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Posted at 8:01 AM ET, 03/ 5/2011

A quick look back, a quicker look ahead

By Dave Sheinin

Greetings from George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, where the Nationals play the Yankees today at 1:05 p.m., and where I have arrived early to work on some Yankees stuff while I await the Nationals' team bus from Viera.

There is still plenty of meat left on the bones of Friday's 6-4 loss to the Braves yesterday in Viera, some of which you folks have already picked over in the comments section of the live-blog thread. But here are a few quick observations and notes to toss out there this morning:

*Manager Jim Riggleman called Jason Marquis's performance (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 W, 1 K) "exceptional," and that's a fair assessment. Marquis needed only 24 pitches to navigate his three innings, and collected six of his nine outs via ground balls -- a pretty good sign that his trademark sinker is working early in camp.

*Closer Drew Storen has now endured back-to-back sub-par outings, and he beat himself up pretty badly after the game. "It's early, but obviously something has to change, because I'm just not very good right now," he said. But I wouldn't get too worried about Storen at this point -- he's getting beat mostly with his breaking ball, which is a "feel" pitch that takes time to refine. And since Storen backed off his throwing program this winter, while attending classes at Stanford, it stands to reason that it will take him longer this spring to regain the feel for the breaking ball. If we're still having this conversation on, say, March 27, we'll start worrying.

*Another tough game for Nyjer Morgan, who struck out twice and tapped back to the mound in his three plate appearances. That leaves him with a slash line of .077/.077/.077 this spring. It's still too early to question Morgan's standing with the Nationals, but suffice it to say he will have to prove he can get on base at a healthy clip in order to maintain his hold on the leadoff job.

*After Bryce Harper struck out feebly against Braves lefty Brett Oberholtzer -- leaving Harper at 1 for 8 with three strikeouts this spring -- I asked Riggleman if it was compounding Harper's difficulties that the majority of his plate appearances are coming against relievers, including a healthy dose of lefties, many of whom have unusual deliveries. "Some of these lefties who've been around a little bit, that's why they're in there -- they can get lefties out on the outer half of plate with breaking balls," Riggleman said. "But with all the other challenges he's faced, he's always met and exceeded [them], so we think it's all just good learning process."


Harper, of course, is on the Nationals' travel squad today, though he is not in the starting lineup. (That lineup goes: Hairston CF, Desmond SS, Zimmerman 3B, Morse RF, Rodriguez C, Norris DH, Marrero 1B, Frazier LF, Bixler 2B, Gaudin P.) It will be interesting to see if Harper gets any face time with some of the Yankees' "studs" he grew up worshipping, and also what sort of reaction he gets from the crowd when/if he comes to the plate.

And this seems like as good a time as any to point out that I have a gazillion-word profile/cover story on Harper coming out in next Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, with an awesome cover shot and plenty of additional photos inside from photographer Jonathan Newton. Look for it online sometime next week, and make sure to get the hard copy in the March 13 newspaper.

By Dave Sheinin  | March 5, 2011; 8:01 AM ET
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Next: Riggleman gives Morgan a vote of confidence


Is the working title for your book now "Phenoms"?

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 5, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

At this point in the spring, I don't mind Morgan's .077 averages. My question is, is it a bad .077? Is Nyjer learning to take pitchs and work the count? Is he barreling the ball? Or getting weak contact on poorly selected pitches?

Basically, is he developing?

Posted by: comish4lif | March 5, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Riggleman said. "But with all the other challenges he's faced, he's always met and exceeded. - Sounds like they may have set him up. maybe to take the starch out of his walk a little. Welcome to the bigs kid.

Posted by: brianbu | March 5, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

"Sounds like they may have set him up. maybe to take the starch out of his walk a little. Welcome to the bigs kid."

People like Harper are different from the rest of us, they don't lose their starch (to stick with the metaphor), they just learn more. Frank Robinson seems plenty starchy to this day, for instance.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 5, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the heads up on your gazillion word article on Harper. How can somebody get a signed copy? Mr. Sheinan, you are truly 'da bomb when it comes to baseball writing -- my favorite article of yours was one you did a few years ago about why Derek Jeter is such a great shortstop. What I liked best about the article is how you punctured the statistics and identified how Jeter was able to raise his game when the situation demanded it. I'm definitely putting 3/13 on my calendar to purchase a Post so I can get your article on Harper. When's the book coming out?

Posted by: dannykurland1 | March 5, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

@comish: Over the 1st week of ST, Morgan has 13PA, 1H, 2K, 0BB, and hasn't hit a ball out of the infield that I could find via Gameday. He looks to be playing CF quite nicely, however.

Don't know that you could call that development (at the plate, at least).

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The Nats will lose 20 games by relying on "nucklehead" Morgan and Drew Storen. Neither has what it takes.

Posted by: lp_lodestar | March 5, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Waiting on Moonball to blossom is like waiting on Charlie Sheen to find religion. Wanna close the talent gap with the Phillies? Nyjer to Philadelphia.

Posted by: howjensen | March 6, 2011 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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