Monday, February 15, 2010

It's almost time

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What's that sweet sound I've been hearing all morning? Why yes, it's the sudden peppering of Twitter updates and blog postings from reporters scattered about Florida and Arizona, regaling us with the first images of spring. Brad Penny is throwing in Jupiter. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are playing catch in Fort Myers. Derek Jeter is taking BP in Tampa. Makes the heart flutter, doesn't it?

The Nationals are among the last teams to actually commence formal workouts (pitchers and catchers report Friday, take physicals Saturday and then begin organized workouts Sunday) so we've still got a few days to bridge the gap between anticipation and actual, live baseball.

To update you on my travel plans, I'll be hitting the road Wednesday morning and making the journey down I-95 all day. Planning to stay over in Savannah, Ga., then complete the final 4-5 hours of the drive on Thursday and hopefully make a cameo appearance at Space Coast Stadium sometime in the afternoon. Look for my award-winning photos to begin popping up around then.

Between now and then, I'll keep tabs on any news developments -- Chien-Ming Wang's much-anticipated decision, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett's arbitration hearings, etc. -- but I've obviously got a few things I need to take care of before leaving the wife and dog among the snow drifts for the next six weeks.

Here, though, are five things I'm most interested in seeing at Nats camp this spring...

1. STEPHEN STRASBURG: Were you really expecting something else? Am I really supposed to say I'm more intrigued by the status of Roger Bernadina's ankle? Come on. There is no bigger story at Nats camp than the debut of the No. 1 draft pick, and there are few bigger stories around baseball this spring. In the past, we've usually seen a trickle of national baseball writers show up in Viera for a cursory preview of the club, but this will be different. I expect a full-on circus whenever Strasburg makes his first Grapefruit League appearance, and a steady stream of non-Washington-based media hanging around the Space Coast for the first time in a long time.

2. JESUS FLORES: Where is he in his recovery from shoulder surgery? It's remarkable to think back to that night in Phoenix last May when he took a foul tip off his shoulder. At the time, the Nats said he'd only be out a couple of days. That turned into weeks. That turned into months. Now, with the addition of Pudge Rodriguez, you've got to wonder whether Flores will be ready for Opening Day. I, for one, can't wait to see what kind of shape he's in, how he's swinging the bat, and most importantly how he's throwing the ball.

3. ELIJAH DUKES: We all know how important this season is to Dukes, who has had to endure an awful lot in his young life and now comes to spring training still mourning the death of his father only three weeks after the latter was released from prison following a 14-year stint for second-degree murder. With that weighing heavy on his shoulders, Dukes must now refocus on baseball and confirm once and for all that he is this club's long-term answer in right field. I want to see two things this spring: 1) How Dukes' approach at the plate has progressed, and 2) how he's able to keep his head in the game with so much else swirling around his life.

4. THE YOUNG PITCHERS: Strasburg will get all the attention, but equally deserving of close watch will be Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Scott Olsen, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Shairon Martis and Collin Balester. Storen will have a shot at making the Opening Day bullpen. The rest of the guys will be battling it out for however many rotation spots are open. At the moment, there are three available spots behind John Lannan and Jason Marquis. At least two guys from that group need to show something this spring, and quick. The Nats can't afford to wait until March 25 for someone to separate himself from the pack.

5. THE GENERAL ATTITUDE AROUND CAMP: Every team comes to spring training in good spirits, saying the clubhouse has great chemistry and this year is going to be different. Well, it's obviously not always true. Last year, camp was derailed by the Smiley Gonzalez saga and Jim Bowden's resignation. Will there be any drama this spring, or will Nats camp actually be a happy place?

18 comments:

Positively Half St. said...

Mark- One thing I really would like to know about among the pitchers is the health status of Chuck James. He is probably an afterthought for most (and didn't make your list, above), but in 2006 and 2007 he went 11-4 and 11-10 for the Braves. If he is fully healed, the ERA's of 3.78 and 4.24, and WHIPs of 1.24 and 1.38 would compare favorably with most of our staff.

Positively Half St. said...

An entertaining set of comments on Chuck James can be found on this Atlanta Braves blog after he signed with the Nats:

http://www.talkingchop.com/2010/1/25/1269460/nationals-sign-former-braves

natsfan1a said...

Have a safe trip. Will look forward to reading updates here.

Scooter said...

+1/2, those comments are teh awesome. Thanks!

Wolly and the Teev said...

You really need to go to Lone Star BBQ Buffet in Santee, SC on your trip down there. It's incredible.

kungpow12 said...

Best of luck on your trip down to Space Coast and in covering Spring Training for all us Nats fans stuck in the Great White North. Looking forward to reading all about your top 5 themes, but also many others that develop over the next month or so.

You might also want to hit up Dixie Crossroads in Titusville while you're down there. It's pretty reasonable and very good seafood. Haven't eaten there recently, but it was always good. Best part: free, unlimited corn fritters with powerderd sugar on top. Yeah. Really.

http://www.dixiecrossroads.com/

Mark Zuckerman said...

Kungpow: I've actually been to Dixie Crossroads. Definitely an experience, and those powdered sugar fritters are outstanding!

SBrent said...

For the record, your eager readership is global. I'm checking in daily from Maysan Province, Iraq.

natsfan1a said...

Mark's getting ready to head to Florida, more snow is falling outside, and now you guys are talking *powdered sugar fritters*? You're killing me, I tell ya! :-)

Farid said...

Maysan Province, Iraq? You think that is "out of the way," SBrent?

C'mon ....

Right now it's about 11:00 p.m. in Iraq.

I live in Pocatello Idaho.

Right now, it's 1973.

SonnyG10 said...

Mark,

Looking forward to your input from spring training.

Kenz aFan said...

Stay safe and bring home all the Nats news that's fit and unfit to read.

I'm wondering, when writing about guys battling for spots in the rotation or bullpen, could you give each player an ongoing rating (yes, I know, player ratings in spring training are nothing more than guesses much of the time.) that could give us on the outside, looking in, an idea on how well a player is doing on earning a spot.

Example note about a player: "Matt Chico has caused more than a few heads to turn and has taken more than a few steps toward earning a rotation spot Stay tuned" (If, by chance, that does happen, which I doubt, remember you heard it hear first.)

Mark Zuckerman said...

SBrent: Wow, glad to hear NatsTown is alive and well in the Middle East. Stay safe, my friend!

Kenz aFan: Interesting idea. Maybe I could have a daily feature: One guy whose stock is on the rise, one guy whose stock is falling. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

You won't be far from my dwellings Wednesday, about 45 min from Savannah in the low country of SC. All our snow is gone and it should be in upper 50's wed, maybe even 60 and sunny. Have a nice drive south.

Anonymous said...

Mark - my big management question - how are they going to balance the 25-man on the youth vs "trusted veteran" stuff? Does Wang keep Detwiler out of the rotation, does Kennedy make Desmond the starting SS in Syracuse, etc. Some might say that they leaned too heavily toward youth last year and 100 losses was the result, but looking at the 09 roster, that's not really the case. They leaned too heavily towards "guys who aren't very good at baseball" last year, some of whom weren't really young.

Anyway, any thoughts - including your own - on the views on questions like whether they would rather lean towards youth or rely on "grizzled veteranness" in those close calls (Bernadina vs Harris; guardado vs Batista vs Storen)

Anonymous said...

Mark - I like the rising and falling idea!

natsfan1a said...

I also like the rising and falling idea.

Also, for those who are stuck in the snowy Metro DC area this week (like me), you may choose to follow the idea of a commenter over on the Post site. Specifically, eat at Panera and pretend that you're in Viera. I just might do that. :-)

Kenz aFan said...

Mark - Sorry about the slow reply, I've been doing some early spring cleaning.

I like your suggestion of a writeup on one or two players who's stock is on the rise or might be falling. However, as a side feature, a daily (or possibly bi or tri-weekly) list that contained nothing more than the names of players battling for spots. Next to those names you could use a plus or minus sign or dash as indicators.

Readers who are hungry for information will often times grab onto even the smallest bits because they are fans of certain players. Heck with the daily (or however often) stock ratings, fans could even create graphs to chart each player's progress. That list would be something not readily found on other sites and if you chose to, you could include that list as an exclusivity to those who made donations.

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