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Three Strikes: Washington Nationals Trio Struggles Early in Spring Training

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Spring training is hardly a reliable indicator for the regular season.

Players try out techniques, managers try out lineups, and at-bats and innings need to be shared among a large cast of characters.

But that said, everything's a little different for the Washington Nationals this spring. Coming off of a division-winning season, suddenly there are expectations. So while carefree springs of the past could be spent looking at who's posting big numbers or who's been a pleasant surprise, this year we can't help but take a closer look at who's not quite ready for primetime -- at least not yet.

It would be wrong to call their springs disappointing at this point, but for the following handful of players, it would be reassuring to see some promising signs before we arrive at opening day.

All stats are through the team's first 15 spring games.

Adam LaRoche

The Nats decided in the offseason to go with LaRoche over slugger Michael Morse. The decision was based on factors other than offense, namely steady defense and clubhouse leadership. But the team still has to hope for a repeat of LaRoche's impressive 2012 numbers at the plate, which carried the Nats for long stretches of the season: .853 OPS, 33 HRs, 100 RBIs.

The veteran LaRoche hasn't had a significant number of at-bats so far this spring, but the early results are somewhat disturbing: one single in 13 at-bats for an .077 average and .277 OPS. The team may be counting on getting power from others -- Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman. But there are no guarantees with any of them, putting a little pressure on LaRoche to continue his career renaissance from last season.

Stephen Strasburg

We all know how 2012 ended for the young phenom, and the debate over the arbitrary, early shutdown of Strasburg won't soon be ending. Strasburg said all of the right things at the time but clearly wasn't happy, and he has to put that episode behind him in 2013. He's already proved that he can be a dominant pitcher, and now -- with no restrictions coming from the front office -- fans are hoping for a season to remember.

Pitchers in particular like to experiment in the spring, so there's plenty of reason not to worry early on. But through three spring starts, Strasburg has posted some shaky numbers: 5.19 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .324 BAA. If you're looking for a positive sign, he's not having any problems piling up strikeouts, fanning 13 in 8 2/3 innings.

Jordan Zimmermann

For all of the justified attention last season on the Nats' one-two punch of Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the top of the rotation, the team had a third, unappreciated ace. Zimmermann finished the season with a sparkling 2.94 ERA, and he might have earned more accolades if not for being limited to a hard-luck 12 wins.

If Strasburg's spring has been less-than-stellar, Zimmermann's three starts have been much more alarming. In nine innings pitched, he's given up an eye-popping 11 runs on 16 hits. His BAA is .390 with a WHIP of 2.11. Much of the damage was done in one forgettable start, after which manager Davey Johnson credited it to a typical spring case of "dead arm." Whatever you call it, the Nats will need Zimmermann to get his act together if the pitching staff is going to repeat its success of 2012.

KW Rosenfeld is an award-winning writer who visited every major league ballpark in the summer of 1991. A longtime resident of Northern Virginia, he's still thankful that baseball has returned to D.C.

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