"Stammen was on a roll, until he wasn't. He hung a 1-2 curveball to Jorge Cantu, a pitch Stammen chose because he had struck out Cantu swinging at one earlier. Even as Cantu swung, Stammen pounded his thighs with his fists. He knew. Cantu unloaded and crunched a home run over the left-center field wall. Stammen didn't survive the inning after a triple by Cody Ross."
The Washington Nationals (15-13) set to play host to the Florida Marlins (13-15) at Nats Park this weekend. The Nationals will be out for revenge after the club dropped two-out-of-three against the Fish in Miami to start off the month of May. The lost series provided an extra sting as it was the only one the Nationals have dropped against a team not named the Phillies all season.
The Nationals, who struggled against the Marlins to start the month, have seemingly found their stride after taking two-of-three from the Braves this week. Washington has showed significant heart as they continue to play winning baseball despite injuries to their two top starters.
The Marlins on the other hand got reeled in by the Giants after their strong series against Washington. The Fish continue to search for their identity as a talented young team that has yet to figure out how to win this season. With young hitters like Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu, and Dan Uggla the club should have enough firepower to support their top starters Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. The club will look to turn it around as they start their road trip in Washington.
Marlins Last Series
The Marlins ran head first into the division leading San Francisco Giants this week, getting swept in three straight games. The young fish just couldn't handle the Giants pitching. They lost their first game 6-9 on Tuesday after striking out 13 times against reigning Cy Young
No player in the short history of the Washington Nationals history has ever pitched a no-hitter, though the Montreal Expos had one when Dennis Martinez did it on July 28 of 1991. Olsen will now go down as the Nationals' pitcher who came closest to one of baseball's most prized statistics, along with the cycle and the even more prestigious perfect game. Overlooked in all of the hoopla of the feat that never was is the 20 scoreless inning streak (as my counterpart Will has mentioned) Olsen had going until the fateful single by David Ross that got by Ian Desmond in the top of the eighth last night. Take away his one bad start against Colorado this season and Olsen has pitched 26 innings with a 1.73 ERA and 25 strikeouts, nowhere near his 6.03 ERA last season. In fact, the Nationals took the chance of cutting Olsen after last season due to concerns about the shoulder surgery he underwent during July of last season. They were able to resign him, but then thought about letting him loose before the season started in favor of Garrett Mock. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and the Nationals brass decided to undertake his one million dollar contract (with additional $2.85 million in incentives) in hopes that he would regain his form with the Syracuse Chiefs. The gamble, so far, has paid off nicely.
Willie Harris's bottom of the ninth walk-off single wasn't one of the most exciting moment of the Nationals 3-2 victory last night. No, that came from the Nationals starting pitcher, Scott Olsen.
Olsen's previous two starts had been an indicator that perhaps the 26-year-old starting pitcher was bound for a strong comeback this season. But no-one expected what happened last night.
The Nationals left-hander who had been left off the opening day roster took the mound in the top of the eighth after having struck out eight Braves batters. Olsen was miles away from the pitcher he was in Florida, from being the hurler who had been left-behind in favor of a rookie who bombed his final three spring training starts. With that all behind him now, he took the mound without anyone (aside form Mark Zuckerman) willing to state out loud the importance of the next six batters, but with everyone knowing in the back of their mind he had a strong chance to become the first Washington National to throw a no hitter.
The Washington Nationals' nominal ace, John Lannan, will miss at least one start with soreness in his left forearm and elbow. Lannan first recognized the pain in his April 21 start against the Colorado Rockies, a game in which he threw 107 pitches and surrendered four runs on 11 hits in six innings of work. The opening day starter has struggled so far this season, going 1-2 with a 6.34 ERA in six starts. He is expected to return on May 13 at Coors Field against those same Rockies.
The question then becomes who replaces Lannan at least for the time being. Jason Marquis, who has not pitched since April 18 due to elbow soreness of his own, suggested that he would be ready to return to the team in time to make Lannan's scheduled start. Unfortunately for him, both General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Jim Riggleman have disagreed, expressing extreme skepticism with regard to his health and preparedness. It seems far more likely that the team calls up a minor leaguer - likely J.D. Martin - than turning to either Marquis or a reliever (Miguel Batista) for a spot start.
The Nationals have been devastated by injuries to starting pitchers. Off of the 40-man roster, the team currently has Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang, Garrett Mock, and Jason Marquis on the disabled list. Stephen Strasburg should join the major league club in the next month or two; however, the Nationals need someone to start every fifth day for that time. With Luis Atilano having recently been called up, look for Martin to join the rotation and make a few starts as needed.
Ivan Rodriguez continues defy the odds. At the age of 38, few thought he would be a productive everyday player in the majors in 2010. However out of the gates Rodriguez is leading the majors in hitting, and despite speculation of an upcoming fall to reality, he has kept on hitting. Entering Friday's game he is batting .405/.432/.514. While that kind of production is likely unsustainable, the Nationals need to try and take more advantage of it while it's here.
What Rodriguez has done 2010 to help spark his resurgence is create a new approach at the plate.
With 305 career home runs, he is one of the all-time best power hitting catchers. However, after failing to hit 15 homers or more home runs in any season since 2004, he realized that it is no longer part of his game. As a result we have seen a Ivan Rodriguez more focused on making strong contact and swinging for singles, not the fences. This can be reflected in his .108 ISO which is the lowest he's posted since 1992.
Without swinging for the fences, Rodriguez has been able to cut his strikeout percentage to 12.2, the lowest it's been since 1996. This has helped his increased batting average as he is no longer trying to drive pitches but trying to place them. The result has been simple, he's gotten on base better than any player on the Nationals.
Despite his outstanding output, Rodriguez hasn't been able to produce it into runs produced. Combining to drive-in and score 22 runs, he ranks only fifth on the Nationals line-up in producing runs. Often batting in the sixth slot, he's getting on base in front of people who are not hitting well enough to drive him in, and while he's hitting behind some very good hitters, he's not driving the ball well enough to hit in the big boppers.
Despite late inning heroics from Josh Willingham to push the game to extra innings, the Nationals fell in the 10th Wednesday night as Matt Diaz singled in Brandon Hicks pushing the score to 7-6.
It was a thing of beauty in its own right. Bobby Cox, a manager who has been underappreciated for his greatness, manufactured another win in the same way he had for the last 30 years. After slugging first-baseman Troy Glaus reached on a single, Cox pinch ran for him with Hicks. With a runner on and no outs, Cox gave the order to have slumping Melky Cabrera lay a sacrifice bunt to put Hicks in scoring position. The very next batter, Matt Diaz, poked a single to right scoring Hicks. Just the way Cox wrote it up, and just the way he has led his teams to 2,425 wins throughout his career.
The crushing blow came against Nationals closer Matt Capps, who up until this point, had been perfect. The loss was his first on the season. In 15 appearances the closer has registered 11 saves, 16 strikeouts, and has allowed only two earned runs.
The 69-year-old Cox's rendering was a response to some great moves by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman earlier in the game. In the top of the sixth, down 6-4, the Nationals couldn't afford to give up any more runs. They had allowed two runners to reach base with no outs. After Atilano struck out Tommy Hanson, Riggelman brought in Sean Burnett as well as two defensive replacements. Burnett retired the next two batters before intentionally walking Chipper Jones, and in doing so loading the bases. Riggleman's move paid off as McCann struck out to end the inning, and the Nationals escaped unscathed.
Cox's club got up early by getting to the young Nationals Starting pitcher, Luis Atilano, who had the worst outing of his short career. Facing the team that drafted him 22nd overall in 2003, the 24-year-old allowed six earned runs on seven hits. Atilano walked five batters while only striking out four, meaning he allowed 13 base runners in only 5.1 innings pitched.