Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman leaned on crutches by the visitor’s dugout at Nationals Park, his broken right ankle resting on a scooter. He vowed resilience in the face of the constant injury to his team, accepting it as part of the sport. “Everybody would like for it to be well-oiled, perfect, everything going to plan,” Cashman said. “That’s not baseball.”
Except for the Nationals this spring, it was. They arrived at Nationals Park today for their final preseason exhibition after a spring free of drama and full of good health. Aside from the bruise on Jayson Werth’s elbow and the minor inflammation in Bryce Harper’s left thumb – neither of which will keep them out of today’s lineup – the Nationals came through spring with Christian Garcia’s partially torn forearm tendon the only lingering ailment.
“Everybody is feeling frisky,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
The two biggest health questions the Nationals faced at the outset of spring training – Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder and Wilson Ramos’s knee, both surgically repaired – were answered. By the end of spring, scouts who doubted Zimmerman’s arm had come around to thinking it had improved. Johnson called Zimmerman’s health and improve form, “the most gratifying thing this spring.”
The only competition was the health and performance of Ramos, who inserted himself as a candidate to start behind the plate opening day. The likely choice seems to be Kurt Suzuki, but Ramos established himself as at least a co-starting catcher.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa never showed any signs of struggle with the torn rotator cuff in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Whether he can withstand a 162-game season remains to be seen. But in spring, his plan of strengthening the muscles around his worked fine.
His plan to change his left-handed swing worked fine, too. Espinosa ended his spring yesterday with a left-handed home run off hard-throwing Mets prospect Domingo Tapia. Spring training stats should be viewed with skepticism, but in Espinosa’s case it offered a sign of his shorter, more compact stroke. He hit .347/.372/.493 with two homers in 75 at-bats.
“That’s the best Espinosa’s swung left-handed,” one American League scout said. “Much better than before.”
“He showed great improvement,” Johnson said. “He started being more selective. He started being more direct to the ball, from both sides. You’re going to see his on-base percentage go up.”
Last year on opening day, the Nationals had worry about playing without Michael Morse and Drew Storen for at least two months; Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa both started in left field on the opening weekend. This year, the only thing to worry about may be high expectations – today, the sportsbook Bovada.com made the Nationals the favorite, at 7-1, to win the World Series. Pundits have picked them more than any other team.
There will be plenty obstacles ahead for the Nationals; that is baseball. But none of them surfaced during the spring.