My Top Five from the First Five
Baseball! Its been a great five days, listening on the radio and watching on MASN as my favorite team played their first five spring training games. Its been a pretty good start to spring training so far with a meaningless record of 3-2 but some clear highlights for the Nats. Even though you can’t judge a team’s regular season performance by how they fare in spring training, its good to see some early positive signs for the Nats.
1. Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman
The Nats’ Hot Corners appear to be in great shape. Zim looks very comfortable over at first base. He has started at first for most of the games so far this spring and he has been doing a good job. He’s picked throws out of the dirt and made some tough plays. Rendon is picking up where he left off in 2014, looking solid at 3B. He even made a web gem, diving to save an Alberto Callaspo roller that was headed to the outfield, and shooting it to Zim at 1B, which Zim picked from the dirt. Zim and Rendon are showing signs of good chemistry.
2. Tyler Moore
Moore, after shining in his debut for the Nats in 2012, had been stuck in a backup role, only coming up to play in the Bigs to replace an injured player. With the early spring training performance he has shown in 2015 so far, I don’t think that he will be that guy anymore. I think he will be on the team as a bench outfielder. His many extra base hits this spring include a towering shot off Alex Wood in Lake Buena Vista, FL, and two doubles in two at-bats against the Mets on Thursday. I think that if Matt and Mike had to make rosters today, Moore would be in it for sure. That’s important, because if he doesn’t make the team, he’s out of minor league options and will probably be traded or released, which would be a waste of good talent.
3. Starting Pitching
Coming into spring training, it was pretty clear that the Nats had an amazing pitching rotation – easily the best in the MLB and maybe the best in the history of baseball. Its good to see so far in spring training that the pitchers are living up to their reputation. It was great seeing Max Scherzer make his debut in a Nationals uniform. Having Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Doug Fister in a rotation almost guarantees success. Our pitching reserves are better equipped now too – 2 years ago, the Nats used Zach Duke to fill in for an injured player. Today, the Nats can rely on Tanner Roark, who was a 10+ game winner last season. Roark looks a little rusty so far this spring training, but I think he will shake it off by opening day.
The biggest blow to the beginning of the season is that Denard Span will not play Opening Day due to his core muscle surgery. Add that to the fact that Jayson Werth’s shoulder probably won’t be ready for Opening Day either, and Nate McClouth isn’t likely to be ready either to fill in. So 2 of the Nats 3 outfielders will be backup players. On the bright side, though, there are some young Nats who are ready for that opportunity to step up and patrol the outfield. Best bets are for either Tony Gwynn, Jr. or Michael A. Taylor to get that spot. Both have shown great baseball so far during Spring Training. I think the starter will be Taylor just because he has shown the Nats that he can perform at the Major League level.
Since the Nationals lost Tyler Clippard to the Oakland A’s and we haven’t seen Drew Storen yet, there are still two open slots in the Nats bullpen. Pitchers like Casey Janssen, Jerry Blevins, and Craig Stammen are locks for the ‘pen, but there are spots open for players like Blake Treinen, Xavier Cedeno, and AJ Cole who may be ready for MLB time. Don’t forget Heath Bell too! It is just that everyone is doing well and it will be hard to find that missing piece.
So as I conclude my post, I would like to say that the spring season is going steady, with not too many mountains to overcome so far for the Nats (like the Giants have with Hunter Pence or the Phillies have with Cliff Lee) but not too many valleys to climb out from like the Cubs or Brewers (0-5, last in the Cactus League). And we have 28 days until either Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, or Fister takes the ball on Opening Day in front of the entire world.