As the Nationals packed up for a late-night flight to Miami, they officially put an end to spring training and sent a few players on their way to Syracuse. They also named a starting right fielder, And Ryan Zimmerman said a long-term deal will have to be done by Monday or wait until next year.
Got all that? Here are the details, blow-by-blow.
—First, the latest roster news: Austin Kearns is your starting right fielder. Things seemed to be tipping his way the last few days as he continued his strong spring while Elijah Dukes kept piling up strikeouts. Both Dukes and Willingham will get plenty of playing time (their ability to play other positions will help), but Manny Acta said Kearns had played too well this spring not to get the job.
“We told our players there was going to be competition,” Acta said. “I think it would send the wrong message if, after he led all our outfielders in home runs and RBIs (this spring), we don’t give him the job, at least to start the season.”
Kearns’ final numbers from the spring: A .279 average, four homers and 10 RBI. Dukes’ final numbers: a .212 average, one homer and six RBI. And 22 strikeouts. Seems pretty decisive.
Kearns said he went to Florida in early January to work with new hitting coach Rick Eckstein, watching video of his old swings and trying to regain the approach from his better years.
“I looked at it as, if I get back to doing some stuff that I used to, then things will work out,” Kearns said. “I have confidence that if I wasn’t going to start here, I’m still good enough to be an everyday player.”
Dukes declined to comment through a team spokesman.
—Zimmerman said that if a long-term deal isn’t done by the Nationals’ first regular-season game on Monday, he doesn’t want negotiations to continue through the year.
“I don’t think it’s fair to any of the people in (the clubhouse) that I be worried about my contract when we’re trying to when games,” Zimmerman said. “I know they’ve been talking and doing some things, but I haven’t heard. We’ll find out.”
Acting general manager Mike Rizzo said team president Stan Kasten has been talking daily with Zimmerman’s agents, Brodie Van Wagenen and Casey Close. It seems unlikely something would get done by Monday, but Zimmerman said the Opening Day deadline was what his camp established during the arbitration process.
He seems perfectly happy to go through the system, and that makes sense. He’ll get his money through arbitration if the two sides can’t find a middle ground. He will make $3.325 million this year, and with a big year, his salary should shoot north of $5 million next year.
—Talked to a few players about the roster moves after the game. Garrett Mock was disappointed to be heading to Syracuse, but said all the right things. Rizzo said Saturday afternoon that Mock will be the Chiefs’ closer, which Mock hadn’t heard when I talked to him. But he seems to be warming to the idea of being a bullpen guy, and the Nationals see some real potential in him to be a late-inning fixture.
Jason Bergmann, on the other hand, wasn’t too happy with the decision. He had a 0.00 ERA this spring, only giving up a couple unearned runs, and was left wondering what more he could have done. Both he and Mock were victims of the options game, but Bergmann wasn’t too interested in that as an excuse. He’d probably be the first reliever called up if the Nationals’ bullpen falters, but he’s also shown a tendency to oscillate between brilliance and befuddling stretches of inefficiency. If there’s a silver lining for Bergmann, it’s that he’s in his last option year.
That’s all from here. Mark will be in Miami for tomorrow’s workout, and we’ll both be there for Opening Day on Monday. Talk to you then!