February 2013

Getting to Know: Bill Bray

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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 start things off by getting to know lefty reliever Bill Bray.

By this point, you’re probably tired of hearing the story of the first-round draft pick raised in Virginia Beach, out of college in Virginia, who moved quickly through the system, making his way into a Nationals uniform. That tale, the one usually ascribed to Ryan Zimmerman, has been told many times, as he has grown into the face of the Nationals franchise. But one year prior, another player matching the same description began a very different journey, one that has, after nearly a decade, landed him back in the same clubhouse here in Viera.

Bray returns to camp with the Nationals for the first time since 2006.

Bray returns to camp with the Nationals for the first time since 2006.

Bill Bray is a name likely familiar to Nationals fans who have been following the franchise since its relocation. After being selected 16th overall in the 2004 First-year Player Draft, the final one in Expos history, he made it to his Major League debut two days before his 23rd birthday in a road game at Milwaukee. The lefty threw a single pitch, upon which Corey Koskie, the runner at first, was gunned down trying to take second base, ending the eighth inning with Washington trailing, 3-2.

Zimmerman – who Bray faced in both high school and college – led off the top of the ninth with a single, and two batters later Brian Schneider took Derrick Turnbow deep for a two-run shot to give Washington the lead. Chad Cordero closed out the ninth, and Bray earned a win in his first Major League appearance, throwing just one pitch without retiring a batter.

The southpaw appeared in relief 19 times in the 2006 season before being flipped to the Reds in an eight-player deal that netted the Nationals Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. Now he returns to a team that has grown during his absence to one of the strongest in the game.

“It’s a great feeling to be back in a Nationals uniform, and at the same time all these memories just come flooding back,” Bray said of walking into the home clubhouse in Viera for the first time in seven years. “It’s weird, almost like you’re seeing some ghosts walking around.”

A lot has changed in the seven years since Bray's last Nationals photo day.

A lot has changed in the seven years since Bray’s last Nationals photo day.

Bray was raised in the system with the likes of Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, but watched them blossom into everyday players from afar. Meanwhile, he has spent the past six years with Cincinnati, carving out a role for himself as a left-handed specialist, though his numbers against righties have been respectable as well.

“I don’t care if it’s a lefty or a righty up at the dish, I’m going to go at them the same way, I’m going to attack, and I’m going to get them out,” he explained, but also acknowledged the necessity of left-handed pitching for a team like the Nationals. “I think it’s a very important job, especially in the NL East with some of the lefties that we’re going to see and face.”

Bray is already embracing the role he hopes to carve out for himself over the next six weeks. He’s thrilled to have the chance to come back to Washington as well, the organization that signed him, and the one closest to his childhood home.

“Besides the baseball, we love D.C.,” Bray said of himself and his family. “Being from Virginia, my wife and I lived in D.C. for a couple years before we moved to Texas and we really enjoyed it.”

But ultimately, Bray’s driving force to return to Washington came from the knowledge that he had the chance to fill one of the lone remaining openings on a team with high aspirations this season.

“I know if I go out there and I’m healthy, I’m going to do my job,” Bray said, matter-of-factly. “That has always been the key for me is just staying on the field. I’m expecting to be healthy this year, I’m expecting to do my job, and I’m expecting to win the spot.”

National Det Joins National Team

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It’s been one heck of an offseason for Ross Detwiler. That trend continued Tuesday, as the Nationals starter was extended and accepted an invitation to pitch for Team USA in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

“The little kid in me wanted to say yes right away, without thinking it through,” said Detwiler, who immediately took the offer to manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty to get their nod of approval.

Both coaches encouraged his participation. Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo also spoke Tuesday, throwing his support behind Detwiler’s decision to play.

Detwiler will set aside his Nationals gear to play for Team USA.

Detwiler will set aside his Nationals gear to play for Team USA.

“This will be a good step in Ross’ developmental curve,” Rizzo explained. “These kinds of opportunities don’t come along very often, and we think it’s vitally important that Team USA is well represented.”

This will not be Detwiler’s first stint in a Team USA jersey, as he also pitched as an amateur for the 2006 squad that won the championship in Cuba. He said that his ring from that tournament still rests on his nightstand at his offseason home in the St. Louis suburbs as one of his proudest career accomplishments.

Ever since his strong performance in Game 4 of the NLDS last October, the left-handed starter has been whisked in one direction, then another, his life a whirlwind of activity. First, the 26-year-old married his college sweetheart Keri on December 1 and the two took to Hawaii for their honeymoon. However, before they could even return from that trip, the next big event in Detwiler’s life presented itself.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey – who had met Detwiler when he threw out ceremonial first pitches twice during the 2012 season – personally invited the pitcher on his USO holiday tour. Faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Detwiler jumped at the chance, departing the warm, sunny beaches of Hawaii for the war-torn middle east.

As the calendar flipped to January, Detwiler’s newly minted Twitter handle earned the nod as the most creative in baseball. Now, just as he was settling into his first week of Spring Training, the opportunity to represent his country has come knocking once more.

Detwiler compared the honor of the USO and Team USA invitations, joking that perhaps the highlights of his year were coming a little earlier than he expected.

“I feel like I’m peaking a little early,” he joked. “But it’s kind of the same feeling, being able to wear ‘USA’ across my chest and represent my country.”

Detwiler will join Team USA in Arizona for the first round of games in the first week of March.

Spring In Slow-mo

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There is something about slow motion video, especially when shot in high definition, that has an almost magical quality. Factor in the brilliant sunshine and vivid blues, greens, whites and reds of the sky, the fields and the jerseys here at Nationals camp in Viera, and you’ve got a recipe for visuals that would make any baseball fan salivate for Opening Day. Even the simplest drills and workouts come to life as though they are being seen again for the first time.

Perhaps that’s what draws so many people to Spring Training each year, the crowds already growing noticeably larger each day that we creep closer to the first actual game this Saturday. If you’re not one of the fans lucky enough to be here, at least take a moment to enjoy a glimpse of the opening days of camp.

The Race to Rushmore

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The Presidents pose with Screech at Mt. Rushmore.

The Presidents pose with Screech at Mt. Rushmore.

Presidents Day has passed, the votes are in, and Teddy has scored another commanding victory, taking down his latest competitor – Bill – in the Twitter hashtag battle during Bill and Teddy’s Executive Adventure. However, despite commanding a better than two-to-one margin in the voting, Teddy could not overcome Bill at the actual finish line, as the two broke the tape simultaneously, resulting in a tie. Make sure to follow them both on Twitter @NatsBigChief27 and @Teddy26Nats as the rivalry heats up heading into the season.

After trading leads throughout, Bill and Teddy tied at the tape.

After trading leads throughout, Bill and Teddy tied at the tape.

After posing with the rest of the Racing Presidents in front of the famous monument, the entire group took in all that the Black Hills had to offer while they were in town. That included a stop in historic Deadwood, snowmobiling in the North Hills, meeting their newest fans in Rapid City Square, and a bison safari in Custer State Park. They will be paying visits to famous sites like Wall Drug and the Corn Palace as they begin their journey back to Nationals Park today.

Don’t forget, once the Racing Presidents return to Washington, tryouts for the 2013 season will take place on Saturday, March 2. And congratulations to @muffinkakes and @danieldupuis1, who scored personal visits this season from Bill and Teddy, respectively, for casting their votes.

Weekly Review: The Birds and the Beards

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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.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Tuesday, marking the first official baseball activity for the Washington franchise in exactly four months. All the usual suspects arrived, and once Rafael Soriano resolved his final visa issues, every player under contract had reported.

Players began their annual NatsHD filming, with Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard taking center stage to start things off.

The team held its first unofficial workout on Thursday, during which an osprey dropped a recently plucked fish onto the field between Ian Desmond and Denard Span. Desmond, a Florida native familiar with this type of happening, picked up the fish and tossed it over the fence.

On Friday, the Nationals reached an agreement on a one-year deal with Jordan Zimmermann, avoiding arbitration hearings with all their players. As a result, this season will mark the first since the introduction of the arbitration process in 1977 that every single eligible Major Leaguer will avoid the legal proceedings in coming to terms on their contracts.

As promised by EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo, the famous offseason facial hair styling’s of certain Nationals players began to be trimmed down for the season, most noticeably Danny Espinosa’s beard, which had gone untamed since the end of the 2012 season.

Behind the Curtain

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Have you ever wondered where all those live action, high definition videos you see on NatsHD at Nationals home games all season come from? Well, they’re filmed now, in the early days of Spring Training, as players report to camp and begin throwing and batting for the first time.

Today, we give you a peek behind the curtain at all the moving parts that will come together over the next six weeks to be ready for the 2013 season. While you’ll see the finished product come Opening Day D.C., here’s your first look – featuring Tyler Clippard and Ross Detwiler – at what’s in store as the team steps into the national spotlight this season.

Hair Today…

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Those fans that made it out to NatsFest were treated to the offseason facial hair stylings of a number of their favorite players. While Jayson Werth arrived with his now-familiar grizzle, it was another member of the team who stole much of the spotlight: Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa’s propensity for quick facial hair growth had been pointed out numerous times since his arrival in The District, but he had never let it go beyond a week or two. Then, suddenly, the infielder showed up in Washington in late January, having not shaved since the end of the 2012 season. His mountain man image quickly spread across the internet, as fans wondered aloud if he had overtaken the title of best facial hair on the team.

EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo joked at NatsFest that the team had “some facial hair problems we need to attack.” And so, sure enough, off came the beard, one uncomfortably hilarious strip at a time. Enjoy the process as Espi returns from nearly unrecognizable to his usual self, with a couple of ridiculous stops along the way.

Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.

This One’s for the Birds

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The Nationals held their first team work out of Spring Training Thursday. And while Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond put on a power display in batting practice, it was a wild osprey that stole the show.

Clutching a large fish in its talons, the bird of prey flew low over the field as it headed for its nest atop a nearby light tower. Center fielder Denard Span spotted it immediately.

“I saw the bird with something attached to its claws,” Span said. “At first, everyone was trying to figure out what it was. Then once I saw it was a fish, I realized he was gonna drop it.”

Ian Desmond: slick-fielding, 20-20 shortstop and... wild game warden?

Ian Desmond: slick-fielding, 20-20 shortstop and…wild game warden?

Span, known for his eye at the plate, was correct in his prediction. Out came the fish, falling to the turf about 25 feet beyond the cut of the grass in shallow center field.

“I could tell what the bird was thinking,” Span said, mimicking a person with his face in his palms. “I just dropped my dinner.”

But the osprey wasn’t ready to give up its meal. It circled back, as nervous fielders kept one eye on the rest of batting practice and one eye on the skies. Span tried his best to deter the bird from returning.

“I was just screaming,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not an outdoorsman. I didn’t want him to attack me.”

Desmond, who later picked up the fish and tossed it over the fence, didn’t think twice about the incident.

“I’m from here, so I see stuff like that all the time,” the Sarasota native said. “I’ve seen osprey flying with fish, rats or whatever. Never seen them drop in the middle of the field, though.”

“It was a pretty big fish,” he continued. “I think it was a crappie.”

Asked why he would pick up the fish and carry it off the field, Desmond got straight to the point.

“I’ve been fishing my whole life,” he said. “I’ve grabbed plenty of fish before.”

Signs of Life

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For the majority of Nationals fans around the country that are not in Florida right now, the knowledge that pitchers and catchers have reported provides comfort that the baseball season is right around the corner. However, most of them will not see their favorite players actually throw and catch and hit until the team migrates north back to the banks of the Anacostia for the regular season. For all Nats fans, but especially for those stuck in colder climates eagerly awaiting spring, this is for you.

Pitchers and Catchers

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People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. – Rogers Hornsby

Look outside. It has been cold and blustery here in D.C. Your bones may creak and your muscles may ache in the morning as you prepare for your day. The prospect of spring may still seem a distant light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But today, everything should feel a little warmer inside. Today is first day that truly matters on the baseball calendar. Today, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

It's finally time for Spring Training to begin.

It’s finally time for Spring Training to begin.

It has been a difficult winter for many Nationals fans, who saw the magical 2012 season end so abruptly. But with a longer season, one that stretched into October for the first time, and an early report to Viera thanks to the World Baseball Classic, this winter seemed shorter than those before it.

Perhaps that was due to the strategic, piece-by-piece additions of Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano, as the team addressed its most pressing winter needs. Perhaps it was simply the ever-quickening nature of our perception of time. Think about it: as euphoric the aftermath of Game 4 and heartbreaking that of Game 5, doesn’t it all seem like a bit of a distant memory?

That’s because baseball is back. Sure, we’re a very long way from another October, with a more youthful Atlanta squad, a Phillies club looking to rebound from their first missed postseason since 2006, and 27 other teams standing in the way. But none of that matters yet. Not today.

Look outside again, at the sun shining through the clouds. If it’s beginning to feel like spring, it should. It is time to begin again from the beginning once more, but with prospects as bright and expectations as high as they have ever been.

It’s time for baseball. Finally.

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