Skipper hits grounders, fields questions

Washington is hopeful for 2008 season

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The old Johnny Carson/Carnac the Magnificent answer would be: "Nolan Ryan, public relations assistant Abby Teaff and traveling secretary Chris Lyngos' dog."

The punchline question is: "Name the only three in Rangers camp that manager Ron Washington hasn't hit ground balls to at some point this spring."

Ryan is too old, Teaff is too busy but don't be surprised if Remy the English Labrador is out there one day taking ground balls and listening to Washington preach about the fundamentals of playing defense.

The Rangers manager loves to work, he loves to teach and he loves to talk all things baseball. He arrives at the Rangers complex at 6 a.m. and is usually one of the last people off the field. There are guys who are already out on the first tee while Washington is still out there tapping grounders.

As long as somebody wants to take a ground ball or work on some fundamental aspect of the game, Washington is there to teach. Give him a cup of coffee and a fungo and he can go all day.

The Rangers were 75-87 in 2007 and finished in last place in the American League West, but that has hardly dampened Washington's enthusiasm for all things baseball and his optimism for what's in store for his team this season. What has excited you the most about this camp so far?

Washington: The way the pitching is starting to come around, the way we have been running the bases and taking advantage of our opportunities. We started off a little sluggish but we've started to pick it up. I've always believed our offense will take care of itself. I've never worried about that. Why not? This team has not been as good an offensive club of late, despite its reputation.

Washington: I say I don't worry about it because I think we have good enough hitters to score runs. I can't project that we have guys up and down our lineup who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but we can hit some doubles and do the little things that will help produce runs. Then at some point in the game we could have a big inning. But we need to be able to scratch out runs and take advantage of what the opposing team gives us.

MLB.Com: What has concerned you about this camp?

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Washington: What's concerned me is just staying healthy. That's the main thing. I'd like to get Hank Blalock (neck stiffness) back on the field, I'd like to get Brandon McCarthy (elbow) out there and I'd like to get Kevin Millwood (hamstring) back out there. C.J. Wilson has a little [biceps tendonitis] that's no big deal but you still want to see your main guys out there competing. I'm not overly concerned, but I want to see them out there. Is this team a contender if they stay healthy?

Washington: I think if this team is fully healthy, we've got as good of chance as anybody. I believe our pitching is capable, our defense is capable and the opposing pitching will dictate what happens with our offense. Given the history of injuries that many of your players have, is it reasonable to expect everybody to stay healthy?

Washington: In my mind, yes. That will take a lot of monitoring on our part: myself, the trainers, the coaching staff. It will take all of us to monitor these guys so we can tell when they need a day off or two. If we do a good job of that, we can keep these guys healthy and be competitive every night.

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Washington: My take on that is we're not yet at the halfway point. By March 14, I'll have a better idea of which way I want to go. Right now we just want to get them some at-bats, let them work with the pitchers, play the game and have fun. After this weekend we're going to start revving it up. What did your team learn from last year's last-place finish that they've started to apply here in Spring Training?

Washington: They learned a lot about playing nine innings and playing hard until the game is over. They learned that it's not always the best team that wins but the team that plays the best ball that night. They learned how important it is to play situational and fundamental baseball. The pitching is better and I believe we've made a 100 percent turnaround in the baserunning, a 100 percent turnaround in our defense and a 100 percent turnaround in our awareness on the field. Do you have a read on whether or not Milton Bradley (recovering from knee surgery) will be ready for Opening Day?

Washington: No, not yet. I don't think we'll be able to read that until he gets some at-bats and runs the bases and starts doing more baseball-related activities. His leg is feeling good and he's starting to rev it up; now it's a matter of getting him some at-bats. I think we're looking somewhere at March 12 to 14 to get him some at-bats in a Minor League game." Your farm system has been highly rated and many of the best young players are here in camp. Have they lived up to the high expectations so far?

Washington: Of course. They've all handled themselves very well. They've all gone into the game and contributed. They have an awesome work ethic and they all show up every day busting it hard. They're inquisitive and they're asking the right questions. They've been holding onto the shirttails of the veterans and the veterans have been welcoming them. At some point this year or in the future, we're going to hear from them. They have been very impressive.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.