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Most important development of spring

Mar 17, 2011, 1:55 PM EDT

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann has yet to allow a run in 11 Grapefruit League innings.

The NCAA Tournament begins today — don't try to tell me the Big Dance started Tuesday with those silly "First Four" games — which means the sports world will be in full college basketball mode for the next couple of weeks. It also means baseball season is creeping ever closer.

In fact, Opening Day is a mere two weeks away. Yep, 14 days from now, Livan Hernandez will be taking the mound at Nationals Park with the Braves occupying the visiting dugout and (hopefully) a sellout crowd on hand for the festivities.

There's still plenty that needs to be sorted out before then, but plenty already has been sorted out down at Nats camp. The starting rotation has come together pretty nicely this spring. Michael Morse has seized a starting job. Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche have blended in well with their new teammates. Stephen Strasburg is playing catch every other day with no problems. Bryce Harper made a nice impression during his stint in big-league camp.

What, though, is the most important development of the spring so far? I can think of several candidates, and I'm curious what everyone thinks about this. Here are the possibilities I've come up with, in noRead more »

  1. JamesFan - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Starting pitching looks better than expected; pen looks more shakey than expected; no closer.

  2. Stranded_in_Philly - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    I'd go with Michael Morse taking the LF job. We knew what to expect from Marquis (assuming last year was a hickup), and we have long expected that Zimmerman would some day ascend towards the top of the rotation. In any event, we had a good idea what the starting rotation would be. LF was expected to be an ugly platoon situation, but Morse's emergence has cleared up those problems, and provided a potential 5th or 6th in the order bat.

  3. Doc - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Regression to the mean rears its' ugly statistical head–the starters exceed expectations, and the BP goes backwards.Beyond that, more obvious strength up the middle in this years' Nats—minus CF.

  4. Nats fan in NJ - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    I agree with JamesFan. If the younger starting pitchers can prove their dependability (Zimmerman, Maya though not necessarily young, Detwiller) and the veterans (Marquis, Livan?, Gaudin) can be shopped for more prospects, then both '11 and beyond will be improved.

  5. John O'Connor - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    I'll go with either Zimmermann or Detwiler. It's a small sample, but Zimmermann looks on pace to be a guy who can be an important starter on a good team. If Detwiler can take a step up this year, there's hope for a pretty good rotation going forward, one that might be attractive to one more good starter this offseason.

  6. SpotsyNats - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    Simple: No "There go those pathetic Nats again" stories. It's been a nice quiet, fly-under-the-media radar camp. Harmony, health, and legitamite optimism abound. No Elijah Dukes, No Smiley Gonzalex, No last minute signings off the trash heap just to fill out a roster.

  7. Theophilus - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Not necessarily the most important but maybe the most surprising development: emergence of Wilson Ramos as a hitter of at least Benjie Molina+ ability. I think Pudge can be productive for another season as an every-other-day player, but Ramos augurs for (A) a better Rodriquez than we saw last season after the All-Star break and (B) a vast improvement over Nieves.

  8. Wally - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    I don't think that you can make much about the results in ST, especially so early, so Morse, while encouraging, hasn't proven anything to me yet. Zimm and Detwiler's velocity, though, is very encouraging. Marquis' command of his sinker – very good. Espinosa not looking like the hamate surgery is going to bother him too much either is a great sign.

  9. bdrube - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    The young starters, without a doubt. Strasburg can't do it alone, and if the Nats are going to contend the next few years they'll need big contributions from former high draft picks Z-double-NN and Detwiler.

  10. Steve M. - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    JamesFan said… Starting pitching looks better than expected; pen looks more shakey than expected; no closer. Love a person who can say it in 14 words. I was going to say something similar in 114 words.

  11. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Why is it nobody ever wants to mention Brian Broderick? I know Mark has been removed from the front lines but Broderick's performance to date has to at least warrant a mention.

  12. sjm 308 - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Not mentioned yet, but the smooth transition from last years call up to full time starting position for Espinosa. It is like it was just assumed that he would continue to be as good as he is and that is not always the case. He honestly should be in the running for rookie of the year and yet we don't hear that much on it. I for one am kind of glad he is maybe a little under the radar but he is just a terrific addition compared to what we had last year at this time. We honestly could have one of the best infields in the majors. Which will obviously help our pitching staff.Go Nats!!

  13. sjm 308 - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    NatsJack:I totally agree that I am intrigued with Broderick. Has he given up a run yet? I am wondering what kind of player the Cards would want in return, just can't see us keeping him on the 25 man roster with all the other pitchers we have that are out of options. Hate this option stuff but I guess that is how its done. Also hate to think we are just going to have to ship him back but another reality is that the Cards need pitching at this point.

  14. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    sjm 308…. the Cards will force our hand. Either we give him back or we keep him. They hold all the (pardon the pun)Cards. They'll never offer a trade.He's given up one run on a two out single based on a previous single that Nyjer Morgan allowed to become a double.

  15. Steve M. - Mar 17, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Espinosa's hamate bone injury recovery, Broderick and Cole Kimball pitching so well and Wilson Ramos has done a real solid job this Spring.As Mark mentioned on negative developments, I think the Henry Rodriguez Visa issue and add to that his slow acclamation period was all troubling. When he finally got into a game, I believe he walked 3 straight batters. Not good.Love that there was no dumpster diving during this Spring Traing for reclamation projects and on the other hand was hoping Rizzo was going to trade a back end starter for a key prospect.The closer to me looks like Sean Burnett right now. Gaudin is my long guy. Feeling better on Storen but not the closer until he dominates as a setup man.Detwiler gets sent to AAA to once and for all determine if he is a legit starter or a dominating bullpen guy. The Nats need him to be a permanent fixture one way or the other. Dominated LH relievers are at a premium so he needs to be back in DC by June 1st either as a starter or a reliever.Biggest disappointment was the total disaster with Mock. Trotted out again as the Nats pitcher with potential and he again disappointed almost to the point where he embarassed the guy who was talking him up in Mike Rizzo. A real letdown.

  16. HHover - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Re: BroderickThe Cards don't hold *all* the cards. It's my understanding a Rule 5 player can be traded to a 3d team, but under the same restrictions. Or the Nats could trade another pitcher and clear space to keep Broderick.

  17. sm13 - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    My vote is for Wilson Ramos clearly establishing himself as the catcher of the future – a future that likely begins this July. Cole Kimball is also worth honorable mention. He could be in the back end of our pen by summer. Its nice to have so many positives from which to choose.

  18. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    HHover… You are correct in that we could trade Broderick to a third team but that team would be held to the same restrictions. But the Cards still hold the cards if a team decides he doesn't warrant a 25 man roster spot.

  19. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    sm13, I love Pudge but he will be spent by May 15th if Riggleman trots him out 6 days a week. IMO, Ramos needs to start playing 2 to 3 days every week and then see if the extra rest keeps Pudge productive. I don't know Riggleman/Rizzo's plan for catcher but Ramos appears to me to be the starting catcher of the (near) future here.

  20. Steve M. - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/post/corey-brown-sent-to-minor-league-camp/2011/03/17/ABdgxIk_blog.htmlNo surprise, Corey Brown sent to the Minor League camp. He was my long shot for the roster before Spring Training started as I just liked his potential.

  21. DFL - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    The Nats starting pitching looks better than I supposed one month ago. Zimmerman and Marquis look like strong anchors. Lannan, Hernandez and Gorzelanny should round out the starters with Detwiler ready to replace Hernandez by August 1. Morse and Ramos have proved that they should start. Ankiel and Bernadina should man center until Harper is ready two years from now. Morgan should be dropped. Rodriguez should be limited to two games a week and then dumped at trade deadline. Norris may inevitably replace Ramos because he will be a better hitter, which leaves the Nats with a tradeable quantity.

  22. Mark'd - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    Reading the big disappointments posted here by Mark and others gave me a strange sense of deja vu.Of the 3 big disappointments of the Spring in Garrett Mock, Corey Brown, and Chien Ming Wang, all 3 along with Mike Morse and Jesus Flores were all interviewed in February by SBF NATS320.Last Feb it was Matt Chico and Jason Bergmann and the Ron Villone re-do.If nothing else, SBF sure can pick the ST disappointments!

  23. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    Some of the bull pen questions will be reviewed tonite with Broderick, Rodriguez, Kimball, Balester and Coffey all making the trip.And this just in… Kimball has been assigned to the minor league camp.

  24. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    NatsJack, that is breaking news on Kimball so he won't be a long shot to make the 'pen!Dropping fast. Marrero shouldn't be too far behind and then Bixler remains the biggest long shot for the position players.

  25. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    Pitching depth. When you compare last years opening day rotation (an injured Marquis, Lannan, Stammen, Mock and Livo) to this years (healthy Marquis, Lannan, Livo, JZimm and Gorzy), there is no comparison. When you add the guys behind the (Olsen, Atilano, Martin) with this years (Detwiler, Maya, Broderick, Chico) there is no comparison. I know you reported recently that a rival GM calling the Nats rotation terrible this year. I think its a vast improvement over recent years.

  26. SpringfieldFan - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    The most important development of the spring is the recognition by some non-Washington sportswriters (e.g. Ken Rosenthal) that this is a different team with a different tone and different expectations.

  27. Doc - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Too bad we don't know the name of the GM who called the current Nats rotation 'terrible'. Like most Nats' fans I think we have made lots of progress in the starting rotation. Rizzo and his scouts deserve some credit.What does this GM's rotation look like? Only Ruben Amaro Jr. has a rotation that is truly bragable–and costly!

  28. sm13 - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Piay to Play has it just right on how to handle Ramos & Pudge this year. That plan helps both of them and the team.

  29. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    They just cut 3 more and Broderick wasn't offered back to his old team … so? It looks like Rizzo is intent on keeping both Rule 5 picks at this point. Unfortunately, its like one reason why Kimball has been optioned … for now. He may end up as the Nats closer before the year is out.

  30. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Ankiel and Bernadina should man center until Harper is ready two years from now.You might see Corey Brown out there well before Harper makes it back. We'll see if he can do a Mike Morse to the Internatioinal League this year while proving his fielding prowess. The best outfield might be one where you would find Werth in left (we're stuck with him through good or ill), Brown in center, and Harper in right with Morse moving to first base if he proves himself in left as Dunn had to. He would make a far better fielder at first than Dunn and even the improved Marerro. We'll have to see how much Marerro has improved.

  31. K.D. - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    I agree with others who say Pudge's max should be 5 days a week, with Ramos getting two days in a row. One thing I am not surprised with is the improved defense, like it….alot. As in most sports, success starts with defense.

  32. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Really, be nice if the Nats got lucky and Gerrit Cole landed in their lap at #6. Seems unlikely but it's something to hope for. A second "Strasburg" would be very nice to have.

  33. Theophilus - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    If Gaudin w/ his 4.6 lifetime ERA is qualified to be the "long" relief guy, then Broderick is certainly qualified.I would think the Mets would be willing to trade Ramirez to the Nats in exchange for one of our surplus Class AAAA starters (Gaudin?). That's assuming the Nats think Ramirez is worth keeping. However, the Nats may think they have enough bullpen depth in the system (Ballester (likely to be optioned), Severinho (sp.?), Kimball, Carr, Peacock, etc.) that another RH relief pitcher isn't worth giving up anything. Still wish they hadn't wasted money on Coffey; that makes the bullpen decisions less objective.

  34. Rabbit - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Considering how weak our pitching has been, I believe the most important development is the improvement shown – albeit – in 11 and 12 innings to Zimmermann and Marquis. We really need all the pitching we can get, so I'm jotting those two down as the most important development thus far.

  35. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    Too bad we don't know the name of the GM who called the current Nats rotation 'terrible'. That GM is right. All you have to do is put Livo (last year the velocity on his fastball was second lowest of all starters) against any of the Phillies four, in fact against any of the top 2 of most teams in the NL!? I'm afraid that is really BAD. Yes, Livo came in and rescued a complete disaster last year but he isn't an ace, not a #1 or #2 major league starter. He really ought to be in the bullpen replacing Miguel Batista as the emergency starter and middle relief. He has the so-called "rubber arm"? Your #2 is between Jason Marquis and John Lannan? John Lannan still looks miserable out there and not better than a #5? Marquis looks better but he is still the guy Colorado left off their playoff roster and the guy who was the worst starter in the entire NL last year out the gate. And the reason why the Nats were lucky they had acquired Livo's services at the last minute from the so-called "trash heap". That's YOUR rotation? Its definitely NOT major league.But, if Zimmermann steps up to join Gorzelanny you might have something. If Detwiler learns to be consistent you might have something. The only given in this rotation is Gorzelanny believe it or not. He maintained and improved his velocity through the full 162 last year (2010 NOT 2009 like Marquis) and into the late innings.Gaudin? See above under Livo and Marquis. Imagine Gaudin versus Lincecum? And then there's the wildcard: Maya. He has never pitched a 162 game season but he does come with velocity to go with Livo's guile. So, they would have to get lucky. Zimmnn, Detwiler would finally, finally have to step up and way up. Gorzelanny would have to produce as a full time starter again like he did in 2007. Maya would have to prove that he is Livo when he was much younger. Then yeah, that GM would be eating his words and wishing he had these pitchers … but the chances? I don't know because after all its Riggleman: veterans get the preference even if it pads the loss column.

  36. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    Still wish they hadn't wasted money on Coffey; that makes the bullpen decisions less objective.Apparently, the rumor is that the Nats are looking for a veteran for the back end of the rotation. Apparently, Storen's struggles and your astute observation about Coffey have them thinking they need a veteran closer. They option Kimball but keep Storen? I suspect they just might option Storen to work with Kimball and Carr in Syracuse. Or they could distribute between Harrisburg and Syracuse. And if the send Storen to Harrisburg they really ought to try him AT STARTER which may be where he ultimately belongs? They need five pitch power pitching starters more than closers with all the arms Rizzo has acquired for the bullpen!

  37. The Great Unwashed - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    Steve M.,No reclamation projects this Spring? What do you think Chien Ming Wang is?

  38. Alex - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    1. Zimmermann is the biggest development. Part of the present and future and we need him to be a 2 or 3. Detwiler is a close second (but Morse is great story).2. @Anonymous: interesting question: what's more valuable? A top-line CF (Jackie Bradley) or #2/3 starter (Jungmann or Hultzen if not Cole)?I'm starting to think Bradley (let's say Rendon, Purke, Cole, Jungmann/Hultzen, and Springer are the top 5 in the draft). even with Brown, Perez, CF is scarce…3. Realistically, Nats rotation is closer to "terrible" than "good." Look, I'm ALL about the improvements but at the end of the day, we've still get 4s and 5s, but they're legit MLB pitchers (and like 8 deep). Z-mann can emerge as a 2/3 but our top 3 v. anyone else's top 3 is still scary (except Pitt or KC)…No need to cringe anymore though. We're comin…

  39. Steve M. - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    Great Unwashed, I was prefacing that as "adding" reclamation projects during the actual Spring Training like years past.They added Villone but he isn't making the team. Just nice to not see them try to push someone else's garbage on the 25 man.

  40. Alex - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    and on the rule 5s: I don't see the Nats keeping the Mets' kid (ramirez). Got him before Rodriguez was traded from the A's, plus the visa problems. Was worth $25K but ultimately…fail.Broderick is another story if he wins the long relief job from Gaudin (who I think can start in AAA with Detwiler). Pretty sure he has a minor league contract.

  41. Positively Half St. - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    I am surprised that Maya has been mentioned so infrequently in all of these comments. I agree that he is a very important wild card. Tonight's game is exciting just because an excellent outing by Maya would really change the complexion of the spring.+1/2St.

  42. Steve M. - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    sm13 said… Piay to Play has it just right on how to handle Ramos & Pudge this year. That plan helps both of them and the team. ___________________I also agree with PAY TO PLAY, but will Riggleman run it like that? Pudge couldn't handle the rigors of catching everyday last year because Riggleman preferred him to Nieves and the result was Pudge turned into a "double play" replay machine.I would like to see Pudge play less and see if he can maintain so decent stats and let Ramos progress at his own pace.

  43. Alex - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    +1/2St.: good pointI really hope Maya somehow makes the squad. Don't we want him adjusting to life in America with the big-league infrastructure and under Livan's wing, rather than in Syracuse??

  44. HHover - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    Anon @ 12:47 – As long as their performance doesn't absolutely stink, don't expect the rule 5 guys to be cut now. The Nats don't have to offer them back to the original team unless they're not on the 25-man roster, and the 25-man roster doesn't have to be set until midnight before opening day.Anon @ 1:11 – "Terrible" is a pretty strong word–a great rotation, it obviously ain't. But if your point of comparison is the Phillies or Tim Lincecum, then so many MLB teams are "terrible" that the term doesn't have much meaning.I'd say bottom 5 of 30 teams is terrible. That's where the Nats' starting pitchers fell last year–5th worst for the whole season (altho "only" 8th worst in FIP). I expect better this season, and based on ST, that seems a reasonable expectation. How much better, we'll have to wait and see.

  45. The Great Unwashed - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Got it, Steve M. Thanks. Good point on Villone too.

  46. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    Saw Nats yesterday. I was impressed by how good the "second string" middle infield of Cora and Gonzales looked. No "Oh s***" if somebody gets hurt there.

  47. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    As long as their performance doesn't absolutely stink, don't expect the rule 5 guys to be cut now.Ramirez probably not. He can go on the DL for an extended period of time. Broderick? He had an amazing record as a starter last year in AA. Not sure why the Nats decided to move him into a relief role. But they have a similar pitcher already in their system now AND HE's LEFT HANDED!? That would be organization pitcher of the year Tom Milone, who at age 24, will be pushing for a spot in the rotation from Syracuse. AND IMHO John Lannan onto the trade block. Broderick is a right handed Milone and Rosenbaum. Who is more valuable? The lefties Milone and Rosenbaum probably. Have to wonder what Milone would have done were he invited to this ST camp?But Ramirez? With his velocity they'll try to keep him as long as possible in order to evaluate him.

  48. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    Anon @ 1:11 – "Terrible" is a pretty strong word–a great rotation, it obviously ain't. But if your point of comparison is the Phillies or Tim Lincecum, then so many MLB teams are "terrible" that the term doesn't have much meaning.With Livo, Lannan, and Marquis "entrenched in stone"? Yes, they are terrible! Absolutely! They won't match up against Houston's rotation and where do you think they are expected to finish?Yes, terrible. A lot of that is Riggleman and veteran's preference though. Again, if Zimmermann, Detwiler, Gorzelanny, and Maya rise to seize their roles … and if say Tom Milone or Ryan Tatusko go gang busters in Sryacuse? They just might move up to the middle of the pack or beyond.MIGHT is a strong word. This is Riggleman and he will bend over backwards to pad the loss column for his veterans.

  49. Nattydread - Mar 17, 2011 at 6:47 PM

    The Jason Marquis story is important. With him performing well, we have one slightly above average pitcher (ZNN), two average pitchers (Marquis, Gorzelanny), two number 5 pitchers (Livan, Lannan), with a solid group fighting for the next open spot. This isn't a terrible group by any stretch. Average starters plus above average bullpen makes a much better team than last year.

  50. ForDaFanz - Mar 17, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    The most important development of the spring so far has been the emergence of Detwiler IMO. The fact that he is pitching well so far begins to lead to thoughts that he'll live up to his prospect status – which I think was a real question coming into this spring. The way the Nats are constructed, the lineup is MLB quality even if it has some youth risk especially in the middle infield. The bullpen has a lot of good arms to chose from to put together a pretty good squad.The starting rotation is by far the biggest question mark and will likely be the sole reason for determining whether the Nats can break the .500 mark. Rizzo and company have shown they're willing to reward spring performance when establishing Morse as the starter in LF. I'm hoping the same reasoned approach will take place with the starting rotation. Based on performance thus far, the rotation should be IMO (factoring in experience for the order): Marquis, Gorzelanny (very close call with Gaudin), Zimmerman, Detwiler, Maya.Lannan has always been a marginal talent and general overachiever so a move to a potential reliever role seems inevitable. And to finish up, counting on Livo to repeat his performance from last season is INSANITY!

  51. Anonymous - Mar 17, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    NatsJack in Florida said… Why is it nobody ever wants to mention Brian Broderick?You might also want to read:What to do with Brian Broderick?http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=838Mark in Arlington

  52. sjm 308 - Mar 18, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    I am constantly hearing about Riggleman and his preference for veterans. I asked Mark quite some time ago about what went into the decision making process and I am pretty sure he said it was not just Riggs or McCatty but Rizzo and the scouts as well who make the final decisions on who stays up and who is sent down. Options also obviously play a part as well. Riggs has a voice but its not like he has final say and if you look around the majors, there are lots of other teams that give their veterans a longer rope.Its easy for people on here to gripe and complain and I am not against that but its a lot harder to make these choices when your job is on the line as well. I am going to trust Rizzo to make the right choices.

  53. Harper_ROY_2012 - Mar 18, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    THE most important development is that Nyjer Morgan may not be our CF this season, which opens the door from Bryce in 2012!!

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 57 45 --
ATLANTA 57 48 1.5
MIAMI 51 53 7.0
NEW YORK 50 55 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 46 59 12.5
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