WTOP is back in spring training for a week of fun in the sun as the Washington Nationals are ready to rinse off the stain of last year’s 26-34 finish. It was the team’s first losing record since 2011.
I’m looking forward to capturing some of the sights and sounds just like last year when the Nats were defending World Series champions.
Many of the questions from 2020 Spring Training were answered, just in the wrong way. Carter Kieboom had a less-than-stellar rookie season (hitting .202 with 99 at bats), but he’s back for a second swing at the position.
“It wasn’t like back to the drawing board, ‘alright here we go square one’, it was ‘what was different,” Kieboom said. “We figured it out and wanted to make a big adjustment with posture and making you’re just ready to go.”
While the 23-year-old is at the start of what he hopes is a long Major League career, 36-year-old Ryan Zimmerman is back after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns (his wife gave birth and his mother has multiple sclerosis).
“Technically I came to the first spring training last year, so it’s kind of the same timing as far as coming back,” Zimmerman said. “But I feel good and it’s good to be back out here and going through the day-to-day grind again, I missed that part of it for sure.”
Back for a second season is utility-man Josh Harrison, who is happy to be in the same place for the second straight February.
“I’ve had the past couple of spring trainings having to learn faces in the training room, strength guys, coaches, teammates,” Harrison said.
“You know it’s definitely a change of pace for me coming in knowing that I’m familiar with a lot these guys that are here, even though it was only 60 games last year.”
Harrison played five different positions in the field last year, with 12 of those games coming at second base in the aftermath of Starlin Castro’s season-ending wrist injury. This year’s spring training has hit Castro a little differently.
“It feels really emotional for me. Especially that I’m really healthy,” Castro said. “Now we’re all together and I feel really happy to be back and with my teammates every day.”
The team will play the first of 24 exhibitions Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida. It’s more than simply tuning up for the regular season, but the chance for the team to get in tune with itself.
“This is the best time to meet every new guy. Every new teammate,” Castro said. “We can work together every day. We can play (against and with) each other. We can talk. That’s the time to get ready and know each other. That’s the best time to do it.”
For pitchers like Kyle Finnegan, it’s the process of ramping up for opening day.
“Early on in spring, it’s all about getting your feet back under you,” Finnegan said. “Being really cognizant of your health and how you feel. Taking it slow and getting ready. Getting back into the groove of things. I feel great these first couple of days.”
The Nationals’ title defense never really began last year as the team lost its opener and had a losing record for all but two days of the shortened season. It has brought an added sense of purpose to West Palm Beach this year.
“Things didn’t work out the way we wanted to last year. You know, guys were injured-whatever the case may be,” Harrison said.
“But being back here seeing everybody healthy, everybody back together and then the pieces that were added it’s tough not to be excited for what to expect for this season.”
Offseason additions in the lineup and on the mound.
“Definitely excited to see these guys in action especially on the same team. The starting pitching staff is healthy,” Harrison said. “Guys that I’ve faced and then the addition of (Jon) Lester. (Stephen) Strasburg coming back (after injuries limited him to five innings in 2020). We’ve got some good bullpen arms. The addition of Josh Bell and (Kyle) Schwarber-all guys that bring something different to the table.”
It’s morning again for another Nationals baseball season. Let the sun shine in.