Saturday, March 16, 2013

Time to get serious

Associated Press
Stephen Strasburg threw a spring training-high 93 pitches tonight.
VIERA, Fla. -- Davey Johnson gets his reputation as a "players' manager" because of the way he lets his veterans take care of themselves, trusting them to prepare at their own pace and not have to work too hard during spring training.

And that philosophy has won over multiple generations of ballplayers who laud the 70-year-old skipper for it.

"Not that you aren't going to play hard," Ryan Zimmerman said, "but I think you really want to do well for somebody that respects you and takes care of you and pretty much does everything he can to put you in a position to succeed."

Johnson does reserve the right to, as he puts it, "crack the whip" for one week near the end of spring training. And that week is about to arrive. Starting Monday, Johnson plans to make another round of roster cuts and then play all his regulars on a daily basis, having them go the full nine innings several times (including his catchers) as the final push to Opening Day arrives.

Sorry, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. You're going to have to make that 2-hour road trip to Jupiter on Wednesday.

"I'm cutting down, so there's no other alternative," Johnson said. "It's my time, boys. Party's over."

Consider tonight's game -- a 4-2 loss to the Astros -- a bit of a preview for what's to come. It featured both Ryan Zimmerman's spring debut in the field and Stephen Strasburg's longest start of the month, totaling 93 pitches.

Let's begin with Zimmerman, who had previously served as designated hitter in seven games but had yet to take his familiar position at third base since undergoing shoulder surgery after the 2012 season. After working slowly and extensively on his throwing mechanics and then building up arm strength, Zimmerman deemed himself ready to go tonight but admitted a little bit of unease as he emerged from the dugout.

"I was a little nervous the first inning, but everything was good," he said. "I think the throws in between innings got better each inning. The first one was a little shaky, not as good as I've been throwing. But as the innings went on, it got better. It was good to get out there in front of people and get back into a game."

Zimmerman wasn't tested much at all during his four innings of work. Only one ball was hit his way, but he handled it flawlessly, charging in on Carlos Corporan's second-inning grounder and then firing a perfect throw across his body to nab the Houston catcher.

That play helped ease everyone's nerves, as will each successive play over the final two weeks of camp.

"The more that I get, whether it's those or routine, I feel comfortable doing everything," Zimmerman said. "Now it's just a matter of getting the experience again of doing it in the game and at game speed, and we'll get plenty of time to do that in the next 10-12 days."

While Zimmerman and his lineup mates are preparing to ramp things up for the final push to Opening Day, Strasburg looks ready to take the mound at Nationals Park right now.

Making his fifth of seven Grapefruit League starts, the right-hander reached the sixth inning for the first time and uncorked 93 pitches, many of them fastballs registering in the high 90s. He struck out eight, allowed only one run -- a solo homer by Rick Ankiel, of all people -- and emerged feeling like there's little left to accomplish in Florida.

"When you get to this point, when you start to get close to 100 pitches, you're like, alright let's get the season going," he said. "But we still have a few more weeks, so I've just got to keep working, keep grinding."

Johnson might let Strasburg reach the 100-pitch mark during his next start, Friday against the Tigers, before bringing him back down in his final tune-up before Opening Day. After that, the veteran skipper has every intention of letting his young ace pitch deeper into games than he has at any previous point in his professional career.

"He's a regular guy," Johnson said of the post-shutdown Strasburg. "I'm going to treat him like [everybody] else. He's a big machine."

While he's cracking the whip on his position players and starting pitchers, Johnson plans to do the same with a few of his relievers, especially power pitchers who he believes need more work in the final weeks of the spring: Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez.

Storen had another laborious appearance tonight, allowing three runs on four hits, and he's managed to toss a clean inning only twice in seven Grapefruit League appearances.

Those seven appearances, though, have been spread out, with Storen typically pitching every third day. Johnson wants that changed for all of his power relievers.

"Two days' rest between is not good for them," the manager said. "I want them throwing every other day, back-to-back, even two innings."

Johnson also wants Storen to worry less about approaching each hitter with a specific plan and just pitch.

"He's thinking too much," the manager said. "When you try to be that precise, I guess I want to call it, it's kind of paralysis by analysis. I want him to just trust his stuff and pitch. He's got great stuff, he knows how to pitch. Sometimes he just starts going out there and tries to overthrow the ball. But that's power pitchers. I've got two weeks [to get him ready]."

The countdown to Opening Day begins Monday.


Gonat said...

On the AB where Ankiel hit the HR, did Strasburg/Ramos forget you K him on a high fastball?

Michael S said...

Im ready

SonnyG10 said...

C'mon Drew, get it together. We're almost ready to go. Can't be letting the Stros score three on you.

SonnyG10 said...

Mark, thanks for the late post. You're really cranking them out.

baseballswami said...

So, Drew doesn't get to use the Dead Arm excuse like all the other kids?

SonnyG10 said...

Swami, apparently not. I think Drew and Henry are using the dead brain excuse.

SonnyG10 said...

Drew and Henry: if you read this I was just kidding, ok!!

Doc said...

Time to give Henry a new lease on life. A 2-base error was all he gave away to-night. Nothing dead brain about his performance.

HRod has one of the best ST record of the relievers. He's also getting guys out with his off-speed stuff.

Drew, well that's another story. I trust Davey's analysis of his problems out there tonight.

Looks like Span is over coming his dead bat syndrome. ALR still trying to jump over the Mendoza Line.

Senators said...

Spring trainining is what it is, spring training. Having said that,I am concerned that Storen still has a ghost in his closet and only time will tell if he can get rid of it. Should we be concerned..ABSOLUTELY!

Unknown said...

Storen just needs to find that inside corner on RH hitters. That'll keep them off his outside "off speed" stuff.

Steamer said...

Gonat the good old Burnett was back to form yesterday

Laddie Blah Blah said...

Storen threw everything up in the zone. He just has to get his pitches down. He will work on his command and be fine.

Still want to see Ryan dive for one of those shots down the line and get up with a normal throwing motion, or see him make a head-first slide and go out the next inning without any effect on that arm. So far, so good, but the real test is yet to come.

Good to see Ankiel doing so well in Houston.

Danny is making much more consistent contact with the ball, but will he keep that up when his power numbers go down? Does he finally have the self-discipline to play within his limits for a whole season, or even a month? We'll find out soon enough.

Rizzo will play Rendon somewhere, and Davey has been providing Anthony with his personal tutelage on where that is likely to be.

It's getting harder and harder to see where Marrero fits into the Nats short-term and long-term plans, or if he does, at all.

HRod looks like he's back.

Bryce and Ryan look great at the 3-4 slots behind Span and Werth.

It won't be long now.

baseballswami said...

Laddie- why you up? Anyway, 2 weeks to go and the regulars have not played as much as the prospects. Time to trim that list down and get them ready. It's been fun to watch but now it's See You In September time.

sjm308 said...

I was really impressed with Strasburg last night. Not just his speed and control but the fact that he made 93 pitches look fairly easy. I don't think he will ever be that efficient and have a lot of 12 pitch innings but he certainly is strong enough to throw 100+ pitches each and every time out.

Question - why do they worry more about an innings limit then a pitch limit for these young men? Just wondering.

sjm308 said...

One more thing. I think people here know I root for Henry. He has had a nice ST and that excites me because it makes our team that much better. I realize he has had good Spring Trainings before this and that he has the potential to unravel. I just hope that first time it happens people here treat him like they treat Drew. If Henry had given up 3 runs there would have been a cry to release him immediately. I saw none of that talk about Drew. I want them all to succeed and it looks like our 25 man roster is set the way Davey is talking.

Go Nats!!

Positively Half St. said...

Henry Rodriguez might look good now, but he has to be consistent. He always has his pretty frickin' bueno stretches. He has to at least maintain bueno during the off times.


Rabbit34 said...

Werth. :(

Rabbit34 said...

Storen had one big flashback to you know what game. Really, .500 this year???

baseballswami said...

Rabbit- what?

Joe Seamhead said...

sjm308, I agree with you on both of your points.Stephen looked very comfortable out there last night. Henry looked good in spite of Rivera butchering a pop up to right to start the inning with the batter ending up on second, and then stole third. Maybe the staff has worked at holding runners, but they are still a long way from being good at it. Stammen and Drew look like they are particularly susceptible.

Tcostant said...

Rizzo was smart to get someone to get Storen out of the closer role.

JayB said...

Just like last year the biggest roadblock to World Series for Nats remains Dave's love of "his guys" mixed with bordering on extreme stubborness

JayB said...

I was early to the dump Drew as closer party like before they lost the lead in game 5

JayB said...

If Drew is still over thinking it and chocking in mid march wait till he gets to April and nats park

m said...

A few observations from the game last night.

(1) Nice to see Werth progress from tracking pitches to hitting pop ups. Can't wait to see him work on hitting into double plays. It would be refreshing if this guy would just go out hit the baseball.

(2) Span looks over matched. Its comical when FP and Carpenter refer to this guy as an on base machine. They must be looking at a different guy. I think we stand a better chance with Corey Brown. Speaking of FP and Carpenter please get some objectivity or perspective.

(3) We will miss Morse throughout this season.

(4) This team is not hitting and has not for the entire spring. I am not convinced you can turn it on as you would a lamp.

(5) Glad to see HRod do well.

John C. said...

M - as I posted in another thread the other day, spring training stats have no predictive value for the regular season. So all of you doomsayers thinking that Span will be a waste of space and Haren a disaster based on Spring Training, you can just stand down. Of course, that also applies to those who are predicting that Bryce & Ryan will both hit .400 this year.

No matter how much your gut tells you that ST stats matter - they don't. Not just small sample size, but too many other variables (quality of opposition, not game planning, working on stuff, etc) as well. The Fangraphs article that I linked to in the other thread is just the latest in a long line of studies, all of which show the same thing.

So enjoy ST for what it is, but don't obsess or predict based on it. That's a fool's errand.

NatsLady said...

I think some people confuse negativity with astuteness. Span is a pro, he knows what he is doing out there; Corey Brown is a talented prospect. I like Brown and hope he progresses, but he is not better than Span right now, not even close.

As for the hitting overall, last spring the hitting was terrible but the pitching was great. Everyone (except Davey) was ready to fire Eckstein. The the team started hitting and Eckstein revealed his true genius.

That said, Drew is concerning. Is he the "human rain delay" Werth was talking about? (Henry is also a slow worker). He looks stressed when he is out there, even more than Henry does. Drew wants to be Kimbrel, but we don't need him to be Kimbrel--nice as that would be. As Davey said, don't over think it, just get out there and build up the arm strength. And, for heaven's sake, if you are hurting, say so!!!

Rabbit34 said...

Span, and Haren will be ok once the season begins. "M".....I agree that Werth should at least Try to hit the ball. He stands there like clothes drying on a line. Storen, I think, will be a basket case. Not much hope for him. Glad we have Soriano. Espinosa is doing so much better because, unlike Werth, he is making good contact with the ball. He looks alive up there. Fingers crossed for LaRoche. He'll come around.

Doc said...

Some good points NatsLady.

On my TV set, Drew looked defensive in the extreme, and like he didn't want to talk to anybody.

Just for interest where do I find Werth's quote on the "human rain delay"?

BigCat said...

Nats Lady......please don't use genius in the same sentence with Eckstein

BigCat said...

I have been biting my tongue a long time on Eck.

I know, I know.....he's working hard....see his clipboard.

Section 222 said...

Well put NL. Storen seems to be in danger of becoming a head case. Just relax, throw 95 on the corners (but don't nibble) and let the defense take care of the rest.

How old do you have to be before you become a AAAA player rather than a prospect? This was the spring for Brown (age 27) to show he's the successor (or maybe the challenger) to Tracy and Bernadina for the LH bench spots. Certainly, he offers better defense than either of them. But he hasn't done it, and at this point I don't expect he ever will. Other younger outfielders like Perez and Goodwin will soon replace him on the depth chart. At that point, it's up to OHenry alone to keep that Willingham trade from being seen in retrospect as a pure salary dump.

Looking forward to Zim getting some chances in the field. He was fine on the charging submarine throw even with the bad shoulder. Carp seemed to get that in the broadcast yesterday. FP didn't.

Doc said...

BigCat, remove Riggleman's faux batting techniques, which Eck didn't agree with, and which took a season for the players to forget, and we have a very good hitting coach.

Don't forget, these guys led the NL in many hitting categories, post ASG last year. Not sure we need to get exercised about their hitting, or lack therein, in ST.

As far as the use of the term genius, if Eck can help Espi hit .300 all year, then hell yes he's genius! LOL

Laddie Blah Blah said...

"Laddie- why you up?"

You know how some pregnant women must have bacon with their ice cream? I get uncontrollable urges to bloviate, or I can't eat breakfast. Afterwards, I'm fine, until the next attack. They can come at any time.

BigCat said...

You have a point with the Riggs analogy Doc. Hopefully, I will agree with you and Lady by the end of the year.

Doc said...

I'm marking the calender BigCat!

It would be neat to meet you and the other guys some day.


Laddie Blah Blah said...

"I like Brown and hope he progresses, but he is not better than Span right now, not even close."

Brown is a much better hitter for power. They are both excellent with the glove, practically a wash. Span is more patient at the plate, and makes pitchers work. Like most power hitters, Brown both draws a lot of walks and strikes out a lot. Span doesn't strike out.

I give the edge to Brown, overall, because the power differential is so great, but Span is much better as a lead-off guy.

If the Nats needed a power hitter in CF, Brown would be the guy out there, not Span. But they already have plenty of power almost everywhere else you look. Only one guy on the entire team fits the profile of a lead-off guy. So its Span in CF.

You could not lose with ether one of them out there. Span is just a better fit for a long-time unmet need. The Nats tried Brown at lead-off in the minors last year, and he did have a very good OBP, but he does not work the pitchers and he hits a lot of bases empty HRs in addition to too many Ks. He just doesn't belong there.

When they promoted Perez to AAA, he took over as the lead-off guy, even though his OBP was much lower than Brown's. Perez is a free swinger who does not walk. He's not really a good fit, either, but Brown belongs in a power slot, and there is really nowhere else to put Perez, his slap-hitting bat, and his speed.

Brown was moved to the 3-hole at Syracuse, where a power hitter belongs, after Perez took over the 1-slot. Other than Span, the Nats do not have a prototypical lead-off man, not even in the high minors. They are trying to turn Billy Burns into one in the low minors, but he is nowhere near ready.

I wouldn't mind of they traded Brown for younger prospects. A guy with his abilities deserves a chance to play every day in the majors. As an incurable baseball junkie, I hate to see such talent go to waste. He would be a starter on most other teams in the majors. The Nats are now so loaded with OF talent he has no chance to play in the bigs, barring injury to one of the starters, or a trade. That ain't gonna happen, unless he is the one traded.

NatsLady said...

LOL, we need a sarcasm font. I didn't really mean Eckstein was a genius--maybe he is--but he suddenly BECAME a genius when guys started hitting, whereas a day before that he was a dunce.

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