The Nationals’ struggles limiting base stealers

It hasn’t haunted the Nationals of late, but it’s still an issue of concern. Last season, the Nationals had the second-lowest success rate against base stealers. This season, they’re the worst in the majors.

This hasn’t sunk the Nationals nor is it a major reason this team is five games under .500, but it is certainly an area of improvement. And, the numbers are grim. Nationals’ opponents have stolen 64 bases and been caught only nine times. That’s a caught stealing percentage of 12.3 percent — seven points lower than the next worst team.

This spring, Nationals coaches made this a point of emphasis. They worked with pitchers to vary their times to the plate in order to throw off base runners, even holding the ball or stepping off to mess up a would-be stealer’s timing. It, however, is still a work in progress. Last season, the Nationals explained that their pitchers were good enough to limit the damage from base runners by not letting them score. And, they argued, messing with a pitcher’s time to the plate could mess with their delivery and success.

The trend, however, continues.

“Some of them (have improved their times) and some of them have at times,” Manager Davey Johnson said before Wednesday’s game. “And some of them going into this old time thinking. Our catchers haven’t really thrown as well as we’ve had in the past. (Wilson) Ramos had the guy (Tuesday); it was just offline. It’s still an issue with some of them.”

Ramos has a strong arm but is tied for 62nd out of 76 qualified catchers with a .824 stolen base percentage against. Kurt Suzuki, acquired last season for his defensive skill, ranks 72nd with a .880 stolen base percentage against. Johnson believes their throws haven’t been as strong this season, but the pitchers are still largely to blame.

“I’ve been working a lot with that and trying to get better,” Ramos said. “Last year and this year, it’s been hard with the little amount of time I’ve played. It’s something that we’ve talked about with the pitchers, about watching out for the runner, not talking too much time.”

Ramos said, overall, the staff’s times to the plate have been generally the same. Former Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez made a big dent in the team’s total with nine bases stolen in nine attempts while he pitched. Others still grapple with improving: Stephen Strasburg (11 stolen bases in 13 attempts against), Dan Haren (six in six attempts) and Drew Storen (four in four), among others.

Other have improved, even slightly: Gio Gonzalez (five stolen bases in eight attempts), Jordan Zimmermann (eight in 11) and Tyler Clippard (who has had only two attempts against 100 games into this season while last season he had eight successful attempts).

Ramos has attributed some of his own off-target throws to being rushed when a pitcher has a slower delivery time. He and the pitchers, he said, will continue practicing to improve. But at a certain point, there’s only so much that can be altered without messing with a pitcher’s delivery and give them too much to think about.

“It’s hard because they have to do in a way they think can help us and in which they feel comfortable,” he said. “It doesn’t change from day to the next.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals’ skid continues with another loss, a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Pirates, writes Adam Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ross Detwiler out for another month with disc problem in back

Davey Johnson: Taylor Jordan has 20 to 30 innings left before shutdown

Bryce Harper resting, icing knee

Ian Desmond’s blister leads to rare day off

Taylor Jordan learning well on the fly

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 3, Louisville 2: Caleb Clay allowed only two runs over five hits over seven innings. Jeff Mandel and Erik Davis tossed scoreless innings. Zach Walters launched his 23rd homer of the season. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 4. Eury Perez and Corey Brown also smacked two hits.

Harrisburg 3, New Hampshire 2: Robert Gilliam allowed one run on five hits over six innings. Recently-promoted Richie Mirowski tossed a scoreless inning, as did Ryan Perry. Aaron Barrett blew his third save of the season. Matt Grace earned the save. Jeff Howell tripled in the 10th and the Senators drew three walks, the final one by Steve Souza Jr. with the bases loaded. Brian Goodwin hit his eight homer of the season.

Potomac 9, Lynchburg 8: Matt Purke allowed six runs, three earned, on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings. His ERA in five starts at Potomac is 8.34. Mike Gilmartin went 2 for 4. Billy Burns went 1 for 3 with a triple and two RBI. Cutter Dykstra and Kevin Keyes also drove in two runs each.

Hagerstown was off.

Auburn 3, Williamsport 2 (7): Kylin Turnbull allowed two unearned runs over 2 1/3 innings and Joel Barrientos allowed one hit over 2 2/3 innings. L.J. Hollins earned a two-inning save. Jean Carlos Valdez went 2 for 3. David Masters and Andruth Ramirez each drove in a run.

Williamsport 4, Auburn 1 (7): Casey Selsor allowed four runs over 3 1/3 innings. Matthew Derosier tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings and Jake Joyce finished out with a scoreless seventh. Isaac Ballou went 2 for 3 with an RBI.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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