NatsFest gives fans an insider’s view

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by Mike Feigen

With Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings beginning this week in San Diego, the hot stove season is officially underway. Trade talks, free agent signings and the Rule 5 draft will dominate the conversation over the next few days, but fans of the Washington Nationals have extra incentive to pay close attention: NatsFest is coming this Saturday, from 11 a.m.– 5 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Washington Nationals 2014 NatFestEven if President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo makes no major splashes near the Southern California beach this week, he’ll have plenty to say when he greets Season Plan Holders during a “State of the Nationals” discussion on the Main Stage. Hosted during an exclusive Season Plan Holder-only session, Rizzo will be joined from 10:15–10:45 a.m. by Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and Nationals Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Valerie Camillo.

The quartet will discuss a wide range of topics, including recapping the 2014 season and looking ahead to what they hope will be an exciting and memorable 2015 campaign. They will also offer a sneak preview of the club’s 10th Anniversary celebration, which will kick off in full force on Opening Day, April 6, when the Nationals host the New York Mets.

Three other members of the Nationals’ executive team will also be on hand to interact with fans, as Assistant General Manager & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, Director of Baseball Research & Development Sam Mondry-Cohen and Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba will host “The Front Office” in the Nationals Q&A Room from 12–12:30 p.m. Each brings a unique perspective to the game, including the statistically-minded Cromie and Mondry-Cohen, whose backgrounds may resonate among the more sabermetrically-inclined crowd.

Throughout the event, fans will be able to interact with more than 20 of their favorite Nationals players. Additionally, broadcasters Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler, Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo will emcee various parts of the event and chat about the upcoming season.

Breakout sessions this year will include the ever-popular Player Story Time in the Jr. Nats Kids Forum, Player Photo Stations in the main convention hall, the game show “NatsFest Feud” and a special Player Instructional on the Youth Baseball Academy Field.

New at this year’s event, fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to NatsFest for the opportunity to benefit the Greater Washington Urban League and win a chance to meet a Nationals player. Gifts can be dropped off at the Toy Drive table near the Main Stage for contest entry. Donors will receive one entry form for each gift donated, and there will be no limit to how many gifts a fan can donate. Ten donors will be randomly selected to meet with a Nationals player, take pictures and receive autographs. The meet and greet will take place late in the afternoon and each winner may be accompanied by one guest.

For complete information on all things NatsFest, including the convention map, schedule, ticket information and more, please visit

Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman joins front office staff to volunteer at Food & Friends

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by Amanda Comak

As Ryan Zimmerman and his wife, Heather, wrapped turkeys in aluminum foil on Tuesday morning, the Washington Nationals infielder looked around the kitchen. Volunteers and employees bustled around the Food & Friends facility on Riggs Road in Northeast Washington, D.C., and as Zimmerman and his wife helped prepare Thanksgiving meals, he took in the scene.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how many people help,” Zimmerman said after he finished his turkey-wrapping duties. “We met one couple who works here every Tuesday.”

The Zimmermans joined roughly 20 front office employees in volunteering at Food & Friends, helping to prepare and package Thanksgiving meals for many in need.

This was the seventh year that the Nationals visited Food & Friends, continuing the team’s tradition of assisting the organization in its effort to provide home-delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illnesses throughout the Washington Metropolitan area.

“A lot of people aren’t as fortunate and don’t have a Thanksgiving, really, to speak of,” Zimmerman said. “For them to get a meal for four or five people, I can only imagine what it means to them. It’s fun to be able to come and help them.”

While they helped package approximately 60 cooked turkeys in one hour, the Zimmermans won’t be making the traditional feast themselves this Thanksgiving holiday. They will travel with their 1-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, from their Virginia home to visit family.

But before they departed, they recognized the importance of giving back to their community.

“We packed some big turkeys,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “It made me hungry.”

“We did a ‘Friendsgiving’ one year where we had friends over, and we cooked the turkey,” Heather Zimmerman said. “It came out perfect. So, we went out on top, and we’ve never made a turkey again.”

As for the hamstring that sidelined Zimmerman through much of the season’s second half, the infielder said he’s feeling strong and should begin his usual offseason training soon.

“I’ve done a lot of resting,” Zimmerman said. “I’m good and rested. I’ll probably start my routine next week.”

Wishing a happy 85th birthday to Phil Rizzo

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Portrait of Nationals General Manager Mike RizzoIn the aftermath of the Washington Nationals’ 2014 National League East Division Championship celebration, Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo was asked what comes to his mind first when he sees his team accomplish this type of feat. How, a reporter wondered, did he feel when the possibility to reach the sport’s ultimate mountaintop suddenly becomes far more tangible?

Rizzo, who has built the Nationals into a division winner twice in the last three years, said he thinks first of the two 80-year-olds in his life: Nationals Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner, and his father, Phil Rizzo — and how much these championships means to them.

rizzox-largePhil Rizzo, a member of the inaugural class (2008) of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, turned 85 on Monday, reaching a milestone birthday without slowing down.

Phil Rizzo currently serves as a Senior Advisor to the General Manager (his son, Mike) for the Nationals. And his opinions and evaluations are as integral as ever for the younger Rizzo.

Among Phil Rizzo’s notable moments as a lifelong scout are filing the first report on University of Kentucky right-hander Brandon Webb, who won the 2006 National League Cy Young Award and represented Arizona in three All-Star games, as well as signing players such as Mike Matheny, Dick Schofield and Mark Loretta.

Happy 85th Birthday, Phil!

Nationals add Cole, Difo, Goodwin and Grace to 40-man roster

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals added four prospects to the team’s 40-man roster on Thursday, selecting the contracts of right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole, infielder Wilmer Difo, outfielder Brian Goodwin and left-handed pitcher Matt Grace.

All four prospects are now protected from the Dec. 11 Rule 5 Draft.

Washington Nationals v St Louis CardinalsCole, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, was rated by industry expert Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Nationals minor league system prior to the 2014 season. The 6-foot-5 righty went 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, including a perfect 7-0 record in 11 starts for the Chiefs. He ranked among Nationals minor league pitchers in wins (T1st, 13), strikeouts (T3rd, 111) and ERA (4th, 3.16).

“A.J. has made a rapid ascension through the organization,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris. “He’s on the cusp of accomplishing his, and our, ultimate goal, and we look forward to his contributions going forward.”


At 22, Cole features a mid-to-upper 90s-mph fastball and front-end-of-the-rotation potential. He owns a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.24 and has struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings over the course of his career.

Cole was a significant piece of the six-player trade with the Oakland Athletics on December 23, 2010 that netted the Nationals left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, among others. Washington then reacquired Cole, along with right-handed pitcher Blake Treinen, and left-handed pitcher Ian Krol in exchange for outfielder Michael Morse on January 16, 2013.

Difo, 22, set career marks in nearly every offensive category in 2014, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, seven triples, 14 home runs, 90 RBI, 37 walks and 91 runs scored in 136 games for the Hagerstown Suns. He was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player after leading the league with 176 hits while ranking second in total bases (263), second in stolen bases (49), fourth in RBI (90) and fourth in runs scored (91). His 90 RBI were the most among Nationals farmhands, while his .315 average was good for second behind only Steven Souza Jr.

Difo, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed as a non-drafted free agent on June 2, 2010.

“Wilmer is coming off a breakout season, in which he was honored accordingly with the South Atlantic League MVP,” Harris said. “He burst onto the scene and we expect him to continue on this upward trajectory.”

Following the season, Difo became the second recipient of the Bob Boone Award, which is granted annually to the Nationals minor leaguer who best demonstrates the professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination and work ethic required to play the game the ‘Washington Nationals Way.’

Washington Nationals v Detroit TigersGoodwin, 24, is considered one of the top position player prospects in the Nationals minor league system. He is an elite athlete with the ability to play any outfield position. During his first three professional seasons, Goodwin posted a .362 on-base percentage and has drawn a walk every 7.42 plate appearances. He advanced to Triple-A Syracuse for the first time in 2014, hitting .219 with 10 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 32 RBI, 50 walks and 31 runs scored in 81 games for the Chiefs.

Goodwin was selected in the supplemental round (No. 34 overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

“We’re excited about Brian’s potential,” Harris said. “He shows five tools, and we’re looking forward to his future, and his ability to impact the game in a variety of ways.”

Grace went 5-1 with three saves and a 1.17 ERA (10 ER/77.0 IP) in 50 appearances between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014. He was promoted to Syracuse on June 16 and posted a 1.30 ERA (6 ER/41.2 IP) and a .194 batting average against in 28 appearances at the highest level of the Minor Leagues. Following the season, he was selected to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League as a member of the Mesa Solar Sox.

“Matt has made significant strides and really found his niche in the bullpen,” Harris said. “He’s performed extremely well in a relief role and we feel like he’s got a bright future as a left-handed bullpen guy going forward.”

The 25-year-old Grace features a heavy, sinking fastball, and induced ground balls at a rate of 69 percent in 2014. He was selected by the Nationals in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA.

To make room for these players on the 40-man roster, infielder Pedro Florimon was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates, right-handed pitcher Ryan Mattheus was placed on outright assignment and elected free agency while catcher Jhonatan Solano was granted his unconditional release. With these moves, the Nationals’ 40-man roster is now full.

Nationals sign LHP Matt Purke to Minor League contract with invitation to Major League Spring Training

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals re-signed left-handed pitcher Matt Purke to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training on Monday.

Purke will now remain with the organization that drafted and developed him, and will continue his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery (May 29, 2014) without any interruptions to his prescribed plan.

The Nationals, who have a wealth of experience in successfully rehabbing pitchers after the ligament replacement surgery, look forward to Purke continuing his progress in their organization.

“We are excited to keep Matt in the organization and to keep his rehab on track,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We look forward to seeing him rebound from his surgery during the upcoming season.”

The 24-year-old left-hander was drafted by the Nationals in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as a highly-touted prospect out of Texas Christian University. Injuries have limited him to 29 Minor League appearances in the past three seasons.

On Friday, the Nationals released Purke from the Major League contract he signed shortly after he was drafted, with a plan in place to re-sign him and keep him in the organization.

Jerry Blevins in Japan: Kabuki, ramen & a few innings of work

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by Amanda Comak

The Major League All-Stars tour through Japan is about to hit the home stretch with five of the seven games they’re slated to play already in the books. And Washington Nationals reliever Jerry Blevins has not wasted a minute of his trip.

While he’s been enjoying sightseeing and soaking in the culture, Blevins has also been summoned to pitch three times in the five games. So far, he’s been superb.

Blevins has thrown three innings, allowing just one run (and no earned runs), off three hits and two walks with one strikeout.

He appeared on Sunday, Nov. 16, in a 6-1 MLB victory, on Friday, Nov. 14, in an 8-4 loss, and on Tuesday, Nov. 11, in an 8-7 MLB win.

Blevins has been keeping fans in the loop on his Asian adventure via his Twitter feed (which was listed by Sports Illustrated as one of the 100 must-follows).







Kabuki-3Over the weekend, Blevins and Los Angeles Angels left-hander Hector Santiago visited a Kabuki Theater in Tokyo — and they got to take part in a bit of the performance.

Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama performed in a highly stylized manner — from the dancing to the costumes and the makeup. It has been a significant theatrical form in Japan for almost four hundred years. And it looks like Blevins and Santiago were naturals.

The MLB All-Stars have two games left in Japan and they will return to the states following their finale on Nov. 20.

Wrapping up the Arizona Fall League

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by Mike Feigen

The Mesa Solar Sox, featuring seven members of the Nationals’ organization, wrapped up their Arizona Fall League schedule this past Thursday with a tie in the final game of the season. Catcher Spencer Kieboom went 2-for-5 at the plate in the contest, raising his average to .324, best among Nationals prospects on the club.

farm graphicMesa, which finished the year with a record of 15-14-2, was comprised of prospects from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Nationals. Washington provided catchers Pedro Severino and Kieboom, second baseman Tony Renda and four pitchers: Matt Grace, Neil Holland, Felipe Rivero and Derek Self.

The AFL gives future young stars a chance to showcase their skills following the conclusion of the regular season, with members of all 30 Major League organizations representing their parent clubs on six competing teams. The Salt River Rafters (ARI, COL, HOU, MIA and MIN) defeated the Peoria Javelinas (ATL, CLE, KC, STL, TB) in the league championship game Saturday.

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

Final stats: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.18 ERA, 1.324 WHIP

The big lefty out of UCLA compiled six scoreless relief appearances in his final seven appearances, holding right-handed hitters to a .167 average. His work against left-handed hitters could be the key to his success at the next level.

“I am working on throwing more off-speed pitches during my time here, especially my slider,” Grace said in a recent interview with Curly W Live. “I feel very comfortable with where my fastball is at right now, but I’m trying to have a more consistent slider. I know I will be facing a lot of left-handers out of the ‘pen, so I’m trying to do a better job of throwing sliders off my fastball, and vice-versa.”

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

Final stats: 11.2 IP, 20 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 8 BB, 8 SO, 10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP

Holland owns a career 23-10 record with a 2.49 ERA in 182 Minor League games pitched, but ran into some tough luck in Arizona. The 25-year-old former 11th round draft pick, featuring a deceptive sidearm delivery, could find himself in the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse during the 2015 season.

“There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age,” Holland said in a recent interview. “One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls.”

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

Final stats:.324/.390/.471 (11-for-34), 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 5 BB

One of the top offensive catchers in the Minor Leagues, Kieboom recovered from Tommy John surgery to have a big season in Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League. The 6-0, 200-pound backstop had a remarkable .852 OPS this season (.352 OBP, .500 SLG), setting the stage for what could be a promising season at Potomac or Harrisburg this upcoming year.

Kieboom said he was looking for big-picture experience in Arizona during an interview with Curly W Live earlier this AFL season.

“My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career,” he said. “There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.”

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

Final stats:.200/.233/.259 (17-for-85), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 12 R, 3 BB, 1 SB

Following a season in which he hit .307 with a .381 on-base percentage at High-A Potomac, Renda received valuable experience facing the league’s more advanced pitchers. The former second round pick was named to the AFL’s Fall Stars team and flashed promise at the plate.

“I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year,” Renda said. “Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

Final stats: 23.2 IP, 26 H, 18 R, 16 ER, 11 BB, 15 SO, 6.08 ERA, 1.563 WHIP

Rivero got off to a slow start in the AFL, but recovered in his final two starts to post solid numbers. The left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his final two starts, allowing just seven hits and two walks in 10 innings of work. The former Tampa Bay product held left-handers to a .231/.333/308 slash line, while righties hit a more robust .303/.387/.500 with a pair of home runs against him.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

Final stats: 15.0 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO, 1.20 ERA, 1.133 WHIP

Reliever Derek Self emerged as a pleasant surprise in Fall League play, completing six appearances of two or more innings in a relief role. The right-hander from Cave City, Ky. was accustomed to that role, with 21 such appearances between Potomac and Harrisburg in the regular season.

“I’m really working on my new change-up and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well,” Self said about his progress in the AFL earlier this month. “Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.”

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

Final stats:.250/.292/.341 (11-for-44), 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB

Severino, the third-youngest member of the Solar Sox roster at just 21 years of age, continued to impress as a part-time player in Arizona. The defensive-minded catcher played well above his age level this season at High-A Potomac, helping the P-Nats to a Carolina League Championship.

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Neil Holland

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace,catcherSpencer Kieboom and right-hander Derek Self.

Next up: right-hander Neil Holland. 

Holland_NeilHolland appeared in a career-high 46 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA (29 ER/76.2 IP), including 63 strikeouts. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors for his efforts out of the Harrisburg bullpen in 2014.

Holland features a sidearm delivery that he started using during his junior year at the University of Louisville. He has appeared in eight games for the Mesa Solar Sox during this year’s Arizona Fall League season.

We recently spoke with the 2010 11th round pick about his season and experience in Arizona.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

My experience in the Arizona Fall League has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about it. The facilities, fields, the cities. Everything. It’s been a great experience.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel incredibly honored to put on the Nationals jersey out here. It just makes me realize even more that I’m close to my dream, and with a really good organization.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age. One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls. I’ve also worked on a new changeup, which is coming along pretty well, as well as a lower arm slot on my slider. These are all good, positive things to work on in the offseason.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I feel like it took everyone a few games to feel comfortable with the new rules implemented, but I seem to be getting used to it. It doesn’t bother me too much, anyways, because I work fast. But there are still some things about the rule I have a hard time getting on board with.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

I didn’t know exactly what to expect meeting all my new teammates and having to get to know each other so quick but it’s been surprisingly great! All the guys have been awesome, especially the bullpen guys.

What have you done on your off days?

I’ve gone golfing a few times on my off days and watched a lot of football, which is a new concept for us ballplayers, always having Sundays off each week. I enjoy playing, but definitely enjoy the off days just to relax.

Holland_Neil_actionWhere and when did you develop the sidearm delivery? 

I starting throwing side arm my junior year of college. I wasn’t having success at the University of Louisville my first two years throwing over the top and was getting ready to transfer.

Right before I was getting ready to transfer, my throwing partner (also one of our captains) suggested that I go side-armed because I would sometimes throw him some side-armed pitches that were really good and moved a lot. He told my pitching coach that I should try a bullpen that way, and it ended up working out better than we all imagined. I became the closer basically my whole junior year, and the rest is history.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks?

Both are amazing coaches who have taught me a lot since I’ve been out here. They are both laid back and approachable, with a lot of knowledge, and you can pick their brain at any time. I’ve had a lot of good talks with both Wise and Villone after a bad outing and they helped me out a lot. They’re great coaches who know the game and also know a lot about the mental side of baseball.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

My approach hasn’t really changed since I’ve been out here, despite the good hitters I’ve been facing. I’ve always been known for being a ground ball thrower so I’ve been doing that, as well as working on my changeup. I go at the guys just like I went at the hitters during the season in Double-A and Triple-A — just trying to keep the ball low and work fast.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Absolutely, the Nationals pitchers are pretty spoiled having our own catchers here in the Fall League, and I’ve gotten on the same page with them very quickly. I also feel very comfortable throwing to them because they always know what I want to throw. Both Kieboom and Severino have been great with that.

You, Matt Grace and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

I’ve known both Derek and Matt for a while through my baseball career. I played with Derek two years in college too, so we know each other very well and have had a lot of good times together. Derek and I know how to push each other’s buttons, so we do make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all in good fun.

I’ve known Matt all five years I’ve played and we’ve gotten moved up together each year. He’s one of my really good friends so it was pretty cool that he and I got invited out here, too. We’ve roomed with each other off-and-on each year, and we’re also living with each other out here. So, whether it’s going out to eat, golfing, or going to the field, we’ve basically done it for five years straight now. I’ll be excited to finally get away from that guy when the offseason hits!

Nationals agree to terms with INF/OF Kevin Frandsen

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by Amanda Comak

The Nationals agreed to terms on a Major League contract with infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen on Friday, avoiding arbitration and securing the affable utility man for a second season in D.C.

Frandsen, 32, hit .259 with a team-leading 11 pinch hits for the Nationals in 2014 – ranking him 10th in the National League in that category.

An exceptionally versatile player, Frandsen appeared in 105 games for the Nationals last season with time at third base, second base, left field and first base. He started 42 of those games, filling in wherever needed when the Nationals were struck by injuries while also excelling in a bench role.

Frandsen is a career .259 (320-for-1235) hitter with 57 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs and 110 RBI in 507 big league contests spanning eight seasons with the Nationals, Phillies, Angels and Giants. Against left-handed pitching, Frandsen is a career .291 hitter with a .337 on-base percentage and .415 slugging percentage.

With the signing of Frandsen, the Nationals now have 10 remaining players eligible for arbitration: LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Tyler Clippard, LHP Ross Detwiler, INF Danny Espinosa, RHP Doug Fister, C Jose Lobaton, C Wilson Ramos, RHP Craig Stammen, RHP Drew Storen and RHP Stephen Strasburg.

Nationals’ aces fill up NL Cy Young ballots

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by Mike Feigen

It came as no surprise that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers earned the National League Cy Young Award Wednesday, unanimously capturing all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. After all, the southpaw led all of baseball in ERA, wins, complete games, WHIP and FIP (fielding independent pitching).

cyyoungHowever, down the writers’ ballots, another storyline emerged.

Three members of the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation — Jordan Zimmermann (5th), Doug Fister (8th) and Stephen Strasburg (T-9th) — finished in the top 10 of the voting, making them the only team in either league to achieve that distinction in the past three years.

Zimmermann, 28, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 199.2 innings in 2014, concluding the season with the first no-hitter in Nationals history. The 6-foot-2 right-hander added a brilliant first-round performance in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, surrendering just three hits in Game 2. In total, Zimmermann allowed a total of three hits to the final 62 batters he faced dating back to his September 20 start against the Miami Marlins.

Fister, acquired last offseason in a deal with the Detroit Tigers, lived up to his billing as a dynamic, big-game pitcher. Standing 6-foot-8, the lanky right-hander used his power sinker and array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance all season. Fister led the Nationals in ERA (2.41) and wins (16) during the regular season, then added a victory in Game 3 of the NLDS against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

If not for Zimmermann’s late-season heroics, Strasburg would have easily finished the season as the Nationals’ hottest pitcher. The 26-year-old righty went 7-2 in August and September, including a 3-0 record with a 0.00 ERA over his final three starts of the season. In those contests, the right-hander allowed 10 hits and three walks over 20.0 scoreless innings, striking out 19.

Including Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85) and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57), the Nationals owned one of the finest starting rotations in all of baseball, with all five primary members deserving recognition for their excellent 2014 campaigns. Factoring in the excellent bullpen performances from relievers such as Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, the entire staff led baseball in ERA (3.03), FIP (3.18), fewest home runs per fly ball (7.5%) and lowest walk rate (2.15 per 9 innings). The team also set a Major League record by striking out 3.66 batters for every walk issued, the best ratio in history.

With Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg all earning BBWAA votes, the result doubled the number of times Nationals pitchers have received Cy Young votes since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Previously receiving tallies were Chad Cordero (5th, 2005), Gonzalez (3rd, 2012) and Zimmermann (7th, 2013).


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