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Nats decline options on pair of veterans

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Nats decline options on pair of veterans

The Nationals declined to pick up contract options for reliever Casey Janssen and outfielder Nate McLouth on Monday, making both veterans free agents along with six others who officially hit the market on the day after the World Series ended.

Janssen and McLouth join right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span, left-hander Matt Thornton and infielder Dan Uggla as new free agents.

The Nationals have until 5 p.m. Friday to make qualifying offers to the latter six. They are all but guaranteed to make the offer (a 1-year contract worth roughly $15.8 million) to Zimmermann and Desmond but must decide whether to do likewise to Span and Fister.

If a player accepts the offer — and none have in three years since MLB instituted this system — he returns to the club one that 1-year contract. If a player declines the offer, the club then receives draft-pick compensation once the player signs with a new team.

Zimmermann and Desmond are certain to command significant long-term offers this winter, so there’s no reason to believe either would accept the qualifying offer. The market for Span and Fister, though, is less clear after disappointing 2015 seasons that saw bother former stalwarts deal with injuries and Fister deal with a demotion to the bullpen due to poor performance. Either could consider accepting a qualifying offer from the Nationals and attempt to reestablish his value with a bounce-back season before becoming a free agent again next winter.

The decisions to decline contract options on Janssen and McLouth were fairly straightforward.

Janssen was a disappointment this season after signing a deal last winter that paid him $3.5 million to be the Nationals’ new setup man following Tyler Clippard’s trade to Oakland. The 34-year-old right-hander went 2-5 with a 4.95 ERA (his highest since 2009) in 48 appearances, never fully earning former manager Matt Williams’ trust to pitch in high-leverage situations.

Janssen’s contract included a $7 million mutual option for 2016. The Nationals declined their end of that option, but in doing so picked up a $1.5 million buyout. Thus, Janssen wound up costing the club $5 million for one season on the mound.

McLouth’s 2-year deal proved a bigger mistake for the Nationals, who were counting on the veteran to be a reliable fourth outfielder who could step into a starting role in case of injuries to the likes of Span, Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper. McLouth, though, hit a paltry .173 with one homer, seven RBI and a .517 OPS in 79 games in 2014 before requiring right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum. He never returned to play this season, requiring another surgery on the shoulder.

Thus, the Nationals wound up paying McLouth a total of $10.75 million ($5 million apiece in 2014 and 2015, plus a $750,000 buyout instead of a $6.5 million club option for 2016).

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Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

The Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30.

Consider these news pieces and notes as Washington limps through its four-game series in New York: 

Players Notes:

NATIONALS (19-30): 

'Mad Max' was in full effect Wednesday night, doing what he does. Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless innings of four-hit baseball while issuing two walks and striking out nine Mets. 73 of his 109 pitches were thrown for strikes. His 11-pitch 6th inning put the bullpen in a position for success. But, if you've been watching this team this season, you know what that means. 

Adam Eaton's first base hit of the series came in the form of a first-inning dinger off Jacob deGrom. That's the only run that would come across the plate for Washington Wednesday night. 

For once, it wasn't Sean Doolittle's night. The closer surrendered a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares in the 8th and the Mets never looked back notching six unanswered runs late. 

METS (23-25): 

Jacob deGrom was once again in elite form going head-to-head against Scherzer. New York's ace threw six innings of two-hit baseball while only allowing one run (Eaton's solo shot) and walking three Nats. 63 of his 103 pitches were thrown for strikes and he struck out eight batters. 

Offensive production didn't come until the 11th hour for New York. The Juan Lagares double and Rajai Davis 3-run home run combined to tally six runs in the 8th leading the Mets to their 23rd win of the year. 

Injuries: 

SP Jeremy Hellickson: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 31

RP Justin Miller: shoulder, expected to be out until at least May 31

SP Anibal Sanchez: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 27

OF Andrew Stevenson: back, expected to be out until at least May 24

1B Ryan Zimmerman: foot, expected to be out until at least May 23

RP Koda Glover: elbow, expected to be out until at least May 25

RP Trevor Rosenthal: viral infection, Expected to be out until at least May 21

RP Austen Williams: shoulder, expected to be out until at least Jun 13

Coming Up:

Thursday, 5/23: Nationals @ Mets, 12:10 p.m. ET, Citi Field

Friday, 5/24: Marlins @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

Saturday, 5/25: Marlins @ Nationals, 4:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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