Archives for posts with tag: Asdrubal Cabrera

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When the Capitals won their Stanley Cup in 2018, the summer of celebration was somewhat subdued after head coach Barry Trotz resigned 11 days after the team won Game Five in Las Vegas.  The Nationals enjoyed a longer winning winter, but 2020 officially began 41 days after they triumphed in Game Seven when Anthony Rendon inked a seven year contract worth $245 million with the Los Angeles Angels. “You’re talking about an MVP-caliber ballplayer,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “He’s definitely going to be missed, his teammates are going to miss him.” How they cover up his absence on the field and in the lineup will go a long ways towards determining if the Nationals will be an NL East contender or pretender in 2020.  Because it’s a challenge to replace your best bat while also replacing your surest glove; doubly so when it’s the same guy.

Infielder Carter Kieboom gets the first crack at replacing Rendon in the field.  The prime prospect hit .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI last season for AAA Fresno.  Nobody expects the 21-year old to hit 34 homers with 126 RBI as a rookie, but his bat should be major league ready.  The other side of the coin is that he hit .128 over 11 games during a brief audition last spring, although Kieboom did homer in his major league debut.  He’s also played just 10 of his 329 career minor league games at third.  But Kieboom will get plenty of run over the next six weeks; one key is confidence in himself. “I talked to him already and told him I want you to go out there and compete every day,” manager Davey Martinez told the media last week. “Just ‘be you’. This is a fairly new position for him. He’s been coming out every day and working diligently. His footwork is good.”  For a young fielder learning a new everyday position at the major league level, the opposite of good is perfect-meaning Kieboom needs to head out every day knowing he doesn’t need to make perfect plays in order to lock down the starting job.  What is his manager looking for?  “Two things- arm strength and footwork. And that’s something that we’re working on right now,” Martinez said. “Once we get his footwork and legs underneath him he can actually do it (make the throws).”

 

Other possibilities-  while Kieboom is learning the ropes at third base as a 21-year old rookie, three Nats veterans who are options have had the bulk of their experience at the position deep in their careers. Asdrubal Cabrera did not play a game at third last season with the Nats, but he did make 90 starts in the hot corner while with Texas in 2019 and has made 142 of his 143 Major League starts at third base over the last three seasons.  Howie Kendrick made 10 of his 25 career starts at third in 2019, and Starlin Castro made all 42 of his starts at the position last year while with Miami. “I know Cabby’s played there, Howie could possibly play there and Starlin could move over and play there as well,” Martinez said. “We have a lot of guys who can do multiple things and I kind of like that.”

Just as important as finding the right fit in the field at third base is realizing who bats third this spring.  The Nats’ number three spot in the batting order led the majors with an on base percentage of .398 and a slugging percentage of .579; for those who refuse to play the percentages the club’s number three hitters led MLB with 127 runs scored and 143 runs driven in.  At first Juan Soto would appear to be the heir apparent after hitting 34 HR with 110 RBI, but the outfielder has hit just .145 over 83 at bats from the No. 3 spot in his career (barely over half of his .287 career average).  He also won’t have the protection of batting behind himself in the cleanup spot.  An option could be shortstop Trea Turner, who made 503 of his 521 at bats last season from the leadoff spot but provides power (21 homers per 162 games played in his career) while striking out more than most atop the lineup (133 K’s per 162 games).  Unlike getting Kieboom solid footing at third, Martinez could mix things up this spring before arriving at his regular No. 3 hitter.

The Washington Nationals at one point owned the second-worst record in the National League. Tonight, they are one of two teams remaining in the playoff party as the World Series gets underway in Houston.  While the Astros are prohibitive favorites, the Nats have been discounted all season–or at least since they were 19-31 after an ignominious sweep by the New York Mets.  Bring on the Fall Classic.

Soaring Astros- the American League champs won a big league-best 107 games during the regular season, ranking third in the majors in runs scored and team ERA.

Bats to Beware- Jose Altuve didn’t just win ALCS MVP honors by hitting a walk-off HR in Game Six, he’s also hitting .349 with 10 runs scored and 8 driven in this month.  Alex Bregman (with serious DC ties) led the team with 41 HR and 112 RBI during the regular season, and has 10 runs scored in the playoffs.

Yet to Take Off- leadoff hitter George Springer hit 39 homers during the regular season;  in the postseason he’s batting .152 with 15  strikeouts.  Yordan Alvarez is the other 100-RBI bat this year, and he’s hitting .171 with 19 strikeouts.

Nats Bats to Watch- Anthony Rendon is hitting .375 in the playoffs with a team-high 8 runs scored an 7 RBI, while also hitting .316 against right-handers.  Victor Robles is back from a bad hamstring and is hitting .313 in October. Howie Kendrick’s 9 RBI are tops on the team this month.

DH Decisions- Kendrick will be the designated hitter for Game One and will still bat fifth; the lineup tweaks are behind him in the order with Asdrubal Cabrera (21 RBI in September) getting the nod at second base instead of Brian Dozier (20 HR in the regular season).  He’ll bat sixth, the switch-hitter separating righty bats Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman- who’ll bat seventh.  Zim missed most of the season with plantar fasciitis, but notched 12 RBI in 53 September at bats.  He’s also hitting .333 against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs.

For Starters- Max Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the playoffs over three starts and one scoreless inning of relief, averaging 13.5 strikeouts over 9 innings.  He was completely unstoppable in June (going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.00) before a back injury cost him the better part of the next two months.  Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) did not lose a decision after May 22 and is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in the playoffs.

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Autumn in Washington can come at you fast.  Didn’t we just have a week of 90-degree weather?  You blink and all of a sudden you’re looking for the lining in your coats you removed in April and breaking out the scarf and gloves.  Baseball’s playoffs are just as abrupt, as teams gearing up for a long postseason run all of a sudden are packing up their gear after a Game Five loss.

Ryan Zimmerman is deep into the autumn of his career, one that spans the entirety of the Washington Nationals’ stay in DC.  The teams initial first round pick in 2005 was a September call-up during the tail-end of the Nats’ inaugural season at RFK Stadium.  He shined the following season as an everyday player, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race (to Hanley Ramirez, for those curious).  Zimmerman topped that off by hitting a walk-off home run in the first regular season game at Nationals Park the next March.

The problem was, there wasn’t a lot of talent around Zimmerman at the time. It was an era of bad baserunning and dismal defense, misspelled uniforms and exploding sausage sandwiches in the skies (true story).  But the team was building for something special, and Ryan Zimmerman was their cornerstone. “He hasn’t changed since I saw him at the University of Virginia. He’s a pro’s pro–and one of the great players that I’ve ever scouted,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “A guy that’s really given his all to the Washington Nationals.  Physically, mentally and in the community he’s been terrific.  He’s the face of the franchise for a reason.”

The “face of the franchise” carries with it a ton of weight on the field and in the clubhouse.  Production at the plate and making great plays in the field are tangible skills one can easily see;  being the leader Zimmerman has been for the bulk of his career is not. But his teammates know and appreciate what Zim has done and continues to do on a daily basis. “He’s just an ultimate professional. A guy that goes out and puts his all into it-even banged up whatever it might be,” Adam Eaton said. “Speaks highly of everybody. Somebody that you would follow into battle type of guy.  There’s a reason he’s been the face of the organization for as long as he has been.”

That means being the go-to quote in the clubhouse when it’s not apparent who’s had a big game; it also means being the guy who the young players look up to in the clubhouse as they try to navigate their way through the early stages of their careers.  Zimmerman has been that kind of teammate; reliever Sean Doolittle played with him in college. “When I was a freshman at Virginia and he was a junior, he was one of the top prospects in all of college baseball,” Doolittle said. “And I got to watch the way he handled that pressure in that the microscope and go about about his business every day and was an awesome mentor to me.”

Being “the guy” for so long means building friendships with teammates that may spend half a season or half a decade in DC.  And Zimmerman knows that while the 2019 Nationals are the team that finally won a playoff series, this World Series appearance also belongs to the Jayson Werths and Adam Laroches.  “It’s definitely a culmination of a lot of guys that have been here,” Zimmerman said.”We’ve had some chances and haven’t come through, but they say you learn from your failures.  All of those guys that were on those teams are part of this tonight even though they’re not here.”

Baseball can be cruelly ironic.  Just when the Nationals were beginning to be competitive, Zimmerman started dealing with a laundry list of injuries.  Shoulder issues eventually moved the Gold Glove-winner across the infield to first base.  Seasons have been hijacked due to an abdominal strain and an oblique injury.  This year Zimmerman played just 52 games (fewest since his September call-up in 2005) while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.  He finally returned on September first with the rest of the 40-man roster expansion.  After hitting .283 over 53 at bats in the season’s final month, Zimmerman was no guarantee to be a fixture in the lineup.  Matt Adams offered more power (20 homers) while Howie Kendrick was hitting a career-high .344.  Kendrick likely had to play first because second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera was coming off of a 21-RBI September.  The Kendrick-Cabrera combination at first and second base started the Wild Card Game.  “I played with him in 2014 here,” Cabrera said. “He was one of the best teammates, he’s a professional outside (of) and on the field. You want to do everything that is possible to do the best for the team and him.”

Autumn weather can defy explanation though;  it’s not as much of a straight line straight line between the seasons as it is an eventual progression from summer to winter.  And this October Zimmerman has turned back the hands of the clock, hitting .290 with a homer and five RBI over nine games.  His biggest hit was that broken-bat (more of a splintered or shattered bat) single in the Wild Card Game that set up Juan Soto’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning.  “What he’s doing now does not surprise me one bit.” Manager Davey Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him was his health. If you get a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, the product on the field speaks for itself.”

Somehow from the ashes of a 19-31 season this team surged and then scraped its way into the playoffs.  Somehow from 3-0 deficits in the Wild Card Game and Game Five of the NLDS the Nationals found a way to be the team still standing when the final out was secured (a fly-out to centerfield in both cases, just like the NLCS).  And somehow Ryan Zimmerman gets to enjoy being a key part of one historic run.  “Now to share a clubhouse with him again it’s been really special,” Doolittle said. “I’m really happy for him as somebody who’s been here from the beginning of this version of Washington baseball.”

How long will Zimmerman’s extended autumn last?  The 35-year old is in the final year of the contract extension signed way back in February, 2012.  There’s a club option for 2020 worth $18 million (his salary the last two years), or the team can buy out the deal for $2 million.  To say it’s extremely likely the Nationals will take the buyout route would be a major understatement.  But to also say that the veteran wants to come back and play his final days in Washington, even at a reduced rate and playing time, is also a major understatement.  This has become home for the Virginia Beach native and his family, and the only major league home he’s known. “Playing in the big leagues for this long you consider yourself lucky,” Zimmerman said. “To be able to do it with one team and one organization. Being involved in the community and have friends that I’ve met that I’ll be friends with far longer than I’ll play baseball.  It’s a pretty cool situation.”  He has at least four more games before those decisions need to be made, but the face of the franchise hopes to be safe at home here in Washington for 2020.

Portions previously appearing in this very space one year ago:

The Nationals are 52-53, meaning they’re close enough to the NL East lead to be considered buyers but middling enough to be considered sellers.  A look at previous July 31 moves:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).  Walters last saw action in a Major League game over two years ago.

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (6-9 with a 4.82 ERA this season for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (44 saves over the last season and a half and an All Star appearance this year in DC) and Taylor Hearn (currently posting a 3.55 ERA over 19 starts with AA Altoona).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

2017- bullpen depth was the key with the acquistion of Brandon Kintzler for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.  Watson’s made 12 starts this year at Class A Cedar Rapids after beginning the season in high A ball while Kintzler was the 7th inning man last year (3.46 ERA over 27 appearances) and saw setup work for the most part this season.