A happy Saturday morning to you from Nationals Park, where the Nationals start the second game of their series against the Brewers at 1:05 today. It's going to be a bit of a busy morning for me, so I'm going to peck away at this as I have time. But we'll get right to it.
Josh Willingham: The left fielder reached base in four different ways - walking, singling, hitting a homer and getting hit by a pitch - scored twice and drove in a run on his game-tying solo homer in the sixth. He's hitting .375, and has been the key to a middle of the lineup that's been struggling most of the year. Willingham, often chided for his defense, made a tremendous diving catch to rob Alcides Escobar of a hit in the eighth inning, throwing to second to easily double off Carlos Gomez.
John Lannan: We saw the left-hander in vintage form last night, pounding his fastball early in counts and getting the Brewers' aggressive lineup to sit on the two-seamer. That made his curveball one of his more effective pitches last night, and it's why Lannan got an uncharacteristically high five strikeouts.
Nyjer Morgan: He reached base three times in four plate appearances, tripling in a run in the third, walking and stealing a base in the fifth and getting hit by a pitch in the seventh. He didn't score once, but that's the fault of the middle of the lineup, not Morgan. He's got a .378 on-base percentage; if he keeps it above .350, the Nationals have a good chance to score a lot of runs.
Cristian Guzman: It was a bad night all around for the infielder. He was 1-for-4 with a strikeout, couldn't catch Alberto Gonzalez's throw in the seventh inning that was too close to Gomez at first and eventually led to a run, double-clutched a ball that cost the Nationals a double play in the fourth inning and made a weak throw from deep in the hole in the same inning that let Prince Fielder get on with an infield single against the Nationals' shift.
Adam Dunn: His first-inning checked swing strikeout led to a thrown helmet and a quick ejection. "That's such a hard call, man," Dunn said. "I was talking to another umpire about that, and they said it's the hardest call to make in baseball. I think I check swung maybe two or three times in that at-bat, and it could have been called a few times, and it wasn't. That last one, I didn't feel like I went. ... I didn't even know I threw a helmet. I don't even remember throwing a helmet. They keep telling me I did."
In Case You Missed It:
--Jim Riggleman pulled his pinch-intimidator trick again on Friday, putting Ryan Zimmerman in the on-deck circle with Adam Kennedy at the plate to make sure the Brewers pitched to Kennedy. And it worked again, with Kennedy placing a two-run single just between Prince Fielder and the first-base line to put the Nationals ahead for good. Riggleman was going to hit Zimmerman if Kennedy had walked, but when Kennedy signled, he then let Wil Nieves hit. And when Nieves drove in an insurance run, he put Zimmerman in for the pitcher's spot. "You like to have Ryan in the lineup," Riggleman said, "but when you can pick a spot, it really puts pressure on the defense."
--John Lannan's seventh-inning of Prince Fielder, with a man on first and the game tied, came on a picturesque curveball in the dirt. Lannan started Fielder with a curveball, got him to foul off two fastballs, and with Fielder expanding his strike zone on an 0-2 count, Lannan dropped a curveball under Fielder's bat for strike three. "I knew I had to throw it in the dirt," Lannan said. "The slider was an option, but he hit a slider pretty well the last time out. I felt comfortable with the curveball, and I knew I had to throw it in the dirt."
--Lannan's pitching plan was the left-hander in vintage form. Here is the number of batters he threw first-inning strikes to, by inning:
First inning: 4/4
That's a perfect picture of Lannan's game plan; establish the fastball early, introduce breaking pitches the second and third time through the lineup and give the hitters more to think about as the game goes on. Especially against an aggressive fastball-hitting team like the Brewers, it worked well.
1. Are you at all worried about the Nationals' inability to drive in runners at the top of their lineup? Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris got on base a combined five times without scoring a run. Will that change once Zimmerman and Dunn get going, or is there a larger theme here?
2. Has Matt Capps shown you he can be counted on yet? He's 5-for-5 in saves, and had probably his easiest night on Friday. Is he reliable, or do you need to see more?
3. What do you make of Josh Willingham's hot start? The Nationals had trade talks with a number of clubs about him last winter - I heard from one scout they wanted to move him for Dodgers pitcher Chad Billinsgley - but the way he's started, he's shown he can be an important part of the lineup as a No. 5 hitter. Would you still move him for a pitcher if the opportunity came up, or is he a fixture for you?
Back with more in a little bit - I've got to head downstairs, where I'll be on Nats Xtra around 12:40 to talk with Johnny and Ray about the Nats' success on the basepaths so far. But you can start weighing in on today's Talking Points (remember: head to the commenting window at the bottom of this entry and click the orange link that says "Sign In" to log in with one of eight different social networking accounts and have comments approved automatically). I'll have the live thread ready to go for the 1:00 game.