Results tagged ‘ Opening Day ’

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 …

Welcome Back, Wilson

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Most Spring Training camps are full of stories of roster battles, of a number of players competing for a lone spot among the 25 that will begin Opening Day in the big league uniform. The Nationals have been one of those clubs in the past, but sit in Viera this year with all but one or two of those roster spots decided. As such, the most compelling stories are those of the comeback variety, those like the story of Wilson Ramos, which, after a couple years of setbacks, had a positive chapter written over the weekend.

After enduring a terrifying ordeal in the offseason prior to 2012, Ramos was excited to move on with a breakout performance on the field last year. That hope was dashed when retrieving a ball behind the plate early last May, as his foot snagged in the wet Cincinnati grass but his knee followed his body’s momentum, tearing ligaments and ending his season. On Sunday, after months of rehab, of grinding, hard work, he finally stepped into a batter’s box in a game for the first time.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pitch from the mound.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

Wilson Ramos is back behind the plate in game action for the first time Tuesday.

One could forgive Ramos for being a little over-anxious in his first at-bat, entering as the DH in the seventh inning. He rolled a ball over to third base, testing his knee in action for the first time as he ran to first base. That seemed like it might be his only chance of the afternoon, but as the score leveled at 6-6, the Nationals batted again in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramos leading off. He battled through a tough at-bat, fighting out of an early hole and fouling off pitches, eventually forcing a full count. Then he blasted a high fastball to the right-center field gap, deep into the wind and almost gone to one of the deepest parts of Space Coast Stadium. He pulled in at second base with a double and a rousing round of applause from the home crowd.

Pulled for pinch-runner Sandy Leon, Ramos’ contribution would lead to the victory, as the Nationals would walk off with a 7-6 victory two batters later on Zach Walters’ RBI-single through the drawn-in infield. For Ramos, it was the first step back to doing what he loves.

“That’s a big step for me today,” he said. “Now I’m very excited and I want to be behind the plate.”

He got that chance Tuesday against the Astros, where he caught the first three innings of game action for the first time since last season.

Here’s a complete list of the Nationals Spring Training results to date.

Overall Record: 4-3-2

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1

2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4

3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5

3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2

3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6

The Next Best Thing

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Every year, in every Major League camp, there is some youngster who shows up, opens eyes with his swing or his arm, and becomes the next most-talked about prospect, waiting to crack the big leagues. Yes, we’re early in spring. Yes the Nationals roster looks just about full, minus a pitcher or two in the bullpen. But this year’s player, clear to anyone who has been watching, is Anthony Rendon.

Last year, fans of Bryce Harper, who had been following him since his Sports Illustrated cover photo at age 16, trumpeted his case to make the Opening Day roster. And while Harper flashed signs of the player that would roar through September to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors, he was a raw ball of energy back in March.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper's path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper’s path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon is the anti-Harper. He is so relaxed, so smooth – and generously listed at just 6’0”, 195 pounds, so unimposing – that one might not even notice he was there, if not for the booming cracks of baseballs flying off his bat.

His swing is not violent like Harper’s. Instead, it starts with a big, smooth, looping hand load, a Ryan Zimmerman-esque leg kick, and a sudden flash of some of the fastest hands you’ve ever seen. One moment, he appears to be just watching a pitch into the mitt. The next, he has turned it around, sending it screaming to some distant corner of the field.

Danny Espinosa sat at third base with two out in the bottom of the second on Thursday night as the Nationals hosted the Mets in Viera. Rendon – batting eighth and playing third base – fell behind in the count, worked it back even, then swatted a double to the opposite-field gap in right-center, into the prevailing wind. In his second at-bat, with runners at the corners, he hit a sharp grounder deep in the hole at short, which only failed to go for another hit as Omar Quintanilla was able to go the short way to second for a force, with Ian Desmond scampering home from third base.

Two more at-bats, two more RBI. The 22-year-old with just 160 professional plate appearances has been the most productive player at the plate for Washington so far this spring, batting .417 (5-for-12) with two doubles, a home run and a team-high five RBI. One of the seven outs he’s made came on a home run robbed at the wall in Port St. Lucie a few days ago.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense - especially his arm - this spring.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense – especially his arm – this spring.

Then there’s the defense, the forgotten part of Rendon’s game. He didn’t have any chances Thursday night, but has already made a pair of notable plays this spring. On Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, he snared a hot shot, raced to the bag at third for the force, and fired a seed across the diamond for a 5-3, inning-ending double play. The next day, he charged a Chone Figgins bunt up the line, barehanded the ball on a do-or-die play, then straightened up and threw a bullet to first to beat the speedy runner by a full step.

After making a short, wide-eyed stint in Major League Spring Training last year, the Rice University product looks noticeably more settled in all aspects of his game this year.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable now, just knowing that I have one year under my belt,” said Rendon of camp this year, and added that he was thrilled to be getting a lot of opportunities early in spring. “I missed a large amount of games last year, so just any at-bats, any playing time I can get right now is really helpful.”

Baseball America ranks Rendon the 30th overall prospect in baseball, tops among Nationals farmhands. MLB.com has Rendon at 28th, while Baseball Prospectus has him 35th. After a week of games, one has to wonder how much his stock may have risen already. And while Thursday night was the first chance for many Nationals fans to see the young star play on television, it shouldn’t be long before they have that opportunity every night.

First Taste of Atlanta

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The Nationals traveled to Lake Buena Vista Tuesday afternoon, where they were greeted with their second rain delay in the opening four days of the Spring Training slate, and their first look at what largely resembled a real Opening Day lineup.

The host Braves started five or six regulars (depending on your analysis of their third base situation), including both Upton brothers, Freddie Freeman, Jayson Heyward and Dan Uggla against Washington starter Ross Detwiler. The even-keeled lefty took the challenge in stride in what was also his first outing in the Grapefruit League this year.

Ross Detwiler showed an impressive breaking ball in his first spring start.

Ross Detwiler showed an impressive breaking ball in his first spring start.

“You saw the lineup they put out there today,” he said, referencing Atlanta’s projected regulars, most middle-of-the-order types. “I could have gotten embarrassed pretty easily.”

Detwiler more than held his own however, looking very sharp through two frames before allowing a single run in the third. He didn’t allow a single extra-base hit, but perhaps the most impressive part of his outing was his breaking ball, which he located for strikes with great movement.

“It’s coming along a little bit,” he said, modestly, of his hook.

That’s an understatement, considering how much Detwiler relied on his two fastballs last year. He used three effective breaking balls to neutralize one of the National League’s better left-handed hitters in Heyward over a pair of at-bats on Tuesday, striking him out looking on a front door bender in the first inning.

“He’s got a lot of weapons,” said manager Davey Johnson of his developing southpaw’s expanding repertoire. “[That] makes the fastball that much better.”

When asked if the outing would help prepare him for the competitive outing Detwiler is slated to encounter in the World Baseball Classic, the 26-year-old’s response served to foreshadow the type of intensity the Washington-Atlanta rivalry may well have this year.

“I just played a competitive game,” he deadpanned.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and newcomer Dan Haren get their first starts of the spring Wednesday.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and newcomer Dan Haren get their first starts of the spring Wednesday.

Never one to ease into things, Detwiler’s most supportive teammate in the lineup was Bryce Harper, who continued his hot start to the spring. The young slugger legged out a chopper over Freeman at first for a double, swatted a Mike Minor offering to the opposite field gap for another two-bagger, and finished his afternoon with a rocket off Freeman’s mitt for a single. His 3-for-3 afternoon left him hitting (small sample size alert) .750 for the spring. Harper kept the gaudy numbers in their proper perspective, though.

“Facing Minor during the season and facing him right now is a little different,” he said of the Braves starter, who was also throwing in live action for the first time. “I don’t want to say I’m relaxed or comfortable, because I never want to be that way.”

Just because others are easing into the first days of the schedule doesn’t mean Harper is. He already lobbied his way into the lineup Wednesday afternoon, which will be his first chance to play with both Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche this year.
“I’d like to get in that lineup every day, pretty much,” he said, and Johnson was persuaded to agree.

The Nationals take on Miami in Viera at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday afternoon as Dan Haren makes his first start in a Washington uniform. See below for today’s lineup, along with spring results to date.

Nationals 2/27 Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Harper LF

3. Werth RF

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Tracy 3B

6. Espinosa DH

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombo 2B

9. Walters SS

P. Haren

Record: 1-2-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4

2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5

Spring In Slow-mo

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There is something about slow motion video, especially when shot in high definition, that has an almost magical quality. Factor in the brilliant sunshine and vivid blues, greens, whites and reds of the sky, the fields and the jerseys here at Nationals camp in Viera, and you’ve got a recipe for visuals that would make any baseball fan salivate for Opening Day. Even the simplest drills and workouts come to life as though they are being seen again for the first time.

Perhaps that’s what draws so many people to Spring Training each year, the crowds already growing noticeably larger each day that we creep closer to the first actual game this Saturday. If you’re not one of the fans lucky enough to be here, at least take a moment to enjoy a glimpse of the opening days of camp.

Behind the Curtain

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Have you ever wondered where all those live action, high definition videos you see on NatsHD at Nationals home games all season come from? Well, they’re filmed now, in the early days of Spring Training, as players report to camp and begin throwing and batting for the first time.

Today, we give you a peek behind the curtain at all the moving parts that will come together over the next six weeks to be ready for the 2013 season. While you’ll see the finished product come Opening Day D.C., here’s your first look – featuring Tyler Clippard and Ross Detwiler – at what’s in store as the team steps into the national spotlight this season.

Taft Makes Five

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As first reported by The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, the Nationals will announce William Howard Taft – aka “Bill” – as the fifth Racing President Saturday afternoon at NatsFest.

The 2012 season was one of many breakthroughs for the Nationals, including for the most beloved of the Racing Presidents, Teddy. On the heels of the team’s first playoff berth, Teddy finally won a race (legally) after more than 500 defeats. And while the payoff was glorious, it was time to add a major wrinkle to the Presidents Race this year.

TaftGraphicEnter “The Big Chief.”

Taft, our country’s 27th President, was always the opportunist, rising to the highest post in the land by always having his “plate the right side up when offices were falling,” as he once jokingly put it. He was also the first U.S. President to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, which he did on Opening Day, 1910, right here in The District. Legend also has it that Taft “invented” the seventh-inning stretch, when he stood up to stretch at a game and the crowd around him followed suit.

Once great allies, he and Roosevelt tussled over policy matters following Taft’s ascension to the Presidency in 1912. That led Roosevelt to run as a third-party candidate against the man that had succeeded him as Commander in Chief, ultimately costing both men the chance to return to the Oval Office. Later in life, the two reconciled, leaving the question open as to whether they will work in concert to try to win in 2013, or if their feuding will cost each a chance at victory.

The only American ever to serve as both President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Bill (@NatsBigChief27) joins Teddy (@Teddy26Nats) as the only other Racing President to speak his mind on Twitter.

Come see the newest Racing President as he makes his first public appearance at NatsFest on Saturday, January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Visit nationals.com/natsfest for tickets and more information about the event.

Top 12 of ’12: #10 – Opening Statements

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Nationals Cardinals BaseballWashington notched a dramatic victory on Opening Day in Chicago, but the Nationals saved some magic for their home opener against Cincinnati a week later, as well. Gio Gonzalez, making his first-ever home start in D.C., twirled seven sparkling innings of two-hit, shutout ball and recorded his inaugural Major League hit to boot, becoming an instant fan favorite in the District. Adam LaRoche delivered a clutch, two-out, two-run single in the fifth to push Washington ahead, but the Reds came back with a pair of runs in the ninth to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

But if any air had been let out of a raucous, packed house at Nats Park, Craig Stammen pumped it back up as he came on in the 10th inning. The converted starter, pitching in his first full season out of the Nats bullpen, struck out the side on just 10 pitches, one over the minimum. That set the stage for the late heroics, as Ryan Zimmerman was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, moved to second on a one-out single by Jayson Werth, then to third on a groundout by Xavier Nady. That extra 90 feet proved to be crucial, as Alfredo Simon bounced an 0-1 slider to Roger Bernadina that squirted away far enough from catcher Devin Mesoraco for Zimmerman to scamper down the line and slide in safely with the first walk-off win of the season.

- SEE THE REST OF THE TOP 12 OF ’12 -

Spring Into Fall

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The closer you follow baseball, the more you realize how year-round the sport really is. The average American may take notice around Opening Day, then have their fandom tail off as their team is eliminated from contention, perhaps watching the World Series, if they are so inclined. The more passionate follower is more likely to count down the days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, their baseball awareness stretching from mid-February to the end of October. But for the true obsessives (like us), there are compelling games for the Nationals being played even now, as the Arizona Fall League began this week at the Spring Training complexes around Phoenix.

For those unfamiliar with it, the AFL is a prospect showcase, where all 30 Major League teams send some of their top talent, often including players whose regular seasons were limited for whatever reason, to see how they perform in a highly competitive environment. The 30 clubs are combined into six squads, with five MLB teams apiece represented on each. Last year, the Nationals were assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions, with Bryce Harper the most well known representative of the organization. In 2012, they are members of the Salt River Rafters, along with the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rockies and Blue Jays.

This year’s crop of Nationals prospects includes:

Matt Skole (second from left) was honored as the Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Pitchers 

Aaron Barrett

Paul Demny

Cole Kimball

Ryan Perry

Infielders

Jason Martinson

Anthony Rendon

Matt Skole

Outfielders

Brian Goodwin

We will be conducting a more thorough Down on the Farm report for many of these prospects this offseason, but wanted to give special attention to one – Matt Skole – whom we have already profiled before here on Curly W Live. The 2012 Nationals Minor League Player of the Year, Skole has busted down the Fall League doors, batting .533/.650/.867 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI through his first four games on the circuit. His early success among some of baseball’s elite prospects helps back up the case that his tremendous 2012 numbers were no fluke. The third baseman batted .292 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs and 104 RBI in just 118 games between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in his first professional season.

Make sure to check in to Curly W Live on Wednesdays throughout the offseason for more on many of the Nationals rising stars. And if you’d like to keep up with the AFL on a daily basis through the end of the season in mid-November, check out the home of the league here, complete with scores, stats, stories and more.

The Publications Go Public

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It’s time for the Nationals to return to D.C. for Opening Day, which means a lot of things to a lot of people. For Nationals memorabilia fanatics, there’s often no better way to show your pride or commemorate the history of your favorite team than by collecting each of the official magazines and playbills. And so today, we’d like to give you a sneak peek at the first issues of both Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch (our official playbill), which will be available to those of you who attend Nationals Park for the first homestand of the season.

First up, Nationals Magazine. There are also features on both the Natitude campaign and Jayson Werth, but the lead story and the cover belong to Stephen Strasburg, who made his first ever Opening Day start last week at Wrigley Field. Pick up a copy around the ballpark for $5 or, if you are from outside the area, keep an eye out on Curly W Live, where we’ll provide a link to purchase publications later in the season.

For the first Inside Pitch, we had to go with Ryan Zimmerman, who recently signed a long extension and even more recently plated his 500th career RBI. Inside Pitch is available for free at every Nats home game, so make sure to pick yours up at the ballpark!

We’ll keep updated covers of the current publication available at the ballpark over in the right-hand column here at Curly W Live, so that you know which issue awaits when you come to a game.

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