Washington Nationals' Top Storylines at the Start of Spring Training
The Washington Nationals are back at work at spring training, and last season's NL East champions already have quite a few storylines surrounding the team early on.
Entering Davey Johnson's final season as manager, the Nationals have pretty lofty goals. Johnson has adopted the motto of "World Series or bust," and the team seems to have rallied behind that goal.
The Nationals do seem poised to make a run at the title. After winning an MLB-best 98 wins in 2012, Washington improved during the offseason.
General manager Mike Rizzo traded for center field Denard Span to provide stability at the top of the lineup, signed Dan Haren to replace (and possibly exceed) the production of Edwin Jackson and signed Rafael Soriano to provide a dominant closer for the ninth inning.
These moves should plug any small holes that existed on the team from last season and give them a legitimate possibility at winning 100 games in 2013.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The first spring game hasn't even been played yet, so let's just take a look at the top storylines thus far.
Stephen Strasburg the "Workhorse"
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Stephen Strasburg is finally without limits in 2013, and he seems as motivated as ever to produce at a high level.
He even told ESPN earlier in the week that he wants to be a "workhorse in the rotation" for the Nationals this season and in the future.
With 200 innings being a distinct goal for Strasburg this season, his preparation during spring training should be closely monitored. Not many pitchers can go a full 200 innings in their first season with no restrictions, but he definitely has all the skill to pull it off.
There's no doubt that his elbow will be closely monitored during spring training and the regular season. Even though he's nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals know how much he means to the rotation and the organization.
At the slightest bit of discomfort, expect Strasburg to take a seat for a few days.
His road to 200 innings is a very big story early on this season, as it could mean the emergence of Strasburg in the conversation for best pitcher in the game along with Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and a few others.
Bryce Harper Arrives to Camp Bulked Up
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Bryce Harper was already a pretty big 19-year-old when he entered the majors last season. Now, he's an even bigger 20-year old.
Harper entered camp at around 230 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than what he was listed as in 2012.
It's not fat or useless mass, however. In fact, Harper now has even broader shoulders and a tone upper body. Harper says that he generally loses weight over the course of the season, so this new build should help to keep him strong as the season progresses.
It could also mean scary power numbers for him in the season's early months.
At a solid 230 pounds, Harper is even more menacing at the plate than he was last season. He already had scary power potential. Now, he may just have the strength to power some "weakly" hit fly balls over the outfield wall.
We'll see how this new mass affects his mechanics in terms of throwing and swinging the bat as games get underway this spring. If all checks out, Harper could be in for a big first half of the season.
Gio Gonzalez to Pitch in World Baseball Classic, but Not the 1st Round
Gio Gonzalez practicing his bunting in the early stages of spring training.
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Gio Gonzalez will be a member of Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic but he, Davey Johnson and Team USA pitching coach Greg Maddux have coordinated a schedule for him that will allow him to work a bit in spring training before joining the rest of the roster.
Gonzalez will make three spring starts for the Nationals—February 25, March 2 and March 7—before leaving to start a March 12 game for Team USA if they advance to the second round of play.
According to his initial bullpen sessions, he already seems to be in pitching shape.
With pitching coach Steve McCatty watching, Gonzalez apparently threw a two-seam fastball that darted so much that catcher Wilson Ramos was unable to catch it cleanly.
He then tossed a curveball that Davey Johnson described as "wicked" considering the cold, windy conditions.
Gonzalez looks good early on.
Gio Gonzalez and the PED Report
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While he looks great so far, Gonzalez could potentially face discipline from the league after it finishes its investigation of the Biogenesis clinic in Miami that allegedly distributed PEDs to the left-hander.
Gonzalez has denied the reports and has handled the situation as best as a player in his situation can, but that doesn't mean he'll get off the hook.
There's a chance, but no guarantees.
If Gonzalez gets suspended, it'll be for 50 games as it would be his first PED suspension. That would leave the Nationals one star pitcher short for roughly a third of the season.
Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren will have to step up to make up for the loss of the third-place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting from 2012.
As will whoever takes his place. Christian Garcia will likely get some looks, as good guys like A.J. Cole and Sammy Solis.
Don't discount a free-agent pickup from Mike Rizzo, though. Javier Vazquez may be poised to make a comeback, and the Nationals have already shown interest.
Stay tuned to this story moving forward, because it could have a major impact on this season.
Danny Espinosa's Beard Is No More
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In the least important piece of Nationals spring news, second baseman Danny Espinosa has shaved his epic beard—and it seems like he had a great time doing it. Click here to check out the many shapes of his facial hair.
Espinosa is coming off a season that saw him strike out a career-high 189 times and struggle to get on base consistently. He featured a beard for a good portion of last season, so he could be hoping that a fresh shave will be the start of some new luck.
Steve Lombardozzi is waiting in the wings to take over second base if Espinosa falters. Lombardozzi played well in a super-utility role in 2012, hitting .273 and hitting 16 doubles.
Facial hair seems to be prominent on the Nationals.
I doubt we'll be seeing a freshly-shaven Werth any time soon, but hopefully Desmond takes the razor to that mustache.