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Nats lineup still searching for answers

Jun 7, 2015, 9:32 AM EDT

Jun 6, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) reacts after striking out to end the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park. The Chicago Cubs won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nationals broke out for seven runs on Friday night, the hope was certainly for that momentum to carry over on Saturday in their early afternoon bout with the Cubs. Manager Matt Williams had adjusted his lineup with Ryan Zimmerman batting second and Anthony Rendon hitting cleanup. He went with the same approach on Saturday, but the team reverted back to their recent troubles and managed only two runs on five hits in the 4-2 loss.

Williams gave credit to Chicago’s starter Jason Hammel – who is now 9-0 against the Nats in 11 career starts – but was direct to the point when giving a reason for his team’s offensive woes.

“Swinging at balls out of the strike zone. You have to hit strikes against him and we swung at some balls out of the strike zone today,” he said.

Hammel sprayed his fastball in and out of the zone and mixed in sweeping sliders with the occasional looping curveball. Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper were able to see him well, as both homered. Harper also landed a single in the first inning. But the rest of the Nats’ lineup went 2-for-21 against him across eight innings plus one at-bat in the ninth.

Ian Desmond said it was Hammel’s slider that was the toughest pitch to hit on Saturday.

“He locates his heater well enough to make his slider really effective. Heavy slider guy,” he said. “Today, I felt a lot better. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt against him. To lay off, I don’t know, if he throws down the middle you want to hit it. It’s an effective pitch, certainly.”

It may have been Hammel’s slider in this particular loss, but a combination of things have held the Nationals back on offense. Only three MLB teams have scored fewer runs in the month of June so far. The Nats have managed three runs or less in 13 of their last 16 games with an average of 2.6 runs per game during that stretch.

Williams was visibly frustrated after Saturday’s loss in what was his shortest postgame press conference of the season. He clearly wasn’t happy, but had already turned his focus towards Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. series finale against the Cubs.

“We’re not gonna make too much of it, okay,” he said. “Today we swung at balls out of the strike zone and didn’t give ourselves as much a chance as we wanted to. So we have to go get ‘em tomorrow.”

  1. richardp6 - Jun 7, 2015 at 9:36 AM

    If he bats Zimmerman 2nd again, I’ll scream(or put my foot thru the TV). Its a simpleton strategy to put Zim in front of Harper to get better pitches. What they’re forgetting is that Zimms problem is not a slump, its that his foot problems are preventing him from being his normal self. Now that I’ve said this, Zimm is sure to get 4 hits today.

    • coop202 - Jun 7, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      +4

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 9:50 AM

      “Now that I’ve said this, Zimm is sure to get 4 hits today.”

      After I complained the same, I said of course he would have big days. It wasn’t meant to be as he seems to have gotten worse. The dreaded GIDP killed an inning then with Espi on 2nd and Bryce in the on-deck circle he K’d in the 8th.

      I put up the James Loney comparisons where he hit best in his career in the 7 spot (lineup order with more than 25 starts).

      I would try Span, Rendon, Harper, Ramos, Moore at the top of the order today. I don’t think Esco will be back until Tuesday.

      With Esco I would go Span, Esco, Harper, Rendon, Ramos, Moore, RZim, Espi.

      • Doc - Jun 7, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        It may have some theoretical batting benefit for Zim to bat 2nd,but it don’t think that it’s of any benefit to the other guys at the top of the lineup. It also breaks up any attempt to start up a rally.

        The 8th spot is about where Zim belongs. At this point, the bench spot may even be more realistic!

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:50 AM

        My choice- Span, Rendon, Harper, Moore[1B], Ramos, Desi,Espi,Taylor, J.Zimm

        Give Ryan 2 days off.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:54 AM

        I think that could very well be today’s lineup.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:08 PM

        “Give Ryan 2 days off.”

        At least. I would not send him back out there until I was sure he was physically sound.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:11 PM

        Like I said before, management probably knows more than us what ails him and combine that with a slump and the combination is weak or no contact.

      • Jfmii - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:32 PM

        Desi conspicuously absent…

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:38 PM

        RZim sitting today

    • natsguy - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      The problem is his shoulder and has been going on for a long time. You can’t fix shoulders.

  2. Dorothy LaRussoi - Jun 7, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    Tired of the lame excuses from Desi about how good pitcher was. Learn to hit

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 7, 2015 at 10:25 AM

      Desmond “felt a lot better” and went 0-4 w/ two Ks. Heaven only knows what he’d do if he felt worse.

      I am sick and tired of hearing what a great leader Desmond is in the club house. If he were such a great leader he’d change his approach at the plate to benefit the team. Is that too much to ask? Maybe Desmond in the club house is part of the problem.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 10:53 AM

        Desmond is certainly part of the problem but let’s not put it all on him. He’s been bad in the clutch and the reason he also needs to be back in the lineup or sitting altogether as I proposed for a Tuesday lineup. Lets see what happens giving Desi a “rest” day.

  3. philipd763 - Jun 7, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Bet Desmond wishes he had taken the Lerners $110 million when it was on the table. He may have to do a 1 year contract next season.

    • Just. Dave - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      I guess he gets about $80,000,00.00 over five years. I doubt he fills his life with regrets.

    • scnatsfan - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:53 AM

      As long as the Yanks and Mets play in NYC he will get $100m. Count on it. Someone will overpay. For a team that has a black hole at SS he will look like Ernie Banks. Our problem is we grade him against who he has been.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:17 PM

        And he also tends to be graded on a day to day (or even PA to PA, situational) basis. That’s not how GMs grade. At the end of the season, assuming his splits are at least somewhat closer to his career norms (which I expect), he’ll sign a contract that will provide for his family for generations to come.

  4. natsdial8 - Jun 7, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    Just reading between the lines I’m not convinced the Nats even really tried to extend Ian . We have enough players regressing who are on long term contracts .

    • npb99 - Jun 7, 2015 at 1:51 PM

      I agree. At least 2 contracts I’m counting the years till they are over – Werth and RZ. Those guys have both done great things in the past for this franchise, but they are now yesteryear’s stars getting paid too much.

  5. laddieblahblah - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    “Swinging at balls out of the strike zone. You have to hit strikes against him and we swung at some balls out of the strike zone today,” he (Matt) said.

    MW has been saying similar things all season. The two guys who have heeded his advice to be more patient, more disciplined, and more selective are Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Those two also happen to be the most effective of all the Nats hitters this year, by a wide margin. It seems to me that Matt is making a direct appeal to the free swingers to tighten things up, and follow the lead that Harp and Danny have provided to the rest of the squad. Going out on the field and doing your job is what team leaders do. You would think that some of the others would catch on, and follow suit.

    Matt Williams knows darn well what he is talking about, and he can point to Harper and Espinosa for stark evidence of that. Danny, especially, has struggled mightily for the past 3 years, and his transformation this year has been striking – so much so that many who watch him play every day still cannot accept what a productive hitter he has become.

    Espinosa’s improved plate discipline has resulted in his drawing 21 walks this year, in only 173 PAs, vs. only 18 walks for all of 2014, in 364 PAs. That has nothing to do with his swing mechanics, nothing at all, and everything to do with his vastly improved plate discipline. His OBP is higher than Span’s, and higher than any other player except for Harper’s.

    That HR he hit the other day against Wada was on a pitch right down the middle. Last year Danny would not have ever seen a pitch like that since no one bothered to throw him any strikes (except by mistake). This year pitchers are forced to throw pitches in the zone because he is much less likely to strike out on pitches outside the zone. Wada obviously missed his spot, but he was forced to try and throw a strike to get Danny out (there were 2 runners on at the time and a walk was not much of an option), and Wada made that strike too fat. That is what can happen when you are patient, disciplined, and selective.

    Harper is hitting HRs largely because he refuses to try and hit bad pitches out of the zone. He waits for pitches he can hit before pulling the trigger. Of course, he is fooled by ML pitchers as is everyone else, but his overall numbers are better than anyone else’s in the game.

    You would think that the rest of the team would look and learn. You would think.

    I’m sure Matt thinks they should, and he’s right. Time for the self-styled “team leaders” to follow the real leaders of this team.

    I’m not talking about Zim or Span, BTW, as I think those guys are hurting.

    • unkyd59 - Jun 7, 2015 at 2:03 PM

      Span and Escobar belong on your list, with Harp and Spinner, both showing a great approach, all year, though nicked up, at the moment.

  6. hummel26 - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    Desmond and Zimmerman are really hurting the Nats. Desmond should bat 7th or 8th until he stops striking out so much. All the stats show Desmond has been in decline for the last three or four seasons. It really doesn’t make sense to sign him to a contract that lasts into his mid-30s. So glad he passed on the 100M offer.

    Espinosa makes sense in the 2 hole, with his OBP. Harper should bat cleanup, I think. Span-Espi-Rendon-Harper. I’d be okay with putting Escobar 2nd as well. I never want to see Desi there again. And Zimmerman basically kills every rally before it starts. If his foot is really this bad, he should be on the DL.

  7. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:25 PM

    “All the stats show Desmond has been in decline for the last three or four seasons.”
    ===========================

    Huh? Some of his stats have declined (e.g., OPS+), but overall his WAR (Baseball-Reference) went up from 2011 to 2012 to 2013 to 2014. Over at Fangraphs, his WAR went up each year from 2011 – 2013, then declined some in 2014. To be clear, I don’t think the Nats should seek to extend him (and I’m glad he didn’t take the offer, whatever it was), but he’s been one of the better shortstops in baseball the past three seasons.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      91 RBIs last year 20/20 in HRs and steals again.

      This year is a decline though.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 7, 2015 at 1:21 PM

        So far, absolutely. Will be interesting to see where he ends up.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 7, 2015 at 1:23 PM

        1/3 of the season gone he would have to go en fuego for 2 months to get to those levels.

        I’m just hoping for a hot finish. I love the guy but he’s been awful in the clutch.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 7, 2015 at 3:28 PM

      And I certainly don’t expect him to match his career norms. But, as I noted in a separate post above, I do expect him to move somewhat closer to those numbers, which will ensure a more-than-decent FA contract.

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