Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I don't know, Dei.....vi


God bless the internet. Rocket Bill gets the scoop on the Deivi Cruz trade, beating the print guys. Here's the Cruz trade "In a box":


WHO: Deivi Cruz, formerly of the San Francisco Giants, an infielder hitting .268/.301/.397.

WHAT: Acquired for minor league reliever Ben Cox. Nationals Farm Authority has the skinny on Cox, who looks to lack much in the way of a distinguishing feature except for substandard control.

WHEN: Cruz will join the team tomorrow and should be in Atlanta in time for the second game of the twin-bill.

WHERE: Cruz, who can play all infield positions, most likely will replace Cristian Guzman as the starting shortstop.

WHY: Because Guzman stinks (and the second- and third basemen---Vidro and Castilla, respectively---are both hobbling).

HOW: The Nats will have to send down a player for a day in order to fit in Cruz on the 25-man roster. The most likely candidate is reliever Jay Bergmann, who was impressive tonight in relief for John Patterson (see below) and probably wouldn't pitch tomorrow anyway. He'd likely be back on Thursday, when the roster expands.

A couple other notes, courtesy of Rocket Bill:

---> Cruz will be a free agent after the season; we're on the hook for $136,000 of his $800,000 salary.

---> Cruz is being brought in to "jumpstart the offense," which is laughable but sadly relevant from a certain point of view; he certainly packs more of a punch than Guzman or Jamey Carroll, not that we're breaking any news there.

Here's Bodes:



"I need to give [Robinson] some choices. Between this trade and our callups on Thursday, he has some more choices. We are going to have some fresh legs and some fresh bodies. Maybe they will spark the guys we have now. ... We are going to do what we can to jumpstart us and get some energy. It gives us some depth. It gives us protection."

Yeah, you're a real hero.

---> Brandon Watson, Kenny Kelly, Ty Godwin (toolsy outfielders: be fruitful and multiple!) and reliever Bill Bray likely will be recalled when rosters expand.

Finally, and most interestingly:

---> Rocket Bill reports that Ryan Zimmerman will be called up and take over as the regular third baseman.

Like all things Zimmerman, I'll believe it when I see it. As Brian notes, the acquisition of Cruz more than likely moots out the Zimmerman-to-shortstop switch, which looked dead in the water anyway when Zimmerman moved back to third at Harrisburg recently.

I saw no way the Zimmerman switch would come to big league fruition at the time---



My take is that this won't happen; Zimmerman won't start a single game at shortstop this season for the Washington Nationals. The whole story sounds like one of Jim Bowden's grandiose chimeras, if you ask me. It's little different than Brandon Watson representing that speed demon the team needs to turn the corner. That vision lasted all of four
games.


---and I'm naturally skeptical that Zimmerman will supplant a veteran as the "regular" anything. But we'll see.


____________________

The Nats took (or, rather, stole) a big one tonight, one of those games they shouldn't have any right winning on the face of it and that could come in handy down the road in September. The bullpen was the key:



Rookie Jason Bergman [sic] earned his first major league win, leading a Washington bullpen that pitched 6 1-3 shutout innings in the Nationals' 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves [. . .] After Washington starter John Patterson was limited to 2 2-3 innings by stomach cramps, Bergman pitched two shutout innings in his second major league appearance to lead a strong effort by the Washington bullpen. He also scored the tying run in the fifth.

Carrasco, Majewski, and Cordero followed to shut down the Bravos. In the ninth, The Chief battled through---if you believe MASN play-by-play guy Mel Proctor---the tightest squeeze since Joanie & Chachi. But it couldn't have been done without Bergmann, a 23 year-old rookie.

Back in early June, as part of my extraneous duties as Rueckel Report correspondent, I dished out some praise for Bergmann:



[A] 23 year-old converted starter. He split 2004 at High-A Savannah (ineffective starter) and Low-A Brevard County
(effective reliever). His numbers so far (30 IP, 23 H, 12 BB, 27) are very strong, though perhaps not indicative of an ERA in the low ones. But if a non-Rueckel from the Harrisburg pen is going to get the Nats' attention, I think it has to be Bergmann at this point. Baseball America rated Bergmann the No. 22 prospect in the system prior to the season. [. . .] Bergmann has been rather impressive so far and, if I had to guess, Bergmann will rank somewhere between No. 15-20 among the organization's prospects by season's end.


Maybe that's even an understatement, especially given the Nats' shallow farm system. Welcome to the big time, Jay Bergmann!

Rueckel Report, August 30

The I'd like to outright Bodes, right out of town edition



Before I get to my recap-as-per-usual, there is---unfortunately---breaking news. Thank you to Brian from the Nationals Farm Authority for the tip. And now I have my confirmation from Pravda:

NATIONALS OUTRIGHT RIGHT-HANDER DANNY RUECKEL

Here's the full text of the announcement:

The Washington Nationals today outrighted right-handed pitcher Danny Rueckel to Harrisburg of the Double-A Eastern League. Nationals Vice President and General Manager Jim Bowden made the announcement. Rueckel, 25, is 9-5 with six saves and a 3.95 ERA (32 ER/74.0 IP) in 51 games out of the bullpen for Harrisburg this season.

There are many V-Chip worthy expressions I'd like to use under the circumstances, but they'd feel out of place in this generally PG-rated blog. So I'll refrain. Instead, I'd like to make use of this space to say two things:

1) Bodes, why you gotta play Baby Ruckles like that, dog?

2) Memo to Rocket Bill Ladson, because chances are you wrote that two-sentence masterpiece above: learn how to calculate a friggin' ERA.

Here, I'll show you. You've got the necessary components already (32 ER, 74 IP), but you don't know what to do with them, apparently. So, let's sound it out:

a) you take the earned runs allowed (32); then,

b) you multiply them by nine (32 x 9); then,

c) you take that new figure (288); and,

d) you divide by the innings pitched (74); so you get,

e) an ERA of 3.89.

It's 3.89, not 3.95! I know it doesn't mean much to you, but if you're going to issue a press release about a guy being outrighted---hence, forcibly removed from the 40-man roster by the idiot pretty boy GM---the least you could do is get the guy's ERA right, no?

I guess courtesy is dead these days.


__________________

As for the on-field stuff, that wasn't great, either:

---> August 25: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB (?!), 1 SO, 1 HR (blown save in 4-3 Harrisburg defeat against Binghamton)
---> August 28: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO (no decision in 5-1 victory over Erie)

SEASON TO DATE:
G  IP H  R  ER HR BB SO  W  L  ERA SV
51   74   81    36    32    6     19    65      9     5     3.89   6



_______________

What happened when Rueckel was outrighted to Harrisburg? Essentially, it means he was waived by the organization, no one else took a chance at him, and he was pulled back to Double-A. From the MLB Transactions Calendar:

MAY 3: Beginning today, outright assignments to the minor leagues may be made ONLY with Outright Waivers in effect

Rueckel wasn't going to be called up in September anyway, and the Nats needed the 40-man roster space (see below), and Rueckel can always be added to the 40-man again in the offseason (the Nats can "purchase his contract"). Unless he's exposed to the Rule V draft and has a route to the big leagues, that is . . .


__________________

As noted, the Nats needed the roster space, because BODES MADE A BIG MOVE, PEOPLE!!!

Get a load of your new shortstop, Nats Nation:

Deivi Cruz!

Sad as it is to say, Cruz is a better option at short than Guzman or Carroll. If Baby Ruckles is going to take a bullet for the team, it might as well be one that helps out. Just doing his part, he is.

Boz is a dreamer, and Kasten is a crazy man

Dispatches from a couple of correspondents out to lunch in outer space:

---> Boz sees "no reason why [the wild card qualifier] couldn't be the Nats," assuming for the sake of argument they make it out of Atlanta alive:

As for Robinson and Bowden, they sometimes sound as if they've been reading "The Power of Negative Thinking." However, if the Nats grasp two central facts -- that their foes aren't very good and that (except for Houston) everybody faces incredibly difficult schedules -- then the Nats are perfectly capable of joining the rest of this Futile Five in a
September pennant-race frolic.


That's a rather weighty parenthetical Mr. Boswell tossed out there, but we'll get to that in a second. As for the rest of the "Futile Five":

Right now, the Nats think they have it bad. But they should look around. On Sunday, all five wild-card contenders lost.

One of said contenders lost at home; that would be the Nats, who just completed a 2-4 homestand. But should we mention that? Nah, there's no time.

Before anyone disparages the chances of the
humble Nats, read on. The Marlins, Phillies and Mets are probably already dead. They just don't know it yet.


If that's the case, DON'T TELL 'EM, BOZ! (You'll only angry up their blood.)

Florida's previous 24 games were against teams
with records of .500 or below. Now, all 31 games left on the Marlins' schedule are against currently winning teams. That's nuts. Has anybody ever heard of playing 24 straight losers followed immediately by 31 straight
winners?


I don't really know; have you?

If Florida was going to make a move, it should
have done it by now. It didn't. Soon, the floundering Fish will feel as if they've been tossed on dry land.


I'm a bit dubious as to this "floundering Fish" comment. I looked it up, and they went 13-11 in those 24 games. That's not great, certainly, but it's not horrid. Further, if Boz wanted to toss a "floundering" pun, then way back on August 8 was the opportune time. The Marlins were swept at Colorado, unbelievably, in a doubleheader. (Boz, no doubt: Oh yeah? The Nats swept the Rockies!!!) The Marlins took 12 of the final 19 games from the losing-record chuckleheads, before falling to the Cardinals yesterday in St. Louis (Game One of the Grueling Home Stretch).

I'm not saying that the Marlins don't have a tough road the rest of the way, but I'm not sure how a 12-8 stretch is evidence the team is floundering yet.

Regarding the Mets (admittedly, out of order a bit), Boz writes:

They've been coasting in a soft schedule since
the all-star break -- only two of 12 series against currently winning teams. The Mets, like the Marlins, should have made a move. Instead, they just stayed in the pack.


Boz is completely oblivious that the Mets have made a move! Remember, Boz is portraying the wild card race as it was on Saturday and Sunday, as a race to the bottom. Then keep this in mind:

The Mets have won seven out of their last ten games, 10 out of 15, and 12 out of 20. If only the Nats had won 12 out of their last 20 games, Boz!

I frankly don't get it. The Mets lost Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco; however, prior to those two losses, the Mets had won five in a row (including a complete FUBAR job on the Diamondbacks), seven of eight (taking two in a weekend series against the Nats that Boz presumably attended), and nine of eleven.

As for the Mets' schedule:

What the Mets face may be just as bad. Their
next 28 games are against teams with winning records, including 10 against the Braves and Cards! Most are also on the road. New York closes with four games at home against the pathetic Rockies. But will the Mets still be breathing by then?


Who knows? But I think Boz is minimizing the importance of FINISHING THE SEASON WITH THREE AT HOME WITH THE COLORADO ROCKIES!!!

And then we get to the Phillies:

The Phillies are in the same predicament. Like the Mets, their schedule has been friendly since July 19th -- two of 12 series against teams currently above .500. But did they build
a wild-card lead? No, they have merely stuck their nose ahead briefly.


I'm not quite sure what to say here. The Phillies have played .600 ball (15-10) in August so far. That they didn't "build a wild-card lead" is a testament to:

a) the fact that they were coming from something of a deficit (first against the Nats, then against the Astros); and,
b) the possibility---just the possibility---that the other NL East teams haven't floundered or squandered to the extent Boz is portraying.

Quite simply, Boz is projecting two days' worth of bad play onto all teams. Why? He's rationalizing a 2-4 homestand that needed to be 4-2 or 3-3, at worst.

Alright, now we're getting to the good stuff. This NL East junk is just the undercard. Remember back when Boz said there's no reason why the Nats couldn't be the wild card entrant in the postseason? You know, back earlier in the same column? We get to the curious case of the Houston Astros:

Everybody in this wild-card cluster has already started buckling, gagging, choking, bickering and spitting the bit. Nobody's happy. Nobody's confident or truly believes they're good. Almost everybody is utterly terrified of their schedule.

Follow the progression: "[e]verybody"; "[n]obody"; "[n]obody"; "[a]lmost everybody." Ah, it looks like a hedge! The parenthetical returns! Careful, children: it may take on different shapes!

If the final standings ended as they are now, the Nationals would play an astronomical 100 games this season against winning teams. At least other NL East clubs have had a similar
burden: the Mets would meet 103 winners, Philadelphia 93, Florida 90.
But what about Houston? As matters now stand, the Astros would play only 55 games against winning teams this year. The Mets 103. The Nats 100. The Astros 55. Okay, sure, that's fair. On Mars.

Oh, that's right! The Astros have an easy schedule. Why didn't Boz mention that before? Why does Boz laboriously plow through the schedules of the other teams and just make passing reference to Houston's schedule? Why does he, when he actually do so, characterize Houston's schedule as a pressing moral issue? Why does he whine in the middle of a rough-and-ready, boostrapsy column? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

For the record, I agree that the wild card is an unfair proposition. I can't stand it in principle and as it's applied. But, I'll confess, it's kind of fun this season.

Anyway, after all my posturing here, what does the column really tell us?

a) the NL East teams are going to beat up on each other in September, and at least the Nats are at home; and,
b) the Astros have a relatively easy road home.

In other words, Boz told us nothing we didn't already know. Or, as Spiral Stairs put it at today's Yuda chat:

None of the teams in the wild card chase are
any good, so everyone has an equal chance. [Boswell] at first ignores the Astros in his analysis and then says they have an unfair advantage because their schedule has been so easy. I don’t quite understand why the ease of their schedule means we should discount their chances to win the wild card.


Super.

I'll add at this point that the wild card is still "do-able," as Wilbon put it last week. Then again, the Nats have gone 1-3 since his proclamation. Two of the losses were against the Cardinals, granted, but Boz's point seems to be that we can't pick our schedule. Anyway, it can be done, theoretically. But don't forget that 2.5 games over 32 contests is sometimes the difference between "good" and "excellent" baseball---and, if we're forced to witness "excellent" baseball, then the lack of an offense and a reliance on journeymen and never-weres to fill out the back of the rotation don't inspire confidence.


______________

---> Now, to Stan Kasten, featured by Hal "Kin of Selig" Bodley in today's USA Today. I spent way too much on Boz, as I expected I would, and I only have a chance to add that Kasten---a potential suitor and/or exec for our Nats, by the way---strikes me as not the least bit crazy. He's the type of guy, it would appear, who prefers to enter a negotiation with a strategy to win consisting of:

a) shaking hands with the other side's negotiator;
b) sitting down in a comfy chair;
c) opening his briefcase; and,
d) double-tapping his opponent in the temples with a concealed handgun.

You don't believe me? Read:

Stan Kasten has a dream. The former executive of the Atlanta Braves, NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers says professional sports would be much better off if player agents were eliminated.
Say what?

"Say what" is right, Hal.

Lest you accept an out-of-context characterization on its face, I'll clarify that Kasten doesn't wish agents to be eliminated in a "mortal" sense---well, at least not publicly. He's more facile, of course:

"It's not agent abuse which is the problem.
It's the highly skilled, highly competent, highly ethical agents; they're really the problem for all of us who love sports."


Stan Kasten, a long-time sports executive, wants to do away with agent-negotiated contracts in baseball because . . . of principle? Heavens no!

It's because the agents are too good. Sports agents are too good. Sports agents are too good for sports owners and front office executives. Sports. I thought the "good" was rewarded in sports . . .

Anyway, Kasten---also a lawyer, mind you---is quite the able hypocrite:

"There are a lot of factors that should determine what a player makes, but not something extraneous by the collective skill of a negotiator," says Kasten, who is part of one of the groups trying to buy the Washington Nationals.

There are a lot of factors that should determine what party wins a trial, but not something extraneous [like] the skill of an attorney . . .

Heck, substitute back in "negotiation," and it still works for lawyers sometimes.

Kasten does redeem himself, though, when he identifies himself as a great guardian of the game:

"If you're a highly skilled, highly ethical
practitioner, your main goal in life is to look out only for the best interest of your one client at a time. Period. Nothing else matters — not the interest of the team, the player's teammates, the community, the franchise or the
sport."


Kasten, who has made a living of representing the interests of professional sports owners, cares. He's a highly skilled, highly ethical practitioner, but the difference is that he represents interests good for the sport. In other words, he's worthy of our trust. I trust him; do you?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bodes: In his own words


Rocket Bill's gamer following a consecutive six-zip loss to the Cardinals was nothing if not Bowden-centric. This was clear from the first two sentences:

After Sunday's game between the Nationals and Cardinals, Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden was so upset that after he entered the clubhouse, he slammed the door in front of members of the Washington media. Bowden has every reason to be upset.

I don't know about you, but I wanted to read about some Billy Beane-esque chair-throwing. Alas, we didn't get that, but some particularly choice quotes followed.

On ineptitude (Part I):

"They have to get out of this thing and start swinging the bats. Nobody can swing it for them," Bowden said. "We can't make a trade to change the offense. They know where they are in the pennant race. Even though everything is going wrong, they are still [in it]. But you still have to do it.

On ineptitude (Part II):

"We gave the Cardinals this game. This was embarrassing. We gave them those runs. We let a ball drop, we didn't do well on a first-to-third steal that Tony [La Russa] put on and we gave them the game. ... We are giving the bats away. We are swinging at balls [ed: not?] in the zone. We are not swinging at the pitches we should hit and we are giving it
away."


On making due with what you got:

"[The players] in the locker room know they have three more games before the rosters expand," Bowden said. "They all know by the last game in Atlanta that there is going to be enough choices for Frank that he doesn't have to play any of them, if he doesn't want to. There's going to be choices everywhere.

On "be[ing] a man":

"These guys have three days to wake up. We are going to Atlanta with John Patterson, Livan Hernandez and Esteban Loaiza on the mound before the roster expands. Our best guys are going at them, and you know what? Be a man, wake up and do some damage. Or guess what? After that, Frank can do what he can do. When we get to Thursday, and they are not hitting, you might as well put other people in there. There are a lot of guys that can score no runs a game."


_________________

Just for reference, here's the starting nine Bowden was calling out:

Wilkerson LF
Carroll 2B
Johnson 1B
Guillen RF
Wilson CF
Castilla 3B
Bennett C
Guzman SS
Halama P

One can understand Bowden's frustration.

Wait . . .

__________________

Those other wild card suckers just refuse to win:

---> Florida got pounded, 14-3, at Chicago.
---> Houston got shut out (guess who was pitching?), 1-0, at Los Angeles.
---> The Mets lost, 4-1, at San Francisco.
---> Philly's losing, 6-2, in the third in Arizona, thanks to a Shawn "G FORCE!" Green grand slam. Oh, and guess which D-Bucks starter has been handed the lead?

So, you see, while the Nats have been given a head start in this Race to the Bottom, those other chuckleheads are playing along. As such, the Nats could go 0-for-Saturday-and-Sunday and still not lose any actual ground. If the Nats end up winning the wild card, I bet at least some people are going to credit Frank Robinson for his genius late-August rope-a-dope strategy.

Any more of this, and I'm changing my sidebar to "Operation: 87!" If that . . .

Buntbuntbuntbuntbuntbunt


Dave Sheinin, who (if you follow the Washington Post chats, you should know this) is to Endy Chavez as Boz is to Juan Rivera, has written a long and interesting article on the sacrifice bunt for Sunday's Post.

It's very late and, as I noted, it's a long article. And I'm really tired, and I just don't think I can do the article justice if I evaluate it now. Me so sleepy . . .

Nevertheless, insofar as Sheinin did his research for this one and the sac bunt is obviously a relevant topic for fans of the Washington Nationals, I commend you to read the article. Sheinin runs a rather comprehensive gamut of opinion---from stat-dude James Click, to Frank Robinson, to Bill James (sort of a "moderate stathead" on the issue, I guess), with even a bit of Sheinin's O's-lovin' snagging a quote or two from Buck Martinez, who was fired by an anti-bunt GM.


Robinson's comments are especially fascinating.

PS: Look past the fact that Sheinin, like most sportswriters, uses the term "Moneyball" in a rather broad sense.

White plight


Alright, so this one on Saturday didn't go quite as planned. St. Louis starter Jason Marquis, a late replacement for Mark Mulder, pitched a gem. Only base knocks by Marlon Byrd---who was just up from Triple-A---and Cristian Guzman---who doesn't ever hit---separated Marquis from a perfect game. Late in the game, tiny Cards' shortstop David Eckstein squared to bunt, pulled back, and then shot a homer over the left field fence. It was that kind of day . . .

. . . meh, I hate that expression---"that kind of day." Here, it's just a euphemism for "the Nats done got spanked." And they did, 6-0.

It was that kind of day for our White knight, Matt White. He looked fine the first time through the Cards' order, but a reasonable observer still might have been skeptical of the success, and MikeMidd nailed it at the Yudite chat: White got hammered the second time through the order. White surrendered three runs in the third inning, another in the fourth, and he was gonzo.

Literally gonzo, as it turned out; true to management's word to White prior to the game, he was sent back to New Orleans. The Nats purchased the contract of reliever Jason Bergmann to replace White.

[A word, for a moment, on Bergmann: for me, obviously, all Nats' minor leaguers are a bunch of stat lines. That includes Danny Rueckel, whose pitching I've tracked all season long and of whom I nevertheless consider myself a fan. But, among the non-Rueckel stat lines I noticed, Bergmann's was the one whose impressed me the most. I was happy for him when he got the call from Harrisburg to New Orleans, and I'm certainly wishing him the best when he makes his big league debut. Clearly, I'm in favor of whatever path to the majors is straightest for Baby Ruckles, but you'll bet I'll root on Bergmann the first time and every subsequent time he gets the ball.]

Okay, so it wasn't a "Mauro Gozzo-like" performance from Matt White; it was more of a "Scott Taylor-like" performance, I suppose. For those scoring at home, Taylor made three career starts, all between July 28 and August 7, 1995, for a Texas team that finished third in the AL West, just 4.5 games back. Taylor lost his debut (6 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 HR) to the Red Sox. All told, Taylor pitched 15.2 innings for the Rangers, surrendering 25 hits and six homers, to the tune of a 9.39 ERA.

Taylor was actually credited with the victory in one of those games (he went 1-2), but truth be told: if it's him or Matt White, I'll take our White knight. He's a Nat, after all. Or at least he was.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

White knight?


On the morning of August 8, 1989, a baseball fan scanning the standings in the local paper found the Toronto Blue Jays at .500, 56-56, three full games behind the season's success story, Frank Robinson's Baltimore Orioles. The Blue Jays had been a tremendous disappointment to this point in the season; expected to claim the American League East division crown that had somehow eluded them the past two seasons, the Jays started with a whimper, and in May manager Jimy Williams lost his job. Batting coach Cito Gaston took the reigns and had guided the Jays back to break-even.

The Blue Jays weren't out of the divisional race by any stretch, especially since the O's were coming back to earth; however, the Jays woke up on August 8 knowing that four teams were nipping on their heals right behind them. It was conceivable, if a bit unlikely, that any of five squads could claim the playoff spot allotted to the AL East winner.

So, with the foregoing as background, Toronto sent to the Skydome mound a complete unknown, Mauro Gozzo, to make his major league debut against the Texas Rangers. Gozzo, to put it mildly, enjoyed some beginner's luck:



Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,1-0 8 3 0 0 3 4 0

Toronto beat Texas, 7-0, and the Blue Jays had pulled to within two games of Baltimore.

The Blue Jays did not kick it into hyperdrive over the next week; in fact, by August 14, the Milwaukee Brewers had caught the Jays, with both teams sitting one game below break-even. Fortunately for both, the Orioles similarly struggled, and the gap was 2.5 games. Gozzo had earned a second start, and he did his job again:



Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,2-0 5 7 2 1 1 2 0

The Blue Jays defeated Boston, 4-2, and kept pace with the Orioles and Brewers, both of whom also won that day.

By August 18, Toronto was 61-60, a game behind Milwaukee and 2.5 games behind Baltimore. The night before, the Orioles had bludgeoned the Blue Jays, 11-6, chasing starter John Cerutti in the fourth. The onslaught forced Gaston to expend his long-man, Frank Wills, who was no more effective but nevertheless hurled 3.2 innings. Gozzo warmed up for his third big league start no doubt knowing that Gaston would need an effective effort, with innings. And that is exactly what Gozzo produced:



Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,3-0 7 8 2 2 1 2 0

The Blue Jays inflicted their own bludgeoning, pounding out 15 hits in a 9-2 victory. The Blue Jays kept pace with the BrewCrew and gained the game back on the Orioles.

Between August 8 through August 18, the Toronto Blue Jays won six games, and Mauro Gozzo, who had never pitched a big league game previously, was credited with the victory in half of those. Over the course of three starts, Gozzo posted a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched.

Gozzo would not start another game for the Blue Jays in 1989, and three of his six appearances out of the bullpen were fairly ignominious. Nevertheless, he plugged a hole precisely when the Blue Jays needed someone to do so. It would be folly to suggest that Toronto wouldn't have prevailed in the end by two games over Baltimore had Gozzo not stepped into the breach and thrived in his three opportunities, but Gozzo undeniably played some role.


_________________

This afternoon, the Nats throw
unknown Matt White against the St. Louis Cardinals. White represents something of a superficial parallel to Mauro Gozzo, except it's not quite White's big league debut today; he got his six bullpen outings out of the way in 2003. No one---and I mean, no one---knows much about White. Heck, his own manager, the aforementioned Frank Robinson, doesn't even know who the guy is, as recounted by the Post's Les Carpenter:



The Nationals will call up pitcher Matt White from New Orleans to pitch today's game against the Cardinals and their number two starter, Mark Mulder. White has some major league experience, pitching six games for the Red Sox and Mariners in 2003, but is a relative unknown in the Nationals' system. He's so anonymous that Robinson called him "Rick White."

Last night's rousing, somewhat unexpected victory over the Cards has lifted the team's (and the fanbase's) spirit again. It obscures (and momentarily obliterates) the fact that the Nats have been essentially treading water the past couples weeks after rapidly losing ground in the preceding month.

The Nats need a Gozzo-like performance out of Matt White today. The fortunate thing is this: since it's called "Gozzo-like," that's proof it can be done.


_________________

A new Nationals Inquirer feature: "Operation: 89!"

I've wagged previously that the Nats need 89 wins to feel comfortable about playing for at least one more day. When the thought coalesced in my mind, a 27-18 finish would have met the goal. Now, we're at 22-12 for the final 34 games.

Can it be done? Probably not, but who knows. Is it even necessary? Probably, but who knows.

Do I hope it can be done? Absolutely. And hopefully it would be more than sufficient.

So, track the goal in the sidebar.


Note: My baseball memory, especially of events in my teen years, is generally pretty good, but not quite good enough to put together that Mauro Gozzo retrospective. As you might have guessed, the dates, standings, and pitching lines are made possible by the incredible Retrosheet. It's definitely worth our support.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Coup d' toe


Lots of interesting stuff from Rocket Bill:

---> Ryan Church, Official Sacred Cow of the Yudites, signed up for a second tour of duty on the 15-day disabled list. The cause? A "fractured right pinkie toe."

Is that a real injury?

I guess it is, because it must hurt like Hades for Church to miss two-to-three weeks as a result. How do you treat a "fractured right pinkie toe"? Church isolates a problem:

You can't put a cast on it.


Yeah, I guess that would prove difficult . . .

---> The Matt White Era begins on Saturday.

Wait---who is Matt White, and why does he deserve an era named after him? I can't answer the latter question, as I am not an historian. Concerning the former, White is a lefty with an 8-5 record and a nice ERA at New Orleans. He's not currently on
the Nats' 40-man roster, but two Ghost Men are, and one of them can easily be traded out to make room.

But just who is
Matt White? Why, he's the possessor of a 22.24 career MLB ERA. That mark was compiled in just six outings a couple of years ago, however, so I'm sure it's just the sample size speaking.

The Saturday start is only against the St. Louis Cardinals; hey, no pressure on White to keep it close!

---> Rocket Bill reports that Tony Armas, Jr., is . . . Tony Armas, Jr. That is to say he's hampered by something, and the Nats are hopeful TA2 can overcome it.

It's his shoulder now, which caused him to leave his last start early (but not before being beaten to a bloody pulp). That's good in the sense it's not something borderline embarrassing like dehydration; it's bad in the sense that he's had shoulder problems in the past.

I predict TA2 is good for at least two or three strong innings on Sunday.

---> Big Rocket Bill scoop of the day:


Expect the Nationals to make some moves by the end of the week. Don't be surprised if third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is called up to the big leagues on Sunday.

(emphasis added).


Brian at the Yudite chat tonight broke the news that Zimmerman played third base for Harrisburg on Thursday. Our resident Farm Commissioner, Brian just yesterday noted that Nats' suits are comfortable with Dutch's progress at shortstop.

Could the plans have changed?

Jim Bowden? Change plans? Never!

---> Finally, a couple of did-ya-knows from Rocket Bill. File 'em under "pathetic stats":

1. Nats' right fielders (mainly, Jose Guillen) have driven in 70 runs this season. That's pretty good. Last year, Expos' right fielders drove in 66 runs for the entire season; that's pretty bad.

2. Gary Bennett is hitting .303 (10-for-33) in his last 12 games. Is that even worth noting? Well, if you're a .247 career hitter with a lifetime 66 OPS+, I guess it is.


_________________

The Nats' performance in their loss to the Cincinnati Reds this afternoon, the rubber match of a three-game set the Nats rather needed to win or sweep, was probably most typified by the word "malaise." I'll have to qualify it this way, because I neither saw nor heard the game. But, just judging by the GameTracker---which can be very expressive at times---the Nats had nuthin'. The Yudite chatters who were watching weren't the least bit impressed, either.

¡LIVAN! is mired in a horrible rut---or, shall I say, malaise---and whether that's because of injury or overuse, or injury as a result of overuse, is fairly immaterial right now. He's not right. He wanted to shut it down last month, and we called him impulsive and crazy. Maybe the guy really is hurting. I suppose we've established that by now.

Anyway, St. Barry cuts to the heart of the matter of the Reds series:


[T]he schedule now gets more difficult. The next seven games are against the NL's two best teams, three at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, then a four-game series at Atlanta next week. Those seven games will determine whether the Nationals are even within striking distance when the Phillies arrive for three games the following weekend.

At the 45-game mark, I noted somewhere that the Nats needed to go 27-18 the rest of the way to feel at least somewhat safe for at least a one-game wild card playoff. That would have gotten the guys to 89 wins.

What do the Nats need now? 23-12.

You tell me.

A tall, strong drink of water


John Patterson did it again last night, tossing another check on the "Marvelous" side of the ledger. What is more, the Nats actually scored for him.

Needless to say, ample bloggin' love has been doled out to Patterson this morning. I commend you to Rocket for admiration and Ball-Wonk for veneration.


____________

As Wilbon mentioned when he discovered the Nats (see previous post), the Washington Nationals are in a pennant race, baby! I still think that more factors are lined up against the Nats than for them, but---to quote Wilbon---it's "do-able." To that end, last night's victory didn't hurt.

However, Nationals Interest cautions us to "Watch out for the Mets!" in the wild card race. Apparently, Gammo and Kurk-mit the Frog like the Metsies, primarily because of ¡Pedro! and run differential, and the NI guys see merit in that evaluation.

What is more---and don't forget this---the Mets hold something of a trump card in their September schedule:

They finish the regular season, at home, against . . . the Colorado Rockies.

It could be either a great blessing for the Mets or a ready-made, choke-o-matic curse. We might just need the latter.

Hey, Wilbon likes the Nats!


An amazing thing occurred today. I'm not going to preface this announcement with something lame like "Are you sitting down?" but I probably should. It's mind-blowing. Okay, are you ready:

Wilbon wrote a Nats column.

I know, it's shocking. How shocking? Well, as ¡Yurasko! wagged this morning, it's his first or second. The other possible candidate is at best debatable, since it was all about Roger Clemens, who lamentably doesn't pitch for the Nats.

Now, I should say that Wilbon is an NBA/NFL guy primarily, with some NCAA hoops mixed in for good measure. Eight or nine months a year, this guy works like crazy. He just doesn't write about baseball---and when he has, he hasn't written about the Nats. Until now.

You don't believe me? Here's his body of work, since the baseball season began. I'll even fudge it a bit and include the last week of March:

---> April 4: "Illini are biting at the underdog role"; take a guess.
---> April 6: "Good teams start with good coaching"; NBA, general.
---> April 10: "It's no way to finish"; NBA, Wizards.
---> April 22: "The NFL draft is anyone's guess"; pigskin.
---> April 23: "Jordan's Wizards, NBA running in right direction"; NBA, Wizards and general.
---> April 24: "It's time for some stops, or Wizards won't move forward"; NBA, Wizards and Wilbonian Chicago fix.
---> April 25: "It's only one game, no wonder"; NBA, Wizards-Bulls.
---> April 27: "In Southeast, wish list is dream come true"; tennis, human interest.
---> April 28: "No defense in going down 0-2"; NBA, Wizards angst.
---> April 30: "Bring it all back home"; basically, basketball-in-DC.
---> May 1: "Winning sum is big man plus 'big three' "; NBA, Wizards.
---> May 3: "Wizards, Dixon make a quick turnaround"; guess.
---> May 4: "What can Brown do for you"; NBA, Kwame Brown.
---> May 5: "At the buzzer, the sound of something new"; NBA, Wizards.
---> May 7: "Something to shout about"; NBA, Wizards.
---> May 9: "These longshots cannot misfire"; NBA, Wizards.
---> May 10: "Giving the selection some venue"; NBA, MVP.
---> May 11: "Big fella and Wade get more than enough help"; NBA, Shaq-fu.
---> May 13: "Blinded by the flash"; NBA, Wizards-Heat.
---> May 15: "A foundation to build on"; NBA, Wizards.
---> May 18: "There are some good games on the late shift"; NBA.
---> May 19: Suns-Mavs gamer.
---> May 20: "This MVP also leads in modesty"; NBA.
---> May 23: "Quietly making noise"; NBA.
---> May 25: "The great series that will not be"; NBA.
---> May 28: "Bowen: the steel glove"; NBA.
---> June 2: "A peripatetic pro on the precipice"; NBA, Larry Brown, alliteration.
---> June 6: "It is, and always will be, about O'Neal"; NBA, Shaq-fu.
---> June 6: "A flawed-character study"; NFL, Sean Taylor.
---> June 7: "Pistons play like champions"; guess.
---> June 9: "Spurs vs. Pistons: the perfect match-up"; guess.
---> June 12: "Requiem for a heavyweight"; Mike Tyson, children-eating.
---> June 13: " 'It's a hard feeling, not to be a violent man anymore' "; Tyson.
---> June 15: "Third game is the charm"; NBA Finals.
---> June 17: "Finals are a place to feel at home"; guess.
---> June 18: "Uneven play raises a series of questions"; NBA Finals.
---> June 20: "The specialist closes the deal"; NBA Finals.
---> June 21: "Sweet payback for a survivor"; NBA Finals.
---> June 22: "Taking their show on the road"; NBA Finals.
---> June 23: "The duality of a big man"; NBA, 'Sheed introspection.
---> June 24: "Duncan plays like Duncan"; guess.
---> July 9: "A case of dollars and sense"; NBA, Wizards, bye-bye Larry Hughes.
---> July 16: "So long, Kwame, thanks for nothing"; guess.
---> July 19: "I come to praise Tiger, not bury him; golf, guess.
---> July 23: "Monumental presence"; BASEBALL!!!! (Roger Clemens exclusively). ---> July 25: "Iconoclastic backs live parallel lives"; NFL, Ricky/Riggins (?).

---> August 2: "On first day of camp, Portis' voice carries"; NFL, 'Skins.
---> August 3: "We want pennant suspense, but we just get suspensions"; BASEBALL!!! (all 'roids).
---> August 8: "Men's game has a long rally ahead"; tennis, Legg Mason.
---> August 10: "The Redskins' old kid on the block"; guess.
---> August 12: "Palmeiro has his 15 minutes of shame";
BASEBALL!!! (Cpt. Winstrol).
---> August 14: "What does it all mean"; NFL, 'Skins
---> August 24: "A very familiar accusation"; Lance Armstrong, more 'roids.

Yep, this is the first one exclusively on the Nats.

The column itself, which deals with the "do-able" proposition of the Nats winning the column, is pretty good aside from the proposition itself being rather far-fetched. Still, this line is an amazing one for Nats' fans to ponder:


You think things can't change in a hurry? The White Sox lost eight games off a 15-game lead in 24 days. The Nationals don't have to make up that kind of ground.

No, they don't. But they did have that kind of ground to lose recently and did in fact lose it with similar haste.

Of course, that was back in July, before Wilbon noticed the Nats.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cut scene from a Werther's Originals commercial, A.D. 2045


Luke Hudson III: Poppa!
Luke Hudson I: Lukie, my boy! Come, sit on my lap. . . . There you go. Would you like a candy?
Lukie: Yes, Poppa. Thank you.
Poppa: Any time, my boy. The toffee is refreshing, isn't it?
Lukie: Yes, sir. Would you tell me a story before I go to bed?
Poppa: Ab-so-lutely! What would you like to hear? The time I played drums for Iron Maiden?
Lukie: Could you tell me about the best game you ever pitched?
Poppa: Ah, the best game I ever pitched. . . . Well, that would have to be August 23, 2005, against the Washington Nationals.
Lukie: Washington Na-tion-als?
Poppa: Ah, yes. That's what the Washington Smulyans were called for a little while.
Lukie: Oh.
Poppa: Yes, it was a fine evening in Washington. Not too hot, so the ball wasn't going to be "jumping," as they said back then. I hadn't been pitching well, but I had a good feeling about this game. Remember the time the battery died in Poppa's pacemaker and you and daddy and mommy and Nanna had to rush me to the hospital?
Lukie: Yeah, I was scared.
Poppa: Ha ha, I was too! I was too. Anyway, Washington's offense was sort of like that battery . . . not much juice, you know?
Lukie: So the ballplayers all had to go to the hospital?
Poppa: No . . . Well, one of them did, I think. Or maybe he just had to go home. He had a sinus infection.
Lukie: Yuck!
Poppa: You said it, my boy. But unlike that guy, things went my way. I pitched really good---
Lukie: You pitched really well, Poppa!
Poppa: Yes, indeed. Nanna's such a stickler for detail, isn't she? . . . I pitched really well, making it through seven innings---
Lukie: Woooowwww! Seven whole innings???!!!
Poppa: Seven innings, my boy.
Lukie: But starting pitchers don't throw more than four . . .
Poppa: Back in my day, the players were tougher, my boy. The pitchers definitely were. We'd have eleven or twelve guys on our pitching staffs. Sometimes thirteen, but never fifteen, like today. So, the starting pitchers would have to go longer. Some pitchers even completed the whole game.
Lukie: Wooowwww!!!!
Poppa: Wow, indeed.
Lukie: Even to go for seven innings, you must have been really good!
Poppa: Yeah . . . good. Well, I was on that night, anyway.
Lukie: Did you ever think you weren't going to pitch so well that game?
Poppa: Hmmm . . . Well, there was this one point of the game. It was the bottom of the fifth inning---Washington was the home team of course---and their lead-off man reached base. Up to the plate next came their shortstop, Cristian Guzman.
Lukie: Was he any good?
Poppa: Not really. In fact, he was pretty bad. Remember you were a little boy, much younger than you are now, and your dog Rufus started acting funny?
Lukie: Yeah, mommy said he was really sick and needed to go to a better place. I was really sad.
Poppa: I know, my boy. Life can be rough sometimes. Remember how Rufus was acting before he went to the better place?
Lukie: Mmmm, he was really slow, and he'd fall over and bump into the walls. And sometimes he'd go to the bathroom on the floor, and mommy would get really mad.
Poppa: She'd get really frustrated with Rufus, because he was making things difficult for her. And that's the way it was with Guzman. He wasn't really a good player anymore, and people would get mad at him.
Lukie: So you got him out?
Poppa: No, he got lucky. He tried to bunt . . . Here, show me how you bunt . . . Very good, Lukie! . . . Well, Guzman bunted badly, popping the ball in the air. But he got lucky and reached first base.
Lukie: Oh no!
Poppa: Oh no is right! The next guy up was the pitcher. It had been Tony Armas---
Lukie: The scientist??!!
Poppa: The very same. But it was years before he'd devote his life to studying the causes and cures of dehydration. Back then, he was just a pitcher with a bum shoulder. And on that night he had given up four runs before leaving with a sore shoulder. And their pinch-hitter in the fifth inning was this guy named Jamey Carroll.
Lukie: What was he like, Poppa?
Poppa: Oh, he was okay, but not great. You know how you make fun of your little brother for being a "runt"? Well, Jamey Carroll was even smaller than that.
Lukie: Really?
Poppa: Nah. But he was tiny. So we were expecting him to bunt the runners over. Fundamental baseball, we called it. Instead, Washington's manager called for a hit-and-run. You know what that is, right?
Lukie: Uh huh.
Poppa: Well, it really surprised us, and Carroll just hit the ball foul. This time I got lucky.
Lukie: What happened, Poppa?
Poppa: They tried it again, my boy! And were we ever ready for it! Carroll swung and missed, and our catcher threw out the runner going to third. A slow old man, sort of like me. Except he was a slow old man back then! He was out by a country mile!
Lukie: Ha ha!
Poppa: And you know what the funniest part was, Lukie?
Lukie: What, Poppa?
Poppa: The second hit and run was all a mistake! They weren't supposed to try it!
Lukie: Then why did they?
Poppa: Well, you know how mommy and daddy sometimes get mad at each other?
Lukie: Yeah. I get really worried and think it's all my fault, but they tell me it's a "miscommunication."
Poppa: Precisely. Don't get worried, by the way---and it's never your fault. Anyway, they miscommunicated here.
Lukie: Who did?
Poppa: The manager and the third base coach, the guy giving the signs. They had a mix-up!
Lukie: Ha ha!
Poppa: So the old slow guy, Castilla, was out. And I felt much better about things.
Lukie: And then what happened, Poppa?
Poppa: I struck out Carroll, and then the next guy, too. And I got out of the inning.
Lukie: Go Poppa!
Poppa: Yes, indeed. From there onward, it was smooth sailing, and I ended up getting the win.
Lukie: "Getting the win"?
Poppa: Ah yes, Lukie. Back then, the rules of baseball assigned a "win" to a pitcher from the winning team and a "loss" to a pitcher from the losing team. It was called a pitcher's "record"?
Lukie: Did they give hitters "wins" and "losses," too?
Poppa: Nope. It was just a statistic for pitchers.
Lukie: That's kinda stupid. Coach always tells us it's a "team game."
Poppa: From your mouth to God's ears, my boy. Well, eventually, they did away with "won-lost record" and now give out the Cy Young Award based on stats you know, like VORP and Win Shares.
Lukie: Were people mad when they did away with that?
Poppa: Some were, yes. There was this guy named John Kruk. He used to be on the television. He got so upset, he immolated himself on live TV.
Lukie: What's "immolated"?
Poppa: Um . . . . hey, what's on the TV now? Why it's President Screech! Let's see what he has to say.

Lukie: Okay, Poppa. And thanks for the candy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rueckel Report, August 23

The Eternal Return Edition


Baby Ruckles hurls a pitch on July 17. (Courtesy, senatorsbaseball.com)

It's beginning to look a lot like April.

You'll remember, valued reader, that Danny Rueckel did not surrender a single earned run in the first month of the season. Indeed, Baby Ruckles started off red hot as the Harrisburg Senators' relief ace, hotter even than his sterling 2004 debut in the Eastern League, in which he sported an ERA in the low twos. Nats' relievers, such as Toasty Osuna, NASA Horgan, and T.J. Tucker, were going down like flies. Gary Majewski had not yet turned into an action hero stud, and Hector Carrasco was still just a washed-up refugee from the Korean League or something.

I started dreaming that maybe I had walked into a goldmine here; perhaps Baby Ruckles would take a short sojourn through New Orleans and settle in as the fourth guy out of the Nats' bullpen. Dare to dream!

Then May hit, and the dream leveled off a bit. Well, how about just New Orleans, eh?

Then June hit, and Rueckel's ERA went kurplunk. First, it rose into the fours, and then---in one miserable outing in mid-June in which he surrendered sixty percent of his season's homers in one inning---it skyrocketed into the fives. Noooooooooo!

Baby Ruckles has been playing catch-up ever since, trying to reduce that ERA down to something commensurate with his K/BB ratio and HR rate. He bounced back quickly, in fact, lowering the ERA by a run in a matter of outings---including some of his best of the season. Since then, though, it's been mainly a holding action, with the ERA consisently in the low fours the past few updates, if creeping upward ever so slightly.

Until now, that is. In the five appearances over the length of this survey, Baby Ruckles didn't surrender a run. The first two games were fairly shaky, but the last three were pure April: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K. Solid!

Oh, and pay no mind that the Sens lost all five of those games. They've lost ten of eleven games since my last update:

---> August 12: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO (no decision in 9-7 Harrisburg defeat against New Britain)
---> August 13: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO (no decision in 7-4 defeat against New Britain)
---> August 18: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO (no decision in 10-0 defeat against Bowie)
---> August 19: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO (no decision in 2-1 defeat against Akron)

---> August 22: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO (no decision in 6-3 defeat against Binghamton)

SEASON TO DATE:


G  IP H R ER HR BB SO W L ERA SV
49 71 763430 5 16 63 9 5 3.80 6


So, the ERA, while significantly higher than last year's, is rounding into form. Baby Ruckles seems safe, baring a redux of the June 14 disaster, of keeping the ERA out of the fours, which would certainly be advisable.

Hey, speaking of the June 14 game . . . I know this is completely bogus, but it's my Rueckel Report after all, and I'm gonna see what his numbers look like without that blow-out:


G  IP   H  R  ER HR BB SO W L ERA SV
48 68.1 69 28 24 2 15 62 9 5 3.17 6


Yeah, I like these numbers much better.


_______________

So, what does the future hold Grand Master Ruckus? I'm not privy to any "internal discussions" Jim Bowden has with his ego, of course, but my guess would be either:

---> remain at Harrisburg, or
---> finish up at New Orleans.

In other words, although Rueckel's already on the 40-man roster for the Nationals, I am not getting the impression he'll be among the September call-ups. That's not unexpected, and it's understandable. I, of course, believe that Rueckel can experience success in the big leagues, but first he has to get the opportunity. Other guys (such as Bill Bray) are more likely to get the big league exposure as a result of their position within the organization's plans; furthermore, to be honest, other guys (such as Jason Bergmann) have earned the opportunity to be exposed to the big leagues more than Rueckel has this season.

But I believe it will happen and, if given a real shot, Danny Rueckel will succeed.

In the meantime, Harrisburg and New Orleans both wrap-up on September 5, so I know what I'll be doing in this space until then.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bell(horn) tolls for we?


Imagine watching Brad Wilkerson strike out. I know, it's not a stretch of one's imagination. Now imagine Wilkerson striking out even more. That's Mark Bellhorn. Can you handle it?

After Wilkerson's backwards-K with runners on the corners and one out in the eighth inning of last night's 1-0 loss to the Mets, the answer is probably "No." And I'd reckon BodesCo might agree, but it's worth noting that the Boston Red Sox designated Bellhorn for assignment on Friday. Bellhorn, in the midst of a horrible season (.688 OPS), injured his thumb against the Yankees in July hasn't been seen in Boston since. Here's some background:

[Boston GM Theo] Epstein said he expects the club to have an announcement tomorrow on the status of second baseman Mark Bellhorn, whose rehab assignment reaches its 20-day limit at that time. Bellhorn homered for Pawtucket yesterday, but is not expected to be back with the big club, having been displaced at second base by Tony Graffanino.
''That's just speculation," Epstein said, regarding the likelihood that Bellhorn would not be back, though he acknowledged discussions with Bellhorn's agent, Mark Rodgers. The most likely scenario, unless Graffanino or Alex Cora gets hurt before tomorrow, is that the Sox will
designate Bellhorn for assignment. With clubs unlikely to trade for him because they'd have to pick up what remains on his prorated $2.75 million contract, the Sox, as a courtesy to Bellhorn, are likely to grant him his release, giving him a chance to sign with another club.

I seriously doubt the Nats will express the slightest interest in Bellhorn, and although I'm a fan of the patient types who can slug a bit (especially among the middle infielder population), I'm not certain I would blame Jim Bowden if he merely shrugged upon hearing the news.

Then again, let's go through the motions here:

Can Bellhorn play shortstop?

The obvious question, naturally, and the answer at this point in Bellhorn's career is at best uncertain. He's logged 28 career games at short, one last season. Scanning his defensive stats, I suspect Bellhorn has made very few career starts there. Perhaps Bellhorn could man the position in a pinch, but chances are Ryan Zimmerman---if Operation: Dutch is in fact enacted at the big league level---could do so far more competently.

Can Bellhorn play third base?

Yes, quite so. He had 165 career appearances at the hot corner entering this season, including lots of starts. He's primarily a second baseman, and while the positions require different skills, he could probably handle it now. Can he play third well? I don't know. For what it's worth (and probably not much), his career Range Factor at third is quite a bit less impressive than the average third baseman's over the course of his career.

Would Bellhorn be an improvement over Guzman?

He certainly would be offensively, sure. Then again, that skinny dude from Road Trip probably would be, considering the depths to which Guzman has sunk this season. Defensively, who really knows? That would depend on whether Guzman's developing a mental block playing the position (six errors in a recent eight-game stretch), not to mention whether Bellhorn could actually handle it there on a regular or semi-regular basis. This is not even considering Zimmerman, who might be a better option.

Would Bellhorn be an improvement over Castilla?

Defensively, no. Castilla's old and crusty and banged up, but he can still pick it at the hot corner. Offensively, a lot would depend on whether Bellhorn's settled into a real decline or has established one of those weird serpentine-shaped careers. (Bellhorn broke out in 2002, slumped horribly in '03, played a key role on a world champion in '04, and has sucked rocks in '05.) Both players have struggled mightily this season and are posting comparable seasons in terms of rate stats. (Castilla enjoys a slightly bigger slugging advantage than Bellhorn does in reaching base.) Of course, Castilla has been saddled by a home park noted for far favoring pitching so far.

I'd say the bottom line is that, unless he is primed for an improvement from now until the regular season, Bellhorn represents no real improvement over Castilla offensively. And that's kind of sad.

Would Bellhorn be a worthwhile bench player?

Probably so, if he's healthy. He's a switch-hitter and has experience at second and third base, making him a viable candidate for mid-game pinch-hitting/double-switching situations. If Jamey Carroll is being given the starting job at short (he's made the last two starts, so who knows), then presumably Guzman could serve as the back-up. (The downside to that is Guzman might be double-switch in the game, possibly exposing him to late, high-leverage at-bats.) Bellhorn, even given this season's struggles, would reach base at a clip this team needs, although his ultra-patient approach isn't really the look a team normally wants from a pinch-hitter, who is often more success when he's opportunistic and can slap a run-scoring single. But Bellhorn's versatility, ability to reach base, and proclivity to pop a homer more than occasionally make him at least somewhat attractive.

Can the Nats fit Bellhorn on their bench?

Right now, I don't think so---or I don't think they'd want to. Given the 12-man pitching staff, the current typical bench players are:

---> Church (OF)
---> Baerga (IF)
---> Guzman/Carroll (IF)
---> Blanco (IF/OF)
---> Bennett (C)

It might be best for Church if he were optioned to New Orleans for a spell, but I've seen no indication that will happen. Baerga, I'll get to in a minute. Guzman/Carroll are the utility infielders/back-up shortstops and aren't going anywhere. Blanco is raw and offers very few positive features at this point (besides power potential and theoretical versatility), but he's a Rule V guy of whom Bodes has been protective; the Nats have held onto him all season, so (as Yuda said the other day), why risk losing him now? Bennett is irrelevant to the discussion, of course.

I'd say Carlos Baerga's existence would block out any interest in Bellhorn. If acquired, Bellhorn would probably serve precisely the role Baerga serves right now: sport starter at third and first (and, laughably in Baerga's case, at least in June, second base), pinch-hitter, late-game double-switchee. Bellhorn provides more defensive ability and versatility, which might be important if Vidro is hobbled again. On the other hand, Baerga is a "proven veteran" (I'm trying not the discount that, as he appears to be a respected member of the team) and fits the late-game opportunistic pinch-hitter profile better, and he's been a fine addition to the team, to my surprise. I see no shot of Bellhorn bumping Baerga out of a roster spot.

So, unless the Nats went back to 11 pitchers, I don't see it happening, no matter the price for Bellhorn.

Now, rosters expand on September 1, and I certainly wouldn't foreclose Bellhorn being an asset for the team by that point, for the reasons already stated. (Plus, if he can hit postseason homers, he can hit September homers too, right?) But I'd expect somebody would take a chance on him before then.

So fret not, weary observers of Wilkerson's whiffs: Bellhorn probably won't join the brigade.

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