Quick Links

'Insane' pitching leads Nats again

800480.png

'Insane' pitching leads Nats again

He's been the Nationals' No. 4 starter, technically speaking, since Opening Day. There is nothing about Edwin Jackson, however, that resembles a No. 4 starter.

Fourth starters don't boast a 2.91 ERA in late-June. Fourth starters don't boast a 1.04 WHIP. Fourth starters don't have seven consecutive quality starts.

And fourth starters don't carry a perfect game into the fifth inning and a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning as Jackson did Saturday night during a 3-1 victory over the Orioles.

"That's insane," closer Tyler Clippard said. "It makes us smile. ... I just can't imagine what those other teams are thinking when Edwin is our fourth guy. It's a joke. He's probably the No. 1 starter on more than half the teams in the league."

Actually, Clippard is spot-on with that assessment. There are 15 major-league rotations right that do not include one starter with a sub-3.00 ERA. Ergo, Jackson would lead exactly one-half of big-league clubs in ERA at this moment.

And it's not like the Nationals aren't getting anything out of their top three starters. Quite the contrary. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann all claim similar (and in many cases better) stats to Jackson, giving the Nats as formidable a rotation as there is in the game.

There have been only four big-league teams with four starters with sub-3.00 ERAs since the mound was lowered in 1969: the 1972 Orioles, Dodgers and Angels and the 1985 Dodgers. There's still a long way to go, but the 2012 Nationals could put themselves in that elite company.

"It's unbelievable," manager Davey Johnson said. "It tells you just how good they've been going. I'm impressed. Everybody's impressed."

And that doesn't even take into account the back end of the Nationals' bullpen, which has managed to survive injuries to its regular closer, its backup closer and its backup to the backup closer and still shut the door on opposing lineups late in games.

With 2 23 scoreless innings Saturday night in relief of Jackson, the trio of Michael Gonzalez (0.00 ERA), Sean Burnett (1.04 ERA) and Clippard (1.95 ERA) put forth its latest dominant performance.

Burnett has given up three earned runs all season. Clippard hasn't given up a run in 12 consecutive converted save opportunities, a span during which he's surrendered one total hit.

All of which has allowed the Nationals to withstand closer Drew Storen's season-long elbow injury.

"Without Storen, those two guys did an unbelievable job earlier in the ballgame, and certainly they've come in handy here lately," Johnson said. "They've both been workhorses."

Clippard, in fact, has been so effective since taking over closer duties one month ago that his manager no longer believes he needs to return to a setup role once Storen comes off the disabled list around the All-Star break.

"Right now, he's my closer," Johnson said. "And the way he's going, I can't see going to somebody else. They'd have to show me up here probably in a setup role before they have the opportunity to close."

Clippard, who happens to be Storen's roommate and closest friend on the team, has long hoped to be given a chance to pitch the ninth inning. He's now proven an ability not only to handle the pressure that comes with that responsibility, but to thrive under it.

"We're always in tight ballgames," Clippard said. "I think that has to do with our team, and the importance of those late innings. It really helps me bear down and focus."

It also helps to know the man who takes the mound for the first inning every single night is likely to put together a dominant outing, setting up everyone's roles in the bullpen.

Jackson certainly did that on Saturday, retiring the first 12 batters he faced before Adam Jones reached on an error in the top of the fifth. Entering the top of the seventh, Jackson (4-4) hadn't been scored upon and had surrendered only one hit, his pitch count at a very manageable 80.

The 28-year-old right-hander did this despite not feeling like he had his best "stuff" from the moment he began warming up in the bullpen.

"It was just one of those days where you don't have blow-away stuff," said Jackson, who did manage to strike out five Orioles. "You just have to go out and pitch. That's pretty much what it was from the time I started throwing the pen, I knew what kind of day it would be. It's not my first time getting through it, so you kind of know how to handle the situation."

By the seventh inning, Jackson actually started to feel better, yet he was less effective for it. He served a hanging slider over the plate to Jones to lead off the inning and watched as the ball was scorched off the left-field foul pole for a home run. A flyball to the warning track and two singles later, Jackson was out of the game.

Not that he needed to worry about the guys who entered from the bullpen to pick him up. These days, anybody who toes the rubber wearing a Nationals uniform is likely to have success.

"That's the mentality we all have when we take the field: To be the better pitcher that day," Jackson said. "It's just one those things when the team is rolling and everything is going good, everybody is positive and everybody is taking the field with a positive approach. And it's just showing in the way we play right now."

Quick Links

How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

Now 61 games into the 2016 season - and 60 since he returned from the disabled list - Nationals center fielder Ben Revere is still searching for the swing that allowed him to hit .300 or better for three straight seasons. He has yet to find consistency and feel like himself despite months having passed since he rehabbed his oblique injury.

And at this point, he's open to ideas. What he's tried so far hasn't worked, so why not give something unorthodox a shot?

Before Saturday's game in which he landed an RBI double, walked and scored a run, Revere got some unusual help from manager Dusty Baker.

"Dusty gave me holy water today. He kind of blessed me," Revere said. "My grandpa, he’s a retired preacher so he probably would’ve done the same thing or said I should’ve done it when we got back from the injury."

Whatever works. Speaking of Revere's grandfather, both him and Revere's father were in town to watch Ben play this weekend. After Friday night's game in which Revere went 0-for-5, Baker spoke to both men about Revere's struggles.

"I talked to his dad and grandfather after the game," Baker said. "They weren't exactly happy, but they thanked me for sticking with their son. They know Ben can hit and I know Ben can hit. I tried to trade for him when I was with Cincinnati."

Revere - who is still hitting just .216 this season - wonders if Dusty will now tell Revere's dad and grandfather about the holy water, seeing how it worked.

"He’s probably going to talk to them again and tell him what he did," Revere said.

"They know I’ve kind of been down on myself and struggling a little bit but they gave me some motivation and said, ‘Keep swinging, son. It can come now or come in August. At some point, you’ll be hot and help this team really be hot and get to the playoffs.'"

[RELATED: Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Often times with professional athletes, you can only find out how truly bad an injury or a predicament is once the game they had to perservere through is over. In hockey, it's after teams are eliminated from the playoffs that you learn who had the broken fingers and torn ligaments in their knee.

That is sometimes the case after good things happen, as well. Players do not like using their ailments as excuses before or during the competition. But after the event is over? Sure, what do you want to know?

After Saturday night's walkoff win over the San Diego Padres, we finally found out the true story behind Stephen Drew's 'flu-like symptoms' and how terribly debilitating his illness actually was. 

Well, we found out some of the specifics. Some are not for a family audience.

"I don't want to say it on TV, but it's been ugly," Drew said. "Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It's been crazy."

Fair enough. No complaints there. More important was what Drew was able to accomplish in the win, his first appearance in a game since last Sunday. Drew sent the Nats home victorious with a walkoff RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth against Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush. It was a line drive that fell just inches short of a homer.

Maybe if Drew hadn't been weakened by the flu, it would have cleared the fence. Still, not bad for a guy who had barely swung a bat in a week.

"I ain't done nothing [in six days]. Today is the first time," Drew said. "I tried to hit some [Friday] but just felt really, really lightheaded and kind of dizzy. That's what's left over. I just gotta keep pumping fluids down right now."

Drew had essentially been quarantined by the Nationals for days after he contracted the flu from teammate Anthony Rendon. They gave him IVs and then sent him home, keeping his name on the lineup card as a decoy. He wasn't in the dugout, but the Nats did their best to not let their opponents know he was unavailable.

"He was home not eating, couldn't hold any food. I think he lost 7-8 pounds," manager Dusty Baker said. 

Though still ailing, Drew turned a corner on Saturday and felt good enough to stick around for the full game. As the night went on, he realized he could play.

"I was able to hit in a cage. It wasn't great, but it's better than nothing," Drew said. "Right before the inning I kind of knew what was going on. I told [hitting coach Rick] Schu, he ran over there and I guess told [Baker] again just to let him know."

Drew took the first pitch from Quackenbush for a ball and the second for a strike. He then fouled off two pitches before launching a 77 mile per hour curveball high up the wall in right-center field. 

It was an excellent swing and one that felt familiar to Drew, who has been a plus off the bench for the Nats all season.

"Honestly, I was still in the mindset that I had. It's been a good feeling. Really not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good pitch and get my A-swing off," he said.

Drew has been part of a Nationals bench that has turned into a real strength this season. Drew himself his now 6-for-20 (.300) with three homers and six RBI in 20 pinch-hit at-bats. 

This one was different, of course, and him coming through while under the weather was a big lift for his teammates.

“Sometimes you get your number called even when you’re sick. You come out and make a performance like that, be able to pinch-hit and get a triple," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"That’s huge. That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub."

"I’ve played days when I’m sick and those are the days when I get three hits. You don’t think, you just go out there and play," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"I was kind of telling Anthony, I’m like, ‘Get me sick so I can get some hits.’ Usually I play well when I’m feeling down and blue. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I knew the pitcher had a good curveball but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage and sure enough he did."

Drew appears to be back to form after a wild week. But he still felt the need to pepper in some knock-on-woods as he spoke after the win.

"I'm getting better. It's been a long process and frustrating, but I'm hopefully at the end of this thing and I'll go from there," he said.

[RELATED: Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 walkoff win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Success off the bench as a pinch-hitter can be fleeting and some, no matter how good they were as everyday players, never find the secret.

Not Stephen Drew. Even six days off due to flu-like symptoms could not cool the Nats' bench hero down, as he walked off the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with an RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth.

The final blow came against Kevin Quackenbush, who was the final pitcher summoned from a Padres staff that had otherwise baffled the Nats through 8 2/3 innings. Anthony Rendon scored the game-winning run after leading off the inning with a single to left field.

The Nats got their other two runs on a Daniel Murphy sacrifice fly in the third inning and a Ben Revere RBI double in the fifth. Max Scherzer did his part with seven innings and just two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen picked up from there with a scoreless eighth by Shawn Kelley and ninth by Jonathan Papelbon. Both relievers allowed extra base hits, but left the mound unscathed.

What it means: With the win, the Nats evened up their season series against the Padres at 3-3 and snapped a three-game losing streak to San Diego. They stand 58-40 on the season.

MORE NATIONALS: GIOLITO GETS NOD SUNDAY VS. PADRES

Scherzer keeps rolling: Scherzer's recent dominance continued on Saturday night as the Nats ace went seven strong innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. It didn't start out well for Scherzer, who allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second, but he recovered after that and finished his outing by retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. It was the 13th time in 21 starts this season that he's gone at least seven innings and the eighth time he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. 

Over his last five starts, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs across 34 1/3 innings. And since May 6, he holds a 2.19 ERA (24 ER, 98.2 IP) in 14 outings. Scherzer had a 4.60 ERA when he took the mound on May 11, but has since pared that down to in impressive 2.92.

The homer to Schimpf was Scherzer's biggest mistake and it was, of course, the continuation of a year-long trend. Scherzer has now given up 22 on the season, tied for fourth-most of all MLB pitchers. That's despite the fact he had only given up one in his previous four starts entering Saturday night.

Revere bounces back: Revere's frustrating 2016 season had reached one of its lowest points on Friday night, when he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres. It was so bad that Nats manager Dusty Baker spoke with Revere's father and grandfather afterwards. They thanked the skipper for being patient with the Nats outfielder, despite him batting nearly 100 points lower than the .300 average he had carried in each of the previous three seasons. Baker expressed sympathy for Revere, but noted he had been back for over a third of the season. Patience was running out. Baker said "we need him badly."

What Revere did to respond on Saturday night is exactly what Baker had in mind. The embattled leadoff man walked in his second at-bat in the third inning and later scored on a Murphy sacrifice fly. Revere set that up by moving from first to third on a singly by Jayson Werth. Revere then doubled home Danny Espinosa in the top of the fifth to tied the game at 2-2. Before Saturday night, Revere had just three hits in his last nine games, a stretch of 29 at-bats.

Harper keeps scuffling: It was another long night for the reigning MVP, who went hitless in four at-bats and left four men on base. His worst moment came in the bottom of the fifth when the Padres opted to walk Murphy with two outs to put two men on to face Harper. Harper promptly popped out to right field to end the rally. Harper is now just 5-for-39 (.128) with 10 strikeouts in his last 11 games.

Up next: The Nats and Padres close their series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Rookie Lucas Giolito (0-1, 4.70) will make his third career MLB start opposite San Diego lefty Christrian Friedrich (4-6, 4.55).