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Praise all around for Nats All-Stars

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Praise all around for Nats All-Stars

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First came Sunday night's flight from Washington on Ted Lerner's private jet, with Stephen Strasburg's pet yorkie Bentley doing tricks on command for teammates Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper and members of the owner's family.

Then came the whirlwind that is All-Star Workout Day, from press conferences that featured plenty of clown questions to batting practice before a full house at Kauffman Stadium to front-row seats for the Home Run Derby.

Throw in Tuesday's actual Midsummer Classic, during which all three players could see action in a game that could wind up giving them home-field advantage for the World Series three months from now, and perhaps Strasburg summed it best.

"It's fun to be a National right now," the right-hander said.

Tough to dispute that notion, not as the Nationals' three-man All-Star crew relishes the attention and adulation that is being thrust upon the NL's best team at the season's midway point.

These are uncharted waters for the Nats, who aren't used at all to being the center of attention at a national event but are growing more comfortable with the spotlight each passing day.

It helps that there are three players here stealing attention from each other.

"It's a little different than for guys who came here when the team was in last place, being the only guy voted in," Strasburg said. "To come here with a group, it's something you can enjoy and know you've got a couple of days to just enjoy it and soak it all in."

Strasburg and Harper were among the most-sought-after players on All-Star Monday, whether during the 45-minute NL player media availability session or on the field during batting practice as fans and fellow All-Stars alike tried to get the attention of the guys with the curly W logo on their right sleeves.

What stood out perhaps more than anything else was the praise being heaped upon them from other All-Stars who have come to appreciate what this previously downtrodden franchise has accomplished and could continue to accomplish over the remainder of the season.

"They've got what it takes. They've got what it takes to make a long run," said Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, a National during their 100-loss seasons in 2008-09. "And they've got the city excited. It's fun to watch. Now that we've already played them twice, it's fun to watch them and see the success."

Nobody in a Nationals uniform has impressed the rest of the league like Harper, who arrived in the big leagues with a reputation as a cocksure 19-year-old but who immediately won over fellow players with his talent and hustle.

"I didn't really know much about him," Hanrahan said. "The first game, he hits the double and flips his helmet off, and I'm thinking: 'That's a clown move, bro.' But I got a chance to talk to him today, and he seems like a really good kid. I don't know if he's matured a lot or the guys have helped him out, but he seems like a really good kid and he's going to be around for a long time."

Praise for Harper even came from the guy who two months ago admitted he intentionally plunked him with a pitch, then watched as the rookie stole home off him.

"The most impressive thing I've seen," Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels said. "It definitely shows you what he's all about. And it definitely taught me something about how to push harder and play harder. I can thank him for it."

Though he's making his first appearance in MLB's All-Star Game -- the youngest position player ever to do it -- Harper is no stranger to events like this. He's been appearing in various All-Star games since he first burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager from Las Vegas.

So Harper is comfortable in this setting, even if his performance on the field hasn't lived up to it. He recalled going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in the Aflac All-American high school showcase. Same thing at an Under Armor exhibition game. And the same thing at last summer's All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix.

Given that dubious track record, Harper is setting no expectations for himself this time.

"I'm just going to try to come out here and have fun," he said. "And if I go 0-fer, I really don't care. It's just a time to enjoy myself and a time to just be around the best guys in baseball. It's my first one, so I'm going to take it all in."

Strasburg, too, was taking it all in Monday, with a companion by his side at nearly all times: Gonzalez.

The two pitchers were inseparable, the bubbly Gonzalez shaking hands with everybody in sight while the reserved Strasburg picked and chose his introductions.

They're an unlikely pair, but the Nationals' two aces have formed a strong bond since becoming teammates in February.

"He's the polar opposite of me, and I think it's worked out really well," Strasburg said. "I've learned so much from the guy already. And I think he's learned a thing or two from me."

Gonzalez, of course, loves anybody and everybody who wears a Nationals uniform.

"If it was up to me, I'd bring the whole team with us," he said. "Every single one of those guys deserves to be here."

For this year, at least, three Nats at the All-Star Game will have to be enough.

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Nationals prospect report: Minor league season wrapping up

Nationals prospect report: Minor league season wrapping up

Triple-A Syracuse

Lucas Giolito - RHP

Giolito pitched one inning in his last start (8/23) and struck out two batters. He'll be in DC this weekend - whether it's as a starter or reliever remains to be seen. 

Austin Voth - RHP

Voth was better this week, although walks continue to be an issue. He went six innings while allowing two runs on six hits in his last start (8/20) while also walking three and striking out seven. After a quick rise through the system, he stalled out at Triple-A a bit. Can't imagine he'd be a September call-up candidate at this point. 

Mat Latos - RHP

Here's a name that hasn't been around in a while. Latos has a 0.82 ERA over 11 innings pitched, which is purely anecdotal at this point. Still, that's what Mat Latos has been up to. 

Double-A Harrisburg

Jose Marmolejos  - 1B

Marmolejos keeps hitting. He's hitting .342 over his last 10 games to raise his season average to .295. He hasn't quite shown the power he did in Potomac, but he's only played 21 games in Harrisburg. 

Eric Fedde - RHP

In his last start against Richmond, Fedde got knocked around, giving up three earned runs on nine hits while walking and striking out three. In 16.1 innings pitched at Double-A, Fedde has an ERA over 6. Adjustment time! 

Single-A Potomac

Victor Robles - OF

Potomac has not been kind to Robles. He's hitting .179 over the last 10 games and .214 as a whole in Single-A. He'll start the season there next year. 

 

 

 

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Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

Updated: 12:06 p.m.

In desperate need of bullpen help, particularly a left-hander, the Nationals pulled off a trade Thursday morning to acquire southpaw Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics. In order to get him, they paid a big price by parting with minor league infielder Max Schrock, who was a rising talent in their system.

Rzepczynski, 30, joins the Nats with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season. He has 37 strikeouts in 36 innings, but also 24 walks and a 1.722 WHIP. Due to his long and unusual name, his nickname is 'Scrabble.'

An eight-year MLB veteran, Rzepczynski will be a free agent after this season. This is the fifth time he's been traded in the last six years, having also spent time with the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Indians and Padres. He holds a 3.87 ERA in 405 career MLB appearances. Rzepczynski also has 18 postseason appearances under his belt.

Rzepczynski throws a fastball in the low- to mid-90s and relies heavily on a slider/changeup combination. Among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched this season, he has the second-best groundball percentage to only Orioles closer Zach Britton. Nats right-hander Blake Treinen is sixth.

Rzepczynski will help the Nats in the short-term as they currently have a bullpen beaten up by injuries, rain delays and short outings by their starters. He is also now their best lefty reliever with Sammy Solis on the disabled list and Oliver Perez suffering through a long stretch of ineffectiveness.

But in the long-term, losing Schrock could be a tough pill to swallow. The Nats took him in the 13th round of the 2015 draft and signed him despite concerns he would return to school at the University of South Carolina. The 21-year-old has emerged as a star in the minors with a .333/.378/.456 slash-line and nine homers, 68 RBI and 22 steals at Single-A this season. Schrock is a year or two away from the majors, but when he gets there he could be a valuable offensive player.

Rzepczynski, though, is just what the Nats need at the moment and they have to do all they can to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them this season to potentially win a World Series.

RELATED: WHAT CAN'T TREA TURNER DO?

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Turner's eight consecutive hits adds another feat to impressive rookie season

Turner's eight consecutive hits adds another feat to impressive rookie season

Trea Turner has known he’s been white-hot at the plate the in recent days. Notching eight straight hits will do that.

“I mean, if you don't, you're lying,” Turner said. “Everyone thinks about it.”

But the 23-year-old speedster didn’t realize he was franchise-record hot until it was too late in Wednesday's 10-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

After tying Dmitri Young and Andre Dawson’s Nationals/Expos mark with eight hits in consecutive plate appearances earlier in the night, Turner struck out in the ninth inning to end his shot at history. It was only then, upon seeing his whiff on a computer replay, that he saw a note on the screen saying he was one hit shy of standing alone.

“If I would have known that, I wouldn't have struck out, probably,” he joked. “I'm just kidding. I didn't know that until then."

If your only struggle of late is having to settle for tying a franchise record, chances are things are going well.

Turner’s time in the majors this season has lasted all of 37 games, and yet rookie has made a huge impression on his team by making the game look easy on a nightly basis. Whether that’s being the needed sparkplug at the plate or a terror on the base paths, the much-ballyhooed prospect might be even better than some in the organization initially believed.

“Trea’s been playing great,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He had a great night at the plate. He’s also a very determined young man. That determination and youthful exuberance I think has rubbed off on the team.”

Perhaps even more impressive than Turner’s ability is his aptitude. In addition to having to adjust to big-league pitching, he’s had to learn center field, a position he hadn’t played in college or in the minors prior to this season.

And on Wednesday night’s first play, Turner showed why the Nats believe he’ll be just fine at his new home. He sprinted and dove at full speed rob Orioles’ leadoff man Adam Jones’ of extra bases.

“We’re both about the same speed,” veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman deadpanned. “For him to do that [is impressive]. He’s been playing center field for a month, maybe.”

Of course, he still has his hiccups, as he had later in the game when he leaped and couldn’t haul in ball near the wall in deep center field. But given everything else he brings to the team, the Nats will surely endure whatever growing pains he goes through.

“I feel good [in center field],” he said. “I feel like I'm kinda picking it up as I go and continue to do that in [batting practice] and also the games."

Since the day he became an everyday player, Turner has looked like he belongs. With a slash line of .335/.359/.544 to go along with nine doubles, six triples and four home runs, he may already be establishing himself as one of the most dynamic leadoff men in the game.

"I think it's an empty mind,” Turner said of his approach. “You're not really thinking too much. You just react. I think the more you can do that, the better you'll be, the more success you'll have.”

And if this is only the beginning, the Nats have to be awfully excited about what's in store for the Lake Worth, Florida native.  

“He’s still so young,” Zimmerman said. “He’s still learning how to play and learning himself. His baseball IQ is through the roof. I think he makes adjustments really quick. He’s really observant of what goes on around him. He’s going to be a really good one.”