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Al Galdi’s #ChinMusic Blog: is Bryce Harper’s defense a problem for the Nationals?, thoughts on Orioles great Jim Palmer shredding Chris Davis and more

1. The Nats won two out of three games against San Diego despite another iffy series for the offense. The Nats smashed 15 hits, including four homers, a triple and four doubles, in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres. But the Nats totaled just three runs, 15 hits and four walks over the final two games of the series. The Nats have scored three runs or less in eight of the team’s last 11 games.

2. Nothing was more exciting in the Nats’ series win over the Padres than the work of 19-year-old Juan Soto. He made his first major-league start in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres and delivered. Batting in the no. 6 spot as the starting left fielder, he smashed a first-pitch three-run homer in the bottom of the second to become the first teenager to homer in the majors since Bryce Harper in 2012. And Soto had a single to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Soto remained in the no. 6 spot as the starting left fielder for Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Padres, and he had a single and three four-pitch walks in that game. His final walk was a four-pitch leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, during which he scored the game-winning run on Michael A. Taylor’s full-count walk-off RBI double. Soto got moved up to the no. 2 spot as the starting left fielder for Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres, but he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

3. Bryce Harper had an interesting series in the series win over San Diego. He began by homering in back-to-back games. Bryce in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres had a homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth, a two-out RBI double on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the second and a walk. And he in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Padres had a two-out first-pitch solo homer in the bottom of the fifth and a single. But Bryce in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. And worse than that was him failing to catch a Christian Villanueva fly ball with two outs in the top of the sixth, resulting in a first-pitch two-run double for the final batter faced by Erick Fedde. The sun was a factor on the play, and it did have only a 49-percent catch probability per Statcast. But that’s the kind of play that Bryce should make. Bryce has -6 Defensive Runs Saved in right field this season off having four Defensive Runs Saved in right field last season.

Bryce’s subpar defense this season is part of why, believe it or not, he is just third among Nats position players in bWAR at 0.8. Both Trea Turner (1.8) and Matt Adams (1.1) have higher bWAR’s than Bryce has. Heck, Mark Reynolds now has a 0.7 bWAR this season. He played in Games 1 and 2 against the Padres and continued to produce. Reynolds in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres had a leadoff homer in the bottom of the third, a first-pitch leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh and a single. Reynolds in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Padres had two singles.  And Reynolds in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres had a pinch single batting for Matt Adams in the bottom of the ninth.

4. The Nats continued to get good starting pitching in winning two of three over San Diego.

I joked last week off Gio Gonzalez’s disappointing outing in the rain-suspended game against the Yankees that it’s one thing to be good against the Padres but another to be good against the “big boys” in the majors. Well, Gio in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres was good against them for a second time in three starts: two runs in seven innings on five strikeouts versus a homer, a single and three walks.

Jeremy Hellickson was solid yet again in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Padres. Pitching on eight days’ rest due to last week’s rain and scheduled off days, he allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings on five strikeouts versus five hits and a walk. The run that he gave up came on a leadoff homer by Franchy Cordero in the top of the fourth. Hellickson had runners on first and second with just one out in the top of the first, but he then recorded back-to-back strikeouts of Cordero and Franmil Reyes. And once Hellickson gave up a one-out double to the Padres’ no. 3 batter, Jose Pirela, in the top of the sixth in facing him for the third time in the game, that was it. Davey Martinez continued to do as he has done so effectively: yank Hellickson more or less once he has faced a lineup twice, although Hellickson also was dealing with a blister. Whatever the true reason for his departure was, it’s impossible to argue with the results. Hellickson now has a 2.13 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over seven starts.

The Nats playing for a sixth time in five days in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres meant that Erick Fedde made his 2018 major-league season debut. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings on six strikeouts versus five hits and a walk. It’s worth pointing out that if Bryce Harper catches what became Christian Villanueva’s two-out two-run double in the top of the sixth, we’re talking about Fedde having allowed one run in six inning. Fedde was taken by the Nats with the no. 18 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He remains the Nats’ top pitching prospect, but a) that’s not necessarily saying a lot these days given the state of the Nats’ pitching prospects and b) his stock took a hit last season. Fedde had an up-and-down 2017 for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in being toggled between starter and reliever and then had three disappointing starts at the major-league level (9.39 ERA). He was shut down in September due to a right forearm flexor strain. The good news is that Fedde’s velocity, which plummeted as last season went on, was better on Wednesday.

5. The Nats’ bullpen was great in winning two out of three over San Diego, producing nine scoreless innings.

Tim Collins and Carlos Torres each tossed a scoreless inning in Monday night’s 10-2 rout of the Padres. Collins’ contract was selected from Triple-A Syracuse on Monday. He signed a minor-league contract with the Nats in 2017 off undergoing Tommy John surgeries in 2015 and 2016.

Wander Suero, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Padres. Doolittle was great, striking out the side in a perfect ninth with the game tied at one.

Collins, Trevor Gott, Sammy Solis and Shawn Kelley combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres.

6. Did you see what the Orioles did on Thursday afternoon in a 9-3 win at the White Sox? The O’s, who have been terrible offensively (and in just about every other regard) this season, shredded ex-Nat Lucas Giolito to the tune of seven runs in 1 1/3 innings. I didn’t love and still don’t love the Nats giving up three pitching prospects in Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning for Adam Eaton in Dec. 2016. Lopez has a 2.98 ERA over nine starts this season. Dunning has been promoted to the Double-A level in the minors this season. But man has Giolito been bad: 7.53 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over 10 starts this season.

7. Bravo to Jim Palmer for sounding off as he did on Chris Davis during and after the Orioles’ 11-1 loss at the White Sox on Wednesday night. While the Capitals were pulling off their glorious 4-0 win at Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Palmer was eviscerating Davis. The high point (or low point, depending on how you wanna look at this) was Palmer questioning Davis’ work ethic and essentially calling him a phony during the O’s Extra postgame show.

First off, good for Palmer for telling it like it is. His comments about Davis not having worked all that much with O’s hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh were backed up by Coolbaugh on Thursday. Not a single person who covers the O’s has spoken or written the way that Palmer spoke on Wednesday night. That kind of honesty is why Palmer is so good as an analyst. And, yes, I get that few people could get away with that kind of bluntness the way that a Hall-of-Famer like Palmer can. But still, I give him a lot of credit, because not every all-time great in the media behaves like this.

A second thought is, boy, how much must Coolbaugh be disgusted with Davis to have admitted to Palmer how infrequently Davis has worked with Coolbaugh? You almost never have something like this with a coach regarding a $150 million player.

But the most important aspect of all of this is how horrendous Davis has been since re-signing with the O’s in Jan. 2016 to the tune of a seven-year, $161 million contract. I was in favor of that re-signing, thinking that Davis’ walk rate and quality fielding didn’t make him the risk that other sluggers have been. And while Davis was alright in 2016, he has been atrocious over the last two seasons, posting an 80 OPS+ and a -1.5 bWAR since the start of the 2017 season. Davis looks completely lost at the plate in taking one called strike after another. The discussion on Wednesday night’s telecast of Davis not even looking at the ball was beyond troubling. The Davis contract really has become one of the worst in the majors. And Buck Showalter continuing to bat Davis in the no. 5 spot has become especially aggravating. Peter Angelos will never DFA Davis, but at the very least he should be dropped in the batting order. What exactly do you have to lose at this point? This is another example of Buck being too loyal to someone, as has been the case with Chris Tillman.

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