Results tagged ‘ Rafael Soriano ’

The Zen of Dan Haren

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One of the fun aspects of Spring Training is getting to know the new players in camp. A baseball clubhouse is a mix of all types of personalities, and meshing them together can be a delicate balance. So as the new guys settle in, certain characteristics begin to emerge, like the introspective, self-awareness of new starter Dan Haren.

Haren absolutely baffled the Astros through two innings Tuesday, before allowing a walk and a pair of singles in a longer third frame, which would yield Houston’s lone run in a 7-1 Nationals victory. When asked about whether it may actually have been good for him to struggle a bit, Haren at first conceded that might indeed be true, the situation allowing him to get work throwing out of the stretch, and pitching a longer inning.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Haren has shown a keen self-awareness this spring.

Then he paused, and broke down the barrier of clichés that so often comprise an athlete’s postgame comments.

“In Spring Training, if you do (well), you feel great,” he said. “If you feel bad, you’re just working on stuff. That’s what everyone says.”

He paused for the laughter of the reporter pool, before deadpanning his final thought.

“So yeah, I was just working on stuff in the third inning.”

That refreshing honesty, as well as a spot-on analysis of the way that athletes can sometimes revert to platitudes gives Nationals fans an early look at what to expect from the cerebral Haren this season.

Throwing only a single curveball and “two or three” split-fingered pitches, Haren has nonetheless dominated so far this spring, even while really only touching 60 percent of his repertoire. That’s good news for the 32-year-old, who says he feels completely healthy.

The Nationals also got three strong innings from Zach Duke on Tuesday, who allowed a single hit while holding the Astros scoreless to earn the victory. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jeremy Accardo – three of the four Nats in camp with a 30-save MLB season to their name (along with Drew Storen) – each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.

It’s off to Clearwater Wednesday for a marquee pitching showdown, featuring Stephen Strasburg against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Check out the lineup, plus a complete list of Spring Training results to date.

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Rendon SS

4. Moore DH

5. Brown RF

6. Marrero 1B

7. Rivero LF

8. Skole 3B

9. Solano C

P. Strasburg

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

3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1

Overall Record: 5-3-2

Weekly Review: The Birds and the Beards

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Monday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Tuesday, marking the first official baseball activity for the Washington franchise in exactly four months. All the usual suspects arrived, and once Rafael Soriano resolved his final visa issues, every player under contract had reported.

Players began their annual NatsHD filming, with Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard taking center stage to start things off.

The team held its first unofficial workout on Thursday, during which an osprey dropped a recently plucked fish onto the field between Ian Desmond and Denard Span. Desmond, a Florida native familiar with this type of happening, picked up the fish and tossed it over the fence.

On Friday, the Nationals reached an agreement on a one-year deal with Jordan Zimmermann, avoiding arbitration hearings with all their players. As a result, this season will mark the first since the introduction of the arbitration process in 1977 that every single eligible Major Leaguer will avoid the legal proceedings in coming to terms on their contracts.

As promised by EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo, the famous offseason facial hair styling’s of certain Nationals players began to be trimmed down for the season, most noticeably Danny Espinosa’s beard, which had gone untamed since the end of the 2012 season.

Pitchers and Catchers

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People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. – Rogers Hornsby

Look outside. It has been cold and blustery here in D.C. Your bones may creak and your muscles may ache in the morning as you prepare for your day. The prospect of spring may still seem a distant light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But today, everything should feel a little warmer inside. Today is first day that truly matters on the baseball calendar. Today, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

It's finally time for Spring Training to begin.

It’s finally time for Spring Training to begin.

It has been a difficult winter for many Nationals fans, who saw the magical 2012 season end so abruptly. But with a longer season, one that stretched into October for the first time, and an early report to Viera thanks to the World Baseball Classic, this winter seemed shorter than those before it.

Perhaps that was due to the strategic, piece-by-piece additions of Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano, as the team addressed its most pressing winter needs. Perhaps it was simply the ever-quickening nature of our perception of time. Think about it: as euphoric the aftermath of Game 4 and heartbreaking that of Game 5, doesn’t it all seem like a bit of a distant memory?

That’s because baseball is back. Sure, we’re a very long way from another October, with a more youthful Atlanta squad, a Phillies club looking to rebound from their first missed postseason since 2006, and 27 other teams standing in the way. But none of that matters yet. Not today.

Look outside again, at the sun shining through the clouds. If it’s beginning to feel like spring, it should. It is time to begin again from the beginning once more, but with prospects as bright and expectations as high as they have ever been.

It’s time for baseball. Finally.

The Late Additions

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While this year’s Washington roster seems mostly set, it is important not to underestimate the potential impact of Non-Roster Invitees on the structure of the club that will break camp at the end of March. Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Rick Ankiel, Corey Brown and Brett Carroll all played small roles for the Nationals in 2012, and Chad Tracy – yes that Chad Tracy – was himself an NRI last year. Tracy staked his claim as one of the best pinch-hitters in the game and earned a contract extension for 2013 near the end of last season.

The Nationals announced three more additions to their list of Major League Spring Training Non-Roster Invitees this week, adding Jeremy Accardo, Micah Owings and Chris Snyder. All three have interesting storylines or ties to the organization, but perhaps none is more compelling than that of Owings, who came to terms with Washington on Wednesday.

Owings has always been known for his bat, and will report to Viera as a position player.

Owings has always been known for his bat, and will report to Viera as a position player.

For those unfamiliar with his Major League exploits, Owings is most well known as one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball over the past six seasons. While his career ledger on the mound is 32-33 with a 4.86 ERA in 138 appearances (68 starts), he has batted .283 (58-for-205) with an eye-popping .503 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, only Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Tyler Moore (and Jhonatan Solano, in limited time) posted a higher slugging mark for the Nats last season than Owings’ career line.

His first season was his best, as he posted a .333/.349/.683 line to win the National League’s Silver Slugger Award in 2007, the same hardware Stephen Strasburg laid claim to last year. However, the 30-year-old Owings has shown enough continued promise at the plate that he will now attempt the same transformation as former National Rick Ankiel, moving from the mound to become a hitter.

“He’s worn all of the opposing clubs out at one point or another,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti of Owings. “So if you’ve seen the guy swing the bat the last couple of years, you’re intrigued. He’s a decent athlete as well.”

As you may remember, Ankiel had a pair of very strong seasons in his first two years after making the switch, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 110 over 167 games, posting a very comparable line to that of Owings, batting .270 with a .515 slugging percentage. Like Ankiel in 2007, Owings plans to focus entirely on his future as a hitter from here on out.

“We’re going to give him a go as a position player and see what happens,” explained Minniti. “We’re committed to it. He’s committed to it. We’ve got a couple of people here who know him from the past, including our hitting coordinator Rick Schu.”

Snyder, another former Diamondback, has experience catching Dan Haren.

Snyder, another former Diamondback, has experience catching Dan Haren.

Of course, just as he knows Chad Tracy (another player he drafted with Arizona) going into last year, Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo is very familiar with Owings. He was in charge of the Diamondbacks’ drafts when Arizona selected the Gainesville, Georgia native in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Likewise, Rizzo was at the helm of the draft when his former organization selected Snyder back in 2002, the catcher the Nationals acquired earlier this week.

Snyder brings veteran depth with a decent eye (with a career on-base percentage 104 points above his batting average) and a little pop (hitting double digit home runs three times) to the Washington catching corps. The former Diamondback, Pirate and Astro provides a little extra insurance behind the plate as Wilson Ramos completes his rehab process heading into Spring Training.

“We like to go to camp with the proper amount of catching, and we felt like we wanted to add one more,” said Minniti of the Snyder addition. “We’ve got a couple of young guys that are very capable, but it just gives us a little more flexibility, having a good veteran to compete.”

A right-handed reliever, Accardo is the only one of the late additions who hasn’t played previously under Rizzo. However, he provides the Nationals with an interesting statistical note, as the fourth pitcher entering camp with a season of at least 30 saves under his belt in his career. While the former Blue Jay and Giant accomplished that feat back in 2007, he nevertheless merits inclusion with Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano and Drew Storen as the only such foursome reporting to a Major League camp this year.

The Next Four Years

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Here at Curly W Live, we rarely – if ever – discuss politics, despite residing at the epicenter of our nation’s government. We’re far more likely to engage with you in a debate on the latest exploits of George, Tom, Abe or Teddy than any sitting President. But as The District and the country as a whole catches its collective breath following Inauguration Weekend, there is no time better than the present to take inventory of the transformation of our national pastime here in the Nation’s Capital since the last inauguration.

Four years ago, a 23-year-old Gio Gonzalez had just been traded – from the Chicago White Sox to the Oakland Athletics. Stephen Strasburg was halfway through his junior year at San Diego State. And a 16-year-old Bryce Harper had enrolled at Southern Nevada College, but had yet to see a pitch from anyone other than a high schooler.

In 2012, the Postseason went from a distant fantasy to a tangible reality.

In 2012, the Postseason went from a distant fantasy to a tangible reality.

My, how far we’ve come.

The Nationals became the first team to add 10 or more wins in three consecutive seasons over a span that did not include any strike-shortened campaigns. Coming off their 59 victories in 2009, they improved to 69 in 2010, 80 in 2011 and a Major League-best 98 last year.

Given the previous franchise high-water mark of 81-81 during their inaugural campaign, any winning season at all in 2012 would have marked the best in the franchise’s annals. Needless to say, the Nationals exceeded everyone’s projections, except perhaps for skipper Davey Johnson, who guaranteed a playoff berth all the way back in Spring Training.

But the past was all about potential. The present and future are about raised expectations.

Rafael Soriano is the latest addition to an already formidable Nationals club.

Rafael Soriano is the latest addition to an already formidable Nationals club.

Now, Washington has added defensive wizard and leadoff man Denard Span, the most tested, capable fifth starter in the league in Dan Haren, and one of the game’s premier closers in Rafael Soriano. One could make the argument that each of the Nationals units – the starting rotation, bullpen, catching corps, infield, outfield and bench – rank among the best in the game.

Johnson returns for his second term with a core group of rising stars, many of which are just entering their prime. In fact, 10 players – Danny Espinosa, Gonzalez, Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Drew Storen, Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann – are under team control through at least 2016: four more years.

The last four years of Nationals baseball have brought plenty of change. The next four promise an equal amount of hope.

But whether you identify as red or blue, as long as you’re rocking the Curly W, you’re wearing our colors. And regardless of your interest or involvement in politics, everyone can agree on one self-evident truth: with pitchers and catchers reporting for the 2013 season in just 20 days, it’s good to be a Washington Nationals fan.

Feeling Bullish About The ‘Pen

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The Nationals made it official on Thursday, inking right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal with a vesting option for the 2015 season. The 33-year-old Dominican hurler has eclipsed 40 saves in two of the past three seasons, including 42 last year for the American League East Champion New York Yankees.

Soriano gives the Nationals arguably the strongest bullpen in the Major Leagues.

Soriano gives the Nationals arguably the strongest bullpen in the Major Leagues.

Soriano fortifies an already strong Nationals bullpen, joining Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen to form a trio as strong as any in the league to shut down opponents at the end of ballgames. All three have served as closers at different points in their respective careers. In fact, average each pitcher’s most recent season in the closer’s role (Soriano in ’12, Clippard in ’12, Storen in ’11) and you get a 2.92 ERA, 9.5 K/9.0 IP and 39 saves, at an 89 percent conversion rate.

Most any team would jump at the opportunity to sign that player to pitch the most important single inning of the game. Your Nationals have three of them.

The Soriano signing was certainly the biggest player news of the week, but it wasn’t the only development out of The District. In addition to the deal that netted three minor leaguers from Oakland including the return of A.J.Cole, the Nationals also announced that pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on February 12, with position players on the 15th and the first workout coming two days after that. Washington also signed five players to Minor League deals, and released its Non-roster Invitee list for Major League Spring Training, including five more players already under contract. Here are the names:

Minor League Deals/Non-roster Invitees:

LHP Fernando Abad

LHP Bill Bray

LHP Brandon Mann

RHP Ross Ohlendorf

INF Will Rhymes

Additional Non-roster Invitees:

LHP Pat McCoy

RHP Tanner Roark

C Carlos Maldonado

INF Matt Skole

INF Zach Walters

Some fans may remember Maldonado from his short stint in D.C. in 2012 and Bray from his 19 appearances with Washington back in 2006 before pitching for the Reds the past six seasons. Abad and Ohlendorf both have big league time as recently as last year, and the latter is no stranger to D.C. – the Princeton grad interned for the Department of Agriculture back in the winter following the 2009 season. Meanwhile, Skole and Walters should also be names familiar to those who follow the Nationals farm system, as we have profiled each of them, the former taking home organizational Minor League Player of the Year honors.

As we reach the middle of January, the roster is starting to take shape. Of course, that should come as no surprise – pitchers and catchers report in just 26 days.

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