Jayson Werth: 'You've got to show up tomorrow ready to eat somebody's face'
After yet another loss and falling to a virtual tie with the Philadelphia Phillies to third place in National League East standings, Jayson Werth had some things to say. Werth, the oldest and one of the most veteran players on the team, had lost his confidence in this team or resolve to drag themselves out of the standings. Even though the Nationals have tread water for two and half months in a season of sky high expectations, Werth had faith that his teammates wouldn't let the situation spiral.
"I don't know," he said, leaning back in the rolling chair at his locker. "I guess we're kind of all screwed up like that. Stuff doesn't bother us. When you get to this level, play for this long, you've learned to get over stuff like that pretty quick. It's just part of it. People that drown in it and people that take it home and allow it to eat at them and all that don't usually last too long. They don't stick around. That's all part of being a big leaguer. You've just got to do it. You've got to show up tomorrow ready to eat somebody's face."
(Re-read the last line of his thoughts and, yes, he actually said that, but he also said that with a slight grin.)
Werth and Ian Desmond talked before Tuesday's game about the Nationals' lack of identity. The team is close and chemistry, according to Werth, is good. But the lack of winning has prevented the team forming their own 2013 identity. The offense, in particular, ranks second to last in runs scored per game (3.47), third to last in average (.232) and second to last in on-base percentage (.291).
"Me and Desi talked before the game on that," he said. "I think he's onto something there. Maybe we've kind of lacked an identity as a team. But you know, I think as you start winning games and you start playing and you go on a roll or you rally or whatever it is you do, you kind of create an identity.
"We just haven't hit stride as far as that goes. How many times have we rallied this year? How many winning streaks have we gone on? We just haven't hit stride yet. Hopefully soon. It's not for lack of effort or for lack of caring. Guys in here work hard and want to win and play hard. It just hasn't lined up for us yet. There's a lot of season left. We just need to keep battling. If we can stay around or above .500 going into the break, the second half's crazy. But we've got to stay close."
FROM THE POST
Washington bats scuffle again in another road loss, falling to the Phillies, 4-2, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY'S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Charlottes 7, Syracuse 6: Danny Rosenbaum allowed five runs, three earned, on eight hits, walked one and struck out four over seven innings. Mark Lowe allowed one run on three hits and walked one in 1/3 of an inning of relief. Jeremy Accardo allowed one run over 2/3 of an inning and has a 5.21 ERA. Eury Perez went 2 for 6 with a homer. On rehab, Danny Espinosa went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Tyler Moore hit his second home run and went 2 for 4. Zach Walters hit his 15th homer.
Harrisburg was off.
Potomac was off.
Hagerstown was off.
Batavia 10, Auburn 2: Casey Selsor allowed two runs on four hits over five innings. Wilmer Difo went 2 for 3, Jean Carlos Valdez smacked a double and Austin Chubb drove in a run.
Are the Nationals playing tense?
Ian Desmond, one of the Nationals' leaders, and Manager Davey Johnson talk often about the goings-on of the team. After Monday’s loss, their third in four games and one that dropped them below .500 for the fifth time, Desmond wanted to speak with Johnson about a serious matter. According to Johnson, Desmond felt the Nationals were not as loose this season as last year's magical 98-win season.
Johnson didn't disagree.
"We're awfully young," Johnson said. "We got some young guys on the bench. They have to go through the experience. That's part of it. But I think we'll be fine. Play loose. Free and easy. We've shown signs that we're getting close."
Johnson's thoughts before Tuesday's game echoed similar sentiments earlier in the season. The Nationals, as a whole, are dealing with expectations for the first time. They were anointed World Series favorites before the season. While they crept up on opponents last season, that hasn't been the case this year. The encore performance had hurdles that required adjustments that just haven't been made. What worked in 2012 -- the bench, offense, defense and bullpen -- hasn't worked as well in 2013.
"You guys [reporters] got them all nervous," Johnson said, with a smirk. "A lot of guys are trying to make their mark up here, established up here. It's part of what you go through. Last year was a very exceptional year, young guys came up and played very well. [Bryce] Harper came up. Tyler Moore. [Steve] Lombardozzi. This year, with some injuries, they pressed in there. I think they are learning that other clubs look at you a little differently. Pitch you a little differently. And you gotta make adjustments the second time around."
Last season, the Nationals were a loose bunch, enjoying the fun that accompanied winning. But this season, the clubhouse after games has been quieter and more frustrated, a byproduct of losing. Before games, there hasn't been a noticeable difference other than perhaps slightly little less music and joking, both traits of Michael Morse, who was traded, and Mark DeRosa, who left via free agency. Johnson said he told Desmond that there was plenty of time left to correct the early stumbles.
"Sometimes I look at things to happen for a reason," Johnson said. "I think this is good. Struggle. Learn to come back Desi likes to lead by example. And sometimes when you try to do too much you have to try and stay within yourself. And he knows that. And I think other guys try to do the same thing. I think the focus is on doing the things that got you here and stay within that. Sometimes it's hard."
But what could be done to loosen the group? How can Johnson, or others, break the tension and feel less pressure?
"I don't think I'm putting too much pressure on them," said Johnson, who, not to be forgotten, dubbed this season "World Series or bust" this winter. "I know they got the talent. It's part of experience. When you get to the top of the hill, it's a lot of times tougher to stay there. You have to go through struggles. And that's what they're going through."
Nationals-Phillies discussion thread: Game 70
Less than half an hour before first pitch, the tarp remains on the infield at Citizens Bank Park. There is optimism that the game will be played tonight, but a delay is inevitable. The Phillies haven't issued any word of a delay, but it sounds like first pitch will be coming closer to 8 p.m. than 7:05.
Once the game begins, Ross Detwiler will make his second start since coming off the disabled list with an oblique strain. He'll face Cliff Lee, who hasn't started against the Nationals yet this season. Last year, Lee allowed the Nationals three runs in 20 innings while striking out 19 and walking one. Talk about the game right here.
Denard Span's bruised foot improves, returns to lineup
Denard Span returned to the Nationals lineup on Tuesday after missing one game with bruised right foot. Span had never fouled a ball off his foot in his baseball career until this season. Now he has done it three times in the matter of two and a half months, the most recent on Sunday in Cleveland which caused him to miss Monday's game in Philadelphia.
Span, who has played in 64 of the Nationals' 69 games, said his foot felt better Tuesday, enough to play and run. After fouling a ball of his foot on Sunday, despite wearing a protector on his foot, the center fielder struggled even to put on his right shoe as he got dressed after the game.
"Some of the swelling went down and some of the pain went away," he said before taking any batting practice and testing the injury during warm-ups. "I can play. If we play [Tuesday], I'm definitely going to play."
Span has attributed the string of bruises and nicks to his front foot to a hitch in his swing and not feeling comfortable at the plate. Manager Davey Johnson, however, has said there is nothing wrong with Span's swing. His timing is simply off. Johnson said Span is letting the ball get too deep into this swing and, as a result, fouling the ball down.
"As long as I don't foul another pitch off my foot I'll be fine," Span said, smiling.
Drew Storen's shrinking late-inning role
The Nationals signaled their discomfort with Drew Storen finishing games this winter when they signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract to take over as their closer. Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson both said the move had nothing to do with Storen, but it quite obviously affected him he was the closer, and then he was not.
Johnson's aversion to using Storen in certain late-game situations has only grown, and it culminated in Monday night's 5-4 Nationals loss. With the score tied entering the bottom of the ninth, Johnson chose Fernando Abad over Storen. Abad has been excellent in his brief Nationals tenure. But he was also signed this winter as a minor league free agent, and on Friday a game slipped away in the ninth with him on the mound.
Johnson has lately shied from using Storen in a traditional set-up role. In Colorado, Johnson used Storen to face two batters, both right-handers, after letting Xavier Cedeno face the lefty (Tyler Colvin, who two nights earlier had homered off Storen) who led off the inning. In Cleveland, Storen entered to face one right-handed batter, and that was it. Last night, Johnson started the inning with Abad and stuck with him.
"This week was a tough week, because I had him up a lot," Johnson said. "Colorado was a place where you really need to control the matchups -- the ball flies there. When he's right, he's good against both. This year, he's had a little problem with left. But I like the way he's throwing. There was a situation, I like left against left, and I like my lefts right now."
Johnson explained that Monday night, he wanted Abad to face Ben Revere, the left-hander who was leading off the inning. If Revere reached, Johnson did not want to put Storen in the game because of his penchant for not holding on base runners.
At the granular level, that logic added up. Storen has allowed left-handed hitters a .353 batting average this season. The Nationals' recent bullpen overhaul, which included the addition of lefties Abad and Ian Krol, was meant to give Johnson a better opportunity to match up late in games. It would make Storen more effective, in part, because he would face fewer lefties. (It also indicated a rapid, sweeping midseason shift in the Nationals' bullpen philosophy.)
At the broad level, that logic reveals a chain of events that makes it appear something has gone really awry with the Nationals' belief in Storen:
In 2009, the Nationals chose Storen with the 10th overall pick.
In 2011, Storen saved 43 games before him, no one had recorded 43 saves in his age-23 season.
In 2013, his manager is manipulating crucial innings to ensure Storen doesn't face left-handed hitters up to and including Ben Revere, who has never hit a big league home run or pitch with runners already on base.
That just seems strange. The timeline leaves out 2012, when Storen underwent elbow surgery, dominated for two months and gave up the two-run lead in Game 5. The Nationals supported Storen with their words in the lead-up to this year, saying one game would not change their view of him. Their actions have told a different story.
Now, Storen has not stated an eloquent case to be used in high-leverage spots with his performance this year. His ERA sits at 4.67, and in 29 appearances he has blown three saves. He has allowed an earned run in 10 appearances, which will inspire little confidence from a manager in a late-inning reliever.
Still, for a young pitcher, Storen has a track record. His struggles against lefties appear to be a blip in his career he's held lefties to a slash line of .251/.308/.352. His general performance this season can be partly attributed to bad luck. Despite the lowest line-drive rate of his career, opposing hitters are batting .349 on balls in play against him. That's not meant to be an excuse or a crutch, and it doesn't mean Storen hasn't pitched below his standard. But it has to be considered.
"He's going to be fine," Johnson said. "It's just game situations. That's all. I think at first, it was a little bit of a different role. He was trying to do too much, trying to over-throw. I think he's in a good place right now. So I'm not worried about it."
Johnson added that another factor came into play Monday night when he chose Abad over Storen. Johnson has worried lately that Storen has too often warmed up without entering the game. During the top of the ninth inning, Johnson warmed up Abad, but not Storen, not wanting to wear down Storen in the event the Nationals did not tie the game.
Once Chad Tracy smashed the game-tying homer, Storen began warming. Johnson said he would have considered letting Storen face Revere to start the inning, but he felt Storen had not had time to properly warm up.
"I got Abad up for the simple reason I didn't want to burn up Storen," Johnson said. As a closer, "he would know he was going to come in. When he warms up, his first pitch is like 95. And he throws a lot. I'm trying to get away without having him warm up and not come in. It's that simple. He hasn't learned to throw and get loose. He throws hard from the get-go, but he's not loose until he throws about 20 or 15."
The bottom line is, Johnson chose Abad over Storen with a lefty at the plate. It was not necessarily an unsound strategy from Johnson in the moment. He was trying to maximize Abad's strengths (getting out lefties, keeping runners on base), which also happened to be Storen's weaknesses. But it is odd to see the Nationals take their one-time closer of the present and future and use him, even if for just a week, as a right-handed specialist.