USA TODAY Sports
MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette were in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium this weekend, and they spoke to both Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo at length about Spring Training and the team's preparations for the 2013 campaign.
"All of my Springs are usually very quiet. This one's no different," 70-year-old skipper Davey Johnson told MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette in an interview from Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium this past weekend. "It's a long Spring, that's different," the veteran of 16 seasons on a major league bench said, "With the [World Baseball Classic] going on. It's been a fun Spring. Really, Spring Training is [fun] for a manager, you get to see a lot of the new young talent and with the WBC they're getting a lot of playing time, a lot of ABs down here."
"It's been a good camp," 52-year-old Washington Nationals' GM and Executive VP of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo added in his own MLB Network Radio interview from the Nationals' Spring home. "The guys are getting their work in," Rizzo continued, "It's a close-knit group of guys, so they know each other, so there's not a lot of feeling-out process. We've added a couple of new faces, they've blended in beautifully with the ballclub. And it's really preparing for Opening Day rather than grinding it out in Spring Training and battling for jobs and that type of thing. It's really preparation for April 1st."
While the Nationals' veterans prepare for Opening Day, the Nats, as Davey Johnson said, have had a lot of time to look at prospects like 25-year-old, 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nathan Karns, who's currently dealing with a leg injury; outfielder Eury Perez, 22, before he left for the WBC with the Dominican Republic; first baseman Chris Marrero, 24, who's fighting back from last year's torn hamstring and 26-year-old right-hander Erik Davis, who has impressed in 6.0 scoreless innings in his first major league Spring Training after being added to the 40-Man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past winter.
"There's a couple guys that have stood out," Davey Johnson said on Saturday, adding a few names to the list. "I didn't get to see Matt Skole last year. He's a big [guy] from Georgia Tech. Big swinging left-hander. Has got good hands at third base. He can play third and first. Showed me good command of the strike zone and he's got some pop and I like his approach, I like everything about him, make-up all the way down the line." After a .291/.426/.559, 28 double, 27 HR 2012 campaign at Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac which earned him the Nats' Minor League Player of the Year award, the 23-year-old infielder is 5 for 20 with two doubles in 13 games this Spring.
Another player who has impressed? "A guy that was here last Spring that we got in a trade for [Jason Marquis]," Johnson said, "a switch-hitting shortstop named [Zach] Walters. He reminds me a lot of [Ian] Desmond. He's got a big upside. Doesn't really know who he is yet, but he's made some adjustments in the Spring and he looks great. Got a cannon from short. Nice approach from both sides, switch hitting. Those are a couple position players." Walters, a 23-year-old infielder who attended the same school (University of San Diego) as 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis, is 8 for 23 with two home runs in Grapefruit League action.
When the Nationals acquired Walters for Marquis at the trade deadline in 2011, Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the Fan's Danny Rouhier that the infielder could potentially end up being, "... an everyday impact middle infielder that can switch hit," is a, "high on base percentage guy," and is a, "... a good steady defender [that] gives us a chance to increase our depth." Davey Johnson likes what he's seeing from Walters this Spring.
Are any of the pitchers catching Davey Johnson's eye? The Nats' skipper singled out Karns as a pitcher who's impressed in spite of a recent leg injury that's kept him off the mound. "Young [Nathan] Karns, he's had some problems, but he's going to be okay," Johnson said this weekend, "He's probably scheduled to start in Double-A, but he's had a couple of impressive outings."
• LINK: "[Karns] has got to get an x-ray," [Davey] Johnson told reporters this morning, "The specialist wants not only the results from last week's MRI, he also wants an x-ray. We're giving him that as we speak." - Davey Johnson on Nathan Karns, Christian Garcia.
The Nationals' GM talked about Nathan Karns too in this weekend's interview, while discussing the one thing he thinks the organization needs in terms of depth. "We'd like to get a little deeper in major league-ready starting pitchers in the minor league levels," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts. "A sixth or seventh or eighth starter in our rotation. Right now we think we have some candidates internally for that. Zach Duke has been stretched out. We've got Craig Stammen [who] can be stretched out and those guys have and can start in the big leagues. So, we think we go six or seven deep, [but] you always like to have more depth and quality depth at starting pitcher, because you very rarely, never, go through a season with five and we were very fortunate last year to be healthy all year in the rotation."
That's really where we're at," Rizzo explained, saying that staying healthy and getting some depth were the team's two biggest concerns, "and we're always concentrating on getting that next wave of minor league talent to be big league ready. We feel with Nathan Karns and a couple of our rehabbing starting pitchers, with Sam Solis and [Lucas] Giolito and those type of guys, we'll have a next wave coming up that could help us late '13 and maybe ."
As far as 2013 is concerned, however, the big thing this Spring is making sure that everyone on the major league roster is 100% healthy. "There's always things that you're thinking about and going over in your mind," Rizzo said, "but as far as the roster construction and that type of thing, the decisions are really going to be based on the health of the players coming into Spring. Ryan Zimmerman had the little shoulder cleanup, so we're seeing how he's going to react. [Danny Espinosa] had a little shoulder issue, see how he's going to react. [Wilson] Ramos' knee. So those are really the decisions that we're going to have to make, based on the health of those guys. And all three of those guys, specifically, are coming along and we feel without any setbacks they should be ready for Opening Day."
Davey Johnson's expecting a big season from Danny Espinosa in 2013, in spite of the torn rotator cuff he suffered last September that he intends to play with all season after building up strength in his shoulder all winter and in Spring Training.
"Espi, I talked to him last year and he just wants to improve every year and as long as he improves a little bit every year...," Johnson said, "Well, it took [Desmond] probably into his third year where he really started to know who he was and wasn't confused about who he was. He knew what kind of player he was and Espi's been the same way. A lot of times coming through the minor leagues... And really, you get some, a little bit, bad habits if you play with an aluminum bat and the strike zone they have in high school and college. You get a little too oppo-oriented and the college kids don't pitch you inside and you get locked in... and he's stubborn -- I thought I was stubborn. I've always said 'California-stubborn' is a lot worse than 'Florida' or 'Texas-stubborn' you know what I mean? But he's certainly come along. I've really enjoyed his progress. He's been swinging the bat very good from both sides and he still has a very big upside."
The Nationals' GM elaborated on the other injury concerns, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Wilson Ramos. Zimmerman is 7 for 15 this Spring after going 1 for 3 on Monday against Atlanta, and he's getting closer to playing the field after serving as the team's DH in his first five Grapefruit League games. "He's not constricted whatsoever with the shoulder and as you know," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts, "When you're throwing and you're playing 162 games, you're slot is going to come from wherever you can feel comfortable throwing the ball without any pain. So he was finding a slot that worked for him last year because of the shoulder, now it feels good, he's free, he's gone through a lot of throwing drills and now he's high 3/4s with a good finish and strong arm stroke."
"[Zimmerman's] feet are as good as I've seen and his hands are as good as I've seen," Rizzo continued, "and previous to the shoulder he had a solid arm too. You know, he made a lot of adjustments, positioning on the field where he'd play closer than he would normally and really relied on his really goalie-like hands and he could pick it and, of course, when he was on the run he was as good as anybody. It was the play where he had to take a step back or backhand and really come over top and let it rip where he was having [a] problem because he had some constriction in the shoulder."
Wilson Ramos is already back behind the plate as he recovers from surgery last summer to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. While he builds strength, the Nationals have the luxury of starting Kurt Suzuki, who led the Nats down the stretch and into their first postseason experience last September/October. As Davey Johnson's said before, once Ramos is healthy the Nats have two no.1 catchers and as the Nationals' GM explained, there's depth behind Suzuki and Ramos too.
"It's really great to have what we believe are two everyday major league catchers on one roster," Rizzo told MLB Network Radio's Mr. Ferrin and Mr. Duquette. "We do see Ramos as the future behind the plate for us. Zuk is a marvelous handler of the pitching staff. He's got an extremely high baseball IQ. He's an energy guy and an upbeat guy and we think that he's going to get back to the .265-.270, 12-13 HR guy that he was with Oakland. He's a guy that's not afraid to get a big hit in clutch situations and he's just been a great guy to have around."
"And we feel that we have great catching depth,' Rizzo said, "We've got two guys below in [Jhonatan] Solano and [Sandy] Leon below [Ramos and Suzuki] that we feel have a chance to be everyday catchers in the big league someday, so we feel fortified at that position. I think Davey's going to dole out the starting time. It will largely depend on where Wilson is at and what workload can he handle and when can he increase that workload."
Outside of pitching depth, the only other big concern seems to be the bullpen. Or at least it seems to be for the Nats' manager. The Nats' GM didn't sound so sure it was an issue. "I love my starters, I like my bullpen," Davey Johnson said, "We're a little different bullpen this year. We were a little more balanced in the bullpen last year, we lost three left-handers in Mike Gonzalez and Sean Burnett and also my starter-become-very-valuable reliever [Tom] Gorzelanny. But my right-handers are very capable right-handers and they've had success against both right and left."
Johnson explained that Zach Duke would be his left-handed long man, and Christian Garcia, once he's returned from a partially torn tendon in his forearm, could help out as well. Johnson said he thinks the 27-year-old Garcia could still be ready by Opening Day. "I think he'll be able to start the season all right," Johnson said, "He's about to take the wraps off," but Garcia's a right-hander of course. "We're a little short on left-handers this year," the manager said. Johnson also joked with reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, about Ross Detwiler maybe be the late-inning lefty he was looking for, though he told MLB.com's Marty Noble that there's no room in his pen for another left-hander.
As the Nationals' GM explained, however, it would have to be a lefty that's better than the right-handers the Nats have. "I certainly would rather have a shutdown right-handed reliever than a mediocre left-handed reliever in my bullpen even if it's left on left," Rizzo said, "And I think it made my job a little easier knowing that we've got four right-handed pitchers that get lefties out as well as most left-handed specialists do. Now, understand that doesn't force the other manager to [use] pinch hitters and that type of thing and roll over lineups, but we feel comfortable with the bullpen we have and to answer your question, if a special type of left-handed reliever became available we would certainly look at it, but it would have to be a long-term-type of guy that we would control. It wouldn't be a guy that we would rent for a year and give up anything of substance for him."
Doesn't sound like a deal for a LOOGY is coming any time soon. The Nationals open the season on April 1st against Miami. Until then it's all preparation for the defense of their NL East crown.
• Nats' GM Mike Rizzo Talks To MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette:
• Nats' skipper Davey Johnson talks to MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette: