Thursday, March 31, 2011

Clean game, but missed opportunities

The season was barely 15 minutes old, and plenty among the announced crowd of 39,055 at Nationals Park hadn't even settled into their seats when the home team faced its first real test of 2011.

Already trailing the Braves 1-0, the Nationals had just seen Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman produce back-to-back singles, putting runners on the corners with one out and the heart of the lineup due up.

The whole notion of having Werth bat second is predicated upon the idea that Zimmerman and the guys behind him can take advantage of their opportunities with men on base. As much attention is thrust upon Werth and Zimmerman, the Nationals know what they're going to get from those two stars. The real unknown is what they're going to get from Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel in the 4-, 5- and 6-holes.

So when LaRoche and Morse squandered that first-inning opportunity Thursday afternoon -- popping out and grounding out, respectively -- you couldn't help but wonder if this was an omen of things to come. The Nationals would get only a couple more legitimate scoring opportunities, but none as good as that first one, and they never did push a man across the plate during a 2-0 loss.

"We had some chances to break the game open," Werth said. "That game could have been a lot different."

Read my full analysis of today's loss on

Game 1: Braves at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nationals Park is ready to go for Opening Day.
It's cold. It's damp. It's barely fit for man or beast outside. But it looks like there will be baseball today on South Capitol Street, and what could be better than that?

Actually, the forecast is much better today than it looked yesterday. The chance of rain from 1-4 p.m. is only 10 percent (though it skyrockets to 70 percent at 4 p.m., so you better hope they don't go extra innings). Temperatures will be in the low 40s, so bundle up, but be ready for baseball.

Livan Hernandez gets the ball for the Nationals, making the ninth Opening Day start of his career. Amazingly, there's only one other active pitcher with as many: Roy Halladay, who also makes his ninth Opening Day start tomorrow in Philadelphia.

Veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe starts for Atlanta, a bit of a surprise considering Tim Hudson's dominance over the Nationals franchise (10-2, 1.91 ERA in his career) vs. Lowe's career numbers (8-7, 3.64 ERA). Lowe, though, was huge for the Braves down the stretch last season, going 5-0 in September. And Hudson will start Atlanta's home opener next week.

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

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN, Ch. 50
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Chance of rain late, 42 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from CF
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

2011 Nats predictions

Opening Day has arrived, and though the weather outside may not suggest it, baseball season is at long last upon us.

For those of you headed to Nationals Park today, be sure to bundle up and bring your rain gear. And be sure to stop by The Bullpen bar across from the center field gate, where ESPN 980 AM will be broadcasting live from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. I'm scheduled to be out there from roughly 11 a.m. through 12:30 p.m., so please come on over and say hello.

OK, it's time for some predictions. As we did last year, my beat writer counterparts and I came up with a bunch of different categories to contemplate. Here's what everyone is predicting for the Nationals in 2011...

Who will represent the team at the All-Star Game?
Mark Zuckerman ( -- Ryan Zimmerman
Adam Kilgore (Washington Post) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Sean Burnett
Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) -- Ryan Zimmerman
Amanda Comak (Washington Times) -- Ryan Zimmerman
Ben Goessling ( -- Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth
Pete Kerzel ( -- Ryan Zimmerman
Bill Ladson ( -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa
Craig Heist (WTOP) -- Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth

What will total home attendance be?
Craig Heist -- 2,512,759
Bill Ladson -- 2,500,000
Pete Kerzel -- 1,987,654
Dave Sheinin -- 1,841,000

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lerner on opener: 'Hopefully we can get it in'

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bad weather prevented the Nationals from working out in front of fans today.
The Nationals hope to be able to play tomorrow's opener against the Braves as scheduled at 1:05 p.m., but principal owner Mark Lerner said the club won't hesitate to postpone until Friday afternoon if the forecast doesn't look good.

"Obviously, they're going to monitor it all night long," Lerner said this evening during a session with reporters at NatsFest. "If we know that it's going to be really bad, we'll cancel it early. If not -- and it could go either way -- we'll just keep on going and do the best we can."

Rain started falling this afternoon and forced the majority of NatsFest indoors or onto the concourse level at Nationals Park. Tomorrow's forecast has changed throughout the day. Earlier today, said there was an 80 percent chance of rain at first pitch. Now, the website puts the odds at only 10 percent to 20 percent until 4 p.m., at which point it climbs to 40 percent. Either way, temperatures are expected to be in the low-40s.

Lerner said the team would be willing to delay the start of the game if it looked like conditions would improve, but he said the forecast gets worse into the evening, so there's no chance of an evening start. If the game is postponed, it would be made up Friday afternoon, most likely at 1:05 p.m., when the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s.

"It's a tough position to be in," Lerner said. "A lot of people, since it's

Strasburg, Harper enjoy cameos in D.C.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper stood inside the spacious and luxurious clubhouse at Nationals Park, feeling for one day at least like they were part of the team that will take the field Thursday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves.

By the time each Nationals player is introduced to the sellout crowd and assembles along the first-base line to stand for the national anthem, though, Strasburg and Harper will be long gone. Due to fly back to Viera, Fla., on Thursday, the two most recognizable players in the Nationals' organization are about to disappear for a while.

"It's going to be tough going back to Florida," Strasburg said. "That's for sure."

Read more from Strasburg and Harper on

Opening Day preview

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman enters the final year of his contract with expectations raised.
While it's certainly good to be home again, I have to say: This weather is pretty depressing. I mean, it was 85 degrees in Viera yesterday when I left Space Coast Stadium. It's 45 degrees here in the D.C. area, and the rain is coming.

The forecast for the next two days does not look good. Seventy percent chance of rain this afternoon and evening during NatsFest. Eighty percent chance of rain tomorrow afternoon during the scheduled opener against the Braves. (If you're wondering, Friday's forecast is much better, which temperatures climbing into the 50s and sunshine replacing the gray clouds. If tomorrow's game is postponed, it would almost certainly be made up at 1:05 p.m. Friday.)

For now, though, let's remain optimistic and assume everything gets played as planned. Speaking of optimism, you'll want to make sure you read the complete Opening Day preview package we put together at It includes a Q&A in which I answer all your pressing questions about the Nats (and even make a couple of predictions). I also suggest the six home series you won't want to miss this season. And you can read my NL East preview, with predicted standings.

One final programming note before I start bundling up to head to Nationals Park for today's RainFest: ESPN 980 AM will be broadcasting live from The Bullpen bar outside the center field gate tomorrow from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. Barring a last-minute change of schedule, I'll be out there from 11 a.m. through about 12:30 p.m. Please stop by and say hello on your way into the ballpark.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LaRoche confident about shoulder

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam LaRoche homered and drew two walks in his return to the lineup.
VIERA, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche insists he's not concerned about the state of his left shoulder, and if his performance today was any indication, the Nationals first baseman may be right about that.

Playing in his first exhibition game since receiving a cortisone shot to alleviate the slight labrum tear in his throwing shoulder, LaRoche homered, drew a pair of walks and looked comfortable in the field.

He's still not ready to cut loose with throws, but he hopes he'll be able to start doing that soon.

"It feels great," he said. "That shot, so far, has done exactly what we want it to do. Whether it took some of the inflammation out or just oiled it up a little bit, either way it's feeling noticeably better."

For more from LaRoche, as well as items about Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen's rough outings, Ivan Rodriguez's appearance at first base and Sean Burnett's interesting take on the influence of veterans in the Nats' clubhouse, read my full story on

That'll do it from here in Viera. I'm off to Orlando to catch my flight home. Talk to you guys tomorrow from NatsFest.

Nats vs. Mets - 3/29/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Grapefruit League concludes today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's the final day of spring training, but the lineups for both the Nationals and Mets have a decided regular-season feel to them.

Jim Riggleman's starting nine today is very likely what you'll see when the Nationals are facing a left-handed starter, with Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche flip-flopped and Jerry Hairston in center field over Rick Ankiel.

The Mets, meanwhile, are going with what appears to be their regular lineup, including Carlos Beltran (who has been dealing with a lingering knee injury but will apparently avoid the DL to open the season.

No TV or radio coverage today, so check back here for updates throughout the afternoon...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 12:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 76 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to LF
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse

Getaway day

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper has returned from a sprained ankle and is slated to open the season.
VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning one final time from Space Coast Stadium, where the Grapefruit League wraps up this afternoon with an early 12:05 p.m. game between the Nationals and Mets. It'll be Jordan Zimmermann vs. Chris Capuano. Adam LaRoche is in the lineup at first base.

Before we get to the exhibition finale, a couple of items to pass along...

-- Bryce Harper is back playing in minor-league games one week after spraining his left ankle. Harper got two at-bats and played three innings in the field Sunday and would have played yesterday if not for the rain. It appears all systems are go for the 18-year-old phenom to make his minor-league debut with the rest of the Hagerstown club April 7 in Rome, Ga. The Nationals dodged a bullet with this one. They were originally worried this was something serious because Harper, after falling to the ground when he landed awkwardly on first base trying to beat out a grounder, wouldn't get up and had to be taken off the field on a cart. Obviously, the injury wasn't as severe as everyone feared, and Harper was back on his feet soon thereafter.

-- The news isn't as positive for the player the Nationals drafted one round behind Harper last summer: Sammy Solis. The left-hander has a groin injury that will sideline him for the start of the season and could

Monday, March 28, 2011

No Obama on Opening Day

File photo by Bob Youngentob /
Barack Obama isn't scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch this season.
VIERA, Fla. -- The First Fan won't be throwing out the first ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park this season.

The Nationals announced plans for Opening Day festivities, and President Barack Obama isn't among those scheduled to appear before Thursday's game against the Braves.

Full story on

Gonzalez traded to Padres, roster set

Full story on all of today's roster moves on

VIERA, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals have traded infielder Alberto Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres for minor-league pitcher Erik Davis and cash, a move that finalizes the club's Opening Day roster.

The trade of Gonzalez leaves the Nationals' spring roster at 25 and means veteran Alex Cora has made the club as a reserve infielder.

General manager Mike Rizzo had received interest from several teams in Gonzalez, who hit .377 this spring while playing all four infield positions. Because the 26-year-old was out of options, the Nationals couldn't have sent him to the minors without first exposing him to waivers.

Club officials had already decided they wanted to keep Cora, a 13-year veteran who hit only .210 last season with the New York Mets and Texas Rangers but hit .359 this spring and took on a leadership role in the clubhouse.

Davis, 24, went 14-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 27 combined starts last season between the Padres' Class A, AA and AAA affiliates. He was San Diego's 13th round pick in the 2008 draft out of Stanford, where he was a teammate of Nationals reliever Drew Storen.

Roster down to 26

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Roger Bernadina lost out to Matt Stairs and Laynce Nix for a backup outfield spot.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have trimmed their spring training roster down to 26, with only one decision left to make: Whether Alex Cora or Alberto Gonzalez makes the club as a backup infielder.

Today's moves: Roger Bernadina, Ross Detwiler, Collin Balester and Brian Bixler sent down; Chien-Ming Wang and Elvin Ramirez to the 60-day DL; Elvin Ramirez to the 15-day DL.

That means Matt Stairs, Laynce Nix and Brian Broderick have made the club.

Story on, which will be updated shortly with more details and quotes.

Game canceled, cuts happening

VIERA, Fla. -- First, some weather news: Tonight's game against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista has been canceled due to rain. Honestly, there aren't a whole lot of disappointed people here in Viera. Nobody wanted to drive an hour to Disney, then sit around through a rain delay, then return to Viera for tomorrow's 12:05 p.m. exhibition finale.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have begun the final trimming of their roster down to the 25 who will suit up for Thursday's opener.

Left-hander Ross Detwiler has been optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, and infielder Brian Bixler has been re-assigned to minor-league camp. Neither move is a surprise, and Detwiler spoke yesterday after starting against the Marlins as though he knew he was about to get sent down.

Those two moves reduce the roster to 31. Chien-Ming Wang, Henry Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez are almost certainly headed to the DL, so that drops it down to 28.

So, basically there are four jobs still up for grabs, with seven players in the mix:

-- The final reliever: Brian Broderick or Collin Balester.

-- Backup infielder: Alex Cora or Alberto Gonzalez

-- Two backup outfielders: Matt Stairs, Laynce Nix and Roger Bernadina.

Should find out more shortly, so check back.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are Nats better in center without Morgan?

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Sadly, this is likely to be the lasting image of Nyjer Morgan in a Nationals uniform.
VIERA, Fla. -- The competition in center field this spring, the Nationals insisted all along, was an open one. Actually, first they said it was Nyjer Morgan's job to lose, then they said it was a three-way battle between Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina.

So let's take a look at everyone's Grapefruit League stats through the weekend, throwing Jerry Hairston into the mix as well...

MORGAN: .241 AVG, .328 OBP, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 RUNS, 6 SB, 3 CS
ANKIEL: .218 AVG, .271 OBP, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 8 RUNS, 2 SB, 0 CS
BERNADINA: .255 AVG, .321 OBP, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 RUNS, 3 SB, 1 CS
HAIRSTON: .174 AVG, .235 OBP, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 RUNS, 0 SB, 0 CS

If this really was an open competition, and the player who best performed all spring was going to get the job, who would you choose? It's certainly nowhere close to as cut-and-dried as Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo tried to make it sound this morning in explaining why Morgan was traded to the Brewers for minor-league infielder Cutter Dykstra and $50,000 cash.

"Nyjer had a nice spring training," Rizzo said. "After the first week [when he went 1-for-16] he played really well and did everything he had to do. It's just that I feel it was Ankiel winning the job, not Nyjer

LaRoche will play with slight shoulder tear

VIERA, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche will return to the Nationals' lineup Monday and start at first base on Opening Day despite a slight tear in his left shoulder.

Results of an MRI taken on LaRoche's shoulder Wednesday revealed a slight tear of the labrum, a club source confirmed, but the injury is not serious enough to force him to the disabled list.

Full story on

Nats vs. Marlins - 3/27/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats face the Marlins today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's perhaps appropriate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) that the Nationals are playing the Marlins on the day they traded Nyjer Morgan, considering the lasting memory for many of Morgan's tenure with the Nats will be his bench-clearing brawl in Florida last September.

But that's now old news, so let's move forward. Ian Desmond, who will hit leadoff on Opening Day, is in the top spot in the lineup today. It's not entirely the Opening Day lineup, because Adam LaRoche is still resting his sore shoulder (he's scheduled to return tomorrow). Also, Wilson Ramos is behind the plate. (Ivan Rodriguez will be there Thursday.)

Ross Detwiler gets one last chance to pitch in a big-league game this spring before getting optioned to Class AAA Syracuse. The Nationals didn't want John Lannan to face a division rival this close to the start the year, so Lannan is throwing in a minor-league game today. In other rotation news, minor-leaguer Tom Milone will get to start tomorrow against the Braves, spacing things out so Jordan Zimmermann can get on a proper schedule and start Tuesday's Grapefruit League finale.

Updates to come...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Mostly sunny, 86 degrees, Wind 14 mph RF to LF
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
CF Rick Ankiel

Morgan traded to Brewers

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have traded Nyjer Morgan to the Brewers for minor-league infielder Cutter Dykstra and $50,000 cash, ending the outfielder's eventful tenure in Washington.

Morgan, who took D.C. by storm upon his acquisition from the Pirates in 2009 but fell out of favor during a trying 2010 season, had sensed his time with the organization was coming to an end this spring. With Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston beginning to take over in center field, Morgan had seen little game action in recent days.

Full story with quotes from Rizzo, Riggleman, Ankiel and Doug Melvin on

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Livo, rest of staff look ready to go

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Despite a stiff neck, Livan Hernandez tossed four scoreless innings today.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Sometime earlier in the week, Livan Hernandez woke up with a stiff neck, a minor annoyance that didn't prevent him from making his final start of the spring today and certainly won't prevent him from making his Opening Day start Thursday in Washington.

"I feel very good," he said. "I'm ready to go to the season and Opening Day."

It would take a lot more than a stiff neck to keep Livo from taking the ball against the Braves at Nationals Park. This will be the ninth time he's started on Opening Day -- amazingly, that ties him with Roy Halladay for tops among all active pitchers -- but this one might be the most significant yet for the 36-year-old.

"I've got a couple on my shoulders already," he said. "But this one is special because I don't know if it's going to be the last one."

What's that? Livan Hernandez considering retirement?

Not so fast. Livo insists he's got four more good years in him, and he'd love for them all to come in a Nationals uniform. Whether they do or not, though, he knows he won't be getting the call on Opening Day anymore. Not with a certain flame-throwing phenom set to return from

Riggleman "disappointed" in Morgan

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jim Riggleman was "disappointed" and "surprised" by comments made yesterday by Nyjer Morgan, who said he expects to be let go by the organization before Opening Day.

"I'm disappointed," Riggleman said before today's game against the Astros. "But I understand where it's coming from."

Morgan told he understands he's likely lost his starting job to Rick Ankiel and doesn't believe he'll remain with the Nationals much longer.

Riggleman insisted today the club hasn't yet determined Morgan's fate, whether he'll start in center field, come off the bench, be optioned to Class AAA Syracuse or be released altogether.

Story with Riggleman's full quotes on

Nats at Astros - 3/26/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals face the Astros at Osceola County Stadium.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- First of all, the news of the morning: There is no news. Or, I should say, there were no cuts made this morning. Everyone was accounted for at Space Coast Stadium before the team bus left for Kissimmee. The guys who didn't make the trip, including Nyjer Morgan, will play in a minor-league game today.

Just about everyone of consequence, though, did make the trip and will be playing here against the Astros. The only projected starters not in the lineup are Jayson Werth (who stayed back) and Adam LaRoche (who is nursing that sore shoulder).

Livan Hernandez gets the start, his final tune-up before Opening Day. In other rotation news, Ross Detwiler will start tomorrow against the Marlins, basically because the Nationals need someone to fill a gap to account for Friday's off-day in the middle of the season's first series against the Braves. John Lannan will start Monday against the Braves, with Jordan Zimmermann going Tuesday against the Mets. Which means the season-opening rotation should be set: Hernandez, Lannan, Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny. (UPDATE: Actually, Lannan will pitch in a minor-league game tomorrow so as to avoid facing a division opponent. The Nats will call up a minor-leaguer to make a spot start Monday.)

Plenty of updates to come, so check back throughout the afternoon...

Where: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Sunny, 83 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to RF
SS Ian Desmond
RF Laynce Nix
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Matt Stairs

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Nyjer Morgan's time up?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan went 1-for-3 with an RBI tonight to raise his average to .241.
VIERA, Fla. -- There were plenty of positives to come out of the Nationals' 3-2 victory over the Cardinals tonight. Tom Gorzelanny enjoyed his best outing of the spring, allowing two runs over six innings. Chad Gaudin pitched well in his first relief appearance. Drew Storen dominated through another 1-2-3 ninth, and Jim Riggleman said he'll likely open the season with Storen and Sean Burnett serving as his closing duo.

So at the end of the day, the Nationals got some positive answers about their No. 5 starter, their long reliever and their potential closer. All important developments on March 25.

Yet the biggest issue still swirling around this club six days before its season opener remains the identity of its Opening Day center fielder.

Publicly, the Nationals continue to insist it's a three-way competition between Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina. Privately, all signs point to Ankiel getting the nod. And since Mike Rizzo admitted

Harper healing, Maya optioned

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper's sprained left ankle has healed enough to convince Nationals executives the top prospect should be ready for Class A Hagerstown's season opener on April 7.

Meanwhile, right-hander Yunesky Maya was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse prior to tonight's game, trimming the Nationals' spring roster to 34 (including Chien-Ming Wang, Henry Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez, who are all likely to open the season on the DL).

Story on

Nats vs. Cardinals - 3/25/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tom Gorzelanny faces the Cardinals' "A" lineup tonight at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- Tom Gorzelanny has essentially locked up the fifth starter's job, so his standing probably isn't going to change based on how he pitches tonight. Still, the Nationals would like to see the lefty have some success against a Cardinals lineup full of regulars.

Tony LaRussa brought his "A" team with him to Viera, including Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Jim Riggleman counters with Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, but a lot of backups as well.

Nyjer Morgan leads off for the second straight night and is in center field. There's every reason to believe at this point that Rick Ankiel will be out there on Opening Day, but until something is officially done, Morgan will continue to get opportunities to state his case.

MASN has the broadcast with Bob and F.P., and Charlie and Dave also have the call on the radio. So settle in for a Friday night of some spring training baseball...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Sunny, 77 degrees, Wind 7 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
C Wilson Ramos

LaRoche sidelined again with sore shoulder

VIERA, Fla. -- Adam LaRoche is being shut down from throwing at full velocity the next two or three days to rest the sore left shoulder that has bothered him since the start of spring training, but the Washington Nationals first baseman insists he has no worries about being ready to play in Thursday's season opener.

"Not at all, no," he said. "If it felt as bad as it did when I first got here to spring training, I would still play Opening Day. And it's gotten a lot better since then. I don't think it's going to be 100 percent anytime soon, but hopefully I can get it up a little bit from what it is now."

LaRoche, who said he's never dealt with any kind of arm injury in his career, underwent an MRI on Wednesday, the results of which are not yet known. He's hoping the injury is merely a pinched nerve, not something structural within his shoulder.

The veteran first baseman said the shoulder feels better now than it did when camp first began, and that he would play through this if the regular season had already begun.

Full story on

Zimmerman ready to return

VIERA, Fla. -- It's been 11 days since Ryan Zimmerman last played, since a seemingly innocuous sore groin sidelined the Nationals' star third baseman.

Unless he fell out of bed this morning and re-injured himself, Zimmerman will be back in the Nationals' lineup, fully healthy and eager to get his swing back down before the season begins in a mere six days.

Actually, Zimmerman isn't worried at all about his readiness for the season. Some guys prefer to get as many at-bats as they can in spring training, like Adam LaRoche (a historically slow starter). Others prefer to get the minimum amount of work in March, knowing they'll still be ready come April.

"Basically the plan was, once it felt good, give it another week just to be extra careful," Zimmerman said. "It's not like I need a lot of at-bats anyway. I'll actually be kind of fresh going into the season, which will be kind of nice."

Zimmerman has played in only eight games so far this spring, going 6-for-22 with two homers and six RBI. He expects to play in four of the Nationals' final five Grapefruit League games.

Though he insisted he could have played had this been the regular season, Zimmerman took six days completely off from hitting and

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Zimmermann sharp, Clippard improving

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann tossed five shutout innings, striking out six.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Perhaps the two biggest things to take out of the Nationals' 5-2 victory over the Tigers tonight were Jordan Zimmermann's continued dominance and Tyler Clippard's continued improvement. Each was a welcome sight for a Nats club that really needs both of these right-handers to be in top form as soon as the bell rings next week.

Let's start with Zimmermann, who didn't surrender a run for the fourth time in five starts this spring. This outing wasn't quite as dominant as some of his previous ones, but it may actually have been more impressive because he pitched out of several tight jams against a really tough lineup.

In three consecutive innings, Zimmermann put two men on base, and each time he came through to escape without suffering any damage. With two on and two out in the second, he struck out Alex Avila looking at a 3-2 slider. With two on and one out in the third, he struck out Magglio Ordonez looking and then got Miguel Cabrera to ground out. And with two on and nobody out in the fourth, he got Jhonny Peralta to hit a comebacker, then struck out Avila and Brandon Inge on 94 mph fastballs.

"That's a good lineup he's facing there," Jim Riggleman said, later adding: "The hitters he was facing, he made some really good pitches

Werth to bat second

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jayson Werth may be the highest-paid player on the Nationals roster this season, but he there's a good chance he won't lead the team in RBI after Jim Riggleman revealed plans today to bat the $126 million right fielder second in his nightly lineup.

"I think it probably, in a perfect world, sets our club up best," Riggleman said before the Nationals' exhibition game against the Tigers, with Werth batting second for the first time this spring.

Read more about the new-look lineup, plus other news of the day, on

Nats at Tigers - 3/24/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann faces the Tigers tonight at Joker Marchant Stadium.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Plenty of pregame news here this evening. I'll go into more detail on all this in some separate postings, but here's the quick rundown...

-- Jayson Werth is hitting second tonight, and Jim Riggleman said that's going to continue to be the case entering the season. Werth will bat second, with Ryan Zimmerman third, Adam LaRoche fourth and Michael Morse fifth. Leadoff remains a question mark, though you've got to believe it's either going to be Nyjer Morgan or Ian Desmond.

-- The team still hasn't settled on the order of the rotation to open the year, but the only decision left is whether John Lannan or Jordan Zimmermann starts Game 2 after Livan Hernandez. The other guy will start Game 3, with Jason Marquis fourth and Tom Gorzelanny fifth. All five starters will make the Opening Day roster, though it hasn't been decided if Gorzelanny will take his first turn in the rotation or pitch out of the bullpen for the first week.

-- Henry Rodriguez, who hasn't pitched in a game in a week, indeed does have a physical ailment: neck spasms. He was treated by a doctor and should be able to throw a bullpen session tomorrow, but the chance of him getting enough work in by Opening Day is remote. Sounds like he'll start the year on the DL.

-- Chad Gaudin will begin pitching out of the bullpen this week, and Riggleman all but said he'll make the club as a long reliever. Assuming Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez land on the DL, that would leave one final bullpen spot for either Collin Balester or Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick.

Plenty of game updates to come here, and more details on all that other news to come in separate posts...

Where: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
TV: MLB Network (tape delayed at 8 p.m.)
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Mostly sunny, 81 degrees, Wind 13 mph LF to RF
DH Nyjer Morgan
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse

Flores, Stammen optioned to Syracuse

Updated at 3:34 p.m.

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals optioned catcher Jesus Flores and right-hander Craig Stammen to Class AAA Syracuse this afternoon.

Flores thus loses the battle for the No. 2 catching job behind Ivan Rodriguez, who will start Opening Day. Wilson Ramos will make the club and likely ease into a starting role at some point.

Flores, who missed nearly two years with a shoulder injury, said he wasn't disappointed with the news but hoped he might crack the roster.

"I knew it was going to be a really good challenge for me to make the team," he said. "Because both of those guys, one is a legend and the other one is a good, young kid with great talent. But at the same time, I trust myself, because I know what I have done in the past and I know what I can do in the present and future. I'm going to keep trusting myself, going down to the minors, doing what I have to do and make the team again."

Flores, 26, started 143 games for the Nationals between 2007-09 and was hitting .301 as the club's everyday catcher in May 2009 when he took a foul ball off his shoulder that ultimately turned into a torn

Down to the wire

Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Rick Ankiel could be the Nationals' Opening Day center fielder.
VIERA, Fla. -- Feeling refreshed after their lone off-day of the spring, the Nationals return to the field this evening against the Tigers in Lakeland, the beginning of the home stretch here in Florida.

There are six more Grapefruit League games in the next six days, and then the team charter heads north to D.C. for Wednesday's NatsFest and the following afternoon's Opening Day clash with the Braves.

Between now and then, the Nationals must trim their roster from 36 to 25, name a starting center fielder, align their five-man rotation, assemble their bench and figure out who's in the bullpen. That's plenty that still must be accomplished in a short time.

At this stage of the spring, pretty much everyone appears in every game (aside from the pitchers). And 17 of the 18 position players remaining in camp are scheduled to make the trip to Lakeland tonight, with only Ryan Zimmerman staying back. Zim expects to return to the lineup tomorrow after missing more than a week with a sore groin, and he's confident that playing in four of the team's final five spring games will leave him ready for the regular season.

At some point in the next few days, it's probably going to become obvious who has won the center field job. Jim Riggleman is going to

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Viera: Home to second chances

Associated Press photo
A bust with the Mets, Oliver Perez will try to straighten himself out with the Nats.
VIERA, Fla. -- As news emerged this afternoon that the Nationals had signed Oliver Perez, the shrieks and groans from D.C. could be heard all the way down here on the Space Coast.

Why on earth would the Nationals take a flyer on a guy who was such a bust in New York that the Mets were willing to eat his $12 million salary earlier this week just to rid themselves of his presence in camp?

Surely, the Nats don't believe Perez is about to rediscover his lost velocity and command and become a trusted member of their pitching staff. Right? Right?

Rest assured, no one has any grand illusions about the 29-year-old left-hander starting 30 games in the majors this season and striking out 200 batters. Few have any reason to believe Perez will even appear in a big-league game for the Nationals.

But given the current lack of sure things in the organization's pitching ranks, and given the bare-bones price of signing Perez to a minor-league deal -- even if he gets to the majors, the Nats will only be responsible for a pro-rated portion of the big-league minimum salary

Perez signs minor deal, Strasburg to DL

Full updated story on

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have signed former Mets left-hander Oliver Perez to a minor-league contract, a club source confirmed this afternoon.

Perez was released Monday by the Mets, who will pay his entire $12 million salary this season. If he reaches the majors, the Nationals would be responsible only for a pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum salary of $414,000.

He'll report to minor-league camp to work with pitching coordinator Spin Williams, his former pitching coach in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, the Nationals claimed left-hander Lee Hyde off waivers from the Braves, adding minor-league relief help. Hyde, 26, went 4-6 with a 3.41 ERA and eight saves in 51 combined appearances between Class AA Mississippi and Class AAA Gwinnett last season. He's been optioned to Class AAA Syracuse.

To make room for Hyde on the 40-man roster, the Nationals officially placed Stephen Strasburg on the 60-day DL.

Efficient Lannan has start to build off

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan was highly efficient during yesterday's six-inning start.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's tough to find a pitching rhythm when every other start you make in spring training comes in a minor-league game on a back field at 11 a.m. Entering yesterday's outing against the Astros, John Lannan had very little feel for how he was progressing this spring, due in part to the fact he had made only two previous appearances in big-league games, none since March 12 against the Yankees.

So Lannan's incredibly efficient six innings against Houston -- he allowed one run on two hits and needed only 66 pitches to do it -- was probably the best indication the left-hander has gotten for his readiness entering the season.

"It's something to build off of," he said.

With the Nationals wanting to see Yunesky Maya several times against big-league competition, Lannan was relegated to scrimmage duties at the minor-league complex twice in the last two weeks. In his only two major-league outings this spring, he had allowed six runs on seven hits and four walks over 7 1/3 innings.

The lefty was much better yesterday against the Astros. He jumped ahead of hitters with first-pitch strikes, kept the ball on the ground and was so efficient, he actually needed to throw 15 more pitches in

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Storen back on track

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Drew Storen helped his case today with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
VIERA, Fla. -- Drew Storen is a bright guy, we all know that. He went back to Stanford last fall to continue his pursuit of an engineering degree. He described his pitching mechanics today using a word -- "biomechanically" -- plenty of his teammates with the Nationals probably can't even pronounce.

Sometimes, though, Storen's inquisitive and analytical nature can get the best of him. Sometimes, he starts over-thinking things, which can compound the mistakes he's already making.

So perhaps the most important thing Storen said Tuesday about his 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Astros was the simplest thing he said: "I needed that."

He sure did.

Storen's strong outing perhaps helped clear a few things up in the Nationals bullpen, though there's still plenty else to sort out over the final week of camp, as you'll read on

Nats vs. Astros - 3/22/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan faces the Astros today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- Before we get to today's game, one quick note about someone who's not playing today. Ryan Zimmerman is missing his eighth straight game with a sore groin, though he's been taking BP and grounders. Jim Riggleman said this morning he hopes to have Zim back in the lineup Friday and then play him in four of the Nationals' last five games of the spring.

John Lannan starts today against the Astros, his second-to-last tune-up before the season begins. At the moment, Lannan is slotted to start the second game of the season (April 2 against the Braves) but that's not set in stone. In fact, Riggleman said everything after Livan Hernandez on Opening Day is still subject to reshuffling.

Because of two off-days in the season's first week, the Nats don't need a No. 5 starter until April 9 in New York, their eighth game. So it's possible they'll only put four starters on the Opening Day roster to open a spot for another reliever or bench player. The problem if that happens, though, is that they can't send likely No. 5 starter Tom Gorzelanny to the minors. He's out of options. And they can't send Hernandez or Jason Marquis. Which means it's possible Lannan or Jordan Zimmermann could draw the short straw and actually have to make one minor-league start before joining the big club.

Plenty of updates from today's game to come. If you notice a significant gap in the updates, it's probably because I left the press box to 1) take photos, 2) interview someone in the clubhouse or 3) make a TV or radio appearance...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: Astros radio via XM 183 and MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Mostly sunny, 78 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to RF
CF Jerry Hairston
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
LF Michael Morse

Harper may not be ready for opener

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper suffered what the Nationals are terming a "medium sprain" of his left ankle yesterday, an injury that's not considered serious but could prevent the top prospect from playing in Class A Hagerstown's April 7 season opener.

Mike Rizzo said this morning it's too soon to know a timetable for Harper's return, but compared Harper's sprain to the one suffered by Corey Brown (who was injured March 1 and had not appeared in another game when he was sent to minor-league camp 2 1/2 weeks later).

Meanwhile, Rizzo said the three-way competition between Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina for the starting center fielder's job remains wide-open and probably won't be decided until the final days of camp.

Rizzo did say it will be difficult to keep all three players on the Opening Day roster, suggesting that either Morgan or Bernadina (or perhaps both) will be sent to Class AAA Syracuse.

Read my full story with all of Rizzo's quotes on

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wrapping up a manic Monday

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez allowed two runs in five innings today.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Boy, I sure picked the right day to return to Florida.

It turned out to be quite an eventful Monday in the Grapefruit League, beginning with Bryce Harper's sprained ankle and continuing through the bench-clearing incident between the Nationals and Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

Let's run through all of the significant developments of the day...

Looks like everything is going to be fine with Harper, who suffered a sprained left ankle trying to beat out a grounder to short during this morning's minor-league intrasquad game but avoided significant injury. X-rays were negative, and the team is saying Harper's status remains "day-to-day." I wouldn't be surprised if the Nats are cautious with their 18-year-old prospect, letting him rest for a while before throwing him back into the fold, though Harper clearly wants to get back on the field. As he posted on Twitter this evening: "Everybody thank you for all the kind words and thoughts about me getting better! I feel good and I expect to be out there asap!"

It was both surprising and refreshing to hear Livan Hernandez flatly acknowledge he intentionally threw at Cardinals center fielder Colby

Benches clear, managers have words

Associated Press photo
Tony La Russa and Ian Desmond bark at each other during today's game.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Bench-clearing incidents are rare events in spring training, but we saw one today at Roger Dean Stadium after three batters were plunked in a span of two innings.

No punches were thrown, but Jim Riggleman and Tony La Russa (longtime baseball friends and former co-workers) had some serious words for each other.

What precipitated all this, and what did everyone have to say afterward? Check out my full story on

Nats at Cardinals - 3/21/11

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez faces Chris Carpenter today at Roger Dean Stadium.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Plenty going on here at Roger Dean Stadium, though obviously the biggest news of the day so far came from back in Viera, where Bryce Harper sprained his left ankle running to first base in a minor-league intrasquad game this morning. The Nationals are officially saying Harper is "day-to-day" for now, though there's really no way to know the severity of the injury until he undergoes X-rays. I'll be updating this story on all day as we find out more.

As for what's going on here in Jupiter ... Jim Riggleman said Ryan Zimmerman (still dealing with a sore groin) will hopefully return to the lineup Thursday, though that's not a given yet. Zimmerman has taken swings in the cage but has yet to take grounders in the field.

As for the center field situation ... all three contenders are here for today's game. Nyjer Morgan is in the lineup, but Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina should see playing time at some point. Riggleman said some of what happens over the next week will help determine who wins the job, but it's not going to be based entirely on the guys' performance to close out camp. There are other factors at play, obviously.

Livan Hernandez faces Chris Carpenter. Updates to come throughout...

Where: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:10 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, Wind 19 mph in from RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
RF Laynce Nix
1B Adam LaRoche

Harper "day-to-day" with sprained ankle

JUPITER, Fla. -- Top Nationals prospect Bryce Harper sprained his left ankle running to first base in a minor-league scrimmage Monday morning in Viera.

The severity of the injury won't be known until Harper undergoes X-rays and a possibe MRI, though a team spokesman said the 18-year-old outfielder is listed as "day-to-day" for now.

Here's my article for, which I'll be updating as we get more info.

UPDATE: Jim Riggleman suggested the injury is not serious: "The little bit of information I got was that he's fine. Just turned his ankle and he's fine."

The home stretch

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ah, it's never felt so good to type that dateline.

Yes, I'm back in Florida and will be with the Nationals through the rest of camp. There is plenty still to sort out over the final eight games of the spring, from the battle for center field, the muddled picture in the bullpen and a host of possibilities on the bench.

The center field situation, in particular, interests me. There are any number of ways this could play out. Nyjer Morgan could retain his job. Rick Ankiel could win the competition. Roger Bernadina could take it. Jerry Hairston could work his way into the mix as a right-handed member of a platoon. Morgan and Bernadina could wind up on the bench. Either or both could wind up in Syracuse. There are no shortage of endgames for this story.

The bullpen, meanwhile, doesn't look to be as stable a unit as we all thought it would be when camp opened. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard each have ERAs over 11.00. Todd Coffey's ERA in 7.27. Henry Rodriguez has been all over the place in his three appearances. Elvin Ramirez has yet to appear in a game. Only the two lefties have performed well this spring, with Sean Burnett having yet to allow a run in 6 2/3 innings and Doug Slaten owning an 8-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio through seven appearances. Rule 5 draftee Brian Broderick (0.84 ERA in seven games) also has pitched well and is pushing to earn a spot as the long man.

As for the bench, there are all kinds of possibilities as well. Much of it depends on what happens in center field and whether or not the club

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nats vs. Tigers - 3/20/11

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Tigers make a trip to Space Coast Stadium this afternoon.
Plenty worth watching today as the Nationals attempt to snap their six-game losing streak in a game against the Tigers that will be broadcast on MASN. Tom Gorzelanny takes the mound for his third start of the spring, hoping to erase any question about his standing as the club's No. 5 starter. Todd Coffey, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are all scheduled to pitch as well.

With Ryan Zimmerman still sidelined by a sore groin (he was due to take BP this morning) and both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa getting the day off, the Nationals will get a chance to look at Jerry Hairston, Alex Cora and Alberto Gonzalez in the infield. We know Hairston is making the club, but there's a good chance Cora and Gonzalez are battling each other for one spot on the bench (with Brian Bixler possibly in the mix as well). At this point of the spring, each at-bat and chance in the field starts to take on more meaning for these guys trying to earn the final spots on the rosters.

I'm flying back down to Florida later this afternoon, fully refreshed and ready to roll again after this mid-camp break. Full coverage returns tomorrow morning from Jupiter, where the Nats will face the Cardinals...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN, MLB Network (tape delay, 11 p.m.)
Radio: WHFS (1580 AM), WFED (1500 AM)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, Wind 17 mph LF to RF
DH Nyjer Morgan
CF Rick Ankiel
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nats at Mets (ss) - 3/19/11

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis faces Chris Capuano this afternoon at Digital Domain Park.
So much for those winning ways down in Florida. The Nationals have lost five straight entering today's game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, with the pitching staff contributing largely to those woes.

Jason Marquis, who has allowed only one run and six hits in 12 innings this spring, takes the mound today trying to help halt the losing streak. He'll have a couple of regulars back in his lineup, with Danny Espinosa and Ivan Rodriguez returning from their minor injuries. No Ryan Zimmerman yet, though.

Where: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 1:10 p.m.
TV: Mets broadcast via
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Sunny, 79 degrees, Wind 12 mph in from RF
CF Jerry Hairston
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
LF Michael Morse

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nats vs. Cardinals - 3/18/11

File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals host the Cardinals today at Space Coast Stadium.
Jordan Zimmermann has pitched 11 innings this spring and surrendered zero runs. For a guy everyone's counting on to step up and become a front-line starter, he couldn't be enjoying a more encouraging spring so far. Today, the young right-hander will look to continue the scoreless streak against a Cardinals lineup that is without Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Colby Rasmus.

Danny Espinosa and Ivan Rodriguez were originally listed in the Nationals' lineup, but each was scratched late this morning. Espinosa (foot) and Rodriguez (calf), of course, have been dealing with some minor injuries. Sounds like the team is simply being extra-cautious with both guys; they didn't experience any setbacks.

Charlie and Dave have the call on 1580 AM...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: WHFS (1580 AM)
Weather: Sunny, 78 degrees, Wind 8 mph LF to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

From 38 to 25

Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Veteran infielder Alex Cora is in the running for a roster spot.
Yesterday's round of cuts at Nationals camp leaves 38 players remaining on the roster, with 11 days to go until the club heads north and 13 days to go until the Braves are in town for the season opener.

Thus, the challenge now facing the Nats' front office and coaching staff is how to pare that roster of 38 down to the final 25. Really, there are only 36 players still in the mix; Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang will be placed on the disabled list at some point before the end of the spring.

So 11 players still need to be cut, which may be a more difficult task than you'd imagine. Once you analyze the Nationals' remaining roster, you realize more than one player who deserves to make the club is going to get the shaft.

The really tough decisions are going to come on the bench and in the bullpen. Do the Nats keep an extra infielder or an extra outfielder? Do they make sure they've got an experienced long man in the bullpen, or would they rather make sure they keep one of their Rule 5 draftees?

Let's run through the remaining roster of 38, position-by-position, and try to make some sense of all this...

Ivan Rodriguez
Wilson Ramos
Jesus Flores