My spring training dark horse for the Nationals (with broadcast note)

If you were watching the Olympics yesterday and had to do a quick double take because you thought you saw Jayson Werth competing in the men’s moguls competition, well, you weren’t alone.

Turns out, Swedish freestyle skier Per Spett looks a good bit like Werth when he’s got his skiing gear strapped on. And that led to some Nationals fans doing some quick Photoshop work, as you can see in this image on Nats Enquirer.

The two men have similarly strong beards, but that might be where the comparisons stop. I’m not sure if Werth can pull off the Superman leap that Spett did during competition yesterday.

I’m going to follow the lead of my colleague Roch Kubatko this morning and deliver the name of a player who I see as a dark horse candidate to end up on the opening day roster of the team I cover.

This is a bit of a tough task because of how many spots are already accounted for on the Nationals roster entering spring, among both pitchers and position players. But my choice will have to be right-hander Tanner Roark.

roark-pitching-close-white-sidebar.jpgNow, some of you might feel that Roark isn’t too much of a dark horse given that he’s one of the top guys competing for the final spot in the Nats rotation. That’s not the role that I see him filling, however. I see Roark serving as a right-handed long reliever in the Nationals bullpen come opening day.

Ross Detwiler is the clear favorite for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, in my mind, and if he puts together a strong spring, I think he gets that job. Detwiler has the experience, he’s proven that he can compete as a starter in the big leagues when healthy, and my feeling is the Nats want to see him take that No. 5 spot and run with it. Should he do so, manager Matt Williams would have a nice righty-lefty balance in the rotation with three right-handers and two southpaws.

If Detwiler does indeed win the final spot in the rotation, that leaves Roark competing with Ross Ohlendorf for a long relief role. Ohlendorf was given a major league contract this offseason, and will make $1 million regardless of whether he pitches for the Nats or for one of their affiliates. But the 31-year-old does have an option remaining, meaning that the Nationals can send him to the minor leagues without needing to expose him to waivers or risk losing him to free agency.

That will allow them to truly go with the best option they have for that long relief role, and I think Roark might end up being the better fit. While Ohlendorf made nine relief appearances for the Nats last season, his throwing schedule was much more regimented. He usually pitched every fifth day (or at least close to it), staying on a starter’s schedule and leaving the Nats a reliever short on days in between. The Nats used him that way partly based on need, because Ohlendorf served as a spot starter, but the veteran right-hander (who has been a starter for the bulk of his career) didn’t seem completely comfortable in relief.

Roark, meanwhile, was much more flexible when it came to his throwing schedule last year. He appeared in three games in relief in a five-day span in late August, and showed that he could work both long stints in relief (he came out of the bullpen to deliver 4 2/3 innings of one-hit ball against the Royals on Aug. 23) as well as short ones (he got a hold by pitching a clean sixth inning against the Marlins on Aug. 27).

Some point to the weak competition that Roark faced last year and say that he hasn’t really proven himself at the big league level yet, but if you’re going to make that argument, you also have to look at his line in three appearances against the Braves: 13 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 12 Ks.

Should be a fun battle to watch over the next six weeks.

Have a dark horse of your own you’d like to share? Feel free to do so in the comment section below.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it yesterday, MASN has added one more game to its spring training broadcast schedule, picking up the March 29 home exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers.

Here’s what the full spring broadcast schedule looks like now:

* Sunday, March 2 at 1 p.m., Miami Marlins vs. Nationals (replay at 7 p.m.)
* Sunday, March 9 at 1 p.m., St. Louis Cardinals vs. Nationals (replay at 7 p.m.)
* Tuesday, March 11 at 1 p.m., New York Yankees vs. Nationals (replay at 7 p.m.)
* Sunday, March 16 at 1 p.m., Detroit Tigers vs. Nationals (replay at 7 p.m.)
* Wednesday, March 19 at 6 p.m., Houston Astros vs. Nationals
* Tuesday, March 25 at 1 p.m., New York Mets vs. Nationals (replay at 7 p.m.)
* Saturday, March 29 at 2 p.m., Detroit Tigers vs. Nationals at Nationals Park (replay at 7 p.m.)

Update: ESPN has also released its spring training broadcast schedule, and of the seven games the network will broadcast, two involve the Nationals.

Those two are the Nats’ final two Grapefruit League contests - March 26 at the Cardinals (1 p.m.) and March 27 at the Mets (12 p.m.).

So there you go - nine Nats spring training games will be broadcast on TV, seven on MASN and two on ESPN.

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