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

Apr 17, 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

Tom, did we see some chinks in the armor last night? That's two soft glove hand goals by Holtby this series that have cost the Caps winnable games. Does the youngster still have the Dryden, Roy, Ward lightning in a bottle left in him?

The first "soft goal" off the glove worried me. The "hot goalie" syndrome in the NHL post-season doesn't include many mistakes like that. But the Caps have consixdered him The Future for some time. He still has a chance to have a great series vs Boston.

The irrelevancy of the NHL regular season is an annual subject for debate. But at least this time the Caps are (potentially) on the right side of it. Why are they playing better now? This is a gigantic "DUUUUH!" Their four best players are all back on the ice together __#8, Backstrom (ut oh), Semin and Green, and they have a hot goalie. That'll change a team almost entirely.

Haven't see word yet on whether Backstrom will be able to play on Thurs. That was a pretty tough crosscheck after the game was over. But a lot of stuff gets overlooked in NHL. It'll be fascinating to see which way this one goles.

Tom - I know it's not a local sports subject, but this whole thing with Bobby Valentine seems weird enough to discuss for a moment. First off, his comments about Kevin Youkilis seemed a little out there - and then he back pedals to say he was talking about his swinging and hitting. It is kind of funny to watch Red Sox Nation and his own players jump on him for it. And secondly - how does this guy do a weekly radio show in NY??? Just seems so out of place and unprofessional. I mean, did the Red Sox even realize who it was they were getting? Please enlighten us, because I'm assuming he'll be gone from Bean-Town sooner rather than later. Also - great, great tweets by the way; very enjoyable.

Thanks on the tweets. I'll just recycle of my three Bobby V tweets from yesterday.

Stolen quip: "Bobby Valentine is a dumb person's idea of what a smart person would sound like."

Bobby V knocks Youk's effort. NE chorus: "Bobby's an idiot." V apologizes. Pedroia says, "Maybe that works in Japan." WOW! All before noon!

Red Sox, inspired by Bobby V benching Youkilis, rally behind plucky skipper for 1-0 loss to Rays on Patriots Day. God, I love New England

I'll add that all of this, includimng the incredible NYC radio gig, is the reason I was always saying, "NOOOO!" to going after Valentine.

Irony: I found out later that the Nats front office wanted to make a run at him, but management wouldn't come up with BobbyV-worthy money. So they end up with Davey.

OK, so umpires make mistakes like everybody else. But how did that ump miss that first inning call at first base on Sunday, and why didn't the Nationals complain about it at the time? Also, does the league review these things and discipline the umpires when they miss a call so badly?

Well, folks, we're got a million Nats questions __and they ARE in 1st place, but I'll be glad to look at lots of other subjects, too.

The ump had to look at LaRoche's foot taging the bag (barely) and also LaRoche trying to tag the runner as he ran past. LaR didn't know if he'd touched the bag or not, so he went for the tag, too. The ump only has one set of eyes. His eye was draw to the tag, which he ruled LaR had missed. What he didn't see is that LaR clearly touched 1st base __so the runner should have been pout  by three feet. Laz Diaz also missed two third-strike calls that could have ended the 1st inning. I hate to say "that's baseball," but "that's baseball."

Imagine the 10,000 penalties, or non-penalties, in last night's Caps-Bruins game if you had replay for every possible slash or trip. I'm in favor of the "boundry calls" in baseball.

Davey loves Espinoza and rightly so, but why does he let him bat left-handed still? When did Espy ever produce from the left-side of the plate so much that the Nats think he's really a switch-hitter? Real switch hitters tend to have pretty even splits, even ones with power, despite seeing right-handers so much more often. And it's the righties that Espy can't hit! It doesn't make sense to let him continue to switch-hit. I've been meaning to ask this since last summer, but maybe after Lombo's four hits, it might get some traction.

Espinosa has been a better hitter lefthanded at every level of his career up to the majors. Last year, he was hindered batting LH by recovery from hamate-bone (sp?) surgery. Some players you worry about. Some you don't. Don't worry about Espinosa or even think of moving him. He's a fixture and will only get better. Last year, his WAR (wins above replacement) on FanGraphs was No. 1 on the Nats __3.5 to 3.4 for both Morse and Jordan Zimmermann. Nobody else very close. Just enjoy him.

And Lombardozzi? You know, this over-supply of too-good players is really starting to bother me. The Nats have two good starting catchers with Ramos and Flores, they have three good interchangeable middle-infielders. They have 7 good starting pitchers so they had to send Lannan back to the minors. Storen gets hurt and the bullpen is still pretty full.

Jez, what are we going to do about this?

Hi, Boz.... don't know if this has been discussed before but at Sunday's Nats game vs the Reds, which lasted 11 innings, concessions were shut down about the 8th inning.....not only no beer, but also no nothing.....seemed like bad business to me that 25k fans couldn't buy a hot dog or a soda. very unfanfriendly.

I have no answer. I've seen the concessions shut down late in games, too. Punch in, punch out. Maybe some stay open in case of extra innings. I'll ask about that and try to mention it next week.

Boz: Great night for local baseball: Nats and O's both win by battling. Sweet. Harper is starting very slowly at Syracuse. Is this his seemingly normal bbreak-in period when he moves up a level, or something more? I'm inclined toward the former but you'll know for certain. Which is it? PS - great respect shown Ankiel last night, perhaps too much?

As I've said, all the great hitters who were drafted 1/1 have absolutely torn up AAA ball before they were brought up. It's a fair test because vets coming down from MLB can test "holes in swing" and LH relief specialists can work you over with junk. 

Unless Harper has an OPS over .850, I don't think there's any reason to even consider bringing him up. But if he gets hot and rips up the league, 19 isn't too young. This decision should be entirely performance based. Chipper, a 1/1, didn't have a big year until 23. 

I'd say that anything you get out of Harper before he's 21 __meaning this year and next__ is a bonus. He has great tools. Everybody would love to see him tear up Syracuse  and be at Nats Park in May or mid-season. BUT his development is so much more important to the franchise and to Harper. "Rush and ruin" would be a disaster. He has a great competitive attitude, wants to study the game and improve __and we WILL be an impact player. But let the game tell us when that is. Baseball is very eloquent in rendering those verdicts. Until he can beat up AAA, he has no business in MLB. But once  he starts to hit down there, I think we'll be able to hear the sounds down here fairly quickly.

If the Nats continue to have success (as they should), it is only a matter of time before the national media begins to talk about Mike Rizzo and the job he has done. Is there any job he would leave for if it opened up? Should the Nationals be worried about losing him in the next couple years, or is he here for the long haul?

Rizzo has a 5-yr contract but I believe the last year or two are club options __which doesn't make a GM feel any more secure. The problem is that teams have discovered a way to create a new position __President of Baseball Operations__ that is technically above "GM" so you can raid other front offices that way __just create a new title for the job

I have no idea how Kasten, who'll probably make such decision in L.A. for the Dodgers, will feel. Ned Colletti has a good reputation. But Rizzo WAS Kasten's first hire in DC. So, if I were the Nats, I'd make sure that key people like Rizzo, Clark and a half-dozen more in that rebuilt front office are "happy in their work." "Team option" years on a GM or asst GM contract can blow up on you.

FWIW, Rizzo seems very happy. People like to see the fruits of their labor develop. But he's obviously very good at his job and has an incredible number of major issues to cope with __Dominican scandal, team president quits, manager quits, signs Strasburg and Harper at sane numbers...on and on. And he doesn't get the full backing on some big issues __like the board balking on the Gio Gonzalez trade__ that some GM's have. 

Hey Boz, how are you? While the O's playing above 500 is probably not sustainable, Wieters sticking to those who called him a bust before last season probably is. Have you changed your opinion regarding him?

Nice grade slam last night. The White Sox centerfield who flat dropped the flyball at the fence in extra innings to start the O's six-run rally __man, that's as bad as it gets. The kind of break, after the two solo homers in the 9th to tie the game, that helps a team like the O's get untracked.

Even in the 9th and 10th innings, I didn't like the energy level in the O's dugout. Not a whole lot of "bonding" and brotherhood during such a big comeback. Maybe the camera just didn't show them at the right times.

Anyway, Weiters developed into a fine catcher last year. But .262-22-68 and a good arm isn't Cooperstown. Maybe, with 4 HRs already, he REALLY breaks out this year. O's look better. Not good. Not .500. But watchable. Okay, maybe. How many times has that been said since '96? But keep an eye on 'em. 

Do you think he can keep this up or do you think he is going to be exposed as the year goes on? If he keeps it going, this guy just went from the guy who everyone felt was expendable to one of the best shortstops in the game.

Some players really NEED a fast start to ignite the next stage of their development or to recover from a slump year. Those are the players you REALLY hope have a good April. On the Nats offensive list, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 would be Desmond (.346), LaRoche (.333, 12 RBI) and Werth (.341). Others, like Zim, who cares, they'll get hot.

If Desmond moves up a level, LaRoche has a normal year and Werth gets back to 85-90% of the player he was in Philly, that's enormously important.

If Jesus Flores continue to play as well as he is (obviously not very many games, but still impressive), his play will certainly show that he deserves to start. What then?

Davey doesn't mess with players minds. He wants them stable and in their "comfort zone." And he means what he says. He sees Ramos, Espinosa and Desmond as long-term answers, not as questions to be asked over and over.  So have all the fun you want with Flores and Lombardozzi but Davey isn't listening. It takes YEARS __5-6-7 yrs from the day they hit the minor leagues__ for a Ramos, Desmond or Espinosa to become an established player at the MLB level. You don't mess with that. Your concern is to move them up to the next level and become stars __not always be looking over their shoulders.

The latest tempest in a teapot has me ambiguous. I immediately though that Bobbie V's casually calling out Kevin Youklis was just another case of the manager talking to much to the media. Then Dustin Pedroia's comments really bothered me since it was almost a direct challenge of the Manager. So while I think this shows how well Terry Franconia handled the Boston media on a daily basis, I also think this shows that Terry coddled his players and they have very thin skins up here in Boston. I much prefer the NFL / Belichik model of coach and player relationships [even though I am mostly a Democrat]. What was your reaction to this story? Thanks and Bruins close out in 5 games

I think the Red Sox and Marlins have problems in the managers office and I wouldn't look for great things out of either team this year. I've seldom seen so many playoff-contending teams hit with so many early issues/injuries. The Giants just lost closer Brian Wilson for 12-18 mos with a blown out elbow. And he already had Tommy John surgery long ago. Does he ever come back? This is when depth is tested. The Phils offense isn't passing that exam very well as all. If they hit like this when they come to DC in early May, it could be fun watching that patched-up lineup cope with the Nats rotation. Of course, Nats are getting that test, too, with cleanup man and closer gone until mid-season. That's why fairly-weak early-season schedule is an opportunity for Nats, whether they're banged up or not.

Boz, Yes JW is off to a better start. However, fundamentally he still has big problems with his swing. All arms, lunging at the ball, hitting off his back foot, and continually off balance. He does not stride into the ball so he does not generate any power. Step into the ball like Zim, Morse, Nady, with a more narrow stance. He reminds me of a guy at the driving range that has not learned the fundamentals of using the lower body in a swing. Why isn't a coach changing his approach? His HR production will be his all time worst if he does not fix this problem.

This is the same swing he's always had. Yes, it's different. But it helps him keep the bat on a level path through more of the hitting zone. That's why he fouls off so many pitches, gets a lot of walks and sees more pitches than anybody in baseball (or is 2nd, 3rd, whatever). And it obviously doesn't hurt his power (492 feet in Fla).

So everybody who thinks they can "see" what is wrong with Werth's swing doesn't realize that's ALWAYS been how he hits and is a key to his (past) success. This guy is not UNDER-coached. He's 3rd generation MLB.

The question: Can he get that "ax-hack" of a swing on the right "path" to the ball and keep it in that groove for long periods of time. His game-winning 11th-IP hit, when he swung at an awful slider at his ankles, would have been a "K" with a normal swing. The only reason he hit it (and farily solidly) is because of his "unique" (yeah, kinda goofy lookin') swing that stays "on the ball" so long.

It appears that the Nationals have completely messed with poor John Lannan's head. He looked great in spring training and now he cannot buy an out since being demoted to the minors. Do you think he will be traded soon? His showing below does not help Rizzo get a major league-ready outfielder for him.

There was a time for sympathy for John. He got caught in a tough numbers game. But Detwiler has looked good, actually has the lowest ERA of any starter. It's time for Lannan to function well at AAA __for his own good. He had next-to-no trade value when he was sent down. As I've said before, I think he's underrated. I think he's better than 29 GMs. But their view counts. Now, w the $5M deal around his neck and the back-to-back bad starts at Syracuse, he needs to find the toughness __he's shown plenty to have the success he's had with the stuff he takes to the mound__ to succeed at AAA and not, somehow, get burried and forgotten in the minors. That happens to players, even pretty good ones. If he'll just pitch like he can at AAA, all of this will have a happy ending for him __probably in '13 somewhere else.

Tom, have you tracked the handling of suspensions and fines by Brendan Shanahan and the NHL? To me it seems they're doing a worse job than even Roger Goodell and the NFL. Weber's WWE move got just a fine? And now Backstrom is threatened with an automatic one-game suspension for a match penalty when Milan Lucic is getting off free for his thuggery?

"Inconsistency" is the worst change you can make against a league when it comes to discipline __especiaally in the playoffs. And that's what you're hearing now about the NHL already __and it's only the first round. Backstrom has a "good citizen" rep, even though he had a few run-ins last night, some protecting Ovechkin. I'd prefer to see the match penalty reversed and let him play Thursday. Partly that may be bias __in favor of Backstrom specifically (not the Caps) as a clean player whose whole career I've watched. In playoffs that have already been so tough and crazy all around the league, I don't think Nicky Backstrom is the guy you kick out of an enormously important game.   

I love watching this guy pitch, am retired so was able to travel around and catch many of his minor league performances. However, it bothers me no end to hear Schilling and others say that it is "inevitable" his shoulder will break down sooner rather than later, unless he alters his pitching motion. He has to be aware of these comments. Has he discounted them or is he taking steps to allay these concerns?

He's aware of it all. He thinks there is (a lot) more danger in changing the mechanics that have worked all your life.

On TV, Schilling is a professional idiot. These days, that's a lucrative and well-established career path and he's following it admirably. What annoys me is not their opinions; they may prove correct in this case. It's their fake certainty. And that's all it is __a sane but unprovable  opinion that is amped up to fake certainty to get more attention.

They, too, are off to a nice start although, unlike the Nats, I doubt this will continue. But other than hiring Showalter,Andy MacPhail was a total disaster! Kevin gregg is the latest in a long line of his acquisitions who have flat out bombed. Do you think his performance here hurts his chances to be Baseball commish? Or are the O's viewed as so dysfunctional that nobody could save them?

MacPhail's work with the O's probably didn't help him in the post-Bud derby. Yes, the O's are generally viewed as beyond hope as long as current ownership is in place. There must be someone somewhere who thinks otherwise. (I plan a summer trip to Greenland to continue my searth of that person.) Maybe Dan Duquette, a fellow Lord Jeff, will have better luck.

I th ought it was odd to see the sun coming up in the West this morning!

I noticed that, too.

Any chance these guys stay beyond this year if they continue to play well? Jackson would be nice because of the lack of pitchers ready to replace him. LaRoche leaving could create a very right-handed lineup, especially if Harper is still learning the ropes.

The Nats control LaRoche for '13. A $10M team option.

Jackson is trickier. But there may be a way to use the arbitration process to retain him for '13. Or many he loves it here and signs an extension. But with all the pitching the Nats have coming it's hard to see a 3-or-4 yr deal. Edwin is a really good guy and it's nice that he immediately showed Nats fans why they brought him here. 

Tom, The big bad Bruins brought some serious hitting last night. I think the Capitals gave as much as they could but it sure looked like the Caps wore down as the evening went on. Did you see the same thing?

Late in the 3rd period, the Bruins led in "hits" almost 2-to-1. Early in the 1st game, the Caps had the edge. The Bruins are certainly built for a war of attrition. Which made Game 3 even more important. But for one series __not the entire path to a Cup__ the Caps should have enough energy and toughness to keep banging with anybody. It's not like they wore themselves out with their stellar over-the-top efforts to save Bruce Boudreau's job. Remember all the nights when they accused THEMSELVES of not showing up or not playing hard enough? Well, think of that as the Caps Energy Bank. Think of all the effort and hits they saved themselves! Time to make a BIG withdrawal on Thursday night.

Boz, what are your thoughts about giving each team a manager's challenger per game. That missed call at first was horrible and lets hope the Nats don't miss the playoffs by a game.

Davey doesn't scream at umps much. He learned a LOT from Weaver, including some of the things NOT to do. Earl had umps who were out to get him for years, like Ron Luciano. The team knew it, resented that Earl built up those grudges __which helped make him famous but made the game harder for them.

So, don't expect many Johnson tirades. He wants to create a positive, creative, smart-relaxed atmosphere here "talent expresses itself." If you're paranoid about umps, it's the opposite of the proper mental attitude for a game you play every day. Nothing Johnson does is accidental. Including the things he doesn't do __like riding the umps. Of course, he managed two of the most off-color bench jockeys in baseball history in '96 __the Ripken brothers, the hands-down winners of the double-digit-letter profanity __"Hey, Blue, here's what you should do, you *&^%$#$E%&**"__ sweepstakes.

So Boz, is Bobby V. close to losing his clubhouse? Will he last the year in Boston?

When Dustin Pedroia says, "Maybe that works in Japan," I'd say the clubhouse verdict has already been rendered. Youkilis and Pedroia are the HEART of that team __the tough guys that a manager has to have on his side.  The question is whether Bobby can get the team back. Or if they'll just win for themselves.

Was there a worse manager hire this year than Bobby V for the Red Sox? He seems to be pushing all the wrong buttons and wearing out his welcome incredibly early. He's become the Rex Ryan of baseball.

I'm going to have to start defending Valentine. He's not THAT bad. Overconfident, touchy and, as someone said, no opinion comes into the on-deck-circle of Bobby's brain that he doesn't immediately send up to home plate.

But he really is smart, funny, worships the game, works like a dog.

Bos, I am a huge hockey fan. I like when play gets a little chippy in the corners. But the Flyers/Pens game on Sunday was a tremendous embarrassment to the NHL. I know MLB has the Almighty Unwritten Code, the NFL has a league-wide bounty system (only the 'Ain'ts were dumb enough to get caught is all), and sometimes it seems like depending on the matchup, an NBA game is one hard foul from turning into another Palace-like throwdown. But the game on Sunday proved why the NHL is going to permanently languish as #4. The officials let too much go on until they belatedly decided to crack down. There's still that "Old Time Hockey, Eh?" that permeates the League, and rather than worry about what Don Cherry is going to say, they should get serious about the goonery that takes place on the ice. I know that fighting is a part of the sport- and I'm OK with that- but it was ridiculous...and it's getting worse. Sorry for the long rant.

I didn't get to see that game. Heard enough about it! Fans want athletes to be tough. They don't (generally) want them to be goons. The NHL has aalways had the biggest problem in this area. But the NFL is trying to get "into the frame." The more that comes out about Gregg Williams the more surprised I am at what may be "the Real NFL Behavior Norm."  One team can be out of line with the rest of its league, but there is a limit. No one team can be THAT far from what is considered tolerable within a sport.

And I didn't think I could be surprised. 


Did you see any evidence that Strasburg was tipping pitches last night? Chris Johnson got a surprisingly good swing on a curve that ended up as a lineout to center in the 4th, but it seemed to me that the Astros just got lucky guessing on a few pitches. Against Strasburg, that's probably the best strategy.

I thought Strasburg looked exceptional in the early innings then, maybe because of the 108-pitch chilly-weather outting in his previous start, his curve got less crisp as the game went along.

But SS wants to study every angle in the game. He's now had 20 career starts and 111 IP: He's 8-4, 2.35 ERA, 5.6 K-to-W ratio, ERA+ of 168 and 135 Ks.

Lowest career ERA since '20 by a starter: Whitey Ford (.275), Sandy Koufax (2.76).

Aside from QB, what's the biggest remaining hole that the Redskins need to plug in the draft?

You're kidding, right?

At least they resigned London Fletcher.

Hey Boz - why does Davey keep trotting out the hapless Nady/DeRosa duo to start every game in LF? I like DeRosa but seems like he'd help the team much more coming off the bench. Lombardozzi looked fantastic yesterday - why not start him in that spot? They certainly could use the help on offense.

As they say, funny game. DeRosa had the highest on-base percenatge of any player on any team in spring training __close to .600! Now he can't buy a hit. That's why they hate to waste 'em in Florida and Arizona. DeRosa will hit as long as his wrist is OK. Nady got a pinch-hit homer that salvaged a win. Pateince.

Nats have 9 RBI off their bench already which would be second on the team after LaRoche (12) and ahead of Werth (5). Davey hated the bench he inherited and he likes the one he has now a lot better.  (But it could be a level better and probably will be if Morse comes back healthy.) 

Sorry to go on so long. One more and outta here. Thanks for all the great questions.

The Throw. No question. Just - The Throw.


Boz, no question, just thanks for joining the twittersphere. It' really interesting to be watching a Nats game at the park and having the WaPo team as my own personal color commentary. Thanks!

Thanks, I get a kick out of it. I'm going to say that stuff anyway. Of course I'm not going to do every game. But if the Nats get in a playoff race or Caps get deeper in playoffs or RGIII is lighting it up next season or the U.S. Open is smoking or the World Series has a controversy or ....well, there are lots of times when it's nice to be able to say what you're thinking in real time. 

(But it's not as much fun as chatting!)  See you all next week.

The last time Tiger Woods' AT&T National was held at Congressional Tiger was quite the popular golfer, to say the least. I supported the tourney in the past, but am trying to figure out if I should keep up my support and take my 6 yr old (who has asked, "Why does Tiger throw his clubs?"), given the way Tiger has acted the last couple of years - on and off the course.

That's going to be an interesting and touchy subject pretty soon. Tiger can't act that way at his own event. (And won't, you can bet.) Which just underlines why he shouldn't act that way __at 36__ in any event. 

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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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