Category Archives: Spring Training

Addressing The Bullpen

James Wagner had an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post, discussing the team’s lack of left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Mike Rizzo has stated that he’s comfortable going into the season with only one lefty, although another one would be nice. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t pay inflated prices for Sean Burnett or J.P. Howell. But then again, decent situational lefties will almost always get overpaid. Those who know baseball well will acknowledge this. But I feel like we got the best of what Burnett had over the past few years. Call it a gut feeling. We’ll see how he does this season for the Angels.

I don’t believe we will enter the season with only one lefty in the bullpen, nor should we. Zach Duke had decent success after we called him up last year, but he spent most of the season in the minors. He does have a lot of major-league experience, but he is also somewhat of a retread. Rizzo points out that right-handed relievers Ryan Mattheus and Tyler Clippard held lefty batters to .219 and .186 averages, respectively. But here’s the catch–you can’t use up those guys for situational at-bats. Clip cannot come in to snuff out a rally with 2 outs in the 6th. Mattheus could, but do you want him reduced to that role? What if you need him in the 7th, and a batting order issue makes this impossible? You can’t always make a double switch when you insert him to prevent this. So I do feel we need another lefty specialist in the bullpen, and a pretty good one at that. I believe we’ll see it, possibly though a trade, or at a minimum from someone rising up to the challenge during spring training.

Speaking of which, Bill Bray is a possible candidate to do just that. I must close by pointing out one interesting anecdote about Bill Bray’s first win in the majors, as I remember watching it on TV. Bray threw exactly one pitch in the eighth against the Brewers, a strike, after which a runner on first was caught stealing to end the inning. Catcher Brian Schneider then hit a 2-run homer in the 9th to win it, and Bray got the win. I hope he bought Schneider a steak dinner after that.

Pitching Woes Continue

The hot start by our Nationals this spring has gradually turned into a 7 game losing streak. Most worrisome, the patchwork of starting pitchers have pretty much all turned in their worst outings of the spring recently. While part of that is due to hitters finding their rhythm later in the spring than pitchers, I can only hope our starting five regain some form and also some confidence. Some offensive outbursts by the team around them would help in the confidence regard as well. I just hope they do not try and pick up Oliver Perez now that he has been released by the Mets. I’d rather give some of our youngsters an opportunity to show what they’ve got instead.

By the way, even though I was in favor of keeping Dunn this past offseason, it certainly looks like we ended up with the better of the 3 first basemen we were targeting over the winter. LaRoche is expected to be his usual consistent self and has hit .343 so far, while Derrek Lee just played in his first spring training game, and concerns linger about thumb, wrist, and potentially foot injuries. Carlos Lee has been fine so far for the Cubs, but looking at the three of them right now, I’m glad we ended up with LaRoche.

16 More Days

Sixteen days until opening day, and the Nats have looked pretty good so far this spring. While Bryce Harper has received much of the press surrounding the team this spring, their steady play and winning record have not garnered as much attention. There is more optimism surrounding this team than any I can recall since their initial spring of 2005.

I do think there are a good number of supporters who drank a lot of the Kool-Aid this year; that is to say they have been impressed with the team’s spring performance so far but seem to have forgotten that the Nats went 0 for 2 this offseason when trying to land a couple of top-flight starters to the mix. I do believe that starting pitching will remain their weakest point this season. Livan and Jordan Zimmermann have looked great so far this spring, but we need to keep in mind that JZimm has all of 4 wins in his major league career and that we can’t expect Livan to duplicate his impressive season from a year ago. I do expect Marquis to bounce back nicely since he appears to be healthy. No one knows which John Lannan will show up this year, but we all hope it’s the one who may be primed for a breakout season. On the offensive side, I love that Morse has had a great spring and seized the LF job. I’ve been impressed by him ever since we acquired him. I really hope Espinosa matures quickly as a major league hitter, and I’m hopeful that Ian Desmond is able to cut down on his errors so that we don’t lose his bat in the lineup. Center field could be a mess for awhile until someone separates themselves. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.  I’m just trying to be optimistic but also realistic.  Go Nats!

3 More Days

I would go so far as to say the season starts tomorrow, since the Red Sox will be here at Nationals Park. But since I can’t go to the game, and it isn’t the regular season, we’ll stick with the real opening day on Monday. I think some tempered optimism for this season is warranted, with some of the personnel improvements we’ve made, but I’m also a realist and know that we aren’t going to the playoffs this season. Still, as a huge baseball fan, I’m like a lot of other people around DC in terms of being really ready for the season to begin. It’s supposed to be 70s and Sunny for the game on Monday…what more could you ask for!

More on the Starting Five

Following up on my post from 4 days ago…since then, my fears about Olsen have been even more realized. Olsen is in for a rough year. While he feels that his arm is getting stronger, an 89 mph fastball is going to get pounded by major league hitters. He can’t pick corners like Lannan can at lower speeds. Mock and Martin just had bad outings. Riggleman is now saying that Stammen is a good bet to be in the rotation. I’m fine with this, per my previous post, but if both Olsen and Mock are in as he has said before, then Livo is the odd man out. After Hernandez’ second strong outing, I’m even more convinced that he needs to be in the rotation to start the season. He may get bumped later, but either Mock or Olsen needs to go to the bullpen. The only realistic scenario though is that Mock could be a long reliever if Livo sneaks into the rotation to start the season. No matter how bad Olsen looks, the Nats are going to give him a handful of starts to see if he can regain his form. I just hope they don’t give him too long of a string if his current trend continues.

Tightening the Rotation

Well, we’re 2 weeks from Opening Day, and the starting rotation is all but set. Lannan has looked great and will be on the mound Opening Day. Marquis has not looked sharp, but folks are optimistic that he’ll regain his form with a few more outings. Olsen has also been penciled in, which is a concern because he’s coming off injuries and his velocity, never high to begin with, is off. It appears that Mock and Livo will round out the rotation. While Mock has had great control this Spring, he still comes into the season as an unproven commodity at the major league level. Hernandez will likely be an innings-eater as usual, but can he keep his era under 5? He got a late start this spring, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a guy who, when healthy, consistently pitches 200-inning seasons. Prediction here is that the top 2 guys will solidly anchor the rotation, and that Olsen will be given a long leash to prove that he is healthy and effective. If Mock is ineffective early and/or Livo’s arm tired midway through the season, look for Martin or Stammen to come in and get another crack. One of them will likely already be on the opening day roster as a long reliever.

And So It Begins

Today we’ll get to see Strasburg make his spring training debut, and start bringing all of the hype to another level. What to expect? Well for starters, probably a lot of fastballs. They’ll want to stick to his bread and butter while he gets his feet wet, and I doubt they’ll want to risk many breaking pitches because of both his arm and his psyche. No need to risk blowing out the guy’s elbow or shattering his confidence early.

Will we see a Mariano Rivera type reaction where guys whiff and flail even though they are 90% sure a fastball is coming? Who knows. Even reigning all-stars often get hit around when they first start spring training and are knocking the rust off, as well as facing hitters they’ve never seen before. He also might strike out the side his first time out there. No need to panic either way. Building him up slowly and putting him in a situation that minimizes potential injury is the primary concern his first few times out. It will be interesting to see if the game is completely sold out.