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As lineup slumps, reinforcements draw closer

Jun 4, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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The Nationals’ sustained surge throughout most of May was triggered largely by offensive output, with a lineup that averaged a stout 6.7 runs during a 20-game stretch that resulted in a 16-4 record.

That lineup, though, has turned awfully quiet in the last two weeks. The Nationals suddenly find themselves in a full-blown slump at the plate, having scored an average of only 2.4 runs over their last 13 games, resulting in a 6-7 record.

And they may have hit rock bottom Wednesday night during an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays that included a 93-pitch complete game by veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

“Tonight, you can throw that one out because Mark does that,” manager Matt Williams said. “He throws balls down below the strike zone. It’s about getting quality pitches to hit and taking advantage of opportunities. During that long [high-scoring] stretch that we had, we really took advantage of those opportunities that were presented to us. And it hasn’t been as good lately. But it could start tomorrow.”

Indeed, there’s certainly enough talent in the Nationals lineup to believe things could begin to turn Thursday night when the Cubs come to town for a 4-game series. More specifically, though, things could begin to turn once the club’s best hitter from 2014 finally makes his 2015 debut, an event that draws closer by the day.

Anthony Rendon’s long rehab, first from a sprained knee ligament and then from a strained oblique muscle, is nearly complete. The young infielder has played five games in his latest stint with Class AA Harrisburg, including both ends of a doubleheader on Wednesday. He appears to have passed every physical test along the way and now simply needs to get his body and his swing in regular-season form.

Rendon’s pending return should make a huge difference to the Nationals lineup.

“Sure. It makes us longer, certainly,” Williams said. “And the way he played last year, the kind of hitter he is … he does a lot of things well for us. It gives us good on-base percentage. It gives us a guy that can hit the ball the other way well. He can move the baseball. He’s got some power, we all know that. So whenever that is, he’ll certainly help us.”

Truth be told, the absence of Rendon since March has been less damaging to the Nationals than most would have expected. Yunel Escobar’s quality offensive game (.317 average, .378 on-base percentage) and comfort at third base, along with Danny Espinosa’s surprise resurgence (six homers, .767 OPS) from the left side of the plate, has helped make up for the loss.

But lest anyone forget, Rendon was one of the best players in the NL last season (he finished fifth in MVP balloting) and the best player on the Nationals, without question. He’ll be hard-pressed to be deemed the Nats’ best player in 2015 unless Bryce Harper goes 0 for his next 74, but he’ll be an incredibly important contributor to this club.

“Hopefully, Rendon will get back pretty soon and give us a little jolt in this lineup,” Harper said. “We’ll get going. We’ve got a great team and everybody knows that. So we’ll get hot and ride it out.”

Rendon alone won’t cure all of the Nationals’ current offensive woes. Ryan Zimmerman (6 for his last 42, with a .190 slugging percentage) needs to heat up for good. Wilson Ramos (4 for his last 37, dropping his batting average from .311 to .264 in only 14 days) needs to find a level of consistency at the plate. Ian Desmond (on pace for only 12 homers and 46 RBI) needs to rediscover the power stroke that earned him three straight Silver Slugger Awards.

Get those guys on track and get Rendon back, and the Nationals should prove to be far more of an offensive threat than they’ve appeared to be the last couple of weeks.

“Having Rendon back will be great,” Desmond said. “Denard [Span] is slowly getting his legs back under him. … He didn’t get any spring training, so for him to get his legs back under him is going to be really important for us. Zim to get hot. Harp’s obviously been swinging great. So there’s a lot of good signs coming. You kinda just, like tonight, gotta wait it out.”

  1. Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 6:32 AM

    Well said.

    I would add to the recent non-performers Danny E., who is slashing .156/.270/.250 over the last 2 weeks. His surprising 2015 may be returning to earth (tho Ks are still under control).

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2015 at 6:49 AM

      When Rendon returns, it is Danny who is most likely to take a seat, and resume a bench role. As long as he is not in the lineup, he is not really a part of the ongoing problem. Lots of teams would like to have him on their bench. The Nats bench would become stronger with him on it.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 6:57 AM

        Agree about the future. My point was about the last few weeks – as Mark says, Danny was helping to keep the offense afloat for a while, but hasn’t recently.

        Yes, Danny probably goes back to the bench when Rendon returns. Ghost and some others have been talking about moving him to LF. I thought that was a stretch anyway, and the less well he’s hitting, the more of a stretch it is. (The other way Danny would stay in the line up regularly would be if Desi got benched, but that’s even less likely).

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:54 AM

        HH, if Danny isn’t hitting then he sits on the bench. Real simple. When his OPS was .820 it made sense. You don’t make moves for the sake of making a move when you still have TyMo, MAT, and CRob.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:06 AM

        Ghost,

        Robinson, Moore and Taylor have all been at replacement level all year. With Moore and Robinson we have enough evidence to suggest that this is who they are, Taylor, I think is still an open question. I think Espi in left is still a decent idea, his slump notwithstanding.

  2. laddieblahblah - Jun 4, 2015 at 6:45 AM

    To me, Ryan and Ramos are the swing hitters.

    Span, Escobar, Rendon and Harper are going to hit and get on base, but the 5 and 6-hole guys can’t then come up and hit into rally-killing, inning-ending DPs. Ryan had worked his way up from around .200 all the way to .250 and was hitting those low screamers which are the hallmark of his hitting game when it is on. Then, suddenly, he started striking out, hitting weak grounders, and popping up. Time for another cortisone shot? And Ramos had that long hitting streak which has been followed by a long hitting drought. If either one of those two can get back to where they were just a short time ago, then the offense will be rolling, again.

    Espinosa and Desmond are still swing and miss bats, although Danny has made a big improvement over last year. Ian is even worse this year than last, and should hit eighth, if not take a seat on the bench. Either Espinosa or Uggla would do better in the lineup than Desmond has been performing.

    Then there is left field. They miss more than Werth’s bat. They are now playing as poorly as they were when he was on the early season DL. The resurgence of the offense coincided with his return. Now he is on the DL, again, and the offense is just as bad now as it was the first time he took a seat. He is the only veteran leader among the position players. Desmond and Zimmerman just do not have it in them, especially since both of them are a big part of the problem.

    Harper is still only 22, and his day is coming, soon. Maybe now.

    • lphboston - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:06 AM

      Desmond got greedy and now is trying to get his powers numbers up so he can cash in in free agency. No way he now gets anything close to the $90 mill the Nats offered. He’s a selfish swing-and-miss guy who had no business being in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

      • scnatsfan - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:11 AM

        Oh he will get it as long as the Mets and Yankees play in NYC. He will get over 100M. But I agree he is a horrid #2 hitter… and the team that signs him at that price will grow weary of him.

      • Jfmii - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:28 AM

        A big stretch to say he is selfish

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:32 AM

        JZimm also turned them down–no doubt you think he too is a selfish, greedy SOB out to cash in?

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:48 AM

        Absolutely right. Desmond swings selfishly. Desmond treats April as his personal Spring Training each season. The image of him as a team guy is manufactured. It’s not what you say, but what you do. And #20’s actions on the field show what he’s all about. 2 year $20M deal somewhere else. That’s what he’s tracking for.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        Calling Desmond selfish now would seem to imply he was not, when he was doing things Riggleman’s way, and trying, with little success, to slap the ball the other way most of the time, rather than Davey’s way of swinging hard in case he hit it.

    • Karl Kolchak - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:44 AM

      Is Desmond being selfish? I don’t think so. This is who he is, and who he has always been.

      He has simply regressed at the plate to being the hitter he was in 2010 (.253/.298./.358 then vs. .246/.293/.379 now), only with more Ks and without the stolen bases. Free swingers often regress quickly after age 30 (Desmond turns 30 in September), so if this is the beginning of his ultimate decline, good luck to whomever pays him $100+ million starting next year.

      • adcwonk - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        Is Desmond being selfish? I don’t think so. This is who he is, and who he has always been.

        (imho, that needed to be said again with italics and bold)

    • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      Laddie,

      Here are the big issues as I see them:

      1) Zim is performing at replacement level through a 3rd of the year. If it’s injury related or if it’s temporary it’s one thing, if it’s the begining of regression and that’s who he will be going forward — huge problem.

      2) The Nats have no depth and no real prospects in the outfield, this gets to be a huge problem if Span leaves and Taylor does not progress and Werth either regresses or has a problem staying on the field.

      3) Escobar has been fine but he has hit 40 points above his lifetime average and 30 points above his OBP on a BABIP of .360 which is very likely to head south. If you assume that he will end up with roughly his career numbers at the end of the year then the rest of the year may be dissapointing. Keep in mind that he’s playing a position which is normally an offensive position and he brings little power to that position.

      The team was built around the pitching rotation and I think that in the end that will still carry us to an east division title comfortably but there are some fairly severe flaws and not a lot of help in the minors to address them.

  3. sec112 - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    I don’t want to suggest that Span is also in a slump, given he missed a couple games and hasn’t been 100%. But, he’s batting .133 over the last week and rolled over 4 weak ground balls, 3 to the right side last night, – and that’s what he does when he’s off.

    Hoping Rendon will be what it takes to get the bats rolling again.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:57 AM

      Yep, mini slump and good observation. He’s the tablesetter and has to get on base.

  4. Whack-A-Mule - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:12 AM

    Most logical, upon Rendon’s return, to bench Desmond (not Espinosa) .
    Desmond nearly the league leader with 60 K’s, and absolutely DEAD LAST
    among shortstops in fielding % (while Escobar tops the list of 3rd basemen
    and Danny is #2 at 2B).

    Desmond is arguably the 3rd-best SS on the Nats 25-man roster (behind both
    Espinosa and Escobar). Upon Rendon’s return (likely at 2B), why continue to
    start mediocrity ?

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:30 AM

      Desmond nearly the league leader with 60 K’s,

      Of course, he also nearly leads the league in PA, so that’s not really so surprising.

      Desi has not been good this year, but I don’t understand why people feel such a strong need to make him sound even worse than he is.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:59 AM

        “but I don’t understand why people feel such a strong need to make him sound even worse than he is.”

        I can help you with that one. The Nats org has protected Desmond each step of his career. They have sacrificed the team’s well being for him.

        He’s been statistically the worst defensive SS in the NL since he’s been installed as a starter. Yet his position has never, ever been threatened. He’s the only National to start every game this year despite being atrocious defensively.

        Desmond apologists excuse away his horrific April performances each season. Those games count just as much as ones in September. Why does he start slowly each April? Probably because he comes to Spring Training unprepared and/or doesn’t work hard when he’s there.

        I have a personal vendetta against Desmond and won’t deny that. Partly because of his play, but mostly because of the frustration I feel because of the refusal of the Nats org, and a good chunk of the fan base to look at him objectively and make smart baseball observations.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:06 AM

        Desi is 14th in shortstop OPS which is fine when you consider where he is in his peer group. Ryan Zimmerman is 28th in 1st base OPS.

        We all talk about Werth and RZim trending to their career averages and you can add Desi to that also as they are all off from where they need to be.

        This season:

        Ryan Zimmerman OPS is .646
        Ian Desmond OPS is .672

        The bonus for RZim has been his RISP stats have been good and his defense has been stellar but 1st base is a premium offensive position and Ryan has to improve those offensive numbers.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:15 AM

        I have a personal vendetta against Desmond and won’t deny that.

        Gosh, now that you mention it, it seems you do. 😉

        I don’t know where you get this idea that the organization has coddled and over-estimated him. They made him an offer 18 months ago (or whenever it was) that looked sensible based on his performance in 2012-13. Fortunately for them, he turned them down, and that offer is no longer on the table.

        Rizzo has by all evidence turned the page on Desi. Last off-season, he went out and traded for Turner as a likely SS of the future and Escobar as a stop-gap if needed for 2016.

        The chances of Desi being a Nat in 2016 are very, very slim. All we can do at this point is hope for the best for 2015–it seems like a lot of people here are actively rooting against him, which makes no sense to me. But YMMV.

    • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Correct. But the Nats have never applied logic to how they treat their favorite son. Desmond has been protected – by the org and the media – since he came up. All the while leading the league in Ks and errors at SS. If they want to keep him in the lineup, when Rendon returns, he should be moved to LF. That’s his true position.

      • bowdenball - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:11 AM

        I don’t understand how you can complain about others’ refusal to look at Desmond objectively in one breath and then make preposterous statements about his defensive prowess in the next. He’s been an elite defensive shortstop by virtually any reasonable metric (ie not the virtually useless errors/fielding % numbers) for his entire career.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:18 AM

        Elite defensive SS Ian Desmond.

        This should be good. Make your case. I’m all ears. If its even moderately reasonable I’ll leave NatsInsider forever.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:18 AM

        You’re wasting your time, BB.

        Guapo seldom shows up here except to bash Desi, and when he does, he insists that fielding % and errors are immaculately conceived and God’s greatest gifts to baseball statistics. I know, because I’ve been around with him a few times, and I can’t be bothered any longer.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:23 AM

        And this is where the discussion breaks down. No real response. No counter point to the brutally obvious statistics. Just “Guapo is stupid. I can’t prove he’s wrong, but just trust me, he’s wrong.” I’ll but to you, HH the same challenge. Pick any of your 10 favorite obscure defensive stats and prove Desmond is the elite defender you believe he is. I’ll never come back here and bother anyone again. Here’s your shot. Go ahead and take it.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:52 AM

        Guapo –

        You and everyone else are welcome to search past threads at Natsinsider–I have patiently answered these questions about defensive stats a # of times when you raised them before. I don’t feel the need to do it all over again, but don’t pretend the questions haven’t been answered.

        Btw, I agree that BB’s claim for Desi as an “elite defensive” SS is an oversell, as you know from our past spins on this merry-go-round. Your picture of him as the worst in the league is also overdrawn. It’s more accurate to say that he’s towards the middle defensively in his skills (good range and strong arm but also prone to throwing errors and brain-farts).

        At his peak, Desi’s greatest asset at SS was not his defense but his offense. That’s what justified the Nat’s extension offer to him. But his defense hasn’t improved, and his offense has declined, and the Nats are moving on. Some day, you will too.

      • bowdenball - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:57 AM

        Thanks, HH. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and make the case once, although I’m sure you’re correct.

        Desmond has elite range and is above-average at turning the double play, as demonstrated by his career and 2012-14 season UZR, DRS, double play runs saved, and various other advanced statistics. You can dismiss one of them if you like, but you cannot dismiss 20 of them, using various metrics, all reaching the same conclusion.

        I assume HH and others have explained this, but errors and fielding percentage are essentially useless. They ignore a number of variables that make a player a good defender. They actually punish range (you can’t make an error on a ball you don’t reach), don’t capture any of the value of making a difficult play, and ignore double play effectiveness, a particularly important variable for middle infielders. No reasonable baseball fan relies on them to evaluate defensive prowess. Errors are bad, of course, but those other metrics don’t ignore them. They just put them in context. Why is it worse for Desmond to reach a ball and bobble it vs. Jose Reyes or Wilmer Flores not even reaching it as it trickles into LF? In fact isn’t the bobble better than the ground ball not reached, since it keeps baserunners from taking the extra base?

        He has been poor defensively this year, you’ll get no argument from me or the advanced stats on that. But before this season he’s been a great defensive SS. Experts and fans alike are almost unanimous in reaching that conclusion. If you demand objectivity and smart baseball observations from others you can start with doing the same yourself.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:05 PM

        “Desmond has elite range and is above-average at turning the double play, as demonstrated by his career and 2012-14 season UZR, DRS, double play runs saved, and various other advanced statistics”

        OK. Let’s break this down

        – According to FanGrahps, Desmond’s career UZR is -8.1. Which to my understanding is that over his career, he’s significantly worse than the average MLB shortstop within that measurement.

        – His career DRS is -24. Again, I’m no stats PhD, but that seems to me that Desmond is again below average.

        Are UZR and DRS measurements like golf, where lower is better? I’m honestly questioning it b/c if those are the stats you are choosing to make a case for someone being an elite defender I figure I must be reading it wrong. And it I am I’m sorry.

        Here’s what else I found.

        From 2010 – 2014 of the 11 NL SS who logged 3000+ innings, here is how Desmond ranks.

        UZR 7 of 11
        RangeRuns 6th of 11
        DPR 5 of 11

        My point is this. Nothing that I see shows Desmond has elite range. Or is an elite overall fielder. It’s simply not there to be found.

        At best, he’s a SS who over his career puts up advanced statistics that are below average while being among the worst in real, tangible on field errors.

        You may dismiss the errors as meaningless, but I disagree. Official scorers are trained to only assign errors to fielders when plays that should reasonably be made are not. It’s not a perfect science, but more times than not official scorers are fair and often favor fielders.

        We can debate advanced statistics all we want but real games are won on real plays, not complex formulas. I’m certain that starting pitchers are impacted more by Desmond kicking an easy grounder than if is UZR goes down .002. Real errors cost real out and real games.

        So to go back to the original point, the reason I make such a stink of Desmond is because of how you opened your response. Using words like elite defender, then backing them with stats that show otherwise. Making statements about unanimous agreement by experts on Desmond’s elite defensive status, but providing NOTHING at all to back it up.

        Maybe I let that bother me more than I should. Maybe pointing to facts to those who don’t want to hear them is a waste of effort.

      • Guapo - Jun 10, 2015 at 8:33 AM

        “errors and fielding percentage are essentially useless”…except when the cost the team games, like list night, again.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        Not so fast. We still have not explained one major point here. Why would the front office and three different managers “coddle” Ian Desmond, to the alleged detriment of the ball club? What’s in it for them, seeing as how winning games, and eventually a playoff series (someday!) is the only way they stay employed? That’s a pretty extraordinary claim. I’d like some extraordinary reason, please.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:32 PM

        I don’t have access to the front office insiders, so this is only my best guess.

        Business.

        The Nats haven’t exactly had a decade of sustained excellence on the field. Early on they went out and got one of the most dynamic players of this generation in Soriano. I hauled my butt from NoVA to RFK to watch him a bunch of times, but I’m a baseball guy and there are only so many of us. No city can fill a stadium consistently with baseball purists. They need something else. Winning is generally the best formula, but in the absence of winning, what else do you have? How do you get the average person to head to the stadium?

        Ian Desmond was that for the Nats. Stunningly attractive dude, to get the attention of female (and some male) local residents who might not get overly excited like I do about hitting behind runners or setting up the outside slider with a fastball up an in. Next time you are at the park, do an informal count of the Male to Female allocation of #20 jerseys.

        Desmond is also a free swinger. Doesn’t make a ton of contact but when he does..its generally hard contact and he hits his share of HRs. Casual fans love the long ball, in this city and elsewhere.

        That’s my best explanation as to why the org coddled Desmond. He was the most marketable asset they had to attract casual fans until the team started winning. And he became a fan favorite quickly. Baseball teams want to win, but that takes time. While you are building you still need to make money and #20 was the golden goose.

      • adcwonk - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:06 AM

        Just to throw one other thing into the mix to defend against irrational bashing:

        Fangraphs has Ian’s defensive WAR as 5th, 5th, and 7th in the NL for SS’s for 2012, 13, 14. That doesn’t sound like “worst”

        One must also add into the mix, when discussing the worth of a player, that in each of those years he won the Silver Slugger. He musta been doing something right at the plate.

      • Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:15 PM

        Fair on the dWAR stat. So here is my revised Desmond position.

        During the three best seasons of his career, Ian Desmond was an defensive NL SS according to advanced metrics, while still committing the most errors for NL SS over that same time period.

        Fair?

        Silver Sluggers for shortstops is about as relevant as having the fastest 100 meter time for Left Tackles in the NFL. Nice accomplishment, but not nearly as important as protecting your QB.

        Desmond’s offensive numbers are only impressive b/c he plays a position where defense is a premium. His 2014 season was almost identical to Marlon Byrd’s. Not someone I consider an elite player.

      • adcwonk - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:37 PM

        Silver Sluggers for shortstops is about as relevant as having the fastest 100 meter time for Left Tackles in the NFL.

        Totally disagree on that. First off, his dWAR was positive — meaning he added value as SS, not detracted. Clearly, given his errors, his range made up for it.

        Secondly, anyone contributing as a hitter helps. How many SS’s averaged 80+ RBI and 75 Runs scored over three years. (And in one of those three years, was an all star — clearly everybody else thought he was pretty darn valuable. Oh, and finished 16th in MVP (!!) for all players)

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:09 AM

        Shortstop and #1 pitchers are the 2 most important positions for teams to fill.

        Even with Desi’s slow start and all those K’s you have to think teams will be eager to get him, just probably not at the big dollars per year he wanted unless he gets his stats up. His OPS since 2012 has been on a straight line down and this year is no exception. With all that mentioned, hes still up above league average in offense and defense if he keeps the errors down.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:30 AM

        Wonk,

        He’s been awful this year. He ranks 9th in SS in the NL below Flores and Galvis (but above Rollins and Castro who have both been terrible).

        Incidently I saw where you tried to engage in debate with a certain blogger last night during the game. IMHO I try to follow the following advice I got from a very wise man:

        ‘Never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty but the pig likes it’.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 4, 2015 at 2:26 PM

        I don’t have access to the front office insiders, so this is only my best guess.
        Business.

        Thanks, Guapo, for the response. I don’t find it convincing, personally, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis. I think winning games is what sells tickets, not cute butts, and anyhow, he’s not that good looking, and anyhow, good-looking is a dime-a-dozen around here.

        That said, the consistent positive fan response, and not just in here, must come from someplace. People clearly like him. So maybe there’s something to that argument.

        I think a better argument might be that he does bring intangibles that the FO and his teammates value, stuff that doesn’t show up in stats. But even that’s a bit of a stretch, IMO, unless it’s alongside real production.

        I think they stick with him because they think he’s still better than the alternatives.

        But he’s not an elite shortstop. He’s OK, and he does get hot sometimes, and makes some good plays, and helps out around the clubhouse, and with the community. Great makeup guy. I wish him well wherever he winds up next year.

  5. micksback1 - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:16 AM

    Not shocked at Jordan, young and inconsistent. Other than Bryce, nobody is seeing the ball right now. I guess this is a lull right now. Blue Jays are not a bad team and will contend in the East, so, I a not that down right now.

    BP is a major flaw. If our starters can not go 8 innings, Nats are in trouble. Other than Thornton and Storen we are in serious trouble

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    Zimmerman is making a huge hole in the middle of the lineup. (Desmond similarly makes a huge hole at the top but he’s at least bracketed by better than average performers.) Harper would thrive with Rendon ahead of him and a competent hitter behind him but right now there is no reason to give him a pitch he can hit. Four balls inside and a base on balls? Much more safe than throwing a real strike and watching him cruise into second or high-five everybody at home plate. Noticeably, he’s swinging and missing at pitches high and and well out of the strike zone.

    Plantar fasciitis is an insidious injury, difficult to treat because (from personal experience) it is “protective,” often the body’s reaction to perceived disfunction somewhere else, maybe the hip or ankle, or maybe the achilles. If the rest of the team had been healthy, the smart thing would have been a 10-12 day period of inactivity. I’m pretty certain this is the root of his hitting troubles. I can’t imagine being able to hit with power, or reach the outside part of the plate, with the arch of his back foot barking at every pivot or stretch. Even if he is able to put his bat on the ball his power has been sapped — the most notable recent example being the fly ball that screamed into RF the other nite and was caught at the wall. This is probably why some of his most productive ABs have been sac flies instead of doubles or HRs.

    • Jfmii - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:31 AM

      That was illuminating, thanks. And it feels correct

    • virginiascopist - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:38 AM

      Agree regarding Zimmerman. I wonder if, assuming things don’t change, when Rendon comes back, he might be slotted in behind Harper, followed by some combination of Zimmerman, Desi and Ramos.

    • natsguy - Jun 4, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      There is also a little issue with his shoulder. That brings down his bat speed and his power. I t was happening last year but because of the hamstring nobody noticed. All those sac flys he has hit this year and last year used tobe doubles and homers. Plantar Fascitis heals, believe me shoulders with arthritis don’t. I speak from experience with both.

    • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:03 AM

      Theo,

      What you say makes sense, I don’t like to speculate on medical issues because I am not an expert and I don’t really know how the player is actually feeling. Having said that Zim is inthe lineup everyday, playing a position which is almost always counted on to be a strong offensive position and he has contributed replacement level numbers, that’s a big problem especially if it’s not temporary.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:23 AM

        “I don’t like to speculate on medical issues because I am not an expert and I don’t really know how the player is actually feeling.”

        I agree and if the team thought there was a problem I have to believe they would act on it. The team at least has options there with CRob and TyMo if they thought they could improve 1st base. CRob’s numbers are actually worse than RZim’s so there’s that.

        As I have written numerous times and above, RZim lags his peer group in a premium offensive position by a wide margin as he’s 28th in 1st base OPS, but consider other teams have made moves at 1st base and the Nats haven’t making the Nats last in 1st base OPS. yes last. Taking the power out of the equation, his career OBP is .349 and RZim is currently at .276.

        It’s time to admit this is the biggest team problem as we are 1/3 of the way through the season.

        The NL average for a 1st baseman OPS is .836 and RZim is at .646

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/batting/split/79/sort/OPS/order/true

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:32 AM

        Ghost,

        I dont think RZs offense is the teams biggest problem overall. The back of the rotation and the front of the bullpen are. Its probaly the biggest problem on offense. Desi is a problem and to much time spent on that as that is just another problem.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:38 AM

        Largest offensive problem. Again from my point above, his RISP approach has been better than his regular slash and he is providing true Gold Glove defense.

      • bowdenball - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:10 AM

        Great call, GoSM. Zimmerman’s offensive struggles are a huge story, and it’s bizarre that the media is barely making a peep about it.

        The team might want to think about moving Harper up to second in the order. Having your best bat in the 2 spot seemed to work out well for the Reds and Blue Jays over the last week.

      • zmunchkin - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:41 PM

        FWIW RZ has a history of heating up around July 1. Check out his career splits by month. If he can get his plantar faciitius under control, there is some justification to be optimistitic.

      • fstop1970 - Jun 4, 2015 at 2:44 PM

        JD…….I just saw your quote above. That is awesome….great advise. Had to Google it to find the original source and it was George Bernard Shaw.

    • Toot D. Blan - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:07 AM

      ” Harper would thrive with Rendon ahead of him and a competent hitter behind him but right now there is no reason to give him a pitch he can hit. Four balls inside and a base on balls? Much more safe than throwing a real strike and watching him cruise into second or high-five everybody at home plate. Noticeably, he’s swinging and missing at pitches high and and well out of the strike zone.”

      Which games are you watching? Over this most recent 1-5 stretch vs CIN and TOR, Harper is 7 for 17 with 3 walks, only 2 strikeouts, and 2 doubles. That’s a slash line of .412/.500/.529. That’s MVP-level performance despite having Zimmerman batting behind him, and doesn’t fit your narrative at all.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:02 AM

        That’s crap — it’s been a completely hollow “slash line” over that period. One RBI (HR), two runs scored. Six of the seven hits didn’t plate any runs, because there were no runners on base. So they pitched to him when he wasn’t going to do any damage. And there wasn’t anything to fear from the hitter behind him. Big whoop.

    • veejh - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:40 AM

      I had plantar fasciitis last year. It really is relentless. I finally got it under control by purchasing inserts for my shoes with massive arch. Get well, Zim. We need you.

  7. Guapo - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    Injuries suck.

    As long as the Nats can hang at or near the division lead until the AS break, things should be OK.

    May showed what a mostly healthy Nats team can accomplish.

  8. jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    I think signing Span which we all thought was not going to happen should now be considered a must. There is no way you can count on Werth to play close to a full season, Taylor is still a work in progress and there is nothing in the pipeline reasonably close to being major league ready.

    At the risk of being ridiculed I think the Nats should seriously consider moving Escobar. I think he has outperformed his lifetime slash line to the degree that he may bring something significant back. I don’t like him playing 3rd base which moves our 2nd best player out of position and he is after all just a singles hitter. If we assume that Turner and Diffo are close to taking over the middle infield I have no problem playing Espi at 2nd and letting Rendon play his natural 3rd. If Espi regresses badly you rent a 2nd baseman at the trade deadline the way we did last year.

    • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:35 AM

      I agree on Span.

      I wouldnt move Esco with Desi heading to Free Agency. Rizzo has said this is who Esco is and he thinks there were other issues at play for the lag in Esco’s numbers.

      • Eric - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:37 AM

        +1 on Span and Esco, 128.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:46 AM

        nats128,

        Esco’s BABIP is .360 which means he has been very lucky. If he goes to a more normal .320 (Which is still high) he’ll be hitting more like .280 which for a singles hitter playing 3rd base and moving Rendon to a less desirable 2nd base ain’t so great.

        My suggestion presupposes that Turner and Diffo are very close, of course if that’s not the case then you can’t move Escobar.

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:45 AM

        Im not disagreeing about current levels. Just glad he is exceeding expectations.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        Don’t push Turner or Difo any faster by creating need through a trade of a middle infielder.

        Let it work naturally through best 25 go North.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:45 AM

        It may be worth recalling that Ryan Zimmerman, when he was called up in Sept. 2005, could play at the MLB level right away. But he was replacing Vinny Castilla, who was on his last half of a knee by then, for a club that knew it wouldn’t contend, and probably wouldn’t sniff .500, for quite some time. So they could afford to have him up here–in fact, it was cheaper to have him up here, rather than pay Vinny or someone like him, to sit on the DL.

        Turner and Difo are not in that boat.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:59 AM

      Turner and Difo are not close to taking over the defense this season. Esco stays as a very affordable bridge to that future.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:11 AM

        HH and Ghost,

        You both make good points but If you dominate at AA as these 2 are doing you are potentially quite close.

        HH,

        I was talking next year, not this year. For this year I prefer Espi at 2nd and Rendon at 3rd over Rendon at 2nd and Esco at 3rd.

        I do agree with ghost that it’s probably unwise to remove the safety net for the younsters. It’s still quite a step up from AA to the majors.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        JD, I’m giddy over how good the Nats infield will look in 2017 but you don’t rush it. 2016 will be a transitional year with Desi heading to FA. There will be painful steps in the transition.

        We should all be excited for the future, but like we’ve seen with Michael A. Taylor, there are no guarantees.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:39 AM

        I’m giddy over how good the Nats infield will look in 2017

        I can hardly wait for the posts in 2017 that complain about Rizzo coddling his pet projects Turner and Difo, and how they need to be traded while they still have any value, for a 7th inning lefty reliever.

    • zmunchkin - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:47 PM

      I wouldn’t (at thi point) sign Span to a multi-year deal. But he has demonstrated he is worth a QO. The Nats either get him for another year, or we get a pick.

      Likewise Desi’s problems may cause him to consider accepting the QO and then cashing in after 2016 -not likely, but possible.

  9. Eric - Jun 4, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    “Denard [Span] is slowly getting his legs back under him. ”

    What? If Denard had gotten his legs back under him any more quickly, he would’ve achieved actual lift off!

    • ArVAFan - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:50 AM

      Give some of his jumps, you’re not far off.

  10. langleyclub - Jun 4, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    As pointed out above, Escobar has performed beyond reasonable expectation. His BABIP and considerable MLB history as a mediocre offensive player suggest that his 2015 offensive numbers to date are not sustainable. Escobar has never been a competent top of the order hitter on a good offensive team, and its delusional to think that he is going to breakout at 32. The need for Escobar to bat 2nd and even 3rd shows that the Nats offensive problems may be a long term issue.

    Not ready to draw a final conclusion on Ryan Zimmerman yet, but his numbers are disconcerting. Combining his 2014 and 2015 numbers (113 games – 457 ABs 10 HRs; low .700 OPS), paints a pretty weak picture for a middle of the order first baseman. Among the problems is that RZ is clearly not healthy (foot), but with the Nats injuries and the need to overcome the injury-prone rep, RZ is trying to battle through it to the team’s detriment.

  11. jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    I see where A.J. Cole is listed as the Syracuse starter tonight. If that is so then I wonder who is starting for the Nats on Saturday. Treinen? Scherzer or JZim on short rest?

  12. nats4me - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Viewpoints from an older Senators/Nationals fan regarding Ian Desmond.
    Here is my book on how to pitch to Ian…first pitch above the letters fastball. Don’t miss too low or he will put it out of the park. He normally swings for strike one. Give him a slider, or some sort of slower pitch/breaking ball on the outside edge or off the plate…don’t worry, he’ll probably swing for strike two. Follow up with a pitch or two off the outside edge, and perhaps he’ll lay off, but don’t worry, if you repeat the first pitch high in the zone he’ll probably chase for strike three.
    If I can write this book, obviously every other major league team has written it as well, and it’s amazing how often it falls right into line. Ian can’t lay off those high strikes, or the outside and low pitches. You can see himself muttering to himself as he walks back to the dugout…that he struck out again on the same stuff.
    As far as Ian as a shortstop, I’d call him an above average fielder, it’s just that his arm will get himself into trouble at times. He gets to more balls than the average SS, but the wild throws hurt. Also his tendency to field a ball to his right with a side-arm or backhand pick-up gets him in trouble. He has the time to square up to ground ball, but he likes to side-step it for some reason.
    Fielding metrics really do make more sense than fielding errors. There was a major disagreement back in the late 60s regarding the fielding of Eddie Brinkman [Senators] vs Mark Belanger [Orioles]. The prevailing argument was that Belanger was the superior fielding SS. I could never understand it, because watching them both, you could see that Brinkman would get to balls easier and make the hard play look easy. You could almost count on Eddie Brinkman fielding a ball on the 2nd baseman’s side of the bag every game, and those same balls Belanger couldn’t. Take 1969, Brinkman had a .976 fielding percentage with a 21 Rtot and 5.23 Rf/9. For Belanger? .968, 12 Rtot and 4.87 Rf/9. Brinkman had years in which he made more errors than Belanger, but his lifetime range and percentage was better. Desmond does get to balls that average SS’s don’t, but it’s what he does after he gets to them that creates some of the trouble.

  13. Danny - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Someone clue me in why we need a spot starter Saturday?

    Isn’t the rotation at this moment lined up Zimmermann, Scherzer, Jordan, Gio, Roark?

    • Danny - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Oh nvm forgot about the DH. Zimm would be on short rest.

      • ITGSOT - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        Not just short rest. REAL short rest. Saturday game is at noon to accommodate the Dream Foundation gala that night. Not a good omen. Have the Nats ever won a series on DF weekend? Can’t recall one.

  14. nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    “bowdenball – Jun 4, 2015 at 10:10 AM
    Great call, GoSM. Zimmerman’s offensive struggles are a huge story, and it’s bizarre that the media is barely making a peep about it.

    The team might want to think about moving Harper up to second in the order. Having your best bat in the 2 spot seemed to work out well for the Reds and Blue Jays over the last week.”

    In the passed, RZ has always said dont worry that he would get back to career norms. A shot of cortizone always seemed to do the trick.

    This is the discussion that nobody wants to have and its easy to just throw out there that plantar fasitis is the cause. Could be and if it was that simple they could put him on the DL.

    • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:43 AM

      They don’t want to put him on the DL because in addition to having a black hole in left field you don’t want to create another one at 1st base. I know he is playing at replacement level but the thought of Robinson and/or Moore to go along with Taylor in the every day lineup makes me twitch wildly.

      If this is what Zim is going forward we are in big trouble. He is signed through 2019 at big bucks per year so we all better hope that he finds his stroke and real soon.

      The idea of Harper batting 2nd should have been broached a long time ago but the team was winning so MW stayed with a flawed batting order (how he concluded that Desi should bat 2nd is beyond me). At this point Rendon is days away and he is the perfect 2nd place hitter so just moving Desi way down in the order should help.

      Wilson Ramos is also scuffling very badly. His OBP is .287 which is aweful and he’s also not hitting with any power.Believe it or not he’s still 4th in the NL for catchers WAR with a crappy 0.3.

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:50 AM

        I think your right about doing a DL stint but they could try more regular rest when a RH pitcher is on the mound to get both Tyler Moore and CRobby in.

        The problem is CRobbys stats are the worst on the team.

    • ITGSOT - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:46 AM

      Kind of hard for the media to get a good rant going about the terrible offensive performance of a guy who’s ninth in the league in RBI. But don’t be surprised when they DL him when Rendon returns to get him off his feet for a couple weeks.

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:55 AM

        Hes the productive out leader and getting RBIs and as Ghost says the RISP numbers are good.

        Overall the offensive numbers have to come up and he must get on base at a higher frequency and keep the line moving.

        The chances have been there all season for RZ to rake with Bryce on base and the high OBP of Escobar.

        RBIs are always a factor of circumstance unless you are knocking yourself in like Harper.

  15. natsdial8 - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    Some well thought out comments and discussions . Does anyone on this am blog actually work 🙂

    • sec112 - Jun 4, 2015 at 2:09 PM

      I wonder that all the time. It’s a full time job just to keep up with the posts. Never mind do the research needed to write a decent one yourself!

  16. Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    In addition to the present woes of the ML roster, I am more then a little dismayed when I look through the minors at our position players. I scour the farm results and box scores daily and there isn’t too much to get very excited about right now other than Difo and the PTBNL, who should join the Nats farm next Saturday. From Hagerstown to Potomac to Harrisburg to Syracuse I really don’t see one OFer destined to make the big leagues. And even the catcher prospects are questionable. Am I missing something/someone? [Not talking about pitchers].

    • David Proctor - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:47 PM

      Spencer Kieboom is highly thought of as a catching prospect and he has a .760 OPS for Potomac. Very respectable for a guy with supposedly great defense. Jakson Reetz is the highest ceiling guy of the catchers and he hit well in the GCL last year. However, I don’t see anywhere that he has played this year? Is he hurt? I thought he’d play at Hagerstown this year. Either way, he is a very long way away. Scouts seem to love Pedro Severino too. He’s a great catch and throw guy, but he has a .600 OPS at Harrisburg. Seems like a backup to me.

      Catcher is a relatively deep position in the system compared to other positions, which is more of an indictment of the system than anything. We really have nothing in the OF. Brian Goodwin got demoted from Syracuse to Harrisburg, where he’s still only hitting .221/.275/.344. Matt Skole is doing nothing of note. The cupboard is pretty bare in position players other than, as you said, Difo and Turner.

      There are some promising guys in the very lower levels, but those are crapshoots. I know some prospect gurus really like Victor Robles, who was a sign out of the Dominican. He’s a CFer and crushed the DSL last year, but he’s only 18 and is a loooong ways off.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:17 PM

        Kieboom may pan out, but I’m not super excited about him yet. Let’s see how he does as he moves up. Severino also may eventually make it, but again, we’ll see. As to Brian Goodwin? His sands are running out in the hourglass. Injuries, or not, he has been a huge disappointment, and his attitude has been questioned according to one respected poster on this board.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:59 PM

        Keiboom is 24 and in A ball. By definition I don’t think he’s a prospect. Severino is scuffling but he’s 21 and at AA.

        Seamhead, you are exactly right. We have some depth in pitching although most of the real prospects are still at A or A+. This is why I thought at the begining of the year that we can convert some of our pitching depth into some good young talent.

  17. lplipty - Jun 4, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    Its time for CRob to go back home (AAA)

    • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:15 PM

      Nobody to replace him with a lefty bat. Im in the grouping that says he has to step up or be replaced in a trade. Hes the Chad Tracy issue that Rizzo keeps having. Nobody is pitching around him.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:00 PM

        My overall impression is that Clint Robinson has been making good contact but hitting in hard luck. I went back an checked his numbers, and it’s true. His BABIP (.277) is significantly below league average (.299) despite a batted ball profile that features significantly more line drives (31.9% vs. 21% league average) and fewer fly balls (25.5% vs. 34.4% league average) and infield fly balls (8.3% vs. 9.6% league average). Because line drives are optimum contact and fly balls (and especially infield fly balls, which are basically strikeouts – to paraphrase Earl Weaver, they don’t drop many popups in this league) have the poorest chance of falling for hits, Robinson’s batted ball profile indicates that his BABIP should be better than league average rather than worse.

        For these reasons I’m OK with Robinson as the LH bat off the bench, and regard him as a considerable improvement over the Chad Tracy’s of past seasons. He’s actually been a decent (not great, but solid) battter and the numbers should come to reflect that.

      • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:19 PM

        Still lacks power and BABIP is also based on type of contact. Seems he wears it well.

  18. lplipty - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:06 PM

    the fact of the matter is: Desmon should be no higher than 7, Ramos is morst comfortable at 8. But, Taylor has to hit 8…that said mine is:

    1Span
    2Rendon
    3Escobar
    4The Natural
    5Zimm
    6Ramos
    7Desmond
    8Taylor

    -OR-

    1Span
    2Rendon
    3Escobar
    4The Natural
    5Zimm
    6Moore
    7Desmond
    8Ramos

    • nats128 - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      Escobar and Rendon need to be reversed for sure. Escobar has proved to be a good OBP guy, just not the classic 3 hole RBI guy.

      Otherwise I like the 2 scenarios moving Tyler Moore and MAT in the lineups.

      • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 2:24 PM

        nats128,

        What’s the clasic no. 3 guy? I think these old theories have been debunked a long time ago. Your best hitters should hit 1,2 and 4. The statistical differences are not that much but the 3rd place hitter will often come up with the bases empty and no one on. The cleanup hitter will either come up with men on base (I am talking about the 1st inning, after that the batting order is more random anyway) or leadoff the 2nd inning in either case it’s a more important situation than the 1st scenario.

        So on that basis I like liplipty’s orders.

  19. Grifftrain - Jun 4, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    This thread has kinda depressed me. I was just hoping to read that Rendon coming back and all will be well, but the talk of Spans slump, zim injury, Desmond’s troubles, romas batting average falling and the thought that Escobar has been playing over his head doesn’t make me feel good about the future. I know when I see an outfield with Taylor, Robinson , and T Moore asked to play major roles, I get to doubting this team.
    Please, someone, pick me up. Give me some good news and tell me we can win this year, and also have a good future

    • Eric - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:21 PM

      Here you go:

      • Eric - Jun 4, 2015 at 1:22 PM

        That’s a screenshot I just took from here 5 minutes ago, FYI.

      • Grifftrain - Jun 5, 2015 at 12:54 PM

        Just a day after you posted the standings, they fall out of first, I hate to say it. So your attempt to pick me up only depressed me more

    • jd - Jun 4, 2015 at 2:27 PM

      Grifftrain,

      The overwhelming strength of this team was going to be a killer starting rotation. The leneup was going to be fine but it was based on players such as Zim, Werth and Desmond at least matching their career norms which none of them is doing. The team is still good enough to win 9 series in a row and win the division comfortably. We are just discussing some flaws which are in fact very real.

  20. dcphanatic - Jun 4, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    The Nata have two very big offensive problems right now. One is the fact that Ryan Zimmerman is not hitting. Much is being done about his 30+ RBIs, but he has been at the plate with an awful lot of RISP. Harper has made sure of that. If Zimmerman continues to hit at a .220 clip, pitchers will just pitch around Harper, like they have been doing the last two weeks. The other problem is Ian Desmond. He is a .290 OPB man that strikes out too much. In all likelihood he will get his 20 homers and 75 RBIs. And those numbers will look good when he is looking for a new contract in the off season. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Desi is one of the worst situational hitters in the game. Runner on third and no outs, and Dasi will not bring that runner home. He is a 7th or 8th hole hitter. Wish him luck and I pray he goes to the Mets. They deserve him.

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