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FIELDING The Nationals are in good shape here, and were third in the NL last year in fewest errors. The outfield is filled with players who have speed to track down just about anything, and good gloves once they get there. Harper has a big arm and posted 13 assists in just 116 games last year. LaRoche won a Gold Glove in 2012, and although he slipped some last year, he’s a strong glove at first. The same goes for Desmond and Zimmerman, although Zimmerman has had trouble throwing to first. Rendon struggled at times last year and must cut down on his errors this season. Behind the plate, Ramos must get more reliable, after eight errors and five passed balls in just 77 games last year. STARTING PITCHING You can’t blame Nationals fans for being upset about last year after the performance by two of the team’s Big Three. Gio Gonzalez stumbled to 11-8, and Stephen Strasburg was a pedestrian 8-9. If Jordan Zimmermann (19-9) hadn’t been a stalwart, the Nationals would have been in big trouble. Each one of those pitchers has 20-game potential, and if each can stay healthy and produce to his capability, the Nats will be a nightmare throughout the season and even more dangerous in the playoffs. Former Tiger Doug Fister is supposed to handle the fourth spot, provided the elbow problems he had this spring clear up. There’s a battle for the last position in the rotation that should go to righty Tanner Roark, who made five starts last year as a swingman between the pen and the rotation. RELIEF PITCHING The Nationals have some talent here, but it needs to be strong at the same time. There is no denying what Tyler Clippard does. The setup man had an ultra-impressive 0.859 WHIP last year and is a top-notch setup man. Although Rafael Soriano is a talented closer, he can be erratic, and that causes problems. The same goes for Craig Stammen, a middle reliever who piles up the strikeouts. Expect to see Drew Storen in a setup role, while Ryan Mattheus and Jerry Blevins will join Stammen in middle relief, with Christian Garcia in line for some long work. MANAGING Former Nats manager Davey Johnson was an old-school type who helped squire the team to the playoffs in 2012. But even he couldn’t match the intensity of rookie Washington skipper Matt Williams. Williams will demand a lot of his players, but he will also fight for them, just as he did for teammates when he played. Williams planned spring training workouts down to the minute, caring about how long position players would sign autographs and the duration of every drill. He prepares like few other people, and he won’t tolerate players who come to the park not ready to go. Perhaps that’s just what this talented team needs after a disappointing 2013 campaign. Bryce Harper PATRICK MCDERMOTT/GETTY IMAGES SPORT


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