Best Case/Worst Case: 2014 Washington Nationals Season Preview

The 2014 baseball season is finally upon us, and while everyone likes to take their best stab at making predictions, thankfully, no one has any idea how it’s going to turn out — if we did, there’d be no point in watching.  With that in mind, we’ve decided that rather than make predictions, we’d rather just talk about the two extremes in a way a season can turn out — the best case and worst case scenarios.  Below is a reasonable best case scenario for each Nationals’ player, alongside a reasonable worst case scenario.  And we couldn’t help but make a few predictions, wrong though we know they’ll be — you’ll find those at the bottom of the page.

PITCHERS

Aaron Barrett

Best Case: Barrett builds off his remarkable spring, in which he pitched 10.2 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, by putting together a very strong rookie campaign.  After striking out more than 12 batters per nine at AA Harrisburg last year, Barrett fans more than a batter an inning at the big league level.  He throws more than 60 innings with an ERA under 3.00, solidifying the sixth inning, and gives the club confidence that he can be used as a set-up man or even a closer in the future.

Worst Case: Barrett’s diving slider, the reason for his success in the minors, doesn’t fool big league hitters, causing his strikeout rate to drop and his walk rate to rise.  After giving up runs in his first couple outings, Barrett sits collecting dust at the back of the bullpen, and gets sent down to Syracuse by the middle of May.

Jerry Blevins

Best Case: Blevins does exactly what he was sent to Washington to do — get lefties out.  He holds left-handed batters to a .220/.270/.350 batting line (just better than his career averages).  But he also has success against right-handers, becoming a reliable southpaw set-up man in the mold of Sean Burnett in 2012.

Worst Case: In 2013, Blevins had a surprising reverse platoon split, allowing a .741 OPS to lefties against a .581 OPS to righties.  The trend continues, as while Blevins still manages to be an effective reliever, he cannot seem to put away left-handed hitting.  The Nationals still struggle to match up against the tough lefties in their division, like Chase Utley and Freddie Freeman.

Tyler Clippard

Best Case: Clippard continues his six-year run as one of the most successful relief pitchers in the major leagues, throwing 75 innings, striking out 10 batters per nine, and ending up with an ERA around 2.00.

Worst Case: Over the past five years, Clippard has thrown more relief innings than any pitcher in baseball, and the heavy workload finally catches up to him.  His strikeout rate, which dropped from 10.4 batters per nine in 2012 to 9.3 in 2013, continues to fall.  Clippard had a career low and league low .170 batting average on balls in play last year — that rises, drastically curtailing Clippard’s success.  And for the first time in his career, Tyler Clippard spends time on the Disabled List.

A.J. Cole

Best Case: Cole dominated in a 45 inning stint at AA Harrisburg, posting a 2.19 ERA, a WHIP under one and a 9.7 K/9 ratio.  His second stint at the level is so successful that after another 45 innings, he forces his way to AAA Syracuse.  He dominates there as well, and by September, the 22-year old has earned a call-up to the majors.

Worst Case: Cole spends the entire year at Harrisburg, posting an ERA in the mid-fours and only a league-average strikeout rate.  He never seems to master the level in his season in the Eastern League, and is forced to begin 2015 right back at Harrisburg.

Ross Detwiler

Best Case: Detwiler adjusts well to his new role in the bullpen, and gives the Nationals a unique weapon — a left-hander who not only can throw in the mid-nineties, but who can be used as both a long reliever and a situational reliever.  His strikeout rate, which stands at 5.4 K/9 for his big league career, nearly doubles out of the bullpen this year.

Worst Case: Detwiler struggles to make the adjustment from pitching every fifth day to pitching out of the bullpen.  He is not the dominant reliever the Nationals envisioned, as his strikeout rate fails to improve, and his lack of an effective off-speed pitch still haunts him, even when pitching an inning at a time.

Doug Fister

Best Case: Fister returns from the disabled list in mid-April, and he becomes everything the Nationals envisioned when they made the blockbuster trade to acquire him.  The 6’8″ righty still manages to throw 200+ innings, and buoyed by a defense much more agile than the one he pitched in front of in Detroit, nearly equals a career low 2.83 ERA.  He proves to be the best fourth starter in baseball, manages to win 18 games, and even receives a couple votes in the Cy Young balloting.

Worst Case: The lat issue proves more serious than Fister and the Nationals had hoped, and while Fister rushes back from the injury, he never fully recovers.  He never seems healthy, and is ineffective when on the mound.  The lat issue forces Fister to change his mechanics, leading to arm soreness, which causes the Nationals to shut him down in the middle of August.  Meanwhile, Robbie Ray ascends rapidly through the Tigers’ minor league system, earning a September call-up, and Steve Lombardozzi hits .298/.369/.411 (his minor-league averages) in 400 plate appearances with the Orioles.

Lucas Giolito

Best Case: Giolito is simply spectacular.  He starts the season at low-A Hagerstown, but manages to finish the season at AA Harrisburg after dominating both the South Atlantic League and the Carolina League.  His 2014 performance earns him both a place in Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects list and an invite to major league Spring Training in 2015.  A major league debut before his 21st birthday (which will be on July 14th, 2015) becomes a distinct possibility.

Worst Case: The only true worst-case scenario for Giolito would be a recurrence of the elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2012. If Giolito stays healthy for a full season, the Nationals will surely count the season as a success.

Gio Gonzalez

Best Case: Gonzalez’s 2012 season was easily the best by a starting pitcher in the short history of the Washington Nationals — 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 199 innings, leading to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young balloting.  While his performance regressed in his second year with the club, the peripheral numbers stayed largely constant — his walk rate stabilized, while his strikeout rate dropped only slightly (the biggest change was a spike in his home run rate, which nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013).  The best case scenario for Gonzalez would be a reprise of that 2012 season.

Worst Case: Gonzalez’s walk rate, which has sat around 3.5 BB/9 for the past two years, ticks up to around 4 per nine in 2014.  He regresses somewhat, posting an ERA somewhere in the mid-threes — still valuable, but not dominant by any stretch of the imagination.

Taylor Jordan

Best Case: Jordan firmly entrenches himself in the Nationals’ rotation with a powerhouse sophomore season.  His pinpoint control keeps the free passes to a minimum, while the slider that has so impressed scouts enable him to put away big league hitters.  His ERA hovers around 3.00, and alongside Fister, he gives the Nationals one of the most impressive 4-5 pitching duos in the league.

Worst Case: Before his stellar 2013 campaign, Jordan simply hadn’t been very good in his professional career — in 2012, he had posted a 5.13 ERA as a 23 year old splitting time between short-season A Auburn and low-A Hagerstown.  Jordan cannot seem to repeat his 2013 success, as he is hit hard in four big league starts, then gets sent back to AAA Syracuse, where he continues to struggle.

Tanner Roark

Best Case: Roark seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate the major leagues in 2013, posting a minuscule 1.51 ERA in 53.2 innings.  While that performance is clearly unsustainable (he gave up only one home run in that time, with a home run/fly ball rate that would have been the lowest in the major leagues had he qualified), he continues to succeed thanks to his low walk rate and high ground ball rate.  At age 27, Roark becomes a reliable major league starter, and a part of the Nationals’ future.

Worst Case: Roark’s 2013 turns out to be a fluke — once his home run rate and BABIP normalize, his ERA skyrockets, and Roark quickly finds himself falling out of favor with the Nationals’ brass.  When Doug Fister returns, it is Jordan, not Roark, who gets to keep his starting spot, with Roark heading back to Syracuse for a third straight season.

Rafael Soriano

Best Case: Soriano, who spent the offseason working on his slider, finds renewed effectiveness with his breaking pitch.  While the fastball is no longer what it was three years ago, Soriano can still use the pitch effectively thanks to the improvement in his off-speed.  He posts another 40 save season, and makes the Nationals give serious thought to exercising his club option for 2015.

Worst Case: Last year, Soriano posted the lowest strikeout rate since his rookie season, and with his fastball velocity declining steadily (down almost a mile and a half from two years ago), that does not figure to improve.  No longer armed with that blazing fastball, Soriano struggles to put away both hitters and games — each of his save opportunities are nail-biting marathon innings.  He loses the closer’s job in June, leaving the Nationals $28 million investment in him looking foolish.

Craig Stammen

Best Case: After a poor (at least by his standards) first half of the 2013 season, Stammen returned to dominance in the second half, holding the opposition to a .228 batting average and posting a 1.41 ERA from the All Star Break on.  Stammen picks up right where he left off the year before, striking out more than a batter an inning and using his heavy sinker to get weak contact when batters do connect (his ground ball rate was around 60% last year, the highest of his career).

Worst Case: Stammen, like Clippard, has been used heavily over the past two years, and the cumulative toll of back-to-back 80 relief inning seasons takes its toll.

Drew Storen

Best Case: Storen is the pitcher who returned from minor league assignment and allowed only 3 runs in 19.1 innings; he finally manages to erase the doubts about him that have lingered since Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.

Worst Case: Storen is closer to the pitcher he was before that minor league assignment, when his ERA sat at 5.95 and he allowed opposing hitters to hit .295/.346/.486.  He is once again demoted to the minor leagues, and leaves tremendous doubt that he will be ever become the closer of the future he had been touted as.

Stephen Strasburg

Best Case: Strasburg finally has the breakout year that has been predicted of him since he was at San Diego State.  He strikes out 11 batters per nine, has an ERA under 2.5, and most importantly, cracks the 200 inning mark for the first time in his career.  He wins the first Cy Young Award of his career.

Worst Case: It seems the worst case scenario for Strasburg in 2014 (aside from a major injury) is a repeat of his 2013.  He misses time thanks to some minor injuries, and his numbers, while strong, are be no means transcendent.  The league is left wondering whether Strasburg will ever become the player he was expected to be.

Jordan Zimmermann

Best Case: Over the past three years, Zimmermann has posted a 2.58 ERA in the first half of the season; if extended over a full season, that would rank second in baseball, behind only Clayton Kershaw.  Zimmermann finally manages to find the same success in the second half as he has in the first, and he ends up as one of the top five pitchers in the National League.

Worst Case: Zimmermann is effective but hardly dominant in the first half of the season, and once again fades in the second half (his second-half ERA over the past three years is 4.33).  He goes another 200 innings this year, but with his ERA in the mid-threes, is more of an innings-eater than an ace.

HITTERS

Wilson Ramos

Best Case: Ramos manages to stay healthy, playing in over 120 games for the first time in his career. He also keeps on playing like he did from his return from the Disabled List on July 4th last season, when he hit .276 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs in 62 games.

Worst Case: While running down the first base line, Wilson Ramos re-tears his hamstring, causing him to miss 60 games. He never really gets healthy, and his power numbers suffer because of it.

Jose Lobaton

Best Case: After Wilson Ramos goes down with an injury, Lobaton steps in and starts 80 games for the Nationals. Lobaton improves on his last season, hitting around .260-.265 with 10 home runs.

Worst Case: Wilson Ramos stays healthy throughout the year, giving Lobaton only 20-30 starts. The lack of playing time hurts Lobaton’s rhythm, causing him to hit below .200 as the back up.

Kevin Frandsen

Best Case: Frandsen returns to his 2012 form, hitting over .270 off the bench, with power. His success causes the Nationals to platoon him with Adam LaRoche at first base, starting Frandsen in games against tough lefties.

Worst Case: Frandsen hits under .220, and fails to replicate the pinch-hitting success he had last year. He is cut by the Nationals mid-June in favor of Tyler Moore.

Adam LaRoche

Best Case: Adam LaRoche shows that 2013 was a fluke, and while he can’t to replicate his incredible 2012 season, his batting average and slugging percentage return to their career norms. He also manages a .244/.300/.439 against left-handed pitching (his career averages), meaning he plays his way out of a platoon.

Worst Case: Age continues to take its toll on the 34 year old first baseman, and LaRoche’s numbers continue to decline. The Nationals have to remove him from the lineup against tough lefties. LaRoche’s struggles cause the Nationals to decline his option, leaving them without a solution at first base heading into 2015.

Danny Espinosa

Best Case: Anthony Rendon struggles out of the gate, causing the Nationals to start Espinosa more often. In the starting role,  Espinosa finally is able to hit consistantly from both sides of the plate and by midseason, Espinosa regains the role of starting second baseman. Espinosa cuts down on his strikeouts, while his power swing returns, and he hits 20 home runs for the second time in his career.

Worst Case: Espinosa’s 2013 was the worst possible scenario for him — he hit below the Mendoza Line, dealt with wrist injuries, and lost his starting job to Anthony Rendon, perhaps for good.  In 2014, the offensive struggles continue, and though his defense still draws rave reviews, the Nationals cannot continue to put his bat in the lineup.  They once again demote him to AAA, then end up trading him to the Astros.

Anthony Rendon

Best Case: Rendon improves on his strong rookie year; he raises his average over the .280 mark, and is finally able to find his power swing at the major league level, hitting 20+ home runs. He also gets more comfortable at second base in his second year, cutting his errors in half.

Worse Case: Rendon’s injury problems that let him slip to the 6th pick in the 2011 draft return, as Rendon has troubles staying on the field throughout the season. While Rendon is off the field, Espinosa takes over at second, and shows the Nationals why he should have been the starting second baseman all along. When Rendon finally gets healthy, he finds himself sitting on the bench behind Espinosa.

Ryan Zimmerman

Best Case: Zimmerman manages to stay fully healthy, avoiding the DL for the entire season for the first time since 2010. He comes out of the gate showing the power that he flashed last September, hitting 18 home runs by the All Star break. His throwing woes gone, he also improves defensively, allowing the Nationals to keep him at his natural position of third base for the forseeable future.

Worst Case: Zimmerman still cannot seem to shake the throwing problems that have dogged him for the past three years, committing a league-leading 18 throwing errors.  Worse yet, Zimmerman, a very streaky hitter, never seems to get truly hot, and finishes with an OPS under .800.  He ends up playing the majority of September at first base.

Ian Desmond

Best Case: Desmond builds on his recent success; he hits 28 home runs and steals 25 bases, becoming a member of the 20-20 club for the third straight season. He is able to stay on the field for the entire season, playing in more than 150 games. His success leads to his second all-star performance and his third silver slugger.

Worst Case: Desmond’s performance dipped in most major offensive categories from 2012 to 2013, and it continues to dip in 2014.  He plays in 145 games and hits .270/.310/.420 — good numbers for a shortstop, but hardly all-star caliber.  He begins to regret not signing the 7 year, $90 million deal the Nationals placed in front of him in the offseason.

Zach Walters

Best Case: Walters works on his defense in the minors, and thanks to Danny Espinosa’s struggles, finds himself in the majors by June.  Shifted into the utility infielder role, Walters shines, hitting 10 home runs in 250 at-bats.  He establishes himself as a talent worthy of a starting job in the major leagues.

Worst Case: Both Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon put together solid seasons, leaving no room for Walters in Washington until September.

Scott Hariston

Best Case: Hariston does what he was brought to D.C. to do; kill lefty pitchers off the bench. He slugs .500 against left-handed pitching (in line with his career average), getting some key hits off the bench, and even earns himself a couple of spot starts a week.

Worst Case: Hariston hits .177 in the first two months of the season, and it seems like the end of the road for the 11-year MLB veteran. Because of his struggles, the Nationals decide to cut ties with Hariston, releasing him mid-June.

Bryce Harper

Best Case: Bryce Harper proves that when he is healthy, he is the best player on the planet. He hits over .300 for the majority of the season, and finishes the season with over 40 home runs. His great season doesn’t just earn him an all-star game start and a silver slugger award, but it also wins him the NL MVP.

Worst Case: Held back by injuries and his struggles against lefties, Harper fails to make the jump from stardom to superstardom.  He plays in 120 games and hits .280 with 25 home runs — fantastic numbers for any other 21 year old, but they fail to live up to the lofty expectations the media has for Harper, and Harper has for himself.

Nate McLouth

Base Case: McLouth sees significant playing time, and makes the most of that playing time, hitting .260 with 10 home runs and ranking among the team leaders in stolen bases.

Worse Case: McLouth only sees the field as a pinch hitter, and doesn’t get much time in the field.  He regresses to something resembling the form he displayed in 2011 (when he hit .228/.344/.333), and the Nationals regret being stuck with him for the 2015 season.

Tyler Moore

Best Case: In the minors, Moore is able to find his groove, hitting over .300 with 15 home runs in the first two months of the season. After Hariston is released, Moore is called up to replace him on the bench.

Worse Case: Moore struggles in the minors, causing him to stay there until September.  The organization accepts that Moore is not a part of their long term plans, and looks outside the organization for Adam LaRoche’s replacement.

Denard Span

Best Case: Span is able to recreate his September performance (when he hit .316/.352/.412 in the teams last 29 games) over a full season. Under new manager Matt Williams’ tutelage, Span finally learns to be aggressive on the basepaths, swiping 40 bags for the first time in his career. He continues his impeccable play in center field, earning him his first career Gold Glove.

Worse Case: Span plays like he did for the majority of last season, forcing Matt Williams to move him to the eighth hole in the lineup. Because he can’t get on base, he can’t steal bases, ending up with only 15 on the season. Span’s platoon problems (he had a .539 OPS against lefties last year) continue, and by August, he no longer starts against left-handed pitching.

Jayson Werth

Best Case: Werth proves that 2013 was no fluke, hitting .310 with 26 home runs. Werth manages to stay healthy, playing in over 140 games for the first time since 2011.  On top of that, Werth makes the all-star team for only the second time in his career, and finishes top-20 in MVP vote for the fourth time.

Worse Case: Werth’s injuries continue, as a now 35 year old Werth plays in fewer than 130 games for the third straight year. He also returns from the spectacular heights of 2013 to his career averages, and hits a respectable-but-unspectacular .265/.355/.440 in the 2014 season. His 2014 play reignites the debate over the $126 million contract the Nationals gave him in 2011.

14 QUESTIONS for 2014

Who leads the team in wins? With how many?

Jacob Rasch: Stephen Strasburg, 19

Jonny Rasch: Gio Gonzalez, 18

Who are the Nationals’ All Star Representatives?

Jacob Rasch: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper

Jonny Rasch: Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg

Who leads the team in saves?  With how many?

Jacob Rasch: Rafael Soriano, 22 (replaced mid-season)

Jonny Rasch: Tyler Clippard, 15

When does Doug Fister return?

Jacob Rasch: April 26th vs. Padres

Jonny Rasch: April 30th @ Astros

Who will lead the team in Batting Average?

Jacob Rasch: Anthony Rendon, .308

Jonny Rasch: Jayson Werth, .314

How many games does Ryan Zimmerman play at first?

Jacob Rasch: 5 games

Jonny Rasch: 0 games

How many games does Wilson Ramos play at catcher?

Jacob Rasch: 110 games

Jonny Rasch: 125 games

Who will start more games at the end of the season: Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, or Ross Detwiler?

Jacob Rasch: Tanner Roark

Jonny Rasch: Taylor Jordan

How many innings does Stephen Strasburg throw?

Jacob Rasch: 210 innings

Jonny Rasch: 214.2 innings exactly

Where does Stephen Strasburg place in the Cy Young race?

Jacob Rasch: 3rd

Jonny Rasch: 5th

How many home runs does Bryce Harper hit? Does he lead the team?

Jacob Rasch: 36 home runs, yes

Jonny Rasch: 42 home runs, yes

Where does Bryce Harper place in the MVP?

Jacob Rasch: 5th

Jonny Rasch: 1st

How many games do the Nationals win?

Jacob Rasch: 93 games

Jonny Rasch: 95 games

When does the Nationals’ season end?

Jacob Rasch: NLCS in St. Louis

Jonny Rasch: World Series loss to Rays

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Final Spring Training Game (Nats vs. Mets)

If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will — the Nationals wrapped up their Spring Training schedule today against the Mets, and will soon be boarding a plane and heading back to Nationals Park.  It’s been a long offseason, but baseball is finally upon us once again.  As far as Spring Training contests go, today’s game was about as compelling as the rest; the Nationals were backed by quality pitching, took an early lead, and added on once the regulars were out of the game.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly, from the final contest in Florida, a 4-0 Nationals victory.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann was dominant all spring long, and today’s start was no exception.  In five innings, Zimmermann made 71 pitches, struck out 3, allowed 4 hits, walked none, and did not allow a run.  In the first inning, he got into a jam, putting runners on second and third with one out. However, he escaped the jam by striking out Curtis Granderson with the help of a slider that Stephen Strasburg would do well to take notes on:

zimmermann slider granderson

Coming to bat with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the second, Zimmermann even helped his cause by legging out an RBI infield single.  His final line for the spring: 18 innings pitched, 11 hit, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 15 strikeouts.  He’ll make his first start of the regular season against these Mets a week from today.

— Plenty of Nats bats finished Spring Training in fine fashion.  Denard Span went 3-5 with a run scored, raising his average for the spring to a remarkable .370.  Bryce Harper went 2-4 with two singles, including this lined shot for an RBI, which flew over pitcher Jeurys Familia’s head at 107 MPH (according to the notoriously unreliable stadium gun):

harper linerDanny Espinosa went 2-3 with a double and a walk, while Kevin Frandsen lined a double to left in his Nationals’ debut.

— Three players who figure to be key members of the Nationals’ bullpen — Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen — all closed their springs on a positive note.  Each allowed a hit in a scoreless inning, but combined for five strikeouts on the day, including two apiece by Clippard and Soriano.  Soriano was put in a jam thanks to an error by Anthony Rendon, but escaped by striking out Granderson looking on a slider.

Jerry Blevins was even more dominant, allowing just an infield single while striking out the side to close out the Grapefruit League season.  For the spring, Blevins gave up only three hits and a run in 9.1 innings, with 11 strikeouts to 3 walks.

THE BAD

— Harper may have been good with the bat today, but he struggled on the basepaths in the sixth inning. Against Mets’ lefthander Scott Rice, Harper rocketed a line drive to the wall in left, but jogged out of the box and was held to a single.  Then, Harper went first move on Rice, but Rice threw over, and Harper was thrown out.

THE UGLY

— Anthony Rendon left five on base in the game, going 0-5 and dropping his spring batting average from an impressive .325 to a still-healthy .289.

The Nationals finish up Grapefruit League play with a 15-13 record (not that it really matters).  They head back to Nationals Park on Saturday for one exhibition game against the Tigers; Tanner Roark will get the start, while Taylor Jordan will enter in relief.  Then, it’s off to Citi Field for Opeining Day against Dillon Gee and the Mets; the game starts at 1:10 PM.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Nats vs. Cardinals, 3/26/14 (Spring Training)

Seeing as there are no real stakes and the games are essentially meaningless, spring-training contests are generally pretty uneventful. Most veteran players go about their business, doing so without the passion that comes when the games that matter begin. But in today’s Spring Training game between the Nationals and Cardinals, the second-to-last on the Grapefruit League docket for the Nats, we got a little action, courtesy of the always passionate Bryce Harper. Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ 3-2 loss.

THE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez’s final spring outing of 2014 was solid if unspectacular; he struck out four in five innings of work, allowing seven hits and three runs (just one of them earned). Gonzalez was victimized by some poor defense behind him, including a passed ball and a botched double play, but also struggled to put innings away, allowing two two-out RBI singles to Yadier Molina. Gonzalez finishes with a 2.94 ERA in 18.1 spring innings; he made 81 pitches in today’s game, setting himself up nicely for his first start of the regular season.

Ross Detwiler threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning, throwing 12 pitches and striking out the left-handed hitting John Jay on a good curveball. In four relief innings this spring, Detwiler allowed three runs (all in one outing) on three hits, walking three and striking out two.

— A day after finding out he had made the Opening Day roster, Aaron Barrett demonstrated exactly why the Nationals had so much faith in him.  The 26 year old righty put together another 1-2-3 frame, inducing two groundouts and a strikeout, while showcasing the slider considered to be the best in the organization by Baseball America:

barrett sliderIn 10.2 scoreless innings this spring, Barrett has given up just five hits, walked none, and struck out eight.

THE BAD

The Nationals’ offense once again seemed unable to figure out Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright went five innings today, allowing just one hit (a third inning single by Anthony Rendon), walking none, and striking out six. Wainwright has now thrown 14 scoreless innings against the Nats this spring, and went 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings against the team last year.

THE UGLY

— Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Bryce Harper hit a slow roller past Wainwright and towards the right side of the infield.  In one motion, second baseman Mark Ellis barehanded the ball, and flipped it to first, just in time to get Harper in the estimation of first base umpire Jeff Gosney.

harper ejected 2Harper was frustrated, either with the call or the fact that he had made an out.

harper ejected 4We won’t be sure exactly what Harper said until he tells us, but whatever it was, it caused Gosney to toss Harper from the game.  Because the games are meaningless, Spring Training ejections are fairly rare; I can only find only one other example of a player being ejected this spring.  At any rate, Harper not only had to leave the game, he had to leave the stadium as well:

harper ejectedThroughout his career, Harper has been given far less leeway to make mistakes than the average player due to the hype and reputation surrounding him — this ejection seems like another example of that fact.

The Nationals have just one more game in Florida; tomorrow, they head to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets.  Jordan Zimmermann will get the start for the Nats in the 12:10 contest, which will be televised on ESPN and MLB.tv.

Nationals Sign Kevin Frandsen

frandsen philsYesterday afternoon, the Washington Nationals made a series of cuts that seemingly left their bench a man short — the two most obvious candidates for the last bench job, Tyler Moore and Jamey Carroll, had been optioned to AAA and given release papers respectively.  Manager Matt Williams stated yesterday that he was considering using extra catcher Sandy Leon or utility speedster Jeff Kobernus to fill the spot, but the moves caused speculation that the Nationals could look outside the organization.

Late last night, the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore mentioned that the Nationals were “one of two or three teams who reached out” to utility infielder Kevin Frandsen, who had been cut by the Phillies just hours before.  While not yet officially confirmed by the team, it seems the Nationals and Frandsen have reached an agreement:

Frandsen, 31, is a right handed bat with experience at all four infield spots in his major league career. Used primarily as a first baseman last year with Philadelphia, Frandsen posted a triple-slash of .234/.296/.341 in 119 games, with 5 home runs and 26 runs batted in.  According to both DRS and UZR, Frandsen is around league average in the field at first, second, and third base (he hasn’t played shortstop at the big league level since 2009).

For his career, Frandsen has marked platoon splits that make him a valuable bat against left-handed pitching — he has a .778 career OPS against lefties, versus just a .626 career OPS against righties (in 2013, the split was even more pronounced; .869 to .536).  If you recall, the Nationals were said this offseason to be interested in Jeff Baker, another right-handed corner infielder with career success against lefties — Frandsen’s skill set is that of a poor man’s Baker.

Frandsen also led baseball with 14 pinch-hits last year; for his career, he has hit .265/.318/.343 in a pinch-hitting role.  For perspective, the Nationals last year pinch-hit at a .208/.250/.358 clip, making Frandsen a clear improvement.

The Nationals decided Frandsen’s positional flexibility made him an improvement over Tyler Moore, and his relative youth and prowess against left-handed pitching made him preferable to Jamey Carroll.  His arrival leaves the Nationals with a bench that will break down like this:

IF Danny Espinosa (bats switch)

IF Kevin Frandsen (bats right)

OF Scott Hairston (bats right)

OF Nate McLouth (bats left)

C Jose Lobaton (bats switch)

There seems to be limited redundancy on that bench, as the balance in handedness and position ensures every player on it is likely to have a different role.

UPDATE: One other ramification of this deal, as mentioned by CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman:

As Zuckerman mentions, Perez is a candidate, as is catcher Jhonatan Solano.

UPDATE 2: The deal is now official:

In order to clear space for Frandsen on the 40-man roster, the Nationals removed Ross Ohlendorf from the 40-man by placing him on the 60-day disabled list with a “right lumbar strain.”

 

Nationals Roster Cuts — Down to 27

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster

Aaron Barrett has made the Opening Day roster.

Following their last home game of Spring Training, the Nationals made a series of roster cuts that have finally given shape to parts of their Opening Day roster.  All told, the Nationals cut five players today — they  optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus, LHP Xavier Cedeno, and 1B/LF Tyler Moore to AAA Syracuse, while serving outright release papers to utility infielder Jamey Carroll and RHP Chris Young.  Additionally, they have informed righty reliever Aaron Barrett that he has made the Opening Day bullpen.

Coming into today, the Nationals had active competition for three spots on their roster — the fifth starter, the final reliever, and the final bench spot.  So how do these cuts affect the composition of the team?

Carroll and Moore were thought to be the only two players competing for that final bench spot — if one of them didn’t get it, it seemed likely that the other would.  But having either one on the roster would seemingly create redundancy on the roster.  Moore’s value is as a right-handed bat to platoon with lefty swinger Adam LaRoche, but Ryan Zimmerman’s ability to play first seemingly eliminates the need to keep a roster spot open for such a player.  Similarly, Danny Espinosa fills Carroll’s presumed role of utility infielder quite nicely, as he has displayed the ability to play excellent defense at multiple positions over his career.  So instead, the Nationals are going in a different direction:

Kobernus, who recorded 45 stolen bases last year in time at Syracuse and in DC, would provide the Nationals with a pinch runner in key situations — a position on the bench previous manager Davey Johnson eschewed in favor of “hairy-chested bench bats.”  Meanwhile, keeping Leon on the roster would allow the Nationals to use Wilson Ramos as a pinch hitter in days where he doesn’t start (and the fact that they are considering utilizing a roster spot just to have Ramos pinch hit shows how highly the Nationals rate his bat).

Meanwhile, adding Barrett, a 26-year old reliever with a killer slider who, nonetheless, has never pitched beyond AA, to the Opening Day roster completes the Nationals bullpen.  It means the Nationals’ bullpen will initially contain five right handers (Barrett, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, and Tyler Clippard), and two lefties (Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins).  Furthermore, it means that the loser of the fifth starter battle — either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan — will not then make the team as a long reliever.  Instead, they will be sent back to AAA Syracuse, where they will continue to start, ready to head to Washington in case of injury or ineffectiveness.  The Nationals were said to have been only considering using Roark in long relief, not Jordan, so this move might be a slight tip of the hand that Roark has earned the fifth starter job:

Keep in mind that major league rosters are extraordinarily fluid — the 25 men who will have their names announced at Citi Field on Monday are not going to be the same as the 25 men who are announced September 28th against the Marlins.  But after a long spring, today’s cuts have made manager Matt Williams’ vision of an ideal Opening Day roster quite clear.

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — Nats vs. Mets, 3/25/14 (Spring Training)

Editor’s note: We haven’t covered the last couple Spring Training games — frankly, after watching games that count in Australia, it’s kind’ve hard to get excited about the meaningless contests going on in Florida.  But we will have full recaps of the final three exhibition games, along with plenty of other great content leading up to Opening Day.

Today marked the final time the Washington Nationals will take the field at Space Coast Stadium, a welcome fact for players and fans who are ready to see their team leave Viera and head north for the regular season.  The contest against the Mets (the Nationals’ opponents on Opening Day) also marked the final Spring Training tuneup for Nationals’ ace and Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg; Strasburg was backed by a lineup that featured Jose Lobaton in place of Wilson Ramos, but otherwise contained all regulars.  The Nationals, on the backs of a 5-run third inning, took down the Mets by a score of 6-3.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly from the game.

THE GOOD

— In 2013, Bryce Harper had a mammoth spring — .484/.507/.734 — that he then followed up with a .344/.430/.720 April.  This spring, however, had been a different story, as Harper had gone just 8 for 36 with two extra-base hits.  But if there was any doubt that Harper was fully healthy and ready for Opening Day, he erased it today with this mammoth blast:

harper homerThat 3-run home run was Harper’s only hit on the day, though he added a walk in the sixth.  But Harper’s shot — a 420-footer to the opposite field, off the flagpole in left-center — is a good indication that Harper will be just fine in the regular season.

Denard Span continued a hot spring with a near-perfect day today.  He dropped a bloop single over second in the first, lined an infield single to second in the third, walked in the fourth, and singled again in the fifth.  Matt Williams seems intent on using Span in the leadoff spot, and the key function of a leadoff man is to get on base.  Span’s 3-4 performance today, and his .347/.360/.449 spring triple-slash — have shown he has the ability to do just that (though the fact that he has only one walk is odd indeed).

— The best thing about Stephen Strasburg’s outing is that it was his last of the spring — the next time we will see him, it will be on March 31st at Citi Field.  The second best thing about the outing was Strasburg’s pitch count — 84 over 5 2/3 innings, meaning Strasburg will likely be able to near 100 pitches on Opening Day.  And the third-best thing about Strasburg’s outing was how successful it was.  In those 5 2/3 innings, Strasburg struck out seven.  He had one poor inning — the Mets’ three-run third — but otherwise dominated.  All four of his pitches looked strong, including his brand-new slider:

strasburg slider strikeoutHe even added a base hit for good measure.  See you Monday, Mr. Strasburg.

Ryan Zimmerman seems to always find his swing in Spring Training, and this year is no exception.  Today, he went 2-4 with three RBIs, including a two-run single and this solo home run:

zimmerman home runThe homer was Zimmerman’s second of the spring, and it raised his batting average to .325.  He has also looked strong on defense, including on this play, where he ranged far to the right of second base on a shift.

THE BAD

— The Mets put together a three-run inning off Strasburg in the third, including a Travis d’Arnaud home run and an Eric Young RBI triple.  During the inning, Strasburg appeared to be squeezed by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstadt.  In the at-bat against d’Arnaud, Strasburg fired a 1-2 fastball that appeared to catch the outside corner, but was called a ball by Wendelstadt — the very next pitch was d’Arnaud’s home run.  There have been times throughout his career — this game against the Cubs comes to mind — when Strasburg has let someone else’s mistake derail his outing.  Today, however, Strasburg regained his composure, pitching several more strong innings after the third.

THE UGLY

— Spring Training camera angles are notoriously shoddy, and on this day, it meant that that we couldn’t see on television exactly where Harper’s homer landed.  Other than that, not too much ugly on the day.

The Nationals have two more games left to play in the Grapefruit League.  Tomorrow, they head to Jupiter to play the Cardinals, while tomorrow, they once again head to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets.  Wednesday’s game will be at 1:05, while Thursday’s will be a 12:10 start — both games will be televised on ESPN.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Game 22 (Tigers vs. Nats)

Today, we at Serious Jammage were faced with a difficult decision.  Do we listen to a meaningless Nationals game out of obligation to chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of every single Spring Training contest?  Or, do we do what everyone else is doing today — skip work to watch Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament?  Well, luckily, we found a compromise; we put Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler on the radio, while watching the Battle for Ohio’s Soul™ on television.

For the second time in two days, the Nationals sent out a lineup that roughly resembled the one they will have on Opening Day, this time with newly anointed Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg on the mound.  They played host to the Detroit Tigers, who countered with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.  Strasburg looked superb, while the Nationals managed to get to Scherzer — here is the good, the bad, and the ugly from today’s 8-1 Nationals’ win.

THE GOOD

— Coming off of offseason arm surgery, Stephen Strasburg has done everything in his power this spring to quiet questions about his health.  In his longest outing thus far, Strasburg pitched five superb innings, making just 66 pitches.  He allowed just three hits, walked one, induced two double plays, and faced just two over the minimum.  He struck out five in the outing, with a strong curveball and a fastball that sat at 92-95, just a tick below his 2013 average.  Strasburg likely has just one Spring Training start remaining before he toes the rubber at Citi Field on March 31st for Opening Day.

— After a hot start, Ian Desmond has struggled in the latter part of the spring, failing to get a hit in four of his last five starts.  But today, he took an 0-2 hanging curveball from Scherzer and deposited it over the fence, onto the grassy berm in left-center field.  The home run was Desmond’s third of the spring, and his fifth extra-base hit.  He would go 1-3 on the day.

— Lots of strong offensive performances today.  Jayson Werth went 2-3 with a first inning double, and now has 7 hits in 21 spring at-bats.  Jose Lobaton broke an 0-18 skid by going 2 for 2 with a double and a team-high 3 RBIs.  Ryan Zimmerman also added an RBI triple to right, his fourth RBI of the spring.

Jerry Blevins closed the game with a 1-2-3 inning.  But more importantly, his Dayton Flyers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, with Vee Sanford hitting a runner with 3 seconds remaining to give the team a 60-59 lead it would not relinquish.  From Mark Zuckerman:

Perhaps most importantly, as of press time, your humble scribe’s bracket is still perfect, as he had Dayton pulling off the upset.

THE BAD

Drew Storen’s spring will do little to silence those who say his disastrous 2013 was more than a fluke.  He gave up another run today in an inning of work, allowing two hits and a walk.  In 5 innings in Grapefruit League play, Storen has now allowed 7 hits and 4 runs, obviously not the performance he or the Nationals were looking for.

THE UGLY

— Not that it matters a great deal, but Bryce Harper has not looked very good this spring.  His 0-3, 2 strikeout performance today left him with a .167 spring batting average (5-30) with just one extra-base hit.  So why is Harper stuggling?  Matt Williams thinks he has the answer:

As long as the knee is healthy, this is likely no cause for concern.

The Nationals head to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida tomorrow to take on the St. Louis Cardinals.  In a rematch of both games 1 and 5 of the 2012 NLDS, Adam Wainwright will face off against Gio Gonzalez.  The 1:05 start will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest and MLB.tv.