Monday, August 30, 2010

2010: A Roller Coaster Season

This weekend, the Washington Nationals won a 4 game series with the St. Louis Cardinals.  A team that is competing for the playoffs in an NL wildcard spot.  All of this after the team found out that Stephen Strasburg (RIP) will be going on the 60-day DL and will be out for much, if not all, of next season.  The win on Sunday that took the series earned the Nationals thir 56th win on the season.  It was August 29th.  Last season, the Nationals won their 56th game on October 1st.  Mike MacDougal got the save in that game.  MacDougal now pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals.

On another happy note, the Nationals have signed Livan Hernandez to a $1 million contract for 2011, not shockingly only 2 days after it was announced that Strasburg will be out for a long, long time.  This was just one of the many happy moments that was Washington Nationals Baseball this season.  More Ryan Zimmerman walkoffs.  The Strasburg debut.  The Harper announcement.  Adam Dunn's home runs.  Michael Morse finally getting some playing time.  These were all optimistic moments for Nationals fans.

Then there are the not so happy moments.  Opening Day and the 11-1 loss to the capacity crowd... of almost entirely Phillies fans.  Lannan, the Opening Day pitcher, getting demoted because he couldn't locate his pitches.  Injury, after injury, after injury, after injury in the starting rotation.  Willie Harris getting all that playing time, presumably only for being a teacher's pet.  And Rob Dibble.

But looking back, there was a lot of reason to be excited about this season.  By the end of May, the Nationals were still .500 (26-26).  And then, the dropoff happened.  The team lost 5 of its next 6, and never returned to .500.  The 6 game losing streak from June 15th through the 20th pretty much solidified that.

Sure there's still about 5 weeks left this season.  But all in all, being realistic, we have to be happy with the Nats 2010 season.  Unless the Nationals win just 5 games the rest of the season, they will avoid triple digit losses for the 3rd straight season.  While I would have been thrilled with 75 wins like many predicted (really?), I think a down-to-earth expectation after 2 consecutive 100+ loss seasons is... well... not losing 100+ games.  And the Nats are well on their way to that.

But in 2011, Nats fans expect more, and GM Mike Rizzo seems to be keenly aware of that.  In the most recent Strasburg press conference, yes... THAT press conference, Rizzo hinted at and acknowledged the need to go into free agency with the mentality of buying some pitchers.  The team needs it now.  Re-signing Livan is a step in the right direction already.  But fans won't be happy just with double digit losses next year.  They expect more because they should.  The offense shows signs of brilliance (see August 26, 28, 29), and the they will have to capitalize on that next year.

No one can predict the Nationals record this season, or next.  But everyone expects more consistency than they showed this year.  The team had more moments of brilliance this year than last, and their record shows.  Not to mention the team is no longer a makeshift bunch of "who is that guy?" players.  There are players to build your team around, and that's what the Nats have lacked for many years.  Let's see what the end of 2010 brings this club.

Friday, August 27, 2010

With Strasburg Done, Who Becomes Number 1?

As everyone on the planet now knows, Stephen Strasburg's rookie year came to an abrupt end on Friday, when it was announced that the phenom would require Tommy John surgery to replace a "significant" ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow, according to Nats GM Mike Rizzo. Strasburg will likely miss most, if not all, of 2011 as well.

According to's Bill Ladson, Strasburg knew Thursday night of the surgery, but didn't want to ruin Bryce Harper's welcome party to Nationals Park. Ironically, Thursday was also RHP Jordan Zimmermann's return to the 25 man roster from 13 months off. He was recovering from an ulnar collateral ligament tear... and the resulting Tommy John surgery. Gain one frontline young starter, lose one the same day. The Nationals just can't seem to catch a break.

So now with Strasburg done for the foreseeable and distant future, let's jump way, way ahead. Who starts Opening Day 2011?

Strasburg was the obvious choice. He would have guaranteed a sellout, would have all but guaranteed a good outing, and given the chance for the Nats to win on Opening Day. But now, who do the Nats call? Here are my thoughts, in order of plausibility, of people already in the organization.

  1. Jordan Zimmermann - Although JZimm's outing on Thursday was lackluster (he gave up Albert Pujols' 400th career homer, pitched just 4 innings, and gave up 5 earned runs), he's still the future #2 starter for the organization. Stands to reason, if the #1 guy is hurt, he should be bumped up. He still throws in the mid-90s and has a killer breaking ball and change up. He has time to prepare for this role over the next few weeks and during the offseason.
  2. Jason Marquis - Marquis was brought on to be a solid #3 guy to eat innings. We all know how that turned out. In each of his last two starts, though, Marquis has given up just 1 run on 4 hits. He's yet to nail a win, but he's also yet to get any form of run support since his return. He's a proven All-Star, and could be getting back to form. He's not out of the question as a "let's have a veteran start the season" move.
  3. Livan Hernandez - Livan has to be last on this list, mostly because he's not under contract for next season. The Nats picked him up for a scant $900,000 as a Spring Training invitee this season, and he's been simply brilliant. The Nats have lost his last 4 starts, but in 3 of those 4 games, Livan didn't get more than 2 runs of support. In one, the Nats were shut out. But Livo still sports a 3.36 ERA, and despite a misleading 8-9 record, he has a legitimate possibility to recreate Opening Day 2005 and be on the mound for the Nats to start 2011.

As a brief aside, I find myself continuing to question the Nationals training staff in their inability to keep players healthy. The Strasburg injury was probably 22 years in the works. You can only throw that hard for so long before something explodes. But the revolving door of injured pitchers in the organization is simply staggering, and I feel uncommon in the era of modern medicine.

But I digress. The 3 pitchers listed above are all solid guys and quality pitchers when they're having their best days. One thing is for sure, none of them even approach the excitement of Strasburg, and it will be interesting to see how the Nationals recover financially with no Strasburg attendance boosts next year. NatsTown 2011 will look very different than anyone would have thought.

Rob Dibble vs Ray Knight: The Saga Continues

Many of you know my thoughts on Rob Dibble and Ray Knight. For those tha don't, in summary, typically I really dislike Ray and like Rob for his antics and ability to just say what's on his mind. Because, well, its pretty hard to watch Nats games sometimes. Even as much as I love the sport and watching the home team. You need to get some weird comments from time to time.

However, it's become increasingly apparent that they both have the maturity of a 16 year old. It started this year with the on air fight between them after a Nats game. It developed into a pissing contest with who was more valuable to his team when their (insert team here) won the World Series. Both want to be and feel important. Fact of the matter is, Rob Dibble had a few good years in a short career as a crazy person. Ray Knight is known for one hit in the 1986 World Series. I'm oversimplifying, but you get the point.

But as much as I tend to favor Dibble, because I appreciate his offensive style and his willingness to call out the Nats poor play despite being a complete homer. Ray Knight is soft and almost never has insightful comments. He mostly says Joe Morgan comments like "This kid has... uhm... potential." Really? You think that may be why he's playing Major League Baseball?

But the immaturity of Dibble reached a fever pitch, and he was obviously asked to take a few days to cool off. And Ray Knight stood in. Meanwhile, Dibble still has a radio show to continue spouting his anger and frustration about Strasburg, pitchers, Ray Knight, women, or whatever was making him angry that day.

I'm not sure what Dibble's contract looks like with MASN, or for that matter who would actually want to replace him to be the color guy for the Nationals, but Dibble seems to be grasping at straws to keep his job/take out the remainder of his anger on those that have wronged him. Those two don't really work together.

But the situation continues to get uglier with Rob, from his sexist comments to his inability to let any situation go. I am one who believes that Dibble's comments about Strasburg ("Suck it up") were blown entirely out of proportion, even though I do think the Nats should shut him down for the year, but Dibble is using MASN and XM to call out people and be petty, and it's time for that to stop, or for him to go. And it's time for Ray to go to, but mostly just because he's a really, really bad commentator.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Strasburg's Second Injury

Only two starts have passed since Stephen Strasburg missed 2 weeks with shoulder inflammation. In Saturday's game, Strasburg was throwing a 2-1 pitch to the Phillies rookie outfielder Dominic Brown. He followed through, and clutched his arm. One of the most horrifying sights a Nationals fan could possibly see.

Strasburg immediately went to the clubhouse; pitching coach Steve McCatty slammed the door the bullpen phone in frustration. The Nationals bullpen of Stammen, Slaten, Clippard, and Batista effectively shut down the potent Phillies offense with Ryan Howard back at 1st base. Before being pulled after 4 1/3 innings, Strasburg had struck out 6 batters, giving up only 1 run on 2 hits, and throwing just 56 pitches.

After the game, Mark Zuckerman of reported that Strasburg strained his flexor tendon in his right (throwing) forearm with an MRI coming tomorrow.

As much as no one wants to admit it, replacing Strasburg will be pretty easy to end the season. Yesterday, RHP Jordan Zimmermann threw 5 innings of great baseball in Syracuse, likely ending his rehab. Many thought that Zimmermann would be replacing Jason Marquis, who had been struggling, but Marquis had a passable outing on Friday night (once it becomes more than an anomaly, I'll call the outings good), and has probably earned at least one more start considering he's being paid $7.5 million to be a starter, not hang out in the minors/bullpen.

I'll try to post more tomorrow after Strasburg's MRI in DC...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jordan Zimmermann's Final Push

(Photo Courtesy

On Friday, Jordan Zimmermann will make what will likely be his final start in a Syracuse Chiefs uniform. JZimm is making the long recovery from Tommy John surgery, and has been rehabbing with Nationals affiliates all season. When he had surgery in August 2009, the Nats figured they had lost Zimmermann for the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as Tommy John typically has an 18 month recovery period. However, just 12 months later, Zimmermann looks to be ready to return to the Nats' rotation.

JZimm has quickly worked his way up from low-A Hagerstown to high-A Potomac to AA Harrisburg to AAA Syracuse. He ws scheduled to pitch 4 games in Syracuse, getting an inning longer in each game. In his 3rd start with Syracuse on August 15th, Zimmermann went 5 innings, and give up 1 run on 6 hits. In his 3 starts with Syracuse, he has an 0.75 ERA and opponents are batting just .167 against him.

Everyone that's seen him pitch live this season say that Zimmermann is ready, and has been for more than a month. In all of his minor league appearances, he's posting a 1.82 ERA in 34.2 innings. But the Nats Front Office have decided to hold him back, probably wisely, as he is just 24 years old and 2010 is a lost season. Translation: there is no reason to rush him back.

JZimm is expected to go 5 innings Friday and to go no longer than 5 innings for the rest of the year, even with the big club, to help save his arm to be at the top of the rotation next year. Seeing Jordan Zimmermann come back should be just as exciting to hardcore Nats fans as seeing Stephen Strasburg on June 8th this year. Zimmermann was supposed to be the pitching future of the Nats before Strasburg stole that role, but a number 2 starter is as valuable as a strong number 1 like Strasburg.

As a quick reminder, Zimmermann's numbers in 2009 before injury: 91.1 IP; 4.63 ERA; 92 K; 29 BB. In 16 starts, he threw less than 5 innings just once in his rookie season, and threw 6 or more innings half of those times. The Nats are understandably excited to get Jordan Zimmermann back as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Curse of the Sensitive Umpires: The Story Of Scott Barry

(Screenshot from MASN Broadcast)

On Wednesday night, the Nats were playing alright. They turned 3 double plays, including a remarkable 8-4 throw from Bernadina in center field. They got some hits early with 2 outs that resulted in 2 runs.

Then in the 8th inning Zimmerman came up to bat. The count was 3-1. He got a pitch on the outside corner that he thought was ball 4, but was called strike 2 by home plate ump Scott Barry. Zimm got back in the batter's box and foul tipped a ball into the glove of Brian McCann for strike 3. Zimmerman slammed his bat and helmet on the ground and immediately got ejected. He hadn't said a word.

On Tuesday night, Ivan Rodriguez was ejected in the dugout by third base ump Brian Knight, allegedly for throwing his bat. In the dugout. Apparently this umpiring crew really, really has an affinity for maple trees. How DARE these players hurt that wood? What did the bat do to them?

Anyway, this only continues this 2010 season of simply atrocious umpiring. The new young class of umps (plus Joe West/Angel Hernandez) have come into the league with the goal of being relevant. They want their names known. Well, it's working, and baseball is suffering.

I've said it a million times, so here's one more: Baseball needs to intervene.

Umpires that have short fuses and eject guys like a future Hall of Fame catcher (Pudge) or one of the most cool and collected stars in the game (Zimmerman) without an extraordinary reason should be disciplined. Zimmerman has never, ever in his MLB career been ejected from a game until Wednesday. Just one day after a Hall of Famer was ejected. That has to tell you something.

These umps are looking for a fight; so much so that they're targeting guys that aren't even looking for a fight. Something needs to be done, now.

It's Ramos Time

After being aquired from the Minnesota Twins for Matt Capps on June 29th, Wilson Ramos has done exactly what everyone hoped in AAA Syracuse. He's hit .317 with the Chiefs as their starting catcher. He's proven to be a worthy deadline pickup. Yet another gem transaction created by Mike Rizzo.

Ramos may not have to wait long before he gets his chance. The Nats called up Ramos today, and he'll be with the team tonight in Atlanta while Wil Nieves takes a few days off to be with his wife who is expecting a child any day now. Capitol Baseball wishes our best to the Nieves family.

The question begs to be asked though. If Ramos lights it up with the big club this week (should he get any time to play), would the Nats send him down? The answer is almost certainly yes. Nieves has been the teams trusty, albeit underachieving offensively, back up with the perpetually hurt Jesus Flores probably never coming back to the bigs. In a lost season, the front office seems to feel that they owe Nieves this time, since he almost certainly will be in Syracuse next year if he stays with the organization.

Hopefully in the next few days we'll get a chance to see Ramos in action in the bigs. It seems unlikely, though, that Ramos would catch Jason Marquis on Friday with the way he's been struggling. This may be one of Marquis' last chances to prove he's worth the $15 million the Nats are paying him. He certainly won't catch Strasburg on Saturday; that's Pudge's job.

The likeliest scenario has Ramos getting some action on Sunday in the 1:35 get away game in Philly, giving Pudge his usual Sunday afternoon game off. However, it's well documented that John Lannan, who is scheduled to start Thursday, prefers to throw to Nieves. With Nieves gone, Ramos could earn the spot here so Pudge doesn't have to throw 4 consecutive days with his recurring back problem. Still, this scenario seems unlikely after Pudge's ejection on Tuesday before he caught a single pitch, but they may stick with his usual rest, giving him an extra day off this week.

We'll find out soon enough, but my gut tells me that the Nats are itching to get Ramos some playing time. We will just have to wait in anticipation...

Morgan's No Show?

Tuesday night was supposed to be Nyjer Morgan's 3rd rehab start down on the farm.  He played in Potomac on Monday and Hagerstown on Tuesday, going for a combined 0 for 6 with 1 walk in those games.  Morgan was slated to lead off on Tuesday, according to Harrisburg Manager Randy Knorr's line up card, but he was a very late scratch. 

Perhaps on the news that Willingham will likely be done for the season, the team wanted him to report to Atlanta sooner.  However, he wasn't able to get to Atlanta for Tuesday's game and he was already slated to rejoin the Nats on Wednesday, so the fact that Morgan didn't show for the game certainly seems curious.

I'll do my best to track down any information on this as it develops...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Signing Amateurs: Time for a Change

After months of stress... no? concern... not that either?  Ok then. 

After months of completely pointless waiting, the Washington Nationals signed Bryce Harper Monday night at the very last second possible, as everyone knew would happen.

What everyone didn't know was for how much and what kind of contract.  Harper will earn $9.9 million over 5 seasons, and $6.25 of that will be a signing bonus.  That makes both the signing bonus and the amount of money less than what Strasburg commanded at this time last year, to no one's surprise.

What surprised me somewhat was that he earned a major-league contract... at 17 years old!  A major league contract immediately puts Harper on the 40-man roster, only to be demoted to the Gulf Coast League and using up an option.  Because he has no MLB experience, Harper will get 4 options on this first contract, so the Nats would be out of them by 2013 if he doesn't make the big club's roster that season.

But you knew all of this information about Harper.  What we really need is to get down to the issue of the draft and sign delay.  MLB is due for a collective bargaining agreement after 2011, which means it'll be time to eliminate the needless 2 month delay between the draft and the signing deadline.  Because of this arbitrary deadline, the Nationals lost 2 months of time where Harper could have been in the GCL developing, making him available that much sooner for the Nats.  And 29 other clubs lost the same opportunity on their top prospects. (Not everyone can have a top-10 pick that signs right after the draft, thanks Drew Storen!)

Instead, Harper will spend time in the GCL, only for the season to end after a few weeks.  So Harper has been out of baseball since the College of Southern Nevada was eliminated from the JUCO World Series in early June.  Harper was obviously going to sign, but he had to wait, because thats what his agent, Scott Boras, rightly advised him to do.  It's time to fix this issue immediately. 

Let kids play baseball; don't make them wait for a random date just so they can continue playing the sport that they love again.  Changing this will help players, clubs, fans, and agents.  There's no reason for this delay between the draft and sign dates.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Final Comments On Dibble

Since I was out of town for Rob Dibble's infamous comments about the women talking behind home plate, I thought I would join the masses and add a few comments of my own, considering there will be no Bryce Harper news until 11:59:59:59 pm this evening.

I am one of those who enjoys Rob Dibble on the broadcasts. Yes, he's a homer. Yes, he's abrasive. Yes, he can be offensive. But I like those things about him. He brings a hometown voice to the broadcasts, despite the fact that he has no ties to the organization, and he certainly can't be any worse than Ray Knight.

That said, Dibble's comments were out of line. He absolutely wouldn't have made the same comments about two men behind home plate at the game. He would automatically assume that the men were talking about baseball. That automatically makes his comments sexist. There are many, many women who watch, write, photograph, and care passionately about the Nats and baseball (see: Cheryl Nichols at Nats News Network and Jenn and Rachel over at Nationals Fangirls just to name a select few).

One must remember while watching Dibble, though, that this is the exact reason that MASN/the Nats give him a pay check. He has the ability to get people talking about the Nats, even if it's not about the on-field product. Let's be honest, the only time the Nats get 5 seconds on a national network is when Strasburg is involved, although Harper may make that 10 seconds soon enough.

While Rob Dibble's comments were out of line and his apologies were less than stellar, I'm not convinced that he truly thinks that women don't care about baseball, or that all they care about is shoes/shopping. His comments were an inappropriate result of an off-handed comment during a boring part of a game with boring/irrelevant teams going head to head.

Perhaps some people find themselves calling for Dibble's head because they don't like his style on the air and this was an excuse to get him out for good. Maybe people were truly this outraged to be talking about the incident days later. One thing is for sure, Dibble apologized and it's time to move on.

Strasburg, protests, and a series win

( All photos by Joe Drugan for Capitol Baseball)

Well, Capitol Baseball is (basically) here to say through the rest of the season minus two weekend trips in a few weeks. Sorry for the extended delay for today's post. I had internet connectivity issues and a system upgrade today. So let's start this last 43 game stretch talking about.... Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg returned to the mound for the Nationals on Sunday for the second time since returning from the disabled list, and let me tell you, it was a world of difference. Strasburg was hitting his pitches, mixing in his change up regularly, and blowing Diamondbacks away, tallying 7 strikeouts. He committed an error on a throw to first that ultimately cost him 2 unearned runs, but he ended up with a no decision in 5 innings. Tyler Clippard swooped in with 3 strikeouts of his own over 2 innings to earn the win.

SS almost ended up coming out for the 6th inning, until this happened:

This view from the top shows security guards (in white shirts) with on-the-field protesters. Most of the people in Section 409 were yelling things like, "Taze them, bro!" and "Tackle that $%#@" well, you get the idea. You hate to see people run on the field to disrupt the game, but it was nice to see a semi-competent reaction from on-field security. (Fan on field at an Orioles game with the most depressing security display ever:

Finally, before the game, there was a group of a few dozen people protesting Arizona's immigration law. I'll just show the picture here before I find myself knee deep in political commentary.

All in all, what really matters is the Nats won 5-3 and took another series from the Diamondbacks. The team has Monday off before heading to Atlanta for 3 games, and then Philadelphia (hopefully without Jason Marquis).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Few Days Off

I forgot to post this until today, but Capitol Baseball in Toronto until Saturday and will probably be unavailable to post anything about the Nats. I'll get back to it once we return. Enjoy the week and weekend.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Ring of Fame at Nationals Park featuring...

As most of you know by now, the Washington Nationals will have a massive celebration of Strasmas in his return from the DL and unveiling the franchise... Washington... Montreal... I'm sort of confused... ring of fame.  Tonight, the Nationals will induct Andre Dawson into the ring in a supposedly large "spectacle", even though no one else has been officially inducted into the ring until it appeared in Nats Park during the road trip and the Nats are struggling to sell tickets, even with Strasburg pitching.

So currently in the "ring," the Nats feature 18 names, with room for about 8 more according to Nationals Daily News.  So that means more than half of the names in the ring will not be part of the Nationals/Expos franchise and more than 2/3 will have never donned a Washington Nationals uniform.  The only two from the franchise will be Gary Carter and Andre Dawson after tonight.

I understand that the Nationals have no one to put in the ring yet, and it takes time for an organization to build a group of people worthy enough to have defined the team for a number of years.  It seems that I may be somewhat alone in this feeling, but I have a problem with a ring that references no Washington Nationals players (and again, it shouldn't, because they're a young team), there just shouldn't be a ring yet.  The Nats are honoring Dawson, who was a great baseball player, but he never played for the Nationals.

Don't get me wrong, I support the Nats acknowledging Dawson in a pre-game ceremony.  He's a Hall of Famer that played for the franchise.  It's to be expected.  What's more, I love that the Nationals are wearing Montreal Expos hats during today's batting practice.  One can only hope that they'll wear it during today's game.  However, the Nationals are working very hard to create a legacy that simply doesn't exist.  Not many Nats fans feel a strong connection to Montreal and the Expos; they became fans in 2005.  Most of them never traveled to Olympic Stadium for a game.  Most of them never bought an Expos jersey, and if they did, it was once they found out the franchise would be coming to DC.

It seems to me that creating a ring of fame of baseball players that never played at Nationals Park, and in some cases, never played for the franchise, doesn't make a lot of sense.  (The Senators became the Minnesota Twins then the Texas Rangers in the 1960s/1970s)  I can only hope that the Nationals are able make this ring a success, so it doesn't become a ring of players that never played for the Washington Nationals.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Glass Arms: The Story of the Nationals' Starters

In the last few days, more Nats starters have been placed on the disabled list, and I thought we should briefly review the list of pitchers who started for the Nats at some point this season that ended up on the DL. The results are below, and they're not pretty.

  1. Garrett Mock - Spine injury. Mock has been on the 60-day DL since April and is done for the year. After his one start.
  2. Jason Marquis - Elbow. Marquis had surgery to remove loose bodies in his throwing elbow and missed 3 months. He returned to a loss on Sunday.
  3. Luis Atilano - Elbow. see Jason Marquis, except Atilano's season is over.
  4. Scott Olsen - Shoulder. The same surgically repaired throwing shoulder that has nagged him for his entire career, and he missed June and July with the problem. He's back and pitching well, for now.
  5. J.D. Martin - Back. Martin was placed on the 60-day DL and will miss the rest of the season to have bulging discs in his back repaired. He'll supposedly be ready for next season. It's not likely that the Nats will be able to find him a rotation spot to start the season though.
  6. Ross Detwiler - Hip. The same hip he had fixed in the off-season that caused him to miss half of 2010. You don't like to see recurring injuries in a kid this young.
  7. Stephen Strasburg - Shoulder tightness. He'll be returning Tuesday to face the Marlins in DC, but even the Nats most coveted arm spent time on the DL.

And those are just the 7 that have actually appeared this season already. It doesn't include Jordan Zimmermann, who should be returning to the Nats rotation in the next few weeks after an incredibly speedy recovery from Tommy John surgery. Or John Lannan, who missed starts but was not actually placed on the DL before he was unceremoniously demoted to Harrisburg back in June. Or any of the relievers that have ended up on the DL.

So the question begs to be answered. Can all of these starters possibly be this fragile? Is this really the result of players whipping their arms around at speeds that defy the human anatomy? Or does the problem go deeper: an organizational problem?

It's hard to know for sure with a one season sample size, but it's certainly cause for concern. I'm not going to call out the training staff, yet. But it's worth watching if these same pitchers keep experiencing these same problems year after year with this same training staff. There's no reason a team should be demoting and promoting this much because their pitchers simply can't get and stay healthy.

Strasburg starts Tuesday, which seems to be one of the only good days of the rotation for Nats fans now a days. But with his sore shoulder, even he isn't immune from the physical toll of baseball every day. So what say you, NatsTown? Just a bunch of flukes, or a more serious issue?

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Weekend Off

Capitol Baseball will be taking the weekend off enjoying a nice long weekend away from Washington, DC at the beach with the future Mrs. Capitol Baseball.

Over the next few days we'll see Jason Marquis' return to the Nats and Strasburg's return from the 15-day DL. I'm sure they'll be more to say on Monday and Tuesday about all that.

Until then, enjoy your weekend of baseball, everyone. Here are your projected starters for the series with the Dodgers this weekend:

Friday: Lannan vs. Kershaw
Saturday: Livan Hernandez vs. Kuroda
Sunday: Marquis vs. Lilly

Where Are They Now?: José Guillen (Update)

When the Nationals picked up José Guillen in 2005 from the Anaheim Angels, he was a man with something to prove. He held a vendetta toward the Angels, and most notably manager Mike Scioscia. He showed instances of violent behavior. He was charged with being lazy by fans. He had an abhorrent attitude. He has played for 9 teams over his 13 year MLB career.

But when Guillen came to DC, he was the Nationals' angry, violent, lazy right fielder. And Nats fans were mostly proud of their acquisition in Year 1. Guillen had a fire about him for the Nationals first season. He ended up hitting .283 with 24 home runs in '05. He was the offensive rock of the team.

When people think of Guillen in DC, they mostly associate him with one fateful moment. When the Nats went to Anaheim to play his old team and his old manager in 2005, Guillen clued in Nats then-Manager Frank Robinson that Angels' pitcher Brendan Donnelly always had pine tar on his glove, which of course is an illegal substance. Robinson called for an investigation of Donnelly's glove, and Donnelly was tossed and suspended. It resulted in a bases clearing incident.

In 2006, Guillen tore a ligament in his elbow and had season-ending surgery. He played in just 69 games that year. Finally in 2007, the Guillen went to the Mariners. During that season, he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs in 2003. The Nationals were free of his presence.

He went on to spend 2008-2010 in Kansas City. Until August 5th, 2010, that is. That's when the Royals designated Guillen for assignment. Meaning they released him, or they can trade him within 10 days, but that's not going to happen. Guillen was at the end of his 3-year, $36 million overpayment for his services with KC, and with the Royals eternally in a rebuilding year, it was time to cut the clubhouse cancer.

So over his 13 year career, Guillen has been kicked off of yet another baseball team. He's 34 years old, and you have to wonder if his career is just about washed up. But as long as José Guillen is even marginally healthy, he'll try to be on a baseball team to stir up controversy and make fans despise him. It is what he's done so well, for so long, after all.

UPDATE (4:58 pm): Former Nats GM Jim Bowden is reporting on Twitter that the Giants are working on a possible trade deal with the Royals that would have KC send Guillen to SF, eating nearly all of Guillen's contract. Which if they're going to release him, they'll owe him that money anyway. Maybe not the worst deal for KC.

Who is Kevin Mench?

With Nyjer Morgan being placed on the 15-day DL, the Nationals needed to bring another position player into the organization to take outfield time away from Michael Morse.  The Nats farm system is pretty sparce on outfielders on the 40-man roster, especially with Justin Maxwell already with the big club.  But on Thursday night, J.D. Martin went on the 60-day DL.  This opens up a 40-man roster spot for a player.  So why Kevin Mench?

Well simply because Martin is likely gone for the season, that didn't automatically mean a pitcher would replace him.  Especially considering Martin was already out of the rotation with his injury on the 15-day DL.  The Nats have a number of pitchers trying to make their way back, and the first of them will be Jason Marquis on Sunday against the Dodgers.

Kevin Mench was drafted in 1999 by the Texas Rangers and made his MLB debut in 2002 with that organization at 24 years old.  In his rookie year, Mench hit .260 with a .327 OBP.  He managed to crush 15 HR and plate 60 RBI.  He ended up in the top 10 for Rookie of the Year voting that year.

In 2003, Mench only appeared in 38 games due to injury.  Over his next two and a half seasons with the Rangers, Mench hit .274 and clubbed 63 home runs.  He never hit above .270 again in the majors.  He spent the 2nd half of 2006 and the 2007 season in Milwaukee, and was then released.  After a brief stint in the minors back in Texas, he was traded to Toronto in 2008.  He made 51 appearances that year batting a mere .243 and no home runs.  He played 2009's season in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers.

In February this year, the Nationals picked up Mench and signed him to a minor league contract.  This week, Mench will get his chance. 

I said in jest to start the post that he was called up to steal Michael Morse's much needed playing time.  However, it seems unlikely that Mench will see much starting time at all.  Justin Maxwell is still probably ahead of him in chances for starts as the Nationals still think Maxwell will break out one day.  Not sure that day will ever come, but I digress.  Furthermore, Morse, Maxwell, and Mench are all righties... and all inexplicably have names that start with M.  Still, with Jim Riggleman managing the club, it's impossible to know what he's thinking on a given day when filling out the lineup card.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cristian Who-zman?

When the Nationals traded Cristian Guzman away to the Texas Rangers for two prospects, there wasn't much negative rumbling in NatsTown.  The team was giving up an aging player for two AA prospects, and most people recognized that it was the right decision to make.

Since the trade, Adam Kennedy has made 4 starts at second base, and by the looks of things, maybe his lack of playing time was actually part of the issue.  Granted, 4 games is a small sample size, but since he earned the presumptive starting job back, Kennedy is hitting .411 in games that he's started and .350 in games that he's appeared in.  He's appeared in every game since Guzman was traded.

Obviously Kennedy is not the long-term solution to the problem, though.  While in his younger career he was was one of the best fielding and hitting 2nd basemen in the AL, he even earned the ALCS MVP in 2002, Kennedy is now 34 years old, 2 years older than Guzman.  Kennedy is a great guy to fill the hole for a while, but at some point the team has to get other guys some at-bats to see if they are capable of having a future with the organization, primarily Alberto Gonzalez.

It will be interesting to see when expanded rosters come around in September if the Nats choose to call up future stars like Danny Espinosa.  The Nats already have Alberto Gonzalez, who is still just 27 years old and has shown flashes of brilliance this season.  But with Ryan Zimmerman solidified as the 3rd baseman for the long term, and Ian Desmond tentatively holding that role at shortstop, assuming he can stop committing an attrocious number of errors, it leaves just one infield position left for Gonzalez and Espinosa to fight over.

In all reality, Espinosa is probably still years away for seriously contending for that job; he is only 23 years old.  By the point he's truly ready to go Ian Desmond may not even be a factor, though I imagine he will be.  So that leaves 2 infield positions for at least 3 players.  Not good odds for one of them.  It will be interesting to see if Rizzo takes the same hardline with Espinosa as he did with Desmond, "He's a shortstop only."  For now, the Nationals will stick with the Kennedy/Desmond middle infield duo most of the time, but the long-term middle infield may look much different.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Blog Refresh

As most of you have noticed, Capitol Baseball went under a pretty serious overhaul in the last few days. The shades of green didn't so much work for me when covering a team with red, white, and blue colors. So here is the latest revision.

I hope it has the same ease of use that the previous incarnation of the blog had. Everything is in relatively the same location as it was before. I hope this will make Nats fans feel more at home as we move toward more consistent, informed coverage of the organization. The blog has been evolving brilliantly, and I can thank all of you for that.

I look forward to everyone's opinions and comments on the layout and future columns. Thanks for reading!

Balester Having Ankiel-like Control Issues

On Tuesday night, Collin Balester plunked a batter in the head for the 2nd time in 2 weeks.  Talk about a horrifying day for a pitcher who is just trying to earn a bullpen spot.

In the Brewers series, Balester hit 2B Rickie Weeks in the head, but Weeks was able to stay in the game.  On Tuesday, Balester had another pitch come up and in on a right handed batter.  This time, it was D-Backs slugger 3B Mark Reynolds.  And it was a 95 mph fastball.  Reynolds ended up on the ground, but tests came back negative besides a big bump on his head.

While it's not quite as bad as former Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel's pitching breakdown in 2000, it's just as dangerous.  In 2000, Ankiel started Game 1 of the NLDS for the Cards and broke down in the 3rd inning.  He became virtually unable to throw strikes from that point on, for the rest of his career.  In that inning, he earned 5 wild pitches and was pulled.  In Game 2 of the NLCS, Ankiel threw 20 pitches in the 1st inning and was pulled.  One-quarter of those pitches sailed to the backstop.  Ankiel never figured out his problems, and became an outfielder for the Cardinals, then the Royals, and now the Braves, and a pretty successful one at that.

While Balester isn't as wild as Ankiel, he's become incredibly inpredictable.  It's dangerous for every batter he faces.  When a pitcher knows there's a problem (in Bally's case his elbow stays below the ball for too long and the arm never catches up, creating a high release point), and is unable to fix it and it's resulted in 2 batters being hit in the head by his pitches, well, it's an unacceptable problem. 

I like Balester's heart and he has potentially great stuff, but he can't locate it.  I hope that Balester can fix the problem soon, mostly because I love his ginger mustache, but also because you can never have enough organizational pitching depth.  But until he does figure it out, Bally cannot face any more live batters.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dunn On Waivers: Please Continue Breathing

Adam Dunn was placed on waivers by the Nats this afternoon. OH MY GOD!

No. Stop.

When people refer to the "trade deadline" in baseball, they usually mean the non-waiver trade deadline, or July 31st.  On or before this date, teams can trade players to their hearts content (pending league approval) without sending the player through waivers.

From August 1st through August 31st, players must pass through revocable waivers.  (Since players must be on the active roster by August 31st to be eligible for the playoffs, not too many trades are going to happen after that date.)  That means, since it is after August 1st and before August 31st, Adam Dunn has been placed on revocable waivers.  Meaning that if any team tries to claim Dunn, Rizzo can say "nope" and pull him back. In all likelihood, that's exactly what he'll do.

However, if Dunn passes through waivers and none of the 29 other teams claim him, he is then eligible to be traded just like he was before July 31st.  Kapish?  Doesn't mean Dunn is going anywhere, but Rizzo is continuing to explore his options, and why not?  That is his job, after all.

I hope you've enjoyed our Baseball 302 lecture on trades this afternoon.  I'd say this stuff is a bit to advanced to be considered a 101 class.  And now I've realized I've spent too much time thinking about the number I just gave this fake class.  Ok, so you stop worrying about Dunn and enjoy the Nats (Olsen) and the D-Backs (Saunders) tonight, and I'll stop spending so much time on meaningless banter.

Pudge Hits 300; Dunn Ties Pujols; Blown Ump Call Doesn't Affect Outcome

The Nationals took on the Diamondbacks and won the game with barely a hitch on Monday night in the heavily protested State of Arizona.  As a matter of fact, in the bottom of the 1st inning, there was a large sign displayed in left field protesting Arizona's immigration law that is currently in limbo pending further court action.  It was only a brief delay.  But on to the actual game.

Ivan Rodriguez became only the 5th catcher in MLB history to hit 300 home runs in a career.  He joins the likes of Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.  That's some elite company for the future Hall of Famer.  Congrats to Pudge, and it's nice that the milestone was reached in a Nats uniform.

Adam Dunn crushed his 26th home run to right-center field off of Rodrigo Lopez.  That ties him for 2nd place in home runs in the NL with Cardinals' 1st baseman Albert Pujols.  Dunn is just 1 behind league leader Joey Votto, who is day-to-day with a "tweaked" wrist.

Finally, for this series with the D-Backs, the Nats get to enjoy the umpiring of Joe West, Angel Hernandez, and their simply dreadful staff.  (Read my previous post on the crew from earlier this season here.)  It shouldn't surprise anyone that there was a blown call at 1st base on a Willingham infield single.  The 1st base umpire (anyone have a name, was it Schrieber?) blew a call where the Hammer was safe by more than half a step.  It wasn't close in fast motion, let alone in slo-mo.  Riggleman argued the call, to no avail.

Luckily for the Nats, the blown call didn't affect the income despite the fact that they were unable to score a run after the 3rd inning for the millionth time this season.  Livan had a great start, throwing only 91 pitches in 7 1/3 innings.  Sean Burnett was on the rubber for the last 5 outs, earning him his 1st save in 2010 and only his 2nd career save.  He did it in 19 pitches, and didn't allow a runner on base, while striking out 2. 

All in all, it was one of those games that you watch and say, "Hey, this is a real baseball team."  The Nats hope to continue to be a real baseball team on this 7 game road trip visiting the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers after taking 4 of 6 at home against the best teams in the NL East, the Phillies and the Braves.  Continuing the success will be up to Scott Olsen on Tuesday as he faces a new D-back, Joe Saunders, who was acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade.  It should be an exciting matchup.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Nats Take Out Ryan Howard

(Photo Courtesy

In Sunday's game between the Nats and the Phillies, John Lannan got a bit shelled in the first inning. One Phillies player involved in that abuse was Ryan Howard. In all reality, Howard only got punked in the elbow. But he got moved over to 2nd base on a Ben Francisco single.

As you'll see below, Michael Morse tried to toss out Howard as he overran 2nd base. On the way back, Howard rolled his ankle pretty badly and got pulled from the game.

All reports indicate that Howard will be day-to-day for now with a sprained ankle, but it's entirely possible that he could yet end up on the DL. When speaking with The Philadelphia Inquirer about the possibility of a DL stint this late in the season, he responded, "I hope not. It's kind of a bad sprain.''

This is the last thing the Phillies can afford with Chase Utley and Shane Victorino already on the DL as they push for a 3rd consecutive NL title.

The Future of Nationals' Rotation

(Photo Courtesy Reuters)

This is a post that seems to be a bit overdue, yet premature at the same time. I think it's worth exploring here after the trade deadline, though. We'll certainly explore it again in the future. With the Washington Nationals newest aquisition, Yuniesky Maya, it appears that the Nationals could have the best problem in the world next season: too many starting pitchers.

Going into 2011, the Washington Nationals #1 and #2 slots are basically set for Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Not much debate in NatsTown there. But 3, 4, and 5 are wide open. Last week, the Nats signed Yuniesky Maya to a major-league contract after he defected from Cuba. Maya was the #1 pitcher for the Cuban National Team in 2009 and according to the Nationals press release "...earned Cuba's equivalent of the Cy Young during his final season in his homeland, going 13-4 with seven complete games and a 2.22 ERA."

Now all of a sudden the rotation is in flux. Like I said, Strasburg and JZimm are all but set. Here's some commentary on the others:
  • Scott Olsen has struggled to stay healthy, but is an overpowering lefty when he's able to do so.
  • Ross Detwiler returned from hip surgery looking as strong as ever. Another lefty that will make a lasting impression at some point. He was the Nats 1st pick (6th overall) in the 2007 amateur draft.
  • Chien Ming Wang may never throw a pitch for the Nats, ever. If he does, he's a guy with two 19 win seasons and a Cy Young type pitcher when healthy. The problem is getting him there.
  • Jason Marquis came off of an All-Star season in Colorado, but went down with loose bodies in his pitching elbow. If healthy, he's got one of the best sinkers in the game and is a great veteran asset to any rotation.
  • Yuniesky Maya recently signed as another potential pitcher of the near future, because he's already 28 years old. If the Nats are going to get anything out of him, it's going to have to be soon. He's already at his "prime" age. It's hard to know until the Nats really get their hands on him, but looks to be the real deal.
  • Livan Hernandez... I mean, come on. Livo is one of the stories of the year for the Nats. No one wanted him, but the Nats needed a workhorse, so they went out and got him again. Although he's low on the list of likely candidates, you have to imagine he's on the short list just as a sign of respect.
It's easy to see that the Nationals will have absurd decisions to make before April 2011. As we enter the off-season in the fall, we'll make some predictions about what the rotation will look like, but until then, it's impossible to know. One thing that we do know: it looks exciting.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nats Have Successful Homestand, Head West Monday

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Nationals came home from their last road trip dejected. They were 3-7 on that trip as they traveled through Florida, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. But as they have all season, the Nats returned to DC with some spark. They won 4 of 6 against the numbers 1 and 2 teams in the NL East. They came just inches from sweeping the Phillies on Sunday and earned the series win on Saturday with yet another Ryan Zimmerman walk-off homer. It was to deeeeeeep center and the 7th walk-off homer in his career.

But the latest homestand merely proves what most of us already knew. The Washington Nationals are a great home team; they have a 29-22 record. Away, they are simply dreadful, only 17-36. For those keeping score at home, that's a distressingly low .320 winning percentage away from Nats Park.

But there are things to look forward to as we're barely 2 months from the end of the Nationals' season. Rizzo didn't move Adam Dunn at the deadline. While it's still very questionable whether the Nats will choose to re-sign Dunn, at the very least the Nats will get compensation draft picks for him. At the best, the Nats will land the slugger for a few more years before he starts to trail off. Remember, the Nats still have Bryce Harper to sign and only have until August 16th to do it.

The Nationals starting rotation is also starting to settle in, but you'll have to wait to read about that until my Monday afternoon post. I know, the horror! Just check back here around lunch time. I'll do my best to include a Esteban Loaiza reference, but I'll probably fail.

But in the mean time, the Nats are starting yet another road trip. This time they head to Arizona for 4 games against the D-Backs and 3 against the Dodgers. So it's a week of staying up late for us east coasters. The Nats hope to take adavantage of a depleted Diamondbacks team after they lost some depth at the trade deadline. So until the afternoon post...