Results tagged ‘ Mark Lerner ’

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Checking in from Spring Training

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Hello, everyone.

Let me start by stating that things could not be better here in Viera. The weather is wonderful, the workouts are crisp and the results have been encouraging. Yes, a team’s Grapefruit League winning percentage can, at times, be misleading, but winning games is always better than the alternative.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Seven wins, four losses and a tie. But what is most encouraging is how Manager Matt Williams has them playing the game. I love the aggressive base running. Taking an extra base. How fantastic was it to see Danny Espinosa score from second base on Saturday on a dribbler back to the pitcher? This brand of baseball really is infectious.

Fifteen home runs in 12 games. Only five allowed. That’s a good ratio.

Strong offensive starts from stalwarts like Ian Desmond (.286, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Adam LaRoche (2 HR, 4 RBI), Wilson Ramos (.474, HR, 10 RBI) and Ryan Zimmerman (.389, HR, 2 RBI) among others.

And many of our young players are making their marks. Zach Walters is hitting .615 with four extra-base hits and five RBI. He is as hot as anyone. Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have each made memorable catches in the outfield. Matt Skole hit .357 and four of his five hits went for extra bases before he was assigned to Minor League camp earlier this week so that he can get additional at-bats.

  • I have not even mentioned the pitching. There truly are too many to name, but I’ll risk mentioning three standouts: Taylor Jordan (team-leading 11 strikeouts), Jerry Blevins (3.2 hitless innings) and A.J. Cole (6.2 scoreless innings).

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

  • Forgive me if I think it is 2005 all over again watching Jamey Carroll and Luis Ayala perform admirably as they battle for roster spots. Jamey’s approach at the plate (.333 OBP), base running and defensive versatility are all a real plus. Meanwhile, Luis can throw a strike whenever he needs to. He has that same veteran savvy gene our friend Livan Hernandez had during his playing days.
  • And Matt Williams? What’s not to like? Crisp, precise and purposeful baseball usually yields wins. I love what Matt brings to our dugout and clubhouse. I especially like how our team has taken to his aggressive nature.
  • I was pleased to see President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo sign Michael Gonzalez to a Minor League deal last weekend. Gonzalez was a big part of our bullpen’s success in 2012 and there are very few southpaw relievers who can match his experience in tight situations. Welcome back Michael!
  • I just counted. Only three of the club’s 18 errors have been committed by players who were “regulars” in Washington last season. And one of those miscues was charged to Mr. Perfect, Denard Span! Remember, Denard did not commit an error last season. As I have said before, he should have won a Gold Glove!
  • I’d like to thank all of our fans in Central Florida, but especially those from our local area on the Space Coast (Viera, Melbourne and Rockledge). The crowds for the Cardinals and Yankees games in the last week were the two largest we have ever enjoyed hosting.
  • As for our fans from back home, I’ve had quite a few friends remark upon arrival in Viera about the significant pockets of Nationals fans on their flights from DC to Orlando. It’s hard to ignore all the smiles and Curly W shirts, sweaters and hats. It is great to see so many of our fans catching on to just how special Spring Training is.

Until next time …

Mark

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

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Hello, everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time …

Mark

A NatsFest Thank You

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

And because of them, it was an unforgettable day.

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

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

Enjoy!

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Live from the Winter Meetings

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Hello everybody.

Greetings from the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, where I am on the ground at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

I understand everyone back home is dealing with the aftermath of yesterday ice/frozen rain/hail storm and that more snow accumulation could be on the way.

The rumor here is that Central Florida is drenched in bright sunshine with temperatures in the low 80s, but I’d never know it, if not for passing a hotel window every so often. Our work here keeps us inside and the hotel’s layout on the Disney Campus does not present many opportunities to enjoy the warm weather.

Congratulations to Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Could there be any more baseball symmetry than these three gentlemen being inducted together this July in Cooperstown?

Together, Cox, La Russa and Torre combined on 7,558 regular-season victories, eight World Championships and infinite respect from both inside and outside the game.

The trio set the standard for baseball’s modern manager in the dugout and cultivated lasting relationships with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse.

Sure, they had great players, but they established programs and team cultures that have lived on well past their departures from the Braves, Cardinals and Yankees. This is truly a fantastic moment for the game of baseball.

  • Matt Williams presserSpeaking of managers, I flew down to Florida with Matt Williams over the weekend. We had another in a long line of fantastic chats. Some dealt with baseball. Some did not. If it is possible, I am even more convinced that Matt was the right hire for our club at the right time.
  • For those who followed his career, preparedness was a big part of Matt’s game. No detail is too small. Well, he seems to have carried this over to his managerial career. For instance, Matt and his staff are in the late stages of scheduling Spring Training workouts. But before Matt signs off on the final schedules, he is driving an hour over to Viera, Fla., so he can lay his own eyes on Space Coast Stadium and the layout at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. In Matt’s 25 or so years in baseball (he was drafted in ’87), he has experienced only one spring in the Grapefruit League. In 1997, Matt spent Spring Training with the Indians in Winter Haven, FL. To the best of Matt’s recollection, he did not travel east that spring to Viera. So, rather than leave workout schedules to chance, Matt will visit Viera for himself on Thursday.
  • Mike Rizzo held his first staff meeting this morning in the team suite. He went over the roster, handed out staff assignments and talked about some of the team’s needs. Matt Williams had his turn at bat and spoke too. This was our scouting staff’s prime opportunity to pick Mike’s mind, compare notes on various players and offer names (internal and external) to keep an eye on. Mike seems pleased with the offseason’s progress to date, but he verbalized that there was more work to be done.
  •  I have to think the primary reason for Mike’s upbeat meeting was last week’s acquisition of Doug Fister. From what I’ve gathered, Doug is a Grade-A individual who just so happens to be 6-foot-8 and throw a heavy 89-90 mph sinker, from an arm angle that gives opposing batters fits. And Fister, unlike recent offseason rotation additions such as Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, will be here for a while. We control his rights for two seasons. Doug’s repertoire should benefit when contrasted with the 95+ mph fastballs of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Well, that’s it for today. For those battling the elements back in DC, please stay safe, warm and dry.

Mark

As Winter Meetings begin, an inside look back at the Jayson Werth signing

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by Amanda Comak

ORLANDO – Even now, three years later, the details are still fresh.

The quietly planned flight that Washington Nationals then-Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo took — along with Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner, and Principal Owner Mark Lerner — from Florida to California that November day in 2010. The preparation that went into what they were headed to do. The pitch. The deliberations.

And reeling in the biggest free agent in the organization’s history, shocking the baseball world as it descended upon Orlando for that year’s Winter Meetings.

In Case You Missed It: Mike Rizzo On Jayson Werth

The Nationals introduced Jayson Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park, but the announcement of the deal, on the eve of the 2010 Winter Meetings, was one of the most talked about signings of that winter.

Since 2010, the Sunday of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings usually brings about some reminiscing, particularly in the D.C. area. It seems everyone has a story about where they were when they heard the news that the Nationals had called a press conference to announce their seven-year, $126 million pact with Jayson Werth.

For some, it serves as a reminder of when things changed for the Nationals, when they entered “Phase Two” of their plan to construct a championship-caliber team. That part seems to have played out largely as they’d hoped. Two years later, the Nationals barreled through all comers to take the National League East Division title, and have been viewed as contenders ever since.

But even for signature Winter Meetings deals, like Werth’s, there’s often far more that comes before the bombshell drops.

“I think very few deals begin at the Winter Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings,” Rizzo said last week, as he and his staff prepared to head back to Orlando for this year’s gathering.

“There are many more cases where they start at the General Managers Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings. I think you lay foundations early in the offseason, and they either get announced at the Winter Meetings or the final decisions, after really going through the process, end at the Winter Meetings.”

Like Werth’s.

So as the Nationals get set for another Winter Meetings, let’s take an inside look back at how that deal went down.

The pitch

Shortly after the 2010 regular season came to an end, the Nationals honed their list of offseason targets. As Rizzo and his front office team began to put together a detailed plan for ownership of where they saw the team in one, three and five years, they surveyed the big-ticket free agents on the market.

There was third baseman Adrian Beltre, coming off an All-Star season in Boston, outfielder Carl Crawford, set to leave the Tampa Bay Rays, and Werth, who had just put together a career year.

Crawford didn’t fit for the Nationals, but Beltre and Werth intrigued them. At the GM Meetings, Rizzo met with agent Scott Boras, who represents both players. Rizzo expressed the team’s interest in both – and trying to sign both, at least for a short while, appeared to be a possibility. They planned to meet with both players at Boras’ offices in Los Angeles a few days later. They flew directly there after the Owners’ Meetings had wrapped.

The Nationals liked Beltre. Rizzo called their meeting with him “great.” But he didn’t fit perfectly, because acquiring him meant moving a Gold Glove third baseman – either Beltre or Ryan Zimmerman – to first.

Werth, on the other hand, would require no such shuffling. And if the attraction wasn’t mutual at the start, it had begun to feel that way by the meeting’s end.

“We really had a great meeting with Jayson,” Rizzo recalled.

The Nationals laid out for Werth the same plan Rizzo had put together for ownership. They showed him where they expected to be in one year, in three years, and in five years. They broke down future payrolls, told him about young Major Leaguers – like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond – and how they expected them to develop in a few years, along with the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

“We showed him the future of what we were trying to do here,” Rizzo said. “I think we really sold him on the fact that we wanted him. We were going to make him the center of our franchise. A guy who would teach us how to win, give us a championship pedigree, and really pave the way for other big-time players to come to us. I think the way we mapped it out to him, the way we evaluated it, and the honestly with which we spoke to him (opened his eyes).”

Werth paid close attention.

Late in the 2013 season, Werth was moving a few things at his Virginia home and found some of the notes he’d made during the free agency process. What he’d written down about the Nationals still hit home.

“(I wrote that) we would be good toward the end of my contract,” Werth said.

The success had come sooner than he anticipated at that initial meeting, but the Nationals detailed, long-term plans had made an impact on him.

“I think (being as prepared as we were at that meeting), was one of the main reasons we got him,” Rizzo said. “He had a lot of options.”

The decision

After the meeting at Boras’ Los Angeles offices, Werth and Rizzo took a walk to chat about what the team had put in front of the outfielder. Rizzo spoke then in an unfiltered manner, unloading “both barrels,” honestly. He’d known Werth a long time, so he leveled with him.

“He could’ve easily gone to Boston,” Rizzo said of the Red Sox, who had also courted Werth. “I told him, ‘You can be one of the guys in Boston, or be one of the guys in Philly, or be the guy in Washington.’ I think I appealed to his competitiveness. I knew he was that type of guy.

“It was a risky route to go, but I thought it would appeal to him.”

But the Nationals had a decision of their own to make. They knew Werth was looking for a long-term deal, and, as Rizzo has acknowledged several times, they knew they may have to pay a premium in dollars and years – relative to the more established contenders – to get him.

In that vein, they came away from the meeting impressed as well.

Jayson Werth Game 4 Walk-offThe Lerners found Werth’s meticulous nature – his unique workout regimen, his nutritional awareness and specifications – to be a positive with regard to his ability to be productive over the life of a deal that could span as many as five, six or even seven years. Because Werth detailed for them the way he planned to continue to take care of himself in the future, “We felt as comfortable as we could be about giving a guy a long-term contract,” Rizzo said.

A seventh year, and a no-trade clause were the final sticking points.

“We discussed and deliberated over it,” Rizzo said. “I knew we were losing all ties (with Werth’s other suitors). That was it. The decision was: do we hold the line and negotiate this thing out? Or do we pay and get the player?  And we decided we needed this guy at this time in our franchise, for a bunch of reasons.

“(At the time, having just seen Adam Dunn head to free agency), we had no commitments whatsoever with payroll. We knew we’d have to be careful, we knew Zimmerman’s day was coming, and how many nine-figure players can you have on one roster? Where does it end? You’ve got to make some hard decisions. (But) we really felt the connection with Werth, not only because of the relationship that I had with him going in, but because he appealed to us as a guy who was thinking about, and preparing for, his career down the road. You could see he was really focused in on five, six, seven years down the road.”

No regrets 

When the Nationals unveiled Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park the following week, the man who has become such a part of their identity revealed a little bit about how much he’d bought into the process he was about to help expedite.

“I’ve always been a big fan of an underdog,” Werth said that day. “I’m coming to be a part of something much greater than you’ve seen in this city.”

Three seasons into his contract, Werth and his teammates have already seen a sliver of that success. And a deal that was maligned by some rival executives at the time may be viewed differently now.

Given the fact that he is coming off his age-34 season with the best OPS of his career (.931), and the rising prices on the free agent market, it’s not inconceivable that – if Werth were a free agent – he could be signed to something like a four-year, $72 million contract ($18 million average annual value) this offseason.

And while the overall value of his contract can’t be determined for a few more years, looking back right now, the Nationals have no regrets.

“If we get 130 games of the Jayson Werth we’ve seen the last two years, for the next two or three years — if he’s (offensively) the guy he should be, and plays good right field and leads us in the clubhouse — then he’s exactly what we wanted.

“But I’ll say this: I would do it again, at this point, knowing what we’ve got.”

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Kicking off the offseason

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Hello everyone. Happy autumn.

November 11 is always a special day on the calendar. Veterans Day provides a solemn opportunity to reflect upon, and honor this nation’s true heroes and their lasting legacy of sacrifice. The Nationals organization is proud of our strong relationship with Veterans, and of our lasting commitment to the military as a whole.

Well, another fantastic World Series ended almost two weeks ago and we are now officially in the midst of the offseason. But the good news is that as the chillier temps roll in, we are also two weeks closer to Spring Training and Opening Day, 2014!

I’d like to congratulate the Red Sox on their remarkable season and third championship in 10 years. To ascend from last place in the AL East to World Champs in 13 short months is no small feat.

Boston’s “worst-to-first” narrative should serve as offseason fuel for every owner, general manager, executive, player and fan. We are reminded that baseball is never stagnant, and anything is possible.

It was an exciting day here in Washington when Matt Williams became the Nationals' fifth field manager since baseball returned to D.C.

It was an exciting day here in Washington when Matt Williams became the Nationals’ fifth field manager since baseball returned to D.C.

Of course, while the game’s collective eyes were on three-plus riveting rounds of October baseball, Mike Rizzo was hard at work putting the finishing touches on our list of managerial candidates.

What was noteworthy, as Mike told us later, was that he had much more trouble whittling the list down to a manageable number than compiling the original list, which contained 50-plus names.

And while I don’t think it is appropriate to comment on any individual candidacies, I do feel comfortable saying that our game is flush with distinctive managerial talent.

I enjoyed meeting, talking with and asking questions of these gentlemen. I learned something from each, and was inspired by their progressive views, enthusiasm for the game and, specifically, this job in the Nation’s Capital.

As you know, we officially named Matt Williams the Nationals’ fifth field manager on October 31. We are ecstatic to have Matt on board. Perhaps it is cliché, but Matt is the right man, at the right time, to lead this team to greater heights.

Matt’s distinguished playing career speaks for itself. A five-time All-Star who claimed four Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. Matt played in three World Series and owns a ring from arguably the best Fall Classic (2001) of the last 20 years.

In talking to Randy Knorr, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond and Tanner Roark at the Williams press conference, all four were excited for both Matt and the organization.

Ian and Tanner knew a lot about his career, but what was interesting was that they gained this knowledge as young baseball fans. All four mentioned Matt’s work as a coach on Kirk Gibson’s dynamic coaching staff in Arizona.

Matt did not wait long to integrate his family locally. In all, he spent more than four days in DC with his wife, Erika, and daughter, Madison. They even joined some friends for Halloween trick-or-treating on Capitol Hill. It was fantastic to see the Williams family so eager to explore everything that DC has to offer.

I think everyone agrees that Matt made a terrific first impression at the press conference. He worked in a few brief meetings with Mike, but Matt and his beautiful family also investigated places to live and schools for his young daughter.

  • Congratulations to Ian, who won his second consecutive Silver Slugger representing NL shortstops on Wednesday evening. I know Ian values this award because it is voted on by National League managers and coaches. As Nationals fans who watch him every day, we are all aware that Ian plays the game “the right way.” So, it nice to see that his leadership and passion for the game are admired throughout our league. Incidentally, Ian was the only infielder in baseball this season to achieve 20-homer, 20-stolen base status. Each of baseball’s other eight 20-20 players were outfielders. Ian should be very proud. Is there any doubt that he has been the best shortstop in baseball the last two seasons?
  • I was, however, disappointed to learn recently that Denard Span was denied what would have been his first Gold Glove. I just don’t see how a center fielder, who played in 153 defensive games and committed exactly ZERO errors does not break through. Denard made all the plays he had to, and more. Anyone else remember our 6-5 home win on August 14 against the Giants? With the potential tying and winning runs on base, Denard made spectacular game-ending, snow-cone catch to deny Hunter Pence of a go-ahead double. Remember, this is a defensive award and offensive production should not have influence. There really is no other way to say it other than … Denard was truly robbed!
  • Mike is currently at the General Manager’s meetings in Orlando. I suppose we can now officially declare that the Hot Stove Season is upon us. What else is remarkable is that the Winter Meetings (also in Orlando, Dec. 9-12) are now less than a month away. Rumors, trades, signings, Rule 5 Draft … let the baseball talk begin!

My optimism remains on ‘high’ for 2014! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Until we blog again from the Winter Meetings next month…

Mark

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner

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Hello everyone.

Another summer of Nationals baseball is in the books.

Eighty-six wins and a late-season charge that both captivated and frustrated fans and players alike.

I have been asked by friends and fans how a team with such a talented roster could play sub-.500 baseball for four months – breaking our hearts – and then come back and play so well during the season’s final six weeks?

All I know is there is no ‘sure thing’ in our game and we were certainly reminded of that in 2013. Some might answer that baseball’s true beauty is rooted in its humility. I’m proud of the way this team struggled back to finish the season, going 32-16 in the last seven-plus weeks – giving us back our hope for 2014.

Here are a few of my final thoughts on this season:

  • Congratulations to Ian Desmond on his second consecutive 20-homer, 20-stolen base season. It is a joy to watch a true professional play at his level, day-in and day-out. From my seat, I see that he’s quickly becoming the best shortstop in baseball.
  • Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth’s stellar season should put him on a short, short list for National League Comeback Player of the Year. His return from last year’s gruesome left wrist injury is simply remarkable. I know from personal experience how seriously and with what care he treats his health – intense rehab and workouts, and near fanatical nutrition.

  • Wilson Ramos is a difference-maker in our lineup. His ironman streak of 24 consecutive starts behind the plate with seven home runs and 24 RBI was one of the major factors in bringing this team up in the standings.
  • It was disappointing that Jordan Zimmermann was not able to capture his 20th win last week at Busch Stadium, but that takes nothing away from a terrific ‘13 season. I would expect Jordan to capture some votes in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
  • While Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak was memorable, I also think it meant he finally found his comfort level in D.C. and the National League. If you remember, Jayson coped with some of his own transition issues when he joined us in 2011 after a long tenure with the Phillies, but found his groove and became the team contributor that we see today.
  • We had our fair share of injuries and adversity in 2013. I would have loved to see one more month out of Werth, 130 total starts from Ramos, and for Bryce Harper to have avoided that right field wall at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of the season, but those were the cards we were dealt. That said, those injuries afforded Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, Ian Krol and Tanner Roark the opportunity to showcase their talents over the long stretch. Both the team and the players will benefit from those innings on the field.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank Davey Johnson for an historic run as our manager. Who will ever forget the summer of 2012, when postseason baseball returned to The Nation’s Capital for the first time since 1933? I know I won’t. Thanks Davey for helping to author memories that will never fade.
  • Lastly, I want to thank not only those reading this blog, but all of our fans that stand behind this team on a daily basis. Attendance was up over 9% this season. TV ratings were fantastic. Your passion for Nats baseball is felt all the way to the clubhouse – I’ve even heard our players talk about it. Your enthusiasm reminds us all why this game matters.  Thank you!
Jordan Zimmerman's 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Jordan Zimmermann’s 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Mike Rizzo will soon begin interviews to find our next manager. With most of our young talent in place for the next several years, and a strong pitching foundation built around an accomplished rotation, I have to think we have an attractive position to offer. I know Mike has a working list of candidates in mind, but he’s also talking to executives from around the game that he respects. This search will be extensive and we expect he’ll deliver the right man for the job.

It’s my hope that many of you will be able to meet our new skipper at NatsFest in January. We will be rolling out the specifics on our signature offseason event shortly. And MLB’s Winter Meetings (December 9-12 in Orlando, FL) will be here in short time too. Almost time to fire up the Hot Stove.

Yes, I know we all just completed a grueling 162-game season, but my optimism is already on ‘high’ for 2014.

Mark

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Opening Up

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Hello everyone.

The first week of the 2013 season is in the books.

Let’s start with what was a truly ideal Opening Day. Great weather, a regular-season record crowd of 45,274 and we beat the Marlins, 2-0. Bryce went deep in his first two plate appearances of the season! Considering Bryce was experiencing his first Opening Day in the big leagues, this was a truly memorable performance that will be talked about for years to come.

Stephen dominated on Opening Day, Gio dominated like it was 2012, Jordan more than held his own and Rafael Soriano earned a pair of saves during the season-opening, three-game sweep of the Marlins.

We did not play nearly as well during the first road trip of the season, dropping two-of-three to the hot-hitting Reds. But Saturday’s gutty win in 11 innings did feature five home runs and a stellar effort from Ross Detwiler, who was touched for just one unearned run in 6.0 innings. Ross’ performance might have been the best-pitched game of the week considering the opponent, the venue and the stakes.

  • The feel good story of the week had to have been Wilson Ramos’ two-homer game on Saturday in his first game at Great American Ball Park since injuring his knee there last May. We all know that the last few years have been remarkably trying for Wilson. That said, his boyish smile is back and he is easily in the best shape of his professional life. Wilson worked so diligently during his rehab process and it is rewarding to see him reap the benefits of that labor.
  • When the ‘13 schedule was released, this is one of the homestands that really stood out to me. The White Sox (Tuesday-Thursday) and Braves (Friday-Sunday) visit for three games apiece.
  • First, we get a rare interleague visit from the White Sox as our friend Adam Dunn returns to Nationals Park for the first time since 2010. It will be great to catch up with Adam and reminisce about his time here. Remember, he twice hit 38 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs here, so it is worth remembering just how fun it was watching Adam hit in a Nationals uniform. And on top of that, he has a beautiful family and is a class act off the field.
  • Then the Braves come to town over the weekend for three games. This NL East matchup should provide great theater, not only this weekend, but for all 18 matchups this season. We will get our first glance at the “Chipper-less” Braves, who restocked themselves by acquiring B.J. and Justin Upton during the offseason. This will be a homecoming of sorts for the Upton brothers, who likely have not played together near their home of Norfolk, Virginia since their high school days. Beyond the Uptons, I am especially looking forward to Saturday’s Strasburg-Tim Hudson matchup at Nationals Park.
  • Kudos to Denard Span (.444 on-base percentage), Kurt Suzuki (two doubles and a homer in three starts) and Tyler Clippard (has retired nine of 10 batters faced in three appearances to date) on their strong starts.

I hope to see you all at the ballpark wearing your red.

Until we blog again …

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Excitement in the Air

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Hello everyone.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that I don’t have to remind you that Opening Day is less than a week away. I’m pumped up for the season to get started, and I know all of you Nats fans are also. During my nearly month-long stay in Viera, I spoke with hundreds of our fans. The common theme down there was unbridled enthusiasm.

Now I am back here in D.C. and the messaging is identical.

Is this is the most anticipated season in D.C. sports history? While this is not for me to say, I have to think it is at the very least on a short list.

  • Friday’s 2:05 p.m. exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park will feature a Jordan Zimmermann-Andy Pettitte pitching matchup. And here’s hoping that future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s ankle allows him to play, not only Friday, but all season.
  • Interesting to hear that Davey plans to really split time behind the plate between Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Both are wildly popular in the clubhouse and among the pitching staffs. I think Davey’s direction here tells us that he is quite confident in Wilson’s knee and overall fitness.
  • Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina represent perhaps the finest bench in MLB. I know that Davey views all four as talents capable of starting. And this does not include the backup catcher, Ramos or Suzuki.
  • If you have not picked up on this yet, … Micah Owings can really HIT. I really enjoyed getting to know Micah during spring training.
  • Gazing at the schedule, it is still strange to see that we’ll be hosting the Chicago White Sox for three games from April 9-11. I keep reminding myself that this new day and age of interleague play will take some getting used to. It will also be fun to see the Detroit Tigers visit D.C. for a two-game set, May 7-8.
  • More than a few fans mentioned they are pumped to see William Howard Taft (Bill) and Teddy interact. This historically fiery relationship is one to keep an eye on all summer. I understand there has been a lot of trash talking already between the two already. Best of luck to Bill on his upcoming racing debut.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank and wish Kristina Akra, formerly of MASN, all the best on her new career path. For those that do not know, Kristina recently accepted a new job with the MLB Network. She will thrive there, but at the same time, her warm smile and enthusiasm will be missed here with the ballclub.
  • Sports Illustrated, one of the preeminent publications in our industry, came out today with their prediction of the Nationals as World Series favorites. While I’m thrilled about their optimism, as well as that of all others (like ESPN The Magazine) who have tabbed us to be successful this year, I know there is much work to be done before we get to any of that. So I’ll just echo Davey’s remarks today: “It’s better than being picked to come in last!”

See you all on Friday…

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Inter-Nationals

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Hello everyone.

Things here in camp could not be better. I think that Spring Training has picked up its pace. Everyone is getting their scheduled innings and at-bats. Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson could not be more pleased with what they are seeing.

One National who should be extremely pleased with himself is Ross Detwiler, who tossed 4.0 scoreless innings in Team USA’s win-or-go-home victory on Saturday against Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Just like last October, with his team’s season in the balance, Ross put forth his finest performance and picked up the first save of his career.

I wonder if Ross’s mental preparation for that game included thoughts about all of the brave U.S. service men and women he met during the USO Tour he took with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and teammate Craig Stammen back in December. It would not surprise me, as Ross is that type of individual.

Gio Gonzalez is the most popular man in Miami heading into his Team USA debut tomorrow.

Gio Gonzalez is the most popular man in Miami heading into his Team USA debut tomorrow.

Gio Gonzalez left Viera yesterday and joins Ross and his new teammates for the first time today. He’ll get the starting nod tomorrow night as Team USA faces Puerto Rico in Miami (8 p.m. on MLB Network). Gio will be challenged, as the Puerto Rican lineup will likely include the likes of Yadir Molina, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Mike Aviles and Alex Rios.

Of course, we are equally as proud of Roger Bernadina (Netherlands), Eury Perez (Dominican Republic), Mike Costanzo (Italy), Randolph Oduber (Netherlands), Jimmy Van Ostrand (Canada), Adrian Nieto (Spain) and Matt Torra (Italy) for their contributions for their respective WBC teams/countries. I’d say it is fitting that our organization from Nation’s Capital is well represented in this global event.

Two position players that warrant special notice are a new-look Danny Espinosa (.345 batting average) and Anthony Rendon (.296, three doubles, three home runs). Judging by their Grapefruit League performances, I feel confident that both will enjoy productive seasons.

Last week, I was pleased to be able to share dinner with Astros manager Bo Porter. We are so proud of Bo. Honestly, he was made for this job.

As Bo explained, they are in the midst of implementing a new culture there. His club will face some challenges, not the least of which include Houston’s move to the American League and stiff AL West competition from the A’s, Angels, Mariners and Rangers. I wish Bo and his Astros nothing but the best.

Of course, Bo’s departure created a well-deserved opportunity for first base coach/outfield instructor Tony Tarasco in D.C. Tony’s transition has been seamless as he has preexisting relationships with all of our homegrown players from his days as our outfield/baserunning coordinator. I know he is also thrilled to reunite with Davey, for whom he played for in Baltimore.

As always, I have enjoyed the interaction with fans down here at Space Coast Stadium. For so many reasons, there is genuine optimism in the air among our fan base. And the sheer number of our fans down here is up compared to previous springs. I think this bodes well for a busy and boisterous ’13 campaign at Nationals Park.

Speaking of which, with Opening Day just three weeks away, reports are that everything at Nationals Park is rounding into proper shape. Our dedicated staff is putting the finishing touches on various projects and polishing up the place. Everything will be ready for our final exhibition game on Friday, March 29 against the New York Yankees. The cherry blossoms may even be in bloom in left field.

Until we blog again …

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