Quick Links

Nats thrived in Desmond's absence

845995.png

Nats thrived in Desmond's absence

They survived without Michael Morse for two months. They made do without Jayson Werth for three months. And they held it together without Drew Storen for 3 12 months.

But when Ian Desmond succumbed to a torn oblique muscle four weeks ago, it appeared the Nationals had finally sustained an injury that could not easily be overcome.

Turns out the Nats didn't just overcome Desmond's stint on the disabled list. They played their best baseball of the season in spite of it, going 19-6 since their All-Star shortstop last appeared on the field during the July 21 doubleheader against the Braves.

And their reward for it all? It appears they'll be getting Desmond back on the field sooner than anyone expected.

After a week's worth of full workouts with the club while it was on the road in Arizona and San Francisco, Desmond is all but ready to return. He's scheduled to get at-bats against Chien-Ming Wang today in a simulated game, and barring any major setbacks, the Nationals plan to activate him off the DL before tomorrow night's series opener against the Mets.

It would be stunning recovery for a player widely expected to miss at least six weeks when he was first shut down. Desmond won't appear in any minor-league rehab games or get any at-bats against live pitching other than Wang's simulated game, but he and the Nationals are convinced he'll be able to make a seamless transition back into the lineup.

There's no debating Desmond's significance to this team and the difference he should make as soon as he returns. But there's also no debating how well the Nationals held up over the last four weeks without the heart and soul of their infield.

Danny Espinosa, a natural shortstop who had become a top-flight second baseman in the big leagues, transferred back to his old position and showed no signs of rust, proving quite adept at playing shortstop in the big leagues over a prolonged stretch. He also picked up his performance at the plate, hitting .288 with five homers, 16 RBI and a .500 slugging percentage over the last 25 games.

And Steve Lombardozzi, who was beginning to make a name for himself as a rookie utilityman, ably took over everyday duties at second base and hit .308 with a .351 on-base percentage and six extra-base hits.

It's enough to make you wonder why the Nationals feel the need to rush Desmond back so soon. Sure, he was missed and his return will make them even better, but it's not like the Nationals suffered in any real tangible way without their starting shortstop.

Desmond's return also bumps Lombardozzi to the bench just as he's begun to find a consistent stroke at the plate as an everyday player. Manager Davey Johnson says he will continue to find ways to get the versatile rookie into his lineup, but obviously he won't get as much playing time as he had over the last month.

The Nationals feel like it's worth the challenge in order to get Desmond back. And over the long haul, they'll benefit from his return.

But the Nats had better hope Desmond picks right up where he left off four weeks ago. Because the last thing the best (and hottest) team in baseball needs right now is anything that might tinker with a formula that has been wildly successful.

Quick Links

Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Through Lucas Giolito's first four big league starts, there has been something noticeably off from what we've seen and heard over the years about what makes him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits. From his arm angle at 6-foot-6, and countered with his hooking curveball, his fastball was a big reason scouts say he has superstar potential.

He could very well still become one of the game's best pitchers, but the Nats' rookie remains a work in progress and his fastball is currently nowhere near as fast as it once was. On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

We've heard manager Dusty Baker offer his theories and so far he's downplayed it as not being a concern. On Sunday, we heard for the first time from Giolito himself on the subject, as well as from his opponents.

Here is what Giolito had to say:

"I can pitch at 93 if I’m hitting my spots and mixing up well. I think I left way too many fastballs up over the middle of the plate. Those are the ones that got hit pretty hard. So, the velocity I don’t think is a huge deal as long as I’m pitching the way I should be pitching."

Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who homered and landed an RBI single off Giolito, offered his take on the velocity dip.

"The reports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97. Those are the reports we saw and on video. It wasn't that," he said. "It doesn't matter. His length, the ball kind of gets on you, has a little jump to it. He's so tall, so big. It's not a comfortable at-bat," Arenado said.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said that despite the results and the velocity, he can see why there was so much hype around Giolito.

“The future is bright, for sure,” Weiss said. “Big kid, big time arm. He showed a really good breaking ball and threw some good changeups to go with a power fastball. I have heard a lot about him, going back to when he was in high school, and for good reason."

Giolito remains a big part of the Nats' future plans, but at this point in his career he is a raw talent. He's still building confidence with his changeup and working on the command of his curveball. And now he's trying to learn how to pitch with a fastball that's not as lethal as it once was.

That's a tough situation for a young pitcher who doesn't have the experience a veteran would have to draw from.

"I’ve been pitching a lot better [at Triple-A] and figuring some stuff out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to execute on a few pitches today," Giolito said after Sunday's 5-3 loss. "The only thing I can do is continue to work and try to get better about living down the zone, getting ahead of guys, and then throwing all my pitches for strikes and putting guys away."

Giolito still showed promise on Sunday with a career-high five innings pitched. But the swing-and-miss stuff that he's shown over the years as a prospect has yet to follow him to the majors.

"We haven't seen it yet at the major league level," Baker said. "His fastball is relatively straight, so you've gotta locate it well. Hopefully it will get better."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

 

Quick Links

Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

usatsi_9504498.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Given the circumstances of his start and the lineup he was facing, the Nationals couldn't have asked for much more than they got from 22-year-old rookie Lucas Giolito on Sunday against the Rockies. It wasn't his fault their offense couldn't manage much of anything against Chad Bettis, who took the mound with a 5.29 ERA.

Giolito stared down the best lineup in the National League and made it a career-high five innings with four runs allowed. He gave up six hits and two walks, including a pair of home runs. One was by Charlie Blackmon, the other by Nolan Arenado, who also tripled.

It wasn't the greatest outing, of course, but the Nats have certainly seen worse both lately and against the Rockies. They didn't give him nearly enough support and only scored three runs on the day, all on solo homers.

Trea Turner led off the game with his fifth home run of the season. Wilson Ramos smacked his 20th to lead off the seventh. That gave Ramos a career-high 69 RBI on the year. And Bryce Harper hit his 23rd in the bottom of the ninth. For Harper, he has now reached base in all 15 games since coming back from his neck injury.

The Rockies got another run off reliever Koda Glover. He allowed a one-out double to Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth. Descalso then scored from second on a wild pitch that drilled home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the left shoulder. The ball bounced off the backstop and Ramos turned to check on the ump. That, in part, allowed Descalso to score on what was an all-around bizarre sequence.

The Nats' offense got six hits and a walk off Rockies pitchers. Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman went a combined 0-for-14.

Washington lost their second straight game and have now dropped six of their last eight overall.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 75-55 on the season and lost their first home series since July 22-24 against the Padres. The Marlins lost on Sunday, so the Nats' division lead remains at eight games. The Mets are just behind them at 8 1/2 back after pummeling the Phillies.

Giolito okay, but questions remain: Giolito again saw his fastball top out at around 93-94, which is fine but nowhere near the high-90s and triple-digit heat that helped make him the top prospect in all of baseball. Manager Dusty Baker has been asked about this several times this season and has yet to give a full explanation as to why the team thinks he has lost so much velocity. Baker doesn't seem concerned about it one bit, but it does seem like at least somewhat of a big deal if he's lost, say, five or six ticks off his most oft-used pitch.

Turner sets franchise record: In the same week Turner tied the franchise mark for hits in consecutive plate appearances, he became the sole owner of first in Nats/Expos history with 27 runs in one month as a rookie. His 27th came on his solo homer, which was one of two hits for him on the day. He now has 20 multi-hit games this season in 41 total outings. 

Turner, in fact, has six multi-hit games in a row, which ties the longest streak in MLB this season. Six other players have done that this year. Turner's homer, though, gave him just his first RBI during that stretch, which goes to show how much the bottom of their lineup has struggled in recent games. 

Zimmerman keeps struggling: After looking good initially when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 20, Zimmerman has fallen back into a major slump. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Sunday and is now just 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last five games. That one hit was a single and he has no walks during that span. Zimmerman's season OBP has dropped to .276, the lowest it's been since Opening Day.

Up next: The Nats hit the road to play at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99) and rookie Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) set to square off.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nationals pitcher Joe Ross made his first minor league rehab assignment appearance on Sunday afternoon with Triple-A Syracuse and it was a brief one.

Ross tossed just 21 pitches in one inning of work against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He allowed one run on three hits and also recorded a strikeout. The three hits Ross allowed were all singles and the run was scored on a fielder's choice groundout.

Ross, 23, threw more pitches in a bullpen session this week. He threw two bullpens total, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, before going to Syracuse. Ross said he threw 25 to 30 pitches in the first session.

Ross is likely to return to the Nationals in their bullpen, with the minor league season nearing its end. He has said his goal is to be starting for the Nationals in mid-September.

Him pitching just one inning could be a part of that plan, and the Nats do have incentive to take it slow with Ross, who is returning from right shoulder inflammation. He previously pitched two minor league games - on July 24 and July 30 - before a setback made the Nats shut him down altogether.

Ross has a 3.49 ERA in 16 MLB starts this season. He last pitched on July 3 against the Reds.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES