Results tagged ‘ Nationals ’

Tanner Roark’s amazing run continues

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Tanner Roark was a 25th-round Draft choice who bounced between starting and relieving while posting a 4.21 ERA in his first five Minor League seasons. He entered 2013 at 26 years old and as nobody’s idea of a hot prospect.

Yet somehow, Roark’s big league performance over the past two years has surpassed anything he ever did in the Minors. Sunday afternoon brought the most striking example, as the right-hander dominated the Padres during a three-hit shutout that stood as a perfect game through 5 1/3 innings. That dropped his career ERA to 1.98 through 86 1/3 innings.

A look at Roark by the numbers:

  • 8: Roark’s career-high strikeout total Saturday, including four in the span of five batters at one point.
  • 8 1/3: The most innings Roark had thrown in a professional game at any level before Saturday.
  • 105: Roark’s pitch count, the second-lowest by any pitcher in a shutout this season.
  • 14-to-3: Roark’s ratio of groundouts to flyouts. Entering Saturday, he had more flyouts this year.
  • 23: Batters out of 31 that saw a first-pitch strike from Roark.
  • 1: Earned runs allowed by Roark in 35 career innings at Nats Park, a 0.26 ERA.
  • 7: Number of career starts, out of 10, in which Roark has allowed two runs or fewer.
  • .189: Batting average of right-handed hitters against Roark in his career, with no home runs.
  • 3: Roark’s career high in walks. He had one on Saturday, throwing 69.5% strikes.

The soft-spoken native of Wilmington, Ill., isn’t one to spend too many words examining his own success. Asked after Saturday’s game if knew why his Major League performance has eclipsed his Minor League performance, he smiled and said, “You got me.”

Roark and manager Matt Williams both talked about the importance of Roark’s changeup on Saturday, especially against left-handed batters, who went 0-for-17 with one walk and six strikeouts against him. Roark called it his best pitch of the day, over his fastball, slider and curve.

“He’s aggressive,” Williams said. “He threw a lot of really good changeups today for strikes and that’s one of his weapons. He keeps lefties off balance with that. Comeback fastball into the lefties as well.”

That comeback, or two-seam, fastball is important as well. Roark said he’s talked with Livan Hernandez about the way Greg Maddux used to use that pitch to tail back over the inside corner against left-handed batters.

“You see guys jumping out the way because they think it’s going to hit them and it goes right across the plate,” Roark said. “It’s a very effective pitch. The biggest thing for me is I’ve got to stay on the pitch as long as I possibly can and not come out of it.”

How long Roark can stay on his current run of big league success remains to be seen — some regression is inevitable. But at the least, he seems to have solidified his place in a rotation spot he didn’t lock up until Doug Fister went on the disabled list at the end of Spring Training.

“When he takes the mound, it feels like he’s under control to all of us,” Williams said. “There’s definitely a trust factor there.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Thumb still swollen, Harper sits out (updated)

By Andrew Simon

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

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

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

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

“We anticipate him being OK,” Williams said.

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

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

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

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Error taken away from Nats’ Desmond

WASHINGTON — After Tuesday’s game, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond had been charged with nine errors, which led the Major Leagues. However, an error was taken away from Desmond by Major League Baseball before Wednesday’s game against the Angels.
 
On April 11, Braves outfielder B.J. Upton came to the plate and hit a hard groundball to Desmond, who backhanded the ball but did not field it cleanly. Desmond was charged with an error on the play. Upton asked for a review on the play, and the call was overturned to a hit by Joe Torre, the leagues executive vice president of baseball operations, on Wednesday.  Desmond and Upton were not available for comment.
–Bill Ladson

Defensive woes continue for Ian Desmond

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — For the second time in five nights, Ian Desmond stood in front of his locker and answered questions about his faltering defense following Monday night’s 4-2 loss to the Angels.

Desmond had spoken forcefully about his struggles after making two errors on Thursday against the Cardinals

“I’m going to keep on grinding,” he said at the time. “I was out there hoping that they would keep on hitting me ground balls. That’s all you can do, just go out and keep on playing. As long as my name’s in the lineup, I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just, I’ve got to execute. And I will.”

Desmond appeared much more subdued on Monday after racking up his Major League-leading eighth and ninth errors of the season during a disastrous eighth inning that saw the Angels score four runs to rally from a 1-0 deficit.

“Not making the plays,” said Desmond, who again sat waiting at his locker for reporters to arrive. “I wish I had an answer.”

Leading off the eighth against Tyler Clippard, Albert Pujols bounced a ground ball up the middle. Desmond ranged to his left, reached out and had the ball glance off his glove. He scrambled to pick it up, but it was too late to attempt a throw.

It wasn’t a routine play but one Desmond certainly expects himself to make.

“I’m a big league shortstop,” he said. “Not that tough.”

By the time Desmond made his second miscue of the inning, the damage was done. Erick Aybar tied the game with an RBI single, and Raul Ibanez smacked a three-run double, with Desmond throwing wildly to home to allow Ibanez to take third.

It was Desmond’s third two-error game of the season, with all nine of the mistakes coming in the past 12 games — five fielding, four throwing. Going into Monday, no other Major League player had more than five total, and five entire teams had fewer than nine.

As Desmond pointed out on Thursday, he’s been through and come out of this sort of stretch before. Just last year, he committed seven errors by April 21, then didn’t make his next one until June 28, finishing with 20 and as a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight season.

The Nationals, who lead the Majors in errors as a club, will have to hope Desmond can reverse course again. He believes he can.

“You use everything in the past to make yourself better,” he said. “This is going to be one of those circumstances, and I’ve just got to weather the storm.”

Follow Andrew Simon @AndrewSimonMLB.

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

A fast start for Adam LaRoche

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — The 2014 season is still very young, but already, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is bucking a trend that has left its mark on his career.

Whether it’s a meaningless statistical quirk or something deeper, LaRoche has rightfully earned the label of a slow starter over the years. As of last year, he sported the seventh-largest negative gap between his career OPS and April OPS, as well as the second-biggest between his career OPS and first-half OPS of any active player. At the time, mired in a rough start even by his standards, LaRoche couldn’t explain what was behind it.

“If I had the answer to that, I’d love to pass it on to some younger guys, but there’s just nothing there,” LaRoche said, near the end of an April that saw him hit .136/.213/.259.

To be clear, LaRoche has enjoyed strong Aprils before, such as in 2012, when he jumpstarted one of his best overall seasons by posting a .964 OPS in the opening month. And so far in 2014, he’s on that track again.

LaRoche went 3-for-3 and drew a walk in Tuesday night’s win over the Marlins, leaving him with a line of .348/.500/.652.

To be sure, it’s an extremely small sample size. But coming off a subpar 2013 and considering LaRoche’s historical struggles in the early going, it qualifies as a positive sign.

“I’ve seen Adam hit 30 [home runs] and drive in 100, and I know he’s capable of doing that,” manager Matt Williams said. “What’s encouraging to me is him hitting the ball the other way and taking the single when it’s given to him. What he’s done so far is he’s handled lefties pretty well and stayed on the baseball. We saw that a lot in Spring Training, too. It was a focus of his to stay on the baseball and hit it to the opposite gap, and he’s done that.”

LaRoche did put together a solid spring, hitting .283/.327/.522. He said that over the last couple of weeks of Grapefruit League play, he tweaked his swing slightly, working to shorten it and keep his front leg soft.

“It’s paying off now,” he said. “It feels good. Again, it’s hitting. It comes and goes, so you just ride it out.”

So far this season, LaRoche has homered twice, including a mammoth blast into the top deck at Nats Park on Saturday against the Braves.

He didn’t offer up anything that dramatic on Tuesday, but he reached safely in every plate appearance. LaRoche singled to left in the first inning, walked in the fourth, singled to center in the sixth and singled to right in the eighth against lefty reliever Mike Dunn.

He said his frequent use of the opposite field hasn’t been intentional, but it is a good sign.

“When I’m in position to hit and I’m not pulling off the ball, I’ll do that obviously more than not,” he said. “I’ll get in modes where it probably appears I’m pulling off of everything. It’s one of those things there where I get really hard on my front side, so without getting too technical, no, it’s an accident and I’m looking to drive the ball, but if the timing’s on and I’m in position, I’m still able to go that way.”

However it’s happened, the results have been stark. In seven games and 30 plate appearances, LaRoche has reached base safely 15 times. Last season, it took him 14 games and 53 plate appearances to get to the same point.

Nats’ Knorr believes Ramos has wrist injury

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — After catcher Wilson Ramos hurt his left wrist in Monday’s Opening Day game against the Mets, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr went on FM 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday and revealed that Ramos’s left wrist problems date back to Spring Training.

According to Knorr, the injury first occurred in Jupiter, Fla., about a week ago. After a particular at-bat in Spring Training, Ramos went into the dugout and said, “My wrist feels funny.” But Ramos managed to be in the Opening Day lineup on Monday against the Mets and went 0-for-3.

In his final at-bat in the seventh inning, Ramos struck out looking and was immediately taken out of the game. He was replaced by Jose Lobaton, who could be the No. 1 catcher if Ramos goes on the disabled list.

“Yesterday we were watching that last at-bat he had, and he took a swing. It was like the second pitch he took a swing and fouled it off over the first-base dugout,” Knorr told The Sports Junkies. “I saw it and Rick Schu, our hitting coach, comes over and says, ‘Randy, you see that?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ And then he takes a fastball down the middle.

“Now, Wilson Ramos has never taken a fastball down the middle, ever. So when he came in I said, ‘What’s going on with you, man?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, it doesn’t feel right.’ So we took him out of the game.

“… For Wilson Ramos to come out of the game, it doesn’t look good. I always try to stay positive and say OK, go to the doctor, maybe it’s not as bad as people think it is, maybe it’s two or three days, and I try to stay that way, but in my mind and seeing guys over my career, it really doesn’t look good. It might be a hamate bone or something.”

Nats manager Matt Williams originally said that Ramos suffered a left hand injury. As of 6:30 p.m. ET, the Nationals have been quiet on the extent of the Ramos’ injury. If Ramos goes on the disabled list, they could call up catcher Sandy Leon, who was less than stellar in the Minors last year. Leon was one of the final players sent to Minor League camp this past Spring Training.

Andrew Simon contributed to this report.

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

Notes from Nats camp, 2/27

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Thursday was a light day at Nationals camp, as the team gears up for the start of the Grapefruit League season, which begins on Friday against the Mets at Port St. Lucie. The main piece of action was batting practice on the field at Space Coast Stadium. Here are some notes and observations:

– As mentioned in today’s notebook on Nationals.com, manager Matt Williams and catcher Wilson Ramos got into a bit of friendly competition during Ramos’ BP rounds. Ramos whiffed on one early offering but got his revenge by crushing a few monstrous home runs, including two off the left-field scoreboard. After Ramos demolished his last pitch over the berm behind deep left-center field, Williams jokingly shouted, “Show-off!”

“He’s just big power. Big power,” Williams said. “He hits the ball the other way really good, too. So that’s why he’s so good at driving runs in because he stays through the middle of the diamond. Today he was letting it eat a little bit though. That’s good.”

– The workout was open to the public, and although only perhaps a few dozen people sat in the stands, one group serenaded center fielder Denard Span with “Happy  Birthday” when he stepped into the cage for his first round of BP. Span turned 30 on Thursday.

– Some managers prefer to take their own cars to away games during Spring Training, but Williams will be taking the bus.

“I don’t think that I have authority to do that right now,” Williams said of going on his own. “One, I don’t know where I’m going. Two, we’re going to have talks on the way back. We’re going to need to put together lineups for the next day and stuff like that.”

Tomorrow: The Nats finally will face someone other than themselves when they square off against the Mets at 1:10 p.m. ET. Taylor Jordan will get the start, while Rafael Montero will go for New York. As Bill Ladson writes, it will be Williams’ first game as a big league manager, even if it’s only Spring Training.

Looking ahead: The club’s first game at Space Coast Stadium will be at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday against the Braves. They also will face the Marlins in Viera on Sunday at 1:05 before heading back on the road.

Worth noting: Williams said he plans to give his starters a couple of at-bats in Friday’s game. That group includes the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Worth quoting: Williams on if he is nervous about the mechanics of managing a game – “No, it’s fine. That part of it, I’ve done before [in the Arizona Fall League]. Not at this level. The only thing I’m worried about or nervous about is trying to get everyone into the game. I want to look at everybody. So unfortunately that is almost impossible sometimes. But that’s the plan. But going out there and making a change, I’m not worried about that stuff.”

Further reading: In today’s notebook, there are items on Williams’ plan to keep Ramos healthy and fresh this season, the Nats’ catchers preparing for the new home-plate collision rule, and how reliever Erik Davis is progressing in his recovery from an elbow injury.

You can follow me on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Notes from Nats camp, 2/26

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Wednesday was the Nationals’ second-to-last day of workouts before their Grapefruit League schedule begins on Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Here are some notes, observations and photos from the club’s Spring Training complex:

  • Stephen Strasburg threw live batting practice to a group including Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Adam LaRoche and had the catcher’s glove popping with each fastball.

    Stephen Strasburg delivers to the plate during live batting practice.

    Stephen Strasburg delivers to the plate during live batting practice.

  • During batting practice, non-roster right-hander Clay Hensley accidentally drilled second baseman Anthony Rendon in the back with one of his offerings. He apologized profusely, and Rendon was able to laugh it off, even if he’ll likely be sporting a bruise by Thursday.
  • Minor League righty Blake Treinen, coming off a strong season at Double-A Harrisburg, made a good impression while throwing to fellow prospects Steven Souza, Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin. The 25-year-old’s stuff, which manager Matt Williams called “electric,” prompted veteran catcher Koyie Hill to tell Treinen after his session that he’s going to strike it rich during his career.

    Drew Storen comes to the plate using the traditional leg kick he began using late last season.

    Drew Storen comes to the plate using the traditional leg kick he began using late last season.

  • Williams also was impressed with reliever Drew Storen, especially the way he got good action down in the zone with his changeup, drawing some swings and misses.

Tomorrow: The Nats will have a lighter workout day on Thursday, something more like what they will have once games start. They also will be on the field at Space Coast Stadium instead of the complex’s back fields.

Looking ahead: The Nationals announced their lineup for Friday’s game, which will feature the debut of outfielder Nate McLouth. Taylor Jordan will get the start, with A.J. Cole, Christian Garcia, Xavier Cedeno, Manny Delcarmen, Aaron Barrett, Danny Rosenbaum and Tyler Robertson scheduled to follow.

Worth noting: Williams plans to have his veterans make plenty of road trips, including Friday’s, saying “there’s no getting around it,” considering how often the club must go long distances to face Grapefruit League opponents. Asked if that decision includes outfielder Jayson Werth, Williams answered, “It most certainly does.”

Worth quoting: It’s nerve-racking because I’ve never been on this side of it, but at the same time it’s rewarding that we’ve gotten here and now we’re on the verge of starting games and having it ramp up a little bit and have it get a little bit faster for everyone. I’m looking forward to it.” — Williams, on experiencing his first Spring Training as a manager.

Further reading: Brock Peterson, in camp on a Minor League deal, is trying to author a better second chapter to his big league career after struggling following a long-awaited call-up with the Cardinals in 2013. Jordan is excited to make the first start of the spring.

 

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