April 18, 2014

Washington Nationals 2014 “Natosphere” Preseason Survey

HAPPY OPENING DAY!

For the past several seasons, the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (DC-IBWA) has conducted a preseason survey, asking questions to key Washington Nationals issues and seeking predictions for season statistical leaders. You can find this year’s results here. Below is how our staff answered the tough questions.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs?

DAVE NICHOLS (Editor-in-Chief): Bryce Harper. Hopefully Harper stays healthy, lays off the breaking stuff, and is passable against lefties.

RYAN KELLEY (Prospects and scouting): Harper’s left-handed power is the best on a team with plenty of pop. In his early 20′s he’s put together a career .209 ISO during his first two MLB seasons, and there’s plenty more power to come. He also showed up to spring training with more muscle in his frame. If he stays healthy he could hit 30+ bombs, and even 40 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict.

STUART WALLACE (Statistical analysis): Bryce Harper.

CHRIS GAROSI (Fantasy): Harper. A full healthy season sees him approach 30 homers.

ALYSSA WOLICE (Beat writer): It’s no secret that last season Jayson Werth edged Bryce Harper for D.C.’s home run crown with 25 total home runs. But the sophomore battled injuries for the greater portion of the year. And, his new stature makes evident the fact he’s had a productive offseason. Critics – or, pessimists, rather – say Harper’s weight gain could adversely affect his swing. But, I’m not buying it. If he can remain healthy, Harper will certainly lead the Nats in home runs – and, perhaps, he’ll even make a run for the 40-mark.

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?
DN:  Harper. If he hits fourth the bulk of the season he’ll have the best opportunity to lead the team in RBIs batting behind Rendon and Zimmerman. At least, in a perfect world that’s how it works out.
RK: Ryan Zimmerman. Lineup spot plays a direct part in determining totals. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman are generally guys that stay closest to the middle of the lineup, and furthest from the leadoff spot. LaRoche will sit against some lefties this year though, and he looked punchless for much of last season.
Zimmerman has plenty of power and is a good hitter, but if Williams decides to spread his lefties out, there’s an outside shot Ryan could be pushed away from the RBI spots. He’s also a guy that will lose games to injuries every year. Harper has the most pop, but he’s young and he was owned by southpaws last year. So, I guess I’ll gamble and go with Ryan Zimmerman. He’s a good bet to be in the either the 3-hole, clean-up spot, or 5th spot in the lineup consistently and he’s a good balance of power, discipline and hitting ability–though his bat wrapping makes his swing very long.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Harper. If he keeps hitting fifth he’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in Werth and Zim.
AW: Ian Desmond. Last season, the star shortstop knocked in 80 runs – just two shy of Jayson Werth. And, while Werth posted some of the best numbers of his career in 2013, Desmond has the advantage of relative youth. In fact, Desmond has batted in more runs year after year, and I would bank on that trend continuing, at least for 2014.
3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?
DN: Denard Span. If spring training taught us anything, it’s that new skipper Matt Williams wants to be aggressive on the basepaths. I expect Span will be running a lot this season.
RK:  The Nats don’t have much speed. Supposedly, first-year skipper Matt Williams will run the team on the bases more aggressively than Davey did, but judging by the player he himself was — and the juiced-up era he learned to play MLB baseball in — it’s hard for me to envision the offense putting a lot of emphasis on stolen bases.
Harper, Span and Desmond have some speed, while McLouth is a heady baserunner, but none of them are truly plus runners. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d say Desmond, who is the best mix of aggression, veteran instincts and raw speed. His workload also means he’ll get plenty of chances. But if Eury Perez gets extensive playing time, that’ll be the guy.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Ian Desmond.
AW: Denard Span. Sure, Span had a less-than-stellar 2013 season. But if spring training can produce only one thing, it’s promise. And, Span gave plenty of reasons to hope for improvement this season. But of course, in order for Span to rack up the stolen base total for Washington, he’ll have to fine-tune his approach at the plate to avoid repeating last season’s .327 OBP.
4) Who will lead the staff in wins?
DN:  Stephen Strasburg. This is his year to put up 200+ innings and show he’s the workhorse of the staff he’s always said he wants to be. His stuff is downright nasty, he has a mean streak on the mound, and he’ll be working to a decent pair of catchers really for the first time in his career.
RK:  Jordan Zimmermann. I really like JZ, he’s an outstanding pitcher and one of the most underrated guys in baseball-even now that he’s gotten his money. His approach to pitching and demeanor are very similar to Mike Mussina, and statistically, he’s a similarly productive — and overlooked — player. He led the NL in wins last year with 19, and his 4.03 K/BB ratio was seventh in the league and tops among returning members of the staff. Considering he’s this talented, and he’ll get plenty of favorable match-ups in the middle of the rotation, JZ is the safe bet.
SW: Stephen Strasburg.
CG: Jordan Zimmermann.
AW: I’m finally going to write what I’ve been long hoping to write: I think this season will be Stephen Strasburg’s breakout year. Fans have every reason to believe he will emerge better than ever before, now that he’s had the bone chips in his elbow taken care of. Now that the birth of his daughter has provided Strasburg with a new perspective on life, I think he’ll approach each start with a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Add to that, one can only hope Strasburg’s newly acquired slider will create even more frustrations for opposing batters. That’s not to say Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez won’t challenge Strasburg for most wins. But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Strasburg could reach 20 wins this year, provided he remains healthy and garners the run support he lacked last season.
5) How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?
DN:  25 or so. I think Zimmerman will get a handful of starts against lefties and get moved around a handful of times late in games when LaRoche gets pinch-hit for against LOOGYs. I think the Nats will resist the temptation of moving him over to first full-time until next year, but it’s coming. His throwing looked no better in spring training than it did for much of last season. It’s a shame that Zim and Espinosa both wrecked their careers (Zim defensively, Epsi offensively) playing through injury in 2012 in pursuit of a pennant.
RK:  10-15. It could certainly be more depending on how well LaRoche and Espinosa play against southpaws, but I don’t think the Nats will put him there too often so they can avoid raising discussion about him getting unseated there so early. Personally though, I don’t think Rendon plays like a long-term second basemen, and he looks much better at third. Espinosa’s value lays in the fact that he’s a middle infielder with plus defense and pop. So, it’s not a bad idea to get Zimmerman reps at first, especially because his third base defense has regressed to average, largely due to his throwing issues.
SW: 55.
CG: 45.
AW: I’ll give Zimmerman a dozen starts at first base, and 30 total games in which he makes an appearance on the right corner of the infield. I think it’s pretty clear the Nats are interested in having Zim switch corners, at least for curiosity’s sake. And, Matt Williams has already hinted that the star third baseman could be called upon to cover first in double-switch scenarios and the like – anything causing Adam LaRoche to be pulled from the game. Of course, if Zimmerman’s shoulder starts to show signs of wear and tear – or if Adam LaRoche misses significant playing time for any reason – that number could rise tremendously. But, assuming neither of those situations occur, I’d say Zimmerman makes an appearance covering first base a maximum of 30 games.
6) Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?
DN:  Taylor Jordan. I think he’s got the better long-term package to succeed out of this group. But they’re all just a place-holders really until Giolito and Cole are ready. By then, though, one of those might be replacing Jordan Zimmermann, who it seems more and more likely that he’ll test the free agent waters.
RK:  Tanner Roark. Taylor Jordan is the best pitcher of the four, but he’s also the youngest and still isn’t that far removed from TJ surgery. Long-term Jordan is a more fundamental member of the rotation, but there isn’t enough need to push him now with options ahead of him. The organization really likes Roark, and though I have my doubts about his feel and the depth of his repertoire, he does have good command of a 94 mph fastball and has a very high floor. Ultimately, he still may be best suited for the bullpen, where he’d be very good in a Craig Stammen role or even as a closer.
SW: Jordan.
CG: Tanner Roark – He’s got more upper minor league experience. I think Jordan heads back to the minors once Fister is healthy.
AW: I’m going to take what we saw of Tanner Roark and run with it and say he earns the most starts with Washington of the four. That’s assuming he posts numbers that come even remotely close to his hard-to-believe 1.51 ERA and 7-1 record from last season. Do I think he’s going to post a sub-2.00 ERA again? Not at all. But, if he can maintain good movement on his sinker and approach the upcoming season with confidence, I think he’ll earn a bit of time in the rotation, particularly if Doug Fister struggles to return to good health.
7) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll (Survey went out well before Carroll was released or Kevin Frandsen was added to roster)?
DN:  Obviously, the answer is Espinosa by default. But I’m very skeptical that Espinosa will contribute anything with the bat again this year. His two-homer game in spring training aside, he continued to look lousy at the plate in Florida despite cutting down his swing a bit. I just don’t think he has the power in his shoulder to generate MLB bat speed anymore.
RK:  Danny Espinosa. Carroll is insurance, at most. He didn’t look so “ageless” (what so many people refer to him as) last year when he hit .211/.267/.251, and he looked old this spring. The Nats want to see what they can get out of Espinosa, even in a bench role. And at the very least, they’ll showcase his skills enough to trade him at a better price when the market is hungrier.
SW: Espi (but this question is moot. He will get more ABs than Frandsen also).
CG: Danny Espinosa – I assume he’ll play at least one.
AW: The burning joke to make here would be to vote for Jamey Carroll, despite the Nationals’ recent decision to release the 40-year-old infielder. But, all burns aside, I think Danny Espinosa would have earned more at-bats, regardless. Call me an optimist but, I’d like to hope Espinosa has made enough improvements at the plate to make him a considerable option for the Nats’ reserves. I wouldn’t necessarily imply he might be a first- or second-choice in a pinch-hitting situation. But, injuries plague every team, and the optimist in me says that, should the opportunity for a second chance arise, Espinosa could deliver. After all, numbers aside, Espinosa has something to prove – perhaps more than any other player who could find himself on the Nationals’ bench this season.
8) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?
DN:  Hard not to say Giolito. Scouts are drooling all over the kid. Big fastball, two more plus offerings. Great makeup. This season will be his first full year after TJ surgery, so look for pitch counts and about 160 innings out of him. Next season, the training wheels come off.

RK:  Drew Ward. I really like Ward, and see him as a solid bet to be a Hank Blalock-type third baseman, and even if he moves to the outfield, his bat is good enough to be a slugging right fielder with plus on-base percentages like Geoff Jenkins or even J.D. Drew. But there’s considerable risk here, and his background is a throwback to when farm boys used to populate minor league circuits playing on hay-covered dust.

Ward played on a very rural circuit in high school, and while he looked good against stronger competition, he rarely had the chance to swing against high 80′s heat and advanced breaking pitches. His first taste of the pro’s was promising, as he hit .292/.402/.387 in the GCL. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays a level higher in 2014. If not for his playing on such a rural circuit, and him not graduating early, Ward would’ve likely been a top-20 draft pick this coming June.
SW: AJ Cole
CG: Zach Walters. He could be a very important piece if the Nats have to move Zimmerman to first base sooner than later.
AW: I’m most interested in seeing what becomes of RHP A.J. Cole this season. For starters, I’m interested to see how Cole works his way up the ranks after being reacquired by the Nats (he was dealt to the Oakland A’s in the Gio Gonzalez deal). I wouldn’t necessarily say Cole will be the Nats’ star prospect this season – that title could very well fall to Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole or Brian Goodwin. But, the Nats, no doubt, have seen something in Cole who, after struggling with the A’s High-A team in 2012, posted strong number fors the Nats’ Double-A Harrisburg. In seven starts last season, Cole recorded a 2.18 ERA and a 4-2 record with Harrisburg. And, if he can improve his curveball a bit, he could really garner some attention, wherever he finds himself in the Nats’ organization this season.
9) Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?
DN:  Sammy Solis is the easy answer. He’ll be one of the first recalled if the Nats need a pitcher of any sort. Cole is next, with Giolito in close pursuit. Purke has a long way to go to prove he belongs in this discussion anymore.

RK:  Giolio’s age, recent recovery from elbow surgery and ceiling means he has no chance this year. Purke’s injury-laden resume and struggles this spring make him a long shot, even despite his contract, notoriety and left-handedness. So, that leaves Cole and Solis. Cole has more upside, with a premium heater, plus fastball command and nice athleticism, and he’s very polished for his age. He’s one of the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball in my opinion. Solis is older, craftier and more MLB-ready. He’s also left-handed, a skill that puts him right behind Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler on the team’s depth chart. So, either one of these guys.

I think Solis might get a shot in the ‘pen as soon as someone goes down with injury, so it’ll be him first. But if any of the team’s big name starters goes down for extended time, and if Jordan or Roark don’t live up to expectations, then the organization will be more than happy to start Cole’s arbitration clock early.
SW: AJ Cole.
CG: AJ Cole.
AW: I’m going to go with LHP Sammy Solis on this one, if only because Lucas Giolito will require a bit of time to earn his way up the ranks – and prove his ability to stay healthy. Giolito’s pitching repertoire is downright impressive – he boasts a nasty curveball and a top-notch changeup – but, he’s battled with his fair share of inactivity as the result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
10) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Whom?
DN: Two: Harper and Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann will have a tough time replicating his first half last season, just because it was so damn good. And I have a bit of worry about Gio this year.
RK:  Four. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are almost locks if they’re healthy. Not only are they elite-level players at their positions, but they’re fan-favorites and high fantasy picks. I know Desmond got snubbed last year, but there was enough hubbub about it that I don’t think the Washington area’s massive market will let that happen if the team lives up to expectations this year. Plus, Tulo and Hanley are both very injury prone.
Stephen Strasburg is a lock if he’s healthy (knock knock), so that’s 3, and it’s hard to believe that one of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard won’t make it. So that’s four, almost definitely. Wilson Ramos has star-level talent, and has produced when healthy — he just needs to stay healthy. And then Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth also have good chance, and it’s not like Storen, Fister and Rendon don’t have the chops. So I think it’ll be four, But, it could certainly be five, and six isn’t too crazy if the team wins and grabs the spotlight.
SW: 4 – Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, JZimmermann.
CG: Two — Bryce Harper and Tyler Clippard.
AW: Three: Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg
11) Total wins and what place in the division?
DN:  90 wins, first place. With all the injuries to Atlanta’s pitching staff, the Nats will win the division by default, and I believe the N.L. East is the worst division in baseball now due to the Braves plight. The Phillies are falling apart due to age, the Mets are a couple years away and the Marlins just have so very little big league talent right now, despite a couple of very good pitchers.

RK:  95 wins, 1st place. Matt Williams’ managerial resume is pretty light, so he’s a bit of a wildcard no matter what kind of player he was. With that said, I think the Nationals are the MLB’s best bet for first place.

Besides Atlanta, the Nats’ division is weak and their balanced roster is overflowing with All-Star talent. The team transformed into a winner in 2012, and while they had a sophomore slump in 2013, the franchise’s studs–Harper, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio– are now entering their primes and their leaders–Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth–are hungrier than ever for a World Series.
After the front office neglected their need for left-handed pitching and power last year, they did a great job addressing it this offseason. Now, the club not only looks supremely talented, but supremely balanced. Rafael Soriano as the closer looks like the lone weak spot, but the team has enough bullpen talent between Clippard, Storen, Stammen and Detwiler that this issue isn’t troubling. Their run differential could approach a full run per game if they’re well managed, so they could bring home as many as 100 wins and be one of the most dominant teams since the ’98 Yankees. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The rotation is gifted but somewhat fragile and every big league season brings plenty of disappointment.
SW: 91-71; 1st
CG: 89 wins, first in N.L. East.
AW: With the Philadelphia Phillies all but defunct and the Atlanta Braves coping with serious injuries before the season’s first pitch, I say the Nationals absolutely have to win the NL East this season. I’ll give them 96 total wins to edge the Braves, who will likely enjoy a bit of a revival in the second half of the season.
Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?
DN:  Ryan Zimmerman’s defense, in conjunction with Adam LaRoche’s offense. Ryan Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise. He’s signed through 2019. He could outlast all of Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and Harper. His bat is better at third than it would be at first base, but if he can’t get his defense sorted out — and it’s more than just the throwing at this point — he’s going to have to be moved.
LaRoche is essentially a platoon player at this stage in his career. Granted, it’s the side of the platoon where he’ll see the bulk of at bats. He’s never been good at hitting lefties, but last year he was down-right atrocious. The Nats can’t afford that type of production from their first base position. LaRoche is still decent in the field, but not as great as people in this market seem to think. If LaRoche doesn’t show signs of bouncing back early in the year, it’s a bad sign and will force the Nats into shuffling things around.

RK:  Wilson Ramos and the team’s catching. Ramos has shown All-Star-level ability, with outstanding power for a catcher, a strong arm and the ability to keep the ball in front of him. Injuries have been his downfall, and it’s what forced Davey Johnson to give a rundown and weak-swinging Kurt Suzuki so many starts over the previous two years. In Ramos’ absence, Suzuki proved not only to hurt the team with his poor pitch-framing, but he didn’t make opposing base-stealers hesitate before going for second base–not one bit–and his 70 wRC+ during his time in Washington means he was horrific with the bat.

Ramos is being handed the reigns to one of the most gifted rotations the game has every seen–and certainly the most valuable. He too is young, and his job comes with plenty of pressure. Even with Jose Lobaton added to the team as both the back-up and injury insurance, the weight still falls heavily on Ramos’ shoulders. For this team to live up to it’s potential, he’ll have to catch 100 games this season and be a stud both in the box and behind the plate.
Can he frame pitches well enough to keep the pitch counts down for fragile guys like Strasburg, Gio and max-effort Tyler Clippard, whom all have exhausting mechanics? Can he get Jordan Zimmermann and Rafael Soriano strike calls while they live on the edges of the zone? After his ACL and hamstring injuries, can he still block the plate well enough to keep the staff’s young guns confident in their premium breaking stuff? And can he get out of his crouch quick enough to slow down base stealers despite a so-so career 27% CS%?
Ramos has a hefty amount of responsibility. He could step up the the plate and flourish, establishing himself as a star, or it could certainly be more disappointment for him. But the team really needs him to play his best. Because even if Lobaton is a solid game caller and receiver, he’s not a first-tier catcher like Ramos is. And after him, the organization has little beyond glove-only Sandy Leon and a few bullpen catchers.
SW: The most important development of the season for the Nats will be the maturation and continued development of Anthony Rendon, both at the plate and as a utility player. Possessing one of the more impressive and advanced hit tools for a player his age, continued seasoning from MLB plate appearances will further hone his contact rate, his understanding of the strike zone and how opposing pitchers will handle him, which will only improve his offensive stock. A full return to health after being a little banged up last season will also add to his performance.
However, the biggest piece of the puzzle for Rendon will be in the field, as he continues to learn how to play 2B at the major league level, while also retaining his above average skills at his natural position of 3B. Given the merry-go-round of players and their positions in the infield with Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa as well as Rendon all looking at new positions part-time or otherwise, it will be up to Rendon to provide a precociously steady influence at both second and third for the other two to have successful transitions. The hitting will always be there, but health and fielding from the young Texan will play an enormous role in the overall success of the bottom half of the batting order and the team’s defense.
AW: Saying the bench should be the Nationals’ single-most important development this season might not fire up fans. But, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be item No. 1 on the Nationals “must-fix” list. Washington boasted some of the league’s best pitching last season, and came up with absolutely no run support to swing the win-loss column in their favor. With the addition of Nate McLouth and the lingering hope that Danny Espinosa could show at least marginal improvement, one would hope Washington will perform better in clutch situations this year.

Washington Nationals 2014 Season Preview: Five biggest issues to watch

Here we go again.

The Washington Nationals, despite not qualifying for the playoffs last season and spending the first three-quarters of the season in the bottom-three in the N.L. generating base runners, are preseason favorites in the N.L. East and a popular pick again for the World Series.

The Nats are a talented team with a nice blend of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance. With big paydays ahead for Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann (with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper not too far behind), the time is now for the Nats to really start making noise on the national level.

Most of the prognosticators are ignoring all the warning signs and putting their reputations on the line for the Nats. Are they capable of making a long playoff run? Yes. But simply ignoring warning signs from last season and expecting another near-perfect run in the regular season like 2012 would be foolish.

GM Mike Rizzo had a nice offseason. The addition of Doug Fister (presuming health) was enough to merit a good grade, but they also added veteran outfielder Nate McLouth to strengthen the bench and mitigate the inevitable Jayson Werth trip to the disabled list or Bryce Harper crashing into an outfield wall. The cherry on top was picking up lefty Jerry Blevins, who’s useful against righties just as well, for the bullpen.

Last week, Rizzo picked up UTL Kevin Frandsen off the waiver wire from the Phillies. This may prove to be a key addition to the bench as well.

But there are still plenty of question marks heading into the 2014 season. What are the top five issues Nats fans need to watch for? At the end of last season, I wrote a couple of columns on what went wrong in 2013. That’s a good place to start since many of the same issues still exist.

This might seem like I’m down on the Nats chances. Not so. The bar for this team is set around 91-92 wins. Best case scenario sees Harper bust out instead of incremental improvement, Werth’s normalization from last season’s overachieving isn’t a free-fall, and LaRoche recovers to career-average production instead of sliding further.

They could get reach the 95-96 win total without injury. Either way, I’m predicting first in the N.L. East by default. Atlanta was crippled by injuries to its rotation and the rest of the division is either too old (Philly), not ready (Mets) or flat-out lacking in talent (Miami). Of course, worst-case scenario sees all of the below scenarios blowing up and derailing another promising season.

GETTING ON BASE

Overall, the team carried a .313 OBP, in the bottom third of the league and it could have been worse if not for a hot stretch the last five weeks of the season — as late as mid-August they were next-to-last in total baserunners and finished just 12th in the league. They have to be better setting the table to truly contend.

But the starting roster is intact from last season, when the Nats needed a scorching hot final seven weeks to climb out of the cellar of run scoring and putting runners on base. That stretch coincided with Denard Span’s hot streak, so maybe Rizzo figures Span’s adjustment period to the N.L. is over and he’ll contribute a his career average .350 OBP at the top of the order all season long.

Span bottomed out on Aug. 16 at .258/.310/.353, nowhere near what’s necessary in the top spot in the batting order. For the next 39 games, he hit .338/.375/.459, instrumental in the Nats late resurgence. It was too little, too late to save the Nats playoff aspirations, but the Nats have to get more near his career line (.283/.351/.387) on a more consistent basis to make this offense work.

Hopefully, Anthony Rendon will eventually settle into the second spot in the order. In his rookie season (while learning a brand new position at the Major League level), Rendon hit .265/.329/.396 with seven homers and 23 doubles. In his short minor league career, the now 23-year-old hit .269/.408/.531 and he’s always been lauded for his plate discipline.

If Rendon can handle the two-spot, it goes a long way in helping Matt Williams set the heart of the order and provide protection for the next bullet point.

HITTING AGAINST LEFTIES

The Nats lefty swingers were a combined .211/.283/.291 last season, including Span’s .223/.278/.261, Bryce Harper’s .214/.327/.321, Adam LaRoche’s .198/.254/.313. That’s fully one-third of the Nats’ everyday lineup that hit like a pitcher against lefties.

I have very little doubt Harper will figure it out. He’s a world class baseball talent and hitting against lefties is the last element from him absolutely exploding at the plate.

Span is still in the prime of his career and should bounce back closer to his career norms of .281/.358/.374 (including last season) against southpaws.

LaRoche is a completely different matter. He’s 34. He’s never been good against lefties to begin with (.244/.300/.430 career). In his career year of 2012 he only hit .268/.319/.506 vs. LHP. This is very much a player in steady decline and really should be relegated to platoon work at this stage in his career.

He’s still capable with the glove, but he’s overrated in this market with exactly how much value he brings defensively considering the stone hands the organization ran out there before him at the position. If LaRoche slides anymore from what he provided with the bat in ’13, it’ll be time to consider other options at the position (see below).

RYAN ZIMMERMAN’S SHOULDER

Ah yes. Here it is. I was speaking with DSP’s fantasy baseball contributor Chris Garosi the other day during an on-line draft, and he remarked that the most important Nats player this season is Zach Walters. His theory: Zimmerman’s shoulder (and defense in general) is so unreliable at this point that his move to first base is more imminent than anyone in D.C. wants to admit. With Danny Espinosa’s problems with the bat (more below), Walters could factor very big in D.C. mid-season.

While that might be gloom and doom, it’s probably not far off.

I’m not a doctor. But I have had my share of shoulder injuries. In fact, I had the same injury as Zim (tear of the Acromioclavicular joint). Mine was a complete tear. Obviously I don’t have access to Zim’s medical file, and he’s had it surgically repaired. But he spent most of last season still mired in the throwing problems and had a not-so-mysterious lack of power until late in the season. It’s entirely possible that it took that long for the joint to gain strength back.

Offensively, Zimmerman should be fine. His defense got better as the season went along, but we still saw some problems with his throwing in spring training. This situation bears close attention, as Zimmerman remains the most important National and the Face of the Franchise. He’s signed through 2019. He could very well outlast Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and Harper.

His bat is much more valuable at third than first base. But if he can’t provide the defense, he’s going to have to move. If that move is predicated by ineffectiveness by LaRoche, or Zimmerman’s throwing woes, it’ll come sooner than later, and perhaps even this season.

BACK OF THE BULLPEN

Do you have confidence in Rafael Soriano?

According to Fangraphs, Soriano has lost speed off his fastball the past four seasons in a row. He’s walking less, but striking out shockingly less, as hitters are making much more contact on him on pitches inside — and outside – of the strike zone. Outside the strike zone, baters went from 22.9 percent contact rate in ’12 to 29.6 percent in ’13. On strikes, the contact rate went from 60.8 percent to 63.9 percent. He’s given up 12 hits in five inning in Florida.

His hits per nine innings jumped an alarming 1.5 hits from ’12 to ’13 (with normal .296 BABiP) while his K/9 rate fell to 6.9. His line drive rate and fly ball rate are going up, his ground ball rate is going down.

All of this is dangerous territory and a recipe for unmitigated disaster. This is a pitcher whose skills are eroding very quickly.

As for options, of course Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen remain. Both have 40-save seasons to their credit. Clippard continues to defy logic with his repertoire of high fastballs and disappearing changeups from his awkward delivery.

Storen, on the other hand, remains a mystery.

Our Stuart Wallace took a look at Storen’s alarming rise in walk rate last week. Storen was fairly horrible the first couple months of last season, due to a large number of batted balls falling in and a higher walk rate (5.95 ERA, fueled by a .355 BABiP before demotion). After his exile in Syracuse, he came back with a more streamlined, natural delivery, rather than the unusual and clumsy straight leg kick he used. He had better command, kept the ball down and was pretty much his old self.

But he’s been back to getting lit up this spring. All caveats on spring training stats, but he’s walked six in 6 2/3 innings, while giving up nine hits and six earned runs. How long a leash does he have this season?

HELP FROM THE BENCH?

Last season the Nats bench was horrific. There’s no other way to say it. .207/.264/.351. Those are pitcher’s batting numbers.

They picked up Nate McLouth as a free agent to be the primary left-handed bat on the bench. McLouth is a capable fielder at all three outfield spots, so if the Nats have an injury there they at least have an MLB-caliber replacement, something they didn’t have last season in Steve Lombardozzi.

But for everyone’s fawning over the 32-year-old, let’s remember: prior to his career renaissance last season with Baltimore, McLouth had been simply waived by Pittsburgh (twice) and Atlanta.  In ’10 and ’11 with Atlanta he hit .190 and .228 with 10 homers combined. His first 34 games with Pittsburgh in ’12 were no better: .140/.210/.175, leading to his release. He’s never hit higher than .276 and is a career .250/.334/.418 hitter. He’s a capable backup, not more.

The other outfielder is Scott Hairston. Hairston is the right-handed hitting Yin to McLouth’s Yang. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. But Hairston’s overall numbers last year (.191/.237/.414) and age (34) – not to mention his paltry .214/.259/.484 against LHPs, who he’s supposed to “mash” — signal the end is rapidly approaching for the once versatile and useful player.

It’s true, all 10 of Hairston’s homers last season came against lefties, but as his slash line indicates, it was literally all or nothing for Hairston. 10 of his 27 hits in 140 plate appearances against LHPs were home runs. Against righties? .097/.147/.276. Can this actually be the Nats primary right-handed bat off the bench? With a walk rate of 5 percent and contact rate of 72 percent, this a guy whose skills aren’t declining, they’ve just about evaporated.

Danny Espinosa “won” a utility job in spring training after hitting .226/.305/.415 in 59 plate appearances. Where to start with Espinosa?

The rotator cuff tear in 2012 that he never had surgically repaired? The broken wrist that he sustained in April only to be revealed/properly diagnosed in late May which allowed him to “hit” .158/.193/.272 in 167 PAs? The months of ineptitude in Triple-A (.216/.280/.286 in 75 games) after taking just two weeks off to let the wrist calm down?

Espinosa’s career is at a crossroads as his performance has fallen completely off the table as his injuries continued to mount. If Espinosa can return healthy — and that’s not a given — he can provide 20 homer power and speed with Gold Glove caliber defense. After spring training, and the waiver-wire pick-up of Kevin Frandsen, we’re still waiting to see him prove his health.

Frandsen can play all over the diamond and outfield, and he’s proven adept at pinch-hitting (which is a highly volatile “skill”), but he has no power and doesn’t run. He is the very definition of journeyman utility player.

“Battle” for second base endures as Spring Training reaches the stretch

Washington Nationals first-year manager Matt Williams has yet to name a starting second baseman with less than two weeks to go in spring training.

The team is doing everything they can to salvage value from Danny Espinosa and, if healthy, the  former starter brings a 20-20 game with excellent defense at both second and shortstop.

The other candidate, Anthony Rendon, brings adequate defense and a refined hitting approach that practically screams “number two hitter” with a line drive swing and tremendous on-base skills.

Williams told the media the other day:

“That is a tough decision for us to really make. As you come into Spring Training, you want to make it difficult for the manager to make a decision and for the organization to make that decision. They are both doing really well.

“I’m not ready to make that decision. We have a week left and they will continue to play and get at-bats. They have competed really well. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the way and make our decisions accordingly.”

The problem is two-fold. If Espinosa doesn’t make the team, the Nats will have to keep 40-year-old Jamey Carroll on the squad, as he’s the only other player left in camp that can play shortstop since they sent prospect Zach Walters to the minors earlier in the week. But that sets up the million dollar question: Can Espinosa hit?

Espinosa’s injury history is well documented in these parts. He suffered a torn left rotator cuff during the Nats stretch pennant drive in 2012 and didn’t remove himself from the lineup. Instead of having surgery during the offseason he chose to try to strengthen the muscles around the joint and play through the discomfort.

The results in early 2013 were abysmal. On top to that, he suffered a broken right wrist after getting hit by a pitch, which further reduced his capacity at the plate. After two weeks on the disabled list, be went back to playing full-time in Syracuse and was arguably worse than in the bigs.

He hit .158/.193/.272 with 47 Ks in 167 PAs (28.1%) for the Nats last year after leading the N.L. in strikeouts in 2012. Then in Syracuse after his D.L. stint, Espinosa hit .216/.280/.286 with 101 Ks in 313 PAs (32.2%).

So far this spring, Espinosa isn’t much better, hitting .200/.300/.257 with 7 Ks in 40 PAs and just two extra base hits — both doubles.

The strikeouts are one thing; the utter lack of power from last season to this spring is alarming. His line drive rate last year plummeted from 19 percent to 10 as the injuries robbed him of any power whatsoever and his contact rate has gone down in each of the past four years, from 73 percent in ’10 to 71, 68 and finally 63 percent last season.

The final nail is his ground ball rate, which was an astronomical 51 percent in ’13 for a guy with 20-homer potential.

With Espinosa, the Nats once had a promising 20-20 player who played Gold Glove caliber defense at second base. Playing though a shoulder injury, then failing to get it fixed the immediate offseason, has completely destroyed his career.

There’s no mystery surrounding the Nats starting second baseman. Anthony Rendon is young, healthy, and already has an elevated approach at the plate. He isn’t the fielder that Espinosa is, but should be able to produce a .350 OBP to go along with 15-20 homer pop in his prime.

This spring, the Nats have given Espinosa every opportunity to prove health, and he’s looked good in the field. His shoulder may not be causing him pain, but that masks the underlying issue that the joint is weakened and is no loner capable of producing enough bat speed to provide contact and power at the Major League level.

It’s a shame.

Statistically Speaking: Should Espinosa ditch switch hitting?

[Eds. Note: "Statistically Speaking" is our new weekly feature, where we'll delve into a particular aspect of the Nationals and really break down the essence of the issue in terms of statistical data. Typically, this will be performed by columnist Stuart Wallace (find his bio below), but Dave Nichols will pop up occasionally as well.]

The 2014 season is one that looms large in the career of Danny Espinosa. After a much-maligned 2013 season due to injury and ineffectiveness, Espinosa comes into the spring with a lot riding on him making strides offensively and coming north with the squad. Part of this success hinges on his ability to switch-hit and provide some pop from both sides of the plate, something he showed glimpses of in the 2010 through 2012 seasons, but remained elusive throughout a lost 2013, a season highlighted by a disappointing .206 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a -0.6 fWAR in 44 games with the Nationals.

Struggles notwithstanding, this projected pop is predicated upon the work that needs to be put in to maintain two swings and have them both remain synchronous throughout the year, impervious to extensive stretches of slumps and disharmony between both body and mind.

With his poor showing in 2013 came a number of suggestions as to how to ‘fix’ Espinosa and his swings, most leaning heavily upon the idea that he should scrap swings from one side of the plate and focus all of his efforts into one side of the plate, with the idea that the physical and mental demands of maintaining both swings would be drastically reduced by focusing on just one.

Adding to the melange of suggestions pointing to this quick fix was the success of Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino had late in 2013 with jettisoning hitting from the left, due to injury concerns. Victorino enjoyed what seemed to be immediate success, being able to hit for both average and power focusing solely on batting from the right. While Victorino appears to be working towards a return to switch-hitting status full-time, his brief dalliance with simplifying matters was nonetheless a successful one.

Is it one that might help Espinosa regain some offensive value to go with his elite defensive prowess?

Let’s have a look at Espinosa’s career left-right splits as a hitter:

PITCH HAND

PA

wOBA

wRC+

BABiP

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

BB%

K%

vs. LHP

394

.344

116

.331

14.20%

47.80%

38.10%

12.80%

7.60%

25.10%

vs. RHP

1201

.294

82

.283

16.60%

45.80%

37.60%

12.90%

7.20%

27.70%

Not surprisingly, Espinosa has better success at the plate as a righthander, facing left-handed pitching, hitting 50 points better from the right, as measured by wOBA, than the left. Surprisingly, Espi doesn’t appear to have any egregious differences in line drive rate (LD%), or even home run per fly ball (HR/FB) or strikeout (K%) rates between hitting sides.

In many respects, it appears that Espinosa has a touch more luck facing lefties, as his above-.300 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as a righty hitter points to; with no real differences in the types of batted ball between the splits, his career numbers lean towards balls finding a hole from the right more frequently than they do batting lefty. While minute, Espinosa does appear to display slightly more plate discipline, with fewer strikeouts and more walks (BB%) as a righty.

Let’s delve a little deeper into Espinosa’s plate discipline over his career, in the form of whiffs per swing zone profiles, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. First, we look at his whiffs per swing rates as a left-handed batter; from left to right, we find his rates against hard pitches, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches:

Espi as lefty batter

…and as a right-handed batter:

Espi as righty batter

With the simple evaluation of how well he makes contact across pitch types and bat handedness, we find additional confirmation of Espinosa faring better as a righty, facing left-handed pitching. In general, we find Espi less susceptible to fastballs high in the zone and breaking balls in general as a righty, with occasional problems with offspeed stuff up in the zone. Nonetheless, there are fewer red boxes as a righty, indicating fewer whiffs and, in general, better ability to make contact.

As shown, Espinosa’s success does appear to lean towards his ability to make more frequent contact as a righty, despite most of the stats not showing large platoon splits. However, the reality is that switch hitting is altogether a different beast and isn’t just an amalgamation of left and right swings. As mentioned in a recent article on the subject in Baseball Prospectus, there will typically be an adjustment period for most, if not all, switch-hitters to undergo in order to successfully transition back to hitting from one side of the plate, with many physical and psychological hurdles to overcome in the process.

Briefly, it wouldn’t be terribly fair or feasible to force a transition of this magnitude, after many years of training and success as a switch hitter, upon a hitter mid-career; the odds are against this great of a change bringing long-term success.

What does the future hold for Espinosa with regards to his switch-hitting status? A quick perusal of The Book finds that it takes roughly 600 plate appearances (PA) against left-handed pitchers to really determine a switch-hitter’s platoon skill, which Espinosa is a little over 200 PA’s short of achieving. We also find that switch hitters tend to display smaller differences in performance with regards to left-right splits than their lefty or righty-only counterparts. With a little mathematical help and some quick calculations, we can find out what Espinosa’s future could hold for him in regards to wOBA as a switch hitter.

Taking his wOBA left-right split over his career and regressing his output, using National League switch hitter averages, we can see how, despite his woes at the moment keeping things together from both sides of the plate, Espinosa’s ability to not suffer too greatly from platoon splits should endure.

Math ahead – for those averse, you can skip this part.

First, let’s look at Espi’s career wOBA, career wOBA from the left and right, the raw difference between these two, and the percent difference between Espinosa’s career left-right wOBA:

Career wOBA

.306

Diff L/R wOBA

.050

Pct wOBA diff

16.33

Overall, roughly 16 percent of Espinosa’s observed performance is in his wOBA splits. Let’s now take into consideration that Espi has yet to reach that magic 600 PA against left-handed pitchers threshold, so let’s estimate his platoon skill at 600 PA, using NL-average wOBA split for switch hitters for 2013, which I have calculated at 0.971 percent:

Estimated platoon skill = (.1633*394 PA + .0097*600 PA)/(394 PA + 600 PA) = 7.1%

Taking this 7.1 percent and centering it, we can now take Espinosa’s estimated 2014 wOBA—here, I am using ZiPS’ .287 wOBA— and look at how much difference will lie between his wOBA splits, which come to .290 against lefties and .284 against righties. Not a tremendous uptick or downtick, which is typical of switch hitters.

What if Espinosa ditched batting left-handed and went with just hitting righty? Given there are statistical differences regarding platoon splits for lefty/righty only hitters compared to switch hitters, we will have to make some assumptions to do a similar regression to the one above; the first assumption is that Espinosa, the right-handed hitter, will hit at a NL-average level with respect to his wOBA splits. Again looking to The Book for guidance, we will regress righty platoon skills against 2200 PA against left-handed pitchers in place of the 600 PA used for switch hitters.

For NL righty hitters in 2013, their wOBA splits are as follows:

2013 avg wOBA, NL RHH

.313

Diff L/R wOBA

.022

Pct wOBA diff

7.03

Taking these numbers and regressing them against the 2200 PA against LHP threshold for Espinosa, we get the following:

Estimated platoon skill = (.1633*394 PA + .0703*2200 PA)/(394 PA + 2200 PA) = 8.4%

Again centering this value and applying it to Espinosa’s 2014 ZiPS projection .287 wOBA, we find that he forecasts to a wOBA against left-handed pitching as a pure righty hitter at .289, with a .285 wOBA against righty pitchers as a same side hitter.

Overall, we find that Espinosa as purely a right-handed hitter doesn’t project to be much better than what he does as a switch hitter, with wOBA as our guide. Given these calculations and the multitude of mechanical and mental changes to his hitting approach that would be required to make a transition to being only a right-handed hitter after many years and swings as a switch hitter, which appears to be his stronger side given his career numbers, we find that Espinosa is best left as a switch hitter.

While it is attractive to look at the raw left-right splits that Espinosa has displayed over his career, when taking onto consideration plate appearances and assuming league average results throughout the reversion from switch hitter to a righty-only hitter, we find that Espinosa’s best bet to regain value from an offensive standpoint is to stay the course.

***All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.
______________________

Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part I: The Infield

Ryan Zimmerman gets Matt Kemp out in top of 5th (third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to first baseman Adam LaRoche) - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman is a key component to Nats playoff hopes. (stock photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page, Sept. 2012)

 

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

With no further adieu… [Read more...]

Washington Nationals add middle infielders to competition

According to reports, the Washington Nationals have signed infielders Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to minor league contracts, with both players receiving an invitation to spring training.

Carroll, 40, hit .211/.267/.251 last season split between Minnesota and Kansas City, playing primarily second and third base. Fontenot, 33, last played in the majors in 2012, spending last season in AAA Durham, where he hit .264/.335/.379.

These moves serve as backup to the primary option at reserve middle infield, Danny Espinosa. Espinosa comes off a dismal 2013, where he was injured and when in the lineup, performed horribly. In the majors, he hit .158/.193/.272, and wasn’t much better in the minors after being demoted, where the hit .216/.280/.286 in 313 plate appearances.

Espinosa suffered a torn rotator cuff in late 2012 and broke his wrist early in 2013 and played through both injuries before the Nats finally shut him down for a disabled list stint in May.

Washington Nationals officially activate from DL, then demote Danny Espinosa

The Washington Nationals Wednesday officially activated 2B Danny Espinosa from the disabled list, then optioned him to AAA-Syracuse. Espinosa was in Syracuse already on a rehab assignment after he was placed on the Major League disabled list with a fracture in his right wrist. In 20 at bats so far for Syracuse, Espinosa is 2-for-20 with 13 strikeouts.

Espinosa injured his shoulder late in 2012, which he revealed in spring training this season to be a partially torn rotator cuff. In April, he was hit by a Paul Maholm fastball in the right wrist, and initially took a couple days off to allow the swelling to go down. Initial X-rays did not show a break, but after two months of utter futility at the plate (.158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances) the team re-examined his right and found a fracture and bone chips.

Espinosa took a week off, then began a rehab assignment in Syracuse, but thus far hasn’t been any better there than he was for the Nats this season.

Washington Nationals Minor League Update and Prospect Report for June 17

SYRACUSE CHIEFS
AAA-INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE
Week: (1-4, 2 PPD) Season: (27-40, 6th in IL North, 12.5 GB)

Danny Espinosa, 2B: The Nats injured second baseman is on a rehab stint with the Chiefs. He’s gone 2-for-9 this week with no extra base hits, four Ks and two walks.

Tyler Moore, OF/1B: Since being sent down by the Nats, Moore has continued his season-long struggles. He went 3-for-19 this week but making his few hits count with a double, homer and seven RBIs. He has struck out five times and has not drawn a walk. Season: .158/.182/.368 with one home run and 7 RBIs.

Corey Brown, OF: The left-handed hitting outfielder went 2-for-18 this week with two doubles and three RBIs and a whopping six strikeouts against two walks. Season: .250/.319/.528 with 10 HRs and 28 RBIs. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals better off with Rendon AND healthy Espinosa

Since his recall from the minors, Anthony Rendon has been hitting the cover off the ball for the Washington Nationals. The second baseman — for now — was 10-for-27 (.370/.414/.519) since June 5. Overall as a big leaguer, after Saturday’s 3-for-5 with his first MLB home run, the 23-year-old rookie is hitting .333/.406/.491 in 64 plate appearances. Granted, that’s about as small a sample size as allowed by law, but the kid has gotten off to a good start.

He’s kinda living high on the BABiP right now, but his OBP numbers are in line with what he’s done in the minors, while his SLG is a little down. But his six doubles give promise that he’s going to provide some pop to go along with his excellent plate discipline.

He’s done so well so far that many fans are clinging to his performance as something akin to a new savior, especially with Bryce Harper out for a month now and still out for the foreseeable future with the knee injury. In fact, many are publicly renouncing Danny Espinosa altogether, hoping the injured player remains in the minors in perpetuity.

It wasn’t all that long ago when the same fans were clamoring for Espinosa to move over to shortstop and have the team jettison the then-struggling Ian Desmond. After an All-Star berth and perhaps being the Nats most complete player thus far this season, Desmond is now walking sacred grounds in NatsTown and Espinosa is being lined up for the firing squad.

But the truth is, the Nats would be better off if Espinosa can prove his health, get back in the lineup, and provide his 20-20 power/speed combo and typical Gold Glove caliber defense in addition to, not instead of, Rendon’s production.

I’m skeptical that Espinosa will ever be entirely healthy all season — that he needs to have a surgical procedure to remove the nagging bone chips in his wrist. For that matter, he should also get his balky left shoulder fixed as well, rehab over the winter, and come back in the spring finally fully healthy to compete to win his job back. Maybe this conversation is all a moot point.

But if he can show during his current rehab stint (so far: 2-for-7, 0 XBH, 3 K, 1 BB) that he’s healthy enough to contribute successfully, and not the miserable .158/.193/.272 he put up through June 2 when the Nats finally disabled him, but more along the lines of the .240/.320/.410 that he put up in ’11 and ’12, Espinosa can be a valuable contributor to the Nats offense. He’s not an All-Star, but can provide pop, speed and defense from down in the order.

Does Espinosa walk right back in and claim his starting spot? Does Rendon stay at second, making Espinosa the utility infielder, which puts Steve Lombardozzi’s job in jeopardy? Could Davey Johnson get enough at bats between second, short, third, left field and the occasional DH availability to keep Rendon in the batting order? Surely it’s not ideal for Rendon defensively. But you’ve already asked the kid to play a spot he hasn’t since little league, and so far, so good.

Does the team work out some sort of trade to open up a full-time position?

One thing is fairly certain at this point. Rendon can hit. And he pretty much has to stay in the big leagues now, with the offense he’s providing on a daily basis. It will be fascinating to see what the team does when Espinosa proclaims himself healthy enough to return to the big leagues this year — and rest assured, he will try to return.

The Nats aren’t going to “Wally Pipp” Espinosa, as much as a segment of the fan base would like. This team is better off in the long run with Espinosa healthy. Switch-hitting middle infielders with 20/20 power speed don’t grow on trees. He just has to prove his health first, and we can go from there.

Washington Nationals injury updates: Harper to see Dr. Andrews; Strasburg to D.L.

Before Thursday’s game against the New York Mets, manager Davey Johnson gave a few updates on the Washington Nationals walking wounded.

– Bryce Harper experienced swelling in his knee after running in a pool earlier in the day and is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews to get a further opinion on Monday.

– Danny Espinosa received a cortisone shot in his broken right wrist and is expected to start baseball activities in five days or so.

– Ross Detwiler will pitch in a rehab game at Potomac on June 8. He’ll throw about 50 pitches and is on target to return on June 13.

– Stephen Strasburg was officially placed on the 15-day D.L. and LHP Xavier Cedeno was recalled from AAA-Syracuse. It’s expected that RHP Ross Ohlendorf will be called up to start in Strasburg’s place Saturday.

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