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Nats' breakout stars of 2012

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Nats' breakout stars of 2012

As the true breakout team of the 2012 MLB season, the Washington Nationals benefitted from a lot of players performing above expectations. The Nats saw injuries to nearly every key player early in the season and had to rely on depth and in some cases guys who weren’t intended to play major roles. 

Along the way, several Washington players had what can be called break out seasons. Some played above what was expected of them, and some finally reached the potential people always thought they had. 

Here are a few that legitimately became break out stars for the Nationals:

SS Ian Desmond - .292/.335/.511 – 25 HR – 73 RBI – 72 R – 21 SB

The talent was always there with Desmond, but the shortstop didn’t put it all together until 2012. He cut down his errors in the field to become one of the game’s best defensive shortstops and raised his offensive numbers all around. Desmond may have lost out on the Gold Glove award, but a Silver Slugger could be likely. A case could also be made he was the best overall shortstop of the 2012 campaign.

SP Ross Detwiler – 10-8 – 3.40 ERA – 105 SO – 1.223 WHIP – 164.1 IP

Detwiler was the 6th overall pick in 2007 and before 2012 hadn’t established himself as the reliable starter Washington had hoped he would be. He wasn’t expected to be in the rotation at the beginning of the season and spent time in the bullpen, but through the year proved consistent and sometimes even dominant. His stellar playoff performance in Game 4 of the NLDS further guaranteed his spot as a core player for the Nationals in the future.

OF Bryce Harper - .270/.340/.477 – 22 HR – 59 RBI – 98 R – 18 SB

Considered a ‘can’t miss’ prospect, Harper was expected to be a good major league player. But being called up in April and thriving from the start was not predicted by many. The former number one overall pick immediately showed he belonged and finished the season a favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year award. He had perhaps the best season ever for a teenage position player and could reach another level as soon as next season.

RP Craig Stammen – 6-1 – 2.34 ERA – 87 SO – 1.200 WHIP – 88.1 IP

Stammen had trouble as a starting pitcher for the Nationals in 2009 and 2010 and was cast to the minors last season to find his way. He came up last September to make a few relief appearances and must have shown the Nats something. In 2012 he became their primary long relief man and quickly found success. Through the season’s first half Stammen held a 1.74 ERA through 32 games. He seems to have finally found his niche and in 2012 he showed he can be quite valuable on a good major league team.

There were also a few Nationals players that established themselves as major league players and deserve at least honorable mention:

RP Christian Garcia – 13 G - 2.13 ERA – 15 SO – 0.789 WHIP - 12.2 IP

After two Tommy John surgeries and eight years in the minors, Garcia made his major league debut with the Nationals in 2012. He had pitched well at Double-A and Triple-A in the Nats system and the club decided to give him a chance with September call-ups. Garcia was excellent as a reliever and showed Davey Johnson enough to decide to convert him to a starter this offseason.

UT Tyler Moore - .263/.327/.513 – 10 HR – 29 RBI – 20 R 

Nationals fans had heard the name of Tyler Moore as the slugger hit 31 homers in each of his previous minor league seasons. After a slew of injuries to their outfield, the Nats called him up in late April to make his major league debut. He was a reliable pinch-hitter for much of the season, adding power off the bench in key situations. And his one year of experience ended up paying off big in Game 1 of the NLDS as Moore hit the go-ahead RBI in St. Louis. Moore could be the Nats’ future starting first baseman and is at the very least a legitimate major league player.

UT Steve Lombardozzi - .273/.317/.354 – 3 HR – 27 RBI – 40 R

Lombardozzi also joined the Nationals because of injuries and ended up playing in 126 games. He started 112 of those games including 43 at second base. When Ian Desmond went down with an oblique injury, Lombardozzi started at second when Danny Espinosa moved to short. The 24-year-old Maryland-native was reliable both on offense and defense and could compete for the starting job at second base next season.

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Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Strasburg plays catch, Nats say injury not in area of Tommy John surgery

Just three days after Stephen Strasburg was placed on the disabled list with a sore right elbow, the Nats pitcher walked out to the right field at Nationals Park and played catch with a team trainer. He started close, then backed up to play long-toss.

That was a big step for Strasburg, who is on the DL for the second time this season. And, as it turns out, it was the second time already that he's played catch since the injury.

"It's coming out pretty easy. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said he felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good," manager Dusty Baker said.

The Nationals remain confident that Strasburg's elbow is structurally sound. They now say his soreness isn't even in the same spot where his Tommy John surgery was performed in 2010.

“He knows how he feels. Doctors have poked and prodded and given them every test almost that there is. It’s not in the same area," Baker said.

Strasburg is making progress, but the Nationals still don't know when he will take the next step in his rehab, presumably when he will get on a mound to throw a bullpen session. It's encouraging that he's been throwing, but his timeline to return is still very much in limbo.

“How much time do you give him? You give him enough time for him to feel right. If he’s not right then we got to go with another option," Baker said.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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Nats' Joe Ross making quick progress, may start rehab assignment soon

Nats' Joe Ross making quick progress, may start rehab assignment soon

On Monday in Baltimore, the Nationals had what seemed at the time like bleak news to share about Joe Ross, that time was running out for him to do a minor league rehab assignment, that he may have to instead return out of their bullpen to build his innings up. He hadn't thrown a bullpen session yet and the minor league regular season schedule was running out.

Then, on Tuesday, he threw a bullpen session, finally for the first time since he was pulled from his original minor league rehab stint on Aug. 5. Then, on Thursday he threw another, this time under the watchful eye of manager Dusty Baker, who now believes Ross may, in fact, be ready to go join one of their affiliates very soon.

How about that for a turn of events? Ross and the Nats have done nearly a complete 180, but it has him now heading in the right direction and the team will certainly take it.

"He threw quite a while. I could just tell by the expression on his face that he was feeling pretty good," Baker said. "He's been working tirelessly. Boy, we've missed him when he's been out."

When and where Ross pitches next will be determined by how he feels on Friday, how his right shoulder responds to the second bullpen session. He has been out since July 3 with shoulder inflammation.

He pitched twice in the minors - once for Hagerstown and once for Syracuse - but couldn't shake the discomfort in his shoulder. His velocity remained lower than it should be and Ross could tell something was wrong.

Ross said he felt great after Tuesday's bullpen and feels that this time is different. Baker himself is encouraged by the young right-hander's progress.

"It's coming out pretty easy. I asked him how he felt afterwards and he said he felt good, the ball was coming out pretty good," he said.

Baker is ready to get Ross back as soon as possible, knowing how much his rotation has been hurt by his absence.

"When he was in, we had one of the best rotations in baseball one through five. Then, in Joe's absence, we've tried a number of guys there with some success and some not so successful. It's put some pressure on the bullpen and it'd be nice to get Joe back," he said.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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Baker thrilled to have Rzepczynksi, who takes Lopez' spot on Nats' roster

Baker thrilled to have Rzepczynksi, who takes Lopez' spot on Nats' roster

New Nats reliever Marc Rzepczynksi arrived at Dulles Airport on Thursday afternoon, and beat the traffic to Nationals Park just in time for the series finale against the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals cleared a spot on their roster to activate him by optioning pitcher Reynaldo Lopez to Triple-A Syracuse. More on Lopez in a bit.

In Rzepczynksi, the Nats get an immediate boost to their bullpen, a lefty reliever with eight years of MLB experience. With Sammy Solis on the disabled list and Oliver Perez nursing a stiff back, Rzepczynksi zooms up the depth chart as a quick fix for their lefty woes.

"I think it was a necessary move because we only had one left-hander. Especially, with Solis down, we were hoping we could get some reinforcements on the left side. His stats and his track record looks very good and I think he can help us," manager Dusty Baker said.

One thing Baker is especially excited about is Rzepczynksi's ability to induce groundballs. Among MLB relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, he's second to only Orioles closer Zach Britton in groundball percentage. 

"It's always a plus when you can induce groundballs because you get a chance to turn double plays, you get a chance to get out of trouble," Baker explained. "Now I've got one that's one of the best at inducing groundballs in [Blake] Treinen and now I've got one on the left side. You can always use those guys. It's a welcome sight and a welcome addition. Once we get Solis back, then we'll have three of them."

For Lopez, he heads back to the minors after getting shelled for six runs - four earned - in just 2 2/3 innings against the Orioles on Monday. He was set to pitch again on Sunday against the Rockies, but has now left an opening in the starting rotation. That would appear to be a good sign for Lucas Giolito, who is also lined up to pitch this weekend at Syracuse.

[RELATED: Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances]

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