Even if it's not obvious to everyone watching, or evident in the results on the field and in the standings, Washington Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond told reporters last night that he sees signs of improvement in the 34-36 Nats, who are tied for second in the NL East after last night's loss in Philadelphia. "We're a good ballclub," Desmond said, "We've played some really good games, obviously we've played some not-so-good games, but we've got to give ourselves a chance to kind of come into our own this year." Is it the lack of consistency that's held the team back? "I think what you guys and what the fans see as a consistent effort or a consistent performance on the field is different than the way we see it," Desmond said, "We're playing cleaner games, we're playing better, we're getting better at bats. Right now it's not resulting in wins, but we're taking steps in the right direction, I've been saying it for weeks..."
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, it seems, would agree with Desmond's assessment. On his weekly radio show on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., the Nats' general manager told hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this morning that he too sees signs of improvement. "I think you see the solidification of the rotation," Rizzo said. "I think that the starting pitchers have thrown extremely well. They've all given us a chance to win ballgames, including [Dan] Haren's [start Monday] night, he gave up four runs against the Phillies in this park, you're giving your club a chance to win. I think that the rotation has really solidified themselves. I like where the bullpen is at right now. I think our two lefties [Fernando Abad and Ian Krol] are throwing well and the back of our bullpen is throwing well. I feel that's coming along."
"I think our defense has been much better," Rizzo continued, "We've played much cleaner games in the last couple weeks. So, I think that's improving and we've been getting on base at a pretty good clip the last week, we just haven't driven them in. It was exemplified by those games at Cleveland, we had all those guys on base with less than two outs and couldn't get them in. So, the opportunities have been there. We just haven't gotten that big at bat and a big hit and a big rally to get us jumpstarted and get us over the hump."
Could the Nationals get a boost from a returning Bryce Harper? The latest reports earlier this week said that the Nats' 20-year-old outfielder had been cleared to start walking and jogging as he ramps up the activity and begins working his way back. Though they offered no timetables when the team trainer spoke to reporters, Rizzo updated everyone on Harper's status on this morning's show. "I haven't seen him personally," the GM said, "He's improving daily. He'll be doing some baseball activities in the next day or so and then we'll evaluate him on a daily basis and I'm not going to put a time limit on it because I haven't physically seen him in his rehab myself, but all the reports I'm getting back are positive."
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies this morning that it's the middle of the Nats' order he wants to see get things going. "I think the big key for us," Johnson said, "is really the middle of our lineup has to start really stepping [forward]. And they're certainly capable. I'm talking about [Ryan Zimmerman]. [Jayson] Werth and [Adam] LaRoche. They're not doing the things we know they're capable of, they can lead by example. I think the other guys are going to be doing all right."
LaRoche's two hits last night left him 4 for 27 with one double in the last eight games. Werth's 7 for 29 with two doubles and two home runs on the current road trip. Zimmerman's 9 for 30 with four doubles and two home runs in the last eight. Zim struggling? "He's just needs to get hot like he can," Johnson said, "And it could be a great year..."
"He's just...," Johnson said, "He's streaky. Unfortunately he's not really in a good streak. He's not in a bad streak. He gets his hits, but he's so talented."
Denard Span's name was mentioned by the hosts as well. Over the last month he's just 9 for 55 and his OBP has fallen to .307 on the year. "He certainly has the ability," Davey Johnson said, "I mean his lifetime [OBP] is up around .350. He'll be fine. He's a gamer."
"About everything you can think of really has not been going the way it should go."