Waking up to another morning of “beautiful” falling snow, the post-screaming, post-hissyfit reaction Wednesday was a couple of questions:
When did the D.C. area become Alaska?
Can it please be March 31 already?
March 31 is the day the Nationals open their season against the Mets in New York, and everyone knows it isn’t allowed to snow once baseball season starts. That’s a rule, written down somewhere. It might even be a law.
It is, for anyone counting, four weeks from Monday.
Another sign that it is close is Grapefruit League games start Friday, when the Nats take on those same Mets in warmer Florida. Nothing like a little exhibition baseball to take your mind off slush and muck and snow and ice. The real deal, it’s coming soon.
As noted a year ago, the actual results in the spring mean nothing. The Nats could win three games. Doesn’t matter. They could win 23. Doesn’t matter. We aren’t going to learn a lot about Matt Williams‘ managerial style during the next month, though we may get a few hints. If Stephen Strasburg has an earned run average in double digits, it doesn’t matter as long as he is healthy. He’ll be the Opening Day starter no matter the spring numbers.
That doesn’t mean these spring games don’t serve a few useful purposes, besides reminding us that snowy mornings are soon to be gone. The Nationals have a few storylines worth watching.
• Danny Espinosa. For one set of eyes at least, this could be the most intriguing story of the spring. Once seen as the future fixture at second base, Espinosa is back in prove-it mode after dealing with some injuries and a free-falling batting average. The guy who hit 38 home runs in a two-season span spent most of last year in the minors and is now competing with Anthony Rendon for his old job.
A healthy Espinosa is a much better defensive option, though not a better option overall if he’s lugging around a .150 batting average.
Healthy, he won’t. Some time with Rick Schu, who took over as hitting coach after Espinosa was exiled to Syracuse, will help. Espinosa doesn’t have to hit .300, but if he can hang in the .240-.250 range, play defense like he’s able and provide some pop, he ought to be the team’s second baseman.
• The fifth starter. Whichever pitcher ends up with this job isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme. It will probably change several times over the course of a season, particularly if injuries take a toll. It’s still worth watching as it may, just may, provide some insight into what Williams is looking for in his rotation.
By rights, Ross Detwiler should have first dibs. He’s proven when healthy (see a theme here?), he can win at this level and he’d provide a second lefty along with Gio Gonzalez in the rotation. He may, though, be ticketed for a spot in the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter type.
Taylor Jordan will start the preseason opener Friday, which is in no way a tea leaf to read with regard to the real rotation. Tanner Roark earned a good look with his very strong showing at the end of last season.