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.”