Nationals Top 5 Spring Training Storylines: Can The Nats Stay Healthy?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Three Washington Nationals had surgery once the 2013 campaign ended. Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Adam LaRoche are all believed to be progressing well. Can these Nats stay healthy this Spring and work their way back to 100% by Opening Day?

In late October, the Washington Nationals announced that Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Adam LaRoche all had surgery to repair damage done in the course of the 2013 campaign. Harper had surgery to debride and repair the bursa sac in his left knee after an injury which cost him a month on the DL in his second major league season. Strasburg's surgery removed bone chips from his right elbow. LaRoche's procedure was performed on his left elbow with loose bodies removed. As new Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters last month, all three should be ready for Spring Training though they'll be watched closely.

"We'll have to monitor every day on those guys. Monitor Stephen's starts, monitor [LaRoche] and Bryce every day, see where they're at and act accordingly." - Matt Williams on watching Nats' players closely in Spring Training

"I think everybody is ready," Williams said. "Seeing the guys that are coming off their injuries, everyone looks good. All the reports are good and we're excited to get there."

"Any time you have an injury," the Nationals' new manager explained, "somebody coming off surgery and their rehab, it's difficult for anybody to simulate a real game. So, adrenaline gets involved, certainly things speed up and it's difficult to simulate that within a rehab process. So, that being said, we'll have to monitor every day on those guys. Monitor Stephen's starts, monitor [LaRoche] and Bryce every day, see where they're at and act accordingly."

Strasburg, who will turn 26 this July, said he didn't see any reason he should be limited in Spring Training.

"Everything that I hear and everything that I'm expecting is that it's normal," the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick told reporters. "I feel great, doing my normal offseason routine and I don't feel like there's any reason why I should be held back if I'm feeling good come Spring Training."

Harper said he's on track to be 100% for Opening Day. "It's going well right now," the 21-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick said. "Just getting rehab three times a week. Day and night. Trying to get back to full strength and we'll see where I can get by Spring Training and see if I can go through Spring Training and get to 100% by the time the season starts and see where I'm at."

"I have the task of making sure that he gets enough ABs and we give him enough rest during the course of Spring Training so he'll be ready for Opening Day." - Matt Williams on getting Bryce Harper ready for 2014

"Right now he's on track in his rehab," Williams explained when asked about Harper's health. "So, again, we'll look at that when he gets down there. I have the task of making sure that he gets enough ABs and we give him enough rest during the course of Spring Training so he'll be ready for Opening Day. So that being said, it's kind of fluid at this point, because we just don't know. If he goes out there and plays six innings, we don't know how he's going to react. So we'll have to evaluate that every day. But the challenge is that we get him enough that he's ready to go."

Now-former manager Davey Johnson joked when Adam LaRoche got off to a slow start last season that he should have rested him more as he did in Spring Training in 2012, when LaRoche was returning from shoulder surgery and dealing with a foot injury. "Last year, I didn't get the 'o.k.' in Spring Training until a week before the [season]," Johnson said. "I had to go to the doctor and get an 'o.k.' to use him. And he had, I think, seven games and he also went over to the minor league side and got about 15 at bats."

LaRoche started the season swinging a hot bat that season, with a .329/.415/.549 month of April for the eventual NL East Champs in which he hit six doubles and four home runs in 21 games and 94 plate appearances on the way to what ended up being the best of his nine major league seasons to that point.

Last season, however, LaRoche, who turned 34 last November, started slow with a .136/.213/.259 first month in which he had a double and three home runs in 24 games and 89 PAs.

"I hope Rochey is lifting more than mountain lions this offseason." - Mike Rizzo on Adam LaRoche's hunting this winter on MLB Network Radio

After a .271/.343/.510, 35 double, 33 HR, +3.4 fWAR season in 2012, LaRoche put up a .237/.332/.403 line with 19 doubles and 20 HRs in 152 games and 590 PAs last season over which he was worth +0.6 fWAR. LaRoche will earn $12M in 2014 in the second year of the 2-year/$24M deal he signed after testing the free agent market in the winter of 2012/13.

The Nationals will need to keep all three healthy this Spring as they prepare for the new season. They will also need Wilson Ramos to stay on the field after missing significant time with knee and hamstring injuries in each of the last two seasons. The Nats also need to have Ryan Zimmerman back playing like he did late in 2013 when he finally appeared to be healthy after working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery in the winter of 2012.

Matt Williams told Thom Loverro and Tim Shover in a radio interview late last November that he knew what it was like to work your way back to full health while playing. "Having surgery as a player you understand that it takes about a year to get back to where you want to be," Williams said. "We saw [Zimmerman], at the end of last year, get back to being comfortable throwing the baseball across the diamond. He had arm strength. From a defensive skill-set, he's one of the best in the game."

Will Harper get a full season in? Can Jayson Werth stay healthy? Is Ross Detwiler's back going to hold up to the stress of a full season's worth of starts? Was it just Danny Espinosa's wrist holding him back last season?

The Nationals, like everyone else in baseball need to stay healthy, but this time around they have prepared for some inevitable issues. The starting depth goes a little deeper. The Nationals added an outfielder in Nate McLouth, who can spell their outfielders should anyone miss time. There's a logjam of hard-throwing right-handers in the bullpen. There were injuries in 2012 when the Nats won the division, but the bench players who stepped in performed admirably in tough spots. Can the reconstructed bench do the same in 2014? Can the Nats who are healthy stay healthy this Spring? Can the rehabbing Nats gets themselves ready for Opening Day?

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