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Nationals eager to see improved product

Nats eager to see improved product

VIERA, Fla. -- General manager Mike Rizzo was sitting in the dugout at Space Coast Stadium on Saturday and confidently told the Washington media that he expects the Nationals to improve from last season, a season in which they lost 103 games.

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Rizzo's main goal this offseason was to improve a pitching staff that ranked 16th in the National League in ERA. He went out and acquired Matt Capps, Jason Marquis, Brian Bruney and Chien-Ming Wang. Rizzo also added a second baseman in Adam Kennedy and a veteran catcher in Ivan Rodriguez.

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"We're confident that we improved our product," Rizzo said. "We think we've got a bunch of good guys in the clubhouse. We think it's going to be a good, lively competition, and we're going to play the game the way it should be played. There's going to be effort, and we're hoping for better results on the field."

As the Nationals' pitchers and catchers prepared for their first workout Sunday, manager Jim Riggleman said it's time for the players to show that the front office made the right moves.

"I don't know how it's going to play out in the standings, but I think we are going to be a better ballclub," Riggleman said. "Some of that will depend on how the other clubs have improved."

Phenom Stephen Strasburg, who was the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, will get the most attention Sunday because he will throw a bullpen session in front of Nationals executives, media and fans.

Strasburg, 21, deserves the attention after going 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts at San Diego State University en route to being named the 2009 Golden Spikes Award winner. He struck out 195 and issued just 19 walks in 109 innings.

Strasburg will compete for one of the final two spots in the rotation, but the way Rizzo was talking, it appears the team does not want to rush him to the big leagues.

"Stephen Strasburg is an important part of our present and future endeavors, and he's just one of many that's going to be out there playing," Rizzo said. "He's going to be in the rotation, compete for a job and see where he's at. We'll let the performance of the players dictate what's going to happen.

"If he's the player we think he's going to be, we feel he'll have some impact in the Major Leagues in 2010. I'm not going to put any time limits on it, because we just don't know where he's at developmentally yet."

Nationals position players are not required to report until Wednesday, but a lot of them having already been working out at Space Coast Stadium. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan, third baseman Adam Dunn, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Cristian Guzman were among a handful of players who checked in over the past few days.

While he is pleased with the roster he has compiled, Rizzo will continue to improve the team by making trades or signing free agents before Opening Day.

"We're never done, we're never satisfied," Rizzo said. "We need to improve our team. We know where we're at. You know what our won-loss record was last year, and we're certainly always looking to improve the club in any way we can."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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