Time for the Nationals to spring back into action

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Pitchers and catchers to report Tuesday

The team that left the field devastated after a playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 12 is finally ready to start anew.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training in Viera, Fla., on Tuesday for the Nationals. Later this week position players will join them as preparations for a much-anticipated 2013 season begin in earnest.

Washington won 98 games last season -- the most in baseball -- and earned its first National League East title since the sport returned to the District in 2005. Only that blown 6-0 lead in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals lingers to cloud the positive memories of last season. But even that could work in their favor this season, according to MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds.

"It's whole different dynamic for the Nats because they're so young. They're hungry to get back," Reynolds said. "This is not like the Yankees when you have your whole team older and on the other side of their career and you're wondering if you'll ever get back. I think these guys are looking at it more like 'We've got to go finish the task.' That's how I see this club -- they'll be back again."

With that youth in mind, general manager Mike Rizzo spent the offseason hoping to secure his few outstanding free agents and patch a hole in center field and at the leadoff spot. He eventually did the former when first baseman Adam LaRoche re-signed for two years after hitting a career-best 33 home runs. The latter came after a trade with Minnesota for center fielder Denard Span, who doubles as an effective leadoff hitter.

That leaves virtually no questions about the starting nine or the bench heading into spring training. Span's addition forces Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper to the corner outfield spots. Rizzo traded Michael Morse to Seattle and in return got pitching prospect A.J. Cole. The backup outfielders should be Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore, who also will serve as the reserve first baseman.

Ryan Zimmerman is healthy again after offseason shoulder surgery and back at third base. Shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa return to the middle of the diamond with Steve Lombardozzi the switch-hitting utility player. Chad Tracy is the veteran pinch hitter off the bench.

The starting rotation is set barring injury -- Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and veteran Dan Haren, who signed as a free agent. About the only competition will be in the bullpen. But even there Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, new closer Rafael Soriano (another big free agent acquisition), Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus and Zach Duke all appear to be locks to make the team.

"We're going to have to learn how to deal with having the bull's-eye on our back," Rizzo said. "I think the maturity of the club will handle it. You've got a leader of the team [manager Davey Johnson] who has been there before and knows how to do it and isn't afraid of it. But we're not sneaking up on anybody anymore."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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