Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
2011 draft pick Matt Purke throws during his bullpen session today.
A less-prominent name, though, who caught manager Davey Johnson's eye was reliever Ryan Mattheus, who was dialing things up a notch during his throwing session.
"One of the guys who was very impressive today, and I like him a lot, is Mattheus," Johnson said. "Mattheus was flat-out throwing the heck out of the ball. I had to tell him, I said: 'Take it easy.'"
Johnson asked Mattheus when he started throwing this winter, figuring the answer would be January. Mattheus replied: "No, December."
Perhaps the 28-year-old right-hander, sensing the competition he faces this spring to crack the Nationals' bullpen, is a bit extra motivated to put on a show here.
Mattheus pitched quite well as a rookie, posting a 2.81 ERA in 35 games. But he faces long odds to make the Opening Day roster, especially after the Nationals signed Brad Lidge to a one-year contract.
"They read the newspapers, too," Johnson said.
Another guy who drew attention in the bullpen today was Matt Purke, the third-round pick from TCU who has no realistic shot to make the club but is in camp because he signed a big-league contract last summer. The left-hander battled some shoulder issues last season and had an up-and-down month in the Arizona Fall League, but the Nationals like what they're seeing from him so far this spring.
"I liked his delivery," Johnson said. "I liked the way the ball came out of his hand. He looks good."
Purke won't see a lot of action in games this spring. Johnson said he might have him pitch in the March 2 exhibition opener against Georgetown University (stats from that game don't count as official spring training numbers) and perhaps an inning or two out of the bullpen once Grapefruit League play begins.
"I've got 10 starters ahead of him that I need to stretch out," Johnson said. "He'll get stretched out when he goes down [to the minors]."
Purke is one of 24 healthy pitchers in camp this spring, all but one who has already reported. Reliever Henry Rodriguez has yet to appear at the complex, though he was due to arrive from Venezuela today after tending to a personal matter at home.
With utilityman Mark DeRosa reporting this morning, only one position player has yet to arrive in Viera: outfielder Xavier Paul. Tomorrow is the official reporting date for position players.