March 2013

A Chat With Bob Carpenter

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With the MASN broadcast team in town on Friday to watch the Nationals take on the Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium, we sat down to chat with play-by-play man Bob Carpenter to get his perspective on Spring Training so far. Tapping into his three decades of Major League experience, we asked about his routines, the hazards of calling spring games, and his outlook as the Nationals prepare for the 2013 campaign.

Curly W Live: How much attention do you pay to Spring Training, day-to-day?

Bob Carpenter: I check it every day. And I’ll watch from afar, the box scores as games progress. The one thing I really like to do, is once the game gets into the middle innings, if I’m not (in Viera), I’ll check out a box score, look at pitching lines, see what guys have done their first couple at-bats. I would say it’s something I look at several times a day when we’re not here.

CWL: You guys have a similar ramp-up as the players do, getting more intense heading into Opening Day. How does it feel every year to prepare for the season ahead?

Carpenter calls Friday's game from the press box at Space Coast Stadium.

Carpenter calls Friday’s game from the press box at Space Coast Stadium.

BC: You know, that’s a good thought. I used to have a horrible time getting ready for Spring Training games. Now that this is my eighth year (with the Nationals), you kind of know all the guys. And this is a unique spring, because we don’t have a bunch of guys battling for jobs this spring. Things are pretty well settled. So this has probably been the easiest spring to keep an eye on, to get a pulse on, and to get ready for the games. They’re just so much more settled about the ballclub right now, and that’s fantastic for us. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I keep finding that I learn something every year that maybe I didn’t know about the year before. Spring Training always has a few surprises, but I’ll be real happy this year if we head north and there’s not one surprise that came up. Now it might be something good like Anthony Rendon hitting .400, but it’s really cool to come and see this ballclub now compared to some of the springs we had a few years ago.

CWL: When you have a ton of guys taking part in one game, it can wreak havoc on a broadcast. How do you go about keeping track of everybody?

BC: We don’t get a whole lot of help in that respect, we’re kind of on our own. The most effective thing you can bring to Spring Training – which I naturally forgot for our first broadcast – is binoculars. So Dan Kolko from MASN Sports, he didn’t want to loan me his binoculars, but he did. But I’ve got them now. If you can get through the first couple spring broadcasts, you’re fine. About the middle of the month, which is about a week away, guys start getting three at-bats, four at-bats, and instead of playing four innings they’re playing six or seven innings.

So, as a broadcaster, the key is surviving those first couple of spring telecasts, letting the people in D.C. think you know what you’re talking about with all these players. Because there’s a lot of guys to keep track of. I do a huge file on the Nats. All the guys on the 40-man roster are in my file. When we get into some of the guys who don’t play much, or who are destined for minor league camp, we’ll delve into the archives a little bit and get stuff on them. So yeah, it’s kind of like the players in that we gear up for Opening Day like the team does.

CWL: Coming off the excitement of the 2012 season and with a long spring due to the World Baseball Classic, how hard is it to pace yourself heading into Opening Day?

BC: I think a lot of that comes with experience. As a Major League broadcaster, this is my 30th Spring Training. I think the first time I went to Spring Training in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1984, I didn’t really know what I was doing. You just kind of learn on the job. With experience comes the calm that you’re kind of feeling before the storm. Once the season gets going, it kind of explodes out of the gate, then you kind of settle into a little routine.

When I was a younger broadcaster, I was all charged up about Spring Training telecasts. I wanted to accomplish this and accomplish that. And I did those not only for the team I was with, but for many years, I did broadcasts for ESPN and you really half to gear up, because you have to tell the story of two teams when you do that. But I think with experience comes the feeling that, “I know what’s going on here, I’ve got a good feel for the camp.” And I think that comes from talking to the guys and talking to the coaches. So I think it’s just like the players – the more Spring Trainings that you’re involved in, the more you feel relaxed about it and you know what you have to do step-by-step to get ready for the season.

CWL: Have you ever sensed as much anticipation heading into the season as there is around this ballclub?

BC: Well I think it’s high. I think the real eye-opener for me – and everybody knew we were going to have a good team, then we pick up Denard Span, we pick up Dan Haren, we pick up Rafael Soriano – it’s like icing on a cake that already tastes pretty good. Then I went to NatsFest and I saw the excitement with our fans, with 7,000 people there on a cold afternoon in January, going crazy about this team. It was like “Wow, our fans have now taken this thing to the next level.” And now it’s up to the team to take them along for the ride. I think that’s really where it hit me, when I went to NatsFest and just saw the enthusiasm and how in love Washington is with this team now. We saw that to a certain extent for a number of years. Fans would come and say, “I hope we can do this, I hope we can do that.” Now it’s, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” And I know sometimes hopes and expectations, going from one to the other, can be kind of a dangerous thing, because there are expectations now, along with the hopes that this team is going to do great things. I think this is by far, as a Nationals broadcaster, the most anticipated Spring Training that I’ve been through, leading up to the most anticipated season. And with all those home games we have in April, like 16 of them, it’s important that this team get out of the gate well, because they have to take advantage of that time. This thing might become pretty revealing pretty quickly once the season starts.

Launched Into Orbit

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This year’s Grapefruit League schedule pits the Nationals against the Houston Astros six times, providing a chance for former Washington third base coach and new Astros skipper Bo Porter to reunite and reminisce with his old players. They did just that on Tuesday at Space Coast Stadium, both sides praising one another as details emerged, such as the book club Porter orchestrates that counts over 20 members of the Nationals squad as members.

It’s pleasant to see the mutual professional respect between the coach and his former players, one made easier to show thanks to the exhibition nature of Spring Training. It is also, in all likelihood, the only chance the two will have to see each other this season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

See, the Astros are moving from the National League Central to the American League West this season, giving baseball an even 15 teams per league and five per division. The teams will not square off in the regular season until next year, when the NL East will be slated to face the AL West as part of Interleague Play.

As part of the move, the Astros have changed their uniform scheme to a retro navy and orange look, and have brought back their mascot Orbit, who, according to the team website, “hitched a ride on the space shuttle Discovery to visit his home back in the Grand Slam Galaxy” following the 1999 season. That brings us to the teams’ second meeting on Thursday, for which the furry green space cadet was in attendance.

Following the bottom of the fifth of a scoreless contest on Thursday, Orbit trotted out onto the field to help the promo team toss T-shirts into the crowd, but on his way from the gate by the home dugout onto the grass around home plate, he let his weight get out in front of him and he tripped, stumbling and falling to the turf. Upon gracefully picking himself back up, he was handed the T-shirt air cannon, from which he promptly fired a rolled-up souvenir a clear 20 feet over the roof of Osceola County Stadium and into the parking lot.

It was a moment of comedy, but also a reminder, in the midst of a fairly quiet and pedestrian game, of just how trivial the results of Spring Training really are.

Yes, Gio Gonzalez got a solid three innings of work in, limited under 50 pitches (he threw 42) based on World Baseball Classic guidelines for those already committed to pitch for the team. He tossed 23 more in the bullpen to get a little more stretched out before heading to Miami next Tuesday for his WBC debut.

But the biggest takeaway thus far from Nationals camp has to be the adage that no news is good news. Aside from the training staff taking a cautious approach with Christian Garcia, whose camp has been slowed by a week or two, it has been a healthy, uneventful spring. And that means we can revel in book clubs and mascot mishaps as we wait the final 24 days for Opening Day to arrive.

Here’s a look at today’s lineup and a list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Werth RF

3. Harper CF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Ramos C

9. Tracy 3B

P. Zimmermann

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

3/5 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/6 @ Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 5-5-2

The Zen of Dan Haren

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One of the fun aspects of Spring Training is getting to know the new players in camp. A baseball clubhouse is a mix of all types of personalities, and meshing them together can be a delicate balance. So as the new guys settle in, certain characteristics begin to emerge, like the introspective, self-awareness of new starter Dan Haren.

Haren absolutely baffled the Astros through two innings Tuesday, before allowing a walk and a pair of singles in a longer third frame, which would yield Houston’s lone run in a 7-1 Nationals victory. When asked about whether it may actually have been good for him to struggle a bit, Haren at first conceded that might indeed be true, the situation allowing him to get work throwing out of the stretch, and pitching a longer inning.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Then he paused, and broke down the barrier of clichés that so often comprise an athlete’s postgame comments.

“In Spring Training, if you do (well), you feel great,” he said. “If you feel bad, you’re just working on stuff. That’s what everyone says.”

He paused for the laughter of the reporter pool, before deadpanning his final thought.

“So yeah, I was just working on stuff in the third inning.”

That refreshing honesty, as well as a spot-on analysis of the way that athletes can sometimes revert to platitudes gives Nationals fans an early look at what to expect from the cerebral Haren this season.

Throwing only a single curveball and “two or three” split-fingered pitches, Haren has nonetheless dominated so far this spring, even while really only touching 60 percent of his repertoire. That’s good news for the 32-year-old, who says he feels completely healthy.

The Nationals also got three strong innings from Zach Duke on Tuesday, who allowed a single hit while holding the Astros scoreless to earn the victory. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jeremy Accardo – three of the four Nats in camp with a 30-save MLB season to their name (along with Drew Storen) – each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.

It’s off to Clearwater Wednesday for a marquee pitching showdown, featuring Stephen Strasburg against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Check out the lineup, plus a complete list of Spring Training results to date.

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Rendon SS

4. Moore DH

5. Brown RF

6. Marrero 1B

7. Rivero LF

8. Skole 3B

9. Solano C

P. Strasburg

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

Overall Record: 5-3-2

Welcome Back, Wilson

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Most Spring Training camps are full of stories of roster battles, of a number of players competing for a lone spot among the 25 that will begin Opening Day in the big league uniform. The Nationals have been one of those clubs in the past, but sit in Viera this year with all but one or two of those roster spots decided. As such, the most compelling stories are those of the comeback variety, those like the story of Wilson Ramos, which, after a couple years of setbacks, had a positive chapter written over the weekend.

After enduring a terrifying ordeal in the offseason prior to 2012, Ramos was excited to move on with a breakout performance on the field last year. That hope was dashed when retrieving a ball behind the plate early last May, as his foot snagged in the wet Cincinnati grass but his knee followed his body’s momentum, tearing ligaments and ending his season. On Sunday, after months of rehab, of grinding, hard work, he finally stepped into a batter’s box in a game for the first time.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pitch from the mound.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

One could forgive Ramos for being a little over-anxious in his first at-bat, entering as the DH in the seventh inning. He rolled a ball over to third base, testing his knee in action for the first time as he ran to first base. That seemed like it might be his only chance of the afternoon, but as the score leveled at 6-6, the Nationals batted again in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramos leading off. He battled through a tough at-bat, fighting out of an early hole and fouling off pitches, eventually forcing a full count. Then he blasted a high fastball to the right-center field gap, deep into the wind and almost gone to one of the deepest parts of Space Coast Stadium. He pulled in at second base with a double and a rousing round of applause from the home crowd.

Pulled for pinch-runner Sandy Leon, Ramos’ contribution would lead to the victory, as the Nationals would walk off with a 7-6 victory two batters later on Zach Walters’ RBI-single through the drawn-in infield. For Ramos, it was the first step back to doing what he loves.

“That’s a big step for me today,” he said. “Now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate.”

He got that chance Tuesday against the Astros, where he caught the first three innings of game action for the first time since last season.

Here’s a complete list of the Nationals Spring Training results to date.

Overall Record: 4-3-2

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

A Classic Beginning

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The 2013 World Baseball Classic opened on Saturday with a pair of games in Taiwan and another in Japan. While most Washington fans are probably focused on the two American hurlers – Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez – set to throw for Team USA, a third Nationals player is already making his impact felt for his home country. Roger Bernadina, batting third and playing center field for the Netherlands, had a double, a run scored and a pair of RBI as the Dutch upset Korea, 5-0, in their opening game.

Bernadina is a native of Curacao, one of the islands off the coast of Venezuela formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles, when it was Dutch colony. He also makes his offseason home in Den Haag, a rarity among players on the WBC team. Playing with the likes of Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and former All-Star Andruw Jones, Bernadina has the opportunity to play a more leading role than he has had to this point in the Major Leagues.

Team Netherlands dropped its second game of pool play on Sunday, and will need a win over Australia on Monday for a chance to advance to the second round.

Detwiler will make just one more start with the Nationals Sunday afternoon before departing for Phoenix for Team USA’s first round games. He is set to piggyback Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong in the team’s March 9 game vs. Team Italy at Chase Field.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, is set to start the March 12 contest against either Canada or Mexico at Marlins Park in Miami, should the U.S. advance out of the first round.

The Nationals got one last piece of World Baseball Classic news on Sunday, when they learned that outfielder Eury Perez will join the Dominican Republic squad. Should both the DR and USA teams advance, they would meet in the second round, with Gonzalez potentially squaring off against Perez.

Back in Viera, the Nationals will play the back half of a home-and-home with the Cardinals today, who they defeated by a count of 6-2 in Jupiter on Saturday. The offense was led by home runs from Ian Desmond, Chris Marrero and Anthony Rendon, who took St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright deep off the top of the batter’s eye just left of dead center field.

Sunday’s game will feature the first full lineup of the spring, including Ryan Zimmerman’s Grapefruit League debut. Here’s the full lineup, as well as a list of Spring Training results to date.

Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Lombardozzi 3B

P. Detwiler

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

Nats Back at the Lake

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The Nationals are back in Lake Buena Vista Friday night for Jordan Zimmermann’s second start of the spring at they take on the Braves once again. Washington played its second extra-inning tie in its first six games of the Grapefruit League slate Thursday night, drawing even at 4-4 with the Mets in Viera. Here’s tonight’s lineup, as well as a full list of results to date:

1. Espinosa SS

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Harper CF

4. Moore DH

5. Tracy 3B

6. Marrero 1B

7. Brown LF

8. Leon C

9. Perez RF

P. Zimmermann

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

The Next Best Thing

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Every year, in every Major League camp, there is some youngster who shows up, opens eyes with his swing or his arm, and becomes the next most-talked about prospect, waiting to crack the big leagues. Yes, we’re early in spring. Yes the Nationals roster looks just about full, minus a pitcher or two in the bullpen. But this year’s player, clear to anyone who has been watching, is Anthony Rendon.

Last year, fans of Bryce Harper, who had been following him since his Sports Illustrated cover photo at age 16, trumpeted his case to make the Opening Day roster. And while Harper flashed signs of the player that would roar through September to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors, he was a raw ball of energy back in March.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper's path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper’s path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon is the anti-Harper. He is so relaxed, so smooth – and generously listed at just 6’0”, 195 pounds, so unimposing – that one might not even notice he was there, if not for the booming cracks of baseballs flying off his bat.

His swing is not violent like Harper’s. Instead, it starts with a big, smooth, looping hand load, a Ryan Zimmerman-esque leg kick, and a sudden flash of some of the fastest hands you’ve ever seen. One moment, he appears to be just watching a pitch into the mitt. The next, he has turned it around, sending it screaming to some distant corner of the field.

Danny Espinosa sat at third base with two out in the bottom of the second on Thursday night as the Nationals hosted the Mets in Viera. Rendon – batting eighth and playing third base – fell behind in the count, worked it back even, then swatted a double to the opposite-field gap in right-center, into the prevailing wind. In his second at-bat, with runners at the corners, he hit a sharp grounder deep in the hole at short, which only failed to go for another hit as Omar Quintanilla was able to go the short way to second for a force, with Ian Desmond scampering home from third base.

Two more at-bats, two more RBI. The 22-year-old with just 160 professional plate appearances has been the most productive player at the plate for Washington so far this spring, batting .417 (5-for-12) with two doubles, a home run and a team-high five RBI. One of the seven outs he’s made came on a home run robbed at the wall in Port St. Lucie a few days ago.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense - especially his arm - this spring.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense – especially his arm – this spring.

Then there’s the defense, the forgotten part of Rendon’s game. He didn’t have any chances Thursday night, but has already made a pair of notable plays this spring. On Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, he snared a hot shot, raced to the bag at third for the force, and fired a seed across the diamond for a 5-3, inning-ending double play. The next day, he charged a Chone Figgins bunt up the line, barehanded the ball on a do-or-die play, then straightened up and threw a bullet to first to beat the speedy runner by a full step.

After making a short, wide-eyed stint in Major League Spring Training last year, the Rice University product looks noticeably more settled in all aspects of his game this year.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable now, just knowing that I have one year under my belt,” said Rendon of camp this year, and added that he was thrilled to be getting a lot of opportunities early in spring. “I missed a large amount of games last year, so just any at-bats, any playing time I can get right now is really helpful.”

Baseball America ranks Rendon the 30th overall prospect in baseball, tops among Nationals farmhands. MLB.com has Rendon at 28th, while Baseball Prospectus has him 35th. After a week of games, one has to wonder how much his stock may have risen already. And while Thursday night was the first chance for many Nationals fans to see the young star play on television, it shouldn’t be long before they have that opportunity every night.

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