NATS GETTING BETTER, ONE GAME AT A TIME, BEAT PHILLIES 10-4
[April 20th] -- When Nick Johnson is on his game, he is, without a doubt, one of the most technically-perfect players in the National League. Everything he does is "by the book." He takes outside pitches the opposite way, balls in the middle of the plate are shot into center field, inside pitches are lifted deep into the right field seats. He walks more, and strikes out less than his peers at first base. His defense prowess is dominant. If he had stayed healthy during his career, there is no way that the Nationals could have afforded to sign him to a multi-year deal.
Johnson had "one of those games" Thursday night in Philadelphia, going 4-4 with two long home runs and three runs batted in. He scored three runs. Johnson now has five home runs this season, averaging a homer every 10 at-bats, 2 1/2 times higher than his career average. I know that there is a temptation to play Johnson every day, to keep his bat in the lineup 24/7, but please, Frank, don't do it. The only sure way to keep Johnson healthy (if that's possible) would be to rest him often. 125 games would be a doable number. The other 37 games could be ably manned by a combination of Daryle Ward, Matt LeCroy and Robert Fick. I know that 125 games doesn't sound like much, but it's far greater than his career average of 107. Gotta keep the boy healthy.
Alfonso Soriano continues to impress. Days after the trade last fall, I said that Terrmel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson could combine for twice the number of homers that Soriano would hit in Washington. Wrong. Sledge is back in the minor leagues and Brad Wilkerson stands at .200-2-6 with 25 strikeouts in 60 at bats. Soriano went 2-6 with a double, and made three good plays at, near, and on the left field wall. Judging by that smile of his after making those plays, I think he's actually beginning to enjoy playing the outfield.
Billy Traber pitched well in his first major league action since 2003. Look, I know he gave up 3 runs in 5 innings and his ERA stands at 4.76, but I chalk that up to jitters. He gave up only 2 hits in those 5 innings -- it was the 4 walks that cost him. He's always had good control, so I'm not concerned about his wildness. I love the 2 hits in 5 innings, though. That shows he dominated the hitters (when he got the ball over, of course). No question he deserves another chance to start. And another. And another ....
Ryan Zimmerman has fallen into a good game/bad game, good game/bad game routine. Thursday was a good game. He went 2-4 and with two rbi's and a walk. But that's a good thing. The pitchers find a new way to get the kid out (bad game), but he comes back the next night with an adjustment and has a good game.
The Nationals ended this two-part road trip 6-7, an excellent way to begin the season. The 0-3 home record doesn't help, though. The good news is that I seriously doubt the team will play as bad as they did last week again this year. The bad news? They have five months to prove me wrong.
Zimmerman can be easily fooled by off speed stuff. It seems that he hits the mediocore pitchers but the good ones reduce him to the AA player that he probably would still be if they had not rushed him along. But definitely a very bright future for this mature young man.
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