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The home stretch

Mar 21, 2011, 2:25 PM EST

JUPITER, Fla. — Ah, it's never felt so good to type that dateline.

Yes, I'm back in Florida and will be with the Nationals through the rest of camp. There is plenty still to sort out over the final eight games of the spring, from the battle for center field, the muddled picture in the bullpen and a host of possibilities on the bench.

The center field situation, in particular, interests me. There are any number of ways this could play out. Nyjer Morgan could retain his job. Rick Ankiel could win the competition. Roger Bernadina could take it. Jerry Hairston could work his way into the mix as a right-handed member of a platoon. Morgan and Bernadina could wind up on the bench. Either or both could wind up in Syracuse. There are no shortage of endgames for this story.

The bullpen, meanwhile, doesn't look to be as stable a unit as we all thought it would be when camp opened. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard each have ERAs over 11.00. Todd Coffey's ERA in 7.27. Henry Rodriguez has been all over the place in his three appearances. Elvin Ramirez has yet to appear in a game. Only the two lefties have performed well this spring, with Sean Burnett having yet to allow a run in 6 2/3 innings and Doug Slaten owning an 8-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio through seven appearances. Rule 5 draftee Brian Broderick (0.84 ERA in seven games) also has pitched well and is pushing to earn a spot as the long man.

As for the bench, there are all kinds of possibilities as well. Much of it depends on what happens in center field and whether or not the clubRead more »

  1. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Thank God! Glad to have you back where you belong.The bullpen has only had three guys throw cosistantly all spring (well, 4 if you count Cole Kimball) and you named them in your article although I might add Colin Balester to the mix.The bench thing may take care of itself if the Padres are really interested in Alberto Gonzalez. Alex Cora has hit well and has looked good in the field till yesterdays gaff.Defensively this club cannot have Ian Desmond AND Nyjer Morgan in the same lineup if Rizzo wants to make good on his promise to improve defensively. He (Rizzo) was conspicuaously absent from yesterdays fiasco so hopefully, he was working the phones for a late spring trade of some sort.

  2. Rich - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    NatsJack,Do you think we would get anything for Gonzalez? They might just wait until we DFA him…But I guess that is not your point… We will likely be rid of him either way.

  3. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    About time Mark! You kill it during Spring Training. Glad MASN ponied up the bill and you're right, there's plenty to figure out.

  4. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    My hope of winning 79 games was the fan in me being optimistic of a good year. Others having them win more than that were fanatics of unreal expectations. 79 wins may be unreal expectations as well, but I will be a fanatic and stick with 79 wins…UNTERP

  5. Doc - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Great to have you back Mark! Caps need you too; maybe it's time for the bosses to open up their wallets and pay for two Marks.Rizzo and Wiggleman are big on competition stuff, at least they are always giving that cheer. However, Kimball and BallyStar, have beaten their competition and they are banished, exiled, and put on that bus to that little American city near the Canadian border. Yeah, I know it's a long season and we're probably going to see them again. But still there's no competitive reason why BallyStar can't be the closer. Look at his spring; look at the stats you quoted from last fall. He's been beating the competition for some time now! This isn't your father's BallyStar, this is a newly updated and improved BallyStar.

  6. joemktg - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    Now all is well in Viera.As of right now, the available options for CF are not palatable in the short, medium or long run, and it has been very disappointing that no one has stepped up to take control of this spot. And unfortunately, this weakens Rizzo's trade hand. Do nothing, or do something? If latter, what's the something???

  7. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Rich…. Alberto Gonzalez has been our best defensive middle infielder so far this spring. And he has cut down on his swing and been focusing on making contact. I actually have him ahead of Cora by an eyelash at this time but one of them will have to go, for sure. I can live with either one till Lombardozzi matures into the role.I'll throw this out there as a long shot. It wouldn't suprise me if Broderick makes the club as a long reliever and eventually earns a start later on. And once he earns a start, he may earn a spot in the rotation.

  8. JaneB - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Rizzo was upstairs watching from behind you, NatsJack. He was there till the 9th. I hope San Diego does want Gonzo…I want him to be able to play.Anyone see that the Mets are close to letting Perez go? And his agent is Scott Boras. I don't want a reclamation project at his salary, but the Mets will surely pick up part of that salary to be rid of him. I wonder who gets him?Broderick really does deserve to be part of the pen, not just the discussion. He looked sharp and confident out there, in a way none of our other guys did. Poor Clippard was inside and outside and high and low and higher yesterday. Sometimes perfect and scary, Clippard-like. If they let him throw himself across the plate with the ball, like he used to, I bet he'd be good again.Welcome back Mark! I hope to see you and Another Sam and his brother today.

  9. Rich - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    NatsJack,I buy the Broderick makes the team and that he gets a spot start… I don't think it's likely he'll earn a rotation spot, but it's baseball! so who knows?I'm just not as sure about his stuff, but then I feel that way about EVERYONE on our staff so…we'll see…

  10. Steve M. - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    I am copying this from my previous post this morning:Here is my caution to Mr. Rizzo on the bullpen and contrasting that with the bench.In 2009, the bullpen that went North to start the season cost the team dearly. In 2010, the bullpen was one of the best in the Majors.In 2010, the bench was horrible and you can see that the bench will be a strength in 2011.Rizzo can't make the same mistakes in 2011 with the bullpen. You can hide 1 or 2 guys but you can't put 3 to 4 BP pitchers in the bullpen. I listened to Bob Carpenter yesterday question Drew Storen and FP thought Storen was a virtual lock to make the 25 man. I think it is a mistake since he has options. Storen has 4 months of MLB experience and wasn't the dominating guy we all thought he would be but the 'pen was strong in 2010 and he had guys to bail him out.Rizzo cut the weak link last year with Bruney as he had a strong bullpen and I think Broderick makes the team with a short leash. I think Gaudin makes it too. Clippard essentially has to make it and you can't let him dig a hole on the mound. Henry Rodriguez is a toss-up as he really needs to show that he is a pitcher and not just a thrower. Burnett is my pick as closer to start the season. So here is a thought with Detwiler in comparison to a 24 year old Adam Wainwright. Wainwright made the Cardinals team in 2006 as a relief pitcher and moved quickly to be their stopper and closed a few games. He was a huge part of their 2006 WS win as a Rookie. In 2007, they converted him to a starter and so it went for him. So, do the Nats bite the bullet and make Detwiler into a stopper in the bullpen NOW and turn him loose as a starter in 2012 or do they send him to AAA and see if he truly is a starter? March 21, 2011 10:43 AM

  11. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Rich…. I qualified it as a long shot. And JayneB…. Perez was released this morning.

  12. TysonsDave - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Interstate 95 southbound, headed to Jupiter about 50 miles to go. Great to have you back on the ground, Mark. Great talking yesterday in Viera with fellow insiders NatsJack, JaneB, and Another_Sam.

  13. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Mark… who are the pitchers on today's travel roster?Thanks.

  14. RickH - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Mark … Never leave us again!

  15. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Steve M…. I like that thought. Syracuse could be a logjam for starting pitchers and a role out of the pen for Detwiler might be in order. No way does he come north unless Slaton gets moved. He has too much to prove over an extended period. And Burnett is the only guy I trust in a closer role at this time.

  16. Mark'd - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    SteveM, out of necessity Rizzo may have to do that with Detwiler. I would be curious to hear what Ross thinks about if. I remember Stammen embracing that opportunity last year. This is a broke situation that needs to be fixed.

  17. JD - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    All options in center field stink. Ankiel is not an everyday player; Morgan is below average and Bernadina had a chance to seize the spot but has also underwhelmed; I think we start the season with Morgan but that really can't be the long term answer. Desmond is who he is; he gets to tons of balls and he makes lots of errors and I don't think that this is going to change; furthermore he does to much 1st ball hitting and his OBP is below average; I thought we should have traded him during the off season and moved Espinosa to short but in fairness we don't really have a good solution at second. Gonzalez is a good bench infielder who will almost certainly get exposed if anyone gives him a full time job; again; low OBP. I think that veterans like Cora and Hairston will do the team good. I am inclined to believe that Storen and Clippard are much better than they have shown; you don't want to throw them under the bus based on a small ST sample; they will be OK. Coffee; not so much. Broderick must make the team because otherwise why was he picked up in rule 5? I think that there are still some unforeseen moves/small trades that will happen in the next week or 2 that will crystallize the roster situation. Let's not get too worked up over a losing streak which does not count in the standings.

  18. Steve M. - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    NatsJack/Mark'd – Thanks for commenting on that as I am sure Rizzo is considering all options for the bullpen right now.When the Nats have a 6-4 lead going into the 7th inning, who is going to be your "go to" guys out of the 'pen to get the "Hold"?You don't want to repeat 2009 all over again.

  19. Todd Boss - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    The only way we "get something" for Gonzalez out of the Padres is if they perceive other teams may be in on the guy if/when we DFA him. It is a risk, especially if they (Padres) really covet him. I can see a quick deal being made for a lower-level minor league player. Perhaps an ok prospect from low-A or high-a.

  20. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    JD… it's not the losing streak that's bothering us as much as the overall sloppy play. 4 errors yesterday. Not acceptable.

  21. sjm 308 - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    That's what I love about this group, I had not thought about Detwiller and the comparision with Wainright. Put me down for Ross in the bullpen with the idea that they are not giving up on his role as a starter in the future but they have to communicate that. I wonder if Storen could go down and actually do the opposite and stretch himself out to see if he could end up a starter? Realize we have a bunch of pitchers at AAA but if we are thinking outside the norm it has to be worth a shot. I need clarification on Gaudin, if he doesn't make the 25 man roster, do we lose him on waivers or can we ship him to Syracuse as well? Hate that Ballestar could be a victim of the option game since he was lights out at the end of last year and has done well this summer. Welcome back Mark & Go Nats!!

  22. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Was Harper injured this AM?

  23. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    JD said…I think that there are still some unforeseen moves/small trades that will happen in the next week or 2 that will crystallize the roster situation. Let's not get too worked up over a losing streak which does not count in the standings. March 21, 2011 11:08 AM _______________________________JD – They have a week. They don't have 2 as Opening Day is in exactly 10 days.By default, Nyjer is the CF but shame on Rizzo for not having a real CF in camp for the job. You are right about Ankiel and Bernadina. Corey Brown can still be here at some point to take the job or Bernadina may stop trying to be a HR guy and concentrate on being a high OBP guy but I blame management for not transforming him into what he is as to he can play corner OF but doesn't need to hit 15 HRs to play there.On the bullpen, I totally disagree with you on Storen. The Alberto Gonzalez/Cora scenario for the bench will work itself out this week and the big issue I see is Cora is a lefty on a dominate lefty bench with Bernadina, Ankiel and possibly Nix or Stairs who are all lefty.

  24. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    The Phillies did sign Luis Castillo.

  25. Steve M. - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    I hope Mark Z. is checking on Harper. He was carted off the field after hurting his ankle.

  26. JD - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    On Storen, Name another pitcher who was in College in 2009 and played a significant role in the majors in 2010? Name a closer in the majors who did not struggle and was immediately dominant before the age of 25? I am really shocked at the lack of patience we are showing regarding this kid.

  27. JD - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    Oh and BTW; Storen totally dominated every level in the minors before he was brought up last year.

  28. fpcsteve - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    I agree with NatsJack on Broderick. If he ends up starting, that will be one of the interesting and unexpected developments of this ST and 2011. I like it. I just have a feeling the Cards are going to rue cutting him loose (if they don't already).

  29. JaneB - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    Tysons Dave, I'm wearing a white 2005 Nats shirt, bluecurlie w hat. Short pudgy with a husband who insists in wearing his Cards cap. Thanks for the update on Perez, Jack. That was later news than I had. Go Nats! Go Livo! Un-depress us!

  30. natsfan1a - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    (with apologies to Steve Goodman)Zuckerman beat stint's underway,Well you better get ready for a brand new day.Hey, Insiders, what do you say,The Nats are gonna win today.They’re singing …Go, Nats, goGo, Nats, goHey, Insiders, what do you say,The Nats are gonna win today.

  31. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    JD…. then Storen won't mind going to Syracuse and working out of his funk instead of costing us games once the season begins. He's been throwing beach balls up to AA guys.

  32. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    JaneB… I believe Tysons Dave is Another_Sam's brother.

  33. Natsochist - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Great to have you back, Mark. Look forward to the gamethread later today!

  34. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    NatsJack in Florida said… JD…. then Storen won't mind going to Syracuse and working out of his funk instead of costing us games once the season begins. He's been throwing beach balls up to AA guys. March 21, 2011 11:53 AM _____________________________________Well said. It opens up that spot for Broderick who earned it. Storen can work his way back in when he earns it.The only time you don't have to earn initially is when it is the numbers game for guys out of options. Storen has options so to me this is an easy decision. Not sure why JD keeps fighting this.

  35. Feel Wood - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    "On Storen,Name another pitcher who was in College in 2009 and played a significant role in the majors in 2010?"Strasburg.

  36. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    Boy how quickly people forget things. How dreadful was Matt Capps in spring training when there was no real adrenaline flowing? He had an absolutely terrible spring training and people were criticisizing why we even signed him. Nobody has gotten enough work in meaningful situations to be worried about them. Storen and Clippard's velocity is fine and I'm sure both will come back around just fine. Step back from the edge people.

  37. Steve M. - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Anon at 12:28, still too many question marks for Opening Day. Here is my bullpen right now:Gaudin (long man)ClippardBroderickSlatenCoffeyHenry RodriguezBurnett (closer)Ballester and Detwiler are in the wings and Henry Rodriguez is on the short leash. Coffey is on the Bruney leash.The shame is that if Henry Rodriguez fails, then essentially Rizzo traded Josh Willingham for Corey Brown.

  38. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Another Phil Wood rumor about AGonz to SD. Not a source to be trusted. More interesting is the notion of Ivan Rodriguez (and perhaps the General) to the Padre's. But then the Nats need a backup catcher as Flores probably should go to AAA Syracuse and play everyday. In this case they still could bring back Maldonado … but they aren't going to get much in return. But prospects are needed for the farm system.

  39. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    A stupid question from the bleachers, so feel free to pounce all over this. Why not convert Desmond to a CF, move Espinosa to SS and either trade for a 2B or go with some combination of Hairston/Bixler/Gonzo? I know it's too late in ST to try this now, but given Desmond's range and arm, I'm guessing he could adapt well to the challenges of playing CF. That also would put Espinosa in his natural position. And wouldn't a Gonzo et. al. platoon at 2B be better than a Morgan et. al. platoon in CF?

  40. Nattydread - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    MarkAny reason why there's no Gameday sometimes during spring training? Nobody to score?Just asking…

  41. Mark Zuckerman - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Nattydread: Scoring varies between the various spring training parks. Some have a guy updating each batter via computer, some don't.

  42. Anonymous - Mar 21, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    JD..On Storen, most pitchers don't start get through the minors right out of college as a closer. It's harder to get exposed when you're just pitching one inning to minor leaguers. I gotta tell you, I was so excited with all the hype last year about him and when I finally saw him walk on the field I thought, wow he's not a real big guy. Doesn't really look like a power closer. At that point I was hoping he would pitch and look more like a righty Billy Wagner. But he's obviously not that type either. He's a slider throwing nibbler.

  43. Cwj - Mar 22, 2011 at 1:18 AM

    I'm with JD on Storen and Clippard.Storen IS a power pitcher with closer stuff. His breaking balls are sharp, and he hits 93-95mph on his fastball.The only problem I see with him is poor pitch selection. He absolutely must use his FB more.Clippard has been solid since converting to a reliever. Sure, he's wild at times but strikes out an average of 11(!) per 9 innings. I'm not worried about either. Spring Training stats mean absolutely nothing.Werth is hitting below .200

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