VIERA, Fla. - Following today's workout, a handful of Nationals players gathered in the bullpen at Space Coast Stadium, held Venezuelan flags and offered their support to the people of Venezuela, who have been dealing with violent clashes throughout their country as of late.
Reports out of Venezuela are that at least eight people have died within the last two weeks due to violent protests of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Supporters of Maduro have clashed with his critics, and violence has taken over in a number of major cities.
There are five Venezuelan players on the Nationals - catchers Wilson Ramos, Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon, right-hander Gabriel Alfaro and left-hander Felipe Rivero.
This afternoon, Ramos, Lobaton, Leon and Alfaro, as well as lefty Gio Gonzalez and Columbian catcher Jhonatan Solano (who showed up to support their teammates), posed for pictures while holding Veneuelan flags and signs pushing for peace. The players made it known that they weren't supporting any particular side in this struggle, but are just hoping that the violence will end.
"We just want everyone to be safe," Lobaton said.
Ramos, Lobaton and Leon say that they have been in contact with their family members back in Venezuela on a daily basis and that everyone is safe so far. Their family members are afraid to leave their houses for fear of becoming a victim of the violent clashes, however.
On a much less important topic, three Nats outfield prospects, Brian Goodwin, Steven Souza and Michael Taylor, all got their welcome-to-big-league-camp moment today when the first pitcher that they faced in live batting practice sessions was none other than Stephen Strasburg.
This is the first big league spring training for all three outfielders, and they all used some variation of the word "excited" when asked how they felt stepping in against the hard-throwing Strasburg.
Goodwin: "They kind of just sent us to our separate fields. I looked over to the bullpen and said, 'That guy over there looks pretty familiar.' I actually had no idea going into it (that I'd be facing Strasburg), but once I found out, it was pretty exciting."
Souza: "It's exciting more than anything, the opportunity to face someone of the high caliber like Stephen is. I enjoy it, because to see someone with that kind of stuff on the first day, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of camp and the pitchers you're gonna face."
Taylor: "I was excited to see him from the box. You see him on TV and stuff, but it's still live BP, so it's not a real game or anything."
Souza also delivered a great ballplayer line when a reporter noted that the 24-year-old outfielder didn't take any swings against Strasburg today.
"He already throws cheese, so when I'm in that turtle, it looks like about 109 (mph)," Souza said.
That's some serious baseball jargon there. By "turtle," I believe Souza means the batting cage. First time I've heard that term, myself.
There were pitchers other than Strasburg who threw today, of course. Jordan Zimmermann went on Field 3 and had a strong session, as did Ross Detwiler, who threw without the L-screen, like Doug Fister did yesterday. I'll have more on Detwiler's session tomorrow morning.
Rivero drew a crowd during his live BP session, with general manager Mike Rizzo, vice president of player personnel Bob Boone, assistant GM Doug Harris, manager Matt Williams and others all watching the young lefty throw. Rivero's fastball popped the mitt, and his curve showed good depth. Williams said he was impressed.
Williams spent time hitting balls into the outfield in the early part of today's workout, putting the Nats through cutoff and relay drills. The skipper then threw batting practice, as well, and got to watch one Bryce Harper bomb fly way over the fence on Field 2.
"It was almost over the whole pond!" Williams said afterwards. "Pretty powerful."
Here's your photo gallery from today:
From left to right, Alfaro, Ramos, Leon, Lobaton and Solano show support for Venezuela
Gonzalez (third from left) also donned a hat with the Venezuelan colors and posed for pictures
Livan Hernandez and Matt Williams watch from behind the cage as Jordan Zimmermann warms up
Strasburg and Lobaton shake hands after Strasburg's live BP. Strasburg unintentionally pulled a Rafael Soriano with that untuck.
Ross Detwiler don't need no stinkin' L-screen.
Doug Harris and Matt Williams watch promising lefty Felipe Rivero.
Remember my picture of the hulk
at the car sale next door? This is what happens when you use steroids, kids.