February 2011

Curly W Live Welcomes Owner Mark D. Lerner

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates.

Greetings NatsTown from sunny and warm Viera, Fla., the Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals.

It would be impossible to describe the feeling you experience when you first arrive at Spring Training each February… the smell of the fresh-cut grass, the sound of a bat striking a baseball, the buzz you feel in the air as fans of all ages assemble to watch Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper driving balls over the fence during batting practice. Nothing compares to Spring Training, especially after a long, cold winter in Washington, DC.

Today, the Nationals open their Spring Training schedule with a matinee against the New York Mets. Just a quick trip down I-95 to Port St. Lucie, then we’ll get to hear the first “play ball” of the 2011 spring season. I am really looking forward to it.

For Nationals fans who weren’t able to escape to Florida to catch the opener, you’ll have the opportunity to follow along on nationals.com. Our spring broadcasts on TV and radio begin next week (speaking of radio… check nationals.com this morning for an exciting announcement that will positively impact our radio listeners beginning in 2011). Our first game on MASN is this Saturday against the New York Yankees in Tampa.

Since my wife, Judy, and I arrived in town on Saturday, I have had the opportunity to watch a few workouts and catch up with many of our players. I’ll share my initial impressions below:

* We were in town just a matter of minutes on Saturday afternoon, before we encountered three of our neighbors — Bryce Harper, Doug Slaten and Sean Burnett — at the apartment complex we will call home for the next few weeks.

Doug and Sean are two of the nicest guys in the game, and we are fortunate to have that pair of reliable southpaws in our bullpen.

Bryce also has a great personality and is mature beyond his years. I hadn’t seen him since he participated in the Florida Instructional League in October, and let me tell you… he has worked extremely hard over the last number of months to prepare for his first pro season. It looks as though he has gained significant muscle, which will surely help him as he navigates through his first professional baseball season. It is hard to believe he is just 18 years old. 

* I caught up yesterday morning with our General Manager Mike Rizzo over breakfast at the local Cracker Barrel (where else!) near Space Coast Stadium. He is very pleased with the way the first two weeks of camp have gone, noting a renewed spirit, work ethic and professionalism at workouts. And, he remarked that several of the veteran players he acquired this offseason are making an immediate impact in the clubhouse and on the field. We just have a great batch of players that Mike has imported and they seem so much more dedicated to playing the game right, working hard and enjoying themselves as a team or unit.

It does bode well for 2011…

* The first guy I run into as I pulled into the park was Stephen Strasburg. He looks terrific and it’s evident that he has been dedicated to his rehab and conditioning. He was long tossing 75 feet yesterday at practice.

* A very large crowd greeted the team at practice today. I ran into many of our fans who have come down from DC.  I love connecting with our fans, and this blog is one outlet that will afford me that opportunity. I encourage any fans that are planning a trip to Viera to catch some spring action, please stop by to say hello as we cheer on the Nats together.

*Sad news yesterday for all baseball fans,  as we heard about the passing of Hall of Famer and Dodger legend Duke Snider. The Nationals family send their deepest condolences to the Snider family.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks, as I plan to blog periodically (three-four times each week) to share my Spring Training experiences and thoughts with our dedicated fans in NatsTown.

Day 13 in Viera: Grapefruit League Opener Eve

Grapefruit League Opening Day Eve here on the Space Coast.

My name is John Dever and I’m the Baseball PR contact for your Nationals. To write this blog, I get lots of guidance and observations from Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, my PR confidants, so I thank them for their contributions.

Lots happening… so let’s get started.

* Today’s high will reach 86 degrees. Almost toasty, yes, but comfortable thanks to a gentle breeze. So, the perfect spring continues. Last year, it may not have hit 70 degrees during the February workouts. This year, at least since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 15, the temps have not dipped below 70, with temps comfortably in the high 70s during the late-morning workouts.

* Jim Riggleman brought up a good point this morning during his session with the assembled media. This spring’s perfect weather to date has allowed the Nationals to get everything that they needed in. Every drill that Jim Riggleman and Spring Training Coordinator Bobby Henley scheduled went off without a hitch. Every one. That NEVER happens. And this should give the Nationals a sense of comfort heading into the Grapefruit League schedule, which begins tomorrow. The team is ready. [VIDEO: More Riggleman]

* Rick Ankiel is an interesting guy. Most know his story. A stud-pitcher-turned-outfielder who signed with the Nationals in December without a guaranteed starting spot. Well, one of the drawing cards for Ankiel was likely his preexisting relationship with Nationals hitting guru Rick Eckstein. After retiring as a pitcher, Ankiel immediately jumped back into St. Louis’ Minor League system in the hopes of becoming an outfielder. Ankiel and Eckstein worked together in Triple-A Memphis in 2008, things “clicked” and the results were phenomenal. Ankiel hit 32 home runs in 102 Pacific Coast League games before being summoned by the Cardinals on August 9, 2008. The hot streak did not end there, as Ankiel hit 11 more bombs in 43 games with the Cardinals. In fact, that summer, Ankiel’s 43 homers led the Cardinals entire organization, as Albert Pujols only (only?) hit 37. So, here’s hoping things “click” again for Ankiel and Eckstein and that they can regain their momentum from the summer of 2008.


91010-202 danny espinosa.jpg* We’ve “talked” a lot about Danny Espinosa’s conversion from shortstop to second base. Which begs the question: who made a similar conversion early in their career? The two best-case scenarios for Nationals fans to salivate over are Alfonso Soriano (a shortstop in the Yankees’ organization, converted to second base in 2001) and Brandon Phillips (a shortstop in the Expos’ organization, converted to second base in 2003). Now, both are All-Stars and Espinosa is not yet at that level, but it does go to show that this type of position change has occurred before and the results have been favorable both offensively and defensively (especially in the case of Phillips).

* With Davey Johnson in camp as an advisor to Mike Rizzo, it’s hard to believe that this is the 25th Anniversary of the iconic 1986 Mets. Where has the time gone. Well, actually, Nationals fans and Beltway baseball junkies likely best remember Davey for his playing days and later his successful managerial stint with the Orioles.

* Today’s “Four Questions” victim will be first baseman Chris Marrero, but before we channel our inner-Marrero, let’s take a look at his career. Marrero, as most know, was the Nationals’ first-rounder in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. His assent through Washington’s system has not been as rapid as some outsiders would like, but it has been steady. He has averaged a long ball every 29.6 at-bats in five seasons as a pro. That is not a number to sneeze at. Yes, the level is dramatically different, but here are three National Leaguers who averaged a homer every 29-or-so at-bats last season: Jason Heyward (28.9), Justin Upton (29.1) and Casey Blake (29.9). All three are very good ballplayers, and in the case of Heyward and Upton, two of the great young players in the game. Marrero, who had Lasik surgery in the offseason, has immense power and his career is trending in the right direction. Alright, back to “Four Questions”…

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Marlins, Frank Thomas (wonder if he knows that Mike Rizzo signed Big Frank?)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Deal or No Deal (he attended a taping of this show a few years back)

Favorite Superhero?: Spider Man (might help him with some errant throws at first base)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: None of the above. My favorite show is re-runs of “Vegas” on TNT (with all of the bad shows on network TV, why was this show canceled. Seriously perplexing).

OK, that’s a wrap for today. Tomorrow, look for Mark Lerner to jump into the blogging fray as the Nationals travel to St. Lucie to take on the Mets. He will be your primary blogger going forward, but I may jump back in here and there. Thanks for your interest in the Nationals and see you at the ballpark. Oh, you can also follow us on Twitter (@NationalsPR).

Day 11 in Viera: Lights, Camera…Photo Day!

Anxious. Anticipation. Cannot. Wait. For. Monday. Grapefruit. League. Opener.

Just two more workouts. Just two more bunt drills. Just two more PFPs (pitchers fielding practices). Just two more pitchers cover first base drills.

It will be darn nice to …

* Hear “play ball” instead of Bobby Henley yelling “rotate.”

* To see a foul ball fly into the stands and not into the net on a BP cage.

* To see a pitcher field a comebacker instead of it rattling off a protective “L” screen.

* To hear the rattle of cleats on dirt or concrete instead of running shoes on grass.

* To taste a ballpark hot dog instead of tuna fish from the clubhouse.

When was the last time on a Friday afternoon I was dreaming about Monday?  I am willing to bet that I am not the only Nationals fan doing so this afternoon.

Okay, now that I have waxed poetic about Monday, let’s fill you in about today’s festivities…

* Today was our annual Photo Day, which is everyone’s favorite day in/around baseball (sarcasm alert, this is NOT TRUE). 75 Nationals (60 players, 15 or so managers, coaches, instructors) took part. Along the way, they provided footage or photos to MASN, MLB, the Nationals (NatsHD), Baseball America, AP, Getty Images, The Washington Post, MLB.com (nationals.com), CBS Sports, Topps and one other baseball card company to be named later. MASN takes the honor for most pyrotechnics of any media outlet – OK, so they were the only ones with any pyrotechnics, but their smoke machine was met with a number of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the guys as they filmed their various segments.

 Every player spent about 30 minutes doing the annual circuit, which began at 7:20 a.m. and wrapped up at 9:31 a.m.

* Twitter pic of the day from Bill Gluvna @NationalsPR: people seemed to get a kick out of this shot. How tall is Ross Detwiler? When he is healthy, here is guessing the downward tilt on his slider is something fierce to contend with.

Here are a few more shots from Photo Day, but be sure to follow @NationalsPR and @Teddy26Nats for full coverage from the morning, and more around the clock coverage from Viera. 


Werth_photoday.JPG


Strasburg_photoday.JPG


Morse_photoday.JPG

* In Monday’s aforementioned Grapefruit League opener, Chad Gaudin gets the starting nod. From there, look for Brian Broderick, Adam Carr, Todd Coffey, Shairon Martis, Doug Slaten, Craig Stammen, Josh Wilkie and Tim Wood to pitch. On the position player side, look for Jesus Flores, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and Nyjer Morgan to be on the bus to St. Lucie. You may be wondering about that youngster, what is his name? … Bryce Harper? Yes, he will also make the trip and Jim Riggleman said he hopes to get him an at-bat.

* I am not going to pontificate on this, but I will tell you that Stephen Strasburg is working VERY hard on his conditioning and strength while coming back from last season’s Tommy John surgery. He simply has to be in the best shape of his life.

* Word around camp today was that Yunesky Maya looked very good while throwing live BP. I also heard Maya speak a bit of English, as he told me “you’re welcome” after I thanked him for his participation in Photo Day. Hey, that’s progress. Also noticed that Josh Wilkie can speak (nearly) fluent Spanish, which is something that Latin players appreciate. I don’t know if Wilkie honed his Spanish skills during his winter ball stint in Venezuela, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. Wilkie is an impressive well-rounded person.

* Very nice day in Viera today. Mostly sunny. Lots of beautiful clouds. Very windy, with gusts around 30 mph. But it was 80 or so and very comfortable.

We are going to cut today’s blog a tad short, but keep an eye on us this weekend. Special thanks to Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna for their consistent contributions. Reminder, look for Mark Lerner to blog right here at Curly “W” Live starting on Mon., Feb. 28.

Day 10 in Viera: 2011 MASN Commercials

Another hot one in Viera today. Temps in the low 80s. Unending sun. I wonder how hot things are for the teams stationed in South Florida, like the Marlins, Cardinals, Red Sox and Twins? My guess is that it is pretty steamy.

Observations from around Space Coast Stadium and the Nationals Training Complex:

* Matt Stairs is a marvel.  His short, compact, yet powerful stroke is tailor made for a pinch hitter. But even beyond his swing, he has the main prerequisite that almost all the great pinch-hitters share: he is a left-handed hitter. Since 1974, only 10 players have amassed 100+ pinch hits. Nine of those 10 are left-handed batters, with the exception being Jose Morales (120 PH from 1974-84). Why is it tough to find a really good right-handed pinch hitter? Likely because most relief pitchers are right-handed, so manager’s are less apt to “waste” a roster spot on a guy to match up against southpaw relievers. Interesting stuff when you think about it.  

* In the dying days of the offseason, some old files from RFK were unearthed from a storage area in/around Nationals Park. One of the boxes contained a bunch of old Expos files, scorebooks and newspaper clippings. Most were from the late 80s and early 90s. Upon glancing through them, we found Matt Stairs’ first big league contract, which was dated March 5, 1992. His salary for the season was $11,000. We showed him the contract today and he got a kick out of it. Stairs’ reply was “11-grand. Wow. This is really cool.”

* Side story–we arranged for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to pick up the box of the old Expos’ clippings. They were very excited to see their new bounty.

* MASN is in town today shooting a series of new commercials for the 2011 season. The Nationals’ new uniforms (video) may have had a hand in prompting the new video shoots. I know MASN has put a lot of time and energy into these new commercials, as there are over 100 folks on the crew.

* Welcome to Viera RHP Elvin Ramirez, who arrived today from the Dominican Republic after experiencing some visa issues. There is great hope that Elvin will be joined by RHP Henry Rodriguez tomorrow. Rodriguez was one of two players acquired from the A’s in exchange for OF Josh Willingham. Rodriguez’s fastball has been known to hit triple digits, so we are all anxious to see his power on display.

* In Clearwater, Fla. today, the Phillies played the first “game” of the Grapefruit League season as they squared off against the Florida State Seminoles. If the Phillies win, do they clinch the ACC Championship? Anyhow, it is good to know that there are nine innings being played somewhere nearby. Can you tell we are anxious for Monday’s opener at the Mets.

* FYI, Jim Riggleman told the media here today that he will try to get Bryce Harper an at-bat in Monday’s opener.

* Book Club: Stephen Strasburg is currently reading Dirk Hayhurst’s “The Bullpen Gospels.” He is enjoying it. You can read more about the book here.

* Let’s close with our “4 Questions” segment. Today’s victim was outfielder Laynce Nix:

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Rangers, Don Mattingly (Donnie Ballgame was pretty popular, huh? Him and Griffey Jr.)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: None (not a fan!)

Favorite Superhero?: Batman (another popular answer)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: I am going off the grid. Golf Channel. I enjoy “Lessons with the Pros.” (Nix is a five to seven handicap, so he can swing it a little)

Off to watch the Space Shuttle launch. See you all tomorrow. And remember to follow us on twitter @NationalsPR.

Day 9 in Viera: Clippard, Stairs Face Off in Live BP

Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us again. I must say, I am enjoying the blogging experience. Very therapeutic. It’s helping to structure my day and, somehow, it is allows me to whittle off the days until our Grapefruit League opener – only five more days to go. Is it Monday, Feb. 28 yet?

Speaking of next Monday, let’s remember that Mark Lerner will make his 2011 blogging debut that afternoon right here at Curly “W” Live. So don’t stray too far.

Here is what we saw today on campus …

* The umpires met with Nationals players. Speaking on behalf of the umps today was umpire supervisor Rich Rieker. The meeting took about an hour. Topics generally include the rules and gentle reminders. In the past, they’ve addressed uniform regulations/etiquette. As far as I know, no one was ejected from the meeting, so that is a step in the wrong direction.

* Also on hand today was a group from the MLB Players Association. They were in Viera to make heads roll. Well, sort of. The MLBPA has a hand in certain video games that they sanction. What they came to capture today was head scans of some of our young players. The head scan took between 5-10 minutes and captured such features as profile, facial hair, head size and hair. I am not a big “gamer,” but I have seen some of the games and the players’ likenesses are lifelike. Let’s just say that if Bryce Harper does by chance debut with the Nationals in 2011, you will see Harper’s video-game likeness with a grown-in faux-hawk.

* Look for excellent Strasburg and Harper interviews tonight on FOX 5 and NBC 4, as Dave Feldman and Dan Helle were in town for their respective stations. Kudos should also go out to CSN Washington, which allocated funds and resources to Kelli Johnson and her photog Mitch to spend eight days in our camp. We hope you have enjoyed their coverage of the Nationals.

* Live BP story of the day… Matt Stairs stepped into the cage facing Tyler Clippard. No, “Peaches” could not be heard, but upon fouling off Clippard’s initial offering, Stairs stepped out of the batter’s box and disclosed, “that was the first time I have made contact against [Clippard] in four years.” Everyone had a good laugh. Then upon retreating back to the office, we looked up the Clippard-Stairs matchup. The two have squared off three times, with Stairs going 1-for-3 with a single and a strikeout. Yes, there was some hyperbole in Stairs’ declaration, but that provides us a glimpse of what goes on in these types of settings. Humor can trump fact. And that is okay. That is how team chemistry is born.

* On the Minor League side, Bob Boone and Doug Harris held their first meeting of the spring today with all of their coordinators, instructors, administrators, managers and coaches. From my seat, these are baseball’s true vanguards. Folks, the gentlemen do what they do with little, if any, fanfare. Think about it. Their places of work and job requirements call for summers in small towns, long bus rides, bad fast food, cheap motels and exposure to teenagers, sometimes 30 at a time! Months at a time away from their families. Sure, ardent baseball fans know that there is a certain romance that goes with Minor League baseball. But there is little fanfare and adulation that goes with these positions. Just a burning passion for the game, to make young players better and to be part of the machine that is a Big League ballclub.

* Hairdo alert: sources indicate Jayson Werth may be cutting his hair in the coming days. We shall see how this plays out.

* This is Sr. Assistant of Player Development Pat Corrales’ 53rd Spring Training. Is there a more remarkable factoid from our camp than that?

* Just got word that Nationals radio voice Charlie Slowes will be in Viera this weekend. Charlie’s arrival always spices things up for us.

* Let’s close with our “4 Questions” segment. Today’s victim was right-handed reliever Adam Carr:

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Mariners, Ken Griffey Jr. (Griffey was pretty popular, huh?)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Family Feud (Richard Dawson is the man!)

Favorite Superhero?: Superman (this answer did not roll off his tongue)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: Discovery Channel. Has enjoyed many episodes of Man vs. Wild.

* Great weather today, high was around 76 or so. More picture-perfect weather tomorrow. More to come, so be sure to visit again.

* Special thanks, as always to Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna. For those interested in perhaps more timely updates from Viera, please follow us on Twitter (@NationalsPR).

* Oh, almost forgot, we will very much look forward to the 39th and final flight of space shuttle Discovery tomorrow afternoon. Read more about that here:

Day 8 in Viera: Position Players Join the Fray

Busiest day yet at Nationals camp as position players today
joined the fray.

 

* Have you ever wanted to work in baseball? If yes, let me
give you a bit of advice. If anyone ever offers you the job of coordinating a
Spring Training camp, say “no way” and run in the opposite direction. How tough
is that gig? I have heard the two toughest jobs in the game are being the
Rockies’ pitching coach before the advent of the baseball humidor and being a
Spring Training coordinator. That’s why today I would like to give kudos to
Bobby Henley, who doubles as our Minor League Field Coordinator. Henley is a
heck of a guy with a deep-rooted passion for the game of baseball and how it
should be played. If you or your place of business ever needs of motivator,
this is your guy. I have heard him speak to the young Instructional Leaguers
and by the time he was finished, I was ready to run through the wall and I am
just the PR guy. Henley has taken the unenviable task of plotting, planning and
orchestrating the movements from drill to drill. He has to enact the vision
that Jim Riggleman lays out for these two weeks leading into games. Henley does
it well and he is a pleasure to deal with. But remember, you do NOT want his
job.

 

* Crazy but true fact of the week… this is Livan Hernandez’s
10th Spring Camp in Viera, Fla. Yes, 10! Here’s a list of the springs that
Hernandez spent in Viera and with what teams: Marlins (1996, ’97, ’98, ’99),
Expos (2003, ’04), Nationals (2005, ’06, ’10 and ’11). Is he eligible to run
for Mayor?

 

* With an abundance of young players trying to make their
mark and earn a coveted roster spot, one player that the next generation
Nationals can draw inspiration from is Chad Gaudin. Gaudin was drafted in June
2001 by Tampa Bay and debuted with the (then) Devil Rays just 26 months later.
What’s the big deal you ask? Well, Chad was a 34
th-round draft pick out
of Crescent High in Metairie, La. So, he debuted in the Big Leagues, as an
unheralded 34
th-rounder, at the age of 20. That
is a rare, rare story.

 

* Interesting fundamental drill of the day: 3B coach Bo
Porter is the Nationals’ primary outfield instructor. He had Jayson Werth,
Nyjer Morgan, Bryce Harper and others chasing long fly balls today while
carrying a football! I missed speaking to Porter after the workout, but I think
the drill’s objective is to keep an outfielder’s core as motionless as possible
while pursuing those long fly balls. Porter’s a fantastic instructor and a
great addition to Jim Riggleman’s staff. He definitely knows football too. He
was a two-sport (baseball, football) athlete at the University of Iowa, where
he was Hayden Fry’s starting cornerback in the 1992 Rose Bowl.

 

* Fans on hand today also spied the first live batting
practice of the spring. Yes, pitchers actually threw to hitters. Most hitters
do a bunch of watching, in fact, Jayson Werth indicated he may not have swung
at all. Conversely, Matt Stairs swung and went deep during his live BP.

 

Storen_CWL_022211.jpg

* Book Club: Stanford
alum Drew Storen is currently reading “
Scorecasting,” which is written by University of Chicago financial economist Tobias Moskowitz
and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim. Together, they attempt to
unearth “the hidden forces that shape how basketball, baseball, football, and
hockey games are played, won and lost.” Sounds like an intriguing read.

 

* Let’s close with our “4 Questions” segment. Today’s victim
was pitcher Tom Gorzelanny:

 

Favorite Team/Player
as a Youth?:

White Sox, Ken Griffey Jr. (Huh? He played for the Cubs last year, wonder how
that little nugget was received in the Windy City
)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Wheel of Fortune (who doesn’t love
Vanna?
)

Favorite Superhero?: Batman (interesting answer from a pitcher, don’t you think?)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite
show)?:

None of the above. I am much more likely to be checking The History Channel and
looking for a show on the government (CIA, Secret Service, etc.) or war
history.

 

* Again, I’d like to acknowledge the multiple contributions
of my PR confidants, Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna. And as a reminder, we are
anxiously awaiting the return of Mark Lerner to the blogging airwaves. Look for
Mark to reemerge on Mon., Feb. 28.

 

We’ll be back tomorrow with more. Cannot wait.

Day 7 in Viera: Let’s Get Physicals!

Yep,
I am now a week into a professional blogging career. It has been fun and find
that my mind rarely shuts down. Let’s see what we can share from today’s
festivities from the Nationals Training Complex in Viera, Fla. As you may
remember, today was the final day where only pitchers and catchers engaged in
formal workouts.

*
Long before the baseball day got started, Nationals position players had their
2011 physicals. Everyone reading this blog should get an annual physical, but
let me tell you that the physical you are used to is but a distant cousin of
the physical that the players had to partake in. No one was spared. During an
approximately 90-minute visit, eye charts were shared, reflexes were tested,
EKGs administered, x-rays were revealed and overbites examined. All in the name
of creating a baseline with which the Nationals’ outstanding athletic training
staff can use as the season progresses. Of course, we are all hoping for an
injury-free 2011 campaign, but realistically we know it won’t be. That is why
the data gathered today will help us monitor, treat and expose our players to
the finest medical practices available.

*
Say hello to Bryce Harper. Yes, #34 showed up today and joined his
position-player brethren for the last informal batting practice session of the
spring. Harper’s arrival created an instant buzz among the assembled media
(look for footage on either CSN Washington or WJLA-7 tonight) and hundreds of
fans in attendance, including tons of kids out of school for Presidents Day. Harper
handled himself very well. He shagged flies in right field and shared the
batting cage with 1B Chris Marrero and INF Brian Bixler. Harper will likely be
compared to Stephen Strasburg for a long time. But one of the main differences
is that we don’t have to wait five more days for Harper to reemerge. He’ll jump
in that same cage tomorrow and continue to hone his hitting craft, which is
arguably the toughest skill in sport to master.

*
Interesting drill of the day: the Nationals practiced the wild pitch with a
runner on third base. Huh? Nationals pitchers feigned their pitching deliveries
then charged hard toward home plate. While in full sprint, the pitcher called
out either “3,” “1,”  or “4” to the catcher (1B Coach Dan Radison in this
instance). This verbal cue tells the catcher which side of the plate the pitch
in the dirt scooted off to. “1” is the first base side. “3” is the third base
side. “4” is directly behind the plate. The pitchers were then instructed on
how to break down/decelerate during their approach to the plate and not expose
themselves to injury while fielding the throw (from Radison) and applying the
tag. All in all, not terribly exciting. But this drill might just garner an
extra out or two this season, and that could be the difference between a 3-2
win and a 4-3 setback. You just never know.

*
We enjoyed getting to know Cole Kimball yesterday. Well, today was his third
bullpen session of the spring. Let’s just say that Kimball’s “mitt pop” is tops
on the team. Kimball is from New Jersey, but I would describe him as “country
strong.” And he uses everything he has when on the mound. But my guess is that
when he does arrive at Nationals Park, the fans in the Lexus Presidents Club
will know when he has entered the game.

*
Let’s close with our “4 Questions” segment. Today’s victim was catcher Derek
Norris:

Favorite
Team/Player as a Youth?:
Royals, George Brett (I suspect this is the answer of
any Royals fan from Kansas)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: The Price is Right (I am glad Derek offered up
an old-school game show)

Favorite Superhero?: Superman (I should have asked him Christopher Reeves or
Dean Cain)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite
show)?:
Food Network. I have to go with Cupcake Wars.

*
Special thanks to Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna for their help today. Oh, and the
weather was again STRONG today. Highs in the low 80s with a slightly stronger
breeze than we’ve seen to date. We were VERY comfortable. Come join us. You are
always welcome.

Day 6 in Viera: A Closer Look at the 2011 Outfield

A
brief preface: my name is John Dever and I have the pleasure of being the PR
Director for your Nationals. With the assistance of Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna,
here are a few vignettes and observations gathered from around camp today:

* Many folks have drawn parallels between the careers of Jayson Werth and
Michael Morse. Both are listed as 6-foot-5 and possess wiry strength that is
not a given with long-armed players. How does the 29-year-old Morse stay fit?
He trains for the NFL Combine. Almost literally. He trains at the Bommarito
Performance Systems facility in Miami with a bunch of Miami Hurricane NFL draft
prospects. Lots of running, lots of lifting. Those of you who have stood next
to Morse know that he could pass as an outside linebacker or tight end. He
might weigh 25 pounds less than those guys, but my guess is that he did not
embarrass himself in those workouts.

* We wrote yesterday about the Nationals’ three-shortstop defense (Desmond,
Espinosa and Zimmerman all have spent considerable portions of their playing
career playing shortstop). Well, let’s expand on the notion, but in the
outfield. There is a very good chance that you will see a 3-center fielder
alignment this summer in DC. Nyjer Morgan is a center fielder last time I
checked. In right field, we have Jayson Werth, who many believe could do a fine
job patrolling CF on a daily basis, if given the opportunity. Meanwhile, Roger
Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse are vying for playing time in left
field. Bernadina and Ankiel have extensive experience in center field. So the underlying
point is, the potential of an Ankiel/Bernadina-Morgan-Werth alignment in the
outfield will severely shrink the gaps and make our pitching staff that much
better. Oh, and we still have a 13-time Gold Glover behind the plate. If you
like defense, I have a feeling we have just what you are looking for.

* Congrats to Chien-Ming Wang, who ran the mile in 6:58, tops among 28 pitchers
to be timed this week. Wang, who stands 6-foot-4, is a big guy, so it is pretty
impressive that he was able to turn in a sub-seven-minute mile. Other
noteworthy times turned in came from Cole Kimball (6:59), Jason Marquis (7:00),
Josh Wilke (7:07), Adam Carr (7:26)  and John Lannan (7:30). By the way,
in my estimation, these guys ran a tad further than a mile, as they did four
laps around the warning track of a Big League field. There is ample foul
territory too. I have always thought that a lap around the average Big League
field is a bit longer than a run around a 1/4-mile track.

* Transaction News today: RHP Luis Atilano cleared waivers and was assigned
outright to Triple-A Syracuse. Atilano will now report immediately to the
Nationals’ Big League camp.

* I asked Stephen Strasburg what he did with the ball from his lone hit last
season, a June 23 single off the Royals’ Brian Banister. The back story was not
legendary, he still has the ball at his house, but Strasburg did perk up a bit
and smile at the memory. There was irony in the hit’s location too, as it was a
well-hit grounder through the 5.5 hole, which is primarily where Tony Gwynn
made a living and earned a spot in Cooperstown. Gwynn was of course Strasburg’s
head coach at San Diego State.

* Danny Espinosa had his hook of hamate bone removed from his right hand around
Thanksgiving. Don’t look for this injury to hinder Espinosa, who says his grip
strength in the right hand is already stronger than it was last season, when he
was one of three Minor Leaguers to reach the 20-homer, 20-stolen base plateau.
I can assure you that Espinosa would pass any “handshake” test. So, don’t be
worried about his hamate bone affecting his offense in 2011 or beyond.

* Let’s launch a new feature called Four Questions with _______. Our intent
here is to introduce you to a player you might not know too much about. So,
Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan will likely be spared. Today’s initial victim subject is
RHP Cole Kimball (who is the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect per Baseball America
entering the 2011 season).

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Yankees, Don Mattingly
Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Favorite Superhero?: Spider-Man
Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite
show)?:
None. I do watch the Discovery Channel a lot. Favorite show is “Deadliest
Catch.”

* LOTS of fog this morning, but it burned off around 9 a.m. and it set the
stage for another beautiful day. According to weather.com,
here are the highs we can expect this week (Mon-80, Tue-77, Wed-72, Thu-75,
Fri-76, Sat-76, Sun-77). No rain between now and Thursday! If you are not here,
you are missing out. Enough said.

Day 5 in Viera: Defensive Versatility a Key in 2011

Happy
weekend to everyone, well except to the Nationals’ players and coaches. As we
all know, weekends don’t exist in baseball, so our pitchers and catchers were
back at it this morning under beautiful sunny skies in Viera. The high is
supposed to be 74 today. Very little wind, which is unusual for this area. I
know I am a bit redundant with my weather comments, but I hope everyone
understands that this has been the best February weather I have ever
experienced down here. It has been perfect. I am also hoping that this entices
all our fans from in/around DC to cut their winters short and visit us in the
Grapefruit League for a week or so. You won’t regret it.

Once
again, my name is John Dever and I am the PR Director for your Nationals. I
have a pair of fine gentlemen, Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, that I work closely
with and we are sharing some of our top Nationals-centric observations with you
in hopes of revving up your engines for the upcoming season. On Mon., Feb. 28,
we will pass the blogging baton to Mark Lerner, who will share his unique
thoughts about the Nationals’ 2011 Grapefruit League efforts.

Here
are some of our Saturday-morning observations:

*
New arrivals today included Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Chris Marrero. Hairston is
going to be interesting to watch. This guy can play everywhere at anytime. In
the midst of a pennant race, Hairston served as the Padres’ regular shortstop
for much of the second half of 2010 as Everth Cabrera dealt with injuries. From
what I have gathered, and what O’s fans might recollect, Hairston’s best
position is second base. But don’t be shocked to see him playing a bit of
center field too. Hairston is going to be a very valuable player for Jim
Riggleman. I think this was one of Mike Rizzo’s most underrated signings of the
offseason.

*
Speaking of shortstop, it appears like Jim Riggleman might be using the
3-shortstop defensive alignment quite a bit this summer. What? Well, think
about it. First of all, Ian Desmond is a young shortstop. And a darn good one.
Then you have his pivoting partner, Danny Espinosa, the latest in a long line
of Long Beach State shortstops (Crosby, Tulowitzki, Longoria). Yes, he’ll be
playing second base this season in Washington, but he had only played shortstop
as a pro until being summoned to Syracuse last summer. And then we have this
guy named Ryan Zimmerman. You may have heard of him. Zimmerman played quite a
bit of shortstop at UVA before being drafted fourth overall in 2005. The
established presence of Mark Reynolds at UVA forced Zimmerman, then a freshman
(or a First Year as they like to say in Charlottesville), to shift over. And
let’s remember, Zimmerman has played a part in a handful of 4-5-3 or 6-5-3 GDPs
during his Big League career. He knows his way around the second-base bag. So,
keep Adam LaRoche and the 3-shortstop defense in the back of your minds this
summer at Nationals Park.

*
You might be surprised as to who the biggest NBA fan is among Nationals. How
long would it take you to guess Livan Hernandez? True story. Hernandez watches
games on ESPN, TBS and TNT all the time. This guy knows what is happening in
the Association. He plans to get up to an Orlando Magic game in the coming
weeks. But tonight, Hernandez is jacked about the dunk contest. He is hardly
the only one excited to see Blake Griffin tonight, but let’s remember that
JaVale McGee will represent the Wizards too. Here’s hoping McGee can do some
damage and represent The District.

*
Pudge Rodriguez is suddenly very into MLB’s First-Year Player Draft, and it has
nothing to do with the impending arrival of Bryce Harper to camp. Rather, Pudge
is interested to see how his son Ivan Dereck fares, as he is in his
draft-eligible season. Ivan Dereck is a center fielder and he is a wiry-strong
6-foot-2. He also closes games for Monsignor Pace (FL) High in Miami
Gardens (same HS from which Chris Marrero was drafted). Pudge says Ivan Dereck
can throw 90-92 mph, but his bat is too good to waste, so he sees him as a
center fielder. Ivan Dereck will be one to watch as we get into early June.

*
Book Club Note of the Day: DC-resident Josh Wilkie, the pride of George
Washington University, really enjoyed reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett,
during the offseason. You can read more about The Help here.
Josh recently started reading Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton (no relation to
the former Nationals lefthander). Here is Stanton’s website.

We’ll be back at it tomorrow afternoon as we watch the final position
players trickle in. Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Day 4 in Viera: Adam LaRoche Arrives

Hello everyone. We were glad to hear that things warmed up in/around DC today, someone said it got above 60 degrees. Well, it hit 83 today at the complex. Sunblock is mandatory, so if you come visit, please don’t forget your SPF 50.

My name is John Dever and I am your guest blogger for the next week or so. I am the PR Director for the Nationals and I will be drawing on the eyes and ears of Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna. Mike and Bill have been around for many years and have forged hundreds of relationships and watched thousands of ballgames. Collectively, the three of us are holding down the fort for Mark Lerner, who will inherit this blog on Monday, February 28. Mark is looking forward to resuming the blog experience he began during the 2010 Winter Meetings.

Here are some of our observations from today …

*Every morning, 31-32 pitchers begin their workout with stretching and a game of simple catch. One of the pairings the last two days has been Livan Hernandez and Yunesky Maya. Obviously most know that both are from Cuba, and some of our most ardent fans may have read that Maya was a bat boy on Hernandez’s Cuban Industrial League team back in the early 90’s. So they know each other well. What caught my eye today was that they begin their throwing sessions with one another by throwing a “regulation” softball for the first 10-15 tosses. Their theory is that this exercise helps them gain better command of the baseball when they do switch over. Knowing Hernandez’s well-established pinpoint control, it is hard to argue with the notion.

*Today we saw Maya, John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Chad Gaudin and Sean Burnett, among others, debut with their bullpen sessions. Let’s just say, I cannot wait to see Maya in games next month.


Adam LaRoche introduced at Nats Park.JPG*Big arrival today among position players as Adam LaRoche rolled in with his nine-year-old son, Drake. LaRoche jumped right into the cage with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Rick Ankiel, Laynce Nix and Nyjer Morgan. LaRoche looked refreshed and ready to go. Meanwhile, Drake will likely be hosting his own talk show within two to three years. He had a lot of people laughing all afternoon around the complex. He has quite the personality.

*When contemplating the future of Wilson Ramos, remember who he has been learning under. Pudge Rodriguez and Joe Mauer. Wilson told Mike Gazda today that he has had and continues to have a strong relationship with Mauer, and that his interaction with Pudge late last season was fantastic. Both players shared their experiences and knowledge freely and their encouragement toward Ramos did not go unnoticed. Who wants to bet that someday down the line Ramos will have a similar relationship with a young up-and-coming catcher? What comes around will undoubtedly go around.

*Little known fact: Sean Burnett is actually right-handed. Yes. That is no misprint. Sean does EVERYTHING (eat, drive, write) right-handed except pitch, bat and golf. Per Burnett, his theory is that he mimicked his left-handed father, Rich Burnett, his entire childhood. One of the interesting aspects of this discussion was that Sean says he can’t throw a football left-handed at all. He says he likely could not throw a football 10 feet. But he can hurl a football pretty well from the right side in case you were wondering.

*Book Club Note of the Day: Ross Detwiler is currently reading “When Men Win Glory,” the Pat Tillman story written by Jon Krakauer. Maybe we’ll have him file a book report for us next week.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more on the eve of the report date for position players.

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