Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's left this spring?

USA Today Sports Images
Ryan Zimmerman has yet to play in the field this spring.
In only seven words, Bryce Harper yesterday probably summed up the way everyone around the Nationals feels right now.

"Can't it just be April 1st already!" the All-Star outfielder posted on his Twitter account, this after he recorded his 14th hit in 32 spring training at-bats.

Hate to break the news to you, Bryce, but there's still a ways to go before you guys can take the field at Nationals Park for Opening Day against the Marlins. On the bright side, you are inching closer to April, the longest spring training on record having now moved past the two-third mark.

The Nationals break camp 16 days from now, so the finish line is starting to come into view. They're off today, then play 17 more Grapefruit League games before finally boarding their charter flight north. (FYI: I'm heading back down to Florida later today for the rest of the spring.)

There haven't been a whole lot of major developments in the four weeks since pitchers and catchers first reported, but there wasn't that much that needed to develop. And with the extra-long camp this year to account for the World Baseball Classic, Davey Johnson purposely wanted to bring everyone along slowly, especially his veterans and those coming back from injury.

Now that the Nationals are entering the final stages of the spring, we're starting to see more regulars get more playing time and more of those rehabbing veterans ramp things up.

So let's take a look at some of the more significant things to watch over the remainder of camp...

Zimmerman has yet to appear in the field this spring as he works his right shoulder back into shape following surgery in late-October, but it won't be much longer before we see him at third base. Zim has worked on refining his throwing motion this spring, ditching the awkward-looking mechanics he used last year while fighting the injury and going back to a more natural motion.

He has slowly ramped things up over the last four weeks and has been cleared to throw across the diamond. He's just working now on building up some strength and stamina before he takes the field in a game, something that should occur within the next week.

There certainly doesn't appear to be any reason to worry about Zimmerman's readiness at the plate. He's served as designated hitter five times in the last nine days and boasts seven hits in 15 at-bats (including a double and a homer).

Ramos has already appeared behind the plate a couple of times in the last week, his first catching duties since tearing his right ACL last May. And so far, the young catcher has looked solid.

The key now is to build up the strength and stamina to catch a full game, then ultimately catch back-to-back games. The latter probably won't happen before the end of camp, but the Nationals definitely need to see Ramos squat behind the plate for nine full innings before they're 100 percent sure he's good to make the Opening Day roster as their No. 2 catcher behind Kurt Suzuki.

The only true roster competition in this camp hasn't offered up much excitement yet. Most everyone in the running for the last spot in the bullpen has either been slowed by injury (Henry Rodriguez, Christian Garcia) or poor performance (Bill Bray).

All along, though, the hunch has been that the job was Rodriguez's to lose. The flame-throwing right-hander does need to prove he's healthy following last summer's elbow surgery, and he needs to prove he can pitch with some level of consistency. But given the fact he's out of minor-league options, it would take something significant at this point to keep Rodriguez from breaking camp with the rest of the club.

If H-Rod either suffers an injury setback or really struggles on the mound, the door could remain slightly open for a camp surprise, someone like Cole Kimball or Fernando Abad. But that still remains a long shot.

Signed to a minor-league deal on Feb. 21, veteran Chris Young figured to plug the Nationals' gaping hole for a No. 6 starter in case one of the members of the Opening Day rotation goes down. And to date, the 6-foot-11 right-hander appears healthy and getting his mechanics back into top shape.

Young, though, has a big decision to make in a couple of weeks. He can opt-out of his contract on March 24 if he's not added to the big-league roster, and at this point it's anyone's guess what he'll choose to do.

If he pitches well, Young figures to have an opportunity to sign with somebody else who can offer a better chance to pitch in the majors. But when he signed with the Nationals, he went out of his way to explain his excitement to join a winning franchise like this, so perhaps he's willing to go to Class AAA Syracuse to start the season and wait to see if his services are needed in D.C. at some point.

If Young does depart, the Nationals will again find themselves without a well-established No. 6 starter, left to call upon either Zach Duke or Ross Ohlendorf should the worst happen.

As the World Baseball Classic moves into its final stages, several Nationals will be taking center stage in the international tournament.

Gio Gonzalez, of course, starts tonight for Team USA in its second-round opener against Puerto Rico in Miami. Ross Detwiler figures to appear again for the Americans in this round, whether out of the bullpen as he did on Saturday or perhaps starting depending on the matchup.

And Roger Bernadina and his honkball-playing mates from the Netherlands are getting ready to depart for San Francisco, having already clinched a berth in the semifinals (along with Japan). Bernadina did not play in yesterday's dramatic win over Cuba after getting hit with a pitch in the wrist the previous day, but the injury doesn't appear to be serious and the outfielder should be back in the lineup for this weekend's final four at AT&T Park.

Eventually, the WBC will wrap up and these three players will return to the Nationals, at which point they'll need to quickly re-integrate themselves into camp and make sure they're ready for Opening Day with the rest of their teammates.


MicheleS said...

Best news of the day, Mark is heading south.

I am looking forward to seeing Gio tonight and I will be really curious as to Det's role the rest of the tournament.

Doc said...

I'd like to think that Perry, Karns, Garcia, or all most anybody else, is a candidate for a 'call-up' starter than Mr. Ohlendorf.

sjm308 said...

Couple of questions.
1. If they do chose HRod, and I agree with Mark that he has the inside shot with no options, do we have the ability to send Abad to Syracuse? I know little about him except he was with Houston last year. I really like Kimball for that last spot but I do understand he can be sent down.

2. Hasn't Maya had a decent enough spring to be mentioned as that #6 starter? I realize he has failed the last two years but he is still someone who has started in the big leagues and I have not followed this as closely as some but has he had a horrible outing so far? I realize he will be at Syracuse to start the year but if Young signs with another team I think I would prefer to see what Maya can do rather than jerk Duke out of his role in the pen.

Hope everyone at spring training or still going has a wonderful time. Looks like we are back to building fires and drinking Irish Coffee (although I do the latter pretty much all year).

Go Nats!!

sjm308 said...

I thought they released Ohlendorf. Really hurt our teams chances in MLB Jeopardy but not so much on the mound. Seriously, how many teams had two Princeton graduates?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Ohlendorf is still with the club. It was Ohlman that got axed.

Steady Eddie said...

It was Will Ohman, NJ, but yeah, same difference.

Sjm, I'm pretty sure that Abad signed on a minor league deal with a ST invite, so he should be good for AAA unless his contract has an opt-out, which I don't think it has.

Anonymous said...

Second best news of the day....The Shark injury not serious.

NatsJack in Florida said...

That was the talk around the scouts section yesterday. Abad would go to Syracuse to start the season and act as bull pen back up depth should he continue to show well.

Tcostant said...

Looking foward to watching Gio tonight too. To answer a board question, Det most likely will pitch in relief on Thursday.

If I was the Nationals, I would ask Chris Young to accept a later opt out (like June 1st), that will at least buy some time.

Section 222 said...

Great you're headed back down there Mark. Enjoy.

If Young feels like he's ready to go, I can't imagine him hanging around in 'Cuse, even until June 1, for a few doubleheader starts and a possible injury. Major league pitchers like to pitch in the major leagues. Just ask John Lannan.

Maya has failed for more than the previous two years. He may be Rizzo's worst move. Remember the hype? Maya was supposed to make us feel ok about not getting Chapman. I really hope Rizzo has a better option up his sleeve for our 6th starter in this WSOB season. It sure isn't Garcia.

Really looking forward to seeing how Zim's arm has recovered. His first start in the field is going to be a big moment.

NatsLady said...

Grades updated, basically the stats are agreeing with what you folks in Florida and Mark are saying--that Abad won't make the team going North but has a strong chance if someone else falters.

Nats Lefties in Spring Training


Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Mark, safe travels to Florida!

With 2 1/2 weeks left in camp, you brought up a good point on Ramos needing to show he can sweat it out for 9 innings in the squat.

I will bring up another angle with the bullpen.

Can Chris Young go to long-man and Zach Duke move to the lefty specialist? Henry has pitched twice. First outing he mowed through 3 AA batters in quickly. Yesterday, Henry gets through the first 2 batters quickly, gives up a single, and then quickly unravels as he HBPs the next batter and Davey yanks him.

Is it prudent to try to trade Henry for a case of balls and move on while assuring that Chris Young is on the roster and can't walk?

Section 222 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NatsJack in Florida said...

Ghost......the HBP by Henry was of the shirt ticking variety. If the hitter had even a little bit snugger fit, there would not have been a HBO.

They have Henry on a strict pitch count and Davey was not going to exceed it.

Henry's not going anywhere if he's healthy.

Section 222 said...

As we await Zim’s first start in the field, I wanted to point out that his throwing problems didn't start with his shoulder injury last year. We all remember his abdominal injury in 2011, which caused him to miss a lot of the early part of the season. Here's an article from 2011 after Zim came back from that injury with a new throwing motion that was supposedly going to protect his core. Here's another.

But his throwing problems didn’t start in 2011 either. Here's a Ladson article from 2010 on Zim's throwing problems. (This is from the period where he tried throwing sidearm pretty much all the time, even when he fielded the ball over his head.)

And there's even an article from 2007 that notes his difficulties. (Yes, it's from SBF, but that makes it all the more noteworthy since he was such a cheerleader for the team.)

Throwing has always been Zim's Achilles heel, and for me, it prevents him from being the Brooks Robinson of this generation. He’s played seven full seasons in the majors. Here’s the number of games played in the field (so not including games he DH’d), chances, and throwing errors in each:
2006 – 157, 427, 9
2007 – 161, 511, 16
2008 – 104, 304, 10
2009 – 154, 459,14
2010 – 137, 344, 11
2011 – 97, 278, 8
2012 – 145, 379, 12

By comparison, Brooks Robinson played 17 seasons between 1958 and 1975 in which he played between 134 and 163 games. (Was there a tiebreaker game in 1964?). In those seasons, he had 13 seasons of 494 or more chances and never had fewer than 431. The most throwing errors he had in any of the 17 full seasons was 6 and he had 15 seasons of 4 or less and 10 seasons of 2 or less! He had a total of 47 throwing errors in his 23 major league seasons. Zim already has 80 in 8 seasons.

Great third baseman make sidearm throws on the run after scooping up a bunt or slow roller toward third. But they also need to be able to make accurate throws on routine grounders and strong, overhand throws all the way across the diamond on balls hit hard down the line. When Zim starts making those plays, we'll know his arm is back. Until then, all the happy talk in the world about how's everything's fine means nothing. But I’m sure hoping we see signs in that first start that this time the problem is solved.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Section 222, you are correct on the length of time Zim's throws have been a problem but add to that his throwing got even worse last year after the team worked with him in 2011 to come more over the top with his throws.

Adam LaRoche has become a "crutch" at 1st base for Zim where these bouncing throws are the rule and not the exception. The only throws LaRoche doesn't seem to handle are the "airmailed" throws.

Section 222 said...

Right Ghost. This is based on memory alone, but I think most of Zim's throwing errors are airmailed (and no one could catch them, not even the 6'6" Adam Dunn). Many are on routine plays, which makes me wonder whether there's a mental component as well.

I'm not sure it's true though that his throwing got worse last year. He had more throwing errors in 2007 and 2009 than he did last year. That's why the happy talk this spring doesn't impress me. I don't remember any discussion of a shoulder injury in 2009. But maybe the surgery will give him new confidence and solve his mental block as well.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsJack, you were there, I wasn't, but I heard the radio call that it was a HBP and they didn't say it was a jersey scraper but it was still a pitch that came too far inside and unfortunately that pattern of pitching brings back bad memories of prior years.

Was that a blip in a small sample size of 2 outings? Let's hope but Rizzo/Davey have to think of upside which was the same reason they most likely decided early on they were going to cut Lannan and get another pitcher on a 1 year contract (Haren).

It has to be about upside with consistency.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Section 222, Adam Dunn wasn't good at handling throws in the dirt which I believe explains a good part of 2009 errors and also some of the 2010 errors. Zim had 17 errors in both those seasons and Zim only played 137 games in the field in 2010.

Zim's fielding percentage at 3rd was lowest last year at .950 and .951 in 2010.

NatsLady said...

Nats in the WBC is updated as of this morning's game. The Netherlands was already guaranteed a spot in San Francisco, so this was just to determine matchups. Bernadina didn't play, but that's probably not significant. Their next game is March 18, so that will be a nice long rest for his wrist.

222, you should set up a blog. It's not that hard (use the "dashboad" above), and you are putting up good stuff. You already have two entries, Harper's Hustle and Zimm's Throwing.

Nats in the WBC


NatsLady said...

From Buster Olney,

I asked a scout who saw [Strasburg] pitch Monday, and this is what he saw:

"I thought he looked great for five innings, his fastball at 94-97 mph, with a ridiculous changeup 89-91 and hammer curveball 78-81 mph. He tired in the sixth and got hurt by an error that wasn't called an error and some walks, but he was the best pitcher I have seen this spring. His final pitching final line didn't look superb (5 1/3 innings, four hits, four runs, two walks) -- and I am still not sure why he was pitching the sixth inning this early in the spring -- but he was really good."

It's an ESPN Insider article, but most of the article is about non-Nats stuff like Nolan Ryan's situation with Texas.


Doc said...

Dang! Impressive stats on Brooks Robinson and Zim, Section 222. Robinson was a greater fielder than I remembered. Maybe Zim beats him in the box. Time will tell.


Faraz Shaikh said...

I was wondering the same thing, why SS was pitching sixth inning in a ST game.

Section 222 said...

Thanks Doc. Believe me, I'm no Brooks fanboy. (Having been a Pirates fan in the 60s and 70s reduces the probability of revering any Oriole to about nil.) But the guy was a 16 time all star, 16 time gold glove-er, and finished in the top 10 of MVP balloting six times, winning it in 1964 (that 163 game season). Yet his career slashline was .267/.322/.401, and his OPS+ was over 120 only 5 times and was 104 for his career.

Zim's career slashline so far is .287/.353/ .479 and his career OPS+ is 121. So Zim definitely beats him in the box. But until he solves the throwing issue, he's no Brooks Robinson, no matter what Davey says.

Section 222 said...

Since spring training games don't count, I didn't mind seeing Stras go out for the 6th inning. He had been very efficient up till then. Not a bad idea to stretch him out and let him face the top of their lineup for a third time. I sure hope at this point Stras won't be fazed by having a tough inning in a spring training game before he was pulled.

NatsLady said...

You can't be sorry about this. Guess which Mets player wasn't wearing a cup?



Anna Peregrina said...

Great one, Natslady!

Theophilus T. S. said...

Robinson was a "bonus baby" during a time in which the Orioles couldn't send him to the minors. His career nos. reflect, in part, a couple of early seasons when the Orioles were frustrated w/ his slow development and uncertain as to what position he should be playing. He didn't being to come into his own until the latter part of his fifth major league season, in 1959. From 1960 through the prime years of his career (roughly, until '71-'72) he was an awesome clutch hitter. Again, at the end of his career, he tailed off until surrendering to old age in 1977.

Measuring his hitting ability by his entire 23-year career does him a statistical disservice.

natsfan1a said...

Poor Babe Valdespin. Ouch. I seem to recall the same thing happening to Willie Harris back in the day.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Theo, Brooks also played through that 1960's era where the pitchers were dominant with the higher mounds.

Brooks movement side to side was excellent and his reads off of the ball and the fact he played closer to the line also helped with many plays. I don't think his athleticism is close to some of the players of today. Zim plays the balls coming in better than any 3rd baseman I have ever seen.

JD said...


Sam and i were at the game yesterday. In the 6th inning nothing was hit hard with the exception of the grounder that ate espi up.8 times out of 10 thats a double play.

Stras looks great. Nothing to worry about at all with him.

Theophilus T. S. said...

You could also say that Robinson benefited from playing w/ shortstops like Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio, who allowed him to protect the line. But I don't think of him as not athletic; he just didn't look the part.

peric said...

Zimmerman ----> First Base (gold glove within a year)
Rendon -----> Third Base (gold glove within a year)

The only real question is when and that seems mostly up to Anthony Rendon.

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