The Washington Times - February 22, 2012, 06:21PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ position players aren’t required to be here until Thursday. That didn’t stop almost all of them for showing up early. Even veteran Mark DeRosa walked on Wednesday, looked around and was almost embarrassed to be there just one day early.

So while the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers have been on the backfields at the Nationals’ training complex each morning, the position players have been on a closer field, taking batting practice and getting their work in together. The result has been an extremely positive environment, one that has Nationals manager Davey Johnson excited for the full squad work.


“Hitting’s kind of contagious, like good pitching,” Johnson said. “(This year) there’s going to be a more relaxed attitude and the talent will come out more. You just see that with 14 or so guys over there. I’ve never been to a camp like that. The reports I’m getting every day is that everybody’s really enjoying the work they’re putting in.”

Each day when he’s returned from the backfields, his coaches have given him the rundown. They’ve discussed the way first-round pick Anthony Rendon looks, how first baseman Adam LaRoche has been performing, how Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa have been hitting.

The one guy they’ve been mum on? Ironically, Bryce Harper.

“After the first workout as they were talking about damn near everybody over there and I asked them, I said, ‘I didn’t hear one word about Harper. Is he there?’” Johnson said. “They said, ‘He’s OK, he’s fine.’

“They don’t want to make a comment — ‘cause they like him and they’ve read (in the media) all about how it’s better for him to go down, and all that. They don’t want to try to influence me.”

Harper’s walked around the Nationals complex the past few days without much of the fanfare that surrounded him last spring. He’s not been whisked away in a van to evade hordes of autograph seekers or been surrounded by reporters at ever turn. His body has always belied just how young he actually was, looking more like a 25-year-old man than one who’s 20th birthday won’t come until after the 2012 season has ended but perhaps more so than ever Harper’s looking like he belongs.

Just how much he belongs we’ll see when the spring training games start. Johnson has said repeatedly the past few days that it’ll be easy to tell who’s competing for a job because of the way he’ll use a player and he reiterated on Wednesday that Harper’s age will not be a factor whatsoever.

“I want to see and make my own decision so I always keep an open mind,” he said. “I don’t want somebody to predetermine how I should think about whether a guy can play or not play. I trust my instincts and my eyes and my brain and what it tells me… I’m just open to whatever I see out there.”

– Twelve more pitchers got in their first bullpen session of the season today with participants including Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Brad Lidge, Ryan Perry, Waldis Joaquin, Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Matt Purke.

One pitcher who earned special mention from Johnson was Mattheus.

“One of the guys who was very impressive today and I like him a lot is Mattheus,” Johnson said. “Mattheus was flat out throwing the heck out of the ball. I had to tell him, ‘Take it easy. I know you started throwing in January, but,’ and he said, ‘No, December.’”

Mattheus was lauded often by Johnson during his rookie season and the right-hander looked to have sewn up a spot in the Nationals’ bullpen with his 2011 performance alone but the signing of Brad Lidge, and the fact that he has an option remaining, likely made him the odd man out for the short-term. With that in mind, Johnson noted he could tell Mattheus, as well as a few other pitchers who are competing for spots like Detwiler and Lannan, were a little more amped up with something to prove.

– Henry Rodriguez was absent from camp for the third day but Johnson said he was told the right-hander was expected to report at some time on Wednesday, as long as he got on the flight he was scheduled for. Rodriguez, who arrived late last spring as well due to a visa issue and suffered because of it, has been excused for his absence this year.

Johnson said he’s not worried about Rodriguez falling behind other pitchers in camp this season because he threw enough innings in the Venezuelan Winter League. Rodriguez appeared in 23 games this winter, throwing 23 2/3 innings.

– The Nationals first bullpen group today was one of the most compelling with Zimmermann next toDetwiler, who was alongside Lannan and Jackson. All four looked exceptionally strong during the 10-minute session even though they were instructed to only ramp up half-way.

— The Nationals identified a point in Jackson’s windup delivery where he may be showing the ball just a bit too much and it’s something they’re going to work on with him as he continues a revamp of his delivery that began last season.

— It’s probably refreshing for Zimmermann that each of his bullpen sessions aren’t scrutinized as closely as they were a year ago when he was starting his first fully healthy season since Tommy John surgery.

– Another pitcher who appeared ahead of things today was Tom Gorzelanny. Pitching coach Steve McCatty complimented Gorzelanny a few times during his session, noting that the left-hander looked very comfortable.

– Matt Purke was also smiling after he completed his first session in big league camp but is taking a realistic view of why he’s on this side of the complex for now.