Thursday, January 31, 2013

Harper ready for third MLB Spring Training

Photo by USA Today Sports Images

What was a whirlwind of a rookie year for Bryce Harper seemed to carry over into his offseason as the 20-year-old has been quite busy this winter. Harper has been active tweeting pictures of his travels, campaigning for the cover of a video game, and even appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. With just weeks to go until Spring Training, Harper is now just looking forward to entering his first big league camp with a set role in the starting lineup.

“When I go into Spring Training I’m going to work my tail off, work out in the weight room, and get things done. I’m going to try and get ready for the season,” he said.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun to get back going and try to get back to where we were last year.”

Harper said he didn’t watch any of the baseball playoffs after the Nationals were bounced in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. He didn’t even watch the World Series.

Months after the ending of last season had settled, Harper was invited to compete in the World Baseball Classic, but declined. He wants to take the next few weeks to relax before starting the long 162-game schedule.

“I think it’s just too serious of at-bats for me right now,” he said. “Coming off the year that we had, I just want to get back into the swing of things in Spring Training. It’s the first Spring Training I can really be up with the big league club and I think hopefully in four years I can do the WBC then.”

VIDEO: Span one-on-one with Mark

Saturday at NatsFest was an interesting day for Denard Span as he interacted with Nationals fans and met many of his new teammates for the first time. Here is Mark's one-on-one conversation with the new center fielder who is excited to bat leadoff in such a deep lineup.

You can also check out these links from

**Four Nats in top prospects list
**Bo Porter hopes Nats success follows him to Houston

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nats glad to see Prado go

Photo by USA Today Sports Images

When the Braves made one of the boldest moves of the MLB offseason in trading for All-Star outfielder Justin Upton, it didn’t exactly come free. Atlanta had to surrender a top pitching prospect Randall Delgado and a group of second tier farmhands as well. The headliner of the price they paid, however, was infielder Martin Prado.

Prado was slotted to take over third after the departure of Chipper Jones and seeing his name involved was a welcome sign for several Nats players.

“That’s great for them, I don’t know why they got rid of Martin Prado though,” Bryce Harper said. “He was a killer for us last year. He is pretty unbelievable.”

Ross Detwiler, a starting pitcher who Prado holds a .591 batting average against with six doubles in 22 career at-bats, is also happy to see him go.

“For anyone it is really going to come down to who is healthy,” Detwiler said of the N.L. East. “But the Braves, I’m glad they got rid of Prado because I just could not get that guy out.”

VIDEO: Mark talks to Jayson Werth

You may have seen a short clip on of Mark's interview with Jayson Werth on Saturday, but there was more. Here is Mark's full conversation with Werth who talks about the increased attention the Nats are receiving and how good the new-look outfield can be with Denard Span manning the middle.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

VIDEO: Catching up with Desmond

Mark interviewed Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond at Saturday's NatsFest and asked him about how this offseason may be different for the team coming off such a historic season. Desmond says the team now has a bit of a different mindset now that they have experienced winning the division and playing in the playoffs.

Also, check out these other links from

**Nats Notes: Strasburg's 5K, Johnson retires
**VIDEO: NatsFest 2013 sights and sounds

Report: Gio linked to PED clinic

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Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez has been named in a report by the Miami New Times linking him to Biogensis, a Miami-area clinic alleged to have supplied performance enhancing drugs to Major League Baseball players.

The report has a lengthy investigation citing a group of MLB players as well as other professional athletes and a member of the University of Miami baseball coaching staff. Headlining the allegations are MLB stars Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, and Nelson Cruz.

Here is the passage on Gonzalez and his specific relation to the clinic as it appears in the Miami New Times:

Gonzalez's name appears five times in Bosch's notebooks, including a specific note in the 2012 book reading, "Order 1.c.1 with Zinc/MIC/... and Aminorip. For Gio and charge $1,000." (Aminorip is a muscle-building protein.)

After the the report surfaced on Tuesday, Gonzalez released a statement on the accusations:

"I've never used performance enhancing drugs of any kind and I never will. I've never met or spoken with Tony Bosch or used any substance provided by him. Anything said to the contrary is a lie."


Nats bullpen confident vs. lefties

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As the MLB offseason progressed this winter, the Nationals seemed to develop a need for left-handed pitching in the bullpen. It was a strength in 2012, but Mike Gonzalez, Sean Burnett, and Tom Gorzelanny all departed to other clubs. Rumors emerged involving pitchers like Jeremy Affeldt and J.P. Howell, but they signed elsewhere.

Then the calendar turned and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo still hadn’t signed another lefty who projects as a primary reliever. He was asked about the vacancy in early January by The Washington Post:

“The right left-handed reliever would be great,” Rizzo said. “I think Davey likes to have at least two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. But we have a very unique and special type of bullpen. Our right-handers get left-handed hitters better than most left-handed specialists get them out. It’s not something that we feel that we have to do.”

Rizzo revealed that the team may, in fact, not sign another left-hander at all. They have Zach Duke re-signed who figures to play a bigger role in 2013, likely as a lefty long reliever, but that may be it. Former first round pick Bill Bray was also signed, but he isn’t expected to be a significant contributor.

Rizzo’s contention is that he already has a group of relief pitchers who can get lefties out and it doesn’t matter what side they throw it from.

“The reason for that is that we feel our right-handed relievers get out lefties and [Manager] Davey [Johnson is] not a big left-on-left, one-batter-at-a-time type of manager anyways.”

Rizzo was talking about guys like Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus. Clippard has held lefties to a .186 average and .593 OPS across 698 batters faced. Those numbers are noticeably better than his stats against right-handers, a .213 batting average against and .691 opponent’s OPS. 

Mattheus has faced fewer lefties in his time, 162 total plate appearances, but boasts a .214 batting average against. Drew Storen has also been strong against them with a .229 BAA and .583 OPS.

A life of fulfillment

Anyone who happened to meet Marian Amdur for the first time never stood a chance of accurately guessing her age. Whenever someone would ask how old my grandmother was and I replied she was 94, there would be a momentary pause and look of confusion.

Ninety-four?! No way. Not this woman who had the looks, the energy and the attitude of someone at least 20 years younger.

How many 94-year-olds do you know with that kind of busy lifestyle? Brunch with family at 11 a.m. Bridge with friends at 2 p.m. Then dinner and a show downtown. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all that, she had time to construct personalized, homemade birthday cards for all of her grandchildren. Hallmark never collected a dime from this woman.

The running joke whenever I'd return home to Phoenix would be if Grandma could find the time to squeeze me into her hectic schedule. Lunch on Wednesday? No, she already had plans. Dinner on Friday? Sorry, she already committed to attending an art exhibit. Maybe a quick stop by her apartment late Thursday afternoon ...

Monday, January 28, 2013

VIDEO: Rizzo one-on-one

Mark caught up with Mike Rizzo on Saturday at NatsFest in a one-on-one interview about the state of the Nationals as they head into the 2013 season. Rizzo is happy with the roster as it stands and is glad to be back around the players for the first time since the fall.

"No roadblocks" for Haren to cross

USA Today Sports Images
Dan Haren signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Nationals last month.
Had there been no concerns about his health, Dan Haren might well have commanded the kind of long-term contract several of his fellow free-agent pitchers signed this winter.

A midseason bout of back spasms and a lingering hip issue, though, scared off plenty of teams and left Haren to settle for a one-year, $13 million contract with the Nationals. Which could prove to be a steal if the right-hander pitches as well as he insists he can, his confidence bolstered by positive bullpen sessions over the last few weeks.

"I feel great," he said Saturday at NatsFest. "I threw a bullpen yesterday, actually, before I flew out. I felt really good. I feel strong. ... I don't want to go crazy. But I'm going to be 100 percent ready to go from the get-go this spring. Physically I feel really good."

Despite skepticism from some other clubs originally interested in his services, Haren has never worried about his ability to bounce back from his worst season in the big leagues (12-13, 4.33 ERA).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Span ready to connect with D.C.

Photo by USA Today Sports Images
For Denard Span, getting traded to the Washington Nationals was quite the coincidence, perhaps an act of fate. He was returning to the city he was born in, but a town he had spent little time in since. He needed to get in touch with his roots and learn about his birthplace.

Luckily for Span, his new employer was a professional baseball team and could provide him the grandest of tours. Span saw a Wizards game, took a White House tour, saw Union Station and Georgetown, and even ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl. He feels like he has a pretty good feel for the city and, after NatsFest on Saturday, his new fans as well.

“I’m in the nation’s capital man, that’s awesome,” he said. “I never thought I would be coming back here to play after being born here.”

“It seems like the fans are already greeting me with love even though they haven’t seen me play yet, definitely getting me excited to go down there to Spring Training.”

Span is still getting used to being on a new team after being in the Minnesota Twins’ organization since being drafted in 2002. He met many of his teammates for the first time on Saturday after talking to a few only by text message.

“It’s just a new start for me and I’m excited for it. It’s been a whirlwind this offseason for me with getting traded but honestly I’m ready for this new chapter in my life.”

Despite switching teams, Span will be able to keep his number ‘2’ that he wore with the Twins. Outfielder Roger Bernadina was already planning to change his jersey to ‘33’ so Span didn’t have to do any convincing. Sometimes players have to sweeten the pot with gifts or a Rolex watch for instance.

Zimmermann, Rizzo on contract talks

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Jordan Zimmermann went 12-8 with a career-best 2.94 ERA last season.
Though both sides reiterated interest in a long-term extension, both Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Rizzo made it clear yesterday they won't engage in serious talks over a deal like that until they first settle the dispute over the right-hander's 2013 salary.

Zimmermann was the only one of the Nationals' seven arbitration-eligible players who didn't agree to terms with the club a contract prior to the January 18 deadline to exchange arbitration figures. The 26-year-old hurler is seeking a salary of $5.8 million; the Nats countered with an offer of $4.6 million.

The two sides can continue to negotiate a compromise before the arbitration hearing takes place in early-February, but there remain sticking points.

"We're kind of hung up right now," Zimmermann said. "We'll see what happens. We definitely want to get this deal done and move

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Storen, Clippard try to move on

When the Washington Nationals agreed to terms with one of the top prizes of the MLB offseason, signing closer Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal, it caught nearly everyone in the baseball world by surprise. It wasn’t rumored, the team already had a guy who saved 43 games in 2011 and another who saved 32 in 2012, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Imagine being Drew Storen.

The young reliever the Nats picked 10th overall in 2009 to be the closer of the future all of a sudden had his job threatened, or perhaps even taken away, and how did he find out? By Twitter.

Storen saw the news online and immediately called his good friend and roommate, Tyler Clippard, who happens to be the other closer the team already had in the fold.

“I just saw it on Twitter and I called him and I said, ‘have you seen this?’ We were like, ‘what?’”

The conversation was short and speculative as neither player really had a lot of information about the signing, they knew as much as anyone else. But through talking it out, both Storen and Clippard found a way it can be good for the team and eventually positive for them individually as well.

“It kind of caught me of guard, but there is no doubt that he is going to make the team better, you can’t argue with that,” Storen said.

Espinosa to play with torn rotator cuff

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Danny Espinosa played the second half of last season with left shoulder pain.
Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa revealed today he played the final month of last season with a torn left rotator cuff and that he'll attempt to play through this season without repairing the tear through surgery.

Espinosa, who played through pain in his non-throwing shoulder during September and during the playoffs in October, didn't learn of the tear until two weeks after season's end, after an enhanced MRI performed by Southern California orthopedist Lewis Yocum revealed it.

Surgery would completely repair the tear but would sideline Espinosa for at least the season's first two months, so the consensus opinion was to build up the muscles around the cuff and attempt to play without causing any further damage.

"It's already torn," Espinosa said. "So as long as I just keep up with my maintenance on my other muscles around the shoulder, I should
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Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is hosting NatsFest today.
Hello from NatsFest, which for the first time in the event's history is being held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. As much as everyone enjoyed hosting this at Nationals Park in the past, the feeling was that there would be too many fans now to be able to cram everyone into the ballpark. So the convention center it is.

There is plenty of stuff planned for the afternoon, from player autographs to Q&A sessions to batting cages and the much-anticipated unveiling of the newest racing president, William Howard Taft.

As many as 25 players are scheduled to appear, and we'll be getting a chance to interview them all. So check back here for plenty of live updates along the way...

UPDATE AT 1:35 P.M. -- The first round of players have trickled through the media area. Among them, Chad Tracy, who had

Friday, January 25, 2013

Taft is new racing president

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
William Howard Taft debuts at NatsFest on Saturday.
The Nationals unveiled a new racing president Saturday afternoon, one with a built-in connection to baseball and the kind of physique that could provide some comedic value.

William Howard Taft "agreed to terms" to be the Nationals' fifth racing president, "pending a physical," the club announced Friday night. Apparently the rotund, 300-pound, 27th Commander-in-Chief was cleared by doctors, because he was officially unveiled Saturday afternoon at NatsFest to roaring applause from the crowd.

Taft joins George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt in the expanded racing presidents shtick, highlighted by the nightly race in the middle of the fourth inning. "Bill," as the mascot will be called, already has a built-in rivalry with Teddy, who in 1912 attempted to defeat his successor for the Republican Party nomination and ultimately chose to create the "Bull Moose" Party and run as a third-party candidate. (Both wound up losing to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.)

Taft also has a strong connection to baseball. On April 14, 1910, he threw out the first pitch before the Senators' game against the

Spring Training Guide: The town

Photo courtesy
Viera has been the franchise's spring home since 2003.
It's easy to make fun of Viera, Fla., because the town is such a punching bag, inflicting wounds on itself with cheesy slogans -- remember "In Viera, Even Better"? -- and strip malls and an overall lack of charm.

Truth be told, Viera gets a bad rap. It's not nearly as bad as the horror stories might suggest. It's not even such a terrible place to visit ... if you know how to find a few off-the-beaten-path locales.

You're in luck, because your humble beat writer has spent the last eight springs on the Space Coast and during that time has managed to find plenty of hot spots (not to mention plenty of cold spots to be avoided at all costs).

So, if you're planning to head down there this spring to catch Nationals camp, be sure to print out this handy-dandy guide to the sights, sounds and smells of Viera. (Also, if you missed it yesterday, be sure to read my guide to Space Coast Stadium and the nearby practice facility where the Nationals work out prior to the exhibition season.)

Viera represents just one small chunk of the Space Coast, a planned community well inland that boasts a dizzying array of chain restaurants, government buildings and the occasional brush fire.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nats-Braves rivalry getting serious

USA Today Sports Images
Frank Wren signed B.J. Upton in November and today traded for Justin Upton.
The Nationals spent years chasing down the Phillies in the NL East and took legitimate pride in dethroning the five-time division champs last season. Philadelphia, though, is anything but the Nats' most significant concern heading into 2013 and beyond.

The road to the NL East title now bypasses the City of Brotherly Love altogether. It starts on South Capitol Street and runs due south through Atlanta.

Yes, the Braves are far and away the Nationals' toughest competition this season, a team that already posed a strong challenge last year and has now made some of baseball's boldest moves this winter to improve an already impressive roster.

The boldest move of them all came today with the completion of a seven-player trade that brings Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta and sends Martin Prado and prospects to Arizona. Combined with November's signing of B.J. Upton to a

Spring Training Guide: The complex

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Stephen Strasburg signs autographs following a workout last spring.
The countdown to spring training is in full swing, so what better way to note how tantalizingly close we are to baseball season than to start talking about what you can expect to see at Nationals camp in Viera?

Yes, it's time for the annual Nats Insider Spring Training Fan Guide. Also known as Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spring Training but Were Afraid to Ask.

Those of you who have been to Viera know there may not be a more fan-friendly experience in either the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues. The up-close access to players is unparalleled, the atmosphere is laid-back and the weather is ... well, it's usually better than what you'd get in Washington that time of year, though be forewarned that it's often legitimately chilly down there, especially when the wind kicks up.

We'll spend today talking about the daily drill at Space Coast Stadium and its adjacent practice fields. Tomorrow we'll turn our

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The depth chart ... for now

Associated Press file photo
At least 49 players will take the field in Viera in three weeks.
We are now a mere three weeks from Nationals pitchers and catchers officially reporting for spring training, and if that doesn't warm your heart on this frigid Wednesday morning in D.C., I don't know what will.

As has been pointed out, the Nats appear to be done with their offseason shopping, with perhaps a sliver of a chance Mike Rizzo makes one or two final tweaks before everyone arrives in Viera, Fla. So it's probably safe to start taking a look at the organization depth chart.

Obviously, this is subject to change. But for now, here's how things appear to stack up at each position, with 49 players currently slated to be in big-league camp: 39 off the 40-man roster, plus 10 more players on minor-league contracts who received invitations to camp (listed in italics)...

Kurt Suzuki
Wilson Ramos

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Locking more guys up long-term

USA Today Sports Images
Jordan Zimmermann is under the Nationals' control through 2015.
The Nationals have shown a willingness in the past to lock up core players well before they're eligible for free agency. Ryan Zimmerman had all of his arbitration years and two free agency years bought out way back in 2009. Gio Gonzalez, likewise, had all of his arbitration years and two free agency years bought out last winter upon his acquisition.

So, who's next on the list? The two obvious candidates are Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond.

Both players are home-grown and have firmly established themselves as key pieces to the Nationals' long-term puzzle. Both are eligible for arbitration for the next three seasons before they can become free agents at the end of 2015. And general manager Mike Rizzo has broached the subject of a long-term extension with both players over the last 12 months, though no significant progress has yet been made.

Obviously, there are compelling reasons for the Nationals to lock both guys up. With Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez already

No All-Star Game til at least '17

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Nationals Park hosted its first three playoff games in October.
Washington is going to have to wait a while longer to land the Midsummer Classic.

Considered the favorites to host the 2015 All-Star Game as recently as last summer, the Nationals have been beaten out by the Reds, who will officially be awarded the game by commissioner Bud Selig today, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

One of three NL clubs vying for the event in 2015 -- along with the Nationals and Marlins -- the Reds were initially told by Major League Baseball they would be in line to host the 2019 game. Owner Bob Castellini, according to the Enquirer, pushed Selig to give them the 2015 game and apparently was successful in bringing the All-Star Game to Cincinnati for the first time since 1988.

The Nationals have been interested in hosting the All-Star Game since Nationals Park opened in 2008, but MLB officials have
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Are they done for the offseason?

Associated Press
Mike Rizzo introduced closer Rafael Soriano Thursday at Nationals Park.
There are, incredibly, only three weeks to go until pitchers and catchers officially report for spring training, the Hot Stove League having reached the home stretch at last.

Across baseball, teams are looking at their projected rosters, figuring out what holes still remain and making a final push to address those needs before departing for Florida or Arizona. In Washington, though, there doesn't appear to be any shopping or fine-tuning left to accomplish.

Two major transactions last week -- the signing of closer Rafael Soriano and the trade of Michael Morse -- essentially wrapped up the offseason for the Nationals. General manager Mike Rizzo said as much on Thursday when asked if he's done for the winter.

"Yeah, we like the team we have," he said.

Rizzo clarified that by insisting "we're always open for business if something pops up that makes us better." But make no mistake: The Nationals aren't actively looking to add anything else of

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Johnson's statement on Weaver

Associated Press file photo
Davey Johnson and Earl Weaver at Orioles spring training in 1996.
Nobody had more influence on Davey Johnson's managerial style than Earl Weaver, whose fiery temper, in-game strategies and use of advanced stats helped shape the Orioles into one of baseball's model franchises in the 1970s and 80s.

So today's news of Weaver's death at 82 struck a particular chord with Johnson, who held a close relationship with his mentor for more than four decades.

Johnson issued the following statement, via the Nationals:

"I grew up in the minor leagues with Earl Weaver and we proceeded to spend a significant portion of our lives together. He was as intense a competitor as I have ever met. No one managed a ballclub or a pitching staff better than Earl. He was decades ahead of his time. Not a game goes by that I don’t draw on something Earl did or said. I will miss him every day."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Zimmermann, Nats file for arbitration

USA Today Sports Images
Jordan Zimmermann stands to earn a big raise either way through arbitration.
Unable to come to terms on a one-year contract, the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann have formally filed for arbitration.

Zimmermann is seeking a salary of $5.8 million; the Nationals have countered with an offer of $4.6 million, according to

The right-hander was the only one of the Nationals' seven arbitration-eligible players not to come to a deal before tonight's deadline. Drew Storen ($2.5 million), Ian Desmond ($3.8 million), Ross Detwiler ($2.3375 million), Tyler Clippard ($4 million) and Roger Bernadina ($1.215 million) all agreed to one-year deals. Craig Stammen, meanwhile, signed a two-year deal worth a total of $2.25 million.

Whether he wins in arbitration or not, Zimmermann stands to earn a hefty raise from his 2012 salary of $2.3 million. Entering his

6 of 7 arbitration-eligible players sign

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Ross Detwiler agreed to a one-year, $2.3375 million contract.
Updated at 4:03 p.m.

It's deadline day for all arbitration-eligible players to either come to terms on 2013 contracts with their clubs or else submit competing offers to Major League Baseball in advance of hearings next month.

Which isn't to say this is a hard-and-fast deadline, because the two sides are still allowed to negotiate with each other before those hearings ever take place. But there will some significant motivation to get deals done today and avoid the whole, messy arbitration process altogether.

The Nationals have seven arbitration-eligible players this season: Drew Storen (who signed a $2.5 million contract with incentives last night), Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Roger Bernadina.

Detwiler became the first member of the group to sign today, agreeing to a one-year, $2.3375 million contract that also includes incentives, according to his agency (CAA, which also represents

Rizzo: Cole was key to Morse trade

Mike Rizzo was willing to keep Michael Morse on his bench this season if he didn't receive a strong trade offer for the slugger. The Nationals general manager, though, was confident all along he'd get the kind of offer he was seeking.

"We could've kept him. And knowing me, if we didn't get the deal we wanted, we would've kept him," Rizzo said. "But I don't think it would've been fair to him in a contract year to come off the bench. I don't think his skills are really indicative of a bench player. There was enough interest. We were getting enough phone calls and hits on him, I thought there was going to be a deal that we liked out there."

That deal came together this week, with the Mariners strongly interested in re-acquiring Morse, the Athletics interested in acquiring Seattle catcher John Jaso and the Nationals very

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Storen signs, avoids arbitration

USA Today Sports Images
Drew Storen will make at least $2.5 million this season.
The Nationals and Drew Storen came to terms tonight on a one-year, $2.5 million contract, avoiding what could have been a messy arbitration hearing.

The deal, which was announced by Storen's representatives at CAA, also includes up to $1 million in performance bonuses, all of them related to how many games he finishes this season.

That number figures to be much lower now than it would have been a few days ago, before the Nationals made the surprising move to sign veteran closer Rafael Soriano for a near-record $28 million over two years. With Soriano assured of the primary closer's role, according to general manager Mike Rizzo, Storen will miss out on dozens of opportunities to pitch the ninth inning.

Even with Soriano in the fold, though, Storen should get some opportunities to close, or to finish games that aren't save

Rizzo: Soriano will close

Though he went out of his way to use the words "Drew Storen" and "closer" together multiple times, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo left no doubt who will be handed the ball for the ninth inning come Opening Day: The guy he just gave $28 million.

"Suffice it to say, Raffy is here to pitch the ninth inning," Rizzo said while introducing Rafael Soriano Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park. "He has done it successfully everywhere he has been, and we expect him to continue that."

At the same time, Rizzo seemed to make it clear he intends to keep both Storen and Tyler Clippard and give manager Davey Johnson as many quality relievers as possible to pitch the late innings of close games. Storen, who dominated down the stretch last season until his blown save in Game 5 of the NLDS, will likely serve as Johnson's "B" closer.

"Drew Storen is a closer," Rizzo said. "He's going to be a closer. He's got closer stuff. He's got a closer mentality. By no means the signing of Rafael Soriano was based on one inning and one game at the end of the season."
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Zero Nats on Team USA

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Joe Torre's World Baseball Classic club won't feature any Nationals.
They may have a roster loaded with All-Stars, but the Nationals won't have anyone representing Team USA in this spring's World Baseball Classic.

Manager Joe Torre announced his 28-man provisional roster this morning, and in a fairly surprising development, zero members of the Nationals were on the list.

The roster was assembled by Torre and his coaching staff, though major-league clubs do have the ability to discourage some players from participating due to injury concerns. The players themselves also have the right to decline an invitation for any reason.

It was previously known Bryce Harper would not play in the event, which will be held in March and require players to leave their spring training camps for as many as three weeks. And it seemed a safe
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The burden of trading a beast

USA Today Sports Images
Michael Morse was popular with Nationals teammates and fans alike.
Michael Morse's arrival in Washington on Aug. 21, 2009, barely merited even the briefest of mentions.

Acquired from the Mariners for Ryan Langerhans two months earlier in what was universally described as a "swap of minor leaguers," Morse was promoted to D.C. after producing a robust .339 batting average at Class AAA Syracuse. His first appearance in a Nationals uniform came in the bottom of the eighth of a meaningless game against the Brewers. Pinch-hitting for Tyler Clippard, Morse swung at the very first pitch he saw from Milwaukee's Todd Coffey and lined out to first baseman Prince Fielder.

Few among the announced crowd of 26,307 that Friday night bothered to applaud the newest member of the Nationals bench, a big galoot of a ballplayer with no natural position and a track record for getting hurt.

Who could have imagined at the time what Morse's final at-bat in a Nats uniform would look and sound like: bottom of the eighth

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Morse to M's, Cole back to Nats

USA Today Sports Images
Michael Morse became expendable after the Nats re-signed Adam LaRoche.
Updated at 7:50 p.m.

The Nationals have sent Michael Morse back to Seattle and are getting A.J. Cole back from Oakland in the process.

Morse was part of a three-team trade involving the Nationals, Athletics and Mariners, with Cole (one of the prospects sent to Oakland in last winter's Gio Gonzalez blockbuster) among the three players acquired by Washington, the club officially announced this evening.

The Nationals received two more players from the A's in addition Cole: minor-league right-hander Blake Treinen and another player to be named. Oakland, meanwhile, receives catcher John Jaso from Seattle.

Thus ends Morse's productive and popular, 3 1/2-year stint with the Nationals. Originally acquired from the Mariners for outfielder Ryan Langerhans in 2009, the slugger burst onto the scene two years later when he took over for an injured Adam LaRoche at first base and led the club with 31 homers, 95 RBI and a .303 batting
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Notable names, absences at NatsFest

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Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each are scheduled to appear at NatsFest.
The majority of players off the Nationals' roster are scheduled to attend next week's NatsFest, though a couple of prominent names notably will be absent.

Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Dan Haren, Denard Span and Kurt Suzuki are among the 25 players listed as attendees to the event, which will be held Jan. 26 at the Washington Convention Center. (All appearances are subject to change.)

Also scheduled to attend are three players who face uncertain futures with the organization in the wake of recent acquisitions: Michael Morse, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. That could lead to some interesting, perhaps awkward, conversations between the players and team execs, media members and fans who will be there in person.

Notable among the list of Nationals who aren't scheduled to attend are manager Davey Johnson, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman,

Flores lands with Dodgers

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Jesus Flores hit .241 with 23 homers in 311 games with the Nationals from 2007-12.
Jesus Flores, cut loose by the Nationals in November, has found a new home in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers have signed the 28-year-old catcher to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league spring training, according to multiple reports.

Once considered the Nationals' long-term answer behind the plate, Flores saw his promising career in D.C. get derailed by a major shoulder injury that sidelined him most of 2009 and all of 2010. Finally healthy again lat season, he got a chance to re-assume everyday catching duties after starter Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL but struggled to produce while dealing with the heavy workload, hitting .213 with a .248 on-base percentage in 83 games.

The midseason acquisition of veteran Kurt Suzuki forced Flores back to the bench, where he remained through the playoffs. The
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Scrutinizing the Soriano surprise

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Rafael Soriano becomes the Nationals' top closer after signing a $28 million deal.
There's a common wisdom in baseball that says you don't pay big money for a closer. Unless he's the last piece to a championship puzzle.

Were the Nationals a high-priced closer away from being a championship club? And if so, was Rafael Soriano the right guy to fill that all-important role? Check back in October, because we simply don't know the answer to either question right now.

The Nationals certainly didn't appear to be lacking in quality late-inning relievers. Drew Storen was stellar during his first full big-league season in 2011, then arguably was even better last September after making a full return from elbow surgery until one fateful October night against the Cardinals. Tyler Clippard, meanwhile, proved a perfectly capable fill-in closer during Storen's absence, converting 32 of 37 save opportunities, and still remains one of the best and most durable setup men in the game.

So there didn't appear to be a pressing need for Soriano, especially at the price he commanded: two years, $28 million (though half of

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Nats signing Soriano for $28 million

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Rafael Soriano saved 42 games for the Yankees last season.
Already overloaded with right-handers with experience closing games in the big leagues, the Nationals are adding another big name to their bullpen ... and making a major financial commitment to him.

The Nationals have agreed to terms on a two-year, $28 million contract with veteran Rafael Soriano, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. Terms also include a $14 million option for 2015 that would automatically vest if Soriano finishes 120 combined games over the next two seasons.

The surprise addition of Soriano (a Scott Boras client) gives the Nationals yet another power right-hander at the back of their bullpen, but raises immediate questions about how manager Davey Johnson plans to divvy up roles.

Drew Storen was in line to retain his position as the Nationals' closer after a strong finish to 2012 before his blown save in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Tyler Clippard, who led the club with 32 saves last season, figured to retain his role as the top set-up man.
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Is the bench already set in stone?

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Tyler Moore likely will be the top right-handed bat off the Nationals' bench.
It's one thing for a ballclub's lineup or rotation to be set one month before pitchers and catchers even report for spring training. It's quite another for a ballclub's bench to be all but locked up in mid-January.

But a quick glance at the Nationals' roster confirms it: Davey Johnson almost certainly already knows who will be part of his five-man bench come Opening Day.

Injuries, of course, can always throw the best-laid plans out of whack. But let's assume for the sake of argument the Nationals' stable of position players emerges healthy from spring training. Under that assumption -- plus the assumption Michael Morse is traded at some point -- it's clear which five players will come off the bench:

-- Chad Tracy
-- Steve Lombardozzi
-- Roger Bernadina

Monday, January 14, 2013

Viera making push to keep Nats

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Space Coast Stadium could be hosting its final Nationals camp this spring.
When the Nationals gather for spring training in four weeks, they'll do so knowing it could be their final camp in the remote outpost of Viera along Florida's Space Coast.

Ownership has never hid its desire to relocate to another base, preferably Fort Myers on the other side of the state, but possibly Kissimmee in central Florida or perhaps even all the way to Arizona. And with construction bonds for Space Coast Stadium due to be paid off in April, the Nationals will no longer be financially bound to the locale the franchise has called its spring home since 2003.

There are, however, significant road blocks still standing in the way of a new spring training venue in 2014. Fort Myers has shown an unwillingness to pay for upgrades to the City of Palms Park facility the Nationals would like to inherit, dragging out negotiations. Viera, meanwhile, is making a new push to keep the Nationals right where they are and perhaps even bring another major-league franchise to the area to share Space Coast Stadium.

"We may not be successful, but we have to try," Andy Anderson, chairman of the Brevard County Commission, told Florida Today in an article published yesterday.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kudos for additional drug testing

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Commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Michael Weiner have worked well together.
No issue has haunted baseball over the last two decades more than steroids -- look no further than this week's Hall of Fame vote for evidence of that -- and the sport has rightfully been chastised for its unwillingness to address the issue throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

But let's give credit where credit's due, because the leaders of this game have done some mighty impressive work in the last few years in an attempt to make up for their previously shameful ignorance of the problem.

And they added one of the most impressive moves to date yesterday, announcing that all major leaguers will be subject to random, in-season, blood testing for human growth hormone beginning in April.

That makes Major League Baseball the first North American professional sports league to require such testing for HGH and further strengthens what has become by far the strictest

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ohlendorf, West sign minors deals

Hoping to address their need for pitching depth, the Nationals have signed a pair of hurlers with big-league starting experience to minor-league contracts: right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and left-hander Sean West, according to Baseball America.

Ohlendorf and West have made a combined 95 starts in the major leagues, though with limited success. Each figures to open the season at Class AAA Syracuse and serve as alternatives in case a member of the Nationals' already-set, big-league rotation suffers an injury.

Ohlendorf, 30, owns a career 18-32 record and 5.10 ERA in 108 games (73 starts) with the Yankees, Pirates and Padres. An 11-game winner with a 3.92 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2009, he has dealt with shoulder trouble in recent years and made only 22 big-league appearances the last two seasons (his ERA skyrocketing to 7.94).

A Princeton graduate with a degree in operations research and financial engineering, the 6-foot-4 Ohlendorf was designated for assignment by the Padres in September and became a free agent after the season.
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Payroll will top $100 million

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Jayson Werth's $16.5 million salary tops the Nationals roster in 2013.
Adam LaRoche's decision to return to the Nationals for the next two years has no shortage of ramifications for the franchise, from the makeup of the starting lineup to the nature of the defensive club that will take the field this season to the sudden lack of a job for Michael Morse.

Here's another ramification of LaRoche's now-completed contract: The Nationals' payroll is all but guaranteed to surpass the $100 million mark this season for the first time in franchise history.

This is no insignificant development. The Nationals have never ranked among the top-10 Opening Day payrolls in the major leagues, but they likely will crack that list in 2013 thanks to the return of LaRoche, the addition of right-hander Dan Haren and (most importantly) the escalating salaries of a bunch of young players who have now reached the arbitration stage of their

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LaRoche on returning to the Nats

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Adam LaRoche signed a two-year, $24 million contract yesterday.
Adam LaRoche held a conference call this afternoon to discuss his decision to re-sign with the Nationals for two years and a guaranteed $24 million. Here's a full transcript for your reading enjoyment...

Q: What made you decide to re-sign with the Nationals and what kind of offers did you get from other teams?
"I don't mind you asking, but as far as the other teams go, I'm going to keep this out of the discussion. You guys probably have an idea who some of them are, but the offers from other teams and some of the teams that were involved, I'm going to stay away from. I can say that the reason it took as long as it did -- and there are a couple of them -- but one of the big ones was I fighting to do what I could to get back to Washington. I made that very clear at the end of the season that this is where I wanted to be. And honestly as far as my personal preference throughout the offseason, that never changed.

"Now, there were points in the offseason where I thought that it may not happen, it may not be realistic to end up back in

My 2013 Hall of Fame ballot

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Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa didn't get my vote.
Let's forgo pleasantries and cut immediately to the chase: There's no right answer to this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Anyone who tries to tell you there's a right answer to the biggest conundrum since Cooperstown first opened its doors eight decades ago simply hasn't devoted enough time and consideration to this topic. Lord knows there are a whole lot of Hall of Fame voters plenty smarter than me who have spent days, weeks and months trying to find the right answer to this problem and have been unsuccessful. How am I to believe I'm capable of solving what they have not?

Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Sammy Sosa. Mike Piazza. All appeared on the ballot for the first time this year. All produced careers worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. But all have been connected to varying degrees with steroids.

What is a voter -- members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with at least 10 consecutive years of service -- to do? Place check marks next to each of those players' names based solely on their performance between the lines? Leave them out altogether

What lineup makes sense?

With Adam LaRoche now officially back for 2013 (and beyond), the Nationals' entire starting lineup is now set.

Or, more accurately, the names who will comprise the Nationals' entire starting lineup are now set. The actual order in which they'll step to the plate still must be determined.

There are a number of ways Davey Johnson could choose to approach this venture, with several of his regulars capable of hitting in a variety of lineup slots.

This much we do know: The Nationals will have a new leadoff man in 2013, with Denard Span taking that role away from Jayson Werth, who performed admirably over the season's final two

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rizzo on LaRoche and Morse

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With Adam LaRoche re-signed for two years, there's no room for Michael Morse.
Mike Rizzo wrapped up a conference call with reporters a short while ago, the Nationals general manager addressing a variety of topics including the re-signing of Adam LaRoche, the possible trade of Michael Morse and the club's need (or perhaps not) for another left-handed reliever.

Here's the full transcript of the conference call. And a programming note: Rizzo will be joining me and Julie Donaldson on Comcast SportsNet at 6 p.m., so if you'd like to hear more of what he has to say on these subjects, please tune in...

Q: How good is it to get LaRoche back?
"Adam was a huge part of our success last year. He does a lot of things for us. He balances our lineup, he's a middle-of-the-lineup bat, he's a run producer, he's a terrific defensive player and beyond that he's a great clubhouse presence. A quiet leader who is very,

Nats will host Yankees in exhibition

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Derek Jeter and the Yankees will face Ian Desmond and the Nats on March 29.
By Chase Hughes

On a day the Nationals essentially finalized their lineup for the 2013 season by re-signing Adam LaRoche, the team announced the first time fans will be able to see them in action in Washington, D.C. this season.

The Nats will host the New York Yankees at Nationals Park March 29 at 2:05 p.m. in their final exhibition game before opening the regular season three days later against the Miami Marlins.

The Nationals were swept New York in Washington last June by a combined score of 16-6 in a three-game interleague series. The Yankees rarely travel to D.C. for games, and with them come massive crowds. All three games between the teams in 2012 drew at least 41,000 patrons.

The Nationals ended their exhibition schedule last year against the Boston Red Sox on April 3 with an 8-7 loss at Nationals Park. The

LaRoche deal is official

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Adam LaRoche will return to the Nationals for 2013 and 2014.
Updated at 4:20 p.m.

The Nationals' unwillingness to budge on their longstanding, two-year offer to Adam LaRoche paid off in the end. LaRoche today agreed to the deal after failing to find another club willing to give the free agent first baseman the guaranteed, three-year contract he sought all along.

The final contract, which was officially announced by the Nationals late this afternoon, guarantees $24 million. LaRoche will earn salaries of $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014, with a $2 million buyout in 2015 if either side elects not to pick up a $15 million mutual option.

The Nationals had expressed interest from the start in re-signing LaRoche, who led the club with 33 homers and 100 RBI while winning his first career Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. And the 33-year-old veteran had said all along he preferred to stay in Washington after playing a vital role in the Nats' first-ever playoff run.

But LaRoche made it clear from the beginning he wanted a three-year contract and was willing to wait it out to secure what he felt was the best offer from any club -- the Nationals or otherwise -- that also presented an opportunity to compete for a World Series

What to make of quiet winter?

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Mike Rizzo has made few changes to his roster so far this winter.
If your complete attention over the last month was commandeered by the holidays, the Redskins and the fiscal cliff, let's recap all the Nationals news you missed:

[Cue sound of crickets chirping.]

Uh, guess you really didn't miss anything at all. Indeed, the Nationals haven't completed a transaction involving their major-league roster in -- get this -- 32 days. Yep, the last baseball-related announcement coming out of the offices at 1500 South Capitol Street was the Dec. 7 revelation that Dan Haren passed his physical and thus officially signed his $13 million contract.

Not that the building was abuzz with activity prior to that. With five weeks to go until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla., the Nationals have added only two players to their big-league roster

Monday, January 7, 2013

Athletes shouldn't make medical calls

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Stephen Strasburg wanted to keep pitching; the Nats wouldn't let him.
As Washington wakes up this morning feeling the sting of another agonizing postseason loss, the debate immediately shifts to a star local athlete's injury and how his team handled the situation.

The image of Robert Griffin III's right leg giving out on the chewed-up turf at FedEx Field, bent in a manner it was not meant to bend, will haunt Redskins fans all winter, spring and summer. As will the decision to leave the rookie quarterback in yesterday's NFC Wild Card Game deep into the fourth quarter despite the obvious pain he was in after taking several hits to his already injured knee.

And in the moments after Griffin went down, straight through to the end of the Redskins' 24-14 loss to the Seahawks, it was all too easy to make comparisons to the star athlete from the local ballclub who was prevented by his team from taking the field for the postseason out of concerns he might re-injure his previously injured right elbow.

Let's make this clear right up front: There is no real comparison between RG3 and Stephen Strasburg. One was trying to play hurt and was allowed to continue playing by his team. The other was

Friday, January 4, 2013

Howell headed to Dodgers

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J.P. Howell posted a 3.05 ERA in 55 games with the Rays last season.
The final free agent left-hander on the Nationals' radar is headed elsewhere.

J.P. Howell has come to terms on a one-year, $2.85 million contract with the Dodgers, according to multiple reports, electing to head west instead of coming to a Washington franchise that was interested in acquiring him.

Howell, 29, had become the Nationals' top left-handed target after they lost stalwart Sean Burnett to the Angels last month. Since then, they've also seen free agent Michael Gonzalez and the non-tendered Tom Gorzelanny sign with the Brewers.

With no other lefty relievers on the market that pique their interest, the Nationals face the possibility of entering spring training without

2013 player projections: Pitching

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Can Gio Gonzalez duplicate his Cy Young-caliber numbers from last season?
Yesterday, we looked at a couple of stat prediction models for the Nationals' lineup and bench. Today, we turn to the Nats' pitching staff, using those same models' projections.

Bill James, the original sabermetrician, and Dan Szymborski, who developed the ZiPS formula used on, each have some interesting takes on how members of the Nationals pitching staff might perform in 2013. What was one of baseball's best staffs last season figures to be just as strong (if not stronger) this season.

Before we get to the numbers, a brief word: I know not everyone out there enjoys these projections and doesn't like to put more stock in mathematical formulas than what can be seen with your own eyes. I fully appreciate that. And honestly, I stand on that side of the fence, too, more often than not. But there is actual science behind these projections, and while they're never all going to come true, I do think there's value in at least taking a look at them.

OK, here's what the James and ZiPS models show for the Nationals' pitching staff in 2013...

2012 Actual          28  159  48  197  3.16
2013 James           32  208  57  255  2.68