After another rehab-oriented offseason, Jordan ready to battle for starting spot

VIERA, Fla. - It might have taken most of the day yesterday for all of the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers to arrive at camp, but everyone made it in on the report day, according to a team official.

That includes closer Rafael Soriano, who reported to camp late last year because of a visa issue, and right-hander Doug Fister, whose flight to Florida was delayed because of the snowstorm that’s affecting a large part of the country. Everyone is now apparently on board and ready to go.

Today should be a pretty quiet day at Space Coast Stadium, as players will be heading off-site to get their physicals. Then again, I had thought yesterday would be a quiet day, only to see the Nats complete a trade with the Rays to acquire catcher Jose Lobaton. The first official day of camp ended up being not so quiet after all.

Lobaton will have a busy next few weeks as he tries to learn the repertoires and pitching tendencies of the Nationals hurlers. That includes right-hander Taylor Jordan, who is in big league camp for the first time in his career, trying to win a spot in the Nats rotation.

jordan-pitch-red-sidebar.jpgJordan went into the offseason excited about the prospect of having a few quiet months to fish, get a bit stronger and gear up for spring training. A freak injury early in the offseason changed all of that, however.

The 25-year-old righty broke his right ankle when trying to get out of his swimming pool, meaning he needed to spent much of his offseason trying to make sure the ankle was in good shape by the time he reported to Space Coast Stadium.

“Just another rehab offseason,” Jordan said with a smirk yesterday. “I had to rehab my Tommy John (in 2011), now I had to rehab (the ankle). This wasn’t as bad, but still rehab is rehab. Takes time off from other stuff I was trying to do.”

That said, Jordan is feeling great as camp begins, and hopes that he’s treated like any other pitcher this spring. If there’s a silver lining in regards to the whole broken ankle, it’s that it happened early in the offseason, allowing for plenty of rehab time.

“I’m fully healthy,” Jordan said. “I’m throwing bullpens. I threw a ‘pen (Thursday). Everything’s great.”

Jordan came onto the scene in a hurry last year. A fairly unheralded prospect when camp began, Jordan started the season at high Single-A Potomac, but then ended up in the majors for the first time in his career in late June. He made nine starts with the Nats, posting a solid 3.66 ERA, before being shut down because of an innings limit imposed because of his previous Tommy John surgery.

Things are a bit different for Jordan this spring compared to the last time around, as he’s now a part of big league camp, competing for the No. 5 spot in the Nats rotation. But to him, his approach doesn’t change at all this year, even if many more eyes are going to be on him.

“Honestly, it doesn’t,” Jordan said. “I just go about the same thing. I’ve got to work hard, I’ve got to earn a spot. Same old, same old. Nothing’s given to ya, at least for me right now.”

Jordan went through a major learning process last season, one that is very much still ongoing. He learned a lot on the mound, as far as how to attack hitters, and picked up on a number of things off the mound, when his teammates would talk him through certain situations and try and get him to focus more on the mental side of the game. Jordan would pick the brains of his fellow hurlers, but he also spent a number of afternoons last year talking with position players, trying to pick up little bits of information that he could stash away.

“I like to listen to hitters, how they talk,” Jordan said. “It’s fun to think about what they think about. Because I don’t know. I’m not really a hitter by heart. So if I’m hearing my teammates talking about, ‘Oh, look at him doing a slidestep now and again, crossing up my timing or messing up the runner,’ maybe I’ll do it. Try it, mix in whatever he’s doing. Just listen. Try new things.”

While he’s working back from a broken ankle and not anything to do with his arm, Jordan has been told that he needs to be careful not to let his injury affect his throwing mechanics in any way. Pitchers can tend to overcompensate for lower body injuries, forcing their mechanics out of whack and creating an even greater injury risk, so the Nats have told Jordan that if he notices anything change with his throwing motion, he should shut things down until he’s healthy.

That word - healthy - is the key for Jordan this spring, he says. He’s excited at the prospect of competing for a starting spot and having a full season, but a lot of that depends on his health.

“Hopefully I can compete with the level here,” Jordan said. “Because I did have a setback, and I don’t feel like it’s slowing me down at this point, but maybe down the line. Who knows? I don’t really know. So it’s like, hopefully this doesn’t come back later on in the year. Right now, it’s good. But just like (with the Tommy John), things can come back and bite ya.”

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