Monday, February 28, 2011

The rest of the day

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Wilson Ramos slides in ahead of Mike Nickeas' tag in the top of the fourth.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So, believe it or not, Bryce Harper wasn't the only player of consequence in today's Grapefruit League opener. Quite the contrary, a number of other members of the Nationals did a number of things of interest during their 9-3 thumping of the Mets.

Really, it was a well-played game by the Nats, who rapped out 14 hits, got four innings of scoreless relief from Brian Broderick, Doug Slaten, Todd Coffey and Adam Carr, got a pair of homers from Michael Morse, got some nifty and aggressive baserunning from several guys and got mostly solid defense out of everyone.

Let's run through, bullet-point by bullet-point, the significant developments of the day not involving a certain 18-year-old outfielder who struck out twice...

-- Michael Morse was a beast at the plate. The only member of the starting lineup to stay in the game the entire way, Morse went 3-for-5 with a pair of late home runs. He crushed a slider from Taylor Tankersley over the left-field fence in the top of the seventh, then went "oppo-

Harper whiffs twice in debut

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper reacts to striking out in his first at-bat of the spring.
Read my full story with postgame quotes on

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bryce Harper's first at-bat in a big-league spring training game didn't last long, and didn't produce the result the 18-year-old Washington Nationals phenom or the crowd at DigitalDomain Park wanted.

And his second at-bat wasn't much better.

Harper struck out twice in two plate appearances, swinging and missing at offerings from Mets left-hander Taylor Tankersley and right-hander Ryota Igarashi.

Inserted in the game in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for designated hitter Matt Stairs, Harper got his feet wet on the bases, then had to sit in the dugout for a while before getting his chance with a bat.

He came up to bat in the top of the seventh inning and swung at all three pitches he saw from Tankersley, fouling one off and then missing mightily twice at breaking balls. The crowd of 3,461 at the Mets' spring

Willie Harris moves on

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Willie Harris emerged from the third-base dugout at DigitalDomain Park this morning with a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. Just like the guy Nationals fans came to know over the last three years.

Except for the Mets uniform he was wearing.

"I miss my guys," said Harris, who signed a minor-league deal with New York over the winter. "I miss being over here with these guys, but unfortunately you have to move on. When one door closes, another door opens. I'm looking forward to this opportunity I have in New York and plan on making the best of it."

Harris hoped to return to Washington after his contract expired at the end of the season. His contact with the Nationals, though, was minimal and he gave up hope when he heard through the grapevine they were more interested in adding right-handed bats off the bench. (They wound up signing Jerry Hairston to fill Harris' super-utility role.)

Coming off a down year in which he hit .183 with 10 homers and 32 RBI in 132 games, Harris had to settle for a minor-league deal with the

Nats at Mets - 2/28/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
DigitalDomain Park, spring home of the New York Mets.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Let the games begin.

The Grapefruit League begins this afternoon for the Nationals, who open exhibition play against their division rivals from Queens at the recently renamed DigitalDomain Park. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

The big story today, of course, is Bryce Harper's debut. The 18-year-old outfielder made the trip but is not in the Nats' starting lineup. He's slated to enter sometime later in the game and get at least one at-bat. He won't be facing Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, but there's a decent chance he'll face veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen, who is slated to come out of the bullpen for New York.

Chad Gaudin, attempting to make the roster as either the No. 5 starter or as a long reliever, gets the nod for the Nationals. The right-hander will throw either two or three innings, depending on his pitch count. Other pitchers scheduled to appear today include Craig Stammen, Brian Broderick, Doug Slaten and Todd Coffey.

Several regulars (Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ivan Rodriguez) did not make the trip today and will make their debuts tomorrow at home. But we will get a good look at the double-play combo of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, Nyjer Morgan in center field and both Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores behind the plate.

Plenty of updates to come, so be sure to check back throughout...

DigitalDomain Park, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 1:10 p.m.
TV: SNY (New York), (live online), MLB Network (tape delay, 9:30 p.m.)
Weather: Sunny, 82 degrees, Wind 19 mph out to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
LF Roger Bernadina
RF Mike Morse

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quiet camp is good for Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman has presided over a Nats camp lacking in the usual drama.
VIERA, Fla. -- Walking around the practice fields near Space Coast Stadium for the last two weeks, you tend to strike up conversations with all sorts of people. Players. Coaches. Team execs. Fans. Other media members.

Overwhelmingly this spring, there has been a common sentiment among all those different interested parties: This Nationals camp feels different than previous ones.

What's the difference? One particular phrase seems to keep coming up: There's a more professional tone to the proceedings.

Indeed, it does feel like there's less need for basic instruction and teaching this spring. Players are using their time simply to get their work in and get themselves ready for the season.

It helps that the roster boasts far more veterans than in the past, guys like Matt Stairs, Jerry Hairston, Rick Ankiel and Alex Cora. It also helps

Accelerated camp roster

VIERA, Fla. -- Though minor-league spring training doesn't begin until mid-March, the Nationals invite a roster full of their top prospects to come to town early and participate in an "accelerated development camp."

These are mostly younger prospects, guys who aren't ready for big-league camp quite yet, plus a handful of veteran minor leaguers who could use some extra work. Some of these players will get a chance to be called up and participate in actual Grapefruit League games, as well.

Among the more notable players in this year's accelerated camp are 2010 draft picks Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray; reigning organizational player of the year Tyler Moore; and young outfield prospects Destin Hood and Eury Perez.

Here's the complete roster of 43 players participating this spring...

RHP Aaron Barrett
RHP James Barthmaier
LHP Mitchell Clegg
RHP A.J. Cole

Two years later, Flores ready to play

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jesus Flores has participated fully in camp and is ready to play in games.
VIERA, Fla. -- Sometime during tomorrow's Grapefruit League opener in Port St. Lucie, Bryce Harper will trot out of the Nationals' dugout and assume his position in right field. All eyes will focus on the 18-year-old, curious to see how he handles his first big-league exhibition game.

Around the same time, Jesus Flores will take his spot behind the plate, drawing far fewer eyes. Make no mistake, though: Flores' first appearance in a big-league game in nearly two years is in its own way just as significant a development as Harper's ballyhooed debut.

Sidelined since May 2009 with a major shoulder injury, Flores is finally healthy again and ready to resume a career that looked like it was about to take off before he got hurt.

"I'm excited about it," the 26-year-old catcher said. "I want to show everybody that Jesus Flores is back. It's not a shoulder issue anymore. For me, it's done. It's over with."

Read my full story on Flores on

How many bullpen spots available?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Clippard is assured of a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.
VIERA, Fla. -- We're nearly two weeks into camp now and the Nationals are still waiting for one of their key offseason acquisitions to arrive.

Henry Rodriguez, the flamethrowing right-hander picked up from the A's in the Josh Willingham trade, has been stuck in Venezeula waiting for visa issues to be sorted out. It appeared he'd be arriving several days ago, but his locker remains empty.

According to Jim Riggleman, Rodriguez is now slated to report on Tuesday. Once he arrives, Rodriguez will try to catch up with the rest of the staff, throwing a couple of bullpen sessions, a live BP session or two and maybe appear in a minor-league instrasquad game before debuting against big-league hitters.

The other hard-throwing reliever who had been delayed by visa problems, Elvin Ramirez, has been in camp since Thursday and has thrown in the bullpen twice now. Riggleman and other team officials have liked what they've seen from the Rule 5 draftee, who has exhibited

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thoughts on Wang and Harper

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chien-Ming Wang took another positive step today.
VIERA, Fla. -- The biggest development of the day at Nationals camp was Chien-Ming Wang's continued progression. He looked sharp during his live BP session, and he's slated to pitch an inning or two in a minor-league intrasquad game on Friday. (You can read more details, including quotes from Wang and Steve McCatty, in my updated article.)

What, though, does all this actually mean for Wang? Is there a chance he might actually be ready to start the season in the majors?

Nobody with the Nationals is ready to go that far yet. They continue to take the ultra-cautious, wait-and-see approach, and probably for good reason. It's been nearly two years since Wang pitched in a major-league game. Let's not go and just assume he's good to go again based on a couple of live BP sessions.

That said, Wang certainly has looked better each time he's thrown this spring, capped by today's round of live BP in which he surrendered a

Another MRI for Meredith

VIERA, Fla. -- Cla Meredith's chance of making the Nationals' bullpen, already long when camp started, has become even more unlikely.

Meredith, who had to cut his first bullpen session short last week after experiencing pain in his surgically repaired right elbow, had another setback yesterday that required another MRI.

The results of that test (an arthrogram) haven't been read by doctors yet, but Meredith doesn't sound optimistic he'll be allowed to resume pitching anytime soon.

"I'm certainly not any help to myself or the Washington Nationals right now if my elbow's not right," he said.

Meredith, a sidearm-throwing reliever who was a key member of the Padres' bullpen from 2006-09, struggled last season with the Orioles and

Wang to face minor-leaguers Friday

Read my updated story, with observations from today's live BP session and quotes from Chien-Ming Wang and Steve McCatty, on

VIERA, Fla. -- Chien-Ming Wang, attempting to pitch for the Nationals this season after missing all of 2010 recovering from shoulder surgery, will make his first spring training appearance next week against minor leaguers.

Wang is slated to pitch at least one inning Friday in an intrasquad game featuring members of the Nationals' accelerated minor-league program. It will be his first game appearance since a pair of one-inning outings in the Florida instructional league in October.

The Nationals hope Wang, who had major surgery to repair his right shoulder socket in 2009, will be ready to pitch in official Grapefruit League games soon but didn't want to thrust him into that fire quite yet.

"It's uncharted waters recovering from that operation," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're just being ultra-conservative and not going to put him out there against somebody in the other uniform yet, where maybe

Friday, February 25, 2011

A DP combo with "swagger"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond have become friends on and off the field.
VIERA, Fla. -- Ask Ian Desmond which of Danny Espinosa's qualities he wishes he possessed, and the Nationals' young shortstop gives a surprising answer.

"He's got a little more swagger than I've got," Desmond said. "He's got a little more confidence. I think him going to college and me coming out of high school, there's a little bit of a difference in that aspect. He's got a little more swagger, more style, more confidence that I wish I have."

What do you think, Danny? Do you really have more swagger than Ian?

"I don't think so," Espinosa said. "He probably does things a little smoother than me, so I'm looking at that as him having more swagger."

Suffice it to say, neither member of the Nationals' middle-infield combo is lacking in the confidence department. Each believes he can do just about anything on the diamond, and each believes the other can probably do it even better, as you'll read in my full article for

Friday afternoon observations

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan takes off from first base during a baserunning/defense drill.
VIERA, Fla. -- Sorry for the late posting this afternoon. The wireless internet at Space Coast Stadium (which had already been spotty all spring) completely went out today. So I've relocated to the Barry Svrluga Memorial Panera press box for a little while to take advantage of some free internet access, not to mention a delicious pumpkin muffin top. (Really disappointed they didn't take Elaine Benes' advice and name this place "Top of the Muffin to You!")

Anyways, today's workout was mostly a quiet affair. A good amount of time in the morning was spent on infield drills, particularly making sure everyone's on the same page when it comes to situations with runners on the corners. The biggest thing I took out of that exercise was that Jesus Flores' shoulder looks pretty good to me. He made several strong throws to both second and third bases and didn't appear to have any trouble doing it. You hate to make any proclamations yet before the games even start, but Flores' injury looks like a thing of the past to me. That's an encouraging thought.

Several rounds of live batting practice highlighted the second half of the workout. I paid particular attention to Yunesky Maya, who looked pretty good during his time on the mound. I can't say I saw anyone make real

Room for Bernadina and Ankiel?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina has "superstar potential," according to Jim Riggleman.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's pretty clear the Nationals are going to enter the 2011 season with no set, everyday left fielder. What's not necessarily clear is how many different left fielders they'll have in the rotation.

Three guys are in the mix (Roger Bernadina, Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel) and each offers some particular skill that should be able to help this team. But can the Nationals afford to carry all three on their 25-man roster, especially with Bernadina and Ankiel possessing similar games?

"We're looking at that real close," Jim Riggleman said this morning. "That affects some other spots. That affects [Matt] Stairs. That affects [Laynce] Nix. All those guys are good players with a lot of major-league experience. We've got to be a little creative if we're going to keep them all, but they're all good players. We're a long way from sorting that out."

The Nationals remain high on Bernadina, whose combination of speed, defense and power makes him an intriguing long-term possibility.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

3, 2, 1 ...

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Space Shuttle Discovery launches into orbit, as seen from Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- ... and we have liftoff!

Space Shuttle Discovery just launched from nearby Cape Canaveral, making its final journey into orbit before NASA discontinues the shuttle program later this year.

Unfortunately, there was some cloud cover in the area, so we didn't get a clear view of the entire plume of smoke as it traveled up into the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Still, it's always a cool thing to be able to watch one of these in person, and plenty of people turned out today at Space Coast Stadium to watch.

The Nationals held a barbecue on the stadium concourse for members of the organization and their families. Several players were already here filming a commercial for MASN, and as the clock ticked down, they all raced up the third-base stands to watch over the railing in full uniform (as you can see in the below photo).

Marquis healthy and determined

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis hopes to bounce back after a disastrous 2010.
VIERA, Fla. -- Jason Marquis knew something wasn't quite right with his elbow, really, from the moment he started throwing in his first spring with the Nationals. The discomfort, though, didn't prevent him from pitching altogether. And as someone who had never suffered any kind of significant arm injury during a 10-year, big-league career, he figured he'd be able to battle his way through what appeared to be nothing more than a small blip.

"I pride myself on taking the ball every five days," the right-hander said. "I felt it was something I could work out and pitch through. Obviously, you saw the results."

The results, of course, were as ugly as anything you'll ever see from a major-league pitcher.

"Was it a mistake? Probably," he said. "But you can't fault me for wanting to do good and be a part of something and going out there and busting my butt every time."

Read my full story on Marquis' attempt to return to form on

Counting down to countdown

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam LaRoche takes some grounders from his knees.
VIERA, Fla. -- Baseball is taking a bit of a backseat today around here, for a handful of reasons:

1) The Players' Association delegation was in town this morning to hold its annual meeting, which ran nearly two hours and delayed the start of the workout.

2) A production team from MASN is here filming what looks like a pretty elaborate commercial. They've overtaken the main field inside Space Coast Stadium.

3) The real highlight of the day takes place at precisely 4:50 p.m., when Space Shuttle Discovery launches from nearby Cape Canaveral on her final voyage into orbit. A bunch of members of the organization are holding a barbecue and launch viewing party here at the ballpark. (Photos to come later, hopefully.)

As for what took place on the field today during an abbreviated workout, it was mostly geared toward defensive drills and batting

Harper will play in exhibition opener

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper won't have to wait long to make his spring training debut. The 18-year-old phenom is scheduled to appear in the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener on Monday against the Mets.

Manager Jim Riggleman said Harper will be on the Nationals' travel squad for the 1:10 p.m. game in Port St. Lucie. The young outfielder, who is in big-league camp despite having yet to play in a regular-season, minor-league game, won't start but is slated to come off the bench and get at least one at-bat.

Harper's spring training playing time is expected to be minimal. He's unlikely to start any games, and he'll probably be among the first round of cuts approximately seven-to-10 days after the exhibition schedule begins.

"I'm hoping that he kind of blends in," Riggleman said. "I'm not looking for him to excel against major-league pitching."

Veteran right-hander Chad Gaudin, attempting to make the roster as either the fifth starter or as a long reliever, will pitch the first two or three innings against the Mets. Other pitchers scheduled to appear in

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Big-league undergrad

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After spending the fall at Stanford, Drew Storen is back to baseball this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- One evening in late October, Drew Storen wandered from his dorm room at Stanford University down to the dining hall on the ground floor, where a cafeteria-style dinner and a big-screen TV showing the NLCS awaited.

He sat down at a table where a couple of fellow students were already watching the game between the Phillies and Giants with some keen interest and joined in the conversation with them as the game progressed. At one point, with Shane Victorino at the plate in a key spot, Storen couldn't help but blurt out what he expected the next pitch to be. When Storen's prediction proved to be dead-on, his dinner-mates turned to the 23-year-old and gave him a quizzical look.

"How did you know that?" one asked. It took every ounce of Storen's will power not to retort by saying: "Uh, dude, I struck that guy out on the same pitch one month ago." Instead, he played coy and replied simply: "I just watch a lot of baseball."

Most ballplayers spend their offseasons lounging around their homes, physically and mentally recovering from the 162-game grind. Storen, as you can read in my piece for, spent his offseason as a full-time student at one of America's most-demanding universities.

BA ranks Harper No. 1

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper hasn't played an official minor-league game yet, but the Nationals' 18-year-old phenom has already been named his sport's top prospect.

Baseball America released its annual Top 100 Prospects list on Wednesday and selected Harper No. 1 by a narrow margin over Angels outfielder Mike Trout.

Harper, the first overall pick in last summer's draft out of the College of Southern Nevada, has to date played professionally only in the Florida instructional league and the Arizona Fall League. He's in big-league camp this spring and is expected to appear in a handful of Grapefruit League games before getting optioned to Class A to begin the season.

Three other Nationals farmhands cracked Baseball America's Top 100 list. Infielder Danny Espinosa, who is expected to open the season as Washington's starting second baseman, ranked 66th. Catcher Derek Norris, the organization's best offensive prospect other than Harper, ranked 72nd. Catcher Wilson Ramos, acquired last summer from the Twins in the Matt Capps trade, ranked 96th.

Only four organizations had more than four players in the Top 100: the Royals (nine), Rays (seven), Braves and Yankees (six apiece).

Live BP drama

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chien-Ming Wang's velocity was better today, but his command was off.
VIERA, Fla. -- Plenty of interesting nuggets out of today's workout, most of it from the several rounds of live batting practice that were taking place on side-by-side fields...

Chien-Ming Wang faced live hitters for the first time this spring, and the results were mixed. Wang's velocity appeared to be better than it had been in recent bullpen sessions, but his command was all over the place.

That's probably not all that surprising when you consider that Wang hadn't faced live batters since the instructional league in October, but it's further evidence the right-hander still has a ways to go before he's ready to pitch in actual game competition.

When Wang did find the strike zone, he was hit a few times. Ian Desmond tagged a one-hopper to the left-field fence on his first swing. ...

Power met power when Bryce Harper faced Cole Kimball in one of the live BP sessions that drew plenty of interest from team officials and

"It's their clubhouse"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis will start the fourth game of the exhibition season.
VIERA, Fla. -- Jim Riggleman spent some time this morning behind closed doors with a handful of key players off his roster: Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, among others.

The purpose of those meetings: To take suggestions from those players about clubhouse guidelines Riggleman wants to have in place for the upcoming season. The manager said he'll have a few hard-and-fast rules that are "non-negotiable," but he doesn't want to be the one determining everything for a group of 25 men significantly younger than him.

"I want their input on it," Riggleman said. "It's their clubhouse."

Every team is required by MLB to submit some clubhouse standards to league headquarters, so this isn't necessarily something new the Nationals are doing. But there have already been a few occasions this spring in which you've gotten the sense there is a slightly changed dynamic in the Nats clubhouse, a more professional tone that's coming

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Werth, Harper share the spotlight

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth shared the spotlight today at Nats camp.
VIERA, Fla. -- Sign the 14th-largest contract in baseball history, and you're probably going to be the center of attention on your first day with your new club.

Unless, of course, one of your new teammates is the most-hyped 18-year-old in a generation.

Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper shared the spotlight Tuesday on the first day of full-squad workouts at Nationals camp, the $126 million veteran and the prized prospect spending plenty of time together in the outfield and each looking perfectly comfortable in his new surroundings.

"It's definitely a new beginning," said Werth, a three-time division champion with the Phillies suddenly starring for a Nationals franchise that has escaped the NL East basement only once in six years.

"I had a lot of fun out there with everybody," said Harper, who should be starting his senior season in high school right now yet found himself Thursday on the same field as future Hall-of-Famer Ivan Rodriguez. "We had a blast."

Read my full story, including plenty of thoughts from both Werth and Harper, on

Tuesday workout observations

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina works on Bo Porter's unconventional drill.
VIERA, Fla. -- No, your eyes aren't deceiving you: That's a photo of Roger Bernadina tracking down a fly ball with his right hand while holding a football in his left hand. That was one of the first things I saw during this morning's full-squad workout that let me know there are a few differences about this camp from previous ones.

The football drill is the brainchild of new third base coach Bo Porter, who also instructs the outfielders. Porter came up with the idea several years ago while coaching the Marlins. The idea behind it: Holding a football tucked into your side while taking off to catch a fly ball helps keep your running form tight and thus keeps your speed up all the way through the catch.

"After coaching for a year and watching different guys running at the balls, I realized the farther an outfielder runs for the ball, the form kind of got out from under them," said Porter, a former football player himself. "You see the glove start to waggle, the arm gets outside of their body. We all know if you start to lose your form, you're going to slow down. So the goal with the drill is to keep them running with their form

Riggleman wants expectations raised

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman addressed the full squad before this morning's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- The full squad is in uniform and taking the field at last, but before that happened, Jim Riggleman held a 30-minute meeting with the entire roster and coaching staff, laying the foundation for this camp.

Riggleman had one message in particular he wanted to convey to his revamped club: It's time to take the next step forward.

"There's a tremendous amount of talent in the room here," he said. "With that talent, expectations get raised. So let's meet and exceed those expectations."

That's not the kind of message Riggleman probably felt was appropriate one year ago, when the Nationals were coming off a 59-win season and still had some significant holes around the diamond.

This spring, there's a bit of a different sense in camp. There's more talent across the roster. There's a lot more depth at the major- and

Monday, February 21, 2011

Harper circus shouldn't last long

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper's presence towered over Nats camp today.
VIERA, Fla. -- As Bryce Harper shuttled from practice field to practice field late this morning, followed every step of the way by media and fans alike, you couldn't help but wonder if the circus is going to become a daily occurrence around Nationals camp.

The attention Harper received on his first day in camp was at least on par with what Stephen Strasburg got one year ago, perhaps even greater. Strasburg wasn't mobbed by dozens of autograph seekers last spring the way Harper was today (though perhaps in part because the attention-shy right-hander made more of an effort to avoid the crush, where the limelight-loving Harper was happy to join in).

These first few days of Harper's first spring training may continue to resemble the traveling circus. When he steps into the box tomorrow to face a real Nationals pitcher throwing live BP, the cameras will once again be rolling, and we'll all scribble down notes and post Twitter updates every time he makes (or doesn't make) contact.

And when Jim Riggleman summons Harper off the bench for the first time in a Grapefruit League game, the moment again will take on added

Bryce Harper arrives

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper takes a break following his first round of batting practice at Nats camp.
Read my full, updated story on

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper arrived at Nationals camp this morning with a flourish, creating a buzz as soon as he walked onto the practice fields down the street from Space Coast Stadium.

The 18-year-old outfielder, among the top prospects in baseball, joined other position players in an informal workout the day before the Nationals conduct their first full-squad session. During a round of batting practice with a pack of fans and media members watching, Harper clubbed several home runs.

Afterward, he was mobbed by several dozen fans seeking autographs.

Last summer's No. 1 draft pick out of the College of Southern Nevada, Harper is in big-league camp despite having never attended spring training before. He's all but certain to open the season at low-Class A Hagerstown, but team officials want him to get the experience playing

Versatility abounds

VIERA, Fla. -- It's the final day of pitcher and catcher workouts, and not a moment too soon. Everyone around here is ready for the full squad to take the field tomorrow morning and really get this camp cranking.

Every position player has been accounted for, no visa issues to report. (Pitchers Henry Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez, meanwhile, remain in Venezuela waiting for their cases to be resolved.) So we'll get our first look at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth tomorrow, with both guys (along with all the other position players) taking live BP from members of the Nationals pitching staff.

Full-squad defensive drills will also begin tomorrow, and one thing I'll be interested to see is how various members of the roster shuttle back and forth between multiple positions. The Nationals have no shortage of versatile players in this camp; just about everyone is capable of playing multiple positions, and just about everyone will be counted on to play multiple positions before the season ends.

Jerry Hairston can play second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions, and Jim Riggleman said this morning the veteran utilityman will probably split his time this spring evenly between the

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One-on-one with Rizzo

VIERA, Fla. -- It's been nearly two years since Mike Rizzo became acting general manager of the Nationals following the abrupt resignation of Jim Bowden in the middle of spring training.

In the two years since, Rizzo has guided the franchise through a number of changes on and off the field and last fall was given a five-year extension and title promotion to general manager and executive vice president for baseball operations.

Since taking over, Rizzo has assembled a roster that fits his mold more than the one he inherited, with big, bulky power hitters replaced by more athletic, defensively gifted players. He has bolstered his roster's depth at a number of positions but was unable to acquire the front-line starting pitcher he publicly desired this winter.

Earlier this afternoon, as position players officially reported for spring training in advance of Tuesday's first full-squad workout, Rizzo sat down for a brief, one-on-one interview and discussed the state of the roster, the status of several players (including Chien-Ming Wang, Nyjer Morgan and Bryce Harper) and the status of manager Jim Riggleman (who is entering the final year of his contract).

You can read the full transcript of my interview with Rizzo on

In a fog

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Sean Burnett delivers a pitch during his bullpen session.
VIERA, Fla. -- Upon arriving at Space Coast Stadium at 8:15 this morning, I didn't think there was any chance the Nationals would be able to start their workout on time. A dense fog blanketed the entire area and made it impossible to see more than 50 feet in front of your own nose. I can only imagine what Wilson Ramos would think squatting behind the plate and waiting for one of Collin Balester's 95 mph fastballs to emerge from the soup.

The fog, though, quickly burned off, and by 9 a.m. it was more than clear enough for the players to head down to the practice fields and conduct business as usual.

Nothing too exciting to report from today's workout. It's still only pitchers and catchers formally participating, though today is reporting day for position players and most of them started emerging out there as the pitchers were wrapping up to conduct their own informal round of BP.

Position players are scheduled to take their physicals tomorrow, then the full squad finally works out Tuesday morning. Bryce Harper will be

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is a LF platoon the best answer?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina is battling Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel for playing time in left field.
VIERA, Fla. -- Rarely have the Nationals entered spring training with as many starting jobs around the diamond locked up like this. With six weeks still remaining before Opening Day, the Nats already know their starting catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, center fielder and right fielder.

Then there's left field, which at this point is completely up for grabs between Roger Bernadina, Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel.

Any one of the three could seize the starting job and become a lineup mainstay. Or the Nationals could decide not to declare anyone the starter and simply rotate all three in and out of the lineup.

"I'm open to either of those situations," manager Jim Riggleman said. "If Mike Morse or if Bernadina or if Ankiel, if one of those guys is clearly dominant over the others in spring training, then we'll put that guy out there. But if it's a combination of a couple guys ... if we did get in a situation where we platooned, that would be the one position we would do that."

Read my full story on the different possibilities in left field on

Saturday's workout in photos

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler throws in the bullpen with Jim Riggleman watching.
VIERA, Fla. -- Only three days into official workouts, the monotony starts to sink in a bit. These early sessions before position players join the fray are pretty simplistic: Throw off a bullpen mound every other day, shuttle between defense and bunting stations the rest of the time, catchers take batting practice. Not a ton of variety.

That will start to change on Tuesday when all position players are in camp and on the field for the first full-squad workout of the spring. Then you'll start to see more variations of activities: more team defense, baserunning, live batting practice.

The most notable development today might have been Chien-Ming Wang's bullpen session, which was much sharper than Thursday's session that we already over-analyzed. Jim Riggleman and Steve McCatty both watched Wang closely today, and Riggleman came away encouraged by what he saw: More sinking action from Wang. Afterward, the Taiwanese right-hander said there was a "big difference" in his throwing session today, that his "motion is more smooth." Obviously, he's still got a long way to go, but after leaving Thursday with a negative vibe, today he left a better taste in everyone's mouth.

Stephen Strasburg also played catch, though not with the rest of the team. Strasburg did his light tossing from 45 feet earlier this morning,

Update on Meredith and visas

For the update on Cla Meredith's MRI and his comments, go to

VIERA, Fla. -- It's another beautiful day in paradise, not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze blowing and the temperature expected to approach 80 degrees. Tough gig, I know.

Pitchers and catchers are making their way down to the minor-league complex for this morning's workout, but before I join them over there, a couple of Saturday morning updates for you...

-- Cla Meredith, who had to cut his first bullpen session short yesterday due to elbow discomfort, was seen by doctors and received (I believe) an MRI. The results of that test aren't known yet.

Manager Jim Riggleman confirmed Meredith had arthroscopic surgery during the offseason to remove bone chips in his elbow, a procedure similar to the one Jason Marquis had early last season and Craig Stammen late in 2009.

"Hopefully, this discomfort yesterday was maybe some scar tissue tearing or something," Riggleman said. "We'll know more maybe later today."

-- Henry Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez, the two right-handers currently stuck in Venezuela waiting for their visa applications to be approved,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pudge now, Ramos and/or Flores soon

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jesus Flores (and Wilson Ramos) are staring over Ivan Rodriguez's shoulder.
VIERA, Fla. -- It sounded like a forceful declaration from Jim Riggleman -- "Pudge is our catcher" -- and the Nationals manager meant it when he said this morning that Ivan Rodriguez would open the season as Washington's starter behind the plate.

Truth be told, Riggleman knows Rodriguez's tenure atop the catching depth chart is likely to be brief. Between Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores, the Nationals have two potential long-term answers at the position. And at some point this season, perhaps by early summer, one of those two youngsters will take over for Rodriguez, who at 39 is already on borrowed time.

Riggleman said as much this morning.

"Whether it's Ramos and/or Flores, they're very talented guys," the manager said. "We're not going to let them die on the vine. They've got to get playing time. So whichever guy is there, if not both of them, they're going to get playing time and stay sharp. And as the year goes on, probably get a little more playing time."

Read my full analysis of the Nats' catching plans on

2nd workout done, Meredith injured

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Yunesky Maya throws during his morning bullpen session.
VIERA, Fla. -- Workout No. 2 of the spring is in the books, and there were a few things worth noting about it, from the early arrival of several top position players to several intriguing guys throwing in the bullpen.

It appears, though, today's most notable development was a negative one. Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post was watching Cla Meredith's bullpen session and noticed the reliever cutting it short and then pointing toward his elbow as he departed alongside a trainer. Later, Meredith told Kilgore he's "four months out of surgery," which if true would be news to just about everyone, I believe. There were no previous reports about Meredith having any kind of arm issues last season while he was with the Orioles. Whether the Nationals were aware of this upon signing the veteran side-armer to a minor-league contract earlier this month is unclear. I've got some inquiries to team officials out there and will let you know once I hear anything.

[UPDATE AT 3:30 P.M. -- A team official said there will be an update on Meredith's condition in the morning. The Nats were aware he underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery before signing him.]

One guy I did watch pitch in the bullpen was Yunesky Maya, who was less-than-spectacular last September in his first big-league stint but by all accounts was fantastic in the Dominican this winter. I didn't notice anything particularly different about Maya during his session today, but that doesn't mean anything because it was his first bullpen of the spring

Riggleman: "Pudge is our catcher"

VIERA, Fla. -- There may come a point this season when either Wilson Ramos or Jesus Flores takes over as the Washington Nationals' starting catcher. But for now, that job still belongs to one of the greatest backstops ever to play the game.

Manager Jim Riggleman made it clear Friday morning Ivan Rodriguez will open the season as his club's starter behind the plate.

"Pudge is our catcher," Riggleman said. "We're going to go out there, and Pudge is going to continue to lead our ballclub as a leader behind the plate, a good hitter and just a good baseball player. He's got a lot of baseball left, so he's our catcher. And whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along."

For my complete story, please go to

Is Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered?

VIERA, Fla. -- For all the attention Stephen Strasburg received yesterday during his first official workout of the spring, there was another Nationals pitcher drawing even more attention.

Chien-Ming Wang, a national hero in Taiwan, was followed by the usual throng of media members that chronicles his every move. These reporters have spent a lot of time in Viera over the last year, because Wang has yet to even pitch in a minor-league game nearly two years since undergoing major shoulder surgery.

Wang has been throwing bullpen sessions for several weeks now, but yesterday represented the first time the full Nationals coaching staff (and D.C.-based media) had a chance to see him in months. And the evaluations weren't glowing.

There are no radar guns out on the practice fields, but Wang didn't appear to be throwing anywhere close to full velocity. He has a slow, deliberate motion that can be deceiving and make it appear he's not throwing as hard as he actually is. But if you watch the above video

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strasburg begins the long road back

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg threw for about 15 minutes today from 45 feet.
VIERA, Fla. -- It was, as Stephen Strasburg succinctly described it, "just another another day."

And on the surface, there was nothing special about the tasks Strasburg performed Thursday morning during the Washington Nationals' first official workout of the spring. He played catch for 15 minutes, tossing a ball gently back and forth with head trainer Lee Kuntz. He fielded comebackers off the bat of a minor-league coach. He received some bunting instructions from hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

Pretty mundane stuff, really. And yet, even the most mundane tasks carry special meaning right now for Strasburg, who five months removed from Tommy John surgery is beginning to feel like a real ballplayer again. He's still got a long way to go before he pitches in a big-league game again. But Strasburg has a clear goal in mind: Return to the mound in September.

"Yeah, it's obviously a goal," he said. "But it's out of my control. All I can do is just go out there and do the throwing program, execute the schedule. And if they feel like I'm ready at the end of the year to go out there and pitch, awesome. That's going to be great. But it's going to be a decision they're going to have to make."

Read my full story on Strasburg's first day in camp on

First observations

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg pauses during his throwing session to talk to Jim Riggleman.
VIERA, Fla. -- The first official workout of spring training is wrapping up as we speak. Nothing dramatic to report, though I suppose the sight of Stephen Strasburg throwing a baseball qualifies for drama around here.

Strasburg played catch with head trainer Lee Kuntz, using a full throwing motion but nowhere close to full velocity. They stood about 45 feet apart and split the session in two, totaling about 15 minutes. This is just the first of a whole lot of steps for Strasburg to take before he stands on the mound at Nationals Park again.

Strasburg did participate with everyone else in the fundamental drills. He fielded comebackers (not throwing the ball after catching it, of course) and took bunting practice. Basically, he's just like every other pitcher in camp, except he's restricted to throwing only during that 15-minute session.

As for the guys who did throw off bullpen mounds, I was most interested in seeing Chien-Ming Wang. Now, I'm by no means a pitching expert, and my eye for these things isn't anywhere in the same area code as Steve

Time to work out

VIERA, Fla. -- Pitchers and catchers may have reported two days ago, but spring training really begins today. Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo are currently holding a meeting inside the clubhouse with all the gathered player, setting the ground rules (as they are) for the spring. At 9:45 a.m., everyone will head to the practice fields down the rad for their first formal workout of the year.

These early workout sessions are geared entirely around the pitchers, with guys split up into groups and rotating between four different practice fields and the big bullpen. At each station, a different fundamental is practiced, from fielding bunts to covering first base to pickoff moves. It's all pretty mundane, but this is the time of year to work on this stuff, and every pitcher in every camp has to do it.

The bullpen sessions last about 10 minutes. Every pitcher throws every other day, all under the watchful eye of Steve McCatty, who roams behind the row of 10 mounds barking out orders.

Pitchers scheduled to throw today: Livan Hernandez, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Garrett Mock, Chien-Ming Wang, Tom Gorzelanny, Adam Carr, Cole Kimball, Joe Bisenius, Drew Storen, Collin Balester,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Livo at home in Viera, with Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez plays catch on his first day at Nats camp this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- Livan Hernandez has the kind of presence that allows him to walk into any big-league clubhouse and immediately feel right at home, but there may be no clubhouse in the sport that feels more like home to the veteran right-hander than the home digs at Space Coast Stadium.

Hernandez has been coming here for so long, he vividly remembers the facility's early days in the mid-1990s when nothing but cow pastures surrounded the ballpark. The smell wafting over the right-field fence is permanently embedded in his mind.

This is, amazingly, Hernandez's 10th spring training in Viera. The first four came as a member of the Marlins, the original tenants of the facility on the state's east coast (1996-99). Then four more during his first stint with the Expos/Nationals (2003-06). And now he's back for the second camp of his second stint with the Nats, still occupying one of the two extra-large lockers reserved for the team's senior starting pitchers.

Come March 31, Hernandez will find himself in familiar territory as well: Standing on the mound delivering the first pitch of the season for the ninth time in his career, an assignment he relishes.

"It means a lot," he said. "I don't know how many times I've been doing it, maybe eight or nine? It's nice to pitch on the first day of the season, and I enjoy it. I'll try to win."

Read my full story about Livo on

Bernadina bulks up

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina worked hard this offseason, and it shows.
VIERA, Fla. -- Guys report to spring training all the time and declare themselves to be in "the best shape of my life." Most of the time, we shrug it off.

Roger Bernadina didn't utter the phrase himself today when he walked into the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium, but he didn't need to. His physique spoke for itself.

Check out the above photo and see for yourself: Bernadina is ripped. He also had the body of a top professional athlete. Now he looks like he could compete in the Ironman Triathalon. And possibly win the thing.

The 26-year-old outfielder spent most of the offseason in his native Holland, working with the same trainer he's had for several years. The two devised a reconfigured plan, though, this winter that included

Atilano DFA'd, 3 others delayed

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals announced this morning they designated right-hander Luis Atilano for assignment, the long-awaited move that reduces their roster to the maximum 40 one day before pitchers and catchers hold their first formal workout.

Atilano was a surprise contributor to the Nationals' rotation early last season, summoned from the minors after a spate of injuries. He went 5-1 over his first eight career starts, then lost six of his next seven decisions to wind up 6-7 with a 5.15 ERA.

The Puerto Rico native went on the disabled list in July with bone chips in his throwing elbow and missed the rest of the season after having surgery to remove them.

Meanwhile, three pitchers and catchers have yet to report to spring training due to visa issues: Dominican right-hander Elvin Ramirez (a Rule 5 draftee) and Venezuelan right-hander Henry Rodriguez (acquired from the A's in the Josh Willingham trade) and catcher Carlos Maldonado (invited to camp as a non-roster player).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No ace, but Nats like rotation depth

Photo by Bob Youngentob for
Barring something unforeseen, Livan Hernandez will start Opening Day against the Braves.
VIERA, Fla. -- On the day pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, Jim Riggleman didn't hesitate to name his Opening Day starter: Livan Hernandez.

"Unless something unforeseen happens, Livan has earned it," the Nationals manager said.

Not that Riggleman has a ton of appealing choices. With Stephen Strasburg shelved until at least September while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals are left without a bona fide No. 1 starter. And of the remaining options, Hernandez (who started Opening Day for Washington in 2005 and 2006) has the most experience and is coming off a strong season.

But what the rest of the Nationals rotation lacks in star power, it may make up in numbers. With Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny likely to open the season in the majors, and Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang probably headed for Class AAA Syracuse, Washington hasn't had this kind of starting depth since the franchise arrived in town.

Read my full story on the state of the rotation on

Zim on Dunn, Werth, Harper

VIERA, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman lobbied the Nationals hard, for nearly a year, to re-sign Adam Dunn. And when the Nats allowed Dunn to walk away and sign a four-year deal with the White Sox, the "Face of the Franchise" was outspoken in his disappointment.

Zimmerman, though, insists his disappointment wasn't over the Nationals' roster decision. It was over the departure of a close friend.

And now that the dust has settled and a revamped Washington club has begun reporting for spring training, its best overall player believes significant progress has been made.

"I was not by any means saying anything about the club or the organization," Zimmerman said today. "I think a lot of people thought I was. I had talked to [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] quite a bit. I knew that they had a plan. Obviously, they've done it for the last couple years to get this team in place. I was just expressing more frustrations of losing a teammate and a friend than anything. I think a lot of people took it as I was taking a stab at them or talking bad about them, which was completely the opposite."

For more thoughts from Zimmerman on Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, please read my full story on

Riggleman on Livo, Nyjer and Storen

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Mattheus was one of a handful of Nats throwing in the bullpen today.
VIERA, Fla. -- There wasn't a whole lot of actual baseball activity on reporting day. Most guys simply showed up at some point, dropped their belongings off, caught up with teammates and then left the premises. A few conducted light workouts on their own, with a handful of pitchers throwing bullpen sessions and a handful of early arriving position players taking BP in the cage.

Tomorrow figures to be a light day as well, with all pitchers and catchers required to take (and pass) physicals. Things finally kick into high gear on Thursday, when pitchers and catchers participate in their first official workout.

Jim Riggleman did meet with media members for the first of what will probably be about 400 of these sessions by season's end. The veteran manager touched on a variety of topics, with a few highlights along the way...

-- Livan Hernandez is all but a lock to start on Opening Day. "Unless something unforeseen happens, Livan has earned it," Riggleman said. "Not only has he had a good year [in 2010], but he's also a composed, veteran guy. The whole atmosphere of Opening Day, all the excitement

Live from Viera

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Space Coast Stadium is abuzz with activity today.
VIERA, Fla. -- Ah, is there anything better than typing out that dateline for the first time this year? OK, maybe there is, but you know what I mean.

Pitchers and catchers reporting day has arrived, as has your trusty beat writer. Flew in last night, drove over to Viera this morning and just finished my first sweep through the Nationals clubhouse.

The first thing I noticed: the new practice jerseys, which are a very deep hue of red with blue piping. They kind of look like the Capitals' uniforms. Sharp. I'll have some photos later today.

The second thing I noticed: There appear to be fewer lockers than in years past. Usually, the Nats have had to set up some temporary lockers in the middle of the clubhouse for the first several weeks of camp to accommodate all of the non-roster invitees. "Survivor Island," as clubhouse manager Mike Wallace termed it.

Well, with only 61 players in camp this spring, Wally was able to squeeze everyone into the two permanent rows of lockers that run down each side of the clubhouse. It opens the place up. It also provides a

Monday, February 14, 2011

Viera or bust ... again

Well, it's that time once again. Across Florida and Arizona, infields are being carefully raked, BP jerseys are being hung inside clubhouses and pitchers and catchers from every organization are reporting for spring training.

Guess what, everyone: It's baseball season. And if that doesn't bring a smile to your face, I don't know what will.

In Viera, the Nationals officially report tomorrow, though plenty of players have been trickling in for several days trying to get a jump on the proceedings. As for your humble beat writer, I'll be reporting later today (flying down to Orlando this afternoon, then making the short drive to Viera) and will be on-site at Space Coast Stadium first thing tomorrow morning.

Unlike last year, my trek should be simple. No dealing with traffic on Interstate 95. No fine dining at the Shoney's in Manning, S.C. Now that I'm working full-time for, I get to fly (coach, not