Hood and Perez hope increased strength pays late season dividends

Outfielder Destin Hood and shortstop Stephen Perez worked extremely hard in the offseason to prepare for this upcoming campaign and it is showing so far in spring training.

The soon-to-be 24-year-old Hood is listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 lbs., and is from Mobile, Ala. He has long been considered a top-10 prospect in the organization, but last season hit .224 as he battled through injuries and illness, with 116 strikeouts in 112 games while with Double-A Harrisburg.

Nationals assistant general manager/vice president, director of player development Doug Harris said Hood and Perez have displayed increased strength during spring training workouts and games.

"Every year, you have guys, a half-dozen in our accelerated group, a nice little chunk of guys who come in and you notice that guy really got after it this winter and did an excellent job in the strength and conditioning part of it," Harris said. "This year, it has been a really high percentage.

"We haven't had too many guys who haven't been in shape. We had some guys that were aggressive with what they were doing and did a nice job with some of the things we asked them to do physically. Hood and Perez have really made big strides."

Harris said Hood has focused on finding that consistent rhythm and swing he has been searching for and now has centered on a plate method that seems to be working well.

"Destin has settled in on an approach and has really taken consistent at-bats and done a really good job, really getting back to where he was a few years ago," Harris said.

"Last year, he struggled physically and that obviously translated into his production. He is a good 15 pounds stronger than he was last year. He is closer to where he played two years ago physically. He has driven balls line to line from Day 1 of this camp."

Perez, a switch-hitting shortstop and former Miami Hurricane, had a positive first season with low Single-A Hagerstown, hitting .236 with 29 extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 54 RBIs in 128 games. Now, after working out hard in the offseason, Harris sees a determined young player ready for his second season, especially at the dish.

"Stephen is much stronger physically and it is translating into his ability to handle the bat," Harris noted. "His swing is shorter. His approach is more consistent. He has been really good thus far. Coming into this camp, he was a guy that was a very interesting defender at shortstop, really did an excellent job last year in Hagerstown. He really shored up the middle of that infield with Tony Renda. He was a very consistent defensive player for us last year.

"I think he has put himself in a better position physically to do some of the things he wanted to do offensively and that was a big part of him taking the next step. He understood what it would take for him to do that physically and went out and did it. He was a part of that strength and conditioning camp in the fall and he really did a great job of applying some of the things we were emphasizing and put himself in a good place."

So put a watchful eye on Hood and Perez this season and see how far their offseason conditioning pays dividends into the dog days of August.

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