by Amanda Comak
Escobar, an eight-year Major League veteran, joins the Nationals after stops in Atlanta (2007-10), Toronto (2010-12) and Tampa (2012-14). He was traded to the A’s just four days ago (Jan. 10), along with INF/OF Ben Zobrist, in exchange for C John Jaso, INF Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and cash considerations.
The slick-fielding infielder is a career .276 hitter with a .347 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. A shortstop for the majority of his Major League career, Escobar has started 950 games at shortstop since 2008 – the most in the Major Leagues over that span. Escobar started 20 games for the Braves at second base in 2007 – a season after which he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting – and has experience at third base as well.
Escobar, 32, hit .258 with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 137 games for Tampa Bay in 2014. In his previous two seasons, both with the Rays, Escobar has averaged 145 games played and hit .257 with a .328 on-base percentage, 45 doubles, 16 home runs and 95 RBI.
Against National League opponents (472 games), Escobar is a career .291 hitter with a .366 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage.
After defecting from Cuba in 2004, Escobar was drafted by the Braves in the second round (No. 75 overall) of the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Acquired in Dec., 2007, from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, Clippard is the only reliever to appear in more than 70 games each of the last five seasons (2010-14). He went 7-4 with one save and a 2.18 ERA in 2014 and, for the second time in his career (also 2011), led Major League Baseball in holds with 40. His 2014 season was just the third 40-hold campaign in MLB history (TBR’s Joel Peralta 41 in 2013, SDP’s Luke Gregerson 40 in 2010).
by Amanda Comak
Butler, 28, joins the Nationals after six seasons in the Red Sox organization. The right-handed hitting catcher appeared in seven Major League games for Boston in 2014, starting five behind the plate and going 4-for-19 (.211). Three of his four hits went for doubles.
Over the course of six Minor League seasons, the reliable backstop is a career .256 hitter with a .349 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. In 2013, Butler caught 72 games for Triple-A Pawtucket of the International League and posted a .262 average with 14 home runs, 19 doubles and 45 RBI.
Butler, who is considered a strong defensive catcher, was a two-time Mid-Season Minor League All-Star (2010, South Atlantic League; 2011, Carolina League) and a four-time Minor League Player of the Week.
Rosenbaum was selected by Washington in the 22nd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH.
In six seasons in Washington’s Minor League chain, Rosenbaum went 34-36 with a 3.12 ERA in 121 games (116 starts). He is currently rehabbing from May, 2014, Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery.
Butler will be added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster, which is currently at 39.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals named their Minor League managers, coaches and coordinators for the 2015 season on Wednesday, including the addition of former Nationals player Rick Ankiel, who will fill a newly-created Life Skills Coordinator role.
The Nationals promoted Paul Menhart to Minor League Pitching Coordinator and named Spin Williams as Senior Advisor for Player Development. Menhart embarks on his 10th season in the Nationals’ Minor League system.
Menhart, who spent the 2014 season as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse, has overseen the development of many of Washington’s top pitching prospects. Additionally, Michael Barrett will take an increased role as Catching Coordinator, working with the catchers across all levels of Washington’s system. He will continue to serve as the Manager of the Gulf Coast League Nationals.
Washington is happy to welcome Bob Milacki and Tommy Shields to the organization. Milacki will serve as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse while Shields joins the organization as a Co-field Coordinator.
Milacki comes to the Nationals after spending six seasons (2009-14) in the Philadelphia chain. Prior to joining the Phillies, he spent eight years as a pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization (2001-08). Milacki Appeared in 143 games, going 39-47 with a 4.38 ERA over parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues, with Baltimore (1988-92), Cleveland (1993), Kansas City (1994) and Seattle (1996). He was selected in the second round of the 1983 MLB Draft by Baltimore.
Shields, a native of Fairfax, VA, comes to the Nationals after spending three seasons as the manager of the Burlington Royals in the Kansas City Royals’ chain, earning Appalachian League Manager of the Year honors in 2012. Shields joined the Royals after spending six years as the Atlanta Braves’ minor league infield coordinator (2006-11), and from 2007-10 he served dual roles as the field and infield coordinator. He played parts of eight Minor League seasons in the Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago Cubs’ organizations. A left-handed-hitting infielder, Shields made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles but earned his first MLB plate appearance with the Cubs in 1993.
Washington also welcomes back to the organization Ankiel, who will serve as the Life Skills Coordinator. Ankiel retired in 2013 after playing parts of 11 Major League seasons with six different clubs, including the Nationals (2011-12). He will draw on his vast experience as a player to help mentor Nationals farmhands.
The Nationals have also added Jerad Head, who will serve as a coach during Extended Spring Training and for the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League Nationals. Head played eight seasons in the Minor Leagues, including the 2013 season within the Nationals’ chain. Head appeared in 10 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and collected his first MLB hit in his big league debut, August 28 vs. Kansas City.
Here are the full Nationals’ Minor League coaching staffs:
|Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs|
|Manager – Billy Gardner Jr.|
|Pitching – Bob Milacki*|
|Hitting – Joe Dillon|
|Athletic Trainer – Jeff Allred|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Brett Henry|
|Double-A Harrisburg Senators|
|Manager – Brian Daubach|
|Pitching – Chris Michalak|
|Hitting – Mark Harris|
|Athletic Trainer – Eric Montague|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Tony Rogowski|
|Single-A Potomac Nationals|
|Manager – Tripp Keister|
|Pitching – Franklin Bravo|
|Hitting – Brian Rupp|
|Athletic Trainer – TD Swinford|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Mike Warren|
|Single-A Hagerstown Suns|
|[South Atlantic League]|
|Manager – Patrick Anderson|
|Pitching – Sam Narron|
|Hitting – Luis Ordaz|
|Athletic Trainer – Don Neidig|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Gabe Torres|
|Short-Season Single-A Auburn Doubledays|
|[New York-Penn League]|
|Manager – Gary Cathcart|
|Pitching – Tim Redding|
|Hitting – Amaury Garcia|
|Athletic Trainer – Darren Yoos|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – RJ Guyer|
|Rookie-Level GCL Nationals|
|[Gulf Coast League]|
|Manager – Michael Barrett|
|Pitching – Michael Tejera|
|Hitting – Jorge MejiaCoach — Jerad Head|
|Athletic Trainer – Kirby Craft|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Edwin Jimenez|
|Rookie-Level DSL Nationals|
|[Dominican Summer League]|
|Manager – Sandy Martinez|
|Pitching – Pablo Frias|
|Hitting – Jose Herrera|
|Coach – Emiliano Alcantara|
|Athletic Trainer – Miguel Cabrera|
|Strength & Conditioning Coach – Santo Del Rosario|
|Co-Field Coordinator – Jeff Garber||Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator – Gary Thurman|
|Co-Field Coordinator – Tommy Shields*||Coordinator of Instruction – Gary Cathcart|
|Pitching Coordinator – Paul Menhart||Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator – Mark Grater|
|Sr. Advisor, Player Development – Spin Williams||Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator – Jon Kotredes|
|Hitting Coordinator – Troy Gingrich||Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Landon Brandes|
|Catching Coordinator – Michael Barrett||Life Skills Coordinator – Rick Ankiel|
|Minor League Equipment Manager – Calvin Minasian|
In November, Jerry Blevins joined other Major League All-Stars in a tour of Japan, the Japan All-Star Series. When he returned from his second visit to Japan, Blevins wanted to offer a first-person account of the remarkable trip. What follows is straight from the mind of the Nationals’ left-hander.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved traveling. Experiencing new cultures — trying new foods, seeing new places, hearing different languages — has filled my dreams since I was a kid. Intriguing me, and captivating my imagination and curiosity.
The truth is, I’m a curious person by nature. That’s why my friends call me ‘Whiskers.’
(No one calls me ‘Whiskers’. I stole that from Will Ferrell. ‘Whiskers’ isn’t something I want to be called even though I’ve definitely been called worse.)
Anyway, back to traveling. Baseball has given me many opportunities to travel while playing the game I love. In 2012, I was a member of the Oakland A’s and we opened the season playing the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo. It was, in short, an amazing trip.
I enjoyed Tokyo so much I had planned on going back on vacation. When I heard that MLB and the MLB Players Association were putting together a team to play in Japan against their national team, Samurai Japan, I couldn’t put my name in the mix fast enough.
Thankfully for me, and my fiancé, Whitney, who came with me, I was selected. And during this trip, we would be playing Samurai Japan in Tokyo, as well as, Osaka, Sapporo, and Okinawa.
Before we even left I knew this was going to be a great trip. Not only did Whitney and I get to travel to these cities, but I got to play baseball with an amazingly talented roster. Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria, Yasiel Puig and Justin Morneau were just a few of the players. It was a true all-star caliber team.
Plus some guy named Blevins.
One of the things I love about travel is seeing the differences in cultures. But one of the things I love about baseball is that it is virtually the same game wherever it is played.
There are subtle differences about how each country chooses to execute the game. But at it’s core, baseball is baseball: nine innings, three strikes, three outs.
Japanese baseball has evolved, along with the game we know in America. Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing baseball in Cooperstown in 1839, but an American teacher named Horace Wilson taught his students in Tokyo the game sometime between 1867 and 1873. From there, Japan adopted baseball as its own country’s favorite sport.
Without question, the level of talent in Japan makes them an integral part of baseball’s international elite. The talent of those players has translated to MLB success as well. Players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Norichika Aoki, Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, and so on, can not only hold their own in MLB, but are some of the best our game has to offer. Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada even played for our MLB team against Samurai Japan on this trip.
There were some future MLB players on the Samurai Japan team too. Two pitchers to keep an eye on are Kenta Maeda and Shohei Otani.
As I mentioned, part of what makes baseball so great is that it is a game that transcends differences. The game itself is always the same. That said, playing a baseball game in Japan is a different experience than playing in the US.
Instead of players picking a walkout song, the fans sing a song for that individual player. They bang on drums and blow trumpets and create a tune specific to that player. I found myself, throughout the tournament, humming along with a couple of the more catchy tunes.
Also, there is no heckling. The Japanese fans are always positive in their cheering. Some American players I know might miss the heckling, others wouldn’t. But I found it so interesting that it just isn’t a part of Japanese baseball at all.
Still, even with the differences in my experiences of playing in Japan, like I said before, baseball is baseball. It is one of the many things I love about the game. But I won’t get into the others, that is an entirely different story.
Our first exhibition game was held in Osaka. We played at Koshien Stadium, where Babe Ruth played on MLB’s 1934 tour. It is still in really good shape, considering it was built in 1924.
After the exhibition game, we played our first game that counted in the Osaka Dome. When we took batting practice, I couldn’t help but constantly look up at the roof. It made me feel like I was inside a space ship. Very different from any dome I’ve been in before.
When we were done playing in Osaka, Whitney and I joined a large portion of the traveling party in driving to Kyoto on our off-day before heading to our next game in Tokyo.
Kyoto was incredible. If you ever go to Japan, I would highly suggest you plan to go to Kyoto as part of your trip. The city is wonderfully preserved to showcase Japan’s history and culture. The architecture with temples and shrines are wonderful to see. A place where Japanese traditions are still alive today. If you have ever seen a samurai movie, chances are it was filmed in Kyoto.
For our lunch break, all the players, coaches, wives, and staff on the trip got to experience a geisha performance. Geishas danced and sang for us as we ate. Towards the end of our lunch, they had some of us participate in one of their dances. The dance was both an ode to baseball with a take on rock, paper, scissors.
Of course, no one volunteered right away and Whitney pushed me forward to participate. I ended up beating Puig in a rock, paper, scissors battle. It is up for debate who was the better dancer, but I like to think I held my own. Whitney went up as well and won her match against Julianna Zobrist. International Geisha Rock-Paper-Scissors Champions! We never did get our trophy. Must be in the mail.
We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. That was great — once we got on it. The adventure began immediately, as we had a small window from when the doors opened on the train to let passengers in to when they closed. It was a concerted effort to get all of us, with our stuff, on the train before they closed the doors and took off. Apparently, on past trips some people were left behind, bags in hand, as the train sped away.
Once on the train, there wasn’t much to it. It was super smooth as it sped towards Tokyo. The highlight of the ride was getting to see Mt. Fuji. That is a sight. Magnificent how it rises above all that surrounds it.
While in Tokyo, the team was invited to visit the US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. The complex where we were invited was amazing. It is in the heart of Tokyo, surrounded by tall buildings. But on the grounds, there is a huge garden and a huge house where she lives. It is wonderful to walk in the yard and feel serene while you look up and see skyscrapers.
I made sure I took a photo in the same room where Emperor Hirohito and General McArthur took their famous photo together after Japan surrendered in World War II.
One of the highlights of Tokyo was seeing some of the presentations given to our Players Trust and some of our players.
On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit with an earthquake and tsunami. The damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan. Over 15,000 were killed with tens of thousands more being displaced without homes. I can’t even pretend to be able to do that tragedy justice with a few short sentences as to how much damage was caused.
The Players Trust, our charitable foundation where we support causes that are important to us as a group, donated $1 million to help in the recovery of the earthquake and tsunami. Before one of our games in Tokyo, the players and Players Trust director, Melissa Persaud, got to see five presentations from the five different recipients of our grants.
It was touching and inspiring to see how they were using our donations to better their lives and the lives of those in their community. If you want to know more about it, visit: playerstrust.org.
The morning before we left Tokyo, Whitney and I went to Shibuya Crossing. It is a famous intersection where five streets meet. All the traffic lights turn red at the same time, and then it’s a true scramble. We sat up in a second-story Starbucks to watch it for a while. The Starbucks itself was an adventure — it is one of the busiest in the world. But from there, the view of the crossing is hard to beat. A full sea of people embark to cross at the same time, filling the streets.
From Tokyo, we flew to Sapporo. Sapporo is famous for their beer, of course, but also for their snow. The city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972. Luckily for us, there was only a couple of inches on the ground.
We played our game in the Sapporo Dome. This is easily the biggest dome I’ve ever seen. I was told it could hold the Tokyo Dome inside its own dome. The dome is famous for having a retractable surface. The baseball games are held on turf and soccer games are played on grass. The grass surface slides in when some of the bleachers are rotated to accommodate the change. Unfortunately, they opted for fiscal responsibility and didn’t acquiesce to my request to see the switch at work for my own amusement.
And yes, I did have a Sapporo while in Sapporo. And it was glorious. On the same night I drank their famous beer, I tried a food that wasn’t glorious in any sense.
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 18, 2014
Whitney and I went to dinner with Rob Wooten of the Brewers and his wife, Chris Capuano of the Yankees and his wife, and Randy Choate of the Cardinals and his wife. As we were reading the menus we came across the name “Maguro Shuto.” The translation under the item was as follows: Fish Guts pickled in Salt of the Tuna. As soon as he read this, Rob Wooten yells, “I dare you to eat that!” Wonderful Rob, thanks buddy.
If you follow me on twitter, @JerryBlevins_13, you might have seen the video I posted of me completing this dare. If you happened to miss that gem I’ll help you out. It was not good. I thought something might have been lost in translation. Turns out, the only thing lost was my appetite.
We ended our tour of Japan by flying from the northern city of Sapporo to the southern city of Okinawa.
Okinawa was a great place to end the trip. It was warm and touristy in the best sense. Most of the people we ran into were on vacation; including the Japanese people. Along with the warm weather, Okinawa is home to 32 US military bases. The best thing about playing in Okinawa for myself, and a lot of the other players, was the ability to play in front of a large contingent of US military personnel.
To end the trip playing in front of the wonderful and mixed crowd of Japanese and Americans was perfect.
Japan is really a beautiful country. I love a city with a skyline and Japan has several of them. The skylines of Osaka and Tokyo are true masterpieces. They are right up there on my list with some of my favorite American road stops in San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago.
If mountains are your thing, Mt. Fuji is beauty in the truest sense. It is breathtaking. There is a reason why so many have featured it in paintings. It’s too bad I only got to see it from the bullet train this visit. During the Opening Series in 2012, I was fortunate enough to take a helicopter ride nearby, and was able to admire it from a better perspective. But even from a speeding train, its beauty is unmistakable.
Japan is also extremely clean. There isn’t any trash on the ground — wherever you look. Some of the other players and I used to search for it in public places, to just point it out to each other. “There it is! Look at it!” I carried an empty bottle I saw on the ground for 20 minutes looking for a trash can while walking through Tokyo before I threw it away in the hotel — not because I’m a great person, but because there aren’t any trash cans on the streets either.
I was also told it’s considered rude to eat and drink while walking in public. They have so much respect for their country, and each other, that they don’t want to soil it. People either consume what they buy where they buy it and throw it away there, or they take the trash home with them and recycle it themselves. Hence, no trash cans on the streets.
Whatever the reason for the cleanliness, it is a great part of their culture and one I wish we would adopt in a more widespread way here in the US.
Remember back at the beginning here when I let you all in on my curious nature? I think my curiosity has developed from one basic question that I’ve often asked myself: “What would my career be if I were born _____?”
If I were born in England, would I be a soccer player? Had my parents lived in Canada, would I be playing hockey? Probably not, but curling looks like a blast. My aspirations to understand something or someone that is different from me is what pushes me to travel. I think I’ve always possessed an ability to empathize with others and understand where they are coming from. And learning as much as I can about other places and cultures is an extension of that.
So the question is: what if I were born in Japan? I think that answer is a fun one.
I believe I would still be a professional baseball player. That is where my love and respect for Japan starts. The beautiful country, with beautiful people, keep me talking about it. Hopefully I will be able to visit it again.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals concluded the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings by completing a trade that brought two new prospects into the organization. The Nationals acquired second baseman Chris Bostick and right-handed reliever Abel de Los Santos from the Texas Rangers on Thursday in exchange for left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler.
Bostick, 21, has a .270 career batting average and a .341 on-base percentage in four Minor League seasons ranging from Rookie Level to high Class-A. In 2014, with Single-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League, Bostick hit .251 with a .322 on-base percentage and a .412 slugging percentage. While he played 122 of his 130 games at second base in 2014, Bostick has played 18 Minor League games at shortstop in his career.
Bostick ranked among Carolina League hitters in runs scored (second, 81), hits (T-sixth, 124), doubles, (T-fifth, 31), triples (T-fifth, 8), stolen bases (ninth, 24), and RBI (T-ninth, 62).
A 44th-round selection in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of high school, Bostick was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics. He was acquired by the Rangers, along with Michael Choice, on Dec. 3, 2013, in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom.
de Los Santos, 22, was a teammate of Bostick’s in Myrtle Beach for much of the 2014 season. Though he made eight appearances to begin the year in Single-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, de Los Santos made 33 appearances for Single-A Myrtle Beach, where he was 5-2 with a 1.97 ERA.
On the season, the 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched to a 1.92 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 56.1 innings pitched (41 games).
Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Rangers in 2010, de Los Santos worked to a 0.959 WHIP in 2014 (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) and struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings in 2014. He allowed just two home runs all season and his eight saves were good for second on the Myrtle Beach club.
Against left-handed hitters in 2014, de Los Santos surrendered just 14 hits while striking out 35 of the 85 lefty batters he faced.
Detwiler, 28, joins the Rangers after eight years in the Nationals’ organization.
The No. 6 overall selection in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Detwiler was 20-32 with a 3.82 ERA over the course of six Major League seasons. In his lone playoff appearance with the Nationals, Detwiler spun six innings of one-run ball over the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.
A starter for the first five years of his Major League career, Detwiler was shifted to a bullpen role in 2014. The 6-foot-5 left-hander had a 4.00 ERA in 2014, going 2-3 in 63.0 innings of work.
by Amanda Comak
As the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings head into their second day, Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams will meet with the media this afternoon in San Diego. The National League Manager of the Year enters his second season at the helm looking to help the team improve on what was a very successful 2014 season.
Before Williams meets with the media, he spent a few minutes catching up on the year that was and more:
From where you were last year at this time, how do you reflect on how everything has gone?
I think it was a successful season for us. I think it was satisfying, yet unsatisfying at the same time because we weren’t the last ones standing — and that’s why we’re all here. So, a very positive step in the right direction and hopefully many more steps to come.
Do you feel more focused or sure of what you’re looking for at these meetings than maybe you were in 2013?
I think I’m a little more comfortable because I know everybody. Last year was a sort of “getting-to-know-you” process. This year, I’m a little more comfortable with our group and our fantastic group of scouts and front office folks. But I still have butterflies, like everybody else does, in anticipation of the upcoming season so I’m excited and looking forward to February.
What do you think your biggest accomplishment of the past year?
I just think the ability to understand our players, and help them, and put them in a position to succeed. We had a lot of guys who had great years and I think that’s probably the biggest accomplishment I can point to — and ultimately my job is to put them in a position to succeed and do the best they can. If each individual can do that then we have a very good chance of succeeding as a team.
What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
Just the opportunity to get back to the postseason. We want to play meaningful games in September and October. We had a little bit of a taste of it this year and we want to certainly get back there and see if we can go further this time.
What was your reaction to being named the 2014 BBWAA NL Manager of the Year?
I’m extremely proud of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Award as well. It means to me that we have a fantastic organization and that everybody is on the same end of the rope, pulling as hard as they can to have success and be a championship club. I’m proud to be able to go to New York in January and represent us and accept that award on behalf of our organization.
The Nationals have added Tommy Shields to their Minor League staff, naming him co-field coordinator on Tuesday. Shields, a Fairfax, VA, native, joins Jeff Garber in that role.
Shields comes to the Nationals after spending three seasons as the manager of the Burlington Royals in the Kansas City Royals’ chain. Shields earned the Appalachian League Manager of the Year honors in 2012.
He played parts of eight Minor League seasons in the Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago Cubs’ organizations. A left-handed-hitting infielder, Shields made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles but earned his first MLB plate appearance with the Chicago Cubs in 1993.
The MLB PR Directors announced their annual Winter Meetings auction on Monday, with a litany of incredible, unique experiences up for bid with all of the proceeds going toward LUNGevity, the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit.
The charity, which was the personal cause of Orioles PR Director Monica Barlow, who passed away in February at age 36 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer, works to change outcomes for people with lung cancer through research, education, and support.
The Nationals have two great experiences up for auction this year: lunch with Matt Williams and his coaching staff inside the Nationals’ clubhouse one day this upcoming season, and a grounds crew experience. You can bid on these, and many other great items here. And all of the donations will go to a fantastic cause, and in Monica’s memory.
by Amanda Comak
As Ryan Zimmerman and his wife, Heather, wrapped turkeys in aluminum foil on Tuesday morning, the Washington Nationals infielder looked around the kitchen. Volunteers and employees bustled around the Food & Friends facility on Riggs Road in Northeast Washington, D.C., and as Zimmerman and his wife helped prepare Thanksgiving meals, he took in the scene.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how many people help,” Zimmerman said after he finished his turkey-wrapping duties. “We met one couple who works here every Tuesday.”
The Zimmermans joined roughly 20 front office employees in volunteering at Food & Friends, helping to prepare and package Thanksgiving meals for many in need.
This was the seventh year that the Nationals visited Food & Friends, continuing the team’s tradition of assisting the organization in its effort to provide home-delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illnesses throughout the Washington Metropolitan area.
“A lot of people aren’t as fortunate and don’t have a Thanksgiving, really, to speak of,” Zimmerman said. “For them to get a meal for four or five people, I can only imagine what it means to them. It’s fun to be able to come and help them.”
While they helped package approximately 60 cooked turkeys in one hour, the Zimmermans won’t be making the traditional feast themselves this Thanksgiving holiday. They will travel with their 1-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, from their Virginia home to visit family.
But before they departed, they recognized the importance of giving back to their community.
“We packed some big turkeys,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “It made me hungry.”
“We did a ‘Friendsgiving’ one year where we had friends over, and we cooked the turkey,” Heather Zimmerman said. “It came out perfect. So, we went out on top, and we’ve never made a turkey again.”
As for the hamstring that sidelined Zimmerman through much of the season’s second half, the infielder said he’s feeling strong and should begin his usual offseason training soon.
“I’ve done a lot of resting,” Zimmerman said. “I’m good and rested. I’ll probably start my routine next week.”
In the aftermath of the Washington Nationals’ 2014 National League East Division Championship celebration, Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo was asked what comes to his mind first when he sees his team accomplish this type of feat. How, a reporter wondered, did he feel when the possibility to reach the sport’s ultimate mountaintop suddenly becomes far more tangible?
Rizzo, who has built the Nationals into a division winner twice in the last three years, said he thinks first of the two 80-year-olds in his life: Nationals Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner, and his father, Phil Rizzo — and how much these championships means to them.
Phil Rizzo currently serves as a Senior Advisor to the General Manager (his son, Mike) for the Nationals. And his opinions and evaluations are as integral as ever for the younger Rizzo.
Among Phil Rizzo’s notable moments as a lifelong scout are filing the first report on University of Kentucky right-hander Brandon Webb, who won the 2006 National League Cy Young Award and represented Arizona in three All-Star games, as well as signing players such as Mike Matheny, Dick Schofield and Mark Loretta.
Happy 85th Birthday, Phil!
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals added four prospects to the team’s 40-man roster on Thursday, selecting the contracts of right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole, infielder Wilmer Difo, outfielder Brian Goodwin and left-handed pitcher Matt Grace.
All four prospects are now protected from the Dec. 11 Rule 5 Draft.
Cole, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, was rated by industry expert Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Nationals minor league system prior to the 2014 season. The 6-foot-5 righty went 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, including a perfect 7-0 record in 11 starts for the Chiefs. He ranked among Nationals minor league pitchers in wins (T1st, 13), strikeouts (T3rd, 111) and ERA (4th, 3.16).
“A.J. has made a rapid ascension through the organization,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris. “He’s on the cusp of accomplishing his, and our, ultimate goal, and we look forward to his contributions going forward.”
At 22, Cole features a mid-to-upper 90s-mph fastball and front-end-of-the-rotation potential. He owns a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.24 and has struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings over the course of his career.
Cole was a significant piece of the six-player trade with the Oakland Athletics on December 23, 2010 that netted the Nationals left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, among others. Washington then reacquired Cole, along with right-handed pitcher Blake Treinen, and left-handed pitcher Ian Krol in exchange for outfielder Michael Morse on January 16, 2013.
Difo, 22, set career marks in nearly every offensive category in 2014, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, seven triples, 14 home runs, 90 RBI, 37 walks and 91 runs scored in 136 games for the Hagerstown Suns. He was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player after leading the league with 176 hits while ranking second in total bases (263), second in stolen bases (49), fourth in RBI (90) and fourth in runs scored (91). His 90 RBI were the most among Nationals farmhands, while his .315 average was good for second behind only Steven Souza Jr.
Difo, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed as a non-drafted free agent on June 2, 2010.
“Wilmer is coming off a breakout season, in which he was honored accordingly with the South Atlantic League MVP,” Harris said. “He burst onto the scene and we expect him to continue on this upward trajectory.”
Following the season, Difo became the second recipient of the Bob Boone Award, which is granted annually to the Nationals minor leaguer who best demonstrates the professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination and work ethic required to play the game the ‘Washington Nationals Way.’
Goodwin, 24, is considered one of the top position player prospects in the Nationals minor league system. He is an elite athlete with the ability to play any outfield position. During his first three professional seasons, Goodwin posted a .362 on-base percentage and has drawn a walk every 7.42 plate appearances. He advanced to Triple-A Syracuse for the first time in 2014, hitting .219 with 10 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 32 RBI, 50 walks and 31 runs scored in 81 games for the Chiefs.
Goodwin was selected in the supplemental round (No. 34 overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
“We’re excited about Brian’s potential,” Harris said. “He shows five tools, and we’re looking forward to his future, and his ability to impact the game in a variety of ways.”
Grace went 5-1 with three saves and a 1.17 ERA (10 ER/77.0 IP) in 50 appearances between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014. He was promoted to Syracuse on June 16 and posted a 1.30 ERA (6 ER/41.2 IP) and a .194 batting average against in 28 appearances at the highest level of the Minor Leagues. Following the season, he was selected to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League as a member of the Mesa Solar Sox.
“Matt has made significant strides and really found his niche in the bullpen,” Harris said. “He’s performed extremely well in a relief role and we feel like he’s got a bright future as a left-handed bullpen guy going forward.”
The 25-year-old Grace features a heavy, sinking fastball, and induced ground balls at a rate of 69 percent in 2014. He was selected by the Nationals in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA.
To make room for these players on the 40-man roster, infielder Pedro Florimon was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates, right-handed pitcher Ryan Mattheus was placed on outright assignment and elected free agency while catcher Jhonatan Solano was granted his unconditional release. With these moves, the Nationals’ 40-man roster is now full.
Nationals sign LHP Matt Purke to Minor League contract with invitation to Major League Spring Training
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals re-signed left-handed pitcher Matt Purke to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training on Monday.
Purke will now remain with the organization that drafted and developed him, and will continue his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery (May 29, 2014) without any interruptions to his prescribed plan.
The Nationals, who have a wealth of experience in successfully rehabbing pitchers after the ligament replacement surgery, look forward to Purke continuing his progress in their organization.
“We are excited to keep Matt in the organization and to keep his rehab on track,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We look forward to seeing him rebound from his surgery during the upcoming season.”
The 24-year-old left-hander was drafted by the Nationals in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as a highly-touted prospect out of Texas Christian University. Injuries have limited him to 29 Minor League appearances in the past three seasons.
On Friday, the Nationals released Purke from the Major League contract he signed shortly after he was drafted, with a plan in place to re-sign him and keep him in the organization.