The Washington Post

Nationals plan to ‘take it easy’ during long spring

(Julio Cortez / AP)

Denard Span slept well last night, which was odd for him. He usually gets nervous before the first game of spring. But even when he took the field today for his first game with the Nationals, his new team, he felt relaxed.

“It just felt refreshing,” Span said. “It felt surprising. I felt loose. I wasn’t nervous. It felt good to be out there.”

When asked why, Span paused. He wasn’t sure at first, then settled on the reason: Davey Johnson. With the Twins, spring workouts had always been long and regimented. Johnson wants efficiency and no overworking.

“I think maybe just the atmosphere around here, feeding off the team and the way Davey is,” said Span, who went 0 for 2 in his debut. “It kind of makes us feel loose. I’m still adjusting to that. It’s a little bit different pace. I’m used to being a little bit tighter than here. I think it starts with him. He sets the tone and makes us feel loose.”

With the World Baseball Classic lengthening the Grapefruit League schedule to 35 games, Johnson stressed to the Nationals to conserve for the long spring.

“You definitely have to pace yourself,” Span said. “You got to be smart. I don’t want to go out there and get too crazy and wear yourself out or get hurt. Before the game, Davey was like, ‘Just take it easy out there. Don’t do anything crazy when you get on the bases. We got a long spring. We don’t need any torn hamstrings or groins or anything like that.’ He stressed that before the game, just to take it easy.”

It may be tough to convince all the Nationals to take it easy, especially a certain 20-year-old in left field.

“I need help with that a little bit,” Bryce Harper said. “I understand we have 35 games this spring, but when I do play I’m gonna play hard and try to be ready. I don’t have a low button or a middle button. It’s always go, go, go when I’m out on the field. So I’m gonna play like that, same as last year.”

Shortstop Ian Desmond had a hard time not getting too anxious, too, even if it was only spring training.

“I was out there right before the game, I think my hand was kind of shaking a little bit,” Desmond said. “That’s just the way baseball is. We all love it so much, I think to get to this level you have to love it that much. Just ready to get back out there.”

>>> In the first game of his post-pitching life, Micah Owings got plenty of work. He began the game as the Nationals’ designated hitter, the moved to first base. He made one error at first charging a ball – Johnson said he should have stayed back to get a better hop, but he liked that Owings’s first instinct was to be aggressive. In the ninth inning, in his fourth at-bat, Owings ripped a groundball single off the shortstop.

>>> Cole Kimball pitched a scoreless eighth inning as he pitched in a big league uniform for the first time since 2011. Kimball is still recovering from labrum surgery he underwent in 2011. He pitched in only six minor league games last year, plus the Arizona Fall League.

Kimball threw fastballs at 91 miles per hour, well off the blazing 98-mph heaters he threw before his injury. “I probably got another gear or two,” Kimball said. “It’s early. Still February.”

>>> Bill Bray allowed two runs in his one inning, one earned and one unearned. He allowed three hits and struck out one. Bray is still tinkering with his arm slot, reworking his mechanics after he missed most of last season with a groin injury. Today, Johnson said, he tucked the ball too far behind his head during his delivery.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.



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Adam Kilgore · February 23, 2013