Nationals: EVERYTHING You Need To Know!

Updated: March 22, 2014

For the third time, Stephen Strasburg is your opening day starter. He says pitching in the post season is more meaningful to him. Following Strasburg in the season opening series against the Mets will be Gio Gonzalez in game two, followed by Jordan Zimmermann in game three. The trio have been sensational this spring, as evidenced by these numbers combined: 1.26 ERA, 0.813 WHIP (as of Thursday evening).

Manager Matt Williams says right-hander Doug Fister will go three innings on Saturday against Miami. Fister tuned up in a intrasquad minor league game on Monday. Fister hasn’t pitched since March 2 due to right elbow inflammation. If healthy, Fister will be the No.4 starter in the rotation.

The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation has come down to Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. The 25 year old Jordan has great stuff and even better potential. The 27 year old Roark had an incredible major league debut in ’13, following excellent numbers in Triple-A.

As for Ross Detwiler, the 2007 first round pick was told he will begin the season in the bullpen. The hard throwing left hander was outstanding in the 2012 NLDS and early on last spring, before a back injury curtailed his season. Obviously disappointed in the decision to send him to the bullpen, Ross has pitched very well in relief during his career, allowing just four earned runs in more than 32 innings of work and holding hitters to a .173 batting average.

As for the bullpen, Ross Ohlendorf and Christian Garcia were sent to Triple-A Syracuse, Manny Delcarmen to minor league camp and Clay Hensley was released. Those with sure fire roster spots, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Jerry Blevins, Craig Stammen, Detwiler and Roark (or Jordan).

Who else is left? Blake Treinin, who was acquired in the Mike Morse trade, plus left-handers Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez. Ryan Mattheus finally made his first appearance of the spring (chest injury) and probably will need more work before the season starts. The beneficiary may be 26 year old Aaron Barrett, who saved 26 games with fantastic numbers in Double-A last season.

Four catchers remain in camp, but Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton are clearly on the 25 man roster. Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder provide organizational depth and rest for the regulars as camp winds down.

Tyler Moore, Jamey Carroll and Jeff Kobernus are battling it out for one spot on the roster. The Astros continue to pursue Moore, but he may be too valuable as a reserve at both first and the outfield. Kobernus and Carroll are at opposite ends of the career spectrum and may be the odd men out.

With the release of Zach Walters, Danny Espinosa figures to be a lock as the Nationals super sub off the bench in the infield. Williams said Walters is close, but needs to focus on putting bad at bats behind him. The 24 year old Walters hit .379 in 15 games this spring.

Question marks surrounded Espinosa as the spring began, but the switch hitting middle infielder has bounced back. Williams is encouraged by Espinosa’s approach and focus to get back in the lineup every day. A natural shortstop, Danny is an ideal utility infielder with the ability to rotate in with both Ian Desmond at shortstop and Anthony Rendon at second base. A switch hitter in this role brings even more to the table.

Almost 35, Jayson Werth isn’t even halfway through the seven year, $126 million contract he signed in December 2010. Despite sitting out a month due to injury in ’13, Jayson hit 25 home runs and hit career high levels in average and slugging.

“If you can hit,” Werth says, “you can do anything.”

Despite the presence of local baseball icons like Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper is now the face of the franchise. Nothing special this spring from the left fielder, just 5-for-30 with a home run through Thursday. Williams says Harper’s front hip is leaking a bit, but the skipper isn’t worried, just glad his knee is healthy.

Grantland, (@Grantland33) known for NBA coverage with Bill Simmons, covers the diamond just as well!

For more on Harper, listen in to MLB Network Radio’s discussion with Bryce.

Did you get a chance to see the Nationals featured on the MLB Network’s “30 clubs in 30 days” on Wednesday night? The Nats were playing the Astros at the same time, plus the NCAA play in games were underway. Complicating things, the exhibition game prior ran long, so even those of us (me) who DVR’d it, still missed out on some of it. No worries, it’s here for you.

How is the National League race shaping up? We will certainly get an early look at the Dodgers and Diamondbacks this weekend down under, but what about everyone else? One of my favorite blogs, “For The Win” ( @forthewin ) breaks it down.

If you play fantasy baseball and I know you do… Are you loading up on Nationals? Before you decide which local boys to man your squad, take a look at the analysis courtesy of RotoBaller.

Only two games remain in Viera for the Nationals, Saturday against the Marlins and Tuesday against the Mets. Washington also has a pair of road games, against the Cardinals in Jupiter and the Mets in St. Lucie. Then the club heads north for the exhibition game against the Tigers a week from Saturday (the 29th).

Follow Tom Blaz on #twitter @AubieTom