Nationals at Brewers: Monday, August 11 at 8:05 ET
Yesterday was a tough one, but I for one am choosing not to get worked up about the bullpen. Relievers are notoriously unreliable from year to year. Maybe Ayala's a bum. Or maybe he, like Brad Lidge and a million before and after him, is having a down year and will return to form shortly. The point is, who really cares? There are a bunch of developments to watch every day that are directly relevant to the time and date of the arrival of The First Great Nationals Team. Luis Ayala isn't one of them.
In the long run, Milledge matters. Lannan matters. Zimmerman matters. Adrian Nieto matters. Luis Ayala... not so much.
Here's my look at the series finale in Milwaukee.
Dave Bush: Bush is the kind of back-end guy fans generally don't appreciate because instead of appreciating who he is, the curse him for who he isn't. He eats innings, keeps you in the game, and protects the pen. You still lose most of the games he starts, but over the marathon of a season he has value. The Nationals' problem is that we have a lot of guys who project as something like this, and few who project (even optimistically) as Sheets or Sabathia. But if you have a Sheets and a Sabathia in place, the whole thing can fall apart if you don't have a complimentary guy like Bush at the back.
Bush throws a fastball at 88, a curve, change, and a cutter (which is essentially a breaking ball half-way between a regular fastball and a slider; you throw it almost as hard as a fastball, but it breaks just a bit at the end, and can tail both directions for some pitchers). None of these pitches are particularly overpowering, but Bush has the command not to beat himself (5.9% walk rate). He gives up 42% flyballs, which isn't a huge number, but a bit high and means he'll give up his share of long balls.
Garrett Mock: I had a crazy thought recently. Maybe Garrett Mock isn't a career minor-leaguer? I like most I think just looked at who we we've auditioned for the rotation the last 2 years and thought, "geez Mock must really stink if he isn't even getting a look." But you'll recall that Mock was the more highly touted prospect in the Livan Hernandez deal, so it made me wonder.
His stuff has always seemed good enough--fastball over 90, a good change, and both a curve and slider that he can throw for strikes. But for some reason he seems to get hit hard. This season in his 14-inning stint in the bigs, he's got a 22% K rate, 9.8% walk rate, and 48% groundball rate. He doesn't seem to have any fatal splits. But then there's that .354 BAPIP, adding up at a 4.91 ERA. It's a small sample size, but seems to match the rap on him from the minors. For some reason, he's just too hittable--tipping his pitches perhaps? Mike Krukow talks about some guys having a "hump" in their curveballs, meaning that the ball rises early, making it much easier to identify and either lay off or hit. This year, Mock has been very very good at AAA, putting up a 3.01 ERA on the strength of a nearly 4:1 K:BB ratio.
So Mock it seems to me could be another useful 4th or 5th starter for us. Now you're thinking, "yeah, but we already have 5 fifth starters. What are we going to do with them all?" Here's my plan: 1. wait for half of them to get hurt. 2. If by some miracle they mostly all pan out, trade one or two of them. But not till you're sure you have your own back end covered, with room for a couple injuries. Worst case, throw them in the bullpen and revive the concept of the long man.
What To Look For
--Bonifacio I think is actually taking too many good pitches to hit. Pitchers are coming right at him. In his at bat against Gagne, in particular, he took three pitches all over the heart of the plate.
--Zimmerman's double against Gagne was his first extra base hit since July 30.
--Kearns and Belliard have both hit Bush hard. No one else has seen him much. The Brewers, as you probably can guess, have barely seen Mock. Durham is 2 for 2, for whatever that's worth.
--Is this team finally gassed? Three weeks without a break, an extra-innings day game, and no break on Monday.
What to Root For
I'll be rooting for Garrett Mock. I'll also be hoping to come up with a theory on the guy. What pitches is he using to get strikeouts? What pitches are getting hit hard? Is he hitting his spots with the fastball? Does he become overly predictable in certain counts? Is he just easily rattled? Why isn't he as good as some of his numbers suggest? Or is he, and he's just this year turning the corner?
My tip would be to watch the game with MLB Gameday open so that you can get instant reporting on what pitches he's throwing, speed, and break, as well as a better look at the strike zone than you get from the centerfield camera on TV. Even if you miss the game, you can learn a lot just clicking through the pitch-by-pitch on Gameday.
(Season record: 9-10)
I'm afraid it's going to take an awful lot of heart to bounce back from a tough loss with an overworked bullpen after two weeks plus without a break. That, or Manny needs Mock to give him a really, really solid start. I don't see it happening. Brewers finish off the sweep, 9-4.