Davey sticks with slumping Zim

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Davey sticks with slumping Zim

BALTIMORE -- We're four games into the six-game Battle of the Beltways for 2012, and by virtue of last night's 2-1 victory the Orioles have already clinched at least a split of the season series. For the Nationals to keep it at that, they'll need to win tonight and again tomorrow at Camden Yards.

Which means they'll need to get their lineup going tonight against Wei-Yin Chen. They've already beaten Chen this year, scoring six runs in 4 13 innings off him on May 20, so that's an encouraging sign. No surprises in Davey Johnson's lineup. As he indicated after last night's game, he's sticking with slumping Ryan Zimmerman in the No. 3 spot. Michael Morse again serves as DH, with Tyler Moore in left field and Xavier Nady in right field.

Edwin Jackson, meanwhile, gets the ball for the Nats, looking to duplicate his eight innings of one-run ball against Baltimore on May 18 (albeit in a game the Nationals eventually lost).

I'm back at the park tonight, so look for plenty of updates throughout the evening...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 7:15 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox (Regional)
Radio: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 186
Weather: Clear, 88 degrees, Wind 9 mph LF to RF

NATIONALS (40-28)
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
DH Michael Morse
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
LF Tyler Moore
RF Xavier Nady
C Jesus Flores
(RHP Edwin Jackson)

ORIOLES (40-30)
2B Brian Roberts
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
3B Wilson Betemit
1B Mark Reynolds
DH Nick Johnson
LF Steve Pearce
(LHP Wei-Yin Chen)

UMPIRES
HP Tom Hallion (cc), 1B David Rackley, 2B Alfonso Marquez, 3B Brian O'Nora

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

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Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

It's a question I've received numerous times this season on Twitter: are Nationals starters throwing too many pitches this season? The question has been posed so many times that it warrants a closer look. The internet makes all sorts of baseball data available these days and there is plenty out there regarding pitches, both in terms of quality and quantity.

For the Nationals (17-7), it is true that through 24 games this season they are allowing their starters to pitch longer in games than they did last season. But, though their pitch counts are up, there is no evidence to suggest what they are doing is out of the ordinary. 

First, here is a look at how Nationals starters rank by pitches per start:

Max Scherzer - 105.4
Stephen Strasburg - 102
Tanner Roark - 101.4
Joe Ross - 99*
Gio Gonzalez - 98.3

*excluding injury-shortened start on April 20

For Scherzer and Gonzalez, there is not much to see here. Scherzer is second in MLB in pitches thrown, but he's always near the top of the league in that category. He was seventh in total pitches in 2015, third in 2014 and 12th the year before that. 

Scherzer has averaged at least 100 P/GS for each of the last eight seasons. In 2014, his final year in Detroit, Scherzer posted a career-high of 110.2. That's much higher than anyone in the Nats' rotation is currently on track for.

Gonzalez has also logged high pitch counts in the past. He averaged 103.6 P/GS in 2013, his second year with the Nats, and put up a career-high of 106.5 in 2011, his final year in Oakland. Like Scherzer and many other pitchers, he has proven he can take the pounding of a high pitch count.

The rest of the Nats' rotation is up in the P/GS category from their career averages. Strasburg's career average is 92.7 and he's putting up about 10 more per start this season. But his career-high was 96.9 in 2014 and that's not far off from 100.

Roark has never averaged more than 100 before, but did post a career-high of 96.7 in 2014. And Ross has seen a significant increase from the 85.4 P/GS he held last season, but that number was kept in check to limit his workload as a rookie. 

For instance, Ross went six scoreless innings in his final start of 2015, yet was removed after just 77 pitches. His penultimate start saw him throw only 82 pitches despite going seven innings with one run allowed. What he's doing this year is more normal than what he was limited to last season.

The Nationals are letting their starters reach higher pitch counts this season, but not to an extreme degree, at least not yet. Could that change as the season goes on? Sure, teams often allow pitchers to stretch out as the season goes on. For now, though, it doesn't seem to be a real issue in Washington.

Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

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Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium: 

How it happened: Apparently all the Nationals and Max Scherzer needed to break out of their early season slump was to play on the road against a team that won 100 games the year before. 

Just like the Nationals' bats did in the two days prior, Scherzer found his groove in St. Louis on Sunday with seven shutout innings and zero walks in his best start of the season. The Nats' lineup got to Cardinals phenom Carlos Martinez late in his outing and Clint Robinson, Danny Espinosa and Chris Heisey homered as the Nats beat St. Louis 6-1 to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007 and their first ever sweep at Busch Stadium.

What it means: The Nats have considerable momentum with a three-game winning streak and a club record 17-7 start as they head to Kansas City to face the Royals. Playing the defending champs looked much more daunting before this weekend than it does now, as the Nats head to K.C. once again looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Scherzer bounces back: Seeing Scherzer turn things around is a very positive sign for the Nationals who were waiting for their ace to fall in line with the rest of their rotation. Scherzer finally overcame his first inning woes to set the tone for a strong start overall. He escaped the first inning without allowing a run for just the second time in six starts this season. He ended up going seven shutout frames with nine strikeouts, zero walks and four hits allowed on 105 pitches. The right-hander dropped his season ERA all the way down to 3.55 as he now turns his attention to the Cubs whom he'll face in his next start at Wrigley Field.

Martinez cracks late: Martinez was locked in from the very first pitch and didn't allow a hit until Scherzer singled (one of his two hits on Sunday) with two outs in the third. Martinez was firing 98 mile per hour heat with a dazzling curveball to complement. The right-hander finally gave up a run in the sixth on a Matt den Dekker single and then served up back-to-back bombs to Robinson and Espinosa in the seventh. It took three times through their order, but the Nats figured out Martinez on this particular day. Espinosa, by the way, has two homers in his last three games.

Harper gets a Golden Sombrero: Mired in his first real slump of the season, Bryce Harper had major trouble against Martinez and the Cardinals. The Nats' slugger went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday and is now hitless in his last 14 at-bats. Harper has just one hit in his last five games (17 ABs) and is now hitting .272 on the season. Harper hasn't struck out four times in a game since he was a rookie on Aug. 21, 2012.

Robinson's homer much-needed: Robinson earned a bench spot out of spring training after a breakout campaign in 2015, but the first baseman has been slow to heat up this season so far. He was just 1-for-21 on the year before his seventh inning homer. The homer, though, could be just what Robinson needs to get going. It was a two-run shot and it came off one of the NL's hottest pitchers.

Up next: The Nationals move on to Kansas City to take on the defending World Series champions in three games at Kauffman Stadium. Monday night is an 8:15 p.m. first pitch with Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) set to start.

Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

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Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

Catcher Wilson Ramos has returned to the Nationals after spending five days on MLB's bereavement list due to the death of his grandfather Jesus Campos. Catcher Pedro Severino was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Ramos.

Ramos, 28, returns to the Nats with a .316 average, two homers and eight RBI in 15 games this season. He has the second-best average on the team this season behind second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Ramos left the Nationals on April 26 after hearing of his grandfather's death. The Nationals' lineup struggled initially with Ramos out, but has since recovered to score 11 runs in their first two games at the St. Louis Cardinals. Ramos is not in the lineup Sunday as the Nats aim for a sweep.

Jose Lobaton has been filling in most for Ramos and on Monday Gio Gonzalez is set to pitch. Lobaton has caught Gonzalez exclusively so far this season.

Ramos caught Gonzalez 11 times last season out of 30 total starts. The combo produced a 4.52 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. Gonzalez held a 3.39 mark in 114 innings with Lobaton.

Gio has worked mostly with Lobaton since the catcher was acquired by the Nats before the 2014 season, but has been very good with both catchers in his career. He holds a career 3.25 ERA and .241 BAA with Lobaton and a 3.42 ERA and .247 BAA with Ramos.