March 2010

Nationals make first round of cuts

The Nationals re-assigned pitchers Victor Garate, Logan Kensing, Joel Peralta and Ryan Speier, catcher Derek Norris and outfielder Jerry Owens to Minor League camp on Thursday.

The team also gave left-handers Shawn Estes and Eddie Guardado their unconditional release. The Nationals currently have 53 players in their big-league camp. 

“It’s that time where you get the roster to a more manageable number, especially with the pitching” manager Jim Riggleman said. “We are going to try to stretch the starters out a little bit. A couple of clubs have already done it. We just needed to get a manageable number.” 

Of the players sent to Minor League camp, Norris, 21, is the player with the most upside. He is considered Washington’s catcher of the future. He took the news in stride and realizes that he must improve his defense behind the plate. 

Norris played in six games this spring and was hitless in four at-bats. His best time, he said, was learning from catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Jamie Burke.

“I learned a lot, especially on the defense side,” Norris said. “There were a lot of veteran guys around here who taught me a lot. I’m looking forward to taking what they showed me toward the season and see how it pans out behind the plate compared to last year. They gave me a lot of tips and pointers for my game. I think it will be a tremendous compliment for my game behind the plate.” 

Estes and Guardado were signed to Minor League deals this winter to provide leadership to the young pitching staff, but they were hit hard during the exhibition season. Estes gave up two runs in one inning, while Guardado gave  up seven runs — four earned — in two innings. 

Estes said he is not sure what he is going to do —  keep pitching or retire. He plans to talk to his wife and his agent before making a final decision.

Guardado was not available for comment.

Guzman goes home to be with wife

Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman has returned to Washington D.C. to be with his wife, who is expecting a baby girl any day. It’s not known how long Guzman will be away from the team.  

“I think it’s induced labor so I think it’s not like he’s going to get there and have to all of a sudden wait for four more days,” Riggleman said. 

Guzman has played in three exhibition games and is 2-for-10 with an RBI. He has played two games at short, but hasn’t been challenged in terms of his throwing ability. Guzman, who had shoulder surgery during the offseason, admitted Sunday that he still needed to build arm strength. 

Riggleman believes Guzman is still tentative when it comes to airing out his throws.
“He’s throwing fine in the drills and all, but just a little tentative,” Riggleman said. “I think he’s a little concerned to really air it out yet. He really hasn’t had any plays where he’s had to air it out. I think Guzzie  wants to play, and he is playing. He said, ‘Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine.’ but my guess is he’s probably at about 90 percent.”

Wang to have bullpen session; Walker roughed up

Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang is expected to throw his first bullpen session sometime next week. It will be the first time he will throw off a mound since July 4 when he was with the Yankees.

Wang said he is hoping to throw at least 20 pitches during the session.

Since signing with the Nationals, Wang has thrown from 120 feet on flat ground. Washington is hoping that Wang will be able to pitch in a big league game by May. 
Over the past two seasons, Wang has pitched in 27 games. In 2008, he didn’t pitch after the All-Star break because of foot problems and this past season, he missed the Yankees’ World Series run because of his shoulder. 

Reliever Tyler Walker had another outing that he would like to forget, allowing six runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Tigers on Tuesday. He now has allowed 11 runs in 2 2/3 innings.

Walker said he is having problems with his fastball command.

“You have a tendency to let it rip and kind of overthrow the ball,” Walker said  “When I miss, I miss up. I have to find a way to get the ball consistently down in the strike zone, especially with the fastball. I feel the off-speed pitches are close to being good, but the fastball command is not there.” 

Guzman, King will take wait-and-see approach

On Sunday, Cristian Guzman declined to comment about the possibility of Ian Desmond being the everyday shortstop for the Nationals. But Guzman’s agent, Stanley King, said Monday only the team has control of who plays the position.

King declined to say if he would asked the team to trade Guzman if the latter starts the season on the bench. Trying to trade Guzman would be difficult because he’s making $8 million this season.

“That is not my decision,” King said. “We have to take a wait-and-see approach. All Cristian can do is work hard and help the team in any way possible.”
King said the team has not talked to him about a contract extension for Guzman, who is a free agent after the 2010 season.

“There are no hard feelings toward the Nationals. He has had [five] good years there.” King said. 

Meanwhile Guzman played shortstop Monday against the Marlins. It marked the first time he played the position since having right shoulder surgery this past offseason. Guzman didn’t see much action except getting an assist in the second inning. 

Guzman most likely will get more action at the position either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Storen has solid outing; Livo may pitch next week

Nationals right-hander Drew Storen pitched a perfect inning against the Mets at Tradition Field on Sunday. He threw only 10 pitches and was able to get three groundball outs in the sixth inning.

Storen indicated that he wasn’t nervous like he was Thursday against the Astros. He pitched one solid frame in that game as well.

Overall, Storen has thrown 19 pitches this spring. The reason for the low pitch count is because he is pitching to contact, he said.

“I was trying to build off the last time,” Storen said. “I wasn’t as nervous. I was just trying to throw strikes.”
Storen is expected to pitch Tuesday against Tigers at Space Coast Stadium. It’s the same game in which teammate Stephen Strasburg will make his Spring Training debut.

“That would be awesome. It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere. It’s going to be tough not to get fired up for that game,” Storen said.
In other news, right-hander Livan Hernandez will pitch in a simulated game in a couple of days and then pitch in a Spring Training game sometime next week.

“We trying to work it in to make sure he is all right,'” pitching coach Steve McCatty said about Hernandez. “When he came down here, Livo was Livo [in terms of being in good shape], but he really didn’t throw off the mound. He played catch and now he is getting back into real pitching shape.” 

Twitter poll: Should Nats give Dunn a contract extension?

I asked for a response from my Twitter followers Wednesday: Should the Nats give first baseman Adam Dunn a contract extension? Why?

Of the 19 people who responded, nine felt Dunn deserved one, while nine others felt Dunn should be dealt before the trade deadline. One other person wasn’t sure what the Nats should do with Dunn.  

Here’s what some of the followers had to say:

@Kennygartner:  Sure, the defensive liabilities are there, but anyone who can hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs should be kept around, especially with his leadership. 

@nyrnyrnyr8: Keep Dunn because it’s the first time Ryan Zimmerman has had any protection in the lineup; and look what Zimmerman can do with it.

@DCBigTrain: The Nats don’t have a replacement for Dunn’s bat. And if Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Lance Berkman can learn to play a passable first base, so can Dunn.

@my92gsr: Re-sign Dunn because his bobble head is sitting on my TV.

@Khillock: No. Someone will need him at the trade deadline, and an extension all but erases that opportunity.

@yuda:  No extension for Dunn. Suspect d and players like him tend not to play well as they age.

@Donnysamson: Yes. Dunn makes the lineup better

@DroppingTheBall: I’d give him a two-year contract extension just because A) I enjoy watching him bat and B) Who would replace him at 1st base?

Strasburg likely headed to Minors, has live BP session [updated]

Manager Jim Riggleman hinted Tuesday morning that right-hander Stephen Strasburg more than likely will be sent to Minor League camp after a couple of starts. Riggleman also didn’t rule out Strasburg making the team out of Spring Training.  

Riggleman said Strasburg will not be judged based on what he does on the mound. His first start is March 9 against the Tigers. He is expected to throw two innings or 30 to 40 pitches. 

The team has already said in the past that Strasburg hasn’t thrown enough innings in professional baseball. He has pitched 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League. 

“I think it’s going to come down to a philosophical decision more so than a performance decision,” Riggleman said. “We anticipate that he is going to throw great. I think it’s going to come down to, what is going to be best for Stephen Strasburg as an organization. I have been very impressed and I continue to be impressed.”

“I’m not trying to dodge the question at all, but I’m going to be impressed with a lot of guys, but some of them are not going to make the club.”

Strasburg  had his second live batting practice session that same day. He threw  for 12 minutes and dominated while Roger Bernadina, Eric Bruntlett, Willy Taveras and Josh Whitesell were at the plate.

“He was throwing his fastball — a four seamer and a two seamer,” Bruntlett said of Strasburg. “He had pretty good movement on it. He was throwing a breaking ball and it was pretty sharp. He has a changeup as well.”
Only Bernadina and Bruntlett made solid contact with Bernadina hitting a ball through the hole, while Bruntlett hit a chopper.

“He looked great. He looked like he has everything he needs to be an accomplished big-league pitcher,” Bruntlett said about Strasburg. “That’s what you could tell at this point, but it’s hard to really know. There’s a lot more that goes into getting guys out and having a good arm. He certainly has everything he needs.”

Storen overlooked; Lannan pitching Saturday

Right-hander Drew Storen is considered one of the top prospects in the Nationals organization, but he has been overshadowed by his teammate, right-hander Stephen Strasburg, this spring.  

That’s OK, said Storen, because Strasburg deserves the publicity after what he has accomplished in the last year. Strasburg went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts at San Diego State University en route to being named the 2009 Golden Spikes Award winner. He struck out 195 and issued just 19 walks in 109 innings.

“I love it. I think it’s awesome. He 100 percent deserves the publicity,” said Storen, who was also a first round pick. “I’m just taking a back seat to it all. The Nationals haven’t received all this attention in the last couple of years. I think Stephen is going to be a big help. I don’t deserve the same attention. I’m not as good as he is.”

But good enough. Storen had a great first season in professional baseball, saving a combined 11 games with a 1.95 ERA for Class A Hagerstown and Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.  It earned Storen a Spring Training invitation, but it’s more than likely that Storen will start the season in the Minor Leagues. Storen understands the team doesn’t want to rush him to the big leagues.

“I’m looking at the big picture,” Storen said. “I want to be a guy that helps this team win. I don’t want to be there for a cup of coffee. In the end, I want to have a career in the big leagues.”

*Storen has been going through the windup during live batting practice sessions in order to give the hitters a different look. This unusual because relievers go through the stretch when they are pitching in the late innings. Storen started doing the windup by watching Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren.

“I watched how Haren has that pause,” Storen said “Obviously, timing is big for hitters and [look to] can change their timing up and always keep them uncomfortable. If I can do that with my stuff and my motion, that is going to help me out.”              

* Catcher Jesus Flores will throw from 90 feet the next couple days. If all goes well, Flores hopes to start taking batting practice later in the week.

* Left-hander John Lannan will pitch against the Mets on Saturday at Space Coast Stadium, while right-hander Jason Marquis will throw against the same team the next day at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie.

* Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the television home of the Nationals, will televise Strasburg’s first spring training appearance on March 9th at 1 p.m.ET on MASN and MASN HD from Space Coast Stadium.

Strasburg is expected to pitch two innings for the Washington, but MASN will televise the entire game.