The biggest spring training challenge for Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson is keeping it boring. After coming off of the best season in Washington history, the Nationals have high expectations for 2013. With the Nationals opening day lineup all but set, Johnson would like nothing more than to have a drama free spring.
Washington has never been in this situation before. They have always been the team expected to pull up the rear in the NL East. This is no longer the case as the Nationals are considered a World Series contender. They are also considered to be one of the most complete teams in baseball and one that is sound offensively and defensively.
It must be strange for Johnson not having to answer questions about pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery. Though he was not the manager at the start of 2011, Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo had to defend their protocol in bringing back Jordan Zimmerman. Last year it was ace Stephen Strasburg. Both were put on 160 innings pitch limits that were roundly criticized by experts. This year, Zimmerman and Strasburg are deemed completely healthy and can concentrate on getting ready to take on a full season load.
This year, Johnson does not have to answer questions as to whether outfielder Bryce Harper is ready for MLB. From the day Harper was signed in 2010, a countdown began as to when he would make his Major League debut. It was clear last spring training that Harper would be called up some time during the season. He was in April and went on to win NL Rookie of the Year honors. This season, the only questions surrounding Harper are how will he handle playing left field and will he fall victim to the sophomore jinx?
Johnson actually has an experienced bullpen closer going into the season in Rafael Soriano. The Nationals made it a point to sign a veteran closer after losing Drew Storen to injury most of last season and watching Tyler Clippard struggle from time to time. After arriving in camp late due to visa problems, Soriano has quietly gone about readying himself for the upcoming pennant run.
The Nationals do have some players coming back from injury that they have to keep tabs on. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is coming back from shoulder surgery. Outfielder Jayson Werth a broken wrist. Catcher Wilson Ramos is coming off of a major knee injury. Washington will have to take their time in bringing all of them back.
The biggest drama facing the Nationals may be watching starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler compete in the World Baseball Classic. If anything were to happen to either of them, Washington would be in a major bind. Though national pride is at stake it would not bother the Nationals at all if Gonzalez and Detwiler returned home sooner rather than later.
All is quiet at the moment in Viera, FL. With a season full of high expectations awaiting them, the Nationals hope that this spring training is one of the most boring in franchise history.