Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Training Thoughts

The African Queen and I arrived back home in Alexandria, Virginia early in the AM ('O Dark-Thirty as we like to call it) on Thursday morning March 11th. The 14-hour direct drive up Interstate 95 for 865 miles without any turns from Space Coast Stadium until one mile from home was uneventful--except for witnessing a remarkable car incident in Georgia that will always be remembered for no one--not a soul--getting hurt.

More on that later.

But first some Spring Training Thoughts from our two week trip. The players that stood out for their work on the practice and game fields. Those not going by the last name of Strasburg.

Just like in 2009, when he forced Our Washington Nationals to recognize his development, Ian Desmond was the best all-around field player making his impact for a roster spot. Desmond hit the ball hard and well--and played a solid shortstop in two games we attended. And Ian didn't seem lost, as he was last season, when placed in right field during the third. Cristian Guzman's $8 million dollar salary may have a say in the final decision--but if Desmond completely outplays "The Guz", it would be hard for anyone not to give the young man the starting spot. Ian Desmond is forcing Washington again to make a decision on his playing position. He's one of the best stories of camp. Great attitude too.

We saw him pitch twice and he threw four shutout innings. Aaron Thompson was a pleasant surprise to watch on the mound and equally charming in person. Traded to Washington last season for Nick Johnson, the 23-year old lefty was sharp in each pre-season game witnessed. Not overpowering, Aaron showed a terrific changeup and a willingness to let his fielders record the outs. A total sleeper on the roster--that no one probably seriously considered until now. With options available, Thompson's chances of making the roster are slim--but he's certainly been noticed by Baseball Management now--probably some other teams as well.

Mentally, Elijah Dukes seems to have put it all together. Determined like no one else we spoke to during our two weeks in Viera, Florida--Our Number 34 seems ready for a breakout season. Sohna will tell you, as they've talked a lot, Elijah Dukes this spring is a more confident person than she's ever seen before. Dukes has always been talented. Now, he's added learned knowledge--good combination.

Our Washington Nationals need to find a position for Mike Morse. He's even willing to catch!! Morse hits the ball hard every single time he steps to the plate. Fast bat, good power--even away to right field. Over the course of our spring training trip--Mike Morse not only caught, but played first base, third base and right field. If he could ever find a way to be juggled onto the field safely, Morse's bat off the bench would be lethal. The man can hit!!

Willie Harris stills plays the game, even the pre-season, as hard as anyone. Harris gives his all every single step of the way. The perfect teammate in every respect.

In the later games, we saw the difference Nyjer Morgan can make at the top of Washington's lineup--bunting for base hits, slapping singles and stealing bases. A menace at the plate and around the bases is key and Our Number 1 can be just that again--no doubt about it.

Other than Stephen Strasburg and Aaron Thompson--we didn't see much quality pitching early in camp, although Tyler Clippard seems to have started up where he left off in 2009. Just a solid competitor out of the bullpen--still love his game goggles too. Garrett Mock was OK--doesn't seem to be nibbling around the plate as much anymore. He's finally decided to go after hitters and let the batters get themselves out--instead of trying to strike out everyone. That's a big difference for him.

Other Notes Worth Mentioning:

For the first time in recent memory, non-roster invitees have limited impact on making the Opening Day Roster. Realistically, Eric Bruntlett the only possible field player and, maybe, Ron Villone or Miguel Batista out of the bullpen.

Adam Kennedy hardly ever says a word during practice. He just goes about his business.

The complete opposite of Livan Hernandez--who chats with EVERYBODY!!

We could tell while talking to him, that Jesus Flores was concerned about his right throwing arm. Still unable to swing a bat, and now sent to Birmingham, Alabama to rehab with Dr. James Andrews--Flores' setback was easily the biggest downside of camp. Jesus has not played a full season since 2007. That's a lot of time to miss and we can only feel badly for him. Jesus Flores has the talent to be a All-Star Catcher. Injuries are curtailing any forward progress.

With Flores starting the year on the Disabled List--The 2010 Opening Day Roster seems pretty much set except for at the end of the bench--which makes you wonder whether some late spring training trades might be made to clear up spots involving Roger Bernadina, Justin Maxwell or Alberto Gonzalez--for a little more pitching.

Catchers: Pudge Rodriguez and Wil Nieves

Infield: Adam Dunn (1st), Adam Kennedy (2nd), Cristian Guzman or Ian Desmond (SS), Ryan Zimmerman (3B)

Outfield: Josh Willingham (LF), Nyjer Morgan (CF), Elijah Dukes (RF)

Bench: Desmond or "The Guz", Mike Morse, Bruntlett (Bruntlett more versatile than Alberto Gonzalez--but still on the bubble of making the team), Willie Harris, Roger Bernadina or Justin Maxwell (Maxwell has an option left).

Starting Pitchers: John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Scott Olsen (if healthy), then any combination of Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin, Livan Hernandez and Matt Chico.

Bullpen: Tyler Clippard, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett, Jason Bergmann, Matt Capps, Ron Villone or Miguel Batista--or maybe Stammen here as the long man as well. Not sure Tyler Walker--who has guaranteed money--has actually earned a rightful spot on the roster yet.

Interestingly, that's a decidedly veteran team. Desmond 24 years old with Dukes, Zimmerman, Lannan & Stammen all 25-years old. Pudge, Nieves, Dunn, Kennedy, Guzman, Wllingham, Bruntlett, Livan & Marquis all above 30 years of age.

Finally on the drive back home--that traffic accident we witnessed. I-95 in Georgia has been under construction for the past four years. A lane widening project that never seems to end. As the construction heading north finally ended near Darien, Georgia--all the cars and trucks immediately get back up to speed. The speed limit is 70--most everyone seems to be going considerably faster. About 100 yards ahead of us--out of nowhere-this gold colored Lexus SUV driving in the far right lane of three--suddenly careens across the highway to the left--through two lanes. For whatever reason, the driver has lost control of his vehicle and now has overcompensated for that loss with excessive steering at speed. The Lexus passes directly in front of another vehicle traveling in the second lane--but they miss each other--barely. Now, the Lexus is barreling toward a concrete median barrier separating the interstate's north and south lanes--AND--a bridge abutment. The vehicle is probably going to go airborne--into the southbound lanes.

The Lexus driver is probably now standing on his brakes trying to avoid the wall and in doing so, over compensates again with his steering and immediately begins a series of 360 degrees turns--the rear of the vehicle leading the way--left to right--as the Lexus now is careening right back across the highway from whence it came. Cars are slamming on their brakes in an attempt to avoid hitting the Lexus. But this Mayflower Moving Van is quickly heading right into dangers way--AND THE MAYFLOWER TRUCK CAN'T STOP--Too Big and Too Heavily Loaded. As the Lexus twirls across I-95 West To East--The Mayflower Driver somehow sees everyone is stopping to his left and LURCHES his cab deftly in that direction. A total panic move that somehow saves the day. The Mayflower Van misses the Lexus by maybe--one foot. One Foot!! And The Lexus spins to a halt on the right shoulder back under the bridge overpass.

NO ONE WAS HURT!! Incredibly, no vehicles were struck. The smell of burnt rubber and steaming brakes was prevalent in the air. But the Lexus Driver was white as a ghost. He had seen his life pass in front of himself and if not for some quick thinking motorists and an amazing driving maneuver from a Mayflower Van Driver--the final outcome of these harrowing five to 10 seconds would not have been so good. In our jobs in television news, Sohna and I have seen many gripping moments. This potentially near fatal accident was as mind numbing as they come.

With a huge vehicle pileup imminent, that Lexus Driver Is One Lucky Man!! And many thanks to everyone involved for stopping on I-95 North near Darien, Georgia. People cared about the guy's safety.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


DND said...

Sohna and Jeff
Thanks so much for sharing some of your time at spring traning with us. We always enjoy your knowledge, stories and company, as well as hanging around to see the great relationships you have built with player, coaches, front office and media people. Keep up the great work, we need our daily Nats320 fix,

Tim said...

Wow! I am glad everyone is safe Jeff! A very interesting experience.

I believe if the defense does it job we have a shot at 75 wins!

Tim said...

Thanks Jeff for that interesting story! I am glad everyone is ok!

I believe the Nats can win 75 games if our defense is solid. Our pitching is what it is at the moment- No very good!

I hope to see you at the games!

Go Nats!

paul said...

Have seen many a driver weaving due to sleepiness on that drive. Do you remember when I-95 was not continuous through Georgia? For some reason there was some section, pre-1970, that took a while getting finished. So glad everyone came out of it unscathed.

What's the verdict on Steve McCatty? I don't really understand how he became a MLB coach, and why Saint was scapegoated last year. He is now coaching the Marlins, incidentally.

WP sez Strasberg will be pitching agst the Sawx on the 3rd. That would be real fun.

Screech's Best Friend said...

McCatty seems to be the complete opposite of St.Claire. Where Randy was outgoing and demonstrative in his instruction and manner--Steve is quiet and seems to hang in the background and talk privately with each pitcher.

Anonymous said...

Jeff and Sohna,

So glad you guys are okay. That was a terrifying account--scary.

Baseball is great, but for today I'm happy you are both safe and sound.


natsfan1a said...

A frightening account - glad to hear that everybody emerged unscathed. Good on the truck driver.

Thanks, as always, for all the ST pix and stories.