March 2013

Nats by the Numbers Bobblehead Trivia Challenge

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Many of you have asked since the release of the Nationals promotional schedule who our 2013 bobbleheads will be. Well, we have good news and we have better news. The good news is, you’ll find out by Monday. The better news? If you’re the first person to accurately guess the identities of all three 2013 bobbleheads after we reveal clues this week, you’ll win 4 lower level tickets to one of the 2013 bobblehead games (we’ll have four of those bobbleheads waiting for you, of course) plus the other two 2013 bobbleheads to complete this year’s set!

Here’s how the giveaway works. Each day this week, we’ll give you a clue, which will lead you to a single digit. On Monday, we’ll drop the final clue, giving you five digits which you’ll need to unscramble in the correct sequence to reveal the jersey numbers of the members of our 2013 bobblehead class. Once the final clue is released, the first correct guess of all three bobbleheads using the hashtag #NatsBobbles will win!

Even if you aren’t our Grand Prize winner, we still have great prizes for you. The next three (3) runners up will receive one complete set of all three 2013 bobbleheads. And three (3) more consolation winners will get their choice of one (1) of the three 2013 bobbleheads.

So let’s get started…here’s your first clue towards unveiling this year’s bobbleheads!

CLUE #1: In how many consecutive games did Adam LaRoche homer against the Cubs last September?

CLUE #2: On what pitch of the at-bat did Roger Bernadina save the day, flying into the wall at Minute Maid Park to catch Brett Wallace’s deep drive August 7 in Houston?

CLUE #3: The number of pitches in Jayson Werth’s game-winning at-bat in Game 4 of the NLDS MINUS the inning in which he hit his home run.

CLUE #4: How many fewer home runs did Gio Gonzalez give up in the 2012 regular season than fellow Cy Young finalist Clayton Kershaw?

CLUE #5: How many All-Star selections do the Nationals players mentioned in the clues above have combined?

Your five clues correspond to the five digits that comprise the jersey numbers of our 2013 bobbleheads! REMEMBER: You MUST TWEET the correct responses using #NatsBobbles in order to qualify for the giveaway (complete rules here).

UPDATE: First of all, thank you all for your participation – based on reaction, it seems that even the most hardcore fans were pleasantly surprised by the level of involvement in this promotion. As a point of explanation, we pull all winners using a program designed specifically to track hashtags. That said, we pulled the first seven responses we saw after the final clue was announced. We appreciate your feedback, as it helps us make future promotions more fan friendly and accessible for all of you. If you won, congratulations. If not, don’t worry – we’ll have plenty more coming once the season starts, which – we don’t have to remind you – is only one week away!

Ace for an Ace

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Jordan Zimmermann was dominant against the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers on Monday, setting down the final 18 batters he faced after allowing a leadoff single to begin the game. And as impressive as he was in dismantling one of the best offenses in baseball, he accomplished a feat even more rare off the field just last week.

As they have done each of the last three years, a collection of Nationals players, coaches and staff joined together for a par three scramble challenge on the Doral course near Space Coast Stadium last Monday night. With the off day on Tuesday, the tradition allowed for the group to come together off the field and bond over some friendly competition.

Zimmermann was as stellar on the mound yesterday as he was on the course last Monday night.

Zimmermann was as stellar on the mound yesterday as he was on the course last Monday night.

If you didn’t already know, the Nationals feature a number of very good golfers, mostly members of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen. Each group of four on the course had a designated A, B, C and D player, based on respective skill. Zimmermann, whose golf score hovers around his fastball – somewhere in the mid-90s, according to the pitcher – was the “C” player on Tyler Clippard’s squad, which began the day on the third hole, just over 100 yards long. And while Clippard may have been the designated “A” player, it didn’t take long for Zimmermann to establish himself as the ringer of the team.

“First swing of the day,” explained Zimmermann. “I pulled my pitching wedge, spun it back, and it went in.”

A hole-in-one on his very first swing, and style points to boot with the backspin.

Along with Clippard, Zimmermann’s team included Syracuse Chiefs hitting coach and “B” player Troy Gingrich, as well as Nationals strength and conditioning coach John Philbin, holding down the “D” player spot. Together, they combined to go 11 under par over 18 holes, forcing a playoff.

On the first playoff hole, Zimmermann again stepped up to finish what he had so masterfully started.

“He buried a 20-footer to win,” said Clippard, whose team knocked off the foursome of Drew Storen, Rick Eckstein, Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Paul Menhart and Kurt Suzuki.

It was both Clippard and Zimmermann’s first win in the tournament’s three-year history, but Philbin’s second consecutive win. Simply known as “Coach” to most in the clubhouse, they gave him a hard time for backing into his success again.

“Somehow Coach always finds his way onto the winning team,” said Zimmermann, who certainly earned the right to make the joke.

The par three scramble challenge will no doubt remain an annual tradition, as it is one of the only times all year the entire team is able to convene outside of the ballpark, just relax, and enjoy each other’s company.

“I wish we could do it once a week,” said Clippard of the event.

Of course, winning probably helps.

Help D-Span Upgrade His Profile

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Denard Span has officially been a member of the Nationals family for nearly four months now. And though he has yet to play his first regular season game with the team, he took no time at all in updating his Twitter profile upon his arrival in D.C. Now, he is due for an overhaul, and is looking for your help.

Denard has been generous enough to leave it up to you, the fans, to choose between the options below for both his new avatar and background on his account. Be sure to vote in both polls for your favorite photos, and the winners will be uploaded to his account later this week.

Profile Avatar – Option 1

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Profile Avatar – Option 2

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Profile Avatar – Option 3

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Profile Background – Option 1

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Profile Background – Option 2

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Back to the Grind

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After competing in a postseason type of atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic the last couple of weeks, Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez returned to the much more low-key confines of Viera, rejoining their teammates in Spring Training this week. Detwiler made his first spring start since the tournament on Sunday, bringing a sharp changeup, as well as his trademark, self-deprecating wit along with him to Lakeland as he squared off with the Tigers.

Despite the change in venue, Detwiler used the same approach for this outing as he did for his shining WBC moment, in which he shut down Team Italy over four scoreless frames to help Team USA advance to the second round.

“I don’t think it was that different,” said the southpaw of the two environments. “I had the same mentality to just go out there, throw strikes and get ahead.”

Detwiler looked like his old self in his return to the Nationals rotation Sunday.

Detwiler looked like his old self in his return to the Nationals rotation Sunday.

Limited to 56 pitches over four innings, the lefty allowed just three hits and a walk, surrendering a single run on a towering home run to Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter in the first inning.

“My first outing in Spring Training I faced the Braves and their Opening Day lineup,” he explained, noting that he has run into a tough string of opponents already in spring. “You don’t want to take any less intensity out there or they’re going to hit a ball right back at you. Or over the tiki hut in left.”

Detwiler went on to throw 15 more pitches in the bullpen, as he stretches himself out for his first start of the season, likely in Cincinnati – a well-known hitter’s haven – on the team’s first road trip. Good thing he’s getting his practice in now in tough pitching environments.

“That’s a ridiculous lineup,” he said of the Tigers, who rolled out nearly all of their starters on Sunday. “You’ve got to focus on keeping the ball down, or you’re going to have to throw with an L-screen out there.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, an L-screen is the protective barrier from behind which coaches throw batting practice to the players. Hopefully he won’t need any such equipment should he run into them again when the two teams meet during the regular season, May 7-8 in D.C.

“I’m going to throw to the American League the same way I throw to the National League, I just won’t have to hit in half the games,” he explained, as the only difference in his approach. After a pause, he quipped, “That’s a good thing.”

While Detwiler was out facing the defending American League Champions, Gonzalez took his day off to head to Disney World. He threw on the Minor League side on Monday as he works his way back into the rotation.

With Detwiler and Gonzalez’s return, and with the starters scheduled to play more innings both at home and on the road this week, it was time on Monday morning to make the next round of cuts in camp. The Nationals optioned right-handed pitchers Erik Davis, Yunesky Maya and Ryan Perry, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Chris Marrero and outfielder Corey Brown to Syracuse and reassigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters to Minor League camp. The Spring Training roster now stands at 34 players heading into play against the Tigers once again on Monday.

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Zimmermann RHP

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

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

3/14 vs. Houston – W, 6-3

3/15 @ St. Louis – L, 5-1

3/16 vs. Houston – L, 4-2

3/17 @ Detroit – W, 12-10

Overall Record: 10-10-2

The Big Machine

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Stephen Strasburg was pitching, Ryan Zimmerman was playing third base, and all of the Nationals regulars were in the starting lineup for the first time truly in Spring Training Saturday night. Sure, the ballpark was about 40,000 people shy of what it will be when the 2013 regular season launches in Washington, but the exhibition season finally was beginning to feel like a reality.

Most of all, it meant that the Nationals are now just three turns of the rotation away from Opening Day in Washington, just 15 days from now.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

Strasburg will start that game, just as he did Saturday night against the Astros. He delivered his second consecutive strong outing, just a taste of what he might unleash on the league in his first full season. In 5.1 innings of work, he fanned eight Houston batters – including four in a row at one point – allowing just a single run. Manager Davey Johnson extended him out to 93 pitches, easily the most thrown by a Washington starter this spring.

Afterwards, Johnson called Strasburg “The Big Machine,” helping support Strasburg’s own desires expressed earlier this spring to be thought of as a workhorse for this squad. He won’t be the only one extending his work over the next week, though, as Johnson made clear after the game that starters would all be expected to play the full nine innings beginning next week.

“It’s my time, boys,” he joked. “The party’s over.”

The game itself was, thankfully, still a Spring Training affair. From the wind-blown balls that escaped Bryce Harper and former National Rick Ankiel, to the drops by both Washington and Houston players, it was not the most cleanly played of contests. But when Ryan Zimmerman charged Carlos Corporan’s slow chopper up the third base line in the second inning – his first defensive attempt of the spring – picked it cleanly, and fired a bullet across the diamond to Adam LaRoche at first base, the crowd at Space Coast Stadium began to see flashes of the hopes of what this team will become.

“I can’t remember the last bad day,” said Zimmerman in reference to throwing, after slowly rebuilding his arm strength this offseason.

Those words should be music to every Nationals fan’s ears. The party may be over, but the fun is just beginning.

Check out the Nationals lineup as they head to Lakeland to take on Detroit, and see a complete list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Lombardozzi 3B

3. Harper CF

4. Moore RF

5. Desmond SS

6. Suzuki C

7. Tracy DH

8. Marrero 1B

9. Owings LF

P. Detwiler LHP

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

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

3/14 vs. Houston – W, 6-3

3/15 @ St. Louis – L, 5-1

3/16 vs. Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 9-10-2

Big Names, Big Games

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On the day that Davey Johnson officially announced Stephen Strasburg would reprise his 2012 role as the Nationals Opening Day starter, it was the offensive half of Washington’s young power duo who made the in-game headlines. Bryce Harper homered and drove in four on Wednesday as the Nats took down the visiting New York Mets by a count of 8-5.

Jordan Zimmermann rebounded from the worst outing by any National this spring to return to his old self, quietly allowing just a single earned run over 4.2 innings of work while striking out six. Two early unearned runs kept him from factoring in the decision, as he fell victim to a pair of defensive miscues in the first inning. Chad Tracy couldn’t handle a tough backhand hop and Adam LaRoche uncharacteristically had a ball go through his legs, leading to a pair of Mets scores. But Zimmermann settled down to retire the next nine batters, and Washington’s four-run seventh inning proved to be the difference.

Harper and Rendon share the team lead with four home runs apiece.

Harper and Rendon share the team lead with four home runs apiece.

Meanwhile, an hour east-northeast in Kissimmee, a split squad comprised primarily of minor leaguers and non-roster invitees took on the Astros. Fittingly, Harper’s heir to the top Nationals prospect title, Anthony Rendon, was busy matching his team-high home run total. With two outs in the top of the eighth, Rendon sent an 0-2 offering out to the opposite field at spacious Osceola County Stadium – his fourth home run of the spring – to break a 5-5 tie, leading Washington to a 9-7, come-from-behind victory.

On Thursday morning, Washington announced its second round of cuts, trimming seven from the roster, down to 42 players. The most notable name on the list was Rendon, who will head across the fields behind Space Coast Stadium to Minor League camp along with fellow infielders Will Rhymes and Matt Skole, outfielder Eury Perez, catcher Sandy Leon, and pitchers Nathan Karns and Pat McCoy.

While cuts are an inevitable part of every camp, with the roster reduced once more, Nationals fans can anticipate seeing many of the familiar faces getting more playing time moving forward as we creep ever closer to Opening Day.

Here is Thursday’s lineup as the Nationals battle the Astros in Viera, along with a complete list of results to date:

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Lombardozzi 3B

P. Young

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

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

Overall Record: 8-8-2

Nationals and Americans

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It is said that 90 percent of baseball is pitching. Abiding by that adage, Team USA stands just one win from the championship round of the World Baseball Classic thanks in large part to a pair of stellar performances, both by members of the Washington Nationals starting rotation.

After Ross Detwiler kept the Americans’ hopes alive by closing out Italy over four scoreless frames on Saturday night, it was Gio Gonzalez’s turn in his hometown of Miami on Tuesday. Pitching in front of a raucous crowd of 32,872, he pumped fastballs, spun curveballs and pulled the string on his ever-improving changeup to befuddle a Puerto Rican squad full of Major Leaguers. By the time Gonzalez was done, just three opposing batters had reached safely in five shutout frames, with five strikeouts to boot. Team USA went on to win by a 7-1 final, with Gonzalez the victor.

Gonzalez dominated in front of his hometown crowd.

Gonzalez dominated in front of his hometown crowd.

Think about it this way: if Detwiler and Gonzalez had pitched their nine combined innings in the same game, they would have collaborated on a four-hit shutout of the international field with a single walk and eight strikeouts.

“This was a blessing to be alongside some of the greatest,” said Gonzalez of his first opportunity to represent Team USA. “To say that I pitched in front of my home crowd and to win, it’s truly a dream.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Gonzalez’s outing was his pinpoint control, which led to 48 strikes in his 69 total pitches. That’s a 70 percent strike rate, compared with the 62 percent he posted last year, lower than every other member of the Washington rotation (Cliff Lee led MLB at 70.5 percent). If nothing else, it’s an encouraging sign for Nationals fans looking to see what Gonzalez can do to build off his 21-win season a year ago.

“We were right on the same page, every pitch,” said Gonzalez of his interactions with his catcher, Joe Mauer, whom he said he shook off only once all game. “I felt confident enough to go out and pound the strike zone.”

Team USA will get Wednesday off – as Puerto Rico and Italy will battle to stay alive in the tournament – before taking on the Dominican Republic on Thursday. While that would be Detwiler’s throw day, he is unsure as of yet whether or not he will be called upon in that game. Gonzalez, meanwhile, would not start again until the championship round, should Team USA advance to San Francisco.

Inter-National Flavor

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As the Nationals enjoy just their second off day of the spring on Tuesday, several members of the team are still hard at work, competing on a much grander stage. The second round of the World Baseball Classic is underway, with the opening games of Pool 2 beginning today in Miami.

The Dominican Republic squares off with Italy at 1:05 p.m. ET, while Team USA will send Gio Gonzalez to the mound against Puerto Rico in the split-doubleheader finale at 8:05 p.m. live on MLB Network. Of course, the United States might not be playing in this round at all if weren’t for another Washington National coming to the rescue.

Ross Detwiler's huge outing against Italy was instrumental in Team USA advancing.

Ross Detwiler’s huge outing against Italy was instrumental in Team USA advancing.

After dropping its opening game to Mexico, 5-2 in Phoenix, Team USA found itself in an early 2-0 hole in a win-or-go-home game against Italy. The offense finally came through, and manager Joe Torre handed the ball to Ross Detwiler with a 6-2 lead in the sixth inning.

“It’s amazing, playing for your country,” said Detwiler of his pressure-packed outing. “We’ve played some pretty close games. Everybody’s putting their heart and soul into it. Seeing all the fans coming out and chanting ‘U-S-A’ and everything, it really brings chills.”

Detwiler certainly rose to the challenge. After reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey was touched up in the loss to Mexico, Ryan Vogelsong struggled early in his start against Italy before giving way to the bullpen. Detwiler entered and mowed down the competition, allowing just a single and a walk over four scoreless frames, striking out three to record a 12-out save, the first of his career. Another comeback win against Canada in the final game of pool play on Sunday ensured the Americans would play on.

Of course, Detwiler is certainly accustomed – perhaps uniquely so – to pitching meaningful games in March.

“I had to compete for a job the last few years, so it’s not really any earlier than I’m used to,” he said of bringing competitive fire to spring starts. “I’ve never had a Spring Training where I just come in and take it easy and just get ready for the season. I’ve had to win a job in the past. I think that helped me out this year.”

Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong chat after playing catch on Monday.

Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong chat after playing catch on Monday.

Now it’s Gonzalez’s turn to shine, in the national spotlight during primetime, against a Puerto Rican team that features MLB stars like Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Angel Pagan. Gonzalez did not join the team for the first round, but watched every game on television, including Sunday’s bout with Canada from Flanagan’s, a favorite spot in his hometown of Hialeah.

Upon arriving at Monday’s workout at Marlins Park, Gonzalez immediately sought out his Washington rotation-mate.

“The first thing Ross did to me was give me a big old hug, big pat on the back,” said Gonzalez of his reunion with Detwiler. Gonzalez praised the fellow lefty on his outing against the Italians. “The way he went out there and performed, I think he set the tone. He looked really good.”

Detwiler expects nothing less of Gonzalez, who won 21 games and finished third in the National League Cy Young race last season.

“I think Gio’s gonna be just fine,” Detwiler said with a laugh. “He knows how to go out there and compete and win. And obviously in his home city he’s going to do well. He’s going to bring a big crowd out here, and hopefully they’re chanting ‘U-S-A.’”

Team USA battled a loud, pro-Mexico crowd in their contest in Arizona, and there is sure to be plenty of Puerto Rico fans in attendance on Tuesday night in Miami. But if last season was any indication, Gonzalez alone may well help mobilize the local community in favor of the red, white and blue.

“The last time I was here it was over 600 tickets,” said Gonzalez of the purchases by family and friends for when the Nationals took on the Marlins last season. “I think all of Hialeah came.”

Regardless of Team USA’s results in Miami, one Nationals player has already cemented his spot in the semifinals. Roger Bernadina’s Netherlands squad continued its Cinderella run with an upset of Team Cuba in Japan and will join the Japanese and two semifinalists from Pool 2 in San Francisco.

The Nationals are also represented at the minor league level in the WBC by Mike Costanzo and Matt Torra (Italy), Adrian Nieto (Spain; eliminated), Randolph Oduber (Netherlands), Eury Perez (Dominican Republic) and Jimmy Van Ostrand (Canada; eliminated).

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Inter-Nationals

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Hello everyone.

Things here in camp could not be better. I think that Spring Training has picked up its pace. Everyone is getting their scheduled innings and at-bats. Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson could not be more pleased with what they are seeing.

One National who should be extremely pleased with himself is Ross Detwiler, who tossed 4.0 scoreless innings in Team USA’s win-or-go-home victory on Saturday against Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Just like last October, with his team’s season in the balance, Ross put forth his finest performance and picked up the first save of his career.

I wonder if Ross’s mental preparation for that game included thoughts about all of the brave U.S. service men and women he met during the USO Tour he took with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and teammate Craig Stammen back in December. It would not surprise me, as Ross is that type of individual.

Gio Gonzalez is the most popular man in Miami heading into his Team USA debut tomorrow.

Gio Gonzalez is the most popular man in Miami heading into his Team USA debut tomorrow.

Gio Gonzalez left Viera yesterday and joins Ross and his new teammates for the first time today. He’ll get the starting nod tomorrow night as Team USA faces Puerto Rico in Miami (8 p.m. on MLB Network). Gio will be challenged, as the Puerto Rican lineup will likely include the likes of Yadir Molina, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Mike Aviles and Alex Rios.

Of course, we are equally as proud of Roger Bernadina (Netherlands), Eury Perez (Dominican Republic), Mike Costanzo (Italy), Randolph Oduber (Netherlands), Jimmy Van Ostrand (Canada), Adrian Nieto (Spain) and Matt Torra (Italy) for their contributions for their respective WBC teams/countries. I’d say it is fitting that our organization from Nation’s Capital is well represented in this global event.

Two position players that warrant special notice are a new-look Danny Espinosa (.345 batting average) and Anthony Rendon (.296, three doubles, three home runs). Judging by their Grapefruit League performances, I feel confident that both will enjoy productive seasons.

Last week, I was pleased to be able to share dinner with Astros manager Bo Porter. We are so proud of Bo. Honestly, he was made for this job.

As Bo explained, they are in the midst of implementing a new culture there. His club will face some challenges, not the least of which include Houston’s move to the American League and stiff AL West competition from the A’s, Angels, Mariners and Rangers. I wish Bo and his Astros nothing but the best.

Of course, Bo’s departure created a well-deserved opportunity for first base coach/outfield instructor Tony Tarasco in D.C. Tony’s transition has been seamless as he has preexisting relationships with all of our homegrown players from his days as our outfield/baserunning coordinator. I know he is also thrilled to reunite with Davey, for whom he played for in Baltimore.

As always, I have enjoyed the interaction with fans down here at Space Coast Stadium. For so many reasons, there is genuine optimism in the air among our fan base. And the sheer number of our fans down here is up compared to previous springs. I think this bodes well for a busy and boisterous ’13 campaign at Nationals Park.

Speaking of which, with Opening Day just three weeks away, reports are that everything at Nationals Park is rounding into proper shape. Our dedicated staff is putting the finishing touches on various projects and polishing up the place. Everything will be ready for our final exhibition game on Friday, March 29 against the New York Yankees. The cherry blossoms may even be in bloom in left field.

Until we blog again …

Displays of Power

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The Nationals hit a trio of home runs on Saturday to lead them to an 8-7 victory over the Miami Marlins. All three were hit authoritatively, each no-doubters even without the steady breeze blowing out to right field, but each meant something different to the player who hit them.

With Washington trailing 6-4, Bryce Harper fell into an 0-2 hole against lefty Brad Hand leading off the bottom of the fifth. But he beat the lefty, driving a towering shot over the raised row of billboards behind the outfield wall at Space Coast Stadium, just to the right of center field. Manager Davey Johnson was most impressed not by the clout itself, but off whom Harper blasted it.

“It was nice to see Harp hit the left-hander,” remarked Johnson of the 20-year-old, whose second roundtripper of the spring left him with a line of .462/.481/.846 at the end of the day.

Nationals fans in Viera hardly had time to sit back down before Ryan Zimmerman joined the party, taking another offering from the hand of Hand to nearly the exact same spot as Harper’s ball for his first homer of the spring. Coming off offseason shoulder surgery, both Johnson and Zimmerman insisted it was no surprise to see the face of the franchise’s batting stroke in midseason form, but that it was nice to actually see the results on the field.

“It’s always good to get a couple and start driving the ball to get some confidence,” said Zimmerman of his blast.

Zimmerman, who had only served as DH so far this spring, also had encouraging news about his throwing program, as he fully strengthens his shoulder before returning to third base.

“I don’t really have to count anymore,” he said of his practice throws across the infield. “I just go until I’m tired, then throw a few more to build off of it, and shut it down. But it feels good, I mean everything’s fine. The routine plays are fine, it’s just the ones where I have to rush and I’m not able to set my feet. My arm’s not quite strong enough to do that yet.”

The final home run of the day proved to be the game-winner, crushed off the bat of Zach Walters to break a 6-6 tie in the bottom of the eighth. It was the second home run in as many days for the young infield prospect, who has made major strides off the field in his first big league camp.

“He’s made some adjustments with (hitting coach) Rick Eckstein,” explained Johnson of the 23-year-old, who joins Harper and Anthony Rendon as the lone Nationals with multiple home runs so far this spring. “He’s learning more about who he can be and playing to his ability.”

Johnson also indicated that Walters would probably be one of the final cuts from camp, meaning that fans will get more chances to see what the young switch-hitter is capable of.

The Nationals are in Lakeland to take on the Tigers Sunday at 1:05 p.m. Check out today’s lineup and a full list of Spring Training results to date below.

Nationals Lineup

1. Brown RF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Harper CF

4. Ramos C

5. Moore LF

6. Tracy DH

7. Marrero 1B

8. Skole 3B

9. Rendon SS

P. Haren

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

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

Overall Record: 6-6-2

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