Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez throws live BP today with Class AAA pitching coach Greg Booker watching.
Fortunately, that day has nearly arrived. The Nationals will host Georgetown in a charity game Friday at noon, then head to Kissimmee to face the Astros in their official Grapefruit League opener Saturday at 1:05 p.m.
Sensing his guys are just about ready to play nine innings against an opponent, manager Davey Johnson took the unusual step this morning of having his club work out inside Space Coast Stadium instead of on the practice fields just down the road. There are still too many players to use just one field, so half of the squad worked out right across the parking lot on Field 5. But most of the veterans and regulars were inside the stadium, making for a nice change of scenery.
"It automatically elevates the energy level," Johnson said. "And I wanted them to get comfortable over here. I know I'm more comfortable over here. ... I'm anxious for Friday to get here."
Today's workout featured some more rounds of live BP, with Gio Gonzalez, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen among the bigger names pitching to hitters. And those hurlers got to experience some fun, head-to-head encounters with teammates.
Gonzalez got a kick out of pitching to Ian Desmond. The two squared off years ago in the Florida state high school playoffs, and Desmond has been bragging this spring about how he got two hits off the otherwise unhittable left-hander back then.
"Everything about him is the same," Desmond said. "I don't remember him being any different than what he is right now. He's just fun. He's a goofball."
There was plenty of playful banter going back and forth between the two; Desmond was quite proud of himself for recording a couple more hits off Gonzalez today, though one of them was a broken bat flare to right field.
"The ones I got off him in high school were a lot harder than the ones I got today," he said.
Burnett, meanwhile, had several hitters and coaches impressed with his performance. The lefty reliever was getting a lot of movement out of his sinker and at one point completely sawed Michael Morse's bat in half. That was perhaps sweet redemption for Burnett, who over the weekend served up a towering shot to Morse off the top of the batter's eye in center field.
"The first day he knew what was coming, so that's cheating," Burnett said with a laugh. "No, it's just important right now for them to see strikes. I'm trying to throw everything for a strike, and of course the other day he ran into one. Today was a little more of an indicator, not letting him know what was coming."
Storen also enjoyed a rematch, in his case with Bryce Harper, who tagged one pitch to deep left-center off the Nationals' closer (who did otherwise look quite sharp).