Five Nationals due for bounce-back season
Even if Bryce Harper had returned, the Nationals would have needed several returning veterans to improve on their 2018 numbers to help the team compete in the National League East this season.
Now that Harper is officially gone having signed a 13-year deal last week with the rival Philadelphia Phillies that attention will increase. That is certainly true in the outfield, where the Nationals must feel they have enough organizational depth to challenge in the improved division.
“We have a great core (lineup) to start with,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan on Monday.
Rizzo said the signing of free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin in December made it “more difficult” to sign Harper.
So it is time to move on from Harper. Five returning players will look either to improve, stay healthy or both this season for Washington, with position and age as of Opening Day:
⦁ Michael A. Taylor (outfield): The Florida native took a step backward last season, failing to build on a strong 2017 campaign under former manager Dusty Baker.
Taylor played in 134 games last season but hit just .227 with a .644 OPS, six homers and 28 RBI.
That came after he hit .271 with a .806 OPS in 2017. Taylor has been working on his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long, and with his strong defense should see plenty of time in center.
⦁ Adam Eaton (outfield): It’s not like Eaton had a bad season last year. He hit .301 with a .805 OPS, five homers and 33 RBI.
But the Ohio native was limited to 95 games due to injuries. He played in just 23 games in his first season with Washington in 2017, after he was injured in late April while running out a grounder.
Last season, Eaton went on the 10-day disabled list April 11 with a bone bruise on his left ankle. He was moved to the 60-day disabled list on May 11 and began a minor league rehab assignment June 1 before he came back to the majors. Eaton could bat second behind leadoff hitter Trea Turner this season.
“It will probably help me run a little bit more, definitely change my game a little bit in the sense that I’ll get pitched differently with Eaton behind me,” Turner told reporters last week in Florida. “And he’s a really good bat-control guy, so he can do a lot of different things. He can bunt, hit and run, and I think it’s going to be fun if we hit one and two.”
⦁ Howie Kendrick (outfield-infield): Yes, we are picking on another outfielder. Kendrick, though, can also be a viable backup at second base. And like Eaton, it was injuries and not performance that was the frustrating part of 2018.
He went on the disabled list on May 21 last season with a right Achilles injury and was done for the year after going chasing a flyball in left field at Nationals Park. Kendrick hit .303 in 40 games last season.
⦁ Ryan Zimmerman (first base): The University of Virginia product went on the disabled list May 12 with a right oblique strain. He was moved to the 60-day DL on June 30 and then began a minor league rehab assignment July 16 with Potomac before being active by Washington a few days later.
Zimmerman ended the season hitting .264 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in 85 games. His backup again this year will be Matt Adams, a left-handed slugger who will be in his second season with the Nationals.
⦁ Stephen Strasburg (pitcher): Strasburg has made at least 30 starts just twice in his career, and the last time was in 2014. For comparison, Max Scherzer has made at least 30 starts every season since 2009.
Strasburg went on the disabled list June 10 with right shoulder inflammation. He began a minor league rehab assignment July 10 with Single-A Potomac and then was activated by the Nationals 10 days later. But on July 25 he went on the DL again with a cervical nerve impingement, then returned to the majors August 22.
He ended 2018 making just 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA and a 10-7 record. His ERA in 2017 was 2.52.