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Thom Loverro: For the Nationals, it's a different sort of spring

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

VIERA, Fla.

To fully appreciate Washington Nationals spring training in 2013, you had to be here in Viera for spring trainings past.

You had to be here in 2006, when left-hander Brian Lawrence, acquired in a trade in the offseason with the San Diego Padres for Vinny Castilla, threw 10 minutes of warmup pitches in his first workout and was done, shut down with a torn rotator cuff.

You had to be here when what appeared to be a homeless man was hanging around the workout complex one day, and all of a sudden Dmitri Young was on the team.

You had to be here when the Nats invited nearly 40 pitchers to spring training in 2007, hoping that somehow five of them would pass for major leaguer starters by the season opener.

Ryan Zimmerman has been here for all of it. He appreciates every day of the excellence he sees now on the fields in Viera because he had a front row seat to the dysfunction.

"I remember when this locker room was filled with extra lockers everywhere because we had so many guys," Zimmerman said before Wednesday's workout, which featured the first live batting practice pitching by Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen among others.

Strasburg ended his session without any fireworks or theatrics, but when he came off the mound, he stopped and talked to pitching coach Steve McCatty about his release point and what he was trying to work on in his first live batting practice pitching session.

That's another stark contrast for Nats spring training 2013 compared to years past. No one is out there trying to win a job because there are few -- if any really -- jobs open to win on this talented roster.

I can assure you that in 2007 Chris Booker, Billy Traber, Levale Speigner and the long list of Nats pitchers at that camp weren't working on their release point or tinkering with some sort of pitching nuance. They were trying to impress coaches. They were trying to win a job.

For a number of years, spring training for the Nats was about finding players to survive a season. Now it's all about preparing to win.

"That's what the expectations are here and what we are getting ready for," reliever Tyler Clippard said. "I was here for those spring trainings past [since 2008], and this is so much different -- so much better."

No one knows that better than Zimmerman, at 28 entering his eighth Nats spring training. He has seen it all.

"I don't think people realize how bad it was and how quickly it has changed," Zimmerman said.

It's as if former general manager Jim Bowden was riding around on his segway just yesterday.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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