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New faces have Nats feeling good

New faces have Nats feeling good entering 2011

New faces have Nats feeling good
Outfielder Jayson Werth and first baseman Adam LaRoche said it best about their new team, the Nationals: "They are sick of losing."

This offseason, general manager Mike Rizzo showed how much he was sick of losing, making more than a dozen transactions. Among his goals was to improve the team's defense, which should happen with the additions of LaRoche and Werth.

The Nats also needed players who understood their roles off the bench, so Rizzo added veterans Jerry Hairston Jr., Alex Cora and Rick Ankiel.

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Although Rizzo didn't acquire a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, Rizzo believes Washington's starting staff will get better because Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis are healthy, and John Lannan and Yunesky Maya will be more consistent on the mound.

After a busy winter, Rizzo and the Nationals believe that their new-look club will see improved results in 2011.

Spring Training
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Pitchers & Catchers

Spring Training links
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Spring Training schedule

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 15

Full squad reports

Feb. 20.

First Spring Training game

Nationals vs. Mets, Feb. 28, 1:10 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Braves vs. Nationals, March 31, 1:05 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who is the Nationals' leadoff hitter?
Center fielder Nyjer Morgan enters the season as the first hitter in the lineup. However, he has to show that he can get on base often and hit left-handed pitchers. If he doesn't, Morgan will find himself in a platoon situation with Hairston.

2. Who will be the starting catcher?
Ivan Rodriguez most likely will be the Opening Day starter behind the plate, but that does not mean he will play every day. He will find himself splitting time with either Wilson Ramos or Jesus Flores. If Flores doesn't make the team out of Spring Training, he could be traded early in the season.

3. Who will close for the Nationals?
Manager Jim Riggleman said numerous times during the offseason that the job is up for grabs, and the Nationals have five good choices for the role. Drew Storen, who became the closer after Matt Capps was dealt to the Twins last July, is the leading candidate. Left-hander Sean Burnett and right-hander Tyler Clippard were virtually unhittable last season, but Riggleman seems to like them better when they are pitching in the seventh and eighth innings. Todd Coffey is a workhorse and will also get a chance to pitch in the late innings. Storen's biggest competition may be Henry Rodriguez, who went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA in 29 appearances with the Athletics in just his second year as a full-time reliever. He posted 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings (33 K's in 27 2/3 frames), and a .240 batting average against in 2010, including holding right-handed batters to a .207 mark.

2010 record

69-93, Fifth place in the National League East

Projected batting order

1. CF Nyjer Morgan:
  .253 BA, .319 OBP, .314 SLG, 0 HR, 24 RBI in 2010
2. SS Ian Desmond:
  .269 BA, .306 OBP, .392 SLG, 10 HR, 65 RBI in 2010
3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman:
  .307 BA, .388 OBP, .510 SLG, 27 HR, 85 RBI in 2010
4. RF Jayson Werth:
  .296 BA, .388 OBP, .532 SLG, 27 HR, 85 RBI in 2010
5. 1B Adam LaRoche:
  .261 BA, .320 OBP, .468 SLG, 25 HR, 100 RBI in 2010
6. C Ivan Rodriguez:
  .266 BA, .294 OBP, .347 SLG, 4 HR, 49 RBI in 2010
7. LF Roger Bernadina:
  .246 BA, .307 OBP, .364 SLG, 11 HR, 47 RBI in 2010
8. 2B Danny Espinosa:
  .214 BA, .277 OBP, .447 SLG, 6 HR, 15 RBI in 2010

Projected rotation

1. RHP Livan Hernandez, 10-12, 3.66 ERA in 2010
2. RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 1-2, 4.94 ERA in 2010
3. RHP Jason Marquis, 2-9, 6.60 ERA in 2010
4. LHP John Lannan, 8-8, 4.65 ERA in 2010
5. RHP Yunesky Maya, 0-3, 5.88 ERA in 2010

Projected bullpen

Closer: Drew Storen, 5 saves, 3.58 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Henry Rodriguez, 1-0, 4.05 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Tyler Clippard, 11-8, 3.07 ERA in 2010

The new guys

OF Ankiel: Considered an excellent defensive outfielder with speed, Ankiel is a player the Nats have been thinking about acquiring since 2009. He will compete against Roger Bernadina for the job in left field. Washington has not ruled out Ankiel competing against Nyjer Morgan in center field.

OF Laynce Nix: Signed to a Minor League contract, Nix had a productive season coming off the bench for the Reds in 2010, hitting .291 with four home runs and 18 RBIs.

RHP Coffey: If he doesn't win the closer role, Coffey is expected to be one of the setup men.

IF Cora: If he has a lot left in the tank, Cora will replace Alberto Gonzalez as one of the backup infielders.

RHP Chad Gaudin: He is 35-39 with a 4.61 ERA in 258 Major League games as a starter and reliever. In 2007, Gaudin tied for the American League lead with 34 starts en route to going 11-13 with a 4.42 ERA for Oakland.

LHP Tom Gorzelanny: Rizzo said he would have acquired Gorzelanny even if the team had acquired an ace pitcher this offseason. According to Rizzo, his talent evaluators believe that Gorzelanny can return to his 2007 form. The evaluators clocked his fastball between 92-94 mph.

IF/OF Hairston Jr.: He is expected to be this year's Willie Harris for the Nats, which means that Hairston will most likely get 350 to 400 at-bats while playing both the infield and outfield.

1B LaRoche: He said he signed with the Nationals because he liked the moves they made during the offseason. The team signed Werth and traded for Rodriguez. It also helped that LaRoche spoke to Major Leaguers such as Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Capps and Adam Dunn about playing in Washington.

RHP Cla Meredith: A ground-ball pitcher, Meredith has compiled a 14-14 record with 44 holds, one save and a 3.62 ERA in 286 appearances over six big league seasons with the Red Sox, Padres and Orioles.

RHP Rodriguez: He is out of options and has a chance to become the team's closer in 2011. Rodriguez went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA in 29 appearances last season with Oakland in just his second year as a full-time reliever.

1B Matt Stairs: This will be the veteran's second stint with the organization. The Expos signed Stairs as an amateur free agent in 1989. He is looking to play his 19th season in the big leagues. Stairs owns the all-time Major League mark with 23 pinch-hit home runs.

OF Werth: After losing Dunn to the Chicago White Sox, the Nationals were looking for a player in the middle of the order. Rizzo felt that Werth was one of the top targets because he could hit for power, play solid defense and has above-average speed.

Prospects to watch

RF Bryce Harper: Harper, 18, has already proven he can play with professionals. He hit .319 with a .407 on-base percentage for the Nationals in the instructional league. He also led the team in several offensive categories, including hits, homers, RBIs and walks. Harper then went to the Arizona Fall League and wasn't a disappointment, hitting .343 with a home run and seven RBIs for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

OF Corey Brown: He hit a combined .283 with 15 home runs, 69 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 131 games last season with Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He was a Texas League All-Star and Topps Double-A All-Star in 90 games with Midland, hitting .320 with 10 homers, 49 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .415 on-base percentage.

C Derek Norris: The team believes his bat is Major League caliber, but he still needs work behind the plate. He is coming off his worst season in professional baseball because of injuries.

RHP Sammy Solis: The club's second-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Solis went 9-2 with a 3.42 ERA for the University of San Diego this past season. He struck out 92 batters and walking 29 in 92 innings. After a brief stint with Class A Hagerstown, Solis played in the Arizona Fall League, and allowed 10 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings.

On the rebound

OF Morgan: He must improve his on-base percentage and show that he can hit left-handers.

RHP Marquis: The veteran righty spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled list because of a right elbow injury. The Nationals expected him to be the guy who was a workhorse with the Cardinals and Rockies.

LHP Lannan: The Nats are hoping he is the guy who had a 3.42 ERA after a Minor League stint with Double-A Harrisburg.

OF Ankiel: He hit a combined .210 with two home runs and 10 RBIs with the Royals and Braves. He missed most of the year because of a hamstring injury. However, Ankiel hit the game-winning home run in Game 2 of the National League Division Series to help the Braves beat the eventual World Series champion Giants.

Long gone

RHP Miguel Batista: The veteran righty performed admirably in his second stint with the Nationals/Expos franchise, going 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA in 58 appearances.

1B Adam Dunn: He hit 76 home runs in two seasons, but the Nationals wanted to improve their defense at first base and decided not to re-sign Dunn. Instead, they signed LaRoche to a two-year deal.

LHP Jesse English: He started the season in the big leagues before being sent down to Triple-A Syracuse in late April. But English's season came to an end in late July after having elbow surgery.

OF Willie Harris: He drove in over 30 runs, but hit below .200. Harris wants more playing time and hopes to get it with the Mets.

2B Adam Kennedy: The veteran was part of a middle-infield rotation that included Desmond and Cristian Guzman. Kennedy lost playing time once Guzman started swinging a hot bat. Kennedy would get his job back once Guzman was traded to the Rangers, but the veteran then lost his job again after the team called up Espinosa.

OF Justin Maxwell: Maxwell was highly touted after the Nationals selected him in the fourth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, but inconsistency with the bat prevented him from staying in the big leagues for a long period of time. In 122 career games, the right-handed-hitting Maxwell hit .201 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs.

C Wil Nieves:The Nationals have depth behind the plate, and Nieves didn't hit enough to stay on the roster.

LHP Scott Olsen: He couldn't stay healthy during his two years with the Nats, pitching a combined 28 games.

RHP Joel Peralta: He was one of the Nationals' best relievers, but was non-tendered this offseason for budgetary reasons.

LF Josh Willingham: He was a popular figure in the clubhouse, but he didn't figure in the team's plans because he was often injured and is a below-average defender and runner.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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