Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond turns a double play from the second base side.
-- Mike Rizzo may say Ian Desmond is going to focus on playing shortstop and will man that position no matter where he opens the season -- and the guess here still is Syracuse -- but that doesn't preclude him from working out elsewhere this spring. During today's workout, Desmond joined other infielders in some fielding drills after the pitchers and catchers were done with their workout. And though
he began the drill at shortstop, he then moved to second base for more. The above photo is of him turning a double play from the second base side. (Not bad for an amateur, huh? I mean me, not Ian.) I have a hard time believing Desmond will beat out Cristian Guzman for the starting shortstop job, and that he's more likely to open the year playing every day at Syracuse than serving as a super-utility guy in Washington. But it appears the club at least wants to get him some work elsewhere, just in case.
-- Some conflicting information out there about the Nats' potential interest in signing another veteran starting pitcher. Here's the way I understand the situation, based on conversations with several team officials: Rizzo has some interest in bringing another arm aboard, but only at the right price. And at the moment, no one is coming down to his price. Braden Looper would top the list. Livan Hernandez would also be among the possibilities. As for Jarrod Washburn, even if the lefty came down from his $6 million asking price, the Nats aren't interested in taking a chance on a guy who had some injury concerns late last season. Also, though the club is looking at a potentially shaky rotation to open the season, Rizzo and Co. know that's likely only going to be a temporary problem, with Chien-Ming Wang and Stephen Strasburg targeted to join the rotation sometime in May/June. Why spend money on another veteran pitcher now, knowing his services might only be needed for one-third of the season?
-- Speaking of guys fighting for rotation spots, Scott Olsen presents an interesting case. Olsen, as you know, is returning from shoulder surgery. He's not experiencing any pain anymore, but he's still not all the way back to top form. So I asked Jim Riggleman today whether Olsen is a lock to make the rotation if he's healthy, or does he still have to show something. "What we're looking for is something close to his Florida days," the manager said. "That's what we want to get him back to. If that's where he is toward the end of spring training, that's great. Because this was a guy, he did a nice job for Florida. He threw hard, he had a good breaking ball and he got plus-200 innings. That's big. If he's close to that, then that's really good. So he's a lock. If there's some setbacks or it's just not on that pace, we've just got to back off a little bit. But we know he's going to get to that point where he was in Florida." Something to remember: Though Olsen signed a $1 million contract this winter, the Nats still could release him with more than 15 days to go until Opening Day and be responsible only for one-sixth of his salary. That's what they did in 2008 with John Patterson, and it's what they did last spring with Shawn Hill. In both cases, everyone just assumed both of those guys would make the club if healthy. Didn't turn out that way.
-- Position players officially report tomorrow, but almost every single one of them is already here. Only guys who hadn't arrived by this afternoon were Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes. And there's no reason to believe they won't report tomorrow. Physicals will take place Thursday, then the first full-squad workout is Friday.
-- Pitchers' bunting practice is a staple of spring training, but I saw something today I hadn't seen previously at camp. The Nats had a groundskeeper paint a bullseye around the area between the plate and the pitcher's mound on one of the practice fields. Then each guy would try to get his bunt to come to a stop as close to the center of the bullseye as possible. I didn't see every member of the staff work on this drill, but I did note that young Mr. Strasburg appeared to have some good success.
-- Finally, Riggleman spent a good portion of his media session today talking about the risks of sliding headfirst and the emphasis the coaching staff is placing on teaching guys to go feet-first this spring. They actually ran a drill today for a few guys, most notably Nyjer Morgan (who broke his hand sliding headfirst into third base last August in Chicago). If you're a subscriber and received the Riggleman audio today -- and if for some reason you didn't get it, please let me know because I think the file might have been too big for some email servers -- you may be interested to hear the entire conversation. For these purposes here, I'll share one of the manager's strongest points on the subject: "Our message to the guys -- not just Nyjer, but any of them who have always slid headfirst -- is: 'We'd like to get you going feet-first. If it's causing more problems than it's solving, we can't do it. But we've got to give it an effort.' I think they're all in total agreement with that."