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:
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.
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.”
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.
As 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 Giolito, RHP 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.
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:
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:
by Amanda Comak
VIERA, Fla. — On Monday, the Washington Nationals announced three finalists for their Fan Choice Bobblehead contest: right-hander Tyler Clippard, first baseman Adam LaRoche and manager Matt Williams. The winner will receive the honor of a bobblehead night on Sept. 27 when the Nationals play the Miami Marlins, and the first 25,000 fans will receive the winning bobblehead.
And you, the fans, have a chance to impact who that winner will be. Unlimited voting runs through Friday, Feb. 28, and the winning bobblehead will be announced on Monday, March 3. All of the information on voting, along with some of the fantastic prizes you’ll be entered to win just for casting your vote, can be found here: nationals.com/bobblevote.
But just in case you were having a little trouble deciding which of the worthy candidates to vote for, we’ve got a few videos to help make the candidates’ cases. Check ‘em out!
Everyone who votes will be entered to win prize packages featuring the winning bobblehead, game tickets or an on-field batting practice viewing experience. You have three different ways to cast your vote for pitcher Tyler Clippard, first baseman Adam LaRoche or manager Matt Williams.
- VIA TEXT: Text 5 for Williams, 25 for LaRoche or 36 for Clippard to 99778 (message and data rates may apply)
- VIA TWITTER: Tweet #NatsBobbleVote AND #ClippardBobble, #LaRocheBobble or #WilliamsBobble
- VIA FACEBOOK: ”Like” the photo of your choice in the Fan Choice Bobblehead album on the Nationals Facebook page at Facebook.com/nationals
by Amanda Comak
VIERA, Fla. — There was a new notation on the Washington Nationals’ daily schedule Monday morning. The spot that had been filled the past few days by the rundown for live batting practice sessions was replaced.”Pitchers Hitting Game,” it read.
Around 11:15 a.m., the pitchers departed from the Minor League fields and moved the rest of their workout back toward Space Coast Stadium. One group, Team Zimmermann and Team Strasburg, made their way onto the auxiliary field just outside the stadium. Another, Team Young and Team Fister, took their places on the field inside the stadium.
The game, made-up in the mind of Rehab Pitching Coordinator Mark Grater, seemed simple. The teams were picked schoolyard style with Doug Fister and Chris Young named captains in one group, and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann captains in another. The object was to score more runs than your opponent in a nine-inning game. The focus was on bunting, moving runners, and doing the little things that pitchers need to do at the plate but in a competitive atmosphere.
“It breaks up some of the monotony,” said Fister, who has noted his excitement about being in the National League. “There are things that we have to focus on every day that are very important, and hitting and bunting and moving runners are (some) of them. For (Manager Matt Williams) to schedule things like that where we’re able to have fun with it, it’s going to stick in our brains.”
For the teams playing on the field inside Space Coast Stadium, Grater ran the show. As pitchers gathered their helmets and bats, he ran through the rules.
- At the start of an inning, they needed to reach base with a hit — a line drive off the L-screen protecting Grater was a single, but one-hop off it was an out. Grater himself decided whether a ball was a hit or an error. Home runs did count, but they were not the goal of the exercise, so if a pitcher hit one, he’d have to run out beyond the fence and get the ball himself.
- The pitchers weren’t running the bases, but if they “reached” based on their plate performance, the following “hitters” had to follow the proper directions. Number of outs, where the runners were, where the defenses were playing (as determined by the team captains) all played into what the hitter would have to do (bunt, hit a ground ball to the right side of the field, etc). If they couldn’t, they were out. Successful bunts were not outs (as most would be in real games), and those who were able to produce them were allowed to stay in the batters’ box. But if a hitter bunted twice in a row, they were out.
- If one captain decided that, with a man on second and a line drive hit into the gap, he wanted to “send the runner home,” the outcome would be decided by Grater throwing at a pre-determined target. If he hit it, the runner was out. If he missed, the runner was safe.
There was, of course, one humorous twist. Grater, as the game’s overlord and head umpire, made the rulings — and the rulings were final. Only captains could voice dissent, and others who did were required to run a lap around the infield as penalty. Gio Gonzalez found himself running several laps.
Trash talk, of course, was plentiful. And the competitive juices flowed throughout, as did the watchful eyes.
When Taylor Jordan hit a home run in the late innings, (Telling Grater, “You’re pitching me inside! What do you expect?”) he marched himself only to the outfield fence, picked up a different ball and then returned. Pitching Coach Steve McCatty would have none of that, and sent the young right-hander back down the left field foul line to properly retrieve his home run ball.
Team Fister took a late lead, but Team Young won it in the ninth when, with the “bases loaded” Christian Garcia roped a home run over the left center field fence. As Gonzalez — hands raised in victory pose — sprinted around the bases in celebration and by choice, Grater noted that because Garcia wasn’t supposed to be hitting a home run, his run didn’t count but the first three “runners” who scored would. The final score was 8-6, Team Young.
On the other field, Team Zimmermann topped Team Strasburg.
“Oh yeah,” said one reliever on the Nationals’ 19-game winner’s team. “We dominated.”
And while the purpose of the game was to get pitchers to work on their situational hitting, it also allowed them to think along with a manager and how the game would be run in those various situations.
“You’ve got to put pressure on the defense,” said Fister, who was aggressive in “sending” his baserunners. “That translates into a game. I come from an area where, playing with (Torii Hunter) last year, that’s one thing that he stresses: take that extra base. Try and stretch that single into a double, that double into a triple. It’s amazing how many extra runs you pick up just because of one extra base with that mentality.”
The pitchers enjoyed the exercise so much, that they took an amendment to the rules to Williams.
“They made a new rule,” Williams said. “This was supposed to be, we break the groups up, they play against each other, we have two winners. Now they have a championship game they want to do. So we’ve got to fit that in there, into the (schedule).”
by Amanda Comak
VIERA, Fla. — Wednesday afternoon, as the sun drenched the back fields at the Washington Nationals’ Minor League complex, Livan Hernandez sat with an iPhone and took questions from Nationals fans on Twitter. Using the hashtag #AskLivo61, Hernandez was inundated with questions, and in roughly 30 minutes he answered 40 questions from fans.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2014
In case you missed any of Livo’s chat, we’ve got a recap for you below, so check it out:
@psawy11: Favorite stadiums to play in?
Livan Hernandez: Fenway Park for history but I like Nationals Park, especially the view.
@_JoshDangIt: I want to #askLivo61: whats your favorite thing to do before a game?
LH: Messing with people and laughing. Enjoying myself.
@AshburnNatsFan: If he didn’t pitch what position would he have wanted to play?
LH: Center field. I played third base growing up.
@PresleyDay: What is your best baseball memory?
LH: When we won the World Series with Florida.
@gteran21: What is your favorite moment with the Nats?
LH: Throwing out the first pitch in #Nats history, and getting the first win.
@natsfan58: Livo, welcome ‘home’. How happy are you to have a role on the Nats?
LH: Very happy. I’m enjoying it. Anything I can do to help the team win. I want to see the team make the playoffs & win WS.
@Star_enilnO: If a group of fans were to have a Livo day what would you like us to do? Ex: @TylerClippard had a specs day…
LH: Have fans come take BP off me!
@RedPorchReport: You gonna grow a beard?
@NatsWx: What’s your favorite weather conditions to play in?
LH: Not too cold, not too hot, 65-70 degrees.
@ouij: ¿Fué Conrado Marrero que te eseñó lanzar la curva?
LH: Yes, he showed me how to throw the curve. How do you know that??
@jordantoine: Which among the pitching staff does he think handles himself best at the plate? the worst?
LH: I think Jordan Zimmermann is very good. Strasburg has a lot of power. They’re the best.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2014
@MarkFD218: Who was the hitter he always dreaded facing?
LH: Todd Helton. He must’ve hit .600 off me.
@Bonedaddy38: What is your favorite traditional dish?
LH: Cuban food, rice and beans.
@demerlismatt: Who is your favorite all time player?
LH: Has to be Edgar Renteria. He hit the base hit to win the World Series with Florida.
@KyleKCPA: Who’s the best prankster on the team?
LH: Clippard is very funny. Jordan Zimmermann too.
@MattMattyIce: What was the most intense moment you’ve experienced in a Nats uni?
LH: The first game we played in 2005. We knew how important it was with baseball being back in DC.
@BeardedNatitude: Hey Livo, whatcha bench??
LH: Not too much! My legs are where I am strongest.
@The42BusDC: Which is your most liked achievement: over .500 lifetime record w/ 355 decisions or throwing nearly 2,000 strikeouts.
LH: Having my record be over .500.
@cnichols14: You were a great hitter. Which pitcher did you like to face most?
LH: Glavine was my favorite. I could see the ball good.
@saraGG14: What is your favorite pizza?
LH: Hawaiian pizza.
@MrShanntastic: What’s your favorite pitch to throw?
LH: The sinker — and the slow curve.
@OliviaB_Smith: I was always impressed with how many warm-up pitches you’d throw before each game! Didn’t your arm hurt?!
LH: Nope, never hurt. I’d throw 85 pitches.
@MrNationalsVL: Do you think you can become a good manager someday on any level of baseball
LH: I don’t know. Right now I’m enjoying what I am doing.
@haynes_kristin: What’s your favorite golf course in the DC area?
@kapow555: How is El Duque?
LH: He is doing very well, thanks.
@ZBartosh8: Who was your favorite teammate as a National?
LH: I get along with everybody!
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2014
by Amanda Comak
VIERA, Fla. — Wednesday morning, for the final time this spring, the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers took to the backfields at the team’s training complex without their position player teammates. The full-squad workouts will be upon them beginning Thursday morning and they wrapped up another pristine day under the Florida sun by welcoming everyone into the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.
Everyone, including outfielder Bryce Harper, who spent a few minutes with the local media discussing the health of his knee and his readiness for the 2014 season.
“I’m good,” Harper said. “I’m solid. Solid as can be… My knee is completely fine.”
“We worked hard all offseason,” Harper added, telling reporters he is down to 220 pounds after weighing in at 236 in mid-January. “I worked my tail off to get to this point. I feel like I’m where I need to be. I’m excited to start games and feel how I slide and run and hit in games. Just that feel on there will help me pass some things, and I feel good about.”
Harper, along with the other 61 active players in this year’s Major League camp, will be on the fields on Thursday for the first time together as this unit.
Until then, hopefully a few snaps from the past few days of workouts will tide you over:
by Amanda Comak
Viera, Fla. — There was a buzz about Washington Nationals camp this week as pitchers and catchers got on the field for the first time in 2014. A literal buzz.
It was coming from photographer Donald Miralle’s latest toy, a quadcopter with a GoPro camera inside it, capturing video and still footage from high above the team’s workout.
“Everybody is always looking for a new opportunity to get the different angle, right?” said Nationals Manager Matt Williams, who, like many members of the Nationals, was intrigued by the device. “So it was good. I can’t wait to see the footage. It’s quiet enough that guys don’t really notice it when they’re out there. I asked them not to throw any baseballs at it or anything like that. And they said, ‘Okay, skip, we won’t do that.’”
Miralle, a San Diego resident, was happy to explain what he was using. He spent a few minutes with right-hander Stephen Strasburg showing off the equipment, along with past photos he’d taken with it — including an incredible shot from above the Pacific Ocean showing the sharks gathering.
“Technology is crazy,” Strasburg later told reporters. “I guess you can go down to the hobby store and get one yourself.”
With all the attention being paid to the quadcopter, the question was asked numerous times if there might be some analytical value to the footage that the Nationals’ scouting department may be able to utilize. So far, it’s simply art.
“They’re just gathering footage of camp,” Williams said. “It was cool. I’d like to fly it. I’d like to clear everybody out of the stadium and see if I could do it.”