Inside the Phillies: Nationals don't need motivation from Jimmy Rollins to get ready for 2013

Washington ace Stephen Strasburg will not be on an innings limit this season. PHELAN M. EBENHACK / Associated Press
Washington ace Stephen Strasburg will not be on an innings limit this season. PHELAN M. EBENHACK / Associated Press
Posted: February 22, 2013

VIERA, Fla. - If Jimmy Rollins' comments at the end of the 2012 regular season were intended to be a hook that lured the Washington Nationals into a war of words, the National League East champions were not biting Wednesday.

Told about Rollins' claim that the Nats would have finished second if the Phillies had been healthy, general manager Mike Rizzo declined comment after Washington's workout at the team's spring-training facility.

Earlier in the day, Jayson Werth was asked if he found the remarks by his former teammate disrespectful.

"I would never find Jimmy Rollins disrespectful," he said. "I respect him too much. But if we were healthy all year, we might have won 120 games. But we'll have a chance to find out this year."

Washington's young ace, Stephen Strasburg, also sent a reminder that the Nationals were not injury-free last season when they won a major-league-leading 98 games during the regular season.

"Injuries are a part of baseball," he said. "You don't know who's going to get it. We battled with it, too, all of last year. I think the thing that makes us such a great team is our depth. We had a guy who could step in when any one of our guys went down."

Three of the Nationals' regulars - Werth, catcher Wilson Ramos, and outfielder Mike Morse - missed a combined 278 games last season. Shortstop Ian Desmond missed 32 games, and closer Drew Storen did not pitch until after the all-star break.

The Nationals weathered their injury storm much better than the Phillies because they had better reserves. It also helped that the one area in which they did not encounter any injury problems was the starting rotation.

Their five top starters covered all but 12 starts, and the number could have been better if Strasburg had not been placed in Rizzo's arm-protection program in early September.

The 24-year-old righthander is glad the innings-limit chapter of his career is behind him.

"It stunk when it happened," he said. "I'm 100 percent over it, and I'm ready to pitch this year."

The Nationals do not need any motivation from Rollins to get ready for 2013. Their inspiration came last October, when, in the blink of an eye, a 7-5 lead with two outs in the ninth inning turned into a season-ending loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League division series.

"It was a tough one to swallow for sure, just because we were so close to that next round," Werth said. "It doesn't seem like many people are over that last game in here, and that's good. That's what drives you to work out all winter and drives you to win. The sense I get around camp is a little more focused and a little more determination."

Rizzo admitted his offseason moves were inspired by that loss.

"I think everyone had a sour taste with the way things ended last year," he said. "I think a lot of guys' thought process is to never feel that way again. It drove me this winter. It's driving me in spring training, and I'm sure it will drive me throughout the season."

Rizzo believes he upgraded his roster with two free-agent signings and a trade while also retaining free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, who finished sixth in the MVP voting last season. The general manager added Dan Haren as his fifth starter and Rafael Soriano as the team's closer. Denard Span, a player the Phillies inquired about, joined the Nats in a trade from Minnesota.

"I think we're better on paper, but talk is cheap, and we're a long way from the finish line," Werth said. "I feel good about our team. I feel like we're going to be tough, but we're not flying under the radar this year. We have a big X on our back. The Phillies do, too."

Some have argued that the Phillies' time has passed because they are too old. Werth, the oldest player on the Nationals, disagrees.

"I don't discount that team the way some people do, that's for sure," Werth said. "I know what those guys are capable of, and I know what it means to not have Chase [Utley] and [Ryan] Howard in the lineup for half the season. They're still one of the best teams in baseball. I'm looking forward to playing them. It's going to be fun. I hope we're healthy, and I hope they're healthy."


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @brookob.

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