VIERA, Fla. - You can add Nate McLouth to the list of position players who have reported early to camp, this after the veteran outfielder made the trip down from Tennessee to Viera yesterday.
McLouth signed a two-year, $10.75 million deal with the Nationals this offseason, giving the team an experienced fourth outfielder who is capable of playing all three outfield positions, has some pop and speed and is a quality clubhouse presence.
The 32-year-old played in 146 games last season with the Orioles and got 531 at-bats, but he's likely to see significantly less playing time this year, unless one or more of the Nats' starting outfielders go down due to injury. It won't be an easy transition, but one McLouth is ready to tackle.
"Yeah, that's real hard to do," he said. "Your first time coming from being an everyday player to more of a bench role is definitely an adjustment. You just have to ... I mean, I don't know. I still want to figure it out. That's why you see very few really good pinch-hitters, there's very few of them because it's a tough thing to do. I just need to keep myself, if I'm not playing, just stay in the mold and the flow of the game on the bench and kind of trick yourself into thinking you are playing even if you're not.
"So just keeping your head in the game. And when you see those situations that may present themselves later in the game to where you'll be involved, you're ready. ... That's, I think, the hardest thing to do in baseball, to be a good pinch-hitter. The key is, you get one at-bat but you can't think of it like that. You can't put all your eggs in one basket and think I've only got one chance. Because then if you don't come through, you're crushed. You feel like you wasted the game. You really just have to treat it like any at-bat. Sometimes you're going to be successful, sometimes you're not."
McLouth has a career .191/.263/.283 slash line in 134 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, so he's got some work to do to improve in that department.
It might seem like McLouth won't have many playing opportunities, but the Nats didn't sign him to sit on the bench for 162 games or get two pinch-hit at-bats per week. Manager Matt Williams has said that he plans on working McLouth into the starting lineup a good bit, allowing him to rest Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth and keep everyone fresh.
Both Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo spoke with McLouth before he decided to sign with the Nats, trying to give him an idea of how he'll be used.
"I talked to both of them," McLouth said. "I'm real comfortable with what I think is going to happen. It'll be a situation where it evolves during the season. And where that will take us, I don't really know. God forbid if somebody gets hurt, that'll involve me. But giving guys days off here and there, that'll kind of play itself out, I think."
Another newcomer who appeared in the Nats clubhouse for the first time today was Josh Roenicke, the right-handed reliever who the Nats signed to a minor league deal yesterday.
Like McLouth, Roenicke said that the Nats establishing themselves as a winning organization the last couple of years was a major factor in the decision to sign with the team, and the righty is especially excited to be a part of a winner after being part of the Twins (2013) and Rockies (2012) the last two seasons. He knows the competition for a spot in the Nats bullpen will be stiff, however.
"Bullpen's pretty stacked," Roenicke said. "They've done a great job the last two years. I can't control that, I've just got to control what I can do on the mound and I guess trust my abilities and be confident. Make it known that I'm here to stay, and something can happen along the way."
Roenicke is married to Ian Desmond's sister, Nikki, and he and Desmond live just about a mile apart in Sarasota. Roenicke's locker is nearly right across the clubhouse from Desmond, so the brothers-in-law are now just a bit closer in proximity.
"It's cool. Our wives are probably more excited than we are," Roenicke said, smiling. "(We're) competitive. We talk a lot of trash, mess around. He has my number right now, I think he's 2-for-3 off me, so like he said, 'Can't beat 'em, join 'em,' I guess. No, but we're pretty close. Brotherly love and friendly. No harm or anything serious."
Roenicke has appeared in 63 games in consecutive seasons, averaging a 3.70 ERA in that span, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a lowly 1.25 last season after he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings.
"That's definitely my downfall, I guess you could say," Roenicke said. "But when I pound the zone and keep the ball down, people don't get many hits off me. I kind of pitch to contact, I started throwing a sinker a couple years ago in Colorado. I got a lot of contact and a lot of double plays, which negated those walks. Last year I kind of got away from my sinker. I'd like to get it back. I see (Craig) Stammen has done a great job with his sinker/slider here. I just need to keep the ball on the ground and make them put it into play, cut those walks down."
Meanwhile, below are a handful of pictures from today's workout. I'll try and do one of these photo gallery-type things every day, as long as there are enough interesting pictures to keep it going.