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Harper, Escobar, Span all out of Nats lineup again


Harper, Escobar, Span all out of Nats lineup again

PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals submitted a lineup for Saturday’s game against the Phillies that featured only one player projected to start on Opening Day (Ian Desmond) hitting in a spot he rarely has held in his career (third).

Such is life for Matt Williams right now, with six of his regular position players currently out due to injury, plus catcher Wilson Ramos needing a day off after starting four consecutive nights.

“It’s opportunity,” the second-year manager said. “That’s the way I look at it. It’s an opportunity for Clint [Robinson] to play, and for [Tyler Moore] to play and for Matt den Dekker to get in there and hit a 2-run homer to seal it for us. … You gotta do what you gotta do, right? That’s how we play it.”

The Nationals have managed to win seven consecutive games despite the injuries, thanks to some dominant pitching and contributions from bench players, but they do recognize they can’t go on forever with a lineup as depleted as this.

In that regard, Williams is hopeful none of Saturday’s scratches will miss significant time. Bryce Harper (strained right hamstring) might have played if not for the rainy conditions at Citizens Bank Park that left the outfield grass slick. Denard Span (back spasms) was moving around much better after having to miss Friday’s game with the recurring condition. And X-rays taken of Yunel Escobar’s left hand were negative, though it remained swollen Saturday after he was hit by a pitch in the first inning the previous night.

So the Nationals didn’t feel the need to make a roster move Saturday, bringing up another position player for their game against the Phillies.

“As of today, no,” Williams said. “I think we’re OK. Both Harp and Spanny are day-to-day. So it’s not like there’s a long-term issue with either of them.”

As for Escobar, there are no immediate plans to have him get an MRI on his hand.

“Not unless it continues to be sore,” Williams said. “Right now, standard process is to get an X-ray, see how he is the next day, treat it, give him a day off. And then if the swelling goes down and he’s got some function and feels better, then we don’t necessarily go there unless he doesn’t feel well.”


Thus, the Nationals’ lineup Saturday featured one regular, Desmond, batting third despite his current .226 batting average, .268 on-base percentage and .616 OPS. He did bat third 11 times previously in his career, though his numbers in that position (.116/.208/.116) are even worse.

Through it all, though, the Nationals continue to win games. They entered Saturday on a 7-game winning streak, having opened up a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East. That provides some comfort to the otherwise nervous Williams.

“With the current state of our club, I don’t get a whole lot of enjoyment out of most things right now,” he said with a laugh. “I enjoy winning. And the fact that our guys that are not the regular guys but are in the lineup and are doing well and we’ve been able to win some games, that’s enjoyable. But it’s stressful when you have to try to see if we can get guys going for the game. Guys getting hit in the hand and having to come out. And having a pitcher going up to pinch-hit when you have four other guys on the bench who are position players but you don’t want to use them. That’s not fun. That’s not the fun part of it. It’s the challenging part of it.”

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera


5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 


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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera


Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low.