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Ryan Zimmerman has raked at the plate all spring, an encouraging sign.
With that in mind, let's run through five of the most encouraging developments of camp, plus five of the most discouraging developments of camp...
ENCOURAGING: Ryan Zimmerman has been raking at the plate from the moment he first grabbed a bat. The heart of the Nationals lineup is hitting .385 with three homers, 10 RBI, an insane .769 slugging percentage and a ridiculous 1.216 OPS. Is his mind at ease now that he knows he'll be a Nat for life? Or is he just 100 percent healthy and ready to rock 'n' roll? Whatever the case, Zim looks poised for a monster season.
DISCOURAGING: Michael Morse hoped to come into camp and pick up right where he left off last September. But the Nationals' 2011 MVP has managed to appear in only three Grapefruit League games, none of them in the field, because of a strained lat muscle. That muscle has now healed and Morse has been cleared to resume baseball activities, but he's going to miss at least a week to start the season, maybe more. And once he does return, will he be able to immediately produce, or will it take some time?
ENCOURAGING: After a difficult first season in D.C., Jayson Werth both looks comfortable with his surroundings and looks confident at the plate. He leads the club with four homers this spring, including a moonshot that made contact with his truck parked way behind the left-field fence. There's plenty of pressure on him to perform this season, but so far, so good.
DISCOURAGING: It hasn't drawn a lot of attention, but Danny Espinosa is struggling at the plate. He has just two extra-base hits, zero RBI and a .283 slugging percentage. He's also struck out 20 times in 60 at-bats, an alarming rate. Espinosa spoke confidently at the start of camp about his ability to bounce back from a terrible second half to his rookie season, but what we're seeing now bears some resemblance to that rough stretch.
ENCOURAGING: Both Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores look good to go. Any fears about the lingering psychological effect of Ramos' offseason kidnapping appear to have disappeared. He's playing well and enjoying life with his teammates. Flores, meanwhile, has looked particularly strong at the plate after his career was derailed by a shoulder injury. Though he'll get only one or two starts per week backing up Ramos, look for Davey Johnson to use his No. 2 catcher as a regular pinch-hitter, taking advantage of his bat.
DISCOURAGING: One of the Nationals' biggest question marks over the winter was in center field, and unfortunately that still appears to be the case. With Bryce Harper learning the position in minor-league camp, Rick Ankiel was supposed to hold down the fort. Ankiel, though, has been hampered by a lingering quad strain that has limited him to 15 at-bats thus far. When he's played, he's looked like an improved hitter. But until he gets over this injury completely, there will be a question mark hovering over the position.
ENCOURAGING: The Nationals' rotation as a whole has pitched well this spring, but Jordan Zimmermann deserves special mention. Aside from one shaky start against the Astros, the young right-hander has dazzled, pounding the strike zone with a purpose. He already enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011, but Zimmermann looks like a pitcher who is determined to ascend to even greater heights in 2012.
DISCOURAGING: Edwin Jackson was more a cause for concern before yesterday's strong outing against the Braves (one run, two hits in six innings) but there's still some question surrounding the Nationals' No. 4 starter. Mike Rizzo paid him $11 million to be a one-year, hired gun and help get this franchise into a playoff race. So far, Jackson hasn't looked like an established, big-league star. He's looked like a pitcher still trying to figure some things out. He'll probably be OK, but it'll be real interesting to see how he opens the regular season.
ENCOURAGING: There may have been no more inconsistent pitcher in baseball last year than Henry Rodriguez, who at one moment was liable to hit the backstop with a pitch and then pound a 101-mph fastball at the knees the next moment. Fortunately, he's done only the latter this spring, repeatedly every time he's taken the mound. H-Rod has been simply fantastic, and if he can keep this up into the season, the Nationals might just have the most dominant bullpen in baseball.
DISCOURAGING: As deep as their bullpen is, the Nationals can probably get away without Drew Storen for a little while. But they'd certainly love to have their closer back ASAP, so everyone can revert to their predetermined roles. Storen has appeared in only two games this spring, none since March 7, as elbow inflammation sidelined him. He's resumed throwing and is expected back around mid-April, but all eyes will be on him once he returns, hoping this elbow issue doesn't linger.