Quick Links

Nats breathe sigh of relief


Nats breathe sigh of relief

PHILADELPHIA -- For most relievers, the sight of a closer trotting out from the bullpen to pitch the ninth inning of a tight game brings with it a sense of calm.

"You bring in the closer and everybody's like: Whew," Craig Stammen said. "Take a little break."

These days, when Henry Rodriguez takes the mound for the ninth inning, the rest of the Nationals bullpen stands at the ready, knowing it may not be long before someone else's services are needed.

Monday night, it took only two wayward Rodriguez pitches before the phone rang inside the visitors pen at Citizens Bank Park. Sean Burnett immediately sprang into action.

"Once the phone rings," the left-hander said, "it's go time."

So for the second time in a week, Burnett was summoned to bail out Rodriguez. And for the second time in a week, he pulled it off, this time preserving a 2-1 victory over the Phillies.

Had Burnett not been able to do it, had he not stranded the tying runner on second base, everything positive that took place for the Nationals over the previous 2 hours and 40 minutes would have gone to waste.

Gio Gonzalez's six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts, giving him the major-league lead in punchouts, a 6-1 record and a sparkling 1.98 ERA to go along with it? Would've been thrown out the window.

Ian Desmond's continued power display out of the No. 5 spot in the lineup, highlighted in this game by his seventh home run of the season? Would've been an afterthought.

Two more scoreless innings of relief from Stammen, suddenly one of the most-dominant setup men in baseball? Would've become a footnote.

Yes, the Nationals owe Burnett a month's worth of free dinners after this one, even if he remained modest about the job he performed.

"I'm just going to do what they ask me to do, the way it's always been," he said. "I'm just trying to help the team out."

The scenario: Leading 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth and having dominated every aspect of this game, the Nationals needed only to record three more outs. As Davey Johnson has learned -- sometimes in painful fashion -- those final three outs are no picnic, especially when Rodriguez is involved.

Johnson, though, has seen his regular closer (Drew Storen) and his backup closer (Brad Lidge) succumb to injury, so he has tried to stand behind his third-string option and give Rodriguez opportunities to right his wayward ship. It nearly ended in disaster again, though.

It took only two pitches to John Mayberry -- neither of which could be handled by catcher Jesus Flores -- to realize Rodriguez didn't have it on this night. The call was placed to the bullpen and Burnett began warming up in a hurry as Rodriguez tried to hold down the fort.

"I've never done it before," Johnson said of having an emergency closer warming up so quickly after the ninth inning begins.

It's a good thing he did, though, because Rodriguez's inning continued to spiral out of control. He walked Mayberry on four pitches, retired Freddy Galvis on a flyball, uncorked a wild pitch, allowed a single to Mike Fontenot, then uncorked another wild pitch (his MLB-leading eighth in only 18 innings of work) to put the runners on second and third and bring Johnson from the dugout.

"Henry threw another wild pitch, and that was it for me," the manager said.

Burnett was thrust into quite a jam. Not only was the tying run now in scoring position, but the Phillies were going to send up a pair of right-handed pinch-hitters to face him in Ty Wigginton and Hector Luna.

What was Burnett's gameplan in that situation?

"You could give me one," he said with a laugh. "I don't have one. Just try to get two more outs before they get two runs. That was all I was trying to do. If it was groundballs, strikeouts, however it got done. Just looking to get outs before they scored."

Which he managed to do. Mayberry did tag up and score on Wigginton's sacrifice fly to right. And Luna did draw a walk to prolong the suspense. But Burnett ultimately got Placido Polanco to line out to second base, and the entire Nationals dugout could breathe a sigh of relief at last.

At the same time, there was concern and sympathy for Rodriguez, who officially has blown only three save opportunities but has now needed someone to bail him out twice in a week and faces an uncertain future.

"He's never been a closer before, on our team," Desmond said. "He's got to learn. It's not easy coming in in the ninth inning. Ask anybody. ... Coming from a guy that's booted more balls than probably anybody in the big leagues, it's a mental thing. You want to do so good, and you want to help the team win. Every time he comes up there, I'm rooting for him. I know the next time he comes out, he's going to do better. It's the same thing I went through, just different aspect, different position."

Whether Rodriguez gets another opportunity to pitch the ninth inning anytime soon remains to be seen.

"I'm going to sleep on it," Johnson said. "But I'm looking at alternatives."

Quick Links

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?


Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.


Quick Links

Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine


Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.


He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.