Good news: The Nats made it two-in-a-row and three-out-of-four on Tuesday night, mauling the Reds, 7-1. If the game is remembered for any reason, it should be remembered for Alfonso Soriano's 492-foot home run, a shot that would have made it "out of the Grand Canyon," according to Frank Robinson; for that reason, the game should be remembered, because that was one prodigious blast. (For what it's worth, the Washington Times account grants Soriano an extra two feet.)
A friend of mine, old O's fan buddy, just emailed me, asking, "So, Alfonso Soriano is on pace for 49 homers, eh?" I guess he is. Coming into the game, Soriano had been in something of a recent free-fall; over a nine-game stretch (dating from April 29), Soriano had lost ninety-six points of OPS. Perhaps that trend will continue, momentarily abated---but what an abatement that homer was! This is an odd thing I'm about to say, considering I cannot watch the games, but Soriano is one of those players who is far more enjoyable for "fans" than for "outside analysts." This is, of course, not to say that a Nats fan cannot view his performance so far (or, beyond that, his value) as an outsider would---i.e., with skepticism. What I am saying is that Soriano's skills (speed and tremendous power, mainly) make following him up-close enjoyable, perhaps to an extent that exceeds his "objective value" to the team. When the team you follow is 12-21, there's not much to be enjoyed. Thus, in a sense, I think Soriano's presence on the team truly helps; it provides moments to admire, like this one. Now, I could be falling for a restatement of the old starstruck trap, but for tonight I won't concern myself with that.
The victory, of course, wasn't all Soriano; in fact, he didn't register his first hit until that ninth inning moonshot. Thought this wasn't the stuff of highlight reels, Tony Armas Jr. stabilized after a rocky previous start, locking down the dangerous Reds until running into trouble in the seventh. From there, the situational pitching was effective enough. Joey Eischen surrendered a bases-loaded, no outs sacrifice fly, which was actual quite a stroke of mitigation. Gary Majewski, perhaps back from the dead, got out of the jam, and the rest was gravy.
I'd also be remiss not to point out that it wasn't just Soriano teeing off. The Nats slammed five homers, two by Jose Guillen, who appears to be emerging from his early season funk.
Theoretically, any team---except for a truly bad one---is capable of a hot streak, so it shouldn't be an earth-shaking proposition that the Nats might be capable of a somewhat sustained stretch of quality baseball. Perhaps we are in the midst of it---although we must sound a warning that would have seemed odd prior to the start of the season: Livan Hernandez takes the hill tomorrow.
Bad news: According to MLB.com, John Patterson's right elbow tendonitis has reached James Andrews Alert stage; on Monday, Patterson traveled to Andrews' Birmingham, Al., lair for a check-up and cortisone shot. Patterson indicates he might not be back in action until June 1. Jim Bowden states that Patterson could be pitching, were the Nats embroiled in a pennant race, rather than already out of it, but Capitol Punishment's call for patience seems advisable. As Harper reminds us, this is an organization that values the seemingly hyper-tough trait of playing through pain as the first, last, and only acceptable measure. Thus, it is good to see some discretion here.
Bowden also claims that Patterson's loss, retroactive to April 21, has cost the Nats two or three wins. It's a throw-away line, but it might be fun to investigate. On the other hand, it is sort of difficult to investigate. Bowden cannot be referring to Patterson's direct replacement in the rotation, right? Patterson's turn in the rotation has passed three times since his most recent start. Mike O'Connor took all three turns and, of course, has won two of those games. Of course, Bowden could be envisioning that O'Connor would have occupied another spot in the rotation if Patterson were healthy---perhaps Zach Day's (1-1 in two starts since being claimed on waivers) or Ramon Ortiz (three starts---one very good, two quite blah---and three Washington losses since Patterson's injury). Of course, that perspective would overlook the probability that O'Connor would not be a big leaguer without the necessity Patterson's injury created. Or Bowden could just be tossing out arbitrary numbers.
- Todd Jacobson of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star provides a fascinating look into the world of baseball bats. In this interesting story, Jacobson explores the bat preferences of various Nats (Royce Clayton searches for the right "ping," making me thing he'd be better against amateur pitching; Damian Jackson wants just the right feel in his hands; Matt Lecroy "won't use nuthin' else" but a Louisville Slugger); the somewhat-regulated bat industry (by 2002, there were 48 suppliers in MLB---now it's down to 30); profiles a mom-and-pop supplier, Old Hickory, that relied on the endorsement of David Segui, of all hitters); explores the maple vs. ash debate (noted baseball physicist Robert Adair calls maple's big-time power reputation, enhanced by Barry Bonds' switch in 2001, "nonsense"); and notes, in spectacular fashion, what happens When Bats Gone Wild:
Ash and its thin grains are known to chip and flake with overuse. Maple stands up longer, meaning players go through fewer bats.
"I could take the same bat I used in batting practice and take it in a game and it didn't flake," Clayton said. "Maple bats are good bats. There is a different feel to them."
When maple bats break, however, the results are often more exaggerated. Ash bats splinter, but maple bats tend to "explode," sending splintering pieces across the infield. San Diego Padres pitcher Clay Hensley was hit in the back of the head last week by a piece of a maple bat and needed four stitches.
Rick Helling, pitching with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds last season, was impaled in his left arm by a piece of a broken bat.
There is also a chart that reveals what each Nats' position player uses. Louisville Slugger appears most prominently, as you might expect, but a diverse mix of names also shows up, too.
- Are you ready for some trading?! I know you are, and so, apparently, is Jim Bowden, whose latest DC Examiner column advises us to expect some trades (but not a "fire sale"). Apparently, the imminent Lerner/Kasten overlordship desires not to retain the team's sub-star-quality dreck.
Bowden characterizes things differently, as you might expect. This assessment is straight out of the Hawk Harrelson school of targeted perspective:When a team gets off to a slow start as we have this year, trade discussions are initiated much earlier from other clubs. With the trading deadline not until July 31, in normal years it is early June before teams start serious discussions. They realize there are eight weeks remaining to find the best deal to help their club get to the postseason.
However, when a club like ours gets off to a poor start and has so many talented players, general managers of other clubs start the serious trade discussions in a fast and furious manner. They want to be the first club to acquire a key player to help their chances.
What players would other teams desire in a trade? I'd imagine Jose Guillen would be near the top of the list---at least not among the half-dozen teams that have tried him before. Alfonso Soriano? Sure, but I'd imagine the circumstances would have to be right. Jose Vidro? Sure, but he has to be viewed in context of what would happen to Soriano, who still "considers" himself a second baseman. (Which isn't to say Soriano wouldn't remain in left for a contender; as we've seen, he's malleable enough to switch, however begrudgingly.) I'd have to think Nick Johnson won't be going anywhere. Ryan Church, maybe?
Among the pitchers? Don't give me Ramon Ortiz or Felix Rodgriguez; if anything, those guys would be post-waiver-deadline deals. No one is clamoring for them. As for Livan, it's not the time to trade him; he's pitched poorly, and his value is down. And so forth.
There are a few highly talented players here, but the notion that teams are clamoring for them seems just short of mere puffery.
- The Hardball Times features an article by Maury Brown entitled "You Own the Nationals. Now What Happens?" I suppose the title alone is self-explanatory, but the article tracks seven issues facing the Lerners and Stan Kasten. (That phrase is too unwieldy. Is there something better, like "Lernasten"?) In fact, the article tracks so many issues that its review is each is rather cursory. But it's still worth a read.
- Finally, congratulations to Rocket, who will (along with Mrs. Rocket, obviously) be awaiting a Little Rocket. Just for him, I'll toast to an obligatory "Fire Bowden."