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Nats Season Opener: Position-by-position breakdown

Thursday - 4/5/2012, 4:55am  ET

davey4.jpg
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson looks on during the first inning of a spring training game. (AP)

Why he wanted to play his whole career as a National

Ryan Zimmerman, third base

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Beyond the opener, other things to accomplish

Stephen Strasburg, RHP

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Why he took on the challenge of another season

Davey Johnson, Manager

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Tired of hearing about a lack-luster season

Jayson Werth, RF

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Addition of high character players help team this season

Ian Desmond, SS

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Craig Heist, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Washington Nationals open the season Thursday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Stephen Strasburg will start Washington and be opposed by Ryan Dempster.

The Nationals made a series of moves during the off-season including adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to the starting rotation. It also added depth to the bench with the signings of Mark DeRosa, Chad Tracy, Xavier Nady and Brett Carroll.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has made it no secret that he believes the Nats can win this year and contend for the National League East title. He says his pitching staff has the "potential" to match up against any in the league and, if his team stays healthy, he feels they will be a good offensive club.

Here is a look at your 2012 Nationals, position-by-position:

1B. Adam LaRoche - LaRoche spent the better part of the spring getting his work in on the back field on the minor-league side as he continued to strengthen his surgically repaired shoulder. He also battled a foot injury which limited his ability to run. He was able to play in the final week of spring and will be on the Opening Day roster. LaRoche is looking to rebound from his injury-plagued 2011 season. He is in the final year of his two-year, $16-million dollar contract.

2B. Danny Espinosa Espinosa begins his second full season. Last season he hit 21 home runs and drove in 66 runs while hitting .236. Espinosa hit just .223 from the left side last year while hitting .283 from the right side. He worked hard during the spring to get his left-handed stroke back to where he wants it.

SS. Ian Desmond - Desmond will be the Nationals leadoff hitter and with that comes the questions as to whether he can improve his on-base percentage from the .298 mark of a year ago. Defensively, Desmond was better in 2011 committing 23 errors, down from his total of 34 in 2010. Davey Johnson knows both Desmond and Espinosa are run producers and not the prototypical one-two hitters in a lineup. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

3B. Ryan Zimmerman "The face of the Franchise" signed a 6-year, $100-million dollar contract extension that will keep him in D.C. through the 2019 season with an option for 2020. Zimmerman played in just 101 games last season as he had surgery to repair an abdominal tear. When healthy, Zimmerman is one of the more productive players in the game as was evident in 2006 when he hit 20 homers and drove in 110 runs in 157 games. In 2007, Zimmerman played in all 162 games and hit 24 homers with 91 RBI and again in 09 when he hit 33 homers with had 106 RBI.

LF. Mark DeRosa DeRosa signed a one year deal with the Nationals in December and right from the start manager Davey Johnson called it the biggest off season acquisition by Mike Rizzo. His two best seasons came in 2008 with the Cubs when he hit .285 with 21 homers and 87 RBI and then in 2009 when he played for both Cleveland and St. Louis hitting 23 homers with 78 RBI. The last two seasons, DeRosa has battled back from a wrist injury. He had season ending surgery in 2010 and then broke his wrist on a check swing last season.

CF. Roger Bernadina He will start the season as the centerfielder until Rick Ankiel comes off the DL. Bernadina begins his fifth season with the Nationals and many are waiting for him to live up to his potential. He hit .243 last season with seven homers and 27 RBI.

RF. Jayson Werth In the first year of his seven-year, $126-million dollar deal, Werth hit just .232 with 20 home runs and 58 RBI. He is looking to rebound this year and doesn't much like the talk that last year was a failure. He had a good spring, feels good about himself and even better about the team. Look for him to have a breakout season.

CA. Wilson Ramos Ramos went through a horrible ordeal during the winter after being kidnapped from his parents' home in Venezuela. With that behind him, he went on to finish playing winter ball and is no ready to be the Nationals everyday catcher. He proved his power potential last year by belting 15 home runs with 52 RBI in 113 games.

Rotation

Stephen Strasburg A full season removed from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg was named the Opening Day starter by Johnson. Strasburg worked his way back to the rotation last year and made five starts in September going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. Strasburg is expected to have an innings limit of 160 this year similar to Jordan Zimmermann last season.

Gio Gonzalez Gonzalez came to the Nats in an off season trade from Oakland that sent pitching prospects Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris to the Athletics. Gonzalez has won 31 games over the past two seasons and has thrown 200-plus innings in each of them.

Jordan Zimmermann There will be no limitations on Zimmermann this season after being held to 161 1/3 innings in his first full year back from TJ surgery. Zimmermann went 8-11 last year with a 3.18 ERA. The record could have been better with any kind of run support. He is expected to have a big year for the Nats.

Edwin Jackson The Nationals are Jackson's eighth organization. He signed a one-year, free-agent deal worth $12-million dollars. He was brought on to add depth and hopefully be the durable pitcher that have allowed him to throw over 200 innings in two seasons and 199 2/3 last year.

Ross Detwiler With John Lannan's demotion to Triple-A on Tuesday, Detwiler was given a chance to be in the rotation after a great spring and an impressive end to last season. He appeared in 15 games last year, starting 10. He has a 4-5 record with an ERA of 3.00

Bullpen

Brad Lidge He signed to a one-year, $1-million dollar deal in January. Lidge brings a wealth of experience having been on World Series teams with the Astros and Phillies including closing out the 2008 World Series for Philadelphia. He was scheduled to be a set up man in front of Tyler Clippard but Davey Johnson said he will close until Drew Stroen comes back from the disabled list.

Henry Rodriguez He was acquired from the Athletics as part of the trade that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland in December of 2010. Rodriguez threw three 11 scoreless innings this spring before finally giving up his final appearance of the spring Tuesday against the Red Sox at Nats Park.

Tyler Clippard Clippard was 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA this spring but he has been a workhorse out of the pen. He has appeared in 150 games over the last two seasons, throwing 179 1/3 innings. He is one of the most valuable set-up men in baseball.

Sean Burnett He is a left-handed specialist who will be counted on by Davey Johnson to get a tough left-handed hitter out. Burnett appeared nine games this spring and gave up one run over 8 1/3 innings.

Tom Grozelanny He will be the long left-handed man from the pen and can also be an occasional spot starter. Gorzelanny started 15 games last season and appeared in 30. He was 4-6 with a 4.03 ERA.

Ryan Mattheus Davey Johnson really likes Mattheus and he proved that last season after Johnson took over. Mattheus went 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA this spring.

Craig Stammen He was one of the last to make the team and his performance this spring was one of the main reasons. He threw 13 2/3 innings and pitched to an ERA of 1.98. Stammen will be the right-handed long man out of the pen and can also spot start if need be.

The Bench

Catcher Jesus Flores Flores will back up Wilson Ramos. Flores hit .275 in the spring with two homers and five RBI

Xavier Nady He was signed to a minor-league deal on March 18 to provide insurance with several players nursing injuries. Nady was with the Diamondbacks last season playing in 82 games hitting four homers with 35 RBI.

Steve Lombardozzi - If Davey Johnson can figure out a way to get "Lombo" between 300-400 at-bats, he will be a valuable addition to this club as a utility guy. He was a late season call-up last year and played in 13 games.

Chad Tracy Tracy was one of the top run producers for the club during spring training. He hit 3 homers and drove in 15. His main role will be a left-handed bat off the bench for Davey Johnson.

Brett Carroll Carroll is a favorite of manager Davey Johnson. Showed good defense and a strong arm in the outfield during spring training and he can also play the infield. Carroll was with Milwaukee last season playing in only two big league games and the previous four seasons with the Florida Marlins

Disabled List

Michael Morse - Battled through a strained lat muscle in spring training and is due back sometime in mid-to-late April. He is coming off a breakout year with 31 homers and 91 RBI.

Rick Ankiel Dealing with a tight quad and will start the year on the 15-day.

Chien-Ming Wang - Injured his hamstring in the game at Space Coast Stadium against the Yankees. He is projected to miss anywhere from four to five starts.

Drew Storen - Closer has inflammation is his right elbow but threw off a mound for the second day on Tuesday and said it was as "close to full intensity." The Nats are saying Storen should return in mid-April.

Both pitcher Cole Kimball and first baseman Chris Marrero are on the 60-day DL.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)