Now Harper Out for Two Months!

This latest news is a huge blow to the Nats chances for fighting their way to the playoffs.  Both Zim and Bryce got seriously hurt sliding headfirst.

Doug Fister and Wilson Ramos are on the road back however.  It seems possible that Fister could start a game by about May 7th.  Ramos is practicing “lightly.”  It will likely take him several more weeks to regain the strength needed to bat with power in game conditions.  But he hopes to appear in minor-league games this week.

This is the time for the bench players to step up and show us why they made the roster coming out of Spring Training!  I have to admit, after hoping the Nats would trade Danny Espinosa before Spring Training, that he has made me VERY GLAD he is still here!  I did not think it would be possible to make Danny a major league hitter, but I was wrong:)  I’m impressed with the improved hitting thus far.  And we all know he is a gold glove calibre fielder.  In fact many of the usual suspects posting on the team website are calling for Danny to REPLACE Ian Desmond at SS!

Late breaking news:  Zack Walters has been sent down to Syracuse as well as Taylor Jordan. Ryan Mattheus is back up here.  The last time Mattheus pitched well was in 2012; I hope they don’t have to use him in a critical situation.  Maybe they want to have him in case they need a “mop-up” pitcher in a game that has got out of hand:)  I also hope they bring Souza back.

The 2014 Nationals Bullpen

Pitcher Luis Ayala in 2008 (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Pitcher Luis Ayala in 2008 (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

There’s more good news for the bullpen of the Nationals (Nats); the weakest part of the 2013 roster. Apparently Mike Rizzo is still “wheelin and dealin” trying to continue upgrading. They are rumored to have offered pitcher Luis Ayala a minor league contract. He was with the Nats from 2005-2008, and initially was one of the mainstays of the pen. In his nine years pitching in the majors he has a 3.34 ERA. He was very effective last year for the Atlanta Braves. I think Ayala may have a shot at replacing Ryan Mattheus. Ayala would be the second returnee from the 2005 roster (Jamey Carroll was the first). The 2005 Nats bullpen was excellent, with Ayala usually pitching in the 7th or 8th inning for a “HOLD.”

I think all they need is another utility player/pinch hitter.

A Preview of the 2014 Nationals

Compared to the 2012 Nats, the 2013 team was a disappointment. They won the most games in the majors in 2012, but 12 fewer last season. What’s worse, they did not get to the playoffs. Former manager Davey Johnson, who retired just after the 2013 season (and is a Trinity University grad), predicted before the season that the Nats would get to the World Series. I think this created needless pressure on the players, and led to the offense taking almost half the season to really get rolling. (Note: The most important thing that affects batting is being very RELAXED! I’ve been playing this game for 60 years and it has taken me a big chunk of that to be truly relaxed at the plate.)

They aim to improve in 2014. Matt Williams, the new manager, appears to be an exciting upgrade. Though this is his first crack at managing, I think the team could not have made a better choice. Matt is a no-nonsense, hands-on type. As a player (and I watched him play frequently) he worked hard to excel, setting the bar pretty high for himself, and he is likely to expect the Nats to do the same.

Going into the 2014 season, the team needed a better no. 4 starting pitcher, a better “bench” and a better bull-pen (especially left-handers). They recently acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers as the 4thstarter. He is likely to be more effective than Dan Haren, last year’s 4th starter. Doug is young, did well in Detroit, and has the potential to get even better with time. Tyler Roark and Ross Detwiler will likely compete for the 5thstarter spot. There is a chance Ross could be used as another lefty in the bullpen too.

The Nats also acquired Nate McLouth, a very capable, fast outfielder from Baltimore to bolster the bench. The fact that Nate bats from the left side is good as the other bench outfielder, Scott Hairston, bats right-handed. Nate is also a potent base-stealer, so he could do lots of pinch-running! The Nats still need at least one more backup infielder. They lost Steve Lombardozzi in the Fister trade, and he will be greatly missed, I predict. In a “stealth signing” just before Christmas, the Nats picked up veteran infielder Emmanuel Burris. He grew up and played high school ball here in the nation’s capital.

The bull-pen has added one new left hander, Blevins, but needs one more. They also need to replace Ryan Mattheus, who was not very effective last year.

The coaching staff so far has not changed much from last year, but the new manager has added a new position, that of defensive coordinator, staffed by Mark Weidemaier. I think this is a great idea.

Besides the remaining moves I have recommended, another issue Matt Williams needs to address in Spring Training is the glaring inability of the team’s pitchers to hold runners on base–this is simply unacceptable in the major leagues.

I predict the Nats will win 88-92 wins, depending on what additional moves they make. Two very significant things that happened last season are reasons for optimism: (1) the Nats were the best team in baseball over the last 6-8 weeks of the season (they almost made the playoffs); and (2) the new hitting coach, Dick Schu, who was hired mid-season in 2013. He likely was one of the reasons Jayson Werth almost won the national League batting title!

And then we have the “Racing Presidents“. They added one more in early 2013, William Howard Taft. “Teddy” Roosevelt needs to work harder on the basics.

P.S. The price of beer at Nats Park is outrageous! I’m contemplating trying to get in with a hiking “flask” under my shirt.

P.P.S. If anyone is wondering whether the Nats will seriously enter the circus-like chase to grab the Japanese star pitcher, Tanaka, I say “no way.”