Matt Williams with a message from Spring Training

VIERA, Fla. -- If last year was any indication, Xavier Cedeno has a chance to be one of the lefties out of the Nationals' bullpen in 2014.

Last year, then-manager Davey Johnson didn't have a lefty specialist he could trust until Cedeno arrived as a September callup. It took Triple A Syracuse manager Tony Beasley, now a Minor League field coordinator, to persuade Johnson to use Cedeno in important situations.

Cedeno allowed a run in 4 2/3 innings during the month of September. Beasley told Johnson that Cedeno had the slider to get people out.

"I felt comfortable enough talking to Davey to bring it up," Beasley said. "Davey said he didn't have a good lefty. He opened the door for me to talk about X."

At first, Cedeno was frustrated when he first joined the Nationals early last year. He was called up several times during the season and was never used. At first, he was looked upon as an emergency reliever.

When he would return to Syracuse each time, Beasley would keep Cedeno's spirits up and told him to focus on getting back to the Major Leagues.

"[Beasley] helped me a lot. As long as you don't let [the inactivity] get deep in your head, you'll be fine," Cedeno said.

Said Beasley, "It was simple message. I wasn't a guy that was breathing down his neck and dropping the hammer on him. I felt like he was a big leaguer and I continued to tell him that and it worked out great in September when he had the opportunity to pitch. He did well."

New-look LaRoche says he's ready to bounce back

Outlook: LaRoche must show improvement early in 2014

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Monday with a new look. He has a full beard and looks like he could be a regular on "Duck Dynasty."

LaRoche expects to have the new look for quite a while.

"I always let [the beard] out in the winter a little bit. I just didn't shave for a while. I didn't shave for a while longer and then never shaved," LaRoche said. "The crew I hang out [with during the offseason], I'm the odd man if I don't have a beard."

LaRoche hopes this year can be better than last. LaRoche had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2013, hitting .237 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs.

It didn't help that LaRoche lost 15 to 20 pounds during the season. It was believed, at first, that LaRoche was losing the weight because of the flu he caught right after the All-Star break. LaRoche later revealed that the weight loss was caused by the medication he is taking for attention deficit disorder (ADD). LaRoche was able to adjust the medication and gain some of the weight back.

"I probably still have five [more pounds] to go," LaRoche said. "Physically, I feel a lot better."

After the season, LaRoche underwent surgery to remove loose bodies from his left elbow. LaRoche never had a problem with the elbow until the final two games of the season. He still has soreness in the elbow, but he expects to be ready by Opening Day.

"So far, so good. It gets a little sore from time to time, especially when I start to throw and hit a little more," LaRoche said.

LaRoche is familiar with new manager Matt Williams. When LaRoche played with the D-backs in 2010, Williams was the first-base coach. They were together one year, but LaRoche calls Williams one of the best coaches he ever had.

"A big part of it is because [Williams] was just out of the game. For whatever reason, those guys have a tendency to relate a little better," LaRoche said. "He has a great combination of being intense, as you guys know. He was the same way as a coach as he was when he played. I'm sure he will be the same as a manager. He wants to win. He is an intense guy, but he can be very calm at the same time when he needs to be. He has a knack for communicating with guys. He remembered how the game was. He has a good outlook on it."

Williams believes LaRoche, 34, is not on the downside of his career.

"He is too good a player," Williams said. "The question is, you look at Adam and say, 'Generally, he hasn't started the season well.' [Two years ago,] was kind of the opposite early on. Sometimes, there are years like that. There is no rhyme or reason for it, but I think he is healthy. I think he feels good. He will be a big part of it. We need him and he will play a lot over there [at first base]."

Young is pain-free, ready to pitch

Nitkowski breaks down the Nationals' 2014 rotation

VIERA, Fla. -- Last year, it was believed that right-hander Chris Young would be one of the first pitchers the Nationals would call up to the big leagues if one of the players in the rotation had to go on the disabled list.

But the Nationals never called Young because he missed most of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck. That injury would affect his shoulder as well. Young had nerve problems for at least four years. All that time, he thought it was his right shoulder that was giving him problems. The nerve in his neck was never fixed until last June.

After the season came to an end, Young was able to have an offseason where he just had to build his arm strength.

"After having shoulder surgery in the past, you sort of expect a level of discomfort," Young said. "I was sort of resigned to the fact that my shoulder is not the same that it once was. What I didn't realize was, the problem was never truly corrected. Now I feel great. I'm really excited about it. Hopefully, it will stay that way."

Young wants to show the Nationals that he can be the pitcher that he was several years ago. His best season was in 2006, when he went 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA for the Padres.

"When I'm healthy, I've been successful in this game," he said. "I look forward to [having that success]."

Worth noting

VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Matt Williams has been impressed by what he has seen from right-hander A.J. Cole, who is the Nationals' third best prospect, according to MLB.com.

For Williams, Cole has the ultimate pitcher's body and likes the way the ball comes out of his hands.

"His body is long and he gets out front. The ball explodes out of his hands. I like it," Williams said.