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Pitchers find entertaining way to work on hitting

Feb 25, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

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VIERA, Fla. — Workouts can get a bit mundane at this juncture of spring training, with players long since having reported to camp but several days still remaining until the Grapefruit League gets underway. Fortunately, Matt Williams scheduled a couple of new and interesting drills for Monday’s workout, keeping everyone from being bored to death.

The first was a full-squad pop-up drill, with all nine positions filled on the field and various pop-ups shot up into the Viera sky via a pitching machine. This is when Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond got to perfect their loudest “I got it!”s, much to the delight of the hundred or so fans in attendance.

There were, thankfully, no collisions between players (or between players and walls, for that matter) but there were a couple of close calls. Werth and Anthony Rendon nearly made contact on a pop-up to shallow right field. Rendon and Ian Desmond later converged on a ball behind second base. And Nate McLouth made a nice, running catch just before going full-speed into the chain-link fence in foul territory down the right-field line.

Next was a highly entertaining drill titled “Pitchers Hitting Game.” That’s exactly what it was. The staff was divided into four teams, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Chris Young serving as captains. Those captains then drafted teams of eight pitchers, who then competed against another team in a 9-inning “game” that rewarded the club that exhibited the best batting skills.

Rehab coordinator Mark Grater pitched one of the games inside Space Coast Stadium, which pitted Team Fister against Team Young. The basic rules…

— Each team took turns batting in their respective “innings,” with Grater judging whether the balls they put into play were clean hits or outs. Once three outs were made, the game moved into the next half-inning.

— If a man reached base with less than two outs, the pitcher/batter was required either to bunt or hit a grounder to the right side of the infield and advance the runner. If done correctly, the runner advanced a base but the team wasn’t charged with an out.

— The captain of the team not currently batting could set up his defense for each situation, bringing in the corners, or the entire infield, or playing at double-play depth.

— Whoever scored the most runs after nine innings won.

Oh, one more very important rule: Non-captains were not allowed to argue Grater’s rulings. Anyone would did was ordered to run a lap around the bases.

Which proved difficult for Gio Gonzalez to avoid. The game’s very first batter, lefty Danny Rosenbaum, tapped a grounder to the hole on the left-side of the infield. Grater called it an out, which prompted Gonzalez to shout back: “What?!” Which prompted Grater to declare: “That’s a lap, Gio!”

Gonzalez wound up taking four penalty laps around the bases before the game was over.

There were plenty of well-executed bunts and move-‘em-up grounders, but the two biggest highlights were longballs. The first was hit by Taylor Jordan, who gave Team Fister a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth. But Team Young rallied in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with one out after Fister elected to intentionally walk Sammy Solis and bring Christian Garcia to the plate.

Big mistake. Garcia, a .400-hitting catcher in high school, launched a grand slam to left-center, flipping his bat after contact and giving Team Young an 8-6 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. (Grater ruled his run didn’t count because he wasn’t supposed to be swinging for the fences.)

In the end, the pitchers managed to get some important work in while also having a good time.

“Oh, yeah. It puts a little pressure on yourself,” Garcia said. “You want to do good for your team. So it’s good to be able to have fun while you’re doing it. Because at the end of the day, this is a game. It should be fun.”

“It breaks up some of the monotony, some of the everyday stuff,” Fister said. “There’s things that we have to focus on every day that are very important, and hitting and bunting and moving runners is one of them. For Matt to kind of schedule things like that, that we’re able to have a little fun with it, it’s gonna stick in our brains a little better.”

This may not be the end of the “Pitchers Hitting Game.” Word is that both winning clubs (Team Young and Team Zimmermann) were trying to convince Williams to let them square off in a championship match sometime soon.

  1. unkyd59 - Feb 25, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    I have to say that… I LOVE this!!!

    • ArVAFan - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:28 AM

      I have to say: I hope they do this again next year, because we’re already planning next year’s Spring Training trip (10 days, same hotel, take the auto train, overlap the end of full squad training and a couple of games).

      Guess Christian Garcia’s hitting is going ok. How about his pitching? He played catcher in high school–does that make him our emergency back-up 18th inning catcher?

    • sjm308 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:40 AM

      As always Natslady – thanks. I still have a hard time with all these different numbers & % etc but the take away to me is that Harper continues to get better and he is on the verge of being more than just a star but maybe elite. I think most of us hope/feel that anyway but its nice to have an outside source verifying it.

      Go Nats!!

    • unkyd59 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      Thanks NL! We’re sitting on an offensive volcano!!! HE’S GONNA BLOW!!!

  2. natsfan1a - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:26 AM

    Sounds awesome. Sooo, who was the number one draft pick and who was chosen last? :-)

    Those captains then drafted teams of eight pitchers, who then competed against another team in a 9-inning “game” that rewarded the club that exhibited the best batting skills.’

    • natsfan1a - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      D’oh! I meant to have an opening quote before “those.”

  3. sjm308 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Ball players seem to have more fun to begin with. I still get great joy just watching them play catch before games and they always seem to be happy. This just adds to it. The video I saw of this was a riot! Like 1A, I wonder how the draft went and the trash talking for that but I also wonder how the coaches arrived at the 4 captains? Says a lot to me that Fister was one but maybe even more they included Chris Young. We all think he is destined for another year of AAA and I hope he does what it takes to keep his career moving and maybe ends up a mentor for some of our young arms down there. Can’t have enough Princeton grads in the system. One last thought, is there a better guy for the clubhouse than Gio? Takes things serious between the lines but its all fun after.

    • ArVAFan - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:59 AM

      Well, since one of the rules was that only the captains could argue calls with the “umpire”, the umpire definitely wouldn’t have chosen Gio for a captain: the game would have been slower than Yankees and Red Sox!

    • Joe Seamhead - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:49 AM

      In 2012 the Nats in general seemed really loose and carefree as a team, led in that regard by Gio and Morse, in contrast to last year, where the combination of the stunning game 5 loss in the playoffs and Gio’s PED crap just seemed to put a cloud over the entire team. Add in trading Morse and bringing in Soriano, and all of these things seemed to just upset the proverbial team chemistry apple cart. The one difference that I have noticed repeatedly this year is that in almost every picture the players are smiling. In most interviews the players seem relaxed and mostly jovial. Especially Strasburg. And Gio seems to be back to being every bit of the goofball we all loved to watch in 2012. There just seems to be a lot of good ju-ju again.

      As to Harper, nice link,NL. I am really looking forward to watching a player that is going to be a joy to behold over the next few years!

      • unkyd59 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        +1!!!

      • MicheleS - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:45 AM

        Let’s not forget Mark DeRosa. I think things will be much better this year.

  4. unterp - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    good stuff by all…

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