An in-depth look at a series victory, some rotation juggling and the latest injuries for the Nats.
Game 1: 8-3 win on Tuesday night (Aug. 25)
Game 2: 6-5 loss on Wednesday night (Aug. 26)
Game 3: 4-2 win on Thursday night (Aug. 27)
What I liked:
1. The offense – The Nats totaled 18 runs, batted .277 (28-for-101) and worked 14 walks over the three games.
The Nats’ plate discipline in Game 1 was especially impressive. They drew seven walks and generated 18 plate appearances each with at least five pitches. Twelve of those plate appearances came against James Shields, who totaled a jaw-dropping 121 pitches in his 5 2/3 innings.
Bryce Harper went 5-for-10 with three walks.
Anthony Rendon went 5-for-13 with a walk.
Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-12 with eight RBI. He had a grand slam in Game 1, an RBI groundout and RBI sac fly in Game 2 and a solo homer and RBI single in Game 3. Zimmerman exited this series with 57 RBI in 85 games this season.
2. Stephen Strasburg’s start in Game 1 – He allowed two runs in six innings, recording seven strikeouts versus just two hits and one walk. The two runs came on a two-run homer given up to Jedd Gyorko in the top of the second. Strasburg then retired 15 straight batters. He now has a 1.73 ERA over four starts since missing more than a month due to a strained left oblique.
3. Joe Ross’ start in Game 3 – He allowed one run (unearned) in six innings, recording seven strikeouts versus a hit and two walks for his second straight strong start off two straight bad outings.
4. Two major moves being made with the rotation – The corresponding roster move to Denard Span being activated from the 15-day disabled list (see below) was Tanner Roark being optioned to Single-A Potomac so as to stretch him out for a return to the major-league rotation with Ross nearing an innings-limit shutdown. Ross has thrown 136 2/3 innings this season off 121 2/3 in 2014 and a career-high 122 1/3 in 2013. Matt Williams said that the expectation is for Roark to make two starts for Potomac before being brought back to the majors.
Roark, who has mostly pitched out of the bullpen this season, has a 5.61 ERA over six starts this season off having a 2.85 ERA over 31 starts last season. Him shining as a starter over the final five weeks of the season is far from a certainty, but I do think the Nats made the right call going with him over Doug Fister, who was demoted to the bullpen earlier this month.
Also, Williams shuffled his rotation to make sure Max Scherzer faces the Mets when they visit Nationals Park from Sept. 7-9. Scherzer did not start in either of the two series against the Mets after the All-Star break. Conversely, Terry Collins maneuvered his rotation so that his top three starters (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard) faced the Nats in both series. The Nats went 2-4 over the two series, including being swept at Citi Field July 31-Aug. 2.
What I didn’t like:
1. Span being back and then gone again – Like Keyser Soze in Usual Suspects, just like that, Span was gone. He returned in Game 1 off having not played in a major-league game since July 6 due to his back. Game 1 marked the first time this season that the Nats’ expected lineup for 2015 was actually in effect. Span went 0-for-4 with a walk in Game 1, had two doubles in Game 2 but then did not play in Game 3. Williams announced after the game that Span is headed back to the D.L. with left hip inflammation and that his season likely is over. It has been quite a last nine months for span: sports-hernia surgery in December, right core-muscle surgery in March, a lingering back injury and now left hip inflammation. The belief is that all of the ailments are related. He is in his age-31 season and is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. I’ve said for months that I believe that Span is gone after this season, and it would appear that he has played his final game for the Nats.
2. Michael Taylor getting hurt in Game 3 – He suffered a right knee contusion crashing into the outfield wall on a Melvin Upton Jr. triple. The Nats, with Taylor and Span out, went with Danny Espinosa in left field.
3. Yunel Escobar being back and then gone again – He returned in Game 1 off missing two consecutive games due to a hyper-extended neck suffered in the 10-3 loss to Milwaukee on Aug. 21. Escobar had an RBI double, single and two walks in Game 1. He was involved in two major negative moments in Game 2. And he then suffered a right hand contusion on a hit-by-pitch in Game 3. Escobar missed two games in early June due to a sore right wrist suffered on a checked swing and then missed two games in late July due to a sore left wrist suffered on another check swing.
One of the negative moments for Escobar in Game 2 was him swinging on a 3-0 pitch and grounding into an inning-ending double play to end a three-run seventh. I did not have a huge problem with the decision to swing given that a) the Nats were 7-for-14 with two homers and a double when swinging on 3-0 pitches this season entering that plate appearance and b) Escobar has had a very good season as a batter.
4. Escobar at third base vs. Rendon at third base – Escobar had a throwing error in Game 2, having trouble getting the ball out of his glove and then throwing wide to first on a Melvin Upton Jr. groundball in what was ultimately a four-run third for the Padres. The following game saw Rendon at third due to Escobar suffering the right hand contusion, and Rendon made a spectacular backhanded diving stop of a groundball going 104.6 miles per hour per Statcast and then throw to first for the out with two outs, a runner on third and the Nats leading 3-1 in the top of the seventh. I still don’t quite get why Escobar has been at third and Rendon at second for so much of this season. Escobar was brought here to play second, and Rendon is much better defensively than Escobar at third.
5. Wilson Ramos’ throwing error in Game 3 – While we’re talking bad Nats defense, Ramos had a throwing error during the Padres’ one-run fourth on Thursday night.
6. Gio Gonzalez’s start in Game 2 – He allowed five runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits and two walks on 86 pitches. Gio now has not lasted more than five innings in six of his last seven starts. He has a 5.68 ERA over five starts this month, and that’s with a start in which he threw eight scoreless innings.