Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nats vs. Mets - 2/28/13

USA Today Sports Images
The Nats and Mets play under the lights tonight in Viera.
Everybody in the Nationals' rotation has now pitched once this spring. Tonight, Round 2 begins with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, facing the same Mets club he went up against five days ago. Strasburg threw 41 pitches over two innings in that start; tonight he'll be allowed to go three innings and 60 pitches as he build his arm up in advance of Opening Day. The right-hander also will put some added emphasis on fastball command, something he struggled with in the first inning last time out.

Strasburg will have several regulars behind him tonight, plus No. 1 catcher Kurt Suzuki calling pitches behind the plate. You'll notice Suzuki is actually hitting second for this game, a rare place to find a catcher. Don't read anything into that, though. Davey Johnson is merely trying to get Suzuki two at-bats as quick as possible so he can come out of the game.

Tonight's game also is the first to be televised by the Nats' crew this spring. Bob and F.P. are back for another season together and will have the call beginning at 6 p.m. If you live outside the D.C. area, you can pick up their simulcast on MLB Network.

Enjoy the game and the conversation...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EST
TV: MASN, MLB Network
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 67 degrees, Wind 14 mph RF to LF
CF Denard Span
C Kurt Suzuki
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

Quiet camp is good camp for Nats

Associated Press
Davey Johnson has presided over an upbeat and uneventful camp.
Across Florida and Arizona right now, you'll find plenty of ballclubs dealing with adversity, whether in the form of injury, roster woes or clubhouse controversy.

And then there's Viera, where for 2 1/2 weeks now the Nationals have merely gone about preparing for the upcoming season with hardly any hint of trouble.

Seriously, what has been the biggest news out of Nats camp so far this spring? Bryce Harper adorning the cover of Sports Illustrated? Ross Detwiler being added to Team USA's roster for the World Baseball Classic? Chris Young signing a minor-league deal? Rafael Soriano arriving four days late because of a visa problem?

That's not to say there haven't been a couple of negative developments, but none has seemed all that significant (whether or not Drew Storen had back spasms during Game 5 of the NLDS) or has been brushed aside without snowballing into something bigger (Gio Gonzalez's less-than-ironclad connection to Biogenesis).
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VIDEO: Zimmerman on sharing "FoF" title

Ryan Zimmerman has not only been a member of the Nationals since the franchise's first season in D.C. but has been labeled the "Face of the Franchise" throughout his tenure. These days, the organization has plenty of star-power beyond the veteran third baseman. So how does Zimmerman feel about sharing (or even ceding) top billing on the club? His answer to that question and more is featured in this TV interview that aired last night on Comcast SportsNet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nats vs. Marlins - 2/27/13

USA Today Sports Images
The Nats and Marlins meet again today at Space Coast Stadium.
There are a couple of notable firsts today for the Nationals. Dan Haren makes his first start since joining the organization. Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, meanwhile, make their first appearances of the spring.

Let's start with Haren. Signed over the winter for $13 million, the veteran right-hander was admittedly a bit amped up for his live batting practice session last week in front of team executives. Hopefully he's worked through the jitters and can focus on the task at hand this afternoon when he faces the Marlins.

Haren will have plenty of regulars behind him, including Werth and LaRoche, who each were given the first four games of the Grapefruit League season off, neither veteran needing a whole lot of at-bats to get into shape. Werth will be joined in the outfield by Denard Span and Bryce Harper (who talked his way into the lineup so he could get some work with both of his new-look outfield mates).

I've actually departed Florida and returned home to D.C. for a little bit. Per CSN's coverage plan, I'll be rejoining the team in Viera on March 13 and will remain there through the rest of the spring. But don't worry, I'll still have plenty of material here over the next two weeks, and I'll have game threads posted each day. So, even though I'm not there anymore to provide updates, please continue the conversation here as always...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: WHFS (1580 AM)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 73 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
LF Bryce Harper
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche

VIDEO: Storen and Clippard's new role

Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard could have found themselves in an awkward position this spring, their roles diminished after the Nationals' surprising addition of veteran closer Rafael Soriano. But as you'll see in this TV segment for Comcast SportsNet, both relievers have accepted the switch and are looking forward to being part of perhaps the deepest bullpen in baseball.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Red-hot Harper doesn't need a break

Associated Press
Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 today and is now hitting .750 for the spring.
Because the calendar still reads February, we're obligated to issue the same caveat that is uttered when discussing just about any player this time of the year: You can't read too much into spring training stats.

OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can turn to the real point of this: Bryce Harper has looked fantastic so far this spring, and there's no reason to think he's going to slow down anytime soon.

With a 3-for-3, two-double performance today in the Nationals' 9-5 loss to the Braves, the second-year, outfielder raised his Grapefruit League batting average to .750 (6-for-8). He's hitting the ball with authority. He's hustling like no one else and taking extra bases at will. And he's rifling throws to the plate from his new regular position in left field.

In other words, Harper is performing this spring exactly as he did throughout his Rookie of the Year campaign.

He doesn't need to do this. Harper isn't trying to convince team officials he deserves a spot on the Opening Day roster like he did the previous two springs. His job is as secure as anyone's on the club, and more and more it's looking like he's going to hit third in Davey Johnson's lineup, in between Jayson Werth and Ryan

Good tune-up for Detwiler

Associated Press
Ross Detwiler allowed two runs in three innings this afternoon.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Knowing he only gets to make two Grapefruit League starts before he appears in a competitive ballgame in the World Baseball Classic, Ross Detwiler had to take a slightly different approach to his first exhibition outing than other members of the Nationals rotation might.

"I was just in a competitive game," Detwiler said after facing the Braves for 2 2/3 innings. "You saw the lineup they put out there today. I could've been embarrassed pretty easily. I think this helped me out a lot, seeing a lot of their top guys. It makes you focus on keeping the ball down, because any one of these guys can hit the ball a mile."

If Detwiler was looking for a good tune-up for his scheduled March 9 appearance in the WBC, he couldn't have asked for a better opportunity: A Feb. 26 start against an Atlanta lineup featuring six regulars, including Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and both Upton brothers.

And the left-hander certainly was happy with the results, especially his first two innings, which required only 29 pitches to complete. During that time, Detwiler showed off several knee-buckling
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Mattheus adjusting to face lefties

USA Today Sports Images file photo
Ryan Mattheus will be counted on to get left-handed hitters out this year.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Since arriving in the Nationals bullpen during the 2011 season, Ryan Mattheus has proven effective thanks primarily to his ability to throw sinkers down and in to right-handed hitters (down and away to lefties). It's a formula that's worked well for Mattheus, who in 101 career appearances owns a 2.84 ERA and only 7.6 hits allowed per nine innings.

But the 29-year-old understands this is a game of adjustments, and the longer he's in the big leagues, the more opposing hitters will adjust to his pitching patterns.

So Mattheus is making a point this spring to add something new to his repertoire: A sinker on the other corner of the strike zone.

"I mean, that's the thing I have to attribute all my success so far in the big leagues to: the good sinker," he said. "But the more times guys start to see me, they're going to get onto that pattern. So I'm trying to establish more both sides of the plate this year, because I don't spin the ball very well [throwing breaking balls]. We tried that coming in last year, that experience is over. I'm going to have to command both sides of the plate with the fastball."
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Nats vs. Braves - 2/26/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The forecast doesn't look good today at Disney World.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Good morning from the Happiest Place on Earth, which doesn't look so happy today. It's dark, muggy and windy, and there's a big mass of thunderstorms approaching the area, leaving the status of this exhibition game between the Nationals and Braves in serious question.

If they do play, Ross Detwiler will be on the mound for the Nats, making his first start of the spring. It's actually kind of important that the lefty gets a couple of innings of work in today, because he's only scheduled to make two starts here before leaving to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. He'll need to build up his stamina somehow.

There are a few more regulars on this trip than last night's road game in Port St. Lucie. Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are here hoping to get some at-bats. We'll see even more regulars tomorrow against the Marlins, with Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche scheduled to make their spring debuts.

If they play, you can listen to today's game on the radio (1580 AM). And you can get all your updates and analysis (both game an weather related) right here...

Where: Disney's Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: WHFS (1580 AM)
Weather: Thunderstorms, 83 degrees, Wind 19 mph RF to LF
CF Eury Perez
2B Danny Espinosa
LF Bryce Harper
1B Tyler Moore

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gio back in his comfort zone

Associated Press
Gio Gonzalez was pleased with his two innings of work tonight.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since arriving in camp two weeks ago, Gio Gonzalez has found himself talking more about off-the-field developments -- his connection to the Biogenesis clinic under investigation, his addition to Team USA's roster for the World Baseball Classic -- than anything having to do with actually pitching a baseball.

Tonight, then, offered Gonzalez the opportunity to return to his comfort zone. He took the mound at Tradition Field for his first start of the year, and all was right with the world again.

Even if he was surprisingly nervous in that moment.

"It's good to get on that mound again and get back at it," the left-hander said. "Especially with the fan support I was getting out there. It's good to hear that fans still support you and still love you. There were butterflies. You get the butterflies again. That's a good thing."
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Rodriguez close to game-ready

USA Today Sports Images
Henry Rodriguez has yet to appear in a game this spring.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Reliever Henry Rodriguez, being brought along slowly by the Nationals this spring following last year's elbow surgery, is close to being cleared to pitch in games and make his case for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.

Rodriguez threw off a bullpen mound yesterday in front of team officials and looked sharp, according to manager Davey Johnson.

The Nationals will have the right-hander throw one more bullpen session, then face hitters in a "live BP" setting before he appears in a Grapefruit League game. That's similar to the plan the club has for recently signed right-hander Chris Young.

Even if he doesn't make his spring debut until next week, Rodriguez still has plenty of time to earn a roster spot. He's one of several pitchers in the running for the final spot in the Nationals' bullpen -- along with fellow right-hander Christian Garcia and non-roster lefty Bill Bray -- and probably holds the upper hand based on the fact he's out of options and can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.
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Nats vs. Mets - 2/25/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez starts tonight at Tradition Field.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since arriving for spring training amid reports of his connection to the Biogenesis clinic under investigation by MLB, Gio Gonzalez has talked about wanting to move on and shift focus to the field. Well, he finally gets his chance tonight.

Gonzalez will be on the mound for his Grapefruit League debut when the Nationals face the Mets here at Tradition Field. As was the case with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann before him, the lefty will be on a 45-pitch limit, so look for two or three innings from him.

Gonzalez won't have many regulars behind him in the field. Actually, he won't have any members of the projected Opening Day lineup, with only Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore (hitting cleanup for the third straight day) even assured of roster spots among tonight's starters.

Just like Saturday's game here, tonight's will be televised on MLB Network (again picking up the Mets' SNY broadcast). I'll have my own updates and analysis here, so please check back often...

Where: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 6:10 p.m. EST
TV: MLB Network (Mets' SNY broadcast)
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 77 degrees, Wind 11 mph out to LF
CF Eury Perez
2B Steve Lombardozzi
RF Corey Brown
DH Tyler Moore

Tracy scratched with bruised triceps

Associated Press
Chad Tracy took a pitch off his right arm yesterday afternoon.
VIERA, Fla. -- Chad Tracy has been scratched from the Nationals' travel roster for the next two days after getting hit in the right arm during yesterday's exhibition game against the Marlins.

Tracy took a fourth-inning fastball from Jonathan Albaladejo above his right elbow, at the base of the triceps muscle. Chris Marrero then entered to replace Tracy, though the veteran was scheduled to come out of the game regardless.

One of the majors' most-productive pinch-hitter last season, Tracy had his elbow wrapped this morning and said he'd take a couple days off to let the bruise heal, though he didn't consider the injury serious at

Rendon makes the most of opportunity

USA Today Sports Images file photo
Anthony Rendon clubbed a two-run homer during yesterday's game.
VIERA, Fla. -- When a sudden and intense storm hit Space Coast Stadium during the fourth inning of yesterday's game, prompting a 1-hour, 6-minute delay, pretty much everyone in the Nationals starting lineup understood his workday had just ended.

Anthony Rendon, on the other hand, in no way wanted to be pulled out of the game, delay or not. He wanted another chance to hit, so he hoped Davey Johnson would forget to bench him like everyone else in the lineup.

"We kind of made eye contact, and I was kind of watching him walk around the dugout, telling everybody to sit down," the 22-year-old prospect said. "I was just sitting quiet, making sure he might not see me. And he looks at me and goes: 'You'll get another at-bat.'"

Good thing Johnson let Rendon step to the plate again, because one inning later the kid whacked a two-run homer to right-center, producing the Nationals' only two runs of the game against the

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Storen shrugs off blown save

USA Today Sports Images
Drew Storen blew a ninth-inning save today against the Marlins.
VIERA, Fla. -- The last thing Drew Storen wanted to do in his first appearance of the spring was blow a ninth-inning lead and conjure up images of his last appearance in a Nationals uniform.

That wasn't, however, Storen's primary objective when he emerged from the right-field bullpen for the top of the ninth today and the Nationals clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Marlins.

How did he treat this situation?

"Treat it like a live batting practice," Storen said. "That's really what you've got to do. There's no point in sitting there right now going: 'This is the ninth inning, this is all that.' It's nice to win and all that right now, but in the end it's about preparing yourself for the season. It's about the 162, not the whatever we're playing this spring. That's the way I look at it."

So Storen was less concerned about the results he posted in this game -- two straight hard-hit balls to open the inning, then an RBI groundout that tied the game and ensured he'd be tagged with a

Zimmermann pleased with 1st start

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann allowed one run over three strong innings.
VIERA, Fla. -- Just as pitchers don't want to put too much stock in a bad outing to start spring training, neither do they want to give too much credence to a good appearance in late-February.

Jordan Zimmermann, though, couldn't find much of anything to be disappointed with after his Grapefruit League debut this afternoon.

"I thought it went well," the right-hander said after allowing one run on two hits in three innings to the Marlins. "I threw strikes. I was attacking hitters. And I mixed in a few changeups, which were mostly good ones. I'm happy with a first outing."

Zimmermann was far more efficient than Stephen Strasburg yesterday against the Mets, completing his first two innings on only 23 pitches and thus getting the opportunity to return to the mound for the third inning. He wound up throwing 26 of his 43 pitches for strikes, several of them well-placed changeups (a point of emphasis this spring).
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Garcia shut down 10-14 days

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Christian Garcia will be shut 10-to-14 days to rest his strained forearm, manager Davey Johnson said this morning.

Garcia has been experiencing pain just above his right wrist for the last week, though only when he throws fastballs, not offspeed pitches. An MRI revealed a minor strain, and after receiving a second opinion from a specialist in Baltimore, Garcia has been told he needs to rest his arm for as many as two more weeks.

"It's going to be on how he feels before he starts taking it up a notch," Johnson said. "I think probably 10 days to two weeks, to be on the safe side. But it's just going to be totally up to him."

The Nationals still hope to be able to stretch Garcia out this spring in their attempt to convert him into a starter at Class AAA Syracuse. Though this temporary shutdown would appear to hinder that plan, Johnson said there's still enough time in spring training

Nats vs. Marlins - 2/24/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Space Coast Stadium hosts its first game of the spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- With yesterday's Grapefruit League opener behind them, the Nationals get to host their first game of the spring this afternoon, with another familiar NL East foe as the opponent. Familiar, at least, in name only. This year's Marlins won't resemble in any way last year's Marlins, given the manner in which owner Jeffrey Loria and GM Larry Beinfest blew up the roster following a disastrous 2012.

One of the good, young arms Miami picked up during its fire sale is right-hander Henderson Alvarez, formerly of the Blue Jays. Alvarez will be on the mound today, facing a Nationals lineup with some similarities to yesterday's group, but with a few key changes. Danny Espinosa, Kurt Suzuki and Steve Lombardozzi each get their first start of the spring. So does Anthony Rendon, the organization's top prospect, who will start at third base and bat second.

Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball from Davey Johnson, looking to get his spring off on a strong note. The right-hander has spent much of the last two weeks working on his changeup, which he wants to make a bigger part of his arsenal this season. We'll see if he's able to apply it in a game situation today.

No TV coverage of this one, but Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler are here and will have the game on the radio. And, of course, I'll have plenty of updates and analysis throughout, so please check back often...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Bryce Harper
RF Tyler Moore

Saturday, February 23, 2013

First step in a long season

Associated Press
Bryce Harper drilled a single to right field in his first at-bat of the spring.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since his players reported to camp nearly two weeks ago, Davey Johnson has preached the idea of taking things slowly and not trying to do too much early during what will be an extended spring training for the Nationals. And before his players took the field this afternoon for their Grapefruit League opener against the Mets, the 70-year-old skipper reminded everyone of that motto.

Some appeared to get the memo during a 5-3 loss at Tradition Field. For some others ... well, that's just not in their DNA.

"I need help with that a little bit," Bryce Harper said. "I understand we have 35 games this spring. But when I do play, I'm gonna play hard and try to be ready. I don't have a low button or a middle button. It's always: Go, go, go when I'm out on the field. So I'm gonna play like that, same as last year."

Harper certainly didn't ease off the gas pedal during his 4 1/2 innings of play. He stepped to the plate in the top of the first inning and took a mighty whack at Shaun Marcum's first fastball, roping a foul ball into the right-field corner that nearly took out the entire Nationals bullpen. He tagged another Marcum pitch into fair

Strasburg 'geeked up' during first start

USA Today Sports Images
Stephen Strasburg allowed two runs and three hits in the first inning.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Time was, if Stephen Strasburg gave up a home run in the first inning of the first game of spring training, the rest of the Nationals dugout would have been ready to brace for impact.

"I think last year at this time, if he would've done what he did in that first inning, we would have seen gloves flying, cups flying," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "He was pretty fairly composed today."

Consider it another important step in Strasburg's progression as a big-league pitcher. After getting roughed up by the Mets for two runs on three hits in the first inning this afternoon, the fourth-year right-hander composed himself and cruised through a 1-2-3 second inning, ending his first game appearance since last September's shutdown on a high note.

As he's come to learn with experience, results in late-February don't mean squat.

"I remember, like my first couple spring trainings, I was coming in there, I threw a lot more beforehand," he said. "I was in-season, ready to go, when spring training started. I've slowly started to
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Davey downplays report of Storen back issue

USA Today Sports Images
Drew Storen had back spasms during the playoffs, according to
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If Drew Storen was dealing with "unbearable" back pain during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series last fall, his manager certainly wasn't aware of it.

"The only thing I recall is he didn't throw many strikes," Davey Johnson said today. "And I attributed it to him trying to be too fine. Gio [Gonzalez] had the same problem, was trying to be too fine, wasn't very pitch efficient. But I'm sure that's not the first time he's dealt with back spasms. I'm not worried about it. He's a great young pitcher."

The possibility of Storen being hampered by back spasms was raised last night in a report by, which attributed the information to Jayson Werth.

"He was having real bad back spasms," Werth said in the article. "That was the third day (pitching) in a row. He was banged up, man. No one knew. For him to just have the balls to go out there, that says a lot about him."
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Nats vs. Mets - 2/23/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tradition Field hosts the Nationals in their Grapefruit League opener.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Hey, look! It's a baseball field. And there's an actual game to be played today. (Well, an actual exhibition game. But beggars can't be choosers.)

The Nationals open Grapefruit League play today, facing the Mets here at Tradition Field. Stephen Strasburg is on the mound (for probably two or three innings). Denard Span is making his Nationals debut, leading off and playing center field. Bryce Harper is hitting third, perhaps the first of many times we'll see that this season.

Veteran right-hander Shaun Marcum gets the start for New York, which then will send top prospect Zack Wheeler to the mound. Manager Terry Collins has several regulars in his lineup, including David Wright and Lucas Duda, so Strasburg will face something resembling a real test today.

A reminder that this game is being televised on MLB Network (it's actually the Mets' SNY broadcast getting picked up), so you can watch live. More importantly, you can get all your updates and analysis right here throughout the game, so please check back often...

Where: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 12:10 p.m. EST
TV: MLB Network (Mets' SNY broadcast)
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 81 degrees, Wind 12 mph out to LF
CF Denard Span
2B Steve Lombardozzi
LF Bryce Harper
RF Tyler Moore

Friday, February 22, 2013

Let the games begin

Associated Press
Bryce Harper will bat third in tomorrow's Grapefruit League opener.
VIERA, Fla. -- Opening Day for the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues, best as anyone can recollect, has never come as early as this before. It's only February 23, and already there's a full slate of exhibition games on top in both Florida and Arizona.

Blame it on the World Baseball Classic, which prompts MLB to push up the start dates for spring training so participating players have enough time to get into shape before leaving their clubs for the international tournament.

Ready or not, though, the exhibition season is upon us. The Nationals take the field tomorrow afternoon in Port St. Lucie, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound to face the New York Mets.

Most position players have only been in camp about 10 days and

Nats hope Young can be 6th starter

USA Today Sports Images
Chris Young is 53-43 with a 3.79 ERA in 159 career starts.
VIERA, Fla. -- For months, there has been concern within the Nationals organization about the lack of viable pitching depth should one of their five starters succumb to injury.

If Chris Young is finally healthy after a long battle with shoulder trouble -- and if he's willing to report to Class AAA when camp breaks in a month -- the Nationals might just have their much-needed No. 6 starter.

"As far as I'm concerned, he steps into that role," manager Davey Johnson said. "If anything happens to any of my starters, he'd be right at the top of the list."

Young, who agreed to a minor-league contract yesterday, arrived at Nationals camp today. The 33-year-old right-hander took a physical and was scheduled to throw a bullpen session in front of team officials, then officially join the club for the remainder of the spring.
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Zimmerman impresses in first BP session

Associated Press
Ryan Zimmerman has been brought along slowly after shoulder surgery.
VIERA, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman took a full round of batting practice on the field this morning, the first time he's done that this spring. Based on the way the Nationals third baseman crushed the ball to all corners of Space Coast Stadium, you'd never have known it.

"He looked great," manager Davey Johnsons said. "He said he still thinks he's got a little bit left, but they all looked good. I thought it was a very impressive batting practice."

Brought along slowly since late-October surgery to repair the sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, Zimmerman remains a few steps behind his teammates in spring drills. But most of the concern remains in the field. At the plate, the 28-year-old has managed to stay sharp.

"I've been hitting live in the cage for the last couple days," he said. "I don't obviously just jump out there and go right into it, but it feels good. No surprises. I've just got to continue getting the

MLBPA: Gonzalez passed drug tests

VIERA, Fla. -- Gio Gonzalez was informed today he passed drug tests taken two days after the Nationals left-hander was initially linked to a Miami clinic under investigation for providing ballplayers with performance enhancing drugs.

Gonzalez, who has maintained his innocence all along, revealed he gave both blood and urine samples on Jan. 31 at the request of Major League Baseball (which has the right to test any player for whom there is "reasonable cause" to suspect PED use). The players association today informed him those tests came back negative.

"Like I said before, I've never taken performance-enhancing drugs and I never will," Gonzalez said in a brief statement today at Space Coast Stadium. "Two days after the story broke, I was tested for blood and urine, and both came out negative, like I expected. Throughout my entire career, it's been like that. I look forward to handling this with MLB, putting this behind me and looking forward to the season."

Though this doesn't officially close the book on Gonzalez's potential link to the Biogenesis clinic at the center of MLB's investigation, it does move the Cy Young Award finalist one step closer to putting
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Amped-up Haren working out kinks

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Dan Haren was a bit too amped up while facing live hitters yesterday.
VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning from Space Coast Stadium, where today the Nationals conduct their final workout before officially taking the field tomorrow for their Grapefruit League opener against the Mets. Davey Johnson has a low-key session planning for this morning, with only a few defensive drills and then batting practice inside the stadium.

Before we get to that, though, one more item from yesterday's workout...

The most notable live BP session involved Dan Haren, who upon taking the mound for the first time with his new club in that setting was perhaps a bit too amped up. The veteran right-hander was a bit off early on, needed to work a bit more to get on the same page with catcher Wilson Ramos and afterward had a long conversation with Johnson.

The manager's message: "I told him, 'Take it easy. You don't have to impress anyone.'"

Haren's response: "Easier said than done when you're watching and the owner's watching and the GM's watching."

You'd think a 32-year-old former All-Star who has pitched on

Thursday, February 21, 2013

VIDEO: Harper's high expectations

Bryce Harper may have exceeded our expectations as a rookie, but his performance certainly wasn't beyond what he expected from himself. Now the 20-year-old outfielder is dead-set on taking his game to another level in his sophomore season, as you'll hear from Harper himself, plus others, in tonight's TV segment for Comcast SportsNet.

Nats add veteran Young on minors deal

USA Today Sports Images
Chris Young is 53-43 with a 3.79 ERA in 159 career starts.
VIERA, Fla. -- In their ongoing quest to add more pitching depth, the Nationals have signed veteran right-hander Chris Young to a minor-league contract.

Young, 33, will report to big-league camp and should have a chance to pitch in Grapefruit League games, but is almost certainly headed to the Opening Day rotation at Class AAA Syracuse.

A former All-Star with the Padres, Young's career has been saddled in recent years by shoulder injuries. He appeared in only eight total games between 2010-11 but bounced back last year to make 20 starts for the Mets, going 4-9 with a 4.15 ERA.

The towering, 6-foot-10 Young remains a sinkerball specialist and saw his velocity creep back into the high 80s late last season in New York.

Overall, Young owns a 53-43 record and 3.79 ERA in 159 career starts with the Rangers, Padres and Mets.

Lerner: Nearly 20,000 season tickets sold

USA Today Sports Images
Principal owner Mark Lerner arrived in Viera today.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have sold nearly 20,000 season tickets for the upcoming season, a significant increase from one year ago, principal owner Mark Lerner said today.

Making his first appearance of the spring in Viera, Lerner said the team is "very close" to reaching its self-imposed cap of 20,000 season ticket equivalents, which is roughly comparable to the ticket base in 2008 (the club's first season at Nationals Park).

"It's pretty exciting that we'll have a chance to get there," he said. "It's been a terrific offseason. I think NatsFest helped fuel that, and obviously the great year we had last year. But we're really pleased how things are going. ... All I can do is compare it to last year, really, and it's a significant increase over last year."

The Nationals never revealed exact season-ticket numbers last season, but the base was believed to be about 14,000. It was about 20,000 in the first season at the new ballpark, still below the club's highest level (22,000 during the inaugural 2005 campaign at RFK
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Garcia feeling better

VIERA, Fla. -- Christian Garcia was back in the Nationals clubhouse this afternoon, 24 hours after the right-hander had to leave camp to have both his forearm and stomach tested by a doctor.

Garcia hasn't received final word on an MRI taken on his forearm, but he did get encouraging news on his stomach ailment: It's not appendicitis, a significant relief to the pitcher.

"I was thinking it could be, because I'd never felt anything like it," he said. "So it's definitely a relief it's not that. Because I would have had to miss a lot of time if it was that."

Garcia said his stomach felt much better today. So did his arm, though he did not participate in the morning workout after complaining of tightness in the area between his wrist and forearm yesterday, preventing him from throwing a scheduled session

Bernadina leaving Saturday for WBC

USA Today Sports Images
Roger Bernadina will leave camp Saturday to play in the WBC in Taiwan.
VIERA, Fla. -- Roger Bernadina opened a shoebox this morning inside the clubhouse and pulled out a brand-new pair of orange cleats.

Orange? Isn't that going to clash with the Nationals' uniform?

Well, yes. Thankfully, Bernadina has no plans to match them up with his standard red, white and blue garb. These are for his other team, the Netherlands national club which is competing in next month's World Baseball Classic.

Bernadina, in fact, has to leave camp on Saturday so he can join the rest of the Dutch squad on a 20-hour flight to Taiwan, where they'll all open first-round play against South Korea on March 2.

"Long day of flying," the outfielder said, "but it's worth it."

VIDEO: Davey Johnson one-on-one

One year ago, sitting along the first-base line at Space Coast Stadium, Davey Johnson told my former colleague Kelli Johnson the Nationals could fire him if his team didn't win the NL East. So when I had the chance to interview Davey in that same exact spot this week, I couldn't help but ask what he though the Nats could do to him if this year's team doesn't win the World Series. You'll enjoy his answer to that question and several others in this segment from Comcast SportsNet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pitchers dominate live BP

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg faced live hitters today for the first time this spring.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's easy to read too much into spring training performances, especially during this early portion of camp before the games begin. But it was hard not to notice how good several pitchers looked today during the first live batting practice sessions of the year.

Especially Stephen Strasburg.

It's always a treat to watch the big guy take the mound with a real, live batter in the box. Even though these sessions rarely live up the hype because the hitters often just track pitches as they go by and take only a few cursory swing, you can get a pretty good sense of Strasburg's stuff and command when you watch him up close like this.

And how did he look today? Let's ask one of the Nationals who had the opportunity to dig in against him.

"The stuff's nasty, definitely what you want it to be in one of your starters," Tyler Moore said, adding: "Just impressive to see. I'm

Garcia sits with stomach, forearm issues

VIERA, Fla. -- Christian Garcia had to skip his scheduled session throwing to live hitters this morning due both to tightness between his right wrist and forearm and a stomach issue that needed to be examined by a doctor.

The Nationals right-hander took the practice fields outside Space Coast Stadium for stretching and long tossing but rode off in a cart before he was scheduled to throw his first session of "live batting practice" to a group of teammates.

Later in the stadium clubhouse, Garcia explained both ailments, neither of which he believes is serious.

He described the arm trouble as "just a little tightness" in the area between his forearm and wrist, something he's experienced for a

Gonzalez responds to latest report

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez throws a pitch during today's live batting practice drill.
VIERA, Fla. -- In the wake of a new report that says he never received any banned substances from the Miami clinic under investigation by Major League Baseball for distributing performance enhancing drugs, Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez expressed confidence today he'll be cleared of all wrongdoing.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported Tuesday night that while Gonzalez did receive $1,000 worth of substances from embattled Biogenesis chief Anthony Bosch, none were considered PEDs. The pitcher, who has denied ever taking any PEDs or even knowing Bosch since an initial Miami New Times report connected him with the clinic, said today he's still waiting to hear official word from MLB but seemed pleased with the direction the issue is headed.

"I'm going to be honest with you, I haven't heard anything yet officially from MLB," Gonzalez said this afternoon at Space Coast Stadium following the Nationals' workout. "I do plan on sitting down and cooperating with them. I want to get this all done before the season starts. This is all new to me, guys. I do plan on getting ready, looking forward to spring training, and I feel confident this is going to come out good."

The Nationals again did not let Gonzalez appear on camera and would not allow follow-up questions on the Biogenesis story,
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Ready for live BP

USA Today Sports Images
Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to face live hitters today.
VIERA, Fla. -- After a week's worth of fairly basic, fairly uninteresting workouts, this finally start to ramp up today at Nationals camp.

Yes, it's time for "Live BP," in which pitchers get to face real hitters for the first time this year. It's not quite real game action -- the pitchers announce what they're throwing in advance and have an L-shaped screen in front of the mound, and the batters are in a cage -- but it's as much excitement as we're going to get before the Grapefruit League kicks off Saturday.

And who are we going to get on the mound right off the bat this morning? Why none other than the Nationals' top two starters: Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Each is scheduled to throw

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Report: Gio didn't get any PEDs from Bosch

Associated Press
Gio Gonzalez denied ever taking any PEDs when he reported to camp last week.
VIERA, Fla. -- A new investigative report into the Miami clinic charged with supplying performance enhancing drugs to major leaguers says Gio Gonzalez received only legal substances, further suggesting the Nationals left-hander won't face any discipline from MLB.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported tonight at least 25 players received PEDs from Biogenesis, but Gonzalez was not one of them.

Gonzalez did receive $1,000 worth of substances, but those listed are not banned by MLB: glutathione (an anti-oxidant) and intramuscular shots of methionine, inositol and choline. Those shots are often used for weight loss, which could suggest they were for Gonzalez's father, Max, who has admitted being a client of Biogenesis chief Anthony Bosch's weight-loss clinic.

Gonzalez is the only player who has been tied to Biogenesis so far who did not receive PEDs, two independent sources told ESPN.
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Harper on SI cover again

Courtesy Sports Illustrated
VIERA, Fla. -- How big have Bryce Harper and the Nationals become around baseball? Big enough to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's spring training preview issue.

Harper graces the cover of this week's magazine, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial holding a bat behind his shoulders, the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol dome in the background. The headline for Tom Verducci's cover story reads: "What does Bryce Harper have in mind for his encore? Some seriously monumental numbers."

The photo was taken early in the morning on January 27, while Harper was in town for that afternoon's NatsFest at the Washington Convention Center. With temperatures in the 20s, the young outfielder had to bundle up between takes, ultimately appearing in full uniform without any long sleeves underneath.

It's only the second time a member of the Nationals has been

Detwiler jumps at WBC opportunity

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler will pitch for Team USA next month.
Updated at 3:28 p.m.

VIERA, Fla. -- Upon receiving a text message this morning from players union executive Tony Clark offering him a chance to pitch for Team USA in next month's World Baseball Classic, Ross Detwiler nearly responded with an immediate acceptance. Then the Nationals left-hander realized he might want to confirm this with his manager, pitching coach and GM first.

"The little kid in me wanted to say yes without thinking it through," he said. "But I came in, we all thought it through and it was still a yes. So I'm pretty happy about that."

Detwiler will leave Nationals camp March 4 and fly to Phoenix, where Team USA opens first-round pool play four days later. He's tentatively scheduled to pitch on March 9 against Italy, in relief of Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong.

Coming off a breakthrough season in which he went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA, Detwiler becomes the second left-hander plucked out of

Zim progressing but will DH early on

Associated Press
Ryan Zimmerman has ramped up his throwing program in recent days.
VIERA, Fla. -- His surgically repaired shoulder gaining strength each day, Ryan Zimmerman has ramped up his throwing program.

Zimmerman played catch this morning from 75 feet and expects to advance to 90 feet tomorrow, gradually working his way back to the point he'll be able to participate fully in exhibition games.

Game action remains a ways off. Manager Davey Johnson said he doesn't expect Zimmerman to play third base during the first two weeks of the Grapefruit League schedule. That would still give the veteran ample time to work his way up to 100 percent for Opening Day.

"He knows what he needs to do," Johnson said. "And I think if you talk to him, he'll say he's right on track to get to where he wants to be Opening Day. But what I saw today, it was really good. I liked everything I saw."
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Ready to overcome injury-prone label

Associated Press file photo
Anthony Rendon played in only 43 games last season due to injury.
VIERA, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon hears the whispers. He knows how people might be looking at his baseball career from afar. That, even at 22, he's already been tagged with one of the least-desirable designations in sports:


The Nationals' top-rated prospect hasn't made it through a full year without some sort of injury since high school. There was an ankle injury in 2009 during the final game of his rookie season at Rice University. Then another ankle injury in 2010 while playing in an international competition. Then a nagging shoulder injury in 2011 that made his draft stock plummet and allowed him to fall to Washington at No. 6.

Then, in his first professional season, a freak fractured ankle in his first week with Class A Potomac, sidelining him four months.

Some might bristle when asked about that injury-prone label being thrust upon them. Rendon laughs it off.

"Everybody has their own opinion, so I can't knock them," he said. "I'm pretty sure if I were in their shoes, I'd probably feel the same

Strasburg comes to grips with shutdown

On the September day when he was informed he was being shut down just shy of 160 innings pitched, a clearly perturbed Stephen Strasburg said he didn't know if he'd ever be able to accept the Nationals' decision. As you can see from my one-on-one interview with Strasburg that aired on Comcast SportsNet last night, the right-hander came to grips with the shutdown over the winter and is determined now to pitch 200-plus innings this season.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ramos ramping up workload

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Wilson Ramos caught two bullpen sessions during this morning's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals would like to bring Wilson Ramos along slowly this spring, giving the rehabbing catcher ample time to get his body back into full game shape following ACL surgery.

Ramos, though, continues to push for a heavier workload, and today the Nationals acquiesced. For the first time since he injured his right knee last May, he caught two bullpen sessions, while also taking a full round of batting practice and other drills alongside his catching counterparts.

"He did a lot today," general manager Mike Rizzo said.

Ramos had previously only caught one bullpen session per day, but this morning he squatted behind the plate for both Dan Haren and Ryan Perry. He also blocked pitches in the dirt, a key hurdle he said he wanted to overcome after injuring himself on such a play last

Soriano takes it easy in first bullpen

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Rafael Soriano fields a comebacker during Saturday's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- Pitching among a line of teammates who were rearing back and firing at nearly full velocity, Rafael Soriano stood out from the pack this morning. The new Nationals closer approached his first bullpen session of the spring like a stroll in the park, throwing with perhaps 50 percent effort.

The end result might not have wowed onlookers who were hearing loud thwacks every time Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Tyler Clippard's pitches were caught. But Soriano wasn't trying to match those teammates or blow away anybody watching him throw.

"He's a veteran guy and knows how to get himself ready," said general manager Mike Rizzo, who watched everybody pitch from behind the row of catchers. "He's just getting the kinks out today and getting some touch-and-feel, command stuff. Just getting the arm loose for the first time."

Soriano, whose arrival at Nationals camp was delayed four days by a visa issue in his native Dominican Republic, has a little bit of

Strasburg will start Grapefruit opener

Associated Press
Stephen Strasburg throws in the bullpen last week at Nationals camp.
VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg won't have to wait long to put last year's shutdown controversy behind him and turn attention to his performance this season.

Manager Davey Johnson said today his ace right-hander will start the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener, Saturday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.

The exhibition opening day assignment isn't necessarily an honor being bestowed upon Strasburg as the Nationals' best start as much as it helps line him up to start the only Opening Day game that truly matters: April 1 against the Marlins at Nationals Park.

Still, Strasburg's first appearance against an opposing team since his abrupt shutdown last September will draw plenty of attention
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VIDEO: On the Nats' chemistry

Last night's TV segment on Comcast SportsNet focused on the positive chemistry the Nationals enjoyed last season and expect to enjoy again this year. It's always a difficult thing to quantify, but as you'll hear from several players and Davey Johnson, it has been an integral part of the Nats' success.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nats all smiles on a frigid day

Associated Press
Denard Span and Kurt Suzuki bundled up at today's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- The thermometer read 41 degrees, the wind chill reducing that number to 34, as all 53 players in Nationals camp took the fields outside Space Coast Stadium for their first full-squad workout of the spring.

Good luck identifying anyone, though, considering every single player wore a hooded sweatshirt on top of his jersey, leaving all numbers hidden from public view.

"Rain yesterday. Snow today," left-hander Gio Gonzalez cracked. "What do we got tomorrow, hail storm?"

The unusually frigid conditions might have put a slight damper on the proceedings and encouraged everyone to get their work done in a timely fashion before retreating for the warmth of the home clubhouse. But this was still a day full of optimism and friendly

Gonzalez to miss 1st round of WBC

USA Today Sports Images
Gio Gonzalez participates in a bunting drill at Nationals camp.
VIERA, Fla. -- Though Gio Gonzalez will have to leave Nationals camp during the World Baseball Classic, he won't miss as much time as other players participating in next month's international tournament.

Gonzalez will skip the first round of the WBC, giving him an opportunity to make an extra Grapefruit League start with the Nationals before finally joining Team USA in time to make a second-round start March 12 in Miami, manager Davey Johnson said.

"He's starting the second round in Miami," Johnson said. "I got that from [USA pitching coach] Greg Maddux. There's no sense in him going to join the club when everybody else does, so he could stay here and get his work in and then drive down to Miami after he throws his last game here."
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Frigid first day for position players

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Visual evidence of the conditions this morning at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- Yes, the above photo is accurate. I just snapped the shot a few minutes ago inside Space Coast Stadium, where the conditions this morning don't exactly conjure up the typical, iconic images of spring training.

The temperature is 41 degrees, but throw in a stiff, northerly breeze and the wind chill factor is 34. (I know, I know. This is falling on absolutely deaf ears back in Washington. Point is, this is quite rare for these parts.)

The show will go on, though, and at the top of the hour the entire Nationals roster will take the practice fields for their first official, full-squad workout of the spring. Everybody is present, accounted for, has passed their physical and is bundled up in October-style gear for today's session.

Before they embark from the clubhouse, manager Davey Johnson is holding his annual spring training meeting, but don't get too

VIDEO: Span, Davey and Strasburg

In our latest segment on Comcast SportsNet, Denard Span talks about joining the Nationals two years after he first heard rumors about being traded to Washington, Davey Johnson talks about his lack of concern in this team and Stephen Strasburg talks about how far he's come since his first spring training.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Determined to stop the running game

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg prepares to field a comebacker during today's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals had few glaring weaknesses during their 98-win season, but one did stand out like a sore thumb: Their inability to prevent opposing teams from stealing bases at will against them.

Nationals catchers threw out only 16.5 percent of basestealers last year, the second-worst rate in the majors ahead of only the Pirates (11 percent) and well below the MLB average (26 percent).

Too often, though, those catchers took the blame for something that wasn't really their fault.

"The catching corps has never been the problem," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, we've got six guys here who can catch and throw. That's never been a problem. You always steal on the