Well, poop – I guess I at least caught Ryan Zimmerman’s last game before he went on the 15 day disabled list. Saturday night, Zimmerman re-injured an abdominal strain sliding into 2nd base that first bothered him during spring training. Huge bummer! Things seem a bit touch-and-go with new first baseman, Adam LaRoche as well, initially bothered by a slight tear in his throwing shoulder and now a “slightly” strained groin suffered yesterday, which made for an interesting defensive alignment in the last inning.
LaRoche expects to be ready to return to play tomorrow. Here’s hoping, because without calling someone up, the team is running really short on replacement players. Did you catch Pudge playing first base in the final inning of yesterday’s 11th inning win over the Mets! That was worth the price of admission right there (ok, free since I was watching on TV, but still)!
Also running short are effective bullpen arms not named Storen, Clippard, or Burnett. After hearing Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick would only be used in blowout (either way) games, I was stunned to see him called from the bullpen Saturday night. I surmised, and explained to my Mets fan friends sitting with me, that Riggleman was giving the core guys a rest since they had been used so much recently. And sure enough, that game got away. My sleep-deprived self still doesn’t want to rehash it!
I seem to recall Clippard losing effectiveness toward the end of last season due to excessive use, and am afraid of the same or worse this season. Same goes for the other guys in the bullpen named above. That will be an interesting area to keep an eye on over the next few weeks as the state of the bullpen as a whole becomes clearer with a larger sample size.
Speaking of Clippard, the mill-wheel armed dude, I keep holding my breath when he enters games in tight situations now. It’s not that I don’t trust his stuff — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just that I know he can’t keep a 0.00 ERA going all season and wonder each time he comes out, “is this where some real numbers appear there?”
Here’s hoping the injury bug is done striking the Nationals and moves on to some other team (few seem to have been spared thus far into the season, however).
But what about two with the Marlins series starting tonight? I kid, I kid! I have nothing much to say about Sunday’s series finale loss at the brutal choking hands of the Braves. The notes in my scoresheet read simply:
Bad bad D!
Yep, that about sums it up. I’m sure most of you saw the game or already read the recaps, so no need to rehash it here, except to say GACK! I’ve been listening to Glee CDs on repeat to soothe my frayed nerves since that game.
Anyway, moving on…
I suppose it’s time to wean myself from Words With Friends (you people are letter playing animals!) and adjust to the sport that ends up consuming my life for six months. The season has begun! That hadn’t completely sunk in with the off days and day games during opening week, but baseball at the customary 7 PM begins tonight. Let the marathon to October begin!
The players I plan on paying attention the most to this year are:
Danny Espinosa – I’m expecting greatness from the 2nd baseman both hitting and fielding.
Jordan Zimmermann – he’s shown a lot of potential and should be completely recovered from Tommy John surgery. Hopefully this is his year to begin to really shine.
Drew Storen – Sean Burnett crush aside, I like Storen and it’ll be fun/interesting to watch him grow into the permanent closer role. I hope.
Wilson Ramos – like Storen, I’m interested in seeing how he transitions to full time catcher. (Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on Flores’ progress in the minors too)
Michael Morse – can he keep his power numbers up throughout the season after his impressive spring?
Jayson Werth – of course the marquis payroll player bears watching to make sure he’s earning his bucks.
Hopefully Sunday was an anomaly and not a sign of things to come this season. Also hopefully saying these are the players I’m watching didn’t just automatically jinx and doom them. The beat guys caution to keep expectations low for the Marlins series given past history. (Nationals Journal, Goessling Game)
So was that game yesterday exciting or what?! That’s the kind of game that is so fun to watch. It had everything from home runs to a successful suicide squeeze to hail to a suspenseful win! But I’m here to rave more about Sean Burnett. I think I’m in baseball love. I know pitchers, particularly relief pitchers, can be the most inconsistent players in the game, going from on top of their game to useless in a heartbeat. Who cares? At the moment, Burnett is exciting to watch! Not only can he get batters out, but he flashes slick fielding skills as well.
In yesterday’s 6-3 win over the Braves, Burnett entered the game in the top of the 8th in relief Storen who gave up a home run to Alex Gonzalez sandwiched between two outs. After the homer, the Nats were holding onto a two run lead of 3-5. Braves put pinch hitter Hinske in the batter’s box. With Burnett’s first pitch thrown, Hinske grounded out to Adam LaRoche. Cue the Easy button “That was easy!”.
In the bottom of the 8th, Ian Desmond pulled off a funny trick. He is still hitless as the leadoff batter through two games, going 0-5 yesterday — but with a run scored. Eh? He reached base twice on fielder’s choice plays and the second time came around to score to put the Nats up 3 runs.
So moving on to the fantastic top of the 9th. Burnett returns to the mound for the four out save after throwing only one pitch the previous inning. He faced the top of the Braves batting order. The scoresheet looks like this:
Seeing it live (or on tv as I did) is so much more impressive than those little numbers show. First, I have to imagine being the closest player to the batter, those balls come at you in a split second and in order to not get beaned, you have to have quick reflexes. First batter, Prado, grounded to Burnett, who quickly fielded the ball and threw to first with plenty of wiggle time. Nate McLouth then smoked a grounder that Burnett barely got a glove on as it skittered past him, but he slowed the ball down enough for Ian Desmond to reach it and barely get rid of it while in motion in enough time for the out. If Burnett hadn’t touched the ball, it probably would have been a single into center field. Finally, and most impressively, Chipper Jones hit a line drive straight at Burnett, who flipped his arm up and caught it like it was nothing. Love!
Bang! Zoom! The Nationals win their second game of the season/series. Today will determine the series victor and looks to be the best weather yet since the season opened Thursday. Let’s go Nats!
Since there are still a few hours before the Nats’ second game of the season, I can squeeze one more post out of opening day. So, I sounded pretty grumpy yesterday morning and I apologize. I should have just posted the pics and left it at that! One game is certainly not enough to judge a season or a player by, and should hopefully not set the mood for the rest of the season. Not that I did any judging, I just got agitated remembering the traffic (yeah, yeah, I know – lug my camera on Metro). One of the most intriguing aspects of opening day is the first official opportunity to check out the new guys. So who are they and how did the ones who debuted Thursday fare?
1. Jayson Werth – RF
At the plate: The multimillion dollar man batting 2nd behind Desmond and ahead of Zimmerman singled in his first at-bat and made it to third before Morse grounded out to end the opportunity. Later at-bats netted a strikeout swinging and two ground-outs to short.
In the field: Werth made three catches in right, two pretty fancy involving falling and sliding. Now if he was superman, he could have snagged that Heyward homerun that landed just in the stands over his head.
2. Adam LaRoche – 1B
At the plate: LaRoche went 1-4 at the plate popping out in the 1st, flying out to the warning track in left in the 4th, singling on a blooper to left in the 6th (and then being taken out on a fielder’s choice) and flying out to left again as the 1st batter in the bottom of the 9th.
In the field: He looked pretty competent at first base defense-wise at first glance, making a couple really nice snags and plays. I wrote a “D” next to a 3-1 play LaRoche started in the top of the 4th, meaning he snared a hard grounder and looked good doing it.
3. Rick Ankiel – CF
At the plate: Ankiel most memorably ended the game looking at a 3rd called strike in the bottom of the 9th with the Nats down 2-0. He flew out to right, drew a walk (and then was thrown out by a mile trying to steal 2nd with 2 outs), flew out to left and struck out looking, going 0-3 with a walk.
In the field: Nothing terribly noteworthy happened – routine fly balls and throws in on grounders to center. No errors, no spectacular catches. He was the only player on the field wearing face covering to protect against the cold.
4. Todd Coffey – RP
Comparing a pitcher to hitters/position players is like the cliche of comparing apples to oranges, but out of all the new guys, I’d say Coffey gave the best performance. I was a little concerned since his last few spring training outings were less than stellar, but he came into the game in the 8th and had a 1-2-3 inning, inducing a groundout, popout and flyout to a pinch hitter in the 9th spot and the number 1 and 2 batters for the Braves.
5. Laynce Nix – Bench
At the plate: Laynce Nix only appeared briefly as a pinch hitter against Moylan with a runner at 3rd and two outs. He struck out swinging to end the inning and the opportunity.
6. Jerry Hairston Jr. – Bench
Oops, nevermind. He came into the on-deck circle to pinch hit and then was replaced with pinch hitter Nix after the Braves brought in new pitcher Moylan. No photos, no stats.
THE OLD GUYS
So there’s how the new guys fared on opening day. So how about the old guys?
Adam Dunn: 4 RBIs between a home run and a double, the most RBI generated for the team that day. He had one strikeout as the designated hitter before a pinch hitter replaced him. White Sox win 15-10 over the Cleveland Indians.
Josh Willingham: Hammer’s new team, the Oakland A’s, lost to the Seattle Mariners 6-2, but Willingham homered in the 1st inning with a runnner on, providing the only 2 runs the A’s would score during the game.
Wil Nieves: With the Brewers starting catcher injured, Nieves took over the role as starter on opening day as the Brewers lost 6-7 to the Reds. He went 2-4 at the plate with a double in his first at bat and came around to score that inning.
Nyjer Morgan: Entered the same game as Nieves in the bottom of the 7th inning in right field, but didn’t start. He did not get an opportunity to bat.
And a little older than the immediate past, but Joel Hanrahan also got his first save on opening day as the Pirates beat the Cubs 6-3.
The Nationals took the field as visitors in their new red unis. J-Zimm rocked today! And I don’t mean that in the “he gave up a lot of hits/runs” sense, but rather was rockin’ on the mound against the Marlins. He was the only player on the field rocking the high red socks look compared to the other 8 on the field with pants to their shoe-tops, and Zimmermann mowed through the Marlins lineup for 5 innings before turning the mound over.
Zimmermann has been one of my favorites since he first came up, and I still maintain high hopes for him after being set back by Tommy John surgery. So far so good this spring. He allowed 3 hits, 1 walk and struck out 2 with no runs scored.
Henry Rodriguez, on the other hand, was the anti-Zimmermann, walking three batters in a row after giving up a double on a fly that Ankiel took a complete crop circle route on and ended up no where near where it landed (that was kind of odd – wind?). The third walk forced in the only run the Marlins scored before Rodriguez was pulled. Eek!
Brian Broderick relieved Rodriguez with one out in the 6th, inducing a popout and groundout to end the inning. He then had a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th as well. Collin Balester and Cole Kimball took the 8th and 9th respectively and shut the Marlins down 1-2-3 in those innings as well.
So aside from Rodriguez, the Nationals’ pitching staff put on a stellar performance today. I wish I had more photos to share… (explaining in next post in the morning after I recover from my own bit of camera mourning)