Johnson reminisces, Purke progressing, Mayor Gray visits Viera

VIERA, Fla. - A few Nationals players not in the lineup today are making their way over to Daytona International Speedway for the Daytona 500, which led manager Davey Johnson to reminisce about his own experience at the race.

Johnson says he was invited to ride in the pace car before the Daytona 500 some 40 years ago, and while he didn’t recall who won the race that year, other important details about that day came to mind.

“I got to sit with Ms. Stick Shift in the bleachers. You remember those things,” Johnson said, sending reporters into a chorus of laughter.

Nats fans won’t get to see too much of Matt Purke this spring, but the 2011 third-round pick, who got a $2.75 million signing bonus, is coming along nicely in his rehab from shoulder surgery.

Purke, who went under the knife last August, is on an interval throwing schedule right now, which has him throwing bullpen sessions every Tuesday and Friday. He’s only tossing with about 50 percent force right now, and will do so for another couple of weeks before progressing to the next stage of his program.

“It’s kind of just a slow and steady pace to build my arm up,” Purke said today. “Then after that I’ll be starting to throw full-speed and get into games and things like that.

“(The shoulder) feels really good. A lot better. A million times better than it was. So it’s nice to play baseball.”

Purke is still throwing strictly fastballs off the mound right now, but he’s begun playing catch with his changeup. In about a week, he’ll be cleared to throw changeups in the bullpen and can then start playing catch with his curveball. A week after that, he can mix in curves during bullpen sessions.

“The true test will be when I start throwing curveballs because they put a little more strain on you, but other than that, everything feels really good and just moving as we go,” Purke said.

Purke said he’s been told the Nats want him to get around 100 innings in this year. The powers that be have mapped out his schedule so that he comes along slowly and isn’t needed to be shut down before the end of the season. He’s been told he’ll spent time in extended spring training before joining an affiliate.

“It definitely takes patience, but I realize this is just one year out of hopefully many,” Purke said of the incremental rehab process. “If I do everything the right way now, I don’t have to deal with it in the future. So there’s no reason to really rush, just take my time and get my work in this year and from there I’ll just be able to go on my own pace.”

Said Johnson: “I’ve been getting good reports on Purke. He’s throwing good. He’s feeling good. We’re still going to be conservative. It’s probably still May (before he’s in games). I think he’s probably going to be similar, May or June, with our No. 1 pick, (Lucas) Giolito. I think they’re both coming along. Just going slow.”

Meanwhile, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray has been in the area since yesterday, and he made the trip down to Port St. Lucie to catch the Nats’ game against the Mets. He watched the Nats take batting practice a little bit earlier this morning, and then had a brief chat with reporters.

The mayor said that he’s pleased with the commercial and retail development around Nats Park and there’s “a lot more to come,” including a movie theater and eateries.

The lack of development around the park has been labeled as one reason why D.C. has yet to land an All-Star Game, but Gray says he doesn’t see that as an issue.

“I think it’s already a facility which should be able to attract the All-Star Game,” he said. “I don’t know what more we need to do other than now have a track record or having a successful team. I think it’s obvious now that there would be no difficulty in getting people to come out. All-Star Games, anyway, people come from everywhere for those games. I think we should be a prime candidate now.”

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