Saturday, May 05, 2007

Worrying About Ryan (Yeah, That One)

Expectations were set low, no one within the organization overly praised him, or proclaimed him The Savior. For the 2006 Season, Ryan Zimmerman was left alone to develop, to see how he reacted in his first full season of Major League Baseball. And, as we all know, Number 11 was OUTSTANDING. To me, Ryan Zimmerman WAS THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, the Baseball Writers of America just cheated him out of the deserved award. He was an exceptional fielder, contributer to the nightly highlight reels for defensive plays of the day in baseball, and without a doubt, clutch hitter. This young man from Virginia Beach, time and time again throughout his Rookie Campaign knocked in Game Winning or Game Tying Runs. Whether it was his soon to be Historic Homer against The Yankees at RFK last June or Two Out, Two Strike Blast off The Marlins two weeks later, there was not much to NOT LIKE about Ryan Zimmerman.

Out of nowhere, Ryan Zimmerman became The Face of The Franchise. Washington's Fans fell in love with him. And who wouldn't after Zimmerman clubbed 20 home runs, knocked in 110 runs and batted .280. Manning 3rd base, Ryan had just 15 errors in 427 total chances.

For 2007, Our Washington Nationals have built their entire campaign around this GREAT YOUNG PLAYER. Rightfully so. Yet, for all his efforts, Ryan Zimmerman has struggled from the get go. Whether its the pressure of success, trying to do too much, or just not enough baseball talent surrounding him, "Z" is not playing well right now. 7 errors so far in the field, many of those mistakes not customary from such an accomplished fielder. At the plate, Ryan is batting more times than not, without ANY RUNNERS in scoring position. A far cry from 2006 when Alfonso Soriano & Felipe Lopez batted in front of him in the lineup--Nick Johnson behind him. With less runners to knock in, opposing pitchers can more freely go right after him, battling him, not in fear of Zimmerman taking them deep for a game changing knock.

Going into this afternoon's game against The Cubbies, Our Finest Young Player was batting just .233 with ONE HOMER and 8 RBI. In the field, surprisingly worse--7 errors thus far, in just 101 chances. As is always the case in baseball, when one part of your game struggles, the remainder soon follows. Ryan Zimmerman is simply not comfortable right now. He has no protection in the lineup surrounding him. Ronnie Belliard and now Ryan Church, it was Dimtri Young, are not feared like FLop and Johnson were in 2006. In the field, Ryan is trying to do too much, as in thinking too much, instead of reacting. Those are the facts. The reality of the situation.

But, really, why worry? If there was ever a season to make readjustments to your game, could 2007 not be a better campaign to modify, re-tune your game? In the long run, his early 2007 season struggles will help him become a better player. I have no doubt to that fact. Obviously, we are not going to be winning much.

Not many players in the history of this great game have been perfect throughout their entire careers. At one time or another, everyone slumps, everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails in the clutch. Even Cal Ripken, Jr struggled mightily during his great 21 year career with The Baltimore Orioles. 5 years after Cal retired and just a few weeks before Ripken, Jr is inducted into the Hall of Fame, not many are thinking about Cal's mediocre years in the late 80's or his .257 batting average for an entire season.

When Cal labored, pushing his way through the daily baseball grind, he always had one constant to fall back on--Mental Make Up. Number 8 knew he could do it, but only if he worked on his skills. No one practiced, drilling himself on the finer points of the game, until he got them right, more so, than Cal Ripken, Jr. He may well have been the GREATEST example of a baseball player that WANTED to play the game correctly (Yeah, I know, I LOVE CAL. I can't say enough good things about him).

In my brief experiences meeting with Ryan Zimmerman, I see those same qualities in him. The WANTING to be THE BEST. The WILLINGNESS TO LEARN. The True Fact that Number 11, much like Number 8--IS NOT A PRIMA DONNA. I am not saying Our Number 11 is guaranteed a spot in The Hall Of Fame. But, both Ryan Zimmerman and Cal Ripken are quality people. Players you don't have to be ashamed of, to root for. At 23 Years of age, Ryan Zimmerman has many quality years of Major League Baseball in front of him.

And today, "Z" was one of the bright spots in yet another loss, 5-3 to The Chicago Cubs that, in many respects, was another winnable game that got away. Ryan rapping out three hits, including one double while scoring Our Nationals third run of the game. Three runs for Washington which were not enough. But at least for Zimmerman, his batting average now up to .248, there is hope.

Hope which John Patterson has none of these days. From the very first inning, JP wavered on the mound, never looking comfortable, consistently stretching out his right throwing arm, never looking loose or cutting loose his best stuff. You could tell in the Nationals Dugout, Our Manager Manny Acta was concerned, as well as Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire. And after John Patterson came to start the bottom of the third inning with NOTHING on his pitches, something was definitely wrong with him. It was just a matter of when Manny would take Patterson out. A lead off Homer by Aramis Ramirez, singles by Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett and a three ball count on Matt Murton, still no outs.

Finally Our Manager slowly walked to the mound, handed the ball to today's catcher Jesus Flores, an injured John Patterson dejectedly walking out of Wrigley Field. Our supposed Best Starter, once again, out with soreness in his right forearm. That report from Mark Zuckerman at NatsHomePlate. You have to seriously wonder, whether John Patterson was ever healthy in the first place for Spring Training, 2007. Heartbreaking it must be for Number 22. His entire baseball career is staring right in front of him. A supreme opportunity to make a good name for himself, to be a quality Major League Starter. Yet, he can't get past the persistent agony of pain. Not a good day to be John Patterson.

And when Patterson exited down 2-0, on trotted Levale Speigner. Given as much time as needed to warm up under the circumstances, maybe Levale should have taken a good 10 minutes more. Number 36 had nothing today. Walking the inherited batter Murton, then followed with three more free passes of his own over the next 4 hitters, inlcuding Chicago's Pitcher, Rich Hill. Only striking out Alfonso Soriano, Alfonso looking for THE GRAND SLAM. When Speigner had completed his damage this afternoon, all runners charged to John Patterson had scored in this terrible inning, 4 runs total for a 5-0 Chicago Lead.

Yeah, Our Washington Nationals did make a game of it. After Speigner was relieved, Saul Rivera, Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero combined for 5 innings of one hit, one walk, shutout ball. They were solid, just not soon enough to offset the harm inflicted by four walks in the bottom of the third. Once again, Our Washington Nationals left far too many baserunners in scoring position, never getting the key hits to get them back into this one. Our Team is a middling team, nothing more, right now. Although, as one Rule V Pick, Levale Speigner, stumbled badly today, another began to emerge as a fine young catcher in The Major Leagues.

Jesus Flores was outstanding. Three hits, including an RBI double. In the bottom of the first, Flores flat out NAILED Chicago's Ryan Theriot on a bullet toss to second on an attempted steal. Number 3 has great promise as a catcher. Other than Ryan Zimmerman stepping it up a little this afternoon, no other player on the roster for Our Washington Nationals made more progress for himself than Flores. This young man can play. Everyone should be able to see that now.

5-3 Cubs the final score. Only 9 wins in their first 30 baseball games of 2007. I could go through all the" what ifs", and "maybe's" possible, but it really wouldn't add to the fact that Our Washington Nationals are struggling to find themselves and their games. The first major overhaul to the roster begins in ernest this Monday when Cristian Guzman returns from the Disabled List, closely followed by Nook Logan and Jason Simontacchi. Only then, will we finally see MOST OF THE TEAM that Our General Manager Jim Bowden originally envisioned this past winter. Although, I am not sure if the Month of May is going to be any more pleasant than the month of April, 2007.

Be that as it may, we still have Ryan Zimmerman to root for. And an emerging talent in Jesus Flores. Our Washington Nationals do have some parts, some good parts. Just not enough of them, right now.

Games Notes & The Highlight of The Game:

In baseball anything can happen, and Felipe Lopez instigated the thrill today, in a very unexpected way. Leading off the bottom of the 2nd, Matt Murton grounded to FLop at shortstop. Lopez fielded the ball--AIRMAILING it across the diamond. This toss had NO CHANCE of being caught by Dimitri Young at first baseball. Instead, the ball skipped over top the first base dugout and rocketed into the lower bowl of Wrigley Field. With the baseball still moving rapidly through the stands, a fan sitting in the back row of the front section of the seats reached up and snared the liner, barehanding it. The momentum promptly knocking him over the metal railing behind his seat, landing him hard on the concrete walkway behind him. Never relinquishing or dropping the ball, this fan held on, claiming he was all right and received a STANDING OVATION from the crowd. This FAN made The Defensive Play of The Game. IT WAS GOOD!!

Ryan Langerhans entered as a mid-game substitution, striking out twice in both plate appearances.

Austin Kearns is rapping out alot of hits lately, with authority. This team needs his power to breakout. Number 25 just got under a potential Grand Slam Blast to end the top of the third inning. Instead, Jones caught the fly at the wall to retire Washington.

Josh Wilson committed his 5th error of the season in very limited playing time. I just can't imagine Wilson staying with Our Washington Nationals much longer. He is simply not helping. And, as much as I like Michael Restovich, Manny Acta has given the big guy some decent chances. Restovich has not seized the opportunity.

FLop looked better at second base, instead of shortstop.

Today's InGame Photos--(AP) Nam Y. Huh


Fav61 said...

SBF: I think Zim will be fine. As you've said in previous posts, the Nats team of today will not be the same as the team we see a month from now and for months to come. It will be a difficult season for him, but it will help him to grow as a major leaguer. He really is hitting some ropes lately. Bring up a Batista or bring in a Wily Mo to protect him a bit, and he may be able to relax some. We definitely need to import some power into this lineup though!

phil dunn said...

If there is one guy on this sad sack team who needs to play more, it is Jesus Flores. He can hit and he seems to be a decent catcher. With Brian Schneider fading fast both offensively and defensively, Flores should be catching at least two or three games a week. This guy is the future, Schneider is the past.

paul said...

How is Zim's mom doing? I have wondered since spring training whether she is in failing health.

JayB said...

OK, I get that everyone, including the players understands Nats are going to lose, a lot, but is Manny setting this tone part of the problem?

How can any manager just let someone walk in 3 runs in a 1-0 ballgame? It seems to me that Acta has set the bar so low for these guys that they are easily matching his expectations each chance they get.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Paul: Mrs. Zimmerman sits directly in front of us in Section 320 many times. She seems to be about the same as before, in good spirits and totally into the games. Despite her handicapped she seems quite active. In fact, she has arguably the finest electronic wheel chair we have ever seen. Truly amazing what that contraption can do. Good for her. We have wondered whether she might be able to drive it on the highway, its that cool.

Anonymous said...

Brian Schneider is about the most overrated athlete in DC right now. The way the guys on TV gush about him, you'd think he's Johnny Bench. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough to grasp the "intangibles" that he brings, but he can't hit, and I really don't see him doing anything special defensively. I'm sure he's a nice guy an everything.

And Josh Wilson... Well, he must be a really really really nice guy.