Treinen gets shot at 8th-inning role

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — From 2010-14, Tyler Clippard averaged 74 appearances out of the Nationals bullpen. Other than a stint as closer in 2012, he did most of his work as a set-up man, pitching in the eighth inning nearly 50 times per year over that stretch.

On Wednesday night, the Nationals led the Mets, 2-1, heading into the eighth. This would have been Clippard’s spot, but he was traded to the A’s during the offseason, and Drew Storen took over for Rafael Soriano at closer. That left manager Matt Williams without a clear right-handed option for the eighth inning, to use alongside lefty Matt Thornton.

At least on this day, Williams turned to Blake Treinen, a 26-year-old righty with 15 games of Major League experience, including eight relief appearances. The manager said that was his plan coming into the game, and it worked, as Treinen tossed a scoreless inning, and the Nats won, 2-1.

This was a new experience for Treinen, who mostly started in the Minors. Of his eight times working out of the bullpen last year, all but one came in a Nats loss or blowout win. Baseball-Reference.com’s average leverage index, which measures the pressure during a pitcher’s outing, puts Wednesday’s appearance as the highest-leverage of Treinen’s young career.

“Even last year in the bullpen, I didn’t really come in for one-run leads,” Treinen said. “So its still new, but I enjoyed it

“It’s something I’ll get adjusted to. I don’t think it bothers me. I enjoy those moments.”

Treinen tries not to approach things much differently out of the bullpen. But a short stint can allow him to dial up his velocity while focusing on his sinker and slider and pushing aside his third pitch, a changeup.

On Wednesday, Treinen threw two sliders and 11 sinkers, which averaged a blazing 97.7 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. The Mets did hit a couple of balls hard, with David Wright ripping a one-out single to right before Lucas Duda lined into an inning-ending double play.

But for context, of all pitchers who threw at least 200 sinkers last year, PITCHf/x measured only two who topped that average velocity. Treinen’s stuff certainly impressed Williams, who envisions him as a big part of the bullpen.

“He’s running the ball in there at 98 mph with some good sink,” Williams said afterward. “I’m happy with the way he went about it tonight. Certainly be more opportunities for him.”

Uggla: ‘Braves are going in right direction’

WASHINGTON – Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla has watched the Braves from afar, and he believes with all the moves they have made recently, they are going in the right direction.

Uggla, who played for Atlanta from 2011-14, said he wasn’t too shocked that Atlanta traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the Padres. Uggla is most impressed by how the Braves have revamped their farm system.

“[Braves general manager] John Hart has a plan over there, and they have revamped their Minor League system,” Uggla said. “The trades they have made, the prospects they have received, they have revamped their farm system. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with probably sooner than expected.”

Uggla also said the Braves have good people in the organization and he is glad they acquired protection for his friend, Freddie Freeman.

“They needed to clean a lot of things up from what’s been going on the last five years,” Uggla said. “I’m happy to see them go in the right direction. I’m excited for them. I’m happy to see Freddie [Freeman] has a big power guy [Nick Markakis] to hit behind him. I know [Freeman] lost a lot of friends to trades this offseason. He’ll be fine.

“I grew up a Braves fan. I hope nothing but the best for them, except when they play us, of course. I met a lot of great people in that organization. I’m happy to see they are getting back on track. “

Nats’ Span could be back earlier than expected

WASHINGTON — It looks like center fielder Denard Span will be back with the Nationals sooner than expected. Span, who is on the disabled list because of a torn rectus abdominis muscle, could be back on the field by late April. Originally, he thought he would return to action sometime in May.

Early Monday afternoon, Span was doing hard sprints on the outfield grass. He already played two Minor League games –defense only—and will play a simulated game on Tuesday at Nationals Park. He is expected to swing the bat that day.  Span then will return to the team’s Spring Training complex in Viera, Fla., later this week and continue to his rehab assignment.

“I feel pretty good,” Span said. “I still have a lot of work to do. I have to get in real game situations as far as hitting, stealing bases, going first to third. Starting next week, we are going to start doing that stuff. If I continue to get well, I think I will be back before May.”

Being in the best of shape is one of the reasons Span is optimistic that he can come back earlier than expected.

“I’ve taken pride in my work ethic. So I’m sure that’s why I’m in the position I’m in now,” Span said. “I’ve taken the rehab process very seriously. I haven’t cut any corners. So that is the big reasons I’m feeling pretty good.”

Outfielder Jayson Werth was hoping that he could play in the Opening Day game against the Mets on Monday, but after deciding not to play in a Minor League game at 9:00a.m on Sunday, he decided not to rush back. Werth still needs more at-bats and he has mild discomfort in his right shoulder.

Werth is still shooting to play his first Major League game of the season on April 13 against the Red Sox. He is on the disabled list because of shoulder surgery he had in his right AC joint in January.

Werth is expected to be in a rehab assignment once the Minor League season starts April 9th.

“We talked about playing today, but I’m not quite ready,” Werth said. “But we are coming along. It’s definitely progressing. I’ve been playing in the Minor Leagues [during Spring Training]. I wanted to be here today. I have a couple of more hurdles to cross before I’m ready to go.”

 

Nats’ Barrett making sure he doesn’t get tired

VIERA, Fla. — Nationals right-hander Aaron Barrett is making sure that he doesn’t get tired like he did during the middle of the season last year. Barrett was a rookie and wasn’t used to the Major League schedule.

This offseason, however, Barrett did a little more throwing and made sure that he strengthened his shoulder and legs. He doesn’t expect to get tired at no time this season.

“I’m ready for a full season,” Barrett said. “Last year was a long season for me. It was my first year up. I had a lot of appearances, a lot of warm-ups and stuff like that. I think that is part of the process of coming up and working on that. I did as much training as I possibly could for this year.”

Nats’ Williams impressed with Cole

The Nationals had their first session of live batting practice Sunday and Williams was impressed with what he saw from right-hander A.J. Cole.

“He had a great live session today,” Williams said. “For me, he is growing into body. He is a young player. He is tall. He has great leverage and is getting stronger certainly by the year. This year he came into Spring Training looking great. Of course, we know about his fastball and curveball. Depending on the day, he can touch mid-to-high 90s with his fastball. He is a very promising prospects for us and still very young.  … I know he wants to pitch and loves taking the ball that for sure.”

Cole, the Nationals’ No. 2 overall prospect according to MLB.com, had arguably his best season in professional baseball in 2014, going a combined 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched 134 innings and struck out 111 batters. At 22, Cole features a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and front-end-of-the-rotation potential. He owns a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.24 and has struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings over the course of his career.

 

Nats’ Taylor dealing with neck issues

VIERA, Fla. — Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor is dealing with a twinge in his neck, according manager Matt Williams. But that didn’t stop Taylor from participating in workouts Sunday.

“Anytime that happens, especially early in the spring, we make sure that we take it easy on him. He is full go. He is ready to play,” Williams said.

Taylor, the third best prospect in the Nationals according to MLB.com, is expected to get a lot of playing time during Spring Training because of the shoulder injury to Jayson Werth.

Set to close, Storen appreciates Nats’ confidence

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Another playoff disappointment put a damper on an otherwise strong 2014 for Drew Storen, but the Nationals right-hander hasn’t spent his offseason dwelling on it.

“It’s just part of it. You understand when you’ve been there before,” Storen said Saturday at NatsFest. “Tough taste in your mouth to end the year, but that’s what fuels you for the next. We have a great team coming into this year, and like I said, you just build off that experience more than anything else.”

Storen posted a 1.12 ERA during the regular season, took over as closer for Rafael Soriano in September and converted all 11 of his chances. Then came the National League Division Series, and for the second time in three years, Storen stumbled. He blew a save against the Giants in Game 2 and gave up a run in a shaky Game 3 outing.

But a few things have helped the 27-year-old ease his mind this offseason. For one thing, he’s been through this type of experience before and come back from it as strong as ever. For another, he got married and went on a relaxing, sun-filled honeymoon. And finally, he’s received vocal support from manager Matt Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo, with the latter telling reporters at last week’s Winter Meetings that, “We trust Drew,” and that Storen is “penciled into the ninth inning” for 2015.

“Any guy throwing late in the game wants to be the closer,” said Storen, who also saved 43 games for Washington in ‘11. “But I think more importantly, to have that vote of confidence from Matt and management, for me it’s great. It means a lot. But it doesn’t change my approach to anything, and I’m not going to go out there and do anything different than last year.”

Tyler Clippard and Matt Thornton do give the Nats other ninth-inning options, but they are both in line to become free agents after this season, one year earlier than Storen. At the same time, Storen also  understands “that things can change quickly.”

After he blew a save and took a loss in Game 5 of the ‘12 NLDS against the Cardinals, he saw Rizzo swoop in late to sign Soriano to a two-year deal in January ‘13. Soriano, now a free agent again, spent most of the next two seasons as closer.

“It doesn’t change my job whether they came out and said, ‘We’re going to do this, Plan A, B, or C.’ It doesn’t matter,” Storen said. “I still have to be ready and do my job. It doesn’t change too much, but like I said, it’s nice to have someone say positive comments about you.”

Closer or not, the most important thing for Storen has been his resurgence following a brief demotion to Triple-A in August ‘13. Since returning with a revamped delivery, he owns a 1.19 ERA, the lowest of any Major League pitcher with at least 50 innings over that span.

“It’s really just kind of simplifying things,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to go out there and do too much. Outings went by kind of quick, which is good. You go out there and attack guys and utilize the defense we had.”

Moore getting ready for one more chance

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON – Tyler Moore is well aware that this spring could be his last chance to stick with the Nationals, and he’s hoping that an offseason that included a productive stint in the Dominican Winter League will help his cause.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old first baseman/outfielder played a major part in the Nats’ 2012 division title run as a rookie, hitting 10 homers with an .840 OPS in 75 games, but has struggled over the past two years. Going back and forth between starting at Triple-A and mostly coming off the bench in the Majors, he’s produced eight homers and a .635 OPS over 105 games for Washington.

What’s forcing the issue this spring is that Moore is out of Minor League options. That means the Nats can’t send him down without passing him through waivers, which would give the other 29 teams a chance to claim him.

“This year’s kind of a crucial year for me, and I’m just ready for an opportunity,” Moore said. “I’m going to come in and help this team win, and we’ll see what happens.

“I’m out of options, and obviously they have to make a decision, and I feel like I can play for this team.”

Moore played 22 games in the Dominican Republic earlier this offseason with Toros del Este, hitting .299/.429/.584 with six homers. He found the experience valuable, he said, getting extra at-bats against quality pitching and working on his discipline at the plate.  It’s something he expects to have him more prepared for Spring Training than in years past.

“I really do, because I really hadn’t put the bat down since I got done playing,” Moore said. “Usually I put the bat down for three months and then pick it back up, but I just hit the other day. I feel good. Hopefully it continues on to the season.”

Still, Moore’s potential role is murky, even with first baseman Adam LaRoche leaving as a free agent. The outfield is full, and Ryan Zimmerman is expected to get the bulk of the playing time at first. Unlike LaRoche, Zimmerman is right-handed, meaning Moore wouldn’t fit as a platoon partner, and the Nats still could look to add to their bench through free agency.

Barring injuries, Moore likely would be looking at a pinch-hitting-heavy role, or he could get squeezed off the roster and find an opportunity somewhere else. But for now, he’s hoping things can work out in Washington.

“I feel like I need to come in and have a good consistent spring and play good baseball, and hopefully they’ll give me the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

McLouth looking toward a better 2015

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON – It’s fair to say Nate McLouth’s first season with the Nationals didn’t go as planned, with the veteran outfielder struggling at the plate, then missing the final two months with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Now entering the final half of a two-year, $10.75 million deal — which includes a 2016 team option — McLouth is almost four months removed from surgery and is feeling stronger as he rehabs five days a week. He expects to be back at 100 percent by Spring Training.

“It’s doing better,” he said Saturday at NatsFest. “I’ve been rehabbing pretty much every day. It’s pretty monotonous, obviously, but it’s feeling much better. I saw the doctor yesterday here, and he said everything went good.”

The 33-year-old doesn’t believe any one incident caused his injury, calling it a “wear-and-tear type of thing.” However, it did get worse as the season went along, eventually forcing him to the disabled list. While he isn’t certain how much the issue affected him on the field, he acknowledged it was a factor.

In fact, McLouth never really got going, especially with the bat. After hitting a solid .258/.329/.399 with 12 home runs in ’13 for the Orioles, he got off to a 4-for-51 start for the Nats and wound up with a .173/.280/.237 line and one homer over 162 plate appearances.

While Washington expected the left-hander to receive significant playing time as a fourth outfielder, it didn’t always work out that way. And with all three starting outfielders coming back for ’15 – and youngsters like Steven Souza and Michael Taylor also expected to contend for spots – it could continue to be difficult for McLouth to establish himself with the Nats.

“Hopefully [I’ll get] some sort of consistent scheduled playing time,” he said. “I think there was a month [last season] where I had 10 at-bats, which is tough for anybody. It’s tough to do anything with that. Hopefully I’ll be able to get in there a little more.”

Nats’ Desmond, Rendon win Silver Slugger awards

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond and third baseman Anthony Rendon were the recipients of the 2014 National League Silver Slugger Award at their positions Thursday.

It’s the third consecutive year Desmond received the honor, while Rendon won his first award.

Both Demond and Rendon had solid seasons. The longest tenured member of the Nationals, Desmond got off to a slow start because of the flu, but he made up for lost time and was among the team leader in homers [24] and RBIs [91]. He has had three straight years of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season.

Rendon has performed like the club’s Most Valuable Player in his first full season with the Nationals, hitting .287 with 21 home runs and 83 RBIs. Not only has he done the job offensively, but he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at third and second base. One would never know that Rendon is one of Washington’s best players based on his personality. After great games, Rendon is a man of few words. He sometimes tries to avoid the media. He would rather stay humble and credit God for his success.

Although he was one of the team’s best players, what impresses bench coach Randy Knorr is Rendon’s demeanor. No one can tell if Rendon is in a slump or on a hitting streak.

“It’s unbelievable,” Knorr said about Rendon. “For a young kid like that, the way he goes about his business, it’s incredible. He never gets excited, he is always laughing. He never gets excited. He is smiling, he is laughing. He has a good time, he has the ability — at a young age — to get past at-bats.”

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