Saturday, March 31, 2012

Strasburg looks ahead to Opening Day

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Stephen Strasburg gave up two earned runs in four innings this afternoon.
VIERA, Fla. -- After a bit of a ragged performance in his spring training finale this afternoon, Stephen Strasburg said what surely is on everyone's mind inside the Nationals clubhouse right now: "I'm ready to get out of Florida, that's for sure."

Though there are still two more Grapefruit League games to be played, and then an exhibition in Washington against the Red Sox on Tuesday, Strasburg's spring training effectively came to an end this afternoon when he allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits to the Cardinals over four up-and-down innings.

This was hardly a dress rehearsal for the Nationals ace. He already treated his previous spring outing as though he would a regular-season game, shutting out the Mets over five stellar innings. Manager Davey Johnson is having all his starters ease off the gas pedal in their final exhibition starts, so Strasburg was pulled after only 67 pitches.

He finished the spring with an unimpressive 1-4 record and 4.18 ERA, but no one in camp was paying much attention to the numbers,

Ankiel may not be ready by opener

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Rick Ankiel has been hampered by a tight quadriceps muscle all spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- Rick Ankiel's quadriceps injury that has lingered for weeks might just linger long enough to prevent the veteran center fielder from making the Nationals' Opening Day roster.

Ankiel was out of the lineup today and will miss his fifth straight game tomorrow when the Nationals travel to Jupiter to face the Cardinals. With only two more exhibition games remaining -- Monday in Fort Myers, Tuesday in Washington -- Ankiel is running out of time to get at-bats before Thursday's season opener in Chicago.

"If he didn't get some at-bats the last couple days, we might have to re-evaluate," manager Davey Johnson said following today's 6-2 loss to St. Louis. "Just to be on the safe side, to start the season."

Ankiel, projected to begin the season as the Nationals' starting center fielder, thought he had overcome this issue about a week ago when he returned to the lineup. But the tightness he's felt in his left quadriceps

Nats vs. Cardinals - 3/31/12

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg faces the Cardinals in the spring's final home game.
VIERA, Fla. -- Well, we've reached the end of another spring in Viera, home to choices, a living inspiration, and where life is always better. (At least, that's what they've told us on billboards over the years.) The Nationals play their final home game of the spring this afternoon; they'll wrap up the Grapefruit League the next two days with road games against the Cardinals in Jupiter and the Red Sox in Fort Myers.

Stephen Strasburg makes his final tune-up before Opening Day, but don't look for anything spectacular. Davey Johnson plans to pull his ace after only 60-70 pitches, then turn to No. 5 starter John Lannan (who will appear out of the bullpen).

A couple of lineup tweaks, including Danny Espinosa at shortstop (don't get any grand ideas, Johnson is just giving Ian Desmond a rest and preparing Espinosa in case of emergency). Roger Bernadina was originally penciled in as the starting center fielder, but he wasn't due to return from his father's funeral in Curacao in time for the game, so Corey Brown was summoned from minor-league camp to fill that spot.

Plenty of updates to come, so please check back often...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: Cardinals feed via MLB Gameday Audio, XM 186
Weather: Partly cloudy, 83 degrees, Wind 11 mph in from RF
2B Steve Lombardozzi
SS Danny Espinosa
3B Chad Tracy
RF Jayson Werth

Michaels to Syracuse, Blanco to Phillies

VIERA, Fla. -- Outfielder Jason Michaels, released by the Nationals on Thursday, will return to the organization and report to Class AAA Syracuse. Infielder Andres Blanco, however, has signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies.

The Nationals were hoping both Michaels and Blanco would stay with the organization following their releases, but each veteran had an opt-out clause in their contract that allowed them to sign with another team.

Blanco wound up finding a better opportunity with the Phillies, who are in need of infield depth after seeing several players succumb to injury (including starter Chase Utley and projected backup Michael Martinez) this spring. The 27-year-old had only two hits in 32 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Michaels, 35, hit .220 (9-for-41) in 20 games this spring. An 11-year veteran with the Phillies, Indians, Pirates and Astros, he'll join the roster at Syracuse and be asked to serve as a mentor to Bryce Harper. The two had adjacent lockers in big-league camp this spring, a request made by general manager Mike Rizzo.

Espinosa on slump: It's the batter's eye

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The dark hitter's backdrop at Space Coast Stadium doesn't extend enough to the left.
VIERA, Fla. -- For everyone worried about his struggles at the plate this spring, Danny Espinosa has a simple explanation: The batter's eye at Space Coast Stadium is too small.

No, really. That's his story, and he's sticking to it.

"There's just no backdrop," the Nationals second baseman said last night after striking out in his first three plate appearance, giving him 23 strikeouts in only 63 at-bats this spring.

Espinosa isn't the first member of the Nationals roster to mention the poor visibility left-handed hitters face when stepping into the box at Space Coast Stadium. Though there is a seemingly large enough, dark green backdrop behind the center-field fence, it comes to an abrupt end on the left-hand side and makes it appear as though pitches from

Friday, March 30, 2012

Detwiler shines in spot start

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Ross Detwiler allowed one run on three hits in five innings.
VIERA, Fla. -- In a perfect world, the Nationals would get 30 starts from every member of their rotation, all of them lasting at least five innings, and never need to summon a long man from their bullpen.

The world, of course, isn't perfect, which is why Davey Johnson is so glad to have Ross Detwiler at his disposal.

"You look at the Phillies," the Nationals manager said. "They had the great rotation last year, and [Vance] Worley ends up winning 10 games coming from the pen. And [Kyle] Kendrick started a lot. Guys in the pen, they're invaluable, the spot starters."

Detwiler will serve in that capacity for the Nationals, at least to open the season with the five-man rotation already set: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, John Lannan. And if tonight's dry run was an indication of things to come, the Nationals

Wang rehab ahead of schedule

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Chien-Ming Wang last pitched on March 15 against the Yankees.
VIERA, Fla. -- Though he'll open the season on the disabled list, Chien-Ming Wang's rehabilitation from a hamstring strain is progressing in more rapid fashion than the Nationals expected.

Manager Davey Johnson said Wang will fly north with the club following Monday's Grapefruit League finale in Fort Myers, though it's yet to be determined if the right-hander will accompany the team to Chicago for Thursday's opener against the Cubs or remain in Washington to continue his rehab.

"I want to see his throwing program and what he's doing up to that point," Johnson said before tonight's game. "Not that much is going to be happening down here anyways. And then we can decide what's best for him to continue his rehab, either out of D.C. or whatever."

Wang strained his hamstring on March 15, trying to make a play at first base, and club officials initially feared the injury was serious. There's still no formal timetable for the right-hander's return, but the Nationals

Rizzo: No additions before opener

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Rick Ankiel was officially added to the 40-man roster today.
VIERA, Fla. -- With six days to go before their season opener in Chicago, the Nationals are content to assemble their roster from within.

"Barring something out of the ordinary, I think you're looking at the 25-man somewhere in this camp," general manager Mike Rizzo said this afternoon.

There are 34 players remaining in big-league camp, though five of those are expected to open the season on the disabled list: Michael Morse, Drew Storen and Chien-Ming Wang on the 15-day DL and Chris Marrero and Cole Kimball on the 60-day DL.

So that leaves only 29 healthy players for Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson to consider when assembling their Opening Day roster. Outfielder Xavier Nady figures to beat out catcher Carlos Maldonado and first baseman Chad Tracy for the final spot on the bench, and Ryan Mattheus is favored over Craig Stammen and Chad Durbin to win

Nats vs. Marlins - 3/30/12

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler faces Josh Johnson tonight at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- If you're going to treat the final week of spring training as a true tune-up for the regular season, tonight's game is about as close as you're going to get. The Marlins have sent all their regulars, including ace Josh Johnson, to Space Coast Stadium.

The Nationals counter with a lineup you very well could see at Wrigley Field on Thursday ... if Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel aren't ready to play. Morse definitely won't be ready. Ankiel, who was just formally added to the 40-man roster this afternoon, hasn't totally healed from a quad strain, and Davey Johnson said he's "a little concerned" he won't be ready come Opening Day.

Don't look for the Nationals to go pick up any new bodies from outside the organization, though. GM Mike Rizzo said "barring something out of the ordinary, I think you're looking at the 25-man roster from inside this camp." Seemed pretty emphatic when he said it.

You can catch tonight's game on TV, as Bob, F.P. and new sideline reporter Kristina Akra have the call. (Clarification: Though Kristina is here, she won't be making her on-air debut until Tuesday.) And, of course, plenty of updates to come here...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
Radio: None
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 78 degrees, Wind 14 mph in from CF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
CF Jayson Werth

Encouraging or discouraging?

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman has raked at the plate all spring, an encouraging sign.
VIERA, Fla. -- With a night game (6:05 p.m. against the Marlins) on tap, we've got a chance to catch our breaths a bit this morning and look at the bigger picture. It's been an interesting spring, to say the least, filled with signs both encouraging and discouraging for the Nationals.

With that in mind, let's run through five of the most encouraging developments of camp, plus five of the most discouraging developments of camp...

ENCOURAGING: Ryan Zimmerman has been raking at the plate from the moment he first grabbed a bat. The heart of the Nationals lineup is hitting .385 with three homers, 10 RBI, an insane .769 slugging percentage and a ridiculous 1.216 OPS. Is his mind at ease now that he knows he'll be a Nat for life? Or is he just 100 percent healthy and ready to rock 'n' roll? Whatever the case, Zim looks poised for a monster season.

DISCOURAGING: Michael Morse hoped to come into camp and pick up right where he left off last September. But the Nationals' 2011 MVP has managed to appear in only three Grapefruit League games, none of them in the field, because of a strained lat muscle. That muscle has now

Thursday, March 29, 2012

LaRoche ready to open season

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Adam LaRoche went 1-for-2 with a walk in his first big-league game since March 15.
VIERA, Fla. -- He got plenty of at-bats in minor-league camp over the last week. He passed all the conditioning drills designed to test his bruised left foot. And after playing six innings and stroking a base hit off Braves left-hander Mike Minor in the Nationals' 6-3 victory this afternoon, Adam LaRoche made it clear to Davey Johnson he's ready to open the season with his teammates.

"I'll tell you what: Let's just put this behind us," LaRoche told his manager. "I feel like this is over with. Let's move on and rock-and-roll for the season."

That was music to Johnson's ears. After spending much of the last month wondering about the status of his veteran first baseman, he's now confident that won't be a lingering issue any longer.

"Yeah, I even said if he's going to hit left-handers like that, I may revisit the platoon thing," Johnson said, perhaps going back on his plan to have LaRoche share time at first base with right-handed veteran Mark

Notes: Jackson, DeRosa, Carroll

US Presswire photo
Edwin Jackson allowed one run on two hits over six strong innings.
VIERA, Fla. -- Lots of tidbits to share from today's 6-3 victory over the Braves, so let's run through everything...

Five days removed from a shellacking in Sarasota, Edwin Jackson was fantastic. The right-hander allowed just one run on two hits over six strong innings and was pleased with the approach he took in his second-to-last tune-up of camp.

"I know spring has been kinda up and down," he said. "But I'm just trying to go out with a little bit more focus and a little bit more [regular] season mentality."

Jackson, who was tagged by the Orioles on Saturday for 10 runs (seven earned) and 12 hits in only 3 2/3 innings, was sharp throughout this start. He retired 10 consecutive batters at one point, issued only one walk and was efficient enough to get through six innings without reaching his pitch limit of 85.

"Awfully good," manager Davey Johnson said in evaluating his No. 4

Duke signed, Perry optioned

Associated Press photo
Zach Duke was released by the Astros after going 0-3 with an 11.30 ERA this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- Seeking pitching depth to stash away at Class AAA Syracuse, the Nationals have signed left-hander Zach Duke to a minor-league contract, the club announced this afternoon.

The Nationals also optioned reliever Ryan Perry to Syracuse following today's 6-3 victory over the Braves and announced outfielder Jason Michaels has been released.

Duke, 28, was released by the Astros on Tuesday, two days after he was shelled for 10 runs in 3 1/3 innings. Expected to compete for a spot in Houston's Opening Day rotation, the left-hander wound up 0-3 with an 11.30 ERA.

Duke does have considerable big-league experience, owner of a 48-74 record and 4.56 ERA in 181 career games with the Pirates and Diamondbacks. He's expected to join the rotation at Syracuse and could be called upon if the Nationals need an experienced starter at some

Nats (ss) vs. Braves - 3/29/12

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Braves come to Space Coast Stadium this afternoon.
VIERA, Fla. -- There are a couple of interesting additions to the Nationals' lineup today: Adam LaRoche is back starting at first base, and Xavier Nady is back starting in left field.

This is LaRoche's first game appearance since March 15. His sprained ankle/bruised foot has healed, and he's been cleared to run the bases, so it certainly looks like he'll be good to go by Opening Day. Nady, meanwhile, is throwing his hat into the ring for the Opening Day left fielder's job with Michael Morse expected to be on the disabled list.

Nady actually was supposed to start in right field, with Mark DeRosa in left field. But DeRosa was a late scratch. No reason has been given yet, but he was dealing with a calf cramp the other day, so it might just be a recurrence of that.

Edwin Jackson is on the mound, hoping to bounce back from his troublesome start Saturday against the Orioles. Plenty of updates to come...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: Braves feed via MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Partly cloudy, 83 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to CF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
CF Jayson Werth

Strasburg bumped in preparation for opener

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg will now make his final spring training start Saturday.
VIERA, Fla. -- In an effort to better line up their ace for his Opening Day outing in Chicago, the Nationals have pushed Stephen Strasburg's final spring training start back one day. Originally scheduled to face the Marlins tomorrow night, Strasburg will now go up against the Cardinals Saturday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium.

The rationale: Strasburg was going to get an extra day of rest at some point before the April 5 opener at Wrigley Field. And since he's scheduled to throw only 60-to-70 pitches in his final spring tune-up, manager Davey Johnson prefers his ace get the rest now.

"Give him an extra day to recover [from Sunday's start], and then have a short day Saturday and then have his regular rest for the opener," Johnson explained. "And there's also the possibility we could have [bad] weather [in Chicago]. So rather than have it too long, that's the reason behind that. That's my decision."

The reshuffling of Strasburg's schedule also affects a few other members of the Nationals pitching staff. Ross Detwiler, slated to open the season as a long reliever, will get a chance to stretch himself out

Michaels, Blanco, Severino cut

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Outfielder Jason Michaels hit .220 with one homer in 20 games this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals brought a bit more clarity to the makeup of their Opening Day roster this morning when they re-assigned outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder Andres Blanco to minor-league camp and optioned left-hander Atahualpa Severino to Class AAA Syracuse.

Michaels and Blanco had been competing for spots on the Opening Day bench. Their departure all but guarantees jobs for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and outfielder Brett Carroll, and sets up a battle between veterans Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy for the last spot on the roster.

Blanco was the only other infielder competing with Lombardozzi for a backup role, and the 27-year-old journeyman didn't make much of a case for himself, collecting just two hits in 32 at-bats this spring.

Davey Johnson wouldn't go so far this morning to say Lombardozzi has made the club, but the manager has envisioned the rookie getting as many as 300 at-bats by filling in at second base, shortstop, third base

Who takes roster spots of DL candidates?

US Presswire photo
Ryan Mattheus is first in line to make the bullpen if Drew Storen lands on the DL.
VIERA, Fla. -- We've reached the point of the spring where everyone can finally see the finish line ahead. Which also means everyone can see those final rounds of roster cuts about to be handed down.

As of this morning, there are 38 players in big-league camp (that's counting Xavier Nady, who it appears has joined the mix). That means 13 players must be cut or placed on the disabled list before Opening Day.

We already know three players are guaranteed to start the year on the DL: Chris Marrero (hamstring), Cole Kimball (shoulder) and Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring). It's also probably safe to assume Drew Storen (elbow) and Michael Morse (lat) will wind up there, if only for a brief stint.

So that leaves 33 healthy players for 25 available spots on the Opening Day roster. Let's run through those remaining candidates, position-by-position...
Wilson Ramos
Jesus Flores

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nady suddenly in the mix

US Presswire photo
Xavier Nady went 1-for-3 and made a couple of nice plays in the field.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Unemployed two weeks ago and relegated to minor-league camp two days ago, Xavier Nady found himself starting for the Nationals this afternoon. And the way things are going, he might just find himself taking the field with them in Chicago on Opening Day.

With left fielder Michael Morse and first baseman Adam LaRoche still battling injuries, the Nationals decided to take a look today at Nady, the 33-year-old veteran who signed a minor-league deal on March 18 and wasn't expected to see any action in big-league games this spring.

Starting at first base and batting seventh against the Mets, Nady went 1-for-3, striking out in his first two at-bats before singling to center in the top of the seventh. He also made several nice plays at first base, showing the ability both to field grounders hit his way and scoop up off-line throws from his infielders.

And by day's end, Nady had suddenly gone from a one-day cameo to a candidate to win the final spot on the Nationals' bench. Manager Davey Johnson said Nady will stay in big-league camp through the final week

Dominant start for Zimmermann

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Jordan Zimmermann shut out the Mets over six innings this afternoon.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Davey Johnson could have gone on and on raving about Jordan Zimmermann's dominant start, but the Nationals manager pretty much summed things up in one sentence.

"That was superb, to say the least," Johnson said.

It's hard to imagine a better performance in a spring training environment. Over six stellar innings, Zimmermann shut out the New York Mets, allowing two hits, walking none barely breaking a sweat along the way.

Zimmermann was so efficient, he never came close to reaching his predetermined limit of 85 pitches, wrapping up his six innings on a scant 68 pitches. Johnson might have let his young right-hander take the mound again for the bottom of the seventh if not for a blister that

Bernadina leaves for father's funeral

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Outfielder Roger Bernadina is leaving Nationals camp to return to his native Curacao following the death of his father.

Bernadina informed manager Davey Johnson earlier this week that he would need to head home for a funeral, which will now be held Friday. Johnson told him he was free to leave today, but Bernadina wanted to get a few at-bats in minor-league camp. He's scheduled to fly out tomorrow, then return in time to play Saturday against the Cardinals.

It's been a difficult offseason for the 27-year-old outfielder. He was good friends with Greg Halman, an outfielder with the Mariners and teammate on the Netherlands national team who was stabbed to death in November.

Bernadina has performed well in recent days, collecting seven hits (two of them home runs) over his last 10 at-bats while driving in seven runs. With Michael Morse likely opening the season on the disabled list, he could see time as the Nationals' starting left fielder along with Mark DeRosa.

Storen likely to DL, Morse lat healed

US Presswire photo
Drew Storen resumed throwing today but needs a few weeks to build his arm back up.
Updated at 4:27 p.m.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though neither figures to miss much time, both Drew Storen and Michael Morse are expected to open the season on the disabled list.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said as much this morning in updating the status of his closer and cleanup hitter, suggesting each will probably need to remain in Florida after camp breaks next week and go through a short rehab stint before rejoining the roster.

By late afternoon, though, the Nationals had received encouraging news on Morse, whose strained lat muscle has completely healed. He's been cleared to resume baseball activities, though the chances of him being ready for Opening Day still appear slim.

"I'm not going to be that optimistic," Johnson said following a 3-2 victory over the Mets. He added that the clean sonogram taken today of

Nats vs. Mets - 3/28/12

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats face the Mets once again at DigitalDomain Park.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Upon signing Xavier Nady to a minor-league contract on March 18, general manager Mike Rizzo insisted the veteran outfielder/first baseman would not be appearing in a big-league game this spring. When asked again about the possibility last week, Rizzo had the same answer: Nady would not be seen in a big-league game this spring.

Well, check out who's starting at first base today in a big-league game against the Mets.

We'll see what the rationale for this was, but my hunch is that manager Davey Johnson (who has been preaching the idea of preparing for every contingency and trying out all sorts of different combinations) wanted to get one look at Nady before camp ended. And with first baseman Adam LaRoche potentially returning from a foot injury tomorrow, this may have represented the last opportunity to see Nady.

Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, makes his second-to-last start of the spring. You can watch the game live (and apparently for free) on, and you can also watch the game tape delayed on MLB Network at 4 p.m. You can also, of course, get plenty of updates and analysis right here...

Where: DigitalDomain Park, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: (live), MLB Network (tape delayed at 4 p.m.)
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, Wind 14 mph RF to LF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth

Kasten heads to Hollywood

Associated Press file photo
Commissioner Bud Selig has twice entrusted the takeover of a franchise to Stan Kasten.
VIERA, Fla. -- Upon announcing his resignation as president of the Washington Nationals in Sept. 2010, Stan Kasten made it clear he wouldn't be leaving the sports world altogether.

"I don't feel like retiring," he said that day. "I'm going to do something. I think it will be a while before I do."

Turns out "a while" was only about 18 months, because last night the Los Angeles Dodgers announced they have agreed in principle to sell the franchise and the Chavez Ravine property on which Dodger Stadium resides to a group headed by Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, former Lakers star Magic Johnson and Kasten.

The selling price: $2.15 billion, a record for any sports franchise.

Not a bad deal for Frank McCourt, the disgraced Dodgers owner who ran the organization into bankruptcy through his messy divorce and other

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lidge ready to close if needed

Associated Press photo
Brad Lidge impressed again today against the Marlins.
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Nationals didn't sign Brad Lidge to be their closer, but they did sign him believing he could handle the role if needed. Which, with Drew Storen likely to open the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, now appears to be the case.

Lidge, owner of 223 career big-league saves with the Astros and Phillies, insists he's ready for the challenge.

"First and foremost, we all want Drew to get back as fast as possible," he said. "We all know he's the closer. ... Obviously I'd be happy to have that role. I still feel in my mind when I'm healthy that's something I love to do, and I'm very happy to do it. I definitely would love to have an opportunity to do that."

Manager Davey Johnson has said he'll use either Lidge or Henry Rodriguez in the ninth inning until Storen returns. (He was scheduled to resume a throwing program today and believes he won't need much time to get himself game-ready, but he'll probably need to miss at least

Mechanical tweak saves Gonzalez's day

Associated Press photo
Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs over five innings today against the Marlins.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Considering what transpired in this same ballpark only five days ago, the Nationals would have been justified in worrying a bit about Gio Gonzalez at the end of a ragged first inning this afternoon.

Three runs, four batters reaching base and a whopping pitch count of 28? After getting pounded for eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in only 3 2/3 innings Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium? Was there any reason to be concerned about Gonzalez's arm?

Turns out the answer was a resounding no. After making a mechanical tweak at the advice of pitching coach Steve McCatty and third baseman Mark DeRosa, Gonzalez turned his entire afternoon around and wound up encouraged by the results.

What was the tweak? McCatty and DeRosa told Gonzalez he was "flying open" with the right side of his body instead of keeping his shoulders

Nats vs. Marlins - 3/27/12

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats make yet another trip to Jupiter today to face the Marlins.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Gio Gonzalez is quite familiar with Roger Dean Stadium at this point, and not because he happens to live a little farther down I-95 in Miami. This is actually his third start of the spring at this complex, though the previous two came against the Cardinals.

Today, Gonzalez will go up against the Marlins, who have plenty of regulars in their lineup, including Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez. They also have a familiar face in their lineup: Austin Kearns. The former Nationals outfielder is putting together an impressive spring -- he's hitting .345 with three homers -- as he tries to make the club as a non-roster invitee.

No TV or radio coverage of this game, so you'll just have to check back here often for all your updates...

Where: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, Wind 16 mph in from CF
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
3B Mark DeRosa

Searching for a temporary left fielder

Associated Press photo
Steve Lombardozzi is making his second start in left field this afternoon.
JUPITER, Fla. -- If Michael Morse needs to start the season on the disabled list -- and considering he's not supposed to be cleared to resume throwing until tomorrow, that seems a likely scenario -- the Nationals will need to figure out who's going to take over in left field on a temporary basis.

Davey Johnson has considered a number of possibilities, from Roger Bernadina to Mark DeRosa to Brett Carroll to Steve Lombardozzi. And for now, the manager isn't making his plan public.

"I've got a pretty good idea," Johnson said when asked if he's got an Opening Day lineup in mind yet.

Johnson, though, has to prepare for multiple contingencies due to the uncertain status of both Morse and first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche is getting at-bats in a minor-league game today, has been cleared to run the bases and could be back in the big-league lineup

Bullpen quietly dominating

US Presswire photo
Sean Burnett hasn't surrendered a run in six appearances this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's easy to overlook relief pitchers in spring training. They appear late in games, often facing minor-league batters. Everyone tends to tune out the final innings of exhibition games.

It should be noted, however, that the Nationals' bullpen has quietly dominated this spring.

Combine the Grapefruit League stats of their top five relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez) and you get a 1.45 ERA, a sparkling 1.03 WHIP and a 32-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio that gives manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty plenty of reason to smile.

And it's not only those five stalwarts who have pitched well. Total up the numbers for six relievers who likely won't make the Opening Day roster (Craig Stammen, Chad Durbin, Ryan Mattheus, Ryan Perry, Atahualpa

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bernadina steps up his game

Associated Press photo
Roger Bernadina watches his fifth-inning homer clear the fence.
VIERA, Fla. -- At various points over the last four seasons, Roger Bernadina has displayed a natural ability and athleticism that gives the Nationals reason to believe he can be a significant producer at the big-league level.

Bernadina, though, has never been able to sustain that level of play for any length of time, forever teasing the Nationals with his skills, but only in spurts.

The 27-year-old outfielder has been at it again the last couple of days. He's homered in back-to-back games and gone a combined 5-for-6 with six RBI and a walk.

One reason for Bernadina's recent surge in power: He's worked with hitting coach Rick Eckstein on staying "inside" the ball and not flying