Posted March 17, 2012 on
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(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.) By ROB MAADDI AP Sports Writer Gio Gonzalez heard the rumors that the Philadelphia Phillies were interested before the Washington Nationals traded for him.
He's just fine with that.
''I'm happy here,'' Gonzalez said after a spring outing against the New York Yankees.
These aren't the same old Nationals, who are used to being the doormats of the NL East. They haven't had a winning season since they were the Montreal Expos, and have finished last five times during their seven years in Washington.
But the Nationals are optimistic they can make a move in a division that might be even tougher now than recent years.
''We want to be in the playoffs,'' closer Drew Storen said. ''We're not saying we just want to be .500. We want to be playing in October and we want to win it.''
The Phillies have owned the East, winning five straight division titles. They still have a staff full of aces, but injuries to key offensive players - Ryan Howard and Chase Utley - and age are a factor. The Phillies still are the favorites, but other teams have narrowed the gap.
The Miami Marlins improved with the offseason additions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano.
The Atlanta Braves should be better after leading the wild-card race most of last year until a late-September collapse.
Then there's the Nationals. They started showing signs of going for it when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth away from the Phillies before last season. They even pursued Prince Fielder during the offseason. Werth struggled trying to live up to his $126 million contract. Still, he's one of the cornerstones on an offense that includes Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
Bryce Harper might not be too far away from joining them, too. Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, came to camp with a chance to win the starting job in right field. The 19-year-old missed a week with a strained left calf, and moved to center field when he returned. He'll likely start the season in the minors, but could be up at some point.
The Nationals finished strong last season, going 80-81. It was their highest win total since they went 81-81 in their first year in Washington in 2005.
''It's a new year. Whatever happened last year, you focus on the new year,'' outfielder Roger Bernadina said. ''The front office did a great job getting new pitchers in here. That builds confidence in the clubhouse. Guys in the offseason did things to get better.''
Getting Gonzalez in a deal with Oakland bolstered the starting rotation. The 26-year-old lefty fits nicely between right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. He was 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA last year.
The Nationals also added veteran Edwin Jackson to the rotation. Jackson earned a World Series ring with St. Louis, beating the Phillies in Game 4 of the NL division series along the way. Washington signed former Phillies closer Brad Lidge to add bullpen depth behind Storen and All-Star Tyler Clippard.
''We're right up there with any rotation,'' Espinosa said. ''With the East being a tough division, we have to have that kind of pitching. We have confidence in every single pitcher and know that they can keep it a low-scoring game, which should give us a chance to win a lot of games.''
Gonzalez isn't that boastful.
''As long as we stay healthy and stay focused and have the drive, we want to be up there, we want to be with the best and obviously Philadelphia has been holding that title for a while,'' Gonzalez said. ''But we want to go out there and do our best and compete with them. We're trying to play it one step at a time and not think that far ahead. We have a lot of work to do.''
Strasburg is the key to the rotation. The kid with the 100 mph fastball was a national phenomenon before elbow surgery. He returned to make five starts down the stretch last year, and is expected to be the ace of a promising staff.
''Strasburg's got a chance to be some kind of big pitcher,'' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. ''He has a chance to be the best pitcher in baseball.''
That's high praise from a manager who has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels on his staff. Strasburg has a 7.45 ERA in three appearances this spring, but he's just working on his command. His arm feels strong and he's firing those fastballs.
Atlanta's Chipper Jones was impressed with Strasburg's stuff after facing him in an exhibition game last week.
''I saw a 93 mph changeup. It was sick!'' Jones said.
Maybe they'll be talking like that about the rest of the Nats this year.
BEST OF MAXIM
Like several other teams around MLB today, Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals are sporting ugly green hats for St. Patrick's Day -- photo above via @NationalsPR.
And just in case there was any doubt about what day it is, the Nats chanted "Green beer!" prior to the game (via @DanKolko):
The #Nats are wearing green hats today and broke their post-stretch...
Bryce Harper optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
He's just not ready yet. See you soon (June?) in Washington, kid.
"He knows how much I love his talent. He is a special player. He needs to go down there and do the same thing he is doing. He doesn't need to change anything for me. He just needs to go play." (Davey Johnson, via Nationals.com, 3/18/2012)
File this one under: What Brad Lidge means when he talks about talent.
Earlier this week, Brad Lidge said in a MLB.com video that the Nationals were the most talented team he's ever been on. Of course, there was immediate backlash from Phillies fans: some took offense to it (check the comments here, for example), while others seemed indifferent.
In any case, ESPN's...
Chien-Ming Wang strained his hamstring yesterday while pitching against his former team, the New York Yankees. If the Washington Nationals were seriously considering trading start pitcher John Lannan, Wang’s latest injury should curb those discussions.
Washington cannot count on Wang to remain healthy and hold down a spot in the rotation. After all, when is the last...
The Washington Nationals sent prized prospect Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday.
Harper, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, was demoted following Sunday's game in which he went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts.
The 19-year-old Harper, who was a catcher in high school, is expected to see the bulk of his playing time in center field at Syracuse.
Harper batted .318 with...
From my Nationals season preview earlier today...
Burning QuestionIs Jayson Werth going to live up to his massive contract this season, or continue to struggle?
As soon as the ink was dry on Werth's seven year, $126 million contract in December of 2010, fans from all across the country were crucifying the Nationals for overpaying Werth. The logic was that Werth would turn 32...
Author: Andrew SwansonDrafted in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Jordan Zimmermann was thought to have first round talent and would have been drafted earlier had he gone to a larger school. The young righty boasts a mid-90’s fastball mixed with a knee buckling slider that afforded him a 9.1 strikeout per-nine innings...
The Washington Nationals continued to claw and scrape towards respectability in 2011, finishing just one game under .500 for the season. They retooled their team for the 2012 season, bringing in a pair of experienced starters in Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals might not win the NL East in 2012, but they're at least going to contend.
Nationals on TOCEnd of Season...
Washington Nationals righthander Chien-Ming Wang suffered a strained left hamstring in Thursday's spring training game against the New York Yankees.
The team sent Wang to undergo additional tests after he was hurt while attempting to cover first base.
The 31-year-old Wang had problems putting weight on the leg after the mishap.
Wang had a solid comeback season in 2011 after...
Gio Gonzalez pitched into the fourth inning and allowed one run for the Washington Nationals in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the New York Yankees on Friday.
Gonzalez gave up two hits and three walk in 3 1-3 innings. He had six strikeouts. The Nationals' new starter called the outing ''a good stepping stone.''
Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer and Brandon Laird...
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There are two things that drive the modern day baseball player: winning a championship and signing a lucrative free agent deal. Jayson Werth accomplished the first goal as a member of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship team, and now he has achieved the second goal with a huge free agent deal with the Washington Nationals. Unfortunately for fantasy owners...
The Washington Nationals have signed Xavier Nady to a minor league deal, Amanda Comak of the Washington Times reports. Nady will report directly to minor league camp.
Bill Ladson of MLB.com notes that the deal does not include any out dates and Nady will start the season at Triple-A.
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