Results tagged ‘ Nationals ’

The List: 50 things to look forward to in 2011

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates.

 

Hey NatsTown. Thanks for again stopping by.

 

Big weekend down here. Two more wins, including Saturday’s 6-5 comeback win over the Yankees in front of a packed house at Space Coast Stadium. We are now 10-5 on the Spring. Only the Braves (11-5) have a better record in the Grapefruit League. Feels good! We lost today’s home matchup with the Tigers, 4-1, but Jason Marquis continued to pitch very well. I think we are beginning to see the “real” Jason Marquis now.

 

Want to change things up today. Peek just about anywhere on television or at your favorite newsstand and you’ll quickly notice that our society is fixated on lists.

Honestly, who does not appreciate a good list after all? They are fun, thought provoking and stir debate.

 

With this in mind, I am going to list 50 “things” I am interested in, excited about or intrigued by entering the 2011 season.

 

This list is in no particular order, but I hope this spurs some dialogue and/or discussion among your fellow Nationals fans and friends.

Please feel free to send along your own admissions.

 

Let’s get started …

 

1.      Opening Day. Packed house, a big win over the Braves. I had to list this first, right?

2.      Jordan Zimmermann’s evolution in first complete season since having Tommy John surgery.

3.      The buzz at Nationals Park when Henry Rodriguez hits triple digits on the radar gun.

4.      The number of ways Jim Riggleman can pencil in Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche in the 3-4-5 slots. Or will it be just one?

5.      Witness day-to-day Pudge’s march toward 3000 hits.

6.      The new food options opening up during the season at Nationals Park. This won’t be a small list.

7.      How much has Screech worked out this offseason? Will he again be svelte Screech?

8.      Our outfield defense. You have to think it will be really strong under almost every alignment Rizzo and Riggleman come up with.

9.      Ian Desmond’s defense. With a year of maturity and experience under his belt, and LaRoche’s vacuum-like glove at first base, how many fewer errors will he make without compromising his elite range.

10.  Will Sean Burnett continue to be as good a left-handed middle reliever as there is in MLB? I bet he will be with continued good health.

11.  Jayson Werth’s professionalism and its affect on our clubhouse. And how his presence in the middle of our lineup will positively affect our run production.

12.  Roger Bernadina or Nyjer Morgan, who will have more bunt hits.

13.  Who will lead the team in hustle hits (aka infield hits)? My bet is on Ian Desmond. But watch out for Danny Espinosa, plus he gets more than half his at-bats from the left side.

14.  When will we see Rick Ankiel’s legendary outfield arm pay dividends for the first time. Cannot wait.

15.  Will Tyler Clippard stick with “Peaches” as his intro song. Hope so.

16.  How will Jim Riggleman use his bench, which is as talented and as deep as we have known here.

17.  How many pinch homers will Matt Stairs hit? How many of those will be game-changers.

18.  Does Michael Morse put it all together? His prospects look good, don’t they?

19.  How noticeable and tangible will our renewed emphasis on baserunning be? Should be really fun seeing a lot of first-to-third, first-to-home on a double, etc.

20.  See Livan throw a ‘Bugs Bunny’ changeup that registers in the low 60s on the radar gun?

21.  Will Ryan Zimmerman win his 3rd straight Silver Slugger?

22.  Can Ryan rightfully reclaim his Gold Glove? I bet “yes.” Having Mr. LaRoche as a target won’t hurt.

23.  Interested to see Wilson Ramos’ arm and, for kicks and giggles, ask Bob Boone how it compares to Pudge’s when he was 23 years-old.

24.  With his new mechanics in mind, watch Ross Detwiler take the next step in his career (so far, so good this spring)

25.  Watch who gets the majority of our saves.

26.  Good weather, maybe highs in the 70s with plenty of sun, for Nats Fest on Wed., March 30.

27.  Want to watch the Mel Antonen, Tom Davis, Dave Johnson and Phil Wood pre pre-game show on MASN from 5-6:30pm weeknights. Also excited about Charlie and Dave on 106.7-WJFK FM. Good to be back on FM again!

28.  Multiple All-Stars for the Nationals for the first time since 2005 (Livan, Chad Cordero).

29.  With a small lead in hand, see who will pitch the 9th inning on Opening Day against the Braves.

30.  Can Collin Balester clone his Sept. 2010 performance and reproduce it in 2011?

31.  How many home runs will Bryce Harper hit in the minor leagues?

32.  See who Mike Rizzo and his talented network of scouts pluck with the 6th and 23rd-overall selections in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

33.  Excited to experience F.P. Santangelo on MASN 10 times in 10 days during a May road trip.

34.  Time (via a stopwatch) how long it takes our fans to fall in love with Jayson Werth and Jerry Hairston, Jr. Oh, and Todd Coffey and his sprint?

35.  Further good health and prosperity for Jesus Flores, who deserves both.

36.  Fewer trips to the mound for Steve McCatty as our starting pitchers consistently go 7 innings.

37.  Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond become the best and most athletic middle infield tandem in the NL. Heck, why stop there. Let’s say best in MLB.

38.  Adam LaRoche to be named as one of the sneaky-good signings of the 2010-11 offseason.

39.  Perhaps have a young opposing player swing twice when seeing a vintage Tyler Clippard changeup for the first time.

40.  With most of Taiwan watching, have Chien-Ming Wang make the first of his 20+ starts for us in May.

41.  Read about an opposing player like Chipper Jones, Chase Utley or David Wright lauding the consistent hustle and effort of your 2011 Washington Nationals.

42.  Require a calculator to tally the number of errorless games we string together in 2011.

43.  Watch to see how we grow as a franchise through the prism of social media.

44.  See if Nyjer Morgan can regain his 2009 Mojo.

45.  Watch Danny Espinosa homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.

46.  Have Livan Hernandez rightfully claim his first Gold Glove.

47.  See Tom Gorzelanny make 30 starts and regain his status as a double digit-game winner.

48.  See winning records and postseason berths in Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown, Auburn, Viera and the Dominican Republic.

49.  Be present as Stephen Strasburg pitches in mid-September, a la Jordan Zimmermann in Sept. 2010.

50.  Will Teddy win? I sure hope so! Maybe I’ll ask Todd Coffey if he can work with Teddy on the fine art of sprinting.

 

Again, please don’t hold back. Send in some of your own ideas.

Thanks so much for your time and continued enthusiasm for the Nationals.

17 more days until the opener…

 

I will be in touch again soon.

 

Mascot Madness


Screech victory.jpgFor those interested in witnessing history, be sure to check out FOX 5′s Annual Mascot Madness coverage as Washington Nationals mascot Screech sets out to defend his back-to-back titles against regional mascots who think they have what it takes to defeat him on the basketball court.

 

This year, Screech will attempt to do what no other mascot has ever done: THREE-PEAT a championship title win.

 

While other birds may have flown south this past winter, Screech stayed right here in the Nation’s Capital and underwent a rigorous Rocky Balboa-style training program, which included running the stairs at Nationals Park with his personal trainerTeddy.

 

Recently, the Washington Wizards’ G-Wiz, the only other mascot to ever win a Mascot Madness title, hosted his birthday party and a slam dunk contest at the Verizon Center.

Of course those in the mascot community knew this was G-Wiz’ way of getting a last-minute look at Screech’s b-ball skills, but like the true champion he is, Screech rose to the occasion and was one of the few mascots to put the ball through the net

 

Watch video of Screech flying through the air and pulling off the one-wing jam!

 

With that superb performance in mind, there’s little doubt that the competition will all be targeting our favorite eagle, so be sure to check out FOX 5 for exclusive coverage of Mascot Madness to watch Screech bring home another title.

Day 25 in Viera

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates

Good afternoon NatsTown. Time to quickly blog again leading into tonight’s game against the Astros here at Space Coast Stadium. Of course, we are on MASN the next 2 days, so I urge everyone to tune in and gain a glimpse of your 2011 Nationals.

If you can join us at Space Coast Stadium tonight, don’t be late. At 5:57 pm, NASA is launching a Delta 4 – NROL27 Rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral. So, it should be up in the air right around the time the National Anthem is played. Details on this rocket launch can be found here: http://spaceflightnow.com/tracking/index.html.

The winning ways have largely continued. Since my last entry, your Nationals are 2-1.

An 8-4 win on Wednesday at Florida was quickly followed by a 6-5 home victory over the Mets. Last night in Kissimmee, the Astros scored late to edge us, 6-5.

Let’s start with Wednesday in Jupiter. This really was our best game of the spring. As you might have guessed, the winning vibe began with the starting pitcher. Vintage Jason Marquis. His 4.0 scoreless innings included 3 strikeouts and, more importantly, a ton of ground balls. Marquis was followed by Todd Coffey, who was in control, striking out the side in the 5th inning. He has looked strong this spring. More strikeouts than you’d expect too. The bats matched the arms as we led, 7-0, after 7 innings. Danny Espinosa went 3-for-3 with a double, his second homer of the season and 4 RBI. Michael Morse had 2 more hits and a walk. Not much went wrong in this contest.

Thursday afternoon’s 6-5 victory had a familiar feel, that is until things got a tad hairy in the 9th inning. But no matter, as Tyler Clippard recorded the game’s final 2 outs to push the winning streak to 4. Chad Gaudin turned some heads with his start. In 5.0 scoreless innings, he struck out 6. Our 3-run first inning was highlighted by Adam LaRoche’s bags-loaded 2-run (automatic) double to center field. Adam’s ball would have been a grand slam in most parks, but a fierce cross wind knocked that ball down a bit.

I was not able to attend last night’s game at Houston, more good pitching from the arms of Collin Balester and Cole Kimball, who tossed 1.0 scoreless inning apiece. At the plate, Jerry Hairston had 3 hits in the loss. Can’t win them all.

I just had our PR official John Dever run the numbers on our starting pitchers through 12 games. In those 12 games to date, our 8 starters have combined on a 2.60 ERA, 12 walks and 32 strikeouts in 38.0 innings. I am quite sure that Mike Rizzo, Jim Riggleman, Steve McCatty, Teddy, Screech and our loyal and ever-growing fan base would gladly take those numbers over 162 games.

We know it is not that simple, but it is hard not to like what we are seeing. I get the feeling we have some pitching depth to work with. Let’s maintain some standard health and I think there is something to work with.

Looking toward next week, we are expecting ESPN and the good folks from Baseball Tonight to bring their bus to Viera and Space Coast Stadium on Tuesday, March 15. I cannot wait to ask Tim Kurkjian what it has been like living the life of John Madden for the last 3 weeks or so. No doubt that Big John put on hundreds of thousands of miles on his Madden Cruiser, but he never had to bunk with John Kruk! It will be good for the ESPN folks to get a first-hand look at our guys (even though we play that evening at the Mets).

As you read various season previews, you should be aware that most of the national baseball writers who choose to write about us do so after watching us play road games. Viera is a bit more isolated than most of the other camps in/around Florida (and Phoenix for that matter). Writers understandably like to cluster their visits. See 6 or 7 camps in a week. They like those types of ratios, as do their employers. This keeps travel costs down.

One of the flaws in this practice is that these writers rarely (if ever) get to see our “A” lineup unless they trek to Viera. At this juncture of the spring (we are nearing the midpoint), you will not see Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Nyjer Morgan, Pudge, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, etc. playing together on the road. And when you think about it, why would Jim Riggleman exhaust them? It does not make sense. Each of these guys will play in multiple road contests, but these road appearances are staggered for a reason.

So, I offer this info so that you gain some perspective when reading some of the season previews that are readily available all over the internet.

We are expecting a lot of fans and friends to visit us this weekend, mostly from DC. No doubt that Saturday’s Yankees game is a big drawing card. The weather looks good for tomorrow, sunny and in the mid-70s. Cannot wait.

I will be in touch early next week. Please have a great weekend…

Day 21 in Viera: Starting pitchers continue to roll

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates.

 

Good afternoon NatsTown. Yet another picturesque morning in Viera. Looking forward to hosting the Astros today at Space Coast Stadium.

Before we delve into baseball talk, many of our fans who have made the trip down to Spring Training have been stopping by before and after games to say “hello.”

Please know, we love seeing you all and want to impress on everyone just how much we appreciate your never-ending support of the Nationals. It does not go unnoticed.

Thank you!

We are just coming off a big Grapefruit League weekend, including Sat.’s 10-8 victory in a slugfest over the Yankees. It is always interesting to play the Yankees, always fun to beat the Yankees. With 27 World Championships, they are the standard against which teams measure themselves. Sure, we know Saturday’s win came in a Grapefruit League contest and we did not face some of their star players.

But our lineup fared well against C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain, two mainstays of their rotation and bullpen, respectively. Ryan Zimmerman (2 doubles, 2 RBI) and Ian Desmond (2 hits, RBI) both appeared to be in midseason form. And what a thrill for Jeff Frazier, who grew up in New Jersey, to homer against his hometown Bronx Bombers. And with family and friends in the stands? Great story for Jeff.

Despite some daunting skies in the late morning, we hosted a huge and boisterous crowd of 6,250 on Sunday at Space Coast Stadium. That made for a fun atmosphere reminiscent of a regular-season game. Kenny G. performed a rendition of the National Anthem that culminated with a 60-second note near the end of the tune. Everyone was simply wowed by the performance. I won’t forget it.

Although our bats stalled against the Braves, I think it is fair to say that Ross Detwiler’s superb outing is the key performance going forward. Ross looked very strong as he struck out 5 in 3.0 scoreless innings. And this was a Braves lineup that featured the vast majority of their big names (Heyward, Chipper, Uggla, Prado). I know Steve McCatty was beaming afterwards about the outing.

Don’t look now, but Detwiler, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Yunesky Maya and Jordan Zimmermann have combined to allow just one earned run in 16.0 innings this spring. These performances are in stark contrast to last spring, when the majority of our pitching staff struggled in Florida. So, things appear to be trending in the right direction on the pitching front. Oh, and those numbers do not include 4.0 businesslike innings out of Livan in a Minor League game yesterday. I could watch Livan pitch anywhere, anytime. After his start yesterday, Livan told me that he was pleased, especially compared with his first start, during which he did not feel like he was in synch.

Scary moment Sunday when Wilson Ramos was struck by a foul tip. He is alright, but it gave us all pause for a minute or so there as he was being tended to by our athletic training staff. Wilson is a special talent who is going to help our pitchers, our lineup and our defense. He can really throw and he has some power in that bat. And he is still learning. There is not much that Wilson cannot do on the baseball field.

I took a few calls late yesterday from family and friends in DC and the F. P. Santangelo reviews were all positive. We are happy to have F.P. and his family on board for 2011 and beyond. It is great to have all our broadcasters—Bob Carpenter, Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler, Debbi Taylor—on the ground with us here in Viera.

Quick reminder that MASN will telecast two games next weekend, Friday vs. Houston (6:00 pm) and Saturday vs. NY Yankees (1:00 pm).

I am also pleased to say that Saturday’s game against the Yankees is sold out. Should be fun. I will be in touch again soon.

Day 18 in Viera: Happy Friday

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates.

 

Hello NatsTown. I am writing to you from sunny and warm Viera, Fla. Today is very windy and comfortable.

 

Since my last blog, your Nationals have topped the Mets (5-3 on Wednesday at home) and lost a 7-5 decision to the Cardinals on Thursday in Jupiter. So, we stand 3-1 and host the Braves today here at Space Coast Stadium.

 

Today’s 1:05 p.m. contest will likely be a bit strange without Bobby Cox guiding the Braves. Bobby is going to be missed. He is the ultimate ambassador, for not only the Braves, but the game of baseball. I wish him all the best in his retirement, but I bet we run into him at a ballpark or two over the next few years. Bobby’s never going to leave the game entirely. At least I hope not.

 

I took in a 2-inning Minor League contest down the street at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. The game was set up for Tom Gorzelanny, Chien-Ming Wang and Ryan Mattheus to ease themselves into game conditions in a controlled setting. Wang pitched well during his 15-pitch inning, during which he threw in the mid-80s and induced 3 outs (one out was negated by a fielding error). Tom Gorzelanny looked good too. He recorded 5 outs in 30 pitches (a pair of 15-pitch innings). Tom retired the side in order during his 2nd inning. Lastly, righthander Ryan Mattheus struck out 2 in a scoreless inning. He is the pitcher Mike Rizzo acquired from the Rockies in July of 2009 in exchange for Joe Beimel. He is returning from July 2009 Tommy John surgery and is essentially on the same time line as Jordan Zimmermann.

 

Speaking of Zimmermann, his performance yesterday in Jupiter was especially pleasing. 3.0 scoreless innings against the Cards lineup that featured Albert Pujols. I’ll take that in a heartbeat, especially in a Grapefruit League debut. I see Jordan as a silent-killer type. He is a quiet and polite guy when you meet him, but the coaches tell me that he is as fierce a competitor as we have on the pitching staff. Like Marquis, I can hope for nothing more than full health for Jordan, because that is all he’ll need to succeed. His arm is electric and other teams know it.     

 

This morning, Rizzo, Jim Riggleman and Steve McCatty reassigned Shairon Martis, Matt Chico and Joe Bisenius to Minor League camp. Hopefully this move affords the trio more innings, but I think it also speaks to our ever-increasing pitching depth. McCatty has a lot of good arms to look at in a relatively short amount of time. It is going to be tougher than ever to earn a spot on this pitching staff. We are getting there.

 

I am very excited to see our guys face the Yankees tomorrow. As previously disclosed here, we will face C.C. Sabathia, but word came out yesterday that Joba Chamberlain is also likely to pitch for the Yanks. Should be fun.

 

I was anxious to see Jason Marquis’ spring debut today. The wait was worth it, as he allowed just one hit in 3.0 scoreless innings (he just finished up a moment ago, score still tied 0-0 after 3 innings). Jason struggled with injuries last year, but everyone knows he is better than that with full health. We saw a good number of ground balls today (6 outs on the ground). That’s a good clue that Jason is on track for an improved performance in 2011.

 

Please, everyone have a good weekend! Oh, don’t forget to tune into Sunday’s game against the Braves on MASN and/or on our new flagship radio station, 106.7 WJFK-FM.

I will be in touch again soon.

Day 17 in Viera: The Nats are 3-0

Hello again gang. This is John Dever again, and for one day only I am stepping in for Mark Lerner, who likely will return to the blogosphere tomorrow.

 

I have the honor of being the baseball PR Director for your Nationals. I hope to keep in touch with you for much of this spring, perhaps once a week now that Mark in on the ground here in Viera. As always, I will be utilizing the keen eyes and ears of my PR brethren, Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna. They are great to work with and they know what they are talking about, whether it be this team or the game of baseball in general.

 

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty…

 

*Obviously, with our 3-0 start in mind, optimism is abound. That’s patently obvious, but it feel really GOOD.

 

*What a difference a year makes. Remember, last year the Nationals dropped their first 11 Grapefruit League contests? As great as the 3-0 start is, what is even more impressive is just how well the team has actually played. The games have been played with precision, have been quick and seemingly everything done on the field has a positive purpose. Our chuckers have walked just 3 batters in 3 games. That, my friends, is unheard of in late February/early March. Last spring, the Nationals opened the Grapefruit League slate with split squad action on March 4. Nationals pitchers issued 8 walks and 25 runs in those 2 games. Yea, I like this year better…

 

*One of Mike Rizzo’s mantras is that competition is good for everyone, including the team. Well, 3 games in, that thought is being reaffirmed, especially in left field, where Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse are vying for Jim Riggleman’s affections. The 3 LF amigos are a combined 10-for-19 with 4 home runs and 9 RBI. In fact, the LF trio has combined on 4 of Washington’s 5 home runs to date. All 3 gentlemen look comfortable at the plate, so let’s look for more of the same type of production in the coming week…

 

*This weekend’s 2 contests—Sat. at NYY and Sun. vs. ATL—will offer stiff tests for Rick Eckstein’s battalion of bats. Why? Washington will be opposed by C.C. Sabathia and Tommy Hanson. Not-so subtle reminder that you can watch Sunday’s action on MASN as your Nationals host the Braves from Space Coast Stadium. Ross Detwiler will get the starting nod. He will throw the first pitch at 1:05 p.m.

 

*Let’s play the name game. The following is a list of actual first names of Nationals players, but these same guys “go” by other names. Follow?

Example would be Edwin was Duke Snider’s actual first name. Or Larry is Chipper Jones’ first name. So, let’s ramp up the Nationals fun below:

 

1B Robert (Michael) Aubrey

OF Rogearvin (Roger) Bernadina

RHP Justin (Todd) Coffey

INF Jose (Alex) Cora

RHP Eisler (Livan) Hernandez

1B David (Adam) LaRoche

RHP John (J.D.) Martin…middle name: Dale

RHP Olise (Cla) Meredith…middle name: Claibourne

 

*A few defensive nuggets… Chris Marrero made a few nice scoops, and in the process showed some solid footwork around the bag, in Tue.’s home opener vs. NYM… this is a strong statement, but Yunesky Maya is a Grade A fielder… his skills are akin to those of his big brother (not literally) Livan Hernandez… both our Cuban starters act almost insulted a batter would have the audacity to drive a grounder up-the-middle for a single… that is fun to watch.

 

*BTW, best of luck Cla Meredith, who had Tommy John surgery yesterday. A resident of Richmond, VA, Cla was excited at the prospect of pitching for his hometown team. He won’t pitch this season, so that hope will have to be shelved for now. That said, I would not bet against Cla Meredith…

 

Thanks for your time and interest in the Nationals. Let’s be in touch again soon.

 

Curly W Live Welcomes Owner Mark D. Lerner

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates.

Greetings NatsTown from sunny and warm Viera, Fla., the Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals.

It would be impossible to describe the feeling you experience when you first arrive at Spring Training each February… the smell of the fresh-cut grass, the sound of a bat striking a baseball, the buzz you feel in the air as fans of all ages assemble to watch Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper driving balls over the fence during batting practice. Nothing compares to Spring Training, especially after a long, cold winter in Washington, DC.

Today, the Nationals open their Spring Training schedule with a matinee against the New York Mets. Just a quick trip down I-95 to Port St. Lucie, then we’ll get to hear the first “play ball” of the 2011 spring season. I am really looking forward to it.

For Nationals fans who weren’t able to escape to Florida to catch the opener, you’ll have the opportunity to follow along on nationals.com. Our spring broadcasts on TV and radio begin next week (speaking of radio… check nationals.com this morning for an exciting announcement that will positively impact our radio listeners beginning in 2011). Our first game on MASN is this Saturday against the New York Yankees in Tampa.

Since my wife, Judy, and I arrived in town on Saturday, I have had the opportunity to watch a few workouts and catch up with many of our players. I’ll share my initial impressions below:

* We were in town just a matter of minutes on Saturday afternoon, before we encountered three of our neighbors — Bryce Harper, Doug Slaten and Sean Burnett — at the apartment complex we will call home for the next few weeks.

Doug and Sean are two of the nicest guys in the game, and we are fortunate to have that pair of reliable southpaws in our bullpen.

Bryce also has a great personality and is mature beyond his years. I hadn’t seen him since he participated in the Florida Instructional League in October, and let me tell you… he has worked extremely hard over the last number of months to prepare for his first pro season. It looks as though he has gained significant muscle, which will surely help him as he navigates through his first professional baseball season. It is hard to believe he is just 18 years old. 

* I caught up yesterday morning with our General Manager Mike Rizzo over breakfast at the local Cracker Barrel (where else!) near Space Coast Stadium. He is very pleased with the way the first two weeks of camp have gone, noting a renewed spirit, work ethic and professionalism at workouts. And, he remarked that several of the veteran players he acquired this offseason are making an immediate impact in the clubhouse and on the field. We just have a great batch of players that Mike has imported and they seem so much more dedicated to playing the game right, working hard and enjoying themselves as a team or unit.

It does bode well for 2011…

* The first guy I run into as I pulled into the park was Stephen Strasburg. He looks terrific and it’s evident that he has been dedicated to his rehab and conditioning. He was long tossing 75 feet yesterday at practice.

* A very large crowd greeted the team at practice today. I ran into many of our fans who have come down from DC.  I love connecting with our fans, and this blog is one outlet that will afford me that opportunity. I encourage any fans that are planning a trip to Viera to catch some spring action, please stop by to say hello as we cheer on the Nats together.

*Sad news yesterday for all baseball fans,  as we heard about the passing of Hall of Famer and Dodger legend Duke Snider. The Nationals family send their deepest condolences to the Snider family.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks, as I plan to blog periodically (three-four times each week) to share my Spring Training experiences and thoughts with our dedicated fans in NatsTown.

Day 13 in Viera: Grapefruit League Opener Eve

Grapefruit League Opening Day Eve here on the Space Coast.

My name is John Dever and I’m the Baseball PR contact for your Nationals. To write this blog, I get lots of guidance and observations from Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, my PR confidants, so I thank them for their contributions.

Lots happening… so let’s get started.

* Today’s high will reach 86 degrees. Almost toasty, yes, but comfortable thanks to a gentle breeze. So, the perfect spring continues. Last year, it may not have hit 70 degrees during the February workouts. This year, at least since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 15, the temps have not dipped below 70, with temps comfortably in the high 70s during the late-morning workouts.

* Jim Riggleman brought up a good point this morning during his session with the assembled media. This spring’s perfect weather to date has allowed the Nationals to get everything that they needed in. Every drill that Jim Riggleman and Spring Training Coordinator Bobby Henley scheduled went off without a hitch. Every one. That NEVER happens. And this should give the Nationals a sense of comfort heading into the Grapefruit League schedule, which begins tomorrow. The team is ready. [VIDEO: More Riggleman]

* Rick Ankiel is an interesting guy. Most know his story. A stud-pitcher-turned-outfielder who signed with the Nationals in December without a guaranteed starting spot. Well, one of the drawing cards for Ankiel was likely his preexisting relationship with Nationals hitting guru Rick Eckstein. After retiring as a pitcher, Ankiel immediately jumped back into St. Louis’ Minor League system in the hopes of becoming an outfielder. Ankiel and Eckstein worked together in Triple-A Memphis in 2008, things “clicked” and the results were phenomenal. Ankiel hit 32 home runs in 102 Pacific Coast League games before being summoned by the Cardinals on August 9, 2008. The hot streak did not end there, as Ankiel hit 11 more bombs in 43 games with the Cardinals. In fact, that summer, Ankiel’s 43 homers led the Cardinals entire organization, as Albert Pujols only (only?) hit 37. So, here’s hoping things “click” again for Ankiel and Eckstein and that they can regain their momentum from the summer of 2008.


91010-202 danny espinosa.jpg* We’ve “talked” a lot about Danny Espinosa’s conversion from shortstop to second base. Which begs the question: who made a similar conversion early in their career? The two best-case scenarios for Nationals fans to salivate over are Alfonso Soriano (a shortstop in the Yankees’ organization, converted to second base in 2001) and Brandon Phillips (a shortstop in the Expos’ organization, converted to second base in 2003). Now, both are All-Stars and Espinosa is not yet at that level, but it does go to show that this type of position change has occurred before and the results have been favorable both offensively and defensively (especially in the case of Phillips).

* With Davey Johnson in camp as an advisor to Mike Rizzo, it’s hard to believe that this is the 25th Anniversary of the iconic 1986 Mets. Where has the time gone. Well, actually, Nationals fans and Beltway baseball junkies likely best remember Davey for his playing days and later his successful managerial stint with the Orioles.

* Today’s “Four Questions” victim will be first baseman Chris Marrero, but before we channel our inner-Marrero, let’s take a look at his career. Marrero, as most know, was the Nationals’ first-rounder in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. His assent through Washington’s system has not been as rapid as some outsiders would like, but it has been steady. He has averaged a long ball every 29.6 at-bats in five seasons as a pro. That is not a number to sneeze at. Yes, the level is dramatically different, but here are three National Leaguers who averaged a homer every 29-or-so at-bats last season: Jason Heyward (28.9), Justin Upton (29.1) and Casey Blake (29.9). All three are very good ballplayers, and in the case of Heyward and Upton, two of the great young players in the game. Marrero, who had Lasik surgery in the offseason, has immense power and his career is trending in the right direction. Alright, back to “Four Questions”…

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Marlins, Frank Thomas (wonder if he knows that Mike Rizzo signed Big Frank?)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Deal or No Deal (he attended a taping of this show a few years back)

Favorite Superhero?: Spider Man (might help him with some errant throws at first base)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: None of the above. My favorite show is re-runs of “Vegas” on TNT (with all of the bad shows on network TV, why was this show canceled. Seriously perplexing).

OK, that’s a wrap for today. Tomorrow, look for Mark Lerner to jump into the blogging fray as the Nationals travel to St. Lucie to take on the Mets. He will be your primary blogger going forward, but I may jump back in here and there. Thanks for your interest in the Nationals and see you at the ballpark. Oh, you can also follow us on Twitter (@NationalsPR).

Day 11 in Viera: Lights, Camera…Photo Day!

Anxious. Anticipation. Cannot. Wait. For. Monday. Grapefruit. League. Opener.

Just two more workouts. Just two more bunt drills. Just two more PFPs (pitchers fielding practices). Just two more pitchers cover first base drills.

It will be darn nice to …

* Hear “play ball” instead of Bobby Henley yelling “rotate.”

* To see a foul ball fly into the stands and not into the net on a BP cage.

* To see a pitcher field a comebacker instead of it rattling off a protective “L” screen.

* To hear the rattle of cleats on dirt or concrete instead of running shoes on grass.

* To taste a ballpark hot dog instead of tuna fish from the clubhouse.

When was the last time on a Friday afternoon I was dreaming about Monday?  I am willing to bet that I am not the only Nationals fan doing so this afternoon.

Okay, now that I have waxed poetic about Monday, let’s fill you in about today’s festivities…

* Today was our annual Photo Day, which is everyone’s favorite day in/around baseball (sarcasm alert, this is NOT TRUE). 75 Nationals (60 players, 15 or so managers, coaches, instructors) took part. Along the way, they provided footage or photos to MASN, MLB, the Nationals (NatsHD), Baseball America, AP, Getty Images, The Washington Post, MLB.com (nationals.com), CBS Sports, Topps and one other baseball card company to be named later. MASN takes the honor for most pyrotechnics of any media outlet – OK, so they were the only ones with any pyrotechnics, but their smoke machine was met with a number of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the guys as they filmed their various segments.

 Every player spent about 30 minutes doing the annual circuit, which began at 7:20 a.m. and wrapped up at 9:31 a.m.

* Twitter pic of the day from Bill Gluvna @NationalsPR: people seemed to get a kick out of this shot. How tall is Ross Detwiler? When he is healthy, here is guessing the downward tilt on his slider is something fierce to contend with.

Here are a few more shots from Photo Day, but be sure to follow @NationalsPR and @Teddy26Nats for full coverage from the morning, and more around the clock coverage from Viera. 


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* In Monday’s aforementioned Grapefruit League opener, Chad Gaudin gets the starting nod. From there, look for Brian Broderick, Adam Carr, Todd Coffey, Shairon Martis, Doug Slaten, Craig Stammen, Josh Wilkie and Tim Wood to pitch. On the position player side, look for Jesus Flores, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and Nyjer Morgan to be on the bus to St. Lucie. You may be wondering about that youngster, what is his name? … Bryce Harper? Yes, he will also make the trip and Jim Riggleman said he hopes to get him an at-bat.

* I am not going to pontificate on this, but I will tell you that Stephen Strasburg is working VERY hard on his conditioning and strength while coming back from last season’s Tommy John surgery. He simply has to be in the best shape of his life.

* Word around camp today was that Yunesky Maya looked very good while throwing live BP. I also heard Maya speak a bit of English, as he told me “you’re welcome” after I thanked him for his participation in Photo Day. Hey, that’s progress. Also noticed that Josh Wilkie can speak (nearly) fluent Spanish, which is something that Latin players appreciate. I don’t know if Wilkie honed his Spanish skills during his winter ball stint in Venezuela, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. Wilkie is an impressive well-rounded person.

* Very nice day in Viera today. Mostly sunny. Lots of beautiful clouds. Very windy, with gusts around 30 mph. But it was 80 or so and very comfortable.

We are going to cut today’s blog a tad short, but keep an eye on us this weekend. Special thanks to Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna for their consistent contributions. Reminder, look for Mark Lerner to blog right here at Curly “W” Live starting on Mon., Feb. 28.

Day 10 in Viera: 2011 MASN Commercials

Another hot one in Viera today. Temps in the low 80s. Unending sun. I wonder how hot things are for the teams stationed in South Florida, like the Marlins, Cardinals, Red Sox and Twins? My guess is that it is pretty steamy.

Observations from around Space Coast Stadium and the Nationals Training Complex:

* Matt Stairs is a marvel.  His short, compact, yet powerful stroke is tailor made for a pinch hitter. But even beyond his swing, he has the main prerequisite that almost all the great pinch-hitters share: he is a left-handed hitter. Since 1974, only 10 players have amassed 100+ pinch hits. Nine of those 10 are left-handed batters, with the exception being Jose Morales (120 PH from 1974-84). Why is it tough to find a really good right-handed pinch hitter? Likely because most relief pitchers are right-handed, so manager’s are less apt to “waste” a roster spot on a guy to match up against southpaw relievers. Interesting stuff when you think about it.  

* In the dying days of the offseason, some old files from RFK were unearthed from a storage area in/around Nationals Park. One of the boxes contained a bunch of old Expos files, scorebooks and newspaper clippings. Most were from the late 80s and early 90s. Upon glancing through them, we found Matt Stairs’ first big league contract, which was dated March 5, 1992. His salary for the season was $11,000. We showed him the contract today and he got a kick out of it. Stairs’ reply was “11-grand. Wow. This is really cool.”

* Side story–we arranged for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to pick up the box of the old Expos’ clippings. They were very excited to see their new bounty.

* MASN is in town today shooting a series of new commercials for the 2011 season. The Nationals’ new uniforms (video) may have had a hand in prompting the new video shoots. I know MASN has put a lot of time and energy into these new commercials, as there are over 100 folks on the crew.

* Welcome to Viera RHP Elvin Ramirez, who arrived today from the Dominican Republic after experiencing some visa issues. There is great hope that Elvin will be joined by RHP Henry Rodriguez tomorrow. Rodriguez was one of two players acquired from the A’s in exchange for OF Josh Willingham. Rodriguez’s fastball has been known to hit triple digits, so we are all anxious to see his power on display.

* In Clearwater, Fla. today, the Phillies played the first “game” of the Grapefruit League season as they squared off against the Florida State Seminoles. If the Phillies win, do they clinch the ACC Championship? Anyhow, it is good to know that there are nine innings being played somewhere nearby. Can you tell we are anxious for Monday’s opener at the Mets.

* FYI, Jim Riggleman told the media here today that he will try to get Bryce Harper an at-bat in Monday’s opener.

* Book Club: Stephen Strasburg is currently reading Dirk Hayhurst’s “The Bullpen Gospels.” He is enjoying it. You can read more about the book here.

* Let’s close with our “4 Questions” segment. Today’s victim was outfielder Laynce Nix:

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Rangers, Don Mattingly (Donnie Ballgame was pretty popular, huh? Him and Griffey Jr.)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: None (not a fan!)

Favorite Superhero?: Batman (another popular answer)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: I am going off the grid. Golf Channel. I enjoy “Lessons with the Pros.” (Nix is a five to seven handicap, so he can swing it a little)

Off to watch the Space Shuttle launch. See you all tomorrow. And remember to follow us on twitter @NationalsPR.

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