Jan 25, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Hello from the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, which today is hosting NatsFest for the first time. And there’s plenty on tap for the festivities, which runs from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for the general public (season-ticket holders and VIPs get an hour to themselves beginning at 10 a.m.).
Props to the Nationals for bringing so many players to this event. Twenty-one of them are scheduled to appear, a list that includes Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Denard Span. Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo also will be here. And so will perhaps the most-popular ex-National in the club’s brief history: Livan Hernandez.
We’ll get a chance to speak to all of them over the course of the day, and we’ll be updating this post with all of the highlights and news that develops. So if you’re here in attendance, please feel free to share your observations and thoughts. And if you’re not able to join us, check back for regular updates…
2:50 p.m. — Here’s the biggest news of the day: Livan Hernandez is back with the Nats. Don’t worry, he’s not attempting a comeback or anything. But Mike Rizzo has invited the big guy to work for the organization in a to-be-determined capacity, and Livo said it’s “99 percent” that he’ll accept. Which means he’ll come to spring training as an instructor. “I’m ready to ride the golf cart like Pat Corrales,” he said. Having just completed his first-ever season out of baseball, Hernandez realized how much he misses the game. He followed the Nats closely last year and spoke to pitchers from the club on more than one occasion to offer advice. And now it looks like he’ll get a chance to speak to them on an everyday basis, in person in Viera this spring.
2:13 p.m. — (Hughes) Espinosa also had an interesting quote regarding the broken wrist he played with last season. He said he should have rested the injury when it first occurred in April.
“I shouldn’t have [played]. But at the same time, I’m not the doctor reading the film. So yea, I shouldn’t have been playing on a broken wrist the whole year. Like I said, if you’re told you have a bruise, you play through a bruise. Everybody plays through bumps and bruises. I wouldn’t have played if I knew I had a broken wrist. I shouldn’t have been playing at all.”
1:51 pm. — (Hughes) Danny Espinosa just stopped by with some updates on his offseason. he said he’s hired a personal trainer and feels stronger now than he’s ever felt. He also says he’s been told by both Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams that he will compete for his old job as starting second baseman in spring.
“Matt and Mike Rizzo called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back. That’s all I can ask for. I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it,” he said.
12:50 p.m. — Just had a chance to talk to Stephen Strasburg and get an update on his recovery from October surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Strasburg said he is fully healed from what he described as a “minor” procedure and said the rest of his offseason and spring preparation will be no different than in years past. So, it would appear we can cross that off the list of concerns heading to Viera.
11:55 a.m. — Bryce Harper just made the rounds here and offered an update on his surgically repaired knee. Harper said he began sprinting about three weeks ago and the knee “feels great.” That said, he admitted he was hurting well before his April and May wall collisions, perhaps even as far back as a year ago. He also was noncommittal when asked whether he’ll be 100 percent ready for the start of spring training. I later asked him what he learned from the whole experience of trying to play through injury last season. His response: “I’ll probably never do that again. My knee was a lot worse than people probably thought. I’ll probably never do that again.”
11:34 a.m. — Mike Rizzo just held court for about 10 minutes, discussing a variety of topics regarding the Nationals’ offseason. Rizzo said he feels good about the club’s roster heading into 2014, saying it’s an “improved version of the 2013 team.”
He also addressed the rumors surrounding Grant Balfour, who recently signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. Rizzo admits the team did check in on the closer, but in the end Balfour chose to sign closer to home. Balfour has a home in Florida, having previously spent three years with the Rays.
“We were in on Balfour, we thought there was value there,” Rizzo said. “I think sleeping in his own bed and being near his own home, I think over-rided what we were trying to offer him.”
10:30 a.m. — Tyler Moore and Scott Hairston were the first players brought into the media holding pen. No earth-shattering news from either, but Moore did make an interesting observation: He said he was probably too lackadaisical last spring in his preparation for the season, and that negatively affected him once the year began and he wasn’t getting regular playing time. He said he’ll try to work himself harder this spring, recognizing that he needs to make the most of every at-bat he gets to keep himself fresh once the real games start and he’s confined to the bench.
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