By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 31, 2007
NORFOLK, March 30 -- A camp that began six weeks ago in an overcrowded clubhouse in Viera, Fla., with a roster of 72 players that included a staggering 38 pitchers, lurched toward its close Friday along the banks of the Elizabeth River, when the last two subtractions toward a final 25-man roster came into view and the Washington Nationals packed their belongings one last time and headed home.
With two unremarkable plate appearances (a walk and a groundout) and four uneventful innings in center field during Friday's exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles at sold-out Harbor Park, Nook Logan answered one of the Nationals' few remaining questions -- that of the health of his strained right groin -- in the affirmative.
"I think he's ready to go," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said of Logan, who initially was expected to miss up to a week of the regular season when he first injured himself on March 24. "He ran with freedom and didn't pace himself or anything. So he's ready to go."
And so, barring an unexpected setback in the next 72 hours, Logan will be the Nationals' Opening Day center fielder and No. 8 hitter on Monday afternoon at RFK Stadium against the Florida Marlins, with rookie Kory Casto sent down to Class AAA Columbus to play every day and remain on call as the first outfielder summoned in the event of an injury in Washington.
After a torrid start to his spring, Casto, a favorite of some in the organization for his work ethic and ability to play almost anywhere on the diamond, has cooled of late, and is now hitting .283 for the spring, with no homers and five RBI. Asked about Casto's performance, Acta turned the question into a screed about the folly of making judgments based on spring training, especially the earliest weeks.
"He has performed pretty well," Acta said, "but . . . take a look at the batting averages of most of those guys right now compared to the first week when everybody was raving about some of those guys. That's why we can't be evaluating guys [based] on two or three games in one week. Take a look at it now. A lot of guys were in the first week impressing everybody, and now they're hitting .220 [or] .180. That's why in this game you have to be patient and not read too much into spring training."
The only other remaining roster move for the Nationals will be to send down one reliever -- which almost certainly will be right-hander Saul Rivera, with right-hander Jesus Colome getting the final spot in the bullpen. Acta indicated the two moves could be made Friday night and announced on Saturday, when the Nationals and Orioles meet again at RFK Stadium.
The afternoon brought an impressive show of baseball fandom from the city of Norfolk, which was considered the next-most viable alternative to Washington when Major League Baseball was looking for a new home for the Montreal Expos. Tickets for this exhibition game -- the first in Norfolk between two big league teams since 1974 -- sold out in less than 30 minutes when they went on sale Feb. 24.
Harbor Park, which sits alongside a shipping port on the river, holds just more than 12,000 fans, but city baseball boosters envisioned expanding it to a capacity of 20,000 for the short-term if Norfolk had landed the Expos -- something MLB never seriously considered. Instead of a big league team, Norfolk must settle for hosting the Orioles' Class AAA affiliate beginning this season, after 37 years as a New York Mets farm team.
For the Nationals and their rookie manager, Friday brought a sense of closure to a long, taxing journey that began with almost no expectations, yet somehow managed to exceed them. After the game, Acta and his troops boarded buses for the three-hour drive to Washington, where there is one more exhibition game Saturday, then the black-tie "Dream Gala" and a workout Sunday, followed by the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day.
"I think it went real good," Acta said when asked to sum up the spring. "I have to give a lot of credit to my coaching staff and to the players, because we brought a lot of players [to camp], especially pitchers, and we were lucky. . . . The work went smooth and we were able to get a lot of work in. And knock on wood, we didn't have any serious injuries. So we're ready to go."