Quick Links

Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

WASHINGTON -- Mike Leake was 22 years old when he broke into the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

His skipper was Dusty Baker, who managed the Reds through the 2013 season. Leake won 42 games under Baker from 2010-13.

"It was awesome," said Leake on Tuesday, standing in the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse at Nationals Park. "I couldn't ask for a better first manager. He treated me like a son and I appreciate that."

Leake will face his former manager on Wednesday when he starts on the mound against Baker's Washington Nationals in the series finale in the nation's capital.

The Nationals' starter will be Max Scherzer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last season when he was 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA.

Leake was 9-12 in 30 starts for the Cardinals last season -- his first with the club. He will be challenged by Washington's offense, which had 19 hits against St. Louis in a 14-6 win Monday and then 11 more with three homers in an 8-3 victory Tuesday.

"I feel like I had a pretty good spring. I look forward to facing these guys," Leake said. "It is a tough lineup that can hurt you at any time. You have to be ready for them. I know they are led by a good manager."

Leake has enjoyed success in his career against the heart of the Washington order.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy is hitting just .238 against him in 21 at-bats, while first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has an average of .211 in 19 at-bats. Murphy had four hits and drove in five runs Tuesday.

Right fielder Bryce Harper is just 3-for-13 against Leake, but two of those hits are homers. The best everyday hitter for the Nationals against Leake is left fielder Jayson Werth, who is batting .292 in 24 trips to the plate. He hit one of the homers Tuesday.

"A veteran guy," Cardinals catcher Eric Fryer said of Leake. "In the spring he was effective in getting ahead of the hitters. When he keeps it on the ground, he is very effective."

"I will be watching the first couple of days from the side and if I need further evidence of what I can't see I will go to the tape," Leake said of facing Washington. "I have faced most of these guys."

Scherzer will make his second start of the year after he won at Philadelphia on Friday.

The right-hander from St. Louis went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs and four hits in his first start of the year.

Scherzer hopes to get support from an offense that has included a rare hot start from Zimmerman, who hit a career-low .218 last season but is batting .367 this year.

"I am just excited to get off to a good start," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday. "Not many times in my career I have gotten off to a good start. Our lineup is so good."

The Nationals own the top batting average in the league, but they lost shortstop and leadoff hitter Trea Turner to the disabled list on Monday. He was replaced as the leadoff hitter by Adam Eaton, who had three hits Monday.

"Our lineup is so good. Eaton jumps right into the leadoff spot," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan. "It is a fun lineup to be a part of."

Related: Daniel Murphy has career night against Cardinals

Quick Links

Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Davey Martinez had no hesitation in his answer or decision on Friday in Philadelphia. First game out of the break, facing a team right next to the Nationals in the standings, a 4-0 lead. Closer Sean Doolittle was coming in to end it, though it was a non-save situation and he is being used at an extreme level.

“Here’s my thoughts: It took me about three seconds,” Martinez said Friday. “Playing at Citizens [Bank] Park. Four runs. That ain’t much here. Those guys can hit. Doolittle’s coming in the game. It’s a big moment. And, he’s my guy. To me, that game right there, it’s huge coming off a four-day break.”

So, Doolittle made his 40th appearance of the season. Saturday brought his 41st appearance. He did not pitch Sunday, a day game after a late night.

Trends are emerging through his high usage rate. Doolittle’s velocity is down for the fourth consecutive season. The dip is slight year over year, from 93.9 mph average fastball velocity to 93.6. His velocity was distinctly down in Philadelphia over the weekend despite four days off. Doolittle threw 12 fastballs Friday, 10 of which were slower than his average fastball velocity this season. He threw 19 fastballs Saturday; 13 were below his average velocity (two others matched it). 

“I’m not exactly sure why it’s down,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I know from past experience, not to panic if I see the 91, 92. I feel pretty good -- everybody gets a little tired around this point of the season, but if I stay in my mechanics and don’t try to overthrow, I can still get that life and deception on my fastball. I can still, like [Saturday], I can still navigate innings and get guys out. These last two nights I’ve been really pleased with how I’ve been able to manage my energy level without maybe my best fastball.”

He is on pace for a career-high 72 appearances and 1,214 pitches. The latter would exceed his career mark of 1,019 by almost 200 pitches. One of the most telling numbers around Doolittle is his games finished vs. saves. He leads the league with 37 games finished but has just 20 saves, which is tied for fourth with three others. National League saves leader Kirby Yates has finished 35 games, but has 30 saves. Kenley Jansen: 33 games finished, 23 saves. Will Smith: 35 games finished, 23 saves. No other closer has appeared in more non-save situations.

Doolittle’s velocity also dropped earlier in the season before a mechanical adjustment kicked it back up to the 94- and 95-mph range for a spell. He did turn loose a 95-mph fastball Saturday. He half-joked about it.

“See it’s in there,” Doolittle said. “I just got to pick and choose, I guess, when to use it.”

His manager is using a more straight-ahead approach. Doolittle is out there, so he is using him. A lot.

And all this is more for recognition of the situation as opposed to blame assessment, When the bullpen was at its worst, Doolittle was summoned at times because his teammates were in the process of blowing a game or couldn’t be trusted in the first place. The Nationals were also rapidly losing ground, so Martinez had to be sure he was sure whenever possible. But, also, there have been times when Doolittle’s appearance in a non-save situation appeared unnecessary.

Piled together, the Nationals have an ongoing conundrum: they need to manage Doolittle’s appearances while in the middle of a push up the standings and without a definitive backup. Fernando Rodney has helped. An acquisition before the trade deadline could help further. And the coming week we’ll clarify if two games in Philadelphia were a blip or more foreboding.



Quick Links

Nationals broadcaster F.P Santangelo: Team never panicked in slow start

Nationals broadcaster F.P Santangelo: Team never panicked in slow start

The Washington Nationals early start may have had fans and pundits writing off the team for the season, but no one inside the Nationals organization was panicking, said one insider. 

“I know there was a while there where everybody wanted Davey gone and people were questioning Mike," Nationals broadcaster F.P. Santangelo said on The Sports Junkies Monday, "but they were the calming forces in all this."

From bullpen woes to injuries, the Nationals had a rough start to their season and then suddenly, as if it had never happened, they turned it around.

“We were all scratching our heads like what in the world is going on? This team is way too good to be doing this and it was happening nightly,” Santangelo said.

As pressure mounted on the team to keep winning, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated time and time again during his Wednesday morning spot on The Sports Junkies that their goal was to play good baseball and to not worry about wins or losses, which Santangelo echoed.

"They were calm the whole time," Santangelo said. "They had veteran presence in the clubhouse and nobody panicked."

Suddenly, with a 12-10 win over the Miami Marlins on May 24, the Nats turned it around. Rizzo and the Lerners made the decision to cut their losses on Trevor Rosenthal's contract, the bullpen started to pitch well and adjustments were made accordingly, says Santangelo.

The Nationals open their two-game series against the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.