Archive for the ‘Spring Training’ Category

Alberto’s Solid Spring

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

It looks like all-glove-little-lumber Alberto Gonzalez — CFG’s favorite non-starting infielder (we have plumped for him ’til we’re nauseated) — has made the Washington Nationals’ roster cut, and will head north with the team when they break camp. It’s a great decision: putting aside all those weepy Nats fans who rode Gonzalez mercilessly last year, the Venezuelan had a single slump, while otherwise registering a fairly respectable season. He was getting hot again just as the season ended and finished the year off at .265 with nearly 300 at bats. Not bad and, in fact, for a guy who was seeing just his second full year in the majors, it was damned good. It’s likely, barring an injury, that he’ll get the same number of plate appearances this year — and if Adam Kennedy slumps (it’s happened before, and it could happen) we might see him back at second full time. 

Gonzalez picked up in Spring Training where he left off in September — swinging the bat with authority. He had a terrific Grapefruit League campaign, a fact commented on by Nats’s Manager Jim Riggleman, who can now be counted as part of the Alberto Gonzalez fan club (which, probably, makes two of us): “He has great hands. He has a good strong arm, doesn’t make errors and has good at-bats. Unless there is an unforeseen circumstance, we would count on him … this year. He has been very solid this spring and did a nice job for us last year.”

With Gonzalez headed north, the pressure now appears to be on the remaing pitchers — with Olsen, Martin, Bergmann, Chico (and guys like that) on the bubble — as well as a catcher, now that Mike Rizzo has signed Chris Coste. It would be great if Mike Morse could head north: in case there’s a breakdown (like a .220 BA) in right field. The Gonzalez news is news; the much-criticized second sacker (he played short left while he was at shortstop) needed to rethink his mechanics at the plate, which he did with the help of Rick Eckstein. “He knows his strike zone, he is discipline to swinging at strikes in the strike zone,” Eckstein said about Gonzalez. “He is really battling and staying on pitches during his at-bats. He is a very solid player. Since he walked into camp, he’s had a real good focus, real good work ethic and a passion to be the best he can be.”

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: So, which team is the most “transformed” team in the National League? That would be the Nationals — at least according to Tim Kurkjian (who spent a good deal of last season wondering whether Washington should even have a team). But Kurkjian dampens his view by noting that the transformation might not show up in the standings. He’s right about the transformation — our bet is he’s wrong about the standings . . . our fans are getting impatient, urging us to return to our time-worn tradition of making predictions, and so we will. We’ll do that this weekend. My daughter (here’s a childhoood picture) is particularly intent to hear what we have to say about her Chicago Cubs. She’ll have to wait, but here’s a preview — the Cubs are like the little girl with the curl: when they’re good, they’re very, very good. But when they’re bad, they’re horrid. This year? Stay tuned  . . . 

Stammen Is Stayin’

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Planning in baseball is like planning in war: no matter how good you strategize, things never turn out the way you expected. So it is with the Nats’ starting rotation. The off-season speculators shaped a starting five that included two no-brainers (Marquis and Lannan) with three or four questions. But the fill-in-the-blank wunderkinds of the press always seemed to skip Craig Stammen. They weren’t the only ones. Let me see, there was Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Hernandez and Mock; or Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Martin and Mock (an “m-heavy” rotation) — oh, and there was even Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Detwiler and Wang. But no matter what the permutations there was rarely (although, some few noticed), any mention of Craig Stammen.  But the 6-3, 200 pound righty (it appears) has won a place in the Nationals’ starting rotation after a solid Florida Spring and a little attention. He’s now on the radar — and then some.  

Granted, there’s not much to look at: while Stammen showed flashes of maturity in the forgettable 2009 campaign, his let’s-not-talk-about-it sore elbow and his 4-7 5.11 numbers were nothing to brag about. Justifiably (perhaps) Nats’ fans were more excited about the arrival of “the answer” and focused on Jordan Zimmermann’s Tommy John surgery. Then too, it didn’t help that Stammen arrived in Washington virtually unannounced — one of a bevy of slump-shouldered pitchers that included Detwiler, Mock, Balester, Martis, Zimmermann, Martin and Mock. That he waited in line behind the likes of the forgettable and embarrassing Daniel Cabrera was to be expected: this was the Bowden era, a period of time in our short history now empillared in the dictionary next to the word “nightmare.”

But Craig Stammen has not been a secret to those who have watched him. The more he’s pitched the more attention he’s earned. Despite last year’s numbers, there seemed to be a sense in the Nationals’ front office that the Ohio native could turn into something special. Stammen’s strike out numbers with the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Sally League were good, though  (as is common with the Buckeye), not quite heart-stopping: he struck out 109 in 143 innings. With a little more speed he-coulda-really-been-something. Even so, he worked his way up — to Potomac and Harrisburg and Syracuse. His arrival in Washington, therefore, was hardly a triumph. And yet … yet, here he is, a pitcher who is now slotted for the fourth (or even third) slot in the starting rotation and (at least thus far) a Nationals’ success; proof positive that the organization can develop pitchers.

That might be a pretty good front four: Strasburg, Marquis, Lannan and Stammen — even if we have to wait for June to see it. 

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Strasburg Stellar In First Outing

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Stephen Strasburg’s best pitch on Tuesday was his last — a 3-2 breaking ball that floated 12 to 6 over the plate, freezing Tiger Brent Dlugach for a strikeout. “I thought it was executed well enough to get him out,” Strasburg said of that last pitch. “I felt it was down in the zone, and if he swung, hopefully he would have grounded out. I wasn’t going to throw a hanger up there and I hoped that he was sitting on a fastball. I was going to throw [the curveball]. If it’s a strike, it’s a strike. If not, it’s down in the zone and hopefully he swings.” Strasburg’s outing may well be a sign of things to come: a young pitcher with a living arm that throws 96-98 with command of all of his pitches. I must be dreaming. And by nearly all accounts, Strasburg is bearing up well under all the attention.

If it wasn’t clear before just how much the Nationals need Strasburg, it oughta be clear now: the Nats are oh-fer in the no account Grapefruit League, where all embarrassing questions about performance are answered with two words: “it’s early.” Okay, it’s early. But early or not, Strasburg remains the single bright spot in the Nats Florida pitching outings — even Jason Marquis struggled yesterday. And while MLB Network’s Al Leiter argues (and vocally), that pitchers are simply trying to find their legs in the spring, the vast proportion of Nats pitchers have yet to find the strike zone. Still, there’s a different feel to the club — even on television. Seeing Adam Kennedy at second base (and really there, with his name stenciled on the back of the uniform and everything) brings an almost palpable feeling of security, while Nyjer Morgan’s return to the outfield (and basepaths) gives hope that the Nats will start where they left off after acquiring him last year. Morgan is as quick as ever: he bunted his way on on Tuesday, then stole second, sliding spikes up (albeit late) into the bag.

I swear, when I saw Kennedy wearing that uniform I damn near cried . . .

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Mike Rizzo joined the crew in the television booth during the second inning on Tuesday, and gave a hint of the team’s plans for Ian Desmond, who has been ripping the rind off the sweet stuff in Florida. No matter what, Rizzo said, Desmond would be playing full time, whether in the majors or in Triple-A. Rizzo has said this before, but he seemed more emphatic on Tuesday. Which is to confirm: if Desmond plays well enough, Cristian Guzman will be on the bench or he’ll be elsewhere — and probably elsewhere. If Rizzo and Riggleman decide the Desmond is ready for the show, the team will have to eat a lot of Guzman’s salary. If we here at CFG were the betting types, we’d bet on Desmond, and say “thanks for the memories” to Goozie. And why not? . . .

Who is Josh Whitesell and why is his name so familiar? Oh yeah, now I remember: Whitesell was drafted in the sixth round by the Expos back in 2003, played for the Harrisburg Senators and then was claimed off waivers by the  Showboats in 2008. The guy’s no slouch: he was Arizona’s 2008 Minor League Player of the year and he can hit the long ball. Seems he’s a natural first baseman. Or so it was said. But Arizona didn’t non-tender Whitesell because they’re stupid. (Well,except for this … ) Whitesell had an insipid year in 2009 and only a cup of coffee in the majors. The D-Backs got tired of waiting and lost faith and, and, and … there was a divorce. But Rizzo likes him, you can tell — and you never know, he might stick . . . Whitesell could back up Dunn at first (or, if he plays left field, he could back up Dunn at first) or that job could go to Chris Duncan. The only problem is that Duncan can’t hit lefties, while Whitesell is largely unproven. Then there’s Justin Maxwell, whose added attraction is that he can play the outfield . . . oh yeah, and Mike Morse — who’s proving he can play . . .