This year, Nats end spring healthy; tie Twins 8-8 in finale
WASHINGTON (AP) There they all were on Saturday a little past noon, just as they were supposed to be, heading from the home dugout at Nationals Park to their appointed defensive positions for the top of the first inning of Washington's final exhibition game, an 8-8 tie against the Minnesota Twins.
Jayson Werth in left field, Anthony Rendon at third base and Ryan Zimmerman at first, the sort of thing that is not supposed to be a big deal but turned out to be a luxury last season, when injuries played a role in the Nationals' flop: The team had its ideal lineup available for a grand total of only two out of 162 games in 2015.
''When you look at the end of a season, the teams that are still playing are the most talented - but also the healthiest,'' said Zimmerman, who is ready to go despite dealing this spring with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. ''In any sport, you can have a great team and invest in a lot of great players, and if they can't play, you can replace one or two of them. But when you get more than that, it's hard to replace many of them at this level.''
Zimmerman and new second baseman Daniel Murphy homered on consecutive pitches in the first inning Saturday, two of Washington's four deep shots off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco. Reserve Chris Heisey added a tying homer leading off the ninth against Twins minor leaguer Brandon Peterson.
Nationals pitcher Joe Ross gave up Brian Dozer's solo shot leading off the game, Joe Mauer's three-run drive in the third and Eddie Rosario's three-run double in the fifth.
Everyone of any significance was available for Nationals manager Dusty Baker during the two-game series against the Twins that wrapped up the preseason before games count on Monday, when Washington is at the Atlanta Braves.
''You have a healthy Werth, Zimmerman and Rendon. And that added piece of Murphy. As Dusty said early on: If we can stay healthy, we're going to have a dangerous lineup. Same with the pitching. It's nicer to see your full lineup out there,'' Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. ''Dusty made it known: Let's try to finish spring training healthy.''
That did not happen a year ago. Not by a long shot.
Werth, Rendon and center fielder Denard Span - who left as a free agent this offseason - were all unavailable for Game 1.
Werth sat out the first six games, then another 60 later in the season. Rendon didn't play at all until June. Span was out for the first 12 games, 40 in July and August, and then all of September. Zimmerman started Game 1 but missed 40 games in June and July, plus the final 25.
So maybe that's why Baker offered the answer he did when asked before Saturday's game what could stand in Washington's way in 2016.
''I don't think in those terms, really. I don't really see an impediment. If there is one ... (it) would be injuries. Big time,'' Baker said, rapping his knuckles on the table in front of him. ''I'm knocking on wood that we get through today. ... You never know when it can happen or to whom it can happen.''
Minnesota finished its exhibition schedule 19-11-2; Washington went 19-4-4 for the majors' best preseason record. ''I know it's spring training,'' Heisey said, ''but when you win as much as we did, you kind of start to realize how much you like that and you want to continue to do it.''
Twins: RHP Nolasco allowed five runs in four innings. Of the four homers he gave up, Nolasco said: ''Get `em out of the way now.'' Manager Paul Molitor's take? ''We'll see how he bounces back a week from today,'' Molitor said.
Nationals: RHP Ross' five innings included eight runs on 12 hits, including two homers. ''Big innings,'' Ross said. ''I feel like I've got to work a little bit on getting out of those jams with runners on and less than two outs.''
Twins: The team is trying to treat a boil on Rosario's back without having to lance it, Molitor said.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana will make his first career opening day start Monday at Baltimore.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer gets his second opening day nod in a row for Washington, Monday at Atlanta.
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