The Washington Nationals' 52-year-old GM and Executive Vice President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo met with reporters for the first time this Spring in the dugout of Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium this afternoon. The general manager of the defending NL East champs addressed the few pressing issues facing the Nationals as Spring Training begins in a 10 minute-plus conversation that started with a discussion about Nats' second baseman Danny Espinosa...
• Danny Espinosa's Rotator Cuff: Espinosa revealed to reporters a few weeks back that he had been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder at the end of the 2012 campaign that he decided to rehab instead of undergoing surgery which would have potentially cost him two months at the start of the season. The decision was not Espinosa's alone, the Nats' GM explained today, but one made by the team with the advice of their medical staff and Rizzo said the infielder was strong and ready to go.
"I think he's come through all the stress tests that we give him, the strength tests, and he feels good," Rizzo explained.* "He's a ballplayer. He knows what he can take and what would hurt his performances and he feels good about entering the season." As for the decision to avoid surgery, Rizzo discussed how it was ultimately made. "We meet with him and his representatives," Rizzo said, "the doctors, the trainers and everybody and we say what's the best course of action to take and make a decision on it."
(ed. note - " * = Assist with beginning of that line to CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman's article.")
• Gio Gonzalez: Gio Gonzalez addressed the Miami New Times' report on his alleged connection to a Coral Gables, Florida-based anti-aging clinic suspected of providing performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes in a discussion with reporters on Tuesday. The Nats' GM said this afternoon that there wasn't much he could say about the matter which is under investigation by Major League Baseball. "I can't talk about the Gio situation," Rizzo told reporters today, but he expects the 27-year-old left-hander to be available. "Right now I expect to put his name in the lineup every fifth day," Rizzo said.
Asked whether or not a potential suspension had led the team to intensify its search for starting depth, Rizzo said clearly today, "It did not intensify anything for us. Like I said, we're always looking for depth, but it did not intensify it." The Nats' GM, through former D.C. general manager Jim Bowden, shot down rumors about potential interest in free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse on Tuesday afternoon:
Mike Rizzo told me there is no truth to their present interest in Kyle Lohse— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) February 12, 2013
• There was a report this afternoon, via MLB.com's Bill Ladson, that right-hander Henry Rodriguez, who had surgery to remove a bone chip and bone spurs in his right elbow last summer, had experienced tenderness in his elbow this afternoon:
The Nats' GM said he saw Rodriguez pitching on Tuesday, but didn't offer any info about any elbow issues. "I saw him throw yesterday. He played catch yesterday. So he's throwing. I don't know where he's at in his mound progression, but he's been throwing." Rodriguez, who has no options, is a question mark for the Nationals' bullpen in 2013 after struggling with his command (as he has throughout his career) before acknowledging he was pitching with an injured elbow last year.
• Wilson Ramos: The Nationals have discussed having Kurt Suzuki start the season as the Nats' no.1 backstop so that Ramos, who had two surgeries to repair a torn meniscus and ACL in his right knee, can take his time getting back to 100%. Rizzo said today that he hasn't seen Ramos work behind the plate yet, so he's not sure how close to 100% the catcher is right now. "I don't know. I haven't seen him play," Rizzo said, "He was in D.C. most of the winter and I saw him work out a lot, so he's doing a lot of athletic movements and activities. He's doing a lot of agility drills, I saw that the other day and he was moving very well and he's in really good shape. So, we'll have to see when he starts squatting behind the plate and blocking balls and that type of thing what percentage we'll put on him."
• Spring Training battles?: Barring any injuries, setbacks, hiccups or unexpected events, the Nationals' rotation, lineup and bullpen are pretty much set for the upcoming season, though there are still some possible battles on the bench and in the back end of the pen. "We've got a pretty set lineup," Rizzo explained today, "I guess there's some bullpen jobs available. I guess there's some bench jobs available and there will be competition at a few positions. But, from the 2012 season and the additions we made, we've got a pretty clear picture of what our team is going to look like."
The Nationals' general manager also reiterated that he doesn't feel the Nationals necessarily need a left-handed specialist at the back of their pen. The Nats plan to take the best pitchers to D.C. to start the season."The amount of left-handed relievers has never been a priority to me," Rizzo said, "mostly because we have right-handers that can get left-handers out. And it coincides with Davey [Johnson's] managerial style."
It's a much different situation this year than in years past, though the Nats' GM said the changes in Washington's camp didn't start this year. "We started feeling it a couple years back" Rizzo explained, "There was a different atmosphere here. Our plan was to change the culture of the team and I think we've succeeded with that with a lot of the players that we've brought in. But, yeah, I think the feel here is that we've got a good team, we're proud of ourselves and we're ready to take on the National League."
World Series or Bust?: Was Rizzo willing to go as far as his manager did earlier this winter and say it was, "World Series or Bust," in 2013? "The expectations have risen," Rizzo said, "The players see that. They understand where we're at and the type of team we have." Davey Johnson understands too, the GM explained, and Rizzo said it helps to have a skipper who's been there before.
"It's great having a veteran manager with Davey's track record and ability level," Rizzo told reporters. "The players respect him. He gets the most out of them and that's a big reason we're where we're at." After a winter vacation which included a safari in Africa, Davey Johnson's ready to lead the Nationals in their defense of the NL East crown. "I think that he really enjoyed the offseason," Rizzo said today. "He had a great winter. We spoke a lot during the offseason and I think that he liked the moves that we made and embraced them and was really in a place that he feels good about right now. He's done a lot in this game and he feels that with the team that he has here that he can really help drive this thing to great things this year."
As for any more moves this winter, the Nationals' general manager said something would have to happen this Spring for the team to make any more significant additions to the roster they've assembled. "I would think that, if you were talking about a big time trade or a big time free agent acquisition," Rizzo said, "I think that would have to be something that was set off by something that happens here in camp. With that said, we're always looking to get ourselves better and deeper and if there's something to be done that makes sense for us we'll certainly do it."