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On JZ’s bad start, Harper’s homer and Carpenter’s debut

Jun 13, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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Friday night’s game in Milwaukee — an 8-4 loss to the Brewers — won’t go down as one of the more memorable games of the season. It was another frustrating loss to a struggling opponent, and it continued the Nationals’ downward trend. They’ve now lost 11 of their last 14, leaving them a precarious 31-30 overall and now 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East.

Here are some thoughts and observations on this latest loss…

JORDAN ZIMMERMANN REALLY STRUGGLED
This was something we rarely have seen over the years: Zimmermann laboring to this extent, unable to complete four innings and unable to keep his pitch count from spiraling out of control.

Zimmermann threw a whopping 88 pitches in only 3 1/3 innings, a massive total by his standards. Consider: He once threw a complete game on 91 pitches. In fact, only four times previously had the right-hander thrown more than 26.4 pitches per inning (his rate on Friday).

Now, this might have been a completely different story had Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon been able to turn a first-inning double play. Had they done so, Zimmermann would’ve been out of the inning on nine pitches. Instead, he didn’t retreat to the dugout until his pitch count sat at 31 and two Brewers had crossed the plate.

Then again, we’ve all been critical of pitchers who don’t pick up their teammates after a defensive mistake. Zimmermann had opportunities to make the Desmond/Rendon miscommunication moot. Instead, he followed that play by giving up a single to Adam Lind and a double to Aramis Ramirez. Then he gave up a pair of singles and another RBI double to Ramirez in the third. And then he gave up three more hits in the fourth before getting unceremoniously yanked by his manager mid-inning.

Zimmermann has been better before, and he needed to be better on Friday night.

Not that he’s alone in this department. Nationals starters have now completed seven innings only once in their last 14 games. Is it any wonder they’re 3-11 during that stretch?

BRYCE HARPER IS HITTING A LOT OF SOLO HOMERS
First, the good news: Harper launched his 21st home run of the season with an impressive clout to right-center leading off the top of the second.

Now, the bad news: Fourteen of Harper’s 21 homers this season (including all of his last seven) have come with the bases empty. That feels like a hefty percentage of solo shots, especially over the last few weeks.

Harper has actually taken just about the same number of at-bats this season with the bases empty as he has with runners on. But it sure feels like that hasn’t been the case lately, perhaps attributable to the absence of Jayson Werth and the delayed start to the season of Anthony Rendon.

Look, Harper can’t control how often he bats with men on base. All he can do is take what is being given to him, and he certainly has done a masterful job of that so far this season. But the Nats can try to get more production out of the guys batting directly in front of Harper, trying to maximize the opportunities he does get.

DAVID CARPENTER HAD A NICE DEBUT
It didn’t exactly come in a situation of consequence — down four runs in the eighth — but Carpenter impressed in his first-ever relief appearance with the Nationals.

Acquired from the Yankees on Thursday for minor-league infielder Tony Renda, Carpenter offered a glimpse of what made him intriguing to the Nats. He retired the side on 15 pitches, 12 of them strikes. He showed good command of a 95-96 mph fastball. And he went right after the first three hitters in Milwaukee’s lineup: Jonathan Lucroy, Gerardo Parra and Ryan Braun.

One mop-up appearance, of course, doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. But if Carpenter can take that same approach when he pitches late in close ballgames, he’ll become an important contributor to a Nationals bullpen that needs more of those right now.

  1. natsfan1a - Jun 13, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    Speed-watched the recording earlier, as I went to bed after the top of the 4th. Yeesh.

    Will miss today’s game because we’ll be heading down to the P-Nats around the time tonight’s Nats game starts. Good luck to the kid on the bump. Howza about getting him a win tonight, boys?

    Oh, yeah, FP does a pretty good Chicago accent on “sahsage.” My Chicago-now-Denver baseball buddy, who will be in town next week, would approve. And I agree that Barrelman may be causing sleepless nights for some kids. Wow.

    • natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:00 AM

      FP should get a job with say the White Sox. Then he could do his impressions all the time . And he could take Holliday with him .
      🙂

  2. patrickthand - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:10 AM

    No mention of Ian Desmond’s four strikeouts? Mark, why aren’t you, or any Nats beat writer, asking Matt Williams why Ian Desmond continues to start when by any objective standard Danny Espinosa should be starting? We all know Desmond is a great guy, but he’s killing the team.

    • veejh - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:27 AM

      Agree. As bad as we are as a team right now, you’ve got to go with the players producing no matter who gets benched. It’s not like Desmond didn’t hold out on a signing with a team that gave him every opportunity early in his career to play and learn when he would have been playing in the minors on almost every other team. Karma.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:29 AM

      +1 patrickhand.4 K’s, a terrible play in the first by not not turning the double play, then later he made a bad throw to the plate on a relay throw from Taylor.

      • zmunchkin - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:09 PM

        That bad play in the first was as much, if not more, Rendon’s fault. Looked like Desi wanted to step on second and then throw to first for the DP. But he couldn’t because Rendon was in the way.

    • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:17 AM

      You do know that Mark is not in Milwaukee, right?

    • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      And besides, beat writers, particularly good ones like Mark, don’t play the role of angry and frustrated fans when they talk to MW. Never have, never will.

      • natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 11:01 AM

        One can be a good beat reporter and still ask pertinant , pentrating questions . A lot is in the delivery . A manager should be held accountable and not give the public 20 minutes of BS.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:15 PM

        Well sure, but that’s not what patrickthand was suggesting.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:14 PM

      … by any objective standard Danny Espinosa should be starting.

      Well, no, actually. Fangraphs posts projections for each player that are continually updated through the season. Even after Danny’s hot start and Desmond’s struggles, Desmond projects to finish with a wRC+ between 96 and 102. Espi’s projections have been moved up, but still short of that (between 80 and 86).

      So to sum up, by the three different projection services posted on Fangraphs, all three tip towards Desmond. You may disagree, but your statement “any objective measure” is clearly false.

      • npb99 - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:47 PM

        Those projections are subjective.

      • zmunchkin - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:13 PM

        To therealjohnc’s point, there is no such thing as AN objective measure for such things. There are lots of measures. Some objective, some subjective, and some that are worthless.

        If there was such a thing as an objective measure, there would be no reason for such debates. 🙂

      • therealjohnc - Jun 13, 2015 at 3:43 PM

        Well, the criteria for the projections are objective in the sense that they are laid out without a specific agenda, but instead to try to capture a methodology that would best anticipate future performance.

    • Guapo - Jun 13, 2015 at 3:39 PM

      Because Desmond is the golden boy. Been protected by the org and media here his entire career. Not going to change now.

  3. Toot D. Blan - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    I remember the days when the Senators would usually lose, but if Frank Howard hit a homer you’d go home at least a little bit happy. I also remember the days when the Nats would usually blow the game, but you at least had the prospect of a Soriano homer to hold onto. Are we at that point now with the Nats and Bryce Harper?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:58 AM

      We luckily aren’t but I have those same memories of 1967 and 2006.

      Bryce did it offense and defense but he was a team of 1.

      To watch Scooter Gennett lay out and rob Ramos and Parra in CF hustling all night and not see anyone but Bryce look like they give a darn makes the game tough to watch. It was almost like less than 1/2 effort watching Desi and MAT. Those Brewers highlights are haunting to see the Nats defense. Like feet stuck in concrete.

  4. laddieblahblah - Jun 13, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Some good news came out of Harrisburg yesterday. Yeah, Fister had a solid outing, but I am really referring to Matt Skole, 2 for 4 with his 10th HR. Over the past 4 games Matt is 8 for 16, including HRs 9 and 10:

    http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=t547&player_id=605474#/career/R/hitting/2015/ALL

    He can play 3rd and 1b, and is a legitimate lefty power bat. Boy, could the Nats ever use one of those. Something to watch.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 13, 2015 at 11:08 AM

      This is reminiscent of Peric’s promotion of Mike(?) Antonelli and similar lost causes. Laddie, you’re much too smart to get yourself attached to a one-man bandwagon.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:17 PM

        +1 Skole is not the answer. Of that I am 99.99999% sure.

    • natsguy - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      He stands at 1b and 3b but he is a terrible fielder. Peric’s 4 a players were Matt Antonelli, Seth Bynum, and Jorge Padilla. The Nationals minors are largely up with the big team now. Not much to look at down there.

  5. natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    So looking for opinions here . How much does the front office influence Matt’s lineup decisions ? Is it Matt’s decision not to bench Ian or Ryan for example ? In Ryan’s case he most certainly could have sat a bit before they DL’d him .

    • NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:35 AM

      Rizzo and Davey used to get into it, we know that.

      My hope is that the front office and Matt work together. Mike Rizzo watches every game, attends most of them, even on the road (not every GM does that), but in the past he rarely interfered with day-to-day decisions unless something was blowing up (Jason Marquis, anyone?). I assume it’s Matt’s decision on lineups/benching based on his interaction with the players, how they are feeling. We saw it go to the last minute with Denard the other day. The front office can offer stats, scouting reports, suggest matchups, etc., but I expect the final call is Matt’s.

      The bullpen situation, actually the pitching situation in general, probably gets more front office attention because of sending guys down, who to bring up, who has options, who’s done what in Syracuse and Harrisburg, who pitched when, etc. So Matt can express his needs, and the front office has to see what they can do to meet them, or inform him what’s available.

      The front office has to have a contingency plan for every single player getting injured–obviously some plans are better than others, some are short-term, some require a trade (as when, suddenly having NO backup middle infielders, the Nats traded for Izturis, who couldn’t hit a lick, and dumped him a few weeks later). Chances are Matt DOESN’T have a big voice in the contingency plans, as he would not be able to keep track of all players in the minors plus players available on other teams.

      • natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:25 AM

        Makes sense NLady. Extending that analysis I would say Mike went to great lengths to hire a manager who he could have “input” with. I view Mike as a plus executive and we can see his attention to detail. Without commenting on the action or result of each decision I find it interesting to try to understand the process in place .

  6. mnmindc - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    I am increasingly convinced that the answer to the question “what’s wrong with our pitchers” is related to the question “what’s wrong with our defense”. The Nats pitchers as a whole have the worst batting average of balls in play in MLB in the majors. After last night, if you look at just starters, they also have the worst BABIP in MLB. Now some of this is bad pitching. JZ was not sharp last night at all. But is it possible good defense could’ve helped him have an average night rather than a disastrous outing? Yes. Same with Roark the night before.

    In the past few games we’ve seen failed efforts to turn double plays, balls sailing over Span’s head that he normally seems to get to, a stolen base attempt where the catcher drops the ball so never makes a throw, wild pitches that the catcher can’t block, failures to hit cutoff men, etc. There was a double down the third base line the other night that Escobar couldn’t get to, maybe because he plays so shallow all the time. There were singles that dropped in front of Taylor last night that almost seemed like maybe they could’ve been caught if he’d been less tentative.

    The pitchers need to be better. But bad defense is also contributing to our totally under-performing rotation.

    • NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:43 AM

      I agree on the result (low BABIP, high pitch counts, etc), but to me the question “What’s wrong with our defense” doesn’t have one answer.

      – Span is playing shallow because he always did. I think he’s hurt and should play deeper (which would allow more singles) but he’s got to make that adjustment
      – If I had to guess–just a guess–Taylor is fatigued from the stress of playing at the major-league level almost daily. That’s something he’ll outgrow. Have a short memory, don’t bring at-bats to the outfield, don’t fear failure. Also, he has to trust that Span will back him up on that type of play. If Span doesn’t (or can’t), that’s on him, not on Taylor.
      – Escobar is not that good a third baseman.
      – Rendon still makes mistakes at second base.
      – Who the heck knows what’s with Desi.

      • NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:47 AM

        Meant to say, high BABIP. Also, having a different first baseman every day will be challenging. I don’t expect Moore or Robinson to play the kind of defense Zimmerman was providing, even new to the position as he was.

      • natslive - Jun 13, 2015 at 9:55 AM

        That’s why I think that even though a new position you are better off with Escobar at 2B and Rendon at 3B and then maybe even sit Desi and put Escobar at SS and Danny at 2nd.

      • Nats Fan Zee - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:02 AM

        +5

        I think 1st base defense will improve as a function of play time. I think you let Moore play every day and evaluate after a week or so. Desi has to sit, Rendon 3rd, Escobar SS, Danny 2B and let’s stop this nonsense.

  7. janebeard - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    I’m coming around to Yuni at SS and Anthony at 3 ON DAYS WE REST DESI. Poor Desi. This is not him.

    I miss Bob. Johnny…whoa. I get it less and less why he is with them, or ever allowed to be the play by play guy.

    This little rant distracts me from 31-30. Yikes.

    • ITGSOT - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      Former DJs like Johnny Holliday can make it as sportscasters and studio hosts, but rarely do well at PBP. Another case in point: George Michael.

    • thisizit - Jun 13, 2015 at 2:13 PM

      Ray Knight is much more informative than FP. Bob C isn’t great, but Johnny H is not the answer.

  8. exposedindc - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    don’t worry guys, FP says these things always work themselves out. ….we believe him don’t we?

    • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Yeah, we don’t care how they’re doing now. All that matters is how they’re playing in September.

      • natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:30 AM

        And October ! But really an up and down team is problematic. They need to be consistently good. One or two minor slumps over 162 is ok but thinking will automatically get it going is bad policy .

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:12 PM

        Exactly right. They can’t all of a sudden turn it on in September and expect to win. Sure, it happens (Royals last year), but they risk a 2013 result if they can’t pull it together sooner.

      • ITGSOT - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        You mean when they’re still battling for a division title with the Mets and possibly even the Braves, because they sleepwalked until mid-August? If that’s the scenario, better win the division because they won’t have enough wins for a wildcard berth.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:13 PM

        I was being facetious, of course. That was FP’s attitude the other night, and supposedly he was talking to Randy Knorr about it. It’s a bad approach to a baseball season.

    • NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:27 AM

      W-e-e-e-e-e-e-l-l-l, some of them do. Taylor will gain confidence, Span will (hopefully) heal. Harper will still airmail throws, but he’ll make good throws, too, and hit a lot of homers.

      But if the infield situation doesn’t “work itself out” by the All-Star Break, some tough decisions will have to be made.

      And you are already facing tough bullpen and rotation issues. (Who knows which Strasburg we’ll see, and if Fister doesn’t have velo you have to hope he’s the “good” Dan Haren.)

  9. Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    Didn’t watch much of the game last night, but did listen to the first few innings on the radio. C&D are in a funk. They went on and on and on… and on…. and on and on and on. And on.. about the missed DP. Goodness guys. The game was not over after the bottom of the first. Harper made it 2-1 in the second. They acted like the game was lost on that play and that play alone, but there was lots more baseball to play. Unfortunately, the Nats didn’t play it very well.

    • NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:29 AM

      I love Charlie and Dave, but they can get on a repetitive tear sometimes, making them almost tedious.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:47 AM

        Not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but kinda like some blog commenters. 😉

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:11 PM

        Exactly. Usually it’s about balls and strikes. Especially Dave. But last night was over the top.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:18 PM

        1a, heh.

    • mnmindc - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      That’s funny. FP did the exact same thing. He talked about it at length during the game. He talked about it after the game as the key to the game. Perhaps the broadcasters are as sick of seeing sloppy play as we fans are…

      • dcwx61 - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        +1

      • natsfan1a - Jun 13, 2015 at 11:22 AM

        I would suspect that they are.

    • ITGSOT - Jun 13, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      That missed DP was the turning point of the game. Sometimes the turning point comes in the first inning.

      • Section 222 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:14 PM

        Baloney. Plenty of chances to recover. It was 2-1 after an inning an a half. The missed DP was a minor incident in the grand scheme of that game.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 13, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Someone complained a couple of days ago (the Espinosa at SS day) that Nats were playing their best 2B at SS, their best 3B at 2B and their best SS at 3B. You have to realize that it’s impossible for all of those propositions to be correct. The truth is that rabidity in fans distorts reality and The Brain Trust — because of close observation, insight and experience, disagrees with those ideas.

    • unkyd59 - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:09 PM

      Explain how that is impossible, please….

      • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:46 PM

        You would have to conclude that the collective degradation at three positions is advantageous over optimization of two. Highly improbable.

      • ITGSOT - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:09 PM

        If you make the totally reasonable presumption that a player’s best position is the one he has played for most of his career, then Espinosa is a 2b, Escobar is a SS, and Rendon is a 3b. If you follow that with the totally arguable assertion that Escobar is a better SS than Desmond, then indeed the other day the Nats were doing the very thing you deem impossible.

    • natsguy - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      Actually its pretty damn close to the truth. They also have a catcher who can’t catch, no left fielder, no 1st baseman for the forseeable future, 4 struggling SP’s, no BP except for Storen. Lots of holes.

  11. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    I see Giolito had a good line yesterday, 6.1 IP 1 ER 8H 1BB 5K. (And he was the winning pitcher). Was anyone at the game? How did he look?

    http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?gid=2015_06_12_frdafa_potafa_1&t=g_box&sid=milb

  12. 9rhrssy01 - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    Can someone tell me why Johnny Holliday is now doing play by play. I’m in Florida(THE VIllages) and listen to the games on MLB,but will be in RIchmond July and AUGUST.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:27 PM

      Carpenter is getting some in-season time off.

      • npb99 - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:52 PM

        The kind we wish Desi would take?

      • natsdial8 - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:54 PM

        good one 99 🙂

      • natslive - Jun 13, 2015 at 2:32 PM

        And it pains me to say this but hope he hurries back to relieve Johnny

  13. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:55 PM

    OK, then.

  14. NatsLady - Jun 13, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    I guess we have a first baseman.

    • natslive - Jun 13, 2015 at 2:31 PM

      While I think it’s worth a shot to try Espi at 1B not sure you do it witha Rookie making his 2nd start. What is the over/under on him missing a throw or failing to scoop one in the dirt and it be a game changing play. We were at the game Ross pitched last sat and I was impressed – he didn’t seem to be too nervous and he threw strikes.

  15. manassasnatsfan - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    Espi playing first today.

  16. soonernat - Jun 13, 2015 at 1:51 PM

    Hmmm..JZimm “melts down” after a missed double play and throws 31 pitches in the first inning. Can you imagine the conversation here if Stras had done that last night?

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