Levels of interest in Nats' free agents

Erasmo Ramirez throws gray

The first full week of the official offseason is complete, and with that, the deadline for teams to negotiate with their respective free agents has passed.

Thursday was the last day the Nationals had exclusive rights to re-sign any of their free agents before they became available to speak with other teams. Of their eight free agents, the Nats had already made decisions on two of them.

On Sunday, the day after the conclusion of the World Series, the Nats announced they had agreed to terms with Sean Doolittle on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to major league spring training. A couple of hours later, the team also announced they declined the $16 million mutual option for 2023 on Nelson Cruz’s contract, instead buying out the 42-year-old designated hitter for $3 million.

Both moves made sense.

Doolittle has a long history with the team, showed flashes of returning to his previous form in limited action this year (5 ⅓ scoreless innings over six games) and has been recovering from his internal brace procedure. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach in mid-February.

Continue reading

Steve Cishek uses distinctive delivery, veteran presence to lift Nationals bullpen

steve cishek pitches white

Steve Cishek grew up a Red Sox fan in Cape Cod, Mass., modeling his pitching after two of Boston’s aces, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. He wanted his wind up to mimic Martinez’s, and his mechanics to be like Lowe’s.

Somewhere along the way, Cishek molded a delivery that was completely different from that of Martinez or Lowe: a sidearm motion that he would use to establish himself as a big league reliever. 

But for years, he had no idea his delivery was distinct.

“Somehow I came out the way I am today,” Cishek said. “I've had some pointers here and there, but even in high school people would ask how I throw like that and I had no idea what they were talking about.” 

Cishek says he’s a self-taught sidearm pitcher, and doesn’t know how to throw any other way — noting that it actually feels like he’s delivering the ball in the typical, over-the-top fashion when he pitches. It wasn’t until he was in college at Division-II Carson-Newman, watching video of himself pitch for the first time, that he realized how low he actually delivered the ball. 

Continue reading

Harvey savors first chance to close game for Nats

nats coaches

LOS ANGELES – As the eighth inning became the ninth inning Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the Nationals suddenly holding a 4-3 lead following Luis García’s dramatic home run, Hunter Harvey looked around the bullpen and tried to figure out who was about to be told to start warming up.

With Kyle Finnegan and Carl Edwards Jr. both unavailable after pitching the previous two nights, Harvey’s attention immediately turned to Steve Cishek, the 36-year-old veteran with 133 saves on his big league resume.

“I was about 100 percent sure it was going to be Cishek,” Harvey said this morning. “That was my guess. He’s been around for 11 years. He’s got a bunch of saves. I was sure he was going to be the guy. So when they called down and said it was going to be me … it’s kind of crazy to even think I’m even getting this opportunity.”

Harvey indeed was manager Davey Martinez’s choice to close the game. The 27-year-old right-hander’s heart started racing at the thought of entering for his first major league save opportunity, before a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, of all places.

And though the Nationals lineup actually took the save opportunity away by tacking on four runs in the top of the ninth to extend the lead to 8-3, Harvey’s experience wasn’t diminished in the least. He retired the side, getting Mookie Betts to ground to third for the final out of one the team’s biggest wins of this otherwise dismal season.

Continue reading

Unsung heroes helped Nats over the weekend

franco swing @CIN blue

CINCINNATI – Wherever the Nationals go, the attention always focuses on their big-name players. Your Juan Sotos, Josh Bells, Nelson Cruzes, Josiah Grays, Patrick Corbins, etc.

While all of those stars contributed to the Nats’ three wins over the Reds this weekend, some unsung heroes played a significant role as well.

Not all of them got their fair share of praise over the last three days, partially my own fault for not incorporating them more. So let’s take some time to give them their time in the spotlight.

Lane Thomas is an obvious one, though he did get his fair share after hitting three home runs on Friday night. Those jump off the page, obviously, but he did a lot more this weekend.

Thomas went 7-for-14 with three home runs, a double, four RBIs, a walk and five runs scored in the three games he played in Cincinnati, once again showing his uncanny ability to produce in National League Central ballparks. All along the way, he played perfect defense in the outfield, including a nice sliding catch Saturday afternoon.

Continue reading

Corbin, Nats hold off Reds for road series win (updated)


CINCINNATI – It’s been over a month since the Nationals completed a road series win. They took two out of three in San Francisco on April 28-May 1. They have lost five straight since.

That streak ended today as the Nationals beat the Reds 5-4 in front of 16,380 at Great American Ball Park to win their third straight game and therefore this four-game series.

The first inning had a lot of action this Sunday afternoon. Facing right-hander Luis Castillo, who doesn’t have great career numbers against the Nats, the guys in navy blue were able to jump out to an early lead, something they haven’t done in about a week.

César Hernández walked and Lane Thomas singled to start the game, and Josh Bell drove in both with an RBI double to right field, putting the Nats on the board first for the first time since Monday in New York.

But Patrick Corbin ran into trouble of his own in the bottom of the inning. The Reds’ game plan against the southpaw was clear: Attack the fastball and run on the basepaths.

Continue reading

Teammates help Corbin finally earn first win of year

Patrick Corbin throwing blue home

The Nationals lineup did its part, jumping out to an early lead with a first-inning barrage of hits. Patrick Corbin did his part, producing a rare quality start and departing in the seventh inning with his team ahead.

All that stood between Corbin and his long-anticipated first win of the season was a Nats bullpen that needed some reconfiguring on this night.

With Kyle Finnegan presumably unavailable after pitching back-to-back days, manager Davey Martinez made the aggressive move to put closer Tanner Rainey on the mound to face the heart of the Rockies’ lineup in the eighth inning. And after Rainey retired the side, it was veteran Steve Cishek entrusted with the ninth, his team’s lead having just been padded to four runs.

There was no save in the end, but Cishek did finish off a satisfying 7-3 victory for the Nationals that finally got Corbin in the win column for the first time in 10 tries this year.

"It was going to come," Martinez said. "And I told him: 'Don't fight it. Don't worry about the wins and losses. It's going to come. Just keep pitching, keep doing what you're doing.' And tonight was a perfect example. He went out there and pitched well, kept us in the game. We scored some runs, and he got his first one out of the way."

Continue reading

Bullpen blows first lead, Nats drop series in Pittsburgh (updated)


PITTSBURGH – The Nationals’ formula for success this season, tried and true through the first 10 games, went awry this afternoon at PNC Park. They got the five-inning start that to date has guaranteed victory, only to watch Patrick Corbin fade in the sixth and one of their most-trusted relievers, Steve Cishek, give up the lead in the seventh.

Throw in their worst defensive showing of the year, and what was shaping up to be a simple win over the Pirates in their series finale instead morphed into a 5-3 loss that devolved rather abruptly on this 42-degree Easter Sunday.

“Those little things, we got to clean up,” said manager Davey Martinez in one of several rare displays of public criticism of his team over the last few days. “We can’t give teams extra outs. We’re not going to win games like that.”

Corbin’s sixth-inning woes turned a three-run lead into a one-run lead. Cishek then gave up three runs himself in the bottom of the seventh, the first time the Nationals’ so-called “A” bullpen has blown a late lead.

There were other mistakes along the way. Third baseman Maikel Franco was charged with three errors, two of them on one play. The lineup failed to take advantage of late scoring opportunities after plating three early runs. And Josh Bell was narrowly thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on Franco’s seventh-inning double to left, aggressively waved around by third base coach Gary DiSarcina.

Continue reading

Deep bullpen performing exactly as hoped so far


ATLANTA – It’s been a long time since a Nationals manager has had at least four relievers he trusts to pitch late in games. It really didn’t happen at any point during Davey Martinez’s first four seasons on the job. Dusty Baker at one point had the “Law Firm” bullpen of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, but that was a trio, not a quartet.

You may have to go all the way back to 2012 – when Davey Johnson could regularly count on Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus to pitch in meaningful situations – to find anything resembling the Nats’ current situation.

It’s early, yes. They’ve played only seven games. But the quartet that closed out Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Braves – Kyle Finnegan, Doolittle, Steve Cishek and Tanner Rainey – has quickly emerged into as reliable a relief corps as we’ve seen around here in a long time. And if Hunter Harvey’s eye-opening season debut Monday was a sign of things to come, and if Clippard is headed this way sometime soon once he finishes building his arm up at Triple-A Rochester, the Nationals might just have themselves the makings of a quality, deep bullpen.

“However we line up is going to be a really good combination,” Rainey said. “No matter what the matchups are, whoever gets in the game, honestly, with all nine, 10, 12, however many guys we’ve got down there, I think the bullpen’s been really good so far.”

It has. Though there were a couple of blow-ups during lopsided losses to the Mets and Braves, the relief corps for the most part has been quite effective, certainly when given an opportunity to take over in the sixth inning following a strong starting performance. In their three wins so far, the bullpen has allowed a total of two runs over 11 2/3 innings.

Continue reading

Nats ride Gray and bullpen to series win in Atlanta

Josiah Gray throw gray away

ATLANTA – There are more than 5 1/2 months of baseball left to be played in 2022, and there’s still every reason to believe when this season is complete the Braves will be right there among the National League’s best while the rebuilding Nationals are looking up at a number of other clubs.

One series in mid-April does not change the outlook of either team’s chances this year. That doesn’t, however, mean the Nats can’t leave town this evening and fly to Pittsburgh feeling awfully good about themselves for what they just accomplished.

Shaking off a blowout loss Tuesday night, they bounced right back and won today’s finale 3-1, capturing the three-game series against the defending World Series champions and in the process establishing the formula for success they’ll try to mimic as much as possible over these next 5 1/2 months.

“I feel like it’s a confidence boost, right?” reliever Steve Cishek said. “You got a young team, and you take out the defending champs? I mean, their lineup is incredible. We threw the ball really well the first game and today. That’s a huge confidence boost for the young guys.”

The Nationals got a strong outing today from one of their young starters, with Josiah Gray tossing five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. They got some early offense from an opportunistic lineup that jumped on Braves ace Max Fried. And then Davey Martinez handed over the final four innings to his four best relievers: Kyle Finnegan, Sean Doolittle, Cishek and Tanner Rainey.

Continue reading