Results tagged ‘ Nationals ’

Harper homers despite having bad foot

KANSAS CITY — It looked like Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was going to leave Sunday’s game against the Royals in the sixth inning after he fouled a ball off his left foot.

Harper was slow getting up, but he remained in the game and singled to left field in the same inning.

“In a situation like that, I want to stay in there. I want to get some knocks and try to win that ballgame,” Harper said.

An inning later, Harper’s foot was still “throbbing” when he hit a two-run homer of Ervin Santana to tie the score at 4.

“He gave me a pitch I could drive. I got something I could do with it,” Harper said.

During the 10-game road trip, Harper went 14-for-37 [.378] with one home run and six RBIs.

“I’m just trying to go out there and just try to have good [at-bats] and good things will happen,” he said.” I’m going to try to walk a little bit more, just try to get on base … and try to win some ballgames.”

DeRosa surprised by Nats’ disappointing season

NEW YORK — Blue Jays infielder Mark DeRosa said Tuesday that he is surprised the Nationals have been inconsistent this season.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Nationals are 60-64, 16 games behind the Braves in the National League East and 10 ½ games behind the Reds in the second and final spot in the NL Wild Card race.

“As good as last year was, nothing is ever written in stone,” said DeRosa, who played on the 2012 Nationals. “But you get that vibe that it’s going to happen [for the Nationals] again. They are going to get on the track and they are going to roll toward the World Series [someday]. … The talent is there. Every season has a way of letting you know it’s not that easy.”

DeRosa didn’t play much for the Nationals last year because of injuries, but was a major influence on the young players such as Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina. Both players credited DeRosa for their ability to be successful off the bench last year.

“I was a sounding board for a lot of guys. I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind, regardless of how poorly I played,” DeRosa said. “The same thing goes for Michael Morse, a guy who kept the clubhouse loose, a guy people enjoyed seeing. The same with Sean Burnett, the same with Tom Gorzelanny. These guys were significant pieces of the team.”

After the season ended, DeRosa, Morse, Gorzelanny, Burnett and Michael Gonzalez all left the Nationals. Asked who is missed the most, DeRosa said, “It’s a combination of all of us. To not have the lefties in the ‘pen to start the year was a situation that could haunt them. But they felt comfortable going out in getting [Rafael] Soriano and doing all those things. They have done an amazing job over there.

“I don’t want to say they took a step back. I still say that talent is there for them to win a World Series. But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen [this year].”

DeRosa is having a productive season off the bench, hitting seven home runs with 31 RBIs. He could become a free agent after the season if the Blue Jays don’t pick up his option.

“We haven’t discussed anything moving forward. I feel good. My wrist is healthy. I’m hitting the occasional home run. I’m doing my job, which is very rewarding. Last year, all I brought to the table was a voice and that was frustrating, but I did the best I could — given the circumstances,” DeRosa said.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson is planning to retire after this season. Would DeRosa be interested in the job?

“God, I haven’t even thought about that. You think Jayson Werth would listen to me? I don’t think so,” DeRosa said jokingly. “I’ve been asked that question quite a bit, but that’s down the road. I have to run it by my wife. She has been grinding it with me for so long that if I’m not going to play, I have to go home for a minute and be a dad.”

Wild weekend for Harper in Atlanta

ATLANTA — It was some kind of weekend for Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper at Turner Field.

On Friday against the Braves, Harper was hit twice by pitches and didn’t start the next game because of a left triceps injury, which occurred when he was hit by a Luis Avilan fastball.

“I really don’t want to comment on it,” Harper said on Sunday.

But right-hander Stephen Strasburg was able to get revenge for Harper on Saturday. Strasburg hit Justin Upton on the backside in the first inning after Jason Heyward’s leadoff home run, and warnings were issued to both benches.

Then with the Nationals leading, 4-1, Jordan Schafer led off the second inning and drew a walk. After that, Strasburg couldn’t throw a strike. With Andrelton Simmons at the plate, Strasburg threw three consecutive wild pitches, two of them behind Simmons’ back.

Home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson immediately threw Strasburg and manager Davey Johnson out of the game after the third wild pitch, which enabled Schafer to score.    Harper entered as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the ninth inning and played the rest of the game in left field, going 0-for-2 in the Nationals’ 8-7 win over the Braves in 15 innings.

In Washington’s 3-2 loss on Sunday, Harper went 2-for-4, but struck out to end the game. With a 1-2 count, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel threw a pitch and it appeared Harper checked his swing, but Hudson, the third-base umpire in this contest, said he swung at the pitch, ending the game. Harper was clearly upset and was arguing with the umpires until teammate Jayson Werth told Harper to walk away.

“The home-plate umpire [Wally Bell] said no three times. He doesn’t want to check,” Harper said. “They obviously check and they bang me. That’s one less pitch I see against [Kimbrel]. He is a great closer. Trying to see as many pitches [as I can] is huge.”

Throughout the weekend, Braves fans were jeering Harper. How did he feel about being the most hated member of the Nationals?

“I love these fans, I really do,” Harper said. “These people are absolutely unbelievable for their team. If I was playing for a team like this and a crowd like that, I’d be stoked to play every night, too.

“But I love playing in Nats Park, too. We have a great crowd, too. Going to Philly, going [to Atlanta], Fenway, New York, there are so many great crowds. This is a baseball organization that really loves the Braves.”

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.

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.”

A look at Dan Haren’s resurgence

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — It took four months and a stint on the disabled list, but the Nationals finally seem to have found the Dan Haren they thought they were getting for a one-year, $13 million contract this winter.

The veteran right-hander went 4-9 with a 6.15 ERA in his first 15 starts through June 22, a performance that he believes left him, “a bad start of two away from getting released.” Then he went on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder and returned July 8 as a new pitcher.

Haren held the Phillies to two runs on four hits over seven innings in Friday’s win over the Phillies, his third straight victory. In six starts since his DL stint, he has a 2.43 ERA.

“This is definitely more like it,” Haren said. “I felt really good out there today. Really comfortable. The ball was moving pretty good. And obviously getting all the runs made it pretty easy. It’s just kind of unfortunate that it didn’t start off like this, but at least I’m showing that’s in there.”

The question facing Haren and the Nats is, why the sudden turnaround? And can it continue for the rest of the season?

The obvious explanation is that Haren is healthier now. Manager Davey Johnson said Friday that he pitched through some arm problems during the first half of the season. But Haren continues to insist that he had no physical ailment before going on the DL, only that, “Mentally I was pretty messed up.” Having a couple of weeks off might have given Haren a needed opportunity to step back, regroup and catch his breath, but it wouldn’t seem to account for his massive jump in performance. If his arm is any stronger, it hasn’t been reflected in his velocity.

After Friday’s start, Haren gave a lot of the credit to his improved ability to keep the ball down, especially with his splitter. He had surrendered a whopping 19 home runs in his first 15 outings but only two since, and both of those came in his one poor post-DL start, July 22 against the Pirates.

Haren has worked on a new grip for the split, in an effort to slow down the pitch and gain greater separation from his fastball. It appears to have worked. According to data from brooksbaseball.net, Haren’s splitter velocity has dropped significantly over the past two months. He was throwing the pitch in the 84-86 mph range early in the season; on Friday, it averaged 82.3 mph. Along with that, the data shows that since Haren came off the DL, batters are swinging at the splitter at about the same rate but putting it in play much less.

According to Haren, the key has been both the pitch itself and his concerted effort to keep the ball down in crucial situations, to be, “a little more concerned with location, rather than just concerned with throwing strikes.”

“My split has been really good since coming off the DL, but really it’s just keeping the ball down,” Haren said. “I really focus on that, trying to keep the ball in the ballpark. I mean, the home runs really burned me all year.”

As Haren admitted, there probably is some good luck involved as well, just as there probably was some bad luck involved in his earlier struggles. His opponents’ batting average on balls in play was .333 before his DL stint and .267 since, which could indicate weaker contact, but also more batted balls finding their way to Nats fielders. Some fly balls that barely were clearing the fence before might be staying in the yard now.

There also is the issue of who Haren has faced. Since returning, he has seen the Phillies twice, plus the Brewers, Marlins, Mets and Pirates. All of those clubs rank in the bottom half of the Majors in runs scored, batting average and OPS.

Haren’s next scheduled start is Thursday against the Giants, another weaker offensive club, so he’ll have a good chance to continue his surge.

Lefties in bullpen going through rough patch

By Andrew Simon 

WASHINGTON — Twice during Wednesday night’s 6-3 loss to the Braves, Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on a left-handed reliever in a crucial spot. Both times, that pitcher did not get the job done, highlighting an issue that has plagued the team throughout much of the season and caused problems again of late.

During last year’s run to a division title, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny gave Johnson three effective bullpen options from the left side. Each posted an ERA of 3.03 or lower and each left the team via free agency.

The Nats began 2013 with long reliever Zach Duke as their only lefty reliever, but that experiment fizzled. The situation improved in late May, however, when Washington dug into its Minor League system. Fernando Abad, signed this offseason, was called up from Triple-A Syracuse on May 21. Ian Krol, acquired in a trade from the A’s, arrived from Double-A Harrisburg on June 4.

Both started out hot. Both have been struggling for an extended period of time, even if their ERAs don’t show the extent of the damage. The following numbers are based around arbitrary cutoff points but give an idea as to how the situation has been trending.

Abad and Krol’s first 18 combined games:

17.1 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 21 K, .089 opp. avg., 0.40 WHIP, 0 of 6 inherited runners scored

Last 32 combined games:

28.2 IP, 43 H, 7 BB, 19 K, .341 opp. avg., 1.74 WHIP, 11 of 15 inherited runners scored

“It was really good,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his left-handed relief, “and now when we’re leaning on them, they’re having a few blips on the radar screen.”

The latest came on Wednesday. Abad entered a tie game in the seventh inning and served up a rocket of a home run to Justin Upton. Krol entered a tie game in the eighth, in a perilous situation, with runners on first and second, two outs and Jason Heyward at the plate. The 22-year-old rookie got Heyward into an 0-2 count but left a breaking ball over the plate, something Johnson called, “an inexperienced, bad mistake.” Krol paid for it with the go-ahead RBI single, and Upton followed with a two-run double.

After the game, Krol talked about missing his spot and admitted he might have been better off going to an inside fastball. He’s been trying to adjust to the adjustments hitters have made to him, and it’s caused him to deviate from his strengths.

“They seem to be jumping on my fastball a little more early than usual,” Krol said. “I’ve been trying to pitch backward, and that’s not my game. My game is to go after them with fastballs and attacking the zone, so I need to get back to what I was doing before, and like I said, just clear my head and have a short memory.”

Nats need to make improvements

WASHINGTON  — Entering Tuesday action, the Nationals were 54-58, 13 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East and seven games behind the Reds in the Wild Card race. While manager Davey Johnson continues to have a positive attitude about his team, it’s pretty clear why the Nationals may not play in the postseason this year.

They rank near the bottom in offense and defense. They have also had their share of injuries. The worst was Bryce Harper, who missed more than a month of action because of a left knee injury.

“All the little things add up and they can affect your performance,” Johnson said. “It’s my job to stay positive and hope, at some point, we get it all going.”

What improvements should the Nationals make to get better? They need a leadoff hitter. Center fielder Denard Span has hit first for most of the season, and he is hitting .251 with a .310 on-base percentage at the top spot.

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.

Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last October. While there wasn’t any labrum or rotator cuff damage, Zimmerman needed to have his AC joint fixed, and the surgery revealed the injury to be more serious than anticipated.

It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base in the future. That could possibly mean trading first baseman Adam LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman.

Asked if Zimmerman needed to play a different position, Johnson said, “With the work he is putting in, I thought it’d take until June. Obviously, it has taken longer. If you see him throw early [during batting practice], he throws deeper and throws the ball on the line.

“I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. I see him throw pretty good, and then in the game, he will want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, obviously, it’s not a good spot for him to be in. At one time, he had a cannon, and we are all waiting for him to come back. I think it’s more mental and not trusting it and cutting it lose. I see him working, and he throws the ball pretty good.”

The bench was one reason the Nationals won the division title last year.  This year, not one reserve is hitting above .250 or has provided the pop off the bench. Before the Trade Deadline, the Nationals made an attempt to acquire veteran players for the bench. They were able acquire Scott Hairston from the Cubs, but since he has been in Washington, Hairston has played only against left-handed pitching.

The Nationals may need to look for two starting pitchers. Right-hander Dan Haren said recently he most likely will not be coming back because he has not lived up to expectations. Left-hander Ross Detwiler has missed most of the season because of a back injury. It’s not known if he will be healthy for next year.

The Nationals have a lot of work to do after the season comes to an end.

Haren: ‘My heart says I probably won’t be back’

MILWAUKEE — Nationals right-hander Dan Haren has been feeling comfortable on the mound lately. Since coming off the disabled list on July 8, Haren is 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 30 innings.

“In the last few weeks, I have been more myself,” Haren said. “The city has been good. I’ve enjoyed my time in D.C. I enjoy the history. I’ve walked around D.C. a few times just to take it all in. It has been nice.”

Despite pitching well in the last month, Haren doesn’t think he will be back with the Nationals next year because of the season he has had, overall. He is 6-11 with a 5.14 ERA in 20 starts. The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal to be one of their five starters.

“My heart says I probably won’t be back,” Haren said. “I haven’t lived up to what I was paid to do and what I came here to accomplish, despite the last two or three weeks. The majority of the season has been a struggle for me. Even if I wanted to come back — it has been a tough year. I haven’t lived up to the billing so far. I don’t know what next year is going to bring.”

With the way the year has gone, Haren believes his options will be somewhat limited for next year. He has the desire to play again next year, but “I have contemplated going home and being home because of how much I miss my family,” he said.

After beating the Brewers on Saturday, Haren said he has struggled off the field, as well. He acknowledged that he misses his wife, Jessica, and their two kids, who live in Southern California. Haren said he has been lucky that has played for teams near his home.

“I know the fans don’t care. But we’re humans, too. I have two little kids and I see them once every month and a half or so. It has been really hard. I’ve been fortunate to play on the West Coast just by being traded to a couple of teams. I would be close to home.

“When I was deciding which teams to come to this offseason, the Nationals had everything I wanted in a team. I wanted to come out here and give it a shot on the East Coast.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers