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Resilient Nationals sweep their way through New York

Apr 3, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT

AP AP

NEW YORK — It surely takes more than three games for a ballclub to establish an identity, and there’s no telling what may transpire over the next 5 7/8 months to shape the 2014 Washington Nationals.

But Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo wanted to put together a resilient team, one that obviously is loaded with talent but more importantly boasts the maturity, intensity and depth that so often is required to win ballgames when talent alone isn’t enough.

In that regard, the season’s first three games resoundingly were a success for the Nationals, who with an 8-2 thumping of the Mets on Thursday afternoon completed a three-game sweep at Citi Field and perhaps let the rest of the baseball world know they mean business this year.

“Regardless of results at this point — we all want to win, of course — but the way they’re going about it is pleasing to everybody,” said Williams, who now sports a 3-0 career record as a big-league manager. “I think they’re proud of the way they’ve played so far, and so am I.”

Williams was tested plenty in his first series as skipper, dealing with injuries to Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper, a wild Opening Day game that required an inordinate number of tough decisions and then another surprise dilemma Thursday morning when scheduled starter Jordan Zimmermann had to be scratched with a nasty stomach virus.

Enter Tanner Roark, the mild-mannered right-hander who had planned all along to start Friday’s home opener against the Braves but now was told three hours prior to first pitch that he would be throwing that pitch at Citi Field, not Nationals Park.

Some pitchers, creatures of routine and preparation, would be thrown off by a sudden change of plans like that.

Roark? It takes a lot more than that to faze him.

“I just go with the flow,” he said. “Whatever they tell me to do, that’s what I’m here for. If they want me to pitch whenever, I’ll pitch then. It’s basically up to them. I just get the ball and go.”

Roark’s afternoon didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in the bottom of the first, putting the Nationals in an early hole for the third straight game. But as Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez did before him, Roark buckled down and turned his start around, tossing five scoreless innings after the shaky first and giving his teammates a chance to rally.

Which they did, thanks to another well-balanced offensive attack that pounded out eight runs on 13 hits against starter Zack Wheeler and a beleaguered Mets bullpen that allowed 12 runs in 9 1/3 total innings during this series.

“It’s a good group of guys. There’s never any panic,” said Danny Espinosa, who drilled a pair of opposite-field doubles in his first start of 2014. “At no point did I ever see any panic. We have an older group of guys who have a lot of time in big leagues, and a younger group that has a decent amount and everyone is kind of relaxed and just goes about playing their game. At no point did I see any panic in the dugout.”

Perhaps some of that comes from the new manager, a fiery player in his heyday but a calming influence now that he’s in the dugout calling the shots. Williams has entrusted nearly everybody on his 25-man roster to make a meaningful contribution already in this young season.

And, so far, it has worked. The Nationals have played good baseball, getting quality performances from their starting pitchers, dominant showings from their bullpen and offensive production from up and down the lineup and bench.

And because of it, they head home with a 3-0 record. That may be a mere footnote by season’s end — the 2013 Nationals opened 3-0 and finished out of the playoff race — but it certainly beats the alternative.

“It’s better than 0-3,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who went 4-for-5 with a homer on Thursday. “But it’s early. I’ll take it. It’s always good to win games. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing these last three.”

  1. David Proctor - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    This feels different than last year’s 3-0. We didn’t overcome a 3 run deficit last year until late JUNE!!! We did it on Opening Day this year. And last year, the series went 2-0, 3-0 and 6-1. Apart from the last game, not much offense and we saw that play itself out. Combine that with strong starts from guys like Espinosa and ALR and it’s encouraging.

    None of tat is to say that these three games mean we’re going to win 100 games. It doesn’t. It’s a long season. But it also has a very different feel than last year to me.

    • Nats128 - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:34 PM

      It feels different because it is different. The team beat Dillon Gee’s team and that alone was big.

      The Cardinals, Dodgers, Nats and Giants already stand out to me as the elite teams.

      This series should build confidence and tomorrow is a new day and another test.

    • veejh - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:09 PM

      The difference here has got to be Matt Williams. He’s pushing the right buttons and has these guys fired up.

  2. 3on2out - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    +1

  3. Another_Sam - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    I hope Williams can maintain this intensity. I like the unpredictability of his lineups.

  4. Brookstoor - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    Roark is the Iceman.

  5. NatsLady - Apr 3, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Doug Fister did not begin throwing program today but said he's still "moving forward."— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) April 3, 2014

  6. laddieblahblah - Apr 3, 2014 at 7:53 PM

    Desi and Harper are hitting below Mendoza, and Ramos isn’t even with the team. No matter. Rendon, Zim, Werth, and Span are raking, and the bench is producing. JZ could not make his start, and Fister is still on the DL. No matter. The Nats swept the Mets aside with ease.

    This Nats team is not fazed by adversity. Tomorrow is a sterner test. They will not be able to push around the Braves relief corps the way they victimized the Mets bull pen. Hope JZ can go. If not, what will Matt do?

    Great start, so far. Not surprised, except that Espinosa is also producing on offense. That makes the bench and the team even stronger. He still is trying to pull outside pitches to right field, and just rolls them over. Today, though, he pulled them all the way into foul territory, until he finally poked 2 line drive doubles into left field. Thats’ what worked today, and what will work tomorrow. But he still is holding onto some of those bad old habits. Much shorter swing though, and much more selectivity, so no strike outs today. I’ll take it.

    Desi and Harper will come around, and Ramos will return. If Espinosa can hit, the team has no real weaknesses. And I look at Hairston as a PH specialist against lefties. That is all they need and expect from Scott.

    Let’s relax and enjoy this year. Win or lose, this year’s Nats are the best baseball team this town has seen in generations. The question is not who will let them, it’s who will stop them.

    • ArVAFan - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:13 PM

      +1

    • MicheleS - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:20 PM

      +1

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:31 PM

        +3 Laddie Very good analysis.

        Tomorrow the Nats face a team that owned and embarrassed them last year. A 6-13 record won’t cut it. Time to excorcise the demons and snap some necks. No mercy for these punks.

      • veejh - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:55 AM

        We got this. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong last year did. Not this year. MW has this team hungry to dominate.

      • laddieblahblah - Apr 4, 2014 at 1:43 AM

        NO MERCY!

  7. veejh - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    Wanna talk about the possibility of platooning Espi and Rendon this season. I’m excited seeing Espinosa so far this season. If he keeps this up, I have no problem with MW platooning these guys based on the pitching matchup. Whether or not this impedes Rendon’s development is debatable. LaRoche is gone next year for sure, so an infield of Rendon, Dez, Espi, and Zimm at 1st seems quite possible. Allowing Danny to stay “fresh” and build confidence all season by giving him starts rather than just hit him off the bench may be the move. I think MW is thinking the same thing.

    • Eric - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:03 PM

      I’ll tell you what, if our infield next year is Zim, renewed Espi, Desi, and Rendon, I will be very, very excited.

      Obviously this hinges on Espi proving his new approach is here to stay, *and* that he can adapt as the league adjusts to it.

    • senators5 - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      One thing to take hold of is that most ballplayers are like yo-yos, up one minute down the next. The ones who stay (excluding HOFers, of course) are the ones who maintain an even keel especially when batting. Only time will tell if Espinosa can maintain that kind of control. I simply cannot forget ( and forgive) that last year he led the world in taking third strikes here and down on the farm.

  8. natinalsgo - Apr 3, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    I think after the game on Sunday we will have a good idea of how this pony will run. The Mets bullpen stinks and the Nats took advantage of them. The Braves bullpen is excellent which means in the Braves series you have to score runs against the starters.

    • veejh - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:05 PM

      We got to Wheeler, and he’s solid.

      • natinalsgo - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:15 PM

        The Mets got 4 runs on Strasburg and Wheeler gave up 3 runs over 6 innings. He was mostly solid. RZ got to Wheeler and then Wheeler commited the sin with that costly leadoff walk to Leon that led eventually to 2 more runs in the 5th.

    • Candide - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:10 PM

      That was my thought this whole series. Yeah, just stay close to the Mets until the 5th or 6th inning and let their bullpen lose it for them. That strategy may not work so well against ATL. The Barves’ starting rotation is supposed to be a shell of what it was; we need to take advantage of that. None of this come-from-behind-in-the-late-innings stuff; jump out to a quick 8-0 lead, and slowly pull away.

  9. Section 222 - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:13 PM

    Any word on tomorrow’s starter?

    • veejh - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:15 PM

      Gotta be Jordan. Don’t think a fluish JZIMM is the move to open at home vs the Braves.

      • Eric - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:29 PM

        I don’t think Jordan’s ready… I believe he last threw on Tuesday to prep for Sunday.

        I actually would feel pretty good if it were Stammen for the first half game, give or take.

        I agree Zinn is unlikely to be full strength if he came down with a stomach bug or food poisoning or something just last night.

    • natinalsgo - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:15 PM

      Still TBD. They said they would know more when Jordan Zimmermann awakens.

      • ArVAFan - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:25 PM

        Remember, he’s the guy who pitched with his jaw wired shut. I have to assume that he will tell everyone he’s fine if he’s anywhere close to fine. Someone (Matt Williams) may have to override his desire to pitch.

  10. veejh - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    A couple of things that already have happened that would have never happened last year:
    -crazy line ups. I hope MW keeps shuffling the deck based on performance.
    -shifts. They’ve worked. I love it. 8th inning today provided an out by Rendon that would have been a hit last season.

  11. llf0701 - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    I’m hoping to see JZimm tomorrow!

  12. thenatom - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    Very encouraged by the start but then again, I was last year too. The difference seems to be that we have been able to come from behind, something that mostly happened against us last year. Yes, it’s the Mets bullpen but I’m encouraged. Next series is huge: a home sweep to the Braves in early April sent last season spiraling. Not sure if anyone remembers, but the first game of that series, we blew a 4 run lead in the last two innings and Zimm threw away the potential 27th out when we were up 1, pretty much summed up our season. The Mets sweep was nice, but this is where we set the tone for the season. GYFNG!!!

    • natinalsgo - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:01 PM

      Yes, I do recall that game against the Barves.

    • Section 222 - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:36 PM

      I’m pretty sure several of the folks here remember that game. And I especially remember how FP and Bob and quite a few arm-chair commentators made excuses for Zim. We’ve learned a lot since then. Trust but verify. It’s going to take a lot one than one good game plus one good AB for me to think Espi is “renewed.” And it’s going to take a lot more than a sweep of the Mets and even a series win against the Braves to show that the Nats have what it takes this year.

      • thenatom - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:07 PM

        Of course I agree with you that it takes more than a series win to show we have what it takes for a whole season. But with the Braves (x2), Cards, and Angels being 4 of the next 6 series, the boys need to be playing their best ball. Before 2011, my biggest concern was not getting last place so I don’t remember how those Phillies teams started but just looking at the last two years, April seems to be very important. Last year, we started 10-10 while the Braves won 11 of their first 12 while in 2012 we opened 14-4 and everyone else was stuck around .500. IMO, these are the most important weeks of the season and we can’t afford to slump.

      • Section 222 - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:32 PM

        I agree that these opening weeks are important and the competition is stiff, but remember, despite their hot start and the Nats mediocre start, on the morning of April 29 last year, we were 13-12 and only 2.5 games back. You need to play consistent baseball. April wasn’t our worst stretch by any means as we’ve discussed here before. It was the late May west coast trip and the pre and post ASG meltdown that killed us.

      • Eric - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:29 PM

        Yes, as with Espi and his new approach, the team on the whole has yet to prove that their new approach is here to stay and that they can adapt as their opponents adjust to them.

        If both of those things happen, it’ll be an awesome year…

    • Eric - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      In all three games we came back against their starters…Colon and Wheeler both took the loss and the tying run on Monday was on Gee.

      • thenatom - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:23 AM

        Even better if we came back against their starters! I must have thinking about the key stat from Mark’s instant analysis. Well noted.

  13. Doc - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    I tried to track our guy Roark’s FB on Gameday during the game, along iwth Wheeler’s.

    Wheeler, of course, started off throwing 95-96 while Roark was throwing 91-93.

    By the the 4th-6th inning, Wheeler and Roark had about the same speed of 91-93 with their FBs. Roark, however, never lost his location, while Wheeler struggled with his.

    Tanner Roark is the real deal, and you can forget about him ever needing to break the sound barrier. This guy also appears unflappable, which maybe comes from spending a lot of time in the minors.

    • Eric - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      I really hope he sticks around once Fister’s back. I think TJord would be just fine, but something about Roark seems more like an MLB pitcher to me.

  14. NatsLady - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    Totally off topic. but take a look at this from the Rangers’ AA team’s game.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      Caramba! Great picture.

  15. breakbad1 - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:01 AM

    It’s a bit after midnight, so I’m sure no one will ever see this question, but I’m watching the replay of the third Nats-Mets game, and I see a gigantic box, like a big-old-heavy-TV box, right behind home plate at Citi Field. What is that thing?

    • veejh - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:54 AM

      I was wondering the same thing the whole series. I have no idea.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      It’s the microwave oven for the premium seats’ hot dogs. Ever since the Wilpons lost all that money to Madoff, the team has been cutting corners.

    • minatsfan - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      Guessing it must have to do with the new tracking system that was put in at CitiField.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      Or do you mean this thing getting hit by a foul ball? It’s a camera–well, it WAS a camera.

      I suppose they’ve fixed it since then.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB MN
WASHINGTON 85 63 -- 4
ATLANTA 75 74 10.5
MIAMI 72 76 13.0
NEW YORK 72 78 14.0
PHILADELPHIA 69 80 16.5
Through Sunday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
MON: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
THU: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
FRI: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
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TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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