Results tagged ‘ Mike Rizzo ’
Hello again Nats fans,
I hope everyone is well and enjoying the season thus far.
I’d like to start with last weekend’s crowds at ‘NATITUDE Park.’ I am very proud to say that over 100,000 were in attendance for the three-game set against the rival Philadelphia Phillies. D.C. baseball fans left little doubt that they take their baseball seriously. Taking two of three from the Phillies is always welcome, but to do so in front of back-to-back-to-back large crowds made the weekend memorable for all.
Being a part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was a thrill for all of us. It was our first ESPN Sunday Night game since Nationals Park opened on March 30, 2008. Everything looked fantastic, as usual, in HD and the entire atmosphere was electric.
How about Bryce’s steal of home on Sunday? Not only won’t that moment be forgotten, it’s likely to be talked about with reverence for years to come. I have had friends tell me this week that the swipe was Bryce’s “arrival” on a national stage.
I know that Jayson Werth and Bo Porter both had a hand in educating Bryce on Cole Hamels’ pickoff tendencies. That was a true team effort. All in all, everything about last weekend went perfectly, Sunday’s result and especially Jayson’s wrist injury notwithstanding.
As I write this, the Nationals are caught in a three-game losing streak. The bats have been a tad flat, but that should be temporary, especially with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche now back in the lineup. And Mike Rizzo tells me that Michael Morse and his Beast Mode are progressing quite well. We can really use that jolt in the middle of the lineup.
I’d also like to recognize the strong play of LaRoche thus far. He’s leading the club in the Triple Crown categories: a .316 batting average, five homers and 19 RBI. After an injured left shoulder hindered his play last season, I am glad to he is back this season and playing at the levels he expects for himself. Rizzo calls Adam a two-way player. In my mind, he is a three-way player, as there is also no finer gentleman or community advocate in our clubhouse.
Adam’s homer in the ninth inning on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh was the 1,000th home run hit by the Nationals since arriving in Washington in 2005. I remember being at the Nationals first game in Philadelphia and watching Terrmel Sledge launch our first homer at Citizens Bank Park. Why does that initial game in April of 2005 seem like such a long time ago? And at the same time, why does it seem like yesterday? I suppose that is the nature of this game.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the continued excellence of Steve McCatty’s starting rotation. Collectively, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are the best rotation in the game right now. I don’t think anyone can objectively argue this point. Consider, in 16 the last games, the rotation has posted 15 quality starts and allowed one run or less 8 times. That’s sustained dominance.
Tonight, Strasburg takes the mound at PNC Park. Here’s to this three-game slide being temporary!
The NHL playoffs, and the Capitals series with the New York Rangers, also have my attention.
Game 6 was really something last night. I attended the game with Drew Storen as my guest. Drew along with many of his teammates, are really enjoying the Caps and their march through the Eastern Conference. Incidentally, Drew’s elbow is feeling fantastic and he is very anxious to get back on the mound.
As for the game, Ovechkin’s early goal really set the stage for loud evening at the Verizon Center. In between the pipes, Braden Holtby played with a grace and poise well beyond his years. He’s been just fantastic.
After further review, I just noted that the Nationals play in Cincinnati on Sat. at 7:05 p.m. And the Caps play Game 7 that same night at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m.
Nearly simultaneous starts, again? That’s two straight weekends! Not that I am counting!
We will start at our homestand Monday night against the San Diego Padres. Please come out and support the team. They are playing great ball and as we all know they are fun to watch.
Let’s go Caps!
Let’s go Nats!
Please enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day!
Nationals EVP and General Manager Mike Rizzo will be speaking at the National Press Club luncheon on Friday, May 4, as the organization kicks off NATITUDE Weekend at Nats Park.
Nationals fans are invited to attend and hear directly from Rizzo about the club’s fast start and the young and exciting players that are taking the field this season. The Press Club luncheon will run from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., and tickets are still available. If you’re interested in attending, you can make advance reservations by calling (202) 662-7501 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost of luncheon admission is $19 for National Press Club members, $30 for their guests, and $37 for the general public. Tickets must be purchased at time of reservation.
Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray issued a proclamation declaring May 4-6, the dates of the Nationals first home series of the year against the rival Philadelphia Phillies. What better way to ring in the biggest home series of the year to date than by listening to your GM talk about Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and the rest of the 2012 Nats?
See Mayor Gray’s proclamation below, and get fired up for NATITUDE Weekend with Mike Rizzo at the NPC on Friday!
Hello again Nationals fans,
As I talked about in my last blog, Dodger Stadium is one of the iconic venues in all of sports, and it is fitting that a 19 year-old kid from Las Vegas will be making his much-anticipated big league entrance on this stage.
As “Hollywood” as this script seems, this was not how it was supposed to happen. Sure, the scenic backdrop, the 50,000-plus fans and the A-list celebs will be fantastic for the history books, but Bryce is here tonight on someone else’s terms.
Unfortunately, Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder soreness has prompted a DL stint. Thankfully, this won’t be a prolonged absence for Ryan, but it does leave an immediate void in Davey’s lineup.
So, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson talked. And they talked again. Ultimately, it was determined that they needed another left-handed bat in the lineup, and an outfielder if possible.
So, Mike went to chilly, Rochester, NY and watched Bryce play three games. He saw enough to know that this is what he had to do. He diverted from his plan. But how many of us see our best laid plans executed exactly as we scripted? Not nearly enough. That’s just reality.
So, when Mike called me yesterday with the news that he planned to recall Bryce on Saturday, I was taken aback. Like most, I did not see this happening so quickly.
Mike told me that Bryce was the best fit for what Davey needed, especially with Zimmerman and Michael Morse on the shelf.
He also told me that Bryce’s development plan is still not finished. There is a good chance that he’ll need more time, more reps and more at-bats at Triple-A. But that is a discussion for another day.
Bryce should not be seen as a panacea. He’s not our run-production savior. That would be unfair.
But Mike does think – and I agree – that Bryce can provide our roster a healthy jolt.
So, let’s see what he can do. Let’s dig deeper than his batting average, his power output and instead keep our eyes open for his total game – the base running, the defense, the throwing arm. Let’s resist the urge to make grand conclusions based on ridiculously small sample sizes.
But, at the same time, let’s have fun. On a personal level, I am thrilled that I am in Los Angeles and will be at Dodger Stadium tonight.
It all starts for Bryce tonight, fittingly in Tinseltown.
The first page of what we believe will be a special Hollywood script.
Up goes the curtain: it’s time to enjoy the show.
In a great moment from the baseball classic Bull Durham, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, the young pitcher who has just reached the big leagues, drops the following line in a television interview:
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… sometimes, it rains. Think about it.”
Today in Viera, we didn’t have a win or a loss, but we got it all in before the rain. That’s right, we had ourselves a tie, an option that Laloosh never offered, and one which baseball fans are not used to considering.
Here’s how it all went down. The Nationals plated an early run, thanks to an Ian Desmond leadoff double and a Jason Michaels two-out, RBI-single. The Cardinals pushed in front with a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh. The home side trailed 3-1 into the bottom of the ninth, when Koyie Hill dropped a high foul pop off the bat of Tyler Moore, giving the Nationals prospect new life. He took advantage, singling up the middle, and Carlos Maldonado followed by swatting a deep drive to the opposite field over the wall to tie the game at three apiece.
As it turned out, Davey Johnson had told Cardinals manager Mike Matheny around the sixth inning, when the game was tied at 1-1, that he only had enough pitching on hand to go nine innings. Matheny acknowledged that, and the two agreed that the game would go no further, no matter the score. And so, let it go down in the record books that the Nationals and Cardinals played to a 3-3 draw Wednesday, one of the anomolies of Spring Training.
Of course, ties aren’t the only aspect unique to Spring Training. It also provides some great opportunities for fans of the game that they can’t always take advantage of during the regular season. The ability to be up close and personal with those who play and report on the game is truly unparalleled, even at the Minor League level. While fans are generally most captivated by the players themselves, there are a handful of other figures around the game that can generate the same level of excitement. One of those individuals is MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.
We saw Gammons yesterday in Lake Buena Vista, as he took in the 5-2 Nationals victory over the Braves. That was when we discovered he would be traveling to Viera today to interview Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for MLB Network. We were excited to get his take on the buzz and excitement surrounding the organization this spring. After all, when Peter Gammons talks, you listen. A three-time Sportswriter of the Year recipient and J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner (given by the BBWAA), there is no greater authority on the modern game. We asked if he might share some of his first impressions of the 2012 Nationals so far in Spring Training, and he was more than happy to do so. Here is a glimpse of what he had to say.
“We all realize there’s a great deal of talent here,” Gammons said of Nationals camp. “I think the thing that’s really struck me, other than watching batting practice, is the job Mike Rizzo’s done in getting really good players. I hate to say ‘complimentary players’, because it’s an insult – anyone who makes the big leagues is a good player. But to be able to go out and get a Mark DeRosa, to have Brad Lidge, to have Chad Durbin, they’re some of the best people you could ever meet in your life. They’re rocks for the young players to follow.”
Look for much more from Gammons including which Nationals he expects to break out in 2012, which minor leaguer not named Harper to keep an eye on, and which team from recent history he believes this year’s team compares to best, all in the first Inside Pitch of the season, coming in April at Nationals Park.
The Nationals have another home day game tomorrow, taking on the Astros at 1:05pm. Here are their results to date:
vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0
@ Houston – L, 3-1
vs. Houston – L, 10-2
@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1
@ Atlanta – W, 5-2
vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3
vs. Houston – 1:05pm
Overall Record: 2-2-1
Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2012 Grapefruit League Season from Viera, bringing his own unique perspective of the goings-on at Nats Spring Training.
Bags in hand, my wife Judy and I arrived yesterday evening in Florida.
This morning, I pulled into Space Coast Stadium very early. I was struck by the obviously warmer-than-DC temps, but honestly it was the optimism in the air that set this arrival apart from all my other spring visits.
Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson’s work began here almost two weeks ago. They officially put the pitchers and catchers through their paces for the first time on Feb. 21st. But, from all the reports I received from the ground, the vast majority of players reported to camp early and in great shape. It is obvious that their 2012 preparations had begun months earlier.
Today at Noon, we host Georgetown University at Space Coast Stadium for the second time. What a great opportunity for the young Hoyas. I bet the memories of today’s contest last a lifetime. When this opportunity was raised to host the Hoyas, we accepted immediately. It was the perfect chance to give back and help grow, in our own small way, the game of baseball at the college level in the DC area.
As a baseball nut, I have always noticed some of the MLB-NCAA matchups at the beginning of the spring. Through the years, the Red Sox have often hosted Boston College and the same with the Marlins and the Miami Hurricanes.
I’m also excited that I’ll get to see Matt Purke pitch for the first time. For those of you who do not know, Matt was our fourth overall selection in last year’s Draft. A left-handed pitcher, Purke was a first-round pick the season prior by Texas, but chose to return to TCU for his sophomore season. I am anxious to see him in action, because he is quite talented, from what I understand.
Then on Saturday, the official Grapefruit League season begins with a road game against the Astros. In a true twist of fate, we will face Livan Hernandez, who signed with Houston in late January. I wanted to make sure that I crossed paths with Livan this spring. Not only is he an obvious favorite of mine to watch perform (it’s that changeup!), but I want to find him and thank him for his two terms of service with the Nationals. I don’t think any true Nationals fan will ever forget him. Livan threw our first pitch. He won more games than anyone in team history. And he did it with flair, charisma and most importantly, a smile on his face. I will truly miss him as a member of the Nats.
Until we next blog …
John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.
Another beautiful day today, highs in the low 80s. Potentially 88 on Saturday for the Grapefruit League opener at Houston.
Busy day, so let’s get started …
*Davey Johnson has been asked many times in the last months months to list some similarities between Ryan Zimmerman and his former teammate, Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson. Davey’s answer ALWAYS starts with “they both have soft hands.”
*Enjoyed having Danny Knobler from CBSsports.com visit us this week. He wrote a piece yesterday about Bryce Harper and the Nationals eye toward winning. You can read the piece here.
To me the best part of the article is when Knobler, who covered the Tigers for years, asks Bryce about Al Kaline. Bryce then proceeds to ace his history test, letting Knobler in on a “secret” that I’d bet no current player in any camp outside of perhaps Lakeland knew. Kaline won a batting title at the age of 20! Bryce’s reverence for the game of baseball and its history is remarkable and rare, especially among modern players, many of which remember watching Cal Ripken as a kid playing third base for the Orioles.
*I had dinner with Davey, Mike Rizzo, Harolyn Cardozo and Mike Gazda on Sunday night at Amici’s, which is located only about 2-3 miles from Space Coast Stadium. Great authentic Italian food, excellent hospitality and the company was even better. Around the middle of the meal, Mike Rizzo really got Davey going, so we all were privy to various stories about his ’86 Mets, Sadaharu Oh, Ted Williams and even John Havlicek, who is a good fishing buddy of his. Davey can spin a tale like few I have ever met, he has just a fantastic cadence that really draws the listener in. I wish I had that skill.
*On Saturday, the Nationals trek to Kissimmee for their Grapefruit League opener and will face the club’s all-time leader in wins (44) … our buddy and yours … Livan Hernandez! While it will be a tad strange to be on the other side of Livo’s arsenal of changeups, slurves and swingback fastballs, we cannot pretend this has not happened before. Between his two stints in DC, Livo pitched against the Nationals while repping the D-Backs, Rockies, Twins and Mets.
We are all excited for Livan and know that he will be an excellent resource, both on the rubber and in the clubhouse, for a young Astros ballclub.
*Well, MASN and our fans will see Stephen Strasburg and lefthander J.A. Happ square off on Sunday. After a long off-season, it’ll be great to see Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo back in Viera for MASN’s debut telecast of the season.
*Other pitching probables for the Nationals: Mon. at NYM (LHP John Lannan), Tue. at ATL (LHP Gio Gonzalez).
Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2012 Grapefruit League Season from Viera, bringing his own unique perspective of the goings-on at Nats Spring Training.
Good afternoon Nats Fans,
I’m packing my bags today to head down to Viera and Space Coast Stadium in a few days for what I think will be one of the most competitive and interesting training camps in baseball over the next few weeks. Honestly, I wish I left a week ago to get down there. I am ready for some baseball.
The competition to make the 25-man roster, the starting lineup, and especially the five-man rotation will be exciting. The fact that just about everyone showed up early this spring is a good indication of how eager they all are to impress Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson. I’ll also be interested to see the smaller, more condensed and personalized camp, which includes 54 players.
I’m also looking forward to congratulating Ryan Zimmerman face-to-face on his contract extension. He is a special person, a fan favorite, and certainly a guy for whom I have great respect. Ryan and I traded text messages early Sunday morning after Mike Rizzo told me the negotiations were completed late Saturday night. I told him how excited I was personally that he has the chance to wear his hometown Washington Nationals jersey for – what all Nats fans would love to see – the rest of his career.
I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall when Ryan made a call to his mom and dad telling them the contract negotiations had been finalized. I know he has always hoped that he could continue to play in front of his family and friends, and I know his parents, Keith and Cheryl, are thrilled.
I can tell you from behind the scenes that Ryan’s first priority in extending his contract was the ability to see his job through. He has been the cornerstone of our building plan in Washington, and we believe will be an even more important one in the team’s leap to being a contender. In the next few years, we should see our planning begin to pay off, and Ryan’s leadership and performance will be critical to it.
Hats off to Ryan, his family, his agent, to Mike Rizzo and his staff, and to Nationals fans everywhere.
Ryan’s extended contract means we will all see him in the Nationals lineup, where he belongs, for a very long time.
Hello everybody. What a great week to be a Nats fan!
Yesterday was Groundhog Day. With Bill Murray’s 1993 classic movie in mind, I would like to relive some of the excitement that the last week has offered.
*Last Thursday, Jan. 26, we signed one of the era’s best closers to pitch for us in the MIDDLE INNINGS.
*Earlier this week, Baseball America announced that they have rated our minor league system as the finest in game.
*And just yesterday, we agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson on a one-year contract.
Let’s take a look at these accomplishments by starting with our newest pitchers, Mr. Lidge and Mr. Jackson.
From my understanding, Brad had multiple offers. But at the end of the day, he liked the story we were writing and his place in that storyline. His four years with the Phillies gave Brad a good vantage point to watch the evolution of our ballclub. Brad is a smart guy and I think his instincts told him that it is an opportune time to join the upstart Nationals.
While on the mound, Brad can dominate with his slider alone, but I expect his professionalism, demeanor and experience will influence our entire pitching staff on a nightly basis.
By inking Jackson yesterday, we added one of the finest players on this year’s free agent market. It is remarkable that Edwin has already accomplished so much in this game and he just turned 28 in September.
Edwin is perhaps best known for throwing a no-hitter on June 25, 2010, but his talents have been well known long before his historic night. He throws hard and HARDER. His potential is enormous, but perhaps his most prized quality is durability. This is a 30-plus start, 200-inning guy. This is a consistent tool at Manager Davey Johnson‘s disposal.
With Jackson, we have unrivaled depth (eight quality starting pitchers), power (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler and Gorzelanny all throw well into the mid-90s) and youth (seven of the eight starters are in their 20s) in what is now considered the hardest-throwing rotation in the National League.
As for the key ranking by Baseball America, it was a gratifying moment for our franchise.
When I got the call from Mike Rizzo, I could hear the pride in his voice as he shared the news. I couldn’t help but think that this type of independent affirmation would mean a lot to any baseball executive, but even more so to a third-generation scout like Mike, who still talks shop with his father, Phil, on a daily basis.
When Baseball America ranked us 30th in 2007, we deserved it. We were in a big hole. We had inherited what was no better than an expansion franchise. Many of our own evaluators called it worse. To go from worst to first in four years is something that we’re all immensely proud of. While many of our fans have watched us put together the pieces of our Major League club, the work that’s really going to pay off for the team in the long term was going on behind the scenes, down in the minors.
We did not officially win any games this week, but it certainly feels good to know that Baseball America - the publication widely regarded as baseball’s bible – has recognized and lauded the stellar work of our scouting and player development.
So, I ask that you indulge me as I share in Mike’s pride and offer my heartfelt thanks to him, his scouts and his player development personnel. You guys are the best.
Hello everyone. I suppose a “Happy New Year” is still in order as this is my first blog of 2012.
We are only 26 days shy of pitchers and catchers reporting to Viera for Spring Training. It really is coming quick.
But not quick enough!
If our fans are half as excited about ’12 as I am, we’re in for a loud and enjoyable summer at Nationals Park.
With this first blog of ’12, I want to talk about Mike Rizzo’s last major strike of 2011. Namely, the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez from the A’s on Dec. 23.
We are thrilled to have Gio join our family. We’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about him as a pitcher, teammate and a person.
I am excited to meet Gio, as he is flying into town this afternoon. Later tonight, I’ll meet him and his family at the Caps-Bruins game at the Verizon Center.
Here is what we know. Gio is a front-line starter. Those do not grow on trees.
What’s better: Gio is a 26 year-old front-line starter who throws left-handed. Those too don’t grow on trees. And if they did, they’d reside only in the nation’s finest botanical gardens.
This is a 26 year-old pitcher who won 31 games and posted a 3.17 ERA for the A’s the last 2 seasons. While pitching for Oakland in 2010-11, Gio’s A’s went 36-29 (.554). When anyone else started for the Athletics in those same two seasons, they finished 119-140 (.459).
A South Florida native, Gio’s return to the East Coast and his exposure to our growing fan base will provide his system (and ours) a healthy jolt. Couple these factors with a good-old fashioned pennant race and there is good reason to believe Gio’s talents can rise to new heights.
Gio, 26, joins John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny as left-handed options in Davey Johnson’s rotation stable. Not bad weapons to have, especially in lieu of the annual 72 intradivision contests featuring either Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Logan Morrison or Chase Utley.
This was hardly one of those spur-of-the-moment trades your read about from baseball’s glory days. I know Mike Rizzo and his baseball ops brain trust were working on this deal for at least two months. I sat in on a good number of the internal discussions, some of which took place during the Winter Meetings in Dallas.
It was tough to give up A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock. All four of these youngsters possess considerable talents that made them desirable, not only by the A’s, but numerous other teams. And they are fantastic young men. We’ll be watching from afar where those talents take them and we thank them for their efforts and wish them nothing but the best. That said, I am glad they will be in the American League, at least in the immediate future!
As all our fans know, we have placed an inordinate emphasis on scouting and player development since coming on the scene in 2006. This is precisely what we had in mind upon crafting our organizational philosophy.
Think about the Gio trade. As stated, we (begrudgingly) dealt four talented players to Oakland. But digging deeper reminds us that none of the four were acquired with premium draft picks. Rather, they were 4th- (Cole, Norris), 10th- (Milone) and 41st-round (Peacock) selections.
Gio Gonzalez will toe the rubber for your Nationals during the first home series of the season (April 12-15 vs. Cincinnati) with the collective wisdom of our scouts and the diligence of our development staff.
So, I salute Mike and his various staffs for “a job well done,” which was essentially six years in the making. Yes, six years.
Remember, Brad Peacock was scouted and drafted in 2006.
Until our next blog meeting …
There is something refreshingly cathartic about the cycle of years and seasons. The end of the old always brings with it the beginning of a new era, another chance to be better than before. While this is true of every baseball season, it is no stretch to say that the buzz — the excitement, the energy, the hope — that is floating around the 2012 Nationals is unlike anything that Washington has seen since the team moved to The District in 2005.
This hope does not come without good reason. There is the prospect of a healthy Stephen Strasburg electrifying the top of the rotation every five days. He will be followed by two more dynamic, budding stars in Jordan Zimmermann and the recently acquired Gio Gonzalez, all three 26 years-old or younger. Solid, sturdy veterans Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan will be in the mix with the promising Ross Detwiler, bringing stability to the back end of the starting staff.
From there, another set of power arms takes over in the bullpen, led by 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard and anchored by closer Drew Storen, who in his rookie campaign became just the second National ever to notch 40 saves in a season. Add in flamethrower Henry Rodriguez, who regularly touches triple digits on the radar gun, and you’ve got three more exciting arms, again all under the age of 27.
In the lineup, the Nationals will look for a healthy year from Ryan Zimmerman. DC’s under-the-radar superstar began last season hot before suffering an abdominal strain that hampered his production throughout the year. Still just 27 years of age, the third baseman will look to return to his form of the previous five seasons, during which he averaged 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 89 RBI while playing in an average of 145 games.
Jayson Werth, meanwhile, will look to reestablish himself as the player who received MVP votes in each of his two seasons prior to joining the Nationals. While he reached the 20-home run plateau for the fourth consecutive season in 2011, a return to form across the board in his numbers would make the middle of the Nationals lineup that much more formidable to opposing pitching staffs.
Joining that pair will be 2011’s breakout star, Michael Morse. The numbers don’t lie — Morse hit .303 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 95 RBI and a .550 slugging percentage. But to understand just how good Morse’s season was, consider the following: he had more doubles and home runs than Troy Tulowitzki, and a higher slugging percentage than Albert Pujols (see for yourself). In fact, besides the NL MVP, Morse was the only player in the National League to bat over .300 with 35 or more doubles, 30 or more home runs and a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The return of “The Beast” to the middle of the lineup should be a welcome sight for Nats fans everywhere.
Another returnee for 2012 who impressed last year was rookie infielder Danny Espinosa, who will look to build on the power potential he flashed during his 21-home run performance last season. Coupled with the slick glove work he often showed at second base, the former Long Beach State shortstop may just prove he owns that rare combination of being a versatile middle infielder with pop from both sides of the plate. Oh, and he won’t turn 25 until after Opening Day.
Even after trading four prospects to the Oakland Athletics in the Gonzalez deal, there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, ready to contribute in the future. Top prospects like lefthander Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon are poised to join Bryce Harper in the years to come, but that discussion is for another time.
While the future remains very bright for this team, make no mistake, the window has officially opened. With the Gonzalez trade, EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo not only added one of the premiere left-handed power arms in the game, he announced that he is not waiting for some distant tomorrow to contend.
“Gio’s ample talents are well known and chronicled,” said Rizzo after inking the lefty to a five-year extension on Sunday. “Now both Gio and our fans can shift their focus and excitement to his debut in DC knowing that their relationship won’t be ending in the short term.”
Of course, the road will not be easy. With the flurry of acquisitions made by the new Miami Marlins, the NL East has improved to the point of challenging its American League counterpart as the toughest division in baseball. And speaking of that AL East, the Nats will draw the perennial powerhouse in Interleague Play this year, making the schedule that much tougher. The good news is, should Washington survive this gauntlet and (gasp!) force its way into the picture for the potentially expanding postseason field, this young Nationals squad will have already faced the toughest teams in the league.
If you’ve been following the Nats from the beginning, your best days certainly appear to be ahead of you. If 2012 marks the beginning of your fandom, then welcome. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.