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Bench play vs. Orioles emblematic of season’s first half

Jul 13, 2015, 9:29 AM EST

Washington Nationals' Dan Uggla, left, and Clint Robinson score on a two run double by Tyler Moore against the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Baltimore. The Nationals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

BALTIMORE — The key rally in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Orioles may have aptly encapsulated much of what the first half of the Nationals’ season has been about.

Thanks to three consecutive two-out base hits from Clint Robinson, Dan Uggla and Tyler Moore — none of whom were intended to be regulars before the year began — the Nats drove in all the runs runs they would need in the fourth inning to give Max Scherzer some breathing room to seal a win.

There’s no denying that the 2015 season has been headlined thus far by the Herculean efforts of All-Stars Scherzer and Bryce Harper. But it’s also been highlighted by who hasn’t been on the field; Sunday’s lineup was without four preseason projected starters in Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span because of various injuries. For most teams with championship aspirations, that’s a death knell. But for the Nats, it’s given the bench players a chance to show that they’re good enough to keep the club afloat.

“Just because they aren’t everyday guys, doesn’t mean they can’t play,” Uggla said of his fellow reserves. “When they get an opportunity, they’re going to rake. It’s always fun watching those guys.”

The fill-ins are a confluence of fascinating (and unlikely) stories. Uggla, for example, was fighting for a roster spot in spring training before barely making the team and eventually notching arguably the biggest hit of the season so far. Robinson was essentially a career minor leaguer before he made his first prolonged stint in the big leagues this year at age 30; now he’s hitting near the middle of the order. Danny Espinosa’s bounce back campaign has exceeded Nats fans’ expectations by miles. Rookie Michael A. Taylor is trying to prove he’s ready to be an everyday outfielder in 2016 and beyond.

The tales go on and on, but the bottom line is that collectively, the reserves have sent a strong message about what they’re capable of.

“It says something for our everyday guys, too,” Moore said. “We’re kind of giving them some help and taking some of the pressure off those guys.”

All of it has helped add up to a two-game lead in the NL East as the club heads to the All-Star break. And as Moore mentioned, the bench has given the regulars high hopes for the season’s second half.

“Having those [bench] guys just excites you for the postseason even more,” said Bryce Harper. “You have those guys on the bench and hopefully we’re going to get the guys back that we need to get back and our bench is going to be stronger than ever.”

“It’s awesome,” added Ian Desmond. “To see the work they put in on a daily basis, kind of their patience and perseverance pays off. They’re grinding every day and we’ve got a special group of guys coming off the bench for us.”

As the second half of the season begins, all of the Nats’ preseason goals are still there for the taking. Sure, the road to get to this point has been fraught with far more trials and tribulations than most baseball pundits would have expected. But thanks to its motley crew of contributors, the club can still dream big once play resumes Friday.

“Every team’s going to go through [injuries]. But it’s how you handle the adversity when you go through the marathon. We’ve had guys step up,” said closer Drew Storen. “Everybody’s happy with where we’re at. We’re going to pretty much get a good team back when guys come off the DL, so it’s going to be exciting.”

 

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 13, 2015 at 9:58 AM

    Daniel, glad you went there. I made that point in-game that the bench guys did the offensive damage needed.

    The Federal Reserves were golden once again. Dan Uggla continues to come up big and TyMo who has the unluckiest BABIP now at .255 (was .228 a week ago) got the GW RBIs once again.

    CRob tennis forehanded 2 into open pasture. Didn’t try to do too much against the lefty and that was impressive.

    • Doc - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      Dunno exactly what it is, but MAT’s BA with RISP was recently quoted in a broadcast as being close to .300.

      MAT must be listening to somebody too because his K’s are down too.

      I guess we can forgive CRob’s impersonation of Dr. Strangeglove as long as he’s giving us such really good ABs. I like seeing him work a pitcher.and the count. Seems like he might get close to .300 at some point in the season.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        I am impressed with MAT and look forward to his progress. But I would enter two cautions:

        1. RISP #s are often fickle due to SSS. I would not count on his being able to sustain RISP #s that are significantly better than his overall #s.

        2. Don’t overestimate his progress on strikeouts so far. Everyone applauded his lower K rate in ST, and he promptly started the season by striking out almost 40% of the time in April. He lowered that to 23% in June but is back up over 35% so far for July. On the season, he has the highest K rate on the team (yes, higher than Ian) at 31.5%.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:53 AM

        Dunno exactly what it is, but MAT’s BA with RISP was recently quoted in a broadcast as being close to .300.

        Actually, it’s not. He’s hitting .380 with RISP. He is hitting .295 with men on base, and .215 with bases empty.
        (Fangraphs)

  2. tcostant - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Interesting all thse “bench” guys batted ahead of Desi, what a train wreck. Turner looked great in the future’s game, so Desi turned down that $100M+ contract might have been the best break yet.

    • nats128 - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:14 AM

      Yes.

    • nelliefox - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Will our bench be stronger when Desmond is benched?

      • Bruxtun - Jul 13, 2015 at 12:38 PM

        if the logic for benching Desmond is that a current bench player will out produce him as a starter, then no, the bench gets worse in that thought exercise.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 4:06 PM

        Unless, of course, Ian plays much better off the bench. I don’t assume he would, but it’s possible.

  3. TimDz - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Something that may have already been broached before on this forum, but it is something I have been thinking about:

    What about the possibility of shutting Ryan Zimmerman down for the season? I am a huge Zimmerman fan, but here are two reasons I feel the shutdown may need to be considered:

    1) plantar-fasciitis is something that will linger if not completely rested. I fear that, if Ryan comes back, it will be for a short period of time and then back to the DL. Having him on the roster and in the lineup becomes a burden and takes away at bats from Robinson and Moore (who I think can be a good L/R tandum at first base)
    2) Putting Zimmerman back on the 25 man roster means someone needs to be sent down. If Rendon and Werth come back first, then someone will have to be DFA’d or someone producing will have to be sent down.

    I’d be interested in knowing what others here think (aside from name calling, of course….If you disagree, please let me know why)

    • nats128 - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:14 AM

      Thats the whispers in the blogs and forums. Can RZ return to his normal levels and if he cant you have to do something with him.

      There are no big roster decisions until the 4th person of Rendon, RZ, Werth and Span return as you start sending back Burriss, Difo, and den Dekker. The hardest decision is the next one to go back out or get a DFA as only Taylor has options.

      • Doc - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:23 AM

        Agreed, the 1st three are easy; the 4th and last, now that’s going to be a toughie. Maybe time for Rizzo to get creative about the DL.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 13, 2015 at 12:24 PM

        Is den Dekker out of options? They’ve already sent him down once, and usually an option is good for the year.

      • nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:52 AM

        He has options.

      • nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:56 AM

        “…you start sending back Burriss, Difo, and den Dekker. The hardest decision is the next one to go back out or get a DFA as only Taylor has options.”

        As I said Burriss, Difo, den Dekker go back. I think Burriss is out of options, oh well.

        The remaining bench players you have Lobaton, Tyler Moore, Clint Robinson, Dan Uggla, Danny Espinosa, and Michael Taylor.

        Taylor has options.

    • Doc - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:17 AM

      Been thinking something very similar. Plantar fasciitis from all reports lingers and lingers.

    • Drew - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:27 AM

      Tim:

      It’s an interesting point. I would like to see Zimmerman on the roster for the stretch run and the postseason – if healthy, of course. I think his preternatural poise in big situations would help the club and buck up young guys like MAT.

      The roster decisions are interesting because we’re only about 45 days until September, when the 25-man expands.

      So, you might see the Nats stagger activations of Zim, Rendon and Werth to navigate the numbers game.

      If all three come back in short order I would think Den Dekker is the first to go and the Uggla clock might finally strike midnight. Then again, the Nats might try to finesse the move by keeping Uggla and juggling relievers.

      This will be interesting.

      • Drew - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        Of course, Burriss and Difo would go before Uggla.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        I do worry most about Zimmerman and think he will be the last of the four to come back. As others have said, the first three are easy: Difo, Burriss and denDekker. Afterwards, when RZim comes back, assuming it’s not September 1, I have to believe it will be Taylor who goes back. I have never wanted him coming off the bench in lieu of playing every day.

      • TimDz - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        Drew…I forgot about Span on my original post….Good point about waiting until the rosters expanding, I handn’t thought about that. I also know that Ryan is the de-facto FOF (although I am guessing that mantle has been or soon will be passed to Bryce), but that cannot be a factor in the decision making. I kind of like what Uggla has brought to the table with the team (and love the fact that Atlanta is paying for his production); it has been a feel good story, unless you are a Barves fan…

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        If Zimmerman and Werth are both back, either Robinson or Moore become expendable.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:02 AM

      If Zim is back to (reasonably) healthy, he’s a plus on the roster. That’s a no-brainer. But the catch is that the only way to find out if Zim is really back is to … bring him back.

      They can work him out, send him to the docs, send him to the minors for a rehab assignment, etc etc. But even if he passes all those tests, you don’t really know until you bring him back to the majors and see how he performs.

      If he fails at any of those prior points, then that’s a no-brainer too.

    • natsguy - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      The problem with RZIM was going on even before the Plantar Fascitis. Thats the real big issue. If he can’t hit the outside fastball because of his lower bat speed (shoulder) and he can’t run well (PF) he has got some major issues to deal with.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:49 AM

        I am worried that the problem with Zim is more than the PF, but I don’t think there’s much evidence (yet) for concluding that it is.

        He reported the PF was bothering him by at least mid-April. So that means he was playing without it for 10-12 games at most in 2015. While he didn’t perform well in those first 2 weeks, that’s not much basis for drawing a conclusion.

  4. nats128 - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    Danny Espinosa finishes the frist half at a impressive .766 OPS. A month ago Danny’s OPS was .842 and Im not going to complain except he worries me like a recovering addict who can go into a relapse at any time and I know I shouldnt think that way but we are talking about alot of Espi history here.

    His 3 run GW HR on Saturday was the nail in the coffin and shut OPACY up with those wearing tangerine. This team isnt where they are at without Espi coming up big.

    • Doc - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      Apparently Danny has been quoted as saying that he says a little mantra to himself, before he steps into the box , to not try to swing for a HR. But yeah, bad habits are hard to break.

    • scnatsfan - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:34 AM

      Oh I agree; LOVE his first half performance but I’m not sold he doesn’t backslide. Then again Im a glass 1/2 full person with regards to Danny.

  5. micksback1 - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Life is good. Lucked out yesterday as I was able to not only go to game, my seats were near the Nats dugout!. Great Saturday and Sunday for the old Mickster! Seeing Max live close up……he is a the original ManChild

    ha ha ha

  6. micksback1 - Jul 13, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    good analysis in Wa Post today, number one priority has to be getting a set up guy for 8th inning. maybe even another closer as well?

    • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      Did you mean Jerry Brewer’s column?
      Nationals must assess what they are not, avoid focusing on what they could be </b

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:08 AM

        *”Close that tag! You think I’m paying to bold the entire world??”

      • micksback1 - Jul 13, 2015 at 3:50 PM

        Yes, Jerry’s oped

    • nats128 - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:19 AM

      Could just read NI comments for that analysis weeks ago.

    • chaz11963 - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      Who would you be willing to trade to get that kind of quality relief pitching- I assume you mean a Chapman or Benoit? Could be costly in terms of prospects.

      • jd - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:36 AM

        I think it’s a pipe dream. You are not getting Chapman unless you are willing to trade Giolito, Turner or Ross. It’s not necessary. I think Treinen and Barrett are really close to being what we were all hoping for.

        Patience, people.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        Nobody claimed Jason Frasor from KC — he cleared waivers. It isn’t the money, as he’s near minimum.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:45 AM

        CORRECTION: Frasor is owed a little over $600 for the remainder of the year, not the whole year. Still, the point is the same.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:47 AM

        HEY, that said “$600K/b>”! I saw it!

  7. laddieblahblah - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    Rizzo and Matt should be proud of that bench. The bench deserves all the praise we fans, the sportswriters and other baseball people can heap on it. They are one of the main reasons the Nats are in first place at the break. They have had plenty of help from Span, Escobar and Bryce, of course, but those guys could not do it all by themselves. Even the starting pitching has been a little shaky, at times.

    But the bench has been solid, all year long.

  8. jd - Jul 13, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    And you forgot to mention Danny Espinosa with his 2.1 WAR good enough for 4th best among NL 2nd basemen and just below Colton Wong’s 2.2.

    The bench has been solid. Clint Robinson has been a real revelation.

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