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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!

Highlights from the Nationals Spring Training home opener

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla — The Washington Nationals topped the Atlanta Braves 16-15 in a wild Spring Training home opener — a game that featured 37 combined hits, six combined errors and 31 total runs.

You can catch up on all the game action here.

It was a beautiful day to open Space Coast Stadium for the Grapefruit League slate, and it started on a high note as the Nationals welcomed Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris to the field to throw out the first pitch.

On March 18, President Barack Obama will present Sgt. Morris with the U.S. military’s highest honor: the Medal of Honor. In 1961 Sergeant Morris was one of the first members of the Army’s elite corp, The Green Beret, and he volunteered twice for deployments during the Vietnam War.  While commanding a strike force on a mission near Chi Lang in South Vietnam, his special forces group came under attack and a fellow commander was killed.  Despite enemy fire, which struck Sgt. Morris three times, he returned to recover the body of his fallen comrade and to retrieve a strategic map which, in enemy hands, would have endangered the lives of his men.

During a recent Army review it was found that many war heroes had been passed over for the Medal of Honor at the time of their bravery because of long-held prejudices. Sgt. Morris is among 24 Army veterans for whom this injustice will soon be corrected. President Obama called Sgt. Morris personally to give him the good news.

The Nationals were honored to welcome Sgt. Morris, a Brevard County resident, and his family, including his grandson Javone, to throw out the first pitch.

“It’s a pretty special day here,” said Nationals Manager Matt Williams. “Local guy to the area. It was nice that the organization honored him and we were happy to be out there for it. You don’t get the chance to shake the hand of a Medal of Honor recipient every day. Pretty special day.”

Here are a few photos from the day:

Need help deciding who to vote for in the Fan Choice Bobblehead contest?

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — On Monday, the Washington Nationals announced three finalists for their Fan Choice Bobblehead contest: right-hander Tyler Clippard, first baseman Adam LaRoche and manager Matt Williams. The winner will receive the honor of a bobblehead night on Sept. 27 when the Nationals play the Miami Marlins, and the first 25,000 fans will receive the winning bobblehead.

And you, the fans, have a chance to impact who that winner will be. Unlimited voting runs through Friday, Feb. 28, and the winning bobblehead will be announced on Monday, March 3. All of the information on voting, along with some of the fantastic prizes you’ll be entered to win just for casting your vote, can be found here: nationals.com/bobblevote.

But just in case you were having a little trouble deciding which of the worthy candidates to vote for, we’ve got a few videos to help make the candidates’ cases. Check ‘em out!

#ClippardBobble

#LaRocheBobble

#WilliamsBobble

Everyone who votes will be entered to win prize packages featuring the winning bobblehead, game tickets or an on-field batting practice viewing experience. You have three different ways to cast your vote for pitcher Tyler Clippard, first baseman Adam LaRoche or manager Matt Williams.

When Pitchers Hit

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — There was a new notation on the Washington Nationals’ daily schedule Monday morning. The spot that had been filled the past few days by the rundown for live batting practice sessions was replaced.”Pitchers Hitting Game,” it read.

Some Nationals pitchers prepare for a new hitting game during Monday's workout.

Some Nationals pitchers prepare for a new hitting game during Monday’s workout.

Around 11:15 a.m., the pitchers departed from the Minor League fields and moved the rest of their workout back toward Space Coast Stadium. One group, Team Zimmermann and Team Strasburg, made their way onto the auxiliary field just outside the stadium. Another, Team Young and Team Fister, took their places on the field inside the stadium.

The game, made-up in the mind of Rehab Pitching Coordinator Mark Grater, seemed simple. The teams were picked schoolyard style with Doug Fister and Chris Young named captains in one group, and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann captains in another. The object was to score more runs than your opponent in a nine-inning game. The focus was on bunting, moving runners, and doing the little things that pitchers need to do at the plate but in a competitive atmosphere.

“It breaks up some of the monotony,” said Fister, who has noted his excitement about being in the National League. “There are things that we have to focus on every day that are very important, and hitting and bunting and moving runners are (some) of them. For (Manager Matt Williams) to schedule things like that where we’re able to have fun with it, it’s going to stick in our brains.”

For the teams playing on the field inside Space Coast Stadium, Grater ran the show. As pitchers gathered their helmets and bats, he ran through the rules.

  • At the start of an inning, they needed to reach base with a hit — a line drive off the L-screen protecting Grater was a single, but one-hop off it was an out. Grater himself decided whether a ball was a hit or an error. Home runs did count, but they were not the goal of the exercise, so if a pitcher hit one, he’d have to run out beyond the fence and get the ball himself.
  • The pitchers weren’t running the bases, but if they “reached” based on their plate performance, the following “hitters” had to follow the proper directions. Number of outs, where the runners were, where the defenses were playing (as determined by the team captains) all played into what the hitter would have to do (bunt, hit a ground ball to the right side of the field, etc). If they couldn’t, they were out. Successful bunts were not outs (as most would be in real games), and those who were able to produce them were allowed to stay in the batters’ box. But if a hitter bunted twice in a row, they were out.
  • If one captain decided that, with a man on second and a line drive hit into the gap, he wanted to “send the runner home,” the outcome would be decided by Grater throwing at a pre-determined target. If he hit it, the runner was out. If he missed, the runner was safe.

There was, of course, one humorous twist. Grater, as the game’s overlord and head umpire, made the rulings — and the rulings were final. Only captains could voice dissent, and others who did were required to run a lap around the infield as penalty. Gio Gonzalez found himself running several laps.

Trash talk, of course, was plentiful. And the competitive juices flowed throughout, as did the watchful eyes.

When Taylor Jordan hit a home run in the late innings, (Telling Grater, “You’re pitching me inside! What do you expect?”) he marched himself only to the outfield fence, picked up a different ball and then returned. Pitching Coach Steve McCatty would have none of that, and sent the young right-hander back down the left field foul line to properly retrieve his home run ball.

Team Fister took a late lead, but Team Young won it in the ninth when, with the “bases loaded” Christian Garcia roped a home run over the left center field fence. As Gonzalez — hands raised in victory pose — sprinted around the bases in celebration and by choice, Grater noted that because Garcia wasn’t supposed to be hitting a home run, his run didn’t count but the first three “runners” who scored would. The final score was 8-6, Team Young.

On the other field, Team Zimmermann topped Team Strasburg.

“Oh yeah,” said one reliever on the Nationals’ 19-game winner’s team. “We dominated.”

And while the purpose of the game was to get pitchers to work on their situational hitting, it also allowed them to think along with a manager and how the game would be run in those various situations.

“You’ve got to put pressure on the defense,” said Fister, who was aggressive in “sending” his baserunners. “That translates into a game. I come from an area where, playing with (Torii Hunter) last year, that’s one thing that he stresses: take that extra base. Try and stretch that single into a double, that double into a triple. It’s amazing how many extra runs you pick up just because of one extra base with that mentality.”

The pitchers enjoyed the exercise so much, that they took an amendment to the rules to Williams.

“They made a new rule,” Williams said. “This was supposed to be, we break the groups up, they play against each other, we have two winners. Now they have a championship game they want to do. So we’ve got to fit that in there, into the (schedule).”

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Hello from Viera

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Hello, everyone.

Greetings from sunny Space Coast Stadium, where the weather started so-so, but spring suddenly arrived on Sunday. We are currently enjoying a gentle breeze and temperatures in the high 70’s. Perfect. I am also glad to read that things are warming up back in DC after a prolonged spate of snowy and cold weather. Sounds like spring is genuinely in the air!

Bryce Harper in the batting cage. (Photo credit: Donald Miralle)

Bryce Harper in the batting cage. (Photo credit: Donald Miralle)

Matt Williams’ first spring camp is already well underway. Pitchers have already been through two or three bullpen sessions and, yes, everyone looks great. I’ll get to that in a moment.

What has impressed me the most is just how many position players reported for duty early. With few exceptions, we have enjoyed full position-player batting practice sessions each of the last three days. So many that we have had to split the BP session over two fields.

Ryan Zimmerman in the cage. Adam LaRoche scooping balls at first base. Ian Desmond working the pivot with Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot. Nate McLouth working on his jumps in the outfield. All sights to behold.

  • Camp Williams is crisp, precise, upbeat and full of hustle. With that said, there have been a good number of competitive moments built in that have seized the pitchers’ attention. For example, every team has pitcher-bunting drills. However, here in Viera, pitchers and fans alike have enjoyed a competitive tweak as the pitcher attempt to bunt balls into a pair of strategically-placed ball bags. These competitive drills have resulted in good-natured hooting, hollering and trash talking. But they also demand concentration that at least partially mimics a real game.
  • Sunday morning's first bullpen session featured two decent right-handers...

    Sunday morning’s first bullpen session featured two decent right-handers.

    Nothing new here, but Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann all look fantastic. And I have a suspicion that Doug Fister is really going to have a positive influence on the others. First of all, Fister is an accomplished pitcher in his own right. He won 32 games in two-plus seasons with the Tigers. And, he’s been a part of another vaunted pitching staff. Doug has pitched in a World Series. He watched the likes of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer win Cy Young awards. There is value in that, and I doubt that it is a coincidence that his locker is located next to/near Stephen, Gio and Jordan.

  • Lots of emphasis on defense and defensive fundamentals. It was also interesting to see that Matt has some of his pitchers moonlighting at different positions during some bunt plays. There is a belief that the multi-position perspective will help fine tune the execution. At the very least, it’ll give our pitcher’s some perspective they may not have experienced since their days playing prep baseball.
  • Incidentally, Livan Hernandez used to work out almost daily at shortstop and he was the best fielding pitcher I have ever seen. I cannot express how fantastic it is to have Livan on hand as a coach. The players are really enjoying his presence and he is a heck of a teacher. Livan is a true gem who has a fantastic feel for our fans and for baseball in DC.
  • I was talking to some of our player development folks and there is great enthusiasm for the projected rosters/lineups/rotations in Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. It is too early to know where various players will be assigned, but there are very real layers of talent in the upper reaches of our system that will be inevitably be called upon as the season progresses. The Opening Day 25 is important, but it is really only a fleeting glimpse of the talent assembled.
  • There are ex-Expos everywhere you look around camp: Luis Ayala, Jamey Carroll, Ian Desmond (last player left who was drafted by the Expos), Randy Knorr and Bob Henley. Ayala and Carroll were inaugural-season Nationals.
  • Matt Williams’ coaching staff is filled with a lot of former catchers, which is never a bad thing. Randy Knorr, Bob Henley and Matt LeCroy. Those catchers understand the game from all angles.
  • Rafael Soriano looks good. And so do his pitches. I think there is a certain comfort that comes with a second season.
  • The local DC media has descended upon Viera this week. (Photo credit: Kyle Brostowitz)

    The local DC media has descended upon Viera this week. (Photo credit: Kyle Brostowitz)

    The local DC television media has descended upon Viera, so be sure to tune into all the local channels for in-depth interviews with Matt Williams and all of your favorite Nationals. Earlier today, we hosted ESPN and the Baseball Tonight Bus at Space Coast Stadium. Karl Ravech and Tim Kurkjian were on hand. Both are great ambassadors for their network and the game of baseball. Matt Williams and Bryce Harper were their main guests, so you will be seeing both on SportsCenter tonight.

  • Little more than a week until our Grapefruit League opener (Fri., Feb. 28 at Mets) and our Grapefruit League home opener (Sat., March 1 vs.  Braves). There is still plenty of time to plan a great family trip for Spring Training baseball in Viera. At the risk of dating myself, I still remember childhood trips to Pompano Beach to see the likes of Mike Epstein, Frank Howard, Eddie Brinkman and all of the old Senators. Great memories.
  • If you do make it down to Space Coast Stadium for a visit, please don’t hesitate to stop me and say ‘Hello.’ Our fans’ enthusiasm and spirit are infectious and I am always impressed with everyone’s knowledge of not only the Nationals, but baseball in general. Isn’t this the best time of year? Well, outside of a busy October I suppose.

Until next time …

Mark

Livan Hernandez chats with Nationals fans on Twitter

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — Wednesday afternoon, as the sun drenched the back fields at the Washington Nationals’ Minor League complex, Livan Hernandez sat with an iPhone and took questions from Nationals fans on Twitter. Using the hashtag #AskLivo61, Hernandez was inundated with questions, and in roughly 30 minutes he answered 40 questions from fans.

In case you missed any of Livo’s chat, we’ve got a recap for you below, so check it out:

@psawy11: Favorite stadiums to play in?

Livan Hernandez: Fenway Park for history but I like Nationals Park, especially the view.

@_JoshDangIt: I want to #askLivo61: whats your favorite thing to do before a game?

LH: Messing with people and laughing. Enjoying myself.

@AshburnNatsFan: If he didn’t pitch what position would he have wanted to play?

LH: Center field. I played third base growing up.

@PresleyDay: What is your best baseball memory?

LH: When we won the World Series with Florida.

@gteran21: What is your favorite moment with the Nats?

LH: Throwing out the first pitch in #Nats history, and getting the first win.

@natsfan58: Livo, welcome ‘home’. How happy are you to have a role on the Nats?

LH: Very happy. I’m enjoying it. Anything I can do to help the team win. I want to see the team make the playoffs & win WS.

@Star_enilnO: If a group of fans were to have a Livo day what would you like us to do? Ex: @TylerClippard had a specs day…

LH: Have fans come take BP off me!

@RedPorchReport: You gonna grow a beard?

LH: Maybe!

@NatsWx: What’s your favorite weather conditions to play in?

LH: Not too cold, not too hot, 65-70 degrees.

@ouij: ¿Fué Conrado Marrero que te eseñó lanzar la curva?

LH: Yes, he showed me how to throw the curve. How do you know that??

@jordantoine: Which among the pitching staff does he think handles himself best at the plate? the worst?

LH: I think Jordan Zimmermann is very good. Strasburg has a lot of power. They’re the best.

@MarkFD218: Who was the hitter he always dreaded facing?

LH: Todd Helton. He must’ve hit .600 off me.

@Bonedaddy38: What is your favorite traditional dish?

LH: Cuban food, rice and beans.

@demerlismatt: Who is your favorite all time player?

LH: Has to be Edgar Renteria. He hit the base hit to win the World Series with Florida.

@KyleKCPA: Who’s the best prankster on the team?

LH: Clippard is very funny. Jordan Zimmermann too.

@MattMattyIce: What was the most intense moment you’ve experienced in a Nats uni?

LH: The first game we played in 2005. We knew how important it was with baseball being back in DC.

@BeardedNatitude: Hey Livo, whatcha bench??

LH: Not too much! My legs are where I am strongest.

@The42BusDC: Which is your most liked achievement: over .500 lifetime record w/ 355 decisions or throwing nearly 2,000 strikeouts.

LH: Having my record be over .500.

@cnichols14: You were a great hitter. Which pitcher did you like to face most?

LH: Glavine was my favorite. I could see the ball good.

@saraGG14: What is your favorite pizza?

LH: Hawaiian pizza.

@MrShanntastic: What’s your favorite pitch to throw?

LH: The sinker — and the slow curve.

@OliviaB_Smith: I was always impressed with how many warm-up pitches you’d throw before each game! Didn’t your arm hurt?!

LH: Nope, never hurt. I’d throw 85 pitches.

@MrNationalsVL: Do you think you can become a good manager someday on any level of baseball

LH: I don’t know. Right now I’m enjoying what I am doing.

@haynes_kristin: What’s your favorite golf course in the DC area?

LH: Congressional.

@kapow555: How is El Duque?

LH: He is doing very well, thanks.

@ZBartosh8: Who was your favorite teammate as a National?

LH: I get along with everybody!

Wrapping up the final day before the full squad reports

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — Wednesday morning, for the final time this spring, the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers took to the backfields at the team’s training complex without their position player teammates. The full-squad workouts will be upon them beginning Thursday morning and they wrapped up another pristine day under the Florida sun by welcoming everyone into the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.

Everyone, including outfielder Bryce Harper, who spent a few minutes with the local media discussing the health of his knee and his readiness for the 2014 season.

“I’m good,” Harper said. “I’m solid. Solid as can be… My knee is completely fine.”

“We worked hard all offseason,” Harper added, telling reporters he is down to 220 pounds after weighing in at 236 in mid-January. “I worked my tail off to get to this point. I feel like I’m where I need to be. I’m excited to start games and feel how I slide and run and hit in games. Just that feel on there will help me pass some things, and I feel good about.”

Harper, along with the other 61 active players in this year’s Major League camp, will be on the fields on Thursday for the first time together as this unit.

Until then, hopefully a few snaps from the past few days of workouts will tide you over:

Exclusive footage from the Nationals’ quadcopter

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by Amanda Comak

Viera, Fla. — There was a buzz about Washington Nationals camp this week as pitchers and catchers got on the field for the first time in 2014. A literal buzz.

It was coming from photographer Donald Miralle’s latest toy, a quadcopter with a GoPro camera inside it, capturing video and still footage from high above the team’s workout.

“Everybody is always looking for a new opportunity to get the different angle, right?” said Nationals Manager Matt Williams, who, like many members of the Nationals, was intrigued by the device. “So it was good. I can’t wait to see the footage. It’s quiet enough that guys don’t really notice it when they’re out there. I asked them not to throw any baseballs at it or anything like that. And they said, ‘Okay, skip, we won’t do that.'”

Miralle, a San Diego resident, was happy to explain what he was using. He spent a few minutes with right-hander Stephen Strasburg showing off the equipment, along with past photos he’d taken with it — including an incredible shot from above the Pacific Ocean showing the sharks gathering. 

“Technology is crazy,” Strasburg later told reporters. “I guess you can go down to the hobby store and get one yourself.”

With all the attention being paid to the quadcopter, the question was asked numerous times if there might be some analytical value to the footage that the Nationals’ scouting department may be able to utilize. So far, it’s simply art.

“They’re just gathering footage of camp,” Williams said. “It was cool. I’d like to fly it. I’d like to clear everybody out of the stadium and see if I could do it.”

Photo by Donald Miralle.

Photo by Donald Miralle.

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