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Matt Williams discusses replay that overturned Ian Desmond’s home run

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by Amanda Comak

The roars from the sold-out crowd at Nationals Park on Friday afternoon began the moment shortstop Ian Desmond connected with David Hale‘s first-pitch curveball to open the bottom of the fifth inning.

They only increased as Desmond motored toward second base. And as Atlanta Braves left fielder Justin Upton threw his hands up in the left field corner, the cheers reached a crescendo. Desmond crossed home plate.

The Nationals had tied the game on an inside-the-park home run by their two-time Louisville Silver Slugger shortstop.

At least, that’s what the implication was when none of the umpires on the field signaled that the play was dead, and Upton proceeded to retrieve the ball from underneath the padding in the left field wall and throw it back to the infield.

But Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged the play. The instant replay crews in New York overturned the call, citing rule 7.05(f) and ruling that the ball was lodged in the padding of the wall. Desmond was awarded second base, and the Nationals’ first run was taken off the board.

Here’s what Nationals Manager Matt Williams had to say about the play after the game, which ended as a 2-1 Braves victory.

“(The umpires) told me that from replay, the ball was lodged between the pad and the dirt. I question that because when (Upton) had to, he reached down and threw it in. That was my question. He threw up his hands. Generally that is an indication that the ball was lodged, but when there was no signal from the umpire, throwing his hands up saying it was a double or lodged, Justin reached down, picked it up and threw it in.

“By that time, Ian had scored. They reviewed it and determined that it was lodged under the fence.”

“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure we get calls right,” Williams continued. “I have question with that one though because of what happened after the fact — the fact that when (Upton) had to, he reached down and threw it in.

“(The umpire didn’t signal) so, for me, in the heat of the moment and with my naked eye, tells me that he didn’t think it was lodged. But it is a reviewable call and a reviewable play, so they did and determined that it was a double and the ball was lodged underneath the pad.”

Opening Day highlights

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by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK — Early Monday morning, Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams shrugged his shoulders and issued a platitude about his nervous energy. “Opening Day,” Williams said a few hours before his first game as a Major League manager. “If you can’t get excited about Opening Day, something’s wrong.”

But almost as soon as the game began, excitement likely gave way to anxiety and stress. The Nationals’ first game of the season contained enough drama to fill a week’s worth of games, and while the victory — a 9-7 win in 10 innings over the New York Mets — was sweet, the prospect of at least 161 more ahead was perhaps the day’s most intriguing thought.

Through photos and videos, here are some of the highlights from a beautiful first day of the season:

Adam LaRoche gets the Nationals on the board with this lofty two-run home run.

Anthony Rendon’s first big hit of the day was this RBI-double.

Denard Span was in the thick of things all day, including on this game-tying double.

Anthony Rendon then gave the Nationals their 10th-inning cushion with this big three-run shot.

Here’s how the first Curly W of the season went into the books.

Stephen Strasburg struck out 10 in six innings of work. 

Daily Wrap: Barrett reacts to making MLB team, Frandsen signs & more

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by Amanda Comak

JUPITER, Fla. — The daily rhythm in Spring Training is relentless. Each day blends into the next as teams inch closer to playing games that count and partaking in moments that really matter. And, as is often the case in baseball, what sometimes moves the meter outside the walls of the clubhouse often gets less attention inside of it. Injuries hurt, but become accepted and moved past. Players come and go as trades and signings happen. It’s an existence that is always in motion.

But one thing that never gets old is the moment a player finds out he has made the Major Leagues for the first time. It’s wonderful in its purity.

2014 Washington Nationals Photo DayWashington Nationals right-hander Aaron Barrett got to experience that very moment on Tuesday, when manager Matt Williams summoned him into his office and told him the one thing Barrett had waited the better part of a lifetime to hear: he is a big leaguer.

“It was one of those moments I’d dreamed about all my life, initially getting the call,” Barrett said, standing outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. “For me, I pictured myself being at Double-A, Triple-A, and getting the call-up for that experience. To get the call to make the team out of camp, it was unbelievable. Just a great feeling.”

Barrett was in the weight room after Tuesday’s game when he was told the manager wanted to see him. He’d been expecting the meeting to come at some point, knowing they’d need to summon him if they were planning to cut him, too. Only Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty were in the office.

“Hey, we have some tough decisions that we have to make, and you’re one of those tough decisions,” Williams told Barrett.

“He looked at me, and it was a five- to 10-second pause there that, I think (to me) it lasted 10 minutes,” Barrett said. “And then he dropped the news. He said ‘Congratulations, you made the team.’ I just got very emotional, started tearing up a bit. Tears of joy. McCatty gave me a hug.”

As Barrett made his way back into the clubhouse and word began to spread, teammates made their way over to offer congratulations to the right-hander. But his next stop was the Nationals’ dugout at Space Coast Stadium, where he called up his wife, Kendyl, on FaceTime and shared his good news.

“(At that point) I was just overwhelmed with tears,” Barrett said. “To get to this point, it was just so surreal.”

“(My wife) was so shocked,” he added. “We’ve been through a lot as far as the whole Minor Leagues. She’s working and supported me throughout the whole Minor Leagues. To finally get that call that I made the team, she was just overwhelmed. She started crying. I started crying. It was just an awesome moment that I’ll never forget.

Washington Nationals spring training“After that, my parents and grandparents (who are in town coincidentally), I called them right after. They were just stoked. We went out to dinner last night, had a good time, celebrated a little bit. But overall, this is the start to  a new journey. I plan on taking this step to the next level and continuing to work each and every day to get better so I can stay up here as long as I can.”

Barrett earned his way onto the team, without doubt, putting together quite a resume this spring. On Wednesday, knowing he’d be heading north with the team, Barrett extended his scoreless streak this spring to 10.2 innings. For the humble 26-year-old, it was the culmination to a long, winding journey and a tremendous story of perseverance.

“You come into camp, and for me, I was looking to get a few innings here and there. It was my first camp, just got added to the roster,” Barrett said. “I put myself in position to make the team, and now to be on the team, competing, now let’s go win some ballgames. Just an unreal experience. I’m ready to help the ball club, in whatever role that is.”

Next up: Opening Day

“I’m sure it’s going to be pretty exciting. I’ve never been part of that, obviously, so I’m sure I’m going to soak in as much as I can. Especially Opening Day and the home opener in D.C. I’m going to soak in every single moment that I can.”

Quote of the Day: Matt Williams on Bryce Harper after Harper was ejected from Wednesday’s game by first base umpire Jeff Gosney for expressing disagreement with an out call at first base.

“He said the magic word. I don’t know what he said, but the umpire told me he said something to him. The question I had with it was, did he say something? I didn’t see him make a gesture toward him or anything. But he said the magic word. So I had to go out there and have a discussion about it… Evidently the umpire thought he was addressing it to him, so that’s why he took the action he did. I think everybody’s a little chippy at this point. Everybody’s ready to go. And Bryce is fiery. If he said something he shouldn’t have said, the umpire felt it was appropriate to do that.”

Incidentally, Williams understands how hard it can be to control your emotions when you’re on the field. The Nationals’ manager was once ejected from a rehab game when he was a player. 

“I’m playing third base. I’ve got four at-bats that day, and it’s kind of my last few days to get back to playing in the big leagues. A play at third, I tagged him, I thought he was out. Umpire said safe. I said, ‘No, he’s out.’ We went back and forth and he tossed me. And I went, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got three more at-bats!’ It was too late at that point. No do-overs.”

“(But) it’s important for (Harper) to stay in games for us. Especially that early. As it turned out, he would have gotten a couple more at-bats and it could’ve made the difference. … I just think there’s a way to do it. You can express displeasure with a call and not push it over that edge. But again, we love the way he plays the game, because he’s all-out. He desperately wants to win, so we love that about him. But in a situation like that, he just has to not take it too far. That’s all. It happens.”

 Video highlights:
Gio Gonzalez fans four Cardinals in five innings of work:

Danny Espinosa flashes the leather with a tremendous play:

Caleb Ramsey gets the Nationals on the board with a two-run single:

Gio Gonzalez shows off his cat-like reflexes in the first inning:

Stephen Perez smacks a triple in the ninth inning off Trevor Rosenthal:

Notables:

The Nationals signed infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen to a Major League deal on Wednesday, giving Williams another versatile player to have on the bench. Frandsen, 31, will join the Nationals for their Grapefruit League finale on Thursday against the New York Mets. He elected to become a free agent on Tuesday after the Philadelphia Phillies outrighted him on Sunday. Read all the details on Frandsen’s signing here… The Nationals now have 29 players in camp, including right-hander Erik Davis, who is on the 60-day disabled list. The team will have to cut three more players before Opening Day on Monday.

March to Baseball Week 3 Winners

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20Another week of March is in the books, and that means two things for Nationals fans: We are now just five days away from Opening Day, and we’ve got our next batch of March To Baseball winners!

Thanks to all who have already joined the fun this month as we count down the final days until the 2014 season by giving away a prize a day to all Full, Half and Partial Season Plan Holders who renew or purchase new 2014 Season Plans this month.

If you’ve already renewed, you’re already entered. And as the days dwindle before the 2014 season kicks off, the prizes get even more fantastic.

To enter, just visit nationals.com/marchtobaseball. Don’t miss out!

Congratulations to our latest winners…

March 14: Billy Joel Concert Tickets and Parking — Cathy A. from Annandale, VA

March 15: View batting practice with Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu — Stu S. from McLean, Va.

March 16: Two Club Level tickets and $50 NatsBucks — John F. from Bethesda, Md.

March 17: Visit the MASN broadcast booth with Bob Carpenter and F.P Santangelo — Mike M. from Quantico, Va.

March 18: Have your catered birthday party at Nationals Park — James S. from Germantown, Md.

March 19: Deliver the Nationals’ lineup card to the umpires before a game — Cynthia C. from Herndon, Va.

March 20: Wave the GEICO flag during the Presidents Race — Rob S. from Washington, D.C.

March 21: Autographed Bryce Harper jersey — Kesh T. from McLean, Va.

March 22: Sit at a table at the annual Board of Trade Welcome Back luncheon — Kathleen S. from Fairfax, Va.

March 23: Announce “PLAY BALL!” before a game — Dave B. from Arlington, Va.

March 24: Two Gold Glove Club tickets and a parking pass — Dave S. from Vienna, Va.

Weekend Wrap: Espinosa and Roark impress, Nationals travel as a full squad, & more

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals have entered their final week of Grapefruit League play. With few remaining roster decisions left, Nationals Manager Matt Williams admitted on Saturday that one or two more strong performances may not sway a well thought-out roster decision, but they don’t hurt to add to a body of work, either.

With that in mind, and as the Nationals’ slate of remaining games dropped to four with a 3-1 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon, here’s the weekend version of the “Daily Wrap.”

Players of the (Weekend): Danny Espinosa & Tanner Roark

040311-312 danny espinosaWilliams has said positive things about Danny Espinosa’s approach at the plate all spring, but often it was accompanied by a disclaimer that the infielder’s numbers may not reflect just how positively the Nationals were viewing him. That changed on Saturday when Espinosa smacked two home runs (including a walk-off shot to give the Nationals the victory) and reaped the rewards of his altered approach while continuing to play stellar defense.

“I feel like I’ve really been sticking to what I’m trying to do, and just simplify as much as possible,” Espinosa said. “It was nice today to see it… I was just trying to stay short to the ball and just be on time. Not swinging as hard as I can, but just short and on time and trying to barrel the ball.”

Washington Nationals v Houston AstrosOn Sunday, it was Tanner Roark, who filled out his final application for the No. 5 starter spot with a strong performance against the New York Mets. Roark tossed 5.2 innings and allowed just one run on two hits and a walk in his his final Grapefruit League start. (Highlights below)

Taylor Jordan will start on Monday, and by week’s end, perhaps, the Nationals will have filled out the back end of their rotation.

“I think he’s made a very good case,” Williams said of Roark. “We’ll get a good look at Taylor again (on Monday). But Tanner certainly made a really strong case.”

“I went out there and competed, “Roark said. “Got outs. Didn’t walk many guys. I did have leadoff walks, and those come back to bite you, and they did (Sunday). Other than that, I feel like I’ve done pretty well.”

Quote of the Day: Matt Williams on why the entire Nationals roster is traveling to the team’s final four Grapefruit League road games — even if they’re not scheduled to play. It started Sunday, with the dugout filled in Port St. Lucie.

“We’re a team. It’s important. It’s important for us to travel as a team. It’s important for us to be a team. There’s going to be adjustments in the next few days. We’ve got some guys going to the Minor League camp to get some at-bats. But today is a good day to have everybody here, regardless of whether they’re going to pitch or not.”

Video highlights:

Tanner Roark looks strong, allowing just one run on two hits in 5.2 innings vs. Mets.

Bryce Harper shows of his cannon arm with a strong throw to get Chris Young at third base.

Nationals win a challenge of a caught-stealing call on Bryce Harper at second base, getting the call overturned.

The overturned call pays dividends as Harper scores on Ryan Zimmerman’s infield single.

Notables:

The Nationals won their first challenge on Sunday, with Williams getting the umpires to go to instant replay to reverse an out call of Bryce Harper on an attempted steal of second base… Winning the challenge gave Williams another challenge to use later in the game, which he did on a play at first base in the top of the ninth. That call was upheld… The Nationals will travel to Jupiter, Fla., to face the Miami Marlins on Monday before returning to Space Coast Stadium for their final home game of the spring on Tuesday.

Daily Wrap: Nationals top Tigers, Strasburg reacts to Opening Day nod & more

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — Thursday afternoon started with a tremendous pitching match-up: Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg vs. reigning American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

It ended with the Nationals taking home an 8-1 victory in which Strasburg continued his stellar spring and the Nationals’ offense rapped out five runs off seven hits against Scherzer — including a long home run to left center field by shortstop Ian Desmond.

Player of the Day: Second baseman Danny Espinosa

Washington Nationals v New York YankeesThere were plenty of candidates for the “Player of the Day” on Thursday. Jayson Werth went 2-for-3 with a double, Ryan Zimmerman smacked a triple and Desmond crushed his third home run of the spring. But the honor goes to second baseman Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa, who went 1-for-3 with a base hit, scored the Nationals’ first run of the day and played stellar defensively.

In the first inning — moments after an uncharacteristic fielding error by Denard Span allowed Ian Kinsler to reach base — Espinosa snared a high feed from Desmond on a Tyler Collins grounder. With Kinsler bearing down on him at second, Espinosa still managed to zip off a strong throw to Adam LaRoche at first to complete the double play.

An inning that opened with a baserunner off Strasburg soon turned into a frame in which the right-hander faced the minimum.

It was a day that continued the positive impression Espinosa has been making on manager Matt Williams this spring.

“(His approach has been) fantastic,” Williams said. “He’s eager to play every day, and it’s really hard to get him out of a ballgame, which is a very good trait to have. The numbers are misleading both ways in Spring Training and I’m encouraged by the way he’s going about it. It’s really good.

“I’m pleased with his approach, I’m pleased with his work ethic every day and the way he’s going about his approach within the game. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t, sometimes you swing and miss. But as long as he’s going about it the right way, I think he’ll be just fine.”

Quote of the Day: Stephen Strasburg on earning his third straight Opening Day start

Williams announced Wednesday night that Strasburg would take the ball for the Nationals on Opening Day in New York. Strasburg was honored by the decision, but admitted he has bigger goals.

050412-197 stephen strasburg“I hope my career isn’t just a reflection of how many Opening Day starts I have,” he said after tossing five scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers to bring his spring ERA to 0.64. “There are a lot of guys in this rotation who deserve it and I’m just the first one out. I think every game is going to be just as important.

“The biggest goal as a team is that we’re playing in the playoffs, and I want to focus on trying to make starts in the playoffs more so than just an Opening Day start.”

Video highlights: Did you miss any of the Nationals’ feature on MLB Network’s 30 clubs in 30 days? Catch up with all of the highlights right here.

Notables:

The Nationals trimmed their roster to 36 players in Major League camp on Thursday, optioning right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Zach Walters and right-hander Christian Garcia to Triple-A Syracuse, along with reassigning right-hander Manny Delcarmen, first baseman Brock Peterson and infielder Will Rhymes to Minor League camp… The Nationals have just two games left at Space Coast Stadium this spring, playing Saturday against the Miami Marlins and Tuesday against the New York Mets… The team will finish the Grapefruit League slate with two road games, in Jupiter, Fla., and St. Lucie, Fla., against the St. Louis Cardinals and Mets, respectively, before heading north to face the Tigers in an exhibition game at Nationals Park on March 29.

MLB Network features Nationals on 30 clubs in 30 days

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — The MLB Network crew swung by Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, bringing along Ron Darling to help highlight the Washington Nationals in their “30 clubs in 30 days” feature.

Here are the highlights from the Network’s visit to Viera:

Matt Williams and Ron Darling talk about Williams’ first camp as the team’s manager:

Nate McLouth talks with Ron Darling about the art of stealing a base:

Gio Gonzalez talks about finishing 2013 strong and his expectations for this season:

Ryan Zimmerman talks clutch hits and getting set to begin his 10th season in the Major Leagues:

Bryce Harper catches up with Ron Darling:

March To Baseball Week 2 Winners

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11Another week of March is in the books, and that means two things for Nationals fans: We are one week closer to Opening Day, and we’ve got our second batch of March To Baseball winners!

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

Congratulations to our latest winners!

March 7: Two tickets to Jason Aldean’s July 25 show at Nationals Park, along with parking – Lee B. from Falls Church

March 8: $500 Bonus eCash — George M. from McLean

March 9: A visit from Screech during an in-game inning break — Mark B. from Arlington

March 10: Two Club 3 tickets and parking — George J. from McLean

March 11: Take part in on-field batting practice — Bill O. from Washington, D.C.

March 12: Have your child announce the batting order during a game — Thomas H. from Washington, D.C.

March 13: A Ryan Zimmerman autographed bat — Johnny R. from Washington, D.C.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Checking in from Spring Training

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Hello, everyone.

Let me start by stating that things could not be better here in Viera. The weather is wonderful, the workouts are crisp and the results have been encouraging. Yes, a team’s Grapefruit League winning percentage can, at times, be misleading, but winning games is always better than the alternative.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Seven wins, four losses and a tie. But what is most encouraging is how Manager Matt Williams has them playing the game. I love the aggressive base running. Taking an extra base. How fantastic was it to see Danny Espinosa score from second base on Saturday on a dribbler back to the pitcher? This brand of baseball really is infectious.

Fifteen home runs in 12 games. Only five allowed. That’s a good ratio.

Strong offensive starts from stalwarts like Ian Desmond (.286, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Adam LaRoche (2 HR, 4 RBI), Wilson Ramos (.474, HR, 10 RBI) and Ryan Zimmerman (.389, HR, 2 RBI) among others.

And many of our young players are making their marks. Zach Walters is hitting .615 with four extra-base hits and five RBI. He is as hot as anyone. Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have each made memorable catches in the outfield. Matt Skole hit .357 and four of his five hits went for extra bases before he was assigned to Minor League camp earlier this week so that he can get additional at-bats.

  • I have not even mentioned the pitching. There truly are too many to name, but I’ll risk mentioning three standouts: Taylor Jordan (team-leading 11 strikeouts), Jerry Blevins (3.2 hitless innings) and A.J. Cole (6.2 scoreless innings).

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

  • Forgive me if I think it is 2005 all over again watching Jamey Carroll and Luis Ayala perform admirably as they battle for roster spots. Jamey’s approach at the plate (.333 OBP), base running and defensive versatility are all a real plus. Meanwhile, Luis can throw a strike whenever he needs to. He has that same veteran savvy gene our friend Livan Hernandez had during his playing days.
  • And Matt Williams? What’s not to like? Crisp, precise and purposeful baseball usually yields wins. I love what Matt brings to our dugout and clubhouse. I especially like how our team has taken to his aggressive nature.
  • I was pleased to see President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo sign Michael Gonzalez to a Minor League deal last weekend. Gonzalez was a big part of our bullpen’s success in 2012 and there are very few southpaw relievers who can match his experience in tight situations. Welcome back Michael!
  • I just counted. Only three of the club’s 18 errors have been committed by players who were “regulars” in Washington last season. And one of those miscues was charged to Mr. Perfect, Denard Span! Remember, Denard did not commit an error last season. As I have said before, he should have won a Gold Glove!
  • I’d like to thank all of our fans in Central Florida, but especially those from our local area on the Space Coast (Viera, Melbourne and Rockledge). The crowds for the Cardinals and Yankees games in the last week were the two largest we have ever enjoyed hosting.
  • As for our fans from back home, I’ve had quite a few friends remark upon arrival in Viera about the significant pockets of Nationals fans on their flights from DC to Orlando. It’s hard to ignore all the smiles and Curly W shirts, sweaters and hats. It is great to see so many of our fans catching on to just how special Spring Training is.

Until next time …

Mark

March to Baseball Week 1 Winners

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

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

Congratulations to our first six winners!Strasburg Auto Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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