Tying up some loose ends

NEW YORK - Hello from the Big Apple, where it's cool, dreary and dark. Only one day remains until opening day, however, so that brightens things a bit.

Not a single pitch was thrown off the Nationals Park mound yesterday, and we didn't see any batters dig into the batter's box. The tarps covering the field and the rain that persisted throughout the day prevented all that, as yesterday's exhibition at Nats Park was canceled due to the weather.

It still was a long day for Nationals players and coaches, however. All on-field team personnel made it over to the brand-spankin'-new Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Ward 7's Fort Dupont Park in the morning for the facility's official ribbon-cutting. And believe me when I tell you, that place is gorgeous.

They have three lighted turf fields, two that will be used for baseball instruction for the "scholar athletes" and one that will be used for high school games. The fields look great, but as manager Matt Williams noted, "baseball's the setting there, but it's not about that."

There are also eight classrooms in the facility and a teaching kitchen, in which kids will be given cooking and nutrition lessons. Ian Desmond, who, along with general manager Mike Rizzo, is on the Academy's board of directors, noted that such a facility can help keep kids on the right path, and Stephen Strasburg, who saw a similar facility open up in Compton when he was in college, sees it making a big difference for those in the area.

"I think it's gonna change a lot of kids' lives, give them something to strive for and shoot for," Strasburg said. "I think it's going to be a huge impact for the community."

After appearing at the ribbon-cutting, players sat around for a couple hours waiting to see whether they'd be able to get in their exhibition game against the Tigers. Mother Nature didn't allow it, and so instead of getting a final tune-up start before his regular season debut, Tanner Roark instead had to throw what Williams called a "heavy bullpen" in order to get his innings in before the team train ride up to New York.

Williams announced yesterday that Roark will get the start in the Nationals' home opener, their fourth game of the season, on April 4. Strasburg will then go on normal rest on April 5, and Taylor Jordan will get the ball for the series finale against the Braves on April 6.

Roark and Jordan were competing for the final spot in the Nats' rotation for the last couple of weeks, but with Doug Fister being put on the disabled list with a strained right lat, two spots in the rotation were open. Good thing the Nats had two capable starters ready to step in and tackle the job.

"It feels great, finally to get the answer, you know?" Roark said yesterday. "At one point, it was like the middle of spring, I was just wanting to know. ... After that, I just let it go. You can't really worry about it. It's not up to you. You just go out there get the ball and do your job and get outs. "

"I'm definitely happy to be here again, especially out of spring training," Jordan said. "It's something that I'm very proud of, myself. Feels great to be here."

Williams said that Fister will likely be out for at least three weeks or a month, as he needs time to not only get healthy but build up arm strength. He'll rest for five days, and then the Nats will see if the discomfort in the lat has subsided to the point that he can start throwing again.

Before anyone asks what will happen once Fister returns, as far as a roster move needing to be made to clear room, let's realize that a lot can happen in a month. Other players can get injured, other moves might need to be made. Let's not spend too much time stressing about something that's quite a bit down the road.

It should be noted, however, that Roark will be starting in the No. 4 spot in the rotation, while Jordan will be in the No. 5 slot to begin the year. Just something to keep in mind.

The Nats will have a closed workout at Citi Field today, and then we'll wait and see what lies ahead for Monday. A quick check of the forecast for New York shows they're calling for a high of 50 with a 70 percent chance of rain on opening day.

Let's cross our fingers.

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