When Ian Desmond stepped inside the batting cage at Space Coast Stadium today and looked out to the mound, past the L-screen, he saw a pitcher from his high school days. Desmond faced Gio Gonzalez years ago, when they played for Sarasota High and Monsignor Pace, respectively, in Florida.
“He hasn’t changed one bit,” Desmond said. “He’s the same exact person. He’s smiling, always like joking around. Same guy. His mechanics I think are pretty much the same. That’s how I remember him.”
Today, Desmond and Gonzalez faced each other in live batting practice. Desmond smacked a couple hits, both of them broken-bat flares. “Two hits, two bats,” he said as he walked out of the batter’s box.
Back in their high school meeting, Gonzalez’s team beat Desmond’s, but Desmond contends – and Gonzalez corroborates – that he knocked two hits against him.
“The ones I got off him in high school were a lot harder than the ones I got here,” Desmond said.
●Manager Davey Johnson had not spent much time this spring with a close eye on Bryce Harper. He has seen him play for years, and did not feel the need to monitor him closely. Today, though, Johnson hovered around his group during batting practice.
“He looked just like when I’ve seen him before,” Johnson said. “Same approach. He’s in a real good hitting position for that swing. I even noticed a couple of his teammates, one of them Jason Michaels. He said something like, ‘This Harper is pretty good,’ wanting to voice some of that to the staff.”
Harper’s most impressive moment came against closer Drew Storen. Harper drilled a two-seamer deep to left-center that took one hop and bounced over the fence – nearly, in Harper’s parlance, an oppo-boppo. The hitters knew what pitch was coming, but Storen was wowed by Harper’s bat speed.
●Henry Rodriguez arrived late to camp, but after he convinced Nationals coaches he’s not behind schedule a bit with his side session Tuesday. “He threw one hell of a bullpen,” Johnson. Pitching coach Steve McCatty was impressed.
“Wow,” McCatty said. “It was outstanding, one of his better bullpens.”
Rodriguez suffered from lack of control for the first portion of 2011, his rookie season. But he became a dominant force in the latter part of the season. Over his final 22 appearances, Rodriguez allowed three earned runs in 211 / 3 innings while striking out 26 and walking 14. He threw the fastest fastball in the majors, and he pitched one of the most preposterously dominating innings imaginable. The Nationals think he can pick up where he left off.
“Absolutely,” McCatty said. “He’s much more relaxed with what he’s doing with his mechanics. He looks great. Having a good year behind him certainly will help.”
●The Nationals worked out inside Space Coast Stadium, a departure from previous seasons. “This is kind of our home field,” Johnson explained. “I think that automatically elevates the energy level. They wanted to get comfortable over. I wanted them to get comfortable over here. We’re closer to starting the Grapefruit League. The more we get used to that, the better.”
● In yesterday’s post on the latest developments in Nationals’ Take Back the Park campaign, I wrote that Jayson Werth recalled the Phillies running a similar promotion when he played there in 2007 to keep Mets fans out. Phillies Director of Baseball Communications Greg Casterioto e-mailed a correction today:
“That could not be more wrong. The Phillies did not at any time have a similar promotion to the Washington Nationals’ ‘Take Back the Park’ campaign. Making the postseason in 2007 and then winning the World Series in 2008, along with a team full of exciting players and having a great place to watch a baseball game, is what drew more Phillies fans to Citizens Bank Park.”
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