A few notes as the Nationals try to recover from Sunday’s 9-8 walk-off loss to the Braves and head to Houston, where the team with the worst record in the major league awaits them…
– The Nationals left Atlanta with more than just a loss, they left with several concerns. First: the health of Tom Gorzelanny’s right ankle.
Gorzelanny pitched a horrible first inning Sunday. He had no control, he walked three, he was called for an automatic ball for going to his mouth on the mound without wiping it off before throwing a pitch, he then threw a wild pitch and also surrendered a hit. The inning ended with the Nationals in a 2-0 hole but Gorzelanny pitched much better in the second and reached base in the top of the third. He then found himself heading for home on Roger Bernadina’s triple into right center. Both scored on the play, but Gorzelanny ran into catcher Brian McCann on his way to the plate and immediately came up hobbling.
“As soon as I hit the plate, walking on it, it didn’t feel very good,” Gorzelanny said.
He attempted to come back out and pitch the bottom of third but threw a few warm up tosses under the watchful eyes of manager Davey Johnson and trainer Lee Kuntz and realized he wouldn’t be able to continue.
“I was feeling better,” Gorzelanny said. “But as I was stepping and throwing I’d feel it a little bit and I didn’t want to alter the way I was throwing, that would just make it even worse. It wasn’t good enough to go on so I just had to get out.”
Gorzelanny was unsure Sunday afternoon if he’d be able to make his next start, which would be Saturday in Los Angeles. If he can’t – and it’s not a DL situation – the Nationals could conceivably use Ross Detwiler in that spot but they’d need to set him up to do so relatively soon.
– Sean Burnett was one of the best relievers in the National League in 2010 – and in spring training – but the season has been anything but usual for Burnett. Sunday, he entered with a three-run lead and two men on to face two straight lefties. The first, McCann, crushed the second pitch he saw for a three-run homer and by the time Burnett got out of the inning the Braves were in the lead.
It’s worth mentioning that through every blown lead or loss that Burnett has absorbed for the Nationals this season, he’s one of the most stand-up guys in that clubhouse when it comes to taking the blame and being accountable. That said, he’s admitted he’s getting tired of apologizing to his teammates for blowing games.
“You’ve just got to pitch,” Burnett said. “You’ve got to keep battling. That’s the one thing I’ll always do: compete. No matter how bad it gets or how bad I’m struggling, you’ve got to go out there and compete. The offense picked me up and I had to go out there and put up a zero. That’s the biggest thing. But I’ve got to make some adjustments and figure this out. It’s costing the team ballgames.”
He insists he’s healthy – and he did come back to throw a 1-2-3 sixth inning – but admits he’s got to figure out what is going on. For a while Burnett could point to a ground ball that was inches from his defense’s reach, or a ball/strike call that could have easily gone the other way. Lately, though, it’s been getting hit hard. Through all his struggles, Burnett never gave up a ton of home runs. He’s allowed four in his last five appearances.
“I don’t have the answer,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to take the mound, and maybe in bullpens or early work, or do something to try to figure it out. It’s not off. My stuff’s as good as it’s ever been, if not better. It’s just one pitch in a bad location, and they’re not missing it right now.”
For what it’s worth, Johnson agreed that the results have to change but his confidence in the left-hander didn’t seem to waver.
“I like his stuff,” Johnson said. “He just made a bad pitch, right down the middle. He threw a fastball pretty good on the corner and then he came back with a fastball right down the middle and McCann doesn’t usually miss too many of those. But he did give me an inning. We went ahead and I thought we had a good chance to put it away.”
– Which brings us to Jayson Werth. Danny Espinosa picked Burnett up by giving the Nationals another lead with a two-run homer. That went away when Nate McLouth tagged Tyler Clippard for a solo home run but the Nationals still found themselves in position for a big ninth inning when they rallied with two outs. Ryan Zimmerman walked and went to third on Michael Morse’s single. In theory, the Nationals had one of the best guys up in that situation with the go-ahead run 90 feet away in Jayson Werth. But that’s simply not the case right now.
Werth ground to short and the Braves went for the force at second to end the inning. In the bottom of half of the ninth, they’d end the game. Part of an 0-for-5 day, Werth left four runners on base himself and his batting average tumbled to .213. Publicly, at least, the Nationals don’t seem to be extremely concerned. Werth has always hit, he’s always been a second-half player and there’s still no reason to think that won’t be the case this year.
Johnson reiterated those sentiments after Sunday’s game: “No, (I’m not concerned.) He’s been swinging the bat a lot better. He’s going to break out. I’m least worried about him. I know he’s going to straighten out. The rest of the guys are starting to get their stuff together.”
Werth’s numbers are not good. That’s a fact. But that is compounded by the fact that he seems to come up constantly in crucial situations. Any personal struggle at the plate is then exacerbated by the situation.
– With the Nationals optioning Brian Bixler to Triple-A Syracuse Sunday, making room for Jerry Hairston Jr. to come off the disabled list Monday, a lot of fans asked why the move was not cutting bait with Matt Stairs. It’s a valid question but there are reasons why the Nationals opted not to do that.
When in doubt, most teams will choose to use any options they have remaining to keep the most players in the organization. In this case, Bixler could be shuttled back to Syracuse without any penalty or issue. It was the path of least resistance. Plus Hairston and Bixler fill similar roles on the team.
I know Stairs’ numbers are ugly (10 hits in 64 at-bats, .156 average). He knows they are, too. But let’s not forget that he’s most likely the 25th man on the active roster. If he were an everyday player – or even semi-regular player – performing the way he is, then I could understand the calls for his roster spot a little more. That said, I understand wanting to keep Bixler on the roster and chances are we’ll see him again soon because he’s proven himself to be a valuable member of the major league team.