Let the games begin

VIERA, Fla. - The last couple weeks have been fun and all, with players reporting to camp, discussing their goals for the 2013 season and kicking off the start of spring training.

But you can bet the guys in the Nationals clubhouse are glad the start of the Grapefruit League season is finally here, and frankly, so are the beat writers.

There are only so many blog entries one can get out of watching players take part in baserunning drills or field comebackers. There are only so many times you can ask a guy how his batting practice session went before he looks at you with a bit of a smile, as if to say, “We’re talkin’ about practice!

That’s not to say there aren’t important topics to be discussed or stories to be unearthed. (I’ll have one for you later in this very entry.) But things get a lot more interesting once we have actual spring training games to analyze and review.

The Nationals open up their Grapefruit League schedule this afternoon against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the Nats followed by Craig Stammen, while the Mets will send veteran right-hander Shaun Marcum, with highly-regarded pitching prospect Zach Wheeler piggybacking him.

First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. MLB Network has picked up the Mets’ broadcast of today’s game, so those of you in the D.C. and Baltimore markets can watch the action live. I’ll also have you covered on all pregame, in-game and postgame updates right here on MASNsports.com.

As part of the Nats’ full-team workout on the field at Space Coast Stadium yesterday, manager Davey Johnson put his team through old-school infield and outfield practice, which is rarely done during the season. Infielders turned double plays at a snappy pace and the outfielders tracked balls and worked on relays. And yes, Johnson noted with a smile that Bryce Harper actually hit a cutoff man.

Johnson has stressed these last couple weeks that it will be important for Denard Span to get used to working with the guys around him during spring, allowing Harper, right fielder Jayson Werth, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa to feel comfortable alongside the Nats’ new center fielder.

Those guys all need to learn how much ground Span can cover, what his arm strength is like and his tendencies during games, which is why Johnson will likely pair Span with a couple of the Nats’ other regulars during the Grapefruit League games in which he starts.

Johnson was very impressed with what he saw from Span yesterday during his first extended look at the 28-year-old, but what was equally important was that the Nats’ other regulars got time with him and liked what they saw, as well.

“Everybody’s different,” Desmond said after yesterday’s workout. “Take a guy like (Rick) Ankiel, who has a cannon. Basically, you never need a cutoff man because he’s going to try to get the guy himself. Or you’ve got Jayson, who gets the ball in real quick. It’s learning your teammates and stuff like that. So, yeah, today was a good day.

“(Span’s) got a little more carry on the ball than it seems like. He’s got a good arm. We were talking about it - me, Jayson, Bryce, Denard - with the infield we have, with Espi and I, two good hard throws is better than one long, air-it-out-throw. Just trying to get his feel on it. I think it’ll be perfectly fine. And hopefully we don’t (give up) too many balls into the outfield.”

Today, Span, Harper and Desmond are all in the starting lineup, giving those three a chance to get a few innings together. The type of workouts that the group went through yesterday can help everyone get to know each other’s tendencies, but game experience obviously trumps practice, and provides the opportunity to work on some specific things at full speed.

“There’s little things, like a shallow pop-up,” Desmond said. “Obviously, he’s fast, so he’ll probably be able to get to a lot more balls. Things like that. He’s a natural center fielder. He’s been playing center field for a while. But I think the game adrenaline, you see that runner running, it changes your M.O. a little. You find out if you can throw the guy out, whether he can chuck it or you need the cut-off man, whatever.

“We’ll see. I’m excited to play with him.”

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