Nationals

Quick Links

Detwiler's 'awful' start plagues Nats

767980.png

Detwiler's 'awful' start plagues Nats

Ross Detwiler could have tried to over-analyze his outing Saturday night, tried to figure out whether it was a mechanical glitch or poor pitch selection or just plain old poor execution that caused him to put the Nationals in big hole and ultimately set the stage for a 6-5 loss to the Orioles.

In the end, though, the process was less significant to the left-hander than the end result.

"I mean, give up six in five innings?" Detwiler said. "That's awful."

"Awful" might be a bit too strong of a description. But for a Nationals rotation that hadn't put forth an outing like this in quite some time, it certainly didn't measure up to the usual standard.

In fact, no Nationals starter had surrendered six earned runs since Livan Hernandez did it against the Mets on Sept. 4, 2011, a span of 63 games. And this one perhaps stung a little more because Detwiler's teammates managed to rally from the 6-0 deficit he created and nearly came all the way back before a raucous crowd of 42,331 (second-largest in ballpark history).

"I feel terrible about it," Detwiler said. "Because our team was out there, the hitters were ready to hit. They put up five runs on that pitching staff. ... We need to win when we do that."

The Nationals still nearly did win. Despite putting only two men on base through their first four innings against Orioles starter Jason Hammel, manager Davey Johnson's reconfigured lineup finally began producing after it trailed by six.

With RBI from Steve Lombardozzi (filling in for a benched Danny Espinosa), Rick Ankiel, Carlos Maldonado and Roger Bernadina, the Nationals trimmed the lead to 6-4 in the sixth. They nearly added to it in the eighth, stranding a man on third when both Bernadina and Espinosa hit the ball hard ... but right at Baltimore outfielders. Then they did draw within one in the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman belted a Jim Johnson pitch to left for his first homer since April 19.

"It can't always happen in a game where you jump out to a lead and cruise home," said Zimmerman, who went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .250. "This team handles adversity well, and we battle to the last out. We did that again tonight, and that's all you can ask for."

Well, you could've asked for the game-tying run, though that would've required a clutch hit from Adam LaRoche, who has been the Nationals' best run-producer all season but has fallen into a funk since the Orioles showed up in the District.

After striking out on a 3-2 sinker from Johnson to end the game, LaRoche finds himself 0-for-9 with four strikeouts (and a walk) in this series.

"I'm actually seeing it alright; I'm just going outside the zone," the first baseman said. "I had a couple chances to take some walks ... and I haven't done it. I've been chasing it. I need to get back in and pull the ball back in a little closer and be a little more selective."

Late rally or not, this game was decided in the first five innings, when Hammel (5-1) cruised and Detwiler (3-3) labored. Detwiler found himself in trouble nearly from the moment he stepped to the mound, and in doing so continued a disturbing trend.

Owner of a 2.10 ERA only six days ago, he's now allowed 10 earned runs and 16 hits over his last 10 innings. As a result, that ERA now stands at 3.65.

"I mean, I know I can do it," he said. "I know I'm here for a reason in this role. It's like, you just kind of have to take it for what it is and go after the next one."

Is there a chance Detwiler won't get many more starts to right his ship? Perhaps.

Chien-Ming Wang started for Class AAA Syracuse on Saturday, his fifth rehab start while recovering from a strained hamstring. The veteran right-hander is scheduled to appear in one more minor-league game before coming off the disabled list, at which point the Nationals have to make a tough decision.

Before Saturday's game, Johnson dropped a bit of a surprise, saying Wang likely will go to the bullpen once he joins the big-league roster. It wouldn't be the ideal move, because Wang does not profile well as a reliever. But it would keep the talented Detwiler in the rotation.

Given the manner in which Detwiler has struggled his last two times out, though, few would be shocked if Johnson has a change of heart.

"Everybody says it's a good problem to have, but probably not for the questions I'm going to get asked in this room," the manager said. "Because there's no easy choice."

Another start like this from Detwiler, and Johnson might have no choice but to make the change.

Quick Links

Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Familiarity makes Matt Adams’ return to the Nationals an easy call

Comfort carries allure for most. That includes Matt Adams.

He knew when traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in August a chance for a return to Washington existed. Adams got along with all levels of staff while operating quietly at his locker and pulverizing right-handed pitching on the field. The hole he filled in 2018 would exist again in 2019, so why couldn’t he return?

It all seems so simple, and it turned out to be. Adams’ one-year deal for $4 million, which includes a mutual option for 2020, was announced Tuesday by the Nationals after first being reported during the weekend. The left-handed bench piece Washington needed is in place for this season. It could well be back in 2020 when the team’s first base personnel could undergo a large change if Ryan Zimmerman’s option is not picked up.

“I don’t follow too much of the media stuff in the offseason,” Adams said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“But the way that everything was left when I was traded, we were on good communication, up until that point. Everything that was said leading up to that trade, if the opportunity presented itself [to return] I would be on their list. I’m kind of lost for words, because I’m excited for this opportunity. But I think the team is definitely going to be better than it was last year, with the acquisitions that [Mike Rizzo] has made so far this offseason.”

Adams is pleased he’s not hunting a job until late into February. More frequently role players are without homes for most of, if not all of, the pre-spring training portion of the offseason. Adams is settled a week before Christmas.

“For me, the way my brain and myself works, the later I sign, the more freaked out I'm going to be,” Adams said. “Because it's the unknown that's out there. Not knowing where you're going to go, how many people you're going to know on that team you're going to sign with...For me, I was lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to sign back with the Nats where I know everybody and I get along with absolutely everybody from front office to coaches and all the players. For me, it felt like the right opportunity and I was just fortunate to get the deal done when we got it done.”

Adams’ value lays in his potency against right-handed pitching. He hit 20 of his 21 home runs last season against right-handers. This is in line with his career arc that includes 83 of his 96 home runs against right-handed throwers. Adams also slugged .538 against right-handed pitchers while with the Nationals last season. 

He’s again positioned to platoon at first base and be summoned to hit late in games. Adams played much more often than anticipated last season following Zimmerman’s languishing oblique injury. 

“I think it’s just coming up with that mindset of being ready whether your name’s called or not,” Adams said. “Whether it’s on an everyday basis or, like you said, sporadic, here and there, pinch-hitting off the bench, filling in and giving Zim a blow when he needs it. But I think going into spring training in the best shape I can possibly be in, going in ready to get better, ready to work. And wherever the season takes me playing-time wise, I’m just excited to be on a winning club with a good chance to get back to the postseason.”

Bringing Adams back reduces the Nationals’ offseason list. They need a fourth starter. They are considering a full-time second baseman. Another bench option is also part of the hunt, though it’s reliant on what happens at second base (Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick could fill that spot if an every day second baseman is signed). Left-handed bench bat is spoken for.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Strange thing about the Winter Meetings. They were held in Las Vegas, that vibrant, salacious desert city, and delivered the fervor of a yawn.

The Red Sox held a press conference for a pitcher they already signed. The Hall of Fame announcement led to more grumbling than celebration, with poor Harold Baines caught in the middle just trying to enjoy his moment. Scott Boras’ day in front of the Christmas tree stirred everyone until they read through what he said. Lots of words, little substance, next to no news.

One Nationals executive lamented spending 14 hours in a suite without accomplishing anything. That about sums it up.

So, where to now? The Nationals created a gap by sending out Tanner Roark on the final day of the meetings. The move was, and remains, strange. A key decision-maker for the Nationals noted acquired Triple-A reliever Tanner Rainey throws 100 mph. What he doesn’t do is make up 180 major-league innings next season. That person, or persons, remains out there somewhere.

And the replacement is going to cost more than the Nationals should pay based on what the market has already delivered. In particular, the three-year, $30 million deal Texas gave Lance Lynn is problematic for the Nationals. Lynn was bad last season. Very bad. A 4.77 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 156 ⅔ innings. That earned him $30 million. He was better in 2017 following a return from Tommy John surgery. Combine the seasons for a 4.04 ERA. That’s superior to Roark during the span (4.50) but also requires a three-year commitment to an aging and declining pitcher.

Other aging and declining pitchers are going to want similar contracts. No quality organization wants to give them.

Which, again, makes jettisoning Roark odd. Maybe the Nationals find another starter on a two-year, $15 million deal. That would be optimum. A slight savings, modest commitment, a chance for improvement over Roark’s 97 ERA-plus the last two seasons. This has to be the premise inside their room: We can do slightly better for slightly less while also acquiring a future reliever. It’s a swing to have it all in this spot.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are sifting through the second base market. Several everyday players remain. That’s the good news. The challenge here is Washington will not want to sign one for longer than two years. Carter Kieboom is creeping toward the major leagues. No reason to pay an exorbitant price for the position he’s likely to grab when starting out at the highest level.

Two interesting points on the market have already hit: Ian Kinsler’s two-year, $8 million deal with the adrift San Diego Padres, and Jonathan Schoop’s one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Minnesota Twins. Schoop has power and is an above average defender. He’s also the kind of emphatic swinger the Nationals are trying to move away from. Kinsler is going into his age-37 season. His 2.4 WAR from last year — largely based on his quality defense — is solid. His 87 OPS-plus, not so much. And two years is one too many.

But, they give a sense of where price points for second baseman exist. If Kinsler is going to receive two years, DJ LeMahieu probably wants four. If Schoop receives $7.5 million, LeMahieu can expect $10 million per season. Those numbers push him out of the Nationals’ preferred range.

Jed Lowrie turns 35 next April. He’s a top-5 defender, according to Fangraphs, and walks often.  Would his back-to-back seasons of above-.800 OPS be enough for the Nationals to give him two years and $20 million? Do they need to wait for the rotation piece in order to see what spending wiggle room remains? Roark was expected to make around $10 million following arbitration. If that cost is pushed down to $7 million, is the difference available for a second baseman?

Otherwise, the Nationals may as well stick with the proposed Wilmer Difo-Howie Kendrick platoon at second. The external options are too thin. Kieboom, a deadline trade or a waiver claim could help fix things midseason, if necessary.

So, think of the Nationals’ remaining list as filled with a must, a maybe and a look. The must is finding another starter. The maybe is a second baseman. The look is into the left-handed reliever market. Not much was done in Vegas. Certain things have to be done before West Palm Beach.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: