Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’
Before Monday night’s Nationals–Mets tilt in Port St. Lucie – the second between the two clubs in the same location in just over 48 hours – skipper Davey Johnson mused aloud that teams with good Minor League depth often posted strong Spring Training records. If the game itself was any indication, Johnson, who relishes the opportunity to see such players in person, must have liked what he saw.
Led by a bevy of rising stars, the Nationals impressed at the plate and on the mound as they notched their first Grapefruit League win, by a 6-4 final.
The logic behind Johnson’s reasoning stemmed from the heavy innings that non-regulars log during the Grapefruit League season, and never was that circumstance more on display for the Nats. With a starting nine featuring just one 2012 Opening Day roster member in Steve Lombardozzi (plus Gio Gonzalez pitching), Washington’s youngsters peppered New York pitchers all around Tradition Field to the tune of 17 hits in a victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.
Outfielder Eury Perez leaned on his strongest tool – his speed – to accumulate a trio of infield singles and a stolen base, scoring from first on a double in the third and from second on a single in the fourth. Anthony Rendon, vying for a home run for the second straight day, was robbed of a longball at the center field fence, but later lined a seed the opposite way for a single. Eight of the nine starters pitched in hits, with Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole demolishing a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat.
On the mound, Skole’s counterpart Nathan Karns – Washington’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year – turned in perhaps the most noteworthy performance. Following two hitless innings from Gonzalez in his first spring start, Karns fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and top Mets prospect Travis d’Arnaud, allowing only a David Wright flare single over two scoreless innings.
“He’s got a great future,” said Johnson of Karns, whom he saw live in game action for the first time Monday night. “He had an explosive fastball, threw first pitch strikes. Very impressive for the young man.”
Karns overthrew a couple of curveballs early, but settled in and spun a beauty to put away d’Arnaud. He attributed the early inconsistency on the pressure of facing Major Leaguers for the first time.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous in the ‘pen, I’m not going to lie,” Karns said of the experience, but he took Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s advice between innings. “Breathe, breathe. I guess I was a little red in the face, a little sweaty.”
Karns’ stuff played just fine, his fastball sitting 93-96 with great life. When asked if that was a normal velocity range, he was non-committal, but referenced his offseason conditioning program.
“I was around there last year,” he said of his fastball velocity. “This year I felt like I did a lot in the offseason to strengthen my lower body, give me some more endurance. So if I get a couple more ticks on the radar, that’s a bonus.”
One veteran in the clubhouse within earshot took notice.
“A couple more ticks?” interrupted Ryan Mattheus, who earned the save with a scoreless ninth, incredulously from the corner of the clubhouse. “What do you want, to throw 105?”
The radar gun at Tradition Field actually misfired and flashed 143 miles-per-hour after one high fastball out of the 25-year-old’s right hand.
“Yeah, I can say I threw 143,” Karns said nonchalantly.
It’ll be a story for the grandkids.
The Nationals hit the road again Tuesday afternoon, where they will face the division-rival Braves for the first time this spring at 1:05 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista.
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to take a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. We wrap up our series with story of pitcher-turned-position-player Micah Owings.
The story of Rick Ankiel’s conversion from a former top prospect pitcher to a successful Major League outfielder is well known to fans of the Nationals. Ankiel played his past two seasons in a Washington uniform, patrolling center field with his cannon arm and showing flashes of the pop that led him to 25 home runs back in 2008. But the main reason that Ankiel’s transition was so notable was how rarely it has ever been accomplished. In Micah Owings, the Nationals have another player making the leap this season.
Owings showed promise on the mound, though he compiled a fairly average 32-33 record and 4.82 ERA over his six years. But the signs of his potential as a hitter have always been there. He still holds the Georgia state high school record for career home runs as a prepster, and carried that success at the plate with him into the professional ranks. Owings burst onto the Major League scene with a .333/.349/.683 line, blasting four home runs and seven doubles in just 64 plate appearances in his rookie campaign of 2007 to win the Silver Slugger Award.
In fact, despite generally receiving only a couple of plate appearances every five days, he owns a career .283 batting average and .503 slugging percentage, both marks higher than many Major League regulars. Now 30, Owings has decided to try to get the most out of what his body has left and make an honest run at converting to an everyday player.
“It was just to find out what kind of abilities I really have,” he explained of his decision to make the permanent switch. “I don’t want to look back 15-20 years from now and say ‘what if I would have tried it?’”
The idea for the change was in the works for a while before Owings finally pulled the trigger. But with a number of familiar faces from his Arizona days in Nationals camp – both on and off the field – the Nationals seemed like a perfect club to take the leap with.
“There are a lot of great guys, and they’ve been receptive,” said Owings of his new teammates easing his transition. “Even being in a different Spring Training zone. I’m used to being in Arizona for Spring Training. So totally being able to separate, being down here in Florida has been great. I’m really looking forward to it as camp develops.”
As for a position in the field, Owings is content to fit in wherever he can. Manager Davey Johnson has been impressed with what he’s seen so far, and obviously has no concerns about his new project’s arm strength. But at 6’5” and 220 pounds, don’t expect Owings to follow in Ankiel’s footsteps in center field any time soon.
“I don’t want to compare myself to him – he’s a great athlete,” said Owings of Ankiel, though he has tapped the trailblazer for his advice. “I was able to pick his brain last Spring Training, when I was kind of chewing on it. He shed some insight. I didn’t even have to say anything, he just said “Do it,” because he knew what I wanted to talk about.”
That reassurance, plus the confidence he will build with every game, every at-bat, every swing here in Spring Training has Owings optimistic about the process. He also looks forward to bringing a more mature approach to learning the other half of the game at the highest level.
“I’m just focusing in on the things I can control,” he said. “A lot of those things that we can’t control as players – umpires, calls, errors – those ate me up from a pitching standpoint early on. Hopefully I can remember that heading into this path.”
Owings won’t have to wait long for his first opportunity. He’s slated to DH, bat ninth, and play the full nine innings in Washington’s spring opener against the Mets Saturday afternoon.
Believe it or not, Spring Training games begin tomorrow.
That’s right, in less than 24 hours, the Nationals will begin their Grapefruit League season with a 12:10 p.m. start at Digital Domain Park, the spring home of the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie. And the man slated to start that game on the mound for the Nationals? None other than Stephen Strasburg.
“It’s been a good spring so far, and I’m ready to play games,” said Davey Johnson from his office Friday. “I think they are too.”
The Mets will piggyback new acquisition Shaun Marcum and promising prospect Zack Wheeler (rated eighth overall by MLB.com and 11th by Baseball America), looking to break camp with the team for the first time. The game will be televised nationally on MLB Network, the first game of the spring to get the royal treatment.
As is the usual custom for road games in Spring Training, especially early in camp, when the Major League-side clubhouse is still crowded, there will be few regular position players making the trek south to Port St. Lucie. The only projected members of the Opening Day lineup (other than Strasburg, possibly) slated for the trip are Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Denard Span, who will be joined by Goon Squaders Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy.
That will give minor leaguers like Anthony Rendon, Matt Skole and Zach Walters a chance to shine in the spotlight. Catchers Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Chris Snyder and Jhonatan Solano, infielders Chris Marrero, Micah Owings, Will Rhymes, and Carlos Rivero, and outfielders Corey Brown and Eury Perez will also make the trip.
The pitchers in the fold behind Strasburg include Craig Stammen, 40-man roster members Cole Kimball and Erik Davis, and NRI’s Fernando Abad, Bill Bray and Pat McCoy. Stay tuned to the Nationals on Twitter for updates live from Florida throughout day.
With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to bring you a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. Today, we learn more about one of the most compelling personalities in the group, pitcher Ross Ohlendorf.
When it comes to the 6-foot-4, 240-pound pitcher with the power sinker, Ross Ohlendorf looks the part of the professional athlete. Born in Austin, Texas, he serves as a ranch-hand on his father’s farm in the offseason, where they raise longhorns. With huge hands and a bullish frame, he fits right into a throwing line of Nationals power pitchers, firing darts across an open expanse of outfield grass along the practice fields behind Space Coast Stadium.
However, Ohlendorf’s story does not end there. Not even close.
Athletes are sometimes thought of simply in terms of the game they play, but a quick look at Ohlendorf’s resume – his degree from Princeton (the same alma mater as the recently signed Chris Young) in Operations Research and Financial Engineering, along with internships in the office of finance at the University of Texas and another with the Department of Agriculture in D.C. – dispels that notion quickly. In fact, after being drafted following his junior year, he penned a 140-page senior thesis while playing his first season of minor league ball. The topic, given his major, had to be rooted in mathematics, statistics or finance. Ohlendorf knew just the thing.
“The (MLB) Draft was really relevant at the time, so that’s what I decided to focus on,” he explained. “A lot of people would talk about how much players were getting paid as a signing bonus and say they were getting paid too much or not paid enough, so I decided to do a study to try to estimate how it’s worked out for teams.”
He analyzed the top 100 picks over a five-year period, then analyzed the return on the initial investment over the next 12 years of the players’ careers. If that sounds like the kind of thing that would make him a prime candidate to follow in the footsteps of players-turned-executives like Billy Beane, perhaps so. But all that talk is a little premature for Ohlendorf. He’s still got plenty of baseball left in his arm.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said, laughing, about the prospect of someday moving into the front office for a team. “It’s definitely something that would interest me, but I’m not really thinking that far ahead right now.”
Indeed. For now, Ohlendorf provides some of that starting pitching depth that EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo has been talking about all offseason. Of course, Rizzo was the Director of Scouting for Arizona when the Diamondbacks first selected and signed Ohlendorf in the fourth round of the 2004 First-year Player Draft. If Ohlendorf’s familiarity with Rizzo – as well as former teammates like Tyler Clippard and Micah Owings – wasn’t enough to sell him on Washington, his throwing partner this offseason was fellow NRI Bill Bray.
“That really makes the transition easier,” said Ohlendorf of the familiarity across different levels of the Nationals organization, his sixth. “I’ve really, really enjoyed Spring Training so far. It’s well done, and people really like each other here. It’s such a great environment here.”
Ohlendorf’s internship experience, as well as his five seasons spent pitching in the National League, have also brought him to the Nation’s Capital a number of times. He even lived near Capitol Hill for his 10-week internship with the USDA, which was mornings only, so he could go through his baseball workouts in the afternoon.
“I really liked it,” he said of his stint in Washington. “And I’ve really liked it when I’ve gone to play against the Nationals, too. It’s one of my favorite cities.”
While the positive Spring Training environment and the prospect of pitching in Washington help, perhaps the real reason Ohlendorf projects so much positivity about camp this year is internal. With 108 Major League appearances (73 starts) under his belt, the 30-year-old is happy to be fully healthy and feels particularly good about his physical well-being going into the spring.
“I’m really excited about this season, it’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” he explained. “I think part of the reason I feel so good, having stayed healthy last year, my arm feels even better this year. My workouts have changed a little bit each offseason and I feel like I’ve improved my diet this year, which I think has helped.”
The more he has focused on his workouts and his nutrition over the years, the less Ohlendorf has paid attention to his own personal numbers. And while discovering more about the statistical intricacies of the game he plays has been an intellectually stimulating project, as a player, Ohlendorf has learned not to overanalyze his own metrics and simply focus on what he can control.
“I do think they have a lot of value,” Ohlendorf said of the figures that formed the basis of his thesis. “But I’ve kind of found, for me as a player, I don’t think it does me much good, and it can do me harm to worry too much about my stats.”
As Crash Davis lectured Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, sometimes it’s better to not think, and just throw. However intricate and complex his intellectual pursuits are off the field, Ohlendorf is content taking that basic game plan into this season.
“Each game I try to pitch as deep into the game as I can and I try to get a win,” he said. “Just keep it simple.”
With Spring Training games beginning on Saturday, we’re taking the final few practice days of camp to take a closer look at some of the more interesting stories among this year’s Non-Roster Invitees. We start things off by getting to know lefty reliever Bill Bray.
By this point, you’re probably tired of hearing the story of the first-round draft pick raised in Virginia Beach, out of college in Virginia, who moved quickly through the system, making his way into a Nationals uniform. That tale, the one usually ascribed to Ryan Zimmerman, has been told many times, as he has grown into the face of the Nationals franchise. But one year prior, another player matching the same description began a very different journey, one that has, after nearly a decade, landed him back in the same clubhouse here in Viera.
Bill Bray is a name likely familiar to Nationals fans who have been following the franchise since its relocation. After being selected 16th overall in the 2004 First-year Player Draft, the final one in Expos history, he made it to his Major League debut two days before his 23rd birthday in a road game at Milwaukee. The lefty threw a single pitch, upon which Corey Koskie, the runner at first, was gunned down trying to take second base, ending the eighth inning with Washington trailing, 3-2.
Zimmerman – who Bray faced in both high school and college – led off the top of the ninth with a single, and two batters later Brian Schneider took Derrick Turnbow deep for a two-run shot to give Washington the lead. Chad Cordero closed out the ninth, and Bray earned a win in his first Major League appearance, throwing just one pitch without retiring a batter.
The southpaw appeared in relief 19 times in the 2006 season before being flipped to the Reds in an eight-player deal that netted the Nationals Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. Now he returns to a team that has grown during his absence to one of the strongest in the game.
“It’s a great feeling to be back in a Nationals uniform, and at the same time all these memories just come flooding back,” Bray said of walking into the home clubhouse in Viera for the first time in seven years. “It’s weird, almost like you’re seeing some ghosts walking around.”
Bray was raised in the system with the likes of Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, but watched them blossom into everyday players from afar. Meanwhile, he has spent the past six years with Cincinnati, carving out a role for himself as a left-handed specialist, though his numbers against righties have been respectable as well.
“I don’t care if it’s a lefty or a righty up at the dish, I’m going to go at them the same way, I’m going to attack, and I’m going to get them out,” he explained, but also acknowledged the necessity of left-handed pitching for a team like the Nationals. “I think it’s a very important job, especially in the NL East with some of the lefties that we’re going to see and face.”
Bray is already embracing the role he hopes to carve out for himself over the next six weeks. He’s thrilled to have the chance to come back to Washington as well, the organization that signed him, and the one closest to his childhood home.
“Besides the baseball, we love D.C.,” Bray said of himself and his family. “Being from Virginia, my wife and I lived in D.C. for a couple years before we moved to Texas and we really enjoyed it.”
But ultimately, Bray’s driving force to return to Washington came from the knowledge that he had the chance to fill one of the lone remaining openings on a team with high aspirations this season.
“I know if I go out there and I’m healthy, I’m going to do my job,” Bray said, matter-of-factly. “That has always been the key for me is just staying on the field. I’m expecting to be healthy this year, I’m expecting to do my job, and I’m expecting to win the spot.”
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.
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.
Those fans that made it out to NatsFest were treated to the offseason facial hair stylings of a number of their favorite players. While Jayson Werth arrived with his now-familiar grizzle, it was another member of the team who stole much of the spotlight: Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa’s propensity for quick facial hair growth had been pointed out numerous times since his arrival in The District, but he had never let it go beyond a week or two. Then, suddenly, the infielder showed up in Washington in late January, having not shaved since the end of the 2012 season. His mountain man image quickly spread across the internet, as fans wondered aloud if he had overtaken the title of best facial hair on the team.
EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo joked at NatsFest that the team had “some facial hair problems we need to attack.” And so, sure enough, off came the beard, one uncomfortably hilarious strip at a time. Enjoy the process as Espi returns from nearly unrecognizable to his usual self, with a couple of ridiculous stops along the way.
Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.
The Nationals held their first team work out of Spring Training Thursday. And while Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond put on a power display in batting practice, it was a wild osprey that stole the show.
Clutching a large fish in its talons, the bird of prey flew low over the field as it headed for its nest atop a nearby light tower. Center fielder Denard Span spotted it immediately.
“I saw the bird with something attached to its claws,” Span said. “At first, everyone was trying to figure out what it was. Then once I saw it was a fish, I realized he was gonna drop it.”
Span, known for his eye at the plate, was correct in his prediction. Out came the fish, falling to the turf about 25 feet beyond the cut of the grass in shallow center field.
“I could tell what the bird was thinking,” Span said, mimicking a person with his face in his palms. “I just dropped my dinner.”
But the osprey wasn’t ready to give up its meal. It circled back, as nervous fielders kept one eye on the rest of batting practice and one eye on the skies. Span tried his best to deter the bird from returning.
“I was just screaming,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not an outdoorsman. I didn’t want him to attack me.”
Desmond, who later picked up the fish and tossed it over the fence, didn’t think twice about the incident.
“I’m from here, so I see stuff like that all the time,” the Sarasota native said. “I’ve seen osprey flying with fish, rats or whatever. Never seen them drop in the middle of the field, though.”
“It was a pretty big fish,” he continued. “I think it was a crappie.”
Asked why he would pick up the fish and carry it off the field, Desmond got straight to the point.
“I’ve been fishing my whole life,” he said. “I’ve grabbed plenty of fish before.”
For the majority of Nationals fans around the country that are not in Florida right now, the knowledge that pitchers and catchers have reported provides comfort that the baseball season is right around the corner. However, most of them will not see their favorite players actually throw and catch and hit until the team migrates north back to the banks of the Anacostia for the regular season. For all Nats fans, but especially for those stuck in colder climates eagerly awaiting spring, this is for you.