Not a great deal of news here today -- the Nationals worked out this morning with pitchers, catchers and early-reporting position players -- but there are plenty of things we can discuss.
And because my liberation from the confines of print media is relatively recent, I'm still running around like a dog who's just been given a larger yard for the first time. As such, I've got plenty of things to blab about. So here goes:
First, the Nationals might still add another veteran starter to the mix, though the list of guys they could get at this point is relatively short. Manager Jim Riggleman sounded open to the possibility, but didn't place a huge emphasis on it.
"I think Mike (Rizzo) has mentioned a couple of times in articles I've read that he's still on the lookout and may do something. If that happens, we'll welcome that addition. If not, I'm comfortable with the guys I have right here," Riggleman said.
Stephen Strasburg threw his second bullpen session today, and Riggleman said the rookie was "off-the-chart good." He threw about the same number of pitches he did in his last sessions two days ago. There were fewer fans in attendance, but reporters from the Seattle Times and CBSSports.com were on hand. And Strasburg, throwing to Pudge Rodriguez, didn't disappoint.
"He's pretty amazing," said Rodriguez, who wasn't even aware Strasburg throws two different kinds of fastballs. "The two-seam fastball was great. But he's working on it. He's never used that much. Now he's using it. He needs to keep working on it. It moves pretty good, and he keeps hitting it for strikes. But especially for him, those kinds of pitches, he needs to make sure he's locating the arm the right way to throw the pitch, because it's not an easy pitch to throw. But the bullpen session I caught today was very good."
Riggleman said Garrett Mock and J.D. Martin will start the Nationals' first split-squad games on March 4, Mock against the Astros in Kissimmee and Martin against the Marlins in Jupiter. Riggleman will manage the game in Kissimmee -- he has an engagement that morning which requires him to depart later from Space Coast Stadium.
Asked if Scott Olsen has an advantage over the Nationals' other young pitchers in the race for the final rotation spots because of his experience, Riggleman said the left-hander is "a lock" if he can pitch the way he did for the Marlins before the Nationals traded for him in November 2008.
That's something of a given, if Olsen is in fact that good, because it would mean he's capable of pitching 200 innings and posting an ERA in the low 4.00s. The Nationals thought they were trading for that pitcher, not the Olsen who was hit hard last year while battling arm troubles before labrum surgery shut him down.
"What we're looking for is something close to his Florida days," Riggleman said. "This was a guy who did a nice job for Florida. He threw hard, he had a good breaking ball, and he had plus-200 innings. If he's close to that, that's really good, so he's a lock. If he's not at that pace, we've got to back off a little bit. But he's going to get there."
Fifty-eight of the Nationals' 60 players in major league camp are already at Space Coast Stadium, by several counts. There are no visa issues, and no expectations of anyone reporting late. Like the rest of the Nationals' camp so far, everything is running smoothly.
Outfielder Roger Bernadina, who broke his ankle chasing a fly ball last April, is 100 percent and playing without limitations, Riggleman said. He's a candidate among a large group of candidates for the final outfield spot.
The last topic for discussion in this post is also the meatiest -- how's that for inverted-pyramid journalism?! Riggleman ran a lengthy sliding drill for several players today, part of an ongoing effort to get players to slide feet-first.
Nyjer Morgan, who broke his left wrist sliding headfirst last year, is obviously the biggest concern, and the Nationals are also trying to get Justin Maxwell to switch techniques. But the focus is on more than a couple players; Riggleman wants a feet-first emphasis to run organization-wide. It's something he did with Cardinals draft picks while working in their system from 2005-07.
"Every kid we drafted, when they got off the plane, it was, 'How ya doin'? You're sliding feet-first,'" Riggleman said - and it's what he'd like the Nationals to do with their draft picks.
In the case of players the team acquires from other organizations, like Morgan, Riggleman acknowledges there will have to be some retraining, which is what he's trying to do this spring. But for Morgan, the headfirst slide has been a habit most of his career, and Riggleman said he'd allow the center fielder to return to it if feet-first slides don't become natural.
"Our message to the guys there - not just Nyjer, but any of them who have always slid headfirst - is, 'We'd like to get you going feet-first, but if it's causing more problems than it's solving, we can't do it. But we've got to give it an effort.' I think they're all in total agreement with that. It's really got to be an organization thing that starts the day kids sign, so they come through your system and it's how they've always done it."
For Riggleman, the emphasis goes back to his days with the Cardinals in the 1980s, when he saw Vince Coleman injure his hand with a headfirst slide. He's seen the research about the negligible difference in speed between headfirst and feet-first slides, and concluded it's not worth the risk. And for young players who patterned their baserunning after headfirst divers like Coleman and Rickey Henderson, Riggleman says, "You've got to throw Lou Brock at them."
The former career stolen-base leader "went in hard and late, and infielders didn't like it," Riggleman said. "Going in headfirst, guys will block the base on you, they'll stick the knee down. You go in feet-first, they kind of shy away when they tag, because you're going late and hard like Lou Brock. You know, Pete Rose is one of my favorite players ever. I love him. But he's the reason everybody goes headfirst. Pete would go running in there, the ball isn't anywhere near third base, and he's diving into third base. It was his style. Every kid was like, 'Yeah, I want to play hard like Pete Rose.' It's almost like a lot of it had to do with making a statement like, 'I'm really playing hard, I'm diving, you know?' A whole generation of players have grown up not knowing how to slide. Everybody's diving."
Lastly, a couple links. The audio from Riggleman's 23-minute press conference is available here, broken into three parts today because of length. One of these days, I'm hopeful we'll be able to do it in one shot.
And I'm chatting live over at Washington Nationals Fan Forum tonight at 8:00. You can head over there and start submitting questions now, or ask them live tonight.