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Nationals Prepare for World Baseball Classic
As Nationals spring training gets underway, they will soon be losing three players to the World Baseball Classic for several weeks. Starting pitcher Ross Detwiler was the most recent to join the competition for Team USA, along with fellow pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Outfielder Roger Bernadina will also be in the WBC, playing for team Netherlands.
Detwiler and Gonzalez join a USA roster that is one of the strongest in the field, despite the fact that the pitching rotation is missing some big names, such as Justin Verlander, David Price and Clayton Kershaw. The Americans will still have some strong starters, including the San Franciso Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Detwiler will leave Nationals camp earlier, on March 4, while Gonzalez will leave March 12, but only if Team USA makes it to the second round in Miami. Fla. Gonzalez brings one of the best arms in the game to the American squad, after having the best statistical season in 2012 of any Nationals pitcher.
The third-place finisher in Cy Young voting last season, Gonzalez finished last year with a 21-8 record and a 2.89 ERA, both career bests. He’ll fan more batters than almost anyone else on the roster, with 207 in 2012, a little over six per game. With these types of appearances, many major league managers are concerned with the threat of injury. However, that hasn’t been a problem for Gonzalez in the past, playing in 33, 32 and 32 games in the past three years, respectively.
Detwiler, who had his first full season as a starting pitcher last season, needs to be in spring training more than Gonzalez does. Heading into the off-season, the Nationals wanted Detwiler to work on his off-speed pitches, so that he didn’t have to rely as much on his fastball. The extra games are even more of a concern for Detwiler, who will likely be the No. 5 pitcher in Washington’s rotation, after starting 27 games last season. Prior to that, the fifth-year pitcher had only started 29 games in his career.
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Times on Feb. 19, the day that Detwiler was selected, that it didn’t matter where Detwiler was getting his work in, whether it be in spring training or the WBC.
“The only issue that I have really with pitchers pitching in those kind of tournaments is the intensity of how you’re going to throw,” Rizzo said to the Times. “It’s hard to tell these supreme athletes you’re only supposed to be throwing 75-80 percent of your regular routine when they’ve got an opposing batter ahead and wearing ‘USA’ on the front of your shirt.”
While Bernadina won’t be making an appearance for USA, he’ll be supporting the Netherlands team, a team that has only nine other players who are with a MLB organization. The team also features Randolph Oduber, an outfielder for the Nationals’ Class A Potomac Nationals. Bernadina brings a reliable bat to the lineup, after hitting .291 last season in 129 games. The 28-year-old also had 15 stolen bases, but only has 23 career homers.
With 40 percent of the National’s pitching rotation in the WBC, it will certainly be a very different spring training for the team. However, it could provide solid experience and a good warm-up for the three players, maybe even more so than spring training games.