Manny is being Manny in the Dominican Winter League

Manny is being Manny in the Dominican Winter League

Manny Ramirez is playing in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas Cibaenas and made his debut last night, homering on the first pitch he saw as the crowd (and television announcers) went bonkers: Some other players on Ramirez’s team include former MVP Miguel Tejada, former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon, former Rookie of the Year…

Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

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Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

Fresh off three rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals, the next stop for Nats reliever Matt Belisle is likely to be Double-A Harrisburg. Belisle expects to pitch two innings there on Tuesday before the team can determine his next step.

Belisle pitched two innings on Saturday night with the P-Nats and allowed two earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He feels like he could return now if needed, but it's not up to him.

"I'm ready," the 35-year-old said. "I feel great with the calf. I'm doing everything I can. The therapist and everybody have said I'm good to go. I'm ready to rock."

Belisle has been on the disabled list since April 27 with a right calf strain. The two runs he gave up on Saturday are the only ones he's allowed in four innings on his rehab assigment. He allowed six hits and struck out five in those games.

Belisle made seven appearances with the Nationals before injuring himself fielding a groundball against the Phillies on April 27. He says he feels good both physically and in terms of his performance on the mound.

"I never took off. I was pitching off the mound and doing side sessions quite a bit. I guess when you get up you lose a little bit of feel, but it's not like coming in and starting all over again," he explained. 

"I've done this a few times before. How you play catch is a big and important factor. The more action you get, the better… You need to step in ready to fire and go."

Strasburg, Wacha face off in Nats-Cardinals series finale

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Strasburg, Wacha face off in Nats-Cardinals series finale

Nats (29-21) vs. Cardinals (26-24) at Nationals Park

The Nats and Cardinals close out a four-game series on Sunday at Nationals Park with two big name pitchers set to square off. For the Nats, it will be Stephen Strasburg (8-0, 2.79). For the Cardinals, it will be Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04), who is not off to the greatest start this season. 

The Cardinals have taken two straight games after the Nats won the series opener on Thursday. The Nationals aim for the split without Jayson Werth, who is sitting the series finale. Michael Taylor is in to play center field with Ben Revere in left. Taylor is batting in Werth's second spot in the lineup.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stephen Strasburg vs. Cardinals - Michael Wacha

NATS

LF Ben Revere
CF Michael Taylor
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Stephen Strasburg

CARDINALS

3B Matt Carpenter
SS Greg Garcia
LF Matt Holliday
1B Matt Adams
CF Randal Grichuk
RF Brandon Moss
2B Jedd Gyorko
C Eric Fryer
RHP Michael Wacha

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2015-16 Capitals in Review: Justin Williams

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2015-16 Capitals in Review: Justin Williams

With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.

No. 14 Justin Williams

Age: 34 (turns 35 on Oct. 4)

Games: 82

Goals: 22

Assists: 30

Points: 52

Plus-minus: Plus-15

Penalty minutes: 36

Time on ice: 16:39

Playoff stats: 12 games, 3 goals, 4 assists, minus-3, 14 PIM, 15:28

Contract status: One year remaining on two-year, $6.5 million contract ($3.25 million cap hit)

A little less than a year ago Justin Williams signed a two-year contract with the Capitals for two reasons – to be closer to his wife’s family outside of Philadelphia and to win a fourth Stanley Cup ring.

Following the Caps’ second-round playoff elimination by the Penguins, Williams was asked to evaluate his first season in Washington.

“Listen, it was a failure,” Williams said. “I’m not going to beat around the bush. I came here to try to help this team win and I didn’t do it. People will be upset about that, calling it a failure, but there’s only one team that gets to finish the season with a win and we weren’t it this year, so I consider it a failure from that aspect, but a positive that I know this team can do it.”

From the start, Williams brought the Capitals everything they’d hoped. His 22 goals ranked third on the team behind Alex Ovechkin (50) and T.J. Oshie (26). His 30 assists ranked fourth behind Evgeny Kuznetsov (57) Nicklas Backstrom (50) and John Carlson (31).

He worked efficiently along the boards and in front of the net. He teamed up with Jason Chimera to expertly kill penalties. And when the Caps started running away from the rest of the Eastern Conference he emphasized the need to stay focused on the ultimate goal.

In fact, Williams was the only player during the team’s breakup day who didn’t buy the assertion that the Caps had peaked too soon.

“There’s no such thing,” he said with an air of defiance. “No. No way.  You always want to be your best.”

Oddly enough, Williams, who earned a reputation as Mr. Game 7 because of his seven goals, seven assists and 7-0 record in such occurrences, never had the chance to play in one during his first post-season with the Caps. In fact, Williams went his first eight playoff games without a goal on 17 shots and took eight minutes in penalties in a Game 5 loss to Philadelphia.

Many of his scoring opportunities either missed the net or landed softly in the belly of goaltenders Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth and Matt Murray, leading to speculation he might be playing through an injury.

“No, I was fine,” Williams said. “Everyone’s got something. I was fine.”

Williams played his best hockey in the final four games of the Pittsburgh series, recording three goals and two assists, including a goal and an assist in the Caps’ season-ending 4-3 overtime loss to the Pens.

“The only thing I can process is that it sucks,” Williams said. “Obviously, it stinks losing, but knowing that someone else, another team got the better of you is very, very frustrating. The handshake line, looking at people moving on, that will drive me for next year.

“The margin of error is tiny, it’s small, and when it’s that small it’s about scoring big goals and owning the big moments. They owned more of them than we did and, in turn, won a couple overtime games that could have changed the series. It is what it is. There’s moments in playoff series where you need to rise up and we didn’t get it done.”

That said, Williams says he is “absolutely” happy with his decision to sign with Washington. He rejected offers from a handful of other teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, because he thought the Caps had an excellent chance to win it all. That opinion hasn’t changed.

“There’s nothing like coming to a new team that wants you and fitting in and finding your space and your role and I feel I did that and I’ve enjoyed meeting and spending a lot of time with my new teammates,” he said.

“I know this team has a lot of heart and I know this team never quits and I know this team has a great will win. That’s what I assumed coming here and that’s the impression I have now.”

Never known for being one of the NHL’s fastest skaters, Williams relies more on his positioning, tenacity and direct routes to the puck to create offense. He acknowledged the Caps had trouble with the Penguins’ speed in their six-game series.

“We showed throughout the year that we can adapt to any style, but, more importantly, you want the (opponent) to have to adapt to you and you want to play your game,” he said. “Pittsburgh, they played well. They swarmed us. They didn’t give us much space. They flipped pucks to a lot of speed. They deserved to win, I guess.”

Since their playoff exit, the Capitals have emphasized a need for more speed on their third and fourth lines. If Marcus Johansson is moved from third-line center to second-line left wing next season, Williams could return next season as the Caps’ second-line right wing, especially if the team wants Tom Wilson to move up to a third line with a speedier and more creative center acquired through a trade or free agency.

“Listen, that’s not a job for me to say what we need,” Williams said. “What we need is a winner. I’m certainly not going to say that we can’t do it because we can and sometimes you want people against you because then you have something united to work for and we’re going to prove you wrong and tell all the naysayers right now that are saying that we can’t get it done, bring it on.

“We’re one of the best teams in the league, just not the best this year. As I said, the margin of error is tiny. We’re close, but not there.”

With the possibility of Jason Chimera moving on as a free agent this summer, Williams could become the Caps’ senior statesman next season in what could be his last chance to win a Stanley Cup in Washington. He wants the Capitals to understand that having the pieces in place is just the first step toward winning a championship.

“You’re always learning something,” he said. “You can’t hope to win. You have to make yourself win. You’ve got to will yourself to win.”