Through the clouds and raindrops of South Florida over the weekend, there were a few peeks of sunshine that suggested to me that better days are ahead for the Nationals.
Battling their way to a 2-1 series win over the division and Wild Card contending Marlins got the Nats to 50 wins and some late season respectability.
During this tough season, we’ve all been looking for those rays of light that mean the end of the tunnel isn’t too far away. Ian Desmond and Justin Maxwell, with a Canadian assist from Pete Orr, all contributed to a weekend that got the Nats a measure of revenge on the Marlins, who had dominated Washington for the first nine games of the season until the DC guys won six of the last nine.
Desmond has been a revelation with the bat, collecting hits in 8 of his first 13 at-bats and playing very good shortstop and second base. His turning of a crucial 6-4-3 double play in the rain on Sunday with Alberto Gonzalez was one of the season’s best.
The night before, he dove into the shortstop hole, popped up, and threw out a speedy Chris Coghlan at third for a force - a play that had Jim Riggleman applauding his instincts to go with his obvious athleticism and talent.
Spring training should be interesting as the Nationals try to figure out whether Desmond plays short and Cristian Guzman moves to second, or whether Ian goes to second, where he’s played only one regular season professional game. The Nats envision him as a major league shortstop, so stay tuned.
Maxwell hit a pair of solo home runs Saturday night, giving him 3 of his 4 big league HRs at the ballpark in Florida. The first one Saturday was significant as he “stayed on the ball” and hit a rocket that cleared the right field wall by 20 rows, something right-handed hitters don’t do often in that park.
J-Max is an excellent outfielder with speed, range and an arm that are major league ready there. But, his 136 strikeouts at Triple-A Syracuse were too many and he’ll have to learn contact to stay in the big leagues.
The kid from Maryland is the kind of local product that the Nats need for their future fans to identify with, and he’s the kind of classy young man you really root for.
Pete Orr has flown under the radar for several years with the Braves and Nats, but he could be a significant player in 2010. He’s a left-handed bat off the bench and, when Nyjer Morgan is healthy, only Willie Harris can fill that role. He has great speed and is a good pinch-hitter and pinch-runner; and he can play any infield or outfield position. If you start him, he might come up big like he did Sunday with his third career homer while subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third.
Good, contending clubs have players like Pete Orr filling out the 25-man roster.
Having cited these three Nats, I know (and so do you) it still comes down to pitching for next year, and it will be fascinating to see what Mike Rizzo does in that department once the season ends.
Who makes the rotation from their 2009 showings? What free agents out there want to come to Washington and be on the ground floor of something special? Will the pitching live up to the good offense the Nats have featured in ‘09?
The Hot Stove League starts in three weeks, and these answers might take 12 months, but it will be a fun ride as we head toward that shining light of a championship someday soon!