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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.”

No Gold Glove award for Span

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON – Nationals center fielder Denard Span said recently that winning the Gold Glove would mean the world to him, but he didn’t win the award Tuesday. Instead, it went to the Mets’ Juan Lagares.

Span is considered to be one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. This past season, he played 147 games in center fielder and made four errors. It seemed like he always made a great running catch to save a game for Washington. In ’13, Span didn’t make an error, but the Gold Glove went to Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez.

The award is determined by a survey of managers and coaches, which make up 75 percent of the voting, and the Society for Sabermetric Reasearch, which accounts for the other 25 percent.

“I prepared myself for whatever happened,” Span said by phone . “I’m not surprised. Last year, I didn’t make any errors. This year I made four errors, so I didn’t win it last year making no errors. I guess I was prepared for what was ever going to happen.”

The Nationals recently picked up Span’s option worth $9 million and he already is talking about having a better year than this past season. He is arguably coming off the best year his career. He led the team in batting average and set career highs in hits [184] and stolen bases [31].

“I haven’t been an All-Star or an MVP or won a Gold Glove. There is a lot of room for improvement in every facet in my game,” Span said. “Even though I had a good year, I’m not satisfied with that. I want to be remembered as a great player. I’m going to continue to work hard. Every facet of my game can improve.”

Span’s option picked up by Nats

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — To the surprise of no one, the Nationals picked up Denard Span’s $9 million option Thursday afternoon.

Span said general manager Mike Rizzo called to inform him that he would be back with the team in 2015. Had the Nationals declined the option, Span would have been given a buyout worth $500,000.

“I’ll be back,” Span said by telephone. “I’m very excited. I told Mike I’m excited to be coming back another year. I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff and getting back with the guys and go on another run.”

Span is one of the reasons the Nationals won their second National League East title in three years. Besides being one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, Span is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He was among the NL leaders in multi-hit games, hits, doubles and stolen bases. Span is a finalist to win his first Gold Glove Award this year.

Nats declined to exercise options on LaRoche, Soriano; Cabrera, Hairston, Schierholtz become free agents

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielders Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz are now free agents.

The Nationals also declined to exercise their options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander Rafael Soriano. None of the players are expected to be back with the team in 2015.

LaRoche reached the 90-RBI plateau for the fourth time in his career, but he is not coming back because the Nationals plan to put Ryan Zimmerman at first base. Recently, LaRoche said Zimmerman will be a quality first baseman.

“I think he is going to be an outstanding first baseman. I said that last year,” LaRoche said about Zimmerman. “He has one of the best gloves I’ve ever seen. He is an athlete. When the time comes, whether it’s next year or the following year or this postseason, he can handle that bag for sure.”

Soriano had a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break. Soriano simply couldn’t keep his slider down in the strike zone and lost his closer’s job to Drew Storen

General manager Mike Rizzo decided to acquire Cabrera from the Indians before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Cabrera provided steady defense at second, as Anthony Rendon shifted over to third base.

After coming from Cleveland, Cabrera expressed his desire to play shortstop, but after the Nationals were eliminated from the National League Division Series, he said he was willing to stay at second base. Going to the World Series is more important to him than playing shortstop. It is believed that the Nationals will not pay a lot of money to keep Cabrera.

Hairston and Schierholtz were part of the bench this past season. Hairston got off to a great start, but he tailed off dramatically starting in June and was taken off the roster during the NLDS.

As a pinch-hitter, Schierholtz ranks sixth among active players with at least 150 pinch-hit appearances. He started the season with the Cubs, but after getting released on Aug. 13, he signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals five days later. He made $5 million in 2014. It’s doubtful the Nationals will pay Schierholtz that kind of money in ’15, though he could be back on a Minor League deal.

 

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