Final notes and quotes from Detroit

DETROIT - Before I pack up and head out of Detroit late this morning, I wanted to pass along some bonus thoughts from the Nationals’ two games at Comerica Park, which, by the way, I really enjoyed visiting for the first time.

You never really hear Comerica mentioned as one of the nicer parks in the majors, and while it certainly isn’t up there with PNC Park in Pittsburgh or AT&T Park in San Francisco or Camden Yards in Baltimore, I enjoyed the layout and feel of the park here in Detroit.

I did a radio call-in last night after the Nats’ 11-1 loss and was asked what I thought of Bryce Harper’s comments where he criticized his team for not being enough of a “family” and not playing with enough “heart”.

First of all, the thing that struck me the most is that Harper seemed to know that it wasn’t really his place, as the youngest and least experienced member of the Nationals’ starting lineup, to be the one to come out and publicly criticize his team’s play and effort. But after watching the Nats get smoked in two straight games, Harper couldn’t hold in his thoughts anymore and decided to take a stand.

“I’m not the one to speak on it,” Harper said at one point. “I try to be a leader, but I’m younger.”

Harper was probably waiting on one of his more veteran teammates to try and light a fire under the team, but while he might not have been completely comfortable being the one to do so, I commend him for saying what he did.

The odds of the Nationals making up an 11-game deficit in the National League East or a 7 1/2 game deficit in the race for the final NL Wild Card spot over the final third of the season aren’t good, but crazier things have happened. The Nats still do have a chance (so you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance?), and Harper wants to see his team get back to playing the type of fun-loving, supportive ball that they played last year. If it takes getting a wake-up call from the youngest player on the roster to get the Nats back to that, so be it.

Another key takeaway from Harper’s interview, in my mind, is that he twice mentioned “the manager” when referring to the Nats needing to “want it” and stay “upbeat”.

The more I thought about it, the more I figured Harper was probably referring to Davey Johnson’s pregame comment yesterday about how this season - one he labeled back in December as “World Series or bust” - has been more like “bust”. That’s just a guess on my part, but it seems to make the most sense to me.

Johnson also made optimistic comments in his pregame session with reporters yesterday, saying he felt the Nats had what it took to get hot and make a run, if they played to their capabilities. But there’s a good chance Harper (and possibly other players) saw reporters’ stories and tweets about Johnson’s “bust” comment and felt that their manager might have been labeling their season a bit prematurely.

Regardless, it was interesting to see Harper come out and say what he did yesterday. We’ll see if it makes any type of impact on the field or in the clubhouse.

Moving on to other topics, Adam LaRoche went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts yesterday and now is 3-for-35 with nine strikeouts in his last nine games. This type of stretch is nothing new for LaRoche, who is one of the streakiest hitters you’ll find in the majors. He can get red-hot for weeks on end, but can also hit a deep slump that is hard to dig his way out of.

“It feels like a lot of what I’ve been through throughout my career,” LaRoche said. “I go back and watch film, work on some small things, see if I can pinpoint it. For whatever reason it takes one good swing, one bloop hit and I can find it and get going.”

LaRoche isn’t alone; Anthony Rendon (in a 4-for-44 slump) has also been struggling to get much going offensively, as opposing pitchers have made adjustments on the rookie. They’ve been pounding him in lately, not allowing him to get extension and drive the ball the other way.

For whatever reason, Gio Gonzalez has been tremendous during night games this season, but when he gets a start during a day game, he tends to be hit much harder. Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA and 1.070 WHIP in 12 nighttime starts this season. During day games, the left-hander is 2-3 with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.491 WHIP.

I asked Gonzalez after his outing yesterday whether there’s a difference for him in terms of preparation when he pitches during the day as compared to at night.

“I mean, it’s weird,” Gonzalez said. “Stras (Stephen Strasburg) and I joke around, he gets the rainy days, I get the day games. Flip a coin. One of those situations you just have to learn to adjust to. Waking up early and trying to attack the strike zone. You can’t blame the weather, any excuses. You’ve just still got to pitch whether night or day, still have to play your game.”

After these two games in Detroit, the Nats have now scored two or fewer runs in 50 of their 108 games. Last season, the Nats put up two or fewer runs 47 times all year.

It’s off to Milwaukee for the Nats, who get today off and then will have three against a struggling Brewers team that has the second-worst record in the National League.

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