As I've said before, the first item on the agenda for Rizzo and Riggleman in 2010 is to simply avoid the kind of first-month tailspin that has turned the Nationals into an afterthought/laughingstock by the end of the third week each of the last three seasons.
The schedule-makers didn't make that job any easier by handing the Nationals a brutal opening month schedule, including six against Philadelphia, three against Los Angeles, and four against Colorado.
There are obviously no "big games" in April, but the Nationals took another pretty important step away from April oblivion by narrowly dodging a series sweep by the Phillies for the second time in seven days.
There were a bunch of things I really liked about today's performance. First, there's the obvious come-from-behind win on the road after getting their heads beaten in for two days. This team is showing some of the poise and bounce-back ability that Rizzo was looking for when he stocked up on "seasoned" veterans. Poo-poo the value of clubhouse chemistry all you want (and I do), but it's hard to imagine last year's group pulling off today's win.
I also like Riggleman's continued willingness to break outside the box on bullpen management, asking Matt Capps to give him a five-out save on the road. Capps will never be confused with Mariano Rivera, and his early season walk totals haven't been real encouraging. But all the manager can do is choose the best option from what's available, and Capps for five outs is better than Brian Bruney for two. Even after Shane Victorino hit a homer to lead off the ninth and with the left-handed Nationals-killers Utley and Howard looming, Capps pounded the strike zone and got it done on a manageable 33 pitches. That's why he was brought here.
And, of course, there was Ryan Zimmerman being Ryan Zimmerman. (Even if that was a cheap Citizens Bank special.)
Heck, I'm in such a good mood, I'll even acknowledge that Scott Olsen's velocity and 5 strikeouts in 5.2 innings were somewhat encouraging for a guy who hasn't missed bats consistently since the days when Tom DeLay represented the good people of Sugarland in Congress.
(Though let's not go overboard. The ERA is still 6.35. And he reminded us that he would be a better fit as a Jerry Springer guest than a MLB pitcher by shooting his mouth off at the homeplate umpire on his way out of the game and having a little temper-tantrum in the dugout. Other than that, no complaints.)
A few more quick thoughts "after the jump."
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Aaron Crow has two starts under his belt for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He's gone 10.2 innings and allowed 2 earned runs with 7 strikeouts against 4 walks and a 5.25 groundout to flyout ratio. Just so you know.
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Nick Johnson's going to score a hell of a lot of runs batting second with a .410+ OBP for the Yankees. He belongs as a DH, and the Nationals got solid value for him, so I'm not griping at all. But it's pretty stunning that it took this long for Nick to find his way into a full-time DH role. It's really easy for me to imagine him being a key piece of a lot of really good teams for another 2-3 years.
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Don't be shocked if the Blue Jays grab Jason Bergmann on waivers after he was DFA-ed by the Nationals. He's one of those New York-New Jersey boys who former Nationals scouting director and current Toronto AGM Dana Brown loves so much. If Bergmann's gone, I wish him luck. As all Nationals fans should know by now, he's a great guy, and for about a month in 2007, he delivered one of the most impressive stretches of pitching of any National since the team came back.