PHILADELPHIA - Some more tidbits and reactions from yesterday’s 7-6 win over the Phillies, and some other assorted thoughts to tide you over this Saturday morning until the Nationals arrive back at Citizens Bank Park for tonight’s game...
* Daniel Murphy isn’t quite feeling right at the plate yet. We can say that because the Nationals second baseman is swinging and missing more than is typical (he already has three strikeouts in four games, this from a guy who struck out only 57 times in 142 games last year).
And yet, Murphy currently owns a .471 batting average, .500 on-base percentage and .706 slugging percentage. He has played in four games and he has four multi-hit games.
Imagine how he’s going to look once he does find his swing for good.
“He’s still not right,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s almost right. You don’t see him chasing pitches down in the zone much. He’s about to get right.”
* Baker confirmed last night what had pretty much become common knowledge: Jeremy Guthrie will start tonight’s game against the Phillies.
Who would have guessed on the first day of spring training that the Nationals’ fifth starting pitcher to open the season would be the 38-year-old (he’s celebrating his birthday today) who had a 6.57 ERA with two different franchises’ Triple-A affiliates last season and who went to Australia over the winter in a last-ditch attempt to give himself one last shot before retiring?
It’s a remarkable story, one that will be all the more remarkable if Guthrie (who had a 2.41 ERA this spring) is able to pitch well tonight and perhaps convince the Nationals to keep him on the active roster for the foreseeable future.
The Nationals will have to make that decision later. First, though, they need to clear a spot on the active roster for Guthrie (whose contract will be purchased because he’s not on the 40-man roster yet). The most logical choice would be infielder Wilmer Difo, whose presence isn’t as necessary now that Anthony Rendon’s calf appears to be fine.
It’s worth noting that despite keeping an extra bench player to open the season, the Nationals have not been able to find any playing time at all for Difo, Michael A. Taylor or Jose Lobaton through four games. No pinch-hit at-bats. No pinch-running opportunities. No defensive replacements.
And given the current state of the bullpen, maybe it’s worth keeping Guthrie for a while as a long reliever once he gets through his start tonight.
* Jayson Werth always gets a reaction in Philadelphia, and he certainly got one yesterday in the Phillies’ home opener.
When Werth was introduced pregame by longtime PA announcer Dan Baker (who paused just a split-second for dramatic effect), the announced crowd of 45,121 booed with some gusto.
Clearly these fans have forgotten how important Werth was to the Phillies’ 2008 World Series title, not to mention four straight postseason appearances from 2007 through 2010. They also seem to hold it against Werth for taking the Nationals’ seven-year, $126 million contract offer instead of the Phillies’ offer of ... uh, well, the Phillies never did make a competitive offer to keep him in uniform, even though they happily re-signed Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to extensions while also signing free agent Cliff Lee for a hefty sum.
Werth seemed to relish the moment yesterday, doffing his cap to the crowd after jogging up the dugout steps. He also seemed to take some real pleasure rounding the bases following his fifth-inning, three-run homer into a stiff breeze.
“I was just happy to be back in Philadelphia,” he said with a grin. “I’ve always loved this place. The fans, and playing at this ballpark, means a lot to me.”
* You’ve heard Baker talk a lot for months now about his concern stacking up three straight left-handed batters in his lineup (Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy) because of the matchup problems that presents when an opposing manager wants to bring in a lefty reliever to face them.
Well, Baker has had Eaton, Harper and Murphy as his 2-3-4 hitters for all four games so far this season. He didn’t hesitate to do it against the Marlins, who had no lefties in their bullpen. But he was fine doing it again yesterday even though the Phillies do have southpaws.
But guess what happened when Philadelphia’s Joely Rodriguez pitched two innings of relief? He couldn’t get the Nats’ left-handed batters out. Eaton, Harper and Murphy collectively went 3-for-3 with two walks against the first left-hander who has faced the Nationals in 2017.
* You may be concerned about the Nationals bullpen, but take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. In fact, it could be worse.
The Giants have 12 pitchers on their season-opening staff. Of those 12 pitchers, seven already have blown a lead in the season’s first week. That includes Mark Melancon, who has appeared in only one game and blew the save, leaving the former Nats closer 0-for-1 in save opportunities.