Daniel Shiferaw

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Nats third base coach on sixth-inning send of Werth: 'You feel like it might have cost us'

Nats third base coach on sixth-inning send of Werth: 'You feel like it might have cost us'

Trying to reduce the game that ultimately sunk the 2016 Nationals to one moment is an impossible task. This affair was too much of a thrilling, beautiful mess that oversimplification doesn't do it justice.

Between all the unconventional managerial moves, the hour-plus seventh inning, the unlikely appearance of Clayton Kershaw, Game 5 of the NL Division series between the Nats and L.A. Dodgers will go down as a classic that will take days — if not weeks — to unpack.

But in a contest that had so many twists and turns, there will be some who still won't be able to get past what Bob Henley did in the sixth inning.  

With the Nats up 1-0 and two out, their third base coach opted to send Jayson Werth toward the plate on a two-out double down the left field line from Ryan Zimmerman. The problem? Werth was trying to score from first, and Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles got the relay throw in time to shortstop Corey Seager.

Werth was thrown out at the plate — and it wasn't even close. Catcher Yasmani Grandal caught Seager's relay while Werth was around 30 feet away, and waited to put the tag on him.  

“Does it hurt? Sure, it hurts,” Henley said in a hushed tone afterward. “Anytime it doesn’t work out and you feel like it might have cost us.”

The play ended the inning, denying Washington a desperately-needed insurance run in a game that ended in a 4-3 loss.

“I know [Werth]’s not an above-average runner, I understand that,” Henley said. “But we’ve been aggressive all year as a club, and I took a shot at it.”

“He's aggressive and there's two outs,” added manager Dusty Baker. “And with the hitters we had coming up after, he feels terrible about that because it didn't work. But Toles got to the ball very quickly, got rid of it, and you know, did what he was supposed to do, hit the cut-off man.”

Indeed, Henley’s aggressiveness is well known in the clubhouse. He’s affectionately known as “Sendley” to players, and they’ve been seen wearing shirts that honor his mentality: “Send ‘em one, send ‘em all, send ‘em short, send ‘em tall.”  

That mindset puts pressure on defenders to force them into making the perfect throw, which doesn’t always happen. On Thursday night, it did, and it cost the Nats dearly.

“We’ve been aggressive ever since I’ve been here on that play,” said Werth. “You live and die by those moments sometimes.”

The move was criticized instantaneously as many took to social media to voice their frustration about the risky call.

As Baker mentioned after the game, the blunder was not the sole reason the Nats are going home early. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 5. They struck out 12 times. They couldn't drive runners in from third base with less than two out. And most of all, the four-run frame they yielded in the seventh inning proved to be too much to overcome.  

But the image of Werth being cut down at home could come to symbolize what this night, this series and this brief playoff run was — a missed opportunity.

“Heartbroken," Henley said. "I’m heartbroken. Our goal was to win it all. We’re a tight-knit bunch. We gave it all that we had. I’m just so proud of the guys and everyone. Just heartbroken.”


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Daniel Murphy adds to his October resume in Nationals' Game 2 win over Dodgers

Daniel Murphy adds to his October resume in Nationals' Game 2 win over Dodgers

Postseason heroics are nothing new for Daniel Murphy. It’s how he made his name in 2015 as a member of the New York Mets, as they rode his hot streak at the plate all the way to a World Series appearance.

The magic from last October hasn’t dissipated; Murphy would sign a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the division rival Nationals and prove his torrid stretch was no fluke. He turned in a career year (.347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI) that put him squarely in the NL MVP discussion.   

So even if he would be in a different uniform this time around, the Nats didn't have any reason to expect that Murphy wouldn't excel on game’s biggest stage. 

“He wants to be in that position,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s where it starts. You have to want to be in that position.”

Indeed, Murphy has picked up where he left off last postseason. While Jose Lobaton had the big blow in Sunday’s 5-2 win, the 31-year-old second baseman did his part by going 3-for-3 with run with a pair of crucial RBI singles.  

The three-hit effort raised Murphy's career playoff average to .359 (18-for-64) over 16 games.

“He's just a great player,” left fielder Jayson Werth said afterward. “What he did last year down the stretch, he's been able to hold on to that and keep it going. It's really cool to see. Obviously a big part of our team.”

“He's one of the best in baseball,” added right fielder Bryce Harper. “That's the MVP this year. He did it the right way and bringing it on to the postseason.”

Murphy’s had quite the 12 month-stretch, and yet he hasn’t spent much of it patting himself on the back. Instead, he’s quick to point to his teammates for his success.

“One of the first things that I’ve been fortunate to be in is a really good spot in two really good lineups,” said Murphy, who’s batted cleanup for most of this season. “...I get to reap the benefits of guys on base in front of me and guys swinging the bat well behind me.”

On Sunday, Murphy gave the Nats what they had been missing in their previous two playoff trips in 2012 and 2014. He especially excelled with runners in scoring position, spraying singles to right and center field to plate insurance runs after Washington grabbed a 3-2 fourth-inning lead.

For a lineup that sometimes gets too keen on hitting the long ball, Murphy’s approach is a welcome sight.

 “I think that's what experience gives you," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Being in the big leagues now for seven years like he has, and having been in those RBI situations where you know the pitcher is not going to give in, he just does such a good job of sticking with it.”

Perhaps the only reason anyone would have thought Murphy wouldn’t perform was because of his strained left glute he suffered in mid-September. With the Nats virtually assured a playoff spot at the time, they shut their best hitter down for the rest of the regular season in hopes to get him closer to full strength for the playoffs.

So far, so good, as Murphy’s resembled exactly the type of October hero Washington needs him to be. 

“[He] didn't play for three weeks, and now he's raking again,” Harper said “He's just incredible. A lot of fun to watch. We need that out of him, and [it was] huge game for him." 


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Dusty Baker undecided on NLDS Game 4 starter

Dusty Baker undecided on NLDS Game 4 starter

Dusty Baker is still undecided on which of his starting pitchers will take the mound in Game 4 of the Nationals' division series against the Dodgers. 

The Nats' skipper told reporters Sunday morning that who he taps is entirely dependent on the results of Game 2 and Game 3. Though it appears right hander Joe Ross is likely get the nod, Baker isn’t making any promises.

“I'd like to give you the starter, but I can't,” he said. “Because of injuries, we're kind of upside-down in our pitching. After Gio [Gonzalez], then until we get to game No. 5, we really don't know. Do we go to a combination of guys? Ross is coming off an injury himself. So depends on how far he can go.”

Ross, who missed most of the second half with right shoulder inflammation, hasn’t pitched more than five innings in a start since July 2. In his three appearances since his return from injury, he was able to make it to the 90-pitch plateau just once.  

If Ross starts and only throws a few innings Tuesday, it’s likely he’d be relieved by rookie long man Reynaldo Lopez. The 23-year-old impressed since his move to the bullpen, so much so that he was added to the playoff roster over veteran reliever Yusmeiro Petit. 

“We're just mixing and matching and trying to piece this thing together,” Baker said “And if I could give you a definitive answer, I'd love to. I'd love to give it to myself.”

Of course, the Nats must find a way to win either Game 2 or Game 3 before worrying about what happens on Tuesday. They hope Tanner Roark can help them even the series before they board their flight to L.A.