The six-game losing streak is over. The nine-game deficit in the National League East has been cut to eight.
A lot more needs to go right before the Nationals are able to legitimately threaten the Braves for the top spot in the division. A lot more.
But my goodness, is the NL East ever a flawed, jumbled mess right now.
The Braves have lost four of their last six games and are 8-11 since putting together a four-game winning streak a little over three weeks ago. They just lost Tim Hudson, one of the most consistent starters around, for the season to a broken ankle.
I’m not saying the Nationals are due for some positive momentum and will make a run at this thing in the next couple of weeks. We’ve been led down that path too many times already this season only to see the Nats stumble again and find themselves in an even deeper hole.
But somehow, they’re not completely out of this thing, despite how poorly they’ve played this season.
Bench coach Randy Knorr sure didn’t wait around to make a controversial call yesterday after taking over the managing duties from Davey Johnson, who was ejected for the first time this season in the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Mike Winters.
With the Nats’ four-run lead disappearing quickly in the top of the ninth inning last night, Knorr quickly decided he’d seen enough of closer Rafael Soriano, the Nats’ $28 million man, who has 157 career saves and an All-Star appearance under his belt.
Knorr went out and took the ball from Soriano and gave it to Ian Krol, a 22-year-old who had previously pitched in just 17 major league games and had started the year at Double-A Harrisburg.
The move, in and of itself, was remarkable. The fact that Knorr pulled a pitcher of Soriano’s status (marking the first time this year he’s been taken out in the middle of an inning this season) for one with as little experience as Krol in the ninth inning of a then two-run game surprised pretty much everyone in the press box, and I’m sure surprised a few Nationals in uniform. But that’s not to say it was the wrong move.
Soriano was all over the place during his five-batter outing yesterday. He allowed two hits and two walks and threw just 14 of his 25 pitches for strikes. Knorr said he sees a different Soriano when the 33-year-old is pitching in non-save situations, and he felt if Soriano wasn’t going to take control of the ninth inning and lock down a win, he’d go bring in someone else.
Take a look again at how sneaky strong Knorr’s quote was on Soriano yesterday:
“Figured if you don’t want to be in that mode to shut the game down, I’ll bring somebody else in,” Knorr said.
Does Johnson take out Soriano in that situation? My guess is probably not. Johnson tends to manage with a mindset that he’s going to give his proven players a chance to fight their way through struggles, and he probably allows someone with Soriano’s credentials to keep battling there in the ninth. That’s not to say his strategy is wrong and Knorr’s was right (Krol ended up giving up the game-tying runs, anyway), but I just find it interesting.
Meanwhile, reporters talked to Ross Detwiler after last night’s game, getting the latest update on the left-hander’s health after his meeting with Dr. Robert Watkins on Wednesday to get a second opinion on his lower back discomfort.
Dr. Watkins determined Detwiler has a herniated disc in his back, an injury that will require about a month of rest but no surgery. Johnson had indicated he thought Detwiler would be receiving an injection of some kind, but Detwiler said yesterday he’s seen no needles. He will take about three weeks off from mound work, do some core workouts and wait for clearance to start throwing again.
“I feel all right,” Detwiler said. “It’s still kind of there, but I look at is as getting good news I don’t have to get cut on, I can just rest it, still have a chance at the season towards the end.
“Obviously, we really didn’t know what was going on at first. To have a diagnosis and something that, it’s not great, he could’ve just said, ‘You can play with pain,’ and I could get back out there. But it’s something that we can actually, we have a plan for it now and (can) move forward.”
Detwiler came out of the gates hot this season, posting a 2.53 ERA through his first seven starts, only to suffer an oblique strain in a May 15 outing against the Dodgers. That injury landed Detwiler on the DL for nearly a month, but even after his return, he wasn’t the same pitcher as he was pre-injury. The lefty recorded a 6.31 ERA in five starts off the DL before he was pulled from the rotation again due to the back issue.
It’s been a frustrating season for Detwiler, especially given his expectations coming off last year and how well he started this season.
“It’s all I have to kind of live on now is my last few starts, and they haven’t been good,” Detwiler said. “I just felt like there was something off and I was trying to fight through it, which could’ve made it worse. So it’s something I kind of have to sit back and say ‘If this ever happens again, you just have to, you just can’t try to fight through something like that.’ I think we took the right step the other day.”
Update: The Nationals have announced that reliever Ryan Mattheus has been activated off the disabled list. He’ll serve as the team’s 26th man for today’s doubleheader.
Mattheus has missed the Nats’ last 58 games with a broken right hand, suffered when he punched a locker in frustration back on May 19. He had a 4.96 ERA prior to the injury and pitched to a 2.25 ERA during six rehab appearances.
The Nationals will need to make a corresponding roster move following today’s doubleheader to get the roster back to 25 .