Health, experience factor as Nats prep for October

Health, experience factor as Nats prep for October

Health, experience factor as Nats prep for October
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are in the playoffs for the first time since moving to D.C. after the 2004 season, and manager Davey Johnson's biggest concern is the team's health. There are a couple of players -- outfielder Michael Morse and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman -- who are banged up.

Morse has left wrist and right thumb issues, and it has nearly zapped his power. Since Aug. 17, Morse has hit three home runs with 12 RBIs. As of Sunday, Morse said he doesn't think he needs surgery after the season.

Last week, Zimmerman had a cortisone shot in his right shoulder, his fourth this season. He will need minor surgery on the shoulder, according to Johnson. Zimmerman has yet to miss a game after having the shot.

"My biggest concern is always health," Johnson said. "Michael is a big offensive cog and an offensive weapon. He has been fighting some nagging injuries. We need to get him going. Other than that, I like the way this ballclub is, top to bottom. [With the exception of injuries], there is nothing that I see as pressing other than 'Let's go through it boys. Let's do battle and enjoy it. This is what it is all about.'"

The Nationals have had a handful of veteran players who have missed a lot of action because of injuries, but they had youngsters such as Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore pick up the slack.

"The strength of our 25 has kept us doing what we do, but there is nothing like it when everybody is healthy," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said.

Then there is the experience factor. Of the players who are expected to be on the postseason roster, only five -- Edwin Jackson, Jayson Werth, Michael Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Chad Tracy -- have had postseason experience. Mark DeRosa, who is on the bubble for making the postseason roster, has mixed feelings when it comes to the importance of playoff experience.

When DeRosa was with the Braves in the early 2000s, he felt a World Series appearance was in the bag because of the players they had on the roster, but the Braves only went as far as the National League Championship Series when DeRosa was on the roster.

DeRosa was with the Giants in 2010 when they won a World Series title. That team had few players who had had postseason experience, and it beat the Rangers in five games in the Fall Classic.

"It's the unknown. A lot of guys have never been there before and are going for the first time," DeRosa said about the Nationals. "I definitely feel the more you go, the more you are able to relax. That being said, I don't think it's going to matter too much.

"I've been with some teams that were can't miss and didn't get out of the Division Series. I've been with [a team] that was the complete opposite. You have to get lucky. You have to pitch and play good defense. It's the same thing as the regular season -- pitching, defense and timely hitting. I think we match up well against anybody we are going to play. ... It's all going to be who doesn't make the big error, who doesn't make the bad baserunning mistake. It's stuff like that which separates you."

The Nationals' pitching staff is what separates them from the rest of the National League. Washington pitchers rank first in ERA, and even without ace Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down Sept. 12 because he was on an innings limit after having Tommy John surgery late 2010, the Nats are in good shape on the mound.

Count catcher Kurt Suzuki among those not concerned about the pitching staff without Strasburg. The team has power starters in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Jackson. Washington also has an above-average bullpen led by Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.

"They have that mentality that nothing bothers them, and you put [that together with their skills], you are excited about being in that position," Suzuki said. "Once you get to [the postseason], you have to go out and play.

"The pitching staff is awesome. ... Being able to catch them, now I really know how good they are. It has been impressive. It has been really run to be a part of."

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.