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Washington Nationals perfect the art of coming from ahead to lose

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Ian Desmond makes another error. It's hard to figure out just what Blake Treinen was doing. The Nats turned what looked like a brilliant comeback into their fourth come-from-ahead loss of the young season. If you keep shooting yourself in the foot over and over, you eventually run out of ammo, right? Right????

Ian Desmond made his sixth error in eight games, helping to spark a Red Sox rally that led to an 8-7 loss. Is it time for him to take a mental health day or two?
Ian Desmond made his sixth error in eight games, helping to spark a Red Sox rally that led to an 8-7 loss. Is it time for him to take a mental health day or two?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In early April, the Nats seem to have perfected the art of coming from ahead to lose games.  They keep finding more and more interesting ways to do it.  Tuesday's come-from-ahead loss was the fourth time in eight games that the Nats have had the lead in the sixth inning or later and ended up losing the game.  They blew a 7-5 lead in the seventh inning thanks to some horrendous defense and a couple of hit batsmen.  Guess what guys!  I'm not going to throw Matt Williams under the bus for this one... at least not too much.

OK.... Since I said I'm not going to throw him under the bus, let's start with Williams and how I felt about his biggest bugaboo, the handling of the bullpen.  I agreed with the choice to let Strasburg start the sixth despite the fact that he was at 100 pitches.  I was fine with the decision to let him allow a baserunner before pulling him, largely because the bullpen was a bit shorthanded last night.  Tanner Roark was unavailable after throwing 3.2 innings on Monday... Xavier Cedeno was designated for assignment prior to Monday's game and replaced by Rafael Martin, who has yet to pitch in a big league game.

The decision to go to Craig Stammen made sense after Brock Holt (insert Arrested Development reference here!) reached.  The Red Sox had Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia coming up, two right-handers.  We don't have a lot to go on with Betts, but Pedroia is a bit of a lefty-killer (130 wRC+ career vs. LHP, 111 vs. RHP).  When Stammen lost Pedroia, you have to go to a lefty to face Big Papi, who has a career wRC+ of 159 vs. RHP.  With Cedeno DFA'd, Thornton was the only lefty available in the bullpen.

Bringing Thornton back out in the seventh was questionable, but if the replacement options are Barrett, Martin (again, big league debut), or Treinen, I can see it.  Thornton doesn't have big platoon splits, and has shown an ability to get right-handed hitters out for his entire career.  Thornton did just fine in my book.  He got a fairly routine grounder to lead off the inning that Desmond (again!) booted.  He then hit Shane Victorino with a pitch that was just barely off the inside corner.. Victorino was hanging over the plate.  After getting Napoli to fly out to right field, Williams went to Treinen, who didn't seem to have time to fully warm up in the bullpen.  Some food for thought.....

Player Triple slash vs. LHP wRC+ vs. LHP Triple slash vs. RHP wRC+ vs. RHP
Hanley Ramirez .308/.391/.530 144 .297/.367/.491 129
Shane Victorino .302/.372/.502 133 .266/.328/.400 94
Mike Napoli .277/.389/.518 143 .248/.346/.477 121
Allen Craig .284/.322/.511 129 .280/.343/.418 112

I don't mind Thornton facing right-handed hitters, but two of the batters he faced (Victorino and Napoli) are guys who have notoriously killed lefties throughout their careers.  I do have to wonder why Allen Craig was the guy that Williams suddenly wanted a right-handed pitcher for.  If you feel confident enough to have Thornton face Victorino and Napoli, I don't really see much sense in pulling him to face a hitter who is more platoon-proof.  Anyway, Williams didn't just pull Thornton to face the platoon-proof Allen Craig, but he rushed Treinen into the game a bit in order to do so.

Treinen didn't pitch poorly.

  • He faced seven batters
  • He plunked the first batter he saw with his very first pitch
  • He allowed one hit
  • He induced five ground balls
  • He induced two double play balls

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the first of those two double play balls was hit back to Treinen, who fumbled the ball as he started to flip it home, then picked it up and threw it into the seats behind home plate.  With catcher Ryan Hanigan running, it would have likely been an easy 1-2-3 double play ball if he'd just fielded the ball cleanly.  Two runs came in on the play.  The go-ahead run moved to third.

Treinen then got a two-hopper to Desmond, who... well... I watched the MASN broadcast and disagree vehemently with Bob & F.P.'s analysis of the play.  They said several times that Desmond had no shot at getting the runner at home and made the right choice by throwing to first.

  1. Desi should have charged the ball more.  It wasn't hit all that sharply, and it didn't require any lateral movement for Desmond to get to the ball.  It was hit right at him
  2. Even though he didn't charge it, Allen Craig (who doesn't run particularly well) was just three steps down the line towards home plate when Desmond got the ball from the replay I saw.  In my estimation, a good throw home had him by a couple of steps, assuming Ramos can hang onto the ball and make the tag.
  3. In a tie game in the seventh inning, there's a reason you're playing the infield in with a runner on third and less than two outs.  The infield is in to cut down the go-ahead run.

I don't know if Desmond decided to play the ball tentatively instead of charging it because his defensive performance so far is in his head.  I do know that Treinen got a ball hit sharply enough right at an infielder so that the throw should have been headed to the plate.  This wasn't Mookie Betts halfway down the line... it was Allen Craig a third of the way down the line.

The rest of the game was played pretty cleanly from that point on.  John Farrell adequately managed his bullpen and closed the Red Sox victory out.  Ryan Zimmerman just missed tying it in the ninth, but it clearly went a few feet left of the fair/foul pole (whichever you prefer).

What would I like to see Wednesday?

What we need is a rainout.....

Since we don't have Crash Davis on our team (maybe Clint Robinson can fill in?), let's look at some more realistic things that I'd like to see... One will be for tomorrow.  One will be more of a long-term thing.

Ian Desmond should DH Wednesday and possibly sit on Thursday

There are two reasons I'd like to see this.  For one thing, he needs to be held accountable for his struggles in the field.  Again, one of the things I'd like to see will be for tomorrow (maybe two days).  This is that one.  Desi has been awfully proud of his durability in the past, but his glove is hurting the team quite a bit so far.  I'd say the Nats should give him a day off, but with the DH in play tomorrow (and a lefty on the mound), the Nats are presented with an opportunity to keep his bat in the lineup and get his glove off of the field until he can find one that doesn't have a hole in it.

The other reason is more to help snap him out of these defensive struggles by giving him a "mental health day" to just calm down and relax.  This is why I say that they should give him a second day, since I believe that his bat (which showed some signs of life last night!) should be in the lineup Wednesday.  Give him a day off from playing defense and then a day off from everything.  The Nats are facing back to back lefties, so Espinosa should be in a good spot to get a couple of starts at shortstop anyway.  Let's Ugg it up at second base for a couple of days.

Blake Treinen should be shifted to the "role" of long man

I hate bullpen roles.  You've heard me rant about them enough already and we're only eight games into the season.  Still, if you have to assign roles, the long man may be the most important of them.  It's odd, since generally these pitchers are going to see the lowest leverage innings.  If they enter a game early, it's probably going to be because a starting pitcher got lit up (see: Monday's game).  If they come in late, it's probably because it's a prolonged extra inning game in which every other reliever has already seen action.  You need someone you can depend on to eat a few innings and save the rest of the bullpen in those types of games.  The Nats have three such pitchers in the bullpen who have recently shown an ability to throw multiple innings.  These pitchers are Tanner Roark, Craig Stammen, and.... Blake Treinen.

One of the above pitchers was among the top fifteen starters in the National League last season.  Another is an experienced reliever who has handled any situation the Nats have thrown at him since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2011.  The third is Treinen, who hasn't pitched regularly out of the bullpen since 2011 and has the least experience at the big league level of the three.

Treinen does have filthier stuff than Stammen or Roark, and I think that his long-term value to the Nationals in the bullpen is the highest of the three.  Roark will likely return to the rotation in 2016.  Stammen has one more year of club control remaining in 2016, but he kind of is what he is... a nice versatile bullpen arm.  If Matt Williams has to be obsessed with roles, he should make his pitchers earn those roles based on merit.  Treinen has a long ways to go to surpass Stammen or Roark in the merit department.  Roark should probably be seeing the highest leverage situations of the three, but he's being pigeonholed as the long man in the bullpen so far.  Let Treinen get more comfortable at the big league level by throwing him in lower pressure situations.