Nats cut ties with Lidge

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Nats cut ties with Lidge

The Nationals designated struggling reliever Brad Lidge for assignment this morning, activating right-hander Ryan Mattheus off the 15-day disabled list to take his roster spot.

Feeling the need to add a fresh arm after yesterday's 14-inning loss to the Yankees, general manager Mike Rizzo said the LidgeMattheus swap made the most sense.

"Brad wasn't performing very well, and he was disappointed," Rizzo said. "Mattheus was ready to come off the rehab assignment, and we felt this was the right time to make the move."

Lidge took the loss yesterday, giving up three hits (including Mark Teixeira's two-run double) in the top of the 14th. While lamenting several groundball singles he surrendered the last couple of days, the 35-year-old also understood he wasn't performing at a high enough standard.

"It is frustrating when something like that happens, but you just try to grind through it," he said following yesterday's game. "Just keep throwing good pitches, quality pitches, and at some point those balls will get to people and we'll make outs. But until then, you've just got to battle and keep throwing strikes."

Owner of 225 career saves and two All-Star appearances, Lidge signed a one-year, 1 million with the Nationals in February and was expected to hold a key role as a setup man and mentor for closer Drew Storen. But when Storen needed surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow, Lidge became one of manager Davey Johnson's co-closers (with Henry Rodriguez) to open the season.

Lidge earned the save on Opening Day in Chicago but quickly fell into trouble. In 11 total appearances, he wound up with a 9.64 ERA, a career-worst 2.464 WHIP and two blown saves. A sports hernia required surgery and sidelined him for five weeks, but he surrendered runs in three of his four appearances after returning from the DL earlier this month.

"I think he was healthy," Rizzo said. "He said he was healthy. He threw like he was healthy. He was in no pain, no after-effects after he was done rehabbing."

The DFA move leaves Lidge in limbo for as many as 10 days. If he passes through waivers unclaimed, the Nationals could outright him to Class AAA, though they're unlikely to do that with a veteran of his stature. A more plausible scenario would have Lidge released once he clears, at which point he'll be free to sign with another club.

Rizzo met with Lidge behind closed doors this morning and appreciated the way the veteran reliever dealt with the news.

"He handled it like the professional that he is," Rizzo said. "After his performance yesterday, he told me he felt he knew there would some kind of move in the bullpen. Like I said, he was disappointed in the way he pitched and he was sorry it didn't turn out better."

Mattheus returns after missing three weeks with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The 28-year-old right-hander had a 2.25 ERA in 19 games before suffering his injury and made three minor-league rehab appearances before team officials were convinced he was ready to come off the DL.

NL East: Mets trade for first baseman to help with Duda's absence

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NL East: Mets trade for first baseman to help with Duda's absence

The New York Mets have acquired some help at first base by bringing in 10-year MLB veteran James Loney in a trade with the San Diego Padres. The return has not been reported yet.

Loney himself hinted at the news on Twitter before ESPN confirmed the story. What a time to be alive.

Loney, 32, played the previous three seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has yet to appear in the big leagues this season after signing a free agent deal with San Diego in April.

The former first round pick is a solid hitter with a .285 lifetime average and has always been known for his defense. Last season he hit .280 with four homers and 32 RBI in 104 games for the Rays.

Duda is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a stress fracture in his back. He could be out for a long time, so Loney at least gives the Mets some insurance behind Eric Campbell, who is filling in at first but is hitting just .182 this season.

Nats don't believe Cardinals' Garcia was throwing at them on purpose

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Nats don't believe Cardinals' Garcia was throwing at them on purpose

It's not always easy to determine the intent when a major league pitcher throws over a batter's head and on Friday night Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia did it twice against Nationals center fielder Ben Revere. He also hit second baseman Daniel Murphy with an errant fastball that clipped him on his upper back.

The pitch to Murphy came before the other two in the fourth inning. So, when Garcia lofted one just inches over the helmet of Revere in the fifth, home plate ump Alan Porter issued a warning to both dugouts. It surprised Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who came out to chat with Porter. And it also surprised Nationals skipper Dusty Baker.

"I was surprised. I don’t know what happens on a warning any more. If you come close to a guy I guess it’s a warning," Baker said. 

"I’m sure Mike Matheny was probably just as surprised. You could tell that [Garcia] wasn’t sharp. In my mind, I know he wasn’t trying to hit those guys. There’s no reason to. I don’t know if there’s bad blood in the past, I wasn’t there. I didn’t see anything that merited him coming close to our guys or even getting a warning.”

Revere also didn't think Garcia was trying to hit him above the shoulders on purpose.

"I've faced Garcia a couple of times. I know how humid it is tonight and with the way the ball moves. He was trying to come inside and it kind of got away from him," Revere said. "His hands were sweaty. He wasn't trying to throw at my head."

Revere wasn't as surprised at the warnings and actually thought it was smart of Porter to issue them.

"That was good because you don't want retaliation where something breaks out that shouldn't. After a while, hopefully if he does go up and in and hits someone, then it's like 'okay dude, you're kinda done,'" Revere said.

If something did stem from this later in the series, it wouldn't be the first time animosity build up over the course of several days between teams. Sometimes mayhem breaks out in baseball when you least expect it. 

The Nationals gave Garcia the benefit of the doubt on Friday and don't expect anything else to come from it this weekend as they continue their four-game series. 

"He's not trying to throw at your head. If a pitcher is really trying to do that, then it's time to get serious," Revere said. "You don't want to get somebody potentially hit in the head. I've been hit in the face and it's not fun. It's definitely not fun."

Scherzer struggles to find consistency after loss to Cardinals

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Scherzer struggles to find consistency after loss to Cardinals

Consistency is much of what separates those who are good from those who are great and Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is no stranger to the concept.

In each of the past three seasons he's pitched over 210 innings with ERAs at 3.15 or lower. He was an All-Star in each of those years and finished no worse than fifth in Cy Young voting.

With Scherzer, you usually know what you're going to get. High strikeouts, low walks and every once in a while an outing for the history books.

Yet through 11 starts in 2016, steadiness from start to start has eluded him. There's been something off, something missing that has left him with an uncharacteristically high 4.05 ERA and an MLB-high 15 homers allowed. 

Take his walks, for instance. Over his last six outings, Scherzer has alternated between walking zero batters and walking three or more. In Friday night's loss to the Cardinals, Scherzer walked four including one with the bases loaded to score a run. In his previous start he walked nobody in eight frames at the Mets.

One day he'll have it and then the next he just won't. 

"Of course I'm upset about the walks," Scherzer said after the Nats' 6-2 loss on Friday. "It seems like I keep walking the left-handed hitters. That's the bigger thing that will frustrate me more than the walks themselves."

The two most costly walks Scherzer issued on Friday came in the third inning, the frame he allowed five runs. Both of those walks - one to Greg Garcia and one to Matt Holliday - came in counts that began with two strikes. Holliday's was with the bases loaded and scored a run. It was the first time Scherzer walked in a run since April of 2013 and just the fourth time he's ever made that mistake.

"I'm not going to beat myself up over those because I was in 0-2 counts and I ended up walking them. It's more indicative that I just didn't have put-away pitches at that point," Scherzer said.

The walks that bothered Scherzer more did not lead to runs. Those were leadoff walks to begin the first and second innings.

"I'm actually more frustrated with the first two walks more than anything, because those can lead to dangerous innings where you have the leadoff walk," Scherzer said.

Friday night was the second time this season that Scherzer has allowed four walks. In 2015, he never walked four in a game. Through 11 starts Scherzer is already at 22 walks on the season after only giving up 34 total in 33 starts last season.

The walks are one thing for Scherzer. Homers are another. And it was again the longball that did Scherzer in on Friday, this time a grand slam by Stephen Piscotty in the third inning. It was just the second grand slam Scherzer has ever given up and his first since 2010.

Piscotty got a hanging slider and walloped it over the left field fence for his first career slam. 

"It was a dumb pitch," Scherzer admitted. "I hadn't shown my fastball yet and I threw another slider and I hung it. He put a good swing on it, ended in a blast."

It was part of a sequence of sliders Scherzer threw to Piscotty and he was waiting for it.

"Including the last at-bat he threw me four straight sliders. Luckily, I got that one," Piscotty said.

Scherzer has now allowed 42 homers over the last two seasons in 44 starts, more than any other pitcher. Since July 7 of 2015, Scherzer has given up 35 homers in 28 games. 

"I know I've been giving up a ton of home runs," Scherzer said. "But that one, that's just an execution thing. That's just me not throwing the right pitch at the right time with poor execution. So that's one where you don't beat yourself up over."

It has been a confusing season for Scherzer, but luckily for the Nats it hasn't hurt them much at all. They are tied for first place with the New York Mets and still boast one of baseball's best rotations with their other four holding ERAs at 2.87 or lower. 

Scherzer is their ace, but currently qualifies as their weakest link. While he searches for consistency from start to start, his teammates remain patient and point to his body of work as a whole.

"I'll take him out there any day," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "He goes out and competes and tonight, just didn't have everything that he wanted."

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," center fielder Ben Revere said. "With him, he's a pitcher who could finish strong. He'll definitely be big support for us coming down the stretch because he's one of our go-to guys. He's definitely our main guy. It's just one of those games that a couple pitches got away from him. Eventually it's going to come together and he'll be the Max Scherzer that we all know."