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Hard hits equal hard luck for Nationals

Aug 1, 2014, 11:24 PM EDT

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There are nights when a manager will explain a loss away by claiming his guys hit the ball hard, but everyone knows it’s mere lip service for an otherwise lackluster performance at the plate. And then there are nights when a manager will say it, and there isn’t a soul in the building who could reasonably question the validity of that statement.

When Matt Williams and his Nationals talked about their hard-hit balls during Friday night’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies, they weren’t trying to sugarcoat a bad effort. They genuinely had nothing else to say about this game, a game they felt like they played well enough to win if not for the fact every ball they squared up seemed to head straight into somebody’s glove.

“I think Susan Sarandon said it: ‘Hit ‘em where they ain’t,'” Williams said, channeling Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham.” “We didn’t do a very good job of that tonight. But it’s like, what can you do? Once you hit it, you can’t steer it. They just happened to be standing there. Eight or nine of them, probably.”

That’s not an exaggeration. The Nationals had seven line outs in the game, one of them turning into a double play. They also drove two balls to the warning track that were hauled in by Phillies outfielders.

“That’s all you can do,” Williams said. “They squared them up tonight. They just didn’t find any holes.”

Such is the state of things right now for a Nationals lineup that less than two weeks ago was the most-potent group in the NL yet has fallen on hard times since Ryan Zimmerman was lost to a significant hamstring strain.

In the 17-game stretch from June 30-July 22 in which they fielded a healthy lineup for the first time since Opening Day, the Nationals hit a collective .281 with a .450 slugging percentage, scoring an average of 5.4 runs per game. In nine games since Zimmerman went down, they have hit .229 with a .262 slugging percentage, scoring an average of 3.0 runs per game.

“You just can’t replace a guy like Ryan Zimmerman,” said Jayson Werth. “So, yeah, we’re going to miss him. But we’re going to have to pick up, we’re going to have to make do, we’re going to have to win games without him. It’s just what good teams do. They make adjustments and pick each other up.”

One thing that would help the Nationals’ offset the loss of Zimmerman: hitting the ball over the fence. They did it 17 times in those 17 games when everything was clicking. They’ve done it zero times in the nine games since, shattering the previous club record for a homer-less drought of six games (set three times between 2005-13).

“You try to hit home runs, you don’t,” Werth said. “It’s not something you can think about. It’s just one of those things.”

All the Nationals can do, really, is continue to have a good approach at the plate, continue to work the count against opposing pitchers and continue to hit the ball hard. Even if that didn’t make much difference Friday night.

The Nationals scored their lone run thanks mostly to an Adam LaRoche popup that traveled about 50 feet, landed between a pair of confused Phillies, one of whom then proceeded to fire the ball into the right-field corner, giving LaRoche three free bases.

It figures that the worst-struck ball of the evening produced a run, while all those other well-struck balls produced nothing.

The seven line-drive outs: 1) Asdrubal Cabrera to first base in the bottom of the second, a double play, 2) Doug Fister to left field two batters later, 3) Ian Desmond to the second baseman in the bottom of the fourth, 4) Cabrera to the shortstop later that inning, 5) Werth to third base leading off the sixth, 6) Cabrera yet again to the left fielder in the seventh and 7) Denard Span right back up the middle to pitcher Roberto Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth.

Add LaRoche’s drive to the warning track in center in the sixth and Anthony Rendon’s ball to the base of the wall in left to end the eighth, and you’ve got yourself heartbreak hotel.

“It is baseball,” said Fister, who took the loss despite seven innings of 2-run ball. “Those guys hit the ball hard. Three or four, at least, that were right at guys and right at the pitcher. Those balls were hit right on the screws, and there’s nothing you can do about those. It’s frustrating: You hit a ball hard, and it doesn’t fall. But that’s the game, and you gotta come back tomorrow ready to play and ready to win.”

The Nationals did give it one last shot in the ninth, getting back-to-back, 1-out singles from LaRoche and Desmond against Jonathan Papelbon. As the crowd roared, trying to will this team to a dramatic rally, Bryce Harper struck out on a 3-2 splitter and Cabrera struck out on three pitches to end the game and leave everybody muttering to themselves as they headed home.

“I liked our chances,” Werth said. “We had him on the ropes a little bit. But he’s a veteran closer. He’s been doing it a long time, and he knows what he’s doing. We just came up a little short tonight. We’ve still got a chance to split the series and get the next two. We’ll be alright.”

  1. Section 222 - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    Nice night at the park. You really can’t fault the effort, or the contact, tonight. Too bad some of those line drives couldn’t fall. The whole park was on its feet for Harper’s AB in the 9th. Fister pitched well too. I was worried his pitch count was too high to go seven, but he did it. Gutsy effort.

    Every time Marlon Byrd plays against us I remember how much I admired his hustle back in the RFK days. He’s had a very nice career. Hard to believe no one wanted him at the deadline.

  2. David Proctor - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    In the 9 games without Zim, we’ve scored 4, 4, 0, 4, 6, 0, 4, 4 and 2. 4 has been the magic number all year, but lately it hasn’t been. We’d be 6-3 if we won the games where we scored 4+. The pitching has faltered some, particularly the bullpen as has been discussed. But is anyone really worried about the pitching long-term?

  3. NatsLady - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:48 PM

    Was at the game. Saw a lot of hard-hit balls, clean defense, good pitching for our side. Encouraging signs.

    Cleveland sent Walters to Triple-A. Yesterday.

  4. David Proctor - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:05 AM

    Apparently Haren got thrown out 9-3 today after a single to RF. Fans were not pleased. He also gave up 6ER in 4.1 innings to the Cubs.

    • Section 222 - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:09 AM

      Saw the play. Longest replay delay ever to see if Rizzo’s foot was on the bag. It was. Embarrassing for Haren, but RF was playing shallow and has a very good arm. The 6 runs were probably more upsetting to the fans than that play.

      • David Proctor - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:12 AM

        I’m not sure, but I saw on Twitter that it was the second time Haren’s been thrown out 9-3 this year. Yikes. But agreed the 6ER are obviously more upsetting. I was sure the Dodgers would seek an upgrade at the deadline, but I guess not.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:19 AM

        David, you know they tried. Cost was high but I’m surprised they didn’t get Price given what he ultimately went for. Can’t believe they don’t call up one of their youngsters. Can’t imagine they could be worse than Haren.

        The incredulous thing to me when he started off hot was that ridiculous theory that being back in LA was the reason for his resurgence. That resurgence was a small sample size. He’s pitching worse this season at 4.76 ERA than his 4.67 last year for the Nats in DC.

        Haren never made up excuses but others tried to do it for him. The fact is his is washed up.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    Haren pulled after 4 1/3 givung up 7 runs vs Cubs at home in Los Angeles. So much for Haren being homesick and those ridiculous theories.

    I wonder when he gets DFA’d.

  6. David Proctor - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    More pertinent to us, the Padres are beating the Braves 6-1. Mike Minor now has a 5.42 ERA. Some guy named Tommy Medica hit two 2-run homers.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:38 AM

    Anybody watching this Padres/Barves game? 1st batter (Medica) in the 7th inning hits a soft grounder to Andrelton Simmons. Camera catches him flatfooted and not set before the ball was hit. Medica beats it out. Padres broadcasters call him out.

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:40 AM

    9-1 Padres

  9. David Proctor - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:00 AM

    Braves announcers are exasperated, saying that they can live with losing to Greinke or Kershaw, but no excuse to be losing to the Padres or this guy who has been getting hammered before tonight. And they were breaking down their remaining schedule and how tough it is. They said they’re fortunate we haven’t pulled away from them, but they didn’t sound very enthusiastic about catching us.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:07 AM

    10-1

  11. micksback1 - Aug 2, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    knoxvillenat – Aug 1, 2014 at 9:29 PM
    Mick,

    Glad I never played for someone like you. Do you really think these guys(Nats) are trying to strikeout or hit weak ground balls? Would you really be the kind of manager that throws his team under the bus when times aren’t very good?

    Stay on your couch with your remote control and let the professionals manage the team. The more you rant the more you confirm to me, and I suspect others, what a fool you really are.

    so whats with the name calling. for a fool and jackass, look in the mirror you flaming a-hole and read ones post more carefully.

    knoxville, it figures, wt and redneck I am sure

    • knoxvillenat - Aug 2, 2014 at 7:08 AM

      Mick,

      Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

  12. micksback1 - Aug 2, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    as I leave on vacation 2 points

    knox, you started this, your attack randomly is BS

    that was some hitting clinic by Bryce his last at bat

  13. Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    Mick? I hope that you have a nice, long, relaxing vacation.

  14. Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    Ghost of Steve M? We had a ” discussion” about throws to the plate a couple of weeks ago and you said that I was making stuff up when I said that outfielders are coached to bring the throws in on one bounce. All I want to say is Werth’s throw was textbook perfect to my way of thinking, from his crow hop, to where it landed, so as Wilson could make the tag. At another point in the game Bryce threw one in that drew a lot of oohs and has from the crowd, but Ramos had to reach high to get it. On Harper’s play he had no chance to get the runner anyway, but his exciting style throw many coaches discourage because it can sail over the catcher and cannot be cutoff if needed, thus allowing the tail runner to advance. Additionally, the bounce throw, when executed correctly, has the catcher it a position to make the tag easier. Now, hundreds of other throws have come in perfectly in the air and gotten the runners out, and it is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but I wasn’t “making stuff up” when I said that players are coached to bring it in on one bounce as Jayson did last night.

    Also, that was one of Werth’s overall best games in right field that he’s had in a Nats uniform. It was nice to see after some of his recent struggles.

    That BABIP sure wasn’t working out so well last night. Call it what you want, though they hit it hard, the Nats didn’t hit where they weren’t. You keep doing that and eventually it’s called a slump. It won’t be a slump when you start hitting it where they ain’t.

    • Section 222 - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:42 AM

      Did you hear MW attributed “hit ‘em where they ain’t” to Susan Sarandon? Hilarious. Wee Willie Keeler is rolling over in his grave.

      I did notice a several plays last night where the shift on Howard worked to perfection. I believe Rendon threw him out twice from behind second base, and Cabrera got him from short RF. Good stuff Weidemaier.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:22 AM

        Deuces, I just had my coffee and was going to mention the same thing regarding the shift. On at least one of the plays Howard would certainly have gotten a hit if not for the shift, maybe 2 of them. It’s funny scoring in the book as 5-3 when your defender throws him out from the right side of second base.Now, I will honestly say that I don’t remember Davey employing the shift against Ryan Howard.

    • natinalsgo - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Joe, I will come to your defense on this one on coaching kids to throw from the outfield and through their cutoffs but that is different from how I would coach Bryce Harper who possesses a weapon of an arm. We set up with halos for the cutoff that we teach kids to throw through the cut-off mans head on a line drive with a 4 seam throw and a long-hop is fine. This alternative is better than airmailing with a high arc. You want a low trajectory line drive with zip on the ball.

      We teach them it is better to do that than airmail over their cut-off man. Much of that is based on arm strength and very few have the missle arm of Puig, Cespedes, Cargo, Ozuna, Stanton, and Harper.

      I know Al Kaline has a problem with the way kids are taught to throw the ball these days but you have to teach to the masses rather than the few that can make a missle throw to a base. Accuracy and quickness.

      Reference Sport Illustrated article by Jeff Pearlman called “Launchpad” where he said most outfielders don’t have the ability to throw on a line from the outfield to a catcher on a rope.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:07 AM

        Thanks, Gonat. I also have been involved in the same type of drills. And it’s not just on a kid’s level. I have seen college programs all but beat it into players to almost always bring it in on a line drive for the reasons mentioned. Adam Jones threw one over the catcher’s head last week that allowed the run to score and the batter to advance.I also watched a local kid playing CF [that made it to MLB] almost get his catcher killed [figuratively speaking] with a high throw that did get the catcher hurt. The CF caught the ball, and rather than throwing it in,did a showoff antic and held it while challenging a runner on 3rd to tag up. The runner ultimately went, slid in under a high throw, taking out the catcher’s legs in the process.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:10 AM

        Additionally, the throw in question with Ghost and me was from Span, not Harper.Span does not possess a +10 arm, nor does Werth.

      • natinalsgo - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:00 AM

        I’m with you on Span as I’m sure his missle range isn’t commensurate to Bryce Harper. I don’t totally recall the original discussion.

        Sac Fly with a man on 3rd and nobody else on base you don’t have to hit a cutoff man.

  15. rayvil01 - Aug 2, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    I see Alvarez from the Marlins is gone to the DL. Something WAS wrong with him the other night apparently. I’m still fuming over that Espinosa at bat. =)

    • nats128 - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      Ruining my breakfast since you mentionned that.

  16. Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    On this day in Washington baseball history:

    “On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was only a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us…. He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves and with a side arm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance… One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing and we hollered at Cantillon: ‘Get the pitchfork ready, Joe-your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’ …The first time I faced him I watched him take that easy windup-and then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him…every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.”

    Ty Cobb

    • Eric - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      I love that anecdote from Cobb. Then again, I love almost everything I read about WJ ;)

  17. stoatva - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    Meanwhile, Steven Souza pops #18, RBI #70 against Pawtucket. Average drops to .355, however, since he only went 1 for 3. Too bad we can’t get that guy.

    • natinalsgo - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      There’s a reason that Rizzo didn’t want to trade him.

  18. scnatsfan - Aug 2, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    We lead the league in moral victories

  19. NatsLady - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Apparently the O’s also wanted Cabrera. Can’t understand how we didn’t get outbid by them or the Giants, but ok.

    • Joe Seamhead - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:12 AM

      Reports say that the Tribe really likes Zack Walters.

      • stoatva - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:42 AM

        Me, too. :-(

        Liked what I saw of Cabrera last night, though.

  20. stoatva - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    I don’t remember Davey employing the shift against Ryan Howard..

    I feel certain that he did, but I believe all the infielders shifted clockwise, as opposed to moving the third baseman to the middle. I’ve seen left fielders play not much deeper than where Cabrera was playing last night.

    Have fond memories of seeing Bernadina gun down Roy Oswalt at first a few years ago.

  21. stoatva - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Gotta go to work, but here’s some recommended summer reading fer yins.

    • stoatva - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      Eek. Didn’t know that giant thumbnail was gonna happen. Sorry.

  22. dcwx61 - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Back in 2010, We looked in hopeful anticipation to now as the glory years. So Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg may not have lived up to expectations and with free agency looming their timeline is likely defined. Maybe Harper wants to be traded anyway…Looking ahead to 2017-2018, LaRoche, Werth, Harper, Strasburg, Zimmernmann, Span, Soriano done here and Zimmerman’s role uncertain, these certainly will be looked back as the peak days.

    • Eric - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      Doesn’t the accuracy of that prognositication kind of depend on who replaces the list of those who will be gone?

      • dcwx61 - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        yes, indeed. rebuilding will be obligatory.
        There will be a lot of pieces to be replaced.
        However, we are stocked with minor league pitching so I expect our rotation and bullpen to be as strong as ever.

        The position players will be tough. Hopefully Souza will help fill in a gap

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