Many thanks to Dave for "dragging" me out to the ballpark last night. I was kind of curious to see Beltran Perez's debut as a starting pitcher (what with B.P. passing for a hot, young pitching prospect in the Nats system these days.) We were hoping for a respectable performance that might provide some hope for next season. We got that and a whole lot more.
Perez was nearly untouchable, pitching 6 innings of 1-hit, no walk ball and he got levels of offensive support unseen in the canyons of RFK for quite some time. Birthday boy Nick Johnson got things started with a bang, leading off the second inning with a solo homer. Nick took the first pitch he saw from heralded Braves rookie SP Chuck James deep to right center. Though that was the only score of the inning, it was a sign of things to come. Nick would celebrate his nativity with a 2-4, 1 RBI, 3 run performance.
James struggled all night, and certainly didn't look anything like a potential ROY candidate. The Nats batters consistently worked themselves into good counts and drove up the Atlanta pitch count, tacking on two runs in the third inning and two more in the fifth. Those two runs, on Jose Vidro's annual second half homer, chased James, who threw 105 pitches in 4 and 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Perez cruised right along, retiring 16 consecutive Braves and tossing just 70 pitches through six innings. It's silly to read too much into one start. Teams often have trouble with pitchers they've never faced before. The Nats themselves have something of a habit of making mediocre rookies look like Cy Young. But in a season largely devoid of memorable pitching performances, it was exceptionally fun to watch a young pitcher come in, work quickly and throw strikes.
The Nats are reshuffling their minor league system. One day after announcing an agreement that will keep the High-A level Potomac Nationals in the fold for 4 more years, the Nats severed ties with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs and the Low-A Savannah Sand Gnats. Replacing these two teams will be the Triple-A Columbus (OH) Clippers and the Low-A Hagerstown (MD) Suns. The two new affiliation agreements will run for two years. The status of the NY-Penn League Vermont Lake Monsters is still undetermined. As usual, Nationals Farm Authority has in-depth coverage.
From a player development perspective it makes sense to consolidate your farm teams geographically. It's easier to keep an eye on players, centralize control of the system, and move people back and forth between teams. As MLB orphans the ExpoNats ended up with many of their affiliates virtually by default, and had probably the most dispersed farm system in the league.
But they also had one of the most cosmopolitan systems, encompassing cities as diverse as Burlington, Vermont; Savannah, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. So even though I never got to see Mike Daniel swat a double in Vermont, watch Marco Estrada struggle through a start in Savannah, or cheer a resurgent farm system (and a resurgent city) in New Orleans, part of me will miss them all.