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Bullpen cracks in Nats' walk-off loss to Orioles


Bullpen cracks in Nats' walk-off loss to Orioles

Holding a one-run lead on Baltimore in the eighth inning on Friday night, the ideal situation for Matt Williams' bullpen was presented. Casey Janssen came out to set up a save opportunity for Drew Storen with the Nats holding a 39-2 record this season when leading after seven innings. The Orioles, on the other hand, were an ugly 0-36 when leading after seven.

Advantage Washington, right?

But this is baseball and, naturally, nothing went as planned. Janssen allowed a softly-hit single to leadoff against a pinch-hitting Chris Parmelee. He then got Adam Jones out on a hard liner to third base.

Though Janssen wasn't in serious trouble, Williams called on lefty Matt Thornton to face Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Wieters stepped to the plate 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Thornton in his career. So, of course, he doubled to right-center field to tie the game at 2-2.

Wieters was aggressive and hit the first pitch from Thornton, something the Nats' veteran did not foresee.

"[Jose Lobaton] asked me on the mound what I wanted to do there. I said 'let's start him down and away and then we'll go from there, go back in.' He jumped the first pitch and that was it. I didn't expect him to do that," Thornton explained.

Thornton got out of the inning quickly thereafter, but the Nats were no match for All-Star reliever Zach Britton in the top of the ninth. That set up a walk-off opportunity for the Orioles against right-hander Tanner Roark, and they made it count.

Roark came out firing mid-90s fastballs and struck out the first two batters he faced. He was nothing short of dominant and even got the final batter, Jonathan Schoop, to two strikes.

But then Roark left a slider just a little too high in the zone and Schoop sent it over the fence in left field. He reached and barely got a bat on it, but it was just enough on a hot summer night in a small stadium.

"The pitch that went out of the ballpark was not a bad pitch," Williams said. "He just got out and hooked it. It's a small ballpark and he just got it over. That's the way this park plays sometimes."

"He was doing great. I even think the pitch that he hit out was a good pitch, a good located pitch," Tyler Moore said. "He just one-handed it. In this stadium the ball travels pretty good. It's unfortunate."

Roark also felt the slider was a well-executed pitch, but he wouldn't point to the conditions or the dimensions at Camden Yards as an excuse.

"It is what it is," he said. "There's a lot of parks where the ball flies. You still gotta pitch the same and be confident in yourself."

The Nats' bullpen did produce one big positive in Aaron Barrett's successful return from a right bicep strain. Barrett replaced starter Gio Gonzalez in the seventh inning, allowed no runs and struck out two. It was his first appearance since June 11 and he came away encouraged.

"I'm glad skip had the confidence to put me in that situation, to get back to help the team out in whatever role is available. I felt good coming back," he said. "I haven't felt any of the pain or the soreness that I was getting or that I was feeling in the past. It is just about continuing to build the arm strength and continuing to keep working."

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What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

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What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer had a heated exchange in the Nationals dugout Friday night.

It was another not-so-great moment in an otherwise unspectacular season for the Nats so far.

Things like this often appear worse than they are based on what we can see, not hear, on television. In any case, it has fans and pundits talking about a perceived off-the-field issue instead of the actual game. There's nothing "good" about this, but there are important factors that are "bad" and ones that are "not bad."

Davey Martinez, Strasburg and Scherzer already said this has been settled and wasn't a big deal in the first place, but for a manager who's already faced some scrutiny this year for how he manages his pitchers, having two of them go at it in the dugout isn't ideal.

It also doesn't present the best optics for a team that came out of the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals need to build some momentum heading into the dog days of summer, and after a lackluster first half, this isn't how anybody would want to start the second half.

This was also Strasburg's first start back from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Ryan Zimmerman just rejoined the club as well. Things are shaping up to make for a solid second-half run, but all this does is detract from that.

The Nationals also just hosted the first All-Star Game in Washington since 1969. Having something like this happen in the dugout where everybody can see it takes away from some of that good publicity.

But there are also positives, or at least non-negatives, to take from this. Scherzer has always been ultracompetitive, and as the best pitcher on the staff, he needs to harness that into leadership. With Strasburg coming off a rough inning, Scherzer may have thought he needed a little tough love from a veteran. There's nothing wrong with that. Strasburg, to his credit, has never been one to focus too much on himself, so if there's anyone who can take something like this constructively, it'd be him.

This isn't Jonathan Paplebon fighting Bryce Harper for not running out a pop fly the day after the Nats were eliminated from playoff contention. These are two veteran guys who play the same position who are both competitive and want to win. It's akin to an older brother pushing his younger brother to do better. Strasburg even hinted at the family aspect after the game.

In the end, there's really nothing to see here. Frustration is part of the game. Talking it out is a part of remedying the frustration.

What really matters is tracking down the Braves and the Phillies. The Nationals can get started on that Sunday in the second game of a rain-shortened two-game series against the Braves.


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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

Following a dicey matchup between the Nats and Braves Friday night which featured a heated argument between Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are getting a much-needed opportunity to regroup.

The Washington Nationals' official Twitter account announced that Saturday evening's matchup will be postponed due to inclement weather just after 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

The Nationals had planned to host "JMU Night" at the ballpark as a part of their "College Day" series, and due to more forecasted inclement weather Sunday, the Nationals decided to call the game off sooner rather than later.

The Nationals have yet to announce when the game will be made up.

If Sunday's game is played as scheduled, Max Scherzer will start.

This post will be updated when more information regarding a makeup date has been announced.