Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been through several camps with the Nationals over the years. Starting in spring training 2006 (played in 20 games late in 2005), Zimmerman has been to 14 big league camps with just one team.
He has been healthy through some, rehabilitating in others. He has come off of 100-loss seasons and returned after four playoff appearances. He has seen well stocked teams and clubs that had holes to fill, even before the season even began.
Before this campaign, general manager Mike Rizzo signed a pair of new catchers, a veteran second baseman in Brian Dozier, a solid power hitting utility first baseman in Matt Adams, left-handed starter Patrick Corbin and right-handed starter Aníbal Sánchez, and re-signed right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. He also added pieces to the bullpen with Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal and Tony Sipp, among others.
That leaves the Nats with very few question marks heading into 2019, and depth at most positions.
“Every year there’s a few spots, it seems like, and you always have a couple of surprises,” Zimmerman said as he prepared for Monday’s exhibition finale against the New York Yankees at Nats Park. “But yeah, I think we have a really good team. We have a very deep team that’s really good at a lot of things.
“Even the guys that are really, really good don’t make too much noise or stand out, and that’s kind of the way that they like it to be. I can’t tell you if that’s good or bad. Some people like it, some people don’t, but the chemistry and the group of guys that we have here ... it’s a solid group.”
That is a big deal. No major issues arose in spring training. Howie Kendrick and Michael A. Taylor are nursing injuries, for sure, rehabbing in Florida this week and next so that they can get a ton of “at-bats in good weather” as manager Davey Martinez said.
“It’s kind of nice,” the skipper said of the club’s solid core. “Plus, we have a lot of depth this year, which is really, really nice. We have a guy who’s going to play second base every day until he needs a day off. But we also have Howie, we have Matty (Adams) on the bench, (Wilmer) Difo, guys that can step in and do the job. I’m excited about what’s going to happen here this year and about the 2019 season.”
Martinez noted that Rizzo jumped on issues he knew had to be resolved after the frustrating end to 2018, the club’s first season without a playoff berth since 2015. Rizzo went after a strength to make it stronger: shoring up their lethal starting rotation.
“When we sat down to assess our team at the end of the year, Mike Rizzo did a great job of honing in on what we needed,” Martinez noted. “We got the best starting pitcher available in Patrick Corbin. He adds to the mix of having (Max) Scherzer and (Stephen) Strasburg. But all of sudden we add a guy like Aníbal (Sánchez) and able to sign (Jeremy) Hellickson back. So for us going into the season we have five really good starters. We are really happy about that.”
That starting rotation is what the Nats have been built around since Scherzer arrived to join Strasburg. Now with Bryce Harper gone, the Nats will rely on young outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles to combine with a healthy veteran right fielder Adam Eaton and lift the offense with power and speed. Eaton noticed how well the team jelled in spring training and sees they have talent coming to the field again this season.
“Overall a really good camp,” Eaton noted. “I think it was probably one of their better camps I’ve been a part of with this organization. Everyone is all on the same page and working together as one group. I think we played pretty well. I don’t know if we won the league or anything, but hopefully we’ll get some t-shirts or something.”