Tag:Nationals
Posted on: June 10, 2010 11:09 am
Edited on: June 10, 2010 12:06 pm
 

Strasburg II is now 'can-watch' TV

Stephen Strasburg's major-league debut was nationally televised.

His second start will be, too.

TBS announced today that it has switched its Sunday telecast away from the Phillies-Red Sox game, to a Nationals-Indians game it would have absolutely no interest in if not for Strasburg.

The game starts at 1 p.m. EDT.

As for Strasburg III, Strasburg IV, etc., all we know for now are the expected days he'll pitch (barring rainouts that alter the Nationals rotation). Nats manager Jim Riggleman told reporters Wednesday that he plans to use Strasburg every five days between now and the All-Star break, which means he would go on June 18 (home vs. White Sox), June 23 (home vs. Royals), June 28 (at Atlanta), July 3 (home vs. Mets) and July 8 (home vs. Padres).

Not a bad plan for the Nationats marketing department, with five of Strasburg's first seven scheduled starts coming at home. (A quick check on the Nationals website showed that tickets are still available, although the highest-priced seats appear to be gone for the June 18 game.)

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 9, 2010 12:14 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2010 7:07 pm
 

The Strasburg effect

Stephen Strasburg packed stadiums in Harrisburg, Syracuse and Rochester. His major-league debut was a quick sellout in Washington.

But how will he play in Cleveland?

Interesting question, since the Indians are among the worst home draws in baseball. Since opening day, they've had just three crowds over 20,000 (and none over 30,000), all during a weekend series against the in-state rival Reds.

Strasburg makes his second start -- and his first road start -- Sunday at Progressive Field. This morning, the Indians said that they've sold 4,000 tickets for that game in the last week, and 1,000 between midnight and noon today.

There are still tickets available -- for now.

UPDATE, 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday: The Indians said they sold another 2,000 tickets this afternoon, making it 3,000 for the day.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 9, 2010 1:25 am
 

The moment of the season

See what happens when you push the envelope just a little?

See what happens when, as Stephen Strasburg said, you give him "a little bit longer of a leash"?

What happens is the seventh inning Tuesday night. What happens is the inning that turned Strasburg's debut from outstanding to stunning. What happens is the moment of the baseball season so far, ahead of two perfect games and another no-hitter, ahead of Jason Heyward's opening day home run, ahead (yes) of Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce.

The seventh inning was three more strikeouts, giving Strasburg 14. It was a sellout crowd standing and chanting, "Let's go Strasburg!" It was a 99 mph fastball for strikeout No. 14, with Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty simply clapping his hands, along with the 40,315 fans.

"That was one of those memorable innings," Riggleman said later. "You just don’t get that many of those."

Later on this season, perhaps even on Sunday in Cleveland, Riggleman is sure to drive us crazy by pulling Strasburg early. Later on this season, even if Strasburg helps get the Nationals truly into the pennant race, the team is determined to shut him down if he reaches a predetermined innings limit (thought to be about 100 for his major-league season).

Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn't. But it's going to happen. Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent, admitted Tuesday that he and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo discussed exactly those limits during last summer's negotiations after the Nats took Strasburg with the first pick in the draft.

Boras strongly believes that young pitchers need this kind of protection. He points to Dwight Gooden and Larry Dierker, and he says that pitchers who throw too many pitches at 21 run too high a risk of getting hurt and ruining careers by the time they get to 30.

"We want these performers to be elite as long as they can," Boras said.

Argue with him if you want. Point out that pitchers need to be pushed a little, allowed to push the limits a little, to become the best they can.

But understand this isn't an argument that you're going to win. The decisions have already been made, and the Nationals are going to do this Boras' way.

Even Tuesday, Riggleman admitted that he was never going to let Strasburg's pitch count hit 100. He admitted that he thought about pulling Strasburg after six innings and 81 pitches, before allowing him seven innings and 94.

"He could have gone 195," Riggleman said. "We'll make sure we don't do that."

There will be days when Strasburg shows frustration with the limits, as he did the night at Triple-A Syracuse when the Nats allowed him just 52 pitches in five innings.

Tuesday, they allowed him seven innings, and it's great that they did.

Great for him. Great for us.

*****

One more thing about Strasburg's debut: The Nationals decided not to give him a scouting report on his first-night opponent, the Pirates.

They'll leave that for later.

Tuesday, Strasburg just let catcher Pudge Rodriguez call the pitches. Including, as Rodriguez said with a grin, "one changeup I shouldn't have called."

That would be the one Delwyn Young hit for a fourth-inning home run.
Posted on: June 6, 2010 8:31 pm
 

3 to watch: The Perfect prospects edition

The two biggest early-season trends in baseball, we said last week, were perfect games and imperfect umpires.

We missed a trend: Perfect prospects.

Jason Heyward. Stephen Strasburg. Mike Stanton.

And don't forget Bryce Harper.

Monday, the Nationals are expected to use the first pick of the draft on Harper, touted as the best power-hitting prospect scouts have seen in ages. Tuesday, the Nationals will show off Strasburg, touted as the best pitching prospect anyone has ever seen. That same night, the Marlins will show off Stanton, who is only leading all of professional baseball in home runs.

Take it a day farther, and you have Stanton and the Marlins facing Roy Halladay on Wednesday, just 11 days after Halladay's perfect game in Florida.

So there you have it, the perfect convergence, with one of the perfect game pitchers facing one of the perfect prospects.

Let's hope that doesn't mean we're headed for more imperfect umpiring.

On to this week's 3 to watch:

1. The Nationals attracted their biggest crowd since opening day last Friday, which if you remember was the rumored day for Strasburg's debut. A much bigger crowd is expected for Pirates at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Nationals Park , since this really is going to be Strasburg's debut. What, you thought everyone just wants to see the Pirates? The Washington Post suggested it's the "most buzzed-about happening" in Washington since the Obama inauguration. That might be a little much, but you get the idea -- this is a big deal.

2. So if Armando Galarraga throws a no-hitter, in Tigers at White Sox, Tuesday night (8:10 EDT) at U.S. Cellular Field , does he count as having tied Johnny Vander Meer? Or actually one-upped him, since neither of Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters was a perfect game, let alone a 28-out perfect game? One more thing to think about, in the admittedly very unlikely event that Galarraga is perfect again: Before last Wednesday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had been planning to skip Galarraga's turn this time through the rotation.

3. Thanks to Stanton, who hit 21 home runs in 52 games at Double-A Jacksonville, the Marlins lineup that Halladay will face, in Marlins at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park , will not be the same one he faced on May 29 in Miami. But at least it's still the same team. Of the last 11 pitchers to pitch a perfect game (not including Galarraga), Halladay will be just the second to face the same team later in the same year. The only other pitcher to do it in the division play era (i.e. since 1969) was David Wells in 1998. Three months after his May 17 perfect game against the Twins, he saw them again -- and shut them out again, this time on four hits.
Posted on: June 4, 2010 10:28 am
Edited on: June 4, 2010 10:30 am
 

3 to watch: The Nationals league edition

Next week we'll ask whether Stephen Strasburg can transform the Nationals.

Today we're asking whether Strasburg can help change the image of the National League. Because right now, when a guy is struggling (or just plain lousy) in the American League, the common thought is that he might be better in the NL.

Or didn't you read about this week's Dontrelle Willis trade?

Willis has a career National League ERA of 3.78. He has a career American League ERA of 6.86. And instead of saying that his career went downhill after the 2007 trade that sent him from the Marlins to the Tigers -- and, in reality, had started to go downhill in his last two seasons in Florida -- the story when he was traded to the Diamondbacks this week was that maybe a change back to the NL would help.

Nice thought, except the National League scouts we talked to wanted nothing to do with Willis, not at the major-league minimum (which is all the Diamondbacks will be paying).

"I was really surprised that Detroit was fortunate enough to trade him," said one scout who watched Willis this season. "That's a great deal for Detroit, because they get a player [Billy Buckner] back.

"We'd take a chance on a pitcher, but not him. If my general manager would have called, I'd have said no. If he can get you five innings, then he's had a heck of a night. His command and control are just not very good."

In 22 career starts for the Tigers -- that's all they got for their $29 million -- Willis had just two games where he got an out in the seventh inning, and none where he finished seven innings. He averaged 5 1/3 innings a start this season.

Sounds perfect for a team with the worst bullpen in the majors (7.51 ERA).

"Is he going to start for them?" the scout asked. "Well, good for him. Whatever."

With that kind of report, how can we do anything but feature Willis' Diamondback debut in this weekend's 3 to watch:

1. Roy Halladay ended May with a perfect game. But if you take the whole month, Halladay's May ERA of 2.15 ranked just fourth among National League starters, behind Ubaldo Jimenez (0.78), Mat Latos (1.54) and Matt Cain (1.81). And in his first start since the perfect game, Halladay goes up against Latos, in Padres at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park . This is probably as good a time as any to remind you that since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has won just five of his 24 starts. And since his perfect game, Dallas Braden is 0-3 in four starts, with a 4.13 ERA. If Halladay starts slipping, then maybe Armando Galarraga should thank Jim Joyce, after all.

2. The Diamondbacks sent out a mass e-mail on Thursday, filled with positive notes about how well their team is doing. That's a team that just finished an 0-9 road trip, a team that has lost 10 in a row, a team that got walked-off each of the last four games, a team that hasn't scored a run in 31 innings. Sounds like the kind of team that can turn Willis into a winner -- or at least pretend that he's winning. We'll see, when he faces Jhoulys Chacin, in Rockies at Diamondbacks, Saturday night (8:10 ET) at Chase Field .

3. It really is too bad that the Nationals didn't have Strasburg debut this weekend, perhaps on Saturday night against fellow San Diego native Mike Leake (who already has four major-league wins and has helped his team into first place). Instead, they chose to hold him back for Tuesday, against a Pirates offense that might more closely resemble the International League lineups he has been carving up in Syracuse. Oh well. We'll make do with Luis Atilano on Saturday, and Craig Stammen, in Reds at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . Remember, it's the last game the Nationals will ever play (at least for now) without Strasburg on their roster.


Posted on: May 25, 2010 1:24 am
Edited on: May 25, 2010 2:54 pm
 

Yes, he's ready -- but they're not

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Is he ready?

Wrong question.

Are they ready?

Now you've got it.

This isn't a criticism of the Nationals. I can't say I blame them for having Stephen Strasburg begin the season in the minor leagues (delaying free agency by a year), keeping him in minor leagues for two months (basically delaying arbitration by a year), severely limiting his innings and pitches (maybe keeping him healthy for many years), and giving him one final minor-league start later this week (ensuring that he makes his big-league debut at home).

But let's stop asking if he's ready to pitch in the big leagues. He was the best pitcher the Nationals had in spring training. He'd be the best pitcher the Nationals have now.

Ready?

"He could pitch in the big leagues right now and have success," Triple-A Syracuse manager Trent Jewett said Monday, after the least dominating of Strasburg's four starts for Jewett's Chiefs. "Is he a finished product? No, but I'd say there are a lot of guys in the big leagues right now who aren't finished products."

In a way, I was happy that I saw Strasburg on Monday, on a night when he didn't have his best stuff. All the better to see him compete.

Bill Lajoie, the former Tigers general manager who is one of the best scouts in baseball, always said he wanted to see a player on a bad day, to see if he would give in, or keep competing. This wasn't a terrible day, but there was no doubt that Strasburg kept competing, right up to the point where he expressed some unusual frustration at the Nationals' decision to limit him to five innings (which turned out to be just 52 pitches).

The Nationals are serious about the Strasburg limits, every bit as serious as the Yankees were about their Joba Rules. No one really knows whether all the limits will actually ensure that Strasburg has a long and (relatively) injury-free career, but the Nationals believe these limits give him the best chance, and it's perfectly understandable that they want to protect their investment.

Perhaps things would have been different if the Nationals believed they had a chance to win this year. Despite their surprisingly strong first two months, it's obvious that they didn't believe that.

So when will the Nationals bring Strasburg to Washington? They won't say, and I don't know for sure. But it's almost certain that he won't pitch on the Nats' current road trip (which means no start in San Diego, Strasburg's hometown), and it's very likely that he will pitch on the next Nats homestand, which begins June 4.

Does he pitch June 4, and then June 10, giving the Nationals two huge gates? Maybe so. Or maybe the Nats pitch him June 5, and still bring him back on June 10, the final day of the homestand.

Either way, his debut is coming soon.

Yes, he's ready. And -- almost -- so are they.

(UPDATE, Tuesday, 2:50 p.m.): According to the Washington Post , the Nationals now say Strasburg will definitely pitch again for Syracuse, on Saturday night against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That would seem to set him up best for the June 4 start in Washington against the Reds.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 12, 2010 2:54 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2010 3:23 pm
 

Boone: Pudge is 'Numero Uno'

Bob Boone believes Pudge Rodriguez is "a shoo-in" to get 3,000 hits. He believes Rodriguez might catch 3,000 games.

And he believes . . .

"He's going to end up as the best catcher ever," said Boone, who caught 19 seasons in the big leagues and now serves as the Nationals vice president for player development. "You can talk about Johnny Bench, or Mike Piazza, or Gary Carter. Ivan Rodriguez is the best catcher who ever played the game.

"There's a catching fraternity, and right now Pudge is Numero Uno. He's the chairman of the fraternity."

Rodriguez ranks first among catchers in all-time games caught (2,312), hits as a catcher (2,653) and doubles as a catcher (535). He ranks seventh in home runs as a catcher (306, with Piazza the record holder at 396).

Boone was involved in the Nationals' decision to sign the 38-year-old Rodriguez to a $6 million, two-year contract over the winter.

"People said how could we do it, but I just kind of laughed," Boone said. "I knew he could do it. To me, it was a no-brainer."

At the time he retired in 1990, Boone held the record for most games caught, with 2,225. Carlton Fisk later passed him, and Rodriguez passed Fisk last year.

"I'm sure Pudge thinks he'd better move this record out for a while," Boone said with a chuckle. "That Mauer kid is on the way."

For the record, Joe Mauer caught his 631st career game on Wednesday in Minnesota. He entered play Wednesday with 770 hits as a catcher.

*****

Boone and Rodriguez spent time together in Nationals camp this spring, and Boone said he told Rodriguez that the key to hitting as you get older is to concentrate on going the other way.

"You lose bat speed," Boone said. "I did. But you can play with limited bat speed as long as you're short to the ball. Hit it the other way. And Pudge has always been great at that."

*****

The Nationals will be adding Stephen Strasburg to their rotation at some point, likely in early June. They expect Jordan Zimmermann, who had Tommy John elbow surgery last year, to pitch for them sometime in August.

They also have Chien-Ming Wang, but general manager Mike Rizzo refuses to set any kind of timetable for him.

"He's throwing bullpens," Rizzo said.

Wang had shoulder surgery last July.

Posted on: April 18, 2010 9:20 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2010 3:28 pm
 

3 to watch: The 'I (almost) told you so' edition

If you checked in with 3 to watch on Friday, you knew to tune in for one of the games of the weekend, the marathon Mets' 20-inning win over the Cardinals on Saturday.

Not only that, but we told you about a young pitcher who people say "is going to throw a no-hitter some day." So what that we picked the wrong young pitcher (Brett Anderson instead of Ubaldo Jimenez)?

We won't forget Jimenez this week, in the newest edition of 3 to watch. Our only regret is that we can't make it 4 to watch, and thus include the expected debut of Mets first-base prospect Ike Davis, which reportedly will come sometime during the series against the Cubs.

1. The Phillies survived the first week of the season with Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Joe Blanton on the disabled list. They won three of the first four games that Jimmy Rollins missed with a calf injury that landed him on the DL, too. But now comes the news that J.A. Happ is bothered by stiffness in his left forearm, as first reported by Jim Salisbury of Comcast Philadelphia. So there's a lot of focus on Happ's next scheduled start, in Phillies at Braves, Wednesday (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field . Pitching depth is an issue for the Phils, so much so that Nelson Figueroa (cut in spring training by the Mets) is reportedly a top candidate to take Happ's place, if needed. This is a big series, regardless -- the first series of the year between the Phils and the Braves, the team that represents the biggest threat to Philadelphia's National League East dominance. MONDAY UPDATE: The Phillies announced that they will skip Happ's start, but that because of the off day they'll simply have Roy Halladay pitch Wednesday, with Jamie Moyer going Thursday. They now need a starting pitcher for Saturday's game in Arizona.

2. After the 1926 Yankees won their first five series of the season, they went to Philadelphia and were swept by the A's. Now the 2010 Yankees have won their first four series of the year (the first Yankee team since 1926 to do so), and guess who they get next? If history repeats, tune in for Yankees at A's, Thursday (3:35 EDT) at the Coliseum , to see the A's go for the sweep. The matchup Thursday is CC Sabathia (2-0) against Dallas Braden (2-0), but the real matchup this week is the Yankee lineup (69 runs in the first 12 games) against the A's pitching staff, which leads the league in both overall ERA (2.90) and rotation ERA (2.70).

3. OK, so we didn't tell you to watch Jimenez last Saturday against the Braves. And OK, it's an easy call to tell you to watch Jimenez's next start. We're telling you anyway: Rockies at Nationals, Thursday (4:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . We'll also tell you that in Jimenez's only other career start at Nationals Park, he allowed seven hits in eight innings of a 4-3 win.

 
 
 
 
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