Bryce Harper will bat third in tomorrow's Grapefruit League opener.
Blame it on the World Baseball Classic, which prompts MLB to push up the start dates for spring training so participating players have enough time to get into shape before leaving their clubs for the international tournament.
Ready or not, though, the exhibition season is upon us. The Nationals take the field tomorrow afternoon in Port St. Lucie, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound to face the New York Mets.
Most position players have only been in camp about 10 days and conducted only about a week's worth of full-squad workouts. So, do guys actually feel game-ready?
"Yeah," shortstop Ian Desmond insisted. "When I got here, I was game-ready. I was joking because Davey [Johnson] likes to keep everything nice and slow and steady. I've been doing baseball stuff since December, so I think I was a little too ready this year. Next year, I'm going to take it a little slower."
Desmond is one of three regulars in Johnson's starting lineup for their Grapefruit League opener, joined by Bryce Harper and new center fielder Denard Span. The rest of the lineup features bench players and possible minor leaguers, with Johnson unlikely to insert his veteran starters (Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche) for another week or so.
The rationale? For one, guys like Zimmerman are returning from injury. For another, the elongated spring schedule -- there are 34 exhibition games scheduled over the next 35 days -- actually provides too much time for seasoned veterans to get ready.
The last thing Johnson wants is for his star players to peak on March 20 instead of April 1.
With that in mind, don't look for a whole lot out of the Nationals' starting pitchers the first time around the rotation. Strasburg probably won't throw more than two innings tomorrow, unless his pitch count is ridiculously low.
The way the schedule sets up, Strasburg and his rotation mates should make as many as seven exhibition starts before Opening Day. That's more than enough time to build up arm strength and approach the 100-pitch mark before the games actually count.
But first things first. Here's Johnson's lineup and pitching roster for tomorrow's opener against the Mets (who will send right-hander Shaun Marcum and then top prospect Zack Wheeler to the mound)...
CF Denard Span
2B Steve Lombardozzi
LF Bryce Harper
RF Tyler Moore
3B Chad Tracy
SS Ian Desmond
1B Chris Marrero
C Chris Snyder
DH Micah Owings