Gonzalez keeps things light, Span sprays line drives

VIERA, Fla. - With both the “A” and “B” pitching groups having the day off to rest up from bullpen sessions, the Nationals took part in a laid-back workout on the minor league fields this morning.

Pitchers all participated in various pickoff drills, infielders got in some work doing rundowns, and the final part of the workout before batting practice got under way was reserved for comebackers and bunt plays.

These are the days when fundamentals are the main focus. As major leaguers, these guys have all been through this stuff thousands of times since childhood, but during these drills, coaches can make minor tweaks and players can knock off some rust and get some valuable repetitions.

Also, if a player botches a routine play during the regular season, manager Davey Johnson will be able to scream, “We practiced this all the way back in spring training!”

That’s always a plus.

The one semi-highlight of these drills was when Gio Gonzalez surprised the coaches standing around the batting cage by firing a fastball to the screen as he got set for a comebacker.

Pitchers typically just fake a throw to the plate during these drills, then ready themselves for a ball hit at them by a coach standing at home plate. Gonzalez decided to mix things up a bit by whizzing a ball past the coaches, who darted away once they figured out what the lefty was doing.

“Fire in the hole!” someone yelled as coaches scattered, drawing some laughter from the players nearby.

I watched Denard Span take batting practice today for the first time this spring. The Nationals’ new center fielder has a very quiet approach at the plate, and it’s clear that even in BP, he knows where his strengths lie.

There are no tape-measure home runs and rarely a deep fly ball from Span in BP, just firmly struck ground balls and sharp line drives spread to all fields. During one round of BP, Span took all five pitches straight back up the middle, peppering the “L” screen in front of batting practice pitcher Trent Jewett with a couple hard liners.

Danny Espinosa spent the time in between his turns in the cage chatting with Johnson about his approach. Espinosa doesn’t look to be swinging with as much force this spring as he did last season, a change which Johnson has been imploring him to put into effect for some time now.

Ryan Zimmerman appeared to be letting loose a good bit during his pre-workout throwing session, and told reporters afterward that he stretched out his throws to around 75 feet.

His throwing motion, which will revert back to his natural form this year following offseason shoulder surgery, appeared smooth and effortless. He seems to be making good progress in his rehab.

Position players will take part in live batting practice sessions tomorrow. It’ll be the “A” group of pitchers throwing BP, so we’ll see Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler, Drew Storen and others facing off against Nats hitters.

Should be a little more exciting than watching comebacker drills and a few rundowns practiced at three-quarters speed.

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