VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers are due to report Sunday but most of them already have checked in at Space Coast Stadium to get the 2012 season underway. I’m just getting settled in here in Viera but I swung by the complex on Saturday and ran into a host of players. The Nationals PR staff said there are over 20 players who’ve already checked in, including Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina, Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Brad Lidge, Chad Tracy, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are also said to have arrived in Viera.
I also crossed paths with Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus and Tom Gorzelanny as they finished up for the day and chatted with Jesus Flores, who is coming off a solid Venezuelan Winter League season and is excited about how healthy and strong he feels — especially in his surgically-repaired right shoulder. Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a minor league non-roster invitee, was also hanging around the clubhouse. This is Bibens-Dirkx’s first Florida spring training after spending the first five years of his minor league career with the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs — who both train in Arizona.
Things will continue to ramp up as camp gets underway in earnest this week.
For now, let’s take one more offseason crack at projecting the Nationals 25-man roster with a few thoughts on each guy.
Stephen Strasburg - He’ll be held to an innings limit but that’s about the only strings that are expected to still be attached for the Nationals ace and Tommy John survivor.
Gio Gonzalez - It’s a new team, new park and new fans for the left-hander but he seems excited to get acclimated. His durability, power and curveball are what the Nationals hope he brought with him. Cutting down the walks will be priority No. 1.
Jordan Zimmermann - Now entering his second fully-healthy spring training the kid-gloves are off and Zimmermann’s at the start of what the Nationals hope will be many 200-plus inning seasons.
Edwin Jackson - The Nationals plan to work with him on a wind-up delivery less susceptible to the right-hander tipping his pitches, which they felt he was unintentionally doing last season. If they can fix it, Jackson’s even more of a No. 4 weapon.
Chien-Ming Wang - Wang’s injury history was part of the reason Rizzo felt he needed to acquire Jackson. As long as he’s where he was at the end of 2011, he’ll most likely be the team’s No. 5 starter as his routine between starts to keep his shoulder strength up would seem to preclude him from relief work.
Ross Detwiler - The most likely candidate to nab a long relief role at the season’s outset, Detwiler has proven he can handle the bullpen and is out of options.
Tom Gorzelanny - Gorzelanny hasn’t been told yet whether he’ll be with the starters or the relievers this spring but the smart money’s on the relievers. He’ll serve the swingman role, along with Detwiler, thought Detwiler may be kept more on a “starters” schedule for spot starts.
Brad Lidge - The veteran will be asked to bring his slider for use as another set-up man for closer Drew Storen, as well as a sounding board and veteran presence in the bullpen among plenty of younger arms.
Sean Burnett - The lone short-relief lefty, Burnett’s rarely been used exclusively as a specialist but if the Nationals are looking for a LOOGY, he’s the closest thing they’ve got. He’ll be looking for a bounceback year after a rocky 2011.
Henry Rodriguez - If he can control his pitches, Rodriguez will combine with Tyler Clippard and Storen to make one of the strongest bullpen back-ends in the league.
Tyler Clippard - All the Nationals want out of their All-Star set-up man is more of the same. With Lidge and Rodriguez in the bullpen with him, it’ll be easier for Clippard not to get overworked.
Drew Storen - Coming into the season as the unquestioned closer for the first time, building on last year’s 43-save campaign will be the goal.
– With Detwiler the most likely starting candidate to shift to the bullpen, John Lannan appears to be the odd man out as things stand right now — but out doesn’t necessarily mean no longer a National. Lannan does have a minor league option remaining. It’s not ideal. Lannan’s being paid $5 million and hasn’t done anything to deserve a demotion — in fact he’s performed well enough to be assured a starting spot on almost any other team. While a trade could come up in which Lannan or another pitcher is involved to alleviate some of the gridlock, if the Nationals are up against a wall, the option is there for them to use.
Ryan Zimmerman - The biggest question mark surrounding Zimmerman as camp opens is whether he’ll stick to his negotiating deadlines for a contract extension. The health question is one he and the Nationals hope won’t have to be asked at all this year for the third baseman.
Ian Desmond - Expected to be the leadoff hitter the Nationals saw for the final six weeks of 2011, the hope is that Desmond’s third full year in the big leagues is the one in which his hitting and defense both leave no room for debate.
Danny Espinosa - No longer a rookie, cutting down on the strikeouts and the streakiness will be key for Espinosa this season. Otherwise the Nationals will surely take the 21 home runs (or more) again along with the impressive defense at second base.
Adam LaRoche - With a healthy labrum in his left shoulder, LaRoche’s spring will be spent making sure there are no more issues and he’s the 25-homer, 80-90 RBI, .270 hitter he’s always been. If he is, the Nationals infield defense should have exceptional range.
Michael Morse - Morse’s breakout season won’t mean as much unless he can maintain that consistency again this year. He’s got the left field job outright already and his defense is secondary to what the Nationals hope he’ll bring at the plate.
Rick Ankiel - Once Ankiel agreed with the Nationals on a minor league deal it was easy to picture him as the team’s center fielder. Their best defensive option, if he can get regular at-bats Ankiel is more than capable of producing at the plate as well.
Jayson Werth - The offensive side of his 2011 won’t be acceptable for a second straight year but most feel Werth will rebound this season and his defense, whether in center or right is expected to be at the level he’s shown in the past.
— The one name missing here is that of Bryce Harper. That’s because at this point it certainly seems like the smart money is on Harper missing the cut here. Harper’s performance this spring, as well as the way he carries himself off the field, will certainly have a big say in this but there seems to be simply too much to gain (both developmentally and financially) by keeping Harper in the minor leagues for a few more weeks.
Wilson Ramos - He played well in his final few weeks in the Venezuelan Winter League and building on his rookie year is all the Nationals will ask of him. After a rough winter, most will just be happy to see Ramos healthy and safe.
Jesus Flores - He probably won’t get as much playing time as he’d like, serving primarily as Ramos’ backup, but being healthy and producing could also make Flores a valuable trade commodity.
Mark DeRosa - The versatile veteran will be the primary backup at the corner infield spots and his abilities in the outfield will likely be utilized as well.
Steve Lombardozzi - Lombardozzi’s youth and relative inexperience don’t make him the most ideal candidate for the bench or a utility infielder role but he can play shortstop and second base and as long as the Nationals are comfortable with the amount of at-bats they can get him (so as not to stunt his development) he’ll be on the team.
Mike Cameron - The affable outfielder could be called on to serve a platoon role with Ankiel in center field as well as serve the fourth outfielder spot. But Cameron is 39 and has dealt with significant injuries the past few years, including a mostly lost 2010 in Boston where he dealt with a torn lower abdominal muscle that ultimately required surgery.
Roger Bernadina - He’ll have a chance to really impress in spring training but his ability to play both center field and the corner outfield positions make him a fit here.