Hot Or Not: The Benchwarmers Edition

Much like the first round of Hot Or Not, this second iteration was a tad tough to write. Initially, I believed that limited numbers of at bats and innings pitched would again be the culprit in the difficulty in measuring the hotness or notness of the Washington Nationals. With that in mind, I figured, hey, why not have it be a bi-weekly thing, and give the team more time to blossom, Mayim Biyalik style, and become the neuroscientist and occasional actress that we know and love.

Or the 2012 NL East championship winning team we know and love. Your pick.

Nope. Still trying to polish a turd here, Nats fans.

However, amongst the anxiety and vitriol of the Nats being a sub-.500 team for the first time since 2011, there are two top performers that rose above the overall tepidness of the team’s individual play over the past fortnight, whose names aren’t Ross Detwiler
or  Bryce Harper. Two players who have made the most of their increased opportunities to play and have been beacons of hope in a month where preseason predictions of World Series glory have been exchanged for fear, dread and a desire for demotions to AAA.
Let’s meet them, yes?

HOT

In his continued effort towards becoming Ben Zobrist
Lite, Steve Lombardozzi
has been the reliable, steady presence in the lineup that the Nationals were expecting out of the their more veteran players.
Whether it’s a late game pinch hitting appearance, or starting a handful of games in Danny Espinosa‘s stead, Lombo has made his presence felt the last two weeks, hitting at a robust .360/.360/.440 slash line; as the starting second baseman, Lombo hit to the tune of a .333/.333/.444 slash, collecting 3 RBI along the way in those four games. Although there will be continued debate on Lombo’s long term role on the team in light of Espinosa’s struggles at the plate, he will no doubt provide the spark the Nats look for, regardless of the situation or role thrust upon him.

For the hurlers, Henry Rodriguez
gets the HOT nod.

HRod gets the HOT nod. I like it.

Alliterations aside, Rodriguez has done an admirable job of not fighting himself or pressing matters and is looking more comfortable in not throwing his fastball at full tilt every pitch. Whether monkeys were involved, I couldn’t say; you’ll have to ask manager Davey Johnson for confirmation. With a .100 batting average against and a 1.167 WHIP over the last two weeks, HRod has done a great job of minimizing baserunners, culminating in his most recent outing – a 2 inning, no-hit, 1 BB, 2 K gem of an effort against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 24th – an outing that had HRod’s fastball sitting 93-96 MPH, 3-5 MPH lower than his usual outings and flirtations with 100 MPH.

NOT

Once again, there were lots of ‘worthy’ selections for the winner of the NOT award this go ’round; however, Adam LaRoche
wins this round outright. Providing a -.276 Win Probability Added when playing the last two weeks, La Roche has been pretty dreadful with the stick, so much so that even his stellar defense has been overlooked due to his offensive offense. Hitting .171/.275/.286 with 14 K’s to boot, LaRoche, needless to say, isn’t hitting on all cylinders, evidenced by his 0-4, 4 K ‘Golden Sombrero’ performance April 23rd against St. Louis.

While I could add both SS Ian Desmond
and Espinosa to the list of NOT’s, I feel it would be piling on, given Espi’s injury issues and Desmond’s reasonable offensive production being enough to distract fans from his defensive miscues.

It takes a lot of manure to grow a beautiful garden; for better or worse, the Nats have it by the truckload so far in 2013. However, the seeds of victory planted early on are slowly beginning to sprout, in preparation for a blooming May. It stinks right now, but patience will be rewarded very soon. 

Keep breathing, Nats fans, but maybe breathe through your mouth – it won’t smell as bad that way.