Nationals Magazine preview: Jayson Werth; Speaker of the House

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

The following is an excerpt from the April/May issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The April/May issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park and is also available inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

by Mike Feigen

Three short seasons ago, Jayson Werth leaned on his experience as he adapted to a new organization. Today, the Nationals outfielder has become a fan favorite, the catalyst in a dynamic and talented lineup, and one of the most vocal leaders in a close-knit clubhouse.

Following the Nationals’ first full workout of Spring Training, Jayson Werth looked out from his locker at Space Coast Stadium as the throng of reporters huddled around him. He deftly answered questions with his trademark dry wit, commanding the tone of the session with a few well-timed jokes and several well-reasoned responses.

Cover-Mag1-webSuch is life for Jayson Werth in 2014, often a go-to spokesman for a team with worlds of talent and championship dreams to match. When the bearded 34-year-old says he’s optimistic about the upcoming season and points out how close last year’s club came to making a postseason run, it’s only natural for everyone to nod their heads along with him.

“The way we played in the second half last year coming down the stretch, there’s still some meat on the bone,” Werth says. “The season just wasn’t long enough. It’s something to build on going forward. We’re excited to get things going.”

As Werth looks forward to the promise of a new year, it’s easy to forget just how far he and the Nationals have come since he signed with the club on December 5, 2010. Year One of the Werth era brought a major leap forward for the entire organization, with an 80-81 record and third place finish in the National League East, then the highest placement in the division since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005.

In spite of the team’s dramatic improvement, Werth’s up-and-down season did not live up to his own lofty standards, and he knew he could do more. At the time, he spoke at length about how he battled just to find his swing, even as his 2.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) would have ranked in the top three among qualified Nats hitters each of the previous three seasons.

What was less apparent, beneath the surface, was how his leadership had slowly begun to transform the Nationals into a group that expected to win by the end of 2011.

“(Last season is) water under the bridge now,” Werth told reporters upon reporting for camp before the 2012 season. “I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to judge my career or my time in Washington on last year. We’ve got lots of time to make good. We’re going in the right direction.”

Proven prophetic as the wins poured in throughout his second season with the Nationals, Werth wasn’t able to be as integral as he’d hoped, sidelined by a broken wrist for much of the summer. Even upon his return, when he slashed an excellent .312/.394/.441, he did so from the leadoff spot because his home run power had yet to fully return. Still, he continued to put the team first, setting the table for the rest of the offense while he healed.

Then, with one mighty swing on October 11, 2012, everything changed.

Cover-Mag1-webTo continue reading “Speaker of the House” on Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, 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, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

Photos: Opening Day at Nationals Park

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

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

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

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.”

Nationals place C Wilson Ramos on DL, recall C Sandy Leon

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

by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK – Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos underwent successful surgery on Wednesday to remove a fractured hamate bone from his left hand.

042112-171 wilson ramosRamos, who visited with hand specialist Dr. Kenneth Means on Tuesday, had the operation Wednesday and he will begin his rehab immediately. The team placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 1, before Wednesday’s game, and recalled catcher Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg.

The bulk of the Nationals’ catching responsibilities will now fall to Jose Lobaton, but his ability to handle the daily load of a starting role was a large reason why the team acquired him in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of Spring Training.

Lobaton caught 100 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, leading their vaunted pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League, while hitting .249 with 24 extra-base hits.

Leon, long thought to be one of the organization’s best defensive catchers, has proven more than capable in his brief Major League stints. In 2012, appearing in 12 games, Leon was 8-for-30 (.267) with a .389 on-base percentage.  Leon has thrown out 169 of 353 (48%) would-be basestealers the previous four minor-league seasons (2010-13).

The Nationals will no doubt miss Ramos, behind the plate as well as at it, and they’ll be patient as their bedrock catcher works to return from this injury strong and ready to return as their everyday backstop. In the meantime, the team will not be set adrift with the likes of Lobaton and Leon leading them behind the plate.

Get well soon, Wilson.

Must C Curtains: Wilson Ramos homers and drives in five runs after returning from the Disabled List in 2013.

Opening Day highlights

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

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. 

Opening Day Memories

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

by Amanda Comak

NEW YORK — The wait is almost over. In less than 24 hours, Opening Day of the 2014 baseball season will be upon us.

opening weekThis will be the Washington Nationals’ 10th Opening Day since baseball returned to D.C., and there have been plenty of memorable Opening Day moments in that span.

Who could forget Ryan Zimmerman christening Nationals Park with a walk-off on Opening Day in 2008? Or Bryce Harper smashing two home runs on his first Opening Day in the Major Leagues  – becoming the youngest player ever to do so — just last year.

But each player has their own memories of Opening Day, and it’s a special day in the baseball world. Some stand out for obvious reasons. Craig Stammen said the most memorable Opening Day for him was his first, and it also happened to be one President Barack Obama attended at Nationals Park. He shook the President’s hand. That in itself was pretty memorable.

Here are a few others, in their own words:

Adam LaRoche: “It was in Chicago (in 2012). I had like four punch-outs with the bases loaded. Luckily we won or it wouldn’t be real funny. I’ve got to be the first guy to leave like 20 guys on base through one game. I remember thinking after that game ‘Whoa, this might be a rough year.’”

To be fair to LaRoche, he was only 0-for-3 in that game, and he walked to load the bases in the eighth inning which led to the Nationals’ first run. He also went 5-for-9 with two home runs in the final two games of that opening series against the Cubs, and went on to have one of his finest seasons in the Major Leagues. 

Gio Gonzalez: “(My most memorable Opening Day) was at home against Cincinnati (in the 2012 home opener). That was when I got my first Major League hit and when I was warming up, to stretch and go out there, I thought I had plenty of time to just stretch, hear my music, get ready to go. I ended up telling (pitching coach Steve McCatty), ‘I got this. I’m ready to go.’  He said, ‘You know, you’ve got to stretch a little early because of (all the ceremonial events that go on before the game on Opening Day).’

“Next thing you know it was like 12:55 p.m. and the game was at 1 p.m. and I turned to Cat and I was like, ‘Cat, I don’t think I got this.’ I ended up not even long-tossing or throwing just went straight from stretching to the bullpen… Show and go. Sometimes it works.”

Gonzalez threw seven shutout innings that day, allowing just two hits and striking out seven.

Doug Fister: “I got called up in 2009. My first Opening Day was in 2010 in Seattle. There were a couple of us who were fairly new and our biggest thing was trying not to trip on the red carpet. They had carpet that ran from center field all the way to the line (that we had to run down during introductions).”

Matt LeCroy (bullpen coach): “My first one (in the Major Leagues). That was my debut. My first at-bat I hit a double and got a standing ovation. We were in Minnesota at the Metrodome. I made the team out of spring. I was 23 or 24 years old. It was awesome. My whole family was there. I’d just gotten married. I don’t remember (the other at-bats). But that first one was pretty cool.”

Nationals unveil Youth Baseball Academy

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

by Amanda Comak

The moment was a long time coming. It took years of vision, attention to detail and a commitment to build something truly unique.

But Saturday morning, even a little rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the entire Washington Nationals organization as the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy was officially unveiled with a ribbon cutting ceremony in advance of the team’s exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers at Nationals Park.

Washington Nationals players pose with students from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

Washington Nationals players pose with students from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

“I’m elated,” Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, one of the Nationals’ Principal Owners and Co-Chair of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Board, told reporters. “I don’t even know what the words are for (my feelings today). It’s been a long time coming so I’m really trying to savor the morning.”

The Academy is a year-round educational and athletic facility designed to provide quality after-school and summer learning programs for boys and girls in Washington, D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

It is the result of a unique public-private partnership that includes the Washington Nationals, the Nationals Dream Foundation, the D.C. government, Events DC, the National Park Service and the local business and philanthropic community.

The Academy uses baseball and softball as vehicles to help develop literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, as well as healthy lifestyles through fitness, proper nutrition and cooking lessons in a safe, nurturing environment. Program partners include Higher Achievement and Brainfood.

ybaThe facility features three playing fields and an 18,000 square foot “educational clubhouse” with year-round batting cages, seven classrooms, a cutting-edge teaching kitchen and community event space.

“Our thinking right off the bat was that we’re modeling it after an organization in Harlem called RBI, and their focus is on academics,” Tanenbaum said. “The idea is that baseball and softball are wonderful. And creating a culture for baseball and softball in the inner-city is essential. But you need to support it with academics.

“Upstairs (at the Youth Baseball Academy) you’ll see eight beautiful classrooms and a teaching kitchen. That’s really the core of what we feel we’re providing to the community. The after-school mentoring and after-school academic enrichment is just essential. Of course, we’re the Washington Nationals, so baseball and softball is pretty important, too.”

The entire Washington Nationals’ roster, along with manager Matt Williams and his coaching staff, as well as the front office and ownership, attended Saturday’s ceremony. Invited guests included D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray; Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor, Department of the Interior; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander; Events DC President and CEO Greg O’Dell; and Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Chair Rodney Slater.

Daily Wrap: Zimmermann finishes stellar spring, Fister to be reevaluated, & more

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

by Amanda Comak

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The disclaimer that comes with Spring Training, and all of the stats that accompany it, is, of course, that they don’t count for anything. On Monday, whatever numbers have been accrued over the past five weeks in Florida are wiped away and the real fun begins.

071812-261 jordan zimmermannWhat more veteran players like Jordan Zimmermann look for out of Spring Training is to sharpen his skills, build up his arm strength, and come through it all healthy.

Zimmermann did that. He also threw 18 innings, allowed one run, struck out 15, allowed 11 hits and walked only one. His Spring Training ERA came complete at 0.50.

Five more scoreless innings against the New York Mets to cap his spring — along with a bases-loaded infield hit to score the Nationals’ first run in a 4-0 victory — was more than enough for him to earn Player of the Day honors as the Nationals bid adieu to the Grapefruit League.

“I felt like I did what I needed to do to get ready for the season,” the 2013 All-Star said. “The ball’s coming out well, I have a good feel for all my pitches and I’m healthy. (Spring Training stats) don’t matter, but for me I want to do (well) every time I go out. Spring doesn’t matter too much but you don’t want to get hit around every time, either… I feel good. I’m ready to go.”

Quote of the Day: Matt Williams on Doug Fister

Fister was pulled from his scheduled Minor League start after one inning when he continued to feel tightness in his right lat muscle. The right-hander will be reevaluated in D.C.

“(It didn’t happen) on any particular pitch, had nothing to do with the elbow,” Williams said. “But we took him out after his first inning as a precaution and he’ll see the doc tomorrow in Washington. We’ll see what the doc says. We’ll see where we’re at. He was due to throw 60 (pitches) today and he came out after that first inning, so it certainly is a setback (as far as the regular season goes).”

Video highlights:

Jordan Zimmermann goes five scoreless in another strong outing.

Jordan Zimmermann helps his own cause with a bases-loaded infield hit.

Bryce Harper ropes an RBI-single to center field.

Nate McLouth scores on a wild pitch.

Notables:

The Nationals will travel to Washington, D.C. on Thursday evening in advance of Saturday’s exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers at Nationals Park… The team will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Youth Baseball Academy before Saturday’s game… Nationals Manager Matt Williams said he is leaning toward starting Anthony Rendon at second base on Opening Day.

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

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

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.

Nationals sign Kevin Frandsen

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

by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals bolstered their bench with a late addition on Wednesday, signing infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen to a Major League contract. Frandsen, who opted to become a free agent on Tuesday after the Philadelphia Phillies outrighted him on Sunday, will join the Nationals in time for Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta BravesFrandsen is a career .259 hitter with 49 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 402 big league contests spanning seven seasons with the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants. Against left-handed pitching, Frandsen is a career .289 hitter with a .343 on-base percentage and .435 slugging percentage, and he is also a versatile defensive addition.

The 31-year-old has appeared defensively at six positions during his career (first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, right field). Manager Matt Williams has said this spring that when it comes to his bench he prefers to have options. Frandsen’s ability to play multiple positions provides that.

Last season, Frandsen paced all of the Major Leagues with 14 pinch hits despite starting 52 games (35 at third base, 13 at second base, four at third base) and being hit by 11 pitches in what was ultimately his final season with Philadelphia.

Over the previous two years with the Phillies, Frandsen hit .280 with a .333 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging percentage and seven home runs. In 88 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2013, Frandsen hit .311 and he is a career .265 hitter with 17 RBI as a pinch hitter.

A graduate of San Jose State University, Frandsen was a 12th-round selection by the Giants in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.

The Nationals currently have 29 players in Major League camp, including right-handed pitcher Erik Davis, who is currently on the 60-Day Disabled List.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 537 other followers