Hey Nationals fans! It may be hard to believe with the awful weather we’ve been having so far this year, but Spring Training is just around the corner! Pitchers and catchers report this Thursday, with the rest of the squad starting next week (February 18). I don’t know about you, but I am giddy with excitement! Really, I’m giddy – I’m not kidding!
So what went on with the Nationals during the off-season? In case you missed it, Matt Williams was named as the Nationals’ new manager, replacing the retired Davey Johnson. Williams hasn’t made any “World Series or bust!” predictions yet; he just wants to improve the Nationals’ defense and have them score more runs. Sounds pretty simple, especially since the Nats finished the season 13th in the league in defense, and that’s not acceptable.
As far as pitching, Williams finds himself with an excellent rotation and a solid bullpen, both made only better after general manager Mike Rizzo added Doug Fister and Jerry Blevins. Starters include Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Fister, with Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, and Ross Detwiler battling for the final spot in the rotation. Detwiler missed most of last season with a bad back (and was not missed) but says he is 100 percent entering Spring Training. The Nationals have not ruled out putting Detwiler in the bullpen, but if he starts, the Nats would like to see him use his curveball more often since he doesn’t seem to have much else to rely on as far as overpowering command. Jordan was on an innings limit last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. He pitched a combined 142 innings in the Major and Minor Leagues, won 10 games and had a 1.96 ERA. During the last two months of the season, Roark was arguably the best pitcher on the team, winning seven games with an ERA under 2.00. If he doesn’t make the team as a starter, Roark most likely will be a long reliever, but he gets my vote as the fifth starter.
In the bullpen, Jerry Blevins will provide the lefty arm that the Nationals were lacking. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen will continue to be right-handed set-up guys for closer Rafael Soriano (who hopefully got himself some personality during the off-season) and whoever doesn’t get the job as the fifth starter can serve as a long reliever. If they can stay healthy, the Nationals’ pitching should be very strong this season.
Now about the starting lineup… here’s what it will likely look like on opening day:
3. LF Bryce Harper: Bryce put on some muscle weight during the off-season, but is his knee fully healed after surgery? This workhorse will give it his all no matter what.
4. RF Jayson Werth: Werth had a better 2013 season than his 2012 one, so hopefully this one will be even better. Fingers crossed.
5. 1B Adam LaRoche: Poor Adam had a tough season last year, especially since he lost about 20 pounds while trying to regulate his ADD medication. Hopefully that’s all taken care of and he can go back to his Gold Glove self at first base.
6. SS Ian Desmond: Desmond’s defense improved tremendously last year. Let’s hope he can stay healthy at shortstop and is able to hit another 20 home runs this season.
7. C Wilson Ramos: This guy can hit, but he is also very injury-prone. The Nationals are inviting 4 catchers to Spring Training and will hopefully find a good backup guy in case Ramos is injured again. Jhonatan Solano gets my vote for backup catcher.
8. 2B Anthony Rendón: The job at second base is Anthony’s to lose. Yes, Danny Espinosa wants his job back, but despite being an excellent second baseman, Espinosa was never a consistent hitter, so I think Rendón is the man for the job. Let’s hope he comes to Spring Training with a better haircut than last year’s.
On the bench, the Nationals have newly-acquired Nate McLauth, Scott Hairston, and Jamey Carroll. Gone are Steve Lombardozzi, Chad Tracey, and Corey Brown.
So there you have it, my friends. The first Spring Training game for the Nationals is on Feb. 28 against the Mets, and they open the regular season in New York on March 31 (with the Nationals Park home opener on April 4 against the Braves). My husband and I bought a 5-game flex pack, so we will be at the ball park on April 5 and throughout the summer. I hope you are as excited as I am and are looking forward to a season full of Curly “W” Wins!