VIERA, Fla. -- The first two weeks of spring training are always the toughest, especially for reporters who want to write about some actual news and start to formulate some conclusions on players and where they stand in the competition for roster spots.
Unfortunately, not much happens during this first stage of camp, unless your idea of excitement includes repeated defensive drills, batting practice and bullpen sessions.
Really, the early portion of the spring is about building up pitchers' strength and precision and running through all the different fundamental situations that are sure to come up over the course of the season. There isn't much evaluation taking place, either from team officials or from media members.
That will all change beginning tomorrow, because the Grapefruit League is commencing, and the rest of the spring will be built around exhibition games and players' performances in those games.
So with that in mind, let's run through some things everyone should be paying attention to now that the games are about to get underway...
1. THE ROTATION: Really, this should could stand alone as the sole thing worth watching for the next month, because it's the most important aspect of spring training and the Nationals' biggest question mark in early March. We know John Lannan and Jason Marquis are going to be fine, but you want them to get their work in without any tweaks and you'd like for them not to get beat around too much. Everyone else still has something to prove, and their actual results will matter. For guys like Scott Olsen and Matt Chico, it's about proving to the Nats they are 100 percent healthy and back to their old selves. For guys like Livan Hernandez and Miguel Batista, it's about proving they've still got plenty left in the tank and are worth including on the Opening Day rotation. And for guys like Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen, Collin Balester, it's about proving they've made the necessary strides to become effective big-league pitchers. For those four especially, results this spring will matter.
2. THE REGULARS: There are no spots in the Nats' regular lineup up for grabs, so there's no competition here. Rather, the key for Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan, Josh Willingham and Co. is getting good work in, seeing plenty of pitches, working on different aspects of hitting and fielding and not doing anything that might lead to injury. Use this time to get yourself ready for the regular season so you can hit the ground running come April 5.
3. THE BULLPEN: For Matt Capps, it's time to show last year with the Pirates was a fluke and the dominant closer of previous seasons is back. For Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett, it's time to start building your arms up so you'll be ready to go back-to-back days come April. For Eddie Guardado and Ron Villone, it's a one-on-one battle to earn the left-handed specialist's job. And for Tyler Clippard, Tyler Walker and Jason Bergmann, it's time to avoid any disastrous outings that could give the front office reason to question whether you should make the roster after all.
4. THE BENCH: Aside from the rotation, this could be the most interesting facet of the club to watch for the next month, because so much is up in the air. Willie Harris and Wil Nieves are basically assured of jobs. The rest is a complicated puzzle, with versatile types like Eric Bruntlett, Mike Morse, Chris Duncan and perhaps Ian Desmond trying to prove their worth alongside guys who slot into more traditional roles like Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina and Alberto Gonzalez. There are a lot of different ways Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman can go with this. Spring performance will play a factor in their decision-making.