Results tagged ‘ Stephen Strasburg ’

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.

Fastball command a familiar foe for Strasburg

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg faced a full count against Giants leadoff man Gregor Blanco in Sunday’s first inning. Catcher Jose Lobaton called for a fastball and set up low and inside on the left-handed hitter. Strasburg fired one in at 95 mph.

But the ball tailed right over the heart of the plate, and even at that velocity, Major League hitters will make a pitcher pay. Blanco did, ripping a shot over the right field wall for only his second home run of the season.

Although Strasburg’s offense picked him up with a late-inning barrage to win 14-6, it was a rough day for the right-hander and one that followed a familiar pattern. He missed spots with his fastball, and opposing batters punished him for it, leading to some early struggles.

“He’s got wonderful talent and the ability to throw the ball in the mid- to high-90s. And that’s great,” manager Matt Williams said. “Everybody’s got to be able to throw where they want to, and if you don’t, if you leave the ball in the middle of the plate, you have a chance to get it hit. That was the case today. The last two outings, that wasn’t the case. He threw really well and threw it exactly where he wanted to.”

In Strasburg’s previous two starts, he allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits over 15 innings. On Sunday, the Giants got him for five runs on eight hits in only four innings, tied for his shortest outing of the year.

Blanco led off the first with a homer. Travis Ishikawa led off the second with a blast into the seats in left-center off a center-cut 94 mph heater, also his second long ball of the year. Including those, Strasburg has served up a career-high 21 homers this season, with 13 coming in the first two innings and 16 coming on fastballs.

Strasburg called the pitches to Blanco and Ishikawa “dumb,” saying that while he wants to challenge hitters, he has to hit his spots more effectively. When he hasn’t this year, it’s often been the result of trying to bust that fastball inside, only to have it tail into the danger zone.

“That’s kind of where it misses sometimes,” said Strasburg, who did give up a pair of RBI hits on curveballs in the third inning. “It’s something I’ve been battling all year. Sometimes my command inside is really good, and sometimes it comes back over the plate. But the biggest thing is you’ve got to go out there and keep pitching, and it’s all going to figure itself out.”

Strasburg still has put up some impressive numbers on the season, with more than 10 strikeouts and only about two walks per nine innings. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.14 looks a lot better than his 3.59 ERA, and he’s posted 16 starts allowing two earned runs or fewer.

But to find more consistent success, Strasburg will have to harness the fastball that batters have hit close to .300 against this season. The key to that, according to Lobaton, is the between-starts work in the bullpen.

“You work there, and that’s it,” he said. “It’s the same as a hitter — you have a hole somewhere, you try to find it in the cage or in BP. I think today he just had a bad day, and he can do better. I know he can do better.”

Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Nats Grapefruit League Notes, 3/1

By Andrew Simon

VIERA, Fla. — Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest between the Nationals and Braves at Space Coast Stadium featured two teams that figure to be fighting each other for the National League East title. But after a brisk first two innings from starters Jordan Zimmermann and Julio Teheran, the game devolved into a sloppy affair that lasted three hours, 59 minutes and featured 31 runs, 37 hits, 14 walks, six errors and numerous misplays.

For what it’s worth, the Nats outlasted the Braves, 16-15. Here are some notes and observations from a long and crazy day at the ballpark:

– Zimmermann was on point, throwing 15 of his 20 pitches for strikes and getting five ground balls in six batters during two scoreless innings. As mentioned in today’s notebook, Zimmermann mixed in some nice changeups, a part of his repertoire that that he has developed very gradually in recent years.

– Bryce Harper played his first game of the spring, going four innings in left field and taking three plate appearances. He lined out sharply to first base, walked twice and stole a base.

– The Nats went 3-for-3 on steals in the third inning, with Denard Span stealing one on his own before pulling off a double steal of third and second with Harper. New manager Matt Williams wants his players to run the bases more aggressively, and they appear to be doing that in the early going.

– Most of the Nats pitchers after Zimmermann had a tough time, but veteran righty Luis Ayala — competing for one the last two bullpen spots — stopped the bleeding. He came in to protect a one-run lead with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth and induced an inning-ending double play, then pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. Ayala is a sinkerball artist who posted an excellent 59 percent groundball rate last season, mostly with Atlanta.

“He’s a guy that can have really quick innings,” Williams said. “An aggressive opposition, ball sinking down and in, a lot of ground balls. So that’s why we’re considering him and that’s why he’s here and it was a perfect situation today for him.”

– Michael Taylor, who is considered a strong defensive prospect in center field, had a rough day after entering the game in right. He made two errors on one play to allow Matt Lipka to circle the bases on a bloop hit down the line and later dropped a line drive into the right-center gap.

“We want to make sure he gets some reps out there,” Williams said. “Today’s a rough day for any right fielder, but he’ll get some more reps out there, too.”

Tomorrow: The Nats are back at Space Coast to take on the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. Doug Fister will start in his Washington debut, and fellow newcomer Jerry Blevins is scheduled to pitch as well. Jayson Werth is supposed to play for the first time this spring.

Looking ahead: Ross Detwiler will start against the Yankees on Monday in Tampa, and Stephen Strasburg will take the ball against the Braves on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista. That would leave Gio Gonzalez as the one expected member of the rotation yet to pitch.

Worth noting: Although he called Saturday’s defensive sloppiness an “aberration,” Williams said his club will address the issue in a previously scheduled situational defense practice on Sunday.

Worth quoting: While passing a group of reporters in a hallway shortly after the game, Nats coach Mark Weidemaier, who is in charge of the club’s defense, quipped, “Coached the [heck] out of ‘em today!”

Further reading: Today’s notebook on Nationals.com also includes info on how Danny Espinosa will split his time between second base and shortstop this spring, the approach Williams wants prospect Zach Walters to take at the plate, and lefty Tyler Robertson aiming for a bullpen job.

Follow me on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB

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.

 

[Updated] Strasburg scratched again

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

WASHINGTON — After Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Braves, Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced that Stephen Strasburg would miss his scheduled start Thursday against the Marlins. Gio Gonzalez will start Thursday, Jordan Zimmermann will start Friday and Strasburg will return Saturday, barring any further setbacks.

Strasburg was unexpectedly scratched from his previous start on Friday with right forearm tightness, which might have occurred when the right-hander was experimenting with a new pitch last Thursday in New York. The right-hander rested for two days, threw a “great” bullpen session on Monday and said Tuesday that he was prepared to start Thursday’s series-opener as planned.

However, Strasburg had trouble getting loose Wednesday afternoon and still felt some tightness.

“He felt a little something there [in the forearm] but he wanted to pitch,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Well, no way. I got guys on full rest. I’ll pitch them and you can be in the lineup for Saturday.’ So it’s my decision.”

Strasburg described the feeling as a “strong cramp” that bothered him when he was warming up Wednesday afternoon. He felt the tightness and took a break, moving his hand and squeezing it a bit. Then the feeling dissipated and he returned to the field and felt fine.

“I don’t really know why it’s happening,” Strasburg said. “When it happens, it happens. It’s like a strong cramp, so I just think I would put us in a bind if I went out there and felt it. We’d definitely be down some pitchers.”

Johnson said last week that Strasburg’s injury is not related to the surgically-repaired ligament in the right-hander’s elbow. Strasburg was examined by team doctor Wiemi Douoguih, who assured him that the arm is structurally sound.

“I wouldn’t say I’m too concerned because when I get nice and loose it feels 100 percent. The tough thing is getting loose,” Strasburg said. “I think it’s just part of it being September and that’s pretty much it.”

Johnson said that Strasburg wanted to pitch Thursday, but the skipper ultimately decided to hold him back as a precaution.

“It’s just not worth the risks,” Johnson said. “He wanted to go tomorrow, I said no.”

Game 153: Cardinals at Nationals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals (72-61)

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

Nationals (80-52)

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

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

Plans for Strasburg; Garcia to be called up by Nats; Bourn mum on free agency

NEW YORK — The Nationals are expected to have right-hander Stephen Strasburg miss two or three regular-season starts, according to a baseball source.

Strasburg, who is on an innings limit after having Tommy John surgery in late 2010, more than likely will pitch no more than 180 innings this season. There was talk of Strasburg pitching 160 innings this year, but the source said those amount of innings are not set in stone.

The same source went so far as to say Strasburg will not pitch in the postseason once he is shut down.

Strasburg, who is expected to pitch against the Giants on Wednesday, is the ace of the Nationals’ pitching staff, going 13-5 with a 2.90 ERA and is tied for National League lead in strikeouts with 166. He also has a 2.12 ERA during day games, which is third in the National League. He already has pitched 133 1/3 innings.

If Strasburg doesn’t pitch in the postseason, the Nationals could go with four starters in a short series. That fifth starter could work out of the bullpen.

Garcia to be called up soon
NEW YORK — The Nationals are expected to call up reliever Christian Garcia to the big leagues during September call ups, according to a baseball source.

Garcia, a former Yankees prospect, is a combined 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA and 16 saves in 38 games for Double A Harrisburg and Triple A Syracuse.

“He deserves to be the big leagues,” the source said. “He would be a big help to the bullpen.”

Nats looking for a center fielder
NEW YORK — Once the offseason starts, the Nationals are expected to look for a center fielder/leadoff hitter, and Braves outfielder Michael Bourn is person who is always mentioned as a possible target for Washington. He is a free agent after this season and represented by agent Scott Boras.

Asked on Sunday if he thought about playing for the Nationals one day, Bourn said, “Not really. As far as the free agency goes, I just wait until the end of the season and we’ll see what happens. I know my name has come up on different occasions with different teams. But, right now, I play with the Atlanta Braves and I enjoy where I’m at right now. I’m having fun. I’m on a good team, thankfully. It’s a blessing to be over here, I’m just going to ride all this all out for right now and see what happens at the end of the season.”

The Nationals are currently using Bryce Harper, Roger Bernadina and Jayson Werth in center field. Werth is normally a right fielder, while most believe Harper and Bernadina are corner outfielders.

– Bill Ladson

Strasburg has impressive outing vs. Marlins

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched his best game of the year in a 3-1 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon.

Strasburg, who was not on a pitch limit, threw six shutout innings, allowed one hit and struck out a season-high 10 batters.

Manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg could have pitched another inning, but the skipper decided against it.

“I was pretty impressed and what I liked more about it was that he just pitched,” Johnson said. “He didn’t overthrow, stayed within himself, made pitches. I could have gotten another inning out of him, but I’m pleased with what I saw. He is now one of the boys. He is back.”

For Strasburg, who missed most of this season rehabbing his arm because of Tommy John surgery, was pleased with his performance, but said there is still a lot of work to be done before next season.

“I felt pretty good out there, just going out there pounding the strike zone,” Strasburg said. “After today, it’s all water under the bridge. I’m going into the offseason [and] I still have a lot of work to do. I’m still not back to where I want to be. I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can again.”

Strasburg was also pleased that he was able to throw his breaking pitches for strikes. He had problems locating the pitches for almost a month.

“It’s something I’ve been searching for this last month,” Strasburg said. “I wasn’t going to be hard on myself just knowing that [they are pitches] I started throwing at the end of July. It’s something that is going to come back with just reps and feel. Today, I have it back. Going into the offseason, I’m going to work hard and I know it’s going to be there come Spring Training.”

Teammates impressed with Strasburg

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched five shutout innings in a 7-3 loss to the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. His outing came a year and three days after he had Tommy John surgery.

His teammates came away impressed with what they saw. Wilson Ramos caught Strasburg for the first time and Ramos said they were on the same page throughout the game.

“He was unbelievable — his pitches. Everything was working down in the zone,” Ramos said. “We were on the same page. He shook me off only two or three times. I tried to be on the same page with him and we were.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman noticed that Strasburg wasn’t throwing his curveball as much he did in the past.

“When you have a fastball like him, you can throw just fastballs,” Zimmerman said. “He is a talent. That surgery — it’s not like it’s career threatening anymore. If you put the time in and work hard like him, you have a real good chance to come back.”

The way Strasburg was pitching, shortstop Ian Desmond said he never would have known that Strasburg had Tommy John surgery.

“It looked like he didn’t skip a beat,” Desmond said. “Last year, when he got hurt, he did an interview and he said he was going to come back stronger and smarter. … He looked like he did.

“To be able to comeback with the adrenalin, with the media, with everything else and be able to hone in on the strike zone and do your job with reliability — unbelievable.”

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