May 14

Back Home, Nats Hope to Keep Offense Going

For most teams, a .500 road trip is a god thing. But as the Nationals return from a pair of series in which they lost their starting catcher for the season and blew two close games, their fans can’t help thinking of what was lost and what might have been.

The loss of Wilson Ramos, whose clutch bat and moderate power (15 homers in 2011) have already helped the Nats win a couple games this season, was the worst part of the trip. Fortunately for the Nats, this is one area where the team has a competent backup. Jesus Flores has just a bit less power than Ramos (11 HR in 2011) and a slightly lower average (.252 career to Ramos .369). But his diving stop of Henry Rodriguez‘ wild pitch on Monday night in Cincinnati shows his true value to the team. Even on the major league level, if your catcher is not a defensive liability, you are ahead of the game. If Flores can continue to lock down the plate and handle the team’s pitching staff competently, there should be no real drop off.

The other bad part of the road trip was the performance of Rodriguez, who blew two saves in what could have been one-run wins for the Nationals. Instead, he have up a pair of two-out walkoff homers, a two-run shot to the previously homerless Rod Barajas in Pittsburgh and a grand slam to All-Star Joey Votto (after allowing a single and walking two men to load the bases) to close out the series against the Reds. In both games, MPH-Rod had a hard time controlling his slider. That left the fireballer with one pitch, which a guy like Votto is more than happy to sit on and take out of the park.

The trip also showed how young and vulnerable Bryce Harper really is. He made a couple ill-advised throws home, threw a temper tantrum in the dugout tunnel that left a few stitches near his left eye and, worst of all, lost track of a fly ball with two out and two on in the eighth inning of Sunday’s loss. That resulted in a two-run double for Jay Bruce that turned a three-run cushion into a one-run margin.

Now the Nats have dropped out of first place and will have to play their way back into the lead. The good news is, they found their offense. The Nationals pounded out 57 hits and scored 25 runs against the Pirates and Reds, a boost from their previous performance. Now the question is, can they keep it up at home against the Padres and Pirates?

the Nats are scheduled to send Ross Detwiler (3-2, 2.10)  to the mound Monday night against Tim Stauffer, who will be making his first start of the season for the Padres.On Tuesday, it’s Stephen Strasburg (3-0, 1.64) against San Diego’s Anthony Bass (1-4, 3.23).

When the Pirates come to town Wednesday, Gio Gonzalez (4-1, 1.94) takes on Erik Bedard (2-4, 2.57), who left last week’s start against the Nats with back spasms. Jordan Zimmermann (2-3, 2.14) wraps up the short set against Pittsburgh’s James McDonald (2-2, 2.42).