From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Back in the swing of spring

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Good afternoon!

I am writing to you from my office at Space Coast Stadium on another picturesque day in Viera. Sorry, I know you’re all facing some pretty tough weather back in D.C. We just wrapped up Day 4 of our Pitchers and Catchers workouts and the full squad is just about complete. The position players will all report by this evening, get their physicals tomorrow, and on Thursday we’ll get them all out on the field together for the first time.

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Danny Espinosa’s mustache is something.

— Spring Training is one of my favorite times of year. It’s always so great to see everyone after the long winter. I truly enjoy hearing what our players did in the offseason, how their families have grown – some got married, or had children – or any of the interesting things they did in the time they were away. It’s a little like the first day of school. But way more fun.

I ran into Ryan Zimmerman in the hall outside the clubhouse just this morning. He looks great and is truly enjoying preparing to be our first baseman.

It’s also always fun to see who has worked hard all winter to grow their hair out – Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond are leading this category right now – or who has been experimenting with a new facial hair look. You’ve all seen Danny Espinosa, right? Yosemite Sam, as we call him — just one of the names they’ve come up with in the clubhouse.

— We’ve now seen the pitchers all go through two rounds of bullpen sessions. And all that’s done for me is solidify how excited I am to see these guys compete this season. To stand in the bullpen and watch Max Scherzer throwing next to Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez throwing next to Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen side-by-side with Matt Thornton – I could go on all day. It’s tantalizing to watch, and to think about what is to come.

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It was great to see Heath Bell taking a little family time after a workout this weekend. (Photo by Paul Kim)

It’s also been great to see guys like Dan Uggla and Heath Bell in camp. That these players, with such accomplished resumes, are here in our camp as Non-Roster Invites speaks to our depth. Both players have arrived in tremendous shape – Heath Bell told me he’s lost 40 pounds and participated in two triathlons this winter – and I look forward to seeing what they will do during the Grapefruit League season. You never know how much of an impact their veteran presence can have on a club. We’re happy to welcome them to our team.

— I know I’m not the only one enjoying these workouts. It’s been wonderful to see so many of our fans lining the fences and taking the front-row-seat offered to them at Spring Training. The turnout has been fantastic and there really aren’t many better pro sporting experiences. The access for fans during Spring Training

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

workouts is really unparalleled. There’s no better opportunity to see these guys up-close-and-personal, and no better opportunity to get that autograph you’ve been seeking. Our guys have been signing each day after the workout. Nothing like the smile on a young fan’s face after they’ve received a prized autograph. There’s still plenty of time to plan a quick trip down here!

— Another part of Spring Training I really enjoy is that it’s a great time for me to catch up on all the movies I’ve missed. I enjoyed watching Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins battle it out on Twitter over their Oscars predictions earlier this week, and I got a chance to see American Sniper myself last night. Bradley Cooper was tremendous. I highly recommend it.

I also want to give a shoutout to our great staff at our complex here at Space Coast Stadium. They do a tremendous job, and we’re very lucky to have such wonderful people working for us and working to make the experience for everyone here so positive.

— We are thrilled that we’ll be welcoming ESPN’s SportsCenter here on Sunday morning, and really looking forward to them broadcasting LIVE from our camp all day. I know how eager our fans back in D.C. are to see these guys and for us to get back up north, so hopefully this will help make a cold Sunday morning that much warmer! Be sure to tune in!

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

— I want to personally congratulate our manager, Matt Williams, on having his option picked up for the 2016 season. Matt has done a tremendous job thus far and we are honored to have him guiding our players. The pride he takes in playing the game the right way and in helping our players reach their full potential is outstanding. I am really looking forward to watching him as he continues to lead.

Well, that’s about all for now. Don’t forget that single-game tickets are already on sale. While I’m already looking forward to the Grapefruit League opener on March 5, Opening Day will be here before we know it!

Until next time,
Mark

Daily Wrap: Matt Williams discusses the 8th inning, Ryan Zimmerman speaks & more

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by Kyle Brostowitz

We’re almost there, everyone. Just a few more days. Position players are required to “report” today and they’ll take their physicals tomorrow, prior to the first full-squad workout on Thursday.

We received our first rain shower today, but that didn’t stop the position players who have reported early from getting nearly a full workout in this afternoon.

News of the Day: Nationals Manager Matt Williams discussed in his daily session with the media how things could change in the eighth inning this year with Tyler Clippard now part of the Oakland Athletics. As he explained, in the past the eighth belonged to Clippard because of his overall effectiveness — as well as his ability to get out both right-handed and left-handed batters. His splits were nearly identical.

Moving forward, Williams said the Nationals could potentially look to match up (lefty vs. lefty; righty vs. righty) in the eighth inning more than they had in the past.

“We’ll have to look at it and, at this point, say, ‘OK, well, maybe we should match up a little bit,’” Williams said. “As it was last year, that eighth inning was (Clippard’s)…That may be a match-up situation (this year), depending on the game, depending on the team, depending on volume prior. All of those things come into play. We’ll look at that as we get deeper into spring. We’ll get guys into those situations, where we’re matching up potentially in the eighth inning to get the ball to the ninth inning and close it out hopefully.”

Images of the Day:

 

Social Media of the Day:

#Desi getting that #cagework in today. #Nats #SilverSlugger (Photo via @donaldmiralle)

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#Repost from @denardspan
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You already know what time it is…. #blessed

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#Max is a man in demand. #Nats #SpringTraining

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Quote of the Day:

All good things come to an end. I think not too many people get to play as long as I have and be as lucky as I have been so far. I still have a lot of baseball left. It’s kind of just a new chapter I guess…It’s a new challenge. I sort of have to prove myself again, prove I can play over there. In baseball you have to prove you can play every year… That’s the great thing about sports.” – Nationals First Baseman Ryan Zimmerman on making the move full-time across the diamond to first base.

Daily Wrap: Ryan Zimmerman works at first, Ian Desmond arrives & more

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by Amanda Comak

The full squad is almost complete. Position players are required to “report” by tomorrow night and they’ll take their physicals on Wednesday. The first full-squad workout is nearly here!

But first, to today’s Daily Wrap:

News of the Day: Ryan Zimmerman gets his first work of the spring at first base

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman — and yes it’ll take some time before that’s no longer strange to write — arrived at the team’s Spring Training complex on Monday morning and immediately got to work at his new position. Zimmerman was out on the field at Space Coast Stadium early on Monday working one-on-one with Nationals Manager Matt Williams on the finer points of first base.

“It’s a process,” Williams said Monday afternoon. “It’s a new position… So as part of his initial introduction to it this spring we’re just going over the basics — footwork, positioning, his thoughts on where he would like to play, what he can and can’t do, what he feels comfortable with. That was just the little bit of introduction today. Thatll happen everyday. We did it this morning. Got some personal time in.”

The manager, however, knows what kind of a glove his new first baseman possesses. And he seems to have no doubt the transition will be an easy one for the Gold Glove winner.

“Infield is infield is infield,” Williams said. “It’s the opposite side of the diamond, but he’ll adapt to that quickly. For me the thing that’s going to be something he has to think about is being the cutoff guy, (and) making sure he’s on all of the relay stuff. But we’ll get a chance to go through that in Spring Training — walk through it, go live through it, and game through it. He’ll be fine.”

Images of the Day

 

Social Media of the Day

It's even more fun to watch Max Scherzer work when you S L O W. I T. D O W N. #Nats

A video posted by @nationals on

Doug Fister is ready for his close up! #Nats (Photo credit to @donaldmiralle)

A photo posted by @nationals on

 

Quote of the Day

“I’m going to enjoy this ride… I’m going to enjoy every single day. I’ve got a lot of friends and family in this organization. I’m going to make sure I don’t slight them in any way by throwing in any other distractions. I owe it to everybody here to give my 100 percent concentration, and that’s what I’m going to do. Everything else is not really going to be talked about. It’s time to go.” — Ian Desmond, upon reporting to camp for the start of the final season of his contract. 

Black Heritage Month Spotlight: Black Baseball History in D.C.

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Images and content for this spotlight were provided by the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. The exhibition, “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” provides an overview of the popularity of African American baseball teams played on segregated fields in Washington, D.C., from Reconstruction to the second half of the 20th century.

Baseball: Universal Pastime in D.C.

Howard UMore than 150 years before the Nationals brought Major League Baseball back to D.C. in 2005, the city was home to a baseball mania comprised of every age, every race and even every government level. From schoolyards to the White House lawn, baseball flourished after the Civil War when thousands of men turned from the battlefield to the baseball field.

While baseball was played by all, the teams were segregated by race. While many white teams had fields, black clubs including the Washington Mutuals and Alert Base Ball Club were left to rely on the generosity of other clubs for the use of their fields and open spaces. As far back as the 1860s, black clubs came and went until the Homestead Grays formally called D.C. home in 1937.

DID YOU KNOW? From 1891 to 1965, Washington’s Griffith Stadium and St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park were the only segregated major league ballparks hosting both black and white ball games.

“Home Away From Home:” Homestead Grays

Grays teamThe Homestead Grays are considered one of the most successful baseball teams to call Washington home, even if they split time between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. While the first incarnation of the Washington Senators were busy giving Washington the distinction of being the “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League East,” the Grays won nine Negro National League titles and two consecutive Colored World Series. The roster featured Hall of Famers James “Cool Papa” Bell, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Jud Wilson. Each of these men is also a member of the Nationals’ Ring of Honor, displayed at Nationals Park.

Although the team was only in D.C. from 1937 until 1948, the team adopted Washington as its “home away from home” and scheduled many of its games at Griffith Stadium. Many historians report that their games often pulled larger crowds than the Senators, especially when the rival — and equally successful — Kansas City Monarchs came to town.

When World War II began to rage in Europe and the Pacific, many ballplayers, Major League and Negro leagues alike, traded in their baseball uniforms for that of the Army, Navy and Marines. The Negro leagues flourished during the war, however, due to the Kansas City Monarchs’ Satchel Paige and the Homestead Grays’ Josh Gibson being considered “4-F,” or unfit for service. Paige’s flat feet and Gibson’s creaky knees may have kept them from serving in the war efforts, but did not tarnish their baseball skills. With more employment opportunities in war-related industries and disposable income, black fans flocked to watch the Negro league stars. The Negro league franchises began bringing in revenues of more than $2 million a year, making them one of the largest black-owned and operated businesses in the country.

Although Jackie Robinson’s success in the Major Leagues in 1947 changed the course of baseball, his success also spelled the end of the Negro leagues. Due to financial difficulties and the collapse of the Negro leagues, the Homestead Grays franchise disbanded after the 1950 season.

DID YOU KNOW? When the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington after the 2004 season, “Grays” was one of the three finalists for the team’s new name along with the “Senators” and ultimately the winner, the “Nationals.”

Grays’ Spotlight: Josh Gibson

Grays jerseyJosh Gibson’s Hall of Fame plaque states that he is considered the “greatest slugger in Negro Baseball Leagues,” but many feel that he is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Also known as “The Black Babe Ruth,” the Grays catcher hit for average and power and finished his 17-year career with a .350 batting average. While the final total is unclear, Gibson hit more than 800 homers, taking home nine home run titles and four batting championships along the way. Although Negro league statistics were not well kept, research has said that Gibson had a home run rate of one every 15.9 times at bats. This rate compares to the top nine home run hitters in Major League Baseball history. These didn’t just clear the fence either. Tales of Gibson’s long balls — and where they landed — only add to the myths surrounding this legend.

While he occasionally played against MLB competition, Gibson unfortunately never got a chance to play in a Major League Baseball game. On New Year’s Day 1943, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but refused operations fearing that he would suffer permanent brain damage. He did not reveal his condition to the Homestead Grays and continued to play for the team for four more seasons. Although he suffered from reoccurring headaches, those years were among the best of his career.  He won the Negro league home run titles in 1942 and 1943, won the batting title in 1943 with an average of .517, and hit 10 home runs in Griffith’s Stadium in 1943 — more than the entire American League hit in Washington that year. His supreme batting also led the Grays to win the Negro World Series in 1943. In Gibson’s last season, in 1946, he batted .379 and led the league with 16 home runs.

In 1947, at the age of 35, Gibson died of a cerebral hemorrhage. This was just three months before Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s contributions to the game are colossal, but many feel that the honor of breaking the color barrier should have been Gibson’s. But his efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1972, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gibson, behind Satchel Paige, became the second player inducted for their tremendous Negro league careers.

DID YOU KNOW? Clark Griffith, longtime Senators owner, attempted to sign Gibson and Leonard to play for the Senators in the early 1940s. Baseball officials intervened and forced Griffith to break off contract negotiations. The Senators would not become integrated until seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, signing Carlos Paulz in 1954.

Breaking Barriers: Sam Lacy

Museum ExhibitBefore there was television, fans who weren’t in attendance at the games were left to read all about it in the next morning’s newspapers. African American sportswriters not only played an integral role in the success of the Negro leagues, but Samuel Harold “Sam” Lucy wrote continuously about the injustice in segregated D.C. and the Homestead Grays. A Washingtonian and former Howard University student, Lacy covered sports for the Washington Tribune and the Chicago Defender before taking up a post at the Baltimore Afro-American. He constantly pushed for Senators’ owner Clark Griffith to integrate Grays players into Major League Baseball.

Encouraging others to not be satisfied with the segregated game, Lacy challenged racist standards while capturing the stars of the Negro leagues. Appropriately, it was Lacy who followed Jackie Robinson in the early days of integrated Major League Baseball, often sharing a room with the baseball legend.

Although Lacy wrote about African American success stories, he was a success story himself. In 1948, he became the first black member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In 1997, he was awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the BBWAA for outstanding baseball writing, which placed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s writers’ and broadcasters’ section.

DID YOU KNOW? Sam Lacy’s love of sports started at a young age. Early in his life he worked in Griffith Stadium selling peanuts and popcorn in the black seating section of the park.

Daily Wrap: Denard Span arrives, Matt Williams talks motivation & more

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by Kyle Brostowitz

Welcome to today’s Daily Wrap, a Spring Training feature covering all of the news, information, social media and important quotes.

Today was a perfect February day here on the Space Coast for Day 2 of 2015 Spring Training. The pitchers who did not throw bullpens yesterday took the hill this morning to get their work in. Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins were some notable pitchers to throw their first official ‘pens of camp.

News of the Day: Nationals center fielder Denard Span arrived at camp, joining a handful of other Nationals position players heading to Viera in advance of the required report date on February 24.

Span makes his home in Tampa, Fla. and recently capped off his offseason by getting engaged. Congrats to Denard and Shadonna! Span entered the Nationals clubhouse to many rounds of hugs, handshakes and congratulations on the news.

Span is coming off a year in which he sparked the Nationals’ potent lineup from the top spot, hitting .302 with a .355 on-base percentage while posting a career-high 52 extra-base hits and swiping a career-best 31 bases in his second season with the Nationals.

Nationals Manager Matt Williams was asked what Span means to the club and how excited he was to see him back for another year:

“I think he’s valuable in every aspect of the game,” Williams said. “He’s one of the guys that make our team go. He is a Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder, who throws well, understands how to run the bases, steals bases. Last year was a fantastic season offensively and defensively, and he’s a leader for us. He works every day. He certainly makes it comfortable for our pitching staff to go ahead and challenge a guy and know that it will be caught if it’s hit out there. He’s a gamer. He’s a baseball player. I was pleased with his season last year. I was happy for him. He was one of the reasons we got to where we got to.”

Images of the Day:

 

Social Media of the Day:

Hey @giogonzalez47, let's take this S L O W, shall we? #Nats

A video posted by @nationals on

 

Quote of the Day:

“For me, the motivation is enjoying the grind of it all. The work involved, whether you are a player, coach, or manager, it’s all about the work. Ultimately, we love what we do, so you find the joy and motivation in that. If you can get to that point, the results will come.” – Nationals Manager Matt Williams on what motivates him during Spring Training.

Daily Wrap: Matt Williams’ option is picked up, the first workout is in the books & more

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by Amanda Comak

Welcome back to the Daily Wrap, a Spring Training feature that debuted last season.

We’re kicking things off early this year, jumping right into the thick of it with the first Pitchers and Catchers workout of the year. It was a busy day in Nationals land, even if it was just the first workout. So let’s jump right in.

News of the Day: Nationals exercise 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams

The Nationals were happy to announce they’d picked up the 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams’ contract Saturday morning, solidifying his spot in the dugout through this upcoming season and the next. Williams shared the organizational enthusiasm.

“I’m excited,” Williams told reporters in his first media session of the season. “I’m excited to be a part of the organization and the fact that (my option) got picked up. I’m honored to have that done. The organization is fantastic. They’ve supported all of us since the day I arrived here and I’m just very pleased and excited for the spring.

“I’m happy that I’ll be here through this year and next year. I look forward to the challenge every single day.”

Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said he felt it was important for the team to pick up Matt’s option in advance of the start of Spring Training.

“It’s always good to know the manager’s going to be around for a while,” Rizzo said. “I think the players respect him greatly.”

Images of the day:

Social Media of the Day: 

Friendly game of catch between #aces this morning! #Nats

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A little post-bullpen chat with the bossman. #Nats

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#Focus

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Quote of the Day: 

“He’s phenomenal. He doesn’t change — whether it’s starting or relieving, where he pitches in the rotation. Whenever we give him the ball, it’s his day to pitch and he’s excited and ready to pitch.” — Nationals Manager Matt Williams on do-it-all right-hander Tanner Roark.

Nationals exercise 2016 option on contract of Manager Matt Williams

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals exercised the 2016 club option on manager Matt Williams’ contract on Saturday, solidifying the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year’s spot in the dugout through the next two seasons.

“We are happy to pick up Matt’s option for the 2016 season,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It shows the great confidence we have in Matt to continue to lead this team on the field.

“During his rookie season, he helped us navigate through injuries and led us to our second NL East Division title in three years. His leadership has earned him the respect of our players, coaches and his colleagues around the league.”

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsIn his rookie season in the dugout, Williams led the Nationals to the 2014 National League East division title, as well as the best record in the National League with 96 regular-season victories. Working to strengthen a culture of accountability in the clubhouse and hard-nosed play on the field, Williams guided the Nationals’ talent-laden roster back to the postseason following a one-year absence.

“Matt’s accomplishments on the field speak for themselves,” said Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner.  “He takes great pride not only in how the game is played, but in our players.  We are fortunate to have Matt as our manager and look forward to him leading us to new heights.”

After stewarding the Nationals through early injuries and inconsistencies before their ascension to the largest divisional lead in Major League Baseball (17.0 games), Williams earned the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year award and the 2014 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year award.

He was the first rookie manager since 2006, and only the fourth first-year manager in history to earn the BBWAA honors.

The decorated former third baseman was named the fifth manager of the Nationals on Nov. 1, 2013, replacing Davey Johnson.

Six Nationals prospects among Baseball America’s Top 100

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by Kyle Brostowitz

farm graphicIndustry expert Baseball America released its 2015 Top 100 Prospect list on Thursday night and the Washington Nationals placed six prospects on that list. They were tied with the Cubs and Diamondbacks with six, and behind only the Mets (7) and Red Sox (7) for the most in Major League Baseball.

Below is a quick look at the Nationals prospects represented on this year’s Top 100 list:

No. 7 – RHP Lucas Giolito

Giolito jumped from No. 21 in the 2014 ranking all the way into the Top 10 thanks to a stellar 2014 campaign, and for the second straight season, he is ranked as the top prospect in the Nationals system. Giolito was named the 2014 Washington Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-2 with an organizational-best 2.20 ERA in 20 starts for Single-A Hagerstown. He was selected to represent the Nationals in the 2014 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis. His 110 strikeouts were fifth-best among Nationals farmhands.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game TwoNo. 32 – OF Michael A. Taylor

Taylor was absent from the 2014 Top 100 list but catapulted to No. 32 after a breakout 2014 season that included his Major League debut. He has always boasted advanced defensive skills, but showed his ability at the plate last season. He began the season with Double-A Harrisburg before being promoted to Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 2 and was summoned to D.C. on Aug. 12 for his big league debut. He posted his first hit (second-inning single off Rafael Montero) and home run (sixth inning, two-run, off Carlos Torres) in his MLB debut, Aug. 12 at New York. At the top two levels of Washington’s chain, he ranked among system leaders in batting (fourth, .304 AVG), home runs (second, 23) & stolen bases (third, 37). Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Eastern League. Along with Giolito, Taylor was selected to play in the Sirius-XM All-Star Futures game in Minneapolis.

No. 49 – RHP Reynaldo Lopez

Like Taylor, Lopez was unranked prior to the 2014 season, but went 7-3 with a 1.08 ERA in 16 starts between Short-Season Auburn and Single-A Hagerstown to vault into the top 50 in all of baseball. From July 9 through the end of the season, a span of 10 starts (55.0 IP), Lopez allowed just one earned run (a solo home run) while holding opposing batters to a .126 average. Following the season, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the South Atlantic League and the No. 2 prospect in the New York-Penn League.

No. 90 – RHP Erick Fedde

Fedde was the Nationals’ first-round selection (18th overall) in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft after going 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA (15 ER/76.2 IP) and 82 strikeouts in 11 starts for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2014. He was named the 2014 Mountain West Pitcher of the Year. Fedde underwent “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery in mid-May, but remains ranked as the No. 4 prospect in Washington’s system.

Washington Nationals v St Louis CardinalsNo. 91 – RHP A.J. Cole

In his second season in the organization, after returning in 2013, Cole took the next step in his development, going 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 combined starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He ranked among Nationals farmhands in wins (tied, first), strikeouts (tied, third) and ERA (fourth), and his 13 wins marked a career high. Cole was a non-roster invitee to 2014 Spring Training and did not allow a run in three Grapefruit League contests (6.2 IP, 5 H, 7 K).

No. 96 – RHP Joe Ross

Ross came to the Nationals’ chain from San Diego in the three-way deal that sent OF Steven Souza Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa Bay. Prior to being traded to the Nationals, Ross was rated by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in San Diego’s chain. In 2014, he went a combined 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 23 games/22 starts between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. While with Lake Elsinore, he was named a California League mid-season All-Star. He was promoted to Double-A in mid-July. Following the season, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 6 prospect in the Single-A California League.

Pitchers and Catchers Report

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by Amanda Comak

The first “official” day of the spring arrived on Thursday morning as the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Fla. for Spring Training.

 

While it is certainly an official date, reporting is actually not as formal as it sounds. Pitchers and catchers just need to alert a team official that they have made it to the area by Thursday. Friday they’ll take their physicals, and the first workout for pitchers and catchers will begin bright and early on Saturday morning. That’s when the real action will get going.

Nonetheless, there were a lot of hugs, high-fives and smiles today as returning Nationals reunited with their teammates and new Nationals got acquainted with their surroundings.

#Repost from @mlb.
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We missed baseball hugs. #BaseballBegins

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There were a few surprises, too. Like Danny Espinosa’s magnificent mustache.

And there was already plenty to talk about.

Spring Training Preview, Part VI: Non-Roster Invitees

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by Mike Feigen and Kyle Brostowitz

Every spring, teams from throughout Major League Baseball bring players to camp that are not part of the organization’s official 40-man roster. Known as non-roster invitees (NRIs), these players are often talented youngsters on their way to The Show, veteran Minor Leaguers looking for a breakthrough moment, or former Major Leaguers looking for a fresh start.

In all, 20 such players will head to Viera, Fla. with hopes of making it to Washington. That’s part of what makes their journey so special; should they impress the coaching staff, as Chad Tracy did in 2012, they could not only force their way onto the Opening Day roster but become household names on a championship-contending club.

Below is the final installment of our Spring Training Preview series: the non-roster invitees.

STARTING PITCHERS (4)

St Louis Cardinals v Colorado RockiesBruce Billings

Right-hander Bruce Billings is a veteran of eight Minor League seasons and brings with him experience as a starter and reliever. He has accumulated a 65-61 record while posting a 4.08 ERA in 217 Minor League appearances (145 starts). Billings made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2011 and appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2014, striking out seven batters in four innings.

Mitch Lively

Mitch Lively signed with the Nationals organization in July of 2014, after making the transition from reliever to starting pitcher over the last two seasons. As a reliever, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-hander was 22-19 with 14 saves and a 3.76 ERA in 212 career Minor League appearances. In 42 career starts, he is 16-9 with a 4.10 ERA. Last season, Lively reported to Triple-A Syracuse where he went 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine games/seven starts for the Chiefs.

Scott McGregor

A former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, right-hander Scott McGregor joined the Nationals in June of 2014 and reported to Double-A Harrisburg before earning a promotion to Syracuse in August. He went a combined 3-3 with 4.64 ERA in 12 games/10 starts between the two levels.

Matt Purke

Matt Purke, the Nationals’ third-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, appeared in eight games for Double-A Harrisburg before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow on May 28. The 6-foot-4 southpaw will enter his fourth camp as a member of the Nationals organization.

RELIEF PITCHERS (5)

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego PadresHeath Bell

Veteran reliever Heath Bell joins the Nationals after a 2014 season in which he appeared in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays before stints with Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees). The Nationals will be his eighth organization since signing with the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998. Bell was one of the premier closers in MLB from 2009-13, tallying 166 saves for three separate clubs, third most in MLB over that span. He appeared in three All-Star Games and took home the 2009 and 2010 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.

Manny Delcarmen

Manny Delcarmen returns for his second season with the Nationals organization. He went 4-4 with four saves and a 3.13 ERA in 46 games out of the Triple-A Syracuse bullpen. Delcarmen struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2.39, while surrendering just two home runs in 60.1 innings.

Eric Fornataro

Right-hander Eric Fornataro is a former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who came to Washington on a waiver claim following the 2014 season. He began his professional career as a starter, but has transitioned to a relief role over the last three seasons. As a reliever, he is 9-12 with 21 saves and a 3.40 ERA in 141 Minor League appearances. Fornataro made his Major League debut in 2014, posting a 4.66 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals.

Rafael Martin

Rafael Martin advanced through three levels of Washington’s Minor League system in 2014, going 3-2 with 11 saves and a 1.39 ERA while striking out 66 batters and holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average. He did not allow an earned run from May 16 to Aug. 17, a span of 46.1 innings over 29 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. His 11 saves were fourth among Nationals farmhands. Martin was named a MiLB.com Organization All-Star following the season.

Evan Meek

Evan Meek comes to Washington after spending the 2014 season with the Baltimore Orioles organization. The former All-Star (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2010) enjoyed five separate stints with the Orioles, going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in 23 appearances. He went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 1.94 ERA in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk. His 16 saves were tied for seventh in the International League.

CATCHERS (3)

Spencer Kieboom

Former Clemson Tiger Spencer Kieboom is coming off his most productive season, bouncing back from 2013 “Tommy John” surgery by hitting .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 61 RBI in 87 games for Single-A Hagerstown. He was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star and a MiLB.com Organization All-Star. Following the season, Kieboom hit .324 with two doubles, one home run, seven RBI and three runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

Steven Lerud

Left-handed hitting catcher Steven Lerud comes to the Nationals after playing in 60 games for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, batted .250 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and 19 RBI. The former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates has spent time in five organizations, including the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he briefly reached the Major Leagues in 2012 and 2013.

Pedro Severino

Pedro Severino is considered the best defensive catcher in the Nationals’ chain per Baseball America, and will enter the 2015 season rated as Washington’s top catching prospect and No. 13 prospect overall. The 21-year-old Bonao, Dominican Republic native advanced to Single-A Potomac for the first time in 2014, hitting .247 with 15 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 36 RBI in 94 games.

INFIELDERS (7)

Emmanuel Burriss

Emmanuel Burriss, a Washington, D.C., native and graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, returns for his second season with his hometown organization after spending the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse. He earned International League All-Star honors after hitting .300 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers, 46 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 80 runs scored. He ranked among IL hitters in runs scored (3rd, 80), triples (T-3rd, 7), batting average (T-7th, .300), and on-base percentage (9th, .377) while his .300 batting average was tied for fifth among Nationals farmhands.

Cutter Dykstra

A former second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Nationals’ return in the Nyjer Morgan trade, Cutter Dykstra advanced to Double-A for the first time in his career in 2014. He was named an Eastern League mid-season All-Star after hitting .297 with 15 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 43 RBI, 10 stolen bases and 39 runs scored in the season’s first half.

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila Ka’aihue returns to the United States after spending the previous season-and-a-half with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, where he hit .258 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs, 85 RBI, 77 walks and 56 runs scored in 156 games spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He has appeared in 126 Major League games over parts of four seasons with Kansas City (2008–11) and Oakland (2012).

Clint Robinson

Left-handed power-hitting first baseman Clint Robinson, a former teammate of Ka’aihue in the Kansas City Royals system, joins the Nationals after spending last year in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Robinson, 30, is a career .300/.381/.510 hitter in 921 games spanning eight Minor League seasons, including a Texas League Triple Crown in 2010. He appeared in nine games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014, going 3-for-9 with two RBI and three runs scored.

Matt Skole

Matt Skole returned to full strength in 2014 following 2013 Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, playing in 132 games for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit .241 with 29 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 68 RBI, 78 walks and 58 runs scored for the Senators. Skole ranked second in the Eastern league with 78 walks and was named an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com following the season.

Ian Stewart

A member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day roster in 2014, Ian Stewart played in 24 games before landing on the disabled list with a left-hand contusion. The power-hitting left-handed hitter has played parts of seven MLB seasons with three clubs, including Colorado (2007–11), Chicago-NL (2012) and Los Angeles (2014).

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia PhilliesDan Uggla

Dan Uggla joins the Nationals after spending the previous nine seasons with the Marlins (2006–10), Braves (2011–14) and Giants (2014). His 233 home runs as a second baseman lead all active players. Uggla, a three-time All-Star and 2010 Silver Slugger winner, is the only second baseman in Major League history to begin his career with six consecutive 20-plus home run seasons.

OUTFIELDERS (1)

Mike Carp

Mike Carp is a left-handed hitting slugger and versatile defender who has appeared in Major League games at first base (143 games/122 starts) and outfield (110 games/90 starts). In 2013, he set career marks in nearly every offensive category, starting 56 games for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The former Mets draft pick has also played for the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers during his six seasons in the big leagues.

In 10 seasons in D.C., 76 players (Ray King and Pete Orr twice) have played in at least one game with the Nationals despite entering that same Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. 21 times players have earned spots on the Nationals’ Opening Day 25-man roster (designated by [OD]). A closer look:

2005 (7) 2006 (12) 2007 (11) 2008 (10) 2009 (11) 2010 (7)
INF Carlos Baerga LHP Micah Bowie RHP Winston Abreu RHP Collin Balester C Josh Bard [OD] RHP Miguel Batista [OD]
RHP Hector Carrasco LHP Bill Bray LHP Mike Bacsik LHP Michael Hinckley LHP Jesus Colome C Jamie Burke
OF Jeffrey Hammonds SS Royce Clayton [OD] 1B/3B Tony Batista LHP Ray King [OD] INF Alex Cintron RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Sun-woo Kim OF Alex Escobar 2B Ronnie Belliard [OD] LHP Charlie Manning LHP Wil Ledezma [OD] RHP Joel Peralta
C Keith Osik C Wiki Gonzalez RHP Jesus Colome [OD] LHP Mike O’Connor RHP J.D. Martin RHP Drew Storen
INF Rick Short RHP Kevin Gryboski C/1B Robert Fick [OD] INF Pete Orr INF Pete Orr RHP Willy Taveras [OD]
OF Brandon Watson C Brandon Harper INF D’Angelo Jimenez LHP Odalis Perez [OD] OF Jorge Padilla
OF George Lombard LHP Ray King [OD] RHP Brian Sanches OF Corey Patterson
RHP Santiago Ramirez LHP Arnie Munoz RHP Steven Shell RHP Jorge Sosa
RHP Saul Rivera RHP Jason Simontacchi C Wil Nieves RHP Julian Tavarez [OD]
OF Mike Vento 1B Dmitri Young [OD] RHP Jordan Zimmermann
1B Daryle Ward [OD]
2011 (6) 2012 (7) 2013 (4) 2014 (1) 2015 (TBD)
INF Brian Bixler OF Rick Ankiel LHP Fernando Abad RHP Blake Treinen
INF Alex Cora [OD] OF Corey Brown RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Chad Gaudin [OD] OF Brett Carroll [OD] RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Ryan Mattheus C Sandy Leon INF Zach Walters
OF Laynce Nix [OD] C Carlos Maldonado
1B/OF Matt Stairs [OD] 1B/OF Xavier Nady [OD]
1B/3B Chad Tracy [OD]
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