MIAMI — After the weekend they had there, it was probably a bit of a cruel reality that the Washington Nationals were forced by Hurricane Isaac to remain in Philadelphia Sunday night instead of heading to Miami for their off-day as planned.
But with the hurricane mostly subsiding by mid-day on Monday, the team arrived in the evening and set its sights on a quick two-game set with the Miami Marlins as it looks to get back on track. The Nats will send Stephen Strasburg (who is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in seven starts vs. Miami) to the mound Tuesday night and Ross Detwiler there on Wednesday night, looking to break their first four-game losing streak since June.
It was a tumultuous, often sloppy weekend on Philadelphia, though, so before we turn the page completely to the Marlins, and without further ado, a few thoughts, observations and leftovers …
– The Davey Johnson - Mike Rizzo “discussion”: By now you’ve probably heard that when reporters were first ushered into the clubhouse following Sunday’s loss, we approached the manager’s office and overheard Johnson loudly telling someone (who was later identified as general manager Mike Rizzo) “You come down here and do my job.”
What it was that Rizzo had said to precede Johnson’s comment is unknown. Reporters were promptly sent back out of the clubhouse by the Nationals’ PR staff and remained outside the clubhouse walls for the next 10-15 minutes. When the doors opened again, Johnson was calm and collected and didn’t mention the chat with Rizzo until he was asked if he’d addressed the team.
“No,” Johnson said. “What for?”
Told the question was in reference to the abnormal amount of time it took to open the clubhouse post-game, Johnson nodded and said “Well, I had a discussion with my boss. Mike Rizzo. So I’m sorry, I apologize (for the wait).”
Given the Nationals’ most recent stretch of games (four losses) and the fact that they’d been swept by the Phillies, the “discussion” was viewed by plenty as perhaps the Nationals’ first cracks under the pressure of a pennant race. But, to be honest, what was most notable about this one conversation between the two was the fact that reporters were incidentally around to overhear one line of it.
Johnson and Rizzo are strong-willed, fiery and extremely fond and respectful of one another. There’s no doubt conversations like this (or perhaps even more verbose) have happened before and will happen again.
In April, I chronicled the relationship between Rizzo and Johnson and the partnership they’d forged over the past year-plus. A few of the quotes from that piece seem especially apt reminders right now.
“Davey, he’s been around so long he’s going to have his input for hell or high-water,” Rizzo said. “Or it’s not going to work.”
“There’ll be tough times, and there’ll be good times,” Johnson said. “It’s how you handle those things as you go. But I feel very positive about this organization, about Mike and what he’s created. I’m just playing my part in it.”
The Nationals need to play better but to think that a four-game losing streak, for a team that still has the best record in the major leagues and, thanks to the Padres, a five-game lead in the division, is the start of a tailspin that will cause a rift between the manager and general manager might be overdramatizing things just a bit.
– Michael Morse and Ian Desmond: The Nationals have done an extremely good job of not allowing injuries to key players slow them down this season. And they’ve had plenty of opportunity.
That said, the Nationals need Morse and Desmond to return as soon as possible.
The loss of both from the lineup this weekend was glaring, and with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche going through a bit of a power outage lately (the two have combined for five home runs in the month of August and four of them are LaRoche’s) the need for additional power bats is all the more pressing.
Morse attempted to throw a little on Sunday morning but his right hand was still fairly swollen and he hadn’t yet tried to grip a bat. That said, asked if he thought he’d be OK to go on Tuesday Morse said “definitely.” And Desmond, who hadn’t taken batting practice since Friday with a mild right hamstring strain, offered a similar sentiment.
Tuesday afternoon’s lineup will tell — and it’ll also tell how much Johnson wants either or both in his lineup as his rule with injuries is often that he has to see the player go through a full workout, and then he gives them another day.
– Jordan Zimmermann “hit a wall” on Sunday: Jordan Zimmermann was superb for four innings on Sunday afternoon, engaging in quite a pitcher’s duel with Cliff Lee. But in the fifth inning Zimmermann said he “hit a wall and got in a little bit of trouble.”
Zimmermann, who earlier this season dealt with some minor shoulder inflammation that he’d have to get through at the very start of his warm-up, was clear that he did not mean he hit a wall physically. What he was referring to was that he “made a couple bad pitches. I wasn’t doing that in the first couple innings. Everything was down in the zone and sharp.”
The shoulder issue is apparently behind Zimmermann as both he and Johnson have said it’s no longer as prevalent.
“I definitely felt strong,” Zimmermann said. “Which is a good thing. The stuff was pretty sharp. I got to take some positive out of it. My arm feels great. I feel strong. I’m definitely not tired. I feel like I can definitely pitch a lot more.”
That last part, of course, is what the Nationals have to be most interested in at this juncture. Zimmermann was shut down at this time last year, his plan a year ahead of the one the Nationals are implementing with Stephen Strasburg, and the team is counting on Zimmermann to lead their playoff charge when Strasburg goes down.
Zimmermann’s streak of going at least six innings ended in his first start in August and he’s gone six innings just once and he has a 4.39 ERA. It’s too small a sample size, however, to be alarming and he’d certainly not be the first pitcher to hit a little bit of a lull in August with 161 innings already on his arm. He’s hardly been inconsistent this month, but given the body of work he’d built through the first four months, it appears that way.
His next two starts come against the Cardinals and the Cubs at home and it’ll be interesting to see if Zimmermann’s latest trend continues or if he regains the consistent form he held for the majority of the season.