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Nats Stock Watch: Storen excelling in setup role

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Nats Stock Watch: Storen excelling in setup role

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 3-4

Team slash: .213/.262/.356

Team ERA: 3.00

Runs per game:  3.14

 

STOCK UP     

Drew Storen, RP: 4 GP/ 1-0/ 0.00 ERA  

For those concerned about how Storen would take to his new eighth inning role, the past week provided a pretty resounding answer. After the club traded for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon -- a move that essentially meant a demotion of sorts for the incumbent -- Storen responded with a dominant stretch to show the Nats that he can be effective no matter what inning it is. In his four appearances since Papelbon's arrival, he's retired all 12 batters he's faced, including six strikeouts. Of the 35 pitches he's thrown in those outings, 32 have been strikes, with nine of those being swings-and-misses. Yeah, that's pretty nasty. It's obvious that he's probably not thrilled about his new role, but so far he appears to be making the best of it. 

Casey Janssen, RP: 3 GP/ 0.00 ERA  

Don't look now, but the back end of the Nats' bullpen is looking more and more dangerous. With a combination of Janssen, Storen and Papelbon, Matt Williams has the ability to shorten each game a la last year's Kansas City Royals. It may not feel like Janssen has been as overpowering as Storen and Papelbon, but his numbers suggest otherwise: In his last nine outings, he hasn't allowed a run and has 10 strikeouts, one walk on just two hits. That'll get the job done.

Bryce Harper, RF: .333 AVG/ 2 HR/ 1.009 OPS  

What's amazing about Harper's season is even when it seems like he's "cooled off" for a particular stretch, he still winds up leading the club in most offensive categories. Take this past week for example, where he lead all Nats in average and OPS. Even when the rest of the lineup is struggling, he always finds a way to avoid an elongated slump, which is a credit to a more consistent, patient approach at the plate. 

STOCK DOWN 

Jordan Zimmermann, SP: 6.0 IP/ 0-1/ 7.50 ERA  

Nats fans are still smarting from Zimmermann's most recent outing, one that was highlighted by a third-inning meltdown against the Mets on national television where the righty allowed five runs on three homers in a four-hitter stretch. The sequence was so stunning, so un-Zimmermann-like that it punctuated something most fans had feared: The Mets are a real threat, and this division race is about to heat up. What's troubling for the Nats these days is that, aside from Max Scherzer, they don't appear to have a stopper in the rotation. Before the season, Scherzer and Zimmermann were seen as one of the best one-two punches of any starting rotation in the game. Now it seems like both are scuffling a little more than we're accustomed to seeing. And with the Nats struggling to score consistently, it puts even more pressure on their horses to hold opposing offenses at bay. 

Doug Fister, SP: 12.0 IP/ 1-1/ 5.25 ERA 

He's been listed in this spot more times than Nats fans would like, but it's pretty clear that Fister just isn't the same pitcher that he was in 2014. The sinkerballer hasn't been able to use his patented formula of working quickly and inducing ground balls to mow down opposing lineups. Instead, that formula has eluded him as his sinker (which averages between 87 and 88 mph) is too often left up in the zone for hitters to feast on. He's allowed 44 earned runs this season -- the exact amount he yielded in 25 starts last year. 

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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

Fernando Rodney shot off an imaginary arrow June 25, 2019, in a Nationals uniform while on the infield in Miami. He had just finished the ninth inning of a game Max Scherzer dominated. Hop in a time machine, go back to the offseason, say those words over and secure your head so it does not explode.

The current eight living in Washington’s woebegone bullpen includes half of the season’s Opening Day bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Wander Suero, and specialist Tony Sipp are the only ones to make it from late March to late June. None have an ERA below 3.00. One (Doolittle) has an ERA below 4.00. In normal circumstances, Grace, Suero, and Sipp would not have made it this far.

But this is not a normal bullpen year for almost anyone in baseball. It’s not even normal for a Washington organization annually confounded by how to put together a top-end relief group. In the midst of a push back toward relevancy, the Nationals brought the 42-year-old Rodney and three-time Tommy John recipient Jonny Venters into the bullpen. They joined Javy Guerra, 33, who was released by Toronto before Washington snagged him, and Tanner Rainey, who came from Triple-A out of necessity. It’s an interesting bunch.

Suero and Guerra were set to be the only bullpen members needed Wednesday in Miami during the Nationals’ 7-5 win. That was before Guerra allowed four runs in the bottom of the ninth and Doolittle had to come in to finish the game -- again.

Patrick Corbin pitched seven innings and allowed a run. Washington is a game under .500 and winners of 20 of the last 29 (that’s a .690 winning percentage; a 112-win pace across a full season).

Drag your brain back to the March 28 opener against the New York Mets. Justin Miller was back for a second season after surprising most with an effective 2018. Kyle Barraclough was lined up to be the seventh-inning reliever. Trevor Rosenthal was throwing 98 mph. 

All premises around the trio have since collapsed. Which is part of the reason Rodney and Venters are now in the mix.

From Mike Rizzo’s perspective, bringing Rodney and Venters up now makes sense. It’s low-risk. Putting them on the mound while the team is trending in the right direction -- and dealing with a soft schedule -- enables him to take a look at assets already in-house. Rizzo likely has three plans here: Give Rodney and Venters a shot. If they work, he is able to bolster the bullpen while holding onto assets. If they don’t, cutting them is a low-cost move and space opens for Fresno closer Dakota Bacus, who was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday. Maybe even another dice roll with one of the remaining veterans in Fresno. If none of that works, hop into the fray for a reliever via trade.

Acquiring another reliever this season will be more of a challenge than in the past. The second wild-card spot is having the kind of influence Major League Baseball hoped it would. Coming into the night, the Nationals were three games out of the wild card. Six other teams were within 4 1/2 games of the second National League wild-card position. They need bullpen help as well, creating a competitive mish-mash. 

It’s less cramped in the American League. Four teams are within four games of the second wild-card.

Expect to hear these relief names attached to trade rumors: Ken Giles, Will Smith, Felipe Vazquez, Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Shane Greene, Trevor Gott, Nick Anderson, Cam Bedrosian, and Reyes Moronta. All could be on the move before the July 31 trade deadline. The Nationals would be pleased with any of them. 

For now, they have the bullpen no one expected. Rodney has the imaginary arrows. Suero and Grace have bloated ERAs. Guerra made his 13th appearance Wednesday. Barraclough remains sidelined. Rosenthal is looking for work. 

Rizzo has overhauled half of the group. Further work remains.

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

Bring out the powder blues!

In the decade and a half since the Nationals franchise relocated from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005, the Nationals have only worn throwback uniforms honoring the Washington Senators, who played in the Nation's Capitol from 1901-1960 before the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the current Minnesota Twins. They have not once worn any Expos throwbacks.

That all changes on July 6, when the Nationals will sport the signature Montreal Expos powder blue uniforms against the Kansas City Royals as the Nationals celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary, according to the Washington Post.

The uniform features powder blue jerseys and pants, with the tri-color red, white, and blue signature Expos cap.

The Royals will also be donning throwback uniforms from their inaugural 1969 season, taking the field in their original road grey uniforms with a cursive "Kansas City" across their chest in Royal blue.

The Nationals are honoring the Expos in more ways than just sporting their old uniforms. Nationals Park will also be going through a makeover, as the Expos 'M' will replace the Nationals 'Curly W' across the park for the afternoon. Additionally, concessions will offer traditional Canadian food, such as poutine, Montreal smoked brisket sandwiches and more. 

Expos legend Vladimir Guerrero will also be in attendance. Other members of the Nationals, such as manager Dave Martinez, third base coach Bob Henley, and MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo will be honored for their contributions to the Expos as well.

July 6 should be an exciting day at Nationals Park.

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