The Nationals’ first workout for pitchers and catchers on Thursday met a swift, but timely, end with a downpour at around 11:30 a.m. Manager Davey Johnson likes to have quick workouts in the morning, and just as the rain began, the final group of Christian Garcia, Cole Kimball, Nathan Karns and Erik Davis finished firing the last pitches of their bullpen sessions.
Johnson — flanked by a full battery of Nationals’ coaches, such as pitching coach Steve McCatty, bullpen coach Jim Lett, minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams and others — walked up and down the row of pitchers and observed.
“It was great to get out there,” he said. “It was fun to see the guys.”
To finish the workout, catchers hit in the covered batting cages adjacent to the team’s training complex. Then players returned to the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium to lift, eat and unwind.
>>> Before the first workout for pitchers and catchers, the team held a closed doors meeting in the clubhouse. Discussions in those meetings are typically kept within the clubhouse but Johnson, not one for group meetings, said he told the players to stay in touch with him through camp and the season. If any issues arise, he wants players to contact him directly.
He also told them to be gradual with their work in camp. In Johnson’s own words, he told them: “‘We’re starting early because of the World Baseball Classic, and I want you being ready for Opening Day and not to push it too hard early, so relax and don’t try to overly impress early. Because you’re not gonna be graded early. Don’t count on having a lot of meetings. Just get your work in and have some fun.”
Most of the team’s position players have arrived, including Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. Positions players don’t have to officially report until Friday and the first full team workout isn’t until Sunday.
>>> As he has said before, Johnson isn’t yet fully committed to making Christian Garcia a starter. The Nationals will have the right-hander throw multiple innings in his appearances this spring and see how he performs. It’s easier, Johnson contends, to go from starting than relieving than the reverse because decreasing a large workload is easier than suddenly building up to one.
Johnson again praised Garcia’s stuff — the reason he wants to try him as a starter. Asked to compare it to Stephen Strasburg, Johnson admitted they were equivalent.
“His curveball is great,” Johnson said. “If I was to grade his stuff, I’d have to have him real close, stuff-wise. Fastball, great movement, mid-90s. He threw some 97 mph sinkers last year that were unhittable. Threw some off the best changeups, as good as Stras. Stras’s is harder. When he keeps it down, it’s unhittable. His curveball might even be better than Stras. It’s a knuckle curve.”
>>> Strasburg threw in the first group of pitchers, along with Gio Gonzalez, Drew Storen and Ross Detwiler. Strasburg, who threw a side bullpen session three days ago, looked sharp again. The ball sizzled as it flew threw the air. In his first few days in camp, Strasburg already seems more relaxed than last season.
“I liked his first outing today, knowing he’s under no restrictions,” Johnson said. “He was smooth as silk all the way through. He was pushing things a little bit more last year. I like exactly where he’s at.”
>>> Johnson estimated he carved about 20 innings out of Strasburg’s workload by pulling him early in his starts last season, the much-debated innings limit in mind.
“That kind of restriction I won’t have this year,” he said. “I’m a little conservative on all pitchers early, then I go to the whip a little bit during the year depending on their pitch count.”
>>> Detwiler was the first Nationals pitcher in Viera, here for weeks already working out and throwing. Johnson has been urging Detwiler to mix in his fastball more with his curveball and breaking pitches since last season but struggled to convince him entirely because “he’s stubborn as a mule but he could get guys out with just his fastball.”
“I even talked to him today when he was throwing and he said ‘Yeah, I plan to mix in a few of those,’” Johnson said. “That’s all in experience. Arguably the past couple years he’s been my best starter in the spring and he did use those pitches. He learned a lot. I’m looking for a big year out of him and I think his mindset is right where it needs to be.”