Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

May 06, 2014

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

I'm hoping that the Wizards can win it at home in Game 6. That's not because I want to prolong the series; it's that I've never seen a Lady Gaga riot.

Don't worry. Unless Roy Hibbert shows up there won't be a Game 6.

And even if he does there might not be.

So I think this question qualifies as a good problems kind of question with the Nats back in first place. With Zimmerman's return what do you do with Espinosa who somehow has figured something out batting wise and is clearly A+ for the infield? Also with LaRoche's hot start and his ability to hit opposite field does platooning him with Zimmerman really still make sense?

I've thought about it. I know what you HAVE to do. Because baseball has certain ways of doing things that don't change. You put Zimmerman back at thirrd, see if his throwing is adequate, put Rendon back at second and, since LaRoche is your hottest hitter, play him almost every day at first. Then you do the best you can to "get Danny at bats" so he can stay as sharp as he has been. That's tough.

There is some "play" in here. LaRoche has a bad quad that could lead to considerable lost time if he really hurts it. So, even though he is doing well against lefties, you can give him some days off against them, put Zim at first and Espinosa at second. Desmond hasn't had a day off. You can get Espinosa a couple of starts there, too. And everybody will NOT stay healthy the rest of the year; they never do. So Espinosa will get every spare at bat and some starts in DH games in AL parks.

The defense is better with Rendon at third, Espy at second and LaR at first. But a normal Zimmerman is still a better hitter, probably much better, than the current resurgent Espinosa. Danny is a great story. I think he's fixed his problem and now makes enough contact to be a decent hitter with some pop and a wonderful fielder. But he still has 28 Ks in 101 plate appearances.

The scarier problem is: What do you do if Zim comes back and doesn't throw adequately/accurately? The rest from throwing while his thumb healed may have helped his shoulder feel stronger. We'll see. "Let the day's own problems be sufficient to the day."

Any chance that the Nats keep Sany Leon as insurance for Lobaton and Ramos injuries? If so, who would be sent to Syracuse? Walters?

Doubt very much that they keep three catchers. You can always call him back in one day. But Leon has done a decent job. Threw out a runner last night who slid to a stop in the slop before he even got to second base.

Does Johnny Manziel remind you of Michael Vick, someone who has amazing talent but doesn't have enough beef to actually last a season without major injuries?

For some reason Johnny Manziel reminds me -- in attitude, not facial appearance -- of Johnny Depp when he plays snarky/arrogant. Manziel looks like he weighs about as much as Depp, too. No, I'm not a Johnny Football fan. Don't root for him to fail. But I think he'll be more Flutie than Tarkenton. Vick is physically very tough -- at the NFL level. You can't know about a college QB's ability to cope with NFL-level violence until he faces it -- especially one built like Manziel. Maybe Manziel can do it. I wouldn't draft Manziel unless he dropped a lot further than he will. I like athletic arrogance. It looks like maybe he just has all-around arrogance. That doesn't usually play as an NFL QB unless you are incredibly talented. But he was considered an inspirational leader in college by teammates. So we'll see. Put me down for "No." But I'm wrong a lot. 

The Nats have taken a legitimate 4th or 5th starter and made him into a marginal relief pitcher. Not a great example of asset management, Was this a Rizzo or Matt Williams decision?

Williams has to wear it. But it was an organizational stance from the beginning of spring training, imo. If Roark or Jordan looked good enough to be a solid fifth starter then Detwiler solved a bullpen problem. If the Nats had gotten another hard-throwing reliever in the off-season (or Balfour), then the picture would have been different. But the temptation to increase the heat coming out of the bullpen was large. It hasn't worked. Jordan would have been the odd man out if Det had stayed in the rotation. He was 0-3 with a >5.00 ERA. But it still MAY work after Fister gets back. Roark just had a bad start (after a three-hit shutout), but the best maxed-out staff could still be Fister and Roark at the back of the rotation and Det in the pen. We still don't have the answer; we just have the April early returns.

Now that the Rams have 3 starters plus another overall #3 pick coming up on Thursday from the Redskins, do you still like the deal for RGIII? I remind you that Russell Wilson didn't get selected in that draft until round 3.

I still like the RGIII draft. What I don't like is the way Shanahan left him in against Seattle and turned a manageable injury into a major catastrophe.

We'll see if RGIII in '14 is 97 percent of the '12 RGIII. "Franchise QB," if you don't have one, still matters more than anything. The Skins absolutely needed to get one. I think RGIII is one and we'll see it next year. At least both Jay Gruden and RGIII have -- in eachother -- a coach and QB  that give both the chance to succeed. That doesn't mean they will. But Gruden has a wonderful tool to execute his offense. And RGIII has a coach who truly wants what's best for him, not a coach who acts like he does.

It was an excellent trade for the Rams. Both teams can win. 

The idea that the Skions would have been smart enough to draft Russell Wilson with a later pick is extreme revisionist history. The Skins haven't done anything that smart in a long time, especially since Wilson was supposed to be "undersized." And I don't think they'd have been that smart in the '12 draft if they hadn't gone after RGIII.

I think rain delays should be limited to an hour. Expecting fans to sit over 3 hours (over an hour while the game is going on) in the pouring rain for a game that ended well after midnight is not good PR. I'm glad the Nats won but we're out $80 because we live in Laurel. My son has school ad I have work today. In gthe future it will be wlk up purchases only for us.

Sorry for you. But the umps did the right thing to wait. Even >3 hours. A 2-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings is something the Nats earned. It's statistically significant. No matter what team happened to be involved, my thinking would be "they earned their lead so don't erase it if you can still play."

Also, in the one area the Nats did control, they did the right thing in showing the Wiz game on the scoreboard.

Boz, I may be reaching a bit, but do you think interviews with coaches/mgrs./players during the game will ever happen in MLB during the regular season?

I hope not.

I wish they'd get rid of them all. No coach ever says anything of value -- and they shouldn't. It's just TV trying to look like they are journalists when, as usual, they are just doing PR eyewash for themselves. 

Any insight as to why four players are transfering? Of the four, Seth Allen is the bigest surprise. It can not be all related to concern about lack of playing time.

Seth Allen is probably the only one of real concern with Trimble arriving to take over point guard. But Allen is a big concern, imo. You'd think he'd want to move to a more natural position at shooting guard and team up with a national-level talent at the point who is from the local area.

So, why didn't he? I can promise you UMD grads are banging their heads against walls. Turgeon has a long contract and I like him as a coach, but losing a top player -- who is succeeding -- is usually red flag. A red flag of what? Too many close defeats eroding confidence in him among his own players? 

But you really have to want to leave pretty badly to be willing to sit out a year and go to another school where you may not fit/succeed as the place where you already are.

So, go ahead and say, "That's bad." You'd need 10 pairs of rose-colored glasses to see it otherwise.

I'm no lover of Shanahan, but I do confess to a feeling of sadness whenever I think of him. Any idea where he's been hiding out? Will he ever emerge again? H Is he done coaching? Would his ego allow him to go back to being a coordinator? College coach? What if Kyle were to get a head coaching job? Might that be the only way he'd return on someone's staff?

Sad for Shanny.

Google "Mike Shanahan's house" and, after you see all 35,000 square feet, you may feel slightly less sad.

I've never seen a D.C.-area pro coach do as much damage to his own reputation in his last weeks/months in this town as Shanahan. And whomever is in second place would not be close.

I'm guessing he doesn't come back next season. Who's the starting CF next season?

The Nats have a team option for $9M and a $500K buyout.

It's been assumed one of their minor league prospects would be ready. But I don't see anyone who is yet. That could change. But they do control him. (He looks like he's starting to find it at the plate, including 3-for-4 last night.)

Ted Leonsis, to my knowledge, has said nothing about the Donald Sterling matter. That seems a little deficient to me. An enormous wave of change just hit the NBA, and our local owner ought to be taking a public stand.

Watching our young stars make the leap has been a true joy and I hope that the playoff run can continue as long as possible. That said, I can't help but shake the number of opportunities that exist for our GM to screw this up for the long term. Specifically, it seems like there may be a real risk of overpaying system guys and jeopardizing the future (e.g. Gortat, Ariza). How would you approach the offseason and building this team for sustained success?


Sorry, I know you mean well.

But, for right now, can we all just Watch The Games!!

We wait years, sometimes decades, to have any local Washington team come this close to absolutely maximizing its ability in a dramatic post-season setting. And we want to talk about a potential problem in the future?

If you want to see the negative unconscious impact of 24/7 negativity-driven sports-talk/chat/on-line trolling, here it is. YOUR concern IS legit. At some point, it's a very good question. But not NOW.

We are out of the habit of talking about things that are done well. And many in the sports media would far prefer to dig up any excuse for a controversy or problem rather than simply focus on the sport itself. Why? Come on, we all know why. Criticism, controversy are self-reference and throw light on the critic while focus on the game itself focuses on the athletes. I deeply apologize but I really enjoy watching great sports played wonderfully by amazing athletes. And we don't get a whole lot of this around here, especially in post-seasons.

Again, I completely agree with your first point: "has been a true joy and I hope..." Your question just drew me off on my own pet peeve -- no doubt one of many. 

Almost every Wiz possession last night was delicious. They just chewed Indiana up. The score didn't indicate their dominance. It was even a "perfect" box score with all the starters having solid-to-excellent lines with Gooden adding 12 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.

Ariza outplayed Paul George (+22 to +15 using the simple method of a point for every positive contribution -- point, rebound, assist, etc, and a negative point for every  turnover or missed shot.) Every Wiz starter was plus 12 to plus 25 (Beal). Hibbert, in 18 minutes, was minus-one. Hard to do. 

The Wiz teamwork and effort at both ends is now so remarkable that I just watch and think, "How long can they go without ANYBODY making a dumb or selfish play." Of course they miss shots and have forced errors by good Pacer play. But there are almost no self-inflicted wounds.

In every hustle, toughness, teamwork category they outplayed the Pacers: rebounds (53-36), blocks (8-5), assists (23-16). And in offensive rebounds, thanks a lot to Gooden, 17 to 6!

Sir Charles is right -- as currently constituted, this is a mismatch. The Pacers are getting ZERO from Hibbert and Mahinmi at center. And the Indiana small lineup can't handle the Wiz combination of its own quickness at guard on the perimeter plus the interior rotation of Nene, Gortat, Gooden and Booker. 

The Pacers are very close to scapegoating Hibbert -- which may only drive him deeper into his shell. According to reports, David West and Rasaul Butler had a "meeting" with him after the game. One Pacer was quoted as saying that, "We really need Roy and we need him be part of the fight," and another talked about "having heart." Hibbert said, "I got to be a different Roy Hibbert than I have been...I have to look within myself...and figure it out."

I hope the focus on Hibbert, as inevitable as it is since nobody can remember a two-time All-Star and playoff hero (just last year) who has suddenly and inexplicably played so badly, does not subtract from what the Wizards are doing. If Hibbert had had a decent game the Wiz would still have won.

I've seldom felt as bad for a player as I have for Hibbert because I loved the way he worked to develop himself from Big Stiff (at Georgetown Prep and Georgetown) to All-Star. But he is so down on himself and confused that it just looks like he's being a big baby on every play/call that goes against him. I don't know how you reverse a slump that deep.

Looked like he had found it in Game 7 vs Atlanta with 13-8-5 blocks. But the Wiz are a tough match-up for him. Both Nene and Gorgat can shoot mid-range jumpers over him. Gorgat gambled on jumping early and just smother-blocked one Hibbert shot.

In his career, Hibbert has usually played slightly less than 30 minutes a game because he lacks stamina. That hides how valuable he has been. PER-36 minutes his career averages are 15.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and a big presence protecting the rim. Now, he's Mr. Zeroes-Across.

How did this happen? Don't know. Indiana doesn't seem to know. Mahinmi seems to be just as bad a match-up with the Wiz. I hope some semblance of the normal Hibbert returns for his sake and also because I think the Wiz, now that they have home court advantage, can handle THAT Pacer team, too.    

Last week in your chat, you said about Ovechkin: "He can still do one thing well -- score, especially on the power play. But that's all he can do. How do you build a team around that." Considering that the point of hockey is to score more goals than the other team, why do you think having a guy who can score goals better than anyone else in the sport is such a problem?

I think others have called Ovechkin "the problem." I think you have to find a way to win with him. Remember, the Caps are not suddenly an outright bad team, even though they missed the playoffs. They are a mediocre team. But that's only a steep or two from being pretty good again. Don't blow up TOO much.

One of the shocks of last season was that Oates, who is brilliant talking about hockey, appears to be a classic HOF star whose ability and intelligence don't translate well to coaching. He drove too many players nuts with his constant advice and corrections. He might make a wonderful TV analyst because he was never afraid of controversy as a player. But the Caps may get somewhat better just by having a different coach.  

Boz, you seem to be the only sports journalist who gets this right: "aggressiveness" -- NOT "aggression" -- is the proper term when an athlete plays in an aggressive manner. Kinda drives me crazy to see "aggression" used so much. Am I nuts?

No, you're not nuts. When it comes to protecting the English language, sports is probably Public Enemy No. 1.

Last night was probably the second or third time I've watched the Wizards in... well, a long time [grew up in MD - now in NYC]. I basically didn't become a basketball fan as a kid on account of how awful and dispiriting the Bullets were. So lo and behold, last night watching the Wizards I saw... a good team. A REALLY good team. A team that built an early lead, and even when they went frigid, didn't panic, played stifling defense, and waited for the Pacers' run to end, before putting one of their own on. A team that never seemed to doubt for a second that they were GOING to win. It was entirely remarkable. And given the absolute stomping delivered to OKC, the Mavs having taken the Spurs to 7, the Wizards' regular season results against the Heat... is it impossible to think they might have a chance against anyone? Strange days.


I will try not to get carried away or ahead of events. But the Wiz against the Heat, who are not quite what they used to be, would be wonderful to watch. 

Bos - Need you help. The Nats when are doing a defense shift, sometimes when Rendon is playing 3B, rather than moving everone closer to 1B in order, they move Rendon near 2B leaving Desi in the area of SS. They "say" they do this that this way only one guy is out his normal position rather than two. My questions is if they hit a ground out to Desi, do I score that 6-3 or 5-3 (since he is the guy closest to 3B? Also what would it be if they hit to Rendon? I like to score the game when I'm there and would like to know. Thx

You keep score by position, not by the identity of the player. So, the player in the infield closest to the third base line would be the third baseman regardless of whom it is.

Boz - we've spent years and the sports-media industrial complex has spent hours discussing how John Wall will be the savior to bring back the Wizards. And while he's a phenomenal player, starting to look like Bradley Beal may be the savior after all. And for all the tons of ink spilled on Bryce Harper, might Anthony Rendon be the better everyday player, since he can actually stay on the field? Maybe there's something to be said for developing your game while everyone in the world has their eyes on someone else in the same uniform. And makes you wonder if someone will upstage RGIII.

Nicely put. Thanks.

If you want to put a smile on your own face, just say, "Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, John Wall and Bradley Beal."

I thought Wall would improve. But I never thought he would go from really bad shooter (statistically one of the worst in the NBA) to out-and-0ut good shooter. And that has opened up every other part of his game. He's a terror.

For those who never saw Phil Chenier play, Beal will probably end up a better all-around player, but Phil had a similar silky pure jump shot. He must be grinning every time Bradley lets one fly.

I'm one of these big Ernie haters that is having a hard time getting over it even despite this run. This Bulls/Pacers playoff sched is pure providence--I dunno if we could handle the Raptors or Nets, let alone ANY of the eight west teams, and absolutely not a real contender like the Heat or Spurs. When Ernie re-signs Gortat and Ariza for four years, $60M combined in two months, the team is sunk. Could you please write a cold water column? Someone needs to counteract these fluff articles Wise is cranking out at a rate of two/day :)

Ernie had some awful years. He put together the disgraceful team that he had to blow up and replace. So, that is very bad. He has also put together this team with is a pleasure to watch. That is very good. Same guy. Both true. It happens.

That's why you criticize the performance of the person, not the person himself. Then you allow yourself to enjoy that person when he/she performs well. In your own mind, you haven't made it personal. That is hard for fans (probably for anybody). The GM or owner or star player who is seen as responsible for poor performance FEELS like he is stealing your pleasure and ruining your fun. So, you DISLIKE him. That's often a step too far. He's trying. He's just failing. 

That doesn't mean he'll always fail. And Ernie is succeeding now.

I just love Gregg Popovich's contemptuous attitude. One-word answers to almost everything, and treating the whole thing like it's a rotten vegetable he can't wait to toss. Would that other coaches had the same fortitude. Oh, and - Fox DOES do the in-game interview during their (awful) baseball coverage.

You're right about Pop.

You're right about Fox.

And you're right about the quality of Fox baseball coverage.

You're on a streak!

Hi Boz. Connie Mack said pitching is 90 percent of the game. To date, the Nat's pitching has been anything but consistent. What do pitching coaches contribute to performance? What do you think of Steve McCatty?


The Nats are tied for SECOND in baseball in team ERA (3.03). Atlanta is first at 2.69.

The Nats bullpen ERA is third best at 1.89 behind only the Pads and Giants. And the fourth-place team is far back at 2.71.

This is before Fister joins the rotation this week.

So, the Nats have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. What you may be noticing -- and attributing to the pitching -- is the awful defense that has led to an MLB-worst 23 unearned runs. When the Nats stop kicking it around -- or even improve to a degree -- the pitching will "show" even better.

The Nats are on track -- without FOUR of their top players. And they are in first place, though only by half-a-game. When Fister and Ramos get back this week, they could be pretty impressive. The Braves thumped them good and proper, five out of six. But there's also a lot of good news on that team.

BTW, Greinke may have thrown at Rendon's head last night in the first inning. Man on second, none out, 0-2 pitch and Greinke has a reputation with some hitters. Missed his face by about three inches.

Greinke followed with a shin-high curveball. Rendon hit it with one hand -- into the second row of the red seats for a home run. The next time up Rendon walked on four pitches. And the ump showed Rendon, not Greinke, the respect on a close 3-0 pitch. Umps send messages to control games, too.   

Tom, what are your thoughts on how MLB replay is going so far? As a traditionalist, I tend to think with so many games and so many calls — and the umps being generally very accurate — it's not needed and it's just making already long games longer, but I'd like to hear the take of someone who sees a lot more baseball than me.

I'm leaning -- heavily -- toward your view.

I'm being patient. I don't want to change my mind five times on this one. But, so far, I really and truly dislike it and would like to hear from those who consider it a good thing/enjoy it.

I'm an Ovechkin guy, believe me. The Caps are better with him than without. However, the problem is building around him. He's the biggest personality in the room and the Caps need to find the right pieces to offset his personality and do the grunt work Ovie cannot or will not do. That's the issue and Ovie is a part of it. It's a huge challenge for whomever takes over the team. My belief is that ultimately, the Caps will flounder for a few years, then trade Ovie to a team that is well established but needs a sniper to put them over the top. That's how he'll win a Stanley Cup - and it won't be in Washington unfortunately.

And sad, but plausible possibility. Hope it doesn't work out that way. But you put it well.

Even by normal high standards of your chat questions this a.m. is kinda ridiculous. Thanks, but I just can't get to all of the best ones. But I may steal some for column ideas! Thanks again. See you next Monday at 11 a.m.

I thought the whole point of demoting and not trading Detwiler was to have him available for relief (he's hardly ever used) and spot starts. Mattheus was sent down to make room for Treinin. That means he has to stay down 10 days, right? So, we've essentially depleted the bullpen for 10 days. I don't get it.

Detwiler was never intended as a spot starter. He's too valuable to be given such hard use. The hope is that he'll be a valuable lefty in the pen who can go multiple innings -- like through the batting order once.

Circumstances have conspired to make Williams look poor in handling of pitchers so far. But he's made decisions that put him in positions where that could happen.

Treinin, at his best, could be interesting. But the Dodgers are a mighty tough lineup for a MLB starting debut. If he'll throw strikes, his stuff appears plenty good enough -- though nobody can explain why he doesn't get as many swing-and-misses or any many strikeouts as you'd expect. The Dodgers will provide a very good, though very tough, preliminary measuring stick for "how good is his stuff -- really."   

One of the reasons that I have always enjoyed baseball is that in every game you watch, there's a good chance that you'll see something you've never seen before and will never see again. I think the MLB rulebook reflects this. I was reading the rulebook online the other day and saw this: Did you know that if a batted ball bounces off the pitcher's plate and rolls foul, it is a foul ball? Many years ago, I saw a play in an Orioles game that I am sure that I will never see again. The Orioles had men on first and second with no outs. The batter hit a ground ball to the second baseman, who flipped to the shortstop for the out at second, he threw to first for the double play, and then the first baseman threw home to get the runner trying to score from second base. Triple play. But the replay showed that the umps missed all three calls! The shortstop never touched second, the runner beat the throw to first, and the runner at home slid under the tag. Thank God we have the review system now.

Loved the rile about ball bouncing off the pitching rubber. I assume you're correct. If I ever knew it, I've forgotten it.

Okay, a TRIPLE replay reversal would almost be worth the whole mess.

BUT can the team with the challenge ask for a review at all three bases?

"We challenge the call."

"Yeah, which one."

"ALL of 'em."

Which call gets considered first? If that challenge is "wrong" do you lose your challenge so that you can't challenge the calls at either of the other two bases?

Now I have a headache. Thanks, it was worth it! Outta here.

In This Chat
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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