The deficit is down to seven. It’s at six in the loss column.
The Nationals’ hottest stretch of the season has gotten them back on the fringe of the playoff conversation. They’ve won 12 of their last 17, and coupled with the Reds now having lost five of their last eight, the Nats are finding a way to close ground in the race for the final wild card spot.
All the TVs in the Nationals clubhouse were tuned to the Reds-Cardinals game last night after the Nats’ 2-1 win over the Marlins. By no means were guys crowding around and cheering for St. Louis. It’s still too early for that and the Nats still have too much ground to make up for the emotions to be that high.
But the fact that the Reds game was on and players were glancing at the score as they walked by is an indication of where things stand right now. The Nats might loosely keep tabs on the team ahead of them, but their focus is on taking care of their own business.
“We feel like we’re playing good baseball and we’re just kind of taking every day as it comes,” Tyler Clippard said. “That’s all we can do. We feel very confident in how we’re playing and we’ll take it from there. Who knows what’s going to happen? We’re playing good.”
The results have changed quite a bit over the last few weeks. The Nats are reaching base at a much higher clip than they have for much of the season, they’re scoring more runs and they’re winning tight ballgames. But no one really seems to feel the effort or approach has changed recently.
“I think the biggest tell sign of that is, if you look up at the scoreboard, everyone’s numbers are climbing and people are starting to get back to where they’re generally at,” Ian Desmond said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. Balls are falling in, and we’re pushing enough runs across. Really other than that, I think it’s the same effort level, the same heart, all the other stuff is still there. ...
“We’ve all been through our ups and downs. Obviously, the downs were pretty heavy this year. But we fought our way and we’re starting to play better. Obviously we’re not where we want to be, but we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
We’ll find out today whether the possible rotation change that manager Davey Johnson mentioned last night - moving Ross Ohlendorf back to the bullpen and Tanner Roark into the rotation - will come to fruition.
Ohlendorf is now 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA this season. The Nats are 4-0 in games started by the veteran right-hander. That all seems to add up to Ohlendorf making a pretty good case to stick in the rotation for a while.
But Johnson hasn’t liked how quickly Ohlendorf has tired in his last two outings. He faltered in the fifth inning in Chicago and then dramatically lost velocity in the sixth yesterday. Ohlendorf said that he intentionally was throwing what he called “BP fastballs” to keep hitters off-balance. Johnson seemed to feel the drop in velocity was a sign Ohlendorf’s gas tank was empty.
Johnson has wanted to give Roark a look as a starter, and despite Ohlendorf’s success, this might be the time for Roark to get his chance. The rookie has a 1.04 ERA in seven relief appearances with 14 strikeouts and four walks. Now, he might find himself sliding into a big league rotation.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Roark said last night. “I’ve been mostly a starter this whole season down in Triple-A but it’d definitely be different here up in the big leagues. I’d do my best, go out there and have fun and try to keep winning.”
Meanwhile, Ross Detwiler updated reporters on his rehab progress last night, saying that he threw 50 times from 60-90 feet yesterday as he works back from a herniated disc in his back.
“It’s coming out pretty good,” Detwiler said. “It feels better than I have all year. We’re on the right path.”
That was the fifth or sixth time that Detwiler had played catch since being shut down from all physical activity weeks ago. He was placed on the 60-day DL retroactive to July 4, and still has about two weeks before he’d even be eligible to return to action. The bigger issue, however, is building up arm strength and stretching Detwiler’s pitch count out, a process that takes time. Detwiler is itching to get back on a mound and start that process rolling, but the Nats aren’t ready for that quite yet.
“I want to go a whole lot quicker than I am,” Detwiler said. “The severity of the injury, they want to take it slow and make sure we get everything right by the end. Luckily, there’s still a window for me to get out there.”
The good news is that Detwiler is confident that the back issues are behind him for now. The bad news is that the “window” that he refers to is shrinking quickly. Johnson said yesterday that it’s doubtful that Detwiler will have enough time to return before the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean the left-hander isn’t going to keep his rehab going at a steady pace and try and get back on the mound at Nats Park before 2013 wraps up.
Promotional Note: Forgot to mention this earlier, but I’ll be hosting a live Web chat with Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span here on MASNsports.com between 2-3 p.m. this afternoon. Just go to the front page of the site during that window and a video player will pop up.
Drop the office work, put down the TPS reports and be sure to tune in for what should be a pretty cool hour of internet TV. (That’s what I’m deciding to call it.)
If you have any fun questions for Zimmerman, Gonzalez or Span, drop them in the comment section below or tweet them using the hashtag #NatsChats. Want to know what’s going on with Gonzalez’s new hairdo? Interested in what Zimmerman chats about with opposing players when they’re on the bases? Want to hear Span’s favorite part about living in the D.C. area?
Tune in this afternoon and find out.