The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Nats vs. Cardinals, 3/26/14 (Spring Training)

Seeing as there are no real stakes and the games are essentially meaningless, spring-training contests are generally pretty uneventful. Most veteran players go about their business, doing so without the passion that comes when the games that matter begin. But in today’s Spring Training game between the Nationals and Cardinals, the second-to-last on the Grapefruit League docket for the Nats, we got a little action, courtesy of the always passionate Bryce Harper. Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ 3-2 loss.

THE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez’s final spring outing of 2014 was solid if unspectacular; he struck out four in five innings of work, allowing seven hits and three runs (just one of them earned). Gonzalez was victimized by some poor defense behind him, including a passed ball and a botched double play, but also struggled to put innings away, allowing two two-out RBI singles to Yadier Molina. Gonzalez finishes with a 2.94 ERA in 18.1 spring innings; he made 81 pitches in today’s game, setting himself up nicely for his first start of the regular season.

Ross Detwiler threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning, throwing 12 pitches and striking out the left-handed hitting John Jay on a good curveball. In four relief innings this spring, Detwiler allowed three runs (all in one outing) on three hits, walking three and striking out two.

— A day after finding out he had made the Opening Day roster, Aaron Barrett demonstrated exactly why the Nationals had so much faith in him.  The 26 year old righty put together another 1-2-3 frame, inducing two groundouts and a strikeout, while showcasing the slider considered to be the best in the organization by Baseball America:

barrett sliderIn 10.2 scoreless innings this spring, Barrett has given up just five hits, walked none, and struck out eight.

THE BAD

The Nationals’ offense once again seemed unable to figure out Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright went five innings today, allowing just one hit (a third inning single by Anthony Rendon), walking none, and striking out six. Wainwright has now thrown 14 scoreless innings against the Nats this spring, and went 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings against the team last year.

THE UGLY

— Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Bryce Harper hit a slow roller past Wainwright and towards the right side of the infield.  In one motion, second baseman Mark Ellis barehanded the ball, and flipped it to first, just in time to get Harper in the estimation of first base umpire Jeff Gosney.

harper ejected 2Harper was frustrated, either with the call or the fact that he had made an out.

harper ejected 4We won’t be sure exactly what Harper said until he tells us, but whatever it was, it caused Gosney to toss Harper from the game.  Because the games are meaningless, Spring Training ejections are fairly rare; I can only find only one other example of a player being ejected this spring.  At any rate, Harper not only had to leave the game, he had to leave the stadium as well:

harper ejectedThroughout his career, Harper has been given far less leeway to make mistakes than the average player due to the hype and reputation surrounding him — this ejection seems like another example of that fact.

The Nationals have just one more game in Florida; tomorrow, they head to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets.  Jordan Zimmermann will get the start for the Nats in the 12:10 contest, which will be televised on ESPN and MLB.tv.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Game 21 (Astros vs. Nats)

Opening Day is fast approaching, and the Nationals’ final roster is beginning to take shape.  Tonight against the Houston Astros, the Nationals trotted out a lineup what would not seem out of place in the regular season:

 

You can quibble with that batting order, especially with Harper’s place in the fifth spot.  But all eight men on the lineup project to be regulars, and between that and the 6:05 start, tonight’s game felt almost like a regular season contest. The Nationals ended up being shutout by Jarred Cosart and the Astros, falling by a score of 2-0.  Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly of tonight’s game.

THE GOOD

— Two days ago, manager Matt Williams announced that Ross Detwiler would not be considered for the fifth spot in the rotation.  Instead, that spot would be filled in an open competition between, Tanner Roark, Chris Young, and Taylor Jordan.  Roark got the first crack at making a positive impression after the announcement, allowing only two hits in seven innings in a minor league game.  But tonight, Jordan was equally as impressive.  In 5 innings, he allowed just one earned run on 3 hits.  He walked just one, and induced an impressive 9 fly ball outs.  And he struck out five, flashing a very impressive changeup:

taylor jordan k 1If Jordan can keep it up, his sterling spring (which includes 18 strikeouts in 15 innings) may end with him in New York come Opening Day.

— In his first appearance since being banished to the bullpen, Ross Detwiler seemed to have put the hard feelings of the past two days behind him. He breezed through his inning of work, throwing 18 pitches and allowing just a walk.  His fastball hit 94 MPH on the radar gun, and he also flashed a quality breaking ball, both skills that Matt Williams believes will make him a weapon out of the ‘pen:

detwiler curve k

THE BAD

 

— The Nationals’ likely Opening Day lineup did not exactly perform up to expectations tonight.  Rookie Houston starter Jarred Cosart effortly sliced through the order, making experienced major league veterans like Denard Span, Jayson Werth, and Bryce Harper look foolish.  He struck out nine batters in five perfect innings, allowing just two balls out of the infield.  In fact, the Nationals wouldn’t get their first hit until the sixth inning, when Anthony Rendon snuck a ground ball just past the diving Jonathan Singleton into right field:

rendon single first hitThe Nationals would manage four more hits in the game, but would fail to score.

THE UGLY

— Tyler Clippard had his first poor outing of the spring — he allowed his first run in Grapefruit League action, on a Jesus Guzman home run, in his sixth inning of work.  But the ugliest part of of Clippard’s outing was this fastball, which got away from him and made a beeline for the left hand of Astros’ top prospect Carlos Correa:
correa broken handOne can only hope that Correa, who hit .320 at Class-A Quad Cities as an 18-year old and is number 5 on Baseball America’s list of baseball’s top prospects, managed to escape injury.  And the early news is promising:

But if Correa, an otherworldly talent who could someday become the face of this franchise, were to be seriously injured during a meaningless Spring Training game, well that would truly be ugly.

The Nationals stay home tomorrow to face the Detroit Tigers for the third time in five games.  Max Scherzer will get the start for Detroit; the Nationals have not yet announced a starter.  The 1:05 game will not be televised, but can be heard on 1580 AM or MLB.com.

Sequestering the National Det

Coming into spring training, the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day rotation seemed all but decided.  Stephen Strasburg would start game one, to be followed in some order by Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and 28-year old southpaw Ross Detwiler.  Of the five, Detwiler was the least sure thing — he suffered from a serious back injury in 2013, making only 13 starts (none after July 3rd) and putting up a mediocre 4.04 ERA.  But before the injury, Detwiler, a first-round pick in 2007 who had struggled early in his major league career, had seemingly realized his potential to become an above-average starter for a high-quality rotation.  In 2012, Detwiler’s only full season in the big leagues, he managed an impressive 3.40 ERA in more than 164 innings, utilizing a sinking fastball that averaged 92.7 MPH to post a groundball percentage over 50%.  Furthermore, in the fabled Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, Detwiler put together a performance that ranks among the greatest starts in Nationals’ history:

The Nationals did not anoint Detwiler as the fifth starter heading into Spring Training, but it was assumed that if Detwiler could prove he was healthy, the job was his for the taking.  This spring, Detwiler’s statistics have not looked pretty — 5 earned runs in 7 innings pitched — but spring stats are often skewed (Detwiler has been working on his breaking pitches in his starts, which could affect his performance), and most importantly, he has shown no signs of being slowed by last year’s injury.

And yet, yesterday, manager Matt Williams announced he had made a startling decision — Ross Detwiler would not start the season in the rotation.  Instead, he will move to the bullpen.  Said Williams:

We feel like it’s a good move for our team. He provides something special out of the bullpen for us. I don’t know if anybody would ever be really happy with something like that. We don’t feel like it’s a demotion of any sort. We just feel like we’re a better team with him coming out of our bullpen. He offers something that’s special — power lefty, mid-90s lefty.

The fifth starter spot will now become an open competition between two young prospects, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, and journeyman vet Chris Young.

After a little thought, it is easy to understand the rationale behind this move.  Detwiler has never really had the diverse repertoire of a starting pitcher.  Over the last two years, Detwiler has thrown his fastball 82.8% of the time — that’s second in the major leagues among starting pitchers (min. 200 IP), behind only Bartolo Colon.  Additionally, Detwiler’s peripheral statistics have never matched the success his ERA would denote.  For his career, Dewtiler has only struck out 5.4 batters per nine innings, which in an era dominated by strikeouts, is borderline unacceptable.  Even in 2012, his best season thus far, Detwiler fanned only 5.7 per nine as a starter, which ranked him 14th-worst (min. 150 IP).  Thanks to the low strikeout numbers, Detwiler’s fielding-independent statistics are considerably worse than his ERA; while his 3.40 ERA in 2012 is impressive, his 4.34 xFIP is considerably less so.

And both Roark and Jordan have looked impressive, both in the spring and in their major league call-ups in 2013.  Jordan, age 25, has the more impressive stuff — he has struck out 13 batters in 10 spring innings, including this one on a wipeout slider:Jordan Flores

Roark, meanwhile, had an eye-opening 2013 season that elevated him from organization depth to a possible key cog in the Nationals’ future.  After going 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 105.2 minor-league innings, the 27-year old Roark looked near-unhittable in 53.2 innings in the majors.  His 1.51 ERA is obviously unsustainable (Roark’s strikeout numbers were solid but unspectacular, and he benefitted from a 2.6% home run to fly ball ratio, lower than any qualified starter), but some of his numbers, especially his low walk rate, were very encouraging.  Roark has also looked strong in Spring Training, striking out six and allowing four runs in eight innings.

So what is Detwiler’s role in the bullpen?  More from Williams:

I see him as a power lefty out of the bullpen. If we get in a matchup where if we’ve got two out of three guys facing that inning are lefties, we can certainly use him for a full inning in that regard. We could also use him for multiple innings. I wouldn’t limit him to a lefty specialist role. I just think it’s a luxury for our team to have a guy in our bullpen who can do those types of things.

Detwiler profiles well as a lefty long reliever, with his endurance and experience as a starter likely enabling him to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen.  One thing to watch out for: Detwiler has a pronounced platoon split (he has held left-handed batters to a .234/.314/.313 triple-slash, versus a .280/.336/.431 triple-slash against righties) which may make him more effective as a lefty specialist than as a long reliever.

Of course, this decision, while strong on paper, may not work out in practice.  Roark and Jordan may struggle at the major league level, and having an unreliable fifth starter is untenable for a team looking to make it to the postseason.  But the beauty of this decision is that it is easily reversible — if the chosen fifth starter struggles, Detwiler could easily slide back into the rotation.  As Williams said, “[this decision] doesn’t mean [Detwiler] won’t start at some point in the future.”

The Good, Bad, and Ugly: Spring Training 16 (Nats vs Mets)

Today marked the half way point for Spring Training, as the Nationals took on the New York Mets in Vierra in a game that was neither televised or radioed. Ross Detwiler took the mound for the Nationals, facing former Boston Red Sox pitcher and Japanese superstar, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Unfortunately, the Mets went home with the victory, beating the Nationals 7-5 in thrilling fashion. Here are the good, bad, and ugly for today’s game.

GOOD

From innings 1-7, every National pitcher had a stellar performance, only allowing five base runners, and striking out six. Ross Detwiler started today off with three very strong innings. In those three innings, Detwiler got All-Stars David Wright and Curtis Granderson to strike out. In the fourth inning, Detwiler gave up a one out single to David Wright, who scored two batters later on a Josh Satin double. That would be Ross Detwiler’s last batter, as Christian Garcia would come in to relieve him. After allowing a walk to Travis d’Arnaud, Garcia was able toend the Mets threat by getting Andrew Brown to fly out to Denard Span. Garcia would go on to pitch the fifth inning, retiring the side in order. Then, came in Rafael Soriano, who in 1.2 innings of work this Spring, had given up 7 runs. Luckily for the the Nationals, Soriano was on top of his game today, facing only three batters in one inning of work, including a strike out of David Wright. Tyler Clippard came in after Soriano in the seventh, and got the Mets to go 1-2-3.

Adam “Wheels” LaRoche did what he does best in today’s game, go 3-3 with three singles and a stolen base. In fairness, his stolen base did come off of Matsuzaka, who is known for his extremely long pitching motion.

Coming into Spring Training as a nobody, Brock Peterson really has made a name for himself so far this spring, hitting .389 with 7 RBIs in 18 at bats so far this Spring. Today, Peterson made a 3 run deficit disappear with one swing of the bat, hitting a long home run off Jacob deGrom in the bottom of the eight to tie the game 5-5. Peterson sure is giving Tyler Moore a run for his money so far this Spring.

BAD

Outside of Brock Peterson and Adam LaRoche, the Nationals offense was basically non-existent. Not including LaRoche and Peterson, the Nationals went a combined 2-27 with 10 strikeouts. Especially bad was Jeff Kobernus, who went 0-3 with 2 strikeouts in today’s game.

Sometimes in baseball, just giving up one single can get you a loss. This was the case for pitcher Robert Gilliam, who came in in the eight inning with the bases loaded. After throwing a wild pitch to score Anthony Seratelli, Gilliam got Josh Satin to hit a sac fly to minimize the damage. Then, in the ninth, Gilliam remained in the game and got the first two outs very quickly. After Omar Quintanilla singled, Matt Williams decided that that was enough for Gilliam, as he took him out in favor of  Brian Dupra. Unfortunately for Robert Gilliam, Dupra was unable to get that last out before it was too late.

UGLY

Brian Dupra came into major league camp today to help fill out the Nationals roster as they took on the Mets. In a key situation in the ninth, Dupra was called on to pitch with a runner on first with two outs in a 5-5 game. Dupra proceeded to give up a single to Mets second baseman Anthony Seratelli who advanced to third on an error by Eury Perez. Then, after a Brandon Allen walk, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a single that scored Quintanilla from third and Seratelli from second, giving the Mets a 7-5 lead that they would not relinquish.

Manny Delcarmen came into today’s game already with an outside shot to make the team, and his efforts today did not help him. After striking out the first batter he faced, Delcarmen went on to walk the next to batters to set up  Anthony Seratelli to tie the game at 2 with a single to score Matt den Dekker. After giving up a single to load the bases, Delcarmen walked Kirk Nieuwehuis to score the runner from third. Delcarmen was pulled after that, but was still on the hook for two more runs that scored that inning.

The Nationals take on the Tigers tomorrow at 1:05 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland. Taylor Jordan takes on TBA for the Tigers. The game can be heard on the MLB At Bat app through the Tigers broadcast. 

Who is Currently Winning the Nationals’ Position Battles?

Coming into Spring Training, the Nationals had several questions concerning their Opening Day roster. Who is going to start at second base? Who is going to be the fifth starter? Who is going to fill out the bullpen? With Spring Training games almost half way through, many answers to these questions are coming into shape. Today, we examine who has the edge at each of these position battles.

Starting Second Baseman

CompetitorsDanny Espinosa (Spring Stats: 4 for 17, 1 RBI, 1 XBH, 1 SB)

Anthony Rendon (5 for 16, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 7 SO)

Both players started off their springs looking rusty, going a combined 0 for 17 with 8 strikeouts. Since then, however, Rendon and Espinosa have gone from frigid to scorching hot. Rendon has gone 5 for his last 9 with a home run off of Joe Kelly in yesterday’s contest.

rendon hr

Espinosa has been equally good over the past few games, going 4 for 7 with a walk and some impressive defense:

espinosa ranges

Espinosa has also impressed with aggressive baserunning, as well as with his swing from the left side of the plate.

Espinosa’s improved baserunning is most likely a product of Matt Williams’ tutelage, as is the aggression on the bases from other Nationals such as Denard Span and Ian Desmond.  Both Espinosa and Rendon have displayed the full range of their abilities. However, despite Matt Williams’ strong fondness for Espinosa, Rendon came into this battle with the edge due to his production and pedigree, and has done little to fall off the top of the depth chart. 

VERDICT: As of March 10th, Anthony Rendon maintains a slight edge over Danny Espinosa.

Fifth Starter

Competitors: Ross Detwiler (3.1 IP, 10.80 ERA, 4 ER, 4 Ks)

Tanner Roark (4.2 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1 ER, 3 Ks)

Taylor Jordan (7 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3 ER, 11 Ks)

Spring Training stats must be taken with a grain of salt, especially with pitchers. Often times, pitchers will be hit hard because they are working on a new pitch or new approach for the regular season. That is exactly the case for Ross Detwiler, as his inflated 10.80 ERA is a product of him working on his curveball, which has looked good at times this spring.

While Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark have been impressive thus far in Spring, this is still Detwiler’s job to lose, and unless something big happens, it doesn’t look like that will change.

VERDICT: As of March 10th, Ross Detwiler will be the Nationals fifth starter, with Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark starting the year in the minors.

Final Two Bullpen Spots

CandidatesChristian Garcia (4.1 IP, 8.31 ERA, 4 ER, 6 Ks)

Luis Ayala (4.1 IP, 8.31 ERA, 4 ER, 3 Ks)

Manny Delcarmen (3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 ER, 5 Ks)

Ross Ohlendorf (0 IP, INF ERA, 2 ER, 0 Ks)

Mike Gonzalez (NO STATS)

Ryan Mattheus (NO STATS)

Xavier Cedeno (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 ER, 3 Ks)

Anything can happen with this competition. Both Luis Ayala and Christian Garcia’s ERAs have been inflated by one bad outing — each has had an outing in which they gave up four runs. Ross Ohlendorf only has one appearance, in which he struggled before being removed from the game with an injury. Manny Delcarmen, whose chances of making the team are slim, has pitched very well thus far, allowing only two baserunners in three innings of work. Ryan Mattheus suffered a bruised rib before the start of Spring Training game, and thus has yet to see any action this Spring. Lefty specialist Xavier Cedeno, who saw time with the Nationals in September, has been very impressive in limited time this spring, allowing just 2 hits in 4 innings. Mike Gonzalez, who signed with the Nationals last week on a minor league contract, is scheduled to pitch some time this week for the Nationals. The composition of the bullpen’s final two spots depends just as much on manager preference as it does spring performance, and manager Matt Williams seems to prefer filling those spots with a lefty one-out guy and a righty long reliever. Cedeno has not done anything to prove that he shouldn’t be the Nationals LOOGY, and if he is healthy, Ohlendorf seems likely retain his role on the team.

VERDICT: As of March 10th, Xavier Cedeno and Ross Ohlendorf will be the last two Nationals to make the bullpen.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Nationals Spring Training Game 4 (Nats vs Yankees)

Today, the Nationals played their first out-of-division foe, facing the Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. This game was full of back ups and minor leaguers, as only one (maybe two) Opening Day starter played for the Nationals. Ross Detwiler, who is competing for the 5 spot in the Nats rotation, made his Spring debut today. Unfortunately, the Yankees handed the Nationals their first loss of the Spring, winning 4-2; here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from today’s game.

GOOD

Danny Roesenbaum entered  the second inning, in a jam, inheriting runners on the corners with only one out, and Yankee great Derek Jeter up to bat. However, Roesenbaum only needed three pitches to get the Captain to ground into an inning ending double play .

image tagged in gifs | made w/ Imgflip video-to-gif maker

Zach Walters great Spring continued today, as he crushed a home run off of Shawn Kelly in the fifth inning to put the Nationals on the board.

image tagged in gifs | made w/ Imgflip video-to-gif maker

With that home run, Walters is now 6-7 with 4 extra base hits this spring. While he did make a throwing error in the second that allowed a run to score, Walters made several nifty double plays at short.

Tanner Roark is also vying for that fifth spot in the rotation, and today, he didn’t hurt his cause. In two innings, Roark gave up two hits, but still managed to face the minimum batters thanks to some nifty defense by Zach Walters and Tyler Moore (I can’t believe I said that in a sentence!).

BAD

Tyler Moore is not guaranteed an Opening Day roster spot. And by the way he is batting, he might be starting the season in Syracuse. Moore went 0-3 with a strikeout and TWO double plays. He did save himself from being ugly with this nice outfield assist

image tagged in gifs | made w/ Imgflip video-to-gif maker

UGLY

Ross Detwiler‘s first inning was very good, retiring the side with a strike out of Brett Garner on a 94 MPH fastball

image tagged in gifs | made w/ Imgflip video-to-gif maker

and of Brian McCann on a curveball, which is the pitch he has been working on this Spring.

image tagged in gifs | made w/ Imgflip video-to-gif maker

However, he had a lot of trouble recording an out in the second inning, allowing the first 6 batters of the inning to reach base, and allowing 4 runs to score. The good thing about Detwiler’s start is that his fastball velocity was in the mid 90’s and he was able to locate his curveball well in the first inning.

The Nationals offense in innings 1-5 was basically non existent. Besides a home run from Zach Walters, the Nationals were 0-15 with 6 strikeouts. While it doesn’t mean much since this is only the fourth game of the Spring, and the fact that this game features mostly bench players and minor leaguers, it would have been nice to see a little more production out of those players.

 

The Nationals face Braves tomorrow at Champion Field in Disney World. Stephen Strasburg takes on Kris Medlen, as he makes his first start of the Spring. The game starts at 1:05 and can be heard on the Braves radio broadcast.