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Through 68 minutes of group interviews and a bunch of side conversations, there was one particular name that did not come up on the Nationals’ first day of spring training Thursday: Anthony Rendon.
He was not the subject of any questions. He was not woven into answers by his former coaches or teammates. This was first noticed by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, and should not be interpreted as disdain toward the departed third baseman. It’s just that, because of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, and all the attention that came with it, Rendon wasn’t just a secondary topic in West Palm Beach. He wasn’t a topic at all.
Typically, when a team loses one of the league’s top free agents, that team has to discuss how it will replace him. It’s standard protocol. But the Astros have sucked up all the airspace, even on the Nationals’ side of the facility, and there was just one glancing reference to Rendon. That was when Manager Dave Martinez pointed to the biggest uncertainty Washington faces.
“I think right now the key is: Who’s going to play third base?” Martinez said. “So far, Carter [Kieboom] has been working diligently over there.”
Among a handful of new faces, including 22 nonroster invitees, the Nationals welcomed two other additions at the start of camp. They set up Edgertronic and Rapsodo cameras behind their bullpen mounds on Thursday, an investment that was tested throughout their minor-league system in 2019. The high-speed cameras have become common around baseball in recent years, but the Nationals had been slow to the trend. The cameras can break pitching and hitting mechanics into thousands of tiny frames, and help pitchers assess spin rate, spin axis and their release points, among other minute details. With Rapsodo, batters can see up-to-the-second data on launch angle and exit velocity.
It had been an annual tradition for reporters to tweet about all the new equipment teams unveil in camp. The Nationals missed that trend, too, since they did not use the cameras at all in last year’s major league spring training. But Thursday provided a step toward using cutting-edge technology that offers more information for those seeking it. They had one Edgertronic camera situated between two pitching rubbers in the bullpen. They had one Rapsodo camera on the ground between a pitching rubber and home plate. It was a start.
And speaking of cameras, the Nationals made a subtle — though significant — staff move on their advanced scouting and major league video team. Kenny Diaz, a video intern last season, has been hired full-time and will regularly travel with the club during the regular season. Diaz is a native Spanish speaker and proved adept at translating information and scouting reports to Latin American players. That led the Nationals to bring him on road trips in the second half of 2019, and helped him stick in a growing advanced scouting department led by Jonathan Tosches.
Max Scherzer’s first bullpen session of the spring had the usual theatrics. He grunted. He cursed at himself. He simulated at-bats, saying counts out loud, and was firing mid-90s fastballs into Yan Gomes’s mitt. But the most impressive part of Scherzer’s morning was something few saw. After he finished pitching and his teammates headed to the showers, he went to a side field and did close to an hour of running.
He was joined by Joe Ross, the 26-year-old starter who is competing for the fifth and final spot in the Nationals’ rotation. They ran from foul pole to foul pole, scaling the warning track, then sprinted the width of the outfield to start over. Ross did about half of Scherzer’s sprints before bowing out. Scherzer did not finish until he was the last player outside, dripping in sweat, continuing his same routine at age 35.
One of the back corners of the Nationals’ clubhouse is designated for veteran positions players who are also team leaders. Last February, that included lockers for Rendon and Brian Dozier. But with both of them departed — Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels, Dozier to ongoing free agency — the mix has changed a bit. The lockers, in order, belong to Howie Kendrick (on 2019 team, signed back in free agency), Adam Eaton, Eric Thames (new in 2020), Michael A. Taylor, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Asdrúbal Cabrera (on 2019 team, signed back in free agency), Starlin Castro (new in 2020) and Emilio Bonifacio (signed to a minor-league deal with spring training invite).
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