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More observations from Sunday’s 3-2 win

Apr 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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The Nationals’ late-inning rallies, capped by Denard Span’s walk-off sac fly, were the featured storyline of yesterday’s 3-2 victory over the Cardinals. But there was plenty more worth analyzing from the game, which included all sorts of twists and turns and notable developments.

Let’s dig deeper into some of those other angles…

Stephen Strasburg didn’t figure into the decision, but that didn’t mean the right-hander’s performance was insignificant. He might well have put forth his best start of the season, all things taken into consideration.

Strasburg’s final pitching line — two runs, five hits allowed over six innings — barely scratch the surface. He was electric throughout, displaying excellent fastball command, increased velocity (95-to-97 mph) and a deadly combination of changeups and curveballs that helped produce nine strikeouts.

This came on the heels of a dreadful start for Strasburg in Miami, one in which he was tagged for six early runs and never made it to the fifth inning. The biggest difference between that start and this one: He seemed to throw his pitches with more conviction, especially early on, and he abandoned his new-found slider altogether.

Strasburg bristled when asked why he didn’t throw one slider among his 90 total pitches, saying only: “I felt good with my other stuff today.” But it wouldn’t be surprising if pitching coach Steve McCatty suggested that alteration, leaving Strasburg to simply go out and dominate with the three pitches that got him here in the first place.

— If you were looking for more Bryce Harper drama, you didn’t get it. Though there were a couple of moments late in which Harper could have done something dramatic, he ultimately just played a solid ballgame, doing his job and not doing anything to cause a stir.

Returning to the lineup 24 hours after he was benched by manager Matt Williams for failing to run out a routine grounder, Harper went 1-for-4 with a walk. He grounded out in a big sixth-inning at-bat against lefty Randy Choate but delivered a clutch, opposite-field single off another southpaw, Kevin Siegrist, two innings later with the game tied.

Harper chose that moment to display his hustle, swiping second base for his first steal of the season. And he was in position to race home with the go-ahead run had one of his teammates been able to drive him in later in the inning.

Earlier in the day, Williams met with Harper and the two hashed things out after Saturday’s much-discussed benching.

“Just sat with him for a couple minutes at his locker and told him I’m confident in him and proud of him and he was going to have an impact today, which he did,” the manager said. “He had an impact getting a hit, stealing a base and giving us another opportunity. Made some nice plays in the outfield. Did well.”

Said Harper: “It was great to get back out there and play and be part of a win.”

He’ll be right back in the spotlight tonight, with the Angels coming to town and the obvious Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout storyline taking center stage.

— The winning run Sunday was scored by Danny Espinosa, who had himself another impressive day at the plate. Espinosa went 3-for-5, with all three hits coming from the left side of the plate. He’s now hitting a robust .324 left-handed this season, more than 100 points better than his career batting average prior to 2014.

Espinosa’s turnaround from his disastrous 2013 continues to impress everyone around the Nationals, but he’s trying not to get caught up in why he’s been so much better at the plate.

“I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit. I’m not going up there saying: ‘I feel so good they’re going to give into me.’ I don’t feel like that. I’m just going up there and trying to take every at-bat the same way.”

Regardless of the reason, the Nationals recognize how much work Espinosa has done to overcome the struggles that earned him a long-term ticket back to Class AAA last season.

“I’m happy for him, because as we spoke about in spring, I’ve been that guy,” Williams said. “So I know the dedication that it takes to work back and be the player he wants to be. And so far, he’s been really good. His approach is good, his intensity is good, his attitude’s fantastic and he loves to play. So I’m happy for him.”

— A stat that may surprise you: The Nationals have actually scored more unearned runs (13) than they’ve allowed (12) this season.

— Over the last five days, the Nats have won games started by Jose Fernandez, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Said Jayson Werth: “You can hang your hat on that.”

  1. chaz11963 - Apr 21, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    Great game, fun to be there, especially with so many Cardinals fans in attendance. They left a lot of men on base and could have used a key hit with RISP a few times, but they didn’t quit. Stras was solid, he could’ve stayed in there but was pulled for a PHer. Besides the issue hitting with RISP, St. Louis starting pitchers recorded an RBI in three of the four games! -what’s with that!?

    The biggest difference between this team and 2013 so far IMO is the much improved bench. Outstanding performances by Espi and Lobaton yesterday, and McLouth drew a key BB in the 9th as well.

  2. Joe Seamhead - Apr 21, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Strasburg pitched a terrific game yesterday,actually hats off to him, Stammen, Blevins and Soriano.And to Williams for the bullpen management.

    Interesting tidbit:

    The Nats have scored 86 runs vs. giving up 81 for a +5 differential. [19 games]

    The Braves have a 72/49 split for a +23 difference [18 games]
    The 49 runs against and the +23 are the MLB best. With all of their pitching woes, along with the lack of runs scoring I have to tip my hat to Fredi, but it sure looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors. They are a good team, but I happen to agree with Mike Rizzo, the Nats are the better team and it will show soon. There are a ton of cracks forming in the Atlanta foundation.

    I wish the Nats had kept Souza up and sent Moore down. I’d sure like to see a bench player that could fill in for JW occasionally in RF. TyMo is not that guy.

    • scmargenau - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:06 AM

      +1

      • masterfishkeeper - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:12 AM

        Longer term, I think Souza may be the fifth outfielder, but I’m sure the Nats don’t want him sitting on the bench. They’d rather have him playing every day in the minors. If someone gets hurt, I’d expect him to be back up, and I expect he’ll be at least a September call up.

  3. ehay2k - Apr 21, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    We hit the Cards’ pen, in fact we hit their pitching all day, just couldn’t take advantage as much as one would hope. But, compared to the first half of last year, we are way ahead in the hitting department. That goes triple for Espi, who has been the target of my ire in the past, but is a guy I find myself rooting now. Much better plate discipline. Much.

    We are still committing defensive gaffes, but that is so much easier to fix than a lack of hitting. Meanwhile, the Barves played 14 yesterday…

  4. laddieblahblah - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    The Cards did well to score 2 runs against Strasburg yesterday. The temp at game time was 60 F, and the humidity was only 40%. He had mastery over his FB, curve and change up that was as good as he has ever had. In his last start, in the humid atmosphere inside the Miami dome, he couldn’t locate his FB, and had so much difficulty commanding his other pitches that he resorted to his change-up more than usual.

    I think Steven thrives when the air is dry, as it is in his native San Diego. Fernandez, by contrast, is used to pitching in the heat and humidity of both Cuba and S. Florida. He is at his best inside the humid Miami dome.

    Just a theory, but the stats back it up, for both men.

    Danny deserves a lot of credit for remaking his approach at the plate. It is paying off both for him and his teammates.

    I agree with Joe about Souza over TyMo in the OF, but with Ryan on the DL, I think they like having TyMo as a RH backup to ALR more than Souza as the backup for Werth. That could change when Ryan comes back.

    Werth has not done well since he “tweaked” his groin and sat out one game before returning. I wonder if it is still bothering him. He looks a little slower in the OF and he is just not hitting anywhere near as well as he was before the “tweak,” or whatever you want to call it.

    • chaz11963 - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      No question Werth looked slow and sluggish in RF. There were a couple of balls he should have got, but were not errors. He looks confused and hesitant at the plate too.

    • Steady Eddie - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      Agree re all but especially re Werth. He’s still getting good reads on the ball but is neither smooth nor comfortable-looking in getting to the ball and positioning his body to make the play when he gets there. Adams’ Double ticking off his glove at the fence yesterday, Not being able to cut off what became Lynn’s double on Saturday both illustrate the point. And as you wrote, he similarly doesn’t look comfortable or flexible at the plate — he’s always been a good lowball hitter and doesn’t seem to be able to reach them as effectively.

      MW could readily spell him for a game or two during this long consecutive games run withcLouth, who plays a credible RF, but maybe Werth is resisting and wants to play his way through?

    • chazzmichaelmichaelzz - Apr 21, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      As far as your comment on San Diego, it’s not that dry. It may never rain, but it has a marine layer as thick as the fog in San Fran for much of the baseball season. Here are humidity charts of San Diego and Washington, DC.

      http://weatherspark.com/averages/31552/San-Diego-California-United-States

      https://weatherspark.com/averages/30032/Arlington-County-District-of-Columbia-United-States

      Pretty much the same average humidity. The largest difference is the high humidity in DC is during the day while in San Diego the high humidity is during morning and evening when the sun is not out. (FYI, I’m a native Washingtonian living in San Diego.) This is also why Petco Park has very low HR totals.

  5. 3on2out - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    An interesting point about the weather, Laddie, but don’t forget that Fernandez doesn’t pitch in hot humid Miami. He pitches indoors in an air-conditioned park.

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      The dome increases the humidity, it doesn’t alleviate it. When the Marlins played in their old outdoor stadium, Stras was effective, but he has been terrible playing in the humid conditions produced by the closed dome, ever since.

      • dcwx61 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        i don;t think so. it’s better to sit in AC in Miami in July

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:50 AM

      FP said before the start of the last game in Miami that the humidity was high inside of the closed stadium. SI had a good story on Stras’ performances in Miami. Keep in mind that he doesn’t fare well in hot, humid Atlanta, either. Strasburg’s stats almost everywhere other than those 2 venues are much better. And the Marlins are a weak-hitting team playing in a pitcher-friendly ball park. Here are the stats:

      http://mlb.si.com/2014/04/16/stephen-strasburg-miami-marlins-washington-nationals-giancarlo-stanton/?eref=sihp

      “Things get even worse when you look at Strasburg’s five starts at Marlins Park. Strasburg didn’t allow a run in 12 innings in his two starts at the Marlins former stadium, and kept that streak alive with six scoreless innings in his first start at Marlins Park in July 2012. Since then, however, he has yet to turn in another quality start in Miami in four tries, instead giving up 24 runs (22 earned) in 17 innings over those four outings, including Tuesday night’s disaster. Here are the lines of Strasburg’s five starts at Marlins Park

      Date IP H R ER BB K HR Dec.
      7/15/2012 6 6 0 0 1 7 0 W
      7/28/2012 5 9 7 5 1 3 1 L
      7/12/2013 2 5 7 7 4 2 1 L
      9/8/2013 6 4 4 4 2 7 0 W
      4/15/2014 4 8 6 6 3 5 1 L

      Taken together, those five starts yield a career 7.92 ERA and 1.72 WHIP at Marlins Park, a fairly neutral park occupied by a weak-hitting team. That ERA is by far Strasburg’s worst at any ballpark in which he has pitched in the major leagues, and the only park in which Strasburg has made more road starts than Marlins Park is Atlanta’s Turner Field. Strasburg has pretty lousy numbers in Atlanta, as well (5.79 ERA, 1.71 WHIP in six starts), and after Tuesday night has a road ERA more than a full run higher than his home mark, but that doesn’t make the Marlins’ success against Strasburg any less special.”

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:33 AM

        I think you are on to something. What can they do for Stras to improve his pitching in humid weather.

        He was sweating profusely before his his 1st pitch in Miami. An idea could be changing jerseys between innings and some old fashioned wristbands to absorb sweat.

        His numbers at those ballparks on average are bad, they need to figure something out.

      • dcwx61 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:33 AM

        I don’t think turning the AC on increases humidity. It could be he has trouble in Marlins park or against the Marlins or against the Braves

        Look at his stats pitching in DC in the summer, the most humid place on earth (except Jeddha, Saudi Arabia) and where he pitches against a variety of teams.

      • Eric - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        AC specifically takes moisture out of the air, but whether it removes it fast enough to battle the humidity in a place that size is a different question.

        IMO the hair and jersey of every pitcher that pitches in that place make quite clear that the humidity is through the roof in there…and, by through the roof, I actually mean, trapped inside by the roof.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 21, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        Well, the AC is not designed to take moisture out of the air, it is designed to lower the temperature. But the cooler the air is, the less water vapor can be held in the atmosphere. This is the basis of “relative humidity,” which is essentially how “full” the air is of water at the current temperature. The same amount of water in the air might result in a 100% humidity at 72 degrees F, but only about 65% humidity at 95 degrees F (numbers for illustrative purposes only; I’m too lazy to go look the actual numbers up). The water runoff from your AC unit is essentially water that the cooled air will no longer hold, so it condenses out.

        The result is that, depending on a variety of other factors, it is quite possible to have a higher relative humidity inside where it is air conditioned than outside where it is much warmer.

  6. knoxvillenat - Apr 21, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    I too thought Strasburg pitched well yesterday however I don’t understand the strategy used in pitching to Bourjos in the fifth inning. If you recall I believe Strasburg had alread y recorded two outs in the inning and for some reason did not seem to attack the light hitting Bourjos but instead walked him on a 3-2 pitch. Made no sense to me given a .200 or so BA and of course Miller than came up and roped a double to score another run for the Cardinals.

    • NatsLady - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      Yes, he paid the price for walking the No. 8 hitter. I thought he lost focus there after getting the big guys.

      Didn’t see anything of the apparently wild stuff last night. Got home and went, literally, straight to sleep. That game was EXHAUSTING. And I’m just a fan.

  7. sunshinebobby - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    Great. Stats show Jesus doesn’t like pitching in humidity.

    Not like we get anything like that around here in June-July-August.

    I’m afraid Korny was right: he is a potted plant. Guy’s a moron and doesn’t know anything about anything, but I’m afraid he’s correct on this.

    • Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      What did Korny (Kornheiser?) say?

      • sunshinebobby - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:56 AM

        A couple of weeks ago, Korny called SS a “potted plant,” meaning he looks real good, but doesn’t really accomplish much. Kinda like an orchid who needs high maintenance. Compared his accomplishments to Gio winning 21 two years ago Zimm’nn 19 last year.

        I can’t stand the guy; but on this score, I think he may be right (yesterday’s solid performance nothwithstanding).

        But deep down, I still pull really hard for Jesus. Maybe we’ll have a cool, dry summer!

      • Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        Well, the fact that he’s basing his assessment on number of wins says it all. Yesterday, he pitched a fine game. If ALR, Span, or Harper had delivered with the bases loaded, he’d have the win. That’s not his fault. Stras hasn’t met expectations, but his pitching has been just as good as Gio’s and JZ’s over the past two years.

        He sure was surly in his postgame interview though. Jeez guy, we won the game, be happy. Gio would have been, that’s for sure.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      This is an example of thriving on negativity so much that actual facts don’t matter. Did you read the article? Humidity artificially raised by playing indoors is the theory, not humidity in general. While Strasburg has struggled in Atlanta, he has done very well outdoors in high humidity environments like Miami. Your statement “not like we get anything like that around here in June-July-August completely falls apart when you actually look at his numbers Strasburg has done very well in DC and done very well in June-July-August.

      So if you’re worried about Strasburg pitching in DC during the height of summer, relax – he’s already done it, and done it very well. If you’re just trolling and being negative, at least do some research first.

      • dcwx61 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:34 AM

        +++++1
        from a meteorogist, I couldn’t have said it better

      • dcwx61 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:36 AM

        except for the trolling part.

      • Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        Actually, I think the fact that Stras does just fine in July and August in DC casts doubt on the original claim. He’s fine in humidity, but not in artificially raised humidity? Really? What’s next — he’s ok in day games in DC, but not in day games on the west coast because of the different angle of the sun?

        Maybe Stras is super sensitive to these kind of factors, but there are probably other explanations for his lack of success in Miami. Like being owned by Giancarlo Stanton for one.

  8. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    I’m all for come-from-behind victories, but there’s something to be said for not getting behind in the first place.

  9. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 21, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    Laddie, great observations this morning. The Werth report I touched on briefly yesterday that most teams scouting has them running on his arm. Even before the groin his throws have not been vintage Werth unless this groin problem has been there for several weeks.

    Harp should be the one playing RF and then fill in LF from the players MW has to give Werth some needed days off.

  10. Section 222 - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    Frustrating game yesterday, but the end wiped the slate clean. Thanks to Span for a professional AB. Stras had a great AB too, before striking out with the bases juiced, so he gets a pass. But ALR and Harper fell short. Have to give credit to Harper for continuing to hit well against lefties. Actually, that’s a big understatement. In 14 PAs (yes, I know, small sample size, but still) he’s hitting .538/.571/.923!! Keep doing that and that leftie, leftie thing at the top of the order won’t matter.

    Werth’s play in RF is worrisome. I hope he’s smart enough to take a day off if offered.

    Three cheers for Espi and Lobi.

    Finally, we really won the battle of the bullpens last night. Kudos to MW for letting Blevins finish the inning, saving Storen for possible extras. Blevins is really sharp against lefties. Adams looked totally at sea up there. And don’t look now, but Soriano still hasn’t given up a run this year in eight appearances. He’s also converted his last 16 save attempts dating back to Aug. 20 of last year.

  11. waddueyeno - Apr 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    good boz quote:
    there are only two types of ballplayers. those who are humble and those who are about to be humbled.

    don’t know if it’s his own, but i like it. works for a lot of other professions, too.

    gyfng.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 57 45 --
ATLANTA 57 48 1.5
MIAMI 51 53 7.0
NEW YORK 50 55 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 46 59 12.5
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MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
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