March 31, 2015

OPINION: Nationals Have Options as Opening Day Approaches

The Nationals’ roster for Opening Day is starting to come into focus, and there are some surprises as compared with a month ago. With Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span expected to start their seasons in rehab assignments, the Nats find themselves looking at some additional bench slots, as players on the roster shift around to fill the gaps. Here’s a look at a few of the swaps fans will likely see come April 6th.

Michael Taylor has had quite a spring, including a pair of home runs against Justin Verlander, and is well-positioned to find himself both the CF for Opening Day and the lead off man for Matt Williams. The 24 year old rookie has plus speed and a solid glove, but will likely be back at Syracuse once Span returns barring a miracle. It will be worth it to catch the coming attractions while they’re here, Nats fans, Taylor may well be your Opening Day Center Fielder in 2016, as well.

Danny Espinosa will likely find himself at the hot corner until Anthony Rendon’s knee has fully recovered, which could be until May. Now righty-only, Espinosa has seen some good at-bats this spring against right-handed pitching but his whole season is predicated upon a return to the hitting of his rookie season. Many have praised his approach this spring, but it’s safe to say his career with the Nats hangs in the balance.

Tyler Moore will likely be your starting left fielder on April 6th, and the perennial bench favorite has earned the opportunity his spring with a slash line of .320/.327/.580. While no one will confuse Moore for Jayson Werth and his luxurious beard, that the Nationals can find replacements for three core bats speaks volumes about the depth of the roster right now. For that, Mike Rizzo should be applauded.

What this will do to the bench bats for Matt Williams, though, is a little less clear. I would argue that it is likely to be Kevin Frandsen, a rejuvenated Dan Uggla, the recently acquired Matt den Dekker, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who’s found his swing again. That is definitely not the bench anyone was predicting in February – rather, if you were, please drop me an email with proof and I’ll buy you a beer. It is entirely possible that recently acquired Reed Johnson might displace recently acquired den Dekker in the final roster spot, but I suspect we’ll see a fierce battle with the two of them each getting substantial playing time over the next five days.

This isn’t the Opening Day Roster that Mike Rizzo wanted to run out there; the injuries this spring could conceivably cost this team as many as 4-5 wins this season, though I suspect that’s a worst case estimate. Before you start, fair reader, don’t go blaming these events on a Sports Illustrated curse — curses are silly, and you’re better than that — but do look at the current roster options and rest a bit easier, Nats fans. There’s a lot of depth here, and the prognoses for May returns for Rendon, Werth and Span all bode well for the Nationals.

Washington Nationals sign veteran OF Reed Johnson

The Washington Nationals signed veteran outfielder Reed Johnson to a minor league contract on Monday, just hours after the Miami Marlins released the left-handed hitter. In addition to the move they made earlier in the day, trading for left-handed hitting Matt den Dekker from the New York Mets, the Nats have bolstered their outfield depth just one week before opening day.

In fact, with den Dekker still having options, Johnson could push the 27-year old back to the minors.

Bringing in two left-handed hitting versatile outfielders could mean Nate McLouth is not progressing as the Nats would have hoped in return from shoulder surgery.

Johnson, 38, hit .235/.266/.348 with Miami last season in 201 plate appearances, playing all three outfield positions. He owns a lifetime .280/.336/.406 slash in 12 years of big league service. In 40 plate appearances this spring, he was hitting .205/.225/.231 for the Marlins.

With all the injuries the Nats have had this spring, the outfield will look quite different than planned on opening day. Denard Span and Jayson Werth will both likely start the season on the disabled list, leaving Michael Taylor and most logically Tyler Moore to join Bryce Harper in the opening day lineup. The backups could be Johnson and Tony Gwynn Jr,, with den Dekker heading to Syracuse.

Werth hit in a minor league game on Monday for the first time this spring, so if he starts on the D.L. his return would probably be not much longer than the prescribed 15 days. Span, on the other hand, has yet to resume baseball activities and will probably out until May.

Washington Nationals trade Jerry Blevins to Mets for Matt den Dekker

The Washington Nationals traded LHP Jerry Blevins to the New York Mets in exchange for OF Matt den Dekker.

From the press release:

den Dekker, 27, joins the Nationals after spending parts of the last two seasons with the Mets. In 80 career Major League games, den Dekker is a career .238 hitter with a .325 on-base percentage and a .310 slugging percentage. He’s hit 12 doubles, one home run, stolen 11 bases and driven in 13 runs.

In 2014, over the course of 174 plate appearances with the Mets, den Dekker hit .250 with a .345 on-base percentage. During his time with Triple-A Las Vegas in 2014, den Dekker hit .334 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage.

A versatile player, den Dekker has experience at all three outfield positions in the Major Leagues but was primarily a center fielder during his Minor League career (446 games in center field).

A fifth-round selection of the Mets’ in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft, den Dekker is batting .256 this spring with a .373 on-base percentage and a .512 slugging percentage. He’s hit four doubles, two triples and picked up seven RBI.

Blevins, 31, was acquired by the Nationals in Dec. 2013 from the Oakland Athletics, in exchange for OF Billy Burns. During his one season in Washington, the left-hander was 2-3 with a 4.87 ERA in 64 appearances (57.1 IP).

Obviously, the Nats felt like they needed more outfield depth with Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Nate McLouth all shelved by injury to start the season.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats pound four homers to beat Marlins

As opening day approaches, the regulars are starting to get more at bats and more innings in the field. On Sunday in Viera, Florida, the Washington Nationals fielded close to their opening day lineup and they mashed four home runs to top the Miami Marlins 11-7.

Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton all went deep for the Nats. Taylor went 3 for 3 with a walk, Harper was 2 for 3 with three RBIs. Ramos went 3 for 3 and Lobaton’s homer was a three-run shot.

The Nats pounded out 14 hits with four walks against three Marlins pitchers. They clubbed starter Tom Koehler for six runs and 10 hits in four innings.

On the other side, Doug Fister wasn’t particularly sharp either. He allowed six runs on eight hits and a walk over four innings. He gave up three homers on the day, to Marcel Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamachia and Giancarlo Stanton.

On bit of pitching good news came late: Craig Stammen, who had been roughed up his last couple of times out, pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings with two strikeouts.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats roughed up by Mets

The New York Mets victimized two different Washington Nationals starters on Saturday, roughing up Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark for nine runs combined to beat the Nats 10-2 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Strasburg got through the first three innings unscathed, then ran into trouble in the fourth. With one out, No. 8 hitter Ruben Tejada doubled to left. Strasburg struck out opposite starter Jacob deGrom, but then walked Juan Legares. On a 1-2 count, Curtis Granderson clubbed a three-run shot to right, his third of the spring.

David Wright then followed with his fourth of March, an opposite-field homer to right.

Strasburg’s final line: four innings, four earned runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts.

The Mets got two in the sixth. Jerry Blevins allowed a one-out double to lefty Lucas Duda and Roark was summonsed. He promptly gave up a single to Michael Cuddyer, which plated Duda. Wilmer Flores followed with a double to bring in pinch-runner Cesar Puello.

Roark’s forgettable outing continued in the seventh. Minor leaguer Johnny Monell homered to lead off but Roark looked to right things by retiring the next two batters. Unfortrunately, Dan Uggla’s error on Daniel Muno’s grounder opened the floodgates.

Duda homered with Muno aboard on a 2-2 pitch, and after Puello reached on an infield single, Roark’s day was over. Matt Reynolds greeted reliever Rafael Martin with a double to center to complete the four-run frame.

Meanwhile, the Nats offense was limited to a very long, very loud Bryce Harper home run in the sixth, and Clint RObinson’s RBI single in the ninth.

NATS NOTES:

  • In the battle for the final spots on the roster, Uggla was 0 for 3 with the big error, Robinson was 2 for 4 with an RBI and Ian Stewart was hitless in three at bats. Tyler Moore, who is out of options, went 1 for 4 with a run.
  • Danny Espinosa played shortstop on the road trip and was 1 for 3.
  • After their outings, both Blevins and Roark are sporting ERAs over 9.00.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is scheduled to take a few days off after banging his left shoulder diving for a ball on Friday. Manager Matt Williams told reporters in Florida that no tests were needed “as of right now”.
  • Williams also announced the rest of the Nats season-opening rotation. Max Scherzer, as previously announced, will start opening day, followed by Jordan Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Zimmermann strong again, Nats tie Cards

RYAN ZIMMERMAN LEAVES GAME AFTER DIVE, AWKWARD LEAP

Jordan Zimmermann allowed one earned run on four hits over six innings in his next-to-last start of spring training and the Washington Nationals added another tie to the ledger with a 1-1 finish against the St. Louis Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Following the game, Zimmermann told reporters in Florida “it’s not looking good” for the veteran righty to sign a contract extension before opening day, and he reiterated that he would not negotiate during the season, all but assuring that he will hit the open market as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2015 season. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Gio solid, bullpen not in loss to Mets

The New York Mets got one run in the sixth, two in the seventh, four more in the eighth and tacked one on in the ninth to turn a tight game into a laugher, beating the Washington Nationals 8-3 at windy Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Gio Gonzalez started, and while the lefty walked three — including back-to-back free passes in the third — he didn’t allow a run and gave up just two hits, one an infield variety that he fielded and made a late throw. He struck out five in five innings of work.

That was the good. The rest? Not so much.

Tanner Roark, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen — all relievers the team will rely upon heavily this season — were knocked around by a collection of mostly Mets backups.

Roark gave up two runs on two hits  in one inning of work, striking out two without a walk. Blevins surrendered consecutive homers to Matt Reynolds and Juan Lagares in the seventh. Stammen was touched for four runs on three hits — including a homer by Matt den Dekker — and a walk in 2/3 of an inning.

After two straight rough outings, Stammen’s spring ERA is 8.68.

The Nats picked up all their runs in the sixth inning. Michael Taylor doubled home Kila Kaiaihue, who walked,  and then scored on Clint Robinson’s double. Derrick Robinson pinch-ran for Clint and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single. Wilson Ramos followed with a single, but Ian Desmond struck out to end the rally.

NATS NOTES:

  • Spring Training numbers to be taken with a grain of salt: Roark’s ERA hit 9.00 and Blevins’ sits at 8.59 after today’s runs.
  • Yunel Escobar led off and played second. He went 1 for 3 in his third game of the spring.
  • Desmond choked down a throw, bouncing it to first. When Zimmerman couldn’t make the backhanded scoop, Desmond was charged with his second error of the spring. He double-clutched a ball on the transfer in the next inning, but got a force at second.
  • Tyler Moore, who can’t afford to take any play for granted in his battle for a roster spot, flat-out dropped a fly ball in left field in the first inning.
  • Bryce Harper did not play for the second straight day with a stomach virus.

 

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Scherzer Ks 9, Cards win 1-0

RENDON “IN JEOPARDY” FOR OPENING DAY WITH KNEE INJURY

Max Scherzer struck out nine over six scoreless innings, but the St. Louis Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth inning to beat the Washington Nationals 1-0 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida.

The only run of the game came in that eighth inning, with Aaron Barrett pitching for the Nats. Barrett hit Kolten Wong with his first pitch of the frame, and Charlie Tilson pinch-ran. Tislon immediately stole second, then went to third on a wild pitch by Barrett. Tilson scored on Ty Kelly’s sacrifice fly.

The Nats went quietly against Jordan Walden in the top of the ninth, as Derrick Robinson, Mike Carp and Sandy Leon all struck out. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats pound Verlander, tie Tigers

The Washington Nationals pounded Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander for three home runs — two from Michael Taylor — but the Tigers got to the Nats bullpen and the game ended in a 7-7 tie at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Taylor, one of the Nats top prospects and pegged to play center field while Denard Span recovers from abdominal surgery, homered in the third and fifth innings off Verlander. He finished the day 2 for 4 and is hitting .324 this spring. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Will Dan Uggla make this team?

One of the more interesting (okay, perhaps only interesting) position battles this spring in the Washington Nationals camp centers around second base, considering the guy they traded for to play the spot, Yunel Escobar, hasn’t taken a swing in a game yet due to “general soreness” and back issues since he got here.

Considering the back issues were one of the lingering things that plagued him all season last year, it’s not a good start to his Nats career and could very well be an indication of the value the Nats are going to get for him.

The guys that have been playing the position while Escobar convalesces are incumbent Danny Espinosa, who’s attempting to turn himself into a right-handed only hitter, and Dan Uggla, who was last seen in the bigs hitting .149/.229/.213 last season between Atlanta and 12 appearances for San Francisco.

Uggla, now 35, doesn’t seem to be that worthy of a reclamation project — he hasn’t hit above .233 since 2010. But he did hit 22 homers as recently as 2013, and Nats GM Mike Rizzo loves the guy, so the Nats took a shot.

According to Uggla, he played through an undiagnosed oculomotor dysfunction as a result of getting hit in the head twice and is now fully healthy. His spring results thus far are encouraging: he’s hitting .333 with an OBP over .450 and hit his second homer Saturday against the Marlins.

The Nats are playing with found money with regards to Uggla, as the Braves are on the hook for his ridiculous salary. If he can prove useful again at the big league level, it’s a double-bonus.

The problem is that if Uggla isn’t playing every day, his value is limited. Uggla has only played second base his entire career. He’s not a good defender or runner, so if he’s relegated to the bench, it’s almost exclusively as a right-handed pinch-hitter, effectively limiting manager Matt Williams to a three-man bench. He could probably serve at first base in an emergency basis.

Escobar is right-handed. Tyler Moore is out of options. If they don’t trade him, he’s a right-handed pinch-hitter. Kevin Frandsen is a right-handed pinch-hitter. Espinosa is now a right-handed pinch-hitter. You get where I’m going with this.

Espinosa is not out of options. Perhaps the most sensible thing — if Uggla’s hitting seems sustainable — is to send Espinosa to Syracuse to concentrate on hitting right-handed, and go with a bench of Moore, Escobar, Frandsen and Tony Gwynn Jr, at least until Denard Span or Jayson Werth is healthy to play again.

Of course, all this is dependent on Anthony Rendon getting healthy and getting back in the lineup at third base. If he’s not ready to start the season on the active roster, all bets are off.

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