Results tagged ‘ Matt Williams ’

Nats gain ground on Mets

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — By defeating the Marlins, 5-1, on Saturday night, the Nationals are 5 1/2 games behind the Mets, who lost to the Red Sox, 3-1, earlier in the day. It was the first time in 11 days Washington gained ground on New York in the National League East race.

Some of the Nats are denying that they are not paying attention to what the Mets are doing. But first baseman/outfielder Clint Robinson has his eyes on the Mets.

“I don’t know about everybody else, but I do,” Robinson said. “That’s who were chasing in the playoff race. If I see that they lost and it’s a chance for us to gain a game, I want that as badly as I do any other win. We saw it and it was a good opportunity for us to gain a game.”

Manager Matt Williams said the Nationals understand they have to win games, but can’t control anything else.

“If we win, we have an opportunity to [gain ground],” Williams said. “If we don’t, then we don’t. Tomorrow is another opportunity. So if we can win that one, we can have that same chance tomorrow as well.”

Nats’ Ramos, Lobaton trying to improve catching throws from right field

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — Before Saturday’s game against the Brewers, Nationals manager Matt Williams had catchers Wilson Ramos and Jose Labaton work on catching throws from right field.

The practice came a day after Lobaton, normally a quality catcher, had a tough time catching a good throw from Bryce Harper in the seventh inning against the Brewers. It allowed two runs to score and Harper was charged with an error on the play.

“We want to make sure, given the homestand and us playing extended games [at Nationals Park], we want to make sure we have a good feel [for the throws]. That’s all it was today,” Williams said.

Ramos, especially, has had problems catching throws with a short hop from Harper. Ramos tries to tag the runner and catch the ball at the same time, which leads to the ball going past Ramos and allowing the runner to score.

There was pitching machine in right field, shooting missiles to Ramos and Lobaton. While they were making the plays, there is nothing like making the plays during the game.

“It helps us get more comfortable at the plate and practice the position of receiving the ball,” Ramos said. “Receiving balls from the outfield, we have short bounces, so it’s not easy catch that ball. You are thinking about the runner and the ball and you want to catch the ball and tag the runner quickly.

“Sometimes, we miss the ball because we try to be too quick. It’s part of the game. I know we have to catch the ball first and then tag the runner. We were practicing today — just catch the ball and [tag] the runner.

Espinosa could be Nationals’ version of Zobrist

By Bill Ladson

New York – It has been reported the Nationals were looking to strengthen their bench by trying to acquire the versatile Ben Zobrist, but the Nationals already have their version of Zobrist in Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa can play four infield positions and the corner outfield spots. Espinosa hasn’t started a game since Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth were activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Espinosa is expected to see some time on the field soon when Anthony Rendon is given a day off.

“[Danny] has the ability to play the outfield. He doesn’t have a whole lot of experience out. If we give him the opportunity to put him out there, we can do that,” manager Matt Williams said. “The first two days [in Miami], he has been doing some extra work out there and getting prepared if need be. He is willing to play and able to play anywhere we want him to.”

Espinosa has been arguably the team’s best bench player this season, hitting .253 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs.

Nats’ Lobaton could get more playing time

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton started Sunday’s game against the Mets. It marked the fourth time in the last eight games that Lobaton was inserted into the starting lineup.

Manager Matt Williams said recently said that he hasn’t ruled out Lobaton getting more playing time behind the plate. He is already Gio Gonzalez’s personal catcher. Wilson Ramos, the team’s starting catcher, is not having a good year defensively and in a 5-for-55 [.091] slump to drop his batting average to .234.

“It depends on where we are at, Williams said about the catching situation. “It depends on matchups, where we are at. The deeper lineup allows us to have more flexibility in that regard, too.”

Treinen gets shot at 8th-inning role

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — From 2010-14, Tyler Clippard averaged 74 appearances out of the Nationals bullpen. Other than a stint as closer in 2012, he did most of his work as a set-up man, pitching in the eighth inning nearly 50 times per year over that stretch.

On Wednesday night, the Nationals led the Mets, 2-1, heading into the eighth. This would have been Clippard’s spot, but he was traded to the A’s during the offseason, and Drew Storen took over for Rafael Soriano at closer. That left manager Matt Williams without a clear right-handed option for the eighth inning, to use alongside lefty Matt Thornton.

At least on this day, Williams turned to Blake Treinen, a 26-year-old righty with 15 games of Major League experience, including eight relief appearances. The manager said that was his plan coming into the game, and it worked, as Treinen tossed a scoreless inning, and the Nats won, 2-1.

This was a new experience for Treinen, who mostly started in the Minors. Of his eight times working out of the bullpen last year, all but one came in a Nats loss or blowout win. Baseball-Reference.com’s average leverage index, which measures the pressure during a pitcher’s outing, puts Wednesday’s appearance as the highest-leverage of Treinen’s young career.

“Even last year in the bullpen, I didn’t really come in for one-run leads,” Treinen said. “So its still new, but I enjoyed it

“It’s something I’ll get adjusted to. I don’t think it bothers me. I enjoy those moments.”

Treinen tries not to approach things much differently out of the bullpen. But a short stint can allow him to dial up his velocity while focusing on his sinker and slider and pushing aside his third pitch, a changeup.

On Wednesday, Treinen threw two sliders and 11 sinkers, which averaged a blazing 97.7 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. The Mets did hit a couple of balls hard, with David Wright ripping a one-out single to right before Lucas Duda lined into an inning-ending double play.

But for context, of all pitchers who threw at least 200 sinkers last year, PITCHf/x measured only two who topped that average velocity. Treinen’s stuff certainly impressed Williams, who envisions him as a big part of the bullpen.

“He’s running the ball in there at 98 mph with some good sink,” Williams said afterward. “I’m happy with the way he went about it tonight. Certainly be more opportunities for him.”

Nats’ Williams impressed with Cole

The Nationals had their first session of live batting practice Sunday and Williams was impressed with what he saw from right-hander A.J. Cole.

“He had a great live session today,” Williams said. “For me, he is growing into body. He is a young player. He is tall. He has great leverage and is getting stronger certainly by the year. This year he came into Spring Training looking great. Of course, we know about his fastball and curveball. Depending on the day, he can touch mid-to-high 90s with his fastball. He is a very promising prospects for us and still very young.  … I know he wants to pitch and loves taking the ball that for sure.”

Cole, the Nationals’ No. 2 overall prospect according to MLB.com, had arguably his best season in professional baseball in 2014, going a combined 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched 134 innings and struck out 111 batters. At 22, Cole features a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and front-end-of-the-rotation potential. He owns a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.24 and has struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings over the course of his career.

 

Nats face tough decision with playoff rotation

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — One thing is clear for the Nationals when it comes to filling out their starting rotation for the postseason: There are no bad options.

Right-hander Tanner Roark tossed a solid 6 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Mets, earning his 15th win and lowering his ERA to 2.85, which puts him in the top 20 in the Majors. Yet there is a strong possibility that Roark won’t be among Washington’s four starters for the NL Division Series.

Manager Matt Williams has yet to announce anything regarding the playoff rotation, as each of his pitchers enjoys a strong finish.

“When they go out there, they compete,” he said. “It makes for tough decisions, but those are good tough decisions.”

Stephen Strasburg, treated as the staff ace all year, has a 1.34 ERA and 33-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last five outings. Jordan Zimmermann, consistently effective for four straight seasons, has a 2.11 ERA during a streak of 11 straight quality starts. Doug Fister, who has a stellar postseason resume, owns a 2.55 ERA after three straight solid outings. Gio Gonzalez, the rotation’s only lefty, has come on strong with a 2.79 ERA while posting six straight quality starts.

Roark, meanwhile, has done absolutely nothing to lose his spot. Consistently dependable throughout the season, the 27-year-old owns a 2.54 ERA in 14 starts since July 13.

Yet with four more established, experienced options in play, Roark could be the odd man out. He’s also thrown 198 2/3 innings this season, easily his most as a professional, and could be an asset out of the bullpen. As a reliever for the Nats in 2013, he gave up three earned runs on 14 hits and struck out 19 in 22 2/3 innings.

“You’ve got to keep doing your job,” he said of the situation. “You go out there each day, work hard each day in between starts and go out there whenever your name is called. You can’t really think about it.”

The Nats have the luxury of enjoying rare rotation depth, with each of their five starters throwing at least 150 innings with an ERA+ of 100 or better (ERA+ adjusts ERA for league and ballpark, with 100 the average). The last team to do that in a season, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, was the 2011 Rangers. Only four clubs have accomplished the feat since 1991.

“All the guys we’ve got deserve that spot,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I’m just glad it’s not my decision.”

Soon, the Nats will have the make the call. No matter what, someone will be rightfully disappointed, but Williams isn’t worried that will cause a problem.

“Of course they’ll understand,” he said. “At this point in the year, not everybody will like it, but everybody will understand. We’re all on the same end of the rope, and everybody must do their part to get where we want to get to.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

In unfamiliar one-out role, Detwiler, Stammen excel

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — For most of the season, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen have been long men out of the Nationals’ bullpen. It’s a role that almost always requires at least an inning of work and often asks for more.

But on Tuesday night, when Nats manager Matt Williams needed two outs to end the eighth inning, he called on Detwiler and Stammen for a batter apiece against the meat of the Braves’ lineup. With a two-run lead and a runner on, the left-handed Detwiler whiffed Freddie Freeman, and the right-handed Stammen did the same to Justin Upton. They passed the baton to Drew Storen, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth to lock down a 6-4 victory.

“Those two guys have been really our longer guys this year, and they came in and got the guys they had to get,” Williams said.

A starter for much of his career, Detwiler’s only other one-batter appearance came on Aug. 4, when he gave up a single to the Orioles’ Nick Markakis. Only three times in 41 outings had he pitched less than an inning.

Stammen has served as one of baseball’s most durable bullpen arms, leading all MLB relievers with 73 appearances of at least two innings since 2010. Until this week, he hadn’t made a one-batter appearance all season.

But with Storen at least temporarily taking over for Rafael Soriano at closer, the whole relief corps has been shuffled. Combined with an 11-man bullpen thanks to expanded rosters, Williams has the need and ability to alter his usual deployment of pitchers.

In Monday’s eighth inning, lefty Matt Thornton gave up a two-out RBI single to Freeman before Stammen preserved a one-run lead by retiring Upton. A day later, Detwiler got ahead of Freeman 0-2 before finishing him off with a rare curveball. That brought on Stammen for another confrontation with Upton in an unfamiliar role.

“It’s obviously harder to get more outs,” Stammen said. “What I’ve done most of the season is get six, seven, eight outs if I had to. Getting one out’s a little simpler, but you also know it’s do-or-die, so if you don’t get that guy out, it’s not like you get three or four other guys to try to get out. So you’ve just got to execute your pitches — nothing really changes — execute your pitchers and go back to what you’ve always done and be yourself.”

Stammen had worked Upton with sinkers on Monday, so this time he got ahead 0-2 with a pair of sliders, buried two more sliders in the dirt to even the count, then put the Atlanta cleanup hitter away with two sinkers.

His unusually short, but effective, night was over.

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Unusual mound visit pays off for Williams, Nats

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — What’s in a mound visit?

Most of these meetings fall into a couple of categories. The pitching coach comes out to offer advice, talk strategy, give his pitcher a breather or perhaps stall for the bullpen. The manager tends to come out with his hook at the ready.

So when Nationals skipper Matt Williams hopped out of the dugout and made his way toward the hill with two outs in Monday’s seventh inning, it was reasonable to assume starter Doug Fister’s day was done. Clinging to a 1-0 lead over the Braves, he had two outs in the inning but had walked two, putting him at 101 pitches with Andrelton Simmons coming to the plate. The bullpen was active.

As it turned out, Williams had other plans.

“I wasn’t going to take him out,” Williams said. “I just wanted to go out there and let him know he had this guy.”

When Williams began his voyage to the mound, Fister had his back turned, so he couldn’t see if his manager had given the signal for a reliever.

But Williams hadn’t. As the entire Nats infield converged, Williams strode quickly to his destination, looked at his pitcher, had a brief exchange, then retreated. The whole visit lasted perhaps five seconds.

“I want to read him,” Williams said. “I want to make sure he’s feeling OK. And I asked him how he was, and he said he was good, so I turned around. I really had no plans on taking him out. But I want to read his eyes, too. He was intense and wanted that last hitter.”

Fister said that whenever his manager comes out, he hopes for a chance to continue. This time, he got it.

“We both have that sense about us that we kind of read personalities, and he looked at me on his way out there and asked me, ‘Hey, what do you got?’” Fister said. “And I said, ‘I want this guy.’ He was ready for that. He was ready for that answer.”

Certainly, the move could have backfired, in a close game against a team that has dominated their head-to-head matchups over the past two seasons. But Fister got ahead of Simmons 0-2, then induced a ground ball that shortstop Ian Desmond fielded and took to second for a force.

His manager’s faith had been rewarded, and the Nats hung on for a big victory.

“He came out there and gave me the option, and it’s greatly appreciated,” Fister said. “That’s the epitome of showing confidence. That’s what great managers do, show confidence in guys and trusting them, and that’s what he did tonight.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

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.

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