Connecting the dots in Spring Training for the Nationals

Harper and Harper spring training

Connecting the dots to what we think we know is easier said than done. There are few rumors coming out of Nationals camp because for the most part — the roster is set.  Also, Dave Martinez has been very forthcoming with information. 

The Starting Line-up

With regards to the starting line-up, health should be the only factor that could change the plan. Of most concern, Daniel Murphy is recovering from microfracture surgery in his knee along with debridement and is questionable for now. In addition, Adam Eaton had ACL surgery and is in the the final stages of recovery. All expectations are that Eaton will be ready and if Murphy cannot go, it will be Wilmer Difo who will take his place with the newly acquired Matt Reynolds moving to the bench.

“Adam [Eaton] is doing great,” Martinez said. “He wants to play, like, right now. And I’ve told him all winter it’s about getting you ready for March 29th [Opening Day]. So he’s doing really well. Daniel’s doing awesome, his progression running is doing great.”

If everyone is healthy, the line-up for new manager Dave Martinez just needs to be written exactly like the April 22nd 2017 line-up card read — verbatim.

The Starting Rotation

Four of the Nationals five starting pitchers are set in stone with Cy3 Max Scherzer, All-Star Stephen StrasburgTanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez. The fifth starter’s spot had a name on February 4th — and that was A.J. Cole. Yesterday, there was a Texas two-step as Dave Martinez said there would be a competition for the 5th spot with Cole as the frontrunner.

“Obviously, if A.J. goes out and does what he’s capable of doing — he threw a bullpen today and he was phenomenal,” Martinez said. “That was fun to see and very exciting, a fifth starter with that kind of arm. And the way he pitched to finish up last season, he’s got the upper hand.”

With very few options to compete for the 5th starter spot, A.J. Cole can feel secure for the time being. His internal competition is the trio of Erick Fedde, Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone. After the All-Star break, Joe Ross is set to return from his “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow, and he is soft-tossing from 75-feet now.

“I guess my arm will dictate that a little more,” Joe Ross aid. “But that’s my personal goal right now.”

In what could be another twist, general manager Mike Rizzo, we learned from a source, has looked to add one more free agent starter — and so far, no luck after he has made at least two offers. This could be the reason Davey Martinez said there will be a competition for the 5th starter spot in order to get the word out to prospective free agents.

The Bench

Four of the five bench spots are set for now. Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo, Matt Adams and Brian Goodwin all should make the roster. Matt Reynolds looks to be the next man up. There will be a competition for the back-up catcher and Miguel Montero looks to be the favorite. Montero signed as a non-roster invitee and he would need a 40-man spot while Pedro Severino would need to show he is better then he showed in 2017.

“I try not to think about line-ups and more about the players,” Dave Martinez said. “We wanted to get another veteran catcher. We have a veteran pitching staff. [Miguel Montero] calls great games. He is astute to all the analytics, [and he is] a great guy to have around. He really is. He’s a funny guy, very high-spirited, very competitive and loves to win.”

The Bullpen

With the bullpen returning all the key 2017 arms except Matt Albers, the Nationals have upwards of ten relievers competing for seven spots. If A.J. Cole is bumped from the starting rotation, he could be the eleventh arm. Pitchers like Wander Suero, Trevor Gott and Koda Glover all have minor league options. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis, Matt Grace, and Shawn Kelley look to be the bullpen if Kelley is healthy.

“He’s good,”  Martinez said about Doolittle. “He’s got closer mentality. I’ll tell you now, he’s our closer. Right now, he’s got a good fastball. He’s got a live arm, and he likes to throw it. And for me, it’s letting those guys be who they are. He knows how to get guys out.”

With Doolittle being named as the closer, the question goes to whether Rizzo builds his ‘pen with the seven best arms or the seven players with no minor league options. To spell it our clearer, does Koda Glover take the last spot if he out-performs Shawn Kelley?

There are 5.5 million reasons that Shawn Kelley will be given every opportunity to perform during spring training and that has been the way Rizzo does it. Kelley underwent stem cell treatment versus risking another surgery to remove bone chips floating around his right elbow.

“From what they tell me, it’s supposed to kind of not regenerate the tissue in the elbow or the arthritis, but kind of have the healing properties to heal it faster than a PRP or a cortisone shot would do,” Kelley said. “To be honest, I really don’t know. But supposedly a lot of guys have had a lot of really good results with it. So they felt like that was more of a less-risk procedure with a chance of risk-reward kind of deal, instead of going in there to take out the bone chips or whatever is in there. We explored all our options, but that was what we came down with, and I feel good now, so for now, it seems like it was the right decision.”

Other News

All position players are due in camp by Monday at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Many of the players will have new jersey numbers and several players just do not look like they did in the past. Also, you will notice that many players have changed endorsement deals for their cleats and batting gloves. A source told us that Under Armour has reduced the amount of players they will be endorsing for the season while Adidas seems to have increased their player deals.

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Nobody will be sporting the bling like Bryce Harper with his new 2018 swag. Will Victor Robles be scoring style points as Swaggy V did in 2017 with his arm sleeves, taped bats, and socks?

Music will be played during spring training workouts and the playlist is chosen by individual players. Max Scherzer got the first day of camp to spin his tunes and this is part of keeping things fun. There will be a progression through the roster for the maestro of the day. Expect a variety of music depending on the player of the day, and Gio Gonzalez is already promising to have the best playlist.

Davey Martinez also talked about being the little guy on some of the rosters he played on and the negativity of what players could not do.

“When I had a meeting with our coaches, my big thing, there is no negativity,” Davey Martinez said. “I don’t care what a guy can’t do. Tell me what a guy can do and let’s make him the best at that…We have speed, we have power. We are deep.”

With that depth, Martinez plans on keeping players rested. He has also promised to have some players at multiple positions. For now, it all sounds positive.

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