Nationals prospects to scrimmage Sunday

Nationals prospects are getting up to speed (pardon the pun) at the accelerated minor league camp. Big workouts are set for today with a large group coming down on their own from every minor league team in the Nats organization. The first scrimmage is scheduled for tomorrow.

The coaches have worked them out over the past two weeks and two dozen pitchers have been able to continue their winter workout programs while in Viera, Fla.

"About six or seven pitchers have come down religiously each of the past three weeks," Single-A Potomac Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart said. "We have made it known that the complex is open for anyone who wants to come down. We have catchers here and they can follow the offseason program a little bit easier when they know they have a catcher and they know they have the weather."

All the pitching coaches in the Nats organization are at the Viera complex.

"The main premise of the accelerated camp is to make sure each pitcher can get five innings in before camp is over," Menhart said. "It is very beneficial for some of the pitchers because we don't have enough time in the regular camp to stretch out the starters. The majority of the 24 pitchers here are starters."

As matter of fact, 20 of the 24 pitchers in the accelerated camp are starters. It is a laundry list of the big time prospects in the Nationals organization. Guys like Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Brad Meyers, Danny Rosenbaum, Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole, just to name just a few.

Menhart says the players have come in ready to play, and that is critical to their progress before the season begins.

"They have come in shape," Menhart said. "This particular group has showed me they are not far away from being big leaguers. All of them have great stuff. These kids are getting it. They are better than what we have been in the past. Guys are coming into spring training ready to go as opposed to letting spring training get them ready for the season. We give them a program to use and we can tell right away if they have done it or not."

The staff concentrates on the routine: fielding their position, holding runners, covering first base. "Those small things make good big leaguers," Menhart said.

As for the bullpen, ideally the Nationals try to get their relievers up to three innings so they are ready for the season. "That is the benchmark, but definitely two innings," Menhart said. "Usually, between 45 to 60 pitches."

The schedule includes simulated games, scrimmage games and a couple of games against the Houston Astros' accelerated roster.

"A simulated game may entail not having any infields and outfielders," said Menhart. "You will just have a hitter in there with the turtle (the cage), not telling the kid what is coming. It helps get to a certain pitch count and up to an inning. There is a progression that takes place for your arm to get to that magical five-inning mark which we would like all the starters to get to. If it is scheduled out properly, there is no weather or setbacks, then that is a good way to get the pitcher the proper work that they need."

The accelerated camp is also a good place to get pitchers healthy. Left-hander Jack McGeary is recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2010 and Robinson Fabian is bouncing back from an injury that ended his season early.

"The rehab for McGeary has gone quite well. Fabian and McGeary are on the same exact schedule in their throwing program and their touches off the mound. They have been very, very good," Menhart said.

Menhart said stretching the pitchers out is vitally important. But the only way to be ready is to play games. The first big scrimmage game is scheduled for tomorrow.

"We can practice until we are blue in the face, but you don't really get any better and you don't get a good read on what kids need to work on until they are actually competing," Menhart said. "To be able to have all the different sets of eyes on that same kid at that one time really benefits these kids."

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