March 2012

Drops Of Jupiter

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Something strange is going on this spring at Roger Dean Stadium. Home to both the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins, the nearly 7,000-seat ballpark in Jupiter has found itself right in the jet stream of every storm since the beginning of March. In fact, the Cardinals have had rain at all but one of their home games so far this spring. On Saturday, when they were “hosting” the Marlins, they waited out a two-hour delay before finishing.

We weren’t optimistic that we would buck that trend on Sunday morning. After all, if the weather at first pitch had been anything like what we experienced on the drive down, there would certainly have been no baseball played Sunday in Jupiter. A torrential rain storm washed over Interstate 95 just south of Viera, dragging the usual torrid pace of drivers on that stretch to a near halt. Even with the wipers on high, you could only see a couple of dashes ahead on the lane lines.

Some fans waited out the weather delay, but ultimately Sunday's game was cancelled.

We ended up with pretty nice looking skies by first pitch, but our optimism was short-lived. Just as the Nationals began to put a rally together in the top of the fourth, the rain began to fall. And as Gio Gonzalez finished his fourth and final scoreless frame, the skies really opened up, chasing both teams to the dugout. While the rain brought the tarp crew onto the field, the wind nearly blew them back off, sending all the fans in attendance, save a few brave, ponchoed souls, running for cover.

After a delay of better than an hour, with no improvement in the weather, the game was cancelled. However, there was still good news on Sunday, as Gonzalez looked sharp again. He pitched around a pair of errors in the third inning, inducing a double-play ball to help him get out of the frame. He also showed he can field his position, snaring a line shot right back at him by Daniel Descalso, saving a run and ending the second inning. In all, Gio has allowed just three hits in 7.0 scoreless frames so far.

There was also another silver lining to this cloudy and wet day. The lack of a result leaves the Washington’s unbeaten streak intact, and leaves them with this bizarre line through the first 10 games of Spring Training: four wins, three losses, two ties and a rainout. We’re back home against these same Cardinals on Monday, where hopefully we’ll end up with a real result. For now, here’s a recap of 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 – Monday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 4-3-2

Down On The Farm: Alex Meyer

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What do we really know about Alex Meyer? It’s hard to say, at this early juncture, but this much is for sure – he’s got a build pitching coaches dream of, standing at an eye-popping 6’9”. After two pedestrian years at the University of Kentucky, Meyer really impressed in his junior year, going 7-5 with a 2.94 ERA, a very low mark going up against metal bats in the SEC, one of the premiere baseball conferences in America. He also lowered his walk rate while striking out 9.8 batters per nine innings, and yielded only two home runs in 101.0 innings pitched. Although Meyer still walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in his final collegiate year, a control issue not uncommon with tall hurlers, Nationals director of player development Doug Harris isn’t worried.

“Anytime you have a guy who is that size, they tend to have more difficulty than smaller guys holding their delivery together,” explains Harris. “I think he’s done a great job with that. He’s got very good body control for a big man. It’s something that he’s going to continue to learn as he does get bigger and stronger, being able to repeat more consistently.”

Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams echoes Harris’ assessment of the lanky righty, noting that height is not necessarily the determining factor in creating a repeatable delivery.

From left to right: Alex Meyer stands a head taller than fellow 2011 draftees Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin.

“I think it’s the athleticism, the body awareness and the feel that you have of what you’re doing out there,” says Williams. “There are guys that are 5’9” that have trouble keeping their mechanics together, keeping their delivery together. You’ve got to keep an eye on it obviously, but he’s seemed to pick up on the things we’ve talked to him about and taken them out into the game.”

While Meyer did not pitch at all professionally last year, he did go to the Nationals instructional league, where Williams got his first look at the young pitcher from Greensburg, Indiana. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a power slider that sits in the mid-80s, Meyer acknowledges that the continued development of his changeup will be crucial to his success as a professional. Just like any first-year pro, the pitch itself is also a work in progress.

“I feel good with where it’s at,” Meyer says of his off-speed pitch. “It still needs a good amount of work, but now that I’m down here with the coaches I feel like it will progress at a quicker rate than it was there.”

The Nationals certainly see the potential in Meyer. Enough so that the club selected him with the 23rd overall pick in last year’s draft, a compensation pick from the Chicago White Sox for the loss of free agent Adam Dunn. That continued a tradition of University of Kentucky stars going in the first round to Washington sports franchises. Most D.C. sports fans know that John Wall, the number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, was a prodigy with the Wildcats for a year before entering the league. But Kentucky also boasts Victoria Dunlap, the first-round selection of the Washington Mystics last year.

“There’s a good contingent of Kentucky players in the D.C. area,” acknowledges Meyer, who had a funny story involving Wall after being drafted. “All of the sudden, my friends started telling me ‘John Wall is following you on Twitter,’ which was cool. I knew John, though if he remembers me I’m just the tall baseball player that he met a couple times. But he was a good guy when I met him.”

Meyer’s modesty in acknowledging the moment is not something lost on Williams. The coach is encouraged as much by his young hurler’s attitude and approach as he is by his electric arm.

While the media spotlight is on big league camp, there are plenty of interesting stories on the Minor League side of the complex.

“I think the biggest thing with Alex is that he’s not that arrogant guy that’s a number one draft choice, who’s got a lot of money and thinks everybody owes him everything,” says Williams. “He knows he’s going to have to work. He’s been wonderful with us. He’s trying to soak in as much information as he can.”

Meyer will look to parlay that information into a successful inaugural season in the Nationals farm system. His biggest focus for the year is not on hitting specific statistical goals or advancing to any particular level of the system. Instead, he is concerned mostly with trying to make the successful transition from the amateur ranks.

“You want to play well, that’s the first thing that sticks out,” he explains. “I’ve got to get used to throwing every five days, adjusting from a seven-day college rotation, which is a pretty big difference. When I came down from the instructional league and I was trying to adjust, it took me a little bit. My arm was a little tired, trying to come back, was a little stiff, but I threw through it. By the end I liked it, I felt stronger.”

There is more to the process of adjusting to the professional ranks than what happens on the field, though. Meyer shows his keen understanding of the changes in lifestyle that await him, supporting Williams’ observations about his maturity and character.

“There’s the whole aspect of really being on your own,” says Meyer. “You’re traveling, you’re going on seven-day, 10-day road trips. When you’re in college, you’re gone three days, then you’re back Monday for class. So it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment period. I just want to mature and figure things out, and obviously I want to pitch well and see what happens from there.”

We know we won’t be the only ones keeping an eye on Meyer as he tackles his first year in the minors. We’ll keep tabs on him and the other prospects featured in Down on the Farm as the season wears on.

Youth Is Served

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One of the great parts of Spring Training is the excitement of the young players getting their first shot in a big league uniform, facing off against players they were watching on television just a couple years prior. With split-squad games (which started today, the Nationals hosting the Mets and traveling to face the Tigers), those opportunities become more abundant. Teams will take a handful of players from Minor League camp to fill out each roster, giving them an opportunity to get a few innings in. Their youthful exuberance is fun to watch, although sometimes it betrays them.

Enter Michael Taylor, one of the most talked-about young outfield prospects in the Nationals system, who came in as a defensive replacement in center field in the fifth inning of the Nationals 8-2 victory over the Mets in Viera today. He showed some nice patience in his first plate appearance, working a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth. He was then put in motion on a hit-and-run, as Sandy Leon pulled a ball perfectly through the hole vacated by the second baseman, who was covering the bag with the runner going. Taylor motored around second on his way to third, but got a little too far ahead of himself, his weight out over his front feet. Try as he might, he couldn’t stay upright, tumbling to the dirt about 50 feet shy of third base.

A handful of players from the Nationals Minor League camp got a chance to play Saturday.

Mets right fielder Cesar Puello, another minor leaguer added to fill out the roster, saw the opportunity to make a play as he went to collect the ball. In fact, he saw it clearly enough that he took his eye off the ball, which he bobbled, allowing Taylor enough time to collect himself and lope down to third safely, both he and third base coach Bo Porter laughing the whole way.

“The umpire came over and was explaining to me about second base and how you have to step on it and stay on your feet,” said Taylor after the game, as his wide smile denied his attempt at deadpan humor.

Taylor will no doubt hear from his teammates about that play for the rest of camp, but he can take solace in one fact – at least this game wasn’t on television, so it’s unlikely to make him a YouTube sensation. He said that he didn’t even feel that nervous playing on a bigger stage – his body simply didn’t want to cooperate.

“I was actually kind of surprised, I was comfortable and relaxed,” Taylor said. “But for some reason my feet didn’t want to stay underneath me.”

Taylor was rewarded for continuing on to the next base, though, as players are taught to do in those situations. With runners at the corners and one out, Blake Kelso lifted a ball into right-center, where Puello redeemed himself with a nice catch. Leon had advanced almost all the way to second, and Puello fired back to first for the inning-ending double play. But Taylor made a heads-up play and tagged at third, crossing the plate before the final out was made at first base. Since the double play was not of the force out variety, the run counted. Who’s laughing now?

Posted in the clubhouse. Don't forget to set your clocks for tomorrow.

In other news, Ryan Zimmerman had a pair of doubles and two RBI, and Wilson Ramos also drove in a pair on two hits. Brad Lidge looked very sharp, pitching around an error and striking out the side in the sixth. The first two batters never got the bat off their shoulders on strike three, as Lidge locked up each of them with his signature slider.

Tyler Moore had a nice game as well, with two hits and an RBI. The second of his hits was a rocket to dead center field, high up off the 30-foot batters eye. Needless to say, it would have been a home run in any big league ballpark, but Moore had to settle for the RBI double.

Meanwhile, the other half of the split squad overcame a 4-0 deficit to earn a 10-inning, 5-5 tie with the Tigers.

It’s back to Jupiter tomorrow, as Washington takes on St. Louis at 1:05pm. Here are the 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 – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 4-3-2

A Minor Thread

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With the team traveling down the east coast of Florida to Melbourne for a 7:05pm start against the Miami Marlins, here at Curly W Live we thought it would be a good time to check in on the Nationals Minor League camp, to which all players reported this week.

When we showcased our first prospect of the year, Tyler Moore, a few weeks ago, we asked you who you would like to see us feature next. The voting was very close, with Destin Hood, Alex Meyer and Michael Taylor all receiving a near equal amount of votes. Since the interest is obviously there, we decided we might as well go ahead and talk to all three of them, as well as a couple other prospects you may not know about just yet. We’ll bring them all to you in our Down on the Farm series as we progress through Spring Training.

For now, though, let’s hold a quick tie-breaker poll to see who you would like us to feature today:

A Tale Of Two Cities

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Alright, alright, so we admit we’re not actually comparing Washington D.C. and Viera to London and Paris, even if Viera does sound vaguely French (it’s actually Slovak). Besides, in our scenario, it was the best of times for Nats fans in both cities. At 10:00 this morning, single game tickets went on sale for the most anticipated season in Nationals history, bringing fans out to the ballpark for the first time since last fall. Meanwhile, the Nationals played their best all-around game of the spring to date, shutting out the visiting Houston Astros by a count of 8-0.

First to D.C., where fans expressed their excitement for the beginning of the 2012 season. With the home opener just 34 days away, here’s what fans were saying as they waited in line to get their tickets:

Nationals fans line up at the box office in D.C. this morning to purchase single game tickets.

“I can’t wait to see all the talent come together.” – Andrew P.

“This is the most optimistic I’ve ever been.” – Rick P.

“This is the biggest year for D.C. baseball.” – Tommy V.

Needless to say, Nationals fans understand what is going on with this team right now. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up your tickets yet, make sure you hop online and grab them soon, especially for the big matchups with the Yankees and Phillies.

Now, back to Viera. They may have played together for a couple of seasons, but Livan Hernandez can’t be too happy with Ryan Zimmerman after today’s game. Not only did the Nationals third baseman take Livo deep in the first inning, he literally knocked him out of the game with a rocket comebacker off the veteran righty’s shin in the bottom of the third. After a short discussion with the training staff, Hernandez exited the game in favor of Lucas Harrell.

Zimmerman had a nice game, hitting the ball hard all three times at the plate. He singled home Anthony Rendon in his third and final plate appearance with a solid line drive to right field.

The Nationals piled on late in an 8-0 shutout of Houston on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson continued to impress in his second start of the spring, allowing just two ground ball singles in four shutout innings, striking out three. He has now tossed six scoreless frames – all against the Astros – allowing just three hits over that span. Ross Detwiler followed up by retiring all nine batters he faced, also striking out three.

The offense came alive as the game wore on, plating two runs in the fifth, three in the sixth and one in the seventh. When the day was done, Washington had piled up its highest run total of the spring, while allowing just three hits in the shutout.

Off to Jupiter (the city, not the planet) tomorrow evening for our first look at the new Miami Marlins. 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

Overall Record: 3-2-1

On The Network

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In a great moment from the baseball classic Bull Durham, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, the young pitcher who has just reached the big leagues, drops the following line in a television interview:

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… sometimes, it rains. Think about it.”

Today in Viera, we didn’t have a win or a loss, but we got it all in before the rain. That’s right, we had ourselves a tie, an option that Laloosh never offered, and one which baseball fans are not used to considering.

Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner visits with Peter Gammons in Lake Buena Vista on Tuesday.

Here’s how it all went down. The Nationals plated an early run, thanks to an Ian Desmond leadoff double and a Jason Michaels two-out, RBI-single. The Cardinals pushed in front with a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh. The home side trailed 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, when Koyie Hill dropped a high foul pop off the bat of Tyler Moore, giving the Nationals prospect new life. He took advantage, singling up the middle, and Carlos Maldonado followed by swatting a deep drive to the opposite field over the wall to tie the game at three apiece.

As it turned out, Davey Johnson had told Cardinals manager Mike Matheny around the sixth inning, when the game was tied at 1-1, that he only had enough pitching on hand to go nine innings. Matheny acknowledged that, and the two agreed that the game would go no further, no matter the score. And so, let it go down in the record books that the Nationals and Cardinals played to a 3-3 draw Wednesday, one of the anomolies of Spring Training.

Of course, ties aren’t the only aspect unique to Spring Training. It also provides some great opportunities for fans of the game that they can’t always take advantage of during the regular season. The ability to be up close and personal with those who play and report on the game is truly unparalleled, even at the Minor League level. While fans are generally most captivated by the players themselves, there are a handful of other figures around the game that can generate the same level of excitement. One of those individuals is MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

We saw Gammons yesterday in Lake Buena Vista, as he took in the 5-2 Nationals victory over the Braves. That was when we discovered he would be traveling to Viera today to interview Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for MLB Network. We were excited to get his take on the buzz and excitement surrounding the organization this spring. After all, when Peter Gammons talks, you listen. A three-time Sportswriter of the Year recipient and J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner (given by the BBWAA), there is no greater authority on the modern game. We asked if he might share some of his first impressions of the 2012 Nationals so far in Spring Training, and he was more than happy to do so. Here is a glimpse of what he had to say.

Gammons interviews Stephen Strasburg in Viera on Wednesday.

“We all realize there’s a great deal of talent here,” Gammons said of Nationals camp. “I think the thing that’s really struck me, other than watching batting practice, is the job Mike Rizzo’s done in getting really good players. I hate to say ‘complimentary players’, because it’s an insult – anyone who makes the big leagues is a good player. But to be able to go out and get a Mark DeRosa, to have Brad Lidge, to have Chad Durbin, they’re some of the best people you could ever meet in your life. They’re rocks for the young players to follow.”

Look for much more from Gammons including which Nationals he expects to break out in 2012, which minor leaguer not named Harper to keep an eye on, and which team from recent history he believes this year’s team compares to best, all in the first Inside Pitch of the season, coming in April at Nationals Park.

The Nationals have another home day game tomorrow, taking on the Astros at 1:05pm. Here are their 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 – 1:05pm

Overall Record: 2-2-1

The Good View

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The Nationals hit the road again today, heading to Lake Buena Vista to pay a visit to the Atlanta Braves for the first time this spring. Champions Stadium is located at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, immediately adjacent to Walt Disney World. As such, the back of the concourse is built into a larger set of structures, resulting in some bizarre architecture for a ballpark. Instead of the usual slow curve of the concourse and tunnels below, there are lots of right-angled turns, which can leave you perplexed after a while about exactly which direction you are headed.

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones. We found MLB Network’s Peter Gammons roaming the tunnels under the ballpark and followed him – and the music – to find our way out. What music, you ask? That of the world famous Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet, practicing prior to the game. They would play both pregame and during inning breaks, lending a sense of a bygone era to the Spring Training atmosphere.

Past and future met today as Dale Murphy and Bryce Harper chatted pregame.

There was a great moment on the field during the end of batting practice, about an hour before today’s game. As Bryce Harper signed autographs down the left field line, Davey Johnson yelled over to him from the batting cage. Harper trotted over to find a special guest who had requested his presence.

“Harp, I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time,” said the jovial, giant, middle-aged man adorned in Braves warm-up gear. “I’m Dale Murphy.”

Wait, what? If that all sounds a bit backwards to you, one can only imagine what the 19-year-old prospect – who was all of seven months old when Murphy played his last game in 1993 – must have thought. It was no surprise, though, that Murphy received the louder round of applause when introduced prior to the game from the pro-Atlanta crowd in Lake Buena Vista.

It is said that one of the great things about baseball is that you see something new every day at the ballpark. While there was nothing notable during the game to match that description, there was during the ceremonial first pitch. After sailing the first attempt wide left to the backstop, the young boy given the honor got a second chance, this time firing a strike. We are at Disney World, after all, where dreams come true (it says so right on the sign!).

Gio Gonzalez was very solid in his first outing of the spring, allowing just one single over 3.0 innings of scoreless work, striking out both Matt Diaz and Michael Bourn. Meanwhile, the offense was strong in support, as both Jayson Werth and Mark DeRosa contributed early solo shots and Chad Tracy plated a pair with a two-out double in the third. The DeRosa home run was especially encouraging, given the multiple wrist surgeries he has overcome just to be able to swing a bat again.

We joked with DeRosa, referencing a remark he had made a couple of weeks ago around the batting cage, that he had not hit a home run in two years. It turns out he hit one last spring as well, with the Giants.

The Atlanta Braves Philharmonic Saxophone Quartet warms up in the tunnel before the game.

“It definitely feels good,” he said. “I’m really trying not to get too high or too low because I’ve been through such a tough last two years.”

The tendon sheath that had caused him so much pain and time on the DL finally came fully off the bone in his right wrist last May. As awful as that may sound, it may have turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. DeRosa has been pain free through the offseason and the first couple weeks of camp.

“I haven’t been treating it, icing it, nothing,” he said of the ailment that has suffocated his last two seasons. “So I’m just knocking on wood every day, waking up excited to get to the field and finally play healthy.”

Anthony Rendon also collected his first hit of the spring on a double in the eighth and came around to score on a Tyler Moore sacrifice fly for the final run of the game in the 5-2 Nats victory.

We’ll return to Viera tomorrow, as the Nats get their first look at the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. 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 – Wednesday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 2-2

From The Desk Of Mark Lerner – Capital Pride

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Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2012 Grapefruit League Season from Viera, bringing his own unique perspective of the goings-on at Nats Spring Training.

Good Afternoon Nats Fans:

On Monday afternoon, I took in Chien-Ming Wang’s 2012 debut, as he participated in the first intra-squad game of the spring over at our Minor League Complex. This contest was part of our Accelerated Development Program, which consists of our best and brightest prospects.

As many of you know, we have invested a lot of time and energy the last five years in building our minor league system from the ground up. Being named the No. 1 system last month by Baseball America was really a great accomplishment and a benchmark of how far our organization has come along.

There is definitely a different energy and expectation this Spring Training. If the 2011 season was about promise, then 2012 should be about performance. This Nationals team believes it’s ready to win and expects to win.

Both GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson say this team should be playing meaningful games in September. This is the season our loyal fans have been waiting for.

As I glanced around the diamond yesterday, I noticed various names I had heard previously (and some I’d seen) during brief visits to Hagerstown, Potomac and Harrisburg.

Names like Jeff Kobernus, Blake Kelso and Matt Skole are familiar to me, as are their games. Same with Michael Taylor and Destin Hood, who are two of our finest outfield prospects. All were scattered around the field. But I was especially interested in two players in particular: Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Goodwin, one of our top picks in the 2011 draft. As fate would have it, they squared off to start the game.

Score one for the youngster, as Goodwin put a nice swing on Wang offering and legged out a leadoff double.

Wang did not disappoint either, as he fanned 3 in 2.0 innings. He allowed one run on three hits, throwing 31 pitches, 24 for strikes. But his fastball sat consistently at 89-90 and hit 91 on occasion. What’s more, Davey and Mike were pleased. They both liked how strong he was right out of the chute. Last year, in his first 5-6 starts with us, Wang took an inning or two to really get loose and transfer that strength into his pitches. No so yesterday. He was strong right from the start. That’s why Goodwin’s double was impressive. It came on a good pitch.

As an aside… I also  saw pitcher Alex Meyer our second pick in the  first round last year out of Kentucky on another field. He is one large man at 6’9”.

Last night’s game in Port St. Lucie resulted in our first win of the Grapefruit League season, a 3-1 victory over the Mets. Rick Ankiel, the pride of Port St. Lucie High School, went deep to provide his home crowd, including a few former teachers and administrators, a great moment. John Lannan (one earned run in 3.0 innings) also pitched very well in his Grapefruit League debut. Bryce Harper and Eury Perez also continue to look great.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my dear friend, Ted Leonsis, for the kind words he wrote yesterday in his blog regards to our new “Natitude” marketing campaign.

I know how much Ted enjoys baseball and is excited for our season ahead. Likewise, I have an eye on our Capitals and their playoff pursuits. I am thinking that their best hockey is yet to come. I know if I were a Bruins or Rangers fan that I would not relish facing the Caps in the first round.

I am off to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for today’s game against the Braves. But the real draw is that Gio Gonzalez will be making his Spring Training and Nationals debut. It will be a thrill to see our 26-year-old southpaw finally take the mound wearing our Nationals red, white and blue.

Trust me on this one… Nats fans are going to fall in love with this young man.

Until we blog again.

Ankiel Rolling In St. Lucie

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Digital Domain Park is hilarious. Home to the Mets Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, it is a little slice of New York nestled among the palm trees and endless blue skies. Each of the half-dozen parking attendants or ushers we spoke to responded with a heavy New York accent, clearly late-life transplants to the warmer climate. The park itself is very nice, though we arrived a little late in the afternoon to sample the empenadas stand in right field. The wireless internet signal in the press box was also much improved from years past, we’re told. When you’re on the job and the games have no actual impact on the standings, these things tend to be two of the most important factors in evaluating a ballpark.

The Nationals warm up on a picture perfect day at Digital Domain Park.

Oh, and there’s also a tiki bar down the left field line. So yeah, it’s still very much Florida.

As for the action on the field, Rick Ankiel had an impressive game in more ways than one. He nearly threw out Andres Torres scoring from second on a single in the first, on a play where he looked to have no chance at all. He then got that run back in the top of the second, with a no doubt, opposite-field home run on a 2-0 offering from Dillon Gee. He also drew a walk in his second plate appearance, a good sign for a team looking to improve its on-base percentage this season. Finally, he tracked down a deep fly ball at the wall in center field to finish out his four-inning stint.


“I feel good for where I’m at,” said Ankiel of both his swing and his defensive timing as he watched the end of the game. “It’s still early, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be right now.”

As a member of the non-roster invitee group fighting for one of the final roster spots, he has made a strong opening statement.

Some heads-up baserunning from Eury Perez, who went first-to-third on a single to left by Steve Lombardozzi in the fifth inning, led directly to the second Nationals run of the night, as Mark Teahen plated Perez with a sac fly.

The aforementioned tiki bar.

And it wouldn’t be Spring Training without one of these plays. With one out in the top of the eighth, Brett Carroll skied a ball high in the air to shallow center. Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis called off the second baseman, who was parked under the ball, then, after a long run in, dropped it. Carroll was hung about halfway between first and second and made a break for the latter. Nieuwenhuis fired the ball in to shortstop Ronny Cedeno in time to apply the tag at second, but Cedeno dropped the ball. This is why they play these games – to shake off the rust and get ready for the ones that count.

Obscure stat of the day: Waldis Joaquin tossed a pair of scoreless innings to earn the save, which brings us to the obscure stat of the day, which will be a regular feature in our recaps. While at Triple-A Fresno last season, Joaquin was 2-0 with a save and a 0.70 ERA (2 ER/25.2 IP) in the 12 outings in which he pitched at least 2.0 innings.

We’ll be back in Port St. Lucie in a couple weeks. Next time, we’ll have to try the empenadas.

Off to Lake Buena Vista to face the Braves today. 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 – 1:05pm

Overall Record: 1-2

Live, From Viera

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Here at Curly W Live, we’ll be providing updates from on the ground in Viera and throughout the Grapefruit League as the Nationals make their way through the spring schedule. We’ll be talking to players and coaches, looking at all the storylines of March, especially those that might normally slip through the cracks. If you, the reader, have stories you’d like to see us cover, please let us know in the comments.

The team hits the road for a rare night game tonight, just under an hour south of their Space Coast home down in St. Lucie, as they will see the Mets for the first time this year. We’ll be on site for all the action and reaction to the game, and will provide some of the sites and sounds through Facebook and Twitter for you. For now, here is tonight’s lineup:

Bryce Harper's lone hit yesterday at Space Coast Stadium, an infield single to shortstop.

Roger Bernadina LF

Stephen Lombardozzi 2B

Mark Teahan 3B

Chad Tracy 1B

Rick Ankiel CF

Bryce Harper RF

Jesus Flores C

Xavier Paul DH

Andres Blanco SS

John Lannan LHP


The Nationals look for their first official win of the spring tonight. Here are their results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – Tonight, 6:10pm

Overall Record: 0-2