Tuesday, July 23, 2013

June 27- Washington Nationals

Originally I was going to hold off a bit on writing about this cap, until I double-checked my archives. In the whole mix of trying my best not stumble over repeating the same teams’ caps within a month-long time frame, I’ve somehow managed to neglect writing about certain teams for longer than that stretch. I must also take into account how much I’ve fallen behind in my quest to write about a new cap every day this year and how I’m trying to catch up at a somewhat miserable rate. Nonetheless, when looking at the grand scheme of things and which day I’m on in my posts, this particular Washington Nationals cap actually falls within a perfect time frame. If you haven’t noticed by now, even though I’ve fallen almost a month behind, I’ve done my best to keep my posts in REAL TIME, in that I try to give you the story as it happened up until that day as to not confuse anyone with stories that may have taken place after afterward. This piece will dabble a little bit into the “future,” but not too much.

I picked this Nationals cap up on June 24th during my shopping spree at New Era’s headquarters in Buffalo, New York along with about 20 other caps during my trip for the Fan Appreciation even they held for nine other collects and myself. Of all the hats I picked up, this was one of the newest to this season that I scored which was also kind of a weird move on my part when considering that fact that I could have had any other hard to find hat than this one. By that I mean I could have easily scored this cap off of the Lids Web site at any point in time, but there was just something about that was telling me to add this to my cart. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that up until the moment I saw it on the wall I had only come across it in photos as the store I work at, Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) and the Lids at the mall I work don’t have it in stock. Either way, I was going to purchase at one point or another, so I figured in this case, “why not now?”

As I just mentioned, the Nationals introduced it this season as their “alternate two” cap, which I found to be an unusual title considering that the Nationals are down to three caps, including this one, which they wear on a regular basis on the field. One of which, their road cap, I wrote about on April 17th. The road cap features the exact opposite color scheme as the alternate cap and is also the last Nationals cap I've written about. Clearly I’m slacking. Anyway, the Nationals have only used one other “alternate” cap, excluding holiday caps, during the franchise’s time in our nation’s capital (the red cap with a white “DC” logo), but I’ll touch on that in a later post. The thing about that cp is that it hasn’t been seen or heard from since the end of the 2008 season. Therefore, there really wasn’t any need to give this cap the “alternate 2” title when they could have just stuck with alternate.

As far as when they’ve used the cap, they’ve only worn it during home games which take place on back-to-back Saturday and Sunday games. Having only caught a speckle of Nationals games this season, it was hard for me to recall whether or not any of the games I had watched lived featured any of the players wearing it; however, thanks to Chris Creamer and the fine folks at Sportslogos.net, they’ve been cataloging every team’s record during the 2013 campaign and how the perform under every uniform combination for the season. In essence, with four new game style caps introduced/re-introduced this season, I at least have a bit of a direction as far as where to start in some these stories. At the same time, since two of the four caps brought out are alternate throwback styles, I pretty much have this Nationals cap and the New York Mets alternate as the only ones to really worry about. The other two; a 1983 homage Chicago White Sox which I’ll get to later in the year and the 1970s Pittsburgh Pirates throwback I wrote about on June 12th.

With only a few months to work with on this cap the one thing that was discovered about this cap is that it riddled with bad luck. From their first official game of wearing it on April 13th against the Atlanta Braves through today, the Nationals have only fared a record of 2-9. For having only worn this cap at home that’s a rather disturbing trend. Even worse is that the team continues to use it. Now, I’ve always know baseball to be a game of superstitions. Players will do weird things like wear their teammate’s pants (Jose Bautista), some will go without washing their socks (Jason Vargas) and other will eat fried chicken before every game (Wade Boggs); however, once a losing trend starts to form, players usually figure out what the common problem is and rid of it as fast as they can. Somehow this cap has been overlooked in that discussion. Whoops!

When trying to come up with any kind of marks for this cap I scoured the stats to try and find something interesting. At first I was going to roll with #8 for Danny Espinosa as he had reached based at least once, in some form or another, in the first four games of the hat’s use, BUT… it sadly went awry by game five. The same could have been said about #25 Adam LaRoche as I was tallying the game boxscores backwards; however, once I got to the first few games of the season I noticed a consistent slew of borderline golden sombreros. So, I took the easy route and went with the two guys who were able to muster wins in the two of 11 games played prior to today.

#27- Jordan Zimmermann is off to the best start of his career this season, all ready going 11-3 with a 2.28 ERA and gaining a lot of respect amongst critics for a potential National League Cy Young award at the end of the year. Zimmermann’s game under this cap took place on June 9th for Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins in which he performed masterfully by going a solid seven innings with eight strikeouts in the Nationals’ 7-0 win. However, Zimmermann’s tale to this point is just as interesting.

Zimmermann was born and raised in Auburndale, Wisconsin, which is about 90 minutes west of Eau Claire where my girlfriend Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie) grew up. If you can’t tell by both of their last names, Wisconsin has a strong German heritage running through the state. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and was drafted by the Nationals in the second round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. In 2008, Zimmermann had a combined 10–3 record with a 2.89 ERA at intermediate-A Potomac and AAA Harrisburg, and in July was named to the Eastern League (AA) All-Star team. He finished the season leading the organization in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average, and was the MiLB.com Nationals pitcher of the year.

In 2009, Zimmermann made the Nationals' roster as the fifth starter; however, the Nationals did not need him in the rotation until mid-April, so Zimmermann opened the season with the AAA Syracuse Chiefs. Zimmermann's contract was purchased on April 20, 2009, and he made his major league debut that night, after a two-plus hour rain delay, against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits, with three strikeouts and a walk, earning the victory. Zimmermann won his second game in as many starts against the Mets, becoming the first Nationals/Expos pitcher to win his first two starts of his career since Randy Johnson did so in 1988. Coincidentally, Zimmermann was the losing pitcher in Johnson's historic 300th win on June 4, 2009.

Not too long afterward Zimmermann began experiencing elbow pain, and in July landed on the disabled list. In August 2009 Zimmermann was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery, expecting to miss 18 months. In 2010 he made quick progress. Over four minor league levels, he started 10 games in limited play, racking up just 39.2 innings, but compiling a solid record: 1.59 ERA, 27 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, and just six walks. On August 26 he was recalled to make his 2010 debut back in the big leagues, where Zimmermann got a no-decision in an eventual win by the Nationals over the Cardinals. On this same day, the Nationals learned that their other young pitching phenom, Stephen Strasburg, would need Tommy John surgery and would be out for 12–18 months. In Zimmermann's second return start, however, five days later, he pitched six shutout innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out nine, a personal best. He also became the first National to get through six innings facing only 18 batters.

2012 marked a career year for Zimmerman as he went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA as a member of, not only a stacked rotation, but as a member of the first Nationals/Expos’ team to win the NL Eastern Division title in the franchise’s history.

Zimmermann also got married during the offseason to his longtime girlfriend, and fellow Wisconsinite Mandy Jellish. The only reason I bring this up is because they got married over New Year’s in Wisconsin the same time I was visiting Angie for the first time since we had met in September for the Miami Marlins game I wrote about on February 23rd. How do I know this? Collin Balester, the man who is pretty much responsible for convincing me to get out to Florida for my Major League Baseball stadium road trip. The man is a hell of a good luck charm.

#37- On the other side of the tape is Mr. Franchise himself, Steven Strasburg. Strasburg was actually on the losing end of two of the game the Nationals played under this cap on April 13th and May 11th; however, he locked up the win in the contest played on May 26th against the Philadelphia Phillies by the score of 6-1 in his nine strikeout performance. Strasburg is currently 4-6 with a 2.41 ERA as of today as he had a no decision against the Arizona Diamondbacks in their 2-3 loss.

 Strasburg attended West Hills High School in Santee, California. At first, he struggled on the school's baseball team, posting a 1–10 win–loss record in his junior year. A 12-strikeout game against El Capitan High School in his senior year, in which Strasburg allowed one hit, drew attention from scouts. He finished his senior year with a 1.68 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 62 ⅓ innings pitched, with seven complete games. He finished with three varsity letters, set school records in ERA and shutouts, and was named his school's 2006 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was also named second-team all-league and his team's MVP. Despite these achievements, he was not selected in that year's Major League Baseball Draft.

Strasburg had hoped to attend Stanford University but was not accepted there. Although recruited by a number of schools across the country, he enrolled at San Diego State University, where both of his parents attended school. He played college baseball for the San Diego State Aztecs, coached by Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Gwynn. When he first arrived, he was an unlikely candidate to pitch collegiate baseball at all; he was so overweight and out of shape that his conditioning coach nicknamed him "Slothburg" and encouraged him to quit baseball. He also had a difficult time adjusting to college life, moving out of his dormitory and in with his mother after five days. He acknowledged, "I wasn't the most mature guy out of high school. ... The dorm was an overload, too much, too soon." Strasburg responded with an intense workout regimen, losing 30 pounds (14 kg) in the process. He also worked to improve his mental toughness. Coaches tested him by placing him in high-pressure situations and telling him he needed to get strikeouts.

San Diego State used Strasburg as a relief pitcher in his freshman year; he began the season pitching in middle relief, before becoming the Aztecs' closer. He held opponents to a .141 batting average against and was named Co-Freshman of the Year for the Mountain West Conference. In the summer of 2007, Strasburg also played for the Torrington Twisters of the collegiate summer baseball New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). He was named to the NECBL First Team as a closer, and was also chosen as the Top Pro Prospect and Top Relief Pitcher in the NECBL.

In 2008, as a sophomore, Strasburg was converted to a full-time starting pitcher. He went 8–3 with a 1.58 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 98⅓ innings. Four of his thirteen starts in 2008 were complete games, two of which were shutouts. On April 11th of that year, he struck out a Mountain West Conference record 23 batters in a game versus the University of Utah. He also gained eight miles per hour on his fastball, regularly working in the upper 90s and touching 100 mph.

Strasburg finished his junior year, the 2009 season, 13–1 with a 1.32 ERA, 59 hits allowed, 16 earned runs, 19 walks, and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched. In his final home start on May 8, 2009, Strasburg threw his first career no-hitter while striking out 17 Air Force Falcons batters. His lone loss came against the Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA Regionals as Virginia advanced toward the College World Series, but he still struck out 15 in seven innings during the loss.

On June 9, 2009, Strasburg was drafted number one overall in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft by the Nationals. On August 17, 2009, he signed a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million contract with the Nationals, just 77 seconds before the deadline, shattering a dollar-amount record previously held by Mark Prior, who signed for $10.5 million in 2001. Strasburg made his professional debut on October 16, 2009, starting for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. He was selected to play in the league's Rising Stars Showcase, but was unable to participate due to a minor neck injury. He also won Pitcher of the Week honors for the week of November 2, 2009 and led the AFL with four wins. Before the 2010 season started, Baseball America named Strasburg as the top pitching prospect, and the second-best overall prospect behind Jason Heyward.

Strasburg was assigned to the Harrisburg Senators of the Class AA Eastern League for the start of the 2010 season. There was so much anticipation and hype surrounding Strasburg that there were about 70 credentialed media members in attendance at his April 11, 2010 debut, and ESPN nationally broadcast portions of the game. He won his Senators debut against the Altoona Curve, allowing four hits and four runs (one earned), while striking out eight batters in five innings. During his first home start on April 16, he yielded two hits and an unearned run with three strikeouts in 2⅓ innings in a loss to the New Britain Rock Cats, one where his innings were limited due to a rain delay. Harrisburg set an attendance record in Strasburg's home debut with 7,895 fans. He completed his Class AA stint with a 1.64 ERA while striking out 27 and walking six in 22 innings.

On May 4, 2010, he was promoted to the AAA Chiefs. In his first game with the Chiefs, he pitched six scoreless innings, striking out six batters while allowing one hit and one walk. That game drew 13,766 fans—the highest attendance in the 135-year history of baseball in Syracuse. In his second start, Strasburg was removed after pitching six no-hit innings. He finished his minor league stint with an overall record of 7–2, an ERA of 1.30, 65 strikeouts and 13 walks in 55⅓ innings, and a WHIP ratio of 0.80.

Strasburg made his major-league debut on June 8, 2010, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A Sports Illustrated columnist termed it "the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen." Strasburg picked up the win in his debut, pitching seven innings, allowing two earned runs and no walks and 14 strikeouts, setting a new team strikeout record. Also, he was the first pitcher in history to strike out at least eleven batters without issuing any walks in his pro debut, while falling just one strikeout short of the all-time record for a pitcher's debut—Karl Spooner (1954) and J.R. Richard (1971) both struck out 15, but each took nine innings to do it, and each walked three. (Bob Feller also struck out 15 in his first start, although it wasn't his big league debut). He struck out every batter in the Pirates' lineup at least once and struck out the last seven batters he faced—also a Nationals record. He threw 34 of his 94 pitches at 98 miles per hour (158 km/h) or faster, including two that reached 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).

In Strasburg's second and third major league starts he struck out another eight and ten batters, respectively, setting a major league record for the most strikeouts in a pitcher's first three starts with 32. The previous record holder had been Richard, who struck out 29 in his first three starts in 1971.

Strasburg was also featured in the cover story of Sports Illustrated following his second start. His #37 jersey was the top-selling jersey in all of baseball for the month of June and became the best-selling Nationals jersey of all time in that span.

Strasburg was placed on the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder in July 2010. He returned to action on August 10, but in his third game back, on August 21, he was removed with an apparent injury. On August 27, the Nationals announced that Strasburg had a torn ulnar collateral ligament (like Zimmermann), requiring Tommy John surgery, and about 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation. In the 2010 season Strasburg pitched in 12 games, all starts, throwing 68 innings, 92 strikeouts and compiling a 2.91 ERA. He was named a pitcher on the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team. Strasburg made his first rehab start on August 7, 2011 for the Hagerstown Suns. Strasburg made six rehab starts during the 2011 minor league season throwing a total of 20⅓ innings, with 29 strikeouts, compiling a 3.49 ERA and a 1–1 record. He then made 5 starts during the 2011 major league season, his first coming against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 6. That year he threw for 24 innings, struck out 24, compiled a 1.50 ERA and a 1–1 record.

In April 2012, Strasburg accumulated an NL-best 34 strikeouts and second-best 1.13 ERA. He totaled 6 walks and did not give up a home run. Consequently he was named NL Pitcher of the Month. On May 20, Strasburg went 2-for-2 as a hitter in a game against the Baltimore Orioles and hit his first career home run, a solo shot off of Wei-Yin Chen.

In his June 13 start against the Toronto Blue Jays, Strasburg became the first pitcher of the year to strike out 100 batters.  On July 1, Strasburg was elected to his first All-Star Game, alongside teammates Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper. Strasburg ended the season 15–6 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 159⅓ innings pitched. Strasburg hit .277 with a home run, 7 RBI, and three walks, earning him a Silver Slugger Award.

As part of Strasburg's rehabilitation from his Tommy John surgery, and as a precaution due to his low innings total in 2011, the Nationals decided to limit the number of innings Strasburg would throw in the 2012 season. Although the number was never official, rumors started that Strasburg's limit would be between 160 and 180 innings. It was also decided that Strasburg's shutdown would be final; he would not pitch in the playoffs. Dr. Lewis Yocum, the surgeon who operated on Strasburg's elbow, agreed in 2011 that Strasburg's 2012 innings total should be limited, although he did not consult with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo or Strasburg during the season. Teammate Zimmermann underwent a similar process the year before.

Strasburg's high profile and the success of the Nationals in the 2012 season made the innings limit a topic of national conversation. In addition to baseball writers, a number of other figures made their views on the topic known, including football broadcasters Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw, basketball reporter Stephen A. Smith, and even prominent politicians such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitch McConnell. Rizzo defended the decision to shut down Strasburg and criticized the buzz surrounding it: "It's a good conversational piece; it's a good debatable subject. But most of the people that have weighed in on this know probably 10 percent of the information that we know, and that we've made our opinion based upon." The Nationals announced that Strasburg would be scheduled to make his final start on September 12 and would be replaced by John Lannan in the Nationals' starting rotation. However, after a rough outing on September 8, Davey Johnson announced that Strasburg was finished for the 2012 season. Strasburg spent the postseason on the physically unable to perform list as the Nationals lost the 2012 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

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