Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

Recapping the first two days of Spring Training

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by Amanda Comak

The first two days of Spring Training 2014 have gone off without a hitch. And as more and more position players roll into camp, the pitchers and catchers continue on their head start toward the season. Here are a few snaps from the first two days of workouts here in Viera, Fla., along with some live video below.

Ross Detwiler, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all worked in the bullpen during Sunday morning’s first session:

Craig Stammen, Gabriel Alfaro and Blake Treinen followed in the second group:

Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins and Drew Storen rolled in with the third group:

Back at Space Coast Stadium, where a few of the early-reporting position players worked out, Nate McLouth, Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon took a little batting practice:

Manager Matt Williams even got in on the fun, hitting grounders to the infielders and, as seen here, throwing some batting practice of his own to Jamey Carroll:

Thank You From The Lerner Family

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Dear Nationals Fans:

Thank you for making our home yours, for bringing NATITUDE to Nationals Park day in and day out, for making this our third straight year of increased attendance, and for establishing the Nation’s Capital as one of the greatest baseball cities in America.

On the field, we saw many first-rate performances this year and expect to spend the offseason getting even better. We are very excited about our new manager Matt Williams. Not only does he bring an impressive wealth of knowledge and on-field experience to the Nationals dugout, but we think he is the right leader for a team that’s ready to compete for a World Series championship. Matt will partner with President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo in the offseason to make sure our squad is ready for the 2014 campaign. While Mike and his scouts may fine-tune the roster in the next few months, we believe we are already very close to competing for a World Series title as we stand today.

In 2013, the Nationals young pitching staff tossed more innings, produced one of the National League’s winningest pitchers in Jordan Zimmermann, and continued to demonstrate that with starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann, our pitching corps represents one of the most formidable in the game. Veteran Jayson Werth returned midseason from a hamstring injury to become one of the most dominant hitters in baseball. Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche continued to show leadership, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Denard Span had an amazing 29-game hitting streak and an error-free year in the field. And young players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon made significant statements, in the field and at the plate, that they can be mainstays in the Major Leagues for years to come.

And Nats fans were there to see it all. Our April opener drew the largest regular season crowd in Nationals Park history, while our average attendance improved from even last season’s playoff year, and our broadcast and radio ratings were the highest yet. We are truly seeing our hometown become an ardent baseball city.

In the community, the team and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation were proud to help open the doors for the long-awaited Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex at Children’s National Medical Center, and we anticipate hosting our first student athletes on the fields at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy next Spring. We expect both of these initiatives to have a significant and positive impact on our community for generations to come.

The entire Nationals family is inspired by the intense passion for Major League Baseball and the team that’s growing in the capital area. We believe NATITUDE has made our town an even better community. We look forward to an exciting offseason, and plan to introduce everyone to Matt Williams and show off our talented roster at NatsFest in January. Spring Training won’t be far behind.

Thank you for your support – we believe Opening Day 2014 will be the grandest ever. You won’t want to miss it.

Sincerely,

Theodore N. Lerner Mark D. Lerner Edward L. Cohen Robert K. Tanenbaum
Annette M. Lerner Judy Lenkin Lerner Debra Lerner Cohen Marla Lerner Tanenbaum

The Routine of the Road

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Baseball players are creatures of habit. They have to be, by necessity. Success in this sport is defined by consistency, by the ability to produce at a high level continuously over the ups and downs of a six-month grind.

So one can imagine that it might take a while for players to get into their groove upon the beginning of a new campaign. Spring Training is easy – every day is almost the same – a morning workout, usually a mid-day game, and the evening off, with the same bed to sleep in for six weeks. The regular season brings something else entirely.

From the beginning of April until whenever the season comes to an end, the team jets north and south, east and west, zigzagging the country every few days. Most road trips – of which the Nationals will take a dozen during the regular season – include at least two different stops, meaning a new city, a new opponent for which to prepare, a new ballpark, and a new hotel bed.

Santangelo is used to the rigors of the road from his playing days.

Santangelo is used to the rigors of the road from his playing days.

It’s no wonder it can take a while for players to settle in.

“It usually took me the whole month of April,” recalled Nationals television color man F.P. Santangelo, who played parts of seven big league seasons with the Expos, Giants, Dodgers and Athletics.

For the Nationals, the month of April includes the recently concluded trip to Cincinnati, an upcoming week split between Miami and New York, and a trip to Atlanta and Pittsburgh that rolls into early May. While that is a fair amount of travel, Santangelo pointed out that the Nats lucked out in one regard.

“At least they only have one Opening Day,” he explained, referencing the April 1 opener in D.C. “Sometimes we’d have two or three. You’d have to stand out on the line for a half-hour for introductions. It would take you totally out of your routine.”

Quite often, teams will play in both their own home opener as well as one or more on the road, as Washington did last year in Chicago. The Nationals were spared the extra pomp and circumstance by a quirk in the schedule this year that saw them play three at home, travel to Cincinnati for three, then return again to D.C.

Now behind the mic, Santangelo is still subject to the same schedule as the players. Having played through it during his career, he knows not to invest too much into the highs (like a three-game, opening sweep of the Marlins) or the lows (such as a 15-0 loss to the Reds on Friday) this early in the season.

That’s the beauty of the game – while each individual result stands on its own, the teams that can get into the habit of winning for the long stretches are the ones that get to keep playing in October.

The Lighter Side of Spring

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Most of the time, fans see the intense, serious, NATITUDE-driven photo work we do with our players during Spring Training. So with the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day in the books, relax and enjoy the latest in our digital features, the lighter side behind the scenes with many of your favorite Nationals players.

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Back to the Grind

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After competing in a postseason type of atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic the last couple of weeks, Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez returned to the much more low-key confines of Viera, rejoining their teammates in Spring Training this week. Detwiler made his first spring start since the tournament on Sunday, bringing a sharp changeup, as well as his trademark, self-deprecating wit along with him to Lakeland as he squared off with the Tigers.

Despite the change in venue, Detwiler used the same approach for this outing as he did for his shining WBC moment, in which he shut down Team Italy over four scoreless frames to help Team USA advance to the second round.

“I don’t think it was that different,” said the southpaw of the two environments. “I had the same mentality to just go out there, throw strikes and get ahead.”

Detwiler looked like his old self in his return to the Nationals rotation Sunday.

Detwiler looked like his old self in his return to the Nationals rotation Sunday.

Limited to 56 pitches over four innings, the lefty allowed just three hits and a walk, surrendering a single run on a towering home run to Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter in the first inning.

“My first outing in Spring Training I faced the Braves and their Opening Day lineup,” he explained, noting that he has run into a tough string of opponents already in spring. “You don’t want to take any less intensity out there or they’re going to hit a ball right back at you. Or over the tiki hut in left.”

Detwiler went on to throw 15 more pitches in the bullpen, as he stretches himself out for his first start of the season, likely in Cincinnati – a well-known hitter’s haven – on the team’s first road trip. Good thing he’s getting his practice in now in tough pitching environments.

“That’s a ridiculous lineup,” he said of the Tigers, who rolled out nearly all of their starters on Sunday. “You’ve got to focus on keeping the ball down, or you’re going to have to throw with an L-screen out there.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, an L-screen is the protective barrier from behind which coaches throw batting practice to the players. Hopefully he won’t need any such equipment should he run into them again when the two teams meet during the regular season, May 7-8 in D.C.

“I’m going to throw to the American League the same way I throw to the National League, I just won’t have to hit in half the games,” he explained, as the only difference in his approach. After a pause, he quipped, “That’s a good thing.”

While Detwiler was out facing the defending American League Champions, Gonzalez took his day off to head to Disney World. He threw on the Minor League side on Monday as he works his way back into the rotation.

With Detwiler and Gonzalez’s return, and with the starters scheduled to play more innings both at home and on the road this week, it was time on Monday morning to make the next round of cuts in camp. The Nationals optioned right-handed pitchers Erik Davis, Yunesky Maya and Ryan Perry, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Chris Marrero and outfielder Corey Brown to Syracuse and reassigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters to Minor League camp. The Spring Training roster now stands at 34 players heading into play against the Tigers once again on Monday.

Nationals Lineup:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Harper LF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Ramos C

9. Zimmermann RHP

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

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

3/14 vs. Houston – W, 6-3

3/15 @ St. Louis – L, 5-1

3/16 vs. Houston – L, 4-2

3/17 @ Detroit – W, 12-10

Overall Record: 10-10-2

The Big Machine

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Stephen Strasburg was pitching, Ryan Zimmerman was playing third base, and all of the Nationals regulars were in the starting lineup for the first time truly in Spring Training Saturday night. Sure, the ballpark was about 40,000 people shy of what it will be when the 2013 regular season launches in Washington, but the exhibition season finally was beginning to feel like a reality.

Most of all, it meant that the Nationals are now just three turns of the rotation away from Opening Day in Washington, just 15 days from now.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

The Nationals featured their full projected Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday night.

Strasburg will start that game, just as he did Saturday night against the Astros. He delivered his second consecutive strong outing, just a taste of what he might unleash on the league in his first full season. In 5.1 innings of work, he fanned eight Houston batters – including four in a row at one point – allowing just a single run. Manager Davey Johnson extended him out to 93 pitches, easily the most thrown by a Washington starter this spring.

Afterwards, Johnson called Strasburg “The Big Machine,” helping support Strasburg’s own desires expressed earlier this spring to be thought of as a workhorse for this squad. He won’t be the only one extending his work over the next week, though, as Johnson made clear after the game that starters would all be expected to play the full nine innings beginning next week.

“It’s my time, boys,” he joked. “The party’s over.”

The game itself was, thankfully, still a Spring Training affair. From the wind-blown balls that escaped Bryce Harper and former National Rick Ankiel, to the drops by both Washington and Houston players, it was not the most cleanly played of contests. But when Ryan Zimmerman charged Carlos Corporan’s slow chopper up the third base line in the second inning – his first defensive attempt of the spring – picked it cleanly, and fired a bullet across the diamond to Adam LaRoche at first base, the crowd at Space Coast Stadium began to see flashes of the hopes of what this team will become.

“I can’t remember the last bad day,” said Zimmerman in reference to throwing, after slowly rebuilding his arm strength this offseason.

Those words should be music to every Nationals fan’s ears. The party may be over, but the fun is just beginning.

Check out the Nationals lineup as they head to Lakeland to take on Detroit, and see a complete list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup:

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Lombardozzi 3B

3. Harper CF

4. Moore RF

5. Desmond SS

6. Suzuki C

7. Tracy DH

8. Marrero 1B

9. Owings LF

P. Detwiler LHP

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

3/6 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/7 @ Houston – L, 4-2

3/8 vs. Cardinals – L, 16-10

3/9 vs. Marlins – W, 8-7

3/10 @ Detroit – L, 2-1

3/11 vs. Atlanta – L, 7-2

3/13 SS vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-5

3/13 SS @ Houston – W, 9-7

3/14 vs. Houston – W, 6-3

3/15 @ St. Louis – L, 5-1

3/16 vs. Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 9-10-2

Inter-National Flavor

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As the Nationals enjoy just their second off day of the spring on Tuesday, several members of the team are still hard at work, competing on a much grander stage. The second round of the World Baseball Classic is underway, with the opening games of Pool 2 beginning today in Miami.

The Dominican Republic squares off with Italy at 1:05 p.m. ET, while Team USA will send Gio Gonzalez to the mound against Puerto Rico in the split-doubleheader finale at 8:05 p.m. live on MLB Network. Of course, the United States might not be playing in this round at all if weren’t for another Washington National coming to the rescue.

Ross Detwiler's huge outing against Italy was instrumental in Team USA advancing.

Ross Detwiler’s huge outing against Italy was instrumental in Team USA advancing.

After dropping its opening game to Mexico, 5-2 in Phoenix, Team USA found itself in an early 2-0 hole in a win-or-go-home game against Italy. The offense finally came through, and manager Joe Torre handed the ball to Ross Detwiler with a 6-2 lead in the sixth inning.

“It’s amazing, playing for your country,” said Detwiler of his pressure-packed outing. “We’ve played some pretty close games. Everybody’s putting their heart and soul into it. Seeing all the fans coming out and chanting ‘U-S-A’ and everything, it really brings chills.”

Detwiler certainly rose to the challenge. After reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey was touched up in the loss to Mexico, Ryan Vogelsong struggled early in his start against Italy before giving way to the bullpen. Detwiler entered and mowed down the competition, allowing just a single and a walk over four scoreless frames, striking out three to record a 12-out save, the first of his career. Another comeback win against Canada in the final game of pool play on Sunday ensured the Americans would play on.

Of course, Detwiler is certainly accustomed – perhaps uniquely so – to pitching meaningful games in March.

“I had to compete for a job the last few years, so it’s not really any earlier than I’m used to,” he said of bringing competitive fire to spring starts. “I’ve never had a Spring Training where I just come in and take it easy and just get ready for the season. I’ve had to win a job in the past. I think that helped me out this year.”

Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong chat after playing catch on Monday.

Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong chat after playing catch on Monday.

Now it’s Gonzalez’s turn to shine, in the national spotlight during primetime, against a Puerto Rican team that features MLB stars like Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Angel Pagan. Gonzalez did not join the team for the first round, but watched every game on television, including Sunday’s bout with Canada from Flanagan’s, a favorite spot in his hometown of Hialeah.

Upon arriving at Monday’s workout at Marlins Park, Gonzalez immediately sought out his Washington rotation-mate.

“The first thing Ross did to me was give me a big old hug, big pat on the back,” said Gonzalez of his reunion with Detwiler. Gonzalez praised the fellow lefty on his outing against the Italians. “The way he went out there and performed, I think he set the tone. He looked really good.”

Detwiler expects nothing less of Gonzalez, who won 21 games and finished third in the National League Cy Young race last season.

“I think Gio’s gonna be just fine,” Detwiler said with a laugh. “He knows how to go out there and compete and win. And obviously in his home city he’s going to do well. He’s going to bring a big crowd out here, and hopefully they’re chanting ‘U-S-A.’”

Team USA battled a loud, pro-Mexico crowd in their contest in Arizona, and there is sure to be plenty of Puerto Rico fans in attendance on Tuesday night in Miami. But if last season was any indication, Gonzalez alone may well help mobilize the local community in favor of the red, white and blue.

“The last time I was here it was over 600 tickets,” said Gonzalez of the purchases by family and friends for when the Nationals took on the Marlins last season. “I think all of Hialeah came.”

Regardless of Team USA’s results in Miami, one Nationals player has already cemented his spot in the semifinals. Roger Bernadina’s Netherlands squad continued its Cinderella run with an upset of Team Cuba in Japan and will join the Japanese and two semifinalists from Pool 2 in San Francisco.

The Nationals are also represented at the minor league level in the WBC by Mike Costanzo and Matt Torra (Italy), Adrian Nieto (Spain; eliminated), Randolph Oduber (Netherlands), Eury Perez (Dominican Republic) and Jimmy Van Ostrand (Canada; eliminated).

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 …

A Chat With Bob Carpenter

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With the MASN broadcast team in town on Friday to watch the Nationals take on the Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium, we sat down to chat with play-by-play man Bob Carpenter to get his perspective on Spring Training so far. Tapping into his three decades of Major League experience, we asked about his routines, the hazards of calling spring games, and his outlook as the Nationals prepare for the 2013 campaign.

Curly W Live: How much attention do you pay to Spring Training, day-to-day?

Bob Carpenter: I check it every day. And I’ll watch from afar, the box scores as games progress. The one thing I really like to do, is once the game gets into the middle innings, if I’m not (in Viera), I’ll check out a box score, look at pitching lines, see what guys have done their first couple at-bats. I would say it’s something I look at several times a day when we’re not here.

CWL: You guys have a similar ramp-up as the players do, getting more intense heading into Opening Day. How does it feel every year to prepare for the season ahead?

Carpenter calls Friday's game from the press box at Space Coast Stadium.

Carpenter calls Friday’s game from the press box at Space Coast Stadium.

BC: You know, that’s a good thought. I used to have a horrible time getting ready for Spring Training games. Now that this is my eighth year (with the Nationals), you kind of know all the guys. And this is a unique spring, because we don’t have a bunch of guys battling for jobs this spring. Things are pretty well settled. So this has probably been the easiest spring to keep an eye on, to get a pulse on, and to get ready for the games. They’re just so much more settled about the ballclub right now, and that’s fantastic for us. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I keep finding that I learn something every year that maybe I didn’t know about the year before. Spring Training always has a few surprises, but I’ll be real happy this year if we head north and there’s not one surprise that came up. Now it might be something good like Anthony Rendon hitting .400, but it’s really cool to come and see this ballclub now compared to some of the springs we had a few years ago.

CWL: When you have a ton of guys taking part in one game, it can wreak havoc on a broadcast. How do you go about keeping track of everybody?

BC: We don’t get a whole lot of help in that respect, we’re kind of on our own. The most effective thing you can bring to Spring Training – which I naturally forgot for our first broadcast – is binoculars. So Dan Kolko from MASN Sports, he didn’t want to loan me his binoculars, but he did. But I’ve got them now. If you can get through the first couple spring broadcasts, you’re fine. About the middle of the month, which is about a week away, guys start getting three at-bats, four at-bats, and instead of playing four innings they’re playing six or seven innings.

So, as a broadcaster, the key is surviving those first couple of spring telecasts, letting the people in D.C. think you know what you’re talking about with all these players. Because there’s a lot of guys to keep track of. I do a huge file on the Nats. All the guys on the 40-man roster are in my file. When we get into some of the guys who don’t play much, or who are destined for minor league camp, we’ll delve into the archives a little bit and get stuff on them. So yeah, it’s kind of like the players in that we gear up for Opening Day like the team does.

CWL: Coming off the excitement of the 2012 season and with a long spring due to the World Baseball Classic, how hard is it to pace yourself heading into Opening Day?

BC: I think a lot of that comes with experience. As a Major League broadcaster, this is my 30th Spring Training. I think the first time I went to Spring Training in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1984, I didn’t really know what I was doing. You just kind of learn on the job. With experience comes the calm that you’re kind of feeling before the storm. Once the season gets going, it kind of explodes out of the gate, then you kind of settle into a little routine.

When I was a younger broadcaster, I was all charged up about Spring Training telecasts. I wanted to accomplish this and accomplish that. And I did those not only for the team I was with, but for many years, I did broadcasts for ESPN and you really half to gear up, because you have to tell the story of two teams when you do that. But I think with experience comes the feeling that, “I know what’s going on here, I’ve got a good feel for the camp.” And I think that comes from talking to the guys and talking to the coaches. So I think it’s just like the players – the more Spring Trainings that you’re involved in, the more you feel relaxed about it and you know what you have to do step-by-step to get ready for the season.

CWL: Have you ever sensed as much anticipation heading into the season as there is around this ballclub?

BC: Well I think it’s high. I think the real eye-opener for me – and everybody knew we were going to have a good team, then we pick up Denard Span, we pick up Dan Haren, we pick up Rafael Soriano – it’s like icing on a cake that already tastes pretty good. Then I went to NatsFest and I saw the excitement with our fans, with 7,000 people there on a cold afternoon in January, going crazy about this team. It was like “Wow, our fans have now taken this thing to the next level.” And now it’s up to the team to take them along for the ride. I think that’s really where it hit me, when I went to NatsFest and just saw the enthusiasm and how in love Washington is with this team now. We saw that to a certain extent for a number of years. Fans would come and say, “I hope we can do this, I hope we can do that.” Now it’s, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” And I know sometimes hopes and expectations, going from one to the other, can be kind of a dangerous thing, because there are expectations now, along with the hopes that this team is going to do great things. I think this is by far, as a Nationals broadcaster, the most anticipated Spring Training that I’ve been through, leading up to the most anticipated season. And with all those home games we have in April, like 16 of them, it’s important that this team get out of the gate well, because they have to take advantage of that time. This thing might become pretty revealing pretty quickly once the season starts.

Launched Into Orbit

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This year’s Grapefruit League schedule pits the Nationals against the Houston Astros six times, providing a chance for former Washington third base coach and new Astros skipper Bo Porter to reunite and reminisce with his old players. They did just that on Tuesday at Space Coast Stadium, both sides praising one another as details emerged, such as the book club Porter orchestrates that counts over 20 members of the Nationals squad as members.

It’s pleasant to see the mutual professional respect between the coach and his former players, one made easier to show thanks to the exhibition nature of Spring Training. It is also, in all likelihood, the only chance the two will have to see each other this season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

The Astros have reintroduced Orbit for the 2013 season.

See, the Astros are moving from the National League Central to the American League West this season, giving baseball an even 15 teams per league and five per division. The teams will not square off in the regular season until next year, when the NL East will be slated to face the AL West as part of Interleague Play.

As part of the move, the Astros have changed their uniform scheme to a retro navy and orange look, and have brought back their mascot Orbit, who, according to the team website, “hitched a ride on the space shuttle Discovery to visit his home back in the Grand Slam Galaxy” following the 1999 season. That brings us to the teams’ second meeting on Thursday, for which the furry green space cadet was in attendance.

Following the bottom of the fifth of a scoreless contest on Thursday, Orbit trotted out onto the field to help the promo team toss T-shirts into the crowd, but on his way from the gate by the home dugout onto the grass around home plate, he let his weight get out in front of him and he tripped, stumbling and falling to the turf. Upon gracefully picking himself back up, he was handed the T-shirt air cannon, from which he promptly fired a rolled-up souvenir a clear 20 feet over the roof of Osceola County Stadium and into the parking lot.

It was a moment of comedy, but also a reminder, in the midst of a fairly quiet and pedestrian game, of just how trivial the results of Spring Training really are.

Yes, Gio Gonzalez got a solid three innings of work in, limited under 50 pitches (he threw 42) based on World Baseball Classic guidelines for those already committed to pitch for the team. He tossed 23 more in the bullpen to get a little more stretched out before heading to Miami next Tuesday for his WBC debut.

But the biggest takeaway thus far from Nationals camp has to be the adage that no news is good news. Aside from the training staff taking a cautious approach with Christian Garcia, whose camp has been slowed by a week or two, it has been a healthy, uneventful spring. And that means we can revel in book clubs and mascot mishaps as we wait the final 24 days for Opening Day to arrive.

Here’s a look at today’s lineup and a list of Spring Training results to date:

Nationals Lineup

1. Espinosa 2B

2. Werth RF

3. Harper CF

4. Zimmerman DH

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Moore LF

8. Ramos C

9. Tracy 3B

P. Zimmermann

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

3/5 @ Philadelphia – L, 6-3

3/6 @ Houston – L, 4-2

Overall Record: 5-5-2

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