February 2013

Nats vs. Mets Spring Training Live Chat

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The Nationals take on the Mets at 6:05 p.m. Thursday night at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. It is the first Spring Training game televised on MASN this year, and will also be carried live on WJFK radio (the game is also available outside the Nationals market on MLB Network and MLB.tv). So whether you’re watching Bob and F.P. or listening to Charlie and Dave, leave your questions below and we’ll do our best to answer them as the game goes along. Here’s tonight’s Nats lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Suzuki C

3. Werth RF

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Espinosa 2B

7. Moore LF

8. Rendon 3B

9. Tracy DH

P. Strasburg

First Taste of Atlanta

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The Nationals traveled to Lake Buena Vista Tuesday afternoon, where they were greeted with their second rain delay in the opening four days of the Spring Training slate, and their first look at what largely resembled a real Opening Day lineup.

The host Braves started five or six regulars (depending on your analysis of their third base situation), including both Upton brothers, Freddie Freeman, Jayson Heyward and Dan Uggla against Washington starter Ross Detwiler. The even-keeled lefty took the challenge in stride in what was also his first outing in the Grapefruit League this year.

Ross Detwiler showed an impressive breaking ball in his first spring start.

Ross Detwiler showed an impressive breaking ball in his first spring start.

“You saw the lineup they put out there today,” he said, referencing Atlanta’s projected regulars, most middle-of-the-order types. “I could have gotten embarrassed pretty easily.”

Detwiler more than held his own however, looking very sharp through two frames before allowing a single run in the third. He didn’t allow a single extra-base hit, but perhaps the most impressive part of his outing was his breaking ball, which he located for strikes with great movement.

“It’s coming along a little bit,” he said, modestly, of his hook.

That’s an understatement, considering how much Detwiler relied on his two fastballs last year. He used three effective breaking balls to neutralize one of the National League’s better left-handed hitters in Heyward over a pair of at-bats on Tuesday, striking him out looking on a front door bender in the first inning.

“He’s got a lot of weapons,” said manager Davey Johnson of his developing southpaw’s expanding repertoire. “[That] makes the fastball that much better.”

When asked if the outing would help prepare him for the competitive outing Detwiler is slated to encounter in the World Baseball Classic, the 26-year-old’s response served to foreshadow the type of intensity the Washington-Atlanta rivalry may well have this year.

“I just played a competitive game,” he deadpanned.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and newcomer Dan Haren get their first starts of the spring Wednesday.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and newcomer Dan Haren get their first starts of the spring Wednesday.

Never one to ease into things, Detwiler’s most supportive teammate in the lineup was Bryce Harper, who continued his hot start to the spring. The young slugger legged out a chopper over Freeman at first for a double, swatted a Mike Minor offering to the opposite field gap for another two-bagger, and finished his afternoon with a rocket off Freeman’s mitt for a single. His 3-for-3 afternoon left him hitting (small sample size alert) .750 for the spring. Harper kept the gaudy numbers in their proper perspective, though.

“Facing Minor during the season and facing him right now is a little different,” he said of the Braves starter, who was also throwing in live action for the first time. “I don’t want to say I’m relaxed or comfortable, because I never want to be that way.”

Just because others are easing into the first days of the schedule doesn’t mean Harper is. He already lobbied his way into the lineup Wednesday afternoon, which will be his first chance to play with both Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche this year.
“I’d like to get in that lineup every day, pretty much,” he said, and Johnson was persuaded to agree.

The Nationals take on Miami in Viera at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday afternoon as Dan Haren makes his first start in a Washington uniform. See below for today’s lineup, along with spring results to date.

Nationals 2/27 Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Harper LF

3. Werth RF

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Tracy 3B

6. Espinosa DH

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombo 2B

9. Walters SS

P. Haren

Record: 1-2-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Seventh Heaven

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Well, I am on the ground for my seventh spring in Viera, where last week’s cold snap is now a distant memory and sunny and 70+ is the norm. Welcome to Spring Training 2013!

This is the place to be if you are a Nationals fan. I hope that over the next few weeks, I can share some of the sights, sounds and vibe from our camp. If I had to sum up Camp Davey 2013, it would be “professional, but very comfortable.”

And this is the place to be if you are a member of the baseball media. In speaking to our Media Relations folks, they assure me that this team is now officially on the radar. There is not a national baseball writer worth his salt that won’t find our club at some point this spring. MLB Network, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and Fox are all writing about us, not to mention the increased coverage from nationals.com, the Washington Post and The Washington Times. They’ll all find their way to Space Coast Stadium, perhaps even for multiple visits. This has never been the case, even with gradually rising expectations entering last season.

Both media coverage and attendance are up at Spring Training this year.

Both media coverage and attendance are up at Spring Training this year.

By the way…how about Bryce Harper’s Sports Illustrated cover story last week!?

So, enjoy the extra coverage. Hopefully it helps all of our fans up north escape the cold winter mentally, even if only for a few minutes every day. Thankfully, the exhibition game against the Yankees on Friday, March 29 at Nationals Park and Opening Day on April 1 are just around the corner.

As everyone knows, this is Davey Johnson’s final camp at the helm. He set quite a tone this offseason with his declaration of “World Series or bust.” Has anyone ever carried such overt confidence with the ease that Davey does? That is Davey in a nutshell: he’s unique. How about last year? Remember when he said (paraphrasing) “they should fire me if we don’t make the playoffs?” He and Mike Rizzo obviously knew something about that club earlier than everyone else. It was quite a season.

- Congratulations to Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez, who will represent us on Team USA, and Roger Bernadina who will represent the Netherlands in next month’s World Baseball Classic. What a fantastic honor for them and for our ballclub. Team USA’s pitching staff will feature two of our finest. I suppose this is when nationalism meets NATITUDE?

- Best of luck to our friend Joe Torre, who will manage Team USA in the WBC. From my seat, the WBC gets bigger and better every go around.

Wilson Ramos is healthy and back in camp this spring.

Wilson Ramos is healthy and back in camp this spring.

- My favorite sight of the young spring was Wilson Ramos in a crouch, catching multiple bullpens. Wilson’s spirits are so much higher right now than they were last summer. And for good reason. He is currently in a good place both mentally and physically.

- Speaking of catchers, I was talking to seven-time Gold Glover Bob Boone and he swears that he has never seen a catching corps with as much depth as ours this spring. Our fourth and fifth catchers will be better than some club’s backup catchers when Opening Day hits. Perhaps even a few front-line backstops. And consider, we have traded away a pair of highly thought of catchers in the last 15 months or so in Derek Norris and David Freitas.

- We are still waiting for his Grapefruit League debut, but Dan Haren has lived up to his billing so far. Davey told me that Dan’s initial bullpens were something to behold. He was painting the corners. It will be a shock if he walks more than two batters in any game.

- Lots of media talk about how 23 of the 25 spots on the Opening Day roster are accounted for. I am not sure this is the case, but let’s not forget that injuries hit and hinder baseball more than any other sport. I just looked this up, but last year’s NL East champs used 43 players. We won the division by 4.0 games (over the Braves) and claimed the best record in baseball by 1.0 game (over the Reds). Think we win the NL East without the contributions of Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano or Christian Garcia? It would have been extremely difficult, considering none of the aforementioned players were on the Opening Day roster.

- Who is going to make lasting first impressions this year? Anthony Rendon sure is off to a hot start. Matt Skole, Nathan Karns and Eury Perez look great also. It is early, but we have a lot of great young talent around here.

Until we blog again…

Depth, Charging

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Before Monday night’s Nationals-Mets tilt in Port St. Lucie – the second between the two clubs in the same location in just over 48 hours – skipper Davey Johnson mused aloud that teams with good Minor League depth often posted strong Spring Training records. If the game itself was any indication, Johnson, who relishes the opportunity to see such players in person, must have liked what he saw.

Led by a bevy of rising stars, the Nationals impressed at the plate and on the mound as they notched their first Grapefruit League win, by a 6-4 final.

Karns impressed in his first action against Major League hitters.

Karns impressed in his first action against Major League hitters.

The logic behind Johnson’s reasoning stemmed from the heavy innings that non-regulars log during the Grapefruit League season, and never was that circumstance more on display for the Nats. With a starting nine featuring just one 2012 Opening Day roster member in Steve Lombardozzi (plus Gio Gonzalez pitching), Washington’s youngsters peppered New York pitchers all around Tradition Field to the tune of 17 hits in a victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.

Outfielder Eury Perez leaned on his strongest tool – his speed – to accumulate a trio of infield singles and a stolen base, scoring from first on a double in the third and from second on a single in the fourth. Anthony Rendon, vying for a home run for the second straight day, was robbed of a longball at the center field fence, but later lined a seed the opposite way for a single. Eight of the nine starters pitched in hits, with Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole demolishing a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat.

On the mound, Skole’s counterpart Nathan Karns – Washington’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year – turned in perhaps the most noteworthy performance. Following two hitless innings from Gonzalez in his first spring start, Karns fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and top Mets prospect Travis d’Arnaud, allowing only a David Wright flare single over two scoreless innings.

“He’s got a great future,” said Johnson of Karns, whom he saw live in game action for the first time Monday night. “He had an explosive fastball, threw first pitch strikes. Very impressive for the young man.”

Rendon continued to turn heads with his play.

Rendon continued to turn heads with his play.

Karns overthrew a couple of curveballs early, but settled in and spun a beauty to put away d’Arnaud. He attributed the early inconsistency on the pressure of facing Major Leaguers for the first time.

“Yeah, I was a little nervous in the ‘pen, I’m not going to lie,” Karns said of the experience, but he took Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s advice between innings. “Breathe, breathe. I guess I was a little red in the face, a little sweaty.”

Karns’ stuff played just fine, his fastball sitting 93-96 with great life. When asked if that was a normal velocity range, he was non-committal, but referenced his offseason conditioning program.

“I was around there last year,” he said of his fastball velocity. “This year I felt like I did a lot in the offseason to strengthen my lower body, give me some more endurance. So if I get a couple more ticks on the radar, that’s a bonus.”

One veteran in the clubhouse within earshot took notice.

“A couple more ticks?” interrupted Ryan Mattheus, who earned the save with a scoreless ninth, incredulously from the corner of the clubhouse. “What do you want, to throw 105?”

The radar gun at Tradition Field actually misfired and flashed 143 miles-per-hour after one high fastball out of the 25-year-old’s right hand.

“Yeah, I can say I threw 143,” Karns said nonchalantly.

It’ll be a story for the grandkids.

The Nationals hit the road again Tuesday afternoon, where they will face the division-rival Braves for the first time this spring at 1:05 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista.

Record: 1-1-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

Weekly Review: National News

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Monday 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 action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Racing Presidents arrived at Mt. Rushmore on Presidents Day, concluding “Bill and Teddy’s Executive Adventure.” Washington learned that it will have another member of The District’s Nine represent Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, as Ross Detwiler was invited to join the squad. Meanwhile, back in Viera, we introduced you to a trio of new faces to keep an eye on in camp as Nationals wrapped up the final days of practice before the Grapefruit League schedule began in earnest.

On Saturday, Washington opened its slate on the road in Port St. Lucie against the Mets. Stephen Strasburg took a Zen approach to his first two innings of work, and Bryce Harper collected the team’s first hit of the spring. On Sunday, the Nationals hosted their home opener against the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium, a contest that featured the strength of their top prospect, along with a rain delay, an extra inning, and a tie.

Weekly Record: 0-1-1

Overall Record: 0-1-1

Top Prospecting

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Top Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon showed impressive gap-to-gap power last spring in Viera, but hit just six home runs over 133 at-bats in an injury-plagued 2012.. Since his arrival in camp this year, though, the ball has been jumping off Rendon’s bat more, as was evidenced by a home run he hit in batting practice prior to Sunday’s contest at Space Coast Stadium– a moonshot that that ricocheted off the base of the scoreboard, a solid 40-50 feet up the berm behind the left field wall. Just a few hours later, he showcased that power again, off a legitimate Major League reliever in Miami’s Ryan Webb.

With the wind blowing out to left in the fifth inning – following a rain delay of over an hour – Rendon hit an opposite-field shot out to right-center field, plating Steve Lombardozzi to give Washington a 2-1 lead. It was the only run-scoring hit of the day for either team, as both Marlins tallies came via RBI-groundouts in the top of the third and ninth in a 2-2, 10-inning draw.

Rendon's two-run blast accounted for all of Washington's scoring Sunday.

Rendon’s two-run blast accounted for all of Washington’s scoring Sunday.

Rendon was the only member of the Nationals starting lineup not to be pulled during the delay, as both he and manager Davey Johnson wanted the young prospect to have another opportunity at the plate.

“I told him I wanted him to have one more at-bat and he said ‘I want one more at-bat,’” explained the skipper. “He certainly made it count.”

Johnson went on to stress that Rendon is all-but Major League ready, needing just repetitions and an opening on the roster to play in Washington.

Injuries have sidetracked what appeared to be an express lane path to the Major Leagues for Rendon. The Rice University product broke his ankle in just the second game of the season last year, costing him the first half of his year. After rehab, he became the most well-traveled man in the system, making stops with the GCL Nationals, Short-Season Auburn, High-A Potomac, and Double-A Harrisburg, finally culminating his campaign with an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Davey Johnson says all Rendon needs is repetitions and a chance to play.

Davey Johnson says all Rendon needs is repetitions and a chance to play.

Entering the season as the top-rated prospect in the system according to Baseball America, MLB.com and every other major outlet assigned to such rankings, the pieces are finally coming together for the 22-year-old considered by many to have the top bat in the 2011 Draft.

“I’ve had the same approach for a while now, I guess it’s just clicking,” said Rendon of his health and his improved power, especially to the opposite field. “That’s a good thing.”

Yes, yes it is.

The Nationals travel back to Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets for the second time in three days tonight at 6:10 p.m., and will once again be televised live on MLB Network. Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to make his first start of the year for the Nats, who are searching for their first Grapefruit League victory.

Here are Washington’s spring results to date:

Record: 0-1-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

A Walk In The Park

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Saturday was a Spring Training kind of day. Stars were seen, albeit briefly, home runs were hit, balls were kicked around a bit as players shook off the rust of the offseason and nobody cared a lick about the final score. That ambivalence is perhaps the most endearing part of the early days of spring, one that becomes maddening as the promise of real baseball gets ever closer.

It also stands in such stark contrast to the intensity and emotion that was pulsing through the ballpark the last time these Nationals played together back in October. From a pressure-packed, do-or-die, win-or-go-home scenario, here they were, reunited for a casual stroll through the motions, a walk in the park.

The Nationals stretch before their first spring contest Saturday.

The Nationals stretch before their first Spring Training contest Saturday.

Yes, Stephen Strasburg was on the mound, as he was last Opening Day and may well be again on April 1 in Washington. Yes, Bryce Harper was there, the impossibly loud cracks of the ball off his bat seeming, somehow, even louder. Even Denard Span and Ian Desmond started the game and played a few innings each, with other familiar faces like Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy scattered around the field.

But the biggest offensive star of the game for the Nationals was Chris Snyder, the Non-roster Invitee catcher, who took advantage of the outward blowing jet stream, one that seems to permeate every Grapefruit League park, for a two-run home run. Ironically, Snyder was the same man who took Strasburg deep in the pitcher’s first spring start last year, back when he was a member of the Houston Astros.

Strasburg, the fiery competitor that he is, was as relaxed as probably anyone has ever seen him, smiling casually as he discussed his outing, a pedestrian, two-inning stint, capped at 42 pitches. A year older and wiser, with the proper perspective in tow, he explained how his outlook has changed from his near-identical first spring start a year ago.

“It seems to happen to me every Spring Training,” he explained of his tendency to get a little too wound up, to rush and hurry, and not achieve the desired result. “In the past, if I had a bad outing, I’d throw and throw and throw until it felt good.”

His approach has mellowed, though, knowing he has six more spring starts before playing a game that really matters. He is resolved to take his time, the importance of which, the 24-year-old is just now, in his fourth camp, fully understanding. His 20-year-old teammate, on the other hand, is still feeling some growing pains in that department.

“Yeah, I need to work on that a little bit,” said Harper, whose circus catch provided one of the more entertaining moments of the afternoon, of easing into the spring.

For an athlete known for his motor, for competing at 100 percent intensity all of the time, sometimes patience can be the toughest part of the game. And for a team with high expectations, not investing too much energy in the results of exhibition games – just focusing on the process – can be a strange adjustment as well.

By the way, the Mets defeated the Nationals, 5-3. Washington opens its home slate Sunday afternoon at 1:05 against the Marlins in Viera.

Record: 0-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

Getting to Know: Micah Owings

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With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to take a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. We wrap up our series with story of pitcher-turned-position-player Micah Owings.

The story of Rick Ankiel’s conversion from a former top prospect pitcher to a successful Major League outfielder is well known to fans of the Nationals. Ankiel played his past two seasons in a Washington uniform, patrolling center field with his cannon arm and showing flashes of the pop that led him to 25 home runs back in 2008. But the main reason that Ankiel’s transition was so notable was how rarely it has ever been accomplished. In Micah Owings, the Nationals have another player making the leap this season.

Owings enters his first camp as a full-time position player.

Owings enters his first camp as a full-time position player.

Owings showed promise on the mound, though he compiled a fairly average 32-33 record and 4.82 ERA over his six years. But the signs of his potential as a hitter have always been there. He still holds the Georgia state high school record for career home runs as a prepster, and carried that success at the plate with him into the professional ranks. Owings burst onto the Major League scene with a .333/.349/.683 line, blasting four home runs and seven doubles in just 64 plate appearances in his rookie campaign of 2007 to win the Silver Slugger Award.

In fact, despite generally receiving only a couple of plate appearances every five days, he owns a career .283 batting average and .503 slugging percentage, both marks higher than many Major League regulars. Now 30, Owings has decided to try to get the most out of what his body has left and make an honest run at converting to an everyday player.

“It was just to find out what kind of abilities I really have,” he explained of his decision to make the permanent switch. “I don’t want to look back 15-20 years from now and say ‘what if I would have tried it?’”

The idea for the change was in the works for a while before Owings finally pulled the trigger. But with a number of familiar faces from his Arizona days in Nationals camp – both on and off the field – the Nationals seemed like a perfect club to take the leap with.

Owings and the Nationals are staying open-minded about his defensive position.

Owings and the Nationals are staying open-minded about his defensive position.

“There are a lot of great guys, and they’ve been receptive,” said Owings of his new teammates easing his transition. “Even being in a different Spring Training zone. I’m used to being in Arizona for Spring Training. So totally being able to separate, being down here in Florida has been great. I’m really looking forward to it as camp develops.”

As for a position in the field, Owings is content to fit in wherever he can. Manager Davey Johnson has been impressed with what he’s seen so far, and obviously has no concerns about his new project’s arm strength. But at 6’5” and 220 pounds, don’t expect Owings to follow in Ankiel’s footsteps in center field any time soon.

“I don’t want to compare myself to him – he’s a great athlete,” said Owings of Ankiel, though he has tapped the trailblazer for his advice. “I was able to pick his brain last Spring Training, when I was kind of chewing on it. He shed some insight. I didn’t even have to say anything, he just said “Do it,” because he knew what I wanted to talk about.”

That reassurance, plus the confidence he will build with every game, every at-bat, every swing here in Spring Training has Owings optimistic about the process. He also looks forward to bringing a more mature approach to learning the other half of the game at the highest level.

“I’m just focusing in on the things I can control,” he said. “A lot of those things that we can’t control as players – umpires, calls, errors – those ate me up from a pitching standpoint early on. Hopefully I can remember that heading into this path.”

Owings won’t have to wait long for his first opportunity. He’s slated to DH, bat ninth, and play the full nine innings in Washington’s spring opener against the Mets Saturday afternoon.

Game On

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Believe it or not, Spring Training games begin tomorrow.

That’s right, in less than 24 hours, the Nationals will begin their Grapefruit League season with a 12:10 p.m. start at Digital Domain Park, the spring home of the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie. And the man slated to start that game on the mound for the Nationals? None other than Stephen Strasburg.

The lineup for hte first Spring Training game, Saturday in Port St. Lucie.

The lineup for hte first Spring Training game, Saturday in Port St. Lucie.

“It’s been a good spring so far, and I’m ready to play games,” said Davey Johnson from his office Friday. “I think they are too.”

The Mets will piggyback new acquisition Shaun Marcum and promising prospect Zack Wheeler (rated eighth overall by MLB.com and 11th by Baseball America), looking to break camp with the team for the first time. The game will be televised nationally on MLB Network, the first game of the spring to get the royal treatment.

As is the usual custom for road games in Spring Training, especially early in camp, when the Major League-side clubhouse is still crowded, there will be few regular position players making the trek south to Port St. Lucie. The only projected members of the Opening Day lineup (other than Strasburg, possibly) slated for the trip are Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Denard Span, who will be joined by Goon Squaders Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy.

That will give minor leaguers like Anthony Rendon, Matt Skole and Zach Walters a chance to shine in the spotlight. Catchers Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Chris Snyder and Jhonatan Solano, infielders Chris Marrero, Micah Owings, Will Rhymes, and Carlos Rivero, and outfielders Corey Brown and Eury Perez will also make the trip.

The pitchers in the fold behind Strasburg include Craig Stammen, 40-man roster members Cole Kimball and Erik Davis, and NRI’s Fernando Abad, Bill Bray and Pat McCoy. Stay tuned to the Nationals on Twitter for updates live from Florida throughout day.

Getting to Know: Ross Ohlendorf

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With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to bring you a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. Today, we learn more about one of the most compelling personalities in the group, pitcher Ross Ohlendorf.

When it comes to the 6-foot-4, 240-pound pitcher with the power sinker, Ross Ohlendorf looks the part of the professional athlete. Born in Austin, Texas, he serves as a ranch-hand on his father’s farm in the offseason, where they raise longhorns. With huge hands and a bullish frame, he fits right into a throwing line of Nationals power pitchers, firing darts across an open expanse of outfield grass along the practice fields behind Space Coast Stadium.

However, Ohlendorf’s story does not end there. Not even close.

Ohlendorf (throwing) taking PFP's with follow Nationals pitchers.

Ohlendorf (throwing) taking PFP’s with follow Nationals pitchers.

Athletes are sometimes thought of simply in terms of the game they play, but a quick look at Ohlendorf’s resume – his degree from Princeton (the same alma mater as the recently signed Chris Young) in Operations Research and Financial Engineering, along with internships in the office of finance at the University of Texas and another with the Department of Agriculture in D.C. – dispels that notion quickly. In fact, after being drafted following his junior year, he penned a 140-page senior thesis while playing his first season of minor league ball. The topic, given his major, had to be rooted in mathematics, statistics or finance. Ohlendorf knew just the thing.

“The (MLB) Draft was really relevant at the time, so that’s what I decided to focus on,” he explained. “A lot of people would talk about how much players were getting paid as a signing bonus and say they were getting paid too much or not paid enough, so I decided to do a study to try to estimate how it’s worked out for teams.”

He analyzed the top 100 picks over a five-year period, then analyzed the return on the initial investment over the next 12 years of the players’ careers. If that sounds like the kind of thing that would make him a prime candidate to follow in the footsteps of players-turned-executives like Billy Beane, perhaps so. But all that talk is a little premature for Ohlendorf. He’s still got plenty of baseball left in his arm.

Bullpen Coach Jim Lett looks on as Ohlendorf throws in the 'pen.

Bullpen Coach Jim Lett looks on as Ohlendorf throws in the ‘pen.

“I’m not sure yet,” he said, laughing, about the prospect of someday moving into the front office for a team. “It’s definitely something that would interest me, but I’m not really thinking that far ahead right now.”

Indeed. For now, Ohlendorf provides some of that starting pitching depth that EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo has been talking about all offseason. Of course, Rizzo was the Director of Scouting for Arizona when the Diamondbacks first selected and signed Ohlendorf in the fourth round of the 2004 First-year Player Draft. If Ohlendorf’s familiarity with Rizzo – as well as former teammates like Tyler Clippard and Micah Owings – wasn’t enough to sell him on Washington, his throwing partner this offseason was fellow NRI Bill Bray.

“That really makes the transition easier,” said Ohlendorf of the familiarity across different levels of the Nationals organization, his sixth. “I’ve really, really enjoyed Spring Training so far. It’s well done, and people really like each other here. It’s such a great environment here.”

Ohlendorf’s internship experience, as well as his five seasons spent pitching in the National League, have also brought him to the Nation’s Capital a number of times. He even lived near Capitol Hill for his 10-week internship with the USDA, which was mornings only, so he could go through his baseball workouts in the afternoon.

“I really liked it,” he said of his stint in Washington. “And I’ve really liked it when I’ve gone to play against the Nationals, too. It’s one of my favorite cities.”

While the positive Spring Training environment and the prospect of pitching in Washington help, perhaps the real reason Ohlendorf projects so much positivity about camp this year is internal. With 108 Major League appearances (73 starts) under his belt, the 30-year-old is happy to be fully healthy and feels particularly good about his physical well-being going into the spring.

Ohlendorf throws live batting practice to Chad Tracy.

Ohlendorf throws live batting practice to Chad Tracy.

“I’m really excited about this season, it’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” he explained. “I think part of the reason I feel so good, having stayed healthy last year, my arm feels even better this year. My workouts have changed a little bit each offseason and I feel like I’ve improved my diet this year, which I think has helped.”

The more he has focused on his workouts and his nutrition over the years, the less Ohlendorf has paid attention to his own personal numbers. And while discovering more about the statistical intricacies of the game he plays has been an intellectually stimulating project, as a player, Ohlendorf has learned not to overanalyze his own metrics and simply focus on what he can control.

“I do think they have a lot of value,” Ohlendorf said of the figures that formed the basis of his thesis. “But I’ve kind of found, for me as a player, I don’t think it does me much good, and it can do me harm to worry too much about my stats.”

As Crash Davis lectured Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, sometimes it’s better to not think, and just throw. However intricate and complex his intellectual pursuits are off the field, Ohlendorf is content taking that basic game plan into this season.

“Each game I try to pitch as deep into the game as I can and I try to get a win,” he said. “Just keep it simple.”

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