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Williams pushes Strasburg to be “our horse”

May 8, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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When Stephen Strasburg struck out Miguel Olivo and Justin Turner in succession to end the top of the seventh inning yesterday afternoon, the crowd of 34,756 at Nationals Park rose and saluted the right-hander as he retreated to the dugout.

Everyone in attendance had every reason to believe Strasburg’s afternoon was complete. He had thrown 106 pitches. He had battled back after a ragged first inning to retire 19-of-22 batters faced. And the Nationals held a 3-2 lead over the Dodgers, with a fresh bullpen ready to close this one out.

Inside the home dugout, though, Matt Williams had other ideas. He didn’t have Tyler Clippard warming in the bullpen. He didn’t go over to shake Strasburg’s hand. Instead, he let the 25-year-old take the mound once again for the top of the eighth.

As the rookie manager explained afterward: “He’s our horse.”

This is new territory for Strasburg, who throughout his professional career has been protected by managers, rarely allowed to push himself late in games. Only four previous times in the big leagues had he been given the ball to start a new inning with his pitch count over 100. Only once had he taken the mound having thrown more than 105 pitches.

The right-hander certainly didn’t disagree with his manager’s decision yesterday. He wholeheartedly embraced the idea.

“That’s the position I want to be in,” Strasburg said. “That’s going to make me a better pitcher in the long run. Every time out, I want to go as deep as I can and keep it close.”

Strasburg wasn’t able to finish the eighth inning this time. He allowed a bunt single to Dee Gordon to open the inning, then got Carl Crawford to line out, then walked Hanley Ramirez before finally departing with his pitch count at 114. Jerry Blevins and Clippard took over from there and stranded the tying runner in scoring position, ultimately preserving Strasburg’s third win of the season.

In this case, though, the mere fact Strasburg was given the opportunity to pitch one more inning seemed more significant than the eventual outcome.

“I want to show confidence, and we as an organization want to show confidence in him,” Williams said. “If we get to that point, you got a 3-2 lead, it’s in the seventh inning, you got [106] pitches, we’re not afraid to throw you back out there and let you go. We also want to be mindful of that, too. It’s just a confidence-booster to him, that he’s able to go back out for it.

“He didn’t go 1-2-3 in the eighth today, but then again, he didn’t have to today. We want to give him the opportunity to do that, though. We want to get him to that point where he can finish that eighth inning, too. That’s important for him.”

Catcher Wilson Ramos agreed.

“I like that, because the pitcher gets more confidence, and that’s what we need,” Ramos said. “We need those guys out there with confidence. When you go out there and you feel confident in yourself, you play better. When the manager gives confidence to us, we play better.”

Prior to yesterday, Strasburg had topped the 110-pitch mark only 13 times in his career. Twelve of those starts came last season, as Davey Johnson began the process of pushing the young right-hander to new limits.

Based on what we saw yesterday, Williams plans to push Strasburg even further this season.

“He’s a guy that can go 120,” the manager said. “We don’t want to do that every time. But in a game like today, he’s got the lead and we want to show confidence in him that we’re willing to send him back out there to protect that lead. …

“He wants to pitch. He wants the ball in his hand. And so do we. He’s a really good pitcher.”

  1. Joe Seamhead - May 8, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    Though I like the idea of Strasburg being the “horse,” and he has been babied, I have watched many managers ride their horse hard and put ‘em away wet. In our division Cholly and Fredi have both been guilty, It’s a thin line between riding them hard, and riding them too hard.

    • Hiram Hover - May 8, 2014 at 8:41 AM

      Agreed, but I’m not too worried that MW will follow that path.

      This comment sounds more like a public “attaboy!” than anything else.

  2. MicheleS - May 8, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    I am more comfortable with this decision now that Wilson is back. He knows how to handle this pitching staff. Seriously, missed having him back there. It maybe wishful thinking but I believe that some of the early inning ‘Ooops’ from our pitching staff could have been avoided with Willy Ray behind the plate. I really hope that Wilson can catch Tanner on his next outing – just to help right the ship.

    • dgourds - May 8, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      He had Wilson behind the plate yesterday and still had a poor 1st inning.

      • Sonny G 10 - May 8, 2014 at 10:23 AM

        But only 2 runs and not 3 or more. :)

      • therealjohnc - May 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        Meh. Strasburg did not have a poor first inning as a pitcher yesterda. He gave up four straight ground ball singles, only one of which was actually struck sharply (ironically, that was the one that probably should have been fielded, by LaRoche, who may have been screened by the baserunner). A lot of times a pitcher gives up four grounders like that, he’s not just out of one inning he’s into the next one. He was essentially unlucky in the first inning.

        What impressed me is that despite the consistent trope that Strasburg is weak mentally (yadda yadda yadda), he didn’t hang his head or go “woe is me” and fold the tent. Instead he stifled a very tough lineup for the next couple of hours and gave his team a chance to battle back and win. Which they did. Nice job all around.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 12:20 PM

        John, I said the same to the Gloom & Doomers “live” yesterday as it was unfolding. I wish someone backed me up at the time. It was like the chorus of internet boos.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM

        It’s not like reason would prevail. If Strasburg walked on water they’d complain that he can’t swim.

  3. nats1924 - May 8, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    i love it.

    Knowing Stras is a Boras guy, we all should be aware they’ll be asking for Kershaw type money. So why not make him earn it?

    Go Nats

  4. natsjackinfl - May 8, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    On the Nats carrying 3 catchers right now, I’m pretty sure this is a temporary condition until Williams feels Ramos can take on the heavy lifting at the position.

    As for Strasburg, I agree with Michele. Wilson is his favorite behind the plate and will make a difference with all the starters.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Probably 3 catchers until RZim is activated and that gives MW time to see if he likes that situation.

      MW is a fan of Walters who hasn’t fielded a ball in a game in weeks and has no lefty hits so basically he’s a RH pinch hitter.

      Hairston is like Walters and shouldn’t be playing in the field and has a small sample size of ABs.

      Leon is a switch hitter. He’s a 3rd catcher that gives MW the confidence to PH his bench catcher of the day.

      Pick ‘em from those 3 to go when RZim comes back and 1 more leaves when Bryce returns.

      • dcwx61 - May 8, 2014 at 9:16 AM

        Good points about keeping a 3rd catcher….When you’re catchers are your best bench hitters at the moment.
        I still see McLouth coming around as his track record indicates and he doesn’t drop balls (except when the transfer rule is in effect).

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 9:35 AM

        The Nationals have no strong lefty bat right now on the bench so by keeping Leon, Lobaton can be available to PH. I will have to check if they have had even 1 lefty pinch hit. Lobaton generates his limited power as a lefty and hopefully as you say McLouth comes around. At some point Espi will be riding the pine again when RZim returns and hopefully he can contribute.

        Frandsen and Walters from the right-side have been the effective pinch hitters. Hairston will also get some opportunities. Ramos will certainly get opportunities and probably get some off the bench righty-righty.

      • Sonny G 10 - May 8, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        I thought I remembered Walters hitting a left-handed pinch home run.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        No all 3 HRs have been RH according to Baseball Reference. He is 0-10 this year LH and last year he was 2-5.

      • therealjohnc - May 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

        Walters … has no lefty hits so basically he’s a RH pinch hitter.

        Ten at bats from the left side. TEN AT BATS. For cryin’ out loud.

        He’s also walked three times in 13 plate appearances vs. RHP, for a smooth 23.1% walk rate. Based on his minor league numbers, I don’t expect that trend to continue any more than the .000 batting average. Ten at bats! *walks away mumbling

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        John, that was somewhat tongue in cheek and as I said in a subsequent post that he hit Righties last year.

      • therealjohnc - May 8, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        Fair enough. I thought the “walks away mumbling” was a fair indicator of the seriousness of my objection :-)

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 3:20 PM

        I’m actually proposing keeping him over Hairston. I just would like to hear he is taking reps at 2nd base or LF. He needs a real defensive position he can thrive in.

    • bowdenball - May 8, 2014 at 9:01 AM

      To whom it may concern-

      I accidentally “reported” Natsjack’s comment while reading. Please disregard. I get a little careless with the mouse. Itchy click finger, apparently.

      My deepest apologies, Natsjack.

  5. Section 222 - May 8, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    You’re probably right NJ. But until he’s catching 5 games a week, and the rest of our regulars return, I like the idea of having him available to PH for the games he doesn’t play, and Lobo or Leon available to PH for the other games. Obviously, Ramos is a dangerous weapon and the idea that he’s effectively on the shelf for 3 of 7 is not a happy one. And I have more faith in Lobo to get a key hit than just about any of our current bench players (and some of our regulars).

    • natsjackinfl - May 8, 2014 at 8:37 AM

      I pretty much agree with both you and Ghost on all points.

    • dcwx61 - May 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      +++…good points on carrying 3 catchers from all

  6. Joe Seamhead - May 8, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    No disagreement from me regarding Ramos and his positive effect on this team in virtually every way. The Loboton and Leon did an admirable job of holding down the fort, but Wilson’s return makes this club a much more formidable force to be reckoned with.on I’m pretty sure that outside of the DC circles few baseball writers have any idea how important he is to this club.

    So, with Fister getting activated, and Moore heading back to Syracuse, the Nats will temporarily carry the three catchers, at least for this road trip? Then what? Between Walters, Leon, Mattheus, Detwiler, and Hairston there are now 5 players with limited playing time opportunities on the 25 man roster, not to mention the severely underachieving McLouth.If everybody else stays relatively healthy, when Harper and Zimmerman replace two of those guys, this team should be flat-out explosive!

    Though he has made a few questionable in game moves, overall we have reason to be very happy with Matt Williams’ leadership so far. To have this team over .500 and in first place in spite of all of the injuries, is pretty impressive.

    • flnatsfan - May 8, 2014 at 8:49 AM

      +1 on this whole post.

  7. scnatsfan - May 8, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    I agree with Seamhead but remember that as guys return other staters (unfortunately) will have their trips to the DL. We need the bench to get going to bridge the gaps that will present themselves and hopefully the full squad is healthy… when we get to the World Series?!?! Hey a guy can hope…

  8. dcwx61 - May 8, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Similar stuff from MLB Trade Rumors re: Det, just FYA

    “Following up on his colleague Adam Kilgore’s examination of Ross Detwiler‘s curious usage last night, James Wagner of the Washington Post spoke with manager Matt Williams yesterday about the left-hander’s usage. “We’d like to get him in there more. We’ll make plans to do that. [Monday] is an example of we gotta hold him, hold him because we didn’t know how it was going to go today. Turned out that Blake [Treinen] pitched well and we had to get him an inning today and it just didn’t work out. He’ll get back in there.” Wagner also looks at how Treinen has been handled curiously in the minor leagues; Treinen had pitched just one inning in a week’s time prior to Monday’s start.”

  9. jd - May 8, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Walters had to stay because he’s the only backup middle infielder. I think he really should be getting regular at bats in AAA for his own good which is similar to TyMo vs. Hairston. You don’t mind having Hairston pinch hit every other day or so but TyMo needs to play every day. Once Ramos establishes that he’s fully recovered and has the stamina to play 5 games a week Leon will also be returned to the minors. It’s important for him to have a really strong minor league season vs. the year he put together last year especially since Solano is having a very strong year.

    • dcwx61 - May 8, 2014 at 9:24 AM

      Good points. What about Frandsen, but I guess he doesn’t play SS ??

      • masterfishkeeper - May 8, 2014 at 10:13 AM

        Right, but Espinosa is the backup shortstop, so you’ve got the infield covered. Only issue is that Frandsen also seems to be the only backup 1B right now, so that leaves you a little thin on the infield.

    • Section 222 - May 8, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      Frandsen plays 1B, 2B, and 3B. Espi plays 2B and SS (and probably could play 3B in an emergency). Rendon plays 3B and 2B, and probably could play SS in an emergency. Explain again why we need Walters as a backup infielder? Just in case two guys get injured in the same game?

      Walters is here to hit. If he can’t do that, he should be sent down.

      • Eric - May 8, 2014 at 10:23 AM

        Not to mention, once Zim gets back, he’s another option at 1B.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 10:34 AM

        222, exactly and I made a similar point to someone yesterday who stated Walters was kept as the backup middle infielder.

        This gives MW amazing bench depth with 3 switch hitters when both Ramos and Espi are starting.

        When RZim comes back there is no lock on it being Leon getting optioned. If this works well with 3 catchers, it’s actually Hairston who is the superfluous RH bat if they change course and write him off. Hairston has 2 weeks to prove he’s worth keeping.

      • jd - May 8, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        Ghost,

        In my opinion there’s no chance Hairston gets cut. What do you think he can do in 2 weeks to change the decision playing once a week or so and pinch hitting once in a while?

        I also don’t believe there’s any way MW keeps 3 catchers once Ramos establishes that he can catch 5 times a week.The way the team was constructed out of spring training Mc.Louth, Frandsen, Espinosa and Hairston were the main pinch hitters with Lobaton as the backup catcher and I think ultimately we’re getting back to that alignment. I think Rizzo is looking for the player who hit 20 HR’s for the Mets (playing in Citi field) in 400 at bats in 2011.

      • Section 222 - May 8, 2014 at 10:51 AM

        Ghost, as we discussed yesterday, Rizzo is not going to DFA Hairston so soon, especially because he just got back from the DL. I expect he’ll be here much longer than two weeks, for better or for worse. Not that I necessarily agree with that decision, but given how long he stuck with Stairs and Tracy, there’s just no way he’ll eat Hairston’s salary without a much longer tryout.

        I can live with Walters still being on the 25-man now, but when Zim gets back, why would we keep him up? That’s the choice when Zim returns — Walters or Lobo/Leon. We’ll see who contributes more over the next few weeks, and keep in mind that part of the calculation is also how much work Ramos gets as a PH or DH.

        Of course, these kinds of future roster calculations are usually pointless because another injury often happens in the meantime.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 8, 2014 at 11:49 AM

        jd and 222, yes, I think there is a remote chance he’d cut Hairston but when you look at the versatility of a bench when RZim comes back of:

        1. Lobaton SH 5 days /Ramos RH
        2. Espi SH
        3. McLouth LH
        4. Frandsen RH

        Who makes a great 5th bench player

        1. Walters SH
        2. Leon SH
        3. Hairston RH

      • Section 222 - May 8, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        Ghost, assuming Harper isn’t back until the ASG, McLouth is not on the bench when Zim comes back. So Rizzo can still go with three catchers and have Frandsen and Hairston on the bench. He just needs to send Walters down.

  10. snerdblurter - May 8, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Gotta imagine that the fact that Stras only threw 83 pitches the previous time out was also a factor…

    Still an important gesture though.

  11. Eric - May 8, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    bowdenball, re: Wilson as Ramos’ walk up music, the crowd sounded LOUD on the radio broadcast…almost as loud as a show. I almost drove right off the road!

    Now we just need “Help on the Way” for Werth’s walk up music and my world collisions will be complete. What better song is there for a guy who is 2nd in the league for WPA?

    • bowdenball - May 8, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      I’m pretty excited to join the “Wilson” chant at the next home game.

      Crazy that Ramos somehow came up with the idea. This seems like a case for Dan Steinberg and his cohorts at the Sports Bog.

      • Eric - May 8, 2014 at 11:50 AM

        I tweeted Ramos asking about it, and asking if he’s a fan. At this point, I’d be excited about the mere acknowledgement of this epic world collision in some media source of note ;)

  12. thelatencn - May 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    I think we’re okay with infield depth except — big except right now — at first. ALR admitted to KIlgore that his quad problems kept him from getting to Ramierez’s RBI grounder in the first yesterday. His quad also cost us a run because he couldn’t get a double on his off-the-walll single.

    Now imagine those things happening late in a game — say 8th inning. If you pinch run for him, you’re then stuck with Frandsen (who was roundly criticized for his defense at 1b in Philly…or who? Zimmerman (when he gets back), with his two ST games experience? Werth, who hasn’t played there in a decade, He may be built like a first baseman, but given his play in right field lately, do you really think he can fill in adequately?

    By contrast, Tymo has shown he can not only play the position, he can play it very, very well. He probably is our best defensive first baseman right now, and will be until ALR recovers, if he ever does. Tymo doesn’t seem to be able to do well as a pinch hitter, but I still think he’s more valuable to the team right now than Walters,, etc.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      Frandsen (who was roundly criticized for his defense at 1b in Philly

      To be fair, Mike Schmidt was criticized for his defense in Philly. You have to factor in the source.

      • Eric - May 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        I, for one, have more faith in Frandsen’s abilities than Phillies’ fans evaluations thereof.

    • Section 222 - May 8, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      I agree with you, but you do know he’s already been sent down, right?

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        I’m just saying. Mike Schmidt.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Keep in mind, too, that Moore is only a day away if it comes to injury replacement.

  13. Doc - May 8, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Having pitched for Billy Martin in Oakland,who rode his SPs mercilessly, McCatty knows full well how to pace his staff, and the fall out when you don’t.

    Roy Halladay would probably still be pitching, if Jolly Cholly hadn’t forced him to throw !50+ pitch games.

    It’s only an arm, and pitchers have only one of them that is of commercial value.

  14. iconicwoodencap - May 8, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Speaking of bench depth and effectiveness, I’ve been noticing (as has been discussed) Espi’s creeping return to some of his unfortunate patterns at the plate. Swinging at bad pitches, eroding plate discipline, and probably other factors I’m not aware enough to articulate.

    I think his resurgence has been such an encouragement to the team and a strong symbol of putting 2013 in the rear view. In my opinion his decline would be particularly significant. Every player slumps, and hopefully that is all it is. I find myself wishing for a few extra sessions with hitting coaches to regain his ST adjustments. Maybe the problem is a recurrence of his shoulder issues, or maybe the league is figuring him out, but I hope something can be done to help him stay effective. As always, his glove is invaluable. I think showing continued adjustment and discipline at the plate is under his control and I’d be so happy to see it continue. Just putting the ball in play will go a long way. Nothing more demoralizing than a ton of Ks.

    I’m not down on Espi, I just want him to have a bounce-back year for himself and the team.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      What really needs work is Danny’s Wikipedia page. Just sad and neglected.

      • Eric - May 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Man…y’don’t say…

        “Espinosa began the 2013 season in a slump, hitting only .171 through mid-May. Due to his consistent low average, the Mendoza Line, referring to players who hit less than .200, has been renamed the Espinosa Line among Washington National fans.[11][neutrality is disputed] Espinosa was consequently sent down to the AAA club at Syracuse and batted .216 with 2 home runs, 22 runs batted in, and 6 stolen bases over 75 games for the rest of his season in the minors.[12]”

        Ouch.

        Espi just needs to continue turning to the bunt when his K rate starts climbing. Worked really well early in the season. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but after bunting yesterday and failing to reach, he whiffed again, but in his next at bat he beat the shift for a single with a man on during a pretty important juncture. This pattern has carried out many times this season…he should stick to it, imo.

  15. Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    So they’ve got a horse, a buffalo, a werewolf, an ant (don’t knock it, they work hard and are productive every spring), and Tinkerbell.

    Needs work.

    • Doc - May 8, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      I must of missed it, but who’s the ‘ant’??

      • knoxvillenat - May 8, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        And who is “Tinkerbell”?

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 9:43 PM

        “Ant”ony Rendon.
        Davey used to call Storen Tinkerbell, ostensibly because Drew is forever tinkering with his delivery.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 8, 2014 at 9:45 PM

        I must have forgotten to look in.

  16. cayucosbaseballconservancy - May 8, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    some people commenting here really think he/she knows baseball but really know less than nothing and is tiring…

    • Dave - May 8, 2014 at 6:42 PM

      Then probably this is not the blog for you.

    • dcwx61 - May 8, 2014 at 8:36 PM

      Peric ?

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