Home stretch gives Nats plenty to chew on
No hard feelings. Being a general sports fan, not a baseball nut, is a prerogative granted under the Constitution. No apology needed for abandoning the Nats 11 weeks after semi-adopting them. Put away those Nos. 37 and 34 jerseys till they're trendy again.
However, for the rest of us, who are stuck on baseball for life and aren't ready to flip an "off" switch for 12 to 18 months, it's time to call a halt to the stages of Strasburg grieving.
We denied his original shoulder injury was much of a red flag. We got angry when he grabbed his forearm in pain; some even told him to suck it up. We bargained that it was all just a flexor-tendon strain. And we plunged into mandatory sports depression when the 22-year-old faced Tommy John surgery.
But in baseball, always so annoyingly lifelike, there's another game every day. So, it's necessary to reach acceptance in a hurry.
Luckily, Sept. 1 is one of the game's symbolic days: it brings the expanded roster. The Nats' future - the complementary players who determine whether they become exciting contenders or just Strasburg-Harper spear carriers - will be on display this month.
If you think the Nats had a remarkable crop of rookies with Strasburg, closer Drew Storen, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Roger Bernadina, as well as late-blooming slugger Michael Morse, you've only seen half the land rush for '11 starting jobs.
Later this week, the Nats will call up catcher Wilson Ramos and middle infielder Danny Espinosa. Both are 23 with prototype physiques for their positions. The Nats assume they'll be fixtures in the lineup for years - maybe by next season, 2012 latest.
Get used to them. Ramos is a 220-pound rock of a backstop who has thrown out as many base stealers (45 percent) as legendary Yadier Molina did in the bushes. The Nats gave up an all-star closer in Matt Capps to get Ramos in a trade with Minnesota.
Recently, General Manager Mike Rizzo watched on the Nats clubhouse TV as Capps saved a game for the Twins. "I love Capps, everything about him - makeup, competitiveness, great guy in the clubhouse. Attaboy, Matt," he blurted after the last out. "But when you can get a catcher like Ramos to build around, you've just got to do it."
The best prospect in the organization, however, may be Espinosa, who was the second player in organized baseball this year to reach 20 homers and 20 steals. He now has 22 and 25, plus a glove so reliable in the minors that he projects to less than half the errors made this year by Desmond. "And Danny has an even better arm than Desmond, if you can believe that," said Rizzo.
Then why did Espinosa, from the shortstop factory at Long Beach State, switch to second base recently when he moved up to Class AAA? "Our stat people and our scouts both think that Desmond now has the best range of any shortstop in baseball, even better than [Troy] Tulowitzki" in San Diego, Rizzo said. "For me, it's going to take a lot to get that kind of range off of shortstop."