Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Jun 03, 2013

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

Past Ask Boswell chats

What are your thoughts on Anthony Rendon moving up to AAA?

It's good news and seems like the perfect timing. My guess is that he stays at AAA until the All-Star break, plays about 40 more games at second base, then the Nats decide whether to bring him up to play every day or just make him a Sept. 1 callup. He's only played 7 games at second in his life.

However, Rendon surprised me more as a fielder than as a hitter when he came up to MLB this spring. I kept hearing about his hitting, his stroke, but he's really quick at third, has great confidence in his arm and I'd have a hard time believing he can't switch to second base. The left side of the infield is harder. The main issue is for him to get comfortable enough turning the doubleplay so that he doesn't get killed. This is his first year without injuries and Nats want to establish, in his mind and theirs, that he can stay healthy through a long season. Some wonderful athletes never get comfortable at second with a runner breaking up the DP. Rod Carew was awful at it, scared and switched to first base to prolong his HOF career.

As a hitter, Rendon is probably pretty close to ready right now. He's come a very long way in a big hurry.  He tore up the Arizona Fall League last year and made their All-Star team. Hit .338 in 77 at bats with .436 on-base percentage. Then he tore up spring training, hitting .375 with four homers in 32 at bats with 11 RBI. Then he tore up AA, hitting .319 in 116 at bats with a .461 on-base % and a 1.064 OPS. At AAA, he's 2-for-6 with 2 BB, a HBP and a .556 on-base percentage so far. See a pattern! Those are the numbers you associate with extremely good MLB players, not just good players.

It's probably lucky that he only went 6-fort-25 (.240) when he came up with the Nats because, if he'd done better, they might be even more tempted gto rush him to the majors than they already are.

He sometimes looked slightly overmatched by good high fastballs when he came up, but not so much that it seemed to be a problem. He drew 5 walks, so even in MLB he had a .367 on-base percentage. Everywhere he plays he has as many walks as strikeouts. That's very rare in a young player and the mark of a pure hitter with a fine batting eye and the ability to identify a "good pitch" and, just as important, square it up and put it in play - not just foul it back.

Rendon will probably be a good No. 2 or No. 6-7 hitter when he comes up to stay. Time will tell if he's middle-of-the-order.

My two cents is that the Nats should put Danny Espinosa on the DL when werth comes off it and put Lombardozzi at second every day with Kobernus as the utility man. (Kobernus was hitting .333 at AAA when they brought him up.) Give that a chance to work. With (cheap 20-20) hindsight, the Nats have rushed or panicked on every injury decision this year. There should be a column of mine up on the Post site on that subject now - or soon. So don't repeat the problem with Rendon. Give him some time at AAA. Let Lombardozzi play for six weeks. Let Espinosa heal some, or else let him have his soulder surgery now so he can be 100 percent by next Opening Day.

Rendon, who'll be 23 this Thursday, is very promising and he's not too young to bring up.  (But he's not Harper. Don't push too hard too fast.) His ability will show the Nats his natural pace.

How many Hall of Fame players in any of our major sports have gone on to have successful front office careers? There's Ozzie Newsome and John Elway in the NFL, Jerry West, Kevin McHale and Elgin Baylor in the NBA, and Nolan Ryan and Henry Aaron in MLB; the definition of "success' may or may not be broad enough to encompass Wes Unseld and Isiah Thomas. Any others come to mind? It seems like a pretty remarkable achievement to me.

You're right. It's rare and underappreciated because being a GM really is a different skill set. There's no reason that a star necessarily has better "eyes" for talent than anybody else. Plenty of poor or mediocre players, like Rizzo, see the game wonderfully well.

If anybody wants to add more names to this list, it'd be fun to see. Baseball has very few. BTW, you see few players who have been All-Stars who have ever won Manager of the Year. That's another Davey Johnson distinction - three All-Star games and Manager of the Year in both leagues.

I wonder if the Heat might have avoided all this drama if they had stopped trying to extend the win streak and instead rested Wade's knee a little more. A 27 game win streak means nothing if they lose tonight.

Absolutely great point. Wade looked like a shadow of himself in Game Six. He says he wants the ball more. Good. But the Heat really has its hands full.

I suspect that the $75,000 fine to Roy Hibbert for abusing his 15-minutes of (Playoffs) fame will hurt his play tonight. He's smart and, as a result, knows just how bad his quotes were. Big mistake at an awful moment to do it when he was playing his best.

I'll still be pulling for the Pacers. But, after rooting for Hibbert every minute of this series, I'll be considerably less enthusiastic about him in this game. Bad time to call the media a 13-letter word and a worse time for the other idiotic slur.

I know it's getting a lot of play, but what's your take on the name issue. I was born and raised in Washington, so am a lifelong (71) fan even though I've lived in Miami for the past 44 years. Even I feel a little conflicted about the name.

On this one, as I've said a couple of times before in these chats, I've never felt very ambivalent myself. It's a bad nickname, always has been and plenty of people said it 30-to-40 years ago, at the least. It's not Number 1, or No. 1,000, on the list of the world's biggest problems. But someday it WILL be changed because it's roots - like "the only good Redskin is a dead Redskin" - are so clear and ugly. Also, the person most associated with the nickname, George Preston Masrshall, would probably be on the list of the half-dozen most virulent  racists ever to have a major position (owner) in a major sport. Nobody even argues about that. Why would you want to line up on his side? Shirley Povich had that one correct in the '60's.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this round in the nickname argument is that Dan Synder went out of his way to make himself a target on an issue where he may be able to tough out this latest battle, but he's not going to win the war. Being on the wrong side of history is a bear. 

I got to say, I'm rooting for the Pacers. Besides not being a Heat or James fan, I would love to see the resurgence of the "Big Man." I would love to see Duncan vs Hibbert in the finals. So who you got tonight?

Duncan has always been one of my favorite players. I'd love that match in the Finals. (Bet the NBA wouldn't.)

I watched the tape of Game Six again and it's just amazing how many "real basketball moves" Hibbert has developed. He's such a smart player, defends the rim and changes shots without fouling much, doesn't clog the offense when the ball hits his hands. He's even worked on his strength and agility so much that he avoids looking awkward, getting charges called on him. The refs clearly don't think of him as what he was called, affectionately/teasingly, when he was at GU - a big stiff.

Bos, you've said all along that if the Nats were in decent shape on June 2 they should have a much easier time of it from this point on. Today is June 3. Are they in decent shape?

Man, they have pushed it to the edge of "decent." If they'd scored off Kimbrel on Saturday when they had men on second and third with no outs in a 1-1 game, and were 29-28 now and "only" 4 1/2 games behind the Braves, things would feel quite a bit different. In that situation, with Desmond, then Bernadina up back-to-back, both as good bunters as the Nats have, why no Suicide Squeeze? Partly, maybe, because Zimmerman and LaRoche were on base. Partly because if Kimbrel spots it, it might really be "suicide" because the defense for that play is to throw the ball at the hitter's head.

Starting tomorrow, the Nats have 75 of their last 105 games against teams that have a losing record over '12-'13 combined. And only 17 of those games against winners are with teams that are in the Top Dozen for the last two years. Everybody they play isn't bad. It's just that they go weeks and weeks without a tough stretch that wears you down.

It starts Tuesday - with 36 of 39 games against "losers" - between then and the All-Star break.

The Nats biggest problem - aside from poor play, injuries and a 28-29 record - is that there are three teams in the NL Central with great records. Right now the Nats are not just 6 1/2 games behind the Braves but SEVEN games out of the second wildcard spot (with Reds and Pirates both 35-22).

Here's the good news. The toughest schedules for the rest of the season are the NL Central teams. They have it as rough as the Nats have it (relatively) easy. The Pirates, Reds and Cards have 40 (FORTY) games left against one another. That's 40 guaranteed loses for somebody. If the Nats play well, they WILL gain ground on somebody in the NL Central. The other WC contenders are in the NL West (Giants, maybe Rox), but they are both only 30-27. 

So, Nats have all the best of the schedule - both theirs and the tough skeds ahead for the Cards, Reds Pirates. But it won't matter unless they have the patience to let their key players heal properly and then play much better baseball as they get healthier.

Jayson Werth comes back Tuesday and hit two homers in AA on Sunday. This time will his hamstring STAY healthy. No crazy catches. No unnecessary extra bases for a couple of weeks.

Will we see him in the bullpen soon?

I assume you'll see him up as soon as his rehab assignment in the minors is over. That's soon. Sorry, I don't have the projected dates off top of my head.

Only good thing about Mattheus' self-inflicted broken hand is that it has given Abad a chance to show decently in the bullpen. Also, Nathan Karns looks like a better long reliever than rusty Zach Dukes. If you have Abad as a situational lefty and Clippard for other lefties (great RH-vs-LH splits), can't you have both Stammen (who may need to make spot starts until Strasburg is back) and Karns on the staff at the same time?

Haven't seen Erik Davis' 1 2/3 IP yesterday yet. Will watch it. But you can't do much better in your MLB debut than five-up/five-down, 20 pitches, 15 strikes, avg fastball velocity of 93.77 mph and eight strikes out of nine curves and changeups.  

Should we be worried that he will land on the DL?

We should HOPE he lands on the DL.

As I wrote in my column:

What are your thoughts on Lombo getting some at bats as an outfielder?

I'd rather see him get a lot of at bats as a second baseman for the next several weeks now that Werth returns to the Nats outfield.

Bernadina/Moore platoon can assume Harper's position in LF until Bryce is back. Bernadina had two home runs recently. If you are in a slump, you almost never hit home runs. Doesn't happen. Your timing is all messed up. Shark almost hit the Warehouse in Balto.

Davey Johnson is a Hall of Famer manager. That being said, it seems that everywhere he has been, Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers, he seems to wear out his welcome despite winning records. Many of those stops also had some unique owners as well. This Nats team was declared World Series caliber at the beginning of the season. Granted, the manager does not hit, pitch or end up on the DL, but at the end of the day he is responsible for the on the field performance. How tight is the relationship between Lerners-Rizzo and Davey? Did last year earn him a full 2013 regardless of the outcome? Is Davey capable of a Joe Gibbs-like overturning of a couple of tables and really challenging these guys or is that a new trick that is not in the DNA of this old dog?

Davey's really suffering right now because he honestly believes this is a remarkable club in the making. He also second-guesses himself brutally - some of it in public. He pitched to Chris (Crush) Davis last week in Baltimore in a match-up vs. Clippard, who had held LHed hitters to 2-for-37 this season. STILL, Davey was bucking the Book and choosing to face a guy with 18 homers. A couple of pitches later, Davis had 19 and the game turned.

Davey's safe for the rest of the year. Easily. The room is with him. They think they are letting him down, not the other way around. Managers don't win or lose the games that much. You just have to make sure you don't have a manager that is PREVENTING you from winning. They won 98 with Johnson last year. So that question was answered long ago.

The Nats will play better. And with a week left in the season, they'll still be in the playoff pitcure. Granted, that is a MUCH lower evaluation than almost anybody had on Opening Day. But with the schedule they have and players coming back, they still look like an 88-to-91 win team. 90 is about a 90% chance of making the playoffs. Lot of season left. BUT they have played very poorly, tight, burdened by expectations. That, obviously, has to change. The season is so damn long that you almost have to get hot at some point, if only by accident or gifts from your foes. If you still have good morale, plus talent, that one spark can always light the fire. Then, how big does the blaze get, or does it smolder out?

The Braves' RHP Jordan Walden has an unusual delivery that appears illegal to me. He jumps off the rubber and his trailing foot is at least a foot in front of the rubber when he releases the ball. Rule 8.05 (g) states: If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when the pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher's plate. I realize that the momentum of the delivery pulls most pitcher's foot off the rubber as they deliver the ball, but this guy is jumping. Why is he allowed to get away with this?

I've never seen a delivery like his. I said, "He's pitching from in front of the rubber!" But on slo-mo it didn't look like it to me. You can be sure that other teams/umps have looked at it hard. He must be inside the rules or he'd have been stopped by now.

Just another Thing You Never Thought You'd See in Baseball. A pitcher who really does "jump at the hitter."

BTW, saw "Trouble with the Curve" with Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, about the old scout and his daughter. Liked it a lot as a nice soft movie. They didn't do too badly with the baseball. And - spoiler alert - to have a whole movie turn on a phrase like "his hands drift" is a nice touch. Something a scout would spot.

Boz, Do you have any words of wisdom that I can share with my 9 year old son about the Nats' fading hopes for this season? He is getting ready to leave for sleepaway camp in about two weeks and I am trying to give him some hope to hang onto before he leaves. The best I have been able to do is to tell him about my summer in 1978 as a 9 year old Yankees fan (don't worry, I've seen the light since then), to which he responds that "the Nats didn't win the World Series last year like the '77 Yankees did." PS--you might enjoy hearing that while he is away, my son has asked me to mail him all of the Post gamers on the Nats, the standings page, and then "anything that Thomas Boswell writes about the Nats." Thanks for everything you do!

Thanks. Baseball stories aren't short stories or novellas or even normal novels. They are more like 1,000-page Russian novels with lots of suffering and personal sagas along the way! You have to enjoy each season for what it is. If the Nats start playing better, that's fine. But a real baseball fan knows that a season like this is enormously worth following, no matter the outcome, because the central characters - and the arc of their whole careers - is so fascinating and worth the time to watch. If this turns out to be a "gestation" season for the Nats, then that's what it will be. I've seen lots of those. Then they play again next year and the team story, and all the individual stories, continue. 

Seriously, with the new wildcard format, you can't even begin to give up on a talented team before sometime in August. You can't even give up on the Jays, Dodgers and Angels who are all much worse off than the Nats - in the stamndings and in how they have played. I bet one of those three "dead" teams is very much alive coming to the wire in September.

Tell your son to enjoy it. He's got a team at age 9 that is far more interesting than any Washington baseball team I ever saw until I was 64. Patience, grasshopper.

Wondering if you had seen the MLB Classics channel on YouTube. Seems pretty awesome, although a search for "Senators" brings up nada. Granted, I'm sure there isn't a ton worth seeing of the Senators, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who would want to see Frank Howard pulverizing baseballs in RFK, or Eddie Brinkman's slick glove, no?

Haven't seen it yet. Thanks. Maybe other chatters will enjoy the link.

So, with the pending return of Jayson Werth, one of the outfield positions should be solidified. What about the other? I would hope that Lombardozzi would move to second base. I just don't see much from Bernadina or Moore.

Bernadina has had a lot of chances to establish his level of play. That's not going to change much. Useful 4th OF if he starts hitting better. But do NOT give up on Moore becoming an established MLB hitter. At 29-30-31 (or before), he may be a Josh Willingham. That's a good thing to be. Moore had 31 homers two years in a row, moving up through the minors, then had 19 homers last year in partial time in minors and MLB. That's a clear pattern for more than 1300 at bats. He got rusty this spring. He'll hit. Be nice if it happened THIS year.

Most of the significant offensive production at key positions for the Orioles are all under 30. Their pitching while not as good now is certainly competitive for the next 5 years via free agency, and especially if Gausman and Bundy pan out. With aging Laroche and Werth, doesn't the ability to hit make the Orioles better long term?

The Orioles are probably a little better right now as I wrote last week - you know, "beaks ahead" for now. If I had to pick one team for the next 3-to-5 years, it would still be the Nats. Strasburg, Gio, Zimmermann, Detwiler is a formidable rotation core. Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Rendon, Ramos may be together a long time.

Glad Gausman got the ship righted against the tough Tiger lineup yesterday. His stuff just looked far too good to get hit as hard as he did his first two starts.

The Orioles have a lot to be happy about. The Nats hitting isn't nearly as bad as it has looked (botoom three in MLB) and NEITHER is the Orioles pitching (also bottom three).

I keep seeing articles and posts saying Nathan Karns showed promise in his two starts. But, I see a 25 y.o. rookie who is leaving pitches out over the plate and running out of gas early. I'm not ready to say he's a bust...but, what is the potential that people see in him? He reminds me very much of the pitchers the Nats would shuttle in and out of the lineup between 2006 and 2010.

Maybe the fastball that touched 97 in his debut and the curveball that gets swings and misses. Karns average FB velocity in his first two starts was 94.3 mph which would be in the top 10 of all MLB starters. Gausman is even faster. Velocity isn't everything. But Karns seems to have poise and three pitches. He's looked just fine.

Just read your new column and I'm still confused about one thing you mention. Why exactly, are the Nats, as you say, so conservative after major surgeries (they spent much of last year patting themselves on the back for shutting down Strasburg when he wasn't injured), but seem to be willing to let just about any player make their own timetable when it comes to any injury short of surgery? It boggles the mind how after last year's caution, they now seem to be on the verge of bringing Strasburg back too soon from an actual injury, just a couple weeks after bringing back Harper from an actual injury too soon and perhaps causing a season-long (or more) problem.

Major surgeries can change an entire career. If you mess up the rehab, you could turn a 10-to-15 years career into a three-year career. The stakes are enormous.

In theory, these minor injuries only change a part of ONE season, maybe only a week or a month. The stakes are much lower. Harper could have the worst bursitis in human history (I assume) and still end up being a  great player. But if Strasburg had blown out his elbow again last year, or his shoulder, he might have ended up like Mark Prior.

Also, teams have a built-in interest in having their employees play with a certain amount of pain (but not inury). So, they propect the team on the Big Investment issues, like Strasburg last year. But they tend to let the players "manage themselves" on day-to-day injuries - to a degree. Of course medical/trainer advice is a big part of it, too. But at some level, you have to sask the player, "Can you go?"

A bunch of Nats just need to rethink how they react to injuries. On Sunday, Harper already had some VERY good things to say about how he should have gone on the DL after he hit the wall in ATLANTA (in April). Take care of all the bruising, get better. He's hit .188 since then. It taught him a lesson (maybe) - playing THAT hurt isn't good for him or the team.

The Memorial was a strange but unimportant anomaly for Tiger, and he remains the heavy favorite for the US Open. Agree?

No, I don't think so. Tiger is still the No. 1 player in the world. But he is not the same player he used to be, not even if he has won a bunch of tournaments in the last two seasons. He has more problems with various parts of his game than he once did. His putting, hot sometimes, isn't as good overall. And he just isn't as confident when things go wrong in majors.

I doubt very much that Tiger can or will go from finishing 20 strokes off the winner at Memorial and then winning at a target U.S. Open course like Merion. I'd have said the same about Nicklaus at the same age. It's conceivable, but very unrealistic to think that you can change your form that much in 10 days. 

Everybody will say, "If anybody can do it, Tiger can." Yes, but not nearly to the degree he once could.

Also, after his 44 for nine holes, he said that he caught all the wrong "gusts" of wind at just the wrong times. That sounds way too much like an excuse Sergio would make.

Try that line on your golf friends the next time you stink it up - Oh, those wind gusts killed my game today. They'd laugh at you. And we should laugh at Tiger on this one.

Tom-- There's no question that Walden's foot is not in contact with the rubber when he releases the ball. Check out this analysis and these pictures: Lincecum also is not making contact with the rubber when he releases the ball, he is way out in front of the rubber. Not sure why this is never called...

Interesting. I'll ask about it.

Donovan says RG3 is taking on too much/ is too distracting from the healthy players and acting detrimental to himself and team, Andy Reid would never allow this etc...does he have a point or is he sour grapes?

He has a sour-grapes point.

Porter at No. 3? Is a trade for an established player like Kevin Love even possible?

You know I'm in the Porter camp.

Love only played 18 games this season, but he's still just 24 and an 18-pt, 13-rebound player. Don't see how that's a plausible trade. But it's legal for fans to dream.

Tom - Perhaps there are enough statistics in baseball, but how about one more: an Availability Factor (AF). A player's AF would be defined as the percentage of his team's innings during which he is in the lineup or available to play. Thus career-wise, Cal Ripken's AF would be very high, whereas Nick Johnson's would be much lower. To carry it one step further, a player's other statistics could be adjusted using the AF. For instance, a player hitting .300 whose AF is 0.5 would have an availability-adjusted batting average (AABA) of .150.

Teams actually have tools like this. One of the great things about WAR (wins above replacement) is that it gives credit to "availability." The more you play at a high level, the higher your WAR. Also, if a player misses a lot of time, but is fabulous when he's healthy, the WAR stats are attempting to capture that.

It's clear you've had great access to the Nats brain trust in recent years, Rizzo and Davey especially. Now that you're (correctly) criticizing some of their moves, does that access dry up? Are they more defensive and less open in talking with you?

When Davey came back to manage the Nats we already had a history from his two years with the Orioles. And before that. I said, "I look forward to it. You're always honest." He said, "I look forward to it. You always challenge me." We won't have any problems.

Rizzo is a grown up, always has been. He saw Kasten cussing me sometimes, and maybe a little visa versa. But Stan and I functioned well.  They expect me to do my job honestly. They know what the Washington Post stands for. They expect criticism/evaluation/analysis from a columnist. And they expect me to understand that their responsibility is to their employer - and I do. We've had no problem agreeing-to-disagree. I change my mind sometimes and I always try to say it - "I was wrong about Adam Dunn." Or whatever.

Some people just don't seem able to get their minds around the idea that you could be critical but not attack "personally." Maybe it's because so many political commentators these days are just paid snarky hacks who take the party line. Baseball/sports is usually much healthier.

My two cents: Jerry West was as sensational as a GM as he was as a player. He put together the Show Time Lakers of the 80s, and was continually upgrading the core of Jabbar-Magic with All-Stars, role players, and rehabilitated old-timers, from Norm Nixon/Byron Scott, Spencer Haywood/McAdoo/Mychal Thompon, Jamaal Wilkes/James Worthy, role-player power forwards like Kurt Rambis, and defensive specialist Michael Cooper. And don't forget Vlade Divac, a great, great draft choice. He did it mainly through savvy draft choices and trades, and then got then got veterans with free-agent signings. I was a Celtics fan during the era, and West countered our every move.

Great comment. Thanks.

Boz, love your columns. What's your take on Gausman? He looked better yesterday in his third start, but am worried the O's rushed him. We don't want another (albeit less-hyped) Ben McDonald.

Rush-and-ruin is a real issue in baseball. Look at Jason Heyward. Nobody thought he'd have TWO serious regression seasons - in '11 and now in '13 (.142).

BTW, the Braves have three real offensive problems. Heyward, Dan Uggla (.182 and 33 yrs old) and BJ Upton (.156, 5-yr $75M deal).

That's about it for today. Many thanks. Maybe one more, then see you next week!


This is for my father, who always asks: Why in the world do umpires - maybe at the batter's request? - always check/get rid of balls the catcher catches in the dirt, yet groundballs to, say, a middle infielder that are put outs at first, etc., immediately go back to the pitcher to be thrown to the next hitter? What's the difference!?

A smart pitcher can use any scuff/cut to make the ball move more. Just put the scuff on the opposite side from the way you want it to break. It's easy for umps to do the exchange with catchers. After the infield ground out, somebody has to think to ask for a new ball. Maybe that's it. Just a guess.

Tom, why do you think that radio and TV announcers tend to dumb down the game for the audience (i.e. focusing too much on things like batting average, RBI, pitcher wins, fielding percentage)? I notice that you've been referencing WAR - is there a feeling that if a TV guy tried to do that he'd lose the audience?

Everybody has to figure out their audience. I use a lot of self-indulgent stuff in chats, where I hope you nice folks will tolerate my obsessions and fascinations, that I wouldn't inflict on people in a general sports column.

Hey Boz, Curious as to what would be your line up if Stras joins the DL line up? Who pitches for Stras' spot? Certainly NOT Duke? Do we send Duke down, and bring Rosenbaum, Garcia, or Young up? Who plays second, Kobernus or Lombo or do you send one of them down and bring Rendon up again? Should Danny be DL'd like LaRoche did. Who spells Werth once in awhile?

Because the Nats have an off-day today and another next Monday, Strasburg could go on the DL, retroactive to Friday, and the Nats only need to replace him once - on June 15th vs Cleveland. Then, in effect, they wouldn't have to start him again until June 20. So he'd rest 19 days, but Nats would only have to "find" one extra start - perhaps for Stammen.

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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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