The Nationals’ tranquil spring training hits the halfway point

brushback_harperAt the halfway point of spring training, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson can only find one thing to complain about. He plans to call Katy Feeney, MLB’s vice president of scheduling, and share his thoughts on the Nationals’ spring travel.

“I’ve known Katy a long time,” Johnson said, cracking a grin. “I thought she would have taken better care of me and the Nationals. But I survived the four-hour trip at rush hour during the week to [Clearwater] and the Phillies, and the don’t even come to our place.”

Really, Johnson has no pressing concerns. The Nationals entered spring training with unprecedented expectations, drenched in hype, an environment perfectly suited for distraction and disappointment. Instead of controversy and big headlines, Nationals camp has brought tranquility. There have been no contract squabbles, no crushing injuries and no major storylines that have not, at least on the surface, gone the Nationals’ way.

“I like everything I’ve seen so far,” Johnson said. “It’s been a great spring.”

Danny Espinosa’s left shoulder, which contains a torn rotation cuff, has held up just fine so far, and his left-handed swing looks utterly different. Nationals coaches have raved about Espinosa’s new approach, and they believe it will help him cut down on his strikeouts.

(Jonathan Newton/TWP)

(Jonathan Newton/TWP)

Ryan Zimmerman is healthy again after offseason surgery, and he could get into a game at third base as soon as this weekend. It will only really matter until he can use his reworked mechanics in a real game, but during pregame warm-ups, Zimmerman has replaced the awkwardly robotic, step-by-step mechanics his right shoulder injury caused last season with a smooth, overhand motion.

Wilson Ramos is catching again, ahead of schedule if anything. Not only is his knee strong and healthy, but he also lost weight and seems to have shed the defensive malaise he sunk into during the 2012 season before he tore his ACL and meniscus.

Major League Baseball has not closed the investigation on Gio Gonzalez and his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, but every outward sign – including a passed drug test and his inclusion in the WBC – has pointed to him avoiding a 50-game suspension.

What else?

Bryce Harper has been game in his switch to left field and has ripped 9 hits in his first 21 at-bats.

Dan Haren’s velocity is higher now than all of last season, and no signs of the hip injury that derailed him last season have surfaced.

Anthony Rendon is murdering the ball.

The Nationals management and Jordan Zimmermann avoided arbitration, leaving them with no contractual staredowns. They also agreed to terms with all 18 players on their roster with zero to three years of experience.

Jayson Werth’s left wrist is still healing, but enough strength has returned that he’s gone back to his usual bat – one ounce heavier than the model he used in his return late last season.

Zimmermann has more confidence in his changeup than ever before.

What hasn’t gone well for the Nationals?

The only real dagger has been the injury to rocket-armed Christian Garcia. The right-hander has a partially torn tendon in his forearm, which will require almost a month of rest and then about a month of rehab. Garcia, whom the Nationals had planned to stretch out into a starter, will likely not be available for major league games until mid-to-late April.

The bullpen has suffered its share of woes. Bill Bray, a non-roster invitee who had a strong chance to become the Nationals’ second lefty reliever, struggled so much to regain his mechanics that the Nationals sent him to minor league camp after two outings. Henry Rodriguez will make his debut only today after getting over elbow tenderness, and the Nationals need a long look at Rodriguez to determine if they’ll put him on the opening day roster – if they don’t, he’s out of minor league options and will likely land on a new team.

The remaining nitpicks are of vanishingly remote importance. Drew Storen has started a little slow (but, even then, he struck out two in a scoreless innings yesterday). New center fielder and leadoff man Denard Span is 3 for 16 (but, even then, he has drawn five walks). Rafael Soriano arrived a few days late because of a visa issue (but, even then, he only likes to throw seven or innings in spring and looked sharp).

Last year, the Nationals lost Michael Morse for 50 games and Drew Storen for three months before opening day. Ryan Zimmerman’s contract negotiations ended well for each side, with a deal that should keep Zimmerman in Washington for the rest of his career, but at first the wore a bit on Zimmerman.

It is hard to come up with any big headlines from this spring. And that is how the Nationals want it.

“No news,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said, “is good news.”

FROM THE POST

Danny Espinosa worked on his swing to cut down on his strikeouts and eliminate the lone weakness in his game.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Gio ready for WBC, etc.

Harper’s bold throw

Nats-Astros updates

Revere, Span still friendly

Rendon reality

TODAY’S GAME

The Nationals will face the Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. behind Jordan Zimmermann, who’s making his third start of the spring. The lineup is not available yet, but Johnson has said he planned to give his regulars at-bats today after two days on the road. Expect something to close to an opening day lineup.

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY

23

Also on Nationals Journal

Gio Gonzalez moves on to the WBC, Micah Owings plays outfield, Ryan Mattheus loses his clean sheet, etc.