VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals have their second off-day this spring today, which allows the players a chance to play in their annual golf tournament.
I’ll try and pass along who won at some point tomorrow, but we do know it won’t be Davey Johnson. The Nationals manager - a scratch golfer who plays as often as he can during spring - joked that the players didn’t invite him this year. I wouldn’t if I were them, either. I wouldn’t want the skipper taking any of my money.
Now the guys just have to figure out what to do with their time this afternoon.
“What to do in viera on my day off?” Denard Span tweeted a bit ago.
Good question, Denard. Good question.
For those of you who still need your Nationals fix today, Gio Gonzalez will be getting the start for Team USA against Puerto Rico in the second round of the World Baseball Classic. First pitch is tonight at 8 p.m.
It’s now March 12, which means the first month of spring training is in the books. The Nationals have played 16 Grapefruit League games and won just six, but if that in any way concerns you, you haven’t been following baseball long enough.
When assessing where the Nationals are at this point in spring, one thing is very clear: This first month of spring training has gone about as well as Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo could have hoped.
Unlike last spring, when Michael Morse and Drew Storen suffered injuries that ended up eventually knocking them out for a large portion of the regular season, the Nationals haven’t had any of their regulars go through any health scares thus far.
Ryan Zimmerman has come back from offseason shoulder surgery and looks like his old self at the plate, turning on pitches and pounding them to the opposite field. He’s yet to appear in a game at third base, but his surgically repaired shoulder has allowed him to ditch the awkward throwing motion he used in recent seasons and return to his old, smooth delivery.
Danny Espinosa opted not to have surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, and so far, he looks locked in and strong at the plate, even hitting left-handed. Espinosa has 10 hits in 32 at-bats, and he’s found a swing path that he feels could result in fewer strikeouts, more contact and more hard-hit groundballs and line drives.
Wilson Ramos has come back from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee quicker than anyone could have expected, and barring a setback, he’ll be ready to join the 25-man roster come opening day.
The only injuries of note this spring are to Christian Garcia (torn tendon in his right forearm) and Nathan Karns (right leg tightness). Garcia should begin throwing again by the end of the week, and Karns doesn’t believe his injury is anything too serious.
One concern coming into spring - Gonzalez’s link to Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic that allegedly provided PEDs to athletes - is no longer much of a concern at all. Gonzalez hasn’t been officially cleared of any wrongdoing, but behind the scenes, the Nationals are very confident Major League Baseball will not end up handing down any punishment to Gonzalez.
While Span has gotten off to a slow start offensively (3-for-22 with five walks), he’s fit into the clubhouse seamlessly and says he’s started developing a nice on-field rapport with left fielder Bryce Harper and right fielder Jayson Werth.
Harper, meanwhile, is demolishing the ball this spring, posting a .438/.455/.740 line through 12 games. Werth has five hits in 20 at-bats, but says he feels some power coming back into his swing after a broken wrist sapped some of that strength last summer.
The pitching staff looks as advertised. Stephen Strasburg’s stuff has been improving every start, and he looked locked in yesterday. Jordan Zimmermann loves how his change-up is feeling, and that could give the righty another weapon to keep hitters off balance. Dan Haren looks like the guy who posted a 2.76 ERA in his final seven starts last season, and his velocity has been in the low 90s, which he’s thrilled with.
The arms in the bullpen have been sharp, as well. Rafael Soriano has thrown three scoreless innings, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard have looked good and don’t seem to outwardly be bothered by their new roles this year, and Henry Rodriguez has returned from elbow surgery and appears poised to claim the final spot in the ‘pen.
Top prospect Anthony Rendon has been raking this spring, and is getting experience at third, short and second. Third baseman/first baseman Matt Skole and shortstop Zach Walters have also impressed Johnson with their play this camp.
I don’t know how many teams that can make the claim that, barring injury, they know all 25 of the guys that they’ll break camp with. The Nationals are in that boat. They’re healthy, they’re confident and they’re ready to make another playoff run.
Now, if only opening day wasn’t three weeks away.