Nationals pitchers and catchers are set to take the field for their first official workout of the spring. The majority prepared by sitting down and watching the U.S.-Russia hockey game on a clubhouse television. The room erupted when the Americans scored their first goal, the cheers led by patriotic puckheads Tyler Clippard and Ross Detwiler.
Reliever Ryan Mattheus agreed that the room a kind of first-day-of-school feel. That was especially true for Josh Roenicke, who arrived today after he agreed to a minor league deal yesterday. A free agent for the first time after the Twins non-tendered him this winter, Roenicke had been getting antsy to land somewhere.
The Nationals and his agency had been talking on and off for a while this winter. Roenicke suspects the deal was consummated because of a family assist – his wife happens to be Ian Desmond’s sister. “I think he talked to [Mike] Rizzo or something,” Roenicke said. “I know our wives are excited. It’ll be fun.”
When Roenicke arrived at spring training last year, he said, he had an impingement in his shoulder that he described as “an annoyance.” The health issue seemed to linger into the season. Roenicke lost a mile per hour off his average fastball last season, to 91.5 from 92.6. After posting a 143 ERA+ in 2012, the best year of his career, Roenicke had a 93 ERA+ last year.
Roenicke said his arm feels strong now, with no lingering effects and no injuries. He understands he faces an uphill climb to make the Nationals’ crowded bullpen, which has one, maybe two, available spots and myriad capable pitchers vying for them.
“I know they got a bullpen that’s pretty stacked,” Roenicke said. “They’ve done a great job the last few years. I can’t control that. I’ve just got to control what I can do on the mound, trust my abilities and be confident, make it known that I’m here to stay. A lot of things can happen in spring, other teams needing guys. We’ll see if I can put some pressure on them to keep me.”
Gio Gonzalez is among the pitchers throwing bullpen sessions today. Later this afternoon, Matt Williams will meet with the media for the first time this spring. In the meantime, check out our feature in today’s paper on Doug Fister, the son of a retired firefighter and SWAT team member.