February 2010

Friday Photo Day

Sunday is officially photo day but there isn’t a better way to celebrate Friday than with a few photos from today’s first full squad practice. It was the first chance for pitchers to pitch to live batters that didn’t swing. Pitchers and corner infielders focused on fielding bunts but the highlight of today’s workout was watching Adam Dunn practice bunting. I think it is safe to say he will never bunt in a game.


Dunn bunting.jpg


Dunn batting.jpg


Zimmerman Batting.jpg


Riggleman coaching.jpg


Pudge and Flores.jpg


Dukes kneeing.jpg

Local school visits Nats Spring Training


Bobby Henley.jpg

Baseball has always been a game that can be shared with both parents and children alike and a perfect example of that took place in Viera on Thursday morning.

 

Parents and kids from Viera Children’s Academy, ranging from the age of four and up, were given a tour of the Nationals Spring Training facilities.

 

They took in the view of Space Coast Stadium from a 42-person suite and got a chance to walk around the field that the Nats will be playing games on in March.

 

Then the group from Viera Children’s Academy got a chance to see the pros in action over at the training complex, as they toured that facility during a morning workout of pitchers and catchers.

 

A chance to see Big Leaguers in action was the favorite part of the tour for student Evan Wiseman.

 

“I liked watching the baseball players,” Wiseman said.

 

Nationals spring instructor Bob Henley then spoke to the kids, took part in a Q & A session and posed for a group picture.

 

The experience was memorable for the children and their parents.

 

“I think they really enjoyed it,” said Doug Masterson, a parent who took the tour. “It’s something to open their eyes up to. The experience has been really great for them and the staff here is fantastic.”

Don’t mess with the mustache


Collin Balester mustache.jpgNeil Armstrong walked on the moon. Al Gore invented the internet. Joe Dirt made the mullet fashionable and Collin Balester created the molestache.

The always talkative, video game guru, tweeting machine–aka Collin Balester–redefined what it means to have a manly mustache. It is still debatable if the overgrown, food snatching, bushy, brown mustache should be classified as a mustache or squirrels nest.

He has been called Jeff Foxworthy, Cornel Mustard and Jeff Kent. At the same time, this isn’t your Dad’s mustache. People with a mustache as dense as the rain forest typically mean business. This mustache is the reason why parents tell their kids not to accept candy from strangers. Granted there is nothing inherently evil about a mustache, but there is something the players find eerie about it.


Collin Balester mustache upclose.jpg“Everyone loves it,” Balester said. “They think it’s funny… it just lightens the mood. Of course, we are all serious and it isn’t going to change the way we go about doing our business.”

He is the same pitcher he always was–trying just to make an impression with his pitches not his antics–he just happens to have a big stache and an even larger number.

Last year, Balester spent the majority of the 2009 season with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He went 7-10 with a 4.44 ERA (53 ER/ 107.1 IP) and 71 strikeouts. He made a brief stint with the Nats in July and August and started seven games going 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA.

Those types of numbers don’t typically provide job security let alone number security. When the Nats signed Chien-Mien Wang on Friday, Balester was forced to surrender the No. 40.

He had the choice between the numbers 29 and 70. That’s like asking someone what soap opera do you want to watch, Young and the Restless or Days of our Lives-bad or worse. Can I just watch paint dry? As far as the number hierarchy is concerned, those two numbers might sit at the bottom unless you are a starting running back and left tackle.


Collin Balester mustache sitting down.jpgBalester tried to wear the No. 99 last year but the Nats said no. After he was given the option between the two numbers, he texted the equipment manger and asked if he could wear the always available No. 99. His persistence paid off.

“It keeps people guessing,” Balester said.  “When they look at the number on my back they’ll think, ‘That guy had no shot. He is wearing No. 99.'”

You might think of 99 on a baseball uniform the same way you think of 65 on a wide receiver but Manny Ramirez is 99 for the Dodgers. And let’s not forget no one has kept 99 more groovy than Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn… then again Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky admirably wore 99 too.

And we are back to square one with what Shakespeare famously said, “What’s in a number?”… or was it a name?

“It doesn’t matter what number you get or what you look like,” Balester said. “It just matters if you get it done.”

Balester has proved he can get it done when it comes to growing a mustache. The only question remaining is can he get it done on the field and earn a roster spot out of Spring Training?

Another day in paradise


Storen and Bruney.jpgThe Sunshine state definitely didn’t get its nickname on a day like today. The spring showers delayed the start of practice for the pitchers and catchers but it wasn’t too long before the sun appeared. Half the pitchers and catchers played long toss and the other half stretched on the main field. There were a handful of position players taking ground balls–Nyjer Morgan showed he could be a solid first baseman.

 

There is definitely an interesting contrast between work and play at Spring Training. For the most part, the veteran players know what they have to do to be ready when the season starts. Pitcher Craig Stammen said if you enter the Spring in-shape it is pretty easy. The younger players are just trying to soak it all in, ask questions and try to claim the few remaining roster spots. Spring Training is like the first 15 minutes of an NFL practice: stretching, drills and tossing the ball.

 

“Practice is pretty laid back,” Craig Stammen said. “This is about as hard as the first half of practice during high school football.”

 

“Spring Training is the best part of the year,” Willy Taveras said. “You practice in the morning and then you are done.”

 

“It was surprising to see how early the veteran guys get here and how hard they work,” Drew Storen said. “It’s not something I really expected and it’s something I learned from.”

 


Balester high knees.jpgTo say it is easy would imply anyone could do it. To say it is exhausting would be an exaggeration. It’s hard and easy at the same time–hard just to make it to camp, even harder to make it out and easy compared to running a marathon. Of course, everything is easy expect for what is difficult. Then again, to say anything is easy in baseball is a lie. What’s the easiest thing to do in baseball? I bet you were thinking… “Laying down a bunt.” Don’t be fooled. I just took a crash course in bunting from Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein and realized there is nothing easy about it. Even if you properly position yourself, the thought of a 95 mph fastball in on the hands can leave a grown man’s pants wet.

 

“Everything looks easy on TV,” Eckstein said.

 

Don’t be fooled.

 

Line of the day:

 “Is it ok if I keep my shirt off for the interview?” the always funny and far from flashy Eddie Guardado said to a TV reporter. “You know everybody would like that.”

 

Numbers games:

It’s always interesting to see the numbers everyone is wearing. A lot of atypical baseball numbers make the way out of the wood work to accommodate the large number of players at camp. Thankfully they disappear when the season starts. Collin Balester is wearing No. 99 but he is game for rocking that number the whole season. Nats top catching prospect Derek Norris is wearing No. 62. Storen wore No. 26 for his introductory press conference, No. 17 in the AFL and now he is wearing No. 58. When he makes it to the Majors, don’t count on him wearing No. 58 and he won’t be wearing No. 26 now that Jesus Flores has claimed his rights to that number.

 

“I don’t know about the number 26 but hopefully something a little skinnier so it makes me look bigger,” Storen said. “These big numbers make me look skinny. I need to find a slimmer number but as long as I have a Nationals jersey on it doesn’t really matter.”

 

Livo is back:

Livan Hernandez is a member of the Washington Nationals yet again. He rejoins the Nationals after going 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Nats and Mets. After winning seven games in 23 starts for the Mets, Hernandez signed with the Nationals on August 25, and in eight starts, finished 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his second stint in DC. Hernandez recorded 18 quality starts in 31 assignments (58%) last season, including six in eight outings with Washington.

 

Natives of NatsTown from the start


JeffColleen Sherman c.jpg

While scouring the Washington Nationals Training Complex, looking for fans to interview, one couple stood out. They were parked in their lawn chairs right next to the first base dugout at Field Three.

 

It didn’t take long to realize that they were a little bit different from the casual on-looker either looking for an autograph or just wanting to watch pitchers and catchers workout.

 

Jeff and Colleen Sherman, from Arlington, Va., are season ticket holders both in Viera and in Washington, DC. The couple has been coming down for Spring Training every year since the Nationals inception in 2005 and also has had season tickets up in DC since then.

 

Colleen was actually the first person through the turnstiles for the first game at Nationals Park in 2008 against the Atlanta Braves and the couple takes four or five weekend trips a year to see the team play on the road.

 

And because of their close following of the team since the start, they also feel a close bond with the players themselves.

 

“We see them in so many different places,” Jeff said. “We go see the team when they play on the road during the regular season on the weekends. We’re there behind the dugout at home. We’re here (in Viera). It becomes almost personal.

 

“So when somebody gets traded or somebody gets non-tendered, we feel like we are not only losing a player, but a friend. These guys are so interactive with us as well. We feel a very close bond with these guys and we live and die with them.”

 

With Spring Training in Viera, which coincidentally and conveniently is just down the road from where Colleen’s mother lives, the Shermans enjoy seeing the one-on-one instruction and the accessibility of the players in Florida.

 

“There’s such a personal touch down here,” Colleen said. “It’s kind of like watching Minor League ball with Major League players. It’s such a personal experience.”

 

“There’s a lot of accessibility,” Jeff added. “This is the kind of stuff that you just don’t see during the Major League season. The guys working out, getting coached one-on-one.

 

“Like the field back there, where they have the six mounds together and the pitching coaches are going one-by-one. You see them grabbing elbows and pull it up to show a different arm slot. You don’t see that during the regular season.”

 

Jeff and Colleen are excited with the additions that General Manager Mike Rizzo has made and believe that this is the most complete team that the franchise has had during their short time in Washington.

 

“Rizzo stepped in and started making this team his own last year and you can see there’s a lot more focus here,” Jeff said.

 

“We are excited with what Rizzo has done in the offseason and the new additions are real exciting,” Colleen added. “To have just it all focused on baseball is exciting to us.”

 

Of course one of those additions is in the form of last year’s number one overall pick, Stephen Strasburg, and like many, the Sherman’s know that his time will come in the Big Leagues.

 

“I think they’ll give him a chance, but you don’t want to rush somebody like that,” Jeff said. “He’s 21 years old; he’s got 20 years ahead of him.”

 

“We’re patient,” Colleen said. “I trust Jim Riggleman. When he’s ready, he’ll bring him up and not sooner.”

 

Staying down in Florida for all of Spring Training requires some flexibility with work and the new law firm that Jeff joined in January has been very understanding.

 

“I told them coming in that this is my priority from the middle of February to the end of March,” Jeff said. “They said ‘we get it, we’re behind you, no problem’ and they have been very supportive. But I have like 15 orders for signed baseballs, so don’t come back without Chien-Ming Wang, don’t come back without Strasburg.”

 

As residents of NatsTown, Jeff and Colleen are convinced that the Nationals have a shot of making the playoffs in 2010.

 

“We’re not going to be last (in the division),” Jeff said. “I don’t think we are quite up there with the Phillies, but I think we can play the Marlins and Braves really well the whole year and depending on how the teams in the Central and the West do, we might not be out of the wild card race for a long time.”

 

 

Spring Training is the place to be…


Strasburg 12.jpgAs we arrived at Space Coast Stadium with the sun shining, the temps in the mid 60’s and signs of baseball all around: green grass, fans decked out in Nats gear and players making the voyage from the fields to the clubhouse. It dawned on me right as we pulled in the parking lot that…

Spring is by far the best season in the world just like water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen–simple common facts, right? Of course, it never occurs to you while you are drinking a glass of water that it is two parts hydrogen or one part oxygen. But after you take a year of chemistry, you don’t even care anymore what it is… you just accept it as a fact and vow never to take another chemistry class again. It’s the same thing for spring, when you are at the Nats Spring Training Complex you are amazed at how peaceful and easy going it is… it is at that moment you accept it as fact that spring is the best season and vow to make the migration to Florida each year.

It is a new beginning for everyone and everything. It provides a new start for the players, a rebirth for all living plants and a second chance for people who already forgot what their New Year’s resolution was. 

Let me get a little more cliché and sentimental… as W. Earl Hall said… I know I just name-dropped him like he is Ryan Zimmerman but truth be told Google doesn’t even know who he is, they just know he said this… “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.” Morphine? Nope. THC? Not a chance. Nicotine? Never. Vicodin? Vastly overrated.

We could add to that… while watching a baseball game speculating and daydreaming about the upcoming season. The start of Spring Training has an innate ability to make fans, and players alike, daydream of how their season will turnout and reason why they have what it takes to win the World Series. The records are wiped clean, the potential is endless and every team is in first place till April 5. Cliché comments become cool and the term “Making the trip North” typically reserved for Minnesotans going to their cabins becomes a common catchphrase.

Science has also never explained the tranquilizing effect of the start of Spring Training and the endless possibilities: all the what ifs, maybes, dreams and if only’s.

You have all heard them before and probably made the arguments yourself.

They added A, B and C in the offseason and bolstered the bullpen with D. What if E has a breakout year now that he is healthy? If only player F, has the season he had two years ago. If player G, pitches like he did in September for the entire season and now that player H will be on the team for a full season…We are a playoff team for sure.

It is just simple math: A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H=playoffs. Right?

All you need is a carefully crafted argument, selective statistics and a few leaps in logic that hopefully go undetected. 82 percent on the time you will win every time–push at worst–and by the time the actual records are final, the argument will have been forgotten just like the Spring Training games themselves–just don’t write down your predictions.


Space Coast Stadium 10.jpgSo let the argument begin why the Nationals will finish at or above .500… forget the fact that only seven teams since 1961 (the year the schedule was expanded to 162 games) that have won 60 games or fewer in one season have gone on to finish at or above .500 the following season. (I am excluding strike years.) Here are seven reasons why they will be the eighth.

1.      It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Nats ended on a seven game winning streak and posted a 33-37 record after July 21st. They are better defensively and if they would have kept that pace over the season they would have finished 76-86. They are a better team now then when the season ended too.

2.      Maybe, just maybe John Lannan is the best pitcher nobody has heard of… just look at the numbers against a pitcher everybody has heard of.

 ALCS MVP CC Sabathia vs. John Lannan

 Number of games started allowing three runs or less:

Sabathia:         23

Lannan:           23

 ERA in those games:

Sabathia:         1.78 ERA (32 ER/ 161.2 IP)

Lannan:           2.24 ERA (39 ER/ 156.2 IP)

 Individual Record in those games:

Sabathia:         18-0

Lannan:           9-5

 Team Record in those games:

Sabathia:         20-3

Lannan:           12-11

 

Lannan’s biggest problem last year was the Nats offense. He was second from the bottom with a 3.71 run support average for pitchers with at least 200 IP. The Rays Matt Garza bested Lannan with a 3.68 RSA. It is the one statistic you never want to lead in.

  1. Remember the Opening Day bullpen last season? I didn’t think so. Here is why you have forgotten about them. The seven relievers: Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Mike Hinckley, Wil Ledezma, Saul Rivera, Steven Shell and Julian Tavarez are about as memorable as the movies Glitter, Gigli and The Hottie and the Nottie combined. They recorded seven blown saves in the first 21 games and 20 by the All-Star break with a 5.21 ERA. The bullpen has been bolstered–beefed up more than Popeye’s bicep–and if Matt Capps is the closer the Nats think he can be, the one he was in 2007 with 2.28 ERA, it will be game over in the ninth.

4.      The Nationals just got a small dose of Nyjer Morgan last season before he fractured his left hand at the end of August but it was enough to give Nats fans an everlasting high. He was electric at the top of the order and changed the total complexion of the offense and defense while adding speed to a lineup of lumberjacks. In 49 games with the Nats, he batted .351 (67-for-191) with 35 runs and 24 stolen bases. If he can provide that excitement, speed and defense for an entire season… Wow.

5.      What if Willingham plays the entire season like he did in May, June and July. He struggled for the first time in his career to find playing time and never was comfortable at the plate in April, batting .143. The “Hammer” returned in May. From May 5 to August 18, he batted .330 (86-for-261) with 18 home runs, 48 RBI and an on-base percentage of .430. He had a forgettable September so I won’t try to remember it. Willingham will be the everyday left fielder so don’t expect him to struggle at the start this season.

6.      Maybe Elijah Dukes finally has a breakout year. Just think if he can hit 20 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 RBI in the 6th hole?

7.      It is only time before Stephen Strasburg arrives in the Majors. And now daydream for a second about this possible rotation on July 1 as the Nats open a four game series against the Mets: Jason Marquis with a first half stuff like last year, Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered with a hard sinker circa 2007, John Lannan as his normal self and Stephen Strasburg starring as the savior he was anointed as in The Passion of the Christ before Jim Caviezel stole the role because he actually looked the part. The only question remaining is who of the five to seven qualified pitchers in the organization will be the fifth starter?

Gotta love Spring Training.

 

ESPN visits Nats Camp


bus 1.jpgWith pitchers and catchers having their first formal workout of the spring on Sunday, a special guest rolled into Viera.

 

ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” Grapefruit Express Tour paid a visit to Space Coast Stadium and analyst Tim Kurkjian was present to preview the 2010 Nationals.

 

While reporting from Nationals camp, Kurkjian visited and took some pictures with Nats Tiki, the Nationals Spring Training mascot.

 

You can learn more about Nats Tiki by going to facebook.com/natstiki and twitter.com/natstiki.

 

Countdown to Opening Day: 10 till ’10

There are six weeks (seven Mondays) until Opening Day on April 5 at Nationals Park. We are counting down the final few weeks of the offseason highlighting 10 memorable moments, jaw-dropping catches and walk-off wins. You have seen them before but you’ll want to see them again.

 

Last week we highlighted Adam Dunn’s ability to get the job done, hitting a walk-off single in the 11th inning to beat the Blue Jays 2-1.

 

This week we highlight Willie Harris hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Blue Jays the night after Dunn hit a walk-off single. Click here to view it on NatsHD or here…
20090620 Harris Walkoff HRh.mpg … to view Willie Harris hit the walk-off home run against the Blue Jays on June 20.

Nationals add Chien-Ming Wang to rotation


Chien-Ming Wang PC 2.JPGThe Nationals entered the offseason looking for two veteran pitchers to bulk up the starting rotation. Mission accomplished. The Nats have added two proven sinker ball pitchers to the top of their rotation: Jason Marquis in December and Chien-Ming Wang today. They finally made the news from earlier in the week official on a chilly afternoon in Viera at Space Coast Stadium.
The Nats introduced Chien-Ming Wang on the field instead of the small media room to accommodate the large international media contingent–at least 40 people.

The 29-year-old Wang is an extreme sinker ball pitcher and has a career 55-26 record with a 4.16 ERA in 109 games (104 starts) spanning five seasons with the Yankees. He is best known for posting consecutive 19-win seasons for the Yankees in 2006 and ’07. During the same two-year span, Wang led MLB with 38 wins and a .745 winning percentage while pacing the American League with 864 ground balls induced and a 2.9/1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.


Chien-Ming Wang PC 1.JPGWang was plagued by injuries in 2008 and ’09 and he
still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. The Nationals aren’t worried and hope he can pitch in the Majors by June 1st. They know they took a risk but the rewards could be plentiful. And like Matt Capps, if Wang didn’t struggle in 2009, he wouldn’t have been available in 2010.

Teammates such as pitchers Matt Capps, Tyler Clippard, John Lannan and Collin Balester were all in attendance. Balester gave up his uniform number, 40, to Wang and posted the following tweets on his twitter account here:

“Went to the Wang press conference and got thanked for giving up my number. I got 99 problems but Balester ain’t one hit me.”

“I am Now Number 99″

“Wang will wear #40, Balester #99. Back-story: Wang was assigned #40 by NYY. Prior to his arrival in New York, he hadn’t worn #40.”

You might think of 99 on a baseball uniform the same way you think of 65 on a wide receiver but Manny Ramirez is 99 for the Dodgers. And let’s not forget no one has kept 99 more groovy than Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn… then again Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky admirably wore 99 too.

Those four magic words…


Airal Shot of Space coast stadium.jpgThose four magic words: “Pitchers and catchers report,” can excite and entice baseball fans like nothing else. For the Nationals, those words carry more hope and promise than ever before.

 

Between the record snowfall in the Washington, DC area and (believe it or not) one of the coldest winters in recent memory in the state of Florida, those four magic words mean that fresh green grass and warm spring days are just around the corner.

 

Today marks the first practice for pitchers and catchers at the Washington Nationals Spring home in Viera, Fla. and fans are buzzing like never before.

 

From the excitement of having last year’s No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg in camp to the offseason signings of future Hall-of-Famer Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis  and former back-to-back 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

 

Look for continued updates from the first day of workouts with pitchers and catchers, as we catch up with players and fans as Spring Training officially begins.

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