Nats open spring training with pieces to make playoff run
VIERA, Fla. (AP) — Relief pitcher Casey Janssen ticked off several reasons why signing with the Washington Nationals made sense, including the fact that the team won the NL East by 17 games last season.
“I want to win,” Janssen said. “I want to experience the postseason. I want to win a World Series. That was exciting for me, that there was a strong opportunity here for that to happen.”
As pitchers and catchers began reporting to the Nationals spring training complex on Thursday, several players said they have heard for the past few months that they will enter the season as the betting favorites to get to the World Series.
After all, the offseason acquisition of former American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer gives the Nationals arguably the best starting rotation in baseball and Washington has a potent lineup to go with it.
However, as far as starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez is concerned, the Nationals would be better off not trying to put that kind of pressure on themselves, especially after last season when the team won 96 games but lost to the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s just something we don’t want to dwell on as much as possible,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t add all the pressure and try to nitpick everything we did wrong last year. We’ve just got to try to play the game.”
Though he did do some tweaking to the Nationals roster — signing Scherzer and trading setup man Tyler Clippard for infielder Yunel Escobar — Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo doesn’t believe the team needs to do anything drastic to get over the hump and make a deep playoff run.
“We certainly have the talent level to compete at those levels,” Rizzo said. “We just have to keep at it. You guys keep talking about winning the World Series . we haven’t even thrown our first bullpen yet.
“We’ve got a long season ahead of us. We’re concentrating on putting the best team we can on the field and letting the players play and winning as many games as we can.”
The Nationals will hold their first official workout on Saturday, but a number of players who showed up on Thursday spent some time getting in a workout.
Infielder Danny Espinosa showed up with a thick fu Manchu moustache and after spending four days driving from California to Florida in a motorhome with his wife, two dogs and two cats. Pitcher Doug Fister arrived to find his locker is next to his former Detroit Tigers teammate, Scherzer.
Not only does Fister believe Scherzer will bolster an already impressive rotation, but he has no doubt that he will fit into the Nationals locker room quite nicely.
“He’s a guy that’s a jokester at times,” Fister said of Scherzer. “He’s a guy that’s going to be focused and serious at the other times. He’s got a good, well-balanced personality that’s going to add to what we have here. We have a certain feeling in the locker room and I think he’s just going to add to that feeling of comfort and a tight-knit family group.”