Ask Boswell about the Washington Nationals, spring training, the Capitals, the Redskins and all Washington sports

May 07, 2012

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins' game, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Bos, did Harp steal home on his own or did he have a sign? His baserunning seemed influenced by his aggressive nature last night rather than his 3d base coach.

That was all Harper.He went on his own to "pay back" Hamels for drilling him. That game last night showed how Harper reacts to 1) National TV, 2) attempts to intimidate him and 3) a semi-big-game versus a rival.

Best case scenario for his career: Pete Rose with Five Tools.

Worst case? Baseball has a million of those. Just root for him to fulfill his ability.

Now that Werth looks to be on the shelf (Nats can't catch a break, no pun intended, in the middle of that lineup, goodness...) the outfield becomes a bit of a concern. Davey said after the game he was going to use Nady (whose been miserable) and Bernadina in LF. Why not play Moore out there some? He's got a big stick and the Nats could really use one of those right now. Why have him up here if he's not going to see the field?

Nats fans probably don't understand how big a loss Werth's injury actually is. It's not just his numbers __which are pretty good this spring. He's one of the team leaders, maybe THE team leader.

I'm most concerned about whether Werth, with his previous history of SERIOUS left-wrist injury __which required cutting edge experimental surgery to fix and SAVE HIS CAREER a half-dozen years ago, will be a formidable player in '13-'17. It's be good if he made it back fully fixed this year. But it is FAR more important that, after the $126-M, this NOT turn out to be a career-changing injury. It was the LAST spot on his body you wanted to see an injury.

Note: Werth hurt himself on a none-on, two-out, set-an-example hustle play. That's typical of him. He's made that same sliding catch many times, even though it always puts his "bad" wrist at risk. It's another reason his teammates respect him. BUT that style comes with a cost. If you play that hard __like Frank Robinson, Paul Molitor__ you usually have periodic injuries. The only exception of a hell-for-leather player who never got hurt was Pete Rose. Harper is a Werth type in that respect, so his injury histroy, long term, will be something to watch.

Bernadina and Somebody can play LF and only subtract 2 or 3 wins worth of  "WAR value" from the Nats. But Werth's attitude and presence will be missed more.

After all, Boz, he apparently knows what is best for baseball. Jerk. Seriously, what exactly did Harper do to deserve that? I haven't seen any signs of outrageous behavior other than the Pete Rose-style hustle. Anything that you know of?

The Phils/Hamels probably just made a big mistake. Hamels said, "I was trying to hit him" Harper: "It's all good. "

What if, as I mentioned, Harper actually does turn out to be Pete Rose With Five Tools? Sure, a long long way in future. Not talking about 20+-yr career. Just the similaritiees as young players. A young Rose w more skills is certainly my first impression of Harper's STYLE of play. If that analogy proves correct, then the Phillies may have just bought themselves years of Harper hell. He'll just use the "I did it on purpose" as fuel.

Are the Phils really that dumb? Well, maybe they just wanted to find out who/what they were dealing with in Harper. If so, they found out. 

The Phils, and manager Manuel, are ultra-old-school, proud of it and it's one of the reasons they've been so good the last five years. Harper got a "veteran's call" on Friday nite when he wasn't called out on a checked swing. Manuel went nuts, got ejected __in effect, how dare you umpires show this 19-yr-old rookie the respect you'd usually give a 2nd or 3rd yr player?

So, Hamels gave Harper a Welcome to the Show fastball __his best at 93 mph__ in the back. It was hardball.

Harper, the rest of last night, more than any other game, showed what his competitive personality is. He stole home on Hamels, then got a single and streatch double off him and made a diving catch in LF so Hamels couldn't tag at 3rd and score.

On the field, as long as he doesn't blow any kisses, Harper looks like just what the Nats need for energy. Off the field, he seems to get along well with teammates. We'll see if he haunts himself with any 19-year-old stuff. But so far, so great.

What the heck is going on here?

Pitching.

Last year the Orioles gave up 860 runs __the worst in MLB__ and 56 MORE than any other team.

This year, the O's are SECOND in MLB in ERA at 2.78. (The Nats are 1st at 2.59 ERA.) O's are on pace to allow 300 LESS runs. That's nuts. I don't think there's ever been a team that improved that much. Their top 5 bullpen ERAs __combined__ are under 0.90.

The O's are better and, since winning is contageous, all fired up, like yesterday's amazing win when DH Chris Davis, who'd gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts, came in to pitch the 16th and 17th innings. He pitched 2 shutout innings, struck out two and won the game 9-6 after Adam Jones three-run homer off Red Sox outfileder Darnell McDonald. Yes, both teams were using position players as pitchers. One of the best goofy games I've ever watched.

Davis pitched in JUCO ball, touched 90 w his fastball and got both K's on split-finger fastballs! He even fanned Adrian Gonzalez, swinging, with two on, none out, and the Sox down 9-6 in the 17th.

The O's are better, more interesting and, for now, inspired. They now hit a very tough run of games against big hitting teams.  We'll see where they are by the time they meet the Nats in DC on May 18-19-20.

Amazing, a Beltway Series that may have meaning and the beginnings of real rivalry overtones. The O's attendance is also inching up, from 26th in MLB last year to 23rd now.

Johnson seems to have his favorites and builds up their confidence. The message he is sending to Moore is "you ain't ready, kid." Do you see some subtle strategy here?

I'd say that Job 1 for Davey is the care and maintenance of confidence. It's not pep talks or pap to the media. It all has to be reality-based, not (what Red Auerbach called) "happy horse (bleep)." Rizzo likes to say that he's never seen any manager "so good at pushing players buttons to help them get the most out of themselves.
"And the best part __it's amazing to watch__ is that they don't even realize he's doing it. He's been in baseball so long that I sometimes wonder if HE knows he's doing it. By now, it's all just second nature to him."  

Davey Knows the team's plan is for Moore too get plenty of experience in AAA. He's too good to throw into the fire too much too soon. He was never a super prospect like Harper. He's more a normal player who has developed steadily and has a really nice power swing. He's potentially a "rush-and-ruin" player far more than Harper.

The problem is that Nady looks awful. Nats probably need to get a better "Replacement Player" __the kid of guy who's always available in AAA or a modest trade. Right now, he isn't even replacement value. Johnson probably wants to give Nady a last fair chance to get hot. Davey must see something in him. In his time, Nady could hit. The Nats need him to hit again.  

If fans don't turn out to see him playl t his franchise is hopeless.

The idea that the Nats are not drawing good crowds, and larger ones than last year, is off base. And it was true before the big Philly crowds.

The Nats '12 average attendance is 25,790 thru their first 16 hames games. That is +33.5% higher than it was last year after 16 home games.

There's a small twist. Last spring the Nats had an early rainout that resulted in an April doubleheader. So you could measure this another way and say that the Nats attendance is up 25.6% after the first 16 DATES (meaning the first 16 times the park was opened to fans, even though 17 games were played.)

Comparing early-season attendance patterns is tricky and mistakes are often made in analyzing it. Every team draws better after Memorial Day because kids are out of school. So ALL spring totals are low and shouldn't be measured against full season numbers.

Even measuring early-'12 vs full-year '11, the Nats are up. In '11, they averaged 24,877 per DATE but only 23,957 per game because they had to play 3 doubleheaders because games got rained out. 

(Don't read the rest of this unless you are an attendance nut, like me.)

  Some parks have domes or retractable roofs or perfect Southern California weather. Others, like most outdoor East Coast teams have strong seasonal attendance patterns because people (wisely) avoid chilly/wet spring games.

The least-bad method, which people inside baseball use, is yr-over-yr for the same number of games or the same number of dates __whichever you like best. That's what I provided above.

Nats attendance is now 18th in MLB at 25,790. It will go up considerably during the season because it ALWAYS does in D.C. __kids out, weather better. It will trounce last year's avg of 24,877. Will it be up +33.5%? Very doubtful. What about +25.6%" I doubt that too, though possible, because I've looked at this stuff for years __who'd they play, what was weather, etc.

The question is not, "What's wrong with attendance?" The question is, "How MUCH better will attendance be in '12." I'd guess slightly better than in '08 (new ballpark) when Nats were 19th in MLB at 29,005.

So, is that good or bad? It's neither. Nats, until proven otherwise, are a "mid-market" team in attendance. Higher (major-market) ticket prices always move them up 2 or 3 spots in revenue from attendance.

Maybe the town catches fire for 'em. But they're doing just fine already and showing signs of lots of improvement. If you were at any of the Phils games, you HEARD IT.

This was a big weekend for the franchise. Big crowds, mostly Nats fans. Two wins out of three to show that the Nats are at least competitive, if not more than that, with their top rival. And the rivalry stepped up a couple of notches, to say the least. Losing Werth hurts badly but if R. Zim and LaRoche come back and hit well, the Nats could keep on truckin'.

Werth is a big blow. You're right that Z'man and LaRoche's injuries have to turn out to be as minor as the Nats think. Harper's now 95% sure to be "up to stay." If Morse comes back in Beast Mode in mid-season (that's no guarantee, either), the you have enough of a mid-order to be a half-decent offense. 

Several "ifs" in there.

If the starting pitching stays healthy, they are still very much a playoff contender.  

Seriously, Boz, has it ever been better for you? You've got a baseball team in your town to report on and they're becoming one of the "hot" teams in the game, in terms of personalities and storylines. And they're only just starting. On top of that, if you've got any spare time, you can take a little stroll up I-95 and check out the biggest surprise team in baseball. How about them O's, hon! Are you having fun, Boz?

I was up until Werth broke his wrist. Some things seem so cruel and unfair that they actually bother you, even if it isn't some horrible world crisis, just a hugely-paid ballplayer with a bad injury. 

These guys are people. And some are far more likeable than fans ever see. Athletes wear emotional/psychological masks. Not all, but plenty. It's one of the first things you realize. Long ago, Lee May of the Orioles wouldn't talk to any reporter ever __maybe 100 wrods a year. He was TRYING to be intimidating. He didn't want to be "known" at all. His teammates said he was The Funniest man on the team and just beloved. Sometimes, I'd walk past May __big scowl like he's going to jump and bite you__ and say, "Lee, I know you're in there. After you retire, THEN I'll talk to you." And I did. He was a fabulous smart funny team leader. Quick wit. Werth's personality isn't like May's. But it is ENTIRELY different than his public image which is 99% mask. He doesn't let the public "in" at all. But he lets his teammates "in" almost entirely.

I'm really happy to see a mucvh "trimmer" Adam Dunn having a typical Big Donkey year __on pace for 48 homers and 132 RBI. People ask me, "Who do you root for?" It always seems to disappoint them when I say, "Nobody. I don't root for teams. I never have. But I do root for the people I really respect. And I root for them after they change teams." 

So, just like Dunn's slump bothered me __only a little, but I bet I thought about it once a week all year__ I'm bothered by Werth's rotten "break." In a couple of days it'll be down to thinking of it once a week out of the blue.  But I'm offended (not a rational response) when bad things happen to good people.

Lost in all the talk of Saturday's game is the fact that Gio Gonzalez saw the most pitches at the dish of all the Nats. In only three at bats, Gio made Worley throw 21 pitches, over one-fifth of his game total. Nothing like making the other guy work for his money!

Hard to believe, but Gio has looked like a really good hitting pitcher. Fluke? He's crushed a bunch of long fly balls and did in Fla, too. Z'mann can hit and so can Jackson. I was teasing Strasburg that he either has to stop getting so many hits or else at least learn how to take a nap once he reached base so he won't be gassed when he goes out to pitch the next inning. After his =9 on Friday, he gave up a 2-run homer the next inning.

Don Sutton did it properly. If he got on base, he moved at a snail's pace. On a clean hit by the next batter he'd almost WALK to the next base.  It took four singles to score him from first base. Didn't keep him out of Cooperstown.

Would Harper would have tried to steal home anyways, or did Hamels bring that upon himself?

The answer is "B."

Many have talked about the pos or neg effects of the outcome of multi-overtime playoff games in the Stanley Cup. How about the effects of a 17 inning MLB game? Other than decimating your relief corps for the short term, are there psychological benefits/damages in such a contest? Does the sheer number of games and turnaround in baseball limit the impact?

Wow, I thought for a second there was actually a Caps question! I realize that the Nats-Phils thing was three amazing days in a row with huge crowds, big noise, actual committed cheering by Nats fans (it IS possible) and then the multi-drama of Harper (rat tail and tats) paying back pretty boy Hamels, then EWerth getting hurt.

Come on, people. HUGE Caps game tonite. This "three-game-series" with the Rangers is probably the biggest single hurdle to the Caps winning the Stanley Cup THIS YEAR. The "draw" is open. The Rangers are, easily, the best team left in their path. I guess, since NY has home ice, the odds are still less than 50-50 that the Caps advance. And, with all their games low scoring, they could be the slightly better team and still lose in a future round. The Caps only have six of the 16 wins they need for a Cup. But I think it's closer than that. They might be up to a 25% chance right now. The Caps really play well as the underdog on the road. Also, the history of teams that have WON three-OT games in the NHL playoffs is BAD.

As I've said, a season of 2-1, 3-2  regular season games isn't as much fun as the Young Guns, but winning by those scores in the playoffs is really exciting.

I think that I have read that you covered boxing many years ago. I recall the days when there was a televised match every Monday, Wed, and Friday. And now boxing has become a footnote on the sports page. Is it possible that this will happen with the NFL? Is there anyone out to "get" the NFL, or is all the talk of concussions totally honest.

Yes, I covered boxing for years. Great subject matter, fascinating people. But I didn't cry as it died.

The NFL's problems are mounting up. The concussion issue is 100% legit. I didn't know Junior Seau, but his reputation was magnificent and I was shockled to hear about his suicide. His brain will be studied, as he apparently intended.

The NFL has been in such a hurry for 40 years to establish world domination that it tended to overlook one tiny element __the health of its players. I'm sure they have a 1,000,000-page manuscript that "proves" they have done a great job. Nuts. They have done slightly more than as-little-as-possible as far as I can tell.

Like baseball and steroids, eventually a sport has to face the music for negligence in pursuit of profit.  But, when the comeupance arrives, the price the billionaire owners __in both sports__ confront is a tiny fraction of the risk that their players run. And those risks are to their health, longevity, sometimes even sanity and overall quality of life. What do the owners risk? Oh, a little bit of their money.

Any chance that Hamels is suspended after admitting to intentionally hitting Harper? I think this a little interesting after reading John Grisham's new novel "Calico Joe" that in essence comes down to "the Code". The protagonist has some similarities to Harper - let's all hope Harper's career last much longer than Calico Joe's.

Haven't read "Calico Joe" yet. I doubt much will happen to Hamels. If he misses even one start I'll be surprised. But you'd think that "I did it on purpose" SHOULD be worth a 10-day suspension __because (in reality) that means he misses just one start.

There has to be SOME price, doesn't there?

 

What do you think of Mike Rizzo laying into Cole Hamels for his "gutless, chicken s&*t act" last night? As a Nats fan, I thought it was amazing. Philly and the NL East should fear us.

I haven't seen that. Love it! Rizzo should note that the human kidneys are located in the area where Harper got hit. There is no "safe" way to drill somebody at 93 mph.

If you want to know my definition of hot-dogging or showing off, I'd say it's Cole Hamels bragging about deliberately trying to hit a 19-year-old with his fastest pitch.

Folks missed one thing __Harper's only out of the night was on a drag bunt. After Ty Cobb got drilled, he'd sometimes drag a bunt toward 1st base where only the pitcher could field it, right beside the line, and, as the pitcher bent over,  Cobb would bowl him over (legally) and (since this is Ty Cobb) presumably try to do him great bodily harm.

Was that what Harper was trying to do __but he just made a lousy bunt? Or was he just trying to drag it past Hamels for a hit, but no collision?

Next time they meet, will Hamels remember that bunt attempt. It's be on my mind.    

Sports Illustrated ran piece last week that showed the Nationals as having the easiest schedule in April in all of Major League Baseball. It looks as if they have until the middle of May before they run into a schedule buzzsaw. All NL East and the very scary AL East. About 5 weeks of hell, I estimate. Is it reasonable to expect the Nats to play .500 thru the period? My guess is no...

The Nats just polayed six against Arizona and Philly __bothe division winners. They won both series.

I looked at Nats schedule last night to see which series they would face where they'd probably be over-matched.  With the Yanks and Boston in down cycles, I couldn't find any. Were there series against roughly-equal or maybe slightly-better teams? Yes, sure.  But they don't play Texas, the only team I see that might be a real 100-plus-win club that might swamp them. Plenty of good teams, but nobody that __with the Nats pitching__ that they should fear as long as their staff stays in reasonable health.

Did you see Mike Rizzo's expletive laden response to Cole "Old School" Hamels' admission that he hit Harper on purpose? I just LOVE it. I'm so tired of 10,000 loss Philly and their Phans acting like they invented baseball and we shouldn't even be playing it. I know that Charlie Manuel is old school and has a very good reputation, but I just don't think that the umpires should make calls based on time of service. The call should be the call. Clearly, with their AARP roster, the Phils want different. I am going to enjoy destroying them for the next few years. I refuse to go see any game against them as their phans are seriously the worst I've ever dealt with, and I've been in the bleachers at Yankee stadium rooting for the Red Sox.

This is a thing of beauty because the knock on Hamels, when younger, was always been that he was  a "soft" player despite his talent. Hamels opened the door. And he just made Rizzo's day. 

Rizzo on Hamels: “He thinks he’s sending a message to us of being a tough guy. He’s sending the polar opposite message. He says he’s being honest; well, I’m being honest. It was a gutless chicken [bleep] [bleeping] act. That was a fake-tough act. No one has ever accused Cole Hamels of being old school.”

This gives you a hint of my average conversation with Rizzo (and Davey). Last week, I told Rizzo I was on "twitter." He said, "Yeah, they (management) want me on twitter, too. Are they out of their minds? That's the LAST thing they should want." Riz on twitter would be suspended every other week.  

Also, when a Nats player needs to have a serious discussion with Rizzo, he gets it straight. This is nothing compared to the three-way Rizzo-Milledge-Milledge's-agent phone call after Lastings forgot to keep a doctor's appointment __(for an X-ray of a possible broken bone, I think.) First, Rizzo described what Mr. Milledge thought his talent level was (superstar) and where he stood in the context of the game and the future of the Nats. THEN Rizzo desribed his own personal view of what Milledge's talent really was (Bowden traded for him), where he stood in the context of the sport and what his future __if any__ might be with the Nats.

I just looked up Milledge, now 27, on baseball-reference. He had 4 MLB at bats last year. Isn't playing anywhere this year. Is he hurt? And Rizzo actually LIKED Milledge personally. He just thought Lastings needed SOMEBODY to tell him __for once in his baseball life__ the truth about his limits, his attitude, his sense of entitlement before it was too late; too late for Milledge, that is.

This also give insight into why Rizzo hits it off so well with: Davey, Ted Lerner, Kasten (who made Rizzo the 1st Lerner-era hire) and Scott Boras. They'll all give it to you straight and don't mind taking it back from you straight. 

I was at the game last night, and 95% of the philly fans were fine. Sure they were a bit obnoxious but they were mainly cheering on their team so i'm not going to hate on that. There were two guys in front of me that were the extreme end though. Just talking s*&% to EVERY person that walked by in Nats gear, and they weren't funny but thought they were so sweet. They were thrown out of the game of course...so because of 2 I hate every philly fan on the planet. Hope they get used to chasing us.

The worst Philly fans are as bad as the worst anywhere. But they really are a very small percentage. And the ones who are just fan/bums don't like to be on the loisng end __so there will probably be less of them over time at Nats Park. And there wern't many of the Bad Apples there last weekend from all reports I've gotten and what I saw myself. 

More exciting player? I say Harper. Saw the game in person last night and thought to myself....Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Pete Rose.

I've got to say that Strasburg is off-the-charts exciting right now. For me, he's totally proven, just has to stay healthy.  Harper has to prove himself for HUNDREDS of more games before you make fancy comparisons (or at least make them seriously.)

RGIII looks like he'll be in the Strasburg/Harper level. But you never know with transitions from one level to the Real Level. I assume RGIII will be very good to great. But you can't know that before the first snap. He certainly has the potential for great charisma. So does Harper. (Man, I never would have thought that I'd have said that even two weeks ago. As they say, you never know what you've got until they "turn the bright lights on." He sure seems to love 'em, like Strasburg on the 14K night.)

What's new is that there's now a high probability that Harper will be Very Good. What a 1st 10 days! And he loves the heat in the kitchen. Will he be even more than that? Come on, this is baseball. You have to prove it and prove it and prove it.

Ovechkin used to be this exciting; now, if he keeps acting like a real "captain" his value will still be very, very high. I don't think John Wall will ever get into his discussion. He's just too fundamentally flawed as a very poor shooter __from all distances__ and a turnover machine. He can get better. But I suspect that "great" is __after two full years__ already off the boards. But it'd be fun to be wrong. 

Is it common for fans of the other team to try to sneak into better seats? Couldn't believe the lack of class by some Philly fans last night down on the 3rd baseline. Sneaking down to the 3rd row from the dugout - taking pictures and acting a drunken mess until confronted by the actual ticket holders. But then again these are the people that booed the Canadian National Anthem and Santa.

Good points.

But the reason that "Take Back" was important, imo, was because the Phils fans completely drowned out Nats fans on Opening Day during the introduction of the Nationals players before the game. Then they chanted "Nats %^&*&" so it sounded like you were in Philly.

You can't win the N.L. East if that continues. Well, it's over.

Orel Hershhiser (doing the game for ESPN) seemed to think that when Zimmerman hit Hamel it was payback for Hamel hitting Harper. Is Zimmermann that good of an actor? Looked to me like it just got away from him.

Oh, I assume it was on purpose. But you can't prove it. And we'll never know. Doing it with a man on base and only one out certainly gives 100% "plausible deniability." But  teammates will give Z'mann extra points for going after a kneecap in a situation that could have hurt his ERA. Evern if Jordan tells the Nats, "Oh, no. It just slipped," plenty will still enjoy thing it was payback. But Z'mann was smart enough not to brag about it like Hamels.

How do you explain Adam Dunn returning to form after a terribad '11? Will Pujols follow and have a good '13?

Dunn lost a lot of weight. (Just look at him.) And a whole bunch of things combined at one time last spring to start The Slump. The fact that he's smart, funny and nice probably worked against him __he just got madder and madder at himself, couldn't blame others and so just turned everything inward against himself. Just my guess. 

Did you see Gio "slide" into 3rd and then some? That guy is a riot.

Worst slide in history of Organized Ball.

Talk about a born fan favorite.

Really? The Kings just ripped through the #1 and #2 seeds out west, losing one game total in 2 series. Wasn't even close. I've caught some of their games, and it seems to me they have the talent/potential to shred the Caps leaky D, if the Caps were to make the Finals.

Good point. In NHL, you don't know what's what in post-season until they actually get pretty deep into it. Then you see which teams have gotten health, play a post-season style or have gotten on a hot run . So, I stand semi-corrected.

I keep hearing that Werth has turned into Harper's big-league mentor. Once Werth's wrist has been surgically repaired, how much time will be spend with the team, and do you expect his absence -- and the fact that when he's there, he's not on the field -- to have much of an effect on Harper?

Morse and Storen are in the clubhouse every day (at home. I don't know about on the road). Werth will be around a lot, I bet. Don't know if you could keep him away.

For some reason I actually believe that this team has a legitimate chance to win it all? Am I crazy, or is there something there?

It's not silly talk. And even if they lose tonite, it still won't be silly. They could win Games 6 & 7. But don't go around laying out any of the Hard Earned on  the proposition. Ten more wins __especially when you never win by more than 1 goal__ is a long, long trek.

When will we start hearing Davey referred to as "future HOF manager Davey Johnson"? His title, 2 manager of the year awards, career winning percentage, and ability to turn teams around speak for themselves. It's his mastery of motivational tactics and ability to protect his players from media (and owner) scorn that truly set him apart from his peers. Care to start the Davey HOF bandwagon?

If he gets the Nats to a World Series you'll hear it.

See you all next week. Or on twitter ThomasBoswellWP. Thanks for all the great questions and feed back.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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