Nationals eager to get back on field

After coming within a strike of reaching the NL championship
series, the Washington Nationals can’t wait to start building on
last year’s success.

”It’s like the first day of school,” reliever Drew Storen said
Tuesday. ”It’s funny. Regardless of how long the offseason is, you
just pick up right where you left off with these guys. It’s kind of
a fun thing, the bond you create with your brothers. It’s exciting
to get down here and start plugging away.”

The Nationals went a big league-best 98-64, won the NL East and
earned Washington’s first postseason appearance since the original
Senators in 1933. Now they’ll try to earn the first consecutive
playoff berths in the history of the Montreal Expos/Nationals
franchise, which started play in 1969.

”People are going to be gunning for us even more,” Storen
said. ”It won’t be the shock factor, but we have the confidence to
go out there and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Washington led game 5 of its NL division series 6-0 before St.
Louis rallied with four runs in the ninth against Storen for a 9-7
victory.

Ace Stephen Strasburg was unavailable because the team ended his
season after his Sept. 7 start, when he reached 159 1-3 innings in
his first full season following elbow surgery in September
2010.

Strasburg went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts, and the
Nationals expect another strong season. To bolster the roster,
Washington added closer Rafael Soriano, center fielder Denard Span
and starting pitcher Dan Haren.

”It shows the front office is wanting to push forward,” Storen
said. ”Nobody likes the status quo. There’s no cruise control in
this game. I think it’s a great thing to add veteran presence. It
only helps the younger guys.”

The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is
Thursday, but some started early, including Storen, Strasburg and
fellow reliever Tyler Clippard. Position players such as shortstop
Ian Desmond and outfielder Roger Bernadina have already reported to
camp.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa, who recently revealed he played
with a torn rotator cuff in his left, non-throwing shoulder late
last season, was sporting a thick beard. He plans to shave it off
in a few days.

”I just decided to grow it out,” Espinosa said. ”No reason. I
thought it would be a good look.”

He took a month off from baseball after the season, went
hunting, hung out with his family and did some things around the
house to help take his mind off of that final game.

”Once I started training again, that fire came back too – we
fell short last year,” Espinosa said. ”I want to get back and do
better for the team to help go farther.”

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, acquired from the Oakland Athletics on Aug.
3, is starting his first spring training with the Nationals. He
hoped his truck would be shipped from California on Tuesday.

”It’s still a little different, but I’m just trying to be one
of the guys,” Suzuki said. ”It’s such a great clubhouse. Last
year, coming in, they were really welcoming. Everybody was so nice.
It was cool.”

Notes: The Nationals, who have been exploring moving their
spring training camp after this year, said they are ”continuing to
explore options for spring training sites beyond the current
lease.”