March 2014

Highlights from the Nationals’ 11-1 win over the Cardinals

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — On a sun-splashed afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, Stephen Strasburg went three strong innings, the Washington Nationals rapped out 15 hits, and they topped the St. Louis Cardinals 11-1.

Strasburg was pleased with his work for the day, feeling strong when his requisite three innings were up and happy with the adjustments he made after being a bit too fine with his pitches in the first inning.

“Got some good work in,” Strasburg said. “I felt a little too good in the bullpen and tried to paint from the first pitch on instead of starting out with a little bit bigger zone, and then working off of the middle of the plate. Made a good adjustment and didn’t really see any problems.”

As a staff, Nationals pitchers allowed just three hits on the day. Eleven different position players picked up a hit, four of them (Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore) had multi-hit days, and eight different players knocked in at least one run.

Catch up on some of the highlights right here:

Checking in with Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos after two long home runs

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — Bryce Harper‘s swing smacked into the strong crosswind blowing across Space Coast Stadium Friday afternoon and pushed up against it. A ball that started out, in his estimation, about nine feet foul, suddenly cut back. And as well as he hit it, cutting back was all he needed it to do for it to become his first home run of the spring.

“I knew I got it fairly (well),” Harper said, commending the pitch from Houston Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. “But I thought it was going to be nine feet foul.

“I thought it was a good pitch. I got the barrel up there and tried to do what I did. I think a lot of guys throw the two-seamer in and go soft away. Trying to cut that two-seamer in, I think I got a good piece of it. It was a good pitch, though, it really was. If I’m the catcher, I like where that’s (pitched).”

He didn’t have long to admire his handiwork, as Wilson Ramos stepped to the plate three batters later and smashed a ball so far in the other direction — this one with the wind at its back — that it cleared the tiki bar in left field.

“I hit that ball well,” Ramos said, a sly smile crossing his face.

Before Friday's game, Bryce Harper caught a first pitch from former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie.

Before Friday’s game, Bryce Harper caught a first pitch from former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie.

The two swings, which keyed an early 6-0 lead in the Nationals’ 8-5 victory over the Astros, continued the positive signs coming out of two of the Nationals’ heaviest hitters this spring, both of whom are coming off leg injuries from a year ago.

Ramos is now 7-for-13 this spring with two extra-base hits in five games, and Harper owns a .455 on-base percentage through four games.

For Harper, the absence of pain has made a huge difference — generally in how he’s been able to go about his preparation for the season, as well in more subtle ways, like hitting left-handed pitching.

“I’ve had zero pain on it,” Harper said of the left knee that hampered him in 2013. “I’ve been able to do everything that I wanted to do. It has felt really good. I’m excited about that. Having no pain is something I am very excited about.”

“Last year, my knee killed me,” Harper added, asked specifically about hitting left-handed pitching. “I couldn’t stay back on lefties and my knee killed me on that. It’s going to be a little different this year… My knee just gave out every single time, every pitch on the outside half (of the plate). I didn’t have the swing that I wanted to have. My knee killed me every time I swung.

“This year it’s a little bit different. I can stay back and not explode on my lower half and have to go. (Last year), If there was a curveball and I’m sitting back on it and I’m ready to go, I had to go. It was just that painful that I had to (swing). Today I check-swung on (a curveball) a little bit,  but I could finally do that. It wasn’t ‘ah’ where it really hurt. That felt great. Knowing I could do that is very nice.”

For Ramos, as he approaches the two-year anniversary of tearing the ACL in his right knee and pushes further past the left hamstring issues that sidelined him in 2013, health has allowed him to keep his focus on more of the nuances of his game.

“During winter ball I played as the designated hitter down in Venezuela and those at-bats helped me to concentrate a little more at the plate, be patient and concentrate on my strike zone,” Ramos said. “I want to take good at-bats, swing the bat just at strikes. Right now I’m working on that, my strike zone. That’s helped me to hit the ball well.”

He is not alone in that regard.

“I’m trying to be as patient as I can,” Harper said. “If they’re not going to come to me, if they’re going to throw around me and they’re going to throw (crappy pitches) up there, I’m not going to swing. I’m just going to try to take my walks this year, be a little bit smarter, get on base. If I have a .450 on-base percentage and I’m getting on-base, that’s all that matters.”

March to Baseball Week 1 Winners

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4The first week of the Washington Nationals’ March to Baseball is complete and that means we have our first batch of lucky winners.

Thanks to all who have already joined the fun this month as we count down the final days until the 2014 season by giving away a prize a day to all Full, Half and Partial Season Plan Holders who renew or purchase new 2014 Season Plans this month. If you’ve already renewed, you’re already entered and the prizes only get better from here!

Congratulations to our first six winners!Strasburg Auto Ball

March 1: Personalized Nationals jersey — Keith K. from Alexandria, Va.

March 2: PNC Diamond Club tickets & parking — Shannon H. from D.C.

March 3: A visit to the Nationals’ broadcast booth with Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler — Kenneth S. from D.C.

March 4: Join the Nationals’ grounds crew for a day — John T. from Gaithersburg, Md.

March 5: Take the field before a game and be honored on NatsHD — Nathan R. From Alexandria, Va.

March 6: An official MLB baseball signed by Stephen Strasburg — David U. from D.C.

There are still plenty of fantastic prizes left up for grabs, so don’t miss out on your chance to join the March to Baseball!

Nationals Named in Top 5 Under 25

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by Amanda Comak

Spring Training is the season of prospect lists. Industry insider Baseball America comes out with theirs, ESPN.com with their own, Baseball Prospectus chimes in, and MLB.com posts their updated rankings of the best up-and-coming talent in baseball in their Top 100 prospects, as well as organizational rankings.

farm graphicAs has been the case for the previous several years, the Washington Nationals are often viewed very favorably in those rankings as they continue, under President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, to stockpile top young talent through the First-Year Player Draft and various trades.

But those lists usually focus on the still-developing talent in the Minor Leagues.

This week, Baseball Prospectus released its list of “25-and-under talent rankings,” a compilation of each organization’s best talent born after March, 1988 and a fascinating look at an organization’s youth and depth — even when that talent has already reached the Major Leagues.

“It’s hard enough to analyze immature and still-developing talents in their own context, but it’s even more demanding to compare those future Major Leaguers with the models they are aiming to become,” wrote Jason Parks in his introduction to the rankings. “It’s a thankless task that can get lost in the shuffle of the team prospect fury, but the compiled Under-25 lists are excellent snapshots of organizational health, at least as far as young, promising talent is concerned.”

The Nationals were ranked No. 2 in all of Major League Baseball.

From the article:

1. Stephen Strasburg (25)
2. Bryce Harper (21)
3. Lucas Giolito (19)
4. Anthony Rendon (23)
5. A.J. Cole (22)
6. Brian Goodwin (23)
7. Taylor Jordan (25)
8. Michael Taylor (22)
9. Jake Johansen (23)
10. Jefry Rodriguez (20)

Made MLB Debut? 4
Farm System Ranking: 18
Top 10 Prospects: RHP Lucas GiolitoRHP A.J. Cole, CF Brian Goodwin, CF Michael Taylor, RHP Jake Johansen, RHP Jefry Rodriguez, 1B Matt Skole, C Pedro Severino, RF Drew Vettleson, 3B Drew Ward
Prospects on the BP 101: 3
Top Prospect: Lucas Giolito
Summary: While the Nationals’ U25 list isn’t as deep as the Cardinals’, it offers an intriguing package of star power. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper might be the best tandem in baseball for the next 10 years, and each offers an elite ceiling. Lucas Giolito is far from reaching his massive promise, but the trio of potential 8-grade ceilings at the top of Washington’s list is unmatched in baseball. For good measure, Washington has a potential all-star in Anthony Rendon and some solid role-5 guys at the back of its top 10. –Jordan Gorosh

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, still just 29 despite the fact that he is about to appear in his 10th Major League season, often jokes that people think he’s old because he’s been around for so long. But in reality, 24 members of the Nationals’ projected 40-man roster will be under the age of 30 on Opening Day, 2014.

The rest of the rankings are fascinating in their own right, with the St. Louis Cardinals coming in just above the Nationals at No. 1 and the Atlanta Braves at No. 3, followed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins. The bottom five (No.’s 26-30), according to these rankings: Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers.

To read the full article, click here.

Tyler Clippard wins Nationals Fan Choice Bobblehead Vote

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by Amanda Comak

The votes are in.

After almost five full days of voting — via Twitter, Facebook and text — we have a winner for the seventh and final bobblehead giveaway of the season.

Right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard will be immortalized in bobblehead form and will be honored with a bobblehead night on Sept. 27 when the Nationals play the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park. The first 25,000 fans will receive Clippard’s bobblehead, so make sure you’re in attendance to nab one: www.nationals.com/tickets

Thanks to all the fans who participated — with special kudos going to David Salzberg and Jeanne Henderson, who were two of our contest winners. We counted up every single vote and you propelled Clippard over first baseman Adam LaRoche and manager Matt Williams with 65 percent of the votes.

Clippard’s response to winning was pretty simple: “It’s happening!”

Without further ado, a thank you from the bobblehead winner himself:

Highlights from the Nationals Spring Training home opener

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla — The Washington Nationals topped the Atlanta Braves 16-15 in a wild Spring Training home opener — a game that featured 37 combined hits, six combined errors and 31 total runs.

You can catch up on all the game action here.

It was a beautiful day to open Space Coast Stadium for the Grapefruit League slate, and it started on a high note as the Nationals welcomed Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris to the field to throw out the first pitch.

On March 18, President Barack Obama will present Sgt. Morris with the U.S. military’s highest honor: the Medal of Honor. In 1961 Sergeant Morris was one of the first members of the Army’s elite corp, The Green Beret, and he volunteered twice for deployments during the Vietnam War.  While commanding a strike force on a mission near Chi Lang in South Vietnam, his special forces group came under attack and a fellow commander was killed.  Despite enemy fire, which struck Sgt. Morris three times, he returned to recover the body of his fallen comrade and to retrieve a strategic map which, in enemy hands, would have endangered the lives of his men.

During a recent Army review it was found that many war heroes had been passed over for the Medal of Honor at the time of their bravery because of long-held prejudices. Sgt. Morris is among 24 Army veterans for whom this injustice will soon be corrected. President Obama called Sgt. Morris personally to give him the good news.

The Nationals were honored to welcome Sgt. Morris, a Brevard County resident, and his family, including his grandson Javone, to throw out the first pitch.

“It’s a pretty special day here,” said Nationals Manager Matt Williams. “Local guy to the area. It was nice that the organization honored him and we were happy to be out there for it. You don’t get the chance to shake the hand of a Medal of Honor recipient every day. Pretty special day.”

Here are a few photos from the day:

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