Nationals camp report: Likes and Dislikes

VIERA, Fla. – What I like, and dislike, about the Nationals:


-- So much to like, so little time. The Nationals had the majors’ best record last season at 98-64 and set up even better in 2013. Yes, this year’s team looks stronger.

-- Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will be around for all 162 games. Theoretically, if they stay healthy. The Nats pulled the plug on Strasburg last summer after 159 1/3 innings pitched. This year, there are no limits and the right-handed ace is hoping to cross the 200-innings threshold. Harper opened last season at Triple-A Syracuse and did not debut until April 28. Now, he will be in the opening day lineup (with Strasburg on the mound).  

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-- Denard Span gives the Nats what they lacked last year: A true leadoff hitter. Span’s presence also allows Harper to move over to left field. As hard as Harper plays, moving out of center will reduce some of the wear and tear and keep him fresher over 162 games. Meantime, speaking of fresh, the Nats need to make sure Span stays that way: He played in only 70 games in 2011 because of a concussion and in just 128 last year because of a shoulder injury.

-- Dan Haren on a one-year deal (even if it is for $13 million) is the perfect veteran fit to help lead four others who are still young and learning: Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler.

-- With closer Rafael Soriano aboard, the Nats bullpen is stronger. In Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen, they’ve got some serious arms in the pen. Washington has great swing-and-miss capability – Nats pitchers whiffed the third-highest number of hitters in the NL.

-- Davey Johnson. Even at 70, the manager relates to his players exceptionally well. Nobody knows more baseball than Johnson, and in what is expected to be his final season, lots of people around here have a strong desire to send him out a winner.


-- Given the crushing way their postseason run ended, how do they recover and play under pressure? Will it make them better? Or will they be looking in the rear view mirror. It’s hard to imagine the latter. There is enough talent and confidence throughout this roster that they should erase the memory of the blown 7-5 ninth-inning lead against the Cardinals in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS.

-- Again, it’s being picky because the Nats were still the best team in the NL for most of the summer, but their everyday players were hit hard with injuries. Jayson Werth missed 75 games with a fractured left forearm, shortstop Ian Desmond missed a month with an oblique strain, catcher Wilson Ramos missed most of the season with a torn ACL and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman played through a sore shoulder. So does all of this mean the Nats are due for good health in 2013? And if they get it, think how much more dominant they can be.

-- Jordan Zimmermann complaining about soreness in his forearm this spring. Noooo! The Nats are relieved that it appears to simply be a dead-arm thing. And Monday’s fine Grapefruit League outing against the Tigers alleviated any lingering concern. But, see item directly above this one regarding injuries.

-- Same concern here as every other team sending players to the World Baseball Classic this spring: Did Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and extra outfielder Roger Bernadina get the proper amount of work in – not too much, not too little? Time will tell.



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