Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reader Q&A with Morgan

As part of my fundraising campaign to cover spring training, I offered readers who contributed at least $60 the opportunity to submit a question to a member of the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman and four players (Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and Drew Storen) were gracious enough to participate. Readers were randomly paired up with one of those five gentlemen, and I conducted the interviews over the last week.

Here is the third installment of the Reader Q&A, featuring center fielder Nyjer Morgan...

Ed Dervan (Arlington, Va.): Who do you think is the best basestealer of all-time, not including yourself, of course?
Nyjer Morgan: In my eyes, the best basestealer ... I'm going to probably have to say ... it's got to be between Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson. Even though Rickey got caught a lot, he was a heck of a basestealer.

Carl Herrin (Silver Spring, Md.): When you arrived last year, you were immediately recognized by fans as an impact player. Now that you're here from the beginning of the season, what challenge will there be to continue being that impact player fans have come to expect you to be?
Nyjer Morgan: Basically, I've got to just keep with my same game, don't try to get over myself. Try to stay even-keeled and basically just stay consistent on what I do.

Jonathan Slade (Potomac, Md.): Have you decided to avoid headfirst slides this year in order to avoid injuries?

Lannan, Capps, Guzman and Harris

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan was highly efficient today, his final start before Opening Day.
JUPITER, Fla. — Plenty of noteworthy things to discuss about today's game (a 9-6 win by the Nationals over the Cardinals) so let's get right to it, highlighting several players of consequence...

In his final tune-up before Opening Day, Lannan did about as well as you could possibly ask of him: five innings, two unearned runs, three hits. Actually, he might have done too well. Because he only needed 59 pitches to make it through those five innings, the left-hander was forced to throw another 15 in the bullpen after leaving the game.

"I didn't want to go out there and throw 100," he said. "I didn't think there was any need for it, as long as I got my work in and all my pitches felt good. I think I'll be ready."

Lannan produced probably the best spring of any member of the Nats' rotation. In five starts, he went 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA. Over 21 2/3 innings, he allowed 19 hits and six walks while striking out 11. Good, solid spring all around, and that leaves him confident heading into Monday's opener against the Phillies.

"I'm ready to get out of spring training," he said. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get there and start getting into a situation where you've got the crowd and a little more pressure. This is great to get ready, but I

Nats vs. Cardinals — 3/31/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Josh Willingham is tagged out trying to steal third in the second inning.
JUPITER, Fla. — We're back at Roger Dean Stadium. Why does it feel like we just left this place? Oh, that's because the Nationals played here yesterday against the Marlins. Today, they've got the Cardinals.

Manager Jim Riggleman, his coaching staff and some roster members were forced to make the trip back and forth from Viera the last two days, and they'll do the same tomorrow when the Nats play against the Mets in Port St. Lucie (only about 30 minutes north of Jupiter). Your trusty reporter, on the other hand, already checked out of his hotel yesterday and spent last night at another hotel only 10 minutes from this stadium. So I'm refreshed and ready to go.

John Lannan gets the start today, but there probably won't be much noteworthy about that. Lannan will only throw 70-75 pitches, as the Nats try to keep him fresh for Monday's season opener against the Phillies.

The larger storyline in this game will be Cristian Guzman's debut at second base. He did play one inning there yesterday -- and yes, I missed it completely because I was in the clubhouse interviewing Garrett Mock at the time -- but today he's starting. Guzman spent some considerable time this morning fielding grounders and turning double plays with Ian Desmond, who was at shortstop. Desmond (who has barely played any second base in his career) actually at one point walked over and showed Guzman the proper way to turn a double play without getting your legs broken by a hard-charging baserunner. Have to say, though, Guzman didn't look half-bad over there. As I type this, I'm also noticing he's working out at first base, taking throws in the dirt, etc., while wearing what I have to assume is someone else's first baseman's glove (Adam Dunn? Mike Morse?).

Check back for updates all afternoon...

Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: None
Weather: Sunny, 73 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Willie Harris
2B Cristian Guzman
LF Josh Willingham

Martin sent to Syracuse

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
J.D. Martin didn't make the most of his limited opportunity to win a rotation spot.
[UPDATED AT 12:46 P.M.]

JUPITER, Fla. — J.D. Martin was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse this morning, leaving only Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen remaining in the battle for the final spot in the Nationals' rotation.

Though team officials always made a point to include Martin in the mix for a starting job, the right-hander was given only limited opportunities to state his case. He appeared in only three Grapefruit League games (two starts) and allowed seven runs on 10 hits in six total innings.

Martin did pitch several times in minor-league games, including a start yesterday in an intrasquad game in Viera in which he struggled.

"He's just one of them guys you root for," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's a consummate professional. Doesn't light the radar gun up. But he knows how to pitch and all that. We still think we'll be calling on him at some point."

The Nationals must now decide whether to include Mock or Olsen in the season-opening rotation. Mock, who appeared to lock up a spot earlier this spring, has struggled through his last few outings and

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reader Q&A with Lannan

As part of my fundraising campaign to cover spring training, I offered readers who contributed at least $60 the opportunity to submit a question to a member of the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman and four players (Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and Drew Storen) were gracious enough to participate. Readers were randomly paired up with one of those five gentlemen, and I conducted the interviews over the last few days.

Here is the second installment of the Reader Q&A, featuring left-hander John Lannan...

Andrew Lang (Potomac, Md.): In all the items presented to you from fans to get autographed, is there one that stands out the most as either your favorite or strangest item?
John Lannan: A bowling ball. That was pretty cool. We also signed the gas tank of a chopper, like a motorcycle. So that was pretty cool. It was an auction. They brought the gas tank out and we signed it and they auctioned it off. But the bowling ball was pretty weird, too. I signed a golf ball before, too. Just little things that are kind of weird.

Carolyn Deck (Fairfax, Va.): You have such grit on the mound, and you never seem to get rattled. How do you prepare mentally and keep your composure under sometimes difficult circumstances?
John Lannan: I just go pitch-to-pitch. Whatever happens, happens. And I don't let it affect the next pitch. I just go out and throw my best pitch in that situation. And if they get a hit, you tip your cap and move on.

Patrick Reddington (Springfield, N.J.): There's a bit of a debate in the stats community about how you are able to succeed without getting many strikeouts. Last year, you had the fewest strikeouts-per-nine innings of all pitchers with an ERA under 4.00. How do you

The curious case of Garrett Mock

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Garrett Mock didn't help his cause for a spot in the rotation today.
"We feel pretty confident right now that we are going to put Lannan, Marquis and Mock out there, and the other names are competing for the other two spots." -- Jim Riggleman, March 22, 2010.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Boy, how quickly things have changed at Nationals camp.

Only eight days ago, Garrett Mock looked like a sure thing, a lock to open the season in Washington's rotation. Today, following his worst outing of the spring, the right-hander's status is very much up in the air.

After watching Mock give up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and five walks in only 4 2/3 innings against the Marlins -- and needing a whopping 96 pitches to do it -- Riggleman's evaluation was decidedly less-glowing.

"The outing speaks for itself," the manager said. "I can't say much about it. You saw it. He was good for two or three hitters in a sequence, and then he would throw to a couple of hitters and leave some balls up in the zone to be hit."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mock as the Nats' No. 5 starter to open the season, huh?

The manner in which Riggleman, Mike Rizzo and other club officials raved about Mock all winter and through the first month of spring training seemed puzzling at times. What exactly prompted such

Catcher Costes into new job

JUPITER, Fla. -- As Chris Coste unpacked his equipment bag inside the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium this morning, it was immediately clear to even a casual observer that he looked a bit out of sorts.

His royal blue Mets bag stood out like a sore thumb among all the other navy blue Nationals bags. Same for his catcher's mask. A steady stream of teammates, coaches and trainers made their way up to the 37-year-old to introduce themselves and welcome Coste to the organization.

Uncomfortable or not, Coste is simply glad to have this new opportunity.

"I haven't had a chance to really communicate with the Nationals about what the opportunity is going to be," he said. "But whatever it is, it's already better than what it was yesterday with the Mets. Whatever the situation is, it's going to be positive."

Two days ago, Coste was placed on waivers by the Mets. Yesterday, the Nationals claimed him. Today, he's in a Washington uniform, wearing No. 18 and expecting to catch at least a few innings against the Marlins.

The former Phillie, Astro and Met will only be with the Nationals for a few days. He's likely to open the season at Class AAA Syracuse, but a promotion to Washington is only a phone call away.

"Yeah, I don't really have much of a choice in that," Coste said. "I would [have no problem reporting to Syracuse] simply because if I'm the next guy in line, that's not such a bad position to be in. At 37, to

Nats vs. Marlins -- 3/30/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Dean Stadium, spring home of both the Marlins and Cardinals.
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's another beautiful morning in Florida, one of the last few we'll have down here. The Nationals have only four games left on the Grapefruit League schedule, all of them road games: today against the Marlins, tomorrow against the Cardinals, Thursday against the Mets and Friday against the Red Sox.

Because we're so close to the end, the lineups are starting to have more resemblance to the one Jim Riggleman will trot out next week. Plenty of regulars on the trip today, including Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Ivan Rodriguez. Also note Cristian Guzman is starting at shortstop.

The key guy to watch today, though, is Garrett Mock. The right-hander has gone from seemingly a lock to make the rotation as the Nats' No. 3 starter to suddenly battling for the No. 5 spot. Plain and simple, he needs to put together a nice outing today to make his final case for inclusion on the Opening Day roster.

Check back for updates along the way...

Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: None
Weather: Sunny, 71 degrees, Wind 11 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reader Q&A with Zimmerman

As part of my fundraising campaign to cover spring training, I offered readers who contributed at least $60 the opportunity to submit a question to a member of the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman and four players (Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and Drew Storen) were gracious enough to participate. Readers were randomly paired up with one of those five gentlemen, and I conducted the interviews over the last few days.

Here is the first installment of the Reader Q&A, featuring third baseman Ryan Zimmerman...

Brian Oliver (Alexandria, Va.): You spent only a few months in the minor leagues, and it appears Stephen Strasburg will do the same. What sort of things did you learn at Savannah and Harrisburg [in 2005] that helped you in the majors?
Ryan Zimmerman: Well, you learn how to adapt to playing every single day. You come from college and you play four or five games a week at the most. And you come here and you're playing a game every single day. So you've got to kind of get a routine down, know what you need to do every day to get ready to play a game and what you need to do to keep your body in the best shape and stay healthy. I think you go down, learn your routine and get that going, and that helps you a lot when you get up here.

Katie Edwards, age 11 (Herndon, Va.): Can you explain the differences in the structure of spring training under Jim Riggleman vs. Manny Acta?
Ryan Zimmerman: A lot of is actually the same, I think. I guess maybe a little bit more attention to detail and the little things. Riggs is really big on that. But other than that, spring training is probably pretty much the same for everyone. You do the little things and all

Strasburg debut April 11 at Altoona

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Each of Stephen Strasburg's Class AA starts is sure to draw attention.
VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg's much-ballyhooed minor-league debut for Class AA Harrisburg will take place April 11 at Altoona, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said this afternoon.

The top pitching prospect will actually have his schedule pushed back three days; he had been on track to start Harrisburg's season opener (April 8 at Altoona). By moving Strasburg to the 11th, the organization ensures the right-hander will make more starts at home for the Senators while also lining him up on the same day as its No. 5 starter in the majors.

If he pitches every fifth day, here's how Strasburg's first month with Harrisburg would shake out...

April 11 at Altoona
April 16 vs New Britain
April 21 vs Reading
April 26 at Reading
May 1 vs Altoona

(If you really want to get into the projecting game, Strasburg's major-league debut could come Saturday, June 5 against the Reds at Nationals Park. But the chance of him actually staying on a perfect,

Coste claimed, will go to Class AAA

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals claimed veteran catcher Chris Coste off waivers from the Mets this afternoon, a move designed to add some insurance behind the plate at Class AAA Syracuse in case of more injuries at the position.

Coste, 37, is immediately added to the Nationals' 40-man roster and will report to big-league camp. But because he still has a minor-league option, he can be sent down to Syracuse before Opening Day.

With Jesus Flores (shoulder) and Jamie Burke (knee) injured and opening the season on the disabled list, the Nats were left with no viable catching options in case something happened to either Ivan Rodriguez or Wil Nieves. Jhonathan Solano, 22, is expected to be Syracuse's other catcher when the season begins.

Despite his advanced age, Coste has spent only four years in the majors. He debuted with the Phillies in 2006 at age 33 and proceeded to hit .282 with 23 homers and 98 RBI in 256 games over parts of the

Obama to throw out first pitch

VIERA, Fla. -- President Barack Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Nationals' Opening Day game against the Phillies on Monday, Major League Baseball and the club have announced.

This is Obama's first visit to Nationals Park since taking office last year, though he did throw out the first pitch at last summer's All-Star Game in St. Louis. In the last year, the president has attended three sporting events in Washington: home basketball games for the Wizards game, Georgetown game and George Washington.

Obama's appearance at Nationals Park will come 100 years after William Howard Taft became the first U.S. president to throw out a first pitch, kicking off a tradition that has withstood for a century.

Obama will become the 13th sitting president to attend a home opener by a Washington baseball club. The others: Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Between them all, they will have attended 48 home openers in the District.

Bush attended five Nationals games between 2005-2008. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the first home games played at RFK Stadium (April 14, 2005) and Nationals Park (March 30, 2008). He also attended three other games without appearing on the field (June 24,

Waiting for resolutions

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Today's game against the Mets has been rained out.
[UPDATE AT 12:36 P.M. -- No split-squad game tomorrow, they couldn't get another opponent. So Livan Hernandez and a few other pitchers will stay back here and play in a minor-league intrasquad game while just about every else heads to Jupiter for the regularly scheduled game against the Marlins.]

[UPDATE AT 12:05 P.M. -- The Nationals' No. 4 starter will be ... Livan Hernandez. Jim Riggleman confirmed that just a little while ago, though it was pretty obvious that would be the case for some time. The final spot will go to either Garrett Mock, Scott Olsen or J.D. Martin. The decision could be made before the club leaves Florida, but it could also be held off until after the season has begun since the fifth starter isn't needed until April 11. Factors that will be taken into consideration, according to Riggleman; Health, performance, track record. Each guy will get to pitch once more this spring, and it's safe to say whoever pitches best will have a leg up on the rest.]

[UPDATE AT 10:12 A.M. -- Today's game has been postponed due to rain. No word yet if it will be made up as a split-squad game tomorrow.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning from rainy Space Coast Stadium. It's been pouring since last night, hasn't let up since and there are serious doubts today's home finale against the Mets will be played. But we're still awaiting official word of that.

If this game is called off, it's going to be tough for the Nationals to make it up. They'd like to schedule a split-squad tomorrow against the Mets, but New York already has split-squad games scheduled today and will want to try to make the other one up tomorrow. So it's not an ideal situation.

We're also awaiting official word of the state of the Nationals starting rotation. Manager Jim Riggleman is meeting right now with GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty to discuss different possibilities. Riggleman did confirm earlier this morning that John

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two decisions made, another looming

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has made the roster, but what about Scott Olsen?
VIERA, Fla. -- What began as a lazy Sunday morning at Space Coast Stadium quickly turned into one of the spring' most intriguing days.

To recap...

-- Ian Desmond has made the club and will be the Opening Day shortstop.

-- Cristian Guzman also will make the club, but serve as a backup at shortstop and second base.

-- Justin Maxwell was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, a fitting conclusion to a disappointing spring.

-- Scott Olsen, given up for dead 12 hours ago, put together his strongest start of the spring and made one last case for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.

So at the end of the day, the Nationals made two key decisions that will shape their outlook for 2010 and now must confront another that has been looming all spring. Let's begin with the two decisions that

Nats vs. Braves -- 3/28/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen gets one last chance today to make his case for a rotation spot.
VIERA, Fla. -- Oh yeah, there's a game today. Sorry, it's been a busy Sunday already here at Space Coast Stadium, what with Ian Desmond beating out Cristian Guzman for the starting shortstop job and Justin Maxwell getting optioned to Class AAA Syracuse.

But there is one potentially significant aspect to today's game against the Braves. This is Scott Olsen's last chance to make any kind of case for a spot in the rotation. Truth be told, it may be too late for the left-hander, who at this point might need a solid outing simply to remain employed. If the Nationals release him by Wednesday, they'd only be responsible for one-quarter of his 2010 salary (so, $250,000 instead of $1 million).

Olsen better work fast today, though, because there's a major storm heading this way. Not wanting to take a chance on a rainout or shortened game, Braves manager Bobby Cox elected to leave starter Tommy Hanson back at Disney World. So reliever Scott Proctor will actually start for Atlanta and only go one inning.

Check back for updates along the way...

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: No TV/Braves radio via XM and MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 75 degrees, Wind 18 mph in from LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Desmond will be starting shortstop

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Rookie Ian Desmond beat out veteran Cristian Guzman for the regular job at shortstop.
[UPDATED AT 12:15 P.M.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Rookie Ian Desmond will open the season as the Nationals' starting shortstop, though veteran Cristian Guzman will remain on the roster and get regular at-bats at both shortstop and second base.

Manager Jim Riggleman said he came to the decision in the last few days and informed Guzman this morning. Guzman, who is making $8 million this season and has never played anything other than shortstop in the major leagues, accepted the decision and immediately began taking grounders at second base during morning workouts.

Riggleman said Desmond, 24, won the job with his stellar spring (he enters today's game batting .278 with seven extra-base hits and a team-high 12 RBI) combined with his strong performance last September (in 21 games, he hit .280 with 13 extra-base hits and 12 RBI). The club's long-term fortunes played a key role in the decision.

"This is one of those moves we can make that will help the club this year, and in the future," Riggleman said. "Pretty much, what we try to do is help the club now. But if you can help it now and in the future,

Maxwell to Syracuse

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Justin Maxwell hit a paltry .102 this spring, leading to his demotion.
[UPDATED AT 12:21 P.M.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Justin Maxwell was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse this morning, ending a disappointing spring that saw the outfielder struggle mightily at the plate despite a golden opportunity to win a starting job.

Maxwell, 26, hit a miniscule .102 (5-for-49) with 20 strikeouts. He saw significant playing time as a contender for the starting job in right field once Elijah Dukes was released earlier in camp but ultimately couldn't seize the opportunity.

The Nationals are expected to use a combination of Willie Harris, Mike Morse and either Willy Taveras or Roger Bernadina in right field once the regular season begins.

"I wanted Maxwell to make the ballclub," manager Jim Riggleman said. "That's the way I came into the spring. I just think he's really a good-makeup guy. He's a great athlete. But you know, he's just

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Things coming into focus

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen continued to make his case for a rotation spot today.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A Nationals club that seemed filled with uncertainty not long ago has actually managed to sort plenty of things out over the last couple of weeks. And with nine days still remaining until the season opener against the Phillies, there may not be many more issues left for Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman to sort out.

Sure, the Nats GM and manager need to decide who's going to start at shortstop, how to divvy up playing time in right field and whether to carry a seventh reliever or an extra bench player. But when you think back to how many pressing questions they faced back when the Grapefruit League commenced, they've really managed to answer just about everything of consequence.

And even more things came into focus this afternoon, both here in Port St. Lucie (where one split-squad beat the Mets, 7-5 in 10 innings) and in Lake Buena Vista (where the other club was shut out 4-0 by the Braves).

Let's begin with the back end of the Nationals' rotation. Riggleman said after the Braves game he wants to make his final decisions on Monday, giving Scott Olsen one last shot to make a case tomorrow against Atlanta. But let's be honest: This race is over. Livan Hernandez and Craig Stammen have earned the final two spots behind

Nats (ss) vs. Mets -- 3/27/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman went 3-for-4 with a stolen base against the Mets.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It's a beautiful Saturday morning at Tradition Field, where a split-squad of Nationals are facing the Mets today. The other squad, featuring right-hander Jason Marquis, manager Jim Riggleman and the rest of the media corps, are in Lake Buena Vista facing the Braves. But I decided to break from the group just for today and cover this game.

There are actually plenty of significant names here in Port St. Lucie. Craig Stammen gets the start, hoping to completely lock up his stranglehold on the No. 5 starter's job. Cristian Guzman is starting at shortstop, and hopefully he'll get a couple of balls hit to his right to test that shoulder. Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Pudge Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy are here as well.

I'll try to keep up with any news from Disney that I can get my hands on. In the meantime, keep checking back here for updates from this game...

Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 1:10 p.m.
TV/Radio: MLB Network (Mets TV)/WFAN-AM (Mets radio via XM and MLB Gameday Audio)
Weather: Sunny, 78 degrees, Wind 13 mph in from RF
CF Willy Taveras
SS Cristian Guzman
2B Adam Kennedy
1B Adam Dunn

Friday, March 26, 2010

Riggleman: Shortstop decision soon

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Cristian Guzman has looked OK throwing over the last week.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals may not wait much longer before naming their starting shortstop.

Manager Jim Riggleman said today the club needs to make a decision between veteran Cristian Guzman and rookie Ian Desmond soon so the other can get some playing time at other positions before camp breaks a week from today.

"We need to make a call on it, probably soon," Riggleman said following the Nats' 7-4 victory over the Cardinals. "Just so that whoever we're not going to play there, we can say we're going to have to start moving around. Desmond hasn't played anything but short lately. Guzman hasn't played anything but short. If Guzman's the shortstop, we work Desmond out in other places, or we send him to the minor leagues. And if Desmond's the shortstop, then we work Guzman out in other places."

General manager Mike Rizzo has said more than once this spring that Desmond will play every day at shortstop this season, whether in Washington or at Class AAA Syracuse. Riggleman said last week there

Nats vs. Cardinals -- 3/26/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan struggled early but rebounded over his 5 2/3 innings.
VIERA, Fla. -- After some vicious storms overnight and a cloudy morning here at Space Coast Stadium, the sun is beginning to emerge and we will have baseball this afternoon.

The Cardinals are back in town for the third time this spring, bringing their entire "A" lineup, aside from Albert Pujols. The reigning MVP was actually supposed to make this trip, but manager Tony La Russa decided at the last minute not to subject Pujols (who has battled some back issues this spring) to the two-hour bus ride up I-95.

John Lannan, still the Nats' presumptive Opening Day starter even though that hasn't been made official, is on the mound for the home team. The left-hander has had a very nice, unspectacular spring, which is exactly what you want out of your top starter. He could go as many as six innings today if he keeps his pitch count down.

Check back throughout the day for updates...

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: WFED-1500 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 75 degrees, Wind 13 mph RF to LF
3B Willie Harris
SS Cristian Guzman
2B Adam Kennedy
1B Adam Dunn

Figuring out bullpen roles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Miguel Batista is likely to serve as a long man in the Nats' bullpen.
VIERA, Fla. -- Jim Riggleman all but named six members of his Opening Day bullpen this morning: Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Jason Bergmann and Miguel Batista. No huge surprises there, though Batista's name had never been uttered with so much authority previously this spring.

You had to figure all along, though, that Batista was strong candidate to make the club, if for no other reason than his track record. The 39-year-old right-hander has done just about everything in this game, from starting to closing to serving every other role in between. That versatility makes him valuable to the Nationals, who feel the need to carry a long reliever who can also make a spot start if needed.

Batista's numbers this spring -- five runs, 10 hits in 8 2/3 innings pitched -- aren't anything spectacular, but the club isn't making its decision based on that.

"Batista is one of those guys, for myself, I go on the track record of a long season," Riggleman said. "Last year, he pitched very effectively for Seattle, in the low-4.00's ERA in a tough American League, and handled a lot of roles. Pitched middle of the games, late in games,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Morgan's electric return

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
In his first game in 11 days, Nyjer Morgan looked just like his old self.
VIERA, Fla. -- Nyjer Morgan claimed he was only playing at 80 percent tonight in his return from a minor hamstring injury.

"I didn't have it cranked up," he said. "I didn't really want to push it too hard, but I wanted to still push it just to show the boys that even though I was injured, it's good now."

If this is what the Nationals can expect from Morgan at 80 percent -- two hits, one of them a bunt single, and two stolen bases -- just wait til he's back at full-strength.

There's no denying Morgan's importance to the Nats. With all due to respect to Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, who each had outstanding seasons in 2009, there's an argument to be made that Morgan was actually the club's MVP. Look at the difference he made when he was in the lineup in July and August. He got on base at a .396 clip. He stole 24 bases in 49 games. The Nationals scored 5.0 runs per game when Morgan played. When he didn't, they scored only

Nats vs. Tigers (ss) -- 3/25/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan had two hits and two stolen bases in his return from a hamstring injury.
VIERA, Fla. -- Greetings from Space Coast Stadium, where the wind is kicking up and the clouds are rolling in. Only appears to be a slight chance of rain tonight, though, 10 percent until 10 p.m., then up to 30 percent after that. And though the wind is howling in from left field at the moment, that's supposed to die down as well by gametime.

The Nationals host a split-squad Tigers bunch tonight. J.D. Martin gets his first start in a big-league game this spring, and while the Nats say they want to see the right-hander in action, this feels more like a token appearance than anything. Jim Riggleman said this afternoon it's "a good bet" that Craig Stammen will make the Opening Day rotation. So assuming Livan Hernandez is also in after last night's dominant performance against the Yankees, there are no more available spots for Martin or Scott Olsen. Martin could squeeze his way into the bullpen as a long man, though, and could certainly help his cause with a nice performance tonight.

Meanwhile, Nyjer Morgan is back in the lineup after missing more than a week with a tight hamstring. We'll want to watch closely how he moves around in center field and on the bases.

Check back throughout the late afternoon and evening for updates...

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: None
Weather: Cloudy, 72 degrees, Wind 11 mph in from LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Thursday news and notes

VIERA, Fla. -- Several quick-hit items to report in advance of tonight's game against the Tigers...

-- Jim Riggleman said "it's a good bet" that Craig Stammen will make the Opening Day rotation. That's not exactly shocking news; Stammen has pitched better than just about anyone in Nationals camp and hasn't allowed an earned run over his last eight innings. But it does seem to solidify the club's starting five, which as we've been predicting for a while now would be: John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Garrett Mock, Livan Hernandez and Stammen. Now, J.D. Martin does start tonight against the Tigers and could turn some heads with a lights-out performance. And Scott Olsen is scheduled to start Sunday against the Braves, and it's possible he could suddenly get it all together and put himself back in the mix. But it seems pretty unlikely either of those things is happen to happen at this point.

-- Speaking of upcoming starts, here's how the rotation is set up for the next few days ... Martin tonight vs. Tigers, Lannan tomorrow vs. Cardinals, Marquis Saturday vs. Braves in one split-squad game, Stammen vs. Mets in the other split-squad game, Olsen Sunday vs. Braves, Hernandez Monday vs. Mets.

-- Riggleman said no matter who ends up in the mix for the right field job, no one will hold that position down by himself. In other words, look for some kind of combo of Willie Harris, Mike Morse, Willy

Shifting focus

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ivan Rodriguez has quietly hit .370, one of several regulars putting up big numbers.
TAMPA -- The first month of spring training is for pitchers. It takes a good four or five weeks for guys to get their arms in shape, to build up their stamina and to get a feel for their repertoires. So much of what you read about in late-February and early-March is centered around pitchers' performances, both in bullpen sessions and then later in exhibition games.

But at this point -- with 11 days to go until the season opener -- we've got a pretty good idea what the Nationals' pitching staff will look like. John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Garrett Mock, Livan Hernandez and (probably) Craig Stammen will be in the rotation. Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and (probably) Jason Bergmann and Tyler Walker, plus one other guy (Miguel Batista, J.D. Martin or Jesse English) will make up the bullpen.

So it's time to start shifting focus away from pitching and onto the guys standing at the plate with bats in hand. Managers and talent evaluators usually don't pay much attention to offensive numbers early in the exhibition schedule, because pitchers are always ahead of hitters. But around this time, there begins to be an expectation of progress, of hitters finding their stroke and putting together more quality at-bats.

I haven't made much mention of offensive stats this spring (aside from a now-daily update of Justin Maxwell's fast-fading batting average) so let's run through all the guys of consequence and see how

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The (not so) old man can pitch

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez has shown enough this spring to earn a rotation spot.
TAMPA -- Livan Hernandez celebrated his 35th birthday last month, and while there are certainly plenty of skeptics out there who will never believe it, the right-hander insists his age is accurate. He even offered reporters $1 million tonight if we could prove he's older than his official bio states.

The guy was laughing through the whole exchange, so I don't think he was serious about the offer. But he was serious about his age. He also believes he can pitch in the major leagues for quite a bit longer.

"A lot of years," he said. "Five more? I feel good. Jamie Moyer's 46. I'm 35 now."

If Hernandez can keep pitching the way he did tonight -- holding the Yankees' "A" lineup to one run and three hits in five innings -- he'll remain a valuable, major-league hurler for years to come. Sure, he's going to have rough nights along the way, usually once every five starts or so. But the other four times out, he's going to give his team a chance to win, a fact he's proven time and again throughout a career that began in earnest in 1997 with the Marlins.

"When you put him out there, you put him out there with confidence," manager Jim Riggleman said. "You don't put him out there thinking he's going to break down. Some guys, maximum-effort guys, you

MacDougal returns

TAMPA -- The Nationals have signed reliever Mike MacDougal to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp.

MacDougal, who saved 20 games for the Nats last season, was non-tendered by the club in December after undergoing hip surgery. He wound up signing with the Marlins but was released last week after an ineffective spring.

The right-hander is expected to report to Nationals camp in Viera tomorrow.

UPDATE AT 6:52 P.M. -- General manager Mike Rizzo wouldn't rule out the possibility of MacDougal making the Opening Day roster but said "something extraordinary would have to happen for him to break camp with the club."

The right-hander has said he's willing to open the season at Class AAA Syracuse, though he does have an out clause in his contract if he's not promoted to Washington by a certain date early in the season. Rizzo said there are no concerns with MacDougal's hip anymore but that the

Nats vs. Yankees -- 3/24/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
George M. Steinbrenner Field, spring home of the New York Yankees.
TAMPA -- Hello from Yankee country, otherwise known as George M. Steinbrenner Field. The 27-time World Series champs host the zero-time World Series champs tonight, and even without that disparity it probably wouldn't be a fair fight.

New York manager Joe Girardi is starting all his regulars, including A-Rod, Tex, Jeter and old friend Nick Johnson. Washington manager Jim Riggleman is fielding a travel lineup that boasts cleanup hitter Josh Whitesell.

But for those of you baseball-starved fans back home, tonight's game is on MASN, so be sure to check it out for yourself. If nothing else, you can watch Livan Hernandez attempt to further his case for a spot in the rotation.

Check back here for game updates throughout the late afternoon/evening and check the homepage for any non-game news, such as the news that just came out a little while ago that J.D. Martin will start tomorrow night against the Tigers, not regularly scheduled starter Garrett Mock...

George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: MASN
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, Wind 4 mph LF to RF
LF Roger Bernadina
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Willie Harris
1B Josh Whitesell

Martin to start tomorrow

TAMPA -- J.D. Martin will start tomorrow night's game against the Tigers in Viera, the club announced this afternoon.

Not sure what this means for Garrett Mock, whose turn it normally would be. And for some reason, the Nationals' printed media notes here at Steinbrenner Field in advance of tonight's game against the Yankees lists right-hander Carlos Martinez as their starter.

Martin hasn't pitched in a big-league game since March 10 but has appeared in minor-league games since then. Manager Jim Riggleman has maintained all along the right-hander is in contention for a spot either in the Opening Day rotation or bullpen.

UPDATE AT 7:03 P.M. -- Riggleman said he and club officials wanted to make sure Martin started a major-league game because he does remain in contention for a rotation spot.

"It's just the way it's worked out," Riggleman said. "We had some people we wanted to see against opposing competition. But we can't do that again with J.D. We've got to see him against the other

About that bullpen...

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Closer Matt Capps looked much sharper last night than he did earlier this spring.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- We've spent a lot of time this spring -- and specifically, this week -- talking about the Nationals' starting rotation. And for good reason. That remains this club's biggest area of concern entering the season, and with so much up for grabs this spring, almost every start for the last three weeks has been worth examining with a fine-tooth comb.

But let's take a break from that for just a moment and look at the other half of the Nats' pitching staff, because it merits examination as well. Remember how awful the bullpen was during the first week of March? Well, very quietly that group has gotten its act back together in the two weeks since.

Let's look at each of the contenders for bullpen spots, with their Grapefruit League stats split between their early outings and their most-recent ones...

First three appearances: 3 ip, 6 h, 5 er.
Last four appearances: 4 ip, 4 h, 2 er.

First appearance: 1 ip, 2 h, 1 er.
Last four appearances: 4 ip, 0 h, 0 er.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olsen out of time?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen said his arm felt good, but he allowed six runs and 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Perhaps everything you need to know about Scott Olsen's spring can be summed up in the first eight words of Jim Riggleman's postgame media session tonight.

"I thought that was the best he's thrown," the Nationals manager said.

If that was Olsen's best, it wasn't nearly good enough. Six runs and 12 hits over 4 1/3 innings. Two towering home runs on fastballs up in the zone. A fastball that touched 91 mph in the first inning but was consistently 88-89 mph after that.

And then there's this: Olsen faced 25 Tigers batters tonight. He retired only 12 of them.

This is a guy who deserves to make the Opening Day rotation?

"Anything that looks like progress is what we're looking for at this point," Riggleman said.

Progress for Olsen meant a strong first inning against the Tigers, with his fastball at its highest levels of the spring and his offspeed pitches showing some bite for the first time. But it didn't last long, and everything steadily went downhill over the next four innings. Sure, several of those 12 hits were bloop singles or well-placed bunts

Kasten: No tie to steroids doctor

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Nationals insist they have never had an association with a Northern Virginia chiropractor arrested this morning in connection with the Florida steroids dealer who upon his arrest last year claimed he sold to members of the Nats and Capitals.

Dr. Douglas Owen Nagel, of Reston, was arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and seven counts of solicitation to deliver a controlled substance. On a list of doctors speaking at a 2009 event called the Annual Baseball Team Medicine Conference, Nagel referred to himself as a chiropractic consultant to the Nats and Caps.

"I've never heard of the gentleman before today," Nationals president Stan Kasten said before tonight's game against the Tigers. "He's not associated in any way with the Nationals, never has been. Our trainers have never had anything to do with him. We have no knowledge of anything about him. At all. Period."

Nagel is accused of buying steroids from Lakeland resident Richard Thomas, who last year was arrested in a major drug bust and then claimed to officials he had sold steroids to players from both the

Nats vs. Tigers -- 3/23/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Joker Marchant Stadium, longtime spring home of the Detroit Tigers.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Hello from Tiger Town, which has housed Detroit's American League ballclub since the days Hank Greenberg was slugging home runs. Joker Marchant Stadium (named not for a clown but for Lakeland's parks and recreation director) was built in 1966 and then renovated in 2003 into what is now once of the nicest complexes in the Grapefruit League.

Tonight, this venerable venue hosts the Nationals, who send Scott Olsen to the mound in a critical outing for the left-hander. As we've been talking about all spring, Olsen still doesn't appear all the way back from his shoulder surgery. I think it's safe to say we'll all have one eye on the radar gun here tonight, curious if his fastball comes closer to approaching 90 mph for the first time this spring.

Be sure to check back for updates throughout the late afternoon/evening and check the homepage for any non-game news...

Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla.
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: No TV/Tigers radio via XM and MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, Wind 10 mph LF to RF
CF Willy Taveras
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

From 36 to 25

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman is obviously making the team, but what about Ian Desmond?
VIERA, Fla. -- We've just about hit the stretch run of spring training. Opening Day is a mere 13 days away. And the Nationals' roster, which once stood at 60, has been whittled down to the final 36 legitimate contenders for jobs.

So as we wait for tonight's 6:05 p.m. game against the Tigers in Lakeland -- with Scott Olsen facing a critical moment in his attempt to crack the rotation -- this seems like a good time to make some projections.

And since this is March and all eyes remain on a certain basketball tournament, we'll organize this like all those "bracketology" experts do when trying to predict who's in and who's out...


CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Willie Harris
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Ian Desmond
C Ivan Rodriguez

C Wil Nieves
SS Cristian Guzman
INF Eric Bruntlett

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stammen states his case

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
With four strong innings today, Craig Stammen made his case for a rotation spot.
VIERA, Fla. -- Craig Stammen hasn't been the center of attention in Nationals camp, certainly not the way a certain rookie right-hander was for the last month or even the way fellow hurlers Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen have been for much of the spring.

Stammen? He just keeps his mouth shut, keeps a smile on his face and keeps retiring opposing hitters.

And because of that, the second-year right-hander suddenly looks like a safe bet to make the Opening Day roster.

"He's been good throughout," manager Jim Riggleman said today after watching Stammen throw four innings without allowing an earned run. "He's really making a case for himself to be in the rotation. He's not taking anything for granted. He's competing and pitching very well."

Earlier in the day, Riggleman said there were four guys still competing for two spots in the rotation: Stammen, Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin. Let's be honest, though -- Martin hasn't appeared in a big-league game since March 10 and isn't slated to pitch in a big-league game over the next three days. Hernandez, meanwhile, is

Nats vs. Mets -- 3/22/10

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis is slated to throw five innings today.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's another cloudy, windy day in Florida. What a horrible spring weather-wise. (And yes, I know I promised way back when I wouldn't complain about the weather. I lied.)

Anyways, the Nationals and Mets are preparing to meet once again, with a matchup of projected No. 2 starters: Jason Marquis and Mike Pelfrey. Marquis' place in the Nats' rotation is secure, though it sure would be nice to see him put together a solid outing and lower that 21.94 spring ERA.

The entire Nats' rotation is definitely taking shape. As we've been saying for a while, Marquis, John Lannan and Garrett Mock are in. This morning, Jim Riggleman said four guys remain in the mix for the other two spots: Scott Olsen, Livan Hernandez, Craig Stammen and J.D. Martin.

Let's be honest, though. Hernandez is a pretty safe bet to make it. And Martin isn't under serious consideration -- he hasn't appeared in a big-league game since March 10 and isn't scheduled to pitch in one over the next three days. So really, this boils down to Olsen vs. Stammen, and by tomorrow night, we might have a much better grasp on that competition. Stammen is slated to follow Marquis today and throw four innings. Olsen is slated to start tomorrow against the Tigers and pitch five innings. If his velocity is still in the mid-80s, it's hard to believe he's going to get the nod come April. Stammen could also help his cause with a strong performance today.

Be sure to check back for updates throughout the afternoon, and check the homepage for any non-game news...

Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla.
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: No TV/WFED-1500 AM
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 66 degrees, Wind 16 mph RF to LF
SS Cristian Guzman
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn

Duncan, Orr, Martis sent down

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chris Duncan, who hit .156 this spring, was re-assigned to minor-league camp.
VIERA, Fla. -- More roster reductions this morning: Chris Duncan and Pete Orr have been re-assigned to minor-league camp, while Shairon Martis has been optioned to Class AAA Syracuse.

Duncan had the best shot of making the club when camp opened, hoping to rediscover the form that made him a semi-regular for the World Series champion Cardinals in 2006. But the first baseman/outfielder never found his hitting stroke, and despite work with coach Rick Eckstein to make changes, wasn't able to transfer that into results in game situations. He hit .156 (5-for-32) with seven RBI in 12 spring games.

Martis, who made the Opening Day rotation last year as the Nationals' No. 4 starter, hasn't been the same since getting sent to Class AAA last summer. He allowed eight runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings this spring. Manager Jim Riggleman did say, though, he believes the

A clarification

I wrote on Saturday that The Washington Times sent a reporter to Viera to cover Friday night's game who did not appear in the Nationals' clubhouse yet published quotes from pitcher Stephen Strasburg's session with several media members.

I have since been informed the reporter paid his own way to Florida and did not travel at the newspaper's expense. The quotes published in his article were taken from the Associated Press, a wire service the Times pays for content.

I regret any confusion I may have created.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making statements

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan was sharp today during his five innings.
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's getting to that time of the spring where guys who know they're going to make the roster need to step up and get into regular-season mode, and where guys who are still fighting to make the roster need to step up and seize the opportunity.

Today, we saw some good examples of both scenarios from several players. Let's run through them...

The de facto ace of the Nationals staff -- at least until June, that is -- has had a pretty quiet spring. And I mean that in a good way. Lannan has simply gone out when called upon and done his job with little fanfare. He's preparing himself for that projected April 5 start against Roy Halladay and the Phillies, and he's right on track to slide effortlessly into regular-season mode. "The quieter, the better," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's the ultimate pro, in terms of his preparation, his competitiveness out there. A very low-maintenance guy. Just put him out there and let him go." Today, Lannan allowed one earned run and four hits over five strong innings against the

Riggleman: No Guzman at 2B

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
If Cristian Guzman's in the lineup, he'll be at shortstop.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Despite lingering concerns over the status of Cristian Guzman's right shoulder, the Nationals are not considering moving him to second base.

Manager Jim Riggleman said the club continues to think of the veteran strictly as a shortstop and intends to keep him there, with Adam Kennedy as the everyday second baseman.

"Kennedy's our second baseman," Riggleman said. "That's why we went and got him. Whoever's not playing shortstop can play some other positions, but right now we're looking at Guzie at short. If he can't handle that yet, then we'll back off that."

Guzman, who had offseason shoulder surgery, has yet to show he can throw a ball from the left-side hole with any velocity. He particularly looked weak yesterday afternoon after fielding a ball hit to his right, uncorking a soft, off-line throw to first for an error.

Riggleman has said there is an "open competition" between Guzman and rookie Ian Desmond for the shortstop's job. Last fall and over the winter, the club considered asking Guzman to move to second base but scrapped those plans after signing Kennedy to a one-year, $1.25