dimensional. Manage the Nats’ young and talented pitching staff, and any offense that came with it would be considered a nice bonus.

After being traded to the Nats on Aug. 3, Suzuki batted just .180 (9-for-50) in his first 13 games. His work with the pitchers was fine, but eventually the Nats were going to want more offensive production from the bottom of their order.

“My job is to get the pitchers through the game and give us a chance to win,” Suzuki said. “Whatever I do offensively, I’m happy with, but when you contribute to both sides of the ball on the field, it definitely makes for a good game.”

Now, though, Suzuki has found his stroke at the plate and carries a six-game hitting streak into Monday’s series-opener with the Cubs. The 28-year-old backstop played a critical role in Sunday’s 4-3 series-clinching win over the Cardinals, going 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the fourth and an RBI-single in the sixth.

“Suzuki’s been good, he’s been swinging the bat better,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Today, he was outstanding. For some reason, I think he’s had pretty good success against [Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook]. He was 3-for-6 with a home run, and you could tell from that first at-bat with runners in scoring position. The ball hit him in both legs — he didn’t argue, he wanted to stay there and hit.”

Johnson has repeatedly credited Suzuki’s work with hitting coach Rick Eckstein this week, and did so again on Sunday.

“Well I thought when he first got here, he actually had a little bigger swing,” Johnson said. “He was kind of swinging up on the ball, a little longer swing. Eckstein’s done a good job.

“We had him in Cuba in the Olympic qualifier [in 2006] and he swung the bat really good there. We liked him a whole lot. I had both him [Red Sox catcher] Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and I liked Suzuki. He caught the last game over Saltalamacchia. So I liked him at an early age. He had a nice, short, quick stroke then, but when he came over, he was a little long. He’s getting back to it.”

With his quicker swing, Suzuki has went 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs and five RBI over the course of the six-game hitting streak.

In addition, the adjustments have also made for a helpful approach that has helped Suzuki feel more free at the plate.

“That’s what we’ve really been doing, just take the effort out of the swing and just kind of be nice and easy, free and easy,” he said. “The less tension you have, you’re going to definitely be a lot quicker.”

Gonzalez’ gem powers Nationals to 3rd-straight win

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Eight innings into the first complete-game shutout of his career, Gio Gonzalez received a jolt of energy from one of the loudest Nationals Park crowds of the season.

Chants of “Let’s go Gio!” emanated from all corners of the stadium, keeping Gonzalez alive in the ninth despite surrendering a leadoff single and a walk two batters later. But then Shane Robinson came to the plate with two outs and launched a Gonzalez fastball — still hitting 94 MPH on the radar — high and harmlessly to Bryce Harper in center field. Harper hauled it in, rewarding the Nats and whatever the percentage of the crowd that stayed for the duration of the game despite a 10-0 blowout.

“It was kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth,” Gonzalez said of the crowd’s chanting. “But when they were coming alive, I was just trying to do my best and try to pound that strike zone. Then I just came up with it, and [Kurt Suzuki] did a great job and made everything come out alive. The defense was unbelievable.”

Gonzalez was effusive with his praise afterward, lauding the Nats’ team defense and catcher Kurt Suzuki more than anything. He also thanked the 10 runs on 12 hits the offense supplied him, deadpanning, “10 runs is a pretty good cushion.”

The victory boosted his record to 17-7, tying him with R.A. Dickey and Johnny Cueto for the Major League-lead in wins. But perhaps more than anything, it continued the tremendous distance the Nats have placed between their current standing and the five-game losing streak earlier this week that muddied much of their strong play in August.

It all came with Gonzalez’ family in the stands, too, with his mother directly in his line of sight for the whole game.

“My Mom was right behind home plate, so imagine seeing [Suzuki’s] face, then the umpire and then my mom,” Gonzalez said. “So it was like, ‘Uh oh, can’t disappoint you, Ma.’ You can hear her every at-bat, ‘Swing! Do this!’ And I’m like, oh God, somebody keep her quiet over there.

“My dad disappeared, my dad was somewhere in the stands. Probably in left field or something. It was one of those things when you have your whole family here, you want to step it up and enjoy it.”

The Nats sure did enjoy it, and a lot of it was due to manager Davey Johnson, who kept Gonzalez in the game despite his reaching 119 pitches. With Major League rosters set to expand to 40 players tomorrow and significant alteration coming soon to the rotation once Stephen Strasburg is shut down, Johnson has been stretching his starters a little longer. Thursday night, Edwin Jackson tossed eight sterling shutout innings, giving up just four hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks while throwing 123 pitches.

“I had an 120-pitch limit on [Gonzalez] in a game like that,” Johnson said. “He took me right to the edge. If he walked [the last batter], I had [Ryan] Mattheus ready. But I might’ve let him go over my predetermined number. Otherwise, I’d have Gio hassling me all week. So, what a great effort.”

In actuality, the decision might not’ve been that difficult for Johnson. After Gonzalez said his manager would’ve had to “kill me first” before he’d leave the game, the 26-year-old lefty said Johnson teasingly pushed him back to the mound for the ninth inning.

Either way, Gonzalez was dealing from the start. Though he had only two strikeouts through three innings, Gonzalez got five of those nine outs on ground balls.

“His curveball was good early tonight,” Suzuki said. “Usually, it takes a little bit for him to get into a groove and get his curveball going. He was spotting his fastball, keeping it down in the zone, moving it in and out. You could just kind of see it from the beginning couple of innings.”

Gonzalez struck out four batters over the last three innings, enjoying 1-2-3 frames in the seventh and eighth after facing just four batters in the sixth. But when Robinson’s fly ball floated high toward center field on his 119th pitch, Gonzalez — satisfied but worn-out — just hoped the game would end.

“Catch it please, Bryce,” he said of his thoughts while the ball was in the air. “That’s all I had left in the tank. As soon as he caught it, I just stood there, closed my eyes for a second, or probably not. Then I gave Suzuki a big smile and a big handshake, a thank you. It’s a great win for us all.”

Game 130: Cardinals at Nationals

Mike Fiammetta here, helping out Bill Ladson on the blog as the Nationals return home from their eventful — to say the least — road trip for an 11-game homestand. As always, following along at Nationals.com.

After snapping their five-game losing streak last night in Miami, the Nationals begin a four-game set with the Cardinals tonight. Edwin Jackson faces the team he won a World Series ring with last year, which will send left-hander Jaime Garcia to face the Nats. Gio Gonzalez takes the mound for the Nats on Friday, followed by Jordan Zimmermann — carrying his 2.63 ERA into a matchup against Kyle Lohse’s 2.64 — on Saturday and Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.

Sticking to tonight, though, the Nats will trot out their normal lineup — with one exception. Jesus Flores will catch Jackson while Kurt Suzuki gets a day off. Flores last played in the series finale with the Phillies on Aug. 26, a 4-1 loss.

The timing is somewhat odd, considering Suzuki is as hot at the plate as he’s been since coming to the Nats. Suzuki has a three-game hitting streak in which he’s 4-for-10 with a home run, which Johnson credited to the work the veteran catcher has been putting in with hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

“Eck’s been working with him good, he’s in a good place right now,” Johnson said. “I like the way he’s been swinging the last three days. He’s in a good spot.”

-Speaking of Strasburg (as always), manager Davey Johnson said the Nats’ young ace will make two or three more starts before he is shut down for the season. After his horrid outing Tuesday night against the Marlins — seven runs allowed (five earned) on nine hits in five innings — Strasburg has thrown 150 1/3 innings. Of course, Johnson’s comments fall pretty much in line with the 160-180 innings number that’s been thrown around all season.

-Bill will have more on Strasburg, Bryce Harper’s temper and Drew Storen’s hot streak in the notebook. In the meantime, here are tonight’s lineups:

Cardinals (71-59, 2nd NL Central)

  1. Jon Jay CF
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. Yadier Molina C
  6. David Freese 3B
  7. Skip Schumaker 2B
  8. Rafael Furcal SS
  9. Jaime Garcia LHP

Nationals (78-51, 1st NL East)

  1. Jayson Werth RF
  2. Bryce Harper CF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
  4. Michael Morse LF
  5. Adam LaRoche 1B
  6. Ian Desmond SS
  7. Danny Espinosa 2B
  8. Jesus Flores C
  9. Edwin Jackson RHP

Desmond, Suzuki survive injury scares in loss to Braves

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — The Nationals received a pair of injury scares during their 5-1 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night.

In the fourth inning Kurt Suzuki took a foul tip by Chipper Jones directly off the back of his right hand and was in immediate, obvious pain. After a brief injury delay in which Nats trainers checked out his hand, Suzuki stayed in the game after a few warm-up tosses back to Ross Detwiler — a few of which were slightly errant. Nevertheless, x-rays taken after the game were clear.

“It’s OK,” Suzuki said. “It’s swollen, just a little sore. Just the normal stuff after you get hit.

“I don’t really get these all the time. You get bumps and bruises, but any time it has anything to do with your hands, that’s a different story.”

Suzuki ultimately finished 0-for-4 with one strikeout and three groundouts.

“I was really worried about Suzuki,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I mean, he got it right between those two knuckles on the right hand.”

Desmond, meanwhile, appeared to tweak his knee while running out a double-play ball that ended the eighth inning. About halfway to first base, Desmond came up limp and ended up hopping much of the way to first. After being thrown out, he was also checked on, but like Suzuki, he stayed in the game.

“I’m not really exactly sure [what happened],” Desmond said. “I think it was maybe I hyperextended my knee or something like that. I think it was just one of those things where I was running down the line and felt something. My first reaction was just to jump off of it before something bad happened.

“I was able to stay in the game. I could’ve done anything, I wouldn’t have taken myself out to hit. If my at-bat came up, I would’ve hit, no doubt. I think it just scared me more than anything.”

Desmond did not have any tests taken on his knee, though he did say he had trainers check it out. He finished 1-for-4 with a single to right field in the second inning.

“Desi, it scared me to death, I thought he pulled a hamstring,” Johnson said.

The Nats have a day off on Thursday before beginning a six-day, five-game road trip with three games against the Phillies and two against the Marlins.

“We played great baseball,” Desmond said. “Great series; played well against the Mets, played well against the Braves. Nice little homestand. We’ll have a day off and then go to Philadelphia on Thursday.”

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