Washington Nationals' pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this morning for the official start of the 2015 campaign. Players were trickling into the Nats' facilities in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium over the last few days, but today was the report date.
We'll start our Spring Training preview with a look at the Nationals' starters, who last season posted a 3.04 ERA as a staff, which was the lowest in the majors, a 3.24 FIP, MLB's lowest, a 3.37 xFIP, third lowest in Major League Baseball and finished at a combined +17.6 fWAR, the second-highest total in the majors, behind only the Detroit Tigers' starters' +19.6 fWAR.
The Nationals then went out and added Max Scherzer to the mix, signing the veteran right-hander to a 7-year/$210M deal that gives them, on paper, one of, if not the strongest rotations in the majors. Scherzer talked in his introductory press conference about the reason he made the decision to sign on in D.C.
"It's pretty easy and it's one [reason]: Winning," Scherzer said. "I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot, so when you look at the near-term and long-term, this is an organization you want to be a part of."
Nationals' starters - Spring Training Preview:
• Stephen Strasburg: 6'4'', RHP - 2014 Stats - (14-11), 34 G, 34 GS, 215 IP, 3.14 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 23 HR (0.96 HR/9), 43 BB (1.80 BB/9), 242 Ks (10.13 K/9), +4.3 fWAR - Stephen Strasburg's fifth major league season ended with his first postseason start as the 26-year-old, 2009 no.1 overall pick started Game 1 of the NLDS with the San Francisco Giants, two years after he was shut down in September while the Nationals made a run to their first postseason berth since baseball returned to the nation's capital.
Asked this winter how he was preparing for his sixth major league season, Strasburg said he was working hard and focusing on getting stronger.
"Just always trying to get better on the mound," he explained. "With that said, there's a lot of things you can't control. You just gotta focus on what you can and stay consistent."
Strasburg declined to go into specifics as to what he was working on, however.
"Specifics, no," Strasburg said, "because that’s between me and myself. I’ve allowed stuff to be analyzed, interpreted, in my opinion way too much, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I know I’m capable of."
• Max Scherzer: 6'3'', RHP - 2014 Stats - (18-5), 33 G, 33 GS, 220 ⅓ IP, 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 18 HR (0.74 HR/9), 63 BB (2.57 BB/9), 252 Ks (10.29 K/9), +5.6 fWAR - Coming off an 18-win season in Detroit in 2014, 30-year-old right-hander Max Scherzer signed a 7-year/$210M contract with the Nationals, leaving the Tigers after spending five of his seven seasons with the AL Central franchise.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at Scherzer's introductory press conference in the nation's capital that you have to take advantage of the opportunity to sign a pitcher of Scherzer's caliber since they don't become available often.
"Whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer's ability-level, character and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between," Rizzo said.
"We saw a player that we were extremely interested in. He fits all the criteria that we're looking for in a Washington Nationals-type of player."
Rizzo on Scherzer signing: " He's the type of guy we're looking for and he's the guy that we went after very aggressively and we strengthened a strength and, who wouldn't want Max Scherzer on their club?"
• Jordan Zimmermann: 6'2'', RHP - 2014 Stats - (14-5), 32 G, 32 GS, 199 ⅔ IP, 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 13 HR (0.59 HR/9), 29 BB (1.31 BB/9), 182 Ks (8.20 K9), +5.2 fWAR - Jordan Zimmermann's 2014 regular season campaign ended with the 28-year-old right-hander throwing the first no-hitter in the nation's capital since 1931.
Zimmermann followed that outing up with an 8 ⅔-inning outing against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS in which he gave up just three hits and one earned run.
Now the Nationals' '07 2nd Round pick is entering what could be his final season with Washington unless he and the Nats can agree on an extension.
Zimmermann told reporters this winter that he wouldn't allow the trade rumors and talk of a long-term deal become a distraction.
"I'm really not listening to it," Zimmermann said. "I'm here for another year and I'm just getting ready for next year. That's the main focus right now."
Zimmermann said in December that he was ready to see if he and his teammates could take the next step:
"We're all under contract for another year. So we're going to have pretty much our same team back from last year. We're going to do our best to give it a little better run this upcoming year and we'll see what happens."
• Doug Fister: 6'8'', RHP - 2014 Stats - (16-6), 25 G, 25 GS, 164 IP, 2.41 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 18 HR (0.99 HR/9), 24 BB (1.32 BB/9), 98 Ks (5.38 K/9), +1.3 fWAR - Acquired by the Nationals last winter in return for left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray and infielder Steve Lombardozzi, Doug Fister's sixth major league campaign started late after he suffered a right lat injury in Spring Training, but the towering right-hander made quite an impression in his first run in D.C., which ended with seven scoreless innings against the Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams summed up Fister's success this season in a post-start press conference in August:
"The radar gun doesn't blow up," Williams told reporters. "But he throws the ball where he wants to. Tonight he was really down in the zone, really down and on the corners tonight. We got a lot of ground balls, got a couple of double plays, and that's kind of what he provides for us, the ability with one pitch to get two outs and that's huge."
• Gio Gonzalez - 6'0'', LHP - 2014 Stats - (10-10), 27 G, 27 GS, 158 ⅔ IP, 3.57 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 10 HR (0.57 HR/9), 56 BB (3.18 BB/9), 162 Ks (9.19 K/9), +3.1 fWAR - Gio Gonzalez landed on the DL for the first time in his major league career in 2014, after a shoulder issue forced him to take time off.
The 29-year-old lefty returned from his DL stint and remained in the rotation throughout the remainder of the season, finishing his 2014 campaign with a four-inning outing in Game 4 of the NLDS with the Giants in which he gave up two unearned runs.
Gonzalez followed up on a +5.1 fWAR, 21-win campaign in 2012 in D.C. with back-to-back +3.1 fWAR seasons in which he won 21 games combined. He told MLB.com's Bill Ladson this week that his shoulder was 100% healthy and he was looking forward to pitching as part of the Nationals' "stacked" rotation:
I just want to stay healthy," Gonzalez said. "We have such a strong team, I want to ride the wave with them, enjoy every day of it and just experience what we didn't get to experience."
• Tanner Roark - 6'2'', RHP - 2014 Stats - (15-10), 31 G, 31 GS, 198 ⅔ IP, 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 16 HR (0.72 HR/9), 39 BB (1.77 BB/9), 138 Ks (6.25 K/9), +3.0 fWAR - Tanner Roark followed up on his breakthrough 2013 campaign with another strong season as part of the Nationals' rotation in 2014, though he was moved to the bullpen in the postseason and now appears to be the odd man out in the 2015 starting rotation following the signing of veteran right-hander Max Scherzer.
Roark has enjoyed success as a reliever (1.19 ERA, 2.30 FIP, .180/.247/.195 line against in 22 ⅔ IP), so he could give the Nationals another weapon out of the bullpen.
When Roark spoke to reporters at NatsFest this winter, before the Scherzer signing, he was asked if he planned on changing anything about his approach on the mound now that major league hitters have gotten a good look at his stuff and been able to study up on the 28-year-old right-hander.
He said he planned on just doing what he's always done:
"Just keep pumping strikes. Can't change. Obviously they're going to see video and what I like to do in certain counts and stuff like that, but I guess ultimately it comes down to just trusting my stuff and not worrying about what they have on me. Confidence I guess."
• A.J. Cole - 6'4'', RHP - 2014 Stats - AA - (6-3), 14 G, 14 GS, 71 IP, 2.92 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 1 HR (0.13 HR/9), 15 BB (1.90 BB/9), 61 Ks (7.73 K/9) - AAA - (7-0), 11 G, 11 GS, 63 IP, 3.43 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 9 HR (1.29 HR/9), 17 BB (2.43 BB/9), 50 Ks (7.14 K/9) - Drafted by Washington in the 4th Round of the 2010 Draft, traded to the Oakland A's in 2012 and reacquired by the Nationals a year later, Cole, 23, worked his way up to Triple-A in 2014.
Nats' Asst. GM Doug Harris explained in an MLB Network Radio interview last week what they did to get the right-hander back on track after they brought him back to the organization.
"There were some things that we did with him mechanically before we traded him," Harris said, while noting that nothing he said was meant as disparaging toward the A's.
"And we really got him back to that since we reacquired him and it allows him to stay in the strike zone a little more consistently and create a little depth with the breaking ball and the quality of the changeup."
Asked this winter if any thought was given to using Cole out of the bullpen this season since the rotation was stacked, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that he thought of Cole as a starting prospect:
"I think that he's our starting prospect, and a great starting prospect and a guy that you're going to hear from in the very near-future in Washington."
Cole was added to the Nationals' 40-Man roster this winter.
• Taylor Hill - 6'3'', RHP - 2014 Stats - AAA (11-7), 1 SV, 25 G, 24 GS, 144 IP, 2.81 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 15 HR (0.94 HR/9), 25 BB (1.56 BB/9), 86 Ks (5.38 BB/9) - MLB - (0-1), 3 G, 1 GS, 9 IP, 9.00 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 0 HR, 3 BB (3.00 BB/9), 5 Ks (5.00 K/9) - Taylor Hill, 25, and a 2011 6th Round pick by the Nationals, made his MLB debut in June, making one relief appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers and another against the Cubs before he was sent back down to Triple-A.
Hill came back up in September and made his first major league start. With the starting depth at the major league level, Hill figures to be back with the Nationals' top affiliate in 2015.
Matt Williams told reporters after Hill's first start, which followed a long layoff, that he was impressed with the right-hander's poise in a tough situation:
"He gave us a great effort and in a situation where it wasn't regular for him over the last couple of weeks but he competed, it was great."
• Taylor Jordan - 6'5'', RHP - 2014 Stats - AAA - (0-2), 6 G, 6 GS, 31 IP, 4.06 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3 HR (0.87 HR/9), 8 BB (2.32 BB/9), 28 Ks (8.13 K/9) - MLB - (0-3), 5 G, 5 GS, 25 ⅔ IP, 5.61 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 3 HR (1.05 HR/9), 8 BB (2.81 BB/9), 17 Ks (5.96 K/9) - Taylor Jordan, 26, started the 2014 campaign as part of the Nationals' rotation after a breakthrough season in 2013 when Doug Fister began the year on the DL, but after struggling in five starts and having his velocity dip, the right-hander ended up getting optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
Taylor experienced elbow soreness with the Chiefs and didn't pitch again after June 5th.
The sinker-balling righty told reporters in late April that he was more concerned with his location issues than his drop in velocity:
"I don't know what the cause of it is," he said of the drop in velocity, "but if I can get my sinker in the location that I want it, then velocity shouldn't really matter too much."
Taylor underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow this winter.
• Felipe Rivero - 6'0'', LHP - 2014 Stats - AA - (2-7), 10 G, 10 GS, 43 ⅔ IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4 HR (0.82 HR/9), 18 BB (3.71 BB/9), 38 Ks (7.83 K/9) - The Nationals acquired Felipe Rivero, 23, along with catcher Jose Lobaton and outfield prospect Drew Vettleson in the 3-for-1 deal that sent RHP Nathan Karns to the Tampa Bay Rays last February. In his first season in the Nationals' system, Rivero spent the majority of his time at Double-A Harrisburg (with one start at Low-A Hagerstown and three for the Gulf Coast League Nationals).
Matt Williams saw Rivero pitch for the first time throwing batting practice to other Nationals last Spring and was impressed with the southpaw, telling reporters he liked Rivera's fastball (which he throws in the 95-96 mph range) and his curve.
"It's good," he said of Rivero's breaking ball. "It's hard to tell until you really get into a game situation and see guys timing a fastball and him throwing an offspeed pitch, so right now [hitters] have an indication of what's coming, so that's okay, but from what I saw it's got good depth and the down angle is good."
Mike Rizzo on Felipe Rivero via MASN's Dan Kolko: "'Felipe Rivero, we've got very, very strong reports on him. He's pitched at 21 years old in the Florida State League, throws 95, 96 (mph), he can spin the breaking ball and he's got a huge upside.'"
• Blake Treinen - 6'5'', RHP - 2014 Stats - AAA (8-2), 16 G, 16 GS, 80 ⅔ IP, 3.35 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 4 HR (0.45 HR/9), 20 BB (2.23 BB/9), 64 Ks (7.14 K/9) - MLB - (2-3), 15 G, 7 GS, 50 ⅔ IP, 2.49 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 1 HR (0.18 HR/9), 13 BB (2.31 BB/9), 30 Ks (5.33 K/9) - Right-hander Blake Treinen was one of the three pitchers, along with A.J. Cole and Ian Krol, that the Nationals acquired in the January 2013 three-team trade with the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners.
Treinen made his MLB debut with the Nationals in 2014, making 15 appearances, seven as a starter, and heading into the 2015 campaign, Nationals' skipper Matt Williams said he would be stretched out as a starter this Spring though he could once again be used in both roles:
"He has to train that way because we don't know if, in fact-- take example last year, Doug [Fister] not being ready for Opening Day. We have to make sure that Blake's training to be a starter and if he ends up being in the bullpen for some reason, then it's an easier transition as opposed to training as a reliever and trying to start."
• Sammy Solis - 6'5'', LHP - (RK, A-, A+, AA) - (2-1), 5 G, 5 GS, 18 IP, 4.50 ERA, 3 BB (1.50 BB/9), 17 Ks (8.50 K/9) - Sammy Solis, 26, was talked about as a potential reliever last winter, before starting his fourth season in the Nats' organization after he was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2010 Draft out of the University of San Diego. Solis was shut down last year after the lefty, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, experienced elbow discomfort.
Nationals' Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr this week that he the lefty could help the Nats this season if he can stay healthy:
"We are looking forward to seeing Sammy in the spring and (have him) get hands-on (attention)," Scialabba said. "Hopefully, this is a year where he can stay healthy and help us. Because he certainly has the talent to help us at the major level. It's just a matter of being able to stay on the field. We have a positive outlook on Sammy."
Coming Soon: Nationals' 2015 Spring Training bullpen and catchers previews...