Mattheus thrilled to come into a season where he can just pitch

Right-hander Ryan Mattheus feels like 2013 is different. Of course, he has to prove himself. But this feels better than in years past where he came into camp trying to make the team.

This season, he felt like his spot was his to lose. He felt more in control during spring training.

"It's huge," Mattheus said. "I finally had the pressures of making the team. I guess I could have went in and lost the job. I came in this spring and it was my job to lose. And that is just comforting, that I can go in and go about my business. I don't have to come in full bore. I kind of took it a little bit easier this year. I got into this thing before I cranked it up."

Mattheus displayed why he belongs in 2012. In a career-high 66 games, Mattheus went 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA. In 2011, Mattheus appeared in 35 games with the Nationals, and compiled a 2.81 ERA.

After fighting through various injuries, and underwent Tommy John surgery prior to his arrival in D.C., Mattheus believes he has finally found his place. He is no longer on the outside looking in.

"It is a huge vote of confidence that Davey Johnson, (pitching coach Steve) McCatty and (general manager Mike) Rizzo believe I am good enough to be in this bullpen," Mattheus said. "Just the guys that are in this bullpen, that is a huge vote of confidence."

* Another ESPN Insider article projected the National League standings and have the Nationals winning the NL East, but it is close with the Braves. Columnist Dan Szymborski has it as a "coin flip" between Washington and Atlanta. Szymborski said despite the Braves' strengths, there is "very little to dislike about the Nats."

Here is the link, and you will need a subscription to read the entire article.

* I have written in years past when things were not going well for the Nationals that one reason was their slow starts. Prior to 2012, the Nats got off to abysmal starts because April was brutal. They would also get down early against NL East opponents. Ironically, this year's first opponent, the Miami Marlins, was one of those teams that would run up early wins against the Nationals and race out of the gates.

But, as we all know, 2012 was quite different.

In April, the Nats began on the road, winning four of six at the Cubs and at the Mets. At 4-2, the Nats returned home for 10 straight and won an amazing eight of those games. After a win at San Diego, the Nats stood 13-4.

They struggled for five games after that, but April in Los Angeles last year was historic because Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore arrived with the Nats. The team rolled from there to its first division crown in D.C.

During a 13-4 start, the Nats were 6-2 in one-run games. They were also 2-1 in extra-inning games during their April run. Winning close games is always a good demonstration of solid pitching, quality defense and usually a critical game-ending hit.

A good signal for a fast start this season will once again be how the Nats do in this first month in close games. And of course, to be in close games, your pitching has to get you to that moment late in the game.

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