All these years I have put up with questionable trades or non-trades, strange signings and under-performance but this does it. While most other teams fans get to celebrate Valentine’s Day with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, I have to wait until the day after? Like this day means nothing? The Nats better have gotten me something nice. I’ve been eying a new stadium, maybe that will make up for it…

Ok enough of that, I’ve been asked by a few people what the story is with spring training, so here is the rundown of dates:

Feb 15th: Pitchers and Catchers Report
Feb 20th: Position Players Report
Feb 27th – Mar 29th: Spring Training
March 30: Season Starts

There is some confusion as to the start of the season, because they play 2 home games against 2 different teams before going to Philly for their home opener, so here’s the deal. March 29th, they open the stadium against the Orioles. This is the final spring training game, it doesn’t count for anything except parking issues and frighteningly shaped pretzels. The next day is March 30th, and the Braves will be in town for a 1 game series. This is an honest-to-goodness real game, it counts in the standings, and is the Nats home opener. It’s gonna be on ESPN, first pitch at 8:00 pm. After that, they go up to Philly and start playing normal baseball team style schedules.

Spring Training, What’s to See?

The fun thing about this team, as opposed to a team like the Yankees or the Red Sox, is that there are going to be serious position battles to see who gets to start. I am not sold on anyone as the full time starter other than Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns, so there are many things that will have to play out over the next month. The biggest battle is of course the starting rotation, and since pitchers will be reporting this week, let’s start with them. Nobody really solidified their position in the rotation last season, and its a mystery who will be playing on the regular. There are more names on this list than you probably remember. The alleged rotation (according to going into the spring is Hill, Patterson, Bergmann, Lannan, and Chico, but there are lots more names to consider.

Shawn Hill will be considered by most to be the team’s number 1 starter, his performance last season certainly lends itself to that tag, although is health doesn’t. But he’s healthy now, so we’ll count him in. If he can keep up what he was doing before he got hurt – 3.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 65 K, 25 BB – they’ll have a solid starter.

John Patterson is allegedly healthy and ready to go. But even if he is healthy, we don’t know if his fastball is fast or has any movement. And his great curve hasn’t shown it’s face since before last season either. He’ll have a chance to show what he’s got, so he should be fun to watch.

Next on the list is Jay Bergmann, who was second on the team with 21 starts last season. Although he has some hiccups in the middle of the season to fall of his great start, his August-October was actually pretty decent. The only problem was Bergmann gave up a good amount of home runs, something that doesn’t make one feel comfortable about the upcoming season.

John Lannan is supposedly a starter as well, which is interesting. Lannan has pitched a total of 34 2/3 innings in the majors and while he pitched well enough, he wasn’t spectacular. His 17 BBs and only 10 Ks is uninspiring, and he is only 23 years old. While I like his chances to be a decent pitcher, I am having trouble believing he will be in the starting rotation come opening day.

Matt Chico is penciled in as the 5th starter, and I think this is a precarious one as well. Despite 31 starts last season, he was bused to the minors and back several times. He seems to be talented enough to take on the role, but if there are enough warm bodies, they may want to just let him get on a schedule in Columbus. But if he pitches well in the spring, they’ll probably end up starting him.

Newcomer Tyler Clippard is probably good enough to start on this team, but he was rushed to the Yankees last season when they were riddled with injuries. He had some great outings despite some sub par numbers. He probably could use at least a few months in AAA. I am guessing even a strong spring won’t put him in the rotation, he’s only turning 22, and really doesn’t need to be in the big leagues.

Tim Redding will have a shot, he pitched pretty well last season, but nothing about his performance screams that he is worthy of a full time starting role. However, with the youth on this team, Redding may squeeze in there just because the other guys may need work in the minors. It may be tough to keep the runs as infrequent as they were last season. Despite the impressive 3.64 ERA, his WHIP was 1.45, he only struck out 47 guys in 84 innings. His walks, at 38, weren’t so bad, until you put that number next to Ks. I think he will struggle to keep the ERA so low, but he’ll probably get the opportunity to try.

Joel Hanrahan was another of the long list of youngsters who had some time with the Nats last season. He has actually pitched quite well, although not quite incredible, the last 2 seasons in the minor leagues. His major league time has been less impressive than that, but he is going to be 26 and probably is going to get a shot at being a starter with the Nationals. Much more time in the minors might not be that helpful, and the former top 100 Baseball America rated (#70) prospect has pitched well enough at times to still have the chance to succeed in the majors.

Garrett Mock was acquired along with Chico for Livan Hernandez, and he pitched well enough in the Arizona Fall League (2.33 ERA) to be put on the Nats 40 man roster. He will have an opportunity to show what he can do in the spring, but he is only 24. If the Nationals think he’s turned into something more than he was in the minors, then he has an opportunity to win a job. He has been hurt for much, if not all, of his minor league career, and was never short on talent. He seems to be healthy now for the first time since college, and perhaps he can surprise a few people. If not, he may end up in the older class of young prospects that spend time in the bigs and in Columbus, and spend alot of time with Clippard and Chico.

Colin Balester, Ross Detwiler, and some other of the young future stars may make some appearances with the team this spring, but that should be nothing more than getting them the opportunity to hang out with the big boys. None of them should be rushed with a team that would be thrilled to finish third in their division this season.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the position players.

By Charlie