Notes from the Nationals first official spring workout

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VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals took to the backfields at their training complex on Tuesday in full force as pitchers and catchers went through the team’s first official workout of the spring.

“I thought the attitude was outstanding,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson after his first day running camp in 12 years. “I thought how they went about their business and went to the next station was good. I saw some happy campers who enjoy their work and were eager to do what they could to get it done and do it properly.”

Nine pitchers threw bullpen sessions in front of the public on Tuesday: Stephen Strasburg, Craig Stammen, Chien-Ming Wang, Yunesky Maya, Drew Storen, Chad Durbin, Atahualpa Severino, Rafael Martin and Jeff Fulchino. Two others, Gio Gonzalez and Sean Burnett got their work in elsewhere while shooting a video promo for the Nationals Park scoreboard.

The reports all around were good, though the pitchers were given strict instructions not to mix in any breaking pitches — fastballs and changeups only, Johnson told them. A few tried to slip in a cutter here and there, but they weren’t as sneaky as they may have thought.

“I caught one guy, throwing a cutter,” Johnson said. “That’s a breaking ball, let’s be clear on this.”

Otherwise, though, Johnson was exceptionally pleased with the way the first day went. He held a brief team meeting just before the workout to remind everyone to take it easy.

“My job is to get them all ready for the season to start,” Johnson said. “I don’t need guys trying to come out of the chute like they’re ready to start the year… I want to institute things that I’m comfortable with, that don’t stress a guy’s shoulder or elbow too much trying to impress me or some new pitching coaches.

“Players know the situations. They’re fully aware of everything that’s going on. They know the pecking order and they know competition and they know all of the above — and it’s important for you to know that they know. I enjoyed the workout. I’m looking forward to seeing the second group, tomorrow.”

A few notes from the workout and the clubhouse:

– Strasburg gave Wilson Ramos his first official task of the spring when he lined up across from the catcher for his first bullpen. Urged by pitching coach Steve McCatty to take things slow like the rest of the pitchers, Strasburg looked free and easy during the 10-minute session. Craig Stammen and Chien-Ming Wang threw alongside him.

Johnson walked over to Strasburg at one point and said to him, “It’s nice just being one of the boys, isn’t it?” Strasburg smiled at his manager, said that it was, and went back to his work. 

As Johnson walked by a few reporters, he was jokingly asked if Strasburg looked good enough to make the club. 

“He might,” he said with a wide smile. “Little rusty.”

– Chien-Ming Wang got through his session very well, Johnson said, leaving little concern that some of the shoulder stiffness that bothered him a few days ago would become an issue. During the session Johnson asked Wang how he was feeling, impressed by how he looked, and Wang responded “I feel great.”

– Henry Rodriguez was supposed to be in the groups that threw on Tuesday but the right-handed reliever has yet to arrive in camp. His tardiness is excused for a personal reason. If he gets here by Wednesday, he’ll throw as soon as he’s ready.

– Storen said he felt good after his session on Tuesday where it appeared he was using a more pronounced left leg slide in his delivery. While it looked plenty like the delivery he used in 2011, it did appear he was focusing more on the “hip drive” as he called it during the opening bullpen.

“It’s just more pronounced,” Storen said, admitting it may have been that way because he wasn’t ramping up to his normal delivery. “We’ll see once I start turning it up. Ideally I’d probably just smooth it out a little bit more, probably be a little bit quicker.”

A tinkerer by nature, Storen is almost always making small tweaks to his delivery, even throughout the season. Last spring, when he struggled mightily, Storen wasn’t even employing the leg movement at all until, at the urging of players like Matt Stairs who’d faced him in the past and found it made him deceptive, he brought it back in. Forty-three saves later, I think it’s safe to say that part will generally always stick around.  

“Regardless of how hard you try throughout the year, you’re going to change stuff,” Storen said. “I think change is good but you don’t want to reinvent the wheel at the same time. I feel good now. I think it’s a matter of just staying on top of the ball and my lower half and staying in shape. I’m excited to see how it looks against hitters.”

– Gonzalez didn’t throw his bullpen session in front of reporters today, nor did he take BP, but from the sound of things it’s going to be highly entertaining when he does. Gonzalez laid out his goals today for hitting as two-fold: get the ball past the pitcher’s mound and don’t “land on my backside.” Yes, apparently it has happened to him before, in an interleague game against the San Francisco Giants. 

Gonzalez, who seemed to find himself instantly at home in the Nationals’ clubhouse, said he’s been watching the movie The Benchwarmers in preparation for the new aspect of his job in the National League. He’s also planning on picking the brains of the middle of the Nationals order, he said, going right for the sluggers. 

“I’m going to work backwards,” Gonzalez joked. “Home runs, then hits. Then we’ll work on bunting.”

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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