May 2, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
A hodgepodge of Friday morning thoughts before I hop on I-95 and head up to Philadelphia for the weekend…
— The Nationals about to face a major, week-long test going up against six quality, veteran pitchers against the Phillies and Dodgers. It begins tonight with Cliff Lee, whose 40-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far this season is off-the-charts good. It continues Saturday night with A.J. Burnett, who sports a 2.15 ERA in his first six starts as a Phillie. And it concludes Sunday afternoon with Cole Hamels, who admittedly was rocked by the Mets his last time out but remains a major thorn in the Nats’ side, having gone 15-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 28 career starts against them.
But, wait, it doesn’t end there. After their weekend series at Citizens Bank Park, the Nationals return to D.C. for a brief, three-game homestand against the Dodgers, who will be sending a fellow by the name of Clayton Kershaw to the mound for Monday’s series opener. The reining NL Cy Young Award winner is making his return from a strained back muscle, having not pitched since L.A.’s season opener in Australia. Then it’s Zack Greinke on Tuesday night, followed by old pal Dan Haren on Wednesday afternoon. Haren, if you weren’t aware, is now 4-0 with a 2.39 ERA. And he’s scheduled to return to Nationals Park to face none other than the man who took his spot in the Nats’ rotation: Doug Fister, slated to make his season debut.
— Speaking of Fister, he makes one final tune-up tonight for Class AA Harrisburg. The right-hander is scheduled to go five innings or 80 pitches, give or take, in his final test before coming off the DL.
— I made mention of this the other night, but it bears repeating, and some more context: Rafael Soriano has been remarkably effective, not only this season but dating back to late last season as well. The veteran closer has now tossed 22 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to August 23, 2013.
Yes, you indeed just read that. Soriano has not given up a run over his last 22 innings. That, incidentally, is a new Nationals club record, breaking the previous mark of 20 set by Sean Burnett in 2010, Drew Storen in 2011 and Tyler Clippard in 2012.
Now, has Soriano been dominant during this scoreless stretch? Not really. He retired the side in only eight of those 22 appearances, so he has put plenty of men on base and been forced to pitch out of more jams than you’d prefer. But the man does deserve some credit. His job, ultimately, is to not give up runs. And he has done a remarkable job for quite some time now.
— Finally, here’s a clip from my segment last night on CSN’s SportsNet Central, in which I discuss the overall state of the Nationals after one month, tonight’s Strasburg-Lee showdown, Fister’s rehab and Matt Williams‘ ever-changing lineup…
NL EAST STANDINGS
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Dodgers, 3:10 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Braves at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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