Showing posts with label GORZELANNY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GORZELANNY. Show all posts

Nationals celebrate Canada Day! (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson held an extensive, wide-ranging press conference early Friday afternoon, and in it he remarked more than once that in order to win, he would need the best efforts of all 25 men on his roster.  He also spoke about the necessity of having a power bat on his bench to give the other manager something to think about in the late innings, using the euphemism of having a guy with a "big, hairy chest" sitting next to him in the dugout.

Last night, in the Nats 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Stairs was that big, hairy guy Johnson needs him to be. As it happens, the New Brunswick native played the hero on Canada Day, which celebrates Canada becoming an independent kingdom on July 1, 1867. 

Stairs drove a 95-MPH fastball from reliever Tim Wood off the right field wall, scoring pinch-runner Alex Cora from third to deliver yet another walk-off win at Nats Park.  The embattled veteran has but seven hits to his credit this season, and certainly none were as big as the one last night.


Veteran Matt Stairs came though for the Nats. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The win pushes the Nats back to the .500 mark, kicking off this 10-day, 11-game homestand in grand fashion. It also marks Johnson's first win as a major league manager in eleven years.

“You win pennants with 25 players,” Johnson said in the pre-game press conference. “They’re all invaluable. You can’t win with 24, 23, 22, so my job as manager is to try to take care of all 25. [Stairs] had some sporadic at-bats, and he wasn’t hitting too good. We need his capabilities coming off the bench late in the ballgame.”

Certainly the burly Canadian had tried everyone's patience this season, batting just .138 with a lone RBI until last night's game-winner.  But the 43-year old has had rough stretches before, and he figured eventually he would pull out of this one too.  While that remains to be seen, he's appears to have benefited from getting three starts in a row as designated hitter while the team was out in Anaheim taking on the Angels. 

While the decision to give him all those at bats might not have paid off in that series, rarely this season has Stairs hit a ball harder than the one that he lashed halfway up the wall to the left of the Nationals bullpen in right field.

"[Stairs] swung the bat pretty good out in L.A., and he's still not quite 100 percent, but that looked like 100 percent right there. That was a rocket," Johnson said from his office after the game.

Johnson sent Stairs up to hit for Ian Demsond, who is struggling in his own right.  "I told Desi, 'Look, you're not swinging like I know you're capable of. Normally, I wouldn't do this, but there's a chance. I got to try to put everything I got in this thing,' " Johnson said.  The 68-year old skipper had already lifted his first baseman, Michael Morse (who singled to start the inning), for the pinch-runner Cora, and now was pulling his starting shortstop in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth.

As Johnson described, he rolled the dice a little bit, and on this night he came up a winner.

The heroics came too late to do anything for starter Tom Gorzelanny, who threw another terrific ballgame.  He went seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on six hits and one walk, striking out eight.  The Pirates got a run off him in the third on a single, an error on a sacrifice and a ground out.

The Nats first run of the game came courtesy of Roger Bernadina's fifth home run of the season, who also singled in the game.  The Nats center fielder got support from his new manager during the post-game as well.  Johnson said Bernadina "deserves a chance to play every day, and I'm gonna give it to him."
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THE GOOD:  A win!  Davey Johnson is as crusty a manager as there ever was, but even he admitted feeling relief notching his first win after three consecutive losses to start his Nats tenure. "Now I'm going after number two." he said post-game. "First win... [being out] 11 years in the big leagues, here in front of the home crowd. That's special. ... It's been a while."

THE BAD:  Ryan Zimmerman. 0-for-4 with a K and a couple of ground outs. The Z-man isn't making very good contact right now.

THE UGLY:  Wilson Ramos went 0-for-3 with a walk, and did drive a ball to right that moved the runner up in the ninth inning.  But after his strong start this season, he's now hitting just .235.

THE STATS:  Six hits, five walks, six strikeouts. 1-for-7 with RISP, eight LOB, Three GIDP. E: Gorzelanny (2), Morse (1).

NEXT GAME:  Doubleheader Saturday against the Pirates. Game One is at 3:35 pm and pits John Lannan (5-5, 3.48) against James McDonald (5-4, 4.52).  Game Two is at 7:05 pm and Livan Hernandez (5-8, 3.81) will start for the Nats.  Pittsburgh has not announced a starter for the second game as of this post.

NATS NOTES:  Before the game, the Nationals announced they dismissed first base coach Dan Radison and replaced him with Trent Jewett, who was serving as bench coach when John McLaren was reassigned. Radison was a very close confidant of former manager Jim Riggleman.

Morse made his first error at first base. In fact, it's his first error since when he was with the Seattle Mariners in 2005.


Danny Espinosa shows off his high jumping skills. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Alex Cora advanced to third on Wilson Ramos' fly ball to right in ninth inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Danny Espinosa can't come down with Ryan Zimmerman's throw. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

There were a few constants for the Washington Nationals during their eight-game winning streak.  They were the beneficiary of good starting pitching.  They played almost flawless defense.  And there was a growing belief that they were in every game, something that might have lacked earlier in the season.

In today's 7-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, before a packed house on Father's Day, none of things happened.

The Nationals, in their first attempt to reach .500 since May 18, played as lackluster a game as they have in weeks.  They committed three errors and made several other miscues that led to a sloppy defensive game.  The poor defensive effort led to a general feeling of listlessness that -- other than a three run outburst in the fourth and fifth innings -- carried over to the offense.  And the Orioles, one of the worst hitting teams in the American League, scored in six of nine innings to contribute to the feeling of malaise on the day.

On top of all that, Tom Gorzelanny, making his first start since being activated from the 15-day Disabled List due to soreness in his left elbow, was completely ineffective.  The left-hander, who made only one rehab start in Triple-A Syracuse, was tuned up to for 10 hits and five runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings.  He walked just one, but struck out no one, after averaging 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his first nine starts this season.

The Orioles got their first run courtesy of Ryan Zimmerman's throwing error on a potential double play ball that should have cleared the bases.  His errant throw to second that should have forced Derrek Lee instead went into right field, and Lee ended up on third base.  The next batter, Zimmerman's University of Virginia teammate Mark Reynolds, tapped one up the third base line that Zimmerman fielded cleanly and usually would have made a throw on, but he ate it instead, filling the bases.

Zimmerman holds slow grounder instead of making throw to first. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Gorzelanny got a double play ball from catcher Craig Tatum, but the error and then held ball allowed Lee to carry a run in on the twin-killing.  It was that kind of day for the Nats, with the Orioles pecking away every inning, scoring at least one run in each of the second through sixth innings.  A solo home run here. Back-to-back doubles there.  Run scoring grounders at the right times.

In addition to Zimmerman's bad throw, Jayson Werth fielded -- then dropped -- a ball hit by Nick Markakis, allowing the runner to advance.  A double play wiped out the Orioles scoring opportunity on that occasion.  Later in the game, Wilson Ramos threw into Nolan Reimold on a stolen base attempt, and the ball ended up in left field, allowing Reimold to advance.  Reimold scored later in the inning on a sacrifice fly.

The fielding problems were, as manager Jim Riggleman described them, not of the garden variety for the most part.   "We made some errors that were kind of strange.  Jason [Werth] made a great effort on a ball in right field and then dropped it, so that ends up being an error.  The ball that Ramos threw into the runner a little bit, that ends up as one, but Zim made an error -- that's baseball.  By normal baseball action there we made one error, you know?  The other stuff is a little misleading."

The Nats had a chance to make some waves in the bottom of the fourth, trailing 3-0 at the time, with Gorzelanny obviously struggling.  Back-to-back doubles by Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa cut that lead to 3-2, and with two outs the Nats have the bases loaded against journeyman starter Chris Jakubauskas with the pitcher's spot up.  Riggleman allowed Gorzelanny to hit for himself and he bounced out to first base to end the inning.  Gorzelanny didn't make it through the next half-inning after giving up two runs in the frame.

Did Riggleman consider pinch-hitting for his struggling starter at that crucial point of the game?

"Well you know you can do that, but those starters go to hunt for you and if you don't give them a chance to get through five [innings] and do their thing, the repercussions of that are not favorable. [Gorzelanny] hadn't thrown many pitches so I thought the right thing to do was let him go out there and try to let him pitch the fifth.

The Nats have a day off on Monday to think about how close they were to the elusive .500 mark, before welcoming the Seattle Mariners for a three-game set starting Tuesday.  It will be interesting to see how the Nats respond this week after seeing their winning streak end, not by getting beaten necessarily, but by finding ways to lose Sunday to the Orioles.
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THE GOOD:  Roger Bernadina went 3-for-4 with an RBI, raising his season average to .281.  Danny Espinosa homered and went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

THE BAD:  Gorzelanny.  The Nats didn't play well behind him, but he gave up a ton of hits and, most concerning, didn't strike anyone out.  Even in his previous poor starts he still rang up the Ks.

THE UGLY:  The defense.  On top of the errors, Werth had another ball elude his grasp, Bernadina misplayed a ball in center, and Ramos threw another ball into the runner trying to steal that stayed in the infield.  Maybe the wet grass after the shower that came through made the ball slick, but the Orioles didn't have any troubles picking the ball up today.

THE STATS:  Nine hits, one walk, nine strikeouts.  1-for-2 with RISP, five LOB. E:  Zimmerman (2), Werth (4), Ramos (3).

NEXT GAME:  Tuesday at 7:-5 pm against the Seattle Mariners.  Livan Hernandez (4-8, 3.77) hosts Doug Fister (3-8, 3.53).

Tom Gorzelanny struggled in his first start off the D.L. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

BULLET-POINT STYLE!

  • Today should mark the return of 3B Ryan Zimmerman to the Nats lineup.  The team went 27-31 without him and the hitting is beyond terrible, so the 26-year old Face of the Franchise can do nothing but help this club.  But abdominal injuries, even after being surgically repaired, are notorious for being slow to completely heal and players get back to normal.  If you think about it, everything comes from your core, and if core core isn't strong and healthy, it makes everything that much more difficult.  Rejoice that the best player on the team is back, but it might still be a while before he's the "real" Ryan Zimmerman.
  • LHP Tom Gorzelanny pitched on a rehab assignment for AAA-Syracuse Monday and didn't fare very well.  He lasted four innings (73 pitches, 44 strikes) and allowed four earned runs on five hits -- including a three-run homer -- walking one and striking out three.  The Chiefs went on to lose 8-3 when J.D. Martin struggled just as bad, allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings.  Yunesky Maya has a big start ahead of him tonight after pitching well his previous time out against San Francisco.  Maya's been able to get through the order once (.222 BA against) but the second time through the lineup teams are hitting .364/.440/.545 off him.
  • Steve Lombardozzi won AA-Eastern League Player of the Week for the period June 5 to June 12.  The switch-hitting second baseman for the Harrisburg Senators went 14-for-26 (.538) with a home run and eight runs scored.  He's the third position player for the Sens to win the POW award, joining Tyler Moore and Archie Gilbert.  For the season, Lombo is hitting .316/.371/.460 with four homers, 22 RBIs and 14 steals, and leads the Senators in runs scored with 35.
  • The Nats play 23 of their next 29 games at home.  If they truly have designs on challenging .500, they need to start making hay.  St. Louis is a tough customer to start this nine-game stretch, but the Orioles and Mariners are cellar-dwellers and the first week of July they get Pittsburgh and the Cubs for eight games.  The Nationals will have to take advantage of that part of the schedule.  The team is 14-12 at home this season -- not sparkling, but better than their overall winning percentage.  They are pitching and fielding well, and if Zimmerman's bat can jump-start the offense they could make inroads to evening their record, as they sit six games back of .500 at 30-36.

GORZELANNY POUNDED FOR THREE HOMERS IN 11-3 LOSS

Monday was an interesting -- and busy -- day for the Washington Nationals.

First came the reports that P Brian Broderick was claimed by the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that the Nats drafted him from during the Rule 5 draft over the off-season.  A little while later, the team announced that 1B Adam LaRoche was indeed placed on the 15-day Disabled List with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.  For now, rest and therapy have been prescribed, but surgery is still not out of the picture.

The Nats then sent OF Rick Ankiel to Harrisburg for his first -- and perhaps only -- rehab game, where he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.  And then later in the evening ESPN.com reported that GM Mike Rizzo and veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez were both disciplined for verbally confronting the umpiring crew following Thursday's 1-0 loss to the New York Mets.

Oh, they played a game too.  Though they probably wished they hadn't.

Tom Gorzelanny gave up three home runs, putting his team in a hole they were incapable of climbing out of, en route to a thorough 11-3 pasting to the Milwaukee Brewers before 22,906 at Miller Park.

The loss was the Nats third in a row since pounding Baltimore Friday night, and fifth in six games, dropping the Nationals record to a season-high five games below .500 at 21-26.  Washington is now eight games back in the division and trail the fourth place Mets by a game and a half.

The Nats got down quickly and never challenged.  Corey Hart and Prince Fielder both homered in the bottom of the first off Gorzelanny (L, 2-4, 4.25), giving Milwaukee a 3-0 lead after the first frame. Michael Morse led off the second with a homer off Yovanni Gallardo (W, 6-2, 4.35), but that's as close as the Nats would get as Gallardo retired the next 12 batters he faced.  When he was done, had given up just five hits and a walk in seven innings, striking out nine.

Hart hit another shot in the fifth off Gorzelanny and a third in the eighth off Doug Slaten, when Slaten and Drew Storen combined to surrender five runs on four hits and a walk.  The three home runs for Hart were the first three of his season, after hitting 31 in 2010.  He entered play with no home runs and one RBI in 76 at bats, hitting .237.  His seven RBIs for the night were a personal record and tied a franchise high.

All told, Gorzelanny gave up six earned runs on eight hits and a walk, striking out six.

The thing that sticks out though is that despite being six runs down, the Nats had their chances in both the sixth and seventh innings against Gallardo, getting two runners on with only one out.  They failed to score either time, and the Brewers erupted for the five-spot in the eighth to close things out.

The Nats scored twice in the ninth after things had been decided.  Jerry Hairston's triple plated a run and he scored on a Roger Bernadina ground out.

The Nationals now find themselves going backward really fast.  They are now without two-thirds of the middle of their order for the foreseeable future, though with the way LaRoche was hitting, that might be a blessing in disguise.  The schedule does them no favors either.  They have two more games in Milwaukee, then come home for a six-game stand with San Diego and Philadelphia.  They then embark on their longest road trip of the season, a ten-game west coast trip that takes them to Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego.

No rest for the weary.
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THE GOOD:  Henry Rodriguez threw a hitless, scoreless inning, striking out two.

THE BAD:  Wilson Ramos went 0-for-4 in the fifth spot in the order, stranding five.  Ian Desmond went 1-for-5, but struck out three times. He's on a 170-strikeout pace for the season.

THE UGLY:  The bottom of the eighth.  Still within hailing distance at 6-1, Milwaukee put five up to make it a laugher.  Storen gave up consecutive doubles for a run, then gets a ground ball out and a strikeout before walking leadoff hitter Rickie Weeks on five pitches.  Manager Jim Riggleman brings in Doug Slaten, who pours gasoline on the fire, serving up Hart's third home run of the game, a slider that simple hung in the middle of the plate.

THE STATS:  Eight hits, one walk, 11 strikeouts. 0-for-10 with RISP, nine LOB, 0 GIDP. E: Cora (1)

NEXT GAME:  Tuesday at Milwaukee at 8:10 pm EDT.  Livan Hernandez (3-6, 3.64) against Chris Narveson (2-3, 3.44)

HARPER WATCH:  Bryce Harper went 1-for-4 with two runs scored in Hagerstown's 10-5 with over Greensboro.

There are a lot of studies out there that suggest that the anecdotal concept of "clutch" does not really exist.  As emotional beings, fans tend to remember the good (a player coming through with runners in scoring position or in a big situation) and tend to forget the equal number of times that player has failed.

Some of the more celebrated "clutch" players in history, statistics-wise, were no better in pressure situations than they were in any other situation.  It's just that we remember the good times, like Reggie Jackson's three-home run game in the World Series.  Turns out Mr. October performed more or less the way we would expect him to, commensurate with his career numbers.  He was no better -- or worse -- statistically in the playoffs.

Why the diatribe as a set-up for a game story?

I'm sure you'll read many words about how the Washington Nationals had plenty of base runners, but no one could come up with the "clutch" hit to drive them in in last night's 3-0 loss to Jonathan Niese and a pair of relievers for the New York Mets.  At least part of it is true, the Nats did have 10 hits and two walks, a total of 12 base runners over nine innings.  That's something to work with.

But this team is lacking in power and production.  There are no big hits, just strings of little hits, when they score runs.  Think back to Sunday's game in the first inning, when a couple of base hits, a walk and a double by the pitcher turned into six runs.

That's how this team has to manufacture runs with the dearth of power and contact right now.  And last night, they couldn't string anything together.  The team went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 men on. That says more about the lack of contact-making skills (eight strikeouts) and utter absence of power (two doubles in eight hits) than any particular player's "clutch"-ness.

The Nats also entered play not only as the worst hitting team overall in N.L., but last against left-handed pitching as well, hitting under .200 for the season against southpaws, which Niese obviously took advantage of.

Granted, they played this game for the most part in a monsoon.  The conditions were a travesty, with large puddles forming in the basepaths and in short left and right fields.  But both teams had to suffer the conditions.

Another huge contributing factor to the lack of production is first baseman Adam LaRoche.  He once again went 0-for-4, striking out twice and stranding three runners.  He's hitting .177/.291/.270 for the season, all of it right in the middle of the Nats batting order.  All of his plate appearances have come from the fourth and fifth spots in the order, and it's killing the Nats production having an out machine in the middle of their lineup every night.

LaRoche is a notorious slow-starter, but this is ridiculous.  For his career, he hits .208/.303/.385 in April and .250/.330/.432 in May and finishes hot in August and September.  At the pace he's on, he'll have to hit .400 the rest of the way to achieve his career numbers per 162 games of .268/.337/.480 with 26 home runs and 92 RBIs.

Perhaps the tear in his left shoulder rotator cuff is worse than the team believes.  LaRoche insists that it does not cause him pain, but degradation of the joint certainly could affect strength and flexibility.  It certainly would explain his performance, which at this point simply can't be shrugged off to "slow start".

The loss drops the Nationals to two games below .500 at 20-22, in an exact tie with the Mets for fourth place in the division.  A Mets team, we might add, missing David Wright, Ike Davis and Angel Pagan.
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THE GOOD:  Michael Morse went 2-for-4 with a double and an outfield assist, gunning out Justin Turner at third base..  Henry Rodriguez, Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten combined for 2 1/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief.

THE BAD:  Tom Gorzelanny.  He only gave up three earned runs, but he was darn lucky to do so, considering he gave up eight hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings.  He did strike out seven, so he had that going for him, which was nice.  He also added a throwing error on a pick-off attempt for good measure.

THE UGLY:  Adam LaRoche. 0-for-4, two Ks, three LOB. 

THE STATS:  Eight hits, two walks, eight strikeouts. 1-for-9 with RISP, 10 LOB, 0 GIDP. E: Gorzelanny (1).

NEXT GAME:  Thursday at 1:10 pm at Citifield v. New York Mets.  Livan Hernandez (3-5, 3.92) faces Dillon Gee (2-0, 4.44).

There's a trite expression that says (insert sport here) is a game of inches.  Twice last night in extra innings we saw evidence that the axiom still applies to Major League Baseball.

Pinch-hitter Michael Morse missed a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark by mere inches in the bottom of the tenth with two outs and was forced to settle for a double. He was stranded there when Jerry Hairston flied out to right to end the inning.  Omar Infante, who was dead-to-rights on a play at the plate, lifted his lead hand to avoid Wilson Ramos' tag and got the tips of the fingers of his back hand on the plate after the catcher lunged for the player instead of protecting the plate.

That's essentially how the Florida Marlins defeated the Washington Nationals, 6-5, before 19,503 mostly-stunned fans Friday night at Nationals Park.

The loss drops the Nats two games below .500 at 18-20.

The loss spoiled Roger Bernadina's big night, as "The Shark" went 3-for-5 with a two-run double, walk, stolen base, and perhaps the catch of the year in center field, robbing Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton of extra bases with an acrobatic diving catch running full-speed away from home plate. Bernadina looked like he got the wind knocked out of him when he landed hard, but regained his composure to jog off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd -- and his teammates.

"Bernie's shown us great flashes at times and he's getting an opportunity to play," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We need a leadoff hitter and he's playing very well."

Brian Broderick (0-1, 6.57) took the loss, giving up two hits in the 11th inning.  Infante singled up the middle past a stretched out Ian Desmond, then Greg Dobbs hit a hard ground ball down the right field line to sent Infante racing home from first. Hairston took the relay throw from Jayson Werth and fired a strike to home plate well in advance of Infante, but the veteran's tricky slide eluded the rookie Ramos' lunging tag to score the game-winner.

"[Infante] was safe. He made a great slide," Riggleman said.  "He put his hand out there and pulled his hand back and put the other one out there. Ramos made a great effort, diving at him, to put the tag on him but he's diving to where he thinks his hand is going to be and Infante just made a great slide."

The Nats went quietly in the bottom of the inning against Marlins closer Leo Nunez, who earned his Major League leading 13th save.

Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, nor factored in the decision. Tom Gorzelanny gave up three runs in the first inning, on a two-run homer by Gaby Sanchez and a solo shot from John Buck, and another solo homer to Mike Stanton in the third.  All told, he went 4 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and an intentional walk, striking out six.  The Nats got to Marlins starter Chris Volstad for four earned on eight hits and one walk, and struck out seven times against a pitcher who entered play with a 5.73 ERA.

Ian Desmond drove in the Nats first run with a single, Laynce Nix hit a bomb into the upper tank in right center in the fourth, and Bernadina's two-run double came later that inning. Nix plated the Nats final run in the eighth with a double off reliever Mike Dunn.

The Nats had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, as a two-out walk by Bernadina and single by Desmond put runners on the corners with Jayson Werth due. But Desmond took second on defensive indifference, allowing the Marlins to intentionally walk Werth. They then brought a lefty to face Adam LaRoche, who is hitting .127 against lefties in 2011.  LaRoche promptly grounded out to second to end the threat.

The Nationals fought back tonight after being in a hole early, but just couldn't pull it out against the Marlins last night.  If the Nats are going to have a chance to achieve their lofty goal of remaining around .500 long enough to be in the conversation as the weather warms up, they need to find a way to win these games of inches.  This was one prime for the taking and they fell just short.
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THE GOOD: Roger Bernadina.  He had it all on display last night. 3-for-5, two RBI, stolen base and an early nominee for defensive play of the year.  Laynce Nix was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and his fifth home run of the year.  Jerry Hairston went 2-for-5 and made the great relay throw to the plate. Drew Storen was overpowering in his two innings, retiring all six batters faced, striking out six.

THE BAD: Tom Gorzelanny. He got roughed up pretty good. Four earned on eight hits was easily his worst performance so far this season.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa.  0-for-3 with two more strikeouts.  He's not shortening his swing at all with two strikes and he really looks lost right now.  His average has dipped all the way down to .205.

THE STATS: 12 hits, five walks, 11 Ks. 4-for-12 with RISP, nine LOB, three GIDP. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at 1:05 pm against the Marlins at Nats Park. Livan Hernandez (3-4, 4.29) faces Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 3.46). See link for more about Saturday's events at the park.

NATS NOTES: Riggleman indicated after the game that Desmond was playing with a sore quadriceps and will be given the game off tomorrow.

With Thursday night’s crushing 6-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals record is one game below .500 at 18-19. They've accomplished this despite being dead last in the league in hitting. So how are they doing it? Primarily with decent starting pitching, (mostly) excellent relief pitching from a few key relievers, and improving defense. The team is 14-9 when not committing an error and 4-10 when they do. That's how close their margin of error has been.

But just how good has the pitching been? Well, they are right at  league average in runs allowed per game at 4.19, and the team ERA is slightly better than average at 3.77. The Nats are fifth in fewest walks allowed per nine and have surrendered the fourth fewest home runs overall, but also next to last in strikeouts per nine. Their ERA+ according to Baseball-Reference.com is league average. They are right in the middle of the pack overall.

There are some pretty fancy stats out there if you really want to get involved with that sort of thing. I like to dabble in them myself from time to time. But pitching is pretty elementary: fewer base runners means fewer runs against. You can use all the new-fangled stats you want, but you can still do a pretty good job evaluating a pitcher by a few simple stats. And you can make a reasonably educated prediction on whether a player is going through a streak or slump just as easily.

All it takes is to know what you're looking for. For general performance, you want to look at hit rates, walk rates and home run rates, and for projection you want to look at BABiP. And you need to compare them to the league average and the player's career average.

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABiP) measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits (minus home runs). For pitchers, obviously, BABiP against is the percentage of batter balls that fall in for hits against. Typically, around 30 percent of all balls in play fall for hits. This is based on decades of MLB data. This season so far, BABiP across Major League Baseball is .299.

Why is this important? Wildly high or low fluctuation from the norm in BABiP signifies a player in -- or out -- of luck: hits are either falling in or not. But it always goes back to the general norm. From Fangraphs:

If a player has a very high or very low BABIP, it means that whatever the reason for the spike (whether it’s defense, luck, or slight skill), that player will regress back to their career BABIP rates. BABIP rates are flaky and prone to vary wildly from year to year, so we should always take any extreme BABIP rates with a grain of salt.
Hitters can have a little bit of control over their BABiP: fast guys that hit the ball on the ground on purpose, for instance, tend to have higher BABiPs (Nyjer Morgan's career BABiP is .339). But pitchers will hover around that .300 mark. There are obvious outliers, as there always are, and for a more detailed look into the subject, click here.

Let's take a look at the underlying numbers for the starting pitchers so far this season.

Livan Hernandez: 3-4, 4.29 ERA, 1.450 WHIP, 10.2 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.5 K/9, 0.5 HR/9, .318 BABiP
Jason Marquis: 4-1, 3.66 ERA, 1.307 WHIP, 10.0 H/9, 1.7 BB/9, 5.6 K/9, 0.6 HR/9, .327 BABiP
Jordan Zimmermann: 2-4, 4.13 ERA, 1.229 WHIP, 9.0 H/9, 2.1 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 0.4 HR/9, .307 BABiP
John Lannan: 2-4, 4.79 ERA, 1.597 WHIP, 10.5 H/9, 3.9 BB/9, 4.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9, .324 BABiP
Tom Gorzelanny: 2-2, 2.87 ERA, 0.903 WHIP, 5.0 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 6.9 K/9, 1.2 HR/9, .168 BABiP

Those are a lot of numbers to digest. Who are the biggest surprises though? Marquis and Gorzelanny obviously. Can we expect them to continue pitching as well as they have?

Marquis' hit rate and K rate are right in line with his career numbers, but where he shows marked improvement is in his walk rate and home run rate. His career BB/9 rate is 3.5, and he's cut that by almost two walks per game this season. That accounts for his lower WHIP. He's also shaved a half a home run per game off his career home run rate, but he has shown a similar rate in previous seasons. Fewer base runners plus fewer home runs equals lower ERA.

So once those numbers look more like his career numbers, will he go back to his normal mid-4.00 ERA? Not so fast. He's also been pitching in bad luck, if you can believe it. His BABiP is 40 points higher than his career average. Maybe his improved control has him living in the strike zone more and hitters are getting more strikes to hit? Even so, even if his now-stellar walk rate climbs a bit, he should give up fewer bases hits as the season goes along, hopefully maintaining or only slightly elevating his ERA. Verdict: BUY.

Gorzelanny's numbers are downright unbelievable. In 37 2/3 innings, he's given up just 21 hits. His 5.0 H/9 is four full hits below his lifetime average (and 3.5 hits below 2011 N.L. average), and that shows up in his unsustainable .168 BABiP. But Gorzelanny hasn’t invented a new, unhittable pitch. Right now, everything put in play is being hit right at somebody. At some point soon, Gorzelanny's not just going to have a regression, he's going to give up hits at almost double his current rate, which obviously will lead to more base runners and more runs scored against.

One place where Gorzelanny has actually improved is his walk rate, reduced by one per nine over his career average, which is a significant improvement. But his K rate, while close to his career average, is down significantly from the last four years, where he averaged 8.4 per nine innings. On top of all of that, despite his BABiP being incredibly low, his home run per nine rate is up from his career numbers.

It's hard to imagine Gorzelanny continuing this run he's been on. Frankly, it's hard to figure out how he's done it at all. He's yet to give up more than five hits in a start, and he's given up more than two earned runs just once this season (his first start), and in that game he only gave up four hits (two of which were home runs).

Nats fans should applaud Gorzelanny for the string of starts he's made thus far but shouldn't expect it to continue. It's just not statistically possible.

The other three starters -- more or less -- are pitching the way we would expect them to and their BABiPs are all pretty much in line with their career norms. Zimmermann's strikeout rate is down overall, but his 11 K performance Thursday provides optimism, especially the way he was able to generate swinging strikes. Livo's K rate is disintegrating and his home run rate is half his career average, but he's doing pretty much what he always has done. Lannan's walk rate is back up to almost four per nine. Starters that don't strike out a lot of hitters just can't afford to give away free bases and Lannan has the least margin for error of anyone on the staff.

Overall -- barring injury -- I think we can expect most of the staff to continue their performance so far, with the exception of Gorzelanny, as his ERA will rise as the hits start to fall in more. The true test for him is to keep his walk rate down. Hernandez and Lannan should continue to eat innings and keep the team comepetitive when they can limit their walks and Marquis should enjoy his renaissance, hopefully to be flipped for assets as the summer wears on. And all Nats fans should hope Zimmermann continues to regain the command and control necessary to increase his strikeout rate and drop his ERA a little.
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One more interesting number to note is "Bequeathed Runners", that is, the number of runners on base when the starter leaves the game.  The Nats far and away lead the league in bequethed runners.  A rough translation means that Nats pitchers wear down in their final inning of work, and manager Jim Riggleman to this point generally hasn't allowed his starters to work out of jams in the middle innings. Not surprisingly, the Nats also lead the league far and away in most bequeathed runners scored.

We saw that in Thursday night's loss, as Jordan Zimmermann was cruising into the seventh, but gave up a walk and a soft line drive single and was pulled in favor of Sean Burnett, who threw gasoline on the fire.  The Nats have the second most "starters wins lost" in the N.L.; when a starting pitcher leaves the game in line for a win and the bullpen gives up the lead.  That speaks to the quality of the middle relief, a topic that seems to be on everybody's minds these days.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny has a history of walking a lot of batters and throwing a lot of pitches.  It's really what has kept him from becoming a reliable starter in the Major Leagues, as he's been sent to the bullpen at points by each of his previous employers.

But last night against the San Francisco Giants, Gorzelanny turned in a masterful performance.  The lefty went eight shut out innings, allowing just three hits and, the most important part, no walks, leading the Nats to a 2-0 win over the defending World Series champs.

"He was just outstanding, very similar to [Jason] Marquis the other night," manager Jim Riggleman said in the post-game. "Really outstanding and good defense behind him. A clean game."

The win secured the series victory as the Nationals took three out of four from the Giants, limiting them to just four runs across the four games.  The Nats now embark on a 10-day, nine-game road trip with their season record at an even .500.

Gorzelanny (W, 1-2, 2.93) was helped out by a struggling Giants squad that was swinging early in counts.  He threw just 95 pitches in his eight innings, 62 for strikes.  He had good movement on his fastball and mixed in a slider that kept the Giants from squaring up on his pitches.  Gorzy benefited from seven groundouts, 11 fly ball outs and four strikeouts.

Riggleman explained why he felt Gorzelanny was so effective. "He just seemed to get the ball down and with movement, you could tell from a lot of the swings that the ball's got some movement tonight and he had a good changeup going to keep guys off-balance. He just had it all working."

He also benefited from some really nice outfield defense, as Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston both made plays diving back toward the infield on sinking line drives to rob Giants batters of base hits.

Washington got all the offense they needed in the seventh inning against the Giants young left-hander Madison Bumgarner.  He matched Gorzelanny out for out up to that point, but four consecutive batters reached for the Nats put two runs on the board.

Wilson Ramos snuck a ball under third baseman Miguel Tejada's glove that originally was ruled a hit and changed to an error post-game. Ian Desmond then laced one to the outfield, moving Ramos to third. Michael Morse, who entered the at bat with one hit in his previous 22 plate appearances, sent the first pitch back up the middle to plate Ramos, and Hairston doubled to the right center gap to drive in Desmond.

It must have been a relief for Morse, who looked at strike three to strand a runner at third his previous at bat.  "I know he was disappointed with his previous at bat, you know, man on third," Riggleman said. "I don't know if he got caught looking for something else and Bumgarner made some nice pitches on him. The next time, he was more aggressive and didn't take and was rewarded for it."

In the end, that's all the offense the Nats needed.

Drew Storen entered in the ninth to close the door.  He allowed a walk to Buster Posey, but got Pat Burrell to ground to short to end the game and deliver Gorzelanny's first win of the season. Fans wanted to see Gorzelanny return to try to match Marquis' complete game from Saturday night, but Riggleman went to his closer.

"It's wasn't a no-brainer at all, it was a tough call," Riggleman explained.  "With all the right-handers coming up I felt if anybody gets on I'm gonna have to take [Gorzelanny] out so let's just let Drew start the inning."
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THE GOOD: Gorzelanny. I was as rough as anyone when the Nats traded for the career underachiever during the off-season.  So far in 2011, Gorzy is limiting his walks and in five starts he has a 2.93 ERA and 23/9 K/BB ratio in 30.2 IP.

THE BAD: The top four hitters in the order combined to go 0-for-12.

THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa.  The rookie is mired in a deep slump (5-for-37 in his last ten games) and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

THE STATS: Four hits, one walk, nine strikeouts. 2-for-5 with RISP, four LOB. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:10 pm at Philadelphia Phillies from Citizen's Bank Park.  Livan Hernandez (3-2, 3.23) faces Cole Hamels (3-1, 3.13).

"You know, it's a game of inches sometimes." -- Nats manager Jim Riggleman

Washington, D.C. -- Sean Burnett has been one of manager Jim Riggleman's most trusted relievers the last two seasons, getting his job done many more nights than not.  In the ninth inning last night, it was a "not."

Burnett gave up three straight singles to start the inning to load the bases and, with Drew Storen warmed up and watching from a crouch on the bullpen mound, proceeded to allow them all to score and then some, with the big blow coming off the bat of Daniel Murphy, a two-run double that finally ended Burnett's night, and the Nats chances to win the game.

The 6-3 loss drops the Nationals to 10-13 and drops them into last place, a half-game behind the streaking Mets (11-13), winners of six in a row. The Nats have lost three in a row and six of their last seven games.

All told, Burnett (L, 0-1, 5.73) faced seven batters, retiring two.  But both outs -- a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right field and a ground out to short that backup utility infielder Brian Bixler couldn't get out of his glove to try a play at the plate -- scored runs for the Mets.

Riggleman defended his reliever in his post-game comments, saying he preferred the matchups with the left-handed Burnett against the Mets scheduled hitters. 

"That was just the manager's decision," Riggleman started.  "They had three out of four lefties coming up in the inning.  My concern was [Jason] Bay leading off and then we had [Ike] Davis, Willie Harris, pinch-hitter [for the pitcher's spot], [catcher Josh] Thole.  So I just felt that my confidence in [Burnett] was that he's been very effective for us; he would get it done there. If I had to go to Drew [Storen] with an out or two, that's what we would do if a possible right-hander came up."

However, that's not what Riggleman actually did.  The Mets did indeed pinch-hit Chin-lung Hu, a right-handed batter, for the pitcher's spot, and Riggleman stayed with Burnett anyway.  Hu's ball to the right field wall scored the first run of the inning from third and both the other runners advanced.  After that, the floodgates opened, all while Storen watched from the bullpen.

Only after Murphy's bases-clearing double did Riggleman summon Storen, who promptly struck out David Wright with a 97 MPH fastball.

"I thought [Burnett] threw okay.  You know, it's a game of inches sometimes," Riggleman said, alluding to Bay's single past the outstretched Danny Espinosa at second and Davis' flare that barely eluded a diving Roger Bernadina in left field.

The Mets comeback spoiled the Nats own piece of clutch hitting the previous inning.  Adam LaRoche led off with a double down the left field line, and took third on a passed ball by catcher Thole.  Riggleman had Bixler pinch-run, and Wilson Ramos delivered the run with a sacrifice fly to center field.

All of this spoiled a terrific performance by starter Tom Gorzelanny.  He allowed just one run on five hits and one walk, striking out four.  He induced nine ground ball outs and took advantage of a free-swinging Mets team.

The loss drops the Nats record in games when they score less than five runs to a woeful 1-12.  With the World Series champion San Francisco Giants coming to town this weekend, then a 10-day, nine-game road trip looming, this loss hurts even more than usual.
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THE GOOD:  Gorzelanny clearly had his best start as a member of the Nationals.  Roger Bernadina, inserted on a double-switch when Gorzy was lifted, went two-for-two with a double.

THE BAD:  Jayson Werth flat-out dropped a ball in right field on Gorzelanny's last batter.  It was originally scored an error, which would have been Werth's fourth of the season, but it was inexplicably changed by the official scorekeeper to a hit.

THE UGLY:  Burnett.  0.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.  U-G-L-Y.

THE STATS: 10 hits, one walk, four Ks.  1-for-9 with RISP, 8 LOB. No errors (officially).

NEXT GAME:  Thursday at 7:05 pm v. New York Mets.  Livan Hernandez (2-2, 3.48) faces Chris Capuano (2-1, 5.95).

When you send out a lineup that features just one hitter above the .250 mark, there's every chance you could get shut out.  For the third time this season, that's exactly what happened to the Washington Nationals.

Kyle Lohse dominated the Nats hitters and delivered a complete-game, two-hit shut out in a 5-0 win for his St. Louis Cardinals.  The loss drops the Nats to 9-9 for the season.

The Nationals never really had a chance in this one.  Jayson Werth and Michael Morse were the only Nats hitters to scratch out singles against the Cards righty.  Lohse (3-1, 2.01) walked two and struck out six in the effort.  He stranded all four batters to reach, and the Nats only had one at bat with a runner in scoring position.

Starter Tom Gorzelanny kept his team in the game, giving up two earned runs on just two hits over his five innings.  A hanging breaking ball to Matt Holliday in the first inning turned into the slugger's second home run of the season.  Despite walking four, Gorzelanny (L, 0-2, 4.96) did not give up another run.

The Cardinals got to reliever Collin Balester in the eighth for three more runs, including Albert Pujols sixth home run of the season.  Balester was pitching on the second consecutive day for the first time this season, a day after being asked for two innings and 34 pitches from manager Jim Riggleman.  Balester was recalled a week ago, but sat until Wednesday to make his 2011 debut.

But the real story was Lohse's command performance, and the Nationals ineffectiveness at the plate, which may be reaching epidemic proportions.

Washington entered the day hitting .226/.312/.347, ranked 28th/22nd/27th in all of Major League Baseball, and those numbers will be worse after today's game.  It's fairly shocking that they rank squarely in the middle of the pack in runs scored with such terrible averages.

Looking at their game logs, however, the Nats have scored 42 of their 73 runs in just six games, all wins.  In each of those wins, the Nats scored six or more runs.

That leaves just 31 runs for the other 12 games, an average of 2.58 runs per game. Not surprisingly, their record in those 12 games is 3-9.
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THE GOOD: Brian Broderick.  The Rule 5 pick threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks.

THE BAD: Matt Stairs remains hitless this season, striking out in the eighth inning pinch-hitting for Broderick.

THE UGLY: At the end of the game, Danny Espinosa (.273) was the only National that had more than two at bats for the season with a batting average over .225.

THE STATS: Two hits, two walks.  0-for-1 with RISP, 4 LOB, 1 GIDP. No errors.

NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:05 pm at Pittsburgh Pirates.  Livan Hernandez 92-1, 2.88) v. Jeff Karstens (1-0, 4.50)

GAME 8 REVIEW: Nationals Drop Ball, Game to Mets 8-4

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, April 10, 2011 | , , , | 2 comments »

THE RESULT:  There were a few moments in the Washington Nationals 8-4 loss to the New York Mets that were key to the outcome of the game.  None, however, were bigger than a dropped routine fly ball by a 14-year veteran.

Holding a tenuous 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, Carlos Beltran blasted a Tom Gorzelanny pitch to deep left field in a bid for his third home run of the game.  It fell just short of the warning track though, where Jerry Hairston camped under it for what should have been the second out of the inning.  But whether he was distracted or heard footsteps, Hairston flat out dropped the ball.

Two batters later Mets 1B Ike Davis made the Nats pay for the mistake with a two-run triple and the Mets never looked back.

Of course he did.

The loss drops the Nats to 3-5, last in the N.L. East.  And though they've only been blown out one time this season, the losses -- along with the errors -- continue to mount.

Gorzelanny (L, 0-1, 8.44), making his first start of the season, certainly had his moments in this one.  He struck out a Nats' season-high eight Mets batters.  He only gave up four hits and two walks in his 5 1/3 innings.  But twice he failed to bear down when things went wrong for him, only compounding his misery.

The Davis triple was the decisive blow, but back in the first inning he allowed a borderline strike call by homeplate umpire Dan Bellino to get in his head, and on the next pitch he grooved one to Beltran who promptly deposited it about 15 rows back in left field for a three run shot.

And when the Nationals had their chances on the bases, they squandered them.  As a team, they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, leaving eight men on.  Center fielder Rick Ankiel left seven on himself.

In the eighth inning and the Nats trailing 6-4, Michael Morse singled and Wilson Ramos walked against Mets reliever Bobby Parnell to lead off the inning.  After a visit by the Mets pitching coach, Parnell then struck out Ankiel and Danny Espinosa and pinch-hitter Matt Stairs grounded out to second.  Just another wasted opportunity in a night full of them.

It's a plague for this team, and while some may say the team average hitting with runners will even out, it's an extension of the poor on-base skills too many batters on this team suffer from.  It's also why manager Jim Riggleman feels he has to put so many plays on when he does get runners on.  He just doesn't have the talent to let things work themselves out.  He has to try to maximize every single opportunity.

Last night, that Nats scored all their runs off home runs, a three-run shot by Danny Espinosa and a solo homer from Ian Desmond.  It's going to become a familiar theme, because there just aren't enough tablesetters, and when Jayson Werth has a tough night like he did tonight, there just aren't enough runners on base.
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THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos had two hits apiece.  Espinosa was 1-for-3 with a three-run home run. Desmond hit a solo shot in the fifth.

THE BAD: Jayson Werth went 0-for-4, striking out twice and hitting into a rally killing double-play.

THE UGLY: Ankiel.  He had a very bad night at the plate, leaving seven runners on.  If he come though in one of those situations, it's a different game.

THE STATS: Eight hits, four walks.  1-for-9 with RISP, 8 LOB, 1 GIDP.  E: Hairston (1).

NEXT GAME: Sunday at New York Mets at 1:10 pm.  Jason Marquis (0-0, 2.84) v. Chris Young (1-0, 1.69)

NATS NOTES:  Brian Broderick, making his second appearance out of the pen, gave up two earned runs on three hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings, raising his ERA to 23.14.

The Nats are hitting .222/.322/.330.  They rank 15th, 14th and 9th in those categories in the National League.  They are 12th in the league in runs scored at 29.

The Washington Nationals couldn't get much offense going last night, managing just six hits off six New York Mets pitchers, en route to a 5-2 loss in Grapefruit League play before 6,646 at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, FL.

But the big news -- which could have been catastrophic -- was that Danny Espinosa fouled a ball of fhis right foot and had to be helped by team trainers into the clubhouse.  As it turned out, the rookie second baseman sustained a contusion to his right foot and is day-to-day. 

Espinosa is hitting .324 this spring with two homers and leads the team with 12 RBIs.

Espinosa (1-for-3 before the foul ball) met with reporters after the game to talk about the injury.  "I'm walking around, so I don't think it's anything," Espinosa said. "They checked for fractures, checked for anything, and said it was good."

"It hurts, and [I] might be limping for a couple days, but I wasn't too worried that it was broken."

"If I had to play, I could play," the game Espinosa explained.  "There’s a still job to win, so I’m going to get back as fast as I can and do that.”

The sound you hear is the collective breath of NatsTown, exhaling.

The Nats, as designed, are young in certain areas, but nowhere as glaring as middle infield.  Were Espinosa -- or shortstop Ian Desmond, for that matter -- to go down injured, 35 year old Jerry Hairston, Jr. would become the de facto starter.  At this point inhis career, Hairston sets up much better as a backup and platoon for a left-handed hitting outfielder, not necessarily as an everyday option in the middle infield.

Hairston did log 430 at bats fro San Diego last season, hitting .257/.325/.370 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs, so he is capable of some production.  But the Nats are counting on Espinosa to become a vital part of this team -- both offensively and defensively -- and hope that after 600 or so at bats this season he can be counted on to be part of the Nats first winning team in the near future.

GAME NOTES:  Tom Gorzelanny fared much better in his second spring start than his first outing against Houston. 

The lefty went four innings, allowing one earned run on two hits and three walks, striking out four.  That's just about as efficient as Gorzy gets.  He's always had problems with the bases on balls, and to expect that to change at this point in his career is folly.

Craig Stammen took the loss.  He allowed three earned runs on four hits and a walk with no strikeouts in one and two-thirds innings.

Henry Rodriguez, behind the other pitchers due to his delayed start to camp because of visa issues, gave up a run on two hits in his inning of work.

Ryan Zimmerman was scratched from the start due to a strained hamstring, and the team has said the team leader will miss about five days with the injury.  Zimmerman missed a handful of games last week with a strained oblique muscle.

***Quotes for this story were found in published reports, including MLB.com and MASN.com.

It was a long day for all involved.

The Washington Nationals played a pair of spring training games yesterday, defeating the New York Mets 6-5 at home and falling to the Houston Astros 6-5 in Kissimmee, FL in the nightcap. 

And although the Houston game was listed as a "split squad" game, several players that appeared in the home game also played in the night game, and skipper Jim Riggleman was at the helm for both.

General Manager Mike Rizzo also attended both, watching from just behind the Nats on deck circle all day.

In the day game, the Nats jumped out to a big lead on the Mets, then held on in the late innings for the win.  Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche both drove in a pair of runs on doubles, and Ian Desmond had two hits and scored twice.

Jayson Werth drove in his first run of the spring with a two-run double in the 6-5 win over the Mets. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Starter Chad Gaudin certainly helped his cause to make this team, pitching five strong innings, allowing just four hits and one walk, striking out six.  Drew Storen pitched himself into a jam, putting runners on the corners with one out, but after a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty, struck out the next two batters with wicked breaking balls.

Chad Gaudin delivers in Nats 6-5 win over Mets. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Tyler Clippard struggled in his appearance, surrendering four runs (three earned) on three hits, striking out two, in the ninth inning.  But he held on to put the Curly W in the book.

The night game saw the Nats score four times in the seventh inning to tie the game, only to have the Astros win in the bottom of the ninth, as phenom right fielder Bryce Harper missed the cut-off man on a hard double to the corner, sending his throw across the infield and up the third base line, allowing the runner to score from third with the winning run.

The play detracts from an otherwise encouraging performance from the 18-year old.  He doubled in his only at bat, hustling all the way on a blooped single to short left center to just beat the throw for the extra base.

Bryce Harper uncorks a bad throw, leading to winning run in 6-5 loss to Houston. (C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
Jerry Hairston went 3-for-3 in the nightcap, Roger Bernadina drove in two with a triple in the Nats four-run seventh, and Brian Bixler tripled and scored earlier in the game.

Tom Gorzelanny started and got roughed up in his first grapefruit appearance.  He went two and one-third innings and allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks, striking out just one.  He wasn't sharp at all, going to a three-ball count to just about every batter. 

Tom Gorzelanny walked three in his first appearance. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Garrett Mock came on and didn't fare much better, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk in two and two-thirds innings.

Collin Balester and Cole Kimball both threw an inning of scoreless relief, while Atahualpa Severino took the loss.

The big takeaway from today's games, other than Gaudin's strong performance, was the poor defense in both games.  The Nationals committed three errors in both games and the sharpness that the Nats have carried on defense in the early part of spring training seems to have dissipated. 

In the first game, first baseman Michael Aubrey kicked a routine ground ball, Ian Desmond air-mailed one from short and prospect Destin Hood flat dropped a ball in left field after taking a circuitous route on the deep fly ball in a swirling wind.

Against Houston, Jeff Frazier overran a ball in right that led to a run, Jerry Hairston threw a ball away from third, and Harper's error from right ended the game.

The scored errors are one thing, but doesn't take into account plays that could -- or should -- have been made that don't get counted as errors.  In his last two games, Adam LaRoche had balls go under his glove that might have been playable.

For an organization that has preached all winter about becoming more athletic and better defensively, they still have a ways to go.  Granted that some of these errors were committed by players that are slated for the minor leagues, it's still sticks out that for all the emphasis Rizzo put on the defensive aspect of the game this off-season, his team is still kicking the ball around as much as they are.

NATS NOTES:  Prospects Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Steve Lombardozzi, Stephen King and Matt Antonelli all appeared in both games.  Derek Norris was the DH in the second game.

The Nats were 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position on the day.

Danny Espinosa went 1-for-5 with an RBI in the night game, and played two innings at shortstop late in the game after a bunch of defensive substiutions.

Evaluating the Gorzelanny Trade

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, January 18, 2011 | , , , | 8 comments »

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals traded three minor league players to the Chicago Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny, a 28-year old left-handed pitcher.  For the last two seasons, Gorzelanny has been shuttled between the starting rotation and the bullpen by the Cubs.  The pitching-starved Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was a former second round draft pick and had his best season in 2007 going 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA in 32 starts, sent him to the minors before trading him to the Cubs.

He hasn't come close to matching the performance of his breakout year over a full season since.

Last year, Gorzy made 29 appearances, 23 as a starter.  He was relegated to the pen in June after nine starts, going 2-5 while racking up a 3.66 ERA over 51.2 IP.  He walked 20 and struck out 53 in those nine starts.  He regained a starting job at the end of June and fared much worse than his earlier stint, going 5-4, but with an ERA of 4.60, with 42 BBs and 59 Ks in 78.1 IPs.

It's amazing how much some Major League player evaluators still look at won-loss record.  Gorzy lost his job with a 2-5 record early on despite pitching pretty well, but stayed in the rotation later in the season because his team was winning games behind him despite his crummy pitching.

This is the enigma that Tom Gorzelanny is.

In his six-year career, he has walked 4.1 per nine innings.  That's lousy.  His inability to throw strikes has kept him from becoming the "dependable" starter he's going to be billed as coming to the Nationals.  He's anything but.

Here's the weird thing:  his strikeout rate has widely fluctuated throughout his career.  Here are his K rates since 2006: 5.8, 6.0, 5.7, 9.0, 7.9.  It works out to a career average of 6.6.  Not great, but not Lannan-esque.

So which pitcher is he?  The nine per nine, or the six per nine?  It makes a big difference, since he walks so many.

In 2009 and 2010 -- the two years he posted his best K rates -- he spent a lot of time in the bullpen.  But I was surprised about his K rate breakdown though.  In 2009, his K rate was higher as as starter (10.2) than as a reliever (6.5).  In 2010, it wasn't that pronounced (7.8 as starter, 9.9 as reliever).

So if his K rate is actually getting better as it seems to be, why is he still posting such atrocious ERAs?  Since his breakout year of 2007, his ERAs have been 6.66, 5.55 and 4.09.  Those numbers are trending down as his K rate has increased, but the bottom line is he walks too many and gives up too many hits.  It's not a difficult formula.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com published on this very subject yesterday, in his article "What Is Tom Gorzelanny?".  He's as confused as anyone else. 

In total, we have a guy who has had good ERAs with bad peripherals and bad ERAs with good peripherals, and in the only year that his process and results lined up, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Despite good minor league results, his stuff is just alright, and he’s not the kind of pitcher who looks to have significant untapped upside. With his repertoire, throwing strikes should be a key, except he got his career back on track in a season where his walk rate was 113th out of 115 major league pitchers who threw at least 130 innings.
Great.

If you look at his ratios, they are all in line with MLB averages, except for the walks.  This seems to be the case of Nats GM Mike Rizzo thinking he can fix this player, reducing his walks and turning him into a solid, middle of the rotation pitcher.  Two teams have failed at it so far.

The prospects that the Nats sent away aren't really the big problem with this trade.  My point, which I took a bit of debate on yesterday when discussing the deal on twitter and other message boards, was that this player isn't really the type of player to be trading any assets away for. 

The Cubs traded for Matt Garza, another object of Rizzo's affection, making Gorzy expendable.  It's evident Cubs GM Jim Hendry didn't even want Gorzy in his bullpen, doing the player a "solid" by trading him to a team that will keep him as a starter, the players preferred role.

It's entirely possible Gorzelanny might even have been waived during spring training.

Trading young players for old is a strategy that contending teams can employ to shore up holes where necessary in order to compete.  The only thing the Nationals will compete for this season is avoiding last place and 100 losses again, and while Tom Gorzelanny MIGHT help them accomplish that, it's hard to envision any other benefit.

Tom Gorzelanny is not a key part of a rotation of a contending team, he's a modern day swingman.  But he'll be billed as a veteran, dependable starter in his press conference.

The good thing is he's not expensive.  He's still arbitration-eligible, but with last year's base salary of $800,000, he'll only be due a modest raise even if it goes to a hearing.

The biggest loser in all this:  Ross Detwiler.  Trading for a veteran left-handed starter, to go along with incumbant John Lannan, will make his job of cracking the rotation next to impossible.

The other thing that NatsTown should take away from this: Stop Overvaluing Nats Prospects. The critics of this trade are dwelling on the wrong things.  Burgess, Morris and Hicks are all flawed prospects.  Burgess has too big of a swing, Morris' fastball is too flat, and Hicks hasn't grown into his frame (yet, he's only 20).

None are can't miss prospects.  Burgess and Morris were just barely in the Nats' Top 20 prospects by Baseball America, and Hicks didn't even make the list.

But Burgess has been billed by the organization as a "building block" since he was drafted (even mentioned by name in the infamous "Letter to the Fans of the Washington Nationals" after the firing of former manager Manny Acta in July of 2009).  And Morris and Hicks were both touted Rizzo draft picks.

I suppose when all the news about these players is coming from Nationals management, fans can't help but get excited about the younger players.  But you have to look past the press releases and read some independent analysis before making judgments about player value.

Michael Burgess lunges at an outside pitch last July as a member of the Potomac Nationals. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

BREAKING: Nationals Trade for LHP Tom Gorzelanny

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, January 17, 2011 | , , , | 1 comments »

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals have traded three "mid-level" minor league prospects to the Chicago Cubs for 28 year old left handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny.

Sources also have said two of the three prospects are OF Michael Burgess and RHP A.J. Morris.

Gorzelanny has pitched for the Pirates and Cubs in his six year Major League career, and has bounced between the rotation and bullpen most of his career.  He owns a 4.69 ERA and 1.496 WHIP with a 6.6 Ks per nine innings, but also walks 4.1 per nine.

Gorzelanny became expendable to the Cubs after they traded for Matt Garza last week from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Burgess is a power hitting corner outfielder, and Morris a strong right-hander that projects as a No. 5 starter or bullpen arm.

This move might help the 2011 rotation, but Gorzelanny is not a long-term answer, and certainly a far cry from the "top of the rotation" starter GM Mike Rizzo wanted to acquire this off-season.

Gorzelanny is arbitration eligible and is due a raise from his $800,000 salary from last season.

He will compete with Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler, J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock and others for a position in the starting rotation in spring training.

We'll have more information and analysis as this deal becomes finalized.