Nats GM: The NL East is 'gonna be a meat grinder the whole way'

Chris Lingebach
April 10, 2019 - 5:38 pm

Tuesday's game between the Nationals and Phillies didn't go the way many would have projected.

There was no pitchers' duel between Stephen Strasburg and Aaron Nola, who instead combined to allow 11 runs in a game that saw 16 runs scored between both clubs.

But the Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations sees it differently.

"Hey, I think it's playing out to script as we discussed when we were sitting there in West Palm," Mike Rizzo told The Junkies during his weekly appearance, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank. "This National League East is no joke. This thing is gonna be a meat grinder the whole way."

"Every game counts. Every inning counts. Every 90 feet count," he said. "We're gonna have to scrimp and battle for each advantage you have. You have to play clean games, get 27 outs, only allow 27 outs and really be aggressive on the basepaths and scrappy.

"This is a scrappy bunch of guys, I tell ya. We talked about how we were gonna score runs this season without Harp, and I said that I think we'd score plenty of runs, enough runs, but we were gonna score them differently. And I think you've seen that, with Victor Robles playing extremely well at the bottom of the lineup, the top of the lineup doing well, especially with Trea out, one of our best offensive players."

"We're just grinding away," he said. "We haven't played really well our first 10 games. We've faced some extremely good pitching, as we are going to be the entire season in the National League East. I think we're getting our sea legs right now and starting to play the game a little bit better, as you've seen it throughout the course of this really early season."

The Nats hammered Nola again in Tuesday's 10-6 victory, scoring five runs – four earned – across 6.1 innings against the Phillies ace, who finished third in NL Cy Young voting in 2018. It's Nola's second start against the Nats this season. He gave up six runs – all earned – in last week's start and had to be pulled from the game after just three innings.

"Nola's tough, man," said Rizzo. "He's a three-pitch mix. He's got that breaking ball from hell and throws hard, and commands and really competes.

"You know, those great pitchers, you have to get 'em early in the season, early in games and take advantage of all of the opportunities you have, with the deGroms and the Syndergaards and those type of pitchers. You've got to make your chances count, because you don't get a lot of 'em, because they're that good."

Rizzo addressed his concerns for veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who's yet to record a single out in four appearances, rendering his ERA "infinity."

"He's struggled. You can't sugarcoat it. He's struggled," he said. "He's spraying his fastball and his mechanics are out of whack. For relief pitchers especially in the big leagues, it's really, really difficult to work on things during the season because you may have to have the opportunity to pitch in that particular game. It's not like a starting pitcher where you have four days off. You can work on something diligently in between your starts.

"Reliever's a little different," he said. "He's working extremely hard. We've got our pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, and Henry Blanco, our bullpen coach, working with him. We're looking at film. We're tweaking some parts of his delivery. We're gonna send some of our pitching gurus from our minor leagues that have seen him in the past, like Spin Williams. He's gonna meet us when we get at home and kind of walk us through what he thinks are some issues and that type of thing."

"Unfortunately for Rosey is the fact that it's kind of a catch-22," Rizzo said. "You're not pitching well so you don't pitch, and when you don't pitch, you don't get much feel. Hey. This guy's too important to us. He's been too good in his career. And the good news about Trevor is that his arm has come back, his durability is there, his velocity is there."

"And with those Tommy John guys," he said, "and we've had a lot of 'em over the years, and I've had a lot of 'em, the last thing to come is the command, and he's struggling mightily with his mechanics, which affect his command, which makes it a little bit more difficult to pitch him in some leverage situations.

"But we're certainly not giving up on him, he's not giving up on himself. This guy's pitched in big-time games in the past, in the not-so-distant past, and he's gonna help us as this season unfolds."

Reports surfaced Tuesday afternoon indicating the Nats were looking into acquiring another veteran reliever, 34-year-old right-hander Bud Norris.

"Bud's a guy that we have interest in," Rizzo said. "He's in West Palm now. We're evaluating him physically. I think if our doctors and our pitching coaches down there like what they see, we'll probably give him an opportunity on a minor-league contract to see what he's got left."

"If he's an upgrade of one of the eight relievers that we have now, you may see him in the big leagues," he said. "If not, he'll be a depth piece for us in the minor leagues. But nothing's imminent. We haven't signed him yet. But we are looking at him."

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