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Highlights from Max Scherzer’s introductory press conference

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by Mike Feigen

The Washington Nationals agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer on a seven-year contract on Wednesday, followed by an introductory press conference at Nationals Park.

The event featured Scherzer, President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras. In addition, several members of the Lerner family, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth and Scherzer’s wife, Erica, attended the press conference.

If you missed any of the press conference, we’re here to fill you in:

Opening statement by President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo:

Well, it’s a big day here at Nats Park. It is my extreme pleasure to introduce to the Washington D.C. community one of the finest right-handed pitchers in all of baseball and a fine gentleman in his own right, Max Scherzer.

These opportunities don’t come up every day with players of this caliber and with an ownership group with the willingness to put themselves out there and acquire us a player of this ilk. It is my extreme pleasure to welcome Erica and Max to the Washington, D.C. family and to the Washington Nationals family. We couldn’t be happier to have Max in the fold.

Scherzer, on why he signed with the Nationals:

MS: It’s pretty easy. And it’s one (reason): winning. I think this team is capable of winning, and winning a lot. So when you look at the at the near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of.

(Mike Rizzo) has been an architect here, creating a team that has been there at the bottom and has now created a team that is poised to be at the top. That’s something, as a player looking from afar, that I was able to see. Obviously, when the Nationals started knocking on your door, this is a team you want to be a part of. You start having conversations with the Lerner family and understand their commitment to excellence and their commitment to winning — that lines up great with what I want to do. I want to win and that’s why I’m here.

Rizzo, on why he wanted to improve an already strong rotation:

MR: I would say that whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer’s ability level, character, and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between. We saw a player that we were extremely interested in. He fits all the criteria that we’re looking for in a Washington Nationals type of player. He’s good between the lines, he’s a tough guy, he gets after it, he takes the ball, he attacks hitters. In the clubhouse (he’s a) magnificent teammate. In the community, (he) does nothing but impress everybody he touches. He’s a guy who you can’t ask for more from. He’s the type of guy we’re looking for and he’s the guy we went after very aggressively — and we strengthened a strength. Who wouldn’t want Max Scherzer on their club?

Rizzo, on why Max is “the Nationals’ type of guy”:

MR: He’s everybody’s kind of guy. He’s got great ability, he’s got great work ethic, he’s a great teammate and he gets after it. He’s a winner. We like to think that we attract that type of player, and we certainly landed one in Max.

Scherzer, on when he knew the Nationals would be a good fit?

MS: For me, once January came around there were more teams in contact, and there were different opportunities that (arose). However, throughout the contact, when the Nationals started knocking on the door, that was the conversation I had with Scott; this is definitely a destination I want to play in. This is a team that can win now and can win in the future. That’s something that when you’re signing up for seven years that you want to be a part of. Winning cures everything, and this is definitely a type of organization I want to be a part of. I wanted to continue these type of negotiations with the Washington Nationals because I believe in the Lerner family and what they’re committed to.

Rizzo, on when he started pursuing Max:

MR: Well, ’06, he was on my radar, that’s when I started loving him. We have a grand plan coming into each offseason and there (are) different routes to get to where you want to be — we have different options and opportunities. The plan was laid at the beginning of the offseason and came to fruition in the last three, four weeks or so.

Scherzer, on his initial reaction to the contract offer:

MS: It was jaw dropping. You just can’t even fathom it sometimes. You work so hard to put yourself in this position. For me, it’s all about winning. I don’t play this game for money, but yet at the same time when you have an offer like that it just makes you go, “Wow.” I’m very fortunate to be in this position, that they wanted to commit that type of dollar amount to me.

Scherzer, on whether he called people up to tell them about the deal:

MS: (Scott Boras) told me, “You can’t tell anybody.”  So I had to keep it to myself and just tell my wife. It was a wild moment, so I was very happy.

Williams, on his starting rotation from a manager’s perspective:

MW: To put any of those names down every fifth day is a privilege for anybody. What it does is it just allows us to have a better chance of winning. As Max said, he wants to win, we desperately want to win, Jayson is with us today, he wants to win desperately. We’re glad to have (Max), we’re anxious to get to Spring Training and we know he is.

To give you an idea of the type of competitor Max is, (back in) 2007, he was a young Double-A pitcher and I was his manager. Every Minor Leaguer has a pitch count; his was 100. He was at 97 pitches and I went out to the mound and told him he’s got three pitches to get this last guy out and he was done. He reared back and went 97, 98, 99 (mph) to strike him out. So that’s the kind of guy you see up here. He hasn’t changed since then and he won’t change now. He’s a bulldog and we’re going to be happy to give him the ball every fifth (day).

Scherzer, on wanting the rest of the rotation stay intact beyond this season, including Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann:

MS: For me personally, of course you want to see guys like that. You always want good players on your team. When you speak of Fister and Zimmermann, those are highly talented pitchers. Of course you want to see them on your ballclub, but at the end of the day, Mike’s the architect here. He understands what pitchers he has coming on the way and what’s best for the team, so that’s where he’s going to make this type of decision.

Rizzo, on having the flexibility to add Scherzer without moving other pieces:

MR: With the acquisition of Max, ownership has allowed us to do our business in the best way you can, as far as the baseball side goes. They’ve given us all the ammunition that we need to put together a quality team. Nothing has changed with regard to any other player on the roster. We make good baseball decisions based on baseball evaluations and money does not come into play. We love the team that we have right now, we feel that it’s a really good, capable ballclub and we’re looking to better ourselves each and every day.

Scherzer, on talking to other Nationals players before he signed:

MS: After I signed, Fister reached out to me and sent me a couple of text messages. I was happy to rejoin him. He’s a really good pitcher — there (are) a lot of things you can learn from him. I was also working out with Matt Thornton as well … I was picking his brain the previous week, asking about the clubhouse, how are the different things throughout the year. I feel really comfortable about joining this clubhouse.

Rizzo, on what he remembered about Scherzer before the 2006 draft:

MR: I saw Max twice as an amateur, and the first time he didn’t fare that well, but loved the competitiveness, loved the way he attacked hitters and loved the demeanor on the mound. He was pouring fastballs into these right-handed hitters. His stuff was there, it was pretty evident that he had power stuff. But what really affected me in a positive light was I saw a guy that was struggling a little bit but made no excuses and just got after it. The second time when I went back to see him it was a 180 (degree change). It was a very easy game to scout and he was an extremely easy player to take at the No. 11 pick in the draft that year.

Rizzo, on having little concern about Scherzer’s age and duration of contract:

MR: He’s a durable pitcher. If I’m not mistaken, he’s never been on the Disabled List in the past five years. He takes the ball whenever he’s given it — he’s a horse. He’s got the makeup and character to take things deep into games, if asked to. For a 30-year-old pitcher, he’s thrown very (few) innings and pitches for a pitcher that’s had the success he’s had at the age that he’s at. I feel like we’ve got a young 30-year-old arm with a lot of mileage left on the tires and a guy that’s going to take us into competitive games for a very long time … he can really hit, too, by the way.

Spring Training Preview, Part I: Catchers

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by Mike Feigen

Over each of the next five weeks, we’ll break down the entire Nationals roster as the team prepares to take the field in Viera, Fla., to get to work on defending their NL East Division title. Beginning this week with catchers, we will look at the stockpile of talent acquired and developed by President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and their respective staffs.

We kick things off this week with catchers, including the two likely members of the Opening Day roster, a reliable backup and a recent addition to the 40-man roster.

WILSON RAMOS

2014 Season Totals: .267/.299/.399, 93 wRC+, 4.7% BB rate, 15.8% K rate, 2.0 fWAR in 361 PA

2015 Steamer Projection: .269/.316/.438, 109 wRC+, 6.3% BB rate, 14.9% K rate, 3.0 fWAR in 428 PA

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game TwoWhen we last saw Wilson Ramos in October, he had just completed all 44 defensive innings behind the plate during the Nationals’ four-game NLDS run against the San Francisco Giants. The winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award for spirit, determination and courage also caught 87 games during the regular season, his most games caught since 2011.

At the plate, “The Buffalo” belted 11 home runs and added 47 runs batted in on the year, solid numbers despite recovering from a hamate bone fracture suffered on Opening Day against the Mets and a hamstring strain in mid-June. Once his hand strength returned, so did his bat; Ramos slashed .196/.254/.250 with no home runs in his first 15 games of the season, then hit .319/.350/.490 with nine long balls over his next 52 games through late August.

Ramos also benefited from Williams’ emphasis on defending the running game, posting a career high 38 percent caught stealing rate (18-of-48), after nabbing just 25 percent (18-of-71) of runners the previous two years combined. He also was credited with the first four pickoffs of his career.

Using Steamer projections (located on FanGraphs.com), the 27-year-old backstop is due for a strong season at the plate, in which he should draw a few more walks and harness some of his immense power. Should that occur, it would go a long ways toward the Nationals finding themselves back in the postseason for the third time in four years.

JOSE LOBATON

2014 Season Totals: .234/.287/.304, 66 wRC+, 6.5% BB rate, 26.5% K rate, 0.6 fWAR in 230 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .234/.303/.340, 81 wRC+, 8.6% BB rate, 23.1% K rate, 0.2 fWAR in 116 PA

San Francisco Giants v Washington NationalsIn his first season, Jose Lobaton’s influence on the Nationals pitching staff was undeniable. The pitch-framing savant helped the Nationals to a 38-20 record during his 58 starts, including an 11-0 mark when Doug Fister was on the mound.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of Spring Training, Lobaton got off to a bit of a slow start at the plate before finishing with a .305 batting average in August and September. He belted two home runs during the season, including a line drive shot into the bullpen to kick start an April 23 walk-off rally against the Los Angeles Angels.

Although Steamer’s projections have Lobaton’s plate appearances dipping significantly in 2015, the switch-hitter should have plenty of opportunities to spell Ramos to keep his fellow countryman’s legs fresh throughout the year.

SANDY LEON

2014 Season Totals: .156/.229/.219, 27 wRC+, 8.6% BB rate, 28.6% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 70 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .213/.282/.309, 66 wRC+, 8.3% BB rate, 20.1% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 91 PA

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsLike Lobaton, Sandy Leon is a switch-hitting catcher with a strong defensive reputation. And while the 30-year-old Lobaton likely has the 25-year-old Leon blocked for the time being, the Nationals have used a No. 3 catcher on multiple occasions during the past three seasons.

Leon collected his first Major League home run on April 14 at cavernous Marlins Park in Miami, demonstrating good pop at the plate. He also has shown a tremendous eye throughout his Minor League career, including walk rates of 13.0 percent at Double-A in 2013 and 11.9 percent at Triple-A this past season.

Should he return to Syracuse this upcoming season, Leon could be tasked with the continuing development of an excellent Triple-A pitching staff featuring the likes of A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and Blake Treinen, depending on who makes the Major League club out of Spring Training.

DAN BUTLER

2014 Season Totals: .211/.250/.368, 67 wRC+, 5.0% BB rate, 25.0% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 20 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .233/.299/.360, 83 wRC+, 7.7% BB rate, 20.8% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA

Boston Red Sox Vs. Baltimore Orioles At Fenway ParkWith the departure of Minor League catcher Jhonatan Solano following the 2014 season, the Nationals and Red Sox completed a deal that sent left-handed pitcher Danny Rosenbaum to the Red Sox and 28-year-old catcher Dan Butler to the Nationals.

In addition to having solid defensive skills, Butler showed flashes of power during his time in Boston’s organization, clubbing 14 home runs in 84 games for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013, while also posting a .350 on base percentage and a .479 slugging percentage.

Butler made his Major League debut at the tail end of the 2014 season, batting 4-for-19 at the plate with three doubles and two runs batted in for the Red Sox. While Steamer only projects him for one plate appearance in 2015, his projected rate stats are in line with both Lobaton and Leon, giving the Nationals flexibility should they need to use a third or fourth catcher.

Recapping a fantastic NatsFest

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The Nationals would like to thank all the fans, players and staff members who made this past Saturday’s NatsFest an overwhelming success. Re-live some of the best moments from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in this exclusive photo gallery and recap video from the event. We’re counting the days until spring!

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NatsFest gives fans an insider’s view

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by Mike Feigen

With Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings beginning this week in San Diego, the hot stove season is officially underway. Trade talks, free agent signings and the Rule 5 draft will dominate the conversation over the next few days, but fans of the Washington Nationals have extra incentive to pay close attention: NatsFest is coming this Saturday, from 11 a.m.– 5 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Washington Nationals 2014 NatFestEven if President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo makes no major splashes near the Southern California beach this week, he’ll have plenty to say when he greets Season Plan Holders during a “State of the Nationals” discussion on the Main Stage. Hosted during an exclusive Season Plan Holder-only session, Rizzo will be joined from 10:15–10:45 a.m. by Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and Nationals Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Valerie Camillo.

The quartet will discuss a wide range of topics, including recapping the 2014 season and looking ahead to what they hope will be an exciting and memorable 2015 campaign. They will also offer a sneak preview of the club’s 10th Anniversary celebration, which will kick off in full force on Opening Day, April 6, when the Nationals host the New York Mets.

Three other members of the Nationals’ executive team will also be on hand to interact with fans, as Assistant General Manager & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, Director of Baseball Research & Development Sam Mondry-Cohen and Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba will host “The Front Office” in the Nationals Q&A Room from 12–12:30 p.m. Each brings a unique perspective to the game, including the statistically-minded Cromie and Mondry-Cohen, whose backgrounds may resonate among the more sabermetrically-inclined crowd.

Throughout the event, fans will be able to interact with more than 20 of their favorite Nationals players. Additionally, broadcasters Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler, Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo will emcee various parts of the event and chat about the upcoming season.

Breakout sessions this year will include the ever-popular Player Story Time in the Jr. Nats Kids Forum, Player Photo Stations in the main convention hall, the game show “NatsFest Feud” and a special Player Instructional on the Youth Baseball Academy Field.

New at this year’s event, fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to NatsFest for the opportunity to benefit the Greater Washington Urban League and win a chance to meet a Nationals player. Gifts can be dropped off at the Toy Drive table near the Main Stage for contest entry. Donors will receive one entry form for each gift donated, and there will be no limit to how many gifts a fan can donate. Ten donors will be randomly selected to meet with a Nationals player, take pictures and receive autographs. The meet and greet will take place late in the afternoon and each winner may be accompanied by one guest.

For complete information on all things NatsFest, including the convention map, schedule, ticket information and more, please visit nationals.com/natsfest.

Wrapping up the Arizona Fall League

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by Mike Feigen

The Mesa Solar Sox, featuring seven members of the Nationals’ organization, wrapped up their Arizona Fall League schedule this past Thursday with a tie in the final game of the season. Catcher Spencer Kieboom went 2-for-5 at the plate in the contest, raising his average to .324, best among Nationals prospects on the club.

farm graphicMesa, which finished the year with a record of 15-14-2, was comprised of prospects from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Nationals. Washington provided catchers Pedro Severino and Kieboom, second baseman Tony Renda and four pitchers: Matt Grace, Neil Holland, Felipe Rivero and Derek Self.

The AFL gives future young stars a chance to showcase their skills following the conclusion of the regular season, with members of all 30 Major League organizations representing their parent clubs on six competing teams. The Salt River Rafters (ARI, COL, HOU, MIA and MIN) defeated the Peoria Javelinas (ATL, CLE, KC, STL, TB) in the league championship game Saturday.

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

Final stats: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.18 ERA, 1.324 WHIP

The big lefty out of UCLA compiled six scoreless relief appearances in his final seven appearances, holding right-handed hitters to a .167 average. His work against left-handed hitters could be the key to his success at the next level.

“I am working on throwing more off-speed pitches during my time here, especially my slider,” Grace said in a recent interview with Curly W Live. “I feel very comfortable with where my fastball is at right now, but I’m trying to have a more consistent slider. I know I will be facing a lot of left-handers out of the ‘pen, so I’m trying to do a better job of throwing sliders off my fastball, and vice-versa.”

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

Final stats: 11.2 IP, 20 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 8 BB, 8 SO, 10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP

Holland owns a career 23-10 record with a 2.49 ERA in 182 Minor League games pitched, but ran into some tough luck in Arizona. The 25-year-old former 11th round draft pick, featuring a deceptive sidearm delivery, could find himself in the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse during the 2015 season.

“There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age,” Holland said in a recent interview. “One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls.”

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

Final stats:.324/.390/.471 (11-for-34), 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 5 BB

One of the top offensive catchers in the Minor Leagues, Kieboom recovered from Tommy John surgery to have a big season in Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League. The 6-0, 200-pound backstop had a remarkable .852 OPS this season (.352 OBP, .500 SLG), setting the stage for what could be a promising season at Potomac or Harrisburg this upcoming year.

Kieboom said he was looking for big-picture experience in Arizona during an interview with Curly W Live earlier this AFL season.

“My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career,” he said. “There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.”

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

Final stats:.200/.233/.259 (17-for-85), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 12 R, 3 BB, 1 SB

Following a season in which he hit .307 with a .381 on-base percentage at High-A Potomac, Renda received valuable experience facing the league’s more advanced pitchers. The former second round pick was named to the AFL’s Fall Stars team and flashed promise at the plate.

“I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year,” Renda said. “Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

Final stats: 23.2 IP, 26 H, 18 R, 16 ER, 11 BB, 15 SO, 6.08 ERA, 1.563 WHIP

Rivero got off to a slow start in the AFL, but recovered in his final two starts to post solid numbers. The left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his final two starts, allowing just seven hits and two walks in 10 innings of work. The former Tampa Bay product held left-handers to a .231/.333/308 slash line, while righties hit a more robust .303/.387/.500 with a pair of home runs against him.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

Final stats: 15.0 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO, 1.20 ERA, 1.133 WHIP

Reliever Derek Self emerged as a pleasant surprise in Fall League play, completing six appearances of two or more innings in a relief role. The right-hander from Cave City, Ky. was accustomed to that role, with 21 such appearances between Potomac and Harrisburg in the regular season.

“I’m really working on my new change-up and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well,” Self said about his progress in the AFL earlier this month. “Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.”

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

Final stats:.250/.292/.341 (11-for-44), 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB

Severino, the third-youngest member of the Solar Sox roster at just 21 years of age, continued to impress as a part-time player in Arizona. The defensive-minded catcher played well above his age level this season at High-A Potomac, helping the P-Nats to a Carolina League Championship.

Nationals’ aces fill up NL Cy Young ballots

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by Mike Feigen

It came as no surprise that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers earned the National League Cy Young Award Wednesday, unanimously capturing all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. After all, the southpaw led all of baseball in ERA, wins, complete games, WHIP and FIP (fielding independent pitching).

cyyoungHowever, down the writers’ ballots, another storyline emerged.

Three members of the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation — Jordan Zimmermann (5th), Doug Fister (8th) and Stephen Strasburg (T-9th) — finished in the top 10 of the voting, making them the only team in either league to achieve that distinction in the past three years.

Zimmermann, 28, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 199.2 innings in 2014, concluding the season with the first no-hitter in Nationals history. The 6-foot-2 right-hander added a brilliant first-round performance in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, surrendering just three hits in Game 2. In total, Zimmermann allowed a total of three hits to the final 62 batters he faced dating back to his September 20 start against the Miami Marlins.

Fister, acquired last offseason in a deal with the Detroit Tigers, lived up to his billing as a dynamic, big-game pitcher. Standing 6-foot-8, the lanky right-hander used his power sinker and array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance all season. Fister led the Nationals in ERA (2.41) and wins (16) during the regular season, then added a victory in Game 3 of the NLDS against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

If not for Zimmermann’s late-season heroics, Strasburg would have easily finished the season as the Nationals’ hottest pitcher. The 26-year-old righty went 7-2 in August and September, including a 3-0 record with a 0.00 ERA over his final three starts of the season. In those contests, the right-hander allowed 10 hits and three walks over 20.0 scoreless innings, striking out 19.

Including Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85) and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57), the Nationals owned one of the finest starting rotations in all of baseball, with all five primary members deserving recognition for their excellent 2014 campaigns. Factoring in the excellent bullpen performances from relievers such as Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, the entire staff led baseball in ERA (3.03), FIP (3.18), fewest home runs per fly ball (7.5%) and lowest walk rate (2.15 per 9 innings). The team also set a Major League record by striking out 3.66 batters for every walk issued, the best ratio in history.

With Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg all earning BBWAA votes, the result doubled the number of times Nationals pitchers have received Cy Young votes since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Previously receiving tallies were Chad Cordero (5th, 2005), Gonzalez (3rd, 2012) and Zimmermann (7th, 2013).

Arizona Fall League: Midseason update

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by Mike Feigen

With 19 of the Mesa Solar Sox’s 30 games complete in the Arizona Fall League season, each of the seven representatives of the Washington Nationals has thrown at least eight innings or come to the plate at least 25 times during the top prospect “finishing school.”

farm graphicAmong the standouts thus far are a pair of catchers with intriguing skill sets. Spencer Kieboom, the Nationals’ fifth-round selection in 2012 out of Clemson University, hit .309/.352/.500 with nine home runs for Single-A Hagerstown  in 2014, brandishing his credentials as one of the top offensive catchers in the organization. Meanwhile, 21-year-old backstop Pedro Severino — who has one of the top defensive reputations in the Minors — led the Potomac Nationals to a Carolina League title. He also blasted nine homers during the 2014 campaign.

Former third-round pick Tony Renda earned the club’s selection for the annual Fall Stars Game, which will be televised live on MLB Network on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here’s a rundown of how the Nationals’ prospects have done in the AFL to this point:

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

8.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.38 ERA, 1.375 WHIP

After a bit of a slow start, Grace has turned in excellent numbers in his last four appearances for the Solar Sox. During that time he has fired 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three. The big southpaw has found success against hitters from both sides of the plate, holding righties to just two hits in 13 at-bats.

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

8.0 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO, 10.13 ERA, 2.125 WHIP

Though Holland has struggled in the hitter-friendly Fall League, his excellent contributions over the course of the regular season earned him plaudits within the Nationals organization. The side-arm throwing right-hander was a midseason All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League and finished the season with a 0.59 ERA in his final nine appearances of the year.

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

.400/.440/.650 (8-for-20), 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB in 25 PA

In limited playing time, the right-handed hitting Kieboom has flashed the type of offensive potential that makes him one of the Nationals’ top prospects. He has three multi-hit games in six starts behind the plate, and powered a three-run home run in the eighth inning on October 16 to clinch a 6-2 Mesa victory.

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

.226/.250/.321 (12-for-53), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 8 R, 2 BB, 1 SB in 56 PA

Renda is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak (12-for-37) after starting the AFL season 0-for-16 in his first five games. The former Cal-Berkeley standout received the Washington Nationals inaugural  “Bob Boone Award,” in 2013, which is given to the farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

13.0 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 8 SO, 9.00 ERA, 1.846 WHIP

Best known by Nationals fans as one of the players acquired in the deal that brought Jose Lobaton to Washington, Rivero has a live arm and the potential to develop into either a starter or reliever at the next level. In his four Fall League starts, Rivero has allowed no runs and one hit in the first inning of those contests.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

10.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0.90 ERA, 1.100 WHIP

After splitting time between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2014, the right-handed reliever has continued his success in the Arizona Fall League. Since allowing a solo home run in his first appearance on October 7, Self has been lights out since, completing eight scoreless frames. The Kentucky native was the Nationals’ ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft.

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

.280/.321/.360 (7-for-25), 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, in 28 PA

The aforementioned Severino, a highly-touted youngster out of the Dominican Republic, may be on the fast track to the Majors thanks to his elite glove work. He has also demonstrated improved bat control, including a four-hit game on October 22 during a rout of the Scottsdale Scorpions. The youngster won’t turn 22 until July, but could catch at the Double-A level in 2015.

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, stay tuned to Curly W Live or visit MLBFallBall.com.

What to watch for: NLDS Game 4

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

San Francisco Giants lead Washington Nationals, 2-1

9:07 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

The Scene

What a difference a day makes. After the Nationals fell behind two games to none at home, they forced their way back into the series with a 4-1 victory in Game 3. The key play of the game — and the Nationals hope the series — came on a bunt by catcher Wilson Ramos, which Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner fired wide of third base, allowing Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper to score. Doug Fister threw seven shutout innings for the victory, while Harper added a solo homer deep over the right field wall in the ninth.

The Stakes

Despite losing some of its momentum, San Francisco still finds itself one win away from qualifying for the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Nationals one-game-at-a-time approach won’t allow them to look past Game 4, so both teams should come out with matching levels of intensity. Like Game 3, the Nats will be facing a pitcher in Ryan Vogelsong with an incredible run of postseason success, so they’ll need to continue to have the type of good at-bats they put together toward the end of Monday’s contest.

Washington Lineup

CF Denard Span

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Jayson Werth

1B Adam LaRoche

SS Ian Desmond

LF Bryce Harper

C Wilson Ramos

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

LHP Gio Gonzalez

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pablo Sandoval

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Juan Perez

RHP Ryan Vogelsong

The Starters

Gio Gonzalez earns his third career postseason start Tuesday night, following his starts in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Gonzalez allowed just six hits in 10 innings over those two starts, but walked 11 against just 10 strikeouts. The good news for Nats fans is the talented left-hander has exhibited an excellent level of control in 2014, posting a career-best 2.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate — including a 6.2-to-1 rate in the month of September.

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong has put up Fister-like numbers in the postseason, going 3-0 with a 1.09 in four career starts. However, he has not been nearly as good since the Giants’ 2012 World Series run, going 12-19 with a 4.62 ERA over 51 starts in the past two seasons. He allowed four runs or more in four of his five September starts, including losses to NL West foes Colorado, Arizona and San Diego (twice).

The Offenses

The Nationals put up four runs in the final three innings of Monday’s win, more than the three runs they pushed across in the series’ first 33 frames. They will look to keep the momentum going in Game 4, using the same lineup that appeared to finally wake up with several hard hit balls late in Game 3. They have shown success against Vogelsong in 2013, scoring six runs on nine hits against him on June 9 and another three runs on four hits and four walks on August 24.

Suddenly, the Giants are the club trying to find themselves at the plate, as they’ve scored just six runs in the series. Manager Bruce Bochy has shuffled his lineup for the first time since postseason play began, swapping Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the order and inserting right-handed hitting left fielder Juan Perez into the No. 8 spot. Leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco has batted just 1-for-14 (.071) with one walk in the series.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals again will rely on right-handed Ryan Zimmerman and lefty Nate Schierholtz as their primary bats off the bench. Each has a hit in the series, and the duo provides Matt Williams with matchup problems for the Giants. With Perez moving into the starting lineup, regular left fielder Travis Ishikawa (2-for-10) should be the primary bat off the bench in the late innings.

After Fister’s gem, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen each pitched one inning in Game 3, with Storen surrendering a run prior to recording the final out. With the day off Sunday, the entire ‘pen should be available, including Tanner Roark and perhaps Stephen Strasburg. The Giants also have a stable of arms at their disposal, though long man Yusmeiro Petit may not yet be available after his six-inning performance in Game 2.

What to watch for: NLDS Game 3

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

San Francisco Giants lead Washington Nationals, 2-0

5:07 p.m. ET, MLB Network

The Scene

The city of San Francisco takes center stage as the series shifts to the Bay Area, with the Giants looking to finish off the Nationals and advance to the National League Championship Series. The AT&T Park crowd has yet to see their hometown team this postseason, but the Giants do own a five-game home postseason winning streak dating back to Game 2 of the 2012 NLCS. The Nationals won 3-of-4 games in San Francisco this year, including a 2-1 victory by Doug Fister over Madison Bumgarner on June 10 in front of a sellout crowd, so they won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere.

The Stakes

Trailing 2-0 in the series, the Nationals know they must win Game 3 to extend their season at least one more day. Having to accomplish that against Bumgarner presents a daunting challenge, but they have had success against top pitchers all season and have won three games in a row several times.

A little more than five weeks ago, the Nationals were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies and saw their lead in the NL East cut to just six games over the Atlanta Braves. A trip to face Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners was on tap after a west coast off day, with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on the horizon just after that. The Nationals shocked the baseball community that day with four home runs off King Felix, carrying their long ball power to a series win over Seattle and another over Los Angeles. The power surge pushed the Nats to a 21-9 finish, setting up home field advantage in the NL postseason.

It isn’t likely that Bumgarner will surrender four homers on Monday night, but a big performance at the plate could send Washington into a similar trajectory.

Washington Lineup

CF Denard Span

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Jayson Werth

1B Adam LaRoche

SS Ian Desmond

LF Bryce Harper

C Wilson Ramos

2B Asdrubal Cabrera

RHP Doug Fister

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

3B Pablo Sandoval

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Travis Ishikawa

LHP Madison Bumgarner

The Starters

The Nationals will send Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA) to the mound to try to stave off elimination, a familiar position for the 6-foot-8 right-hander. Fister won Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS at Yankee Stadium in his first postseason start, and just last year helped the Tigers avoid a series loss to the Oakland Athletics in Game 4 of the ALDS. He later won Game 4 of the 2013 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, the final game the Tigers would win in that series.

Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) is also no stranger to postseason success, including his two World Series victories — including a 2-0 win over Fister and the Tigers in the 2012 Fall Classic — and a dominant, shutout performance in the 2014 Wild Card Game win over the Pittsburgh Pirates just five days ago. The big lefty, still just 25 years old, struck out 219 batters and walked just 43 in 217.1 innings of work this season, the best strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his big-league career.

The Offenses

After scoring just three runs in 27 innings at Nationals Park in Games 1 and 2, Washington has no choice but to execute better against a difficult pitcher in a road environment. While that seems like a tall task, the Nationals have proven time and again they’ve got the talent and fortitude to score runs in bunches, beating the likes of Hernandez (2.14 ERA), Johnny Cueto (2.25 ERA) and Bumgarner already this season. Matt Williams will stick with the same lineup that got the Nationals to this point, a group that finished strong throughout the final two months of the season.

Like the Nationals, the Giants didn’t score many runs in the first two games of the series, putting just five total runs on the board. They will also stick with the same lineup in Game 3, hoping the continuity of the same order will provide them a series sweep. After Jordan Zimmermann retired 20 straight beginning in the third inning of Game 2, San Francisco scratched out the tying run in the ninth when Joe Panik drew a two-out walk, Buster Posey ripped a single to center and Pablo Sandoval doubled home Panik on a slicing liner down the left field line.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals have put together quality at-bats off the bench, with top right-handed option Ryan Zimmerman going 1-for-2 with a pair of well-hit balls and lefty Nate Schierholtz going 1-for-1 with a double and an intentional walk. The Giants’ young bench has gone 0-for-8 with one walk so far in the series, with reserve outfielder Juan Perez seeing action in left field throughout extra innings on Saturday night.

In the bullpen, the Nationals have shown remarkable success from the left side against the predominantly left-handed hitting Giants, with Jerry Blevins and Matt Thornton dominating the competition in the first two games of the series. San Francisco’s bullpen was nearly flawless in Game 2, combining with right-hander Tim Hudson to set the Washington lineup down in 15 consecutive innings in the 2-1, 18-inning contest.

Nothing But Comebacks

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

When the Nationals take on the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS Monday evening, they’ll face an uphill battle that will test their resolve as a team. The good news is they’ve already won three straight games against the Giants this year, including a head-to-head victory by Doug Fister over Madison Bumgarner at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Should they rally and move on to the NLCS, they also won’t be the first team to battle back from down 2-0 in a five-game series. In fact, there have been eight teams in MLB history to trail 2-0 in a best-of-five series and come back to win. Those eight are:

1981 Dodgers (NLDS)

1982 Brewers (ALCS)

1984 Padres (NLCS)

1995 Mariners (ALDS)

1999 Red Sox (ALDS)

2001 Yankees (ALDS)

2003 Red Sox (ALDS)

2012 Giants (NLDS)

Among those eight, five played in the World Series that season, with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers and 2012 San Francisco Giants each winning it all.

The Dodgers, led by excellent starting pitching, went all the way after scoring just one total run in their first two games of the NLDS against the Houston Astros, including an extra-inning loss in Game 2 that ended on a home run. They battled back and won Game 5 at home against Astros’ starter Nolan Ryan, then went on to knock off the Montreal Expos in the NLCS and the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic.

San Francisco, also led by great starting pitching, lost its first two games at home to the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 NLDS, scoring just two total runs, then won three straight in Cincinnati when the bats got hot. The Giants kept the magic alive, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS after trailing, 3-1, and eventually swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

In 1995, the Seattle Mariners lost Game 1 against the New York Yankees, then lost in 15 innings in Game 2 on a home run. That game coincidentally included a Yankee RBI double to tie the game with two outs and Seattle one out away from winning, with the go-ahead runner getting thrown out at the plate on a relay from the left fielder to shortstop to catcher. The Mariners eventually won the series on a walk-off in Game 5.

The 2001 New York Yankees followed the exact first-round path the Nats are aiming for. They lost the first two games at home to the Wild Card Oakland Athletics, scoring three total runs. Facing elimination, they traveled across the country to face a Bay Area team featuring a tough left-handed pitcher, Barry Zito. In the seventh inning, clinging to a 1-0 lead, Derek Jeter’s famous “flip” play saved the season, and the Yankees won the game, took Game 4 the next night, then traveled back to New York and won Game 5. They made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, where they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks — a team featuring cleanup hitter Matt Williams.

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