- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — The floor of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse was littered with plastic bins and navy blue duffel bags. Long pants and heavier coats hung in players’ lockers. The room was charged with a “last day of school” kind of feel, knowing that an interesting summer lay ahead.

The corkboard where the schedules for “Today” and “Tomorrow” contained a message everyone wanted to see.

“Leave after the game — D.C.”

The Nationals have waited anxiously for the 2013 season ever since a cold night in October ended their 2012 campaign brutally and unexpectedly.

They’ve played through a spring that contained as little drama as even the veteran players on the team had ever seen in a camp.

They came in with a fairly firm idea of who would occupy each of the 25 spots on their Opening Day roster, provided they stayed healthy. And over the course of seven weeks, a long spring even by long spring standards, they largely managed to do that.

They had a few question marks, sure.

Manager Davey Johnson wanted to see how Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder would respond after offseason cleanup surgery and a re-worked throwing motion.

He wanted second baseman Danny Espinosa to come in relaxed, and to see how a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder would work without surgery and only rehab.

He wanted Bryce Harper to express the increased comfort that comes with having an established starting spot in the major leagues.

He got every answer he was looking for, and he was pleased with them, too.

“Everybody’s kind of right around where you want ‘em,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon, following a 5-1 victory over the New York Mets that closed his team’s Grapefruit League slate at 13-17-2. “That’s good.”

They sat around in a mostly empty clubhouse Thursday afternoon awaiting the buses that would take them to the airport for the first flight of the season.

Even for the man who’d seen more Opening Days than any of the rest of them, it was a day to look forward to.

“Oh man, I’m excited,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to get the Yankees at home to kind of jump-start us. It’s been a heck of a long spring. I think the guys have held up real well. … But it’s dog days when it gets down to the end. Everybody’s pretty much ready. Let’s start playing for real.”

One final exhibition awaits: A game against the New York Yankees on Friday afternoon at Nationals Park in which Jordan Zimmermann and Andy Pettitte will get in their own final tuneups of the spring.

“I’m ready to jump on that plane, head back to D.C. and get something to eat out there,” Gio Gonzalez said after he went four scoreless innings and allowed one hit with two walks and seven strikeouts. “Something nice and different from Viera, Fla.”

“We’re ready to get out of here,” Johnson added. “You’ll start seeing the real deal coming on. The warm-up’s over.”

Romero headed to Triple-A barring injury

Barring an injury that forces them to alter their plans, the Nationals will send left-hander J.C. Romero to Triple-A Syracuse after the team’s exhibition game on Friday, Johnson said.

With Romero in Syracuse, the last spot in the Nationals bullpen would then go to Henry Rodriguez — as has been the Nationals’ plan from the start of the spring.

The only caveat Johnson allowed was “barring an injury.” The possibility exists, until rosters have to be set prior to Opening Day, that the Nationals could make the final decision to start Rodriguez on the disabled list.

Rodriguez, who underwent surgery to remove a bone chip and shave down a bone spur in his right elbow last August, was still experiencing elbow soreness early in the spring. That set his schedule back and, Johnson has indicated, may be what has contributed to the reliever’s wildness at this late stage of the spring.

“I like the progress,” Johnson said Thursday morning. “I’ve been pretty clear that power arms take longer, especially in Henry’s case. He missed the last half of the year and didn’t have winter ball. A lot of times, that’s a psychological thing to overcome. … It takes them a little longer to get a good feel. The primary concern is stretching their arm out, and we’re going through that with Henry.”