Hopes are high in the Nation’s Capital. Following a season in which the Washington Nationals won the National League East with a 95-67 record, the team’s fans are expecting a repeat. The closest team to them a year ago was the New York Mets, who finished eight games behind the Nats.
Now that MLB Spring Training games are here, fans are getting a look at what the 2017 version of the team will be bringing to the table. Bryce Harper already looks to be in mid-season form, launching a home run in his very first at-bat of the Spring (which you can check out here).
But this team consists of way more than Harper. They have some dynamic pitchers. They have a hot-shot youngster in Trea Turner. Adam Eaton was brought in via a monster offseason trade.Matt Wieters just signed a deal to step behind the plate for the team.
Bottomline being there are plenty of reasons to check into Washington’s camp over the course of the coming month. So to help narrow things down, here are three of those storylines that are worth watching.
How big of a deal is Max Scherzer’s knuckle issue?
It is never good when your ace enters Spring Training with any kind of injury. So when word came out that in mid-January that Max Scherzer had a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, Nationals fans were certainly a bit nervous. The news was announced that he would not participate in the World Baseball Classic, but would be a full go for Spring camp.
Then the next update fans got was the following:
Max Scherzer would not commit to being ready for opening day. Knuckle is healed, but still has symptoms. Played catch today.
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) February 16, 2017
Whenever you hear Opening Day is in question, you need to be worried. Since that time it sounds like throwing the fastball has been the primary issue. Scherzer simply cannot use his fastball grip at the moment without some form of pain. So for the time being, he is just going with secondary pitches in his bullpen sessions.
With questions surrounding Scherzer’s ability to grip the fastball right now, he is definitely a guy that should be monitored in the Spring.
How will the Matt Wieters/Derek Norris situation play out?
Over the Winter the Nats made a trade to bring in catcher Derek Norris. At the time of the deal, it was widely assumed Norris would step right into the starting role. Then as the weeks went along, Matt Wieters name remained on the market. As he sat out there, the team decided it was just too much value to pass up.
So they signed him to a two-year pact with an opt-out option after one. So with the former Baltimore Oriole now in the fold, the catching situation is a bit cluttered. Given the money Wieters was given, he is certainly going to start. But will they hold onto Norris?
Norris has not been a tremendous player in his career, but he has shown some flashes of being a serviceable starting catcher. He is making starter money and is certainly above backup duty. Given Jose Lobaton’s presence on the team as well, the team can certainly afford to move on from Norris. But given Wieter’s questionble health history, could it be possible the club decides to hold on to the man they acquired first? Only time will tell on what uniform Norris is wearing come Opening Day.
For several years, Drew Storen was the team’s closer. Then the team lost faith in him, moving on to Jonathan Papelbon. After growing tired of his shenanigans, they would eventually land on Mark Melancon in a mid-season trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. And Melancon was great for the club to close out the 2016 season.
But then he hit free agency this offseason. Now he is a member of the San Francisco Giants. But there were plenty of other available closers this Winter. But Aroldis Chapman went to the New York Yankees while Kenley Jansen returned to the West Coast. The Chicago Cubs won the Wade Davis sweepstakes and Greg Holland is making his comeback attempt in Colorado.
So as things stand right now, Shawn Kelley is in line to close out games. While Kelley is a solid pitcher, he has a long injury history, including two Tommy John Surgeries. Over 58 innings last year, he did have a very impressive 80 strikeouts to go along with a 2.64 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
There is also Blake Treinen, who may not have much closing experience, but the 28-year-old certainly has some impressive stuff. He throws a pretty hard fastball, averaging 95.4 mph a season ago on his way to a 2.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Many were shocked that the club did not make a move to get a big name closer, but it looks like that’s how things will be when we hit Opening Day.
Unless the team can swing a deal for David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox, which I would not expect thanks to the team’s unwillingness to part with more young talent following the Eaton deal, it is an open competition. So who will be coming in for the ninth inning when the Nats have their first save opportunity of the 2017 season?
So there you have it Nats’ and baseball fans. Washington will be one of the most fascinating teams to keep an eye on this Spring. Tell us what you think in the comments!