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UM, MIKE PIAZZA CAN STILL SWING THE BAT

[July 9th] -- That wasn't quite the way d that the Washington Nationals hoped to end the first half of the 2006 season. With the next four days off, the team wanted a "positive" to build on, something to give them hope that the second half of the season would be more fruitful than the first.

Not quite.

Chad Cordero, who was forced to enter the game in the 8th inning because of a depleted bullpen, gave up one run in the 8th and four more in the 9th, including pinch-hitter Mike Piazza's long, long (long) home run off the facade of the upper deck to give the Padres a 10-9 lead, and ultimately, the win. Did this 9th give you a sense of "deja-vu?" It felt a lot like last year's game against the Padres in San Diego, when Cordero gave up a grand-slam in the bottom of the 9th to allow San Diego to tie the score. The Nats eventually lost that game in the 12th inning. I think Robert Fick was the culprit in that one.

Was this game a defining moment? After all, the Nationals were leading the Padres 7-1 as late as the 6th inning before things went awry. The answer is an unequivocable no. This edition of the Washington Nationals aren't a contending team. Heck, they aren't even a good team. But they are our team, and that's all that matters. Losses are expected and wins come as unexpected surprises. So losing a game like this doesn't do much more than add another loss in the "L" column.

Right now, especially with the "sell-off" about to happen (remember, the Preston Wilson deal last year happened right at the all-star break), we need to look within the boxscore and look for trends, trends that might suggest how the Nationals could look when the team emerges from its last place doldrums and begins to improve.

Like taking a closer look at Alex Escobar, for example. Escobar, still just 27, is one of those "toolsy" players that GM Jim Bowden brought in by the truckload during his first few months in office. He was drafted by the New York Mets, and was on a superstar path until an injury in 2002 robbed him of some of his athleticism and most of his health. He was traded to the Indians in the Roberto Alomar trade in 2001, and was eventually waived and picked up by the Chicago White Sox. In Bowden's first bad trade, the Nationals sent Jerry Owens (the heir apparent for the White Sox in center) to Chicago for Escobar. He didn't play at all last year (more injuries) and is only now getting healthy. So what does he do? He goes 4-4 with a 3-run home run and is now batting .435 for the season. TSN.com calls Escobar a player with "all the tools," indicating he has power, speed, hits for average and has a canon-arm in the outfield. The only real negative is his health.

Is Escobar the "answer" in center? I don't know, but at least, for the moment anyway, he is going to be given every opportunity to show that the job should be his.

It was pretty obvious that John Patterson was still having problems with his forearm strain early in the first inning. I don't know why the Nationals keep sending him out to pitch every 5th day if he is running the risk of serious injury. Why not shut him down until he's 100%? It's not like another five or seven wins this year will make any difference, either for the team or for Patterson. He proved to all of us last year that, when healthy, he is about as good as it gets. Let him rest for as long as he needs.

Brian Schneider looks like he has finally gotten his timing down. He got three more hits including that (what we thought would be) insurance home run in the bottom of the 8th inning. Ryan Zimmerman got two more hits, one a double, and another RBI (he now has 59) and raised his batting average to a season-high .287. I think he's very comfortable in the number three hole in the lineup, and (hopefully), Frank Robinson will leave him there for the rest of the year. That should just about guarantee him 100 RBI's in his rookie season. Amazing.

Cordero looked horrible, didn't he? I think we're learning for certain what we thought last year, that Chad Cordero is a solid closer, but needs to be "on" to get the opposition out. If he isn't controlling his pitches well, his 91 mph fastball tends to go very, very far. Like today. Is he the long-term answer for the Nationals as the team's closer? Well, he sure could be, and a cheap answer for a couple more years at that. But I'm certain that his trade value will never be higher than it is right now. I mean, can you imagine what the Nationals might be able to get from the Atlanta Braves for Cordero today? How long will any team, especially the Braves, accept a success rate of 50% by their closer before doing something about it? I'm not suggesting that the team should trade him, but I am saying that bad teams don't need good closers. Perhaps Chad might be of more value to the Nationals in a trade, and they could then allow Billy Bray the opportunity to show if he is a major league closer. Without question, Bray has more "stuff" than Cordero does, but Cordero has more "guile" and "guts" (and his hat is funnier too).

More later ....

Comments:
It was Khalil Greene that hit the Grand Slam off Cordero last September 17th, the Day the Music Died for the Nats.

It was Khalil Greene's home run that tied the game today.

You're right, when Cordero is on, he's as good as anyone, but man does he flame out a lot. I heard on the radio that TEN!!! of the 34 hits that he's allowed this year have been home runs.

That is absolutely unacceptable. Still, it doesn't make sense to trade him because he's still under club control. They can have him and Bray on the team without spending much money.

I've seen it suggested by fans that Cordero be moved to setup man and Bray be made the closer. Now that might be interesting. We'll have to wait until Frank gets fired to find out if anyone would actually do that.
 
I'm not feeling much deja vu -- other than Khalil Green and the San Diego Padres were involved in both games. The game last September 17 featured 4 pitchers in the 9th inning, so perhaps Cordero was not warmed up when he came in. It also followed a full season, with 71 appearances, so fatigue was an issue.

Today's game had Cordero pitch the 8th and 9th innings. It's part of a season when he missed a lot of spring training by participating in the World Baseball Classic. Cordero has said that he wonders if he made the right decision there. Since some other pitchers who participated in the WBC have also had rough starts, maybe he has a point.

It also leaves me with a question about whether he will have a better (or at least a more typical) season next year, when he'll attend a normal spring training.

(Sorry I can't paste the link, but the citation is "Players: Don't blame WBC for slow starts" Joe Capozzi, staff writer, Palm Beach Post, Sunday, July 2, 2006.)
 
Thanks for reminding me that it was Khalil Greene that hit that grand slam last year. I was crying so hard that my memory is a little "wet." :)
 
I fear that Cordero was a one year flash. His pitches are too predictable and the rest of the league has now figured him out. Further, he was grossly overworked last year. Actually, he is beginning to look a lot like Livan, a batting practice pitcher.
 
There NL East (after the Mets) is fairly tight right now, with 3.5 games between us and Philly. I'm not sure how this works for deciding who would trade with whom, but with that scenario, could we end up in contention against a team that was a trade partner at the deadline?
 
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