ryan zimmerman

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at right time

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at right time

Phillies (13-19) vs. Nationals (22-12)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

For the fourth time this series, the Phillies will open a three-game set with the Nationals. The Nats have dealt with consecutive rainouts while the Phillies haven't played since Wednesday either. The original matchup of Nick Pivetta and Tanner Roark is still on tap with the Nationals skipping fifth starter A.J. Cole in the rotation.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game.

1. Zimmermann cooling off
One of the biggest stories in baseball this year has been the re-emergence of the Nationals' first baseman. Zimmerman, now 32, has seen his numbers consistently decline over the last five years and hasn't played a full season since 2013.

Finally healthy, he raced out to a batting average above .400 and an MLB-high 13 home runs through 30 games. Zimmerman hit just 15 home runs in 115 games last year while batting a paltry .218. His batting line forced manager Dusty Baker to bury him in the bottom half of the Nationals' lineup.

Well, Zimmerman left Philadelphia on Sunday with a .435 batting average and .907 slugging percentage and he now faces the Phillies following a 1-for-14 series against the Orioles. His average is down to .393 and he struck out three times, creating outs in between Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.

The Nats' first baseman still leads all of baseball in batting average and RBI while tied for the overall lead in home runs. The series vs. the Orioles, however, could be a sign of an oncoming slump as Zimmerman falls back down to earth. Still, a healthy, hitting Zimmerman provides a much-needed righty power bat in the middle of Harper and Murphy, who were forced to bat back-to-back last season. He can help split them up and keep opposing managers honest with the platoon advantage.

The Phillies have tamed Zimmerman this season, at least relative to the rest of the league. He's batting .308/.333/.769 with three homers off Phillies pitching. Compare that to his .524 average vs. the Mets and .417 mark vs. the Marlins and it looks a lot more palatable. 

2. Round 2
Thanks to two days off and the rainout this week, Pivetta will make his first start in eight days … against the exact same team. It'll be just his third start of his MLB career and all three will be against 2016 postseason teams. Not an easy task for the rookie righty.

In his first start against the Nationals, Pivetta was tagged for three home runs over five innings. All three were by right-handed hitters, including a shocking one by opposing starter Stephen Strasburg. The other two were by Zimmerman (of course) and Anthony Rendon, the last two going back-to-back in Pivetta's last inning of work.

Through 10 innings in the majors, Pivetta has given up four home runs and holds a 5.40 ERA. He's given up a bevy of hits — 18 to be exact. However, his peripherals aren't so bad with 11 strikeouts to just one walk. Perhaps with a bit more batted ball luck (or some lesser opponents), Pivetta could find his bearings. 

However, he may not have much time to keep his rotation spot. Aaron Nola could be back as soon as the next turn through the rotation and Nola's return likely spells a return to Triple A Lehigh Valley for Pivetta. Even though the home runs muddy his numbers, Pivetta has shown something in his first MLB stint and would go a long way toward earning a longer stay this season with a strong start against a team that has already seen him (and tagged him hard) Saturday.

3. Roark … again
Stop me if you've heard this before, but Roark is scheduled to start against the Phillies. If that seems like deja vu, it's probably because Roark has already faced the Phillies twice this year after taking the hill five times against the Phils last year. Needless to say, the two teams are pretty familiar.

Roark had another quality start in Philadelphia on Sunday, giving up two unearned runs, two hits and three walks over six innings of work. That came after holding the Phils to two runs on four hits over seven innings April 15. The surprising turn of events is that the Nationals lost both of those starts, although that has much more to do with their faltering bullpen (more on that below). 

Last season, Roark threw 34 innings over five starts vs. the Phillies, pitching to a 0.79 ERA. His performance against the Mets, Braves and Phillies last season played a big part in a career season from the righty. He has a 3.46 ERA over seven starts this season after posting a 2.83 mark in 2016.

Roark depends on his 92 mph sinker and a 93 mph four-seam fastball. Off-speed, he goes to a mid-80s slider and changeup as well as a 77 mph curveball. Odubel Herrera has the best numbers of any Phillie off Roark. He's 9 for 21 with three doubles and three RBIs in 24 plate appearances. Freddy Galvis has a home run off the 30-year-old and is 5 for 17 against him. Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco are a combined 9 for 40 with no extra-base hits.

4. Bullpen blues
The Nationals had another bullpen meltdown this week, just a few days after blowing a 5-2 lead to the Phillies last Sunday. 

After Max Scherzer pitched the Nats to a 4-2 lead through eight innings Tuesday, manager Dusty Baker turned to Enny Romero to close out the game vs. the Orioles. Romero proceeded to walk the leadoff batter before giving up two two-out hits that tied the game. Two innings later, Jacob Turner gave up a walk-off hit in the 11th inning. 

The Nationals' 5.40 bullpen ERA is the second worst in baseball behind the beleaguered Tigers bullpen. They've produced a -0.6 bullpen Wins Above Replacement (WAR), better only than the Phillies (-0.9). They've blown six saves with Romero, Matt Albers, Blake Treinen and others all failing in late game situations.

Luckily for the Nats, help is on the way. Koda Glover made a rehab appearance Wednesday and was activated Friday. Presumed closer Shawn Kelley threw a simulated game this week and is back for toinght's game as well. The duo took the spots of Cole and Matt Grace on the roster. The Nationals could be in play for a reliever at the trade deadline this year (David Robertson and Kelvim Herrera come to mind) but they're going to have to rely on internal improvement for now. 

Treinen is a pitcher to keep an eye on. He seems broken at the moment with an 8.10 ERA. Treinen was the closer to start the season and the team hoped his 2.28 ERA over 67 innings last season would translate to the closing role. Relievers tend to be volatile from year to year, but his collapse has been sudden. He still has his mid-90s sinker as a weapon and it's not farfetched to think he can rebound.

5. This and that
• Aaron Altherr comes into this game on fire. He's up to a .351/.435/.743 batting line this season and has at least one home run and three RBIs in each of his last three games. He has nine extra-base hits in his last eight games, cementing his spot in the Phillies' outfield for now.

• Before Friday's game was postponed, the Phillies recalled RHP Luis Garcia, taking the spot of Jake Thompson, who was optioned after Wednesday's loss to the Mariners.

• Despite trailing the Nationals by seven games in the standings, the Phillies are a respectable 4-5 against their division foe this year. That comes after a 5-14 record in 2016.

• After this weekend, the Phillies and Nationals don't play against until September. Then, they play a four-game set in Washington and a trio of games in Philadelphia to close out their season series.

• Saturday is the start of a nine-game road trip for the Phillies. After a three-game stay in the nation's capital, they'll head southwest for an interleague duel with the Rangers before facing the Pirates next weekend. For the Rangers series, former Texas farmhand Jerad Eickhoff is schedule to face his former squad for the first time Tuesday.

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: After World Champs, Phils get MLB's top offense

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: After World Champs, Phils get MLB's top offense

Phillies (12-15) vs. Nationals (19-9)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies are back in rainy Philadelphia after a disastrous road trip, but the task is no easier this weekend with baseball's best team visiting Citizens Bank Park. 

The Phillies open yet another three-game series with the Washington Nationals, who have spent the first five weeks of the season bashing everyone in their way. 

1. Zimmerman makes the difference
Washington's lineup is dangerous enough with a 40-home run guy like Bryce Harper and batting title contender Daniel Murphy in the middle of it. 

But now Ryan Zimmerman is en fuego, which allows Dusty Baker to split up his lefty hitters and makes the Nats' lineup so much tougher and deeper. 

Zimmerman was the National League Player of the Month in April and hasn't yet slowed down in May. He'd be the MVP if the season ended today. He enters hitting .424/.468/.859 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs. He hit .542 last week and has driven in 17 runs the last two weeks. It's hard to imagine there being a fantasy league in the country in which Zimmerman is not the No. 1 ranked player right now.

I remember when Ryne Sandberg was the Phillies' manager, he'd mention Zimmerman any time he was asked about Harper, and it didn't really fit. Zimmerman was somewhat of a threat then but not really. From 2014 to 2016, he hit .242/.300/.420 and averaged 72 missed games per season. He hit a career low last season when he hit just .218 with a .272 OBP in 467 plate appearances.

Zimmerman, like most/all hitters with a big leg kick in their swing, is a streaky hitter. He's not going to hit .370 this season. He's hit over .300 once in the last 12 years. But this streak is lasting longer than usual for him, and the Phillies need to handle him with as much care this weekend as they do Harper.

2. Pivetta's home debut
Nick Pivetta makes his first start at Citizens Bank Park against the team that drafted him in 2013 and traded him for Jonathan Papelbon two summers later.

Pivetta avoided the big blow in his first start over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, allowing two runs in five innings despite putting 10 men on base. He struck out five. 

You could tell Pivetta had some nerves, as do all debuting pitchers. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 9 of 23 batters, a rate that will get him into trouble if it's repeated, especially against a hot offense like Washington's.

We did see some glimpses in L.A., though, of how good Pivetta's stuff can be. He averaged 94.2 mph with his fastball and hit 96 at times, and his slider has some impressive break. He induced 11 swinging strikes on 91 pitches, which is several percentage points above the league average.

This is going to be a tough start for the 24-year-old, no doubt about it. He'll be asked whether facing the team that drafted and traded him provides any additional incentive, but picking up his first big-league win is incentive enough. 

3. A grown-up Strasburg?
The knock on Stephen Strasburg has long been his ability to stay healthy and go deep into games. He's made a full season's worth of starts just twice since coming up in 2010, and despite his electric stuff, has never finished higher than ninth in Cy Young voting. Surprising, right?

Well, Strasburg this season has looked more like a veteran workhorse, going seven innings in all five of his starts. He's 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He has fewer strikeouts than innings pitched, which he's never finished a season with.

Two of Strasburg's outings were against the Phillies, so this means half of his first six starts will be against them. He allowed three runs with three walks and eight strikeouts in a Phillies win on April 9, then allowed two runs in seven innings with eight K's in a Nationals win on April 14.

He's dominated the Phils as long as he's been in the majors, going 8-2 with a 2.47 ERA against them in 19 starts. At Citizens Bank Park, he's 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in seven starts, has held the Phillies to a .173 batting average and just two homers in 44 innings.

The only Phillie with decent career numbers off Strasburg is Cesar Hernandez, who is 7 for 22 (.318) with two doubles.

4. Get to the 'pen
The clear weakness of the Nationals is their bullpen. They don't have a legit closer, and the first three guys who got a crack at the job have either failed or gotten hurt. Blake Treinen has an 8.25 ERA, Koda Glover is on the DL and Shawn Kelley missed the weekend with an illness.

The Nationals have a 3.82 ERA from their starters and a 5.40 ERA from their relievers, which is second-worst in the NL ahead of only the Braves' bullpen. As poor as the Phils' bullpen has pitched, its ERA is a full point better than the Nats' at 4.38.

Chasing Strasburg after six innings tonight would be huge for the Phillies. If they can keep the game tied or within a run and force the Nationals' bullpen to pick up nine outs, they could earn an improbable series-opening win.

5. This and that
• The Nationals are averaging 6.4 runs per game. The next-best NL offense has averaged 5.1.

• The Nats also lead the majors in batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.366), slugging (.491) and doubles (63). They're second in the majors in extra-base hits and walks.

• The Phillies had another great day from their 1-2 hitters Thursday as Hernandez and Aaron Altherr combined to reach base eight of 14 times. As stated many times in these game notes, the Phils have had far and away the highest batting average and OPS in the majors out of their 1-2 hitters and are hitting nearly 100 points higher than the league average.

Hernandez has shown no signs of slowing down. He enters hitting .336/.379/.517.

• Cameron Rupp has picked things up after a slow start. He's 11 for 34 (.324) over his last nine games with five doubles, a homer and four walks.

• The Phillies' loss Thursday was their eighth one-run loss already this season. They have more one-run losses than non-one-run losses. They're 5-8 in those games after going 10-3 in their first 13 last season. It's ironic because no sane baseball fan looked at the 2017 Phillies bullpen as anything but an improvement over the 2016 edition.

• This might be a rare night off for Freddy Galvis, who made two errors Thursday and a poor throw Wednesday that allowed the Cubs' winning run to score. Even the throws Galvis made to first that were caught on Thursday were shaky. He was seen icing his hand after the game.

MLB Notes: Rangers sign OF Carlos Gomez to minor league deal

MLB Notes: Rangers sign OF Carlos Gomez to minor league deal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers signed outfielder Carlos Gomez to a minor league contract Saturday and assigned him to Triple-A Round Rock.

General manager Jon Daniels said Gomez, who was released by the Houston Astros on Friday, will be in the lineup Sunday for the Round Rock Express.

Daniels said the Rangers hope to get the two-time All-Star on the major league roster "sooner (rather) than later."

Gomez hit .210 with five home runs and 29 RBIs in 85 games with Houston. The Astros got him late last summer from Milwaukee.

Gomez won a Gold Glove as a center fielder for the Brewers in 2013, but Daniels said the Rangers would use him as a corner outfielder. Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers' right fielder for most of this season, is out with a fractured left arm.

"(Gomez) is 30 years old, still in his physical prime," Daniels said. "Sometimes things just don't work out the way acquiring clubs intend, and obviously we're taking a chance on him, thinking he's better than his most recent performance in Houston."

Gomez has hit .256 with 108 homers with the Mets, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Houston.

Nationals: Team bring Zimmerman, Lobaton off DL; option Cole, Severino
ATLANTA -- The Washington Nationals have reinstated first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Jose Lobaton from the 15-day disabled list.

Zimmerman is starting in Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander A.J. Cole and catcher Pedro Severino were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Zimmerman has been out since Aug. 1 with a bruised left wrist. Lobaton has been out since July 20 with left elbow tendinitis.

Reds: Team recalls IF Peraza, option RHP Sampson
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds have recalled infielder Jose Peraza from Triple-A Louisville and optioned right-handed pitcher Keyvius Sampson to the Bats.

Peraza was in the starting lineup at shortstop for Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He joined right-fielder Scott Schebler as two former Dodgers prospects in the starting lineup against the team they made their major-league debuts last season.

Peraza hit .250 with one home run and eight RBIs over 33 games with the Reds before he was optioned to Louisville on Aug. 2.

Sampson was 0-1 with a 3.99 ERA in 12 games, including one start, with Cincinnati.