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Wheeler highlights wealth of young NL East pitching

Sep 1, 2013, 12:04 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Davey Johnson put it fairly mildly when he described the performance put on by Mets rookie starter Zack Wheeler on Saturday night.

“I thought he threw the ball good. He’s good a good arm. Fastball, slider, we didn’t get much against him,” said the Nationals’ august manager.

In a division suddenly rife with dynamic young pitching, Wheeler’s final line — he gave up two earned runs and struck out three over 6 2/3 innings — barely stands out as especially notable.

That in itself is extraordinary.

Wheeler stymied the Nats for most of the evening, yielding only a pair of infield singles in the third inning before allowing two runs in the sixth via a sacrifice fly and a broken bat bloop single.

By that point his cohorts had already hung a pair of crooked numbers on the scoreboard, en route to an  8-0 — and then 8-2 — lead.

Wheeler’s relatively meager strikeout total belies just how overpowering he was for most of the outing.

“He’s got a 95 mph fastball,” said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who managed the bloop single RBI off Wheeler in the sixth.

“With an eight-run lead, he may or may not decide to just pump heaters. It kind of messes with your mind a little bit. But he’s a good young arm.”

One of many, as it turns out.

“We’re seeing a lot of good young arms coming into the division. You’ve got Fernandez, Eovaldi [in Miami]. You’ve got Harvey and Wheeler [in New York],” said Desmond. “There’s a lot of good arms.”

In a time of truly dominant pitching, each division can claim its share of young aces — but none boasts a crop of first-year hurlers as electrifying as that found in the NL East.

The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, who will be shut down shortly in order to preserve his young arm, is already among the best pitchers in baseball.

An All-Star this season at the tender age of 20, Fernandez currently resides near the top of the NL leader board in many statistical categories, and leads the league with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fernandez is joined in Miami’s rotation by a bevy of impressive young starters, including the aforementioned Nathan Eovaldi (3.76 ERA in 13 starts), Jacob Turner (3.13 ERA in 17 starts), and Henderson Alvarez (3.90 ERA in 11 starts).

Alvarez, at just 23, is the oldest of the trio.

New York’s collection of precocious starters is nearly as impressive

Fernandez’s equal for much of the season, the Mets’ Matt Harvey was likewise an All-Star, in fact starting the game in his home stadium for the National League.

Before he was sidelined with a partially torn UCL — which will likely need Tommy John surgery — Harvey was exceptionally dominant, winning his first four starts and completing five innings in every turn this season.

Waiting down on the farm are Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, who started for the U.S. and World teams, respectively, in this season’s Futures Game minor league All-Star showcase.

And we all saw last night what Wheeler is capable of.

Desmond is right: There is a ton of pitching talent in the NL East, and it’s likely only going to get better.

With hits harder and harder to come by across the league, the toughest gauntlet may yet be the one the Nationals must run each year.

Mattheus rocked — again

It seems that even low-leverage situations are a bit too much for reliever Ryan Mattheus right now.

Summoned from the bullpen in the eighth inning with his team trailing by a score of 8-2, Mattheus allowed four hits, a walk, and three more runs, pumping his season ERA all the way up to 7.27.

It was the third time in his last four appearances that he gave up multiple runs.

“He probably could have got out of that if Anthony [Rendon] throws the ball quicker. He probably gets out of that unscathed,” said manager Davey Johnson, referencing Eric Young’s infield single to third base that got the Mets offense snowballing against Mattheus.

“Things happen. You just gotta go back and battle. He wanted to continue, but I didn’t want him to throw that many pitches. He pitched the yesterday and then today.”

“He’s gotta get it squared away.”

He certainly does.

Previously an effective and important part of the Nats bullpen — he pitched to a 2.84 ERA over 101 total appearances the past two seasons — Mattheus hasn’t been the same since giving up five runs in a May loss at San Diego.

He punched a locker after leaving the field, breaking his pitching hand.

In his 13 appearances before that fateful outing, Mattheus had pitched well, allowing just four earned runs for a 2.35 ERA.

Since returning from a monthlong stint on the DL, he has allowed 12 earned runs in 12 appearances — an 11.17 ERA.

As that number would indicate, opposing batters are hitting an otherworldly .444/.528/.600 against Mattheus.

Should the Nats overcome this setback against the Mets and continue to climb back into contention, Johnson is likely to leave Mattheus in the bullpen as long as the outcome of the game is still in doubt.

  1. Section 222 - Sep 1, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    It’s September 1 of the year we were all waiting for. 2013, when Strasburg would be untethered, Harper no longer a teenager and en route to a Hall of Fame career, Zim, ALR, Werth, Desi, Espi in their prime, Ramos healthy, Span the CF we’ve all been waiting for, Gio, Det, JZnn all better than ever before, Haren a veteran presence and innings eater, the Goon Squad more experienced and even more productive, and DJ, the craftiest, best player motivating manager in the game. Wow what a team.

    So here we are entering the last month of the season, and at just before 11:00 am, there were four, count ‘em, four comments on Chase’s gamer from the night before — a night when the Nats were blown out by the New York Mets.

    Last year, Gio pitched a shutout on August 31, beating the Cardinals 10-0. Mark’s gamer featured a picture of Gio, arms raised, with shaving cream all over his face. And a magic number countdown appeared in the upper right hand corner of the blog in the wee hours of the morning of September 1. Fun times in Natstown. At 11:00 am (remember, the timestamp on the archives are 4 hours ahead), there were already about 65 comments.

    That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      I’ve had similar thoughts about the low number of comments; wondered whether it was the format shift or the Nats’ poor performance or what. Agree that it’s mainly a lack of enthusiasm — why comment on an increasingly meaningless final month of the season?

      For me, one of the telling data points is that last winter, when I was scheduling the course I teach in the fall term, I was concerned that my Thursday evening class would conflict with the playoffs and World Series. Now that’s clearly no longer an issue. Oh well.

      • nats128 - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:13 PM

        I think Fridays game hit many in the solar plexus and are unable to type. Tuff to swallow.

  2. Sonny G 10 - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Our blog chatter will pick back up after we enter the off season and start missing baseball, I think.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      The quantity of posts will surely increase. Now about the quality, logic, and coherence…?

  3. nats128 - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    When your RISP batting average team leader is Wilson Ramos at .286 I think you have a problem. Harper at .221 and Werth is almost 50 points lower with RISP then his normal BA.

    • snopes1 - Sep 1, 2013 at 4:14 PM

      What is there about RISP that fascinates people as the explanation? And why does anyone focus on batting average anymore, when OPS is a much more useful statistic?

      The Nats’ OPS with RISP is .701, the Nats’ overall OPS is .705 (according to Baseball Reference). That’s a meaninglessly small difference.

      Statistics that actually measure an underlying real skill show high correlations from one season to the next. A pitcher with a low ERA in one year is likely to have a low ERA the next year. A batter with a high OPS one year is (even more) likely to have a high OPS the next year.

      Study after study has shown that “clutch hitting” does not exist. Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing them.

      The problem with the Nats is that they have not hit, period. They have not hit without runners in scoring position (leading to fewer runners in scoring position) and they have not hit with runners in scoring position. You just remember the failures at the plate with runners in scoring position more because they hurt more.

  4. natsguy - Sep 1, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    I tthink there needs to be a post from Mark on what they need to do to fix this for next year.


    Manager: Who is it going to be.
    1b: What is wrong with ALR. Is he sick or what?
    2b: Should Rendon be at 3b? If so who plays 2b.
    SS: All is OK.
    3b: Shuld Rendon be here. WTF do you do with RZim.
    LF: Harper OK but will his knee put him behind.
    CF: Can Span return to hit a little like expected. Great fielder.
    RF: Can Werth keep it up despite advancing age.
    C: Who will back up Ramos and will his hamstrings let him play a full season.
    SP1: Will Strasburg have a little more luck.
    SP2: Will Gio finally get some consistency and stop wigging out for one inning a game.
    SP3: Which JZIM will show up. 1st half or 2nd half. He has been hit hard 2nd half.
    SP4: Who? Detwiler has to learn you can’t survive on fastballs alone.
    SP5: Who? Jordan, Karns?????
    Closer: Do you really need Soriano if you probably won’t contend again till 2015.
    Bullpen: Other than Clippard and sometimes Stammen who do you have? Is Storen Ok? Is Reaork the real deal.
    Bench: Other than Lombardozzi nothing.

    • snopes1 - Sep 1, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      Moving ZImmerman to first wastes his bat and his range and leaves LaRoche/Tyler Moore without a slot. A friend of mine suggested that Zimmerman should be moved to second, to cut down the length of his throws to first. Zimmerman certainly seems to have the range and hands to handle second base. Why not just swap Rendon and Zimmerman?





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