May 14, 2012 [LINK / comment]
The Washington Nationals have been plagued by more than their share of bodily harm this spring, but this past week was adding insult to injuries. Even before the regular season began, outfielder Michael Morse and closing pitcher Drew Storen went on the disabled list. They were two of the best performers who led the way in the Nationals' much improved season of 2011, and it's amazing that the team has been in first place without either of them on the active roster. In early April, Ryan Zimmerman hurt his shoulder, and finally returned to the lineup just last week. Same thing for Adam LaRoche, who leads the team in batting average and is a definite contender for the All-Star Game. Morse strained a back muscle, and should be back in a few weeks. Another ray of hope is that Chien-Ming Wang has resumed pitching duties at the minor league level in Syracuse, and may be available to the Nats by next month. But no sooner do injured players return to active status than healthy ones get hurt.
While diving to catch a fly ball in right field one week ago (Sunday), Jayson Werth landed on his left arm and broke his wrist. (He throws right-handed.) He had surgery and is expected to miss the next three months or so. But even after he returns, he won't have as much batting power as usual, and he'll have to be careful while his bones fully heal. Evidently, he has been bionically engineered: "It is believed a steel plate was inserted in his wrist." See MLB.com. In lieu of Werth, Roger Bernadina has been given more opportunity to play, and he has been hitting pretty well, with two home runs and some clutch RBIs.
Finally, Wilson Ramos twisted his knee while chasing a passed ball on Saturday, and tore his anterior cruciate ligament. See MLB.com. He [will soon have] surgery and will probably be out for the rest of the season. That's a terrible shame, and his absence will be a huge loss to the Nationals. Ramos was kidnapped while visiting his family in Venezuela last November, and was rescued after a few days. He is known primarily for being solid defensively, with unremarkable batting statistics. He does have plenty of power, however, and has been a clutch hitter on several occasions. Jesus Flores will become the first-string catcher, and the Nats called up Sandy Leon from their affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Is it too late to call Pudge Rodriguez?
Get well soon, Jayson and Wilson! And Michael, etc. ...
UPDATE: I neglected to mention two other Nationals players who have suffered injuries: relief pitcher Brad Lidge, who has a hernia, and rookie slugger Bryce Harper. Lidge has begun throwing pitches again, but isn't expected back on the field until mid-June. Harper suffered a facial laceration after a bat which he threw down in angry frustration bounced back. His face was all bloody for the rest of that game, and it took ten stitches to close the wound. Now there's a good lesson in anger management! (Are self-inflicted wounds covered by health insurance?) Fortunately, it didn't prevent him from playing. In tonight's game, Harper hit his very first big league home run, which I'll discuss in detail tomorrow. Meanwhile, however, there was yet another injury: the catcher who was just called up from the minors, Sandy Leon, sprained his left ankle in the fourth inning. Good grief! It's not clear how serious it is.
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez announced he is formally retiring, after a superb career spanning 21 years altogether. Pudge began with the Texas Rangers in 1991, and played there for 12 years, routinely batting over .300. He then became a free agent and was a key part of the (then-) Florida Marlins in 2003 when they won the World Series, and likewise helped the Detroit Tigers (playing there five years) to win the American League pennant in 2006. He spent his last two years with the Washington Nationals, helping the younger players to gain the skills and wisdom needed to win. See MLB.com.
I have complained about Henry Rodriguez's unreliability as relief pitcher before, but the way he performed in Saturday's game -- striking out three straight batters to end the game -- almost had me changing my mind. Ha! [In Sunday's game in Cincinnati, the Nationals were going for what would have been their first series sweep of the year, with a 6-3 lead over the Reds after seven innings.] The Nats led 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, and true to form, Rodriguez choked on the pitcher's mound once again, unable to hit the strike zone with any consistency. And once again, "For some incomprehensible reason, manager Davey Johnson kept him in there." Rodriguez gave up a single to the first batter, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, then got the second batter out but after that he walked the next two batters. That loaded the bases for Joey Votto, who had already hit two home runs in the game. With two balls and two strikes, Rodriguez threw a high fastball down the middle, and Votto knocked the ball to deep center field, just out of reach of Rick Ankiel, falling onto the grass slope: a grand slam to end the game. Final score: 9-6. Read it and weep: MLB.com and/or Washington Post.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the banged-up Washington Nationals fell into second place for the first time in over a month; April 10 to more exact. Tonight the Nats return home to D.C. and welcome the San Diego Padres, who are currently in last place in the NL West. The team still looks strong, but with such an injury-plagued roster and with ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg on a strict innings-limit this season, to make sure his arm stays healthy, it's going to be very tough for them to contend for a postseason slot.
That dramatic finale to the game in Cincinnati was a virtual repeat of what had happened in Miami just a couple hours earlier. Down 4-2 [against the Mets] in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Miami Marlins staged a rally and had the game tied 4-4, with the bases loaded. That's when Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate and belted a long blast to left center field, winning the game by a score of 8-4. That ball hit the staircase on the left side of that psychedelic art thing in center field, a distance of about 430 feet I'd say. See MLB.com. [I heard that it was the first time since 1998 that there had been two walk-off grand slam home runs in one day.]
I really enjoyed watching the Game of the Week on FOX on Saturday, the second chance I had to see Marlins Park on TV. I noticed that the oufield fence gradually slopes down from center field toward the right.
Speaking of multiple home runs, Josh Hamilton became the 16th player in major league history to hit four homers in a single game, as the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 10-3 last Tuesday. He also hit a double that day, and he has hit two homers since then, making 18 total for the year. If he keeps up this pace, he'll finish the season with about 85 home runs. (!!!???) He also leads the majors in batting average (.402) and runs batted in (44). Those numbers are just insane! Maybe, just maybe, he'll become the first guy to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967. For his amazing feats of slugging prowess, he was named American League Player of the Week; see MLB.com. I heard on ESPN that the Rangers' owners may not be willing to pay top dollar to keep Josh once his contract ends. They still remember the previous owners getting burned on the Alex Rodriguez mega-contract, a sizable chunk of which they had to "eat" when he was traded to the Yankees.
It's always something: I got started doing what I thought would be a quick touch-up of Comiskey Park, then realized there were some serious discrepancies I needed to clear up, and so I did a quick touch-up of its "successor" instead: U.S. Cellular Field. The respective ends of the upper decks near the foul poles curve in more tightly than before, the exit ramps are now 15 or so away from the grandstand, each level is about 12 feet high rather than 10, and the space between the outfield fence and the bleacher seats is bigger than before, about six feet. Plus a few other minor details, and an addition to my suggested alternative, in which there would be a new second deck replacing the existing tiny second deck and one of the suite levels.
Part of the reason I took up revisions on Comiskey Park was because of another project which I undertook recently: comprehensively revising the Stadium proximity page. (It was formerly just called "Proximity," but that was too vague.) What that page does is let you see exactly (well, almost exactly) how the stadiums that were built next to older stadiums were positioned relative to their respective predecessors. In two cases (St. Louis and Cincinnati), lack of downtown real estate forced the architects to build on land occupied by the old stadiums, which is why they "overlap" in those diagrams.
And that's not the only project I've been working on lately. Stay tuned more more exciting developments!!!
There is also a lot of stadium news to get caught up on, thanks to reports from Mike Zurawski, Bruce Orser, and other fans.