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Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Mar 20, 2017

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

How does he look to you? Being late on fastballs doesn't seem to be related to his launch angle issues. Though it's all been encouraging lately. Thanks.

I just finished talking to Zim a few minutes ago. He's really encouraged that his timing is coming around. He's 7-for-his-last-10 and had a hard-hit single and double, plus a 400-foot homer to rightfield on Sunday. He joked that his wife didn't come to the game and she said, "You always have your best days when I'm not there." But Zim isn't going to ban her.

"I've been swinging at strikes and having good at bats all spring. But it's tricky getting the timing right for us leg-kick guys. It takes a while. Now that's come around."

It bugs him that don't want him to "take" pitches but hit everything that looks like a good strike to them on TV. "Nobody can cover every pitch in every part of the plate. So, early in the count, maybe you are looking for a fastball in and it's a fastball away for a strike, so you take it for a strike. That's proper hitting. (Me: It's called "zoning.") That's why they give you four balls and three strikes."

I've never heard that particular line before -- That's why they give you 4 and 3" because it lets you guess or anticipate pitches until you get two strikes.

What seemed most interesting to me, by far, was that Zim thinks his body is MUCH healthier than its been in recent years. "Playing first base (and not throwing very much) has really helped my shoulder. Medical people can do amazing things now to get you back on the field, but it takes a lot more time to REALLY heal completely.

"I haven't had any problems (with his heel and plantar fasciitis) for almost two years."

I mentioned that, for a guy past 30, he gets very rambunctious on the bases with head-first slides, etc., and that he should stop being so athletic just because he still can. He laughed and said his agent calls him every time he sees a "stolen base in the box score" and tells Zim, "What are you doing??? Cut that out."

If that's true and Zimmerman is almost back to 100 health he might have several good years left. He talked about how he'd still like to be playing five years from now. So, while some may think they see The End in sight for him, he certainly doesn't. 

On the 'launch angle' issue, he'd love to hit the ball higher but it bothers him that he doesn't know what his launch angle was in his best seasons. Maybe it was the same 8 degrees as now. "I wish they had that data for '08-'09. What was my launch angle then?"

Too early to be too optimistic after three seasons that were all disappointments in different ways, often with injuries. But the last few days are encouraging. Dusty Baker keeps it simple. He said to me the other day, "Zim is the key." If he bounces back, it's a beast of a lineup and with something like $43M still left on his contract Zim is not going anywhere -- except to first base 130+ times a year if he is healthy. If he hits those Mike Rizzo guesstimate for .275-20-75 then the Nats are a much different team that another hideous year with a ~.575 OPS which for a first baseman is OMG-Awful.

What do you make of Ross's progress with his change, key for going from good to very good? And Stras out of the stretch? Thanks!

Ross has smoothed out his delivery since a year ago. I asked him yesterday if he thought some of that "herk," as in herky-jerky, might have added to his deceptiveness while also contributing to his arm problems. He said he'd gladly sarifice the little bit of "herk," and any good it did him for the benefits to his arm. 

BUT I think that he absolutely needs a good and trusted changeup if he is going to be an effective starting pitcher. It's just my subjective view, but I think the smoother delivery makes him a bit easier to time and cuts some of the "plus" off his plus-fastball and plus-slider. He's got to have a third pitch. But if he doesn't I think he'll be a fine rotation piece. He looked excellent last week and on Saturday good pretty good (with a lot of bad fielding behind him). 

I'd say he looks "OK." But his first 8-to-10 starts are going to tell a lot about how much he has, or hasn't lost something by "improving" his delivery. He had no choice.

In theory, Strasburg should be effective from the stretch. But I assume that the 100 percent truth on this would have to include some concern for his arm and all its injuries. Going from the stretch might reduce some strain because it's simpler and he doesn't fall off the mound to the left as often.

But the idea that he's doing it to be a better pitcher is pretty comical. Before his forearm problems he'd been in the midst of a 365-day period, including late '15 and most of '16, in which he was something like 20-3 with a 2.15 ERS in 32 starts. That's from memory, but close enough. That was using a windup.

So, lets see what he does in his first two or three starts. If the all stretch all the time method isn't working, I think you'll see it sh*t-canned pretty fast.

I was talking to Mike Maddux about how his brother Greg ONLY pitched from the stretch in his throw session between starts. Stan Kasten once explained why. Greg thought that almost all of the most important parts of the game came with men on base so that's what he wanted to focus on mastering. What did he do with nobody on base? Kasten claimed that Maddux told him that he "just let 'em hit it, but in spots where the most they could get was a single." If true, that might be part of why his pitch counts were so low. Maddux could "read the bat" so well that, at least twice in his career he told teammates in the dugout, "You better move before this next pitch," and, both times, the next pitch was RIPPED foul into the dugout exactly where they were sitting. He'd anticipated the pitch sequence and had read the bat -- the hitter's timing --so well that he knew that 2 + 2 (in his world) was going to equal a rocket foul ball into the dugout.   

Boz, Have you seen Romero pitch, or talked to folks with the Nats about him? He looked good in the WBC - outside chance at cracking Opening Day roster, or is he a midseason fill-in?

The Nats like him quite a bit. And his WBC showing helps him. But not being here hurts him. He's out of options so the Nats have to keep him in the majors or lose him. He has a history of bad control but a big fastball.

Dusty was just talking about what a tough decision he was going to be. The "last spots" on this pitching staff are really going to be a tight squeeze. Do they go with 13 pitchers early in the year? I doubt it. Do they keep a long man? Would it be Vance Worley, Matt Albers (no) or Jeremy Guthrie? How do you keep Joe Nathan, as much as they would like to keep him for his Matt Belisle-like leadership if it delays/damages the development of Koda Glover, who's been the most dominant reliever in camp? Trienen, Kelley, Solis, Oliver Perez. "It's backed up out there on I-95."

Boz, Given what you've seen, what's your read on the end of the bench and the last spot in the bullpen? Does Taylor's hot spring give him another shot? Who's the long man?

For me -- not necessarily the Nats -- Michael A. Taylor should absolutely be on this team. People act like a second fabulous spring is a BAD thing just because his big spring last year led to a bad season. There is no logic WHATSOEVER in this. If he had 10 monster spring trainings in a row would you NEVER bring him up just because it didn't work in '16?

Next year Jayson Werth is gone. You may have to spend $100M for a big outfield bat in free agency. Wouldn't you rather find out if Taylor is a late-blooming star? This guy is "tooled up" like few players, but he fans too much. I'd keep giving him as many chances as possible at the MLB level to have "the light go on." He's got a nice pre-swing movement with his hands this year -- it keeps him from freezing but isn't too big. Sometimes one change in a stance or a pre-swing trigger can make a big difference. 

I think that Lind, Heisey, Drew, Lobaton and Taylor is a very nice and versatile bench. You have to go with Lind's long track record -- six 20-homer seasons and spectacular pinch-hitting numbers -- over Clint Robinson who should be part of a platoon at first base for a 95-loss team. He deserves a job in MLB because he's a professional hitter, but not an exceptional one. If this were 1958 he'd be a Washington Senator, like 1st baseman Norm Zauchin: 303 ABs, 15 homers, 37 RBI, .228. Bad teams always need semi-decent players. That's Clint.

Hey, Boz! What's your take on the men's NCAA tourney so far? It hasn't been the most thrilling so far, but there have been some surprises, and some really good games, even if they're aren't really any Cinderellas left. Big slap down of my East Coast bias, though. Only ONE ACC team left in the Sweet 16 (of the NINE schools that made the tourney)? Two teams from the Big East left, but THREE of the FOUR Pac 12 teams who made the tourney played their way into the Sweet 16! Midwest is doing well, too with three from both the Big 10 and Big 12. And, is the SEC now the power conference in the East? Wha?!? Well, at least Duke lost....

I've tried to catch as many games as possible while in spring training. But it's hard. This is a fun time of year but most people don't understand how long the days are for everybody. Clubhouse opens at 8 a.m. Game ends at 4-to-5 p.m. with Dusty talking afterwards. So it's easy to end up with 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. days which means there's a limit to how late your going to stay up to watch hoops. Hitting coach Rick Schu was joking this morning that he gets up every day at 4:30 a.m. to get his workout and Nats-related work done before 8 a.m., then puts in a full day. He calculated that he goes through six cups of coffee and two Red Bulls a day. 

Then he did an imitation of himself, in his days with the Phils, as a pinch-hitter. "I'd drink coffee for seven innings, then you go up to the plate and you're ready to jump out of your skin." He imitated himself talking to himself at the plate: "Stay back" he orders his body. "I'm trying," answers his body as it lunges -- too soon -- at another pitch. 

Maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, I see every NEAR upset, like UNC and Kentucky in trouble last night, then I decide NOT to watch the game (Duke) that DOES turn out to be an upset. Grrrrrr.

I thought that the last two days, with the upsets of Villanova and Duke especially, prevented what could have been one of the dullest first weeks. Now, it's just fine. I hate it when 14 or 15 of the top 16 seeds advance to the Sweet 16 and the announcers have to act like these No. 11 seeds beats No. 5 seed upsets are an earth-shaking deal.

I liked Adam Kilgore's piece this a.m. summing up the demise of the ACC (one of nine in the final 16) while the much-maligned Big 10 advanced three. I'm sure the Big East is tickled to have two -- more than the ACC.

Personally, I was mighty annoyed that John Calipari (who can't coach a lick) and Roy Williams (who's always transmitted his tension to his teams, imo) lost such wonderful opportunities to be upset. I kept thinking,  "You can do it. You can blow this." They didn't. 

I know why Calipari annoys me -- his picture and Ricky Pitino's are side by side when you look up the definition of "exploitation." But I don't understand why Roy rubs me the wrong way. I'm probably being unfair. (But I guess that UNC program doesn't look so squeaky clean anymore.)

Good Morning Tom...I seriously wonder how much the one and one rule impacts on the NCAA tourney with so many top tier freshman trying to make a final impression on scouts in game action. Duke and Kentucky freshman all seem to be playing very tight and looking for the spectacular play vs. good solid team basketball like Kansas, Wisconsin, and Villanova. How much do you think the one-and-done rule is hurting the quality of the college game? And do you see the NBA adding another year before they will consider college players draft eligible? Too many of these one-year players seem to wash out in their first few years of the NBA due to lacking in basic basketball fundamentals.

I think you've done a good analysis. And that contrast between the one-and-done schools and the schools that end up with "veteran" teams, like Gary Williams' champions at Maryland, is part of the Fighters-Make-Fights aspect of March Madness. The polished teams put up some wonderful battles against the NBA Futures squads.

Will the NBA change it's rules because of an ethical consideration?

(pause)

I'm sorry, it took me a little while to get back up off the floor.

Who should we be following in the minors this year to get a sense of who the next wave of Nats positions players might be? And how will they impact free agent decisions - Harper, Rendon, etc - moving forward?

Everybody knows Victor Robles' ETA is probably '19 in CF.  He's the prize of the system. Will he be good or really, relly good. Michael Taylor (16-for-36) and Brian Goodwin (4-for-32) are painfully close to becoming AAAA players like Tyler Moore. So this might be a big year for one of them to change their reputation for the better.

Difo, high energy utility man, and Solano, catcher, are having hot-hitting springs -- 13-for-37 and 11-for-15!   

I think Pedro Severino (6-for-20) looks good in every movement on the field and bearing off it. I know that's scout talk -- the good face, the classic physique stuff. And he hasn't hit much in the minors. But I just think he hits >.260 eventually and is a wonderful catcher. Dusty talks up OF Rafael Bautista (10-for-32) who looked good before they sent him down. 

The shot was nice (and then some), but she completely controlled the game. The local boys may have put away their dancing shoes, but this Maryland team looks like it has the stuff to give UConn all it can handle next weekend. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but any fan of basketball would have loved the way the Terps played yesterday. Whiplash-inducing passing, scary defense...and a crazy shot or two. These women can almost make a fan forget the that the NCAA corruption machine plasters its logo all over these games.

That's the train to follow! The 3/4-court shot by Md is good because the sound-byte film-clip culture can use it -- "WOW, can you believe that! -- to focus on the Terrapin women. That shouldn't be needed, but apparently it is.

In last week's chat, responding to a question about RG III, you said, "Snyder and Allen were lined up with RGIII. The Shanahans and their guy, Cousins, were lined up on the other side, although Cousins wasn't trying to be in the middle." Does this help explain Redskins management's reluctance to sign Cousins to a long-term contract, that is, he isn't "their guy?"

Good question.

Answer: Duh.

Most teams wouldn't let ancient history or bad blood impact such a huge decision. But the Skins aren't "most teams."

You have to imagine how hard it is for Snyder to give huge market-value money to MIKE SHANAHAN'S guy! Shanny tried to torch the franchise as he left.

Then, what happens if Cousins bombs! Dan would have traded far too much to get RGIII (with hindsight), then "bought high" on Cousins.

There's football logic and the logic of the ego. The Skins tend to lean toward the later.

Boz, Ovi has looked unlike himself for at least the second half of this season. Is age catching (caught) up with him? Or is he hiding an injury of some kind? Any idea(s)?

I don't know. And I need to find out.

You're not going to win any Cup unless your Hall of Famer is at least 80-percent of "himself." He doesn't have to be Peak Ovi. But he has to be a serious offensive threat who has confidence in himself -- and inspires confidence, not worry, in teammates.

How does he look? Have you had a chance to check out his new delivery? Also, it's nice to see that the team has no hard feelings towards him.

A few of us had a nice long chat with John last week. He is a very nice person from a fine family whom I really enjoyed watch pitch because he made the most of what he had. But his natural demeanor is not Bundle of Joy. After he left, I thought, "He just smiled more in 15 minutes than he did in all the time he was a Nat."

This is another example of how the Nats always try to Act Right. Lannan was their Opening Day pitcher twice. He's trying to make a long-shot comeback as a tall side-arming lefty who's trying to work down lower to near-submarine, if he can do it. The odds? Very bad, obviously. Nobody else gave him a shot. But what does it cost you to Act Right.

"Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Robert Frost, "The Death of the Hired Man," wonderful poem. Talk about an ear for everyday speech.

...

"Warren," she questioned.

"Dead," was all he answered.   

I found Shirley Povich's last column and in it he writes "Nobody writes baseball better, or as well as Boswell, a student and unmatched chronicler-philosopher of that game. ". What would he think of baseball today with the longer games, contracts,etc? If you have time, what is your best memory of him?

I don't remember that. Or, if I do, I think it was just before he wrote something like -- but, man, did Boswell make a hash of that column he wrote comparing McGwire to Babe Ruth.

All my memories of Shirley seem like the best one because he was such a wonderful gentle man. I was sitting next to him in 1984 at Memorial Stadium when he was 79. Sleepy game.  Quietly, Shirley said, to himself, "Oh, that's too bad. And he's such a nice man."

I asked him, "What?"

He said, "Ken Singleton. He's finished. Can't catch up to the high fastball anymore. I saw the same thing happen to Jimmie Foxx."

When he was talking to you, to make a point, he'd squeeze your forearm. Just a quirk, but endearing. Almost always wore a suit, which I took to be silk, though I don't really know, maybe he just made it look like silk. Not out of vanity, just out of personal and professional pride. (Believe me, sportswriters mastered "Mega-sloppy" long ago. Shirley just didn't go along with it.) I've never met another sportswriter who, in manner or easy composure, resembled him in any way. The people he covered absolutely adored him. He could be critical, but had a light touch with it. Never any malice, just candid assessment. He just knew how to reach people. Whenever he'd meet me with my wife, he'd chuckle and whisper in my ear, "You married up." 

It's great to have baseball to provide (among other things), problems to consider that will be resolved - one way or another! Like the all important issue of the Nats batting order. It helps me go to sleep at night having this to contemplate! There are the stat folks that would bat Harper second. There is the old school (Dusty?) approach that wants to alternate right and left handed batters. But what about a different approach that I've not seen anyone suggest. I think Dusty would like it, because it gives him both consistency and flexibility. It also has Jason Werth hitting third (impossible!!!): 1. Turner: unless he hits .240 instead of .340. If .240 he hits 8th (or 9th?!?) and everyone else moves up a slot. 2. Eaton: They didn't trade all of those prospects to have him hit at the bottom of the order. But if he struggles, swap him for Murphy at #2.) 3. Werth: Second is his best spot, but at 3 there is the R - L - R top of the order, and JW looking at a ton of pitches with one or more speedsters on base. If he can't hit .275, swap with Rendon in the order. 4. Harper: of course. 5. Rendon: keeping the L - R alternation going. Rendon is a good bet to be a better hitter in 2017 than Murphy (even if Murphy has a season almost as good as 2016). 6. Murphy: Or if Harp hits more like he did in 2016, swap Murph to 4 and Harp to 6. 7. Zimmerman: If he somehow overcomes his addiction to the leg lift, ground ball stroke he loves, he could even swap with Werth at 3. If he continues his decline, then move Wieters up from 8, and hit Lind #8. 8. Wieters: He could work a lot of walks. If he excels, then he can swap with any spot from 3 to 7. 8 also works for Lobaton or Severino. 9. Pitcher. Or Turner if he actually isn't Ty Cobb (or even close) as we all hope. It comes down to optimizing the lineup 1-8 rather than focusing on 1-3 or 1-4. The other versions I've seen seem to have even more issues than this one!

Thank you for your efforts. But I have to go now.

I am sure Derek Norris is disappointed not to have a starting job with the Nats, but I wonder if he is better off now than when they traded for him. He got a chance to earn something, which is better than nothing, got a chance to showcase his hitting in spring training, and looked good in the media by putting a professional face on the situation. Does all of that raise his visibility--and perhaps his stock--from his previous (admittedly low) position?

He got $700,000 for showing up. I believe he is allowed by law to spend that, if he chooses. Also, the Nats are viewed as excellent judges of talent, especially players that they know well -- and Norris came up in the Nats chain. So, that can't hurt his stock. He went 6-for-17 with two homers, one of them a bomb over everything off the back concourse. So, he got a little showcase.

We talked to Norris and he seemed to feel that catchers were in such short supply in MLB that while he certainly wouldn't be swamped with offers he thought he'd have a choice of offers. He didn't SAY that directly. It was the gist of his remarks.

Boz - have you changed your mind at all about the Caps Stanley Cup chances recently? Their extended slide was quite worrisome, but maybe they're puling out of it? Ovi finally scored (and I think his passing game of late is very underrated). Burakovsky is back (who knew he meant so much). Still, I think the key revolves around Holtby. His early season play covered up for a lot and maybe hid a few flaws. Avg play from him and the Caps are doomed.

I'm anxious to see them when I get back to D.C. This is Their Year __not in the sense that they HAVE to win it all, because the odds are always against that for any team in any sport, but because they absolutely have to get their act together and enter the playoffs ON FORM. There is no excuse for them to come in playing like a .500 team. They have far too much ability. And they CAN control that.

IOW, it is Their Year to represent. To represent themselves at their best, or close to it, whether they win it all or not.

They'll lose key players next year. This is their best team, their best chance and they need to get it together. I think they will. How far that takes them, we'll see. 

How much should we be concerned about the lack of action Roark and Murphy have had in the WBC? What kind of effect will this have in the regular season and the rotation/batting order?

It stinks. I'll have to cut this chat "short" because I have to go write a column on, basically, this subject.

I know you keep saying that Dusty will bat Eaton at the top of the order come opening day. But he is still continuing to bat 6 or 7. Sure looks like that's the plan for the regular season.

Yes, against LHers, I think you'll see Eaton at 6-7 because Werth hits LHers so well and prospers at No. 2.

The question now: What the order against RHers?

What should we make of Mr. Taylor at this point? He has a history of being a spring training star who fails miserably in the regular season. And he is again looking great this spring. Is there reason to trust that time it's different and he might be able to carry success to the regular season?

In '14, Taylor hit .304 at AAA with 23 homers, 37 steals and a .915 OPS!

In '15, he played 138 games in the big leagues in CF ahead of schedule and saved the Nats after injuries. .229, 14 homers, 63 RBI and 16-3 SB. Not bad. Something to build on.

In '16, he was, by the end of the season, exactly the same player as '15: .231, .654 OPS. The problem: he just showed no improvement I don't think that one stagnant year should doom him. He has a huge strikeout problem. The likelihood is that he doesn't pan out as a starting player. But he is a fine young man, has all the tools (except contact) and you would feel like an idiot if he became a star elsewhere -- and I think he could.

No one expects the Nats Starting Five will each make 32 starts this year. Just won't happen. So what is the current plan for a sixth starter (s)? Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito gave them 10 spot starts last year. Gone. No Bronson Arroyo or Mat Latos lurking in the minors. Doesn't look like Fedde, Cole or Voth are ready, are they? What will they do?

Cole's probably adequate for 10-12 starts when needed. Adequate is ~4.50 ERA. Fedde got roughed up the other day. But he looks like a future rotation piece to the Nats.

But they are "thin" in the rotation. It;s not a problem until it is.

That';s it for today. See you next week at 11 a.m. on Monday. Time to go watch a game, write a column and catch an airplane. Beautiful day here -- 78.2 degrees, etc. Just like a lot of days in DC that are coming very soon.  

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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