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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 9-5, Wednesday afternoon and fell to 11-12 on the season. Here are five observations from the game...

1. The Anibal Sanchez experiment is not going well so far.

The veteran right-hander came to Washington over the winter fresh off a fantastic season in Atlanta, one that was an aberration from previous years and may have extended his career. The Nationals hoped he would be much more like his 2018 version and not the guy he was from 2015 through 2017. 

But through five starts, the results have not been pretty, and Wednesday was his worst game yet. Sanchez got rocked for six earned runs on nine hits and five walks in five innings of work. His season ERA sits at 6.00 and he has 16 walks in 27 total innings.

The early returns on the Nats rotation have not been great. Patrick Corbin is their only starter with an ERA below 4.00. But Sanchez has been far and away the weakest link.

The Nats closed out their road trip with a 2-4 mark. Both series were against teams with losing records. They have lost three of their past four series overall.

2. Adam Eaton also had a rough day. His worst moment was in the bottom of the third, when Raimel Tapia knocked a bases-clearing double over his head in right field. 

Eaton appeared to misjudge the ball by stepping in too far. He jumped in an attempt to make up for it with a leaping grab, only to have the ball sail past him and to the wall. Though Victor Robles sprinted over to back him up, Eaton made the play look even worse by giving up on it and doubling over with his hands on his knees in frustration.

Just one frame later, Eaton struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the fourth. He went 1-for-5 on the day with his lone hit a single in the top of the ninth.

Eaton also had a minor injury scare. While running out a grounder in the first, he slowed down and appeared to be limping. He was then shown on TV chatting with trainer Paul Lessard in the dugout. 

3. Because this is the 2019 Nationals, the bullpen of course played a factor and once again it was an adventure for Trevor Rosenthal.

Per usual, he was pumping heat but with zero control. He began the eighth inning by hitting Charlie Blackmon and finished the frame with three runs allowed on two hits and a walk. Of his 31 pitches, only 16 were strikes and three were wild. 

Those three runs were costly because the Nats scored two in the ninth and left runners on the corners. If Rosenthal had pitched a clean eighth, it would have been a one-run game.

Rosenthal has allowed runs in six of his seven appearances this season. He now leads the majors with five wild pitches.  

Rosenthal remains one of the Nats' highest upside relief options, so it may pay off down the road if they show patience in him. But it continues to be a disaster just about every time he takes the mound.

4. It wasn't all bad for the Nats. Juan Soto, who fouled a pitch off his right ankle in Tuesday's game, played in this one and launched his fourth homer of the season over the right field fence. He also drew a walk.

Jake Noll made the first start of his MLB career and landed his first hit. He rifled a double down the left field line in the second inning to score Matt Adams. 

Noll started at third base, which was a bit of a strange sight. By now everyone knows of him as the guy who looks like Ryan Zimmerman; now he's playing his old position?

5. The Rockies got a key piece back in their lineup, a guy who is a familiar face to Nats fans. Wednesday was Daniel Murphy's return from a fractured left finger. 

The injury gave him a four-to-six week recovery timeline, but he came back a few days early. Perhaps that can be taken as a sign of hope for Trea Turner, who remains out with a broken finger himself.

Murphy did some damage against his former team. He singled in his first at-bat off Sanchez, then walked and scored in the third inning. He also moved a runner over on a lineout in the fourth that contributed to a run.

Murphy's best highlight, though, came in between innings when he barely avoided disaster while running onto the field during the Rockies' equivalent of the Presidents Race.

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Why controversy surrounds Adam Eaton and the Minor League Pay Problem

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Why controversy surrounds Adam Eaton and the Minor League Pay Problem

Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton found himself at the center of the Minor League pay problem issue this past weekend.

On Thursday, Washington City Paper published an article describing the living and working conditions of a handful of the Class A-Advanced Potomac Nationals, one of Washington's minor-league affiliates. The article, which credited Eaton with saying that he doesn't believe minor leaguers should be paid "big time," but they could be paid slightly more. 

Additionally, Eaton said that he believes the MLB shouldn't make conditions in the minor leagues "more hospitable," because otherwise players could get complacent and, supposedly, have less of an incentive or drive to make the majors. 

Eaton's argument is more nuanced than those few quotes, and on Monday City Paper published an article with the entirety of Eaton's interview available online. 

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MINOR-LEAGUE PAY?

Four players sued MLB in 2014, alleging that its policies “artificially and illegally depressing” minor league salaries. The case was dismissed, but it elevated the concerns of minor league players and the disparity between the support for them and MLB players (here's a good place to start if you want to learn more about this fight). 

Many have had to live with host families or share small apartments with upwards of five teammates while in a major league team's farm system. Some, including Eaton, recall the abysmal food options provided to players by the teams, often including peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. 

The issue of whether minor leaguers are paid a "livable wage" has become a more prominent issue since the suit was filed.  In 2018 President Donald Trump signed the "Save America's Pastime Act," which enables MLB to exclude most professional baseball players from the Fair Labor Standards Act and thus insulates the current system of pay between the major and minor leagues. 

While those drafted in the earlier rounds may receive signing bonuses upwards of $8 million, those who do receive signing bonuses make up only a small percentage of those in the minor leagues. 

Last year, the monthly minimum salaries for minor league players were: $1,100 in rookie ball and Single-A, $1,500 in Double-A and $2,150 in Triple-A, according to an article from the Associated Press

WHAT DID ADAM EATON SAY?

Eaton's argument is complicated and mainly based on personal experience. (The Nationals outfielder spent time in the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system after he was drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then he's also spent time in the Chicago White Sox and the Nationals' minor-league systems, mainly on rehab assignments.)

It's unfair to lay out Eaton's claim as one claiming that nothing should change and minor league players should continue to be exploited. Eaton explicitly said that he "doesn't disagree [minor leaguers are] being exploited," but added that "it's for the betterment of everybody."

The outfielder credited his experience in the "dog-eat-dog world" of the minor leagues as helping him appreciate the majors all the more, because it kept him from getting complacent and made him focus on baseball.

But Eaton also admitted that there is what he calls "wiggle room" in the minor-league salaries; the minor league teams could increase salaries a little bit (but not too much, according to Eaton). 

WHY IS THERE CONTROVERSY?

The problem stems from the fact that Eaton's argument is complex, and he repeatedly backtracked in his interview with City Paper. Plus, words are extremely subjective. So while Eaton said that if MLB made the minor league life "more livable," then players would get complacent, he also said that minor league players shouldn't be exploited and should make slightly more money. 

Many articles published have used headlines that amount to "click-bait," which shave Eaton's argument down to "minor-leaguers should be exploited because it's a good thing." That isn't Eaton's whole argument, though. 

Understanding where Eaton's argument fits into the entire pay problem is important in understanding why Eaton is under scrutiny right now. And to do that, what amounts to a "liveable wage" and "liveable conditions" must be better defined. Eaton argues that minor league players should make enough so that they're "literally not eating crumbs," but not so much that they grow comfortable. As he claims, it's those minor-leaguers who are "milled by pressure," the 30th and 40th round draft picks with no signing bonus and no guarantee they'll ever reach the majors, who ensure a "longevity in the big league." 

HAS EATON SAID ANYTHING ELSE?

Well, yes. Eaton took to Instagram Monday, after the City Paper article with the complete interview transcript was published, essentially cleaning up his argument and apologizing for offending anyone. 

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Max Scherzer to the Yankees? Probably not

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Max Scherzer to the Yankees? Probably not

Bryce Harper held a State of Bryce Harper press conference every spring. It occurred inside the cramped clubhouse in Viera, Florida, outside in the sunshine of a new facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, then, for the final time in 2018, in the bland press conference of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Harper threatened to walk out that day if asked about his pending free agency.

No matter the location, New York reporters showed. Year after year, they asked Harper about the prospect of playing for the Yankees -- he, apparently, was the only person to ever like Mickey Mantle -- in order to produce new churn about the possibility of Harper to New York. It happened so frequently, and irked him so much, Harper managed his time accordingly when a New York team was in Washington or he was in New York. He was not around during those times, if he could help it.

This is how it goes with the Yankees, a truth earned by decades of titles and lore, as the preeminent franchise in baseball. Big-name player A is attached to the Yankees by thread or whim because they are the Yankees. This process was kickstarted last weekend for Max Scherzer via a report which said New York would do “whatever it takes” to acquire Scherzer. Ignore it. He’s not being traded.

Scherzer crept back into the National League Cy Young race by pitching with a damaged face last week and showing supreme command his last six starts: 0.88 ERA, 41 innings pitched, 27 hits, .179 batting average against, 59 strikeouts, eight walks and 70 percent of his pitches thrown for strikes. He leads the National League in strikeouts and FIP. He’s third in walk-to-strikeout ratio, fourth in ERA, sixth in WHIP and 11th in batting average against. Like the Nationals, Scherzer recently turned into something to take further notice of.

And even if the recent team surge is a mirage, Scherzer is unlikely to be traded. He’s the black-and-blue face of the team. Multiple other parts -- an unextended Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams, Yan Gomes, even Michael A. Taylor -- could be moved out for several prospects. Trading those players does not necessitate a rebuild or rule out Rendon’s return. Trading Scherzer with two years remaining on his deal means the spine of the team is removed when his contract cost is about to modestly recede as the competitive balance tax threshold goes up.

The lone wrinkle is Scherzer’s current service time status: At the close of 2019, he will hold 10 and five rights -- meaning he has been in the league at least 10 years and five with the same team -- enabling him to veto any trade. He can’t do that now. However, it’s hard to envision that has enough onus to send him anywhere this season.

So, believe the Yankees would want to acquire Scherzer. Then envision a line with 28 other teams, scoff and move on.

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