Sunday, March 31, 2013

Embracing expectations

USA Today Sports Images
Davey Johnson started the "World Series or Bust" hysteria in December.
Asked to make their MLB season predictions, four of seven baseball experts from Sports Illustrated picked the Nationals to win the World Series. A fifth picked them to reach the Fall Classic.

Three of four experts from Yahoo! Sports concurred: The Nationals will win the World Series.

And over at ESPN, 16 of 43 experts picked the Nats to win it all, 29 of 43 picked them to reach the Series, 38 of 43 picked them to win the NL East and all 43 picked them to at least reach the playoffs.

Talk about pressure, huh?

"Hey, it's better than being picked last, isn't it?" Davey Johnson mused last week from the dugout at Space Coast Stadium when informed how nearly every major publication out there has tabbed his team as the sport's preseason favorite.

Johnson, of course, has never shied away from the spotlight. If anything, the overly lofty expectations placed on the Nationals this season were ignited by their 70-year-old manager, who at the Winter Meetings in December declared the team's new mantra: "World Series or Bust."

Ever since, the Nationals have been the darlings of national media outlets, scouts and Vegas oddsmakers, all of them convinced D.C. will be home to baseball's best team in 2013. It's enough to make your head swell and chest puff out, but within the clubhouse, that doesn't appear to be a problem.
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Strasburg 'still learning'

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Entering his fourth year in the major leagues, it’s hard to believe Stephen Strasburg has yet to pitch a full season. He’s already pitched an Opening Day, in an All-Star game, and won a Silver Slugger award. He’s one of the league’s brightest young stars and has become a popular pick for this year’s N.L. Cy Young award. But still, no full season.

Players are generally shy about personal goals, but for this particular milestone Strasburg is quite straightforward.

“I’m 24 years old and this is my first opportunity to pitch a full season in the big leagues, I’m still learning how to do it,” he said.

Still learning? Though he hasn’t made it a full year yet, he holds a career 21-10 record with a 2.94 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 313 strikeouts in 251 1/3 innings. When he has been out there, he’s dominated.

Manager Davey Johnson echoed Strasburg’s comment, without being asked about it. He too thinks the 24-year-old can get even better.

“He’s still learning, he’s still a babe in the woods,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing this year, he feels finally he’s got the shackles off of him. There’s not going to be any restraints on him as there have been over the last few years.”

2013 MLB Predictions

USA Today Sports Images
Will the Tigers celebrate a World Series title in 2013? One of us thinks so.
Well, it's that time again. Everyone out there is making their predictions for the upcoming season, which begins at long last tonight when the AL West's newest rivals (the Astros and Rangers) meet in Houston. And plenty of those experts out there -- it appears even to be a majority of them -- are picking the Nationals to win the World Series.

Do Chase Hughes and I concur? You'll have to keep reading to find out how far we predict the Nats will go in 2013, not to mention how every division will finish and who will win the major postseason awards in each league.

Enjoy, and be sure to check back here come October to see how foolish we were...

1. Nationals
2. Braves*
3. Phillies

VIDEO: Predicting the NL and AL East

On Thursday night's The Baseball Show Mark, Rob Carlin, and Jim Duquette made their predictions for how the N.L. East will shake out. And because the show also covers the Orioles, they took a stab at the A.L. East as well. Check it out and let us know if you agree.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Can anyone challenge the Nats?

Photo by USA Today

2013 N.L. East Preview

It was quite the interesting offseason for teams in the N.L. East as major free agent splashes were made by some teams while another club traded nearly everyone they had. With all the movement that went on within the division this offseason, let's look at each of the Nationals' division foes to see what they have going as the season gets ready to start.

Atlanta Braves

2012 record: 94-68
2012 finish: Wild Card, 2nd in N.L. East
Key additions: Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Jordan Walden, Chris Johnson
Key departures: Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, David Ross

After losing in the one-game wild card playoff last season, the Braves overloaded much of their roster to get faster and younger. In come both of the Upton brothers to join All-Star Jason Heyward in what could be the best outfield in the majors. Both Uptons bring questions of consistency, but each are of the most talented at their position in the game. If they both have seasons that get even close to their potential, Atlanta’s lineup could be scary. They are balanced up and down with speed and power.

Atlanta’s bullpen will once again be among their strengths, not much has changed besides adding Jordan Walden. But their rotation holds a few wild cards. Kris Medlen will be counted on heavily to reproduce his 2012 season (10-1, 1.57 ERA) and Mike Minor will have to stay consistent. They also have Julio Teheran expected to be the fifth starter, he is super talented but has yet to find success at the major league level.

Philadelphia Phillies

2012 record: 81-81
2012 finish: Missed playoffs, 3rd in N.L. East
Key additions: Michael Young, Ben Revere, Mike Adams, John Lannan, Delmon Young
Key departures: Vance Worley, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Brian Schneider

VIDEO: Nats fans excited for 2013

With an announced attendance of 38,161 at Friday's exhibition game between the Nats and Yankees, it almost had the feel of a regular season matchup. Washington fans were able to see their team in person for the first time this year and the excitement was clear. Before the game Comcast SportsNet caught up with Nats fans as they walked through the turnstiles to find out what they hope and expect from this season.

Best/Worst Spring Trainings of 2013

Photo by USA Today

Before the Nationals get the new season underway, let's look back for a moment at the 2013 spring training that was. Though spring stats don't really count, sometimes they can give clues as to how a player will begin the regular season. We'll see if the past month produced any trends that will continue over the next few weeks.

Here are the five best spring trainings by Nats players this year and the five worst:


Bryce Harper, OF
2013 Spring Stats: .478/.500/.716 – 3 HR, 15 RBI, 11 R

What more can you say about Harper’s spring? The kid was so good, so hard to get out, that many now think he is an N.L. MVP favorite (Mark predicted that to me last September, I might add). And hits in nine straight at-bats? Just ridiculous.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
2013 Spring Stats: .298/.293/.579 – 4 HR, 9 RBI, 9 R

Davey Johnson said on Friday he thought the most gratifying part of this year’s spring training was Ryan Zimmerman’s health. Zimm looked shaky on one throw against the Yankees, but was a force at the plate and scored both of the team’s runs. He could be gearing up for a career year.

Anthony Rendon, IF
2013 Spring Stats: .375/.412/.875 – 4 HR, 11 RBI 7 R

If he weren’t on the league’s deepest roster, Rendon would have played himself into the majors, if not a starting position. He showed the ability to hit contact that made him a top draft pick and flashed power and defensive skills that could make him a special player some day. We’ll see when he gets his chance.

Gio Gonzalez, SP
2013 Spring Stats: 3-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 18.0 IP

Gonzalez wasn’t affected whatsoever by the linking of him to the performance enhancing drug scandal involving Biogenesis. All he did was continue what he did last season, dominate lineups. Gonzalez finished second in N.L. Cy Young voting last season and looks poised to be at the top of the list once again.

VIDEO: Ramos, Strasburg ready for Opening Day

In this first video, Davey Johnson reveals that Wilson Ramos will be the catcher for Opening Day. You will then see reaction from Ramos himself on hearing the news.

In this second video, Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg talks about the significance of entering his first full season as a major league player.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Yankees rough up Zimmermann

Photo by USA Today

In the final exhibition game before the 2013 season, the Nationals lost 4-2 to the New York Yankees behind a good day for Andy Pettite and a bad day for Jordan Zimmermann. 

Zimmermann lasted just 3 1/3 innings before being pulled with a four-run deficit. He exited after 69 pitches, 49 of them strikes, with seven hits allowed and four earned runs.

Manager Davey Johnson said Zimmermann told him “the ball feels like a bowling ball,” similar to how Gio Gonzalez categorized his recent poor start. But afterwards Zimmermann brushed off the outing and described it as not a concern.

“The fastball was good, the offspeed was good, I just made a few mistakes and they hit a few balls hard. Get those out of the way now,” he said.

“I feel healthy and I feel good so I think we’re ready to go.”

The Yankees scored all four of their runs in the fourth inning, beginning with a solo home run by Kevin Youkilis. Travis Hafner then singled, followed by a double by Vernon Wells to put two men in scoring position. Eduardo Nunez knocked both runners home and then scored on a Chris Stewart single.

Zimmermann was replaced in the fourth inning by Zach Duke who started a run of solid pitching for the Nationals out of the bullpen. Duke bridged them through the fifth, then Henry Rodriguez, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen closed it out inning-by-inning. The string of scoreless frames showcased a bullpen as deep as any in the National League.

Ramos to start Opening Day, Rodriguez makes team

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With their exhibition schedule now in the books, the Nationals have sorted out their final roster decisions. Manager Davey Johnson announced on Friday Wilson Ramos will start at catcher on Opening Day and that relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez will make the 25-man roster.

Ramos is slated to catch the first game with Kurt Suzuki taking over on Wednesday to catch Gio Gonzalez. Johnson said he looks at both Ramos and Suzuki as number one catchers and the two will alternate depending on the pitcher. 

The 25-year-old Ramos in some ways completes an almost year-long comeback from tearing the ACL in his right knee last May. He started last Opening Day after finishing fourth in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 2011.

Johnson approached Ramos during batting practice on Friday to share the news.

“I have been waiting for this moment,” Ramos said. “I was sliding, I was working to get my job back. This is a very exciting day for me.”

“The last ten or 11 months I have worked hard for this moment.”

Johnson explained the decision in part as a reward for Ramos’ perseverance and hard work. He saw Ramos the day he suffered the injury and was amazed at the shape he was in when pitchers and catchers reported back in February.

Instant Analysis: Yankees 4, Nats 2

Photo by USA Today
Yankees 4, Nationals 2

Game in a nutshell: Jordan Zimmermann had a tough day in his final tuneup for the regular season. He gave up a solo shot to Kevin Youkilis in the fourth inning, allowed a total of seven hits and finished with four earned runs on the day.

Hitting highlight: Bryce Harper had another hit, finally getting to Andy Pettite who baffled him in four hitless at-bats last summer. Desmond had the team's first RBI on a single up the middle to score Zimmerman. LaRoche also had an RBI in the sixth inning to send Zimmerman home.

Pitching lowlight: As this was an exhibition game, it's tough to read too much into anything really. Jordan Zimmermann, however, would probably have preferred a smoother last outing before the regular season. Zimmermann had trouble after a smooth first inning and was yanked in the fourth. He left with four earned runs, seven hits, and a walk on 69 pitches (49 strikes). 

Nats vs. Yankees - 3/29

Photo by USA Today

Chase here filling in for Mark. The Nationals are finally back home in Washington and ready to get the 2013 season started. But while they have returned from Florida, one more exhibition game stands in their way. In town are the Yankees with their injury-riddled roster and Andy Pettite on the mound. We'll see if Bryce Harper can finally get a hit off the New York lefty. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Pettite last season.

Davey Johnson said before the game that we should expect to learn of the final bullpen spot some time this evening. As for the Opening Day catcher, he will decide on Sunday. Wilson Ramos is starting today and coming off of a good week. If he has another great day at the plate it may help his cause.

Anyways, here are the lineups...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 2:05 p.m. EST
Radio: WJFK
Weather: Cloudy, 52 degrees
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

VIDEO: How good can Harper be in 2013?

Last night was the world premiere of Comcast SportsNet's 'The Baseball Show' as Mark and former MLB general manager Jim Duquette previewed the 2013 season. In the episode Mark and Jim talk about the biggest storylines for the Nationals as they get ready for another 162 games. Among the topics they discuss are expectations for Bryce Harper and the effect new closer Rafael Soriano will have on the bullpen.

Washington isn't always a mess

Photo by USA Today

[Joe Posnanski is now a NBC Sports columnist and recently visited Nationals camp]

By Joe Posnanski

VIERA, Fla. - There probably have not been 10 teams in all of baseball history that were quite as hopeless as the 2009 Washington Nationals. They lost 103 games — the second year in a row that they lost 100 — and were the worst team in baseball.

But it was worse than that. The Nationals had just moved into a new park a year earlier ... and nobody in the nation’s capital seemed to care. They were 13th in the National League in attendance. Their television ratings appeared to be a misprint. The Nationals averaged just 12,000 homes. That’s “Wayne’s World” territory. And that was WAY UP from what their ratings in 2008.

But it was worse than that. Their farm system was seemingly barren. Baseball America ranked them 21st among the 30 teams. They did not have a single prospect ranked in anybody’s Top 30. The future seemed about as hopeless as the present.

But it was worse than that. The present wasn’t just hopeless, it was hideous.

Their right fielder, Elijah Dukes, had been involved in so many off-field incidents, the team hired a former police officer to watch him at all times (though not too well since Dukes would talk later of smoking pot before Nationals games). To play center field, they acquired Nyjer Morgan, who said his on-field name was “Tony Plush” and would show a special talent for barreling into catchers.

Their best player, Adam Dunn, was so bad defensively in left field and at first base that despite hitting 38 homers and posting a .398 on-base percentage, the Wins Above Relacement (WAR) statistic still rated him worse than a replacement player (his minus-43 fielding runs is the worst fielding performance in baseball history).

The pitching staff's 5.00 ERA was the worst in the National League. The starting pitching was such an irreparable mess that, in desperation, they signed 34-year-old Livan Hernandez, who had pitched for five teams the previous four years. And one of those teams was the Washington Nationals.

When it gets this bad, what do you do? Where do you even begin? And how does it then become baseball's best team in three years?

“Step by step, without skipping steps,” GM Mike Rizzo says.

Can it really come down to a simple cliche?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

CSN's Baseball Show debuts tonight

Spring training has come to an end, the Nationals are on their way north at last, and we at Comcast SportsNet are gearing up for Opening Day with the debut of our new, weekly baseball show. It's called, appropriately enough, "The Baseball Show." Catchy, isn't it?

The 30-minute show will air every Thursday this season at 11 p.m., with replays on Friday at 5 p.m. and again over the weekend. Rob Carlin will be hosting, with yours truly and former Orioles and Mets executive Jim Duquette as analysts. We'll touch on everything going on with the Nats, O's and the rest of the baseball world, with minor-league reports from Chase Hughes and a social media segment with Kellie Cowan.

Tune in tonight to find out how you can participate and interact with us. And be sure to follow @CSNBaseballShow on Twitter.

Rodriguez/Romero decision still on tap

VIERA, Fla. -- It looks like the final roster decision the Nationals must make before Opening Day -- Henry Rodriguez or J.C. Romero in their bullpen? -- will go right down to the wire.

Manager Davey Johnson again was noncommittal when talking about the two relievers this morning before the Nationals' final game in Florida, saying only that Romero will come north with the club for tomorrow's exhibition game against the Yankees but leaving the door open where the left-hander will go from there.

"J.C. Romero is going to go with us to D.C.," Johnson said. "And barring anything -- an injury or anything -- he'll go from there to Syracuse."

That injury could be to Rodriguez, who is returning from elbow surgery and complained of soreness earlier this week. The right-hander is scheduled to pitch tomorrow against New York. If he emerges healthy, he will make the roster. If not, he would start the season on the disabled list and Romero would make the club.

Nats vs. Mets -- 3/28/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Space Coast Stadium hosts its final game of the spring today.
VIERA, Fla. -- And so the last day of spring training has arrived. I'd like to tell you there were plenty of tears shed inside an emotional Nationals clubhouse this morning, but that would be a flat-out lie. These guys have been ready to get out of Dodge for weeks, so there was an extra kick in everyone's step as they prepared to face the Mets in their Grapefruit League finale.

All the regulars will get one or two at-bats today, Davey Johnson said, except for Jayson Werth, who is sitting this one out after getting hit with a pitch in the funny bone yesterday. He's fine and should play tomorrow against the Yankees in D.C., but they figured no sense taking a chance today. Bryce Harper's thumb also appears to be fine, and he is in the lineup today, hoping not to get jammed too badly on any pitches.

Gio Gonzalez is on the mound for the Nationals, his final tune-up before he faces the Marlins for real on Wednesday. He's opposed today by somebody named Domingo Tapia. Your guess is as good as mine.

ESPN has today's game on the air, and it is available in the Washington area. I'll, of course, have plenty of updates here as well...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
Radio: None
Weather: Sunny, 65 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
RF Roger Bernadina
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Ramos pushing for Opening Day nod

Associated Press
Wilson Ramos watches his second homer of Wednesday's game fly over the fence.
VIERA, Fla. -- He'd already passed every other test presented to him this spring -- catching his first bullpen session, serving as designated hitter in a game, blocking pitches in the dirt, sliding into bases without putting his surgically repaired knee in danger, starting a game behind the plate and ultimately playing a full game back there -- so the only hurdle left for Wilson Ramos to cross was connecting for his first home run since he tore his ACL last May.

Ramos managed to knock down that final barrier yesterday, lofting a solo homer to right in the third inning of the Nationals' 11-2 exhibition win over the Braves. Then he knocked it down again one inning later, crushing a three-run homer to deep left-center.

It was a triumphant way for Ramos to finish off his spring, one that proved far more encouraging than even his most ardent supporters could have predicted.

"Every action, he has looks perfect to me," manager Davey Johnson said. "Blocking balls, the speed with which he picked it up, it's even better than it was last year [before he got hurt]."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Two cuts today, Romero going north

Associated Press
GM Mike Rizzo talks on the phone before today's game against the Braves.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals made another round of cuts following today's 11-2 win over the Braves, sending left-hander Fernando Abad and catcher Carlos Maldonado to minor-league camp.

Manager Davey Johnson said he'll send two more players down after tomorrow's Grapefruit League finale: outfielder Micah Owings and infidler Carlos Rivero (who has already been outrighted to Class AAA Syracuse but has remained in big-league camp).

That will leave only 26 active players on the roster when camp breaks tomorrow evening and the team flies north to Washington. And on that flight will be J.C. Romero, who still has a chance to crack the Opening Day bullpen over Henry Rodriguez.

Johnson approached Romero in the clubhouse after today's game and clued the veteran left-hander in on his travel plans without revealing the ultimate answer: where he'll be come Opening Day.
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Nats vs. Braves - 3/27/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ross Detwiler faces the Braves today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- As they were introducing the Nationals' starting lineup just now, the background music could only be described as "The Chipmunks Sing AC/DC." Is it time to go home yet?

Nope, we've still got two more games down here, starting today with the Braves. Fredi Gonzalez is using only relievers in this one, so Eric O'Flaherty will actually start and then pitch only one inning. Ross Detwiler starts for the Nationals. This is actually Stephen Strasburg's day to throw, but instead of facing a division rival, he already pitched in a minor-league game this morning, his final tune-up before Opening Day.

Bryce Harper, as you know, isn't in the Nationals' lineup. All the other regulars are, though. As opposed to the split-squad game taking place simultaneously in Jupiter against the Cardinals. There are no regulars down there, not even anyone from big-league camp.

Plenty of updates from this one to come...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: Braves radio via MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Sunny, 57 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Swollen thumb sidelines Harper

VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper will likely miss the Nationals' final two Grapefruit League games while letting his swollen left thumb heal, but the 20-year-old outfielder hopes to play Friday against the Yankees in Washington in advance of Opening Day on Monday.

Harper has been dealing with the issue since Friday, when he first was jammed by a pitch from Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly. He took one day off, returned to the lineup Sunday and continued a torrid streak at the plate in which he recorded nine consecutive base hits to raise his spring training batting average to .476.

But Harper again was jammed on a pitch from Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez during yesterday's game in Jupiter and was in considerable pain, though he was in better shape this morning.

"When I woke up this morning, it felt fine," he said. "Yesterday, it kind of got me a little. I thought it was going to be a lot worse when I woke up this morning. It wasn't. If I was in the lineup today, I could play."
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The dog days of March

USA Today Sports Images
Dan Haren served up four homers in six innings yesterday.
VIERA, Fla. -- With Opening Day now so tantalizingly close, it's perhaps a real mental challenge for the Nationals to slog their way through these last few days of the spring.

"Few days?" Ryan Zimmerman said with a smirk yesterday when I asked him that. "Yeah, this is awful. I mean, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but it's pretty hard to get excited to play a game for the seventh week in Melbourne, Fla. We've been down here a while."

Yes, they have. And it's safe to say they are absolutely champing at the bit to get out of Florida, head north and begin this season already.

We probably saw evidence of that yesterday during the Nationals' 8-5 loss to the Marlins in Jupiter. Aside from Bryce Harper's torrid streak at the plate -- 9 for his last 9 with a walk -- and Dan Haren getting his final six innings of the spring in the books, there wasn't a whole lot else that piqued many people's interest at Roger Dean

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Red-hot Harper still has sore thumb

USA Today Sports Images
Bryce Harper connects for one of his two hits this afternoon.
JUPITER, Fla. -- You wouldn't know it based on the results he's had at the plate, but Bryce Harper continues to be bothered by a swollen left thumb and may need to take the last couple days of spring training off to ensure he's completely healed in time for Opening Day.

The Nationals' second-year outfielder initially hurt himself on Friday when he was jammed by a pitch from Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly. He was held out of the following day's game but returned strong on Sunday and has been on a tear ever since.

Harper's third-inning RBI single to right field this afternoon against the Marlins was his ninth consecutive hit, raising his Grapefruit League batting average to a hefty .476. Turns out he got jammed again on that hit, though, and had to consider not coming up to bat again two innings later.

"He got jammed a little bit," manager Davey Johnson said. "I might have to give him a couple days off, I don't know. Usually those are just kind of nagging injuries ... but if it gets real bad, you give him a little cortisone in there and that quiets it down. But I don't know if it's that bad."
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Nats vs. Marlins - 3/26/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals face the Marlins today at Roger Dean Stadium.
JUPITER, Fla. -- We are really starting to wind down the spring now, with only three Grapefruit League games left on the Nationals' schedule, then Friday's exhibition against the Yankees on South Capitol Street in advance of Opening Day. (By the way, just checked Monday's forecast for D.C.: 66 degrees and partly cloudy. That'll work.)

The Nationals will face the Marlins on Opening Day, and they'll get a preview of Miami today here at Roger Dean Stadium. Dan Haren gets the start, hoping not to be plagued by the dead arm that took him down 10 days ago when he pitched in this same ballpark. Word is that Haren actually drove down from Viera last night to avoid the long bus ride on the morning of his start.

All the regulars are back in the lineup, with Kurt Suzuki catching. Bryce Harper will be looking to record his eighth consecutive base hit.

Updates to come...

Where: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: Marlins radio via MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Partly cloudy, 64 degrees, Wind 14 mph LF to RF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Nationals release Young

USA Today Sports Images
Chris Young posted a 2.25 ERA in four starts with the Nationals.
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Nationals granted Chris Young his unconditional release this morning, making the veteran right-hander a free agent and allowing him to sign a big-league contract with another club.

Young had filed paperwork to opt out of his minor-league deal last night after pitching against the Astros in Kissimmee. The Nationals then had 24 hours to either put the 33-year-old on their 25-man roster, pay him a $100,000 retention bonus or release him.

Though the Nationals were hoping to keep Young in the organization as an emergency starter at Class AAA, and though he expressed a desire to stay last night, the two sides couldn't find

Could Romero take Rodriguez's spot?

USA Today Sports Images
J.C. Romero looked sharp in his first Nats appearance last night.
VIERA, Fla. -- From the moment they arrived for spring training six weeks ago, the Nationals knew they had perhaps one spot on their Opening Day roster up for grabs: The final spot in their bullpen.

As the spring played out and several potential contenders either succumbed to injury (Christian Garcia) or were shipped to minor-league camp (Bill Bray, Will Ohman), that roster spot appeared not to be up for grabs at all. The job would go to Henry Rodriguez.

But as the clock winds down on the longest camp in franchise history, the Nationals aren't talking about Rodriguez's status with any level of certainty. And after the right-hander endured though yet another erratic outing last night, only to watch as the recently signed J.C. Romero cruised through a 1-2-3 inning of relief, there's reason to wonder whether this spot really is up for grabs after all

Monday, March 25, 2013

Young opts out, still hopes to stay

Associated Press
Chris Young allowed one unearned run in four innings tonight.
Updated at 10:25 p.m.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Chris Young filed paperwork today to opt out of his minor-league contract with the Nationals, but the veteran right-hander said he's still hopeful something could be worked out to keep him in the organization.

Young, who started tonight against the Astros and allowed one unearned run over four strong innings, will return to Viera after the game and wait to learn tomorrow whether the Nationals will put him on their Opening Day roster. He knows that's not going to happen, barring a last-minute injury, but he's been in talks with them about finding another way to remain with the organization.

"I'm realistic. I know the roster's full," he said outside the clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium. "I understand that. We've talked about maybe trying to work something out to where I can stay. We're not there right now. But there's interest from other clubs. I just have to weigh all the options and see what's best for me and my family and my career."
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Rodriguez scheduled to pitch tonight

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez, held out of yesterday's game due to elbow soreness, is scheduled to pitch tonight against the Astros, manager Davey Johnson said.

Rodriguez met with Johnson yesterday and told his manager the elbow soreness he'd been feeling wasn't a product of pitching, but rather stretching in the trainer's room.

"It doesn't bother him to throw, it just bothers him stretching," Johnson said. "They do a lot of stuff in there when they're stretching, so he's sore. Every time I go in there, they stretch me and I'm sore. I computed that in, and he says he's fine."

After surgery last summer to remove bone chips from his right elbow, Rodriguez still lags behind the rest of the Nationals' relief corps. He was held back early in camp but has ramped up his work recently and appeared in five games in nine days from March 14-22.
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Nats vs. Astros - 3/25/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals face Bo Porter and the Astros tonight at Osceola County Stadium.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- We are officially less than one week away from Opening Day -- check out the countdown clock to the right -- and most of the Nationals' spring decisions have been made. One of the few remaining big ones, though, should come later tonight, when Chris Young decides whether or not to opt-out of his minor-league contract. (The educated guess here: He will opt-out, with some other club offering him a spot on their big-league staff.)

First, Young will take the mound this evening to face the Astros in what could very well be his final start for the Nationals. The veteran right-hander has progressively gotten better with each outing this spring, culminating with five scoreless innings last time out against the Marlins. We'll see how he handles Bo Porter's Houston squad tonight.

All the regulars are in the lineup for the Nationals. In fact, every position player still in camp besides Kurt Suzuki made the trip to Kissimmee for this one.

Updates to come, please check back...

Where: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EST
TV: (live), MLB Network (delayed at 3 a.m.)
Radio: Astros radio via MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Sunny, 67 degrees, Wind 14 mph out to RF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Big day for Zimmermann, Espinosa, Harper

Associated Press
Danny Espinosa is congratulated by Kurt Suzuki after homering.
VIERA, Fla. -- A massive line of storms struck Space Coast Stadium in the top of the eighth inning yesterday, sending everyone fleeing for cover and bringing an abrupt halt to the Nationals' 9-3 victory over the Braves. But before we all got to experience the end of the world, there were several highlights.

Such as ...

Jordan Zimmermann once again looked mighty sharp on the mound. The right-hander entered this game having not allowed a hit since the very first batter of his previous start, and he didn't allow any today until Andrelton Simmons singled to left in the top of the fourth.

Thus ended a stretch in which Zimmermann recorded 27 outs between allowing hits. Yes, you read that correctly. He essentially threw a no-hitter, spread out among two games.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Garcia to DL, Rivero outrighted to AAA

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals made a pair of roster moves this afternoon, placing right-hander Christian Garcia on the 15-day disabled list with a strained forearm tendon and outrighting infielder Carlos Rivero to Class AAA Syracuse.

The Garcia DL move was anticipated because the right-hander had yet to appear in a Grapefruit League after injuring himself during early camp workouts, but the Rivero move did come as a bit of a surprise because it means the utilityman cleared waivers and was not claimed by another club.

Because he's out of options, Rivero was required to pass through waivers before being sent to the minor leagues. The Nationals talked up the utilityman this spring, and the sense was that another team would claim him if exposed. Instead, the Nationals get to keep Rivero in their system while also removing him from the 40-man roster.

Garcia had hopes of making the Opening Day roster out of the bullpen, or perhaps going to Syracuse to be a starter and

Nats get Rosenbaum back from Rockies

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals have received Rule 5 draft pick Daniel Rosenbaum back from the Rockies, re-acquiring a left-hander who could serve as rotation insurance this season.

Rosenbaum, 25, was selected by the Rockies in December's Rule 5 draft and was making a bid to crack their Opening Day roster. He allowed four runs in eight innings of work this spring, but Colorado's late signing of veteran right-hander Jon Garland ate up the last available spot on the pitching staff and made Rosenbaum expendable.

Per Rule 5 regulations, the Rockies were required to pass Rosenbaum through waivers and then offer him back to the Nationals for $25,000 (one-half of the original cost to draft him). The Nationals elected to re-acquire him and plan to have him join the rotation at Class AAA Syracuse to begin the season.

A 22nd-round pick in 2009 out of Xavier University, Rosenbaum

Young will pitch tomorrow, then decide

Associated Press
Chris Young tossed five scoreless innings on Wednesday.
VIERA, Fla. -- Chris Young will make his scheduled start tomorrow night against the Astros before deciding whether to opt out of his minor-league contract with the Nationals and sign with another club.

The Nationals must decide today whether to add Young to their 25-man roster, and they don't intend to unless one of their five starting pitchers gets hurt. Young then has until the end of the day tomorrow to either opt out or stay with the Nationals and agree to open the year at Class AAA Syracuse.

Though the veteran right-hander wouldn't get into specifics this morning, he strongly indicated he's got offers to pitch for major-league teams, which would prompt him to opt out.

"I'm not going to get into the details of it, but there's opportunities," he said. "I'm just trying to decide what the best fit is, in a lot of different ways. There's just so many considerations. I can't get into every hypothetical. Once I have all the information, I'll evaluate and see."
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Nats vs. Braves - 3/24/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann and the Nats host the Braves today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- It's a gray and very windy afternoon here at Space Coast Stadium, but it looks like the rain will hold off until later in the day, so the Nationals and Braves shouldn't have trouble getting today's game in. But the way the wind is howling out to left field, don't be surprised if there are a bunch of deep drives. In other words, be careful about judging today's pitchers.

So it'll be quite a challenge for Jordan Zimmermann, not to mention Kris Medlen, as each right-hander makes his penultimate start of the spring. Zimmerman is coming off a fantastic, six-inning outing against the Tigers and looks poised to open the season on a strong note.

All the regulars are back in the Nationals' lineup, including Bryce Harper, who said his jammed left thumb is still sore but not enough to keep him from playing. He planned to take BP wearing a rubber ring around the thumb that many players use for cushioning, but he was worried it wouldn't be comfortable and figured he probably wouldn't use it in the game.

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

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM)
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 80 degrees, Wind 27 mph RF to LF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Rodriguez dealing with sore elbow

VIERA, Fla. -- Henry Rodriguez is dealing with "soreness" in his throwing elbow, and though the Nationals insist it's nothing serious, it does at least create the possibility of an available job in the club's Opening Day bullpen.

Rodriguez, who had surgery last summer to remove bone chips in his right elbow, has been brought along slowly this spring but has seen his workload increase over the last week. He pitched five times in a nine-day span from March 14-22 and over his last three innings has allowed three runs while issuing six walks.

Manager Davey Johnson said he's been expecting Rodriguez to experience some soreness with the increased workload and wasn't surprised to learn of the problem this morning.

"It's probably a little inflammation from throwing a lot," Johnson said. "I was expecting that earlier."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Notes from the Nats' 3-1 loss

USA Today Sports Images
Gio Gonzalez allowed one run over six strong innings today.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With few regular position players making the trip, Bryce Harper scratched due to a swollen left thumb and a bunch of guys from minor league camp brought up for the day to fill out the roster, there wasn't quite the same intensity to the Nationals' 3-1 loss to the Mets today as there had been in other games earlier this week.

Which isn't to say there weren't still some interesting developments. Such as...

Gio Gonzalez looked sharp during his six-inning start and penultimate appearance of the spring. The left-hander allowed one run on four hits, struck out three, walked one and threw 85 pitches on a warm, 89-degree afternoon at Tradition Field.

Gonzalez was pleased with the results he had, though he knows he's still got some work to do to get his velocity and stamina up to regular-season standards.

"It's still one of those starts where your arm feels a little tired," he said. "You're working on stuff to get that arm strength. But other

Nats get Kobernus back from Tigers

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Nationals have received Rule 5 draft pick Jeff Kobernus back from the Tigers, re-stocking their farm system with the highly regarded second baseman.

Kobernus had been trying to make Detroit's Opening Day roster as a utilityman and had received more playing time than almost anyone else in the Tigers' camp. But he hit just .220 (11-for-50) with a .291 on-base percentage and was likely beaten out by outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo (who homered twice against the Nationals this week) for the final spot on the Opening Day bench.

Per Rule 5 draft regulations, the Tigers were required to pass Kobernus through waivers and then give the Nationals the option of re-acquiring him (in exchange for $25,000 of the original $50,000 spent to draft him). General manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters he attempted to work out a trade with counterpart Mike Rizzo, but the Nationals wanted the 24-year-old back in their

Catchers likely to split time 50-50

USA Today Sports Images
Wilson Ramos appears to have made a full recovery from a torn ACL.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though he won't reveal yet who will start behind the plate on Opening Day, Nationals manager Davey Johnson did strongly suggest today he plans to give Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos equal playing time to begin the regular season.

The Nationals opened camp six weeks ago believing Ramos would need time to build himself back up after tearing the ACL in his right knee last May. Though he was expected all along to be ready for Opening Day, he figured to defer to Suzuki for playing time early on, then gradually increase his workload until he re-assumed the No. 1 catching job.

But Ramos has impressed since he arrived for spring training and has progressed perhaps faster than most assumed.

"He was doing the same stuff everyone else was doing from day one, actually more so," Johnson said. "He never missed a day on anything. We held him out of games [early] because the doctor was scheduled to see him again ... but he passed all those things with flying colors, as well as sliding. He's been basically on pretty much the same path that Suzuki's been on. I look at both pretty much being on equal footing going into the year right now."
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Harper scratched after getting jammed

USA Today Sports Images
Bryce Harper jammed his left hand on an inside pitch yesterday.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bryce Harper was scratched from the Nationals' lineup against the Mets today after getting jammed by an inside pitch during yesterday's game against the Tigers.

Manager Davey Johnson said Harper's left thumb was swollen after he lined a fourth-inning slider from Detroit's Drew Smyly into right field for a single. He was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons.

Harper was scheduled to make the trip to Port St. Lucie and bat third in today's game against New York, but Johnson informed the 20-year-old outfielder this morning he was being held back in Viera.

"I scratched him," the manager said.

Johnson said he's not worried about the extent of the injury and said he expects Harper to return to the lineup tomorrow when the Nationals face the Braves.

Nats vs. Mets - 3/23/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals are back at Tradition Field this afternoon.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Having cracked the whip on his starters over the last three days, Davey Johnson will ease up a bit today at Tradition Field. Most of the regulars got the day off, but we'll still see Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos here this afternoon against the Mets.

We'll also see Roger Bernadina making his first start of the spring in center field. The Shark, fresh off a 20,000-mile journey around the world during the WBC, made a fantastic catch late in yesterday's game, so he doesn't appear to be rusty at all. Espinosa, meanwhile, will get a rare start at shortstop. (Johnson plans to use him there this season if Ian Desmond needs a day off.)

Gio Gonzalez gets the start, his first against a big-league team since he mowed down the Puerto Rican lineup in the WBC (he faced minor-leaguers last time out). Like Stephen Strasburg yesterday, this will be Gonzalez's final full-scale tune-up before the season begins; he'll get one more start next week, but he'll be capped at about 70 pitches.

[UPDATE AT 11:40 A.M. -- Lineup change for the Nats: Bryce Harper was scratched after getting jammed on a pitch yesterday. His left thumb is swollen. Davey said it's not serious and that Harper will be back in the lineup tomorrow. Carlos Rivero will start in his place.]

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

Where: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie
Gametime: 1:10 p.m. EST
TV: (live), MLB Network (delayed at 12 a.m.)
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, Wind 15 mph out to LF
CF Roger Bernadina
SS Danny Espinosa
1B Tyler Moore
3B Chad Tracy

Friday, March 22, 2013

Strasburg fine after brief scare

Associated Press
Steve McCatty, Lee Kuntz and Davey Johnson watch Stephen Strasburg throw.
VIERA, Fla. -- The ball came screaming off Prince Fielder's bat, struck Stephen Strasburg's left arm and then careened into shallow center field as the crowd of 7,199 at Space Coast Stadium let out a collective gasp followed by a momentary holding of the breath as the Nationals' trainer and pitching coach jogged to the mound to check on their ace.

In the end, there was nothing for everyone to be worried about. The fourth-inning comebacker caught Strasburg on the fleshy pad of his left thumb, not on a less-protected part of his hand, wrist or forearm. And after a couple minutes spent getting the feeling back in the hand and then throwing a couple of warm-up tosses, Strasburg was back to his old self, striking out a pair of Tigers to end the inning and continue his Grapefruit League start unabated.

"It's fine," the right-hander insisted afterward. "It just kind of numbed up a little bit out there. It's a little tender, but nothing crazy."

The Nationals haven't had any real serious injury scares this spring, one of many reasons why this team feels like it's well-positioned to storm out of the gates strong when the season opens in 10 days.

Kimball, Accardo sent down

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals trimmed their spring training roster down to 32 today, cutting right-handers Cole Kimball and Jeremy Accardo prior to their exhibition game against the Tigers.

Kimball, who was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, impressed this spring, allowing two runs on only three hits over 6 1/3 innings. Nearly two months removed now from major shoulder surgery, he's slated to open the season as Syracuse's closer and would be among the first relievers considered for promotion should the Nationals need bullpen help.

Accardo was re-assigned to minor-league camp after allowing four earned runs on 13 hits over seven innings. The 31-year-old reliever has appeared in 262 big-league games over eight seasons with the Giants, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians and Athletics.

Nats vs. Tigers - 3/22/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg faces the Tigers today at Space Coast Stadium.
VIERA, Fla. -- If you happened to come down to Florida for spring training over the last few days, you certainly picked the right time to see the Nationals in person. Davey Johnson said he was going to play all his regulars this week, and he's been true to his word. Everyone is back in there again today, the third straight day he's gone with them. Guess we'll see how their legs hold up from the sudden increase in workload.

As an added treat, Stephen Strasburg is on the mound today to make his second-to-last start of the spring. Look for the right-hander to perhaps even reach the 100-pitch mark this afternoon, then dial things back next time out in advance of his Opening Day assignment against the Marlins.

If you aren't one of the fortunate folks who are here in person, you're still in luck because Bob and F.P. are here today and will have the game on TV back in D.C. And, of course, you can get all your updates and analysis right here throughout...

Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 73 degrees, Wind 8 mph LF to RF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman

Nats sign Romero to minor-league deal

USA Today Sports Images
J.C. Romero posted a 3.86 ERA for Puerto Rico in the WBC.
VIERA, Fla. -- Ever in search of a left-handed specialist who could help them at some point this season, the Nationals have signed veteran reliever J.C. Romero to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp.

Romero will be in uniform tomorrow and pitch against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, but general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear the 36-year-old won't make the Opening Day roster.

"I don't feel that's realistic," Rizzo said. "It's been conveyed to him that we don't feel it's realistic. He'll go to the minor leagues and perform down there, and if he can help us down the road, we'll go grab him."

Rizzo likened Romero's signing to last year's acquisition of Michael Gonzalez, who spent a month at Class AAA Syracuse and then became a key member of the Nationals' bullpen straight through the postseason.
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Ramos, Storen and a surprise knuckleball

USA Today Sports Images
Ryan Zimmerman tags out Andrelton Simmons on a stolen base attempt.
VIERA, Fla. -- More news and notes from last night's game against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista...

Wilson Ramos was absolutely beaming afterward, having successfully caught his first full game since tearing the ACL in his right knee about 10 months ago. This really was the final hurdle for Ramos to cross in his recovery. He clearly sees himself as 100 percent back from the injury.

"If I say that, anybody can believe it, but I feel better than before I got hurt," he said. "I feel more strong, I feel more alive behind the plate. I'm blocking the ball pretty good. I feel very strong behind the plate. I'm very excited for this moment."

Ramos showed off his arm during the bottom of the first inning, firing a laser to nab Andrelton Simmons trying to steal third base (though replies showed Simmons may have slid around Ryan

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Haren "1,000 times better" in latest start

Associated Press
Dan Haren felt better about his start tonight against the Braves.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- His final pitching line -- four runs and five hits allowed in 5 1/3 innings -- didn't look all that different from his final pitching line the last time he took the mound and felt like he was throwing a weighted ball.

But Dan Haren was far less concerned about the numbers attached to his name this time and far more pleased with the way he pitched against the Braves in his penultimate tune-up of the spring.

"Overall, obviously it was a lot better," the Nationals right-hander said. "I mean, I felt 1,000 times better."

First and foremost, Haren's velocity was back to its normal levels. After heaving up mid-80s fastballs last Friday against the Cardinals while battling what he hoped was a case of dead arm, he regularly threw 89 mph tonight and topped out at 91 mph several times.
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Soriano has root canal

USA Today Sports Images
Rafael Soriano should be able to pitch tomorrow as scheduled.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nationals closer Rafael Soriano had root canal this afternoon to take care of an infected tooth, but manager Davey Johnson said he expects the veteran reliever to pitch as scheduled Friday against the Tigers.

"A toothache never hurt anybody from pitching, as far as I know," Johnson said prior to the Nationals' exhibition game against the Braves. "I'm sure he's probably fine."

Johnson wasn't sure yet of the extent of Soriano's procedure but doesn't believe it was serious.

"He should be fine," the manager said. "I think it was just in the early stages and they were worried about it becoming an abscess or something during the year. So they nipped it in the bud."

Nats vs. Braves - 3/21/13

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Dan Haren leads the Nats into Disney's Wide World of Sports tonight.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The last time Dan Haren pitched, it wasn't a pretty sight. Plagued by what he could only assume was a "dead arm," the right-hander was flinging up fastballs in the mid-80s, well below his normal velocity. An obvious perturbed Haren vowed to be back to his usual self the next time he took the mound, and tonight we'll find out whether he truly was experiencing a one-time bump in the road or whether this is actual cause for concern.

Haren will be facing many, though not all, of the Braves' regulars. He'll have his full Nats starting lineup behind him, though, as Davey Johnson continues to crack the whip and puts his regulars out there for the second straight day. Look for Wilson Ramos to catch the full nine innings, the first time he's done that since he tore his ACL last May, the last real milestone for Ramos to cross in his return.

Tim Hudson, named Atlanta's Opening Day starter by manager Fredi Gonzalez, gets the nod tonight. And you're in luck, because the game will be televised on MLB Network (picking up the Braves' broadcast). Be sure to check back here for updates and analysis, of course...

Where: Disney's Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EST
TV: MLB Network (Braves' broadcast)
Radio: Braves radio via MLB Gameday Audio
Weather: Mostly sunny, 68 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman