Ask Boswell about the Washington Nationals, spring training, the Capitals, the Redskins and all Washington sports

Feb 27, 2012

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins' game, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Did anything impress you this first week of Spring Training? I know we are getting a TON of buzz from the National talking heads (which always makes me nervous), but I want to know what to be on the look out for...

From my observations, Strasburg is relaxed, happy to be a 'normal' player and, at 24 in mid-season, ready to dominate.  He SHOULD dominate. Amazing stuff and command, great head, stable temper and hungry. Just stay healthy. Harper is bigger than last year. Storn just looked at him and said, "Ridiculous." The Nats are a very big team physically. At 19, Harper might be the most impressive and, imo, a good kid when you chat with him. 

I think Espinosa, now fully recovered from the wrist surgery after the '10 season, will hit as well lefty this year as he did righty last year = .283/.361/.496. Oh, come on, he can't be that good. But I think he jumps up a level.

Gio will knock your eyes out with his stuff. It's just what you think __a team that can be very good very soon. And then better than that. But "everything changes everything." So don't count chickens. Instead, just enjoy it.  

When was the last time a team had this many young core players come up at the same time?

Oh, it happens. The Braves are doing it right now with a vengence with Freddie Freeman (22), Jason Heyward (22), Craig Kimbrel (24), Brandon Beachy (25), Mike Minor (24) and Jonny Venters (27) are contributing last year and young pitchers Randall Delgado and Julian Teheran arriving. And they are starting a rookie at SS, Tyler Pastornicky after only 27 games at AAA.

That's an amazing group all at once. If the Nats have an edge it's that Strasburg and Harper may be better than any of the Braves kids. But that's not proven at all.

OTOH, this is one of the best crops of young players I've ever seen a team have at one time. More to the point, Davey Johnson thinks so, too, and came right out and said they had more potential than his '80's Mets. He thought about what he'd said for a day then repeated that he really believed it, didn't think it was over the top, as long as it was emphasized that he said "potential." The Mets maxed out.

We went over the pitching staff. A lot of similarities. Gooden/Strasburg. Darling/JZ'mann, Sid Fernandez/Gio Gonzalez (don't look alike but both had high K's, some control issues and brutally hard to hit). Bobby Ojeda/Lannan. Davey liked that one. Then he added, "Edwin Jackson's cpmparable in stuff to Rick Aguilera. Strawberry/Harper. Keith Hernandez/J Zim (slick fielding corner infielders and mid-order bats). He liked Espinosa and desmond a lot better than his DP combos (Backman-Santana). Of course no comp for Gary Carter, though Ramos is probably a future All-Star. And Werth is as good or better than the Met LFers.

Of course, Gooden went 24-4. Strasburg has six career wins. The same goes for most of the others. That's what he meant about "potential."

It's going to be quite hard for the Nats NOT to be a very good team in '12-'16. But a 95+ win team at some point? You have to DO that, not talk about it. Pitchers have to stay healthy, Harper has to blossom. And even if you win a lot of games and provide a ton of fun, which I think these Nats will do over the next bunch of years, all you have to do it look at the Braves "dynasty" to see how hard it is to even get to a World Series much less win one.

But Nats fans are allowed to be as excited as they want to be. I spent last week shaking my head. Matt Purke, if his shoulder stays OK, really has darting electric stuff and a rep for being a very smart pitcher who's already polished.

Kudos to the Lerners and to Ryan Zimmerman for agreeing to what appears to be a very fair contract. Now can Santa Rizzo get us a high OBP center fielder by Saint Patrick's Day, please?

Kudos is correct. It was the correct decision for a lot opf reasons. But now you still have to hope that Z'man from 27-to-34 is Scott Rolen (who made five All-Star teams in that age span) but the fabulous (seriously) Eric Chavez, who was just as good as Z'man but, due to injuries, had his last superb year was at 27 then pretty much disappeared.

Werth is really cheerful about the idea of playing CF (if Harper is ready to come up). And Harper may be in the majors in late April. As I understand it, that would be long enough in the minors so his free agency wouldn't arrive until after the '18 season; but it would make him elligible for arbitration a whole year sooner and cost the Nats a chunk of extra money. I suspect Davey is trying to set the stage for Harper to come up in late April (not Opening Day) rather than the payroll-friendly late June. 

So, be careful wishing for a singles hitting CF. By May Day, if Harper does well in March and April, you might see a lineup of Desmod (6), Harper (9), Z'man (5), Morse (7), Werth (8), LaRoche (3), Espinosa (4) and Ramos (2).

I don't think that would be a mediocre offense but, possibly, a pretty good one.

sGreat job. Now

Nice little morsel of info you shared with us last week... did the Nats have an opportunity in 2010 to trade Adam Dunn to Tampa for Matt Moore? How close was that deal to happening?

The deal never got close, as I understand it. The Nats talked to the Rays about BJ Upton. The Rays said no but, according to my sources, suggested Moore. The eyes in the Nats front office lit up. The big improvement in Nats scouting in recent years really gives them a good read in situations like this.

Remember that this was mid-'10. In '09, Moore was 8-5 in A ball with a 3.15 ERA and in '10 he was 6-11 __that's 6-11, not 18-1__ with a 3.36 ERA in A+. That's not even AA ball. The point is not that the Nats were stupid not to grab the deal or that the Rays were dumb to suggest it.  Moore had a great arm and was striking out 12.9 men per nine innings in the LOW minors. But he was still headed toward 6-11 in A+ ball. It's amazing that the Nats FO wanted to trade a huge name (Dunn) for a southpaw who was an EIGHTH-round pick in the '07 amateur draft. This was the opposite of a no-brainer. It was all brains for the Nats to spot this. (Remember, this version is the Nats memory of what happened. If Moore is Cy Young some year I can just about promise that the Rays will say, 'Oh, that would never have happened.' Teams get to remember the trades that DON'T happen any way they want to remember them. There's no truth serum involved. It's bad enough that teams have to live with every decision that they DO make.

At the time,  there was enormous support to keep Dunn in DC and resign him to a multi-year deal __ led by (imo) a large majority of (but not all) Nats fans, Stan Kasten, the media (including me).  Everybody heard about the Edwin Jackson for Dunn possibility. But the Nats had SEVERAL deal choices. Moore was just one of them. The decision was: Don't trade Dunn. NOT "don't trade Dunn for Moore."

Of course the board has the final word on big deals __and trading Dunn would have been big from a PR point of view at least. The point to me is that the Nats have gone from a team that can't wait to give a last chance to Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes to a team that has a front office that thinks it would be a good idea __in real time, not in hindsight__ to trade a slugger on his way to 38 homers for a lefty in A+ with big stuff but a 6-11 record and 'normal' ERA.

Hello, Mr. Boswell! You are probably getting this question in multiple ways, so let me offer my spin: there has been a lot of chatter on the Nats still hunting for a CF. Is there any substantive info to the Gerardo Parra talk? And if so, what's your take on that as a possibility? (Depending on the price (naturally) I am supportive of it.

I haven't checked it out. Parra would be an upgrade on Ankiel as a hitter and won a Gold Glove last year (but in LF, not CF). He has played less than 50 games in CF in the majors. Maybe the Nats know how good he is out there.

This could be a case of 'be careful what you wish for.' The Nats have a two-year windwo here where they could have an OF of Werth, Harper and Morse with LaRoche at 1st (team has a '13 option on LaR for $10M). If Werth can handle CF, that's a lot of pop in the lineup. In Desmond and Espinosa you have a pair that can run and one or the other can hit at the top of the order. Trading for Parra is fine, but only at a reasonable price, imo. I wouldn't "reach" for him at all.

So once the Nats do obtain the leadoff CF sooner or later, what will likely happen as the chain reaction? My guess is that Werth may move to left, and Morse moves to first. Rendon moves to short or 2nd. This means that Desmond is the most likely the odd man out. Your thoughts on this?

Man, do the Nats love Desmond. I like him. Quite a difference. Offensively, he was one of the 15 worst regulars in MLB last year; and he's hitting leadoff where he gets more ABs than anybody. However, after Davey and Eck worked with him, he hit much better later in the season. He has another year (at least) __his third as a MLB SS__ to show what his production level is. 

But, yes, everybody looks out to '13 or '14 and wonders where Rendon fits __assuming he hits and they sure didn't pay him $7.2M with a $6-million bonus because they think he'll fail. One of the remarkable things about the Nats right now is their depth and flexibility when you look out a year or two. Nobody doubts Espinosa could play SS. But Desmond is a remarkable athlete, excellent attitude. If he hits like he did after Davey arrived and put him at No. 1, then he will change this discussion.

And more on the way ... No Strasburg yet, but plenty of #2-3 pitchers a year or 2 away. Let's Go Royals!!!

Everybody's been high on the Royals system for quite a while now. It's ironic that while "Moneyball" had its era as a way to get an advantage, that edge has been "arbitraged" out of MLB to a large degree __every body can do it once the statistical tools have been created. Now the edge seems to be in having the best scouting __and blend it with the stat folks. When Rizzo took over in '09 and said, "We will be a 60/40 scout-over-stats shop," he may have the hit the current trend right on the nose. And those 17 scouts they raided in 24 hours from other teams helped them make some very good, very confident drafts (especially of over-slot players).

Do you think the Redskins should trade up for RGIII or wait to see what falls in their lap?

Almost everybody loves RGIII. So I get no points for saying that I do, too. The most dazzling things he does, like the 4.41 and 4.38 in the 40, just makes his price go up. 

As the Caps and now the Nats have shown, you construct a TEAM, you don't just use massive resources for one player. But the Skins are in a tough spot. QB is more important in the NFL than any position is in baseball (even an ace) or perhaps any major sport. And the Skins QB's are just so sub-standard. If you can get a healthy Manning with nothing but $$$, do it. But I doubt that's possible. So we can debate RGIII __and how much you'd give__ until draft day.

I hate myself when I have a good idea, then change my mind almost immediately. I wrote a column last fall about the Skins FINALLY trying to build through the draft with Shanahan. They did really well last year with their picks. Now, gut level, I think I'd make a run at RGIII if Manning won't come. So, I just contradicted myself. And I may flip-flop again. Which proves it's a really good how-to-build-an-NFL-team debate.

He dodged a bullet on a technicality. All the seals on his sample were intact, and there's simply no way you can get synthetc testosterone into a sealed sample. Allo his comments about his terrible ordeal, etc., make me ill. I think MLB has an excellent chance of winning their appeal.

It's amazing the impact that one (relatively) small mistake __screwing up the chain of custody__ can have in so many areas. Talking to players in Fla, this really makes them worry about the drug testing that their union agreed to. It's not fair to Braun. It seems there will always be doubt. But the test results were so far off the chart for high levels __no other teest sample ever even close, apparently__ that you wonder about the result.

Just hope it doesn't lead to a setback in MLB's testing which has really had a HUGE psychological effect on players. They BELIEVE that they will get caught. And they believe they will be fingered publicly. How good is the science of the testing? I'm not Dr. Boswell. Don't know. But the players are, largely, 'scared straight' right now, imo. Z'man, a friend of Braun's, said that "your life is ruined" if you test positive because that's how the public will always view you. He didn't mean that you couldn't come back from a suspension and make a zillion dollars. Just that very few players/people want to run the risk of the current level of stigma.

Grant Paulson, Mel Antonnen, and Holden Kushner are three local sports reporters who work talk radio and speak very intelligently about baseball and the Nats.

And there are others, too. But how often are they allowed to talk about baseball? Like many, I listen to sports talk radio at random when I happen to be in the car. I don't "follow" any show or personality. But I listen way more than enough to know that I'm right when I say that the Nats, like the Caps until recent years, have gotten almost zero attention. And the "discussion" is usually at a very low level compared to football and basketball. That's okay. It's natural when there's no team in town for so long. But it needs to change __gradually. And I think it will.

When people say that the Nats/baseball haven't gotten much attention because Strasburg and Harper were the "only stories," my jaw just drops. The Nats got to 80-81 last year and had, at that time, the No. 1 ranked farm system, when Harper had never made the majors and Strasburg had five starts last year. I'd have thought that getting to .500 BEFORE two huge prospects arrived would be a pretty good story!

But that's all ancient history now, I ssupect. The Gonzalez trade, the Jackson signing for $11M, the Morse extension for $10M, the Gio extension for $42M (plus two team option years) and the Z'man extension means that we can FINALLY stop talking about contracts and payroll __which was very important for several years__ and talk about baseball. 

I'm wary of letting so much ride on a player who's never played in the NFL. Manning is a proven commodity. He's a no brainer. You give all you can to get the guy. But RGIII? What if he turns out to be Heath Shuler? I say bulk up on picks. Trade down and stack your O line as best you can. They still need a good QB but there's a lot of space between the RG we have and the RG we want. We don't need to bet the house.

Well put. I agree with you 49% of the time.

By draft day I promise to have a firm reasoned-out opinion __even if it proves to be completely wrong.

I'm a Nats season ticket holder, but let's not compare SS to "Teflon Doc" Gooden just yet. While the innings hurt him later, Doc was a true stopper who had 52 complete games in his first 5 years. Now that's a top of the rotation stopper. Has SS ever made it to the ninth inning at any level? I don't think he has.

It was a different game then. In '85, Blyleven pitched 293.2 innings. And just a few years before, Jim Palmer was pitching 319, 315.

It's pretty clear that the primary job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. Why, then, did the Einsteins in Seattle, once they decided to replace Ichiro, select Chone Figgins, who has the *VERY WORST* OBP in the major leagues last year (for those with more than 300 plate appearances)? I mean, didn't they know this even in the pre-Sabremetrics days? --- Section 405

True, but Figgins career OBP is over .350. What is Ichiro, with little power, going to do hitting No. 3 this year? Wow, tough to be a hitter in Seattle.

Boz: In spite of all the fuss created by the Nats blocking Phillie fan ticket purchases for that first series (which I think was more of a marketing ploy than practical solution), I think Rizzo and Davey have the best solution of all for limiting the number of Phillie fans in the park -- develop a good core of young, talented players; keep them here as long as possible; and win. What's your take?

The Nats pitching may do a better job of quieting Phils fans in Nats Park than limiting tour buses. The Nats have a "stuff staff." I doubt any team in baseball has more swing-and-miss stuff in its top four starters and its last three relievers than the Nats with SS, Gio, JZim, Jackson (third fastest fastball among MLB starters last year at 94.6), Storen (touches 98), Clippard and Henry Rodriguez (touches 101). A lot of Phils will be wsalking back to the dugout after striekouts and Nats fans will probably take (vocal) notice. Phils are certainly the team to beat and a tough bunch, but the Nats were built specifically with beating them in mind. You can be sure that Rizzo thinks the type of intimidating-stuff staff that he's picked is a good fit to neutralize the Phils (to a degree). We'll see how it works out. 

How is he looking so far?

Seventeen pounds bigger after working/lifting all winter, often with Werth. Good guy, local product and consistently excellent minor league numbers. He's going to play a long time in the big leagues for somebody.

Bos, CBS's Jon Heyman wrote the following about Zim's extension: "The immediate reaction to Ryan Zimmerman's $100-million, six-year extension with the Nationals was this: where's the hometown discount in there? ... the reality is, he's a one-time All-Star. [That's] a lot of loot for a one-time All-Star." Please correct him.

Troy Tulkowitzki, one year ago, got anextension for the '14-through-20 seasons (7 years) for $134M.

Zimmerman got an extensiuon for the '14-through-'19 seasons (six yrs) for $100M. And Z'man defered $10M of it until after he is RETIRED which could, in theory, be 2025. So, interms of payroill impact, the Nats got Z'amn for $90M/six years or $15M/yr. He's not as good as Tul;o. But they are always compared. Most analysis has Z'man as a $17-to-$18M/yr player. I'd say he took $1-to-$2M-a-year less than market value and also one year less in contract length. That's a hometown discount.

It's not his job to sign a chump contract. BTW, Zim has averaged more games played a year (138) than Tulo (134).

P.S.: Maybe all the WAR worship is somewhat misplaced but by those metrics Zim usually makes the Top Dozen most valuable players in baseball over the last six years.  Yes, including defense is a p;art of that, and should be.

Boz, I meant to ask you this last week--but life got in the way. What is Pudge Rodriguez's status? If he has retired as a player, is there any chance he could be hired by the Nats in some sort of coaching capacity? It seems a shame to lose his leadership abilities at a time when the Nats seem ready to take off.

He wants to play and reach 3,000 hits. He can still catch almost as well as anyone. Somebody is going to need a backup catcher. Will Pudge play for what is probably a very low salary? The Nats paid him $6M/2yrs and he was worth it. But those days are over. Will he play for half that? For a third of that? (I hope so. He's still fun to watch.) 

It's clear by now that when the Lerners negotiate, they NE....GO....TI....ATE. Strasburg, Harper, now Zimmerman. What do they gain by doing it this way? Did they really get a last-minute concession from Zimmerman and his agents that made it worth the drawn-out process? Do egos get bruised unnecessarily or does the end result justify the process?

I think everybody involved deserves congratulations on the Z'man, Gio and Morse deals.

The Lerners are tough negotiators. Everybody in the Nats front office always jokes to me __though it's not a joke to them__ that the hardest negotiation is with Ted, not the agent. That was certainly the case with the Gio trade and the Zim contract. BUT the results sure seem to be working out well. And when Rizzo took a huge stand they OKed the Werth deal. Maybe there's also some good-cop/bad-cop involved with Ted Lerner willing to play the role of heavy. But, if that's what he's doing, I don't think he's bothered to tell anybody in his FO, now or since '06. 

What matters is the results. Rizzo and lerner are very blunt people whose feelings are no easily hurt because they know business-is-business. They seem to function very well together. But Rizzo has to make his case in more detail, more forcefully, more repeatedly than most GMs. But if they keep getting the job done this way, who cares? The Lerners deserve lots oif credit for the Zim deal because it was not a slam dunk. He's not Mike Schmidt. But he's absolutely essential, a core piece, for the team, imo. Some things you just have to do. This was one of them. The price is fair. Everybody did real good.

The Nats clubhouse was REALLY watching this one. If the vibe was excellent when I left last week it must be through the roof now. Their team is now set __locked, loaded__ for the next four years, at least. Sure, maybe get a CF. But compared to almost any other team, the Nats can look at each other __most of them came up together__ and say, "This is our team for a long time. We got along together good-to-great in the tough times.  Now we start to get the rewards." 

Is it time to give the Lerners the benefit of the doubt? I remember reading the article about their aggressive business operations in real estate, and being concerned about how they'd act as baseball owners. It was also pointed out that they would be the only ones holding up a Zim extension. But if you look at their track record, they ponied up for Werth, and the other free agents we didn't get we made very reasonable offers to (Fielder, Texiera, Buehrle etc.). I guess we still don't know where they would cap our payroll, but is it time to give them the benefit of the doubt?

As close as I can figure, the '12 payroll is about $87M. Still lowest in the N.L. East and in the bottom half of MLB. BUT they will be paying more over time to keep their young players.

They are doing just fine. And, yes, it is time to give them the benefit of the doubt and move on to more interesting subjects. Like their team. They're young and need to do plenty of growing/improving. But they will be very entertaining.

The Caps continue to be maddeningly inconsistent -- dropping a few games they had to win, and then winning two to end the weekend on a high note. So do you buy or sell at the deadline today? Personally, I'd sell a few guys with expiring contracts and see if the team can make it into the playoffs without them -- this team is probably going out in the first round regardless.

I had to organize a search party to find a Caps question. Folks, I can't count the hours __well, my wife probably can__ that I've spent following this team. This is a big day for George McPhee.  think his job's safe, but with Backstrom going on long-term IR this a.m., they really need to add a quality center. You can't give up on this season __by being a seller__ when you're still so close. Derek Roy? M Grabowski (rental)? Dustin Brown? 

This town is very good an analyzing what's wrong with the Caps, but maybe not as good at figuring out good trade rumors! I'm not either. But with all the fireworks GMGM has set off in past years, I'll be surprised if there isn't plenty to talk about by 3 p.m. this afternoon. It's been "quiet out there in the NHL." GM probably needs to get noisy. 

Yes, I realize I just got back from spring training and the Nats are a hot topic, so this is an abnormal chat/week. But I'll try to balance it out more next week.

How do you think that the Werth and Zimmerman contracts affect the Nats' ability to sign high priced free agents (e.g., a center fielder or they need to replace a core player due to a drop in performance)? Will they be hamstrung by too high a team payroll?

They can't get a >$200M Fielder. But they can certainly still afford a $75M/5yr CF like Michael Bourne.

They've done a good job of pushing salaries out into the future. That gives them time to build their revenues with better attendance and the new cable TV deal. Depending on how big that is, they may have plenty of room to do plenty of things.

As a lifelong Orioles fan, can you give me any reason for hope this season? The lack of any kind of major crowd-improving move is stunning. Little, tiny moves will not create a .500 team in the AL East.

Kinda sad. And the even if they get the No. 1 overall pick __which is hard to do, even if you accept that you'll be bad__ the Nats already took Matt Purke, Alex Meyer and Goodwin "off the board" last June a year earlier than expected with the come-play-for-us-now over-slot deals,  like the $4.15M to Purke including a $2.75M bonus. If he stays healthy, probably a real-deal starter.

Boz, Jason Werth has to rebound from last year to something approaching half the value of his contract.... right? I mean, his numbers couldn't all be from being in a lineup with Rollins, Utley, Howard, SuperPolanca, and Victorino... right?

Correct.

And he's really on board for CF, if asked. Not that you didn't think he would be, but he is. (Got that?)

'Morning Boz! Well, after the Zim extension this weekend (possibly THE feel-good moment of the Nats modern history) I can't help but feel over-the-moon optimistic for this season. I mean, seriously, as far as I'm concerned this team is going to the Series. So can you help me out by bringing me back down to earth a bit? Optimism is great and all, but I need a little reality to temper my fantasy. So what part of this team isn't going to come together this year?

It certainly had the feeling of a major symbolic moment for the franchise. I'll still say 85-to-90 wins. Even with a fifth playoff team added (if that gets OKed), you still probably need to get to 88-90. That's a big improvement for a team that's already jumped from 59 to 69 to 80 in consecutive seasons. LaRoche's arm (for throwing) is going to take more time to come around; he can hit now. How will Ramos react to his ordeal? Will Stras, Gio and JZ all stay healthy and pitch 550 innings? If you have a Big Three you can do a lot. A big two is fun but plenty of teams have that and don't sniff the post-season.

No, they aren't going to the Series. This is the "enjoy"
 year. They might win 450 games the next five years and NEVER get to a series. What we know is that, finally, Washington is going to have a good-to-very-good ballclcub to watch right now. If they turn out to be better than that sooner than that, then watch it happen. But it's more likely that key young players __Espy, Ramos, Harper__ are not going to peak until '13-'15. Look how long it took Utley and Rollins to reach their best.

You can say, "They have the talent" to become special right now. You can't say "They have the team" until they grow up together. Enjoy the process. Remember Neitzsche's line about "the melancholy of all things completed." Relish the ride.

Tom - given the good news that the Nats signed Zimmerman to a long-term extension, how do you view the health risks that accompany this signing? I worry about his injury history.

His 10 closest offensive comps (baseball-reference) are Harlon Clift (?), Scott Rolen, Eric Chavez, Gus Bell, David Wright, Gary Sheffield (!), Ken Keltner, Del Ennis, Aramis Ramirez, Jack Clark.

The contract will be a success if he pans out (offense + health) as well as Rolen, Sheffield, Clark, Ramirez (664 rbi in first 7 yrs after age 27), Ennis (5 X 100 RBI after 27). I assume Wright will be a "yes." Clift, Bell, Keltner had two or three more good years, Chavez only one. 

Anything can happen. I'd say Rolen or Ramirez, both currently active 3rd basemen.

So, after Kasten leaves, Rizzo and the Nats are able to sign Werth (hasn't quote worked out), trade for Gio, resign Zimmerman, and an $11M Edwin Jackson.... So, was Kasten the one keeping the Lerner's from spending at a level commensurate with a MLB team in a not small market?

Just the opposite.

Even the guys on ESPN are now talking about the Nats potential. Is it safe to say that if they don't end the season above .500 that the season is a bust?

Anything can happen in any one year. But the potential, and the depth of potential is going to be here for a long time. nteresting to hear tht Strasburg (a Boras client) talked about Gwynn (his San Diego State coach) being a Padre his whole life. Maybe Stras stays, like Zim. I've assumed almost all Boras clients go FA. But Strasburg is a homebody and if he makes close friends on the team and falls in love with the town, that would matter to him.

Tom - I'm bringing my 9 year old son to Viera on Wednesday night through Sunday. What are the things we must do? What is the best stuff to show my son who loves baseball. It will be our first Spring Training together.

Come early, stay late, go slow. It's all good. If you can see  pitchers "side sessions" in the bullpen (500 yards from the stadium) it's open to the public and you can stand about 8 ft behind tghem (behind a wire mesh fence). Pretty amazing. I got to see everybody at least once for a 15-minute session. Yeah, like a little kid.

Does having this surgery make it less likely to need it again? The attitude seems to be that he's gotten this out of the way and we don't need to worry about it happening again. Can't he blow it out again just as easily as he did the first time?

Yes. You get a new elbow. But of course you can break it again. Most don't.

Will the Caps be a different team at 3 PM today?

I'm waiting just like you.

But do new faces help a team that already has a style/identity problem? At the least, they sure need to get a c while Backstrom is out, right?

With Zimmerman getting the long term deal, where do you figure Anthony Rendon will play in the in field? Will they move Desmond and replace him with Espinosa at SS and move Rendon at second base?

Davey is planning to spend TWO WEEKS working with him at 2nd before he allows him to play there in a game. So he'll have the footwork down (to a degree) and not get hurt. Rendon played SS coming up. Doubt he'll end up there.

Boz, I was born in 1978, and my childhood was blessed with Skins and O's championships. As a young adult, I learned cynicism (from Angelos). Now, as a man, Dan Snyder distilled that cynicism into disgust. Flashes from the Caps and Wiz have been set-ups for a deeper, more depressing fall. I am having trouble remembering from my boyhood how to approach any DC sports season with true and open-hearted hope, as other than Strasmas I have been burned every time. Is The Fear a symptom of battered fan syndrome that will eventually pass, or is it like herpes (once you've got it, you've got it)? You have lived through enough of this to know...

Battered Fan Syndrome!

Baseball is perhaps the easiest game to enjoy __really enjoy__ just being in the park or watching on TV without absolutely needing a victory paradde for it to be worth the investment. You'll notice that Red Sox fans had an awful lot of fun for 86 years without a title.

But you want to win. You want it a lot.

These Nats are similar to the '76-'83 Orioles that I covered as a beat in several respects. A good clubhouse, civilized but not too mild, with a peppery manager. The O's had the great tradition and Oriole Way to fall back on. Nats don't. Hard to say the current Nats have more talent than Ripken and Murray, both HOF. But the Nats are very deep in real athletes. That's what impresses Johnson so much.  O's had great loud fans in Memorial Stadium. Nats need to develop it.

Take the chance. Though it sounds like you've had a tough 34 years!

Boz Which was the "greater" show of self- indulgent crap last night--the NBA AllStar game or the Oscars ?

I kinda liked the Oscars. I haven't watched the NBA tape. Probably will. But how hard are you playing defense when the East takes like 116 shots and gets only 16 free throws. Lot of 'matadors' out there. Surprised Kobed took such a good shot from D Wade.

The handshakes after the game were something to see. NOBODY looks anybody in the eye. Or very few. It's like, "I'm much too big a star to actually look at you." I thought it was weird. Never noticed it before. Maybe a one-time fluke. 

Wanted to publicly thank him for the early Stras-mas present. He signed and returned a baseball I mailed him for an autograph as ST started. Makes a great centerpiece for my Nats memorabilia.

He may be a little private, a little shell-shocked by being a nobody when he went to college and a mega-celebrity two years alter. But if he's not a good guy then I'm badly mistaken. Especially after the TJ surgery, I really want him to have at least 10 years to show everybody who and what he is.

What I really like about this is the apparent chemistry in the clubhouse. I really liked what Zimm said yesterday. The guys know they are good, but they know they need to work together. I do not see any Albert Hainsworth on this team. Even Jayson Worth, who came in with the fat contract, had fun...you could tell. The fun and playfulness is contagious. Here are my two dreams for the near future: 1) Nats park becomes a hard ticket to get, and 2) Zimm tops off last season (Walk off Grand Slam against Phillies) with a series ending walk off in October. What do you see regarding team chemistry?

Well, I know what good chemistry looks like from being around the (good) Orioles, the Gibbs I Skins, the Big JohnHoyas, lots of other winning baseball teams, etc. The Nats seem on their way to having it. And I know what really bad chemistry feels like from being around some of the recent Redskin teams. The Nats don't have that.

Tom, How does this year's bench strength compare to last year's players?

A little better. Not much. Not as good as I expected. DeRosa may be a nice surprise.

Caps put on Backstrom on the Long-Term IR, freeing 7.6mil if he doesn't return before the playoffs. Any thoughts on what they hope to get done? And who (other than Hamrlik) could be gone?

Free Mike Knuble.

This has just gone on way too long, much as I enjoy it. And I can't even read all the Nats Qs. More next week. Looking forward to it. 

Stuff happens -- shoulders become sore, elbows bark and so forth. Should the Nats keep Lannan even if he doesn't break as their fifth starter?

Yes. And he may be in the reotation.

He doesn't get the respect he deserves and probably wouldn't get full value in trade. Also, he's under team control in '13. Jackson and Wang aren't. Sure, Detwiler, Purke. But Lannan is duarable, proven and has never gotten any run support. Don't sell him short.

Any idea what Grossman's time in the 40 would be?? Beck? What about Mcnabb in his prime?

Why time them in the 40? With the Skins O-line, and your life at stake, everybody runs faster in the actual games.

Im a big fan of Linsanity, but aren't people making him out to be a lot better than he is? And this isn't doing him any favors either. But do people really think he shouldn't ever have an off day?

Only seen him in one full game and parts of others. Looks like a legit starting NBA point guard and fabulous story but I don't see a great player, a Nash, Kidd, etc.. But I'll keep watching.

I'm a LeBron James fan - I really want to see him win and do well. So I'm not a a hater. But man does it seem like he simply falls apart when a game is on the line. He gets flummoxed and does things he usually doesn't do. Instead of taking a game tying or winning shot with 6 secs left, he threw the most unadvisable pass ever. He needs to see someone or do something to get over this. He may never win a ring, and if he does it might have to be on the backs of others.

It was a LeBron moment for sure. Not much time, but enough then and a poor decision.

He seems to be your yardstick when measuring the ideal player. Why so much love for a Philly?

A lot of my favorite players over the years have been Phils. I covered baseball from '75 to '05 in a town without a team. I'm a baseball fan, not a one-town fan.

I'm fascinated by the speculation that Edwin Jackson has a flaw in his windup that costs him .50-.60 points in hitters BA vs. when he pitches from the stretch. Are the Nats convinced it's real and that it's responsible for the disparity?

The Nats seem more convinced of it than Jackson does. I got him early on the subject. The Cards did some work on it with him last year. But Davey demonstrating how he "dropped" the ball below his glove as he started his windup __for a split second__ was one of those cool little moments when you realize that some people have a MUCH better eye for the details of their game than others.  

I'll tag a Cap question at the end of this, but please, is there any reason to watch the Os this season? Hurtin over here and green with jealousy about the Nats. Anywho, Caps: in or out at the playoffs?

Caps in. Still a lotta talent there and GMGM will help 'em this afternoon. I think Ovechkin just has too much pride to let them collapse completely.

Outta here. Thanks.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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