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An eventful day ends with a lopsided loss

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An eventful day ends with a lopsided loss

At the end of a day that saw the Nationals activate one of their best relievers for the first time this season, part ways with a popular veteran outfielder, prepare to send their highest-paid player out on a rehab assignment, prepare their All-Star shortstop to return to the lineup, swap out backup catchers and see their top prospect return to the field for the first time in 3 12 months, the 3 hours and 1 minute spent slogging their way through a 9-5 loss to the Mets almost felt incidental in the big picture.

"It's not always just a complete bad day," manager Davey Johnson said. "There were a lot of good things that happened that I was really proud to see."

Perhaps so, but that ballgame was as ugly as anything the Nationals have experienced in a while. With Gio Gonzalez roughed up for six early runs and the Mets building a 9-1 lead in the fourth, Johnson all but waved a white flag from his dugout perch and spent the rest of the afternoon resting some of his regulars while getting bench players and relievers much-needed work.

And still the Nationals found themselves in position to make things interesting late, bringing the tying run to the on-deck circle in both the eighth and ninth innings and forcing New York manager Terry Collins to use up four relievers to record the game's final five outs.

They never did manage to complete the improbably rally, with rookie Sandy Leon striking out with two on and two out in the ninth, but they did shower and dress feeling a bit better about themselves after what was shaping up to be a miserable afternoon at the park.

"Absolutely," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We fought back, even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign. We had some good at-bats coming down the stretch there. You know, they changed pitchers like four or five times. I don't know how many total pitchers they used. But for them to do that, they obviously respect us enough to realize we're never out of the game, and that's a great sign."

If only Gonzalez had put forth a better performance three hours earlier and kept the margin a bit closer, perhaps the Nationals' last-ditch attempts would have had a better chance of succeeding.

In what was far and away the worst of his 19 starts this season, Gonzalez struggled to locate his fastball from the very beginning and never recovered. And when he did find the strike zone, the Mets clobbered him, from David Wright's two-run homer in the first to Ike Davis' solo blast in the second to Andres Torres' double to deep left in the third.

"Just felt a little flat," the left-hander said. "Nothing was moving too much. They did a great job attacking me right off the bat. They were swinging aggressively and going after me right off the bat. Make better pitches, get better outs."

Gonzalez, who was seeking his NL-leading 13th win, never even made it out of the fourth inning. He also saw his ERA rise to 3.32, its highest level since his second outing of the season on April 12.

The All-Star hurler was admittedly surprised to see his manager emerge from the dugout and ask for the ball after only 68 pitches, but Johnson didn't see the need to leave Gonzalez on the mound and take more abuse.

"I see a guy that's having trouble, I'm not going to let him stay out there just to save my bullpen," Johnson said. "I'm going to save him. He gave me that evil stare, like: 'What am I doing out there?' ... It's more about not having to throw 20-30 more pitches in a losing cause. What's the use?"

Craig Stammen entered and almost immediately served up a three-run homer to Wright (the Mets third baseman's second blast of the day). And that turned the rest of the afternoon into something of a spring training game, with Johnson pulling Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Jesus Flores, using up all four players off his bench and finding ways to get a couple of relievers needed work in non-pressure situations.

That included the 2012 debut for Drew Storen, who 3 12 months after surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow trotted in from the bullpen for the ninth inning to a nice ovation from what remained of a crowd of 36,389.

"It's hard to explain, but it is honestly one of the best feelings in the world, to have the fans appreciate me being back out there," the 24-year-old said. "I went out there and picked up the ball and just kind of took a deep breath and thought: 'This feels really good.' It was nice."

More impressive that the reception for Storen was his efficient, 1-2-3 inning of relief, which required only nine pitches and featured groundouts by David Wright and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and a flyout by Jason Bay. He threw exclusively sinkers, topping out at 93 mph, and afterward noted he wants that pitch to become a bigger part of his repertoire.

It wasn't quite the situation Storen was used to -- the ninth inning of a lopsided loss -- but it served its purpose.

"Obviously I'd like to be on the winning side of that, but it's good," he said. "It was good to get my feet wet. Facing a guy like David Wright out of the gate, I wouldn't want it any other way. It was a good test for me."

As was Desmond's late appearance in the game. Out of the lineup for the fifth straight day with a lingering oblique strain, the shortstop entered to pinch-hit in the eighth and wound up singling, scoring all the way from first on Michael Morse's double, reaching base again in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch and successfully making a play in the field.

Put that all together, and the Nationals are convinced Desmond is ready to return to the lineup tomorrow against the Braves.

"It's good to get back on the field and see that my body is kind of, I guess, answering the right way," he said.

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.