Friday, April 30, 2010

All-Stars Among Us

For the second year in a row, Our Washington Nationals along with Major League Baseball and People Magazine will team up to honor "Everyday Heroes" who make a difference in local communities. The "All Stars Among Us" program recognizes individuals who go out of their way to make life better for those surrounding them in extraordinary ways. And once again, you too can participate.

Through May 14th, fans can nominate themselves or others who they feel have gone beyond the norm to help change the life of others at Acts of courage, commitment, strength and compassion are the traits welcomed in the stories of these "Everyday All-Stars". All 30 Major League Baseball Clubs are participating and three finalists for each team will be announced.

Online voting will then commence on May 31st and run through June 20th. Individual Team Winners will be honored at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July, 13th. During last year's MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis, the five living U.S. Presidents saluted the "Everyday All-Stars" Winners in a video tribute and President Barack Obama personally met with the group after throwing out the first pitch.

Certainly you know someone that has inspired you, worked diligently in your community or had an impact in someone else's life. This is the chance to recognize that "All Star Among Us"--nationally--while representing Our Washington Nationals. Again, nominations can be made at through May 14th. Voting begins on May 31st and runs through June 20th for the three finalists for each club. One deserving Washington Nationals Fan will be sent to Anaheim, California to be honored as a Major League Baseball/People Magazine "All-Star Among Us".

Last Year's Washington Finalists included Ryan Kules, a resident of Bowie, Maryland who runs the Wounded Warrior Project’s Warriors to Work program. Ryan was severely injured in Iraq when a blast severed his right arm and leg. Determined to continue to serve his country, Ryan became involved with the Wounded Warrior Project. He helps injured veterans find new careers and successfully reintegrate back into civilian society.

And Crofton, Maryland native Jennifer Skolochenko--the Executive Director of Most Valuable Kids DC--who works to improve the lives of underserved children. MVK supplies tickets to live sporting and cultural events to children from low-income households as well as to wounded veterans and their families.

There are many other "Everyday Heroes" out there, please nominate them for the respect they so richly deserve for this "All-Stars Among Us" tribute.

Photo Courtesy Of The Washington Nationals

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brain Teaser--The Answers

UPDATE: Santiago Ramirez spent a total of five days in The Major Leagues. Frank Robinson pitched him in four ineffective games and Ramirez was never heard from again. Released one month later by Our Washington Nationals.

The challenge of today's Brain Teaser--name the 42 players that have made their Major League Debut in a Washington Nationals Uniform since 2005? Here are the answers:

There are 28 Pitchers and 14 Everyday Players that made their Big League Debut with Our Washington Nationals. For the life of me, I couldn't come up with right-handed pitcher Santiago Ramirez. And thought that Matt Cepicky was the 42nd player on my list. As it turns out, Cepicky debuted in Montreal wearing the Expos Red/White & Blue. But, give me credit, I did remember Tyrell Godwin--which I doubt many others would.

Here is the complete list of the 42 Players--by year's of each Big League Debut in a Washington Nationals Uniform--along with some brief words about each player. And many thanks to John Dever, Senior Director--Nationals Baseball Media Relations--for the confirmation:

Pitchers (28)

Jason Bergmann (Like Ryan Zimmerman and Cristian Guzman--who missed all of 2006--the only other player with Washington--at some point--for all six seasons since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005)
Darrell Rasner (released by Washington and became a starter for The New York Yankees--briefly)

Saul Rivera (the ultimate rubber arm--Frank Robinson and Manny Acta ran him out there every single day until his arm fell off)
Mike O'Connor (Starting Pitcher in the famous Zimmerman walk-off home run game against The Yankees at RFK Stadium)
Chris Schroder (Threw heat--was pretty good for a short period of time)
Bill Bray (traded to Cincinnati in the Kearns/Flop Deal)
Beltran Perez (Jumped from AA, faded fast)
Brett Campbell (just another arm for four games when Washington's bullpen had injuries)
Santiago Ramirez (couldn't remember this guy if my life depended on it)

John Lannan (11th Round 2005 Pick that developed into a team starting staple)
Matt Chico (Acquired in the Livan Hernandez deal in late 2006 from Arizona)
Joel Hanrahan (Free Agent Signee from The Los Angeles Dodgers who became "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game--The Next Generation" before being traded to Pittsburgh in the Nyjer Morgan Trade)
Levale Speigner (Rule V Pick who pitched one tremendous game--outdueling Johan Santana & The Twins in Minnesota)
Jonathan Abaladejo (Picked up off waivers from The Pittsburgh Pirates and traded to the New York Yankees for Tyler Clippard--one of the best quiet moves of the Bowden Era)
Ross Detwiler (token appearance in Atlanta--three months after being Washington's Number 1 Pick--recovering from hip surgery)

Garrett Mock (also acquired from Arizona in the 2006 Livan Hernandez deal)
Charlie Manning (29-Year Old Rookie Lefty who actually pitched well for Washington. Lost on waivers to St. Louis when Washington tried to send him to AAA)
Steven Shell (for 39 games in 2008 was an absolute God-
send out of the bullpen. The African Queen's Southern Gentleman who was waived out of town and now pitches for Seattle's AAA club alongside Chad Cordero--was involved in a beaning incident last year when he took a hit baseball he threw in a game--right smack in the face--survived and is back pitching again as a starter)
Mike Hinckley (called up in late 2008, pitched in 15 games out of relief--never surrendered a single run. Then, was sent packing in 2009 after a poor start)
Shairon Martis (Acquired from San Francisco for Mike Stanton--pitched one fabulous complete game victory over The St.Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park in May, 2009--back in AAA ball again)
Collin Balester (2004 Expos Draft Pick who has shuttled back and forth between the Majors & Minors the past three seasons)
Marco Estrada (2005 draft pick that never really developed)

Jordan Zimmermann (Dominant 2007 2nd Round Pick who thrilled Washington Fans until a frayed elbow sent him to the surgeon. Expected return in late 2010--2011 at the latest, Future Star In The Waiting)
Craig Stammen (12th Round 2005 Pick. Lannan's Buddy. And pleasant surprise starter for Washington)
J.D. Martin (Former 1st Round Pick of The Indians who was called up in the middle of 2009. Still in Washington's Minor League System)
Victor Garate (acquired from The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2009 deal for Ronnie Belliard)

Jesse English (Acquired off waivers from The San Francisco Giants)
Luis Atilano (acquired in 2006 from The Atlanta Braves for Daryle Ward while still recovering from Tommy John Surgery)

Everyday Players (14)

Ryan Zimmerman (Franchise Player--1st Draft Pick Ever in Washington Nationals History)
Tony Blanco (Rule V Pick that couldn't hit a curve ball. Never heard from again)
Rick Short (Fan Favorite who returned from Japan in his early 30's and thrilled fans in September of 2005)
Brandon Watson (Speedy leadoff hitter that couldn't consistently get on base--no arm in the outfield)
Tyrell Godwin (a lesser version of Watson that lasted only a handful of games)

Melvin Dorta (Infielder/utility guy that didn't stick around too long)
Brandon Harper (30-Year Old catcher that got his one and only shot to play Big League Baseball)

Jesus Flores (Rule V Pick from The New York Mets that if can stay healthy will become an All-Star Catcher)
Kory Casto (Two Time Nationals Minor League Player of The Year that never stuck with the team full-time)

Roger Bernadina (Speedy outfielder that broke his ankle in 2009 right at the point he was about to find a role in The Major Leagues. Just recalled from AAA Syracuse)
Justin Maxwell (Ultra-talented player that has yet to put it all together. Gazelle Speed and Tremendous Fielding Skills)
Luke Montz (Journeyman catcher that sulked his way out of baseball in Washington. Quit on his Harrisburg team in 2009)

Ian Desmond (Exciting young shortstop--thrilling fans at Nationals Park in 2010)
And finally, Jorge Padilla (Journeyman outfielder)

Did you attempt the challenge? How many did you get? Once I sat down to figure out the list, it took me just under 60 minutes to complete my 42 players--with one mistake--Matt Cepicky instead of Santiago Ramirez.

Brain Teaser

In the five plus seasons since Major League Baseball returned to Washington, D.C.--42 different players have made their Big League Debut wearing a Washington Nationals Uniform. Can you name them all--by memory--not by referencing through the many resources online and in books?

Remember, in this brain teaser, starting your Major League career wearing a Montreal Expos uniform and transferring with the team to the Nation's Capital in 2005--does not count. There are some easy names and some that are quite tough on the final list.

One name was really difficult to recall when personally taking on the challenge the other day.

Give yourself 90 minutes as a set time frame to complete the task.

The question again: Can you name the 42 players who have made their Major League Debut wearing a Washington Uniform?

The complete list for this brain teaser coming later this evening.

Now challenge yourself--don't cheat.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Visionless Journey

Did you see that blind catch by Marlon Byrd today?

It came one inning after Adam Dunn socked out Washington's second home run of the day, their last run and hit as well, against The Chicago Cubs in the 4th inning.

Former National Byrd lost Luis Atilano's high fly into the sunny skies above Wrigley Field in the top of the 5th inning and was only protecting himself from getting hit by the lost baseball.

The Defensive Play Of This Game (and maybe the best thus far this year anywhere) came one inning before the rookie, Atilano, left today's game having pitched another six solid innings of two run ball.

Did I mention that phenomenal catch by The Chicago Cubs' centerfielder?

Marlon Byrd, not only lost sight of the baseball, he turned his head away from the fast dropping baseball--and went down to his knees--only hoping not to get hurt. Attempting to deflect the expected pain--which would eventually come Chicago's way a few innings later after Our Washington Nationals sent The Cubbies down to defeat for the second straight day in a row.

Marlon Byrd, completely having no idea where Atilano's baseball was falling, somehow turned his fielding glove behind his twisted body--palm upward--completely blinded by the sun and looking away toward the centerfield ivy--still amazingly found the baseball dropping into the webbing of his mitt.

A visionless journey rewarded to Marlon Byrd for undying effort. Achievement that just makes you say--Wow!! The same expression which came to mind after Our Washington Nationals continued their early season success with another well played baseball game at Wrigley Field. And while surprise, and maybe a little bit of luck, best describes Marlon Byrds' defensive gem--no one can be anything less than astonished when looking at the National League East Standings this evening--featuring Washington in second place--one game out of 1st in late April. 12 wins after 22 games is not luck. It's the result of the undying efforts put forth by a D.C. Team sneaking up on everybody.

Yeah, it still early, but it's also safe to say--Our Washington Nationals are no longer on a visionless journey of their own. Their continued success in April has opened up some once undiscerning eyes throughout baseball. Considered by some as sightless in team building just over one year ago, Our Nats have seemingly embarked on a new journey. One not blinded by luck, but the vision of a general manager (Mike Rizzo) whose day-to-day personnel decisions these past 15 months has transformed our team off the field--while the discipline and determination instilled by Jim Riggleman on the field--has brought the best qualities out of everyone under his management.

They are not perfect, and Washington must get better--but the unforeseen has brought the excitement back. This unanticipated competitive start has jumpstarted a new life for baseball in the Nation's Capital.

More game details coming in the Game Notes & Highlights but for now: Final Score from Wrigley Field where quality baseball was again played for a second straight day by the visitors: Our Washington Nationals 3 and The Chicago Cubs 2. Curly "W" Number 12 put D.C.'s Team two games above .500 and sent a warning across Major League Baseball that Jim Riggleman's team comes at you every single day.

But the mental image to take from today's series clinching victory over The Cubbies is that baseball in the Nation's Capital is once again a whole new ballgame. Our Washington Nationals are visionless no longer. That light at the end of the long lost proverbial tunnel is beginning to shine brightly. And anyone that doesn't see that is as blinded as Marlon Byrd was--attempting to catch that baseball today through the brightly shining sun in the top of the 5th inning, in centerfield, at the corner of Waveland & Sheffield Avenues.

Game Notes & Highlights

Luis Atilano didn't seem to pitch as well as he did last Friday night against The Los Angeles Dodgers, but when he was replaced after six innings today by Jim Riggleman, the statistical results were pretty much the same: six innings, two runs, six hits and three walks allowed. Never overpowering, his sinker didn't appear to have the bite of his first Major League Game, but he pitched well enough in a notoriously small ballpark to gain his second personal victory of 2010. Nobody was expecting this early success story. In fact, most everybody had never really heard the name Luis Atilano--until one week ago.

Tyler Clippard again pitched the 8th setting up for Matt Capps. In the 9th, Capps recorded his 10th consecutive save to begin the season--still the Major League best. And together, Clippard/Capps quickly becoming one of the hottest set-up man/closer combinations in the game.

Adam Kennedy socked out a first inning home run off Ryan Dempster. Adam Dunn took him deep to left-center in the 4th. And Washington plated their second run in 2nd inning on a Roger Bernadina single, advancement to second on a ground out and scoring on a Wil Nieves rbi single to right. After the 4th, Washington got no further hits, and only one base runner--a walk allowed by Dempster to Nyjer Morgan in the 8th. Dempster finished 8 complete and also pitched well enough to win. But he didn't.

With little offensive production, Washington is winning with mostly pitching and defense. The sign of a good team. One that can only get better when their offense lights up--and fresh pitching arrives over the next few months from the minor leagues.

And finally--a sunny but cold day this afternoon in Chicago. 51 Degrees at game start--an affair that took just 2:21 to play.

Next up--some fish to fry in South Florida. The Florida Marlins on the menu beginning Friday night.

Today's In Game Photo--Charles Rex Arobogast (AP)

The Friendly Confines Broadcast Booth

If you've listened to Charlie Slowes' & Dave Jageler's radio broadcasts over the past few seasons, you've heard their funny comments about the cramped Wrigley Field Broadcast Booth they share when Our Washington Nationals take on The Cubs in Chicago. Work space is not a luxury at the 97 year-old ballpark--as compared to the rather spacious broadcast facility at three year-old Nationals Park.

At Wrigley Field there is barely enough ledge room to put their computers & scorebooks. In these two pictures taken by "The Jack Of All Things" (Jack Hicks--Charlie & Dave's Engineer) last night--you can clearly see that if Dave needs to leave the broadcast booth--he must literally climb over Charlie to get to the stairs.

Jack Hicks sits above them in this very narrow broadcasting booth.

Clearly, they don't call Wrigley Field "The Friendly Confines" for nothing.

Photos by Jack Hicks--courtesy of Charlie Slowes

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Poise was how Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes described Ian Desmond's continuing growth on the baseball field--moments after Washington's Rookie Shortstop knocked in Nyjer Morgan with a key insurance run in the top of the 8th tonight at Wrigley Field.

Poise could also perfectly describe Livan Hernandez, too. For seven plus innings against The Chicago Cubs, Ole Number 61 showed the poise he's always had on the mound. Nothing, not a ripped liner to deep left by Derrek Lee--that Josh Willingham made a wonderful running over the shoulder catch for The Defensive Play Of This Game in the 6th--nor the chilly temperatures in The Windy City--bothered Livo when he's was in his groove.

Tyler Clippard didn't have command of most every one of his pitches this evening. But,"The Man With The Greatest Goggles In The Game" still showed poise when he battled his way out of a 1st and 2nd with no outs jam in the bottom of the 8th inning. That was pitching. That wasn't throwing. Clippard learned tonight how to bridge the gap from starter to closer--when you are not at your best. That's poise.

Matt Capps didn't let a two-out single in the bottom of the 9th (with a two run lead) bother him either. The Major Leagues' Saves Leader putting his poise on display when he battled Cubs Rookie Pinch Hitter Tyler Colvin through eight hard fought pitches to end this game. A struggle that included Pudge Rodriguez talking, directing and encouraging Matt--until Capps struck out Colvin and recorded his 9th Save of April.

Poise is also what Our Washington Nationals have shown through their first 21 games of 2010.

With Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup for a significant stretch--Washington has still managed to win.

When down, D.C.'s Team hasn't given up.

And if Washington loses a close game one night--they fight back the very next to win.

Which is exactly what happened this evening.

References of not only good character, but polish, presence--and most assuredly poise.

Final Score from frigid Wrigley Field where a new found calmness & confidence led the way: Our Washington Nationals 3 and The Chicago Cubs 1. Curly "W" Number 11 was another step in the continuing improvement of D.C. Baseball. More consistent play; a better ability to adjust to whatever is thrown their way--and the resilency to always bounce back.

Poise was how Charlie Slowes described Ian Desmond's play tonight on WFED. But Charlie might as well have been talking about Our Washington Nationals. As a team, their poise has well exceeded expectations.

Tonight's In-Game Photos--Rex Arbogast (AP)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Washington's Starting Pitchers Must Like To Get Their Red On

During the first 13 home games of 2010 at Nationals Park, you might have noticed that Our Washington Nationals have worn their alternate Red Curly "W" Jerseys far more often then the regular home whites. Even for Opening Day, Washington wore their Red Alternates.

Curious minds wanted to know whether the Home Whites have been supplanted as the uniform of choice? Sohna and I asked Our General Manager Mike Rizzo this exact question before the first Inside Pitch Live @ The PNC Diamond Club this past Saturday. His response--it's the decision of that day's starting pitcher.

So clearly, Washington's Starting Pitchers Must Like To Get Their Red On.

Photo Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Well Pitched Game...Well Defended Too!!

Almost immediately after the conclusion of today's game, The African Queen and I ran into Our General Manager Mike Rizzo.

SBF: Well pitched game!!

Rizzo: Well defended too!! Maybe our best game yet!! (Smiling Broadly)

And IT WAS a marvelous Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

Raise your hand if you believed Our Washington Nationals could hold any opponent from scoring a single run while protecting a one run lead--plated on a simple ground out in the very first inning?

Any One? And with Scott Olsen toeing the rubber for D.C.'s Team?

A transformation occurred today on South Capitol Street. A metamorphosis from a team that everyone has always wished MAYBE could--to a team that probably CAN.

And without Ryan Zimmerman--still recovering fully from his tweaked hamstring.

And without Washington's offense showing much of anything on this final weekend day of a 10-game homestand, The Los Angeles Dodgers flew to New York Sunday night to take on The Mets--most likely wondering what exactly they've left behind.

What Joe Torre's Dodgers saw was a Washington Nationals Team that never gave up all weekend. Los Angeles witnessed a changeover in attitude on the field of play. The Dodgers experienced a shift in the Nation's Capital--a place now where every single out is challenged. Every single inning is played by Washington with one result in mind--WINNING. And when it comes to D.C. Baseball everyone standing and shouting "Let's Go Capps!!" before the final out was recorded believed--the Curly "W" was going to be put in the books.

Thanks to all crucial moments playing out in style.

After a rocky 1st inning, Scott Olsen completed the strongest seven innings he's ever pitched wearing the Curly "W". But the lefhander wasn't done until he was assisted by Ian Desmond and Cristian Guzman turning one of the sweetest double plays you might ever see in a close ball game. With Our Number 19's one run lead precarious thanks to a Reed Johnson single in the top of the 7th, Joe Torre sent his power hitting rightfielder to the plate as a pinch hitter. Given Sunday off to rest, The Los Angeles Manager knew that Andre Ethier represented his best bet against a tiring Olsen.

Our Manager Jim Riggleman sensed that as well.

And immediately trotted to the mound to discuss the situation with his entire infield. This is where Riggleman is far different from Manny Acta. Since being named manager, Jim sends only himself to the mound with the game on the line. He wants to know first hand--how the pitcher is feeling. And he wants to let his defenders know--with words, not hand motions or through an interpreter--what he expects of them defensively.

Big Difference.

And everyone wearing red responded when Olsen forced Ethier to ground a sharply hit ball toward the hole that Ian Desmond had to backhand to his right. Only problem was that Washington's defense was slightly overshifted to the left for Ethier's strong pulling bat. Cristian Guzman had to run quite the extra distance to reach second base in time for Desmond's throw. And realizing "The Guz" needed extra precious seconds, Ian backhand dished the baseball--perfectly timed--which allowed Our Number 15 to basket catch the baseball on the run--step on second base--and while falling away toward leftfield--get off a PERFECT THROW to Adam Dunn at 1st base to retire the side.

A beautifully turned double play that found Scott Olsen fist pumping in delight and personally stopping to slam hands with Desmond and "Guz" as Olsen headed to the showers--done of the day.

Yet, that one defensive gem was just the appetizer.

You see, Tyler Clippard trotted to the mound for the 8th inning and proceeded with his "No Nonsense" stuff. But "The Man With The Greatest Goggles In The Game" didn't get out of his relief effort too--without more defensively wizardry by Washington. Not sure what was in the water today at Nationals Park, but when Rafael Furcol lashed a leadoff liner--quickly dropping to the ground to left--Josh Williingham scooted in, dove forward, face first, and snared Furcol's drive moments before it touched down. Hitting the grass hard, Willingham had given up his body--and his face--for a key out.

Defensive gem number two served up as the main course.

Yet, believe it or not--the best was yet to come.

Matt Capps was called on to close out his 8th consecutive save to start the new season. And he got in trouble right away. The Dodgers' James Loney lashed a double JUST OVER the outstretched glove of the leaping Adam Kennedy manning 3rd Base. Now, tell me if you watched this game--if the first thing you thought was--Zimmerman would have had it? Everyone in Section 218 said the exact same thing--almost in unison.

But The Z-Man was not in this game. And the result was a leadoff double. The "Cardiac" version of Capps now back on display. The question: Could Our Washington Nationals pitch and defend themselves out of another big jam for the third consecutive inning and win this game?

This is new ground for D.C. Baseball over the past two years. The ability to sense the moment at hand and rise to the occasion.

Matt Capps did not give in and quickly retired Casey Blake (the one L.A. Batter who had dominated Washington pitching all weekend) on a routine ground out hit to Cristian Guzman manning second. But he was not saved until The Defensive Play Of This Game was recorded.

"The Ballplayer"--well known as Ronnie Belliard here on Nats320 stepped to the plate with Jamey Carroll (pinch running for Loney) standing in scoring position for The Dodgers. If there is one player on L.A.'s roster that can raise his game when if counts the most--it's Belliard. And even though Ronnie was hitless through this point in three at-bats--he was no less dangerous. Washington knew it, Capps knew it--The African Queen watching in Section 218 definitely knew it as well. Don't count the man out--and sure enough Ronnie Belliard gets JUST ENOUGH of a Capp's 94 mile per hour fastball to loft a lazy fly into short rightfield. The exact place where most outfielders would never reach. The exact blooping single that ties up this ball game.

But Justin Maxwell had other ideas. Playing rightfield today, J-Maxx used all of his God-Given speed to race in for the still in the air baseball. He used his gazelle speed to cut the distance between himself and the fast falling ball. And even then, that wasn't enough. Justin Maxwell realized he had to dive--also face first--just like Willingham did in the 8th. And just like Josh, Our Number 30 needed to catch AND hold on to the baseball. With all of Nationals Park rising in unison in anticipation of THE GAME DECIDING PLAY--Maxwell reached out--almost lunging with his glove hand and CAUGHT THE BALL IN THE HEEL OF HIS GLOVE. Then he wrapped his leather glove so tight around the baseball--Superman himself could not have plied it from the pocket.


Unexpectedly, a Full-Course Meal of Defensive Gems had been served up by Washington. And had the home crowd roaring with delight until "Let's Go Capps" forced Garret Anderson to meekly pop out to Nyjer Morgan manning centerfield for the final out moments later. The conclusion--a celebration not expected just 19 games into the 2010 Championship Season. Remember, a simple ground out by Adam Dunn in the bottom of the 1st scored the only run D.C.'s Team needed to gain victory. But quality pitching backed by a series of defensive plays held up--bringing home one of the most tantalizing victories in Our Washington Nationals short history.

Yeah, it really was--One To Nothing.

Final Score from Nationals Park where a well pitched game was well defended too: Our Washington Nationals 1 (and it's worth repeating ONE!!) and The Los Angeles Dodgers ZERO. Curly "W" Number 10 proved the old adage--You Win With Pitching and Defense. And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling the dawn of a new day on South Capitol Street. This team is competitive. Above .500 three weeks into a new season, Washington has found they can win even while scoring barely a run. They couldn't do that last year. And this one wasn't just luck.

They played like a team.

As Mike Rizzo mentioned shortly after the conclusion of this game--Our Washington Nationals maybe played their best game yet. So what's Washington's capability with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup? And Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Chien Ming Wang waiting in the wings? If April is just the beginning, what's it going to be like when Our Washington Nationals mature as a team two to three months down the line?

There was a whole new feeling leaving Nationals Park late this afternoon.

Happy faces and fresh hope all around. People were excited.

Rightly so.

Game Notes & Highlights

Four batters into this game, you had to wonder whether Scott Olsen would last the first inning. The bases were loaded with Dodgers with one out but 23 batters later Olsen walked off the mound in triumph after Desmond & "The Guz" turned their wonderful 7th inning ending double play. He struck out eight and pitched his finest game in a Washington Uniform--receiving his first personal win since last July.

Clippard's performance today was what everyone has come to expect from this intense man--quality. Quickly becoming the set up man for Matt Capps--who added to his Washington Team Record today with his 8th consecutive save to start the season. Clppard's ERA--0.69 Capps 0.79. Quite the late tandem for Jim Riggleman to count on with the game on the line.

Former N.L. All-Star, Chad Billingsley, pitched well too for Los Angeles. Six innings of one run ball. Touched only in the first when Nyjer Morgan singled, advanced to second on an Adam Kennedy walk. Both moved up one base on a Guzman sacrifice bunt. Morgan scoring when Adam Dunn ripped a hard grounder between 1st and 2nd that Ronnie Belliard (overshifting to his left for Dunn) dove to his left, knocked the baseball down and threw Dunn out at first. Morgan scoring what became the game's only run.

Only four total hits for Washington this afternoon. Seven for Los Angeles.

Ryan Zimmerman made a pinch hit appearance in the bottom of the 7th for Scott Olsen, The Z-Man ripped a liner--right at Ronnie Belliard. Zimmerman, apparently nearly healed--expected to be in the starting lineup for the upcoming Cubs series in Chicago.

The Curly "W" recorded today gave Washington a 6-4 record during the just completed 10-game homestand. They have also won seven of the last 11. Currently tied for 2nd place in the National League East--1.5 games behind Philadelphia.

Today, My Best Friend!! Screech!! celebrated his 5th Birthday. 10 different area Professional & College Team Mascots showed up to participate in the festivities. Screech received a birthday cake. And during the 4th inning Presidents Race--all the mascots participated and attempted to stop each of The Rushmores from crossing the finish line. George eventually won, but as Sohna stated after the race: "If there was ever a time to Let Teddy Win--then disqualify him for the other Mascots interfering in the race--this was it. That would have brought the house down."

And finally--The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation held a special raffle today to raise further funding for their Diabetes Care Complex to be built at The Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. $1 tickets were sold. The grand prize to the winner--$500 and four tickets to an upcoming Nationals Game.

Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Inside Pitch Live @ The PNC Diamond Club

Before Our Washington Nationals took on The Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on Saturday, April 24th, The PNC Diamond Club hosted the first Inside Pitch Live--a new 30-minute Q & A session hosted by MASN's Phil Wood and featuring Nationals Staff and Players. Throughout upcoming homestands this year on South Capitol Street, Diamond Club and Lexus President Club Tickets holders will be given the opportunity to sit in, listen, question and meet Nationals Representatives.

Saturday's inaugural session featured the Baseball Administration Staff for Our Washington Nationals. Our General Manager Mike Rizzo was joined by Assistant GM Bryan Minniti, Jay Sartori--Director Baseball Operations, Adam Cromie--Assistant Director Baseball Operations and Mark Scialabba--Director Minor League Operations. This lively session began with Phil Wood having each panelist describe their roles within the team--then questions were taken from the audience. Much of the conversation surrounded Washington's still developing Minor League System, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the upcoming 2010 Amateur Draft--where Washington has the first pick again--for the second year in a row.

With that--here is the Q & A transcript from the very first Inside Pitch Live @ The PNC Diamond Club.

Question: I have a question about the Adam Dunn negotiations. How are they going? Should I be worried that I am not hearing about progress yet?

Mike Rizzo: “Obviously, we don’t discuss negotiations in public. It is a very individualistic thing that we do. What I will say about the relationship between Adam Dunn and The Nationals is there is mutual respect and there is mutual admiration. Two sides that are really going toward the same goal. When two people seem to want the same thing, something usually gets done. I am not sure where we are at. We certainly have a long way to go with that and there is nothing set in stone right now. But we have two parties that are talking and amicably discussing things”

Question: Phil Wood mentioned that most people know about Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen and you’ve touched briefly on player development. How far along in their development are Danny Espinosa, Jeffrey Kobernus and Destin Hood?

Mike Rizzo: “Destin Hood was a young, raw athletic guy that we took in the second round. He’s come a long way, his progress is great. Kobernus is what we call an accelerated guy to the big leagues. He comes from a great college program. He’s a pretty polished player from the amateur ranks. And should be a guy that goes through the minors very quick. And Danny Espinosa, an accomplished player from Long Beach State who is also on an accelerated path to the big leagues. Mark, do you want to add it?

Mark Scialabba: “Jeff Kobernus and Destin Hood are both in A Ball--in Hagerstown. Both have been off to great starts. Jeff is a really exciting player to watch. He runs very well. He’s got quick wrists. He’s strong and aggressive. He’s got the approach like Cristian Guzman when he swings the bat--and we like that. He’s a baseball player. We don’t want to put a timetable on anyone--that’s unfair to the player. But he’s in A Ball right now and, as Mike pointed out, he’s going to be more of a quick riser. Destin Hood, as Mike pointed out, is a raw player. A high school player--he’s only 19-years old. He’s younger and has a little farther to go, but he’s off to a tremendous start. He’s hitting.370 right now. We really like what we see on Destin Hood.”

Question: Using the book Moneyball as the original sabermetric guide for scouting players, what do you look at first when you are scouting a player?

Adam Cromie: “I don’t want to throw out any information. You do want to identify the baseline hits. But every single piece of information will tell you something about a player. And the most important thing is to make the decision as an organization. And what those of us up here are going to weigh as most important. So it’s not necessarily that one way (of scouting) is better than the other, it’s understanding what the information is telling you; what the metric is telling you and how to weigh that in your final decision making process. Everything matters when scouting any player.”

Question: Have things changed over time?

Jay Sartori: “I think it changes over time. I think as information comes to us we can quantify things we couldn’t quantify in the past. And I certainly think it’s an information explosion in baseball now. It has been that way for a couple of years now--and will continue to be. Again, with more information, we can find out more things that might lead us down a different path and make our analysis more efficient. That said, it’s not just school data we consider. We take the eye ball opinions of our scouts and we can do analysis on that. So we take into account all the information given us. It’s not just on base percentage, slugging percentage, etc. It’s an aggregate of all the information that allows us to make a more educated decision.”

Question: I’ve noticed in the outfield, no longer are you cutting in the Curly “W” logo into the grass. Why is that?

Bryan Minniti: “That's actually a great question. I hired the new groundskeeper this year. And from what I heard industry wide, doing that affects not just the grass, but the ground underneath it which traps air underneath--and the ball starts to skitter. It’s actually more of a preventative thing, more safety and how the field plays.”

Question: Can you give me a good reason to tell my wife that during the Cincinnati Reds series here in June that you are calling up Stephen Strasburg so I can be here and not in Florida for some stupid wedding? (Laughter all around) Not to put you on the spot?

MIke Rizzo: “Stephen Strasburg, like any other prospect that we have, his development is contingent on how we see him making progress in the minor leagues. There is no timetable. There can’t be a timetable. It’s impossible to gauge where he is going to be at and when he is going to be here. When we feel, when I feel, he’s done everything he needs to do in the minor leagues to prepare himself to pitch in the big leagues, and to have success in the big leagues--and never to go back down to the minor leagues--we will bring him up. And he is going to be a big performer for us. We are always looking, not only short term, but for 2010 and the long-term. You have to be true to your philosophies and the way you develop players. And we treat Stephen Strasburg no different than we treat any other of our really good prospects. Although he is a unique talent and as high profile of a minor league player as I have ever had. But it’s contingent on where he’s at and what is best for him as a player and us as a franchise--and that’s long term.”

Bryan Minniti: “Remember, that person is only going to get married once. Strasburg will have many, many starts.”

Question from young child: What does it take to be a Nationals baseball player?

Mike Rizzo: “I think it takes hard work, dedication, and you have to be an intelligent person. My advice to any young person who wants to become a major league player is to listen to your parents, get a good education, work really, really hard, have a passion for the game and the rest will take care of itself. Just do those things and you will be on your way.”

Phil Wood: Mike, you were a professional player but you never made it to the majors, but you still found a way to dedicate yourself to the game.

Mike Rizzo: “The love for this game is why we are all here. It’s why we choose this occupation. There are many ways to fulfill your passion. Obviously, first and foremost, I wanted to be a major league player. And I was a bad self evaluator. I thought I was good enough to be in the big leagues. After my Double A season (in The Angels System), they said no--you are not good enough. But you have abilities and talents that could keep you in the game. I worked my way up to this and here we are.”

Question: Where do you stand on Bryce Harper, the presumed number one pick in the upcoming 2010 draft?

Mike Rizzo: “He is definitely one of the top candidates for our draft. As you know we pick first this year in the 2010 Amateur Draft. He’s one of a small handful of players that we are considering with that pick. And he’s a terrific talent. It’s a very deep draft this year--we think. And we are going to get several good players. But obviously, first and foremost, we need to make the right decision on One-One (The First Overall Pick). With talent evaluators like Roy Clark--who set up The Atlanta Braves System--and Kris Kline who has been with me since our Diamondback days (both now in Washington)--we feel really, really confident we are going to have an impact draft this year. And we are going to make a major step forward in adding inventory in our system--especially because of the impact players we are going to acquire.”

Phil Wood: Everything you read about Bryce Harper says he’s arrogant, a huge sense of self-entitlement. Basically, he is not the nicest kid in the world. I know in talking to you the word makeup is something you mention frequently. Is there a difference between makeup and character? And what do you see as makeup? And how do you judge that?

Mike Rizzo: “Makeup separates your top talent evaluations from your average talent evaluations and it’s a difficult thing to gauge. You really have to have experience in instincts to know what in makeup will enhance a career? And what in makeup will distract from a career? Needless to say, we have and will continue to upturn every stone about Bryce Harper and everybody else we are preparing to draft. To me a bit of arrogance is an important thing and, I think, can be good for a player. Obviously, that has to be turned into a positive, focused into a positive way. Bryce, for one, is an extremely talented player whose had an unique amount of publicity for a 15 & 16 year old. Now at the 17 year level, he’s continued to be under a microscope. I remember when I was 17, you didn’t want me under a microscope. I can guarantee you that. And I believe I am a person of good character and good makeup. When we hold 16 & 17 year old kids to up to standards of major league athletes, that’s a formula that is really, really difficult for young players to handle.”

Mark Scialabba: “The scouts also have a relationship with the players. And once we get them into our system, we begin to instill in them The Nationals Way--playing the game, playing the game hard, playing the right way. At that point, they really begin to understand what discipline is on a professional level. Coming out every day, being on time, be ready to play--have respect for your managers. So we want good character in our players. That’s what our scouts really try to acquire. However, sometime makeup and character don’t always mesh. You can have players with really good makeup on the field, but are problems off the field in character. We try to instill good character, discipline in our players off the field, not just on the field--through our coaches, employee assistance program, through out trainers--we just try to instill that discipline from the top all the way down to the bottom of the minor leagues.”

Question: What can you learn from The Montreal Expos, who had an excellent talent evaluation system in developing talent, but that didn’t translate to success on the field?

Mike Rizzo: “They scouted and developed as well as anyone in baseball at the time. The lesson learned there is to have success now often costs you success down the road. When you trade for Bartolo Colon and trade away the young talent they gave away in that trade--to win today because your sight is only on today only--is the main lesson I learned from that situation.”

Phil Wood: Damn Yankees is a popular play and movie here in this town where The Washington Senators with an unknown Joe Hardy, rise up, beat the hated New York Yankees and go to The World Series. The days of finding a player that no one has ever heard of is long over--is it safe to say that?

Mike Rizzo: “It’s much, much more difficult, yes.”

Phil Wood: Then what about Latin America and the Pacific Rim?

Mike Rizzo: “Those are certainly breeding grounds for players. They have quite a passion for the game also. 33% of all players in the major leagues are not from the amateur draft. So they are being acquired through international scouting, signing the players and those types of things. It’s become a huge focus for all the organizations in baseball to be successful internationally. We made steps in that direction and made a focus on international baseball.”

With that final answer the first Inside Pitch at The PNC Diamond Club concluded. The second in this season long series will take place on Saturday, May 8th and a player for Our Washington Nationals will be the scheduled guest. Other events are upcoming for Presidents Club ticket holders as well.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Double Edged Sword

Being aggressive in order to force the opposition to make a key mistake--always welcomed.

Being overly aggressive without thinking through the situation at hand--dangerous.

The Double Edged Sword came into play this afternoon at overcast and damp Nationals Park. And Nyjer Morgan found himself on the short end of an aggressive move that directly affected this game's outcome.

With Our Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers tied up at two in the bottom of the 6th--Our Number 1 stepped to the plate with Pitcher Craig Stammen standing on first base. Stammen had just knocked in Alberto Gonzalez with two outs with a beautifully driven single to center. South Capitol Street was hopping over yet another comeback from a fresh Washington Team that has never given up through the first 18 games played so far in 2010. Yet, what was soon to come was both exhilarating and frustrating at the very same time.

The Dodgers Wonder Kin, 22-Year Old lefty starter, Clayton Kershaw, was in trouble. His manager Joe Torre knew it and had L.A.'s Bullpen warming up. Only thing was--Torre wanted his southpaw hurler to face the lefty swinging Morgan right now. Big mistake, when Nyjer rapped a slicing liner down the left field line--a go ahead run sure to score with Craig Stammen running as hard as his legs would take him. As Our Number 35 rounded third base and headed for home--The Dodgers' leftfielder today--Xavier Paul--retrieved the bouncing baseball in the corner and threw to his cutoff man--Blake DeWitt. Washington's 3rd Base Coach Pat Listach rightfully waved Stammen home. DeWitt realized, right away, he had no chance of catching Craig. And with Nationals Park erupting in cheer over D.C.'s 3rd run of the ballgame possibly scoring--Nyjer Morgan set sail around not only 1st base, but 2nd base, and incredibly toward 3rd as well.

Like Why?

Running far faster than Craig Stammen will ever run in his life, Our Number 1 ran blindly toward 3rd Base. He didn't seem to realize DeWitt was about to catch Paul's throw. And he didn't pay attention to the game playing out directly in front of him. Nyjer Morgan didn't have to look at Pat Listach. He didn't have to depend on someone else. He only had to use good baseball sense and realize any attempt to force his way to 3rd--would put Stammen crossing the plate in jeopardy.

Nyjer Morgan never stopped rounding 2nd base, and he didn't slow down either to let Craig score first. The Result--Blake DeWitt threw out Washington's Leadoff Hitter on a clean throw to Casey Blake manning 3rd. The 3rd out of the bottom of the 6th that occurred a precious few seconds before Craig Stammen even crossed home plate.

The standing and cheering home fans quieted--rather quickly--stunned over the unexpected development.

3rd Base Umpire Jerry Crawford called Morgan out and 1st Base Umpire Phil Cuzzi--covering home--properly waved off any score from Stammen.

Being overly aggressive, Nyjer Morgan had ran into the final out without thinking of the consequences at hand. Yeah, Our Washington Nationals had many, many more chances later. In fact, this game would run a good 13 innings. And Morgan would be an instigator in each of their late rallies. But after D.C.'s Team lost this afternoon to The Los Angeles Dodgers, this one play in the bottom of the 6th inning will always be remembered as the pivotal moment.

No one wants to see Washington just sit back and wait for things to happen. Forcing the issue can pay off. But when over-aggressiveness leads to a direct shift to the command of the game--that's failure. Love Nyjer Morgan, love the spark plug attitude he brings to the ballpark each and every day. But Washington was moments away from taking over this game and Nyjer Morgan's baserunning lapse killed any such opportunity.

Final Score from Nationals Park where, no question, Washington had every chance to win--multiple times--but left 13 runners on base in scoring position: The Los Angeles Dodgers 4 and Our Washington Nationals 3 in 13 innings. Ian Desmond got caught in a rundown between 3rd and home in the 7th. Pudge Rodriguez thrown out at the plate in the 13th. D.C.'s Team never gave up--a continuing positive trend in 2010--but they lost playing an overly aggressive style that came back to haunt them.

Better days are ahead, but on this Saturday Afternoon, April 24, Nyjer Morgan was the pacesetter when he ran himself and his team right out of the key and decisive 6th inning. A rally killer in which Washington really never recovered.

Sporting a 9-9 record after just 18 games is positive direction for a franchise coming off two straight 100-loss seasons. But today's extra inning defeat to Los Angeles was bittersweet because Washington really should have won. And that's The Double Edged Sword that rises when any team exceeds expectations and everyone--STARTS--WANTING--MORE--NOW.

The belief Our Washington Nationals CAN put that Curly "W" in the book.

Game Notes & Highlights

Craig Stammen allowed two home runs to The Dodgers' Casey Blake. The first an absolute blast to right centerfield in the top of the 2nd with one runner aboard. Blake's second in the 7th--a solo shot. Stammen would finish seven complete. Again, he didn't walk anyone. And expect for those two pitches to Blake--he was in command. Craig also wielded quite the bat at the plate with a double to left in the bottom of the 4th and an rbi single to center scoring Alberto Gonzalez with game tying run at two--moments before Nyjer Morgan's baserunning miscue. Stammen pitched well. He just didn't win.

Brian Bruney pitched a scoreless 8th. Matt Capps the 9th and 10th. Miguel Batista the 11th, 12th & 13th. Los Angeles finally getting to Batista for the eventual game winning score when Rafael Furcol singled with two outs, stole second and scored on a Russell Martin single to center.

Washington had another prime opportunity to tie this game up in the bottom of the 13th with Pudge Rodriguez on 3rd base (pinch hit single) and a Nyjer Morgan double with one out off L.A.'s Carlos Monasterios. But Ian Desmond followed with a grounder right toward 3rd base--where Casey Blake fielded and threw out the hard charging Rodriguez at home for out number two. Cristian Guzman then followed with a fly ball to left that Xavier Paul caught for the final out of this game.

An Ian Desmond triple in the very first inning resulted in Washington's first score when "The Guz" grounded out to plate Desmond. Washington's final score of the game came in the bottom of the 8th when Nyjer Morgan singled home Adam Kennedy from second base. That tally sent this game into extra innings.

Our Manager Jim Riggleman used his entire bench except for Ryan Zimmerman--out injured. Dodgers Manager Joe Torre used his entire bullpen and bench--save for catcher A.J. Ellis. This 13-inning game took 4 Hours & 20 Minutes to play. The announced crowd was 18,039.

In the top of the 11th, Los Angeles Catcher Russell Martin lofts a deep fly to right over the head of Willie Harris. As usual, Harris doesn't give up on the ball as he races toward the fence. Nearing the green padded wall, Willie realizes the baseball is heading back over his left shoulder--in the opposite direction he's running. Pirouetting right to left now with his back facing the wall--Our Number 22 leaps backwards, raises his left hand--his glove hand--and catches the baseball while smashing into the fence. The Defensive Play Of This Game that was enhanced when Willie Harris immediately yells out "YEAH!!" as he rolls to a stop on the warning track. Good Stuff!!

Sporting their new Red Curly "W" Jerseys--The Racing Presidents raced twice today. Once in their typical middle of the 4th outing. And again in the 13th inning. George took the checkered flag early. Abe in the last race.

The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation hosted their Saturday Afternoon Live Auction. Willie Harris and Brian Bruney signed jerseys and a Ryan Zimmerman autographed bat were among the items up for bid which brought in $1355 for Our Washington Nationals charitable arm.

And finally, The Malaria Vaccine Initiative was on hand at Nationals Park today on the main concourse distributing literature and information on World Malaria Day. The worldwide effort to stamp out malaria and improve lives of millions across the world.

Today's In-Game Photos--Nick Wass (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved