Nationals' pitchers and catchers 'anxious' to forget 2015
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2015, file photo, Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos celebrates after his solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, at Nationals Park in Washington. Pitchers and catchers, many who went through that late-season collapse, reported to spring training Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, eager to forget.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
VIERA, Fla. (AP) Images of the Washington Nationals' future are already prominent at Space Coast Stadium. Artist renderings of their spring training facility for 2017 and beyond line the hallway to the clubhouse.
The Nationals would love to focus on the more immediate future than worry at all about their recent past. Once up by 4 1/2 games in the National League East, the Nationals' 2015 season went off the rails and ended with them missing the playoffs and firing manager Matt Williams.
Pitchers and catchers, many who went through that late-season collapse, reported to spring training Thursday eager to forget. Right-hander Tanner Roark described the mood as ''anxious'' to move forward.
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''We're all optimistic,'' Roark said. ''Last year is last year. It's flushed away. It's gone. It is what it is. It made us all better. Each year should make you better, and each game should make you better. Everybody's optimistic and ready to go.''
Spring training is naturally a time for optimism, but there's noticeable change in Viera that's creating it. Veteran manager Dusty Baker is now in charge, still looking for that elusive World Series title at the age of 66.
Gone are longtime fixtures like starter Jordan Zimmermann, reliever Drew Storen and shortstop Ian Desmond. Only 11 players from the 2014 playoff roster remain.
On the pitching staff, soon-to-be 39-year-old Bronson Arroyo is among the newcomers. At Nationals camp because of his history with Baker, the righty also wants to get over 2015 but that's because he missed the entire season after having Tommy John surgery and is looking to revive his career.
''It's almost like full circle. I'm back to being a 22-year-old kid competing against guys, except now I'm the old guy,'' said Arroyo, who's on a minor-league deal with no guarantee that he'll make the team. ''I'm the guy with the greasy, grimy old glove I've been using for 10 years. It's just the way it is.''
Just like Arroyo's place on the roster, there's no guarantee that the Nationals are good enough to unseat the NL-champion New York Mets and win their third division title. Catcher Wilson Ramos said doing that is a matter of personal responsibility.
''Everybody have to do the same – just clear your mind and try to come this year and do your job,'' Ramos said. ''We got really good guys here: a lot of new guys you have to learn and we have to play together. If we play together, we've got a lot of chance to win a lot of games.
Jelling together is a process that starts this week for the Nationals, who have their first pitchers and catchers workout Saturday. The rest of the team reports Tuesday and then gets onto the field as a group with Baker for the first time.
Baker's presence is reason enough for confidence in Washington's clubhouse. If Williams' voice and decisions wore thin in the final months of last season, Baker comes in with the authority and gravitas of a baseball lifer who has managed for two decades.
Roark said he heard only great things about Baker, a players manager who also won't shy away from making tough decisions.
Baker is ''old school,'' Roark said. ''I'm old school and I love it. I'm ready to see what he has to offer. It's going to be fun.''
A new manager is one piece, yet general manager Mike Rizzo didn't go hog wild remaking the roster. The Nationals are still built around reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper and starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and closer Jonathan Papelbon is still on the team despite his incident with Harper late last season.
It's not an entirely different team, but Ramos hopes the result is an improvement over the disappointing 83-79 record from last season.
''We'll see,'' Ramos said. ''We'll see what happens this year. I know Dusty's a really good manager. I will try to be close to him and learn from him. Every year I come here I try to learn every single day more. Hopefully this year we play better baseball than last year.''