Nobody Beats the Rizz

I won a MASN contest and got to have a brief meet-and-greet with Nats GM Mike Rizzo before yesterday’s game. I was one of 8 fans who got to stand on the warning track by the first-base dugout and chat. Questions ranged from the state of the Spring Training facility lease (I wasn’t paying very close attention), to the amount of time Rizzo spends with the big league team (the majority of his time during the year).

I was interested in international scouting and free agency. A few things I learned in a brief conversation with the Rizz:

  • Rizzo expressed great satisfaction with the newly-rebuilt academy in the DR.
  • Livan Hernandez does a lot more than throw live BP to Nats batters. He spends at least some time in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean. With some prompting, Rizzo half-jokingly referred to Livo as the “Cuban liaison.”
  • Speaking of Cuban players: the Nationals keep as close an eye on them as they’re permitted to. I asked Rizzo about the difficulty in obtaining good information on Cuban players. He replied that, given the number of times Cuban teams compete in international tournaments, it is possible to gain some idea about the players they are interested in.
  • I asked whether the Nationals’ sale of minor-leaguer Ryan Tatusko to the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization signals a new willingness to explore the East Asian market. Rizzo replied that the Nationals maintain a scouting department for the entire Pacific Rim: “We’ve scouted the Darvishes and the Tanakas.” He went on, noting that he, himself, had 20 years of dealing with Asian players and clubs. He added, with a note of wistfulness, that he had scouted a Japanese pitcher during his time with the Diamondbacks–Nishimura, currently with the Yomiuri Giants. “I wish I had him.”

The most interesting thing about Mike Rizzo is that he seems most comfortable talking about baseball. Fan meet-and-greet sessions are pretty awkward, contrived situations, but once he got on to baseball and scouting, he was as enthusiastic as a man in his position could prudently be.


A New Era

Yesterday, the 2012 Washington Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 4 to 3. Stephen Strasburg pitched well, but got a no-decision–the vagaries of the rule-book having awarded the win to Ryan Mattheus. Tyler Clippard recorded a save. Later, the national media would focus on the news that Strasburg’s season would end on September 12.

As the rest of the baseball world considered this, something more amazing happened: The 2012 Nationals won their 81st game. That exceeds the 2011 Nationals’ 80 wins. It ties the 2005 Nationals, whose improbable, roller-coaster, flip-a-coin debut in the Capital was a delirious first love affair for this generation of baseball fans.

There are still 29 games remaining.

That’s right, Nats town. If the Nationals win so much as one out of the next 29 games, they will have completed their best season ever since they arrived in DC.

We knew this was coming, of course. As soon as Gio Gonzalez recorded his 16th win of the season on August 19, beating Livan Hernandez’s 15-win 2005, we knew. But somehow it hasn’t been real until now: the 2012 Nationals have begun to outrun the long shadow of futility. They cannot be compared to the Natinals of years past. They are tied with the Texas Rangers for the highest run differential in all baseball–a feat they achieve with only an average offense, because they allow the fewest runs per game (3.6) in the National League. And, although I complain constantly, the Nats have scored 269 runs in the months of July and August–second only to the Milwaukee Brewers in runs scored during that period.

These Nats are pretty good, you guys. So don’t sweat the Strasburg Shutdown drama. Whatever happens, we Nats fans already have the team we dreamed about since the last out was recorded in 2005: a team that can beat any other team in the league on any given day. In the words of Ryan Zimmerman–a man who knows a thing or two about these things–the Nats have finally given DC baseball fans a team to cheer for.

Today, as you get ready to watch those Nats face the Cubs, remember that. Today, you have a team to cheer for, one that is the equal of any other in baseball–and perhaps better than most.

Today, savor how awesome that is.

Today, root, root, root for the home team.

Adios, Livo.

Well, it was going to happen (again) eventually. Today we learned that Liván Hernandez signed a minor-league deal with the Astros organization, getting himself an invitation to Spring Training in the bargain.

For some this was welcome news. Sabermetrically, of course, Livo was always a mirage. One blog offered a particularly damning indictment:

This is pitching. Putting the ball where you want it, how you want it, and, knowing the hitter, controlling the damage done. In 2010 and 2011 Livan Hernandez did not do any of these things well. He’s lucky the umpires helped him out.

I must concede all of that. And yet I am filled with great sadness to see Livo go. In my mind, I will remember the Livo of 2005.

I will remember the Livo of April 29, 2005, who scattered 9 hits over 8 innings pitched, giving up only one run and striking out five, earning a Curly “W.” That was the Livo I went to RFK to see: a man defying logic, bewildering batters and fans alike, eating up innings. Or casually sauntering across the infield. Or utterly bamboozling an otherwise excellent ballclub.

Even so, it was perhaps fitting that his final appearance in 2011 was a dispiriting loss to the Mets. Statistically, the “real” Livo was the one that walked off the field on a hot September afternoon at Nats Park–a far cry from the Livo that toed the rubber that day in April 2005.

None of my fondness for Livo is logical. I cannot back it up with any statistics. And yet, as a fan, I will always smile when I think of Livo. He was the first Nationals pitcher I really started to follow. When I would waver between going or not going to RFK, the thought that Livo was pitching was enough to get me on the Orange Line to the stadium. And in 2014, when Nats park is overrun with bandwagon fans in their Bryce Harper shirseys, I will know a fan of the ’05 Nats when I see Livo’s name.

Adios, Livo. Siempre contarás con el agradecimiento de la afición de Washington por lo que has hecho con los Nats.