For the first time in Washington Nationals history the team used a position player to pitch when first baseman/outfielder Clint Robinson took the mound Tuesday for the eighth inning in a blowout loss to the Diamondbacks.
Arizona knocked starter Stephen Strasburg out in the fourth inning, getting to him for eight runs, but Robinson had a lot more success. Working with an 81-mph fastball and the occasional slider, Robinson tossed a scoreless inning, allowing only a single, and the left-hander even picked up a strikeout against former All-Star Aaron Hill.
James Wagner of the Washington Post writes that Robinson hadn’t pitched in 12 years:
So Robinson went down in the batting cage to warm up his arm. He hasn’t pitched since his senior year at Northview High in Dothan, Ala. in 2003. He was a two-way player then who, he said, reached the low-90s with his fastball. But he didn’t pitch often then because, he said laughing, it took him weeks to recover. But for one inning against the Diamondbacks, he was willing to try. He wasn’t nervous.
Robinson is a 30-year-old rookie with eight seasons and nearly 4,000 plate appearances in the minors, so of course he raised his hand when Nationals manager Matt Williams asked who was willing to pitch.
Yankees 6, Orioles 2: Michael Pineda struck out 16 Orioles batters and didn’t walk a one while allowing one run over seven innings. On the season he’s 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA, and 54/3 K/BB ratio in 46 and a third innings. That’s right: he has walked only three batters while striking out over a batter per inning. Yankees win the Jesus Montero trade?
Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 3: This is more like how it’s supposed to go: Clay Buchholz pitchers well and Pablo Sandoval homers as the Sox win. Of course this is just the second time the Sox have won in seven of nine and it’s the first time Buchholz has won in six starts. The Red Sox had a clubhouse meeting on Saturday following a bunch of bad play. After the game John Farrell credited the meeting with yesterday’s results, saying “we went out and put together and very good game.” Research project for someone with more time than I have: go back and find every reference to a team having a closed-door meeting in the middle of the season in game stories and then track their collective records over the next 5-10 games and then for the rest of the season. I bet you find, shockingly, that they sort of don’t matter and that bad teams are just bad teams and talent wins and loses more ballgames then motivational meetings. In this way it’s just like your office.
Indians 8, Twins 2: Danny Salazar gave up a leadoff homer to Brian Dozier and then proceeded to retire every single other batter he faced for the next seven innings, striking out 11 of them. I guess that home run . . . motivated him?
Rangers 2, Rays 1: Between his last start and this start Wandy Rodriguez retired 35 straight batters. That’s a perfect game plus eight. We don’t give him credit for that, though, because of the tyranny of the calendar and people’s hangups about arbitrary end-points. You should all really open your minds, man, and throw off the shackles society is making you wear. Or, really man, shackles that you’re putting on yourself. If these comments interest you, I gave a TED-talk on this matter and you can see the video of it here.
Nationals 5, Braves 4: A week into the season the Braves were playing well and the Nationals were not. That dynamic has clearly and definitively reversed itself. Here’s a video representation of the NL East standings.
Agent Smith is the Nationals, obvs, except in our example there are not two horrifyingly bad sequels. There’s just one in which Agent Smith — the far more interesting character played by a far better actor — kicks Neo’s butt pretty soundly and everyone gets to continue living in The Matrix which, you must admit, is way better than that post-apocalyptic hellhole Zion. Reality is overrated.
White Sox 4, Reds 3: The Sox blew a lead in the top of the ninth, allowing the Reds to tie. Then they had to face Aroldis Chapman in the bottom half. Not a great set of circumstances, and the circumstances seemed even more dire as Chapman got two quick outs to start the inning. But then he gave up two straight singles, uncorked a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position. Gordon Beckham then came to the plate and hit a walkoff single. And the best part of this? After the game, Beckham revealed that his mom’s name is “Sully.” That’s gotta be the first “Sully” who isn’t, right now, sitting on a barstool in Massachusetts someplace, explaining away “Deflategate” as a conspiracy against the Patriots because everyone’s jealous of their success.
Mets 7, Phillies 4: Forty-two is the new twenty-seven: Bartolo Colon becomes the majors’ first six game winner this year. He wasn’t necessarily sharp — he gave up a homer to Chad Billingsley for cryin’ out loud — but there’s a lot of margin for error when it comes to facing the Phillies. Also helping: no walks. Indeed, Colon hasn’t walked a batter in over 40 innings.
Pirates 4, Cardinals 3: Jung Ho Kang went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. People wondered if his potent KBL bat would translate in the big leagues. So far so good: .333/.377/.521 in part time play. Mike Matheny described the Cardinals’ day: “Just one of those days we had to try and get what we could. Gave up a few, got `em back, then just couldn’t hold them in the end.” Along with “they whupped our butts,” “everything was workin’ for us” and “we’re happy to have gotten out of there with a win; that’s a good team over there,” that is the exhaustive list of managerial executive game summaries.
Brewers 3, Cubs 2: Martin Maldonado hit a walkoff single in the 11th. Earlier he hit a homer. No word on whether his mom’s name is Sully. Or whatever the Puerto Rican equivalent of Sully is. There probably is. Every region and land has their version of Sully, even if they don’t get the press Sully gets.
Angels 3, Astros 1: Garret Richards was dialing up the heat, hitting his spots and taking a no-hitter into the seventh. He walked some dudes and hit a guy to force in the Astros’ only run, but he struck out ten and looked an awful lot like the guy who led the Angels’ staff until he got hurt at the end of last August.
Giants 3, Marlins 2: Down by one in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants rallied with a single, a double a couple of walks — on intentional, which loaded the bases, the second unintentional to walk in a run — and then Matt Duffy ended it by singling in Gregor Blanco to win the game for San Francisco. The Giants end their homestand having won seven of ten and pull even at .500 on the season. They have 16 wins. Four of them have been walkoffs.
Mariners 4, Athletics 3: Felix Hernandez notched his 2,000th career strikeout. And he just turned 29. Only three guys have gotten to 2,000 Ks at a younger age: Bert Blyleven, Sam McDowell and Walter Johnson. Good company. Hernandez allowed only two runs over seven innings and is now 6-0 on the year with a 1.85 ERA.
Dodgers 9, Rockies 5: They had to clear four inches of snow from Coors Field before the game and the gametime temperature was 41 degrees. It dropped to 39 degrees in the ninth. I have some friends in Denver and they say it’s a lovely place to live, but I feel like the volatile snow-sun-rain-snow-frogs nature of their weather would drive me insane. Adrian Gonzalez hit two doubles and drove in four and the rest of the Dodgers’ offense clicked nicely. Which was good because Clayton Kershaw was once again rather meh. He hasn’t pitched terribly this year, but he certainly hasn’t looked like himself. He stands at 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA. Opponents have a .357 average against him on balls in play. For his career: .274. Things will even out for him, one has to assume.
Diamondbacks 2, Padres 1: Daniel Hudson made his first start since 2012. He didn’t pitch long enough to qualify for the win — he’s not stretched out for that and this was a bullpen game anyway — but he was effective. Nice to see a two-time TJ patient turn things around like Hudson has. Aaron Hill and A.J. Pollock homered.
Royals 2, Tigers 1: The Royals prevailed in the tenth after the game was delayed over an hour and a half in the ninth due to rain. Teams already hate playing Sunday night games because of next-day travel — the Royals are on their way to Texas and probably just got to their hotel rooms in the last hour or so — so I’m sure this one was annoying for all involved. I watched for a few innings. It was annoying to me too, as Curt Schilling and John Kruk are damn nigh unlistenable in the booth. Which is a shame because Dan Shulman is fantastic. ESPN really, really needs to let him fly solo. It’d be so much better.
Diamondbacks release Cody Ross, option Yasmany Tomas to Triple-A
The Diamondbacks announced on Twitter that the club has released outfielder Cody Ross. Ross is owed $8.5 million for the 2015 season plus a $1 million buyout for 2016. Ross, 34, has played in only 177 games over the last two seasons due to calf and hip injuries. In that time, he compiled a combined .268/.322/.378 with 10 home runs and 53 RBI in 570 plate appearances.
The D’Backs also announced that they’ve optioned Yasmany Tomas to Triple-A Reno. The club signed Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract in December. However, he played poor defense at third base — bad enough for the team to consider using him part-time in the outfield. With the outfield as crowded as it is, it may benefit Tomas more to get consistent playing time in the minor leagues.
The state of the Diamondbacks in a couple of tweets from Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic:
Dbacks optioned a player they paid $68.5m and released another they still owe $9.5m.
Hill, 33, is owed $12 million for the 2015 season and $12 million next season as well, a portion of which the Diamondbacks would be expected to cover. Hill missed considerable time in 2013 due to a fracutred hand and missed several games throughout the 2014 season due to various ailments, though none resulted in a stint on the disabled list. Nevertheless, given Hill’s age and health history, he would be considered an injury risk.
Ahmed, 25, hit his way into a starting role by batting .328 over 58 at-bats in Cactus League play. Owings hit only .244 in 41 at-bats.
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up. The Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Big Question: There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
Since winning the National League West in 2011, the Diamondbacks have turned in three straight disappointing seasons and finished last season with the worst record in the majors at 64-98. Tony La Russa was hired as chief baseball officer early on in the year, which essentially signaled that Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson were living on borrowed time. Sure enough, they were both fired in September.
Tasked with taking the franchise in a new direction, La Russa hired one of his former pitchers from the Athletics, Dave Stewart, to serve as general manager while De Jon Watson was brought over from the Dodgers as senior vice president of baseball operations. Chip Hale, who has coached with the Mets and Athletics in recent seasons, was then brought aboard for his first managing opportunity in the big leagues.
Stewart was outspoken when he was an agent and he has already said his fair share of interesting things as Arizona’s general manager. Most notably, when the Diamondbacks were briefly courting right-hander James Shields in free agency, he said they were more of a “true baseball team” as opposed to teams which are more geared toward analytics. This was likely just an attempt at a sales pitch to appeal to a player they only had a small chance of actually signing, but it’s not the first impression you want after the grit-centered philosophy of Towers and Gibson fizzled out.
Getting back to contender status is going to be a process. The team’s big offseason move was signing Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract, but the third base experiment has been a bust so far and he’s still learning to hit major league pitching. Interesting arms like Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Robbie Ray, and Yoan Lopez were brought in over the offseason, but this is a team that is going with Josh Collmenter as their Opening Day starter. He would be a back-end starter on a good staff. After dealing catcher Miguel Montero to the Cubs, Stewart didn’t seem so keen (or didn’t have the budget) to acquire a suitable replacement, so Tuffy Gosewisch stands to get most of the playing time in the early going. Peter O’Brien, who Stewart was hoping could be a solution behind the plate, was having trouble throwing the ball back to the mound this spring and could be bound for the outfield. Barring a last-minute move, this could be the weakest catching situation in the majors.
This lineup has a couple of interesting pieces in place, which I’ll get to in a minute, but expectations are understandably low for 2015 in a division which also has the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres.
What else is going on?
After finishing second in the NL MVP balloting in 2013, Paul Goldschmidt was well on his way to a comparable follow-up last season by hitting .300/.396/.542 with 19 home runs and 69 RBI across 109 games before he suffered a broken hand on a hit-by-pitch in early August. He’s back to 100 percent now and remains the shining light on this roster.
Aside from the excellence of Goldschmidt at first base, the infield is in flux. Assuming Tomas doesn’t work out at third base, young Jake Lamb is a possibility there, but Aaron Hill could also get some time at the hot corner if the D-Backs go with Nick Ahmed at shortstop and try Chris Owings at second base. Trading Hill, which has been rumored, could clear the way for all of the youngsters to get playing time. I’m guessing we’ll see that configuration sooner or later.
This outfield has a lot of moving pieces and not all of them are ideal fits. A.J. Pollock is locked in as the starting center fielder while Mark Trumbo appears set to start in right field, but David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, Cody Ross, and Tomas are also in the mix. Trumbo and Tomas in the corners might not be pretty. They also have similar offensive profiles. Which is to say, power without much patience.
This rotation doesn’t look particularly strong right now, but it figures to get better as the season moves along. Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo are both working their way back from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to return by mid-season. Things didn’t go as planned for top prospect Archie Bradley last year, but he could surface in the majors soon with a good showing in Triple-A.
Perhaps my favorite story to watch with this team will be Daniel Hudson, who has lost much of the last three seasons due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The 28-year-old returned for three relief appearances down the stretch last year and has flashed mid-90s velocity this spring. It’s unclear if he’ll be used as a starter or reliever, but here’s hoping he can finally stay healthy and deliver on the promise he showed in the early part of his career.
Prediction: This could really go either way with the Rockies, as they look like two of the weakest teams in the majors, but I’m going to say a repeat of Fifth Place, NL West.