VIERA, Fla. - After more than five long months of waiting, we only have to wait a bit longer. Opening day is just one week away.
Only four more Grapefruit League games down here in Florida (not that anyone's counting or anything), an exhibition against the Yankees at Nationals Park and two off-days stand between the Nationals and their 2013 regular season opener against the Marlins on April 1.
I think I can speak for all parties involved here - fans, players and reporters - that the opener can't get here soon enough. It's time to put the finishing touches on spring and get this thing started.
The Nationals have a night game in Kissimmee against the Astros tonight, which will allow me a couple hours before the trip to re-watch highlights from Florida Gulf Coast's win in the NCAA tournament last night, and the host of awesome postgame celebrations that followed.
Those kids have the perfect mix of talent and swagger. What a blast they've been to watch.
Chris Young is still scheduled to start for the Nats tonight in Kissimmee, and after his outing, we might learn whether the veteran right-hander has chosen to opt out of his minor league deal and become a free agent. Young has posted a 3.00 ERA over three Grapefruit League starts thus far, and you can bet there will be a handful of scouts from around the majors at tonight's game, hoping to determine whether Young has enough in the tank to help a big league club to start the season.
Every position player remaining in big league camp with the exception of catcher Kurt Suzuki (who caught yesterday's game) was highlighted on yesterday's travel roster, meaning Suzuki could be a lonely guy at the Nats' complex this afternoon. Barring any changes to the travel roster, it'll just be Suzuki and the pitchers who aren't making the trip to Kissimmee working out at Space Coast Stadium today.
Here's one thing I noticed yesterday when looking at Carlos Rivero's numbers over the last few seasons: The infielder, who cleared waivers and yesterday, has made pretty impressive statistical improvements each year as he's risen in the minor league ranks.
With Double-A Akron in 2010, Rivero, hit .232/.278/.325 with six home runs. In 2011, between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Rivero batted .270/.326/.440 with 16 homers.
Last season, playing a full year in the Nats' system at Triple-A, Rivero posted a slash line of .303/.347/.435 and hit 10 homers.
The Nats have impressive infield depth in their system with Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters, Matt Skole and others in the upper levels of the minors behind Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi at the big league level. But Rivero is still just 24, has good size at 6-foot-3, 215 lbs., and has shown this spring he can play third, shortstop and even some corner outfield.
Rivero's still a decent prospect, and if he keeps making strides, he could play a role with the Nats down the road, either as a member of their big league roster or as a trade chip that could bring back something of need in return.
I know we've talked a lot about Espinosa this spring and how his offensive approach has changed. Lately, we're starting to see that approach result in more squared-up balls and extra-base hits.
I know they're just spring training numbers and that this is a relatively small sample size to work with, but over Espinosa's first nine games of spring, covering 25 at-bats, he had one extra-base hit and two RBIs. Over his last 13 games, totaling 38 at-bats, Espinosa has four extra-base hits and six RBIs. He seems to be driving the ball a bit more, hitting hard ground balls and line drives, especially when hitting left-handed.
Again, there's only so much we can read into what we see during these Grapefruit League games. But Espinosa's left shoulder looks just fine, and his approach at the plate sure does, as well.