Washington Nationals' 2009 Season Preview

Tom FroemmingCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Adam Dunn #44 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 21, 2009 in Viera, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

*From Protect the Plate

Since moving from Montreal, the Washington Nationals have finished last in three of four seasons. Last year's 59-102 record was the franchise's worst since 1976. After ranking dead last in the National League in slugging percentage, the Nationals remodeled their roster.

With the resignation of GM Jim Bowden, who will be remembered for creating controversy and building losing ball clubs, the Nationals have a chance at building a new beginning in 2009.


Dunn Deal

Perennial 40-home run slugger Adam Dunn was still sitting without a team in February. The Nationals swooped in and signed the 6-6 275-pound monster to a two-year $20 million contract.

Dunn hit just .236 and struck out 164 times last season with the Reds and Diamondbacks, but led all hitters with 122 walks.


Breaking Out

A pair of former top prospects showed signs of breaking out last season.

Lastings Milledge never got a real shot with the Mets, but blossomed in his first year with the Nats. He stole 24 bases and hit 14 home runs. The former first-round pick will get plenty of at-bats this year, as he starts the season as the leadoff hitter.

Elijah Dukes put up impressive numbers in 81 games last year. He hit 13 homers, stole 13 bases, drew 50 walks and drove in 44 runs. Many experts have the 24-year-old former Devil Ray tabbed for a huge season.


Musical Chairs

The Nationals have six players who are vying for playing time at four positions.

Nick Johnson will be the primary first baseman. Dunn will see most of his playing time in left field, but will also get some action at first.

Milledge is the center fielder and Austin Kearns will play right, but both Dukes and Josh Willingham will be in the lineup on a regular basis.

If everybody stays healthy, the Nats can't find any takers in the trade market and Dmitri Young can get himself healthy, this situation is going to be a mess. It's shocking to see so much depth on a 100-loss team.


New-Look Rotation

The only pitcher in Washington's Opening Day rotation who spent significant time with the Nats last year is John Lannan. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Lannan was much better than his 9-15 record would suggest. He posted a 3.91 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 31 starts.

Scott Olsen, who was acquired from the Marlins, will be the No. 2 starter. Despite being just 25-years-old, Olsen has started over 100 Major League games, going 31-37 with a 4.63 ERA over his career.

Daniel Cabrera, the third starter, has shown flashes of brilliance the last five years with the Orioles, but has failed to find consistency. He has a 5.05 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over his career.

No. 4 starter Shairon Martis has just five Major League appearances, but is 28-23 with a 3.76 ERA in the minors.


Anticipated Debut

Jordan Zimmermann will start the year in Triple-A, but will likely be called up when the Nats need a fifth starter.

The 22-year-old former second-round pick was 7-2 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 20 Double-A starts last year. He struck out 103 hitters in 106-2/3 innings.


Other Notes

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was limited to 106 games last year.

The team added Joe Beimel (2.02 ERA with the Dodgers last year) to setup for closer Joel Hanrahan, who has nine career saves.

With Anderson Hernandez starting the year on the DL, veteran Ronnie Belliard will be the starting second baseman.