Between games missed or spent as a DH as he builds up strength in his shoulder following off-season surgery and the time away from camp for the recent birth of his daughter, Cristian Guzman has played in just 3 of 8 games this Spring, two starting at short, one as a DH, in which the 32-years-old-on-March-21st shortstop has 2 hits and an RBI in 10 at bats. Meanwhile...Ian Desmond, the 24-year-old starting-shortstop-in-waiting has taken advantage of the opportunity to showcase his talents, hitting in 8 of 17 AB's thus far and collecting 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 10 RBI's, 3 walks and 2 stolen bases, with a .550 OBP and .882 SLG in 7 games played. If the Nationals started the season today who would you play at short? Who would Jim Riggleman go with? Guzman played his first game at short this past Monday, following rumors last weekend that the Nationals might consider relegating the veteran infielder and his $8M dollar salary to the bench if he's outplayed by Desmond the rest of the way. MLB.com's Bill Ladson even quoted Guzman's agent Stanley King addressing the possibility in a blog post entitled, "Guzman, King will take a wait and see approach", where Mr. Ladson wrote that Mr. King, "...declined to say if he would ask the team to trade Guzman if the latter starts the season on the bench," but did say that, "...the team has not talked to him about a contract extension for Guzman." One way or another, it's Guzman's last stand as a National, how will it end?
Are there really any other position battles? The rotation and bullpen...after the JUMP...• Bullpen/Rotation:
It's been hard not to cringe while listening to the first week of Spring baseball played by the Washington Nationals, as their pitchers have allowed 116 hits and 82 runs (all but 1 ER's) in 8 games so far, in which the team is 0-8, with standout (for all the wrong reasons) performances like Matt Capps' (6 H, 5 ER in 3.0 IP), Sean Burnett's (5 H, 4 ER in 0.2 IP) and Tyler Walker's (14 H, 11 ER, 4 HR in 2.2 IP) causes for early concern, while standout performances like Stephen Strasburg's debut, Drew Storen's 2.0 scoreless, Aaron Thompson's 4.0 scoreless innings pitched and Matt Chico's return to the mound have provided reason for hope. Tyler Clippard seems like his late-season '09 self early in camp, J.D. Martin and Garrett Mock are (seemingly?) locked in a head-to-head battle that might land both spots in the rotation, and Livan Hernandez is set to debut this Sunday (right after Strasburg's second start) which should provide a study in contrasts the likes of which hasn't been seen since Ryan Zimmerman replaced a hobbled Vinny Castilla as the everyday third baseman late in 2005.
• The BIG ?'s : I already know the answer, (or think I do), but people are still asking how the Nationals will justify sending Stephen Strasburg down (after only 2.0 IP) when the rest of their starters are performing as they are, but as I quoted ESPN.com's Jayson Stark saying the other day in a radio appearance, "Even Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens spent time in the minors, and it can't possibly hurt Strasburg to do the same. It can only help him." My comparison, though he was picked out of high school in the 22nd Round of the 2005 Draft, is the Braves' 22-year-old right-hander Tommy Hanson, who dominated the Arizona Fall League in 2008, winning the first-ever MVP for a pitcher in the historically hitter-friendly league, and was still held back until June so it would delay the start of his arbitration clock's ticking...Strasburg will make his debut this season, he might be the best pitcher in the organization right now, (Sorry, Lannan and Marquis), but the Nationals will take their time with the 21-year-old. Who's going to miss his MLB debut?
But what about the strike-throwing-four-or-five-pitch reliever the Nationals picked 10th overall in the '09 Draft, behind only Strasburg? Drew Storen might be the only name I add to the bullpen I predicted at the start of Spring Training. With Capps and Tyler Walker just brutal so far, and Capps' fastball in a the 89-90 range each time I've seen it get hit hard by the opposition, Brian Bruney allowing 2 hits, 2 ER and 3 walks in 2.0 IP, and the first round of cuts eliminating Eddie Guardado, Shawn Estes, Logan Kensing and Victor Garate from competition for bullpen roles, it'll be up to Storen (or once again the dern arbitration clock) to determine where he starts the season.
After 8 games, I'm sticking with my rotation and bullpen predictions so far, with one slight adjustment in bold type: