Three pitchers are the first to be cut
Perhaps it is a good sign of the Nationals' pitching depth that the first three players cut from the spring roster have all had varying levels of success in the big leagues. Left-hander Matt Chico and right-handers Joe Bisenius and Shairon Martis were all reassigned to minor league camp on Friday.
All three had pitched for the Nationals in the majors within the past 24 months, but none of the three had much chance of making the big league team this spring, given the depth of the team's pitching.
"In trying to get guys ready who we realistically think are going to be on the club, we had to pare it down a little bit," Manager Jim Riggleman said. Pitching coach "Steve McCatty was doing his scheduling for the next 10 days and he's just not seeing any innings where he can commit to those guys."
In the case of Chico, who made one start in the majors in 2010, his spring training output for the Nationals consisted of exactly one inning against the Florida Marlins on Wednesday.
"Honestly, just seeing everybody in camp, I thought this was going to happen," Chico said. "I'm not oblivious. I want to be on the team but the numbers speak for themselves. There are some things that need to happen, and I need to go get innings, and if I'm going to be starting I need to get my innings up."
Norris more comfortable
Thursday night, in his second appearance at Nationals' major league camp, catcher Derek Norris smoked his first home run, a line drive to left that crept out of the park despite the howling wind blowing in.
After his experience last year, Norris, widely regarded as one of the top 75 prospects in baseball, feels more at ease. "I'm a little more comfortable," Norris said. "Last year, I guess you could say I felt, not necessarily out of place, but just wasn't accustomed to all the things that are different from minor league camp. I feel a little more relaxed, a little more confident in what I want to do."
Norris struggled through a hand injury last season and he hit only .235. But his approach still makes him perhaps the Nationals' best prospect behind Bryce Harper. Norris walked 89 times in 399 plate appearances, giving him a .413 on-base percentage, second in the Carolina League among players with at least 250 plate appearances.
Norris sometimes wondered if he belonged at last year's spring training, but this year, he feels differently. In some ways, catching major leaguers seems easier.
"In the minor leagues sometimes, especially in [Class] A ball, you kind of feel like a hockey goalie instead of a catcher," Norris said. "Pitches are coming in everywhere. You can feel a little more comfortable. Hitting, same thing. You can look for that one pitch and not have to worry about, well, is he going to throw me a strike? It's 'Is he going to throw me my pitch?' "
Indeed, Norris's approach at the plate may translate better in the majors than the low minors. Norris struck out 94 times last year, many of them looking. Both he and the Nationals were fine with the majority of the backward Ks - Norris, they believe, has a better command of the strike zone than the beginner umpires who populate the Carolina League.
"The pitchers, obviously, their stuff gets a little bit better," Norris said. "But it's nice to know they're going to be around the zone. You don't have to worry about 98 [mph pitches] whizzing by your head and then painting on the outside corner. That's a plus, too. It definitely helps."
It's seemingly a matter of if, not when, Norris reaches the major leagues, and he seems to know that, too. Norris did not receive the home run ball he hit, and he didn't mind. It may have been his first homer on a big league diamond, but it was just spring training. "I'll wait," he said, "until the real thing happens."
- Dave Sheinin and Adam Kilgore