Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen pitched a fantastic game in yesterday's loss.
As I trek my way north from Fort Lauderdale to Cincinnati, I'm tempted to find more ways to harp on the Nationals' offensive woes from the weekend. But, to be honest, there's not much left to say. They were terrible with men on base the last two days, and thus suffered back-to-back shutouts against the Marlins. No sense rehashing that once again.
So I'm going to take a cue here from Jim Riggleman and look at the glass as half-full for a moment. Despite their obvious travails in certain areas, the Nats did do some really good things over the weekend. Here are a few of them...
CRAIG STAMMEN'S STRONG START
After a couple of abysmal outings heading into the All-Star break, Stammen started off the second half in style. It got lost among all the Nats men left on base yesterday, but Stammen tossed a real gem: six innings of one-run ball that included six strikeouts.
The key for Stammen was his ability to throw a nasty slider, providing a change of pace from his bread-and-butter sinker.
"You've just got to be able to throw something for a strike besides the fastball," he said. "Today I was able to do that, so they had to respect more than one pitch."
Starts like this remind you why the Nationals remain high on Stammen: He's capable of dominating an opposing lineup. He's done that probably four or five times this season. The trouble is, he's had just as many (if not more) wretched outings. There seems to be no middle ground with him.
Will he be able to carry this performance over to his next scheduled start (Friday in Milwaukee)? We'll have to wait and see. But both Stammen and the Nationals have to be encouraged by what happened yesterday.
This really got lost amid everything else, but the Nationals' bullpen was superb against the Marlins.
Friday night, Drew Storen and Matt Capps combined to throw three hitless innings and preserve Stephen Strasburg's fourth career win.
Saturday night, Tyler Clippard tossed two perfect innings in relief of Livan Hernandez.
Yesterday afternoon, Joel Peralta followed Stammen and didn't allow a hit over his two innings of work.
Yes, that's seven innings of scoreless, hitless baseball from the Nats' relief corps. Their combined pitching line in the series: 7 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 3 bb, 4 k. Pretty impressive.
"Three days in a row, our starters did a good job and our bullpen didn't give up any runs," Riggleman said. "I'm certainly happy with what took place there."
THE GUYS AT THE TOP GOT ON
One of the biggest complaints about the Nationals' offense all season has been the inability of the guys at the top of the lineup to get on base and provide Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham with RBI opportunities.
Well, you couldn't complain about that this weekend. The Nats' Nos. 1 and 2 hitters reached base a combined 10 times in three games. Nyjer Morgan went 4-for-12 with a walk and beat out a pair of bunts for singles. Roger Bernadina had three hits out of the 2-hole on Saturday. Cristian Guzman picked up a hit both Friday and yesterday.
The blame over the weekend didn't go to those guys. It went to Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham, who couldn't drive them in. That said, if Morgan and whoever hits second (Guzman or Bernadina) can continue to reach base at that rate, you've got to like the other guys' chances of driving them in on a more-consistent basis moving forward.
"We had a lot of runners out there," Riggleman said. "We drove them in before the break. Here right after the break, we're not driving them in."
That's all for now from the friendly skies (oops, wrong airline). Don't forget to keep your seatbelts fastened and your tray tables in the locked, upright position until the plane has come to a complete stop at the gate. I'll have more from Great American Ball Park later this afternoon.