- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington Nationals defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier quoted that famous television philosopher Hannibal Smith — the leader of “The A-Team” — to describe what he saw on the field on Saturday when Max Scherzer threw a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“What was that TV show where they say, ‘I love it when a plan comes together?’” Weidemaier said in the Nationals’ clubhouse following the 6-0 win over Pittsburgh.

There was a lot of talk about plans following Scherzer’s no-hitter — one hit batter away from a perfect game. The pitcher himself spoke of his own game plan.

“Every time Max takes the mound, he has a game plan and a way to get them out, and he just exercised that again today,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said.

“I know they are a great fastball-hitting team,” Scherzer said. “They were swinging [on the] first pitch first time through the lineup. I could tell their game plan, and I was going to force their hand into their game plan. I wanted to keep them aggressive and hunting heaters.


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“If it give up a hit, I give up a hit. It is more important to keep them in their game plan so I could pitch around it when I needed to. It was sort of this cat-and-mouse thing. I was able to keep making adjustments throughout the game.”

Having command and control of a 97-mph fastball is a pretty good game plan, but it wasn’t the only one that contributed to Scherzer’s no-hitter.

There was the game plan that began when Nationals advance scout Bob Johnson watched the Pittsburgh lineup — and Pedro Alvarez — before the Pirates arrived at Nationals Park for the three-game series.

There was the game plan that came together after Weidemaier read the scouting reports subscribed to by the team, and the video he watched of the Pirates’ lineup.

It was the game plan that they went over with the Nationals players in the team’s pre-series advance meetings —the game plan that was posted on the wall of the Nationals’ dugout.

It was the game plan that put second baseman Danny Espinosa in the right place at the right time when, with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez hit a ground ball deep on the right side of the field that went past a diving Ian Desmond and left Espinosa as the last line of defense for Scherzer’s no-hitter — a perfect game at the time.

The play wasn’t as dramatic as Steven Souza Jr.’s diving catch in left field last September for the final out to save Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. But after the slow grounder got past Desmond, everything moved in slow motion for the 41,000 people at Nationals Park who hoped Espinosa would get to the ball and make a throw to Tyler Moore in time to get Alvarez at first base.

Fortunately, there was the game plan that Weidemaier had posted on the Nationals dugout wall — the game plan that Espinosa followed.

Danny made a nice play on Alvarez’s ball,” Williams said. “We stacked the right side of the infield there because we know he is likely to pull that baseball. He had to come get it hard and make an accurate throw.”

One might say Espinosa was out of position, since the first lineup of the day had him playing shortstop while the struggling Desmond got a day off. But then Yunel Escobar begged out of the game with an upset stomach, putting Desmond back at short and moving Espinosa to second – a fateful change, because there may be no one except Espinosa who could make that play.

There may be no place where Espinosa is out of position.

“You have to realize what he is being asked to do – play left first short and second, and for him to make that play shows how much hard work he is putting into his game,” Scherzer said.

Everyone held their breath as Espinosa got to the ball and made the throw.

“You typically don’t work on a play at second to your right that you get around the ball, the throw is a different angle there,” Espinosa said. “I was going to try to do the best I can to make that play. I was a little more to my left. I thought he was going to try to pull that ball. With the shift, I got the ball and had to get rid of it quick and was able to get him.”

The shift. The game plan.

“He was right where we wanted him,” Weidemaier said. “We positioned him where we wanted him to be.

“I put together a chart before every series — a defensive alignment chart for left-handed and right-handed pitchers,” he said. “So, you see, against Pedro Alvarez versus righties, we’re going to shift him. If a lefty comes in, we would have played more strong pull, with the shortstop shaded in the middle, but he would have been on the shortstop side of second. Every game we have this for every hitter, it’s posted on the dugout wall so guys can refer to it during the game if they have any questions about where we are going to play a guy. But we talk about it too. Alvarez? We’re going to shift him.

Danny was already there in place where Alvarez came up.”

Hannibal Smith would have approved.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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