by Mike Feigen
The Nationals’ new skipper brings not just a wealth of managerial experience to the dugout, but a cultural consciousness that could make him D.C.’s baseball Renaissance man.
Nationals Park, quiet since it was shuttered at the close of the 2015 regular season, bustled with excitement on the morning of November 5. As media members gathered and club staffers prepared the press conference room for the arrival of the sixth full-time manager since baseball returned to the District, a spring-like energy pulsed through the ballpark despite the gray-skied autumn weather outside.
That afternoon, following an inspiring 35-minute press conference — after Dusty Baker introduced himself, and quickly charmed the assembled press, staffers, and fans — the decision made by the Nationals ownership and front office to install the 66-year-old Baker in their dugout was given instant validation. Outside, the vestige of clouds and rain had given way to warm, midday sunshine.
The breath of fresh air Baker helped usher in was meaningful and poetic.
Baker’s biography reads like something straight out of central casting: nearly 50 years of professional baseball experience, including 20 successful seasons as a player and 20 more as a Major League manager; six times an All-Star, twice a Silver Slugger, once a Gold Glove winner and once a World Series champion; three times a National League Manager of the Year, eight times the pilot of a 90-win team.
But this hire was about much more than just the resume. After enduring an unexpected end to the 2015 season, the Nationals’ organization knew it had to find the type of leader who could command the respect of the clubhouse, and restore a positive, winning belief in its fan base and community.
On that score, Baker’s track record is nearly impeccable.
“I want to get this team together as soon as possible, from top to bottom,” Baker said at his November 5 press conference. “Because the great teams I’ve been on and organizations that I’ve been in, from top to bottom, everyone believes.”
Asked what he’d say to his new team the first day of Spring Training, Baker said he actually believes the progress of cultivating organizational belief starts long before pitchers and catchers report, beginning with conversations he’ll have with players and personnel this offseason.
“It’s something I have to feel,” Baker said about his approach. “(It’s) something that can’t be fabricated, something that can’t be fake, because guys can see when you’re not being genuine. I’ll see what this team needs, because I really don’t know exactly what they need.”
That flexible approach to handling players lends insight into Baker’s managerial style. He uses his instincts and deep baseball knowledge to guide his moves throughout the course of the season, relying on a roughly 7,000-game personal sample to inform his decision-making. According to President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, Nationals fans won’t see a scripted, by-the-numbers style of managing in 2016; like some of the musicians he cited in his introductory press conference, Baker’s improvisational skills and feel for the rhythm of the game may be his greatest attribute.
Moreover, that free-flowing style will not preclude the dugout veteran using statistics and analytics in his game preparation. The game has evolved, and so has he.
“Adaptation is no problem for me,” Baker explained. “My friends call me ‘The Chameleon’ because they think I can adapt to any place, anytime, anywhere, and so I would like to think that I transcend different generations, like some musicians. I mean, Stevie Wonder still sounds good. And The Doors might sound even better.”
A self-described working man, Baker will first work with Rizzo to fill out the rest of the Nationals’ coaching staff. Baker’s connections within the game span his playing (Atlanta Braves, 1968-75, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1976-83, San Francisco Giants, 1984, Oakland Athletics, 1985-86) and coaching days (Giants, 1988-2002, Chicago Cubs, 2003-06 and Cincinnati Reds, 2008-13), giving him a multitude of options to fill the various assistant roles.
The club has already announced the additions of respected pitching coach Mike Maddux and first base coach and baserunning specialist Davey Lopes, who own a combined 37 years of Major League experience in similar positions.
Baker said he and Maddux had always shared a mutual interest in coaching with one another, and he and Lopes, who managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 2000-02, were best of friends from their playing days with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In the greater D.C. community, Baker has a close relationship with University of Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson that dates back some 50 years. He knows local politicians, “from the President on down,” he quipped at his press conference. He understands the large military influence in the area, having served as a reservist in the United States Marine Corps at Quantico during the Vietnam War era. He’s a business owner, an author, a philanthropist and a leader.
And while he’s never resided full-time in the District, he feels familiar and comfortable in his new surroundings.
“It’s like a family — it’s like coming home,” Baker said.
Baker’s ability to adapt to the pulse of the people around him, like his ability to work with his players, will also be welcomed by the greater Washington community.
The area, left without Major League Baseball from 1972-2004, is still rebuilding after just 11 continuous seasons of baseball after a 33 season absence. That lost generation of baseball fans, many of whom have children currently growing up with the Nationals, is slowly coming back into the fold and reclaiming their allegiances. When baseball returned 11 years ago, some neighborhoods, such as Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River, had little remaining infrastructure to support the game.
Recognizing that challenge, members of the Lerner family, in coordination with local civic leaders and Major League Baseball, have worked hard to bring baseball back to the children of the DMV, from the Nationals Youth Baseball Uniform Program to the instruction at the state-of-the-art Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast D.C.
Those endeavors have proven fruitful, particularly at the Academy, as cohorts of scholar-athletes — many of whom who were not previously exposed to baseball and softball — have learned the game as well as lessons in math, science, reading and personal nutrition.
And while Baker was explicitly hired to bring success to the Nationals baseball team, as the only African-American manager at the game’s highest level, he says he is excited to join a community with such a rich demographic fabric.
“I’m used to diversity, and this is probably the most diverse setting and most diverse town I’ve been in,” he said.
“I’ve felt a sense of responsibility the whole time I’ve been managing,” he continued. “I’ve had a sense of responsibility since I was a kid, in different walks of life. My parents were heavily involved in the NAACP when I was a kid, and I was in the Junior NAACP. There’s a sense of pride, and at the same time, hopefully I can help make a difference, because all the calls I’ve gotten, a lot of people say, ‘Hey man, it’s better to have you in the game then out of the game.’”
Having Baker back in the game will be a welcome sight to Nationals players and fans alike, a group collectively ready to turn the page on the 2015 season and take the next step after the division titles of 2012 and 2014.
After a brief introduction and an opening statement at his press conference, Baker received his cap and No. 12 jersey. He put on the cap, curling the brim in his hands, and cracked a smile.
“My son wants me to wear a flat bill,” he said with a grin. “I can’t do it.”
Then he stood tall, stretching his 6-foot-2 frame. On went the jersey.
“My mom used to be a model,” he said. “She used to go like this.”
Baker spun and sashayed his hips on the dais. The crowd laughed. The clouds were lifted. The Nationals were back in business.
“How do they do it?”
Do you ask a fish how it swims? Or a bird how it flies? No, you don’t. They do it because they were born to do it. Just like Willy Wonka was born to be a candy man…and you were born to be a Nats giveaway seeker.
On Thursday, September 3, the first 20,000 fans to enter Nationals Park will receive a Nationals-themed Nesting Doll, celebrating 10 years of Washington Nationals uniforms and the stars who wore them. Featuring Max Scherzer (2015), Bryce Harper (2014), Ryan Zimmerman (2012), Chad Cordero (2007) and Frank Robinson (2005), the special set will be sure to thrill fans young and old.
However, for 100 lucky guests, the ballpark will be transformed into a land of pure imagination. Inside 100 regular Nesting Doll boxes randomly placed at all gates, fans can find a Golden Ticket — redeemable for a larger, more exclusive Nesting Doll set of 10 dolls.
You may have to outwit Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde to find your Golden Ticket, but the reward will be worth the effort. In the larger set of 10 dolls, fans will get Max Scherzer (2015), Bryce Harper (2014), Anthony Rendon (2013), Gio Gonzalez (2012), Jayson Werth (2011), Stephen Strasburg (2010), Cristian Guzman (2008), Chad Cordero (2007), Alfonso Soriano (2006) and Ryan Zimmerman (2005).
Upon finding your Golden Ticket, you will be whisked away (OK, you’ll actually walk) to the Taft Conference room behind Sections 201–203 on the Club Level, where your Golden Ticket will grant you admission inside to redeem your special set. We won’t spoil the fun of what else will be in the Taft room — there’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction you are going — but just know you’re safe from the Hornswogglers, Snozzwangers and rotten, Vermicious Knids.
The Center Field Gate will open at 4:30 p.m., all other gates will open at 5:30 p.m., and Golden Tickets must be redeemed by the end of the seventh inning on the day of the game only. So gather your friends, acquaintances, and most importantly your Grandpa Joe, and get out to Nationals Park for the game against the Atlanta Braves and a chance to live out a childhood dream.
After all, to paraphrase a wise man, “Nationals baseball, my dear friends, is 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.”
For promotional and ticket information, please visit nationals.com/promotions.
by Mike Feigen
What to Watch for: Washington Nationals (1-2) at Philadelphia Phillies (1-2)
April 10–12, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
The Nationals and Phillies hook up for the first three of 19 match-ups during the 2015 season, seven of which will take place over the next 10 days. Both clubs got off to slow starts earlier this week, with Washington dropping two of three to the visiting New York Mets and Philadelphia doing the same against the Boston Red Sox.
Surprisingly, the 2014 NL East Champion Nationals went just 3-6 at Citizens Bank Park last season, including a three-game sweep in late August. However, two of the three Philadelphia starters from that series — A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick — have since moved on to the Pirates and Rockies, respectively. Still, it’s so early in the year that it’s hard to place any added importance on this series. The Nationals know their offense is not yet at full strength, with Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Denard Span due back over the next several weeks, so until then they will continue to focus on putting together good at-bats and playing strong fundamental defense behind their elite rotation.
FRIDAY, 7:05: LHP Gio Gonzalez (0-0, -.–) at RHP Jerome Williams (0-0, -.–)
SATURDAY, 7:05: RHP Doug Fister (0-0, -.–) at LHP Cole Hamels (0-1, 7.20)
SUNDAY, 1:35: RHP Max Scherzer (0-1, 0.00) at RHP Sean O’Sullivan 0-0, -.–)
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez and righty Doug Fister will each make their 2015 season debuts in the series, with Opening Day starter Max Scherzer pitching in the finale. Scherzer went 7.2 strong innings in the opener, allowing just six base runners while striking out eight, but suffered the loss after a pair of errors led to three unearned runs.
Philadelphia will counter with veteran right-hander Jerome Williams in the first game, southpaw Cole Hamels on regular rest on Saturday before concluding the series with right-hander Sean O’Sullivan against Scherzer on Sunday. Hamels was roughed up by the Red Sox on Opening Day, allowing four solo home runs in his five innings of work — after surrendering just 14 long balls in 204.2 innings in 2014.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers, marking a new era in Philadelphia baseball. The Phillies’ all-time hits leader had manned their shortstop position every year since 2001, four years before the Nationals moved to Washington. Long-time stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz still power the middle of the Phillies’ lineup, with veterans Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur platooning in right field. Leadoff man Ben Revere gave the Nationals trouble at times in 2014.
The Nationals enter the series looking to capitalize on a late-game offensive spark in Thursday’s game against the Mets. Washington has pushed across just six runs in three games thus far, with Bryce Harper (.364/.417/.636), Michael A. Taylor (.308/.308/.462) and Ryan Zimmerman (two-run home run in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory) leading the offense. Ian Desmond, who doubled twice on Thursday afternoon, could be ready to break out this weekend.
The Best of the Rest
Should the Nationals and Phillies produce any tight ballgames, each team lays claim to advantages in the bullpen. The Nationals ‘pen has acquitted itself well to begin the season, with all seven relievers getting at least one appearance and none allowing a run to cross the plate. On the Phillies’ side, hard-throwing youngster Ken Giles and closer Jonathan Papelbon anchor the back end of the bullpen, though Giles walked three batters in two-thirds of an inning in his first action of the season.
Here are tonight’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Communications department:
The following is an excerpt from the Spring Training issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The Spring Training issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased online, or at Space Coast Stadium on gamedays.
by Mike Feigen
The Washington Nationals were already excited to get to Florida for Spring Training, with a loaded roster capable of making a run at an elusive World Series championship. Then they acquired the consensus top pitcher on the free agent market. Game on.
By now, as the Nationals celebrate their 10th Anniversary season, fans have surely discovered that baseball is a game that offers exuberant highs in the good times and tests one’s resolve in the down times. After a 162-game grind separates the best from the rest from April through September, 10 names are thrown into a hat and a champion is crowned. At least that’s the way it often seems in the Wild Card era.
In other words, nothing can be taken for granted. No amount of planning or preparation is guaranteed to produce the desired result. No team wins a World Series on paper. So even if President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo looked at his embarrassment of riches this offseason and saw a roster capable of earning the National League’s best record for the third time in four seasons, he wouldn’t rest.
For a team already loaded in the starting rotation, acquiring another quality arm would provide Rizzo cover for a variety of scenarios, including potential trades, free agent departures or injuries. It would also give the club yet another weapon to deploy during the regular season to try to help ensure it would find its way back into the unpredictable postseason tournament.
Max Scherzer isn’t just any pitcher, though. the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander boasts a resume more complete than any other pitcher in the vaunted Nationals rotation, including an American League Cy Young Award, 91 wins, 1,321 career strikeouts in 1,239.1 innings pitched and appearances in 12 postseason games. He demonstrated durability during his five seasons in Detroit, starting no fewer than 31 games or reaching less than 187.2 innings in any single year with the Tigers.
“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,” Rizzo said January 21 at Scherzer’s introductory press conference. “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 (and) 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?”
To continue reading “Opportunity Knocks” on Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park or Space Coast Stadium, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.
Every spring, teams from throughout Major League Baseball bring players to camp that are not part of the organization’s official 40-man roster. Known as non-roster invitees (NRIs), these players are often talented youngsters on their way to The Show, veteran Minor Leaguers looking for a breakthrough moment, or former Major Leaguers looking for a fresh start.
In all, 20 such players will head to Viera, Fla. with hopes of making it to Washington. That’s part of what makes their journey so special; should they impress the coaching staff, as Chad Tracy did in 2012, they could not only force their way onto the Opening Day roster but become household names on a championship-contending club.
Below is the final installment of our Spring Training Preview series: the non-roster invitees.
STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Right-hander Bruce Billings is a veteran of eight Minor League seasons and brings with him experience as a starter and reliever. He has accumulated a 65-61 record while posting a 4.08 ERA in 217 Minor League appearances (145 starts). Billings made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2011 and appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2014, striking out seven batters in four innings.
Mitch Lively signed with the Nationals organization in July of 2014, after making the transition from reliever to starting pitcher over the last two seasons. As a reliever, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-hander was 22-19 with 14 saves and a 3.76 ERA in 212 career Minor League appearances. In 42 career starts, he is 16-9 with a 4.10 ERA. Last season, Lively reported to Triple-A Syracuse where he went 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine games/seven starts for the Chiefs.
A former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, right-hander Scott McGregor joined the Nationals in June of 2014 and reported to Double-A Harrisburg before earning a promotion to Syracuse in August. He went a combined 3-3 with 4.64 ERA in 12 games/10 starts between the two levels.
Matt Purke, the Nationals’ third-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, appeared in eight games for Double-A Harrisburg before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow on May 28. The 6-foot-4 southpaw will enter his fourth camp as a member of the Nationals organization.
RELIEF PITCHERS (5)
Veteran reliever Heath Bell joins the Nationals after a 2014 season in which he appeared in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays before stints with Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees). The Nationals will be his eighth organization since signing with the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998. Bell was one of the premier closers in MLB from 2009-13, tallying 166 saves for three separate clubs, third most in MLB over that span. He appeared in three All-Star Games and took home the 2009 and 2010 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.
Manny Delcarmen returns for his second season with the Nationals organization. He went 4-4 with four saves and a 3.13 ERA in 46 games out of the Triple-A Syracuse bullpen. Delcarmen struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2.39, while surrendering just two home runs in 60.1 innings.
Right-hander Eric Fornataro is a former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who came to Washington on a waiver claim following the 2014 season. He began his professional career as a starter, but has transitioned to a relief role over the last three seasons. As a reliever, he is 9-12 with 21 saves and a 3.40 ERA in 141 Minor League appearances. Fornataro made his Major League debut in 2014, posting a 4.66 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals.
Rafael Martin advanced through three levels of Washington’s Minor League system in 2014, going 3-2 with 11 saves and a 1.39 ERA while striking out 66 batters and holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average. He did not allow an earned run from May 16 to Aug. 17, a span of 46.1 innings over 29 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. His 11 saves were fourth among Nationals farmhands. Martin was named a MiLB.com Organization All-Star following the season.
Evan Meek comes to Washington after spending the 2014 season with the Baltimore Orioles organization. The former All-Star (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2010) enjoyed five separate stints with the Orioles, going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in 23 appearances. He went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 1.94 ERA in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk. His 16 saves were tied for seventh in the International League.
Former Clemson Tiger Spencer Kieboom is coming off his most productive season, bouncing back from 2013 “Tommy John” surgery by hitting .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 61 RBI in 87 games for Single-A Hagerstown. He was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star and a MiLB.com Organization All-Star. Following the season, Kieboom hit .324 with two doubles, one home run, seven RBI and three runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.
Left-handed hitting catcher Steven Lerud comes to the Nationals after playing in 60 games for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, batted .250 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and 19 RBI. The former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates has spent time in five organizations, including the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he briefly reached the Major Leagues in 2012 and 2013.
Pedro Severino is considered the best defensive catcher in the Nationals’ chain per Baseball America, and will enter the 2015 season rated as Washington’s top catching prospect and No. 13 prospect overall. The 21-year-old Bonao, Dominican Republic native advanced to Single-A Potomac for the first time in 2014, hitting .247 with 15 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 36 RBI in 94 games.
Emmanuel Burriss, a Washington, D.C., native and graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, returns for his second season with his hometown organization after spending the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse. He earned International League All-Star honors after hitting .300 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers, 46 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 80 runs scored. He ranked among IL hitters in runs scored (3rd, 80), triples (T-3rd, 7), batting average (T-7th, .300), and on-base percentage (9th, .377) while his .300 batting average was tied for fifth among Nationals farmhands.
A former second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Nationals’ return in the Nyjer Morgan trade, Cutter Dykstra advanced to Double-A for the first time in his career in 2014. He was named an Eastern League mid-season All-Star after hitting .297 with 15 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 43 RBI, 10 stolen bases and 39 runs scored in the season’s first half.
Kila Ka’aihue returns to the United States after spending the previous season-and-a-half with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, where he hit .258 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs, 85 RBI, 77 walks and 56 runs scored in 156 games spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He has appeared in 126 Major League games over parts of four seasons with Kansas City (2008–11) and Oakland (2012).
Left-handed power-hitting first baseman Clint Robinson, a former teammate of Ka’aihue in the Kansas City Royals system, joins the Nationals after spending last year in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Robinson, 30, is a career .300/.381/.510 hitter in 921 games spanning eight Minor League seasons, including a Texas League Triple Crown in 2010. He appeared in nine games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014, going 3-for-9 with two RBI and three runs scored.
Matt Skole returned to full strength in 2014 following 2013 Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, playing in 132 games for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit .241 with 29 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 68 RBI, 78 walks and 58 runs scored for the Senators. Skole ranked second in the Eastern league with 78 walks and was named an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com following the season.
A member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day roster in 2014, Ian Stewart played in 24 games before landing on the disabled list with a left-hand contusion. The power-hitting left-handed hitter has played parts of seven MLB seasons with three clubs, including Colorado (2007–11), Chicago-NL (2012) and Los Angeles (2014).
Dan Uggla joins the Nationals after spending the previous nine seasons with the Marlins (2006–10), Braves (2011–14) and Giants (2014). His 233 home runs as a second baseman lead all active players. Uggla, a three-time All-Star and 2010 Silver Slugger winner, is the only second baseman in Major League history to begin his career with six consecutive 20-plus home run seasons.
Mike Carp is a left-handed hitting slugger and versatile defender who has appeared in Major League games at first base (143 games/122 starts) and outfield (110 games/90 starts). In 2013, he set career marks in nearly every offensive category, starting 56 games for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The former Mets draft pick has also played for the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers during his six seasons in the big leagues.
In 10 seasons in D.C., 76 players (Ray King and Pete Orr twice) have played in at least one game with the Nationals despite entering that same Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. 21 times players have earned spots on the Nationals’ Opening Day 25-man roster (designated by [OD]). A closer look:
|2005 (7)||2006 (12)||2007 (11)||2008 (10)||2009 (11)||2010 (7)|
|INF Carlos Baerga||LHP Micah Bowie||RHP Winston Abreu||RHP Collin Balester||C Josh Bard [OD]||RHP Miguel Batista [OD]|
|RHP Hector Carrasco||LHP Bill Bray||LHP Mike Bacsik||LHP Michael Hinckley||LHP Jesus Colome||C Jamie Burke|
|OF Jeffrey Hammonds||SS Royce Clayton [OD]||1B/3B Tony Batista||LHP Ray King [OD]||INF Alex Cintron||RHP Livan Hernandez|
|RHP Sun-woo Kim||OF Alex Escobar||2B Ronnie Belliard [OD]||LHP Charlie Manning||LHP Wil Ledezma [OD]||RHP Joel Peralta|
|C Keith Osik||C Wiki Gonzalez||RHP Jesus Colome [OD]||LHP Mike O’Connor||RHP J.D. Martin||RHP Drew Storen|
|INF Rick Short||RHP Kevin Gryboski||C/1B Robert Fick [OD]||INF Pete Orr||INF Pete Orr||RHP Willy Taveras [OD]|
|OF Brandon Watson||C Brandon Harper||INF D’Angelo Jimenez||LHP Odalis Perez [OD]||OF Jorge Padilla|
|OF George Lombard||LHP Ray King [OD]||RHP Brian Sanches||OF Corey Patterson|
|RHP Santiago Ramirez||LHP Arnie Munoz||RHP Steven Shell||RHP Jorge Sosa|
|RHP Saul Rivera||RHP Jason Simontacchi||C Wil Nieves||RHP Julian Tavarez [OD]|
|OF Mike Vento||1B Dmitri Young [OD]||RHP Jordan Zimmermann|
|1B Daryle Ward [OD]|
|2011 (6)||2012 (7)||2013 (4)||2014 (1)||2015 (TBD)|
|INF Brian Bixler||OF Rick Ankiel||LHP Fernando Abad||RHP Blake Treinen|
|INF Alex Cora [OD]||OF Corey Brown||RHP Ross Ohlendorf|
|RHP Chad Gaudin [OD]||OF Brett Carroll [OD]||RHP Tanner Roark|
|RHP Ryan Mattheus||C Sandy Leon||INF Zach Walters|
|OF Laynce Nix [OD]||C Carlos Maldonado|
|1B/OF Matt Stairs [OD]||1B/OF Xavier Nady [OD]|
|1B/3B Chad Tracy [OD]|
by Mike Feigen
In honor of our 10th Anniversary season, the Washington Nationals are proud to announce 10-Year Tuesdays, a series of games that will highlight the history of Nationals baseball and celebrate our great fans.
Occurring one Tuesday each month, beginning in April, these designated 10-Year Tuesdays will feature special guests, pregame ceremonies and a collectible keepsake for the first 10,000 fans to enter Nationals Park each night. These six giveaway items will fit neatly inside the Commemorative Collectors Tin (pictured), which will be distributed to the first 25,000 fans on Opening Day.
The first of our 10-Year Tuesday items to be revealed, a Nationals bottle stopper, was announced earlier Wednesday by Jim Scanlon in Old Town, Alexandria as part the “10 Days of Teddy” campaign. Fans can get their own Nationals bottle stopper prior to the Nationals’ Tuesday, May 5 game against the Miami Marlins.
This season’s 10-Year Tuesdays programming is part of a larger 10th Anniversary celebration, which will feature bobbleheads that depict Great Moments in Nationals History, full-park theme night takeovers and much more. Additionally, jerseys worn by Nationals players and coaches will be adorned with commemorative patches, while the official game balls, bases and lineup cards used at Nationals Park will also feature the iconic 10-Year logo.
To secure your place at all six 10-Year Tuesday games this season, become a Full Season NATS PLUS Member today. More information and deposit information is available at nationals.com/2015. Additionally, for a limited time, new NATS PLUS Members who purchase a Full Season Plan will receive an authentic, autographed 10th Anniversary jersey. Jersey options include Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, while supplies last.
Single game tickets will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, February 19 at 10 a.m. at the Nationals Park Box Office, by phone 888.632.NATS(6287) or online at nationals.com/tickets.
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.
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.
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
When 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.
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
In 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.
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
Like 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.
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
With 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.
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!
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.
Even 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.