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Down to the wire

Mar 24, 2011, 2:17 PM EDT

Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Rick Ankiel could be the Nationals' Opening Day center fielder.

VIERA, Fla. — Feeling refreshed after their lone off-day of the spring, the Nationals return to the field this evening against the Tigers in Lakeland, the beginning of the home stretch here in Florida.

There are six more Grapefruit League games in the next six days, and then the team charter heads north to D.C. for Wednesday's NatsFest and the following afternoon's Opening Day clash with the Braves.

Between now and then, the Nationals must trim their roster from 36 to 25, name a starting center fielder, align their five-man rotation, assemble their bench and figure out who's in the bullpen. That's plenty that still must be accomplished in a short time.

At this stage of the spring, pretty much everyone appears in every game (aside from the pitchers). And 17 of the 18 position players remaining in camp are scheduled to make the trip to Lakeland tonight, with only Ryan Zimmerman staying back. Zim expects to return to the lineup tomorrow after missing more than a week with a sore groin, and he's confident that playing in four of the team's final five spring games will leave him ready for the regular season.

At some point in the next few days, it's probably going to become obvious who has won the center field job. Jim Riggleman is going toRead more »

  1. Doc - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    Rizzo needs to do a Bobby V. and find a way to put Rodriguez on the DL. Then do a deal with the Cards for Broderick. Once Broderick is sent to Syracuse, the path is clearded for BallyStar to take his rightful place in the pen.So much for the early 2011 200 mph guys from the VWL—maybe their time will come later in the 2011 season.

  2. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    Doc… That would be great but the Cards are looking for pitching and the price for Broderick would be pretty steep. I agree on Balester but with options, he more than likely will start in Syracuse.Of course alot of that depends on tonites effort by Broderick. I'm looking forward to seeing him and Coffey as Coffey looked great his last time out. And we will probably see both these guys at least two more times after tonite before the final decision.

  3. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Seems that a trade (or two) should be in the works… try to trade relievers for SP or a CF that can hit lefties.TB and Minn need BP help. Slowey would be the likely return from Minn and I'm not sure that is the right fit (The Nats have enough 4th/5th starters).

  4. erocks33 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    If Gaudin makes the club, he'll need to be added to the 40-man roster. Who then gets tossed off the 40-man?And why did they claim reliever Lee Hyde from the Braves? And most importantly, why was he signed to the 40-man roster?

  5. JayB - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    wang 60 day DL…..our cut please

  6. Feel Wood - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    "And why did they claim reliever Lee Hyde from the Braves? And most importantly, why was he signed to the 40-man roster?"He was on the Braves 40-man roster, so he has to be put on the 40-man roster of whatever team claims him on waivers. It's only if he clears waivers (i.e. no one claims him) and is released outright that he could be signed to a minor league deal by any team.

  7. Will - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    Why couldn't Broderick make the team as the long relief guy? He's always been a starter until this Spring, so I don't see why the Nats couldn't use him for 2-3 innings at a time.Also, he's been arguably better than Gaudin this Spring, so he's not getting the job just because his lack of options.I'd rather Broderick get a shot. He has potential, only being 25. And that's the point of this season, to build for the future, right? And while Gaudin isn't old (28), I'd rather we not lose HRod or Broderick in favor of a known, but average quantity, that is Gaudin.

  8. JD - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    If Ankiel wins the CF job which I don't really have a problem with; who hits leadoff? Espinosa? (projected .325 OBP) Desmond? (1st ball hitter) Ankiel? (projected .306 OBP)

  9. JD - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Will, I agree about Broderick over Gaudin. Heck I think Stammen is better than Gaudin.

  10. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    I have no idea what final decisions the Nats will make but I do know JayB will complain about most of them.

  11. JayB - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Cut Morgan, Cut Wang, Cut Perez and I would not complain…in fact as I often say….this team is the best Nats team to date….They are going to make noise in the East….as long as they stop making the same mistakes Jimbo Made over and over again……

  12. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    JD, there lies the problem, who bats leadoff? Rizzo left a gaping hole just like he did with RF last year as Nyjer hasn't changed which was a gamble not worth taking. The past is usually the best indicator of the future and Nyjer's past is nothing to get excited about.I think the whole Storen is a lock when he has options is an issue. HenRod to the DL would solve one issue. Broderick should make this squad as he has earned it. Gaudin has performed better than Stammen so I agree with Mark there.

  13. Pauloyd - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    The solution is so painfully obvious, I can't believe it. Trade Nyjer Morgan to the Cardinals for the rights to Broderick. Win Win

  14. Pauloyd - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    The Cardinals love Morgan right?

  15. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    I'm with you Steve M…I don't see Storen as lock. He's had 2 good outings and 6 miserable ones. He's got to step up in the next week and show some consistency for at least 2 more outings to go with his last one.And the lead off position was going to be an issue Nyjer or no Nyjer. This is something several clubs are having problems with so it's not just us. Things improved last season once Desmond The Error Making Machine moved to the 2-hole so maybe Espinosa goes to 1 as a start followed by Desmond.Pauloyd…. as do the Marlins.

  16. Mark'd - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    I really am hoping Rizzo doesn't feel forced to keep a Rookie like Storen so wondering why Mark is so adamant that he is a Lock.I am with SteveM and NJack with the proviso that if Storen dazzles this next few days then sure, he stays.

  17. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    I like Espi's switch hitting capability in the 7 hole and would say Desi and hope for the best.

  18. sjm308 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    @stevem – you just got a compliment from my son who has started reading NI and thought you were me. He said he really enjoyed reading "my" comments. I could have accepted the praise but had to set him straight that the I am the idiot sjm308 that knows nothing. Good news is I have a son that loves baseball, and we will share a 20 game package this year now that he has moved back from NYC. His wife is a huge Mets fan but we don't hold that against her.Go Nats!!

  19. Theophilus - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    "I have a son that loves baseball, and we will share a 20 game package this year now that he has moved back from NYC. His wife is a huge Mets fan but we don't hold that against her."Why not? Rooting for any NY team (or the Phillies) is a presumption of a lack of moral fiber. Haven't spoken to my neighbor in ten years since I made the mistake of taking him to an Orioles-Yankees game.

  20. sjm308 - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    She is a complete sweetheart and since she grew up in Queens and actually worked at Shea I have given her a pass. They do have a Nationals door mat for their new home and there is more nationals gear to come. We will work on a slow transition here.

  21. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    SJM, thanks to your bright son and the initials can fool you! Here is my Opening Day lineup and I make it with an unsettleing feeling about Leadoff:1. Desmond SS2. Ankiel CF3. Werth RF4. Zim 3B5. LaRoche 1B6. Morse LF7. Espinosa 2B8. Pudge C9. JZim PMy bench is Ramos, Hairston, Nix, Bernadina, AGonzalezMy rotation is JZim, Marquis, Livo, Lannan, GorzelannyMy bullpen isn't set but right now would be HenRod to the DL and Storen to AAA. Gaudin, Clippard, Slaten, Coffey, Broderick, Balester, Burnett also known as the Killer Bee's.Missing is Nyjer and Stairs. I just can't see keeping Stairs and Nix.

  22. N. Cognito - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    Morgan DFA, Wang DL and Perez in the minors.Not much difference, plus you don't want to cut them, you're dealing with peoples lives here.

  23. DFL - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    If you resign yourself to the fact that with Strasburg a year away and Harper and Solis two years away, the Nats will make progress if they win 75 games this year. So whether the lead-off batter is top flight or not is almost irrelevant. And the centerfielder in 2013 will be Harper or Perez and not Morgan.As for the importance of lead-off batters in the scheme of creating a championship team, count me as one who places it below set-up relief pitchers. Winning baseball starts with pitching, fielding, power hitting(remember Earl Weaver's love of he the three run homer?), team speed, with base stealing at the lower end of importance. Look up the winners of the World Series in the last 100 years and analyze how many winners had Rickey Hendersons or Lou Brocks as lead-off batters. For instance, the well-regarded Yankee lead-off hitter Bobby Richardson, who played ten seasons(not considering two brief call-ups) from 1957-1966, had a lifetime OBP of .299 and never stole more than 9 bases in a season. Yet the Yankees won six American League championships and three World Series' during Richardson's tenure at the top of the Yankee line-up.

  24. JD - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    DFL,I am not corned about lack of a base thief at the top of the order but I am concerned about putting people there who don't get on base. Steve M, Desmond and Ankiel are out machines; 70% of the time you will have Werth come to bat with 2 outs and no one on; that's scary.

  25. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    The talent on the club, such as it is, both actual and potential is in the pitching. Need to find a way to keep the pitchers. Realistically it is going to mean a short bench. That's the alternative. Keep one more pitcher or a 5 man bench. Bench candidates:Ramos C R/RFlores C R/RCora I R/RGonzalez I R/RHairston I-O R/RNix O L/LStairs O L/RFrazier O R/RShort Bench:Ramos C R/RCora I L/RHairston I-O R/RStairs O L/RThey love Stairs as a PH. Who wouldn't? But who is Stairs going to PH for? Not Morse, Werth or Ankiel. You let them take their chances. Not Zimmerman, not LaRoche. They take their chances, too. You PH for Desmond, Espinosa, Pudge or the pitcher. Mostly the pitcher. Mostly Stairs is burned and never plays in the field. Leaves you with Cora, Hairston and Pudge/Ramos to PH or double switch late in the game. Tight but doable. Keep the pitcher — shorten the bench.

  26. sjm308 - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Agree on the lineup. Do we know who the Braves are starting?Agree on the starting rotationMy bullpen has Storen and it pains me to send Bally down but I bring him up as soon as Coffey or Gaudin slip up.Bench is tough – I like Cora but don't dislike Gonzalez – I like Stairs but don't dislike Nix – I actually like Morgan as a 4th outfielder and think Bernadina would benefit from playing CF everyday if that is where he is headed (plus he has the dreaded option)These are options we did not have last year so while we are not a finished product, we are certainly ahead of where we were in 2010.

  27. Doc - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:31 PM

    @ NatsJack In Florida: Yeah you're right, it's a flaw in my argument. Not like the Cards wouldn't welcome Broderick back with open arms. Doing a deal with them for Broderick, Nats' would have to give up Mark Lerner's 1st born.I'm just trying to squeeze BallyStar, one of my deserving favorite players, into the 25 man mix.Maybe gifting Morgan to the Cards, if they promised not to torture him too much. McGuire as his batting coach, now that would be fun to watch. I'm sure McGuire would be able to work with Njy on the fine art of bunting! I mean you don't need steroids to bunt, or do you??

  28. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    You don't DFA Wang as you have invested way too much and he doesn't hurt you in any way putting him on the DL and the same is Perez in the Minors as he signed a Minor League deal and expects that to be his short-term fate. If he doesn't progress, cut him.Morgan is done here but Rizzo will decide his fate in the next week so this will be interesting to see if he will cut bait and run.

  29. Theophilus - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    I vote for H-Rod to the DL. Don't know what his "injury" is but he better develop one in the next couple of days. Maybe put him in a pick-up basketball game. He's not only useless but, right now, untradeable. First, he's stunk up the joint; second, there are rumors floating around that he actually is injured (possibly cataracts where the strike zone should be). The only way to salvage anything for Willingham is to put Rodriguez on the DL for a couple of months, "rehabilitate him" in a couple of outings in Harrisburg, then showcase him for two weeks in Washington.

  30. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    DFL – Well said. Unless some miracles occur this is a year to show this team is serious about winning but certainly not a playoff contender yet. I am in the camp that thinks BHarper will be in DC in June 2012 and contributing towards a team that can make a run. I am hoping for a Morse, Harper, Werth outfield and a rotation of Strasburg, JZim, Free Agent #3, Detwiler, Gorzelany rotation.

  31. fpcsteve - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    NatsJack, I would be interested in your opinion on R. Zimmerman's conditioning and work habits. I am beginning to develop an opinion about that, but I would be interested in what that looks like up close.

  32. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    I am sure Rodriguez will end up on the "DL" but I doubt he will be legitimately injured, same goes for Wang, I hate when teams stash guys on the DL who are not legitimately hurt.

  33. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    On the 40-man roster I guess I see it differently: CUTS/TRADES: Attie Severino. He's on the 40-man and has yet to break it into the majors. This would be the third year this reliever has been in Syracuse. He really isn't closer material either? His one redeeming factor? He's left handed and effective enough to make it to AAA. But the only time he was up with the Nats Riggleman seemed determined to never use him.Garrret Mock. I suspect they may consider releasing Garret Mock again. I can't see them replacing Mock with Gaudin or Broderick. Mock has far more potential. He just seems unable to project it into results. The possibility of his use in a trade for Broderick flickers as a transient thought. Alberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez apparently poisoned the well with Riggleman. As apparently has Morgan? Riggleman had Rizzo bring in some old over-the-hill crony veterans to replace him. Other than Lombardozzi there really aren't any infielders blocked. The onlyyoung infielder blocked is Gonzalez. Gonzalez is likely traded before opening day. Perhaps released in favor of Cora. And then there's Bixler in Syracuse to back them up. Chien-Ming Wang. Rizzo must release this guy. He may be blocking promising pitching prospects from getting coaching AND innings? Far more egregiously than Oliver Perez is already accused of doing. Its time to cut bait (as BinM likes to say). Todd Coffey. You really aren't going to pick this guy over Colin Balester and his 97mph heater? Riggleman of course would but we have to know that Mike will push Riggleman on this. Keeping this guy is like keeping the promise of another Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg; the promise of that 1st of the 1st round picks.

  34. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    … And there are plenty of rumors about Ivan Rodriguez getting traded?Pudge -> NYY. He has yet to wear pin stripes and he would feel like a young rookie with that crowd?

  35. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    NatsJack, I would be interested in your opinion on R. Zimmerman's conditioning and work habits. I am beginning to develop an opinion about that, but I would be interested in what that looks like up close.Zimmerman didn't get all the rave reviews about his conditioning this spring as he did last year after all the work he put in up in Frederick. New girlfriend? Less time for workouts more time partying?

  36. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    JD – Have at your lineup. Unless you move Werth or Morse up, you are screwed and hope these guys develop. Desmond and Ankiel will still get on base 3 of 10 plate appearances and they will stay on base unlike Nyjer who took himself off the bases way too many times.I agree with DFL that you have to let it ride this year and tinker with it as you go on.

  37. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    fpcsteve…. Zimmerman is in great shape. He came in that way. I don't see the "Albert Pujols" approach to his daily regimene (If you ever get a chance to watch Pujols 2 hours before a ST game, you'll know why he's so good) but he works at his craft. He gets stretched by the trainers like everyone else.His problems usually consist of the pulled hamstring, oblique, groin variety so it seems core strengthening exercises would be in order.

  38. K.D, - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    The thing about Gonzalez over Cora is this, youth and a "hunger" to play, being dissatisfied with rusting on the bench isn't all bad. Look at it a different way, if you had a major infield injury and had to pick a player to play, say the last 100 games of the season between Cora and Gonzo? You know what you have right now in Cora, but what do you really have in Gonzo given a significant amount of regular games? You know you have good defense, but what about offense? Would he benefit offensively with more playing time, my guess would be yes. If he proves himself worthy, you have a bargaining chip you didn't have with Cora.BTW, I do not have anything whatsoever against Cora, just doing some rationalization.

  39. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    fpcsteve said… NatsJack, I would be interested in your opinion on R. Zimmerman's conditioning and work habits. I am beginning to develop an opinion about that, but I would be interested in what that looks like up close. March 24, 2011 12:47 PM I caught a lot of crap when I posted on this issue 2 1/2 weeks ago when Zim had the oblique problem and I saw a pattern of issues with his conditioning/stretching regimen. Then when he pulled the groin and was supposed to be out 5 days which has turned into over 10 days everyone shut up.The proof is in the pudding as the chef says and clearly by these injuries he and the Nats need to change his regimen. In 2010 it was the hamstring and oblique that put him out of commission for about 90 missed at-bats vs. the previous season which equates to missing about 20 full games.

  40. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    "Pudge -> NYY. He has yet to wear pin stripes and he would feel like a young rookie with that crowd?"Pudge played 33 games for the Yankees in the second half of 2008.

  41. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    "I caught a lot of crap when I posted on this issue 2 1/2 weeks ago when Zim had the oblique problem and I saw a pattern of issues with his conditioning/stretching regimen."You caught a lot of crap because clearly you have no idea what Zimmerman's conditioning/stretching regimen even is. So how could you know whether or not it's adequate?

  42. fpcsteve - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    Thanks, NatsJack. My issue would have centered on effort. If he is working, then the injuries are just part of the game. Stuff happens. Thanks for the insight.

  43. Mark'd - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    JD, what is your 2011 starting lineup?

  44. Theophilus - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    KD — If you need a spare infielder for 100 games, neither Gonzalez nor Cora is the answer. That's why they have Hairston, and would call up an extra outfielder to fill that gap. Gonzalez had a lot of opportunities last year. The guy just can't deliver at the plate. A couple of days ago I mistakenly gave him credit for eight RBIs rather than the five he actually got. One RBI in 37 ABs as a PH. Those are Willy Miranda numbers. Cora will at least do the essentials: drop a bunt, give himself up to advance a runner, step in front of a pitch. And this Spring, he's hitting decently. Much better odds of him doing something productive coming off the bench in the late innings.

  45. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    Flores and Stammen to Sryacuse… Had a conversation with Jesus last Sunday about this and he was fine with it. He wants to play every day and prove his injury issues are all behind him. Plus he needs consistant AB's to get his timing down.

  46. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Theo…. I've been impressed with Cora this spring and feel Riggleman would prefer him over Gonzo. I don't know if Gonzo has any options left but if he does, I'd like to keep the defense in the organization.

  47. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    36 is now 34. Nine more to go.

  48. Theophilus - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Jack — Phil Wood says Gonzalez has no options. I saw something elsewhere to the effect San Diego was unwilling to trade for him because they thought he would fall in their lap when the Nats released him. That leaves 28 other teams . . .. The same article said SD wants him as a backup, but I wonder if his whining didn't poison the well with other teams because they don't need a guy who's gonna gripe about not playing every day.

  49. DFL - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    If Espinosa can post a .325 OBP, hit 18 homers, knock in 50(Rodriguez/Ramos & Pitcher ahead of him limits his RBIs), and steal 25 bases, he's serviceable. If Perez pans out and you have a Harper-Perez-Werth outfield in 2013 with Morse at first, then Espinosa drops to seventh or eight, depending on the development of Norris. Norris is a walk machine and should hit as far up the line-up as possible.

  50. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    Good point Natsjack – that's why we need to keep Pudge until at least July so we know that Flores is 100%.

  51. masnstinks - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    What might a contending team give us for Stairs – do we really need someone who can't do anything else but hit once a game? Is he worth anything to another team?

  52. JD - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    Mark'd Given the horses we have: Espinosa Desmond Werth Zim Laroche Morse Ankiel Pudge But I don't like it because I would prefer to have guys on top who get on base 37% to 40% of the time. I posted before that Derek Norris will be that kind of hitter but this is way out of the box for Riggleman to consider and in any case Norris is a year or 2 away; so what I,m basically saying is that we have a flawed lineup any way you slice it.

  53. Steve M. - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    Anonymous said…You caught a lot of crap because clearly you have no idea what Zimmerman's conditioning/stretching regimen even is. So how could you know whether or not it's adequate? March 24, 2011 1:15 PM You aren't too bright, are you? Even if I wasn't a gym rat with a background in kinesiology and power training, I am smart enough to see the end result which has been 4 injuries due to issues in conditioning/stretching within the last 11 months and the empirical results back it up. John Philbin himself would tell you that they now have changed Zim's stretching routine.I am also very familiar with the amazing results that Zim had in January 2009 with Jason Riley, at the Athletes Compound in Tampa’s Saddlebrook complex where Zim really changed how he worked out and viewed his nutrition. Zim has continued his intense off-season routine with Jason so this has nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with effort. This is core conditioning and daily stretching and staying loose.Albert Pujols as I brought up 2 1/2 weeks ago is the perfect example of conditioning and stretching. He has averaged over his 10 year career, 156 games played per year and his injuries have been few and have involved more wear and tear to his elbow, knee and lower back.Pujols lives a lifestyle which doesn't include late nights out, boozing, and bad food. The man is simply amazing. He gets to the ballpark early and works hard and the results are legendary.

  54. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    Theo….That's my take on Gonzalez, as well. A shame because he could carve out a nice career with the proper attitude. And I had heard about the San Diego thing.I'm OK with either but pretty sure Rizzo and Riggleman prefer Cora.

  55. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    Steve M…. I thought I was confirming your take in so many words. We both agree that it appears Zim needs to revamp his core training techniques.And I've marveled at Pujols pregame work. Nobody works harder.

  56. Mark'd - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:14 PM

    JD, I could see that lineup long-term just not sure if you throw a Rookie in there on Opening Day.

  57. Anonymous - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    JD said… "Desmond and Ankiel are out machines; 70% of the time you will have Werth come to bat with 2 outs and no one on; that's scary."How did you come up with 70%?Your probablistic math is off. If the top two batters in the lineup have OBP of .300, Werth will come up with nobody on about half the time (.7^2).

  58. N. Cognito - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    "The thing about Gonzalez over Cora is this…"How about neither. They both suck.

  59. N. Cognito - Mar 24, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    "What might a contending team give us for Stairs"A whoopee cushion. Dunn took the last one with him to Chicago.

  60. JD - Mar 24, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    Anon @ 2:20, You are right of course. Still it would be better to have players who are on base closer to 40% of the time.

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