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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

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

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

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

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.

Recapping the first two days of Spring Training

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

by Amanda Comak

The first two days of Spring Training 2014 have gone off without a hitch. And as more and more position players roll into camp, the pitchers and catchers continue on their head start toward the season. Here are a few snaps from the first two days of workouts here in Viera, Fla., along with some live video below.

Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all worked in the bullpen during Sunday morning’s first session:

Craig Stammen, Gabriel Alfaro and Blake Treinen followed in the second group:

Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins and Drew Storen rolled in with the third group:

Back at Space Coast Stadium, where a few of the early-reporting position players worked out, Nate McLouth, Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon took a little batting practice:

Manager Matt Williams even got in on the fun, hitting grounders to the infielders and, as seen here, throwing some batting practice of his own to Jamey Carroll:

He Who Holds The Ball Controls The Game

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

by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — The words sit atop the printed schedule posted in the clubhouse each day. They’re tone-setters, for the most part. Conversation starters, in an ideal world. They are meant to be the first thing the Washington Nationals players see when they check the schedule each morning, and to help put them in the proper mindset each day.

“He who holds the ball controls the game,” read the line atop Saturday’s schedule as pitchers and catchers went through their first workout of the spring, and manager Matt Williams’ first at the helm of the club.

schedule

In a brief morning meeting, Williams made his feelings on the potential for the team clear and he had a simple message: Whatever this season will become for a talent-laden Nationals squad, it started Saturday. 

Matt Williams holds his first meeting as Nationals manager.

Matt Williams holds his first meeting of the spring. (Photo by Donald Miralle)

The quotes have drawn a lot of attention this first week. Players notice them. Members of the media are intrigued by them. Sometimes, Williams has warned, it won’t be a full quote but just a word. That will be their word for the day.

“I want them to talk about it,” Williams said later, during his session with the media. “As an example, today’s quote is, ‘He who holds the ball controls the game.’ I want them to have a conversation about that, and talk amongst themselves. This is pitcher-catcher camp, it starts with the guy who holds the ball — we can control tempo, we can control the game if we do things properly on the mound. I want them to start that conversation.

“That, and I want them to be reminded that that’s the way we think as a staff. We think that everything starts and stops with our pitching staff, and if we do things properly, we’ve got a chance every night. Pretty simple stuff, but it’s just a reminder to get them talking.”

The schedule runs through all 41 days of Spring Training, and right now there are 41 quotes or words of the day printed out.

As Williams’ session with the media went on, and more questions about the quotes followed, he chuckled.

“Really, they’re not that great,” he said with a shrug. “Most of them are not that great. But most of them pertain to our team, what we want them to accomplish, and how we want them to go about it, so it’s kind of (just) for us.”

Jose Lobaton talks trade, and how he earned the ‘Ice Cream Man’ nickname

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — With his future uncertain, Jose Lobaton couldn’t sleep Thursday morning. Rumors swirled the night before that a trade may be in the works that would send him from Tampa to Washington. He tossed and turned, and told his wife, Nina, “I can’t sleep. I’m thinking too much. If I’m going to be part of the Nationals, or not, I just want to know. I just want to make sure I’m going somewhere.”

He’d finally drifted back off to sleep when the call came in from the Tampa Bay Rays. It was official, he was a Washington National.

Acquired on Thursday, along with left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns, Lobaton wasted no time. Before 1 p.m., the Nationals’ new catcher was inside the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium getting fitted with new red gear and catching up with countryman Wilson Ramos.

New Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton.

New Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton.

“I feel happy,” Lobaton said. “Because it’s a new team, and they’ve got faith in me. At the same time, I was with the Rays for, (almost) four years. I was feeling kind of sad (leaving) all the friends that I’ve got there.”

When Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the local media to discuss the trade late Thursday afternoon, he praised Lobaton’s receiving and defensive skills.

Just how well-liked and respected was Lobaton among the Rays’ vaunted pitching staff? The first call he got after news of the trade spread was from former American League Cy Young winner David Price. A picture of a sad Rays pitching staff followed via text.

“I’m going to miss you,” Price told Lobaton.

But by midday on Thursday, Lobaton was already refocusing on his new team. He chatted with Ramos about his new teammates and got a quick scouting report on the new pitching staff — led by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister — that he’ll be charged with helping to reach its exceptional potential.

“When you’ve got a staff like that, oof, it’s unbelievable,” Lobaton said. “It made me feel better that the team has faith in me, that you can handle those guys. It’s a long Spring Training, and we’ve got time to get ready and be in that place that I want to be with them. That’s all I need.

Jose Lobaton earned the nickname "Ice Cream Man" while with the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo via @RaysBaseball)

Jose Lobaton earned the nickname “Ice Cream Man” while with the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo via @RaysBaseball)

“I’m the kind of catcher, I like to talk to the pitcher. Whatever they want. I’m not the kind of catcher who is like, ‘I want something, I’m going to call it.’ I want to do whatever they want. He’s got the ball… Communication, we worked a lot with the Rays on that. That’s what I like to do: try to be on the same page. Whatever they want. If they want the glove low, I’ll put it low. ‘Just let me know’ – that’s all I say to the pitchers: ‘Whatever you want, I’m going to do my best.'”

Lobaton also explained how he got the nickname “Ice Cream Man” while with the Rays. And it’s actually quite a hilarious story, so we’ll just let him tell it:

“I like ice cream,” Lobaton said. “Not in the way that, I love it and I’m going to get ice cream every day or anything, but I really like it. (Before a game in 2012), I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get ice cream.’ Luke Scott saw me and said, ‘I want you to stay in baseball. If you want to stay in baseball, you can’t get ice cream every day.’ I was like, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘That’s not good for you. You’re going to get fat.’ I was like, ‘That’s true.’

“(But) in two hours, I was getting another ice cream. After that, (Scott) put in a lot of (signs): ‘Lobaton can’t be here.’ ‘Lobaton is not allowed to get ice cream.’ He said, ‘I’m going to help you.’ After that, it was no ice cream for me. And then we’re playing in Baltimore. He said, ‘This is a good park to hit your first homer.’ I had no homers in the big leagues at that moment. I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’

Jose Lobaton tweeted a picture of his first ice cream purchase as a National on Thursday night. (Photo via @JLobaton21)

Jose Lobaton tweeted a picture of his first ice cream purchase as a National on Thursday night. (Photo via @JLobaton21)

“In the second or third at-bat, I hit a homer. Before that at-bat, he said, ‘If you hit a homer, you’re going to get free ice cream.’ I was like, ‘Okay, whatever you say.’ I hit the homer. When I was sitting in the dugout, he came up the tunnel and gave me the ice cream, and it was on TV so everybody asked me. I hit another homer, they gave me more ice cream.

“(In 2013), I kept hitting homers, and they gave me ice cream. In one series, I hit a triple and a homer. After the last game – the homer – we were ready to fly somewhere. On the plane, it was Joe Maddon. He came and gave (me) a four-gallon (bucket of) ice cream. After that everybody was calling me the Ice Cream Man.”

So, the question had to be asked, what is his favorite ice cream?

“Coconut,” Lobaton said.

“Now maybe I’m going to get a new nickname here,” he added, smiling. “I’m okay with whatever they want to call me.” 

Nationals acquire catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson from Tampa Bay

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

by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. – The Washington Nationals shored up their catching corps and added more talent to the upper levels of their Minor League system on Thursday, acquiring catcher Jose Lobaton, left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson from the Tampa Bay Rays.

In exchange, the Nationals sent right-handed starter Nathan Karns to the Rays. To clear space for Rivero on the team’s 40-man roster, right-hander Erik Davis was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain.

Lobaton, 29, hit .249 with a .320 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage in 311 plate appearances with the Rays in 2013. Splitting time with veteran Jose Molina, Lobaton — who is considered an above-average defensive receiver — helped guide the vaunted Tampa Bay pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League.

The Venezuela native joins countrymen Wilson Ramos and Sandy Leon, along with Jhonatan Solano, as catchers on the Nationals’ 40-man roster and gives Manager Matt Williams a strong layer of depth behind Ramos.

He became an October hero in 2013, crushing a walk-off home run for the Rays off Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Rivero, 22, went 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 25 games/23 starts for Charlotte of the Florida State League in 2013. Rated by FanGraphs.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, Rivero’s fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph. His nine wins paced Single-A Charlotte, as did his 127.0 innings pitched.

He participated in the 2012 XM All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City and earned Midwest League mid-season All-Star honors while with Single-A Bowling Green.  Rivero was signed by the Rays on July 30, 2008 and is a native of San Felipe, Venezuela.

Vettleson, originally selected by the Rays in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Central Kitsap (WA) High School, was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Rays’ organization entering the 2014 season by Keith Law from ESPN.com.

The 22-year old spent the 2013 season with Single-A Charlotte, hitting .274 with 29 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 62 RBI and 50 runs scored.  During the 2012 campaign in which he played 132 games for Single-A Bowling Green, Vettleson set a Bowling Green franchise record with 139 hits and his 15 home runs and 69 RBI were both in the top five among Rays minor leaguers.  In two of his first three professional seasons, Vettleson also stole at least 20 bases.

Following the 2012 season, he was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a Midwest League All-Star and Bowling Green’s Most Valuable Player.

Vettleson, a native of Bremerton, Washington, was cited by Baseball America as being the Best Pure Hitter among high school talents entering the 2010 Draft.

Karns, 26, was the Nationals 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and made three starts for the Nationals in 2013.

In 54 Minor League starts, from the Gulf Coast League up through Double-A Harrisburg, Karns has a career Minor League ERA of 2.66. The hard-throwing right-hander was selected in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Tech University.

Davis, 27, went 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 games with the Nationals last season, his first in which he appeared in the Major Leagues.

State of the Nationals

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The Washington Nationals’ Baseball Operations staff is about to descend upon Viera, Fla., next week as another Spring Training gets underway.

With the bulk of his offseason work done, Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo has a personal message for fans on the State of the Nationals entering a promising 2014 season.

Take a look:

A NatsFest Thank You

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

There were more than 8,400 Nationals fans who packed the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Saturday afternoon.

And because of them, it was an unforgettable day.

We can’t say “Thank you” enough to those of you who were able to join us, and share in our excitement for the 2014 season.

Here is a small glimpse into the day that was, and with just 17 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report, hopefully this will warm your baseball-loving souls for just a little bit longer.

Enjoy!

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Gearing Up For NatsFest

Hello, everybody.

Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

One of the Washington Nationals’ Principal Owners,  Mark Lerner, right, along with President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo at NatsFest, 2013.

I hope everyone is dealing well with this cold and wintry week here in the Nation’s Capital. When it gets cold like this, I usually calculate the days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training (21 days!). This week is a bit different as we are just hours away from NatsFest.

  • Just as a reminder, NatsFest is on Saturday, January 25, 2014 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. New venue. We hope you can join us. I am so excited to welcome Matt Williams and an impressive roster of players to DC. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, et al. Come early, stay warm, talk baseball.
  • We are also expecting a special visit from arguably our most beloved Nationals alum, … Livan Hernandez. Livan, who threw the first pitch in the history of the Nationals, completed his 17-year big league career in 2012 with 178 wins, 44 of which came as a member of the Nationals. It will be fantastic to sit down and catch up with Livan.
  • Speaking of Livan, it will be fun to have another inaugural-season National in camp with us upon arrival in Viera. In case you missed it, we signed infielder Jamey Carroll earlier this month and he’ll be competing for a spot on Matt Williams’ bench. Jamey also played for the Expos, so he should have some interesting perspective on how far this organization has come as we enter our 10th season in Washington.
  • As we reach the late stages of the offseason, I think it is worth remembering that most of Mike Rizzo’s key moves came quite early: Doug Fister, Nate McLouth, Jerry Blevins. Mike and his crew are still hard at work searching for the right fits. Always looking to improve.
  • We recently signed four-year Player Development Contracts with both Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. Through the years, we have really valued our relationships with the Chiefs, Senators and their respective fan bases. There is a sense of organizational satisfaction in being able to establish roots in both Syracuse and Harrisburg.
  • I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Frank Ceresi, who passed away recently. For those that are not aware, Frank played an integral role in developing the art program that we collectively enjoy at Nationals Park. He was an enormous baseball/Nationals fan and he will be sorely missed.

I hope to see everyone on Saturday at NatsFest.

Mark

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