D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's comments about the Nationals' NL East rivals from the so-called City of Brotherly Love, as recorded by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell this morning in an article entitled, "Can Jayson Werth bring swagger to the Washington Nationals?", aren't likely to improve relations with the Phillies and their fanbase, but they do perfectly capture both the new attitude the Nats are hoping to play with this year and the frustration the Nationals and their fans have felt over the six seasons since baseball returned to the nation's capital.
Washington is 39-71 against Philadelphia since 2005, with a winning record against the Phillies in just one season, when they won 10 of 19 by taking two of three in the final series of 2006. In the last three seasons, the Phillies have won 39 of 54 games with the Nationals. They took over Nationals Park on Opening Day last year. They clinched the NL East crown in D.C. last September, and popped open champagne in the visiting team's clubhouse. Their fans ran amuck in Nats Park, chanting, "This-is-our-house!" throughout the game over a chorus of boos from the defiant few Nats fans who were still attending games.
"'I hate the [expletive] Phillies,'" the Nats' General Manager reportedly said within earshot of the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell last week. In an article by the Philadelphia Daily News' sports writer Paul Hagen entitled, "Nationals GM denies comment about hating the Phillies", Mr. Rizzo responded to questions about the comment by saying that, "'As far as the quote, yeah, that was either taken out of context or (Boswell) didn’t hear it right,":
"'What I hate is the fact that the Phillies have had so much success at our expense. I respect the Phillies as much as any team in baseball.'"
"'I hate the Phillies, too,'" Jayson Werth reportedly assured his new GM in the exchange which reportedly took place during the Spring Training showdown with Nats' reliever Drew Storen that made headlines last week. The Nats' closer-in-training decided to use the first live BP session against Werth to remind Washington's new $126M dollar right fielder that he remembered the then-Phillies' oufielder's two-run walk off HR last September. As the WaPost's Mr. Boswell tells the story, Werth knew it was coming, telling Rizzo, "'He's probably going to hit me,'" before he stepped in against Storen, while adding, "'If he does, I'll like him even more.'"
"One thing I saw with the Nationals teams over the past few seasons playing against them was just a grittiness that they had and a will to win," Werth said during his introductory press conference after signing for 7-years/$126 million dollars in December. Werth also said he believes, "The team's a lot better than people think...the last few years they've just been a little young, a little inexperienced. They've made some changes, got some guys in that I think are going to help, I'm on board with that and I think we're going to surprise a lot of people." During his first Spring Training interview, Werth said he thinks the Nats are, "...going to be there before people realize it," as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported last week in an article entitled, "Jayson Werth meets the press."
After the exchange between Rizzo and his new right fielder last week, the Nationals' GM, according to the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell, "...ran off a list of borderline dirty plays and purpose pitches in recent years," in games against the NL East's defending champs. "Unspoken, but hanging in the air," Mr. Boswell sensed, "was a new idea for the Nats: So, let's play more like the Phillies: mean, grimy and a little nasty." Mean, grimy and a little nasty? Sound like any 2010 no.1 overall pick who's in camp with Washington this year? How about the attitude the Nats' closer showed in brushing back the Nats' $126M dollar investment in the first week of Spring Training? According to CSN Washington and NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman's article this weekend entitled, "Nats duo turns DPs with 'swagger'", the Nats already have the swagger back in the infield with Ian Desmond, who emerged as a leader in the infield and clubhouse last year saying that Danny Espinosa's, "...got a little more swagger, more style, more confidence that I wish I [had]."
"Can Jayson Werth bring swagger to the Washington Nationals?", the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell asked. Can it start with the GM and work its way down? Rizzo signed Werth and brushed off complaints about the lengths he went to do so. "'I don't apologize for Jayson Werth," the D.C. GM told MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling this winter in an article entitled, "Rizzo: 'I don't apologize for signing Jayson Werth.'" Werth's described as, "a dangerous career-defining gamble," on Rizzo's part in the WaPost's Mr. Boswell's article. In the general manager's mind, all that mattered, as he told MASN's Mr. Goessling was that the Nats were, "'...a better ballclub today than we were yesterday without [Werth].'"
Under Mike Rizzo and his rebuilt front office, the Nationals have fully committed to the GM's plan, outspending the rest of the league in each of the last two drafts, allowing players who don't fit the mold of what the general manager wants to walk, pursuing and in some cases signing the top talent on the international market. They made a run at the top pitching prospect to come out of Cuba in years (Aroldis Chapman). They signed Yunesky Maya. They signed Jayson Werth. The Nats could have added Royals' right-hander Zack Greinke if he hadn't blocked a move to the nation's capital. Though they might not have added everything they wanted this Winter, the team in Viera, Florida right now is indisputably Mike Rizzo's team.
"There really hasn't been a shortage of my stamp on the organization," the general manager, who's been involved in the franchise's development since he arrived in Washington in 2006 said when he was given a five-year extension last fall and a bump in title that also made him the Nats' Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. With the backing of the organization, the GM promised that, "It will be my baby, and my fingerprints will be all over the organization, more so than they are already." Monday's Spring Training game against the New York Mets will provide the first glimpse of at least part of the team Rizzo's assembled for the 2011 campaign. Is this the year things start to change? Or has the change started already?