Nationals

Tiger headed toward another win at Torrey

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Tiger headed toward another win at Torrey

SAN DIEGO (AP) The Pacific air was so cold at the end of a 10-hour day at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods thrust both hands in the front pockets of his rain pants as he walked off the course at the Farmers Insurance Open.

It was a fitting image. Woods made a marathon day look like he was out for a stroll.

Staked to a two-shot lead going into the third round of this fog-delayed tournament, Woods drove the ball where he was aiming and was hardly ever out of position. Even with a bogey on the final hole - the easiest on the back nine - Woods still had a 3-under 69 and expanded his lead by two shots.

In the seven holes he played in the fourth round later Sunday afternoon, Woods hit the ball all over the course and still made three birdies to add two more strokes to his lead.

Thanks to the fog that wiped out an entire day of golf on Saturday, the Farmers Insurance Open didn't stand a chance of finishing on Sunday.

Woods just made it look like it was over.

He had a six-shot lead with 11 holes to play going into the conclusion of the final round on Monday. The two guys chasing him were Brandt Snedeker, the defending champion, and Nick Watney, who won at Torrey Pines in 2008. Neither was waving a white flag. Both understood how much the odds were stacked against them.

``I've got a guy at the top of the leaderboard that doesn't like giving up leads,'' Snedeker said. ``So I have to go catch him.''

``All we can do tomorrow is go out and try to make him think about it a little bit and see what happens,'' Watney said.

And then there was Erik Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient who had a birdie-eagle finish in the third round that put him in third place through 54 holes, still five shots behind Woods. Someone asked Compton about trying to chase Woods. He laughed.

``I'm trying to chase myself,'' he said.

Woods was at 17-under par for the tournament, and more than just a six-shot lead was in his corner.

He finished the third round at 14-under 202, making it the 16th time on the PGA Tour that he had at least a four-shot lead going into the final round. His record on the PGA Tour with the outright lead after 54 holes is 38-2, the exceptions being Ed Fiori in 1996 when Woods was a 20-year-old rookie and Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship.

Woods attributed his big lead to the ``whole package.''

``I've driven the ball well, I've hit my irons well, and I've chipped and putted well,'' he said. ``Well, I've hit good putts. They all haven't gone in.''

Woods has a good history of Monday finishes, starting with Torrey Pines. It was on this course along the coast north of La Jolla that Woods won a 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate to capture the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th major.

He also won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on a Monday in 2000 when he rallied from seven shots behind with seven holes to play. He won his lone title in The Players Championship on a Monday, along with a five-shot win in the Memorial in 2000, and a scheduled Monday finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston.

Woods even gets to sleep in.

A Monday finish because of weather typically resumes in the morning so players can get to the next tournament. CBS Sports, however, decided it wanted to televise the conclusion, and so play won't begin until 2 p.m. EST. That decision might have been based on Woods being headed toward victory - just a hunch.

Woods already has won seven times at Torrey Pines, including the U.S. Open. That matches his PGA Tour record at Bay Hill and Firestone (Sam Snead won the Greensboro Open eight times, four each on a different course).

The tournament isn't over, and Woods doesn't see it that way.

``I've got to continue with executing my game plan. That's the idea,'' he said. ``I've got 11 holes to play, and I've got to play them well.''

He seized control with his 69 in the third round that gave him a four-shot lead, and he might have put this away in the two hours he played before darkness stopped play.

He badly missed the first fairway to the left, but had a gap through the Torrey pines to the green and had a two-putt par. He missed his next shot so far to the left that the ball wound up in the first cut of the adjacent sixth fairway. He still managed a simple up-and-down for par.

After a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 third, Woods couldn't afford to go left off the tee again because of the PGA Tour's largest water hazard - the Pacific Ocean. So he went miles right, beyond a cart path, a tree blocking his way to the green. He hit a cut shot that came up safely short of the green, and then chipped in from 40 feet for birdie.

``I was able to play those holes in 2-under par,'' Woods said. ``And then I hit three great drives right in a row.''

One of them wasn't that great - it was in the right rough, the ball so buried that from 214 yards that Woods hit a 5-wood. It scooted down the fairway and onto the green, setting up a two-putt birdie the stretched his lead to six shots. And after another good drive, the horn sounded to stop play. Because it was due to weather, Woods was able to finish the hole, and he two-putted for par.

Eleven holes on Monday were all that were keeping him from his 75th career win on the PGA Tour, and delivering a message to the rest of golf that there could be more of this to follow no matter what the golf course.

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

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Patrick Corbin shuts out the Marlins, Nationals win second straight

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Saturday to raise their record to 21-31. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Good defense Saturday.

A simplistic thing, yet perversely elusive this season for the Nationals.

Washington committed no errors. It turned three double-plays, allowing the bullpen to be used for just three outs. Brian Dozier made two quality plays -- including snagging a line . Trea Turner charged a ground and used his jump throw to gain an out. Anthony Rendon charged a ground and used his smoothness to throw to first for another. Adam Eaton made a nice sliding catch.

Friday was nasty in the field. The Nationals committed three errors, should have been charged with four. Turner committed two (and would have been the recipient of a third if not for generous scoring). Manager Davey Martinez was not pleased with what he called “sloppy” play Friday. They clean it up Saturday.

2. Corbin was back for the eighth inning, starting with 89 pitches behind him and a run of retiring 16 out of 17.

Miami did not use one left-handed hitter Saturday. The strategy mattered little to Corbin, who picked up three double plays on the day and closed the eighth with a strikeout of Bryan Holaday.

Corbin was removed just five innings into his last start after throwing 98 pitches. Manager Davey Martinez said then the Nationals wanted to keep Corbin under 100 pitches three starts after he threw a career-high 118 pitches and was on a run of throwing at least 107 pitches.

Saturday, he finished the eighth at 103. Corbin hit for himself, despite two runners on base with two out, and came back out for the ninth. A strikeout, flyout and groundout followed.

In all, four hits, no runs, one walk and five strikeouts on 116 pitches.

3. The fourth inning had a little bit of everything Saturday. Adam Eaton committed a major running gaffe. Juan Soto ran from third on a contact play, stopped just short of home plate, then veered left and slid in safe. Victor Robles squared to bunt and leaned in. A 96-mph fastball came up and in, grazed his cheek and sent him to the ground. Team trainer Paul Lessard and manager Davey Martinez immediately ran out at the behest of home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Robles was OK, went to first, then later scored from first base on a single to shallow right.

The Nationals scored five runs in the inning to jolt what was a scoreless game. Eaton’s running mistake -- he made a hard turn at second base, then was hung up in a rundown -- carried the start of the inning. But, Yan Gomes’ squibber to right field redeemed Eaton by scoring three.

4. Sean Doolittle stood at his locker Friday night in case the media wanted to talk to him postgame following his second consecutive rough outing. Reporters took a pass -- no need to talk to a player every time they have a bad night -- and Doolittle went to the back for his postgame maintenance.

His two outings this week vaulted his ERA up almost two runs, from 1.71 to 3.68, before Saturday’s game.

Martinez said Doolittle’s recent bumps are not health-related, despite a downtick in velocity. Doolittle was throwing around 92 mph Friday. He hit 94 mph, but his velocity was down for the most part.

“Credit to Doolittle,” Martinez said. “He knows his stuff wasn’t what he wanted it to be [Friday], but he fought through it. That’s what a good closer does sometimes. I’ve got all the confidence and faith in the world...He knows what he needs to do. When you have a guy like that, and a closer like that, they know how to work out their [issues] when they’re struggling, some of his spin rate stuff he’s going to look at. The biggest thing is I don’t want him to start thinking there’s something wrong with him. I told him that [Friday]: ‘You’re one of the best. You’re an elite closer. It’s OK. Guys go through that.

5. The Nationals called up right-handed reliever James Borque from Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. Joe Ross, who allowed three earned runs in his Friday appearance and has a 9.22 ERA, was sent to Triple-A Fresno.

Borque arrives after quality work in Harrisburg: a 1.33 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. This is his first time on the major league roster. Borque believes better fastball command led to his success and subsequent call-up.

Ross lost the bite on his slider despite showing flashes of being an effective reliever. He will be "stretched out" in Fresno, though he is unlikely to be ready when the Nationals need a spot start April 29 in Atlanta. Kyle McGowin pitched in place of injured Anibal Sanchez (left hamstring strain) Friday. He allowed five earned runs in four innings and is unlikely to receive another opportunity.

Sanchez threw 41 pitches in a simulated game Friday. He felt well Saturday. Sanchez is expected to throw a bullpen session Sunday and make a rehabilitation start Wednesday.

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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