Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rating the rotation

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen should make the Opening Day rotation ... if he's healthy.
VIERA, Fla. -- For all the progress they made this winter in bolstering their lineup, overhauling their bullpen and improving their defense, the Nationals know it won't mean a thing if they don't get better starting pitching in 2010 than they got in 2009.

A unit that boasted only one guy with more than five wins (John Lannan) and one guy with more than 106 innings pitched (Lannan, again) needs to perform better if this club is going to approach respectability after two straight 100-loss seasons.

There's good reason to believe things will be better this time around. Lannan has another year of experience. The reliable Jason Marquis has been added to the mix. Scott Olsen appears to be healthy again, or close to it. Chien-Ming Wang and Stephen Strasburg should join the club sometime during the season's first half.

If all goes as the Nationals hope, this could have the makings of a legitimate rotation by midseason. But as we sit here today, five weeks until Roy Halladay and the Phillies arrive at Nationals Park, this remains the Nats' biggest question mark. Can Lannan take the next step? Will Marquis be a steadying influence on the young arms? Will Wang's shoulder hold up and allow him to recapture his form from

I got it!

VIERA, Fla. -- Pretty uneventful workout today. No live BP. No dramatic bullpen sessions. If anything, the most interesting portion of the session came early on, when Jim Riggleman conducted the always-entertaining "pop-up drill."

You should be able to figure out how that works based on the name alone. Nine guys in the field. Pat Listach and Rick Eckstein at the plate, each wielding a fungo bat, each sending balls high into the blue Viera sky as the players scramble to haul them in and not kill each other in the process.

No close-calls today, though you always hold your breath when there's a foul-pop behind the plate and one of the catchers has to navigate his way around dozens of teammates and the batting cage to make the play. Otherwise, there were only a couple of botched ones. By my recollection, Cristian Guzman missed one. Chris Duncan missed at least one in left field. And Ryan Zimmerman and a catcher (can't remember who) let one fall to the ground between them.

I've seen this drill every spring, and every team does them. But I did see something new today: For the final portion of the drill, Riggleman made everyone turn their backs to the plate. They weren't allowed to turn around until the ball was in the air. The idea was to simulate

Sunday morning tidbits

VIERA, Fla. -- A very pleasant Sunday morning to you all from Viera, where the sun is shining at last and the temperature is very slowly rising to something resembling late-February in Florida. Some of the locals here are saying this stretch of the last couple weeks has been the coldest they can ever remember in these parts, and at some point you have to wonder if it might actually interfere with the Nationals' preparations. They've already had to call off one workout in the last week due to rain, and yesterday had to try to squeeze as much as they could into an abbreviated session before the latest round of precipitation hit. Hopefully the worst is behind us and things can proceed from here without tweaks, delays or postponements.

In the meantime, a few news nuggets to share this morning before the workout begins...

-- Jim Riggleman says he's not sure yet who will start on Opening Day against the Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Obviously, it's either going to be John Lannan or Jason Marquis, but several factors will come into play with this decision. Should it be based on track record (favoring Marquis)? Should it be based on status within the Nats' clubhouse (favoring Lannan)? Should it be based on who matches up better with the Phillies' lineup (perhaps favoring Lannan because of all the lefty sluggers)?

-- Josh Willingham, whose wife Ginger gave birth to son Ryder on Tuesday night, still hasn't reported to camp, and it's going to be at least several more days before he does. Riggleman said Willingham's delayed arrival was due to "a personal matter" and didn't want to go

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Harris conflicted by bench role

VIERA, Fla. -- Willie Harris is conflicted. On one hand, he understands his role with the Nationals is to come off the bench, to serve as a utilityman capable of playing five different positions at a moment's notice. On the other hand, he believes with all his heart he could be an everyday player for this team, and he doesn't understand why nobody's willing to give him that shot.

"I mean, I know I don't even have a chance to win a job," he said, looking around a Nats clubhouse that now includes designated starters at every position in the field. "It kind of takes away the extra momentum, as far as spring training goes. I don't even have a chance."

Does that bother Harris?

"Yeah, it bothers me a little bit," he said. "It tells me a few things. When they don't include your name as far as a competition goes, that means: 1) They either don't think you're good enough, or 2) They think you're really, really good at what you do, being a utility guy. So it can go both ways.

"I look at it like this: They feel like I'm a really good utility guy. And that's the decision they make. You deal with those decisions. And I'm cool with that, as far as my job goes. But on a personal level, it pisses me off, because I want to play. But I'm not the type of guy who

Flores not ready to play yet

VIERA, Fla. -- Though Jesus Flores is making progress in his recovery from shoulder shoulder, the rehabbing catcher isn't progressing quickly enough to start playing in actual games.

Manager Jim Riggleman said today that Flores won't be cleared to play when the Nationals open their Grapefruit League slate Thursday.

"He won't be playing in the games early on," Riggleman said. "I'm not sure when we'll get him into games."

Flores, who had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum, has slowly been progressing in his throwing program. He's currently worked up to 90 feet, though he's still not allowed to throw the ball back to pitchers when catching bullpen sessions.

Veterans Ivan Rodriguez and Wil Nieves will get the bulk of the starts behind the plate during the early portion of the exhibition schedule. Prospect Derek Norris and veteran Jamie Burke will also get some playing time.

Strasburg vs. hitters ... sort of

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg threw his first session of live BP today.
[Updated with some quotes from Strasburg]

VIERA, Fla. -- Cross another milestone off the Stephen Strasburg checklist. The kid has now thrown to live batters.

Actually, we have to assume they were alive, because nothing Willy Taveras, Derek Norris, Roger Bernadina or Eric Bruntlett did while standing at the plate against Strasburg today resembled physical activity. They basically just stood there and watched pitches go by.

Don't worry, this was by design. On a cold, windy, rainy Saturday morning, the last thing anybody wanted to do was get jammed by a 98 mph Strasburg fastball. The purpose of today's "live BP" session was merely to allow Strasburg to get a feel for pitching off a mound with

Bergmann answers your questions

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Jason Bergmann was kind enough to take your submitted questions earlier this week ... then took four days to get around to actually answer them. Obviously, this guy knows nothing about reporter deadlines. He wouldn't last a day in this business!

But seriously, folks, Jason has always been one of the most media-friendly and fan-friendly members of the Nats organization, and he remains the only guy along with Ryan Zimmerman to have appeared in at least one game every season since the franchise arrived in D.C. (Fun fact: Did you know Bergmann is the Nats' all-time leader in strikeouts with 297? Livan Hernandez is hot on his tail at 263.)

With that, here are Jason's unfiltered answers to your questions. Thanks to everyone who participated, and thanks to Jason for being a good sport ... and having an impressive grasp of grammar, spelling and punctuation skills for a guy who didn't go to journalism school! ...

JayB: How is this year's camp different from each of your past six, is it not? That covers Frank, Manny and Jim. Reflecting back on past spring training camps from 2005-2006 to 2007-2009 to present day 2010, how does this roster stack up to the past years?
Jason Bergmann: This year's camp is, by far, the most veteran-laden. There are so many guys in camp with us that have done so much for other teams. This camp is also the first in the last three

Friday, February 26, 2010

Livo back home in Viera

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez was all smiles on his first day back with the Nats.
VIERA, Fla. -- Livan Hernandez has always been one to march to his own beat. While other pitchers spend the winter working out and throwing on a regular schedule, he's always been content to show up to spring training cold and just jump right into the fray.

That approach may rub some people in the game the wrong way, and it may have been a contributing factor in his still being unemployed as of three days ago. But it's always worked for Hernandez, and those who know him well trust that he knows what he's doing.

The Nationals have long trusted Hernandez to take care of himself, so no one was upset to see the big right-hander show up in camp today with a big grin on his face but no offseason throwing program to speak of. Indeed, the last time he threw off a mound was October 2 in Atlanta, a Nats victory over the Braves.

And if you watched him throw in the bullpen today, you'd have never known the layoff was so long. Livo looked like ... well, like Livo. Easy, smooth delivery. No wasted effort. Hitting his target with little

Riggleman's message and live BP

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Garrett Mock impressed today facing live hitters for the first time.
VIERA, Fla. -- His entire roster together in camp for the first time this morning, Jim Riggleman decided to hold a full-squad meeting before taking the fields for a spirited workout. These meetings, usually held on the first day of full workouts, are common throughout baseball, but it's always interesting to hear what kind of message a manager tries to deliver.

In Riggleman's case, there were two main themes: 2009 is a thing of the past, and it's time to pay attention to details.

As for moving on from last year's troubles, Riggleman did make a point to mention all the good individual performances the Nats had in '09, from Ryan Zimmerman's Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards to Adam Dunn's 38 homers and 105 RBI to John Lannan's consistency atop the rotation. And he made sure to thank his players for giving

Farewell Chico, welcome Adam

VIERA, Fla. -- Life on the baseball beat is a unique experience, one that really isn't replicated in other sports. Think about it, you cover six weeks of spring training, 162 regular-season games and sometimes another month of the postseason. (No, not in the Nationals' case, but I did use to cover the playoffs and World Series every October for The Washington Times.)

In one respect, you spend all those long days and nights on the road, in press boxes and in hotels, on your own. You're away from family members. You book your own flights, your own accommodations. And yet, you're really never on your own, because you're part of another family: the family of fellow beat writers. It's an interesting relationship, because we do compete with each other for news, but we also become close friends and spend countless hours together.

So when one member of the group leaves and another arrives, it makes for a bittersweet moment, and today we're experiencing one of those.

Chico Harlan, who has covered the Nats for The Washington Post since May 2008, is on his last day on the beat. He departs Viera tomorrow, heads back to D.C. for a little while and then in a few months heads off on a truly grand adventure. He'll be the Post's new

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Q&A with Derek Norris

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After a breakthrough 2009, Derek Norris is enjoying his first big-league camp.
VIERA, Fla. -- In only 2 1/2 years since getting drafted by the Nationals (fourth round, 2005) out of high school, Derek Norris has blossomed into one of baseball's top catching prospects. And after a breakout year at low-Class A Hagerstown in 2009, in which he slugged 23 homers with 84 RBI while posting a .413 on-base percentage, Norris finds himself perhaps on a faster track to the big leagues than anyone initially thought possible.

Having just turned 21 two weeks ago, Norris is enjoying his first spring in major-league camp. And though he has no legitimate shot at making the Opening Day roster, his arrival may not be that far away, perhaps sometime in 2011.

In the meantime, the Kansas native is trying to soak in as much of the experience as possible, learning a few pointers from Ivan Rodriguez, developing a rapport with fellow prospect Stephen Strasburg and trying to leave a lasting impression on club officials

Thursday workout wrap-up

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Frigid conditions in Viera forced everyone to bundle up.
VIERA, Fla. -- For all of you who don't believe me about the frigid weather down here, check out the above visual evidence of it. That's Beth Jarrett, one of the Nationals' minor-league trainers, bundled up underneath all those layers. It's legitimately cold here.

OK, enough about the weather. As for today's workout...

-- Stephen Strasburg's latest bullpen session drew its usual level of attention, from team executives and media alike. All pitchers threw for 12 minutes today (up from eight the first time they took the mounds). Strasburg appeared to be working extensively on his breaking ball, the devastating slider/curveball hybrid that ate alive

Dukes reports

VIERA, Fla. -- Just to update everyone, I'm told Elijah Dukes has reported and is getting his physical done today.

Hello from Antarctica

VIERA, Fla. -- OK, that promise I made yesterday not to complain about the weather down here anymore? Yeah, I'm reneging on that. It's cold today. I mean cold. It was 38 degrees this morning when I left the hotel, and there's a steady 20 mph wind that leaves the wind chill in the 20s. (Note: This may be the first time in Florida meteorological history that the term "wind chill" has ever been used.)

Anyways, the players are getting all bundled up to head out to the practice fields. Jim Riggleman said he was going to make a point to emphasize to them to wear plenty of layers and to take extra precautions with stretching and getting loose before engaging in any serious physical activity.

Meanwhile, in non-weather news, today is physicals day for all the position players (plus apparently members of the PR staff -- hope they pass) so we'll only see a few them straggling in and out of the complex. Everyone had reported to the stadium by yesterday, except for Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes. Willingham's wife Ginger just

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stammen's backwards path to D.C.

VIERA, Fla. -- Craig Stammen first noticed the pain in his right elbow sometime last spring, back when he was still pitching in minor-league camp, with little reason to believe he'd wind up throwing more innings for the Nationals than anyone not named John Lannan.

At first, it was just some discomfort, especially on the days after he pitched. But over the course of weeks and months, it developed into a constant throbbing, to the point where Stammen knew this was more than typical aches and pains.

"I knew something was going on," he said. "But I knew this was my opportunity to make the team. So I wasn't going to say anything."

So the young right-hander kept on pitching. By the time August came to a close, he had made 19 starts with the Nationals, thrown 105 2/3 innings, beaten the Yankees in the Bronx, tossed a complete game against the Astros and racked up more big-league experience anyone ever expected from a guy who five months earlier wasn't on anyone's radar screen.

And then the pain became too much to bear anymore, so Stammen informed his coaches and his trainers the extent of the pain. Worried the injury could be something serious, maybe even a torn ligament, the rookie was relieved to learn it was merely the product of some

Accelerated camp roster

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals' annual accelerated development camp opened today, with 47 of the organization's top prospects (actually there are a couple of veterans in the group) participating. Basically, this is a chance for some guys to get a jump-start on the rest of the minor leaguers, who don't report until March 5 (pitchers and catchers) or March 9 (position players).

Couple of things that stood out to me: Brad Meyers, the organization's pitcher of the year in 2009, is listed among those players on rehab. I hadn't heard about any injury previously, but I'm looking into it and will report back if I hear anything. Also, Glenn Gibson (the pitcher who was traded to Tampa Bay in 2008 to acquire Elijah Dukes) is apparently back with the Nats' organization, something else I hadn't previously heard.

Here's the complete roster...

RHP Andrew Brown
LHP Mitchell Clegg
RHP Paul Demny
RHP Robinson Fabian
RHP Marcos Frias
LHP Glenn Gibson
LHP Graham Hicks
RHP Trevor Holder
LHP Chuck James

Livo signs minor-league deal

[UPDATED AT 1:38 P.M.]

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have added another veteran starter to the mix after all, and it's a very familiar face to everyone.

Livan Hernandez has agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, a club source confirmed, and the right-hander will join the competition for three open spots in the Opening Day rotation.

Hernandez, who turned 35 on Saturday (and yes, that's his listed age, which you are free to question), will earn $900,000 if he makes the roster. There are numerous incentives included in the deal. So, will Livo make it to D.C. on April 5? You've got to believe he will, based on a number of factors.

-- His steady track record. There are few more known quantities in baseball than Livan Hernandez. He has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 180 innings each of the last 12 seasons. He's posted double-digit wins in 10 of those seasons. Think about that for a moment. That's consistency.

-- His history with this organization. Livo was the ace of the rotation when the franchise relocated from Montreal. He started the first game in Nationals history, the first home game in Nationals

The shortstop, the utiltyman and the phenom

VIERA, Fla. -- A good portion of Jim Riggleman's media session this morning was spent talking about perhaps the one true question mark concerning his starting lineup: shortstop. Is Cristian Guzman guaranteed the everyday job, or could Ian Desmond leapfrog him? And if Guzman is the guy, could Desmond remain as a utilityman? And in any scenario, who's going to bat second behind Nyjer Morgan?

So let's address each of these issues, one-by-one, based on what Riggleman had to say this morning...

Is Cristian Guzman guaranteed the everyday job at shortstop?

Yes, provided he is healthy. Guzman is coming back from a shoulder injury, but according to Riggleman, he's nearly back to 100 percent and will start at shortstop in one of the Nats' split-squad games to open the Grapefruit League March 4. "As of day one, our plan is that

Wednesday morning washout

VIERA, Fla. -- I know I promised not to complain about the weather while down here, but when it affects actual baseball from taking place ... well, I have a journalistic obligation to report it.

A pretty intense storm hit the area this morning, soaking the fields. And more rain appears to be looming. So the Nationals have called off today's traditional workout. Pitchers and catchers will still do some conditioning work, and some guys will work on things under cover. But the full workout won't take place.

Oh, and did I mention it's only 55 degrees here today? Sorry, I swear that will be the last time I complain about the weather while I'm down here. (Said with fingers crossed behind his back.)

I'll have some news out of Jim Riggleman's morning media session in a little bit, plus an interview with Craig Stammen, who is in the unusual position of attending his first big-league camp despite having already thrown more than 100 innings in the major leagues.

In the meantime, be sure to check out today's cover story in USA Today about Stephen Strasburg. It's written by some guy I've heard of before, but I can't figure out where or when...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday odds and ends

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond turns a double play from the second base side.
VIERA, Fla. -- Today was one of those days where there were all kinds of little tidbits popping up. So rather than put together a long-form analysis of one player or issue, it seems appropriate to run through a bunch of these items in bullet form...

-- Mike Rizzo may say Ian Desmond is going to focus on playing shortstop and will man that position no matter where he opens the season -- and the guess here still is Syracuse -- but that doesn't preclude him from working out elsewhere this spring. During today's workout, Desmond joined other infielders in some fielding drills after the pitchers and catchers were done with their workout. And though

Strasburg: Day 2

VIERA, Fla. -- Perhaps one of these days, a 10-minute bullpen session by Stephen Strasburg won't qualify as news in Nats camp. Right now, though, every time the rookie right-hander grabs the ball, people stop what they're doing to watch.

Just as was the case Sunday morning, all eyes were on Strasburg this morning when he threw his second bullpen of the spring. Coaches lined up behind the mounds and watched with great interest. So did several team officials, including Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson, who watched from a golf cart directly behind the catchers.

You'd think by now, there's little Strasburg could do to impress these hardened baseball men, who have probably witnessed, oh, 384,692 bullpen sessions in their careers. And yet this guy really is different,

"The [expletive] Nationals?!"

VIERA, Fla. -- Ever since the day this winter the Nationals announced they had signed Eddie Guardado to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, I'd been dying to ask the veteran left-hander about a particular incident from his past involving this franchise.

It was July 31, 2008, and Guardado was pitching for the Rangers. He was having a good season, and Texas wasn't in a pennant race, so he knew there was a chance he could get traded before the 4 p.m. Eastern deadline. Sure enough, he got called into GM Jon Daniels' office and was told he'd been dealt to the Nationals. As the story goes, Guardado blew his stack, insulted that he'd just been traded to the worst team in the majors. Turns out it was all a practical joke, though Nats fans may not have found Guardado's reaction so hilarious.

So clearly, he needed to be asked about this whole incident now that he actually CHOSE to sign with the Nationals. This morning, a couple of us were interviewing Guardado and brought the story up. Here's his full answer, edited for a family audience, of course...

"Let me try to explain," Guardado said. "Hey, it's the big leagues. But I was pitching good. I was throwing the ball good. I was like, what the [expletive] am I going do in Washington? If I was going to get traded,

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ask Jason Bergmann

VIERA, Fla. -- A couple of years ago, back when I was working for a slightly different type of media outlet, I asked Jason Bergmann if he would be interested fielding questions from fans. The right-hander, never one to turn down an interview request, happily obliged and proceeded to answer a parade of questions that ran the spectrum.

This morning, I asked Bergmann again if he'd be interested in doing a similar thing for this new venture of mine, and again he nearly jumped out of his seat in saying yes. (Not that I expected any less of the guy.)

So here's the deal: Anything you want to ask Jason about the Nats, life in the big leagues, life away from the ballpark, whatever, leave them here in the comments section. Or you can email them to me at, and then I'll forward them to Bergmann. Please keep the questions clean and respectful, because if they're not I'm just going to delete them anyways. (Oh, and for all you subscribers out there, don't worry. This doesn't count as your official question submission.)

I'll pick out the best of the bunch, send them to Bergmann and then hopefully will repost the answers within the next few days.

The catching question

VIERA, Fla. -- In one oversized locker among all the Nationals' starting position players, the future Hall-of-Famer and greatest catcher of his generation sits and gabs with his new teammates. A few lockers down, the young guy who once was and still is considered the organization's long-term answer behind the plate listens in to the conversation and shares his own thoughts.

Meanwhile, down at the far end of the room, the quiet 21-year-old soaks in the feeling of his first big-league camp, knowing he is considered one of the best catching prospects in the minors. And somewhere in Southern Nevada right now, a 17-year-old phenom who has already appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wonders if he'll become the Nats' next No. 1 draft pick and, by extension, their new catcher of the future.

For a franchise that in past years has at times struggled to put a legitimate big-league backstop on the field, the Nationals all of a sudden find themselves with a potential logjam behind the plate.

Jesus Flores was supposed to be both the immediate and long-term answer, but he's still recovering from a major shoulder injury last season and likely won't be ready to return by Opening Day. So the Nats signed Ivan Rodriguez this winter to a two-year, $6 million contract,

Olsen not quite there yet

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VIERA, Fla. -- Day two of pitchers and catchers workouts are now in the books, so every pitcher in camp (aside from Jordan Zimmermann) has thrown a bullpen session. Another 16 guys threw today, and the one I was most interested in watching from that group was Scott Olsen.

Olsen, you'll remember, had labrum surgery in August following some unsightly performances earlier in the season. He's back pitching and is deemed 100 percent healthy, but you can tell he still isn't quite back to where he wants to be. After several pitches today, he'd mutter to himself or make some kind of facial expression that indicated he wasn't totally pleased with whatever he just offered up.

The left-hander, though, isn't down on himself. He's not in any pain when he throws. He knows part of the final stages of recovery is rediscovering his "feel" for pitching, and at this stage it's not always going to be there every time he toes the rubber.

"Some days -- I guess because your strength isn't all the way built up and you're still pushing through it a little bit -- some days will be better than others," he said. "But I felt good. Just not as live, I guess

The early spring routine

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VIERA, Fla. -- I've gotten a few questions from fans who are curious how the typical day goes for the Nationals, especially early in spring training before the games start. So as players begin making their way out to the practice fields for day two of this spring, I figured I'd give a quick primer...

Though all the players in big-league camp use the clubhouse inside Space Coast Stadium, the February workouts all take place at the club's minor-league complex, about one-quarter of a mile down the road. Every morning, most players grab their equipment bag and make the short hike down Stadium Parkway -- it can be funny to watch drivers whiz by and rubberneck when they see guys like Pudge Rodriguez and Stephen Strasburg walking along the street in full uniform. A few guys actually get in their cars and drive.

The minor-league complex includes four full-size fields, arranged in cloverleaf fashion, a half-field used for infield and baserunning drills and the big bullpen area that has 10 mounds side-by-side.

At the beginning of the workout, all players stretch and warm up together on one field, then split up into pre-assigned groups. Each group starts at a different station, either on one of the fields or in the bullpen and then spends about 10 minutes working on a particular

Sunday, February 21, 2010

That's one small step for Strasburg, one giant leap for the Nationals

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VIERA, Fla. -- It lasted all of nine minutes and consisted of 37 pitches. A casual observer who happened to wander over to the row of bullpen mounds near the Nationals' four practice fields might very well have paid no attention to the tall right-hander lined up in between teammates Matt Chico, Tyler Walker, Aaron Thompson and Joel Peralta, uncorking fastballs and breaking balls and change-ups with relative ease.

As the 21-year-old pitcher would describe it later: "Short and sweet."

And yet there was no more significant development on the first day of formal workouts at Nats camp than that nine-minute bullpen session by Stephen Strasburg. To the naked eye, it may not have looked like much. But to the Nats and their success-craving fan base, it was the first tangible sign that better days may not be so far away.

Strasburg's spring training debut drew a larger-than-normal crowd, perhaps 150 or so fans, not to mention a pack of reporters and photographers who chronicled his every move. It also drew rave reviews from the young man who caught each of those 37

Day one thoughts

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VIERA, Fla. -- I'll have a longer posting on Stephen Strasburg and his spring training workout debut in a little while, but before we get to the day's biggest event, I wanted to share a few other tidbits from today's proceedings that deserve mention...

-- Even with Strasburg all but certain to open the season in the minors (manager Jim Riggleman confirmed that today) the Nationals still have a boatload of starting pitchers contending for three open spots this spring. Basically, you're looking at Scott Olsen, Miguel Batista, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Matt Chico, Collin Balester, Shairon Martis and Shawn Estes all receiving some level of consideration for a roster spot come Opening Day. Obviously, there's no way to get an extended look at all nine of those guys (plus guaranteed rotation members John Lannan and Jason Marquis in only six weeks. So the Nats are going to have to get creative finding game-type situations to throw each pitcher into. Riggleman said today one likely possibility is to have Lannan and Marquis throw in several "B" games on the minor-league side, opening up slots for the other contenders against big-league competition. But at the same time, both of those pitchers need to get some work against real

First impression

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VIERA, Fla. -- Well, Stephen Strasburg's first bullpen session is complete. According to people far more dedicated than me, he threw 37 pitches over nine minutes. Derek Norris was his catcher. A phalanx of fans, reporters, photographers and team officials packed the bullpen area.

And after all this, I think I can say with 100 percent certainty that Stephen Strasburg will win 300 games in the major leagues.

(Editor's note: There may have been a hint of sarcasm in the previous statement.)

Let the madness begin

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VIERA, Fla. -- The clubhouse was abuzz this morning, all pitchers and catchers present and accounted for, a large media contingent (including several national writers and broadcasters) joining the group. Technically speaking, Friday was the open of camp. But practically speaking, spring training begins today.

As I type this, Jim Riggleman is holding his first-day-of-camp team meeting. Presumably, he'll do this again, with a slight twist, later in the week once all the position players have arrived. At 9:45 a.m., everyone will head down the street to the minor-league complex to stretch and begin the time-honored tradition of fundamental drills. Cover first base. Field bunts. Throw in the bullpen.

The pitchers are split into six groups. Three will throw bullpen sessions today. The other three will throw tomorrow. Today's throwers are: Jason Marquis, Shawn Estes, Tyler Clippard, Doug Slaten, Jesse English, Ryan Mattheus, Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Walker, Matt Chico, Aaron Thompson, Joel Peralta, Craig Stammen, Miguel Batista, Sean Burnett, Ryan Speier and Victor Garate.

Any name in particular stand out to you from that group? I don't think ESPN, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer are here

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rizzo on starters, Desmond, Strasburg

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VIERA, Fla. -- Mike Rizzo held court with reporters earlier this afternoon, sort of a "State of the Franchise" thing as camp opens. The second-year GM touched on all kinds of subjects, but here's a sampling of the most-significant things he said...

-- Though he stressed that he's never done looking for more help, especially on the pitching front, Rizzo did say he's "comfortable going into the season with the depth of the starting pitching we have." He made a point of mentioning three young pitchers returning from injuries (Matt Chico, Craig Stammen and Scott Olsen) as positive signs toward the overall improvement of the club's starting staff.

-- Sounds like you can scratch any serious talk of Ian Desmond becoming a super-utility guy. Rizzo said it's possible the 24-year-old will get a little bit of time at some other positions this spring, but his focus will be on shortstop. Reading between the lines, it sounds like

Detwiler hopes to return in 10 weeks

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VIERA, Fla. -- Ross Detwiler said he only began feeling significant pain in his right hip in the last month, not last season, and said he believes he can return to the mound in about 10 weeks following Monday's surgery.

"I'm really in not much pain," the left-hander said today, standing in the Nationals' clubhouse with the aid of crutches. "They said I'd be tossing without rotation in my hip in four weeks, then throwing in six weeks and I could possibly be in a game in 10 weeks. It's a whole lot quicker than I thought it would be."

Detwiler, who turns 24 on March 6, tiptoed a bit around the subject when asked if the hip injury bothered him last season, saying: "It's 162 games. You have aches and pains." But he did not think it was anything serious enough to mention to team personnel in October. Once he experienced more significant pain last month upon resuming workouts at Space Coast Stadium, he began to be concerned it could be serious.

"Once I arrived in Florida in mid-to-late January, something just didn't feel right," he said. "So I went to the trainer that was here, and he said let's get you an MRI. [Team orthopedist Bruce] Thomas said it

J. Zimmermann's long road back

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VIERA, Fla. -- When Nationals pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout of the season tomorrow morning, Jordan Zimmermann will stand alongside his teammates. He'll be wearing his No. 27 jersey and jump from field to field, each one featuring a different fundamentals station: fielding bunts, pickoff moves, covering first base.

But each time the young right-hander picks up the ball, he'll have to cut it short. Unlike everyone else, he won't be allowed to complete all his throws, certainly not with much force. Such is life for a guy rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He's part of Nats camp, and yet he's not really part of Nats camp.

Zimmermann, though, is trying to look at the bright side. He may not be able to fully participate in drills, but this sure beats sitting at home in frigid Wisconsin fishing and hunting with his old high school and college buddies.

"It wasn't fun in the first couple of months when I couldn't do anything," he said. "It's a lot easier now that I can go outside and actually toss a ball each day instead of just going to the training room."

A year ago, Zimmermann was gearing up for his first big-league camp, knowing he had a good chance to earn a spot in the Opening Day rotation. He didn't technically make it -- he opened the season at

Friday, February 19, 2010

The full spring roster

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VIERA, Fla. -- I know many of you asked about specific players and whether they are in camp or not. Rather than address each of those inquiries separately, I figured it would be easier (and more useful for everyone) to post a complete list of all the players and coaches who are in big-league camp this spring.

So, without further ado, here are the 60 players in camp, plus the 20 coaches who are in uniform. Non-roster invitees are listed in italics...

RHP Luis Atilano
RHP Collin Balester
RHP Miguel Batista
RHP Jason Bergmann
RHP Brian Bruney
LHP Sean Burnett
RHP Matt Capps
LHP Matt Chico
RHP Tyler Clippard

Nuggets from Riggleman

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VIERA, Fla. -- Jim Riggleman addressed all sorts of subjects in his first news conference of the spring, a session that lasted more than 20 minutes. There were plenty of questions about Chien-Ming Wang from the large gathering, but there were other subjects worth noting...

-- Riggleman said Ross Detwiler, despite apparently having been feeling pain in his right hip since late last season, never mentioned it to any team officials until last week. At that point, Detwiler got an MRI, which revealed the torn cartilage, so he had surgery Monday that will sideline him three months. "You'd have to talk to Detwiler, but I think he probably has been feeling something for a while and thought, 'Well, I'm alright. I'll get through this,'" Riggleman said. "And it probably was nagging. And when he got here it was still nagging. And when he went to the trainer, he said this doesn't feel good. So they went and checked it out and it was a serious problem that needed to be alleviated. Obviously if he had said in October or November, 'My hip hurts,' it would have been checked out."

-- Jesus Flores has been doing some light throwing and swinging, but the club is taking a very cautious approach with the rehabbing catcher. Reading between the lines, it sounds to me like the Nats plan to have Flores open the season on the DL and not bring him back until

"The Michael Jordan of Taiwan"

VIERA, Fla. -- The pressure of rebounding from major injury to pitch again in the major leagues is daunting for anyone who dons a uniform. Now imagine doing all that while carrying the weight of an entire nation on your surgically repaired right shoulder.

Meet Chien-Ming Wang, a new face to fans in Washington but already THE face of baseball in Taiwan and China. During his introductory news conference this afternoon on the field at Space Coast Stadium, the 29-year-old right-hander was peppered with questions not only from English-speaking reporters who cover his new club on a daily basis but also from a much-larger horde of Asian correspondents who plan to follow his every move from here on out.

In America, Wang is a good (potentially great) solid starting pitcher. In Taiwan, he is everything.

"The Michael Jordan of Taiwan," general manager Mike Rizzo said.

Suffice it to say, the Nationals have never experienced anything quite like this in their brief history. And it's only going to grow. Though Wang -- who signed a $2 million contract that includes up to $3 million more in incentives based on the number of starts he makes

Burnett loses arbitration case

VIERA, Fla. -- We're still two weeks away from the first Grapefruit League game, but the Nationals already own a 2-0 record ... in arbitration.

Sean Burnett is the latest player to lose his hearing to the Nats. A three-person panel ruled in favor of the club today, so the left-hander will earn $775,000 this season instead of the $925,000 he was seeking. The Nats also defeated Brian Bruney in his case earlier this week.

Plenty more players trickling in now, including Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan, Willy Taveras, Roger Bernadina, Shawn Estes, Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, Tyler Clippard, Collin Balester (sporting that hideous moustache), Matt Capps, J.D. Martin, Tyler Walker and plenty more I'm forgetting at the moment.

No sight of Chien-Ming Wang yet, but they're furiously setting up the stage for his press conference, on the field right in front of the pitcher's mound. The Nats would have preferred to do this indoors, but the room they generally use for these things isn't big enough to accommodate all the media that will be here for Wang's press conference. A gaggle of reporters from Taiwan has descended upon Viera, and my understanding is that many of them will be following Wang and the Nats around all season. Definitely a new experience for this organization.

OK, time to run down to Jim Riggleman's camp-opening press conference. I'll be back later with details of that and of Wang's introduction.

Players trickling in

VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning from Space Coast Stadium, where it is officially reporting day for pitchers and catchers. This is always a bit of a misnomer, though, because all it means is that all pitchers and catchers must either a) show up at the ballpark or b) call someone with the team to inform that they will be arriving sometime soon. It's really one of the least-formal days of the spring.

Everyone takes physicals tomorrow, then first real workout will take place Sunday morning. That said, plenty of these guys who show up today will take the fields for some informal work, so hopefully we'll get a look at a few of them.

Just finished my first sweep through the clubhouse and was greeted by a handful of guys, including Jesus Flores, Drew Storen, Ron Villone, Ryan Speier, Josh Whitesell, Joel Peralta and probably a couple more that I'm forgetting at the moment.

Spent some time chatting with Flores, who is obviously looking forward to being back on the field and in uniform after missing most of last season with that shoulder injury. At the same time, he knows the worst thing he could right now is rush back too quickly, lest he

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Detwiler out 3 months with hip injury

[UPDATE AT 4:28 P.M. -- The Nats have now confirmed Detwiler's surgery and say he is scheduled to begin a throwing program in six weeks and "should be able to return to competitive pitching in three months." The procedure was performed Monday in Vail, Colo., by Marc J. Phillippon.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Ross Detwiler, who hoped to make the Nationals' Opening Day rotation on the heels of a strong September in the big leagues, won't get a chance to make any kind of showing for a while.

Detwiler had surgery Monday to repair a torn hip flexor and will miss about 10 weeks, according to a source close to the left-hander. The injury occurred sometime during the last month while the former first-round draft pick was working out in Viera.

Detwiler, who turns 24 on March 6, is expected to return to the Nats' spring training complex, using crutches, on Saturday.

The injury is a significant blow, both to Detwiler and to the Nationals. Detwiler, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Missouri State, made major strides last season and posted a 3.05 ERA in 16 starts between Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse. He looked overwhelmed during his first stint in Washington, going 0-5 with a 6.40 ERA in 10 starts to earn a demotion to Syracuse. But upon returning to the majors in September, he posted a 1.90 ERA in five appearances (four starts) to head into the offseason on a high note.

The Nats, who are searching for three starters to join John Lannan and Jason Marquis in the Opening Day rotation, were hoping Detwiler could pick up where he left off late last season and push for a spot this spring. Now they'll be forced to turn their attention to several other young hurlers in the mix, including Scott Olsen, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Shairon Martis, Matt Chico, Collin Balester and J.D. Martin.

A sight for sore eyes

Photo by Mark Zuckerman

The home stretch

Greetings from the Sunshine State, where the sun is indeed shining. Though I have to say -- and I promise this is the one and only time I'll complain about the weather for the next six weeks -- but it's a bit chilly here just south of Jacksonville. Temperature's probably in the 50s. I can see you all gritting your teeth in frustration right now.

I thought about stopping over in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach and staking out a primo spot for Tiger Woods' press conference tomorrow. But then I heard he's not taking questions and what's the point of that? Chien-Ming Wang will be far more forthcoming than Tiger, and I don't think he even speaks much English.

So we're down to the final leg, about 130 miles from here to Viera. Hopefully you'll be hearing from me again shortly, with photos to prove I actually made it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Safe in Savannah

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Because I know you were all worried about me ... yes, mother, I successfully made it to Savannah, Ga., as planned. Pulled into the Fairfield Inn Savannah-Hilton Head Airport hotel at 9:30 p.m.

Today's exploits took a bit longer than I (or AAA or Google Maps) anticipated -- 11 1/2 hours to drive 589 miles, to be precise -- but the increased time was a direct result of those four traffic jams between NoVa and Richmond, plus a couple of not-so-quick stops along the way to get food, use the facilities, update the blog and respond to emails.

In all honesty, though, it really wasn't as tough as I thought it would be. The way the first leg crawled along, I was starting to panic. But really, from Richmond south it was smooth sailing, no problems whatsoever. Not much traffic. No weather issues. Only a handful of cops along the side of the road.

And yes, I'm kicking myself for not stopping at "South of the Border." From the looks of it as I sped past at 75 mph, it's quite a sight. Looks like it could qualify for its own zip code. Alas, I just didn't have time to pull over. Hopefully I can plan that out better on the way back and spend some quality time with Pedro and Co. (My favorite of the, oh, 127 billboards touting this place over a span of 175 miles: "Pedro's forecast: Chili today, hot tamale." Maybe I could get a job writing cheesy slogans for those guys.)

And with that, it's time to settle in for the night, watch the tail end of tonight's Olympics coverage and get some much-needed shut-eye. Savannah-to-Viera tomorrow, and with any luck I'll be talking to some real, live baseball players sometime in the afternoon.

Fine dining in Manning, S.C.

So by the time my stomach was beginning to tell me it was time for dinner, the options were a bit limited. Had to drive another 20 miles or so before reaching the next exit with dining advertised.

So hello from Manning, S.C., where my choices ranged from Subway to Arby's to two "authentic Mexican restaurants" to the Southern staple known as Shoney's. Was there any real debate here? Shoney's it is.

Should be less than two hours from here to Savannah. Stay tuned...

Nothing could be finer

...than blogging from a rest stop in Dunn, N.C., just a hop, skip and a jump away from Spiveys Corner. Wonder if Junior is around to say hello and let me know if his broken hand has healed yet.

I'm happy to report that it's been smooth sailing since Richmond, nary a traffic jam or construction zone. The infamous "South of the Border" billboards beckon every 10 miles or so, and I'm still 75 miles from the home of pointless chotchkies and fireworks. Probably won't be stopping there because I need to make up for lost time this morning.

Been listening to Lewis Black performing at Carnegie Hall. It's a few years old but still cracks me up. Talking about how then-President Bush had "handlers," Black responds: "The president needs handlers? What is he, a bear?"

Oh, some actual Nats news to pass on: They've signed Ron Villone to a minor-league contract. Villone, who I believe wil turn 40 sometime this year, had his moments last season out of the bullpen. I have a hard time seeing him make this year's squad, but selfishly I'd love to see him make it. One of the more-quotable, more-refreshing ballplayers I've dealt with.

OK, back to the road. Hope to talk to you next from South Carolina.

Slow going

I can't seem to get into the previous post to update it, so I've got to create a new one. Appropriate hiccup, because I've experienced plenty of them already.

Two accidents, one construction zone and one pothole repair delay later, I'm still a few miles north of Richmond. At this rate, I should get to Viera in time to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games.

While stuck in the latest jam, I witnessed the guy in front of me rear-end the car in front of him because he was looking down at his BlackBerry and not the road. (Note to self: Don't check phone while driving.)

Oh, and then upon pulling into a Popeye's just off I-95, I was informed they were out of tenders and had to settle for nuggets instead. Oh, the humanity.

At least I'm not the only one drawing the short straw today. While driving, I was informed Brian Bruney lost his arbitration case to the Nats. So he'll only make $1.5 million this year instead of $1.8 million. It's a cruel world, I know.

OK, back to the road. Here's hoping the next leg is smoother than the first one.

Viera or bust

Well, the day has come. Armed with two suitcases, a laptop, some snacks, an iPod and a handy-dandy "TripTik" printout from AAA, I'm hitting the road. Leaving the snow, the wife, the dog and several unfinished household chores behind, all in pursuit of the green pastures of Space Coast Stadium.

The itinerary for Day 1: Drive from Northern Virginia to Savannah, Ga. Distance: 568 miles. Predicted travel time: 8 hours, 29 minutes. This grand plan, of course, will all be thrown out the window the moment I hit my first traffic jam on the Beltway. Or the moment the Nats make some news that requires me to pull off the road and post an update to the blog. Whichever comes first.

Speaking of updates, I'm going to attempt to provide them along the way, for all you crazy die-hards who want to track my progress. I thought about implanting a homing device inside my car, but that didn't seem like an appropriate way to spend your hard-earned money.

So check back throughout the day and play "Where on I-95 is Mark Zuckerman?" It's got to be more exciting than watching Olympic curling on CNBC, right?

11:04a.m. -- Well, we're off to a rousing start. I'm currently at a standstill on I-66, still waiting to get on the Beltway. Major accident blocking two lanes. Total distance traveled so far: 12.4 miles. Good thing I only have four states to get through today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why the Nats signed Wang

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Since word got out last week that the Nationals were the front-runners to sign Chien-Ming Wang, the reaction has been decidedly mixed. Seems some fans have been jumping for joy, ecstatic that Washington could get its hands on a guy who posted back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006-07 before battling injuries the last two years. And it seems others are decidedly against the move, believing Wang's best days are behind him and that he's far from the reliable starter the Nats so desperately need.

Fair points, at both ends of the spectrum.

Here, though, is an explanation why the Nationals believe Wang is worth the investment...

First and foremost, he's still young. Wang turns 30 on March 31, so he conceivably has plenty of gas left in the tank. Unlike, say, 42-year-old John Smoltz, who has been considering retirement for several seasons and faces the possibility of throwing his final pitch every time he takes the mound.

Yes, Wang has been beset by injuries to his foot and shoulder the last two years. But plenty of guys have returned from far worse and

Wang agrees to deal

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[UPDATE: I know many of you have been waiting to hear who was removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Adam Kennedy. Well, the Nats announced today that left-hander Doug Slaten (picked up last fall from the Diamondbacks on a waiver claim) was designated for assignment. They'll still need to drop another body later this week to clear space for Wang.]

Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and the Nationals have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, a club source has confirmed. The deal, which had been in the works for the last week, is believed to be for $2 million, with incentives that could push the total value to as much as $5 million.

The Nats are planning to formally introduce Wang at Space Coast Stadium on Friday, the day pitchers and catchers are due to report.

The 29-year-old is still recovering from shoulder surgery and won't be ready to pitch until May at the earliest, but the club sees him as not only a short-term fix to its young starting rotation but also as a potential long-term solution if he stays healthy. Though the contract is only for one year, Wang will remain under the Nats' control in 2011 as an arbitration-eligible player. He can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season.

More to come...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taveras signs minor-league deal

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The Nationals have signed speedster Willy Taveras to a minor-league contract and will give him a chance to win a spot as the fourth or fifth outfielder on the Opening Day roster, a club source confirmed.

Taveras, 28, has long been considered one of baseball's fastest players -- he led the NL with 68 stolen bases in 2008 -- but he's struggled in recent years to get on base enough to take advantage of his speed. In 102 games with the Reds last year, he reached base at a pathetic .275 clip. Combine that with a .285 slugging percentage, and Taveras was one of the least productive offensive players in baseball in 2009.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Cincinnati gave up on him and shipped him to the A's two weeks ago in a deal that brought Aaron Miles to the Reds. Oakland immediately designated Taveras for assignment, and after he cleared waivers, gave him his outright release. That put the A's on the hook for his $4 million salary in 2010 and left him available

It's almost time

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What's that sweet sound I've been hearing all morning? Why yes, it's the sudden peppering of Twitter updates and blog postings from reporters scattered about Florida and Arizona, regaling us with the first images of spring. Brad Penny is throwing in Jupiter. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are playing catch in Fort Myers. Derek Jeter is taking BP in Tampa. Makes the heart flutter, doesn't it?

The Nationals are among the last teams to actually commence formal workouts (pitchers and catchers report Friday, take physicals Saturday and then begin organized workouts Sunday) so we've still got a few days to bridge the gap between anticipation and actual, live baseball.

To update you on my travel plans, I'll be hitting the road Wednesday morning and making the journey down I-95 all day. Planning to stay over in Savannah, Ga., then complete the final 4-5 hours of the drive on Thursday and hopefully make a cameo appearance at Space Coast Stadium sometime in the afternoon. Look for my award-winning photos to begin popping up around then.

Between now and then, I'll keep tabs on any news developments -- Chien-Ming Wang's much-anticipated decision, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett's arbitration hearings, etc. -- but I've obviously got a few

Saturday, February 13, 2010

So ... now what?

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Life's funny.

One week ago, I was fully expecting to spend late February and all of March here in Washington, waiting for the snow to melt and monitoring the events taking place at Nationals camp from 900 miles away.

Now, I'm not only going to Viera for six weeks to chronicle spring training first-hand, but thanks to your incredible generosity I've been given the opportunity to continue covering the Nats beyond that.

I know I've been saying it repeatedly for the last week, but I'm going to continue saying it until my fingers are too sore to type it: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything. The overwhelming support I've received -- whether financial or moral -- will never be forgotten.

I also know many of you have questions. What will I do with the overflow funds? Will I continue covering the team into the regular

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kennedy signing official

The Nationals have officially signed of second baseman Adam Kennedy to a one-year deal after the veteran passed his physical today.

Kennedy, 34, hit .289 with 11 homers and 63 RBI last season for the Athletics. Over an 11-year career with the Angels, Cardinals and A's, he owns a .277 average, not to mention a World Series ring and ALCS MVP trophy (both from 2002 with Anaheim). The veteran infielder will earn $1.25 million this year; the contract also includes a club option for 2011 worth $2 million.

Kennedy thus becomes the Nats' new starting second baseman, filling a position that was staffed by seven different players in 2009: Ronnie Belliard, Anderson Hernandez, Alberto Gonzalez, Pete Orr, Willie Harris, Ian Desmond and Alex Cintron. He's likely to be joined up the middle by shortstop Cristian Guzman, though Guzman must prove he's fully healthy after battling shoulder and foot injuries last season. Desmond would be the club's other option at shortstop.

Washington moved quickly to agree to terms with Kennedy last Friday after losing out to the Twins for two-time All-Star second baseman Orlando Hudson. The Nationals, according to club sources, offered Hudson between $3 million and $4 million; he wound up signing with Minnesota for $5 million.

Before formally signing Kennedy, the Nats were required to remove someone else from their 40-man roster. They won't announce the name of that player for another couple of days, because he's been placed on waivers and the club hopes he'll pass through without getting claimed. Either the mystery player will go unclaimed and be outrighted to Class AAA or Class AA, another team will pick him up and be required to keep him on their 40-man roster or GM Mike Rizzo will trade him to an interested club.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wang, Bruney, Burnett, Benson and Dukes

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A hearty good morning to everyone in NatsTown, where the sun is finally out but the snow is showing no signs of melting. Viera can't come soon enough.

Several news tidbits to share at this hour...

-- No new developments, really, in the Chien-Ming Wang story. I know there are some reports out there (mostly stemming from a Chinese newspaper, I believe) that say it's a done deal and he's signed with the Nationals for $2 million plus incentives. But I've been told by multiple sources that it's not done yet. It certainly appears to be moving in a positive direction from Washington's standpoint, but it's not done and probably won't be for several more days.

-- It's getting close to arbitration time, with hearings scheduled to take place next week in the Tampa area for the Nats' two yet-unsigned arbitration-eligible players: relievers Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett. While last-minute settlements often take place in these cases -- remember last year when Jim Bowden worked out deals

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dodgers out of the running for Wang

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There may not be any remaining suitors other than the Nationals to acquire free-agent pitcher Chien-Ming Wang.

A source close to the Dodgers said the 29-year-old right-hander threw off flat ground this morning in L.A. for team officials, who concluded they weren't ready to make him a substantive offer. Agent Alan Nero, who represents Wang, pushed for an answer today, and the Dodgers balked.

That would appear to leave the Nats in the driver's seat to land the former Yankees hurler. Baseball sources said earlier today there were only two teams left in the running: Washington and another unnamed club (presumably Los Angeles).

It's unclear whether the Nationals are willing to give Wang (who made only 24 combined starts the last two seasons due to injury and had shoulder surgery in July) a big-league contract or whether they'll insist on a non-guaranteed, minor-league deal. He has yet to begin throwing off a mound and isn't expected to be ready to pitch in the majors until May at the earliest.

Three would be nice company

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They've managed to add a Hall-of-Fame catcher, a workhorse right-hander, a closer with a fairly solid track record, a veteran second baseman and several established relievers during what even cynics would have to agree has been a productive offseason.

But if the Nationals are going to make any significant strides in 2010 and perhaps escape the basement of the NL East, there's one more piece that must be added to the puzzle: a No. 3 starter.

Because right now, they don't have one.

Sure, John Lannan and Jason Marquis will serve as important anchors to Washington's rotation and can pretty much be counted upon to pitch with some level of effectiveness. But after those two, the projected rotation looks mighty suspect. Yes, there are some intriguing names in the mix who could fill the gap -- Scott Olsen (if he's healthy), Ross Detwiler (if September wasn't a fluke), Craig Stammen (if he can build off a solid rookie season), Garrett Mock (if he can find some level of consistency), Stephen Strasburg (if he lives up to the hype). Is there a single name among that group, though,

No done deal for Wang

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Though the Nationals are involved in serious discussions with Chien-Ming Wang, they're not yet close to finalizing a deal with the free-agent right-hander.

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reported on Twitter this morning that the two sides were "close" to an agreement, but a club source said that report was premature. The Nats remain a strong contender to land Wang, but hurdles still remain before a deal would be completed, and it may be days before anything gets done.

Wang, 29, is coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the Yankees and may not be ready to pitch in the majors until May.

The Taiwanese pitcher was a key cog in New York's rotation in 2006-07, winning 19 games each season. But injuries limited him to only 24 combined starts the last two seasons, and he underwent shoulder surgery in July after going 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA. The Yankees nontendered him in December.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has been pursuing a veteran starter all winter, seeking to bolster a rotation that currently features only two known quantities in John Lannan and Jason Marquis (who signed a two-year, $15 million contract in December). Even though Wang (who turns 30 on March 31) is unlikely to be ready to the start the season, the Nationals see him as a potential piece in their long-term rebuilding plan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A heartfelt thank you

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It's late and I need to get some sleep. But before I turn in, I just need to offer a gigantic thank you to everyone who has responded to my campaign to cover spring training. The response I've received over the last 16 hours has been both overwhelming and humbling.

And I'm not just talking in a financial sense, though the response
in that area has been staggering, as you can see from the embedded graphic. I'm equally appreciative, though, to all of you who have written to offer your support, either in the comments section of this site or privately through email. Many of you have never met me. Many of you have never even lived in Washington or have any connection whatsoever to the Nats. Your kindness has truly touched me, and I'm forever grateful for it.

I've tried to respond to as many of you as I can, but the inbox has been overflowing all day and I haven't been able to keep up. If I wasn't able to send you a personal response, my sincere apologies.

I do need to mention a few people by name, because they've played vital roles in making this happen and have gone above and beyond in the process...

First off, I need to mention C. Trent Rosecrans. Most of you probably don't know him, but he was actually the inspiration for this whole endeavor. Trent used to cover the Reds for the Cincinnati Post -- quite well, I might add -- only to find himself in a similar situation to mine when that paper folded altogether. He has since created a website that puts mine to shame: CNATI, which covers the Cincinnati sports scene the way it should be covered. Last month, Trent decided to start a campaign to send him to Goodyear, Ariz., for Reds camp, and his readers responded with the same kind of support I've experienced today. He's already surpassed his goal, but I know he's still looking for more help because he's actually got a staff at his site. Even if you don't contribute, make a point to check out the site because it's an impressive effort.

Second, I need to mention Brian Oliver of Nats Farm Authority, Steven Biel of FJB and Mike Harris, aka the NatsFanboyLooser. In addition to writing three of the most informative and most entertaining blogs in NatsTown, Brian, Steven and Mike have been instrumental in the launching of this site and of the spring training campaign. They've not only helped spread the word to their readers but they've also helped push me to give this thing a shot. In addition to being fine writers and baseball fans, they've been good friends throughout this process.

Third, I want to thank Keith Law of and Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. I've never met either gentleman before, but each made a point to get in a touch with me today wanting to spread the word to their readers, who have responded with the same kind of generosity exhibited by Nats fans. I'm grateful to both, as well as to several other sportswriter friends of mine who have been in touch today and offered their support.

And last, but most definitely not least, I must thank the real driving force of this whole operation: my wife Rachel. I've written about her a few times in the past, but it needs to be repeated: I wouldn't amount to anything without her. She has stood beside me throughout the ups and downs of the last two months, my strongest supporter by leaps and bounds. Anytime I start to question whether this really is a good idea, she immediately sets me straight and insists I go through with it. Whoever came up with the term "better half" most certainly had her for inspiration.

OK, enough sentimental stuff. Time to steer this blog back to its intended subject: baseball. I'll do that tomorrow (er, at this point, I guess later today) but I'll be sure to keep the running tally and link to the donations site up throughout.

Talk to you soon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Send Mark to spring training

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When I launched this site one week ago, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew I wanted to provide another outlet for news and analysis of the Washington Nationals. But with no method of advertising other than word-of-mouth, I didn't know how many people that content would reach.

Well, one week into this venture, I've been overwhelmed by your
support. From the comments I've received, both publicly on the site and privately by email and phone. And from the thousands of hits this site has already received, many from right here in the D.C. area but plenty more from around the world. Who knew NatsTown extended to 18 different countries spanning the entire globe? From Japan to Kenya, from the United Kingdom to India, from Australia to Belgium, you've found your way here.

And all of that has led me to change the way I'm thinking about this project. You've all made it clear you want comprehensive coverage of the Nats, the kind that's hard to find elsewhere on the web. You don't just want another run-of-the mill blog that riffs off other media outlets' reports. You want a site that covers it all from the frontline, from someone who has access to every player and team official, and from someone who can provide the kind of first-hand accounts afforded only to a select few members of the media.

In other words, you want a site that covers spring training in its entirety.

So I've decided to make the trek down to Viera, Fla., later this month and join pitchers and catchers when they report to Space Coast Stadium for a six-week camp that's sure to boast all kinds of significant storylines. Jim Riggleman's first spring as manager. Stephen Strasburg's first spring as a professional pitcher. Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps and Adam Kennedy's first spring as Nationals. Adam Dunn's first spring seeking a long-term extension with Washington.

Unfortunately, it costs money to cover a full major-league camp. When I worked at The Washington Times, the paper would spend approximately $7,500 for each reporter or photographer's six-week stay. By cutting a few corners -- driving from D.C. instead of flying and renting a car, staying at a cheaper hotel -- I think I can do it for $5,000.

This site, though, isn't a money-maker. I'm doing this on my own, receiving no income other than a few pennies each time you click on an ad.

So I need your help to make this happen. At the top of this post, you saw a link with instructions on how to make a donation. I've set up a system with PayPal, a safe and reliable method that allows you to pay by credit card with confidence. You are free to donate as little or as much as you'd like.

If you choose not to participate, no worries. You'll still have access to my full coverage from Florida. But if you do participate, I'm going to return the favor by offering you extra, exclusive coverage all spring.

Here's what you'll get, based on your donation level:

$20 -- Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman's morning or postgame media session.

$40 -- Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman's morning or postgame media session, plus another daily audio file of an interview with a Nats player, coach or front-office member.

$60 -- Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman's morning or postgame media session; plus another daily audio file of an interview with a Nats player, coach or front-office member; plus the opportunity to submit a question to be asked of Riggleman or a prominent player during a spring training interview.

Again, you don't have to donate strictly along those three pre-determined lines. You can enter any amount you like, or none at all. But please note we're working under a pretty tight deadline here: Pitchers and catchers report on February 19, so we've got to move quickly to get this done.

Take a moment to decide what you think this coverage is worth to you. If you decide it's worth a donation, please click on the link below and help make this trip happen.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for making this site a must-read for Nats fans from every corner of the globe.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Estes signs minor-league deal

I don't want to take away too much from the lineup discussion going on in the previous post -- check out Steven's radical suggestion -- but I did want to confirm what many were asking about last night. Yes, the Nationals have signed Shawn Estes to a minor-league contract.

Estes, who turns 37 in a couple of weeks, hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008, when he went 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA in nine games for the Padres. He hasn't been a regular member of a big-league staff since 2005 with the Diamondbacks. If he makes the major-league roster, he'll earn a $600,000 salary, with incentives that could push the total value up to $1 million.

I wouldn't get too worried, though. The chance of the left-hander actually making the Opening Day roster is pretty slim. Seems to me that this is simply the Nats taking a no-risk chance on a guy who if everything fell into place could be an asset. If everything doesn't fall into place, he gets cut at the end of spring training, and the Nats don't have to pay him a dime.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Who should bat second?

The incomparable Brian Oliver of Nats Farm Authority and the incorrigible Steven Biel of Fire Jim Bowden have been combining forces on a regular podcast for a little while now, and they were kind enough to invite me to join them earlier today for their latest installment. If you're interested to hear three guys talking Adam Kennedy, bullpen changes and other stuff Nats, here's the link...

OK, we've had all day to debate the merits of Adam Kennedy, the disappointment of losing out on Orlando Hudson and the potential stunting of Ian Desmond's development. But what's done is done, Kennedy is a National, Hudson is a Twin and Desmond is likely a Syracuse Chief. It's time to move on.

So with that in mind, I figure it's time to start looking at a more-pressing baseball matter: Jim Riggleman's potential lineup combinations.

Barring some surprising development between now and April, it would appear the Nats' eight starting position players are set: Adam Dunn, Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman around the infield; Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan and Elijah Dukes around the outfield; Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate.

Now, Riggleman needs to figure out how to line up those eight guys to elicit its maximum offensive production. There are undoubtedly dozens of combinations the manager could come up with, but here