Spring fever: Nats ready to begin next chapter

Spring fever: Nats ready to begin next chapter

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals enter Spring Training as the team to beat in the National League East. It helps that they made their pitching staff even stronger by signing right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal last month.

Opposing teams will not have any rest facing a pitching staff that includes Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

"We'll compete against any pitching staff in baseball," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.

However, the talk during Spring Training figures to center around whether the team will be able to sign four players -- Zimmermann, Fister, Ian Desmond and Denard Span -- to extensions after the 2015 season. Desmond reportedly came close to getting traded in a three-way deal that could have sent him to the Mets.

It has been quiet regarding contract talks with those four players, but last month, Rizzo sounded as if the team would be intact -- at least for the start of Spring Training.

Hot Stove: Denard Span

"With the acquisition of Max, the ownership has allowed us to do our business in the best way we can, as far as the baseball side goes," Rizzo said. "They've given us all the ammunition that we need to put together a quality team. Nothing has changed in regards to any other players on the roster. We make good baseball decisions based on baseball evaluations, and money does not come into play. We love the team we have right now. We feel it's a really good, capable ballclub and we're looking to better ourselves each and every day."

Manager Matt Williams is back for his second season as the helm. In his first year, he guided the team to the best record in the NL. He did that despite having key players such as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos miss a lot of time because of injuries. Rizzo is expecting the offense to be even better because those players will be 100 percent.

"We are going to increase our offense this year. Hopefully, we get a full year of Harp, Ryan and Wilson. I think we upgraded at second base with Yunel Escobar," Rizzo said. "We had a good offense last year, an offense that allowed us to win 96 games. We have as good or better offense this year than we did last year."

Pitchers and catchers report
Thursday

Full squad reports
Feb. 24

First Spring Training game
Mets vs. Nationals, March 5, 5:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day
Mets vs. Nationals, April 6, 4:05 p.m. ET

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.