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Nats are in a sticky situation

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Nats are in a sticky situation

At the end of a frustrating -- and, as it turned out, controversial -- night at the ballpark, the Nationals find themselves in something of a sticky situation.

And that has nothing to do with the pine tar found on Rays reliever Joel Peralta's glove before the bottom of the eighth inning on Tuesday, though that violation of the baseball rule book became the primary topic of discussion inside both clubhouses.

No, of greater importance to the Nationals right now is what to do with the one weak link in their otherwise dominant rotation. After watching Chien-Ming Wang struggle yet again through 3 13 laborious innings -- the No. 1 culprit in his team's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay -- manager Davey Johnson couldn't definitively say whether the veteran right-hander will remain as his fifth starter.

"I know how good he can be," Johnson said. "My job is to try to get everybody doing the things they're capable of doing. That's my job. If I thought he could get better out of the bullpen or starting, that would come into the decision. I'm not going to make a decision right after a rough outing."

If Johnson was giving any thought to removing Wang from the rotation and going back to Ross Detwiler, the latter certainly made as strong a case for himself as possible coming out of the bullpen and keeping this game close.

Summoned in the bottom of the fourth to bail out Wang, Detwiler wound up tossing 3 23 innings of scoreless, hitless relief. He retired 11 of 12 batters faced, the lone exception Carlos Pena (who was hit by a pitch in the seventh).

In six total appearances since he was sent to the bullpen to open a starting spot for Wang, Detwiler now boasts a 1.35 ERA and only seven hits allowed over 13 13 innings. The 26-year-old left insists, however, he's not thinking about a possible move back to the rotation.

"I am where I am right now," Detwiler said. "I've got to get comfortable with that, and that's the only way I'm going to throw well. I know farther down the road, there's a good chance I'll be back, whether it be next year or whenever it will be. But I think I'm starting to get comfortable down in the bullpen."

As comfortable as Detwiler has looked in the bullpen, Wang has looked anything but comfortable since joining the rotation three weeks ago. He's now made four starts and failed to complete six innings in any of them, compiling a 6.62 ERA while putting an astounding 40 men on base over 17 23 innings.

The problem, the Nationals believe, is mechanical. Wang has been "rushing" through his throwing motion, with his right arm lagging behind the rest of his body.

"His arm strength is back, but he's still trying to do too much and not getting in position to locate the ball well," Johnson said. "That was his problem."

"I think overall my arm still feels good, and actually today I could feel on top of the ball, on my finger," Wang said. "But I just couldn't locate the ball very well today."

When Wang departed the game in the fourth, the Nationals trailed 5-2. Thanks to Detwiler's dominance and then a two-run homer from Michael Morse (his first of the season) in the sixth, they reduced the deficit to one.

But the Nationals didn't put another man on base after Morse's blast, unable to get anything going late against Rays starter David Price or three relievers. Er, make that two relievers, because Peralta (though he officially appeared in the game) never actually threw a pitch.

The 36-year-old right-hander was a popular member of the Nationals' bullpen in 2010, and he pitched well, posting a 2.02 ERA in 39 games. Over the winter, though, the organization made the somewhat strange decision not to tender him a contract.

Before Tuesday's game, Johnson saw Peralta on the field in a Tampa Bay uniform and rhetorically asked why the Nationals let him get away.

"One thing led to another," the manager said, "and I got probably more information than I really needed."

Without offering up specifics, or revealing who specifically told him, Johnson said there had been "some chirping" about Peralta using pine tar in his glove. So when Rays manager Joe Maddon summoned for his setup man before the bottom of the eighth, Johnson emerged from his dugout and asked plate umpire Tim Tschida to check the pitcher's glove.

And what did Tschida find in the glove?

"It was a significant amount of pine tar," the veteran umpire told a pool reporter.

Thus, the glove was confiscated and Peralta was immediately ejected, per Rule 8.02(a), which states that a pitcher may not "apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." Peralta also now is subject to a mandatory suspension.

Maddon was incensed by Johnson's request to check the glove.

"It's kind of a common practice that people have done this for years, and to point one guy out because he had pitched here a couple years ago there probably was some common knowledge based on that," the Rays manager said. "And so I thought it was a real cowardly ... it was kind of a wuss move to go out there and to that under those circumstances. I like the word wuss move right there."

When the top of the ninth arrived, Maddon had Tschida check Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus' glove and hat. The umpire found nothing. Mattheus couldn't help but smile.

"I'm not going to take it personal," the right-hander said. "It's gamesmanship. We did it to them. I'm sure they wanted to make sure that we weren't at an unfair advantage with something sticky in our gloves and stuff like that. I didn't take it as an insult at all."

Who was it that tipped Johnson off about Peralta's penchant for pine tar use? No one inside the Nationals' clubhouse was saying, and members of the bullpen uniformly had nothing but positive things to say about their former teammate.

"I played with Joel in 2009 with the Rockies and he's a great, great guy," Mattheusa said. "Standup guy. I don't think he's out there cheating, trying to get over on us or anything like that. But it's unfortunate."

Though such ejections for foreign substances are rare, this wasn't the first time it happened to a pitcher facing the Nationals.

On June 14, 2005 in Anaheim, outfielder Jose Guillen (who played for the Angels the previous year) told manager Frank Robinson that reliever Brendan Donnelly used pine tar on his glove. Robinson got Donnelly ejected from that game, setting off a bench-clearing incident between the two clubs that featured the 69-year-old Robinson and Angels manager Mike Scioscia going toe-to-toe.

Scioscia's bench coach that night: Joe Maddon. One of the umpires who confiscated Donnelly's glove: Tim Tschida.

"This one was a lot calmer," Tschida said. "The managers both kept their cool. The one in Anaheim, I had to separate Scioscia and Frank Robinson."

There was no extracurricular activity Tuesday night, but surely both sides and the umpiring crew will be watching for any residual issues the rest of this series. Wednesday night's scheduled starters: Stephen Strasburg and Chris Archer, making his big-league debut.

Perhaps the best indication of what might still come was uttered by Maddon at the end of his postgame media session, clearly upset with his counterpart in the other dugout.

Said Maddon: "Before you start throwing rocks, understand where you live."

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Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday.

Eaton sustained the injury in Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Mets when he stepped awkwardly on the bag while beating out a throw to first in the ninth inning. He then collapsed and needed assistance off the field.

The Nationals initially announced earlier Saturday that Eaton would go on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee strain. They also have since called up outfielder Rafael Bautista from Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals acquired Eaton in a trade with the White Sox in December in exchange for pitching prospects Luca Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

The 28-year-old Eaton was hitting .297 with a .393 on-base percentage and 24 runs scored for the 16-8 Nationals.

Michael A. Taylor replaced Eaton in centerfield during the Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday.

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Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets wobbled into Nationals Park this weekend with a six-game losing streak, beset by injuries and lined up to face Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the team with the best record in the majors.

Two days later, things don't look quite so bleak.

Michael Conforto hit two home runs and slumping Jose Reyes also connected, leading the Mets over the Washington Nationals 5-3 Saturday.

"It feels great because they've got a great club and they're red-hot," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

"When you face arguably two of the best pitchers in the game two days in a row and come out with two wins, that's huge for us," he said.

After being swept at home by the Nationals last weekend the Mets have a chance to flip the script on Sunday and even the season series at three games apiece. Even though it's still April, the importance of this series wasn't lost on the Mets skipper.

"We know we've got a long track, we've got to try and get back in the hunt, and that's what we're trying to do, put some wins on the board and try and get back in this thing," Collins said.

The Nationals were still steamed over a no-call involving a steal by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning.

Werth swiped second as Jose Lobaton struck out, and got up and tangled with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera when the throw skipped away. Werth kept heading to third and was thrown out by a wide margin.

Werth argued along with Washington manager Dusty Baker that he should've been awarded the base because of the block.

"I saw him point obstruction, and then he gave some jive explanation that really didn't make sense to me," Baker said of second base umpire Angel Hernandez.

Werth saw the same thing that his manager. When asked after the game about how an umpire can point and not get the bag, Werth responded: "You're asking the wrong person at this point. I clearly don't know the rule."

A request to talk to the umpires was submitted too late to get comment.

Conforto's two-run homer in the fifth gave the Mets a 3-1 lead and his sixth home run of the season made it 4-2 in the eighth. It was Conforto's second multihomer game in the majors -- as a rookie, he did it in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series against Kansas City.

"It's huge," Conforto said about winning the first games of series against Washington's two star pitchers.

"But you know, we had a feeling that this was coming. We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there's no panic in here," he said.

Hansel Robles (4-0) came in to start the sixth and retired five of the six batters he faced, striking out four. Jerry Blevins then took over and fanned Bryce Harper.

Jeurys Familia, pulled Friday night in the ninth while Washington tried to rally, retired three straight hitters to earn his first save of the season.

Familia, who led the majors with a team-record 51 saves last year, began this season serving a 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

Strasburg (2-1) gave up three runs in seven innings. He has gone exactly seven innings in all five of his starts this season.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3. Zimmerman, who also had two singles, drove in all three Nationals runs and now has 11 homers this season to go along with 27 RBIs.

Zimmerman's shot broke a tie with Andre Dawson to move into second place on the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise list with 226.

Reyes hit a solo shot in the ninth, his second of the season.

Michael A. Taylor had three hits in his first game since replacing the injured Adam Eaton in center field for the Nationals. Taylor doubled in the first and added singles in the third and fifth.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and allowing one earned run while striking out four.

RELATED: ADAM EATON OUT FOR SEASON WITH TORN ACL