02/16/2013 7:37 PM ET
Former pitcher Owings at the bat for Nats
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- Right-hander Micah Owings will not pitch for the Nationals this year; he will play first base and the outfield. Owings was one of the best-hitting pitchers in the big leagues. He is a career .283 hitter with nine home runs, 35 RBIs and a .502 slugging percentage in 219 plate appearances.
Before abandoning his craft as a pitcher, Owings spoke to Rick Ankiel and Brian Bogusevic, two players who started their careers as pitchers before becoming outfielders. According to Owings, they encouraged him to make the switch. Owings also said he relied on his faith in God to make the change.
"I had some success in the league as a pitcher. I was very fortunate and blessed by that," Owings said. "But I feel I have some more talent in me that I want to challenge myself with. I want to contribute to a team, in this case the Nationals. Fortunately, I have an opportunity and let's see what happens. I just want to get my full potential out and see where it goes."
Asked if he would miss pitching on the mound, Owings said, "That is a tough one. At this stage, I've been fortunate with the time that I've had in the league. At this point, I would say I'm going to put my focus into [hitting]. But at the same time, I miss hitting when I was pitching. I just enjoy competing. I'm around great guys that are driven to win and have fun playing together. Our goal is to go to the World Series."
Owings, 30, spent the 2012 season with the Padres, but pitched in only six games because of an arm injury. He started his career with the D-backs, selected by current Nats general manager Mike Rizzo in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. In six years, Owings is 32-33 with a 4.86 ERA.
Soriano arrives at Nationals' camp
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals closer Rafael Soriano arrived in camp Saturday morning and was greeted in the clubhouse by teammate Gio Gonzalez and general manager Mike Rizzo. Soriano would later get reacquainted with left-hander Will Ohman. The two played together when they were with the Braves in 2008.
Soriano had visa issues, but was able to obtain one Friday morning in the Dominican Republic. Pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report this past Wednesday. While waiting to get his visa, Soriano was still able to find time to work out. In fact, Soriano was working out at the beach when he received word that he able to get his passport.
"I'm so happy to be here. I wanted to be here a little bit early and be with my new team," Soriano said.
Later in the day, Soriano was working on fielding and bunting drills. He was seen talking to manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty. Soriano will not have his first bullpen session until Monday.
"It was great," Soriano said about the workout. "I talked to a couple of players. It's going to take a couple of days to feel comfortable with my new team."
Soriano, who joins a bullpen that already includes Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, has a 2.78 career ERA in 11 seasons spent with the Mariners, Braves, Rays and Yankees. The Nats signed Soriano after their bullpen struggled during last year's National League Division Series against the Cardinals, allowing 16 earned runs in five games.
Soriano felt he made a good decision by signing a two-year, $28 million contract with the Nationals. It marks the second time in his career that Soriano goes into a season as the closer. The last time was in 2010 with the Rays, when he had his best season, saving 45 games with a 1.73 ERA.
"I think I made a good decision with my [agent] to come here," Soriano said. "Everybody is young. We have a good team. I come here and see what happens the next two weeks. I want to be comfortable with everybody here and win this year.
"Now I'm given the opportunity to be the closer. I'm happy with that. I want to win. That's all I'm here for."
Soriano had one of his best seasons in 2012, posting a 2.26 ERA with 42 saves for the Yankees, taking over closer duties after Mariano Rivera tore his right ACL in early May. Soriano opted out of his contract with New York after he learned that Rivera was going to come back for the 2013 season. Soriano did not want to be a setup man.
"I had a lot of good things happen to me [in New York]," Soriano said. "I didn't want anything to happen to Mariano last year."
Werth's left wrist much improved
VIERA, Fla. -- On Jan. 26, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said his left wrist was not as strong as he would like it to be. Last season, Werth broke his left wrist on May 6 against the Phillies, an injury that kept him out of action until early August.
When he returned to action, Werth hit just two home runs. For the season, he hit a total of five, not including the game-winning home run against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
On Saturday, his first day in Spring Training, Werth said his wrist is much better.
"It's better than it was. It's actually gotten a lot better since the last time we talked. It probably has a long way to go, I would say," Werth said. "It's definitely not as strong as it was, but it feels pretty good. It doesn't bother me. I feel strong. We'll see. Obviously, the numbers are going to speak for themselves as we go on here. I definitely didn't have as much power when I came back from the injury as before the injury."
After spending most of last year in the leadoff spot, Werth is expected to be in the middle of the order, most likely batting sixth.
Werth likes idea of Harper in left field
VIERA, Fla. -- With Denard Span playing center field this year, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said Bryce Harper should start the season in left.
Harper spent most of last season in center and led the team with eight outfield assists. But Werth feels that Harper needs more experience in the outfield before moving to right field. Werth pointed that Harper has played the outfield only two years. Harper has spent most of his playing days as a catcher.
Werth did not say what Harper needed to improve on, but the veteran said there is more responsibility playing right field. Werth should know what he is talking about. He started his professional career as a catcher, but later moved to left field.
"There is an experience factor playing the outfield, and left is where you can get by with the least amount of experience. That's where Bryce is right now," Werth said. "He is an inexperienced big league outfielder. It's not any knock on his ability by any means.
"He is talented. He is a very good outfielder, but as time goes on, he will be even better. This could happen fairly quickly. He could progress at a relatively quick rate like he does everything else. … It's more up to him than it does me. I'm not standing in his way by any means."
It's not a secret that Harper has to learn to hit the cutoff man more often. Harper's routes to the ball can sometimes be shaky. In fact, manager Davey Johnson said he plans to have Harper work on hitting the cutoff man during spring drills.
• Tyler Clippard did not practice with the Nationals on Saturday because he was granted permission to spend time with his grandmother, who recently turned 90, according to manager Davey Johnson. Clippard will return to the team Sunday.
• The Nationals will have full-squad workouts for the first time on Sunday. Johnson said he would like his pitchers to do a better job of holding baserunners. Last season, opposing runners stole bases 86 percent of the time. Johnson and the pitchers will spend a lot more time on pickoff plays. Johnson also wants to see his team do a better job on rundown plays.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.