March 2012

A National Honor

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Few professional sports teams are as involved with their communities as the Washington Nationals are with the U.S. Military. That commitment to our nation’s armed forces extends beyond the In-Game Military salute at each home game, also including the Me and a Friend Program, the Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team and team visits to military hospitals.

On Thursday night, the USO of Metropolitan Washington (USO-Metro) recognized the club for its efforts with a very special award at its 30th Annual Awards Dinner. The event – which featured a black tie dress code for civilians and full formal dress for all military members – was held at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City in Arlington, and featured high-ranking officials from both the military and the private sector. More than 500 guests in all packed the sold-out gala, which helped raise more than $630,000 for USO-Metro.

Mark D. Lerner accepts the Legacy of Hope Award from Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Jay R. Vargas, U.S. Marine Corps.

The Nationals were well represented at this special event, which also marked the 150th anniversary of the Medal of Honor. Screech and the Racing Presidents were present, and each place setting featured a baseball with the date of the gala as well as both the USO logo and the familiar Curly W. The Lerner family was in attendance, not only to commemorate the occasion but also to accept the Bob Hope Legacy Award, named after the legendary entertainer for all he did for America’s military.

Nationals Principal Owner and Vice Chairman Mark D. Lerner accepted the award on behalf of both the Lerner family and the entire Nationals organization. He shared the following words of gratitude with those in attendance upon receiving the honor:

Thank you everyone. On behalf of the Washington Nationals organization and the entire Lerner family, I’d like to thank the USO of Metropolitan Washington for recognizing our team with this year’s Legacy of Hope Award. 

My parents Annette and Ted Lerner grew up in the D.C. area, and my sisters Marla Tanenbaum and Debra Cohen and I were raised here. It’s impossible to live here and not be aware of the sizeable contributions made by our military members and their families. Few of us can ever comprehend how much each service-member – as well as their wives, husbands, children and parents – sacrifice in order to serve our country.

As the stewards of the national pastime in the Nation’s Capital, we believe that making a difference in the lives of the men and women who fight for our country is one of the most fulfilling things we can do, and we are always looking for new ways to pay tribute and support them and their families. 

Bob Hope’s generosity and dedication was legendary. I’m pleased that the Nationals can – in whatever small way – continue his tradition and hopefully inspire future generations to support our service men and women.

I am humbled to be among so many Medal of Honor recipients and their families here tonight – and, on behalf of my family and the Washington Nationals, I want to thank you once again for your service.

Down on the Farm: Michael Taylor

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When the Nationals entered camp in Viera this spring, there were few positions on the field that were yet to be decided. In fact, one could argue that the only truly open position was in center field. Sure, there has been discussion over the last rotation and bullpen spots, as there is with most every team every year, but center field seemed to be the one position for which fans and media-types alike couldn’t arrive at a definitive answer. Needless to say, though, it will not remain a question mark in the long term. In fact, with the recent assignment of Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse with the specific task of playing in the middle of the outfield, the center field position might now be the deepest in the Nationals farm system. And whether Harper sticks in center or eventually shifts back to a corner outfield spot may depend less on him and more on another player many are talking about in the Nationals chain: Michael Taylor.

That may seem like an overstatement for a young man who has never played above Low-A and who won’t turn 21 until next Monday. But he has impressed enough both inside the organization and out to be placed fourth in Washington’s system in MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings.

While Taylor’s career slash line through his first two seasons is just .240/.301/.400, that hides the progress he made in the second half of last year at Low-A Hagerstown, where he batted .291/.351/.498 after the break. At 6’2” and just 190 pounds, he is still quite slender, but has a projectable frame that coaches believe will fill out over the next few years, bringing more power along with it. If Taylor’s offense plays out according to plan, he could possess the full regiment of tools at one of the premiere defensive positions in the game.

Michael Taylor has impressed since his move to center field.

Taylor was drafted as a shortstop, but the Nationals saw an athlete with great instincts and a solid arm that they believed could handle the premiere outfield defensive slot. Ironically, it was the defensive move that may have helped unlock Taylor’s offensive potential and allowed him to become the complete player the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in the sixth round out of Ft. Lauderdale’s Westminster Academy in 2009.

“The move to the outfield freed him up a great deal offensively,” explains Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development. “He’s a gifted defender, in part because of his athleticism, but he’s very instinctive as well. Physically, the sky is the limit for him.”

It is hard to imagine, though, that anyone saw that he would take to it as well as he has. Tony Tarasco, Washington’s Minor League hitting coordinator, saw him come to life in the instructional league last fall.

“I watched him go gap-to-gap his first day out there,” recalls Tarasco. “Of course his playing at shortstop helped him when he went to the outfield, because he could get rid of the ball quicker than a lot of other players. And he’s got a cannon arm, but he’s precise. He doesn’t miss the relay man often.”

Tarasco, who was has been very impressed with what he’s seen out of Taylor in his short time in the system, thinks that the change may have even occurred slightly earlier than when Harris saw it come about. He cites a change in attitude as a key factor in the young player’s development.

“He spent some time with Bob Boone in the cage,” recounts Tarasco. “Mike has always been a shy, quiet kid. He was so respectful that it made him almost timid. I think he left Boony with a little bit of aggression.”

Taylor himself recognizes that whatever his adjustments were, they required some work both with his physical and psychological approach. He is quiet, as Tarasco describes, and almost impossibly polite, and describes his progress earnestly.

Tony Tarasco (back turned) teaching fundamentals in Minor League camp.

“I think the work that I did on the physical side helped me relax more and I was able to be at ease in the box,” he explains of the work he did to improve his swing.

However, he goes on to describe the mental side of the adjustment as well, and in doing so, reveals that he is well beyond his years in terms of mental make-up. One of the words that you will hear the most around a professional baseball diamond is “consistency.” Those who can achieve it, who can ride out the slumps by simplifying the game to its individual pieces, are the ones that survive and move up.

“I really enjoy just having a routine,” explains Taylor, showing a keen understanding of that consistency. “That just keeps me focused on right here, on the field.”

According to Tarasco, for Taylor that means keeping a detailed black book of every at-bat, notes on every pitcher faced, for the entire season. Last year, that meant nearly 500 plate appearances, each tracked meticulously.

“I’ve seen guys start it,” says Tarasco of the exhaustive process. “But they get to July, then they don’t finish it. He was still doing it at the end of the year.”

It is that drive and approach, coupled with what Tarasco describes as a through-the-roof IQ, that he believes will help Taylor continue to progress in the years to come. For his part, Taylor is asking plenty of questions, trying to soak up as much as possible. He also appears to be listening, and not over-thinking when it comes to the larger picture.

“As long as I get my work in and stay focused on what I’m doing, everything else will kind of run its course and things will happen,” says the young outfielder.

In talking to Tarasco, it is easy to see where Taylor gets his approach to the game.

“Every single day, you wouldn’t know if he was 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, he continues to have that relentless attitude,” says Tarasco. “The willpower to move slowly, to go day-by-day, eventually is going to catapult him and spring him ahead.”

While there won’t be any rush to get Taylor to the big leagues, those in the Washington-area may have the chance to keep an especially close eye on him as he will likely make his 2012 debut at High-A Potomac in April.

A New York Welcome

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We were back at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie for our second evening affair with the Mets on Tuesday, where we received some true New York hospitality. Right in the middle of the Nationals batting practice, the sprinklers went off around the infield, spraying everything in sight. Most of the players and coaches didn’t bat an eye, and just kept on with their routine, waiting for the water to subside. Only it didn’t stop. Not for a solid five minutes, at which point third base coach Bo Porter, who was on the rail of the dugout, began jokingly chiding anyone and everyone around.

The sprinklers went off during Nationals batting practice in Port St. Lucie on Tuesday.

“What, did the grounds crew take the day off?” he started, then spread the playful blame to his fellow coaches. “Davey, isn’t this your job? I thought you ran things around here.”

Finally, the water stopped, allowing the players to get back to business without getting soaked. We knew unexpected, five-minute showers were commonplace in Florida, but this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. All kidding aside, it’s a telling sign of the attitude of the players and coaches, the way they handled the situation. Nobody complained or got too bent out of shape, and everyone just went on about their business.

As for the game, the lineup gave Nats fans a good look at how deep this club is up the middle of the diamond. With Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa playing the corners on the infield and Brett Carroll and Roger Bernadina behind them in left and right, you could argue that Washington was fielding an up-the-middle player at every position Tuesday night. Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond were in their regular spots at catcher, second base and shortstop, respectively, with Rick Ankiel manning center field behind Stephen Strasburg. Unfortunately, the Mets shut down the Nats, posting a 2-0 win behind starter Dillon Gee.

Strasburg looked as sharp as he’s been this spring, starting at 93-95 on the stadium gun and moving up to 96-97 by the second inning. He struck 97 for the first time as he painted a called third strike on the outside black against Lucas Duda for his first K of the night. Two batters later, he sawed off Josh Thole with a 96 mile-per-hour heater and narrowly avoided the barrel of the bat as it bounced past the pitcher’s mound on a comebacker. In the end, Strasburg allowed a single run on just two hits, walking one and fanning three in five full innings of work, extending his pitch count to 85.

Stephen Strasburg squares off against the Mets in at Digital Domain Park.

One last thought on Digital Domain Park – we couldn’t really put our fingers on it last time we were here, but there’s something funny about the acoustics here. Perhaps it’s the way the seating area is shaped, or the concrete canopy that encompasses the bowl from third to first base, but every ball has that special pop off the bat. It’s a sound that sportswriters are trained to recognize, the one of a ball well struck, that pulls the head away from the computer screen if one is otherwise occupied. As it turned out, there was a lot of head-snapping for what proved to be nothing more than routine fly balls Tuesday night, as neither team recorded a hit until the third inning, when Strasburg hit a one-hop rocket that ate up Daniel Murphy at second base for an infield single. While it takes some time to get used to, it actually makes for an entertaining game experience.

Washington is back at home Wednesday to host the Braves. Here are the team’s results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – Wednesday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-9-3

Still A Little Green

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The Nationals celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the ballpark on Saturday. The home side donned green hats against their alternate red tops and, well, let’s just say we’re glad that particular uniform combination won’t travel north to D.C. when camp officially breaks.

The Nationals also nearly got the chance to celebrate a walk-off win over the Miami Marlins. Washington got runners to the corners with nobody out in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth inning, but could not push across the winning run, leaving the team with its third tie of the spring. It’s good to see those situational hitting circumstances present themselves throughout Spring Training so players can get used to them before April.

The green hats the Nationals wore on Saturday stuck out a bit against their red jerseys.

Miami Manager Ozzie Guillen elected to let his pitchers hit, something you don’t see a lot of in Spring Training. The Nationals stuck with the DH, in the person of Mark DeRosa, and it paid off. DeRosa’s walk in the first inning moved Danny Espinosa to third base in front of Chad Tracy’s RBI groundout for the team’s lone run. DeRosa also added a double in his second at-bat, as he continues his productive spring.

Meanwhile, Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler came up with two on and one out in the second inning, a promising run-scoring situation. After failing to get a bunt down and running the count to two strikes, he broke his bat on a Jordan Zimmermann offering, grounding to Tracy at first, who started the 1-6-3, inning-ending double play.

The starting pitching was good again on Saturday, as Zimmermann scattered six hits over 4.0 scoreless innings, striking out three without a walk. The Nats held the Marlins scoreless until John Buck’s solo shot leading off the sixth, which tied the game at one run apiece.

With the game still tied, 1-1, in the top of the ninth, the Marlins got runners to first and second with one out for Jeff Dominguez. The infielder hit a humpback line drive toward left-center field, but shortstop Andres Blanco made a great leaping catch, transferring the ball to his open hand and flipping it to Steve Lombardozzi at second, all before hitting the ground, to double off the runner and end the inning.

Obscure stat of the day: Koehler won 22 games in a span of 24 decisions between September 4, 2009 and May 21, 2011. He then lost his next six decisions before winning seven of eight to finish last season.

On a somewhat related note, good luck saying Miami relief pitcher Steve Cishek (pronounced SEE-sheck) five times fast.

With another tie in the books, here are the Nationals results to date as they take on the Tigers Sunday at Space Coast Stadium:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-7-3

Who’s Next?

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Here at Curly W Live, we’ve featured a couple of prospects in the Nationals chain who have a chance of making an impact in Washington in the next couple of seasons. First, we looked at the top power bat in the farm system, Tyler Moore, who is playing in his first Major League camp and who has survived the first two rounds of cuts so far. Last week, we asked you, the readers, who you wanted us to feature next, and you chose 2011 first-round pick Alex Meyer. We gave you some perspective on the tall righty from both the player himself, as well as from coaches and coordinators in the system. Now we’re coming back to you to see who you’d like us to feature next: outfielder Destin Hood, outfielder Michael Taylor or pitcher Danny Rosenbaum.

We’ve heard the calls from those of you who have asked for a piece on Rick Hague, but we’re going to wait until mid-season to see how he has progressed before featuring him. In the meantime, vote in the poll below, and we’ll bring you the next Down on the Farm feature early next week.

Lombo Support

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The Nationals are enjoying a number of new luxuries this Spring Training that the organization has never experienced to this point in its existence. The young, talented rotation may be the main component lending to heightened expectations, but there is a subtler, more under-the-radar quality to this team that may prove crucial over the course of the 162-game regular season grind: depth. There is veteran depth in the bullpen, thanks to the addition of Brad Lidge, and in the lineup with the versatile Mark DeRosa. But another player in the DeRosa mold, one with great versatility and a solid bat, who could make a big difference for the 2012 Nationals, is infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond give the Nationals solid, everyday players at both positions up the middle. But Lombardozzi’s ability to play defensively at each spot (and even spell Ryan Zimmerman at third on the occasional day off) makes him a viable option in that third middle infielder role. The Nationals have had a handful of players fill that role over the past few years (Alex Cora, Alberto Gonzalez, Felipe Lopez), but none have brought the offensive promise that Lombardozzi has displayed lately.

Lombardozzi tags out Dee Gordon in a game at Nationals Park last year.

After a slow start, Lombardozzi’s bat has heated up as of late, and he put together his most impressive performance of the spring on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a solo shot off CC Sabathia in Washington’s contest against the Yankees in Tampa. He is now batting .333 in the Grapefruit League, a notable improvement off the .194 he batted in his first 31 Major League at-bats last season.

“It’s not just my on-base percentage, I need to do everything well,” explained Lombardozzi. “But I take pride in getting on base and getting things going as a table-setter.”

Of course, for those who have followed Lombardozzi’s Minor League career, his recent success should come as no surprise. The son of the former big league infielder of the same name, he has batted .298 with a .369 on-base percentage over his four-year Minor League career. He’s coming off a 2011 year that saw him set career highs in batting average (.309) and home runs (eight), and set a new high with 30 stolen bases while being caught just eight times (78.9% success rate). With the Nationals looking for high on-base percentage players in front of the powerful bats in the middle of the lineup, Lombardozzi’s ability to do just that could earn him one of the final spots on the 25-man roster.

Lombardozzi won't forget that his line in Friday's box score any time soon.

“I’m very excited to be in big league camp and try to win a job out of spring,” he said. “I think the future of this team is real bright.”

As for the game today, Gio Gonzalez looked solid again, allowing his first run of the spring, but fanning six in just 3.1 innings of work, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Yankees would eventually win in 10 innings, but not before Sean Burnett, Ryan Perry and Tyler Clippard each contributed a scoreless inning of relief. Washington returns home to Space Coast Stadium for a pair of games this weekend, beginning with the Marlins on Saturday.

Here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

Overall Record: 5-7-2

Life on the Berm

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As the Nationals face Atlanta on a warm spring evening in Lake Buena Vista, we’re in Braves country, but there is a smattering of Nationals red throughout the seats. With Stephen Strasburg starting and Bryce Harper playing in center field, there are number 37 and 34 jerseys visible dotting the crowd.

We make our way down the left field line and atop the berm, which wraps around from halfway down the line to left-center field, passing the “All-You-Care-To-Eat” tent (just $25!) on the trip. Among the ushers standing along the top ridge is Debbie H., a self-described snowbird from Highland, Md., who spends roughly half the year in the Orlando area. Although she’s not even a huge baseball fan, she applied for a job working at Champion Stadium last season, and has loved her time here. This is her sixth game of the spring, all of which have been spent on the berm.

“I love it,” she says of her job. “I’m glad I took it.”

She highlights the freedom that the open, grassy space offers to fans, including the ability to shed their shoes and socks, almost like an outdoor concert.

“A lot of people like to be able to lay down, spread out, get some sun,” she says, which is certainly the case this evening, as we are squarely in the sun field for this 6:05 start.

There's plenty of room to spread out on the berm in Lake Buena Vista.

Debbie has also noticed the influx of Washington fans at this particular game. One of her favorite parts of the job is to be able to chat with fans of the different teams that visit Lake Buena Vista each March.

“Some people take their vacation because the Nationals are here,” she explains. “I think it’s really neat that people are willing to follow their teams during Spring Training.”

We make our way to the far outfield end of the berm and shuffle down towards a quartet of fans. The first one we meet is Pat S., who is wearing a Racing Presidents shirt and who is out here celebrating his birthday. Born in St. Mary’s County, Md., he and his wife now live in the Orlando area. While he used to attend 12-14 games each spring, this is his first of 2012. He wasn’t going to miss Strasburg pitch. But does he always sit on the berm?

“Absolutely,” says Pat.

“Everywhere we go,” chips in friend David T., who also lives in Orlando but originally hails from northeastern Pennsylvania. “I like it because I can lounge out and hang out.”

Pat sheds a different perspective on why he likes the view from the grass.

Playing catch in the twilight on the berm.

“I’m an outfielder when I play softball, so this is where I view the game from,” he explains. “Anywhere else to me just looks so abnormal that I can’t judge the game or watch the game.”

As we sit there, Chad Tracy pops a two-run shot over the right-field wall, opposite of where we are sitting. Two batters later, Jesus Flores powers one out to nearly the same spot, leveling the score at 3-3. While a two-home run inning that ties the game would normally be cause for a raucous celebration, the combination of the road environment, the relative insignificance of a Spring Training result, and the relaxed nature of life on the berm make this just another moment in the game to enjoy.

We chat baseball with Pat and David for a while longer and the sun finally dips below the top of the seats on the first base side. In that ideal moment, the sting of the glare is suddenly gone, and the temperature eases a few degrees cooler to perfection, the twilight settling in above us. As we soak in the splendor of the display, Pat draws our attention to the scene unfolding in front of us.

“Does it get any better than this?” he ponders.

In the space between us and the wall, a group of about six kids, boys and girls, ranging several years in age, have gathered and paired off to play catch in the grass. With the contest itself in the background almost an afterthought, the pure joy of the game takes precedence over anything that might be happening on the field. As we thought about Pat’s question, we found it impossible to disagree.

Tuesday Night MASN

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For those who have never worked in the media, never been a part of the process of covering a live event, a television broadcast may seem simple enough. You point a camera and you shoot. Easy, right? But what about when there are multiple angles – not two or three, more like six or seven? What about coordinating real-time instant replay with the broadcasters so they know what’s coming on the screen next? How about counting every shot down to the second to make sure all of the advertising fits into the commercial breaks? And then, on top of all that, how about doing it all in an unfamiliar venue that wasn’t built for a multi-camera, televised broadcast?

The view from the high-home camera, situated on the top level of Space Coast Stadum.

Welcome to Spring Training, and the challenge presented to the folks at MASN here in Viera. If you have the chance to take in one of the games they are televising this spring from the seats here, go ahead and count the cameras. There’s the low-first (at the end of the home dugout), the high-first (at the top of the walkway between sections 214-215), the high-third (ditto for sections 204-205), the high home (just right of center on a balcony along the top level of the ballpark), a pair of center field cameras (just to the left of the 404 mark between the flag poles and the batter’s eye), and a roving camera for scenic shots. Each camera has its own operator, all listening to a director and producer, seated inside the production truck, cleverly hidden from site behind the scoreboard on the backside of the berm in left-center field.

From the ballpark, you rarely notice anything different than a non-televised game. The cameras are largely out of view, save for the two situated on the scissor-lift in center field. But from the truck, the event is quite a production. Multiple voices talk over each other to set up each piece of each shot, from compound instant replays to motion graphics and stats overlays. Towards the end of a game that is dragging past its third hour – which all in the truck seem to agree is unnecessarily long for a Spring Training game – the jokes start to run back and forth over the intercom. And even while team members are laughing or firing back with some wit of their own, they are executing their tasks in unison, a team of 20 or more in total, working to provide a smooth, entertaining broadcast back to our fans in D.C.

The next time you watch a game, look for the shots you would choose and see if the producer follows your same line of thinking. After Ryan Zimmerman doubles to the right-center field gap (which he did again Tuesday night), which replay do you go to first? A real-time shot from center field, to highlight the swing? The high home angle, that shows the ball arc towards the gap as the fielders run after it? What next? The high-third shot as he digs around first base and cruises into second? Quick, make up your mind. If you haven’t yet, then it’s already too late.

The center field camera, which brings the most familiar angle of the game to your living room.

The game that MASN broadcast Tuesday night was a 6-3 Nationals loss to the Tigers, but was not without some bright spots for Washington. Did we mention that Zimmerman is on fire right now? He finished 1-for-2 with a double, a sac fly and an RBI, and has posted a video game-like OPS of 1.874 so far this spring. Mark DeRosa drew a pair of walks in three trips to the plate, and now has more walks than hits for the spring (five to four). That is not normally the best thing to hear for a hitter, but when his batting average is .500 and his on-base percentage sits at .692, well, then it’s probably alright.

Also, Bryce Harper is back in the lineup for tonight’s game against Atlanta in Lake Buena Vista after missing a few days with a calf strain. Harper’s last game played was the last time the Nats faced Atlanta, and he is hoping to return to the form he showed the first week of games where he batted .455.

Here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – Wednesday, 6:05pm

Overall Record: 5-4-2

The Red Hot Corner

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The Nationals continued to score runs and play well in a win over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals yesterday. They scored single runs in each of the first three innings, then added two in the fourth and three in the fifth on the way to an 8-4 victory. While there were contributions from all over the lineup, one player continues to stand out in the early going: Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman is absolutely dialed in right now. After doubling in his first two plate appearances on Saturday, the Nats third baseman hit two more balls hard to the opposite field, the first for a double and the second for his second home run of the spring. After Monday, he led all MLB players in batting average in Spring Training, sitting at a scorching .583 clip (7-for-12) with five extra-base hits.

The Nationals knocked off the defending champs on Monday.

The question is asked every year of whoever starts the spring hot if they are worried that they are hitting their stride too soon. Zimmerman dismissed that notion and said he was just happy to be seeing the ball well. Needless to say, if this is a precursor of things to come in the regular season, it may be a special year for the Washington third baseman.

Corey Brown also played a solid game Monday. After coming up just short on a diving attempt for a shallow fly down the line in left field in the first inning, Brown made up for it in style in the third frame. Yadier Molina led off with a single to bring up Matt Holliday, who stung a ball towards the gap in left-center. Molina was running all the way on the play, but Brown raced over and made a diving catch, then sprung to his feet and gunned Molina down at first base for the double play. Brown also singled home runs in both the fourth and fifth innings.

However, he was one of the casualties of the first round of cuts as he was sent to Minor League camp, along with fellow outfielder Xavier Paul, infielder Jarrett Hoffpauir, catcher Sandy Leon and pitchers Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Rafael Martin. The Nationals also optioned pitcher Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon to High-A Potomac and infielder Carlos Rivero to Triple-A Syracuse.

Such is life in the world of Spring Training, where a 54-man camp must be trimmed to 25 players by Opening Day. The good news for those players is that they will all get more action on the field, as Minor League games begin this week. We’ll have more on those as they happen, but here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – Tuesday, 6:05pm

Overall Record: 5-3-2

Weekly Review (3/12)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday morning of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day storylines, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Nationals snagged their first win of Spring Training at the home of the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Digital Domain Park. The ballpark was reminiscent of a little slice of New York, though it still featured its share of local flavor. The team went from there to Lake Buena Vista on Tuesday to match up with the Braves for the first time this Spring, again earning a victory. Mark DeRosa flashed good early signs of progress from the wrist injury that has hampered him the past two years and everyone enjoyed some old school, live musical entertainment at the ballpark.

On Wednesday, Carlos Maldonado hit a two-run, ninth-inning home run to force a 3-3 tie with the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Living legend Peter Gammons was on hand for the baseball anomaly and lent his thoughts on the 2012 Nationals. Single game tickets went on sale to the general public at 10am Thursday, as fans lined up outside the box office in D.C. Meanwhile, the Nationals played their best game of the Spring to date, shutting out the Houston Astros by a count of 8-0. Washington finally saw its unbeaten streak come to an end at four games with a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Miami on Friday. We paid a visit to Minor League camp and got some perspective from coaches and coordinators on a number of young prospects, including pitcher Alex Meyer.

Saturday brought the first split-squad action of the spring, as the Nationals won their home game over the Mets and rallied late for their second tie of the Grapefruit League schedule, against the Tigers in Lakeland. As one of the minor leaguers called up to fill out the roster for the New York game, Michael Taylor experienced the highs and lows of professional baseball in one trip around the bases. The weekend was capped by a rainout, as Gio Gonzalez’s four scoreless innings were wiped from the record books, leading us to make a Train pun that was too easy to pass up.

Record for the week: 4-1-2 (one rainout)

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