The Nationals are getting ready for the second half of the season with 73 games remaining on the schedule. The team can still make a move in the National League East, unlike last year when they reached the All-Star break 22 1/2 games out of first place and had already lost 61 games.
Manager Jim Riggleman is confident the clubhouse is filled with the players that can get it done.
“I think the world of our team because they play hard and they care. They suffer with the losses. They really appreciate the efforts of each other with the wins. I still think there is more in there. The middle of our lineup has really come together. We have played better defense the last two weeks. There are a lot of encouraging things.”
One problem the team had most of June was defense and a ton of errors in the middle infield. Riggleman feels one of the keys to the recent upswing in play has been the tighter defense behind the pitcher.
He says they have to limit their mistakes because the stakes will get higher in the second half as the schedule turns back towards the East.
“As we go forward we are going to play in our division a lot. A lot of repetitive appearances. Our pitchers against the same hitters over and over. That will be a little challenge for some of our guys who are trying to solidify our rotation. It is going to be a challenge when we face the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Marlins often and they get more and more looks at you.
“We have to take advantage of that on the other end. Our hitters have got to get their inventory of information about the opposing pitchers and take advantage of all that.”
The imminent returns of Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler will help the starting rotation, especially when they have to shut down Stephen Strasburg as he approaches his inning limit (160) for the season.
They also hope that the time off will help Tyler Clippard figure out what has gone wrong recently. Riggleman says it’s not a health issue with Clippard.
“His delivery looks the same; his velocity looks the same. Guys go through these things.”
Clippard has gone 0-3 with an 11.00 ERA in his last 10 appearances after posting an 8-3 record and a 1.58 ERA up to June 22.
Riggleman says J.D. Martin could pitch on Sunday, and he’s likely to give Joel Peralta and Clippard the day off. He also could go to Drew Storen and Matt Capps today.
Jim also said Pudge Rodriguez’s back is holding up fine and he will look to start him three games in a row during the second half and then give him a day off regardless of where it aligns with Stephen Strasburg’s schedule.