Rockies 2, Nationals 0: Second Look

We’re breaking down the Nationals’ 2-0 loss to the Rockies this morning, taking a look at a few things you might have missed and discussing what themes we can pull out of the game going forward. A couple links first: Here’s my game story, which focused on the role of an ace like the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. The news on Jason Marquis’ and Ryan Zimmerman’s injuries is here. And the recap of the in-game thread, now living in our Gamezone space, is here. That’s the permanent link for Gamezone, and we’ll update it with a new live thread every day, in addition to all the other stuff you can find there. So if you’re looking to bookmark it, that’s where you want to be.

Onward...

Golden Geese
Livan Hernandez: He may have taken the loss, but there was little fault to be found in the way the 35-year-old pitched. He allowed two runs in eight innings, giving up a pair of solo homers to Miguel Olivo and Ian Stewart, but had the Rockies off-balance all day, especially with the 64-mph curveballs he was throwing. Hernandez has allowed two runs in 24 innings this season. It’s been a tremendous start for a guy the Nationals brought back on a minor-league contract this spring.

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Willie Harris: The outfielder went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk, blasting a deep fly ball to right off Joe Beimel in the eighth inning that, by the way it came off the bat, looked like it might give the Nationals a 3-2 lead. “Willie had a great at-bat there, as he did all day,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He just came up a little bit short.”

Adam Kennedy: Kennedy had one of the Nationals’ two extra-base hits, and also made a tremendous catch on Olivo’s seventh-inning pop-up. Kennedy chase the pop fly into shallow right field, making a one-handed basket grab with his back to the infield, and easily doubled off Ryan Spilborghs, who either thought there were two outs or figured the ball had no chance of being caught.

Goose Eggs
Adam Dunn: The slugger went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Thursday, dropping his average to .176. Dunn’s one non-strikeout at-bat was a fly to deep center in the ninth inning.

Ian Desmond: He was also 0-for-4, striking out once, and surprisingly, he’s only hitting .233. Desmond did make an acrobatic leap at second base to turn a 1-6-3 double play in the sixth on a play that also featured some good footwork from Livan Hernandez and a nice stretch by Dunn at first.

In Case You Missed It:
--When Nyjer Morgan popped up a bunt in the eighth inning, it was a failed chance to exploit what Morgan saw as a great matchup. Second baseman Clint Barmes was playing back and shading toward the middle of the field, so he would have had a difficult time covering first if Todd Helton had left his base to charge a bunt. But Helton looked like he “wasn’t thinking about it,” Morgan said. Those things, paired with pitcher Joe Beimel’s high leg kick, made Morgan think he could bunt his way on with a runner on second and one out in the eighth. “i just wanted to get something down,” Morgan said. “I just didn’t get the angle down and popped it up.” It’s difficult to say how it would have changed the next at-bat, when Cristian Guzman reached on a grounder that Troy Tulowitzki couldn’t convert into an out. But Morgan thought he had a chance to ignite a rally there. “It was definitely a great opportunity for us to jump on them,” he said.

-- Jim Riggleman had Ryan Zimmerman, who was sitting out with cramps in his right hamstring, rustling in the dugout in the eighth inning, but Riggleman confessed after the game he was performing some more of the pinch-hit chicanery he likes so much. “I wasn’t going to use him today,” Riggleman said. “We’re not playing them tomorrow, so I’ll say I was bluffing. I was hoping we’d get a certain matchup. But he wasn’t going to hit. He may hit tomorrow, but he wasn’t going to hit today.”

--Of the nine batters Jimenez faced on Thursday, he threw less than 50 percent strikes to just one: Harris. The left fielder, batting third on Thursday, saw 15 pitches in three plate appearances against Jimenez, seven of which went for strikes. Jimenez threw 78 of his 121 pitches for strikes. He’s got a similar repertoire to Stephen Strasburg, who the Nationals want to start throwing more strikes. Maybe they’ll send him a tape of Jimenez’s start on Thursday. Come to think of it, the no-hitter he threw last weekend wouldn’t be bad, either.

Talking Points:
1. If Livan Hernandez is still pitching this well in June, how much does it change the picture of the Nationals’ rotation? During that month, you could be adding any of the following pitchers to the major-league roster: Marquis, Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang. It’s been assumed Hernandez would be easy to lift out by then, but that might not be the case. How would you proceed? Or is it too early to think about that?

2. Adam Dunn’s slump continues. Mike Rizzo is a big “track record guy,” as he puts it, so he’s not worried about Dunn’s lack of production yet. And Jim Riggleman had this to say on Thursday: “I think every day’s the day he’s going to break out,” Riggleman said. “I’ve been around a couple great power hitters, one of them being Sammy Sosa, and Sammy went through streaks like this. Everybody would say, ‘Sit him down, move him in the lineup, blah, blah, blah.’ And the next day he’d hit two, three homers and he’d be off to the races. I count on it every day that it’s going to start happening.” Where do you come down on Dunn?

3. Are you encouraged at all by Brian Bruney’s ninth inning on Thursday (one inning, a strikeout, no hits)? If he gets it going, do you make him the setup guy? Or do you stick with Tyler Clippard?

Leave your responses to those questions in the comments section (if you sign in with a third-party account from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AIM, etc., the site will remember your login info and you won’t have to put it in each time). I’ll have a couple more tidbits later this morning, and of course much more from the ballpark for Nats-Dodgers tonight.