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Strasburg bounces back


Strasburg bounces back

There may be no pitcher in baseball who beats himself up after a poor outing more than Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander might as well be wrapped in Kryptonite during the four days after he takes a loss.
"You don't really want to get close to him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Because he's very cognizant of every little thing that doesn't go the way he plans."
Strasburg may get down on himself after a bad start, but he also rebounds from those rare occasions better than anyone in his profession. Just ask the Marlins, who on Sunday once again served as roadkill for the 24-year-old hurler.
With six scoreless innings of three-hit ball, Strasburg pitched the Nationals to a 4-1 victory and once again erased the negative memories of his prior start.
In that previous outing Tuesday against the Phillies, Strasburg matched his career-high in allowing six earned runs while lasting only four innings (his shortest appearance ever when health wasn't a factor). But history has shown he always bounces back when handed the ball again.
Strasburg has surrendered four or more earned runs only five times in his big-league career. In the five starts that followed, he's now 4-0 with an 0.90 ERA.
"Really?" first baseman Adam LaRoche wondered aloud when told of that fact.
Does that ability to bounce back from a bad start to dominate the next time out reveal something about a pitcher?
"I think after a bad start, you sit down and you look at the mistakes you made," LaRoche said. "And I think for him, a lot of the time, he feels like he mentally let down or over-thought something. ... He comes back after a start and he'll blame himself for the majority of it. So I can see the next time out not allowing himself to go there, to stick with his gameplan and attack everybody, trust how good your stuff is."
Strasburg indeed appeared to go back to basics on Sunday, relying more on his fastball and staying in sync with catcher Jesus Flores. He issued only one walk, struck out six, extended his scoreless innings streak against the Marlins to 27 and still had more left in the tank when Johnson pulled him after 91 pitches.
Cognizant of the heat and humidity on an August afternoon in D.C., not to mention Strasburg's nebulous innings limit in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Johnson decided to turn to his bullpen for the game's final three innings. The philosophy worked, with Craig Stammen giving up back-to-back doubles to open the seventh but then setting down the Marlins in order to close out the inning, Sean Burnett tossing a 1-2-3 eighth and then Drew Storen -- yes, Drew Storen -- pitching a scoreless ninth in his first save opportunity of the season.
Having lost his job to bullpen-mate and roommate Tyler Clippard while recovering from elbow surgery, Storen has been used exclusively in a setup role since coming off the disabled list last month. But after Clippard had pitched on three consecutive days, Johnson decided to let the man who saved 43 games in 2011 get a crack at his first save of 2012.
Storen responded with a dominant inning of relief. Though he allowed a two-out single to Greg Dobbs, he mixed and matched his best assortment of pitches since his surgery, getting devastating movement on his slider, changeup and sinker to baffle the Miami lineup with the game on the line.
"It was good to see him back out there and get that out of the way," Johnson said. "It kind of completes the rehab."
Said Storen: "It was a lot of fun. Especially when you're pitching for a first-place team in that situation, it doesn't get much better than that."
The Nationals afforded Storen the opportunity to close because they jumped out to an early lead thanks to a four-run second inning that featured clutch hits from their two most-consistent offensive forces this season: LaRoche and Strasburg.
LaRoche, who just completed an 11-for-18, 4-homer, 10-RBI week, is not that big a surprise as an offensive contributor. Strasburg, on the other hand, has emerged out of nowhere this season to become the best-hitting pitcher in the game. His two-run single off Ricky Nolasco Sunday raised his batting average to .343 and his RBI total to seven.
Extrapolate his numbers out over a 600 at-bat season, and Strasburg would drive in 120 runs.
"I can't explain it," he said. "Just trying to not strike out every time, just trying to do my job. It's big when you have a pitcher in your lineup who can handle a bat."
And it's even bigger when you have a pitcher in your rotation who can brush off sub-par starts and come back five days later with dominant performances.
All Strasburg has to do is remember what got him here in the first place.
"Nobody's ever come down to first base and said it's a comfortable at-bat," LaRoche said. "Every hitter I've ever talked to down there is not comfortable in the box. That's the best thing a pitcher can ask for. He just needs to believe it every start. He's getting there."

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]