Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

From The Desk Of Mark Lerner – Heading Home

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Hello Nationals Fans,

Is everyone counting backwards, like I am? Only three days until the April 5, 2012 Season Opener on Chicago’s north side.

But before we indulge ourselves with grandiose visions of Wrigley Field, Opening Week and of course our April 12 home opener against the Reds, I also want to mention how happy I am personally – as is my entire family – for our dear friend Stan Kasten, who along with Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners, agreed to purchase the Dodgers last week.

Upon getting word that this transaction was going through, I immediately called Stan, who was in New York signing the first wave of legal documents. He was elated and for good reason. Stan in Hollywood…a PERFECT match!

The Dodgers are a crown-jewel franchise with a special place historically in our game. Baseball is a better sport when the Dodgers are prominent. I am looking forward to seeing Stan – and hopefully meeting Magic – when we head west to Los Angeles to visit one of my favorite places in baseball, Dodger Stadium, starting on April 27.

The cherry blossoms in bloom can mean only one thing: it's time for Opening Day.

Now, let’s put a wrap on the ‘12 Grapefruit League season, Davey Johnson’s first camp as Manager of the Nats.

Remember, Davey is a baseball lifer whose baseball life began as a Spring Training bat boy with our Senators in the early 1950’s. He had a vision and by spring’s end, I think it is safe to say this was the most competitive camp in Nationals history. And that competition stemmed largely from the strongest crop of minor leaguers we’ve ever had.

Davey knows that everything great in this game starts in Spring Training. Sure, there were some bumps along the way, and perhaps a few more injuries than we’d like to see. Prominent players like Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang, Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel have all been a little banged up.  But, the way I see it, better now than in May or June, right?

At the end of the day, a lot did go right. Easily, the best news of the spring came on Feb. 26 as the Nationals signed Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract extension. Ryan’s playing abilities are obvious, but he is also a true gentleman.

There is wonderful symmetry in knowing that the first draft selection (2005) in the history of the Nationals will be playing in D.C. for a long time, perhaps his entire career. There are just not enough star athletes that stay with one club, in one town, their entire careers.

The games started on March 2 with a 3-0 victory over D.C.’s own Georgetown University. Even with the loss, the young Hoyas were provided with a challenge and thrill they will never forget.

Rick Ankiel got his spring off to a great start as he hit an opposite-field homer against the Mets in his hometown of Port St. Lucie. I know it must have been gratifying for him to perform in front of family, friends and some of his former high school teachers and coaches.

Even though he will start the season in Syracuse, Corey Brown seemed to emerge from an injury-riddled 2011 season with a strong spring showing (.318, one homer, 4 RBI in 10 games). I bet he continues his good play in Syracuse.

Mark DeRosa showed everyone that his wrist was healthy, hitting .400+ for the spring. He also (jokingly) claims he set a Grapefruit League record with 10 walks in less than 50 plate appearances. I don’t know about that, but he was on base 2-3 times a game. He is going to be a real weapon for Davey.

Bryce Harper performed well on the field, but a minor injury temporarily slowed his momentum. That said, he showed all of the maturity needed to excel off the field. He managed loads of media requests and was always ready to play, the calf injury notwithstanding.

Bryce handled his option to Syracuse with true class, but at the same moment, he was charged up by Davey’s challenge to play center field. I have a feeling we will be seeing Bryce in D.C. in the not-too-distant future.

This spring, we enjoyed meeting Gio Gonzalez and watching him perform in our uniform for the first time. That curveball will be something I look forward to seeing once every five days for a long time to come. And the remainder of his repertoire was not too shabby either.

Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson will round out one of the hardest-throwing staffs in baseball. Both are quiet, both are competitors. Both are healthy and slot quite nicely into our rotation. And let’s not forget John Lannan who pitched very well this spring and Chien-Ming Wang, who was throwing so well prior to his hamstring injury. He is recovering nicely and will be another major piece for us as the season goes on.

And how about our bullpen? They picked up where they left off last season and now we have added Brad Lidge, one of the most accomplished relievers in the game today. I’d also like to note just how well Henry Rodriguez pitched. He was consistently outstanding from Day 1 of camp.

With all that said, I think the best sight of all this spring was Wilson Ramos behind the plate.  I know how excited I was in seeing him for the first time, so I can only wonder how emotionally taxing his first week of camp was. There is something about the atmosphere created by teammates in a clubhouse setting. Wilson is back where he belongs, with us and in a Nationals uniform, safe and sound.

I sense Mike Rizzo’s off-season acquisitions, Davey’s confidence, and the unusually warm temps this spring have generated a strong buzz for Nationals baseball in D.C.

A strong start in April would certainly help the equation, but I keep reminding myself that it is a long season.

Thanks for your continued support Nats fans. Let’s play ball! It is finally time.

I’ll look forward to seeing everyone all season long at beautiful and picturesque Nationals Park.

Last Call for Baseball

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The Nationals still have a couple days left in the Grapefruit League season before returning to D.C. Tuesday for their exhibition game against the Red Sox, but Saturday marked the end of the home season at Space Coast Stadium. The fans in Viera were treated to a good matchup, as Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg took on the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals in the front half of a home-and-home, which will conclude Sunday in Jupiter. But the final home game of spring means much more than just what happens between the lines.

The most recognizable man at Space Coast Stadium got a standing ovation at the end of 2012 Spring Training.

The Team Store is swamped with fans, taking advantage of the final day clearance items. All the familiar sounds of the ballpark can be heard one final time before they go into hibernation until next spring. From the entryway to the ballpark we hear the program vendor hollering his old standard: “Get your program here, only fiiiiiivvvve dollaaaarrrrs.”

Of course, we couldn’t say goodbye to Space Coast Stadium for the spring without paying tribute to the most recognizable man in the park, vendor Vincent R. While he supplies peanuts and water to the crowd, he is most well known for the other commodity that rests in his blue carry-tray.

“Ice cold beer!” he belts out across the ballpark, his booming voice echoing through the concrete bowl, soliciting laughter from newcomers and regulars alike. “Beer that is cold and in ice!”

His line is so well-known around these parts that the stadium PA booth will, on occasion, play a sound effect of a carbonated beverage pouring into a glass after Vincent delivers it. Every ballpark has its nuances, the quirks that make it unique. Space Coast Stadium wouldn’t be what it is without Vincent, who received a standing ovation from the crowd after being recognized during Friday night’s game against the Marlins. After all, this is his 12th season here in Viera, where he began working at just 13 years of age.

The Team Store was buzzing for the final home game.

For Kelley Wheeler – the  Business Operations Manager of the Single-A Brevard County Manatees, who call Space Coast Stadium home during the season – the transition is bittersweet. As the Manatees are a Brewers affiliate, Wheeler and her team have to transition the entire ballpark, from the signage on the walls and scoreboard to the merchandise in the Team Store, all in a 72-hour period to get ready for their first fan event on Wednesday evening. There are no lingering memories, just an extensive overhaul to shift from the very different worlds of Major League Spring Training and the Minor League regular season.

But the end of spring means the beginning of the real season. The laid-back nature of camps in Florida and Arizona give way to the daily intensity and scrutiny of the national media spotlight in major cities all around the country. That pressure is a good thing, though. It only exists because, beginning in just a few days, the games will count. And for the Nationals, in 2012, that’s a good thing.

Almost the Real Deal

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There was something about Wednesday’s contest against the Mets in Port St. Lucie that felt a little more real than the previous games leading up to it. Fans who have followed the team closely, through the end of last year and the offseason additions over the winter, understand this. The Nationals were guided in this contest by their great pitching, with Jordan Zimmermann starring in the lead role, tossing six innings of two-hit, scoreless ball. Runs were at a premium, with only Ryan Zimmerman’s sacrifice fly in the third and Jayson Werth’s solo home run in the fourth bringing anything other than goose eggs to the scoreboard through the first six frames.

We had some lively, bilingual company in the press box in St. Lucie on Wednesday.

When Lucas Duda’s chopper escaped the leaping reach of Chad Tracy at first and rattled down amongst the bullpen chairs, allowing Jason Bay to score all the way from first, it was obvious this would be one of those nail-biters. Even in Spring Training, the crowd was very much involved in the result. You could feel the sway of emotions as the Nationals scored in the top of the eighth to re-establish the two-run cushion, only to have the Mets close the gap to one again with a run in the bottom half.

Even without Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in their familiar eighth and ninth inning roles, the bullpen acquitted itself nicely. Henry Rodriguez, locking up his second save in three days, got some help on a nice diving catch by Corey Brown in right,. It all incorporated the feel of a regular season, intra-division game, full of drama up until the final out was recorded. It was the type of game many of those who follow the organization expect to see the team play this year – well pitched, low scoring and close. All in all, it almost felt like the regular season.

Almost.

After all, sitting to our right in the press box was a trio of Spanish broadcasters, announcing (live?) into their microphones about happenings around Mets camp. We picked out names like Ronny Cedeno and Johan Santana, and even a “los Nacionales de Washington.” With all the commotion in the box, we almost missed the fact that Ian Desmond’s four-hit game makes him 11-for-his-last-26.

We caught another impressive performance from Henry Rodriguez (and ensuing celebration) from the seats.

To clear our heads, we went down to field level to watch Rodriguez put the finishing touches on this one. The Venezuelan has quietly put together a very impressive spring campaign, holding the opposition scoreless in all nine of his outings, allowing just three hits and two walks while fanning seven over 9.0 innings of work. His success in smoothly converting both save opportunities presented to him this week can only help his chances of officially stepping into the closer role until Storen’s return.

We’ve officially hit the home stretch of Spring Training, with just six games left before the season officially begins a week from Thursday (!) at Wrigley Field. Here are the Nationals spring results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – L, 5-1

@ Baltimore – L, 12-3

vs. New York (NL) – W, 12-0

vs. Houston – W, 7-4

@ Miami – L, 3-1

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-2

Split Squads Thursday: vs. Atlanta, 1:05pm, @ Detroit, 6:05pm

Overall Record: 8-14-3

Show of Good Faith

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All week long – or really ever since the Nationals had last won a Spring Training game, a week ago Monday over the St. Louis Cardinals – manager Davey Johnson has been repeating the same line about his offense: give it time. He attributed the inconsistency to the fact that the regulars weren’t playing much. With a few positions still to be decided in camp, many of the potential bench or Triple-A players were getting most of the at-bats and, in turn, a chance to prove themselves. Johnson kept pointing to one day, Sunday, when the team would return to Viera and the regulars would return to the lineup, as the day we would get a better look at the real 2012 Nationals. As we have mentioned before, “Viera” means faith – Johnson had it in his hitters, and they did not disappoint upon returning to their Spring Training home.

The team gathered for batting practice the morning before Sunday's game.

The entire team took batting practice in the cages behind the right field wall here at Space Coast Stadium at 10:30 this morning, and it didn’t take long for that work to translate on the field. With Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche still out of the lineup battling minor injuries, the focus was really on the top four hitters in the lineup: Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. The four combined to go home run, double, double, home run to open the game Sunday, staking Stephen Strasburg to a 4-0 lead before Matt Harvey and the Mets could even record an out. Roger Bernadina added a solo shot to cap a five-run first inning and Washington cruised to a 12-0 shutout.

In all, four Nationals homered and five logged multi-hit games, as they took advantage of the wind, which was blowing strongly out to left field, the reverse of the normal jet stream here in Viera. Werth’s was the biggest shot of them all, a monstrous blast that cleared the wall, the berm, the tiki hut behind that, and evidently hit Werth’s own truck, parked near the outer reaches of stadium property.

“I think that thing landed in a lake, or something,” mused Johnson. “That ball was absolutely crushed. That’s the hardest ball I’ve seen him hit since I’ve been here.”

We’ll follow up with Werth tomorrow and see what kind of damage he did to his own vehicle. Regardless, it provided a major shot in the arm for a team that needed one.

The Nationals filled up the scorecard on Sunday, especially over the first three innings.

Yes, it’s Spring Training. And yes, as Johnson has been saying all week, these games don’t count. Nevertheless, with the skipper pointing time and time again to this day as an indicator, as the time to judge the offense and the team in general, the Nationals couldn’t have picked a better day to snap out of their slide with a statement game. You know, for a Spring Training game.

We’re back at Space Coast again on Monday as Washington plays host to the Houston Astros. Here are the Nats results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – L, 5-1

@ Baltimore – L, 12-3

vs. New York (NL) – W, 12-0

vs. Houston – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 6-13-3

Sarasota Saturday

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Ironically, the Nationals had to endure one of the longest bus rides of the spring on Saturday to square off against their geographic rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. While the two teams play less than an hour from each other during the regular season, we had to make the three-hour trek to Sarasota for the only matchup with Baltimore this Spring Training season. Thankfully, there was plenty going on around the park to keep us entertained after our long journey.

The Oriole Bird makes his way down the lunch line.

Our entertainment began a full hour before the game itself. We’re used to waiting in lines from time to time, but when we went to grab lunch in the press dining room, the line was, let’s just say, a different sort of animal. The Oriole Bird was making his way down the buffet, whistling his food orders to his handlers as they made him a plate. He got some chips, a couple scoops of macaroni and cheese, some cole slaw, and some… chicken fingers?

“Don’t even go there,” warned one of his handlers gravely. We didn’t.

We did, however, have a Dontrelle Willis sighting. The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year made his first appearance for the O’s after reporting to camp earlier this week. He allowed two runs, one earned, walking three in an up-and-down inning. He still flashed that trademark leg kick, though, and will no doubt be an interesting story for our Beltway rivals to the north.

We even had a little celebrity flair at the ballpark. There is a layout eccentricity at the newly revamped (as of 2011) Ed Smith Stadium, which sets the front row of the press box outside on a deck, in front of the club seating. There is no separation between the two, save for a barrier that is about shoulder-high from press row, and lower than that for the club attendees, who sit a couple of steps higher. As it turned out, club attendee, Maryland resident and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak sat directly behind us for the duration of the contest. Needless to say, whatever fortune he brought with him went to the home side on Saturday.

Dontrelle Willis makes his spring debut against the Nationals.

The game itself did not provide much for Nationals fans to be excited about, but manager Davey Johnson is keeping everything in perspective. He has been giving the possible bench players and minor leaguers the lion’s share of playing time to date, and will begin using his regulars more consistently beginning on Sunday. That is when he, and Nationals fans everywhere, will get a better feel for the 2012 club that will be taking the field in Chicago on Opening Day.

The Nats get to push the reset button following this grueling three-day road stretch (remember, you have to travel both directions the same day, every day in Spring Training) with a home game against the Mets on Sunday. Here are their results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – L, 5-1

@ Baltimore – L, 12-3

vs. New York (NL) – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-13-3

One Up, One Down

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It was bound to happen eventually. As good as Gio Gonzalez had looked so far in Spring Training up until Thursday’s contest with the Cardinals, he finally had a bad day. Arguably his best performance of the spring – where he shut out the Red Birds on two hits, striking out two without walking a batter over four innings of work 11 days prior – was wiped from the record books when that game was cancelled due to rain before reaching the fifth inning. Unfortunately for Gio, this is the one that will stick on his stat line, as he absorbed his first loss of the spring in a 9-0 defeat.

It was a good day to remember that these games don’t matter in the standings, something Gonzalez was keenly aware of.

When the Nationals play the Cardinals, there is plenty of red both on the scoreboard and in the stands.

“You’re going to have some of those days,” he said. “The great part about today was that it was Spring Training.”

And if a rough outing in March can translate into a smooth start in August or September against the defending champs, well, the Nationals will certainly take that trade-off. As for the result itself, manager Davey Johnson wasn’t too worried. With the team playing the first of three consecutive road games, the lineup was devoid of many of its regular starters, as players receive alternating days off from the rigors of Grapefruit League travel.

“These are kind of the doldrums of spring,” Johnson explained. “When we come home (to Viera), I’ll be starting guys for nine innings more frequently in the lineup.”

The skipper had a sense of humor about the game as well.

“I don’t want (our guys) peaking too early,” he said, then quipped, “they’re not.”

In other Gio news, earlier this week he learned his assignment as the number two starter, following Stephen Strasburg who’ll toe the rubber on Opening Day vs. the Cubs. The whole point of landing Gonzalez in the offseason trade was to have a power lefty to slot in between the club’s young righties, Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. That appears to be exactly where Gio will fit as the rotation begins its first turn at Wrigley Field in Chicago in just under two weeks.

Gonzalez will follow in the rotation behind Strasburg, who was named the Opening Day starter.

We have one other note from an otherwise largely note-less afternoon. Another oddity of Spring Training came on a routine ground ball from former National Alex Cora in the sixth inning. Cora grounded into a force out, with Minor League second baseman Seth Bynum shuffling the ball to shortstop Andres Blanco at second base. There was nothing remarkable about the play itself, except that #13 (Cora) hit the ball to #13 (Bynum), who made the putout to #13 (Blanco). With the additional Minor Leaguers filling out the roster for the road game, there are often double-ups on jersey numbers, as players keep their assigned jerseys from Minor League camp. Still, it’s unusual to see three players wearing the same number involved in the same play.

The Nationals will play the second of those three straight road games against Houston in Kissimmee on Friday afternoon. Here are the team’s results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – L, 11-7

@ New York (NL) – L, 2-0

vs. Atlanta – L, 3-2 (10)

@ St. Louis – L, 9-0

@ Houston – Friday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-11-3

Still A Little Green

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The Nationals celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the ballpark on Saturday. The home side donned green hats against their alternate red tops and, well, let’s just say we’re glad that particular uniform combination won’t travel north to D.C. when camp officially breaks.

The Nationals also nearly got the chance to celebrate a walk-off win over the Miami Marlins. Washington got runners to the corners with nobody out in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth inning, but could not push across the winning run, leaving the team with its third tie of the spring. It’s good to see those situational hitting circumstances present themselves throughout Spring Training so players can get used to them before April.

The green hats the Nationals wore on Saturday stuck out a bit against their red jerseys.

Miami Manager Ozzie Guillen elected to let his pitchers hit, something you don’t see a lot of in Spring Training. The Nationals stuck with the DH, in the person of Mark DeRosa, and it paid off. DeRosa’s walk in the first inning moved Danny Espinosa to third base in front of Chad Tracy’s RBI groundout for the team’s lone run. DeRosa also added a double in his second at-bat, as he continues his productive spring.

Meanwhile, Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler came up with two on and one out in the second inning, a promising run-scoring situation. After failing to get a bunt down and running the count to two strikes, he broke his bat on a Jordan Zimmermann offering, grounding to Tracy at first, who started the 1-6-3, inning-ending double play.

The starting pitching was good again on Saturday, as Zimmermann scattered six hits over 4.0 scoreless innings, striking out three without a walk. The Nats held the Marlins scoreless until John Buck’s solo shot leading off the sixth, which tied the game at one run apiece.

With the game still tied, 1-1, in the top of the ninth, the Marlins got runners to first and second with one out for Jeff Dominguez. The infielder hit a humpback line drive toward left-center field, but shortstop Andres Blanco made a great leaping catch, transferring the ball to his open hand and flipping it to Steve Lombardozzi at second, all before hitting the ground, to double off the runner and end the inning.

Obscure stat of the day: Koehler won 22 games in a span of 24 decisions between September 4, 2009 and May 21, 2011. He then lost his next six decisions before winning seven of eight to finish last season.

On a somewhat related note, good luck saying Miami relief pitcher Steve Cishek (pronounced SEE-sheck) five times fast.

With another tie in the books, here are the Nationals results to date as they take on the Tigers Sunday at Space Coast Stadium:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

vs. Miami – T, 1-1

vs. Detroit – Sunday, 1:05pm

Overall Record: 5-7-3

Lombo Support

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The Nationals are enjoying a number of new luxuries this Spring Training that the organization has never experienced to this point in its existence. The young, talented rotation may be the main component lending to heightened expectations, but there is a subtler, more under-the-radar quality to this team that may prove crucial over the course of the 162-game regular season grind: depth. There is veteran depth in the bullpen, thanks to the addition of Brad Lidge, and in the lineup with the versatile Mark DeRosa. But another player in the DeRosa mold, one with great versatility and a solid bat, who could make a big difference for the 2012 Nationals, is infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond give the Nationals solid, everyday players at both positions up the middle. But Lombardozzi’s ability to play defensively at each spot (and even spell Ryan Zimmerman at third on the occasional day off) makes him a viable option in that third middle infielder role. The Nationals have had a handful of players fill that role over the past few years (Alex Cora, Alberto Gonzalez, Felipe Lopez), but none have brought the offensive promise that Lombardozzi has displayed lately.

Lombardozzi tags out Dee Gordon in a game at Nationals Park last year.

After a slow start, Lombardozzi’s bat has heated up as of late, and he put together his most impressive performance of the spring on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a solo shot off CC Sabathia in Washington’s contest against the Yankees in Tampa. He is now batting .333 in the Grapefruit League, a notable improvement off the .194 he batted in his first 31 Major League at-bats last season.

“It’s not just my on-base percentage, I need to do everything well,” explained Lombardozzi. “But I take pride in getting on base and getting things going as a table-setter.”

Of course, for those who have followed Lombardozzi’s Minor League career, his recent success should come as no surprise. The son of the former big league infielder of the same name, he has batted .298 with a .369 on-base percentage over his four-year Minor League career. He’s coming off a 2011 year that saw him set career highs in batting average (.309) and home runs (eight), and set a new high with 30 stolen bases while being caught just eight times (78.9% success rate). With the Nationals looking for high on-base percentage players in front of the powerful bats in the middle of the lineup, Lombardozzi’s ability to do just that could earn him one of the final spots on the 25-man roster.

Lombardozzi won't forget that his line in Friday's box score any time soon.

“I’m very excited to be in big league camp and try to win a job out of spring,” he said. “I think the future of this team is real bright.”

As for the game today, Gio Gonzalez looked solid again, allowing his first run of the spring, but fanning six in just 3.1 innings of work, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Yankees would eventually win in 10 innings, but not before Sean Burnett, Ryan Perry and Tyler Clippard each contributed a scoreless inning of relief. Washington returns home to Space Coast Stadium for a pair of games this weekend, beginning with the Marlins on Saturday.

Here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – L, 6-5

vs. New York (AL) – L, 8-5

@ New York (AL) – L, 4-3 (10)

Overall Record: 5-7-2

Life on the Berm

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As the Nationals face Atlanta on a warm spring evening in Lake Buena Vista, we’re in Braves country, but there is a smattering of Nationals red throughout the seats. With Stephen Strasburg starting and Bryce Harper playing in center field, there are number 37 and 34 jerseys visible dotting the crowd.

We make our way down the left field line and atop the berm, which wraps around from halfway down the line to left-center field, passing the “All-You-Care-To-Eat” tent (just $25!) on the trip. Among the ushers standing along the top ridge is Debbie H., a self-described snowbird from Highland, Md., who spends roughly half the year in the Orlando area. Although she’s not even a huge baseball fan, she applied for a job working at Champion Stadium last season, and has loved her time here. This is her sixth game of the spring, all of which have been spent on the berm.

“I love it,” she says of her job. “I’m glad I took it.”

She highlights the freedom that the open, grassy space offers to fans, including the ability to shed their shoes and socks, almost like an outdoor concert.

“A lot of people like to be able to lay down, spread out, get some sun,” she says, which is certainly the case this evening, as we are squarely in the sun field for this 6:05 start.

There's plenty of room to spread out on the berm in Lake Buena Vista.

Debbie has also noticed the influx of Washington fans at this particular game. One of her favorite parts of the job is to be able to chat with fans of the different teams that visit Lake Buena Vista each March.

“Some people take their vacation because the Nationals are here,” she explains. “I think it’s really neat that people are willing to follow their teams during Spring Training.”

We make our way to the far outfield end of the berm and shuffle down towards a quartet of fans. The first one we meet is Pat S., who is wearing a Racing Presidents shirt and who is out here celebrating his birthday. Born in St. Mary’s County, Md., he and his wife now live in the Orlando area. While he used to attend 12-14 games each spring, this is his first of 2012. He wasn’t going to miss Strasburg pitch. But does he always sit on the berm?

“Absolutely,” says Pat.

“Everywhere we go,” chips in friend David T., who also lives in Orlando but originally hails from northeastern Pennsylvania. “I like it because I can lounge out and hang out.”

Pat sheds a different perspective on why he likes the view from the grass.

Playing catch in the twilight on the berm.

“I’m an outfielder when I play softball, so this is where I view the game from,” he explains. “Anywhere else to me just looks so abnormal that I can’t judge the game or watch the game.”

As we sit there, Chad Tracy pops a two-run shot over the right-field wall, opposite of where we are sitting. Two batters later, Jesus Flores powers one out to nearly the same spot, leveling the score at 3-3. While a two-home run inning that ties the game would normally be cause for a raucous celebration, the combination of the road environment, the relative insignificance of a Spring Training result, and the relaxed nature of life on the berm make this just another moment in the game to enjoy.

We chat baseball with Pat and David for a while longer and the sun finally dips below the top of the seats on the first base side. In that ideal moment, the sting of the glare is suddenly gone, and the temperature eases a few degrees cooler to perfection, the twilight settling in above us. As we soak in the splendor of the display, Pat draws our attention to the scene unfolding in front of us.

“Does it get any better than this?” he ponders.

In the space between us and the wall, a group of about six kids, boys and girls, ranging several years in age, have gathered and paired off to play catch in the grass. With the contest itself in the background almost an afterthought, the pure joy of the game takes precedence over anything that might be happening on the field. As we thought about Pat’s question, we found it impossible to disagree.

Tuesday Night MASN

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For those who have never worked in the media, never been a part of the process of covering a live event, a television broadcast may seem simple enough. You point a camera and you shoot. Easy, right? But what about when there are multiple angles – not two or three, more like six or seven? What about coordinating real-time instant replay with the broadcasters so they know what’s coming on the screen next? How about counting every shot down to the second to make sure all of the advertising fits into the commercial breaks? And then, on top of all that, how about doing it all in an unfamiliar venue that wasn’t built for a multi-camera, televised broadcast?

The view from the high-home camera, situated on the top level of Space Coast Stadum.

Welcome to Spring Training, and the challenge presented to the folks at MASN here in Viera. If you have the chance to take in one of the games they are televising this spring from the seats here, go ahead and count the cameras. There’s the low-first (at the end of the home dugout), the high-first (at the top of the walkway between sections 214-215), the high-third (ditto for sections 204-205), the high home (just right of center on a balcony along the top level of the ballpark), a pair of center field cameras (just to the left of the 404 mark between the flag poles and the batter’s eye), and a roving camera for scenic shots. Each camera has its own operator, all listening to a director and producer, seated inside the production truck, cleverly hidden from site behind the scoreboard on the backside of the berm in left-center field.

From the ballpark, you rarely notice anything different than a non-televised game. The cameras are largely out of view, save for the two situated on the scissor-lift in center field. But from the truck, the event is quite a production. Multiple voices talk over each other to set up each piece of each shot, from compound instant replays to motion graphics and stats overlays. Towards the end of a game that is dragging past its third hour – which all in the truck seem to agree is unnecessarily long for a Spring Training game – the jokes start to run back and forth over the intercom. And even while team members are laughing or firing back with some wit of their own, they are executing their tasks in unison, a team of 20 or more in total, working to provide a smooth, entertaining broadcast back to our fans in D.C.

The next time you watch a game, look for the shots you would choose and see if the producer follows your same line of thinking. After Ryan Zimmerman doubles to the right-center field gap (which he did again Tuesday night), which replay do you go to first? A real-time shot from center field, to highlight the swing? The high home angle, that shows the ball arc towards the gap as the fielders run after it? What next? The high-third shot as he digs around first base and cruises into second? Quick, make up your mind. If you haven’t yet, then it’s already too late.

The center field camera, which brings the most familiar angle of the game to your living room.

The game that MASN broadcast Tuesday night was a 6-3 Nationals loss to the Tigers, but was not without some bright spots for Washington. Did we mention that Zimmerman is on fire right now? He finished 1-for-2 with a double, a sac fly and an RBI, and has posted a video game-like OPS of 1.874 so far this spring. Mark DeRosa drew a pair of walks in three trips to the plate, and now has more walks than hits for the spring (five to four). That is not normally the best thing to hear for a hitter, but when his batting average is .500 and his on-base percentage sits at .692, well, then it’s probably alright.

Also, Bryce Harper is back in the lineup for tonight’s game against Atlanta in Lake Buena Vista after missing a few days with a calf strain. Harper’s last game played was the last time the Nats faced Atlanta, and he is hoping to return to the form he showed the first week of games where he batted .455.

Here are the Nationals results to date:

vs. Georgetown (exhibition) – W, 3-0

@ Houston – L, 3-1

vs. Houston – L, 10-2

@ New York (NL) – W, 3-1

@ Atlanta – W, 5-2

vs. St. Louis – T, 3-3

vs. Houston – W, 8-0

@ Miami – L, 3-0

vs. New York (NL) – W, 8-2

@ Detroit – T, 5-5

@ St. Louis – Canceled (rain)

vs. St. Louis – W, 8-4

vs. Detroit – L, 6-3

@ Atlanta – Wednesday, 6:05pm

Overall Record: 5-4-2

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