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Schoop walk-off sinks Nationals in ninth vs. Orioles


Schoop walk-off sinks Nationals in ninth vs. Orioles

FINAL: Orioles 3, Nationals 2

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Round 1 of this year's Battle of the Beltways brought the season's largest crowd to Camden Yards. And it brought a tight, tense ballgame to downtown Baltimore, decided late by bullpens and big at-bats.

In the end, the Orioles' relief corps and big bats came through when the Nationals' could not. Jonathan Schoop's 2-out, 2-strike homer off Tanner Roark in the bottom of the ninth capped Baltimore's comeback and sent the Nats walking off the field in disappointment. Roark had looked dominant to that point in the ninth, striking out both Jimmy Paredes and J.J. Hardy and coming within one strike of doing the same to Schoop. But with one swing, the Orioles came back to win for the first time in 37 tries this season when trailing after seven innings.

Gio Gonzalez and Chris Tillman were effective but not exactly efficient, each needing at least 100 pitches to complete six innings. Adam Jones' leadoff homer in the fourth represented the lone run off Gonzalez, while the Nationals got a pair of big, 2-out RBI hits from Tyler Moore and Michael Taylor off Tillman to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth.

Aaron Barrett, returning from a 4-week DL stint, came through big with three straight outs in the seventh to protect the lead, but the Nats couldn't hold it in the eighth. Casey Janssen allowed an infield single to Chris Parmalee, then Matt Thornton served up an RBI-double to Matt Wieters that tied the game, brought the crowd back to life and set the stage for the dramatic finish.


HITTING HIGHLIGHT: With so many big names now on the DL, the Nationals have to get contributions from a variety of sources now, and they have to get quality at-bats with runners in scoring position. They got a couple of those Friday night from the last two guys in their batting order: Moore and Taylor. With his team trailing 2-1 and two out in the fifth, Moore sent a double down the right-field line, bringing home Clint Robinson and tying the game. Moments later, Taylor hammered the first pitch he saw past a diving Manny Machado at third base, bringing Moore home with the go-ahead run. Two at-bats, both with two outs and a man in scoring position, both producing runs.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: He didn't have a single clean inning, but Gonzalez got the job done. His changeup was pretty effective against right-handed batters, leading to a pair of Steve Pearce strikeouts. He also fielded four comebackers in a span of five innings. Gonzalez's lone mistake was a hanging first-pitch curveball to Adam Jones, who sent the ball flying to left-center for a leadoff homer in the fourth. He did come through with some big pitches late, including a double-play grounder off Manny Machado's bat to end the fifth and a strikeout of Nolan Reimold to end the sixth. Sitting at 100 pitches, Gonzalez was sent back to the mound for the seventh to turn around switch-hitter Jimmy Paredes but wound up walking him and calling it a night. That proved historically significant: It snapped the Nationals' pitching staff's streak of consecutive games issuing two or fewer walks at 20, the longest streak in baseball since 1900.

KEY STAT: Despite the fact 96 percent of his plate appearances have come while batting first, eighth or ninth, Michael Taylor now has 30 RBI in 223 at-bats this season.

UP NEXT: Jordan Zimmermann, whose wife Amy gave birth to the couple's second child Friday morning, will return from the paternity leave list to start Saturday's 7:05 p.m. game. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez starts for Baltimore.

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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.