The Nationals’ workout for pitchers today consisted solely of drills. Rather than bullpen sessions, they fielded grounders, covered first base and performed one of the tasks Manager Davey Johnson finds most important for the spring.
Johnson identified his pitching staff’s ability to limit opponents from stealing bases as a key point of emphasis. Last year, opponents stole 111 bases in 133 attempts, the second-worst percentage in the majors, and “the catching corps has never been the problem,” Johnson said.
It was one of the biggest flaws the 98-win Nationals had last year, a topic General Manager Mike Rizzo broached with Johnson last year. Johnson wants Nationals pitchers to vary how long they hold the ball and use quicker deliveries. He said he’ll leave the timing of pickoff throws more to pitchers this year, relying some, but not as much, on throws called from the bench. He wants them to limit the running game better without becoming mechanical about it.
“I’m kind of nipping it in the bud,” Johnson said. “I look at the things as a group that we can improve on. One of them was not being so easy to steal on.”
Johnson said Stephen Strasburg has a quick delivery, but was so consistent in coming set that opponents timed him easily. Newcomer Dan Haren, Johnson said, told him he can occasionally fall into the same pattern. Johnson believes putting decisions on when to pick off runners in their hands will help them become less predictable.
“I’ve always wanted my pitching staff to read and pay attention and to vary their delivery,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get more of that awareness of what was going on at first.”