And It’s A Sweep

Great game tonight to close out the White Sox series.  A few observations from the game:  Beyond getting on base three times, which was great, Denard Span seemed to be in the perfect position every time a ball was hit his way.  And the wind was tricky tonight.  That same wind also kept 2 White Sox balls in the ballpark, which was nice.  But it got even with us, by keeping 2 potential homers in the park from, of all people, Steve Lombardozzi.

Interesting interleague observation:  did Robin Ventura forget that he could pull a double switch mid-inning?  It’s understandable since these games are pretty rare for him, but it forced him to have to bat a pitcher at leadoff after he came in to get just one out the prior half inning.

Another random observation:  it didn’t matter in the end, but because of a lazy tag by Chicago , it looked like Werth was actually safe at third on Harper’s final hit.  Now it’s on to what should be a great series with the Braves.

Hot Start; Let’s Keep It Up

Great first two games for the Nats so far.  Let’s see if JZimm can keep pace with the rest of the staff and put goose eggs up there today.

Last night felt like a football game.  I actually think I was colder last night than I was at any football game this past season.  By the way, black mark for ownership on another promotion.  They can never seem to get those right.  If you are having dollar dog night, you should 1) start cooking them before the crowd arrives, 2) cook more than you usually do and 3) have additional staff since there will be a lot more business at those stands.  If you don’t do that, it’s yet another addition to the long list of bait and switch moves by team ownership.  Wouldn’t you rather have your fans in their seats rooting for their team instead of waiting on line in the concourse for 3 innings for a hot dog?  If you did, last night’s situation wouldn’t have happened.  But you want to give the appearance of a good promotion, without having to live up to the deal.  I took a look at the lines and bought nachos instead.  But really, if you’re going to do a promotion, do it right.

Joining Harper on the 2 homer game list already this season:  Michael Morse.  Yep.

Finally, it’s good to see that we re-signed Chris Young today.  Nice to have someone like him stashed in the minors in case we need him.

Here They Come

The Nationals finish up their spring slate in Florida today vs the Mets, and return home to face the Yankees in their final exhibition game tomorrow at Nationals Park. It was great to see Zimmerman dial it in with 3 homers yesterday, and Ramos with 2. There is no need to talk in detail about Harper, as his stats this spring speak for themselves. A lot of the regulars have had solid springs. Some of the pitching has been rocky, but that’s not out of the ordinary for spring training. I won’t even freak out about the first start of the regular season for each if they are still settling in. But after that, I expect them to be true to form. Let’s hope Haren and our bullpen get it together pretty quickly.

I do think, or at least strongly hope, that we add a decent left-hander to the bullpen fairly early in the season. Maybe we can pick up someone that gets released during final cuts, and stash them at AAA until they are needed. No matter how good the big three are at the back of our bullpen, you can’t change the fact that they are all right-handed. We need a decent situational lefty. He doesn’t have to be an all-star. But we need one. And if Zach Duke (who has had a shaky spring) is supposed to double as our long man out of the bullpen, we can’t expect him to be the LOOGy all the time as well. We need another one, and he should not be that hard to find. I don’t think at this point that Romero will be the answer.

One final note: Michael Morse led MLB this spring with 8 homers, and is hitting .365. Go Mike. You deserve it, and I really do think at some point this season we’ll be sorry that we let you go. I hope I’m wrong and that we stay healthy, but either way, impressive start to the year for him.

Some Unsettling Injury News

The news this week that Espinosa will be playing through a torn rotator cuff this season and that Jayson Werth’s wrist is still not back at full strength certainly caused more than a little concern.  Let’s not forget that Zim is coming off offseason shoulder surgery, and that Stras is not all that far removed from his Tommy John procedure.  On the bright side, I can speak from experience that it is possible to play through a torn labrum, assuming you are not a pitcher.  I had a torn labrum and rotator cuff for many years and only finally got it repaired 14 months ago (although often referred to interchangeably, they are not exactly the same injury).  The rehab was brutal, and makes me even more impressed that LaRoche went through it and then came back last season and put up the numbers that he did.  Hopefully Danny can keep his shoulder strong and play through the injury.  If not though, Davey must not hesitate to play Lombo.  He should at least see some increased time there to give Espinosa a rest more often.

As for Werth, I actually liked him as a leadoff hitter.  Wrist injury or not, I think his days of hitting 25+ homers per year are over.  I’m fine with him in the 6th spot if Span lives up to expectations.  But for all the heat I’ve given Werth, he is a smart player.  He took a lot of pitches (and walks) in that role, when I’m sure he would have rather been swinging the bat.  Working a pitch count, and letting other players see what pitches a guy throws in a particular count, is a valuable skill that does not show up in a stat sheet.  Not to mention his stalling tactics when there are 2 outs and the pitcher just batted.  Team player.  They should not hesitate to put him back at leadoff if Span need a day off or spends any time on the DL.

A Bittersweet Farewell to Morse

As I feared, we traded Michael Morse away yesterday, or better yet pretty much gave him away to the Seattle Mariners.  In return, we got back A.J Cole, whom we had drafted a few years ago and later included in the trade for Gio.  Yes, we received another pitcher and a player to be named, but this trade was basically for Cole.  In case you didn’t read the text of any articles about the trade, Cole started off the minor league season last year at 0-7.  In Single A ball.  He later got demoted to Low A ball.  Like I said, we basically gave Morse away.  The only redeeming thing about this deal is that it gives The Beast a chance to play every day, which he deserves.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a bad trade.  He was “cheap” salary-wise.  He has lots of power, also hits for average, and is in his prime.  He would have been great insurance in case someone got injured.  And the money should not have been a factor, since the Lerners clearly are in a spending mode right now.  He was also a very popular player, both in the clubhouse and with the fan base.  Something to think about as you build the team in the future, Lerners and Rizzo.  Part of the team’s appeal (beyond winning 98 games) was that they are for the most part all likeable.  The fans felt a connection to them.  A few tweaks to a team that led the league in wins is fine.  When you start approaching too many adjustments, it become subtraction by addition.  Good luck out there Michael.  Hope you have a great season, and thanks for all you did for the Nationals.

Nats Make a Surprising Signing in Soriano

How’s that for some alliteration? It was announced (unofficially) about an hour ago that the Nats have signed Rafael Soriano to a 2-year, $28 million (wow!) deal, with a third year option. Personally I was surprised that we would add another right-handed closer to the bullpen, as we already have a logjam at closer with Storen and Clippard. Assuming no egos get permanently bruised, I do like the prospect of being able to throw those guys in the 7th-8th-9th, with a yet to be determined lefty specialist in the mix somewhere. Who knows, one of those three could now be a trade chip for a big-time lefty. That would make things really interesting.

I am surprised that the Nats would be willing to give up their 1st round draft pick next year to the Yankees as a result of making this signing. I’m going to heed some of the wisdom that I’ve read in the short amount of time since this story broke. Some are saying that the 2013 draft class is not particularly strong, so giving up a pick this year is not as devastating. I’ve also heard the point that we don’t have a ton of room down on the farm, so to speak, with a pretty crowded system and no room to protect guys on the 40-man roster. Those points may be valid, and I’m going on faith with Rizzo here that he thought all of that through before signing Soriano. I do like the fact that we are officially now a destination where guys prefer to sign. Now let’s just hope signings like this don’t cause our season ticket prices to skyrocket!

Addressing The Bullpen

James Wagner had an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post, discussing the team’s lack of left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Mike Rizzo has stated that he’s comfortable going into the season with only one lefty, although another one would be nice. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t pay inflated prices for Sean Burnett or J.P. Howell. But then again, decent situational lefties will almost always get overpaid. Those who know baseball well will acknowledge this. But I feel like we got the best of what Burnett had over the past few years. Call it a gut feeling. We’ll see how he does this season for the Angels.

I don’t believe we will enter the season with only one lefty in the bullpen, nor should we. Zach Duke had decent success after we called him up last year, but he spent most of the season in the minors. He does have a lot of major-league experience, but he is also somewhat of a retread. Rizzo points out that right-handed relievers Ryan Mattheus and Tyler Clippard held lefty batters to .219 and .186 averages, respectively. But here’s the catch–you can’t use up those guys for situational at-bats. Clip cannot come in to snuff out a rally with 2 outs in the 6th. Mattheus could, but do you want him reduced to that role? What if you need him in the 7th, and a batting order issue makes this impossible? You can’t always make a double switch when you insert him to prevent this. So I do feel we need another lefty specialist in the bullpen, and a pretty good one at that. I believe we’ll see it, possibly though a trade, or at a minimum from someone rising up to the challenge during spring training.

Speaking of which, Bill Bray is a possible candidate to do just that. I must close by pointing out one interesting anecdote about Bill Bray’s first win in the majors, as I remember watching it on TV. Bray threw exactly one pitch in the eighth against the Brewers, a strike, after which a runner on first was caught stealing to end the inning. Catcher Brian Schneider then hit a 2-run homer in the 9th to win it, and Bray got the win. I hope he bought Schneider a steak dinner after that.