- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CHICAGO — The words were so sweet that Mark DeRosa still remembers the moment he first heard them. It was early November in 2006, and DeRosa was in his car when his agent, Keith Grunewald, called to give him news that brings a smile to his face even more than five years later.

“Congratulations,” Grunewald said. “You’re the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs.”

“I was driving home just thinking, ‘Wow.’ You know?” DeRosa, who’d been mostly a bench player until the 2006 season, recalled Monday.

Thursday afternoon under what is forecast to be a picture-perfect spring day at Wrigley Field, DeRosa will return to Chicago with the Washington Nationals. It’s not the first time he’s been back, but as his eyes light up at the mere mention of his days with the Cubs, it’s easy to see Chicago has a place of honor in the New Jersey native’s heart. It was where his career blossomed.

“It was just such a special two years for me,” he said. “I loved everything about it.”

Mark DeRosa, shown making contact in a spring game, saw his career take off in Chicago, where he batted. 285 with 21 home runs and 87 RBI for the Cubs in 2008. He came to Washington from San Francisco after two injury-plagued seasons. (Associated Press)
Mark DeRosa, shown making contact in a spring game, saw his career ... more >

It’s a fitting place, then, for the Nationals’ 2012 season — one filled with such anticipation and expectation — to begin.

When the Nationals’ 2011 season came to a close and Davey Johnson affirmed his decision to return as manager, his first call was to DeRosa.

The versatile veteran had just spent the better part of two years battling an injury to his left wrist while playing with the San Francisco Giants. There was no way to know what to expect from the 37-year-old, just the fact that in his last fully healthy season he hit .285 with 21 homers and a .376 on-base percentage for the Cubs in 2008.

It didn’t matter. Johnson, who had managed DeRosa in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, told Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo he didn’t care what his status was. He’d take him injured. Just get him on this team.

“When your cellphone rings and it’s Davey Johnson calling, that fires you up,” DeRosa said.

But Johnson wasn’t the only reason DeRosa, who signed for $800,000 in December, was attracted to the Nationals. One of the other reasons will be standing on the mound Thursday in the form of Stephen Strasburg. And another Saturday in Gio Gonzalez. And another Sunday in Jordan Zimmermann.

Having spent the past two seasons watching Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner make mincemeat of opposing offenses in San Francisco, DeRosa knew what he was looking at.

“I go where the pitching is,” he said. “I just always have. That’s been my belief since I was a young kid. Pitching stops good hitting every day of the week. So you might as well put yourself on a team with power arms that give you a chance, right?”

In the spring of 2010, months before the Giants went on one of the most unexpected World Series title runs in recent memory, he said the same thing in an interview. “If we can survive the marathon and stay healthy,” watch out.

“I feel the same way about this team,” he said. “If we can survive 162, not have any major injuries, catastrophic road trips or whatever it may be, and get in? We’re as good as anybody because of our pitching.”

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