Saturday, May 22, 2010

The First Big Bump In The Road

The road to success is rarely travelled smoothly. There are always bumps in the road. The concern from tonight's loss to The Baltimore Orioles is not just that Our Washington Nationals dropped below .500 for the first time since April 15th at 21-22. It's also not just because D.C.'s team has lost seven of their last eight games played. The worry is that Scott Olsen's latest pitching shoulder flareup combined with a tired looking team on the field of play--might lead to a protracted slump. A decline that no one rooting for Washington wants to see a few short weeks before Stephen Strasburg supposedly arrives in The Nation's Capital.

Our Washington Nationals are in the final stages of twenty consecutive days played. A grueling schedule that included road trips to New York, Denver and St. Louis--sandwiched around 11 home dates. That's not easy for any team to work through--especially one that is not running on all cylinders.

Scott Olsen, along with Livan Hernandez, has been one of Washington's most reliable starters all season. No others come close in our rotation--not John Lannan, not Craig Stammen, nor Luis Atilano. The fact that Our Number 19 left after three innings pitched against Baltimore this evening raised a Red Flag--not one of the Curly "W" type--about who might replace Olsen if his previous injury from 2009 has returned. Unless Our GM does an about face--Mike Rizzo is not just going to bring up Strasburg early to solve the situation. Our General Manager has never taken the short route to personnel decisions. And he's unlikely to do that here. But Olsen's latest setback--if lengthy--could cause a domino effect among all pitchers below Strasburg in Washington's Farm System.

Would Matt Chico be recalled? or Former Atlanta Brave starter Chuck James--now at AAA Syracuse. Or, would Riz consider jumping Spring Training's most interesting starter--not named Strasburg--Aaron Thompson--to the Big Club? Thompson, acquired from The Florida Marlins for Nick Johnson last year--has been impressive all season. Unless Mike Rizzo is scouting a possible trade--those are his three best pitching options, right now, if Scott Olsen can not make his next start.

Combine that issue with a Washington offense that has seen it's leadoff hitter--Nyjer Morgan--struggle most all season long. A power hitter in Adam Dunn that is not hitting well with runners in scoring position. A starting nine over the past eight games that has been fairly non-existent with the bat. And you are not going to win many ball games. Unfortunately, that's the nature of where Our Washington Nationals stand right now 43 games into the season. Every team has slumps over the course of any 162 game schedule. Every team temporarily loses the ability to put consecutive hits back to back and score some runs. That's why they play the games. But the good teams find a way to win. The good teams find a way to battle through the frustration. And the good teams turn that slump around before going into a debilitating tailspin.

Can Our Washington Nationals turn themselves around and become that good team too?

Talented players, and talented teams, can learn a lot about themselves when things are not going well. So can Our Washington Nationals. Tonight's latest loss being no exception.

Final Score from Nationals Park where Nats320 is forsaking the usual gamer to get a point across: The Baltimore Orioles 5 and Our Washington Nationals 3. Having looked lethargic these last three homes games--D.C.'s team needs to recharge their batteries. A necessary off-day that will not arrive until this coming Monday May 24th when Washington rests in San Francisco before taking on The Giants. But before that date approaches--Washington must pull themselves together for these final two home games against The Baltimore Orioles. Our Team not only needs to find a way to win--but Washington needs to find The Will To Win Again. Ian Desmond stated at The ESPN Zone Thursday his teammates have believed in themselves all season. And a healthy family/team atmosphere has pulled everyone closely together.

Now is the time to see how that closely knit association will help Washington when things are not so positive. Scott Olsen's injury combined with Washington's non-hitting lineup has raised some concern about Washington's prolonged capabilities. An anxiety rising over the fan base whether Our Washington Nationals are for real--or not. The first big bump in the road is upon us. How D.C.'s team responds over the next few days may well determine whether there will be long-term success during this pivotal 2010 season.

Game Notes & Highlights

Considering that Scott Olsen allowed nine batters to reach base in only three innings pitched--it's probably remarkable he only allowed four runs. I don't think even one of his pitches reached above 90 miles per hour. Our Manager yanked him early, batted Livan Hernandez in his place before Washington announced later Our Number 19 suffered a shoulder injury. Mike Rizzo telling Nats320 after the game--tests will be conducted on Saturday to determine the seriousness of the flareup. Adam Jones slugged out a two-run homer to right center in the top of the 2nd off Scott. And Baltimore rallied with two outs in the top of the 3rd when Olsen provided three walks and two singles to help plate two more Orioles.

Miguel Batista relieved Olsen and proceeded to pitch four shutout innings. Drew Storen allowed his first big league run when Baltimore's Corey Patterson (Ex-Nat) singled off Storen's glove with two outs in the top of the 8th. Drew had walked The Orioles leadoff hitter that frame--reserve catcher Craig Tatum--and it came back to haunt him.

Orioles starter David Hernandez entered tonight's game having lost 14 straight games over two seasons. Yet, he pitched a no hitter through 4.2 innings. And only lost it when Miguel Batista singled up the middle for his first hit since 2006. Hernandez walked five Nationals, gave up that sole hit and lasted through one out in the sixth. And picked up his first win since August 11th of 2009 against Oakland.

Ryan Zimmerman scored Washington's first run when Pudge Rodriguez grounded into a fielder's choice in the bottom of the 6th with the bases loaded. And Willie Harris got Nationals Park jumping really for the only time this evening when he jacked a Matt Albers pitch off the second facade of Section 237 near the Scoreboard Walk for a two-run homer that got Washington within one run (4-3) in the bottom of the 7th.

There were two fine defensive plays by Washington tonight. Pudge Rodriguez picked off Corey Patterson wandering too far off 3rd Base in the 4th. A snap throw after a pitch to Nick Markakis resulted in Our Number 7 tossing a rope to Ryan Zimmerman cutting in to the bag. The Z-Man then ran Patterson back to Pudge--who then tossed the baseball to Ian Desmond--who had rotated over to 3rd base--to record the out. But that was not The Defensive Play Of This Game. That honor goes to Desmond himself. In the top of the 9th--Markakis slammed a hard hit ground ball to the left of Our Number 6. Washington's Rookie Shortstop, shifted quickly to his left, then dove with his glove hand extended. Only to see the baseball take a wicked short hop coming right past his head. As the baseball popped up and with Desmond falling down--Ian instinctively raised his glove hand above his fast dropping head and made a OLE' scoop while hitting the infield dirt hard. Ian Desmond then stood up and threw a perfect strike to Adam Dunn to record the out for The Defensive Play Of This Game. A nice one too.

27,378 the paid attendance for today's first game of The Battle Of The Beltways. One of the larger crowds since Opening Day. Also, both teams wore their alternate jerseys for this Friday night game. Baltimore wore their black tops with "Orioles" across the front and Washington their Red Curly "W" ones. I am not of big fan of both teams wearing their alternate jerseys. It gives the feel of a softball game going on. Either Baltimore should have worn their gray tops, or Washington their White home uniform. Black tops and red tops didn't look good--not traditional in any sense.

It's funny how each time Baltimore plays Washington, both teams tend to give away their respective team caps at one of the series games. Saturday afternoon's 4:05PM start will feature the first 20,000 fans coming to Nationals Park receiving a Red/White Curly "W" cap. Next month when Washington heads to Camden Yards, The Orioles will return the favor.

The Oriole Bird interrupted the 4th inning Presidents Race again this year. As Teddy, Abe, George and Tom turned at the right field foul pole and ran toward the finish line--The Oriole Bird tackled Teddy, Abe & George--allowing Tom to win uncontested.

And finally--a Bryce Harper Nationals Tee Shirt sighting. A young man sitting near Washington's home dugout was sporting a custom Nationals Red Tee with "Harper 34" emblazoned on the back.

Tonight's In-Game Photos--Haraz N. Ghanbari (AP)
All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320-=All Rights Reserved


droozer said...

I'm pretty sure that's a Brandon Harper t shirt (he played with them in 06)

William Neilson Jr. said...

Anyone who has looked at our team objectively knows that our pitching has been terrible most of this year

We weren't going to keep winning games while our pitching remained so bad

Bringing up our top two pitching prospects will help but we need at LEAST 2 more SP's who can get people out consistently if we want to challenge for the playoffs