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Observations from Nats’ 3-1 loss to Mets

Mar 23, 2014, 5:37 PM EST

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Having seen both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan pitch for nearly six weeks now, Nationals manager Matt Williams admitted his opinion of either right-hander probably wasn’t to be altered much by each hurler’s final Grapefruit League start.

There’s nothing wrong, however, with leaving a good impression on your manager’s mind before the final decision on the club’s No. 5 starter has to be made. So Roark’s strong outing today against the Mets could only have helped his cause.

“I think he’s made a very good case,” Williams said. “We’ll get a good look at Taylor again (on Monday). But Tanner certainly made a really strong case.”

Roark tossed 5 2/3 innings of 1-run ball, surrendering only two hits and a walk while striking out five. He was so efficient that he wound up heading to the bullpen after he departed the game just to throw another 18 pitches and bring his total for the day up to 90.

“I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “Like I said after my last start against the Tigers, I felt like I can throw any pitch in any count. So that was the biggest thing. Just getting my off-speed (pitches) down and locating fastballs.”

Roark wraps up his work in the Grapefruit League with solid numbers across the board: a 3.29 ERA over 13 2/3 innings, having allowed 11 hits and three walks while striking out 11.

All he can do now is wait and learn his fate. Jordan starts Monday against the Marlins. At some point before camp breaks Thursday, the Nationals will decide whether Roark has made the roster as their No. 5 starter or seventh reliever, or whether he’ll open the season at Class AAA Syracuse.

“I went out there and competed,” Roark said. “Got outs. Didn’t walk many guys. I did have leadoff walks, and those come back to bite you, and they did today. Other than that, I feel like I’ve done pretty well.”

Some more observations from today’s 3-1 loss at Tradition Field…

— One day after making mistakes both on the bases and in the field, Bryce Harper made smart plays in each area. In the top of the first, he stole second (and was eventually called safe after Williams challenged the call, more on that in a moment) and then took third on a ball in the dirt. That allowed him to score on Ryan Zimmerman’s infield single. Then in the bottom of the second, Harper couldn’t haul in Chris Young’s double off the wall in the left field corner but managed to track down the ball by the Mets’ bullpen and then fired a perfect throw to third base to nail Young trying to stretch the hit into a triple. “Right on the money,” Williams said. “That’s the good side of it. He stayed on his feet and was able to get back toward the infield when the ball trickled and made a good throw to third. It was like an infielder.”

— Harper also nearly beat out a drag bunt in the top of the sixth against old pal John Lannan, only to be thrown out by a hair at first base. Since he arrived in the big leagues, there have been some questions about whether Harper should be bunting at all, but Williams wholeheartedly endorses it. “I like it,” he said. “We’re trying to create something, and that’s available to him, as we spoke about, all the time. It was almost really good. It was just a touch hard, but it’s a great idea.”

Drew Storen had a rough afternoon, his latest in a string of them this spring. He entered in the seventh and immediately walked David Wright on four pitches, then served up a towering home run to Curtis Granderson. Throw in another walk later in the frame, and Storen now finds himself with the following pitching line for the spring: 5 2/3 innings, 8 hits, 6 earned runs, 6 walks, 5 strikeouts, 1 hit batter. Williams insisted he’s not concerned, and for what it’s worth, Storen was downright awful in the spring of 2011, only to have a fantastic regular season. Still, given his struggles through the first half of last year, you’d like for the right-hander to head north with a bit more positive momentum.

— At the other end of the spectrum, Aaron Barrett had yet another impressive afternoon. Even if it was incredibly brief. The young right-hander, trying to make the Opening Day bullpen after serving as Class AA Harrisburg’s closer last season, entered with one on and one out in the bottom of the eighth. And he got Darrell Ciciliani to ground into a double play on his very first pitch, ending the inning. Not bad for a day’s work. Barrett still has yet to give up a run or walk a batter in 8 2/3 innings this spring and he remains very much in the mix for the final spot in the Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen. “I think I put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’ve been fortunate for the opportunity to be able to pitch as much as I have and be around such great teammates. It’s been very easy to come over from the minor-league side and fit in with all these guys. I’m trying to get better every day, and trying to stay over here as long as I can.”

— As for that overturned call on the Harper stolen base, Williams was excited to get the opportunity to challenge a play like that, where initially it appeared catcher Anthony Recker’s throw and second baseman Daniel Murphy’s tag beat Harper to the base. But as a former infielder himself, Williams knows those plays sometimes fool you. When a throw skips in front of the bag, the infielder’s glove usually comes up before it comes back down. And sure enough, that happened to Murphy, with Harper’s left hand touching the base just a tick before the tag. “That’s the hardest one, because the ball clearly beat him,” Williams said. “But what happens with the infielder dictates a lot of whether he’s out or safe. So, split-second, naked eye, you could’ve made an argument either way. But understanding that he’s got to pick the ball up out of the dirt and come up before he goes down, you may have a shot there. I don’t know if we were absolutely sure, but we thought this was an opportunity to go take another look.” That was Williams’ first successful challenge of the spring, and it entitled him to another later in the game. He went ahead and used it on a play at first base in the top of the ninth, but he was pretty sure his runner was out. And indeed, the call stood upon review.

  1. NatsLady - Mar 23, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    I like that MW used his challenge early. There have been some statistics out that there are just not that many reviewable plays in any given game, so why wait? You will put a guy in scoring position in a tie game, albeit in the first inning. Use your challenge, you may not get another chance. And even if there is another chance and you’ve lost your challenge, you can maybe talk the ump into replay anyway.

    Here is an interesting stat. Umpires are now 42/51 (82% Accuracy) in Instant Replay Reviews during 2014 MLB Spring Training. http://www.closecallsports.com/

    Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean umpires only have 82% accuracy on ALL calls, only on calls close enough for dispute. To me, 82% sounds pretty good. Also, I feel that having replay may help umpires with positioning, since they will attempt to see what the camera sees. My eyeballs told me Harper was safe and Sanchez was out before they did any replay, but I’m not applying for an ump job–yet.

    • Doc - Mar 23, 2014 at 6:27 PM

      Good point on the replay, NL.

      My greater concern for umps is that they get in the best position to see the play. They don’t always do.

    • Doc - Mar 23, 2014 at 6:27 PM

      Good point on the replay, NL.

      My greater concern for umps is that they get in the best position to see the play. They don’t always do.

      • jstodalk - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:22 PM

        Was there a conversation between Harper and Matt Williams before the challenge? Nobody has mentioned this that I have seen, and I couldn’t see them talking in the video. Harper would obviously KNOW that he was safe, and what he would have to say about the play would be crucial in deciding whether to challenge.

    • rabbit433 - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:34 AM

      My opinion on the replay is it should be used by the manager similar to whether bring the infield in to cut off a run at the plate. It will depend on how good the opposing pitcher is, or is pitching. Where in the game are you, beginning, middle, end. Of course the big difference is the number of reviews you get and will you need one later, if available. In contrast, the infield can be brought in or left out all day.

  2. scnatsfan - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    After our rough start last year and all the talk slow stars don’t matter I view the spring numbers of Soriano and Storen as scary. Players like teams just don’t turn things on because they move north.

    • David Proctor - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:08 PM

      “Players like teams just don’t turn things on because they move north.”

      This just simply isn’t true. Jordan Zimmermann last year had an ERA of over 5 in the Spring. He seemed just fine once the team went north. Strasburg, too. Pretty sure he pitched a gem on Opening Day. There’s simply no correlation between Spring numbers and regular season numbers. You’d like to see guys do well in the Spring, but it really doesn’t make the slightest difference either way.

      • sjm308 - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:32 PM

        Again, apples to oranges but Kershaw had an era over 9 this spring and was lights out in the first “real” game so yes, players can turn it on when it counts.

      • Eric - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:44 PM

        Isn’t it just as often a matter of tinkering with one’s approach as anything else, in which case a given player (or the coach for that matter) might just need to “turn it off” upon going north (“it” being experimentation)?

      • wskyrnr21 - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:39 AM

        I tend to disagree, as hitters should be clicking on all cylinders coming into the last week of ST.

        This cant be said about our line upon again despite Ryan Zimmerman’s performance.

        Plenty of room to worry here fellows!

    • scnatsfan - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:51 PM

      I hope you guys are right, I really do.

      • sjm308 - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:13 AM

        Scnatsfan

        It’s not a matter of being right
        Some players crush in ST and slump in April (see Espinosa, Dan)
        Others use ST for various reasons to get ready
        But all of them are pros and wil ramp it up a notch when things count, they just will.

  3. sjm308 - Mar 23, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Seems to me that Roark has made this club. The “worst” he can do is end up in our bullpen. I just can’t imagine any other scenario for him. His numbers all of last year were just terrific minors & majors/ bullpen or starting.

    While he has options, what would it prove to send him down. I can see sending Jordan down to keep him on a regular schedule but Roark has proved he can jump from the pen to starting and actually did that at the major league level.

    My choice is to give him that #5 position, send Jordan down and keep Barrett or Treinen up as a reward for their strong spring training work. I have read that Young will have an opportunity to option out if he is not on the 25 man roster by Thursday and while I would love to keep him in Syracuse, I am pretty sure he will find work in the majors.

    This is not a knock on Jordan, I am confident he will start games this season for the big team. I just keep riding Roark until he shows me he can’t do this and so far he has produced.

    Go Nats!!

    • Eric - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:21 PM

      Yeah I’m totally sold on Roark for some reason… Not that I’d be disappointed if Jordan was our #5. It’s really just amazing to consider the kind of starting rotation we have…even if Fister’s first start is delayed!

      • sjm308 - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:23 PM

        Yep, its kind of a win/win (except maybe for losing Young) but I agree that Fister can take his time if he needs to. All of these guys and maybe even Ohlendorf will start a game this season.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    I see Fister making the trip to the DL. Among the last things Williams wants to see is Fister striving to go five and hurting himself, or pulling a Gio and exceeding his pitch count before he gets out of the fourth. Jordan and Roark get an extra opportunity to compete and see if they can get hitters wearing their regular season jerseys out.

    • nats128 - Mar 23, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      Theo, that isnt a leap of faith or imagination. Either he will or he wont. Im trying to stay optimistic that he will be ok.

  5. Section 222 - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:23 PM

    Theo I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fister start the season on the DL either. As I understand it, the DL is active during spring training. So after Fister pitches on Thursday (3/27), he can go on the DL and be reactivated in time to pitch on April 12.

    Let’s assume Roark is our No. 5 and Jordan is headed to AAA. If Fister starts the season on the DL, Roark pitches on April 4 and Jordan pitches on April 6. Fister can continue to stretch out, pitching in minor league game or simulated games on April 1 and 6 or 7. And once Jordan pitches on April 6, assuming Fister will be ready, Jordan can be sent down and the Nats could have extra reliever or bench player from April 7-11.

    Also, since his last ST game will be March 27, I’m pretty sure the Nats can wait to make the decision until after his April 1 minor league start since they can make his DL stint retroactive to March 28. The 15th day is April 11. If that’s not the case, I’m sure someone will correct me. I don’t know if the Nats did this on purpose, but the timing works out perfectly.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Well, well! Guess who survived the final cut down and will likely start the season on the A’s 25 man roster?

    This means that non-roster outfielder Billy Burns, who hasn’t played above Double-A – and only 30 games there – will stick with the A’s until the regular season starts, and will likely get some at-bats at AT&T Park and at the Coliseum.

    “It’s pretty awesome,” manager Bob Melvin said of Burns joining the A’s for the Bay Bridge series. “I don’t know that he would have thought, maybe, that this would have been the case for him, but he’s earned every bit of it.”

    Burns is batting .313 and leads the A’s with 20 hits and the majors with 10 steals.

    • nats128 - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:42 AM

      Hes the perfect toolsy 5th man on the bench. The guy who can pinch run, play late innings defense, and make some spot starts.

      Now lets see how the stats go in real baseball.

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:51 AM

        Nats128, I was ridiculed a little for predicting that Burns would be on a ML roster before Goodwin. Bob Melvin is gushing about Burns’ overall game. Nobody saw him having any chance of making the roster at the time of the trade. Now he reportedly will have Rickey Henderson working with him.

      • Section 222 - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:35 AM

        I don’t understand. Is Burns only going to play the A’s first two series and then get sent down?

        By the way, I don’t remember anyone ridiculing you, just disagreeing that we should be lamenting Burns’ departure in light of who we got for him. I don’t know about anyone else, but the fact that he made the A’s O.D. roster doesn’t change my view on that. He certainly wasn’t going to make ours. How good does Blevins have to be, and how well do the Nats have to do this year, for you to change your view of the trade?

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 24, 2014 at 10:28 AM

        222, I doubt very seriously that Burns will stay up with the A’s for long.They have had some injury issues in the OF, Yoenis Cespedes hasn’t been able to bat his weight this spring, [and looked ugly doing it], and Burns has excelled beyond their expectations.I saw a kid that was drafted in something like the 32nd round, the has over-achieved since day one. He only started switch hitting after he got to the pros and is still learning to hit from the left side. Yes,his way was blocked here and Rizzo probably did him a favor trading him. He wasn’t on the A’s 40 man roster, he only played about 30 games at the AA level before getting traded, he has impressed the A’s with his hustle and his results, both offensively and defensively Deuces, what can I tell you? I’ve been big on the kid for two years. I think he will make the majors and will have a career that will surprise many. As to Jerry Blevins, I have nothing against him, hope he is the missing link to get the Nats to the promised land, but honestly? Long term I think that it will come to pass that the A’s got the better deal.

  7. nats128 - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:40 AM

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2014/03/24/bryce-harper-wants-his-on-base-percentage-through-the-roof/

    Someone has finally dedicated a article to Bryce’s secret weapon, his OBP. I wrote earlier this Spring about how Bryce chases pitches and especially the slider. Someone else followed it up with some great stats and the fact that Bryce has not been a overly productive RBI man however even with all the pitches Bryce chases, he still takes walks HBPs, and has a good OBP.

    This Spring in that small sample size Bryce has raised his OBP to .438 on top of his .222 BA. Pitchers last year used the strategy of playing to Bryce’s aggressiveness and getting him to chase.

    Here are some key portions of the article:

    Harper’s top priority, in fact, is laying off pitches out of the zone. Last year, 37.3 percent of the pitches Harper saw were in the strike zone. Among hitters with at least 450 plate appearances, only notorious free swinger Pablo Sandoval received strikes with less frequency.

    This year, Harper wants to punish pitchers for giving him little to hit. In 2013, Harper walked in 12.3 percent of his plate appearances, which would have ranked sixth in the National League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, which he almost did. He also posted a .368 on-base percentage, which would have ranked 13th. He wants to crank up both.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:32 AM

      Good info there. If Bryce takes the walks the pitchers will have to adjust to him and throw him more strikes. As of now they know he expands his zone and they take advantage of his aggression at the plate.

      That’s the book on Harper and yes we have discussed it before and finally it’s addressed in good detail on WaPo.

  8. AlexandriaNatFan - Mar 24, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    Section 222 – what seats do you have in Sec 222 ? I have tickets to next Saturday’s game against Craplanta and am in Section 222, so was just curious.

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