February 2010

Nyjer wants to hit lefties; Trying to figure out bench

Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan was seen taking batting practice against left-hander Randy Tomlin, a Spring Training instructor, on Sunday. Morgan seemed comfortable at the plate, hitting mostly line drives and stopping himself from swinging at inside pitches.

The left-handed hitting Morgan is looking to improve against left-handed pitching after going 18-for-103 (.175) against them last season.

“Basically, I kind of stunk up the barn last year hitting lefties. Basically, I killed righties [.344],” Morgan said. “If I can hit the lefties a little bit, it’s going to get me on base a little bit more. It will create a little more offense, too, for the club.”

* Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said the most difficult part of Spring Training will be trying to figure out his bench. There are 15 players vying for roles off the bench: Outfielders Roger Bernadina, Chris Duncan, Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell, Jerry Owens and Willy Taveras, infielders Eric Bruntlett, Ian Desmond, Alberto Gonzalez, Mike Morse, Pete Orr and Josh Whitesell and catchers Jamie Burke, Devin Ivany and Wil Nieves. 
Of the 15, Harris and Nieves are all but locks for the bench, so it’s more than likely the rest of the reserves will be fighting for the final four spots, provided that Washington carries 11 pitchers. 

“I think there are a lot of different scenarios with the bench,” Riggleman said. “The bench is tough because you can paint a picture of 11 pitchers as oppose to 12. Most team carry 12 pitchers. That has something to say about how your bench is used or how many left-handed or right-handed hitters you could carry.

“The [player] options factor in there. Sometime there is a bench player who you think would help the club, but somebody else is out of options. You don’t want to run that player out of options through waivers and lose him There are four or five different scenarios and we are not even close to knowing how that’s going to end up.”     

* Riggleman still hasn’t decided who will be the team’s Opening Day pitcher. The assignment will either go to left-hander John Lannan or right-hander Jason Marquis. Whoever it is, that pitcher will face the Phillies twice  in two weeks.

Last year,  Lannan was the Opening Day starter for Washington and lasted three innings and gave up six runs against the Marlins in Miami.

* Right-hander Rafael Martin, who was at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday for Photo Day, said there were at least 10 teams who were interested in his services, but he is glad Washington selected his contract from Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League because he has a shot to pitch in the big leagues sometime this year.

Before playing in the Mexican League, Martin worked for Slater Incorporated in Riverside Calif., building concrete structures for storm drains. He also played softball during the week and baseball on Sundays.

It took a friend from California who helped get a tryout with Saltillo. Martin ended up playing for the  team for three years, going 13-6 with a 3.81 ERA and one save.   
* The Nationals are not having an intra-squad game before the start of the exhibition season. Riggleman prefers to see the team work on fundamentals and have bullpen and live batting practice sessions.

“The intra-squad stuff — I like it, but there is a downside to it,” Riggleman said. “It can get less than serious because it’s your buddies you are playing against. There is a lack of seriousness about the matchup between a pitcher and hitter in some situations.

“The thing you do get out of it is, your hitters are one day closer [to being ready for the season]. They saw some pitching today. When that first exhibition game starts, they are seeing something similar that they saw the previous day. Other than that, I don’t think we get a lot of it.”
* Riggleman announced that right-hander Miguel Batista will start against the Braves at Champion Stadium on March 5.

Personal matter keeps Willingham away from camp

Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham has not reported to camp because his newborn son, Ryder Jon Willingham, experienced some complications, according to the outfielder.
Josh Willingham did not say what the problems were, but he is happy to report that Ryder is getting better. Josh Willingham indicated he is planning to arrive in camp by Wednesday. 
Manager Jim Riggleman also declined to talk about what was going on with Willingham.

“He is home for a few more days at least,” Riggleman said. “I really don’t want to get into why he is home. It’s something we can explain once he gets here, but Josh is doing well himself. We’ll get him here later this week or next week. It’s not going to take him long to get ready once he gets here.”  
Willingham did not arrive in camp last week because his wife, Ginger, gave birth to Ryder in Florence, Ala., on Tuesday. Ryder came in at 22 inches and weighed eight pounds.

Once he arrives in camp, Willingham most likely will not play in an exhibition game until early next week. 

Livo, Martin arrive in camp

Two days after agreeing to terms on a Minor League deal, Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez reported to camp Friday and had his first bullpen session since late last season.

Hernandez is considered insurance in case pitchers such as Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Olsen and Ross Detwiler are not able to come back from injuries.  

“Livo brings us an experienced guy who we know can give us innings,” general manager Mike Rizzo. “You know what you are dealing with. He is a good inventory guy for us. He is a veteran guy. You know he is going to give us innings. You know the type of pitcher he is going to be.”
Hernandez is coming off a season in which he went a combined 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA for the Mets and Nationals. Washington signed Hernandez as a free agent on Aug. 26, six days after New York released him.

On Friday, Hernandez sounded like a man who was pleased to return to the Nationals.
“I feel very happy that I’m back. The team did a great job putting a team together,” Hernandez said. “They have a chance to make the playoffs. They have a good team with power and pitching. It’s going to be really nice.”

* Right-hander Rafael Martin reported to Minor League camp Friday. He said a deal between  him and the Nationals was finalized on Feb.  8.
Martin, who is a native of Southern California, said he is big-league ready, but understands that he must prove himself in the United States.

“Personally, I think I am ready,” Martin said. “I pitch to a lot of big-league hitters in the Mexican Winter League. I played in the Caribbean Series. I think everything will be fine.”

Washington believes that Martin will be a seventh- or an eighth-inning setup man for future closer Drew Storen. Martin is expected to start the 2010 season with Triple-A Syracuse or Double-A Harrisburg. His fastball is clocked between 92-94 mph.

Martin is coming off a season in which he pitched in 54 games for Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League, going 6-3 with a 4.12 ERA. Even more impressive is that he struck out 65 batters in 63 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .244 batting average.

* Josh Willingham was not at the full-squad workout because his wife gave birth to boy named Ryder Jon Willingham on Wednesday in Florence, Ala. Ryder came in at 22 inches and weighed eight pounds. It’s not known when Josh Willingham will return to the team. 

Desmond could be utility man; Lineup all but set

Manager Jim Riggleman reiterated Wednesday that the Nationals are thinking about making Ian Desmond an all-purpose utility man — playing all three outfield positions, shortstop and second base.

Riggleman, however, wants to make sure that shortstop Cristian Guzman is healthy before putting Desmond in a utility role. Guzman is coming off right shoulder surgery and foot problems. 

“If Cristian Guzman is physically moving around good and his arm feels good, we plan on him being at shortstop,” Riggleman said. “Then it just becomes a matter of getting Ian Desmond enough action to warrant keeping him in the big leagues.

“He’s a comforting guy to have on the ballclub because he can play multiple positions; but the multiple positions are going to be tested. “We’ve got to get him time; he hasn’t played in the outfield a lot.”

The Nationals are playing split-squad games against the Astros and Marlins on March 4. Desmond will start at shortstop and then move to the outfield in one of those games. 

* Riggleman indicated that the starting lineup is all but set. If the season were to start Wednesday, Guzman would bat second. While Riggleman never named the entire the Opening Day lineup, the Nationals would look like this barring injuries:

Nyjer Morgan — CF
Guzman — SS
Ryan Zimmerman — 3B
Adam Dunn — 1B
Josh Willingham — LF
Elijah Dukes — RF
Adam Kennedy — 2B
Ivan Rodriguez — C

“The downside of naming names and saying that is, aren’t we just full of ourselves after losing 103 games? It’s kind of, pretty much, 30 teams in baseball know,” Riggleman said. “There’s not many — there’s a spot here and there. I can pretty much tell you who the Yankees and [Phillies] and [Red Sox] will have in their Opening Day lineup.”
* Infielder Pete Orr did not go to the Instructional League to learn how to become an emergency catcher last fall. The team felt that Orr would be better off learning how to be an emergency catcher during Spring Training.

Nats trying hard to get another veteran starter

The Nationals are trying hard to find that extra veteran starter. In fact, they made contract offers to right-handers Chan Ho Park and Braden Looper, but both players turned them down, according to a baseball source.

The Nationals did not confirm that they made offers to Park and Looper.

Park ended up agreeing to a one year, $1.2 million contract with the Yankees. The source said Washington made a similar offer to Park. Looper, on the other hand, told the Nationals on Sunday night he was going in another direction. It’s not known who he will sign with.   

The free-agent pool for pitchers is thin. Right-handers John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez are still available, but the Nationals haven’t heard from those players or their representatives for quite some time.

As of now, Jason Marquis is the only veteran starter in the rotation. Pitchers such as Shawn Estes and Miguel Batista are in camp, but they are on Minor League contract at the moment.

* The Nationals have decided that right-hander Garrett Mock will start against the Astros and right-hander J.D. Martin will get the nod against the Marlins on March 4, which is when the exhibition season starts for Washington. Mock and Martin are battling for the final two spots in the rotation.

Left-hander Scott Olsen had a bullpen session, which lasted about eight minutes and he indicated to pitching coach Steve McCatty that he was 80 percent from where he wants to be.

Olsen missed the entire second half of last season because of shoulder surgery.

“I thought he threw the ball pretty well,” McCatty said. “I told him if he felt stiff or anything to let us know. He said,  ‘No, I felt fine.’ He is a big piece. If he feels good and throws what he is capable of, that going to be a big plus.”

It will be interesting to see where infielder Alberto Gonzalez ends up by Opening Day. He most likely will compete with Ian Desmond for a utility spot this spring. The 2009 season was up and down for the right-handed hitting Gonzalez.

After hitting .333 in the first half, Gonzalez slumped badly and went 40-for 180 (.222) with an on-base percentage of .245 after the All-Star break. At times, he looked lost on defense, but manager Jim Riggleman didn’t have any problems with Gonzalez’s glove.  
“As a manager, when you look at Alberto Gonzalez, you are thinking defense,” Riggleman said. “Any falling off offensively, I really didn’t have too much feeling about that. I just know that I felt comfortable when I put him out there. I want the ball to be hit his way.

“He got almost 300 at-bats. When you get 300 at-bats, the pitchers kind of figure out how to pitch to you. Now it’s time for him to make the adjustment.” 

Ross Detwiler returns to Space Coast Stadium

Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler arrived at Space Coast Stadium late Saturday morning on crutches. His arrival came four days after having surgery to repair a labral tear in his right hip.

As he walked slowly into the hallway, Detwiler was greeted first by right-hander Stephen Strasburg. Detwiler told him what happened to his hip as Strasburg showed concern for his new teammate.

After talking to additional players on the team, Detwiler then had treatment on the hip, which lasted almost two hours.

Detwiler said he started having hip problems around mid-to-late January while throwing the baseball at the Nationals Spring Training complex. But he didn’t get it checked until last week. Detwiler saw Dr. Bruce Thomas, the team’s orthopedist in Florida, who indicated that something was wrong with Detwiler’s hip. Detwiler then went to Colorado to see Dr. Marc Philippon, who confirmed that surgery was needed.

Asked if the hip bothered him going back to last season, Detwiler hesitated and said, “Everyday, it’s 162 games. You have aches and pains. It really didn’t stand out to anything that would keep me off the field until I start firing it up this year.”

Detwiler is expected to start throwing in six weeks and possibly pitch in a game in 10 weeks.

“That’s a lot quicker than I thought it would be,” Detwiler said. “It was great [that they rushed me into surgery] because now I’m going to miss less time than I would have if they took their time with it.”