Nationals Retrospective: Opening Week

After a week of some utter domination by Nats pitching mixed with a rollercoaster of a series against the Reds, Nat fans have plenty to talk about as the 2013 season gets underway.  For those of you who may have missed a few games this week, here’s a great look at what’s been happening in Natstown:

The Pros:

- The starters brought their A-game.

Besides a hiccup from Dan Haren against the Reds where the newest member of the starting five allowed six runs off four home runs, the rotation has looked excellent.  In the first run through the rotation, Nats starters still posted a 2.17 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP.  While they only posted a mediocre 4.66 K/9, there were still shutout performances from Stras, Gio, and Detwiler.  The Nats entered this season with the starting rotation very publicly considered as one of the team’s biggest strengths.  So while early success is not surprising, it is still encouraging and always a great sign.  However, Haren’s inability to stump Red’s hitters will have a few fans raising their eyebrows.  The veteran righty is coming off an injury plagued season with the Angels.  He is someone to keep an eye on in the following weeks.  

- Danny Espinosa looks excellent.  

Even though he has hit for only a .182 average through the first week of the season, the numbers do not tell the whole story.  Espinosa has been hitting the ball with authority from both sides of the plate.  Vast improvement from the left side of the plate is needed if Espinosa is to join the ranks as an elite middle infielder.  The second baseman hit just .233 against righties last season and struck out 141 times.

Espi looked great in spring training and it’s great to see him take that confidence into the early days of the regular season.  Fans were worried this offseason to hear Espinosa battled rotator cuff issues throughout the end of last year and into the postseason.  Rather than get surgery to repair the tear in the shoulder’s labrum, Espi elected to strengthen the area and avoid going under the knife.  So far there has been no indication that Danny has been feeling any pain from the shoulder.  It should be all systems go as the season continues.

- Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder looks 100%.

We heard it all throughout the end of the 2012 season and into the offseason.  Ryan Zimmerman just didn’t look comfortable throwing the ball across the diamond.  Ryan had offseason shoulder surgery in an attempt to alleviate the issues that lead to the vast dropoff in his fielding ability last year.  All reports so far indicate that Ryan feels great both on the field and at the plate.  Zim was tested early in the first game of the season against the Marlins when third baseman Placido Polanco scorched a ball between third and short.  Zimmerman ranged to his left and laid out to keep the ball in the infield.  He quickly and effortlessly threw a bullet over to first base for the out, showing no signs of discomfort.

Zimmerman is off to a .238 average so far this season with 3 RBI in the team’s first week.

- Wilson Ramos is back.....with swag.

After missing most of the 2012 campaign with a debilitating knee injury sustained at the Red’s Great American Ballpark, many Nats fans were hesitant about how exactly Ramos would contribute to the 2013 Nationals.  Ramos’ season got off to a better start than even he could have hoped - calling great games behind the plate, exhibiting stellar defense, and even blasting two bombs in Saturday’s extra-inning win against the Reds.  On his second homerun of the day, Ramos stood in the batter’s box and watched the ball fly, all whilst letting his bat casually fall to his feet (a la Manny Ramirez?).  The Nationals entered this season planning to split time behind the plate between Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.  Both players are capable of starting.  But Ramos’ early success in his three games played this week has increased confidence in himself, his manager, and the fans of D.C.  Do not be surprised if the balance of playing time seems to shift more towards Ramos in the coming weeks.   

The Cons:

-What happened to Ian Desmond’s fielding?

Sure its early in the season, but Desmond has already made four errors in just his first five games.  The All-Star shortstop made two errors in Saturday’s extra-inning win against the Reds.  Both errors lead to unearned runs scoring.  It’s worth noting that Desi made only 15 errors throughout the entirety of the 2012 season.  The resurgence of defensive issues for Ian Desmond is a tad bit concerning since he made great strides in improving that aspect of his game over the past couple seasons (Back in the 2010 season, Desmond’s defense was a notable cancer - he allowed 34 errors and compiled a .947 FPCT).  In the long run, Desmond will surely become more comfortable as he finds his stroke and the weather warms up.  Nonetheless, Desmond’s inability to make seemingly routine plays this first week had many Nats fans scratching their heads.

- Did anyone else expect a blown save this early from Rafael Soriano?

Soriano blew his first save of the year in Saturday’s rollercoaster of a game against the Reds.  The Nats would up victorious after 11-innings, but Soriano entered the ninth with a two run lead which he quickly blew by allowing lead-off homerun, followed by a triple, followed by a wild pitch.  This type of ninth inning is uncharacteristic from a closer with Soriano’s dominant track record.  While the blown save is nothing to panic about, Nats fans wanted to see Soriano be absolutely dominant out of the gate.  After the crushing blown save in game four of the 2012 NLDS, Nats fans simply don’t have the stomach to handle another ninth inning loss.  No one is even mentioning tightening the leash on Soriano, but his struggles on Saturday, albeit against a potent Reds lineup, certainly did not leave a great taste in our mouths.

Injuries:

- The Nats were able to send out the ‘cookie cutter’ lineup the first four games of the season.  But Gold Glove first baseman Adam LaRoche was scratched from both weekend games with soreness in his back.  Manager Davey Johnson reported his delicacy with LaRoche was merely a precaution.  But apparently LaRoche couldn’t even bend down to tie his shoes.  The hope is that liberal rest along with an off-day on Monday will be just what LaRoche needs to rehab the sore back.  If this injury develops into anything more serious, the Nats could be in trouble.  But simply, after the series of trades bringing in Denard Span’s on-base-ability and shipping off Michael Morse’s power, the Nats need the production of Adam LaRoche in their lineup.  LaRoche needs to be the five-hole hitter that repeats his Silver Slugger winning 2012 campaign and drives in another 100 runs.  Fingers crossed that a little icy hot and a nice dip in the hot tub is all the Nationals need to get the 33-year-old veteran back on the diamond.

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