On April 14, 2014, Dan Uggla went 2 for 4 with a pair of home runs in the Braves 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. The 35-year-old second baseman would have just eleven more hits (just one extra base hit... a double) for Atlanta before being released in July. Now a member of the Washington Nationals, Uggla was presented with a golden opportunity to hurt his former team on Tuesday. He took advantage of it, hitting his first homer in 379 days to complete a dramatic comeback from a 9-1 deficit and give the Nats a 13-12 lead. Drew Storen made that lead stand up in the bottom of the ninth as the Nats halted their losing streak at six games.
Uggla wasn't the only hero in this game. Denard Span went 5 for 6 with four extra base hits, including a home run. Jose Lobaton entered the game 1 for 13 on the year, but turned in a 3 for 4 effort with a three run blast and a walk. Lobo also sparked the ninth inning rally with a sharp single up the middle. Matt Thornton came into a tough situation with two on and nobody out in the sixth inning and kept the game within reach by stranding his inherited runners. Ironically, the heart of the order (Desmond, Werth, Harper, Zimmerman) that you would expect to carry the day when the team scores thirteen runs went just 2 for 17 with two walks, a pair of sac flies, and six strikeouts. The rest of the lineup led the charge.
Is this a turning point in the Nats season?
Narrative, narrative, narrative. There's an old saying in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. Jordan Zimmermann is an excellent starter, but the Braves will be throwing a pretty good one on Wednesday as well. As I mentioned the other day, Alex Wood has been outstanding against the Nats in six career starts (3-1, 1.49 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 44 K in 36.1 IP). In four shots against Wood last season, the Nats scored two runs once.... they were held to one run the other three times. The Nats have never scored more than two runs against Wood in his six career outings against them.
Does this mean they can't have a strong offensive showing tonight? Of course not. Six starts don't really tell us a whole lot, and those previous outings against Wood really don't have all that much predictive value in telling us how Wednesday's game will go. However, with the two starters that we'll be seeing in tonight's game, I'd expect for the Nats and Braves combined run total to be closer to five than eight. Settle in and be ready for a good pitcher's duel.
I'm not going to answer the loaded question above. Let's see at least a few weeks of data before we come back to it. The night when the Nats' six through one hitters carried them to a dramatic comeback win against the Braves could end up being the spark that finally gets this team going. I'd love to write about how their fortunes turned after this game a month or two from now. For now, let's just enjoy the nice Curly W that the Nats put in the win column last night and use it as a source of optimism about tonight's game.
A.J. Cole's debut
It wasn't pretty. Cole's stuff didn't really look like it was terrible. He certainly didn't look great, but he sat in the low-to-mid 90s and touched 95 a few times. His off-speed stuff seemed to have plenty of movement to it. Here's the problem, though.....
Out of 55 pitches, Cole only threw five that found the bottom quadrant of the zone. He lacked command within the zone. He lacked control overall, throwing just 30 of his 55 pitches for strikes. While the line tells us that he got lit up like a Christmas tree, Cole wasn't exactly the beneficiary of a lot of great luck either. Just two of the Braves' nine hits went for extra bases, and quite a few of them came on well placed ground balls. In fact, three of the Braves hits against Cole were ground balls up the middle that got through. Another, Simmons' two run single, was a ground ball perfectly placed through the 5.5 hole.
Don't get me wrong. Cole wasn't good last night, but he did get BABIPed a bit to make his final line look worse than it should have. He has the stuff to succeed at the big league level, but that command sure bit him in the butt on Tuesday night. I'm sure that some of that can be attributed to the fact that he was making his big league debut, but not all of it. With Max Scherzer expected to be ready to go for Friday's game, Cole will likely be heading back down to Syracuse either on Wednesday or Thursday. Now he's seen big league hitters... Hopefully he can put this outing behind him.
Matty still being Matty
Matt Williams still showed some questionable bullpen management in this game. To Williams' credit, the bullpen was a man short (Martin was demoted so Cole could make the spot start), so his options were even more limited than usual. Still, let's look at the seventh inning. The Nats had just clawed their way back to within a run after Dan Uggla's triple and Reed Johnson's automatic double in the top half of the inning. The Braves had the top of their order coming up. Williams went to Blake Treinen.
Treinen's struggles against left-handed hitters both as he climbed through the minors and early in his major league career are something that I've spent quite a bit of time on so far this season. As I mentioned, the Braves had the top of their order coming up.... Here's the top of the Braves order:
- Nick Markakis (L)
- Andrelton Simmons (R)
- Freddie Freeman (L)
- A.J. Pierzynski (L)
- Alberto Callaspo (S)
Matt Thornton had already been called upon to escape a jam in the sixth inning, so the Nats' top lefty reliever was no longer available. The question has to be whether Matt Grace was available. Grace had pitched on consecutive days, but that second day (Monday) saw him need just two pitches to retire Nick Markakis before he was removed from the game. If he was ready to go on Monday and threw just two pitches, I'd have to think he was available to pitch last night. In fact, Grace was warming up next to Storen in the top of the ninth, so there's no question that he was available.
Still, Williams went to Treinen to face a pack of lefties with Andrelton Simmons sandwiched in between the first two. He actually got Markakis to roll one over to second base before completely losing the zone against the lone right-hander among the Braves top four hitters. Treinen walked Simmons on four pitches, none of which were particularly close. Then the predictable lefty problem bit him again. Freeman hit a sharp grounder past a diving Ryan Zimmerman for a single. Pierzynski ripped one through the 3.5 hole for an RBI single. After the Nats had clawed their way back into the game and made the deficit manageable, Williams brought in his righty who gets destroyed by lefties to face a bunch of lefties and doubled the deficit.
Let's not dwell on that for now, though. This was the largest deficit that the Nats have overcome since moving to D.C. For one night, this paper tiger that has been scuffling at the plate and in the field looked like they were having fun out there and overcame the odds (at one point, the Braves had a 99.6 win expectancy!) to pull out a win. Enjoy it, and let's hope that it ends up sparking some better play moving forward.