The Washington Nationals’ 10-game tour of California is over. It wasn’t the best of trips, at 4-6. It almost certainly could’ve been worse. But now they’re back home to open a five-game homestand against the Phillies and the Orioles.
But before they do so, here are a few thoughts, observations and leftovers after the Nationals’ long trip out west…
– In the top of the ninth inning on Wednesday afternoon, Danny Espinosa hit a hard ground ball through to left field. It was his first hit in a week, and just his second one in his last nine games. When he got to first base, Espinosa offered up a hard clap.
“Espi’s probably so happy to get that knock from the left side,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him with such a good clap for a single.”
Yes, it was just one hit. But for Espinosa, who has been working overtime to figure out what’s ailing him at the plate, it may have been the first hit in a line of them. He thought about what he wanted to do in the at-bat, he had his approach in mind, and then he did it. He watched a changeup go by from Sergio Romo. Then he hit a sinker.
Perhaps even more encouraging for the Nationals’ second baseman, who is hitting .163 this season, was that he worked a walk against Madison Bumgarner in the at-bat just before his single. It was just his fourth walk of the season, compared to 40 strikeouts.
Espinosa is going to continue to get the majority of opportunities to break out of his issues at the plate. The Nationals still view him as someone with extremely high potential, and he’s still their best defensive option at the position as well. Steve Lombardozzi shouldn’t be overlooked, but his skillset is different. And Anthony Rendon has played second base only three times since going back to Double-A (and five times all season).
– The good news for the Nationals was that right-hander Ryan Mattheus will not need surgery on his fractured right hand. Rest should do the trick. How long will depend on how quickly that healing happens, but because he won’t require a pin to be placed inside his hand, it’s looking like about 4-6 weeks.
Mattheus can’t do much while he’s on the DL, given that his pitching hand is immobilized, but he can continue to work on his shoulder strength and the rest of his body strength while he waits for his hand to heal.
In the meantime, it seems like Fernando Abad will get a significant opportunity to prove he can fill a role the Nationals have lacked this season as a short relief left-hander.
With Christian Garcia set to begin a rehab assignment next week, he’s continuing his progress toward a return but he’s not ready yet. When he is, it’ll make the discussion interesting — and it appears his role will be as a reliever for the time being. In the meantime, and as Mattheus heals Abad will get a chance to make his case.
– The Nationals are hopeful that Ross Detwiler (right oblique strain) will be ready to start on Tuesday against the Orioles at Nationals Park. Detwiler, who was pulled from his start in L.A. last week after just three innings with the injury, did some throwing on the team’s off day.
The plan is for Detwiler to throw a bullpen on Saturday so he can be lined up for the start, but he needs to be pain free, Davey Johnson said, by Friday in order for them to clear him to do that.
Detwiler’s return should bring a bit more stability to the Nationals’ bullpen. Right now the team is working down a position player and carrying an extra pitcher as a security blanket. But once Detwiler is ready to go, and with Jayson Werth continuing his own progress, the team could go back to a more usual alignment of seven relievers and five bench players — and move Zach Duke and Craig Stammen back to their usual roles without worrying they may need either for another spot start immediately.
– Speaking of Werth, this past Monday the Nationals were told that he is probably about two weeks away. That’d bring the count to roughly 11 more days before he’s back and Johnson is hopeful that toward the end of that time period Werth will be able to get some at-bats on a rehab assignment.
The hamstring strain has taken longer than almost anyone anticipated, but the team seems optimistic that Werth will be ready this time without fear of re-injuring it the way Wilson Ramos did. Johnson said Wednesday Werth may have gotten an injection of some kind, but general manager Mike Rizzo said Werth has not had a shot for his hamstring.
– This weekend’s series against the Philadelphia Phillies may be one of the more fascinating ones the Nationals have played. One paper, the Nationals look to be the far better team. The Phillies will are just one game behind the Nationals, but those who cover them don’t seem to think there’s much to those numbers.
From Bob Ford’s column in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
“There is nothing about what has happened so far that was really a shock - with the exception of the poor start by Cole Hamels and the unforeseeable good one by Kyle Kendrick.
“If those two surprises balance out, then the rest - old guys getting injured, role players underachieving, age eroding production - is pretty much what might have been expected, barring the miracle the organization hoped to receive.
“Third baseman Michael Young has a decent, if somewhat empty, batting average, but the other offseason position-player acquisitions, particularly Ben Revere and Delmon Young, have been disappointments. Among the organization players looking to build something, only Domonic Brown’s offense has been encouraging, and even that is faint praise when you consider how much congratulation is being heaped on a .248 hitter.
“Pitcher (John) Lannan barely found his spot in the parking lot before he got hurt. Roy Halladay fought his frayed shoulder as long as he could before giving in to surgery. Mike Adams, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley (now on the disabled list) are either battling or recovering from injuries at the moment.
“No, the unfortunate truth is that the team overachieved and still played below .500 through the first 47 games. Given all that has gone wrong, and given where the team ranks among its National League opponents, that the Phillies are just one game under .500 is shocking. It isn’t a reason to believe, however. It is a reason to assume that the next 115 games won’t be as forgiving.”
The truth about this weekend, though, is that someone has to win. And the Nationals talked Wednesday about their final win on the trip being a big one for them. Not only did it make their long ride home and an off-day that much easier to swallow, each win, at this point, could be the one that spurs them on the run that has mostly evaded them to this point.
“No one in here is throwing in the towel,” said shortstop Ian Desmond as they packed the visitors’ clubhouse around him. “Davey said World Series or bust in spring training, that’s still the way we feel. We’re going to try to get better everyday and try to win it all.”