The Nationals held a telephone media availability today at 11:45 am with team President Stan Kasten, Manager Manny Acta, and players Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Joel Hanrahan and Joe Beimel. The event was apparently for smaller papers and internet writers, as the Post, Times and were absent from the call.

My recorder was dead (naturally) so I don't have a full transcript, but I took notes and will paraphrase, give some impressions and quotes.

Mr. Kasten went first.

He gave a short statement centered on the optimism he personally, and the team in general, feels about the upcoming season. He made particular mention of the general health of the team, the additions to the rotation of Olsen, Cabrera and the youngsters, the addition to the lineup of Adam Dunn and the recent veteran additions to the bullpen.

He said he feels the team is "really falling into place."

With that, he took questions.

Q: Is the team going in a new direction with Jim Bowden gone?
SK: No, the opportunity has always been there for a collaborative effort. People are stepping up. The operation in "the Dominican is smooth." "We're right on track," for opening day.

Q: With the Braves moving out of Richmond, is that somewhere you'd like to see the Nats get into?
SK: Couldn't comment specifically, but "I love the city." Richmond has issues with the stadium and needs a franchise before the Nats could get involved.

Q: How are ticket sales? Is opening day sold out?
SK: Wouldn't comment specifically. Said he'd have "more to say the week before opening day." Described how the team lowered some ticket prices, developed smaller ticket packages and family plans.

Q: Was this off-season your most challenging?
SK: It was "something different" but now the team is "all on the same page."

Q: How did his day-to-day routine in spring training change?
SK: "Never in my career," did he spend more time in Florida in spring training.

Q: What's the deal with Dmitri Young? Since he's missed so much time and only playing in minor league games, was adding him to the 40-man roster a way to DL him for the beginning of the season?
SK: The DL will certainly be an option for him. But, "he's made a lot of progress", "dropped a lot of weight", and you could "blindfold him and he can hit", so he didn't dismiss the idea of Meathook appearing on the active roster.

Q: Is the team going in a different direction in the community relations department?
SK: They've expanded and there's been some "coordination" between departments, but the DC community is very important to the organization.

The comedy stylings of Zimmerman and Dunn took over.

Zimmerman thinks the team is closer this year than last. He said there was a "more comfortable" atmosphere in the clubhouse. He feels that adding Dunn to the lineup doesn't necessarily mean "more fastballs for me," but helps the lineup one through eight.

He believed his off-season training was easier and quicker this season as experience has let him know what he needs to get ready for the season. His mental approach is getting more refined as he gains experience as well. Rick Eckstein has helped many of the players with his serious approach and extensive video study.

Dunn loved his WBC experience, and thinks it helped him get ready for the season, getting a full game's worth of at bats in a game and adjusting to pitchers during in-game situations. "Every at bat was serious." He doesn't care whether he plays "first, third or the outfield."

He said the Sports Illustrated article didn't bother him and that his laid-back style and attitude wouldn't be a big deal if the press didn't keep bringing it up.

He closed by saying that he had high expectations for the team, that they were going to "have a lot of fun" and "win a lot of games."

Joe Beimel and Joel Hanrahan took over.

Even though he didn't sign until recently, Beimel said he never worried about not having a job this year, that he had "quite a few teams" interested, but that he needed "a decent offer" and that the "market vanished" a bit this off-season. He says being the eighth inning guy is easier than being a specialist because it defines the role and he doesn't "have to worry about adjusting" to different roles throughout the season like last year.

The left-hander likes the makeup of the team, that it's a young team, especially the starting pitchers and that there is "a lot of talent." He doesn't think of himself as a lefty specialist, and his splits are good because his mechanics help him "hide [his] sinker against lefties."

Joel Hanrahan said the WBC was a "great experience" and gave him a chance to talk to other closers, specifically the New York Mets' J.J. Putz, about how to get his WBC teammates out. He said that he likes the idea of being closer, and that he "talked to Chad [Cordero] quite a bit" about the role. He thought he got enough work with the USA team to prepare for the upcoming season.

He said he has a "short-term memory" which will allow him to not let things get to him, and his goal is to "put up a zero" every time out. He's not really happy with his spring training performance so far, that his "walks are down" but he's "getting behind" and needs to throw more first-pitch strikes.

Manager Manny Acta was the closer for the day.

Q: Why will the team do better?
MA: Simply, because "It's a better club" than last year. Adding Dunn to the middle of the order helps the batting order and that this year they didn't have to go into spring training trying out guys for the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation.

Q: What about playing time in the outfield?
MA: "Nice try, but I'm not going to give that up yet." He did go on to say, however, that Dunn was his left fielder and Milledge his center fielder, and Dukes, Kearns and Willingham would all get at bats, and that "no one is breaking Ripken's record" in this outfield.

He went on to say that the competition was a good thing, and that it gives the team depth they didn't have last year and gives the front office a "chance to make a deal if the right one is there."

Q: Is there any negative carry-over from last year's 102-loss season?
MA: Last season's "not gonna carry over at all." And it wasn't all bad: they had an opportunity to develop Jesus Flores, Elijah Dukes, John Lannan, Collin Balestar, etc.

Q: Are you concerned with Dunn's strikeouts?
MA: It's more important to get on base than to hit for a high average. He'd rather have Dunn "strikeout than hit into a double play." Dunn's walks more than make up for his strikeouts (ed. He's absolutely correct. The defense though...)

Q: Is Milledge the best choice for lead-off?
MA: He's the best option right now. His OBP and speed is suited for it, Milledge is growing into the role. Guzman's skills play better in the number two spot. It doesn't bother him that Guzman is a free-swinger, that his contact will help Milledge when he's on base. He also said he doesn't want to waste running opportunities in front of Zimmerman and Dunn.

Q: How closely will the team watch Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis' innings.
MA: The team will limit their innings and pitches. They "aren't going to jeopardize their careers" for the benefit of rushing them into the big leagues.

With that, the call promptly ended. In the end, there were no earth-shattering developments or quotes, but there was some good basic knowledge imparted by the skipper. Every time he gets the opportunity, he stresses the the point about on-base percentage and the idea that you can't score runs if you can't get on base, and he's absolutely correct.

Many pundits harp on Dunn's strikeouts and say he's a bad hitter. It's not true. You don't walk over 100 times a year if you're a bad hitter. You don't get on base at a .380 clip if you're a bad hitter. Average is a lousy way to evaluate a batter, yet the mainstream media clings to it like it's the only thing that matters.

Anyway, the 35 minute telephone conference was a good outreach by the team to the smaller newspapers and the internet writers. It was a good opportunity to get some background and "face time" with some of the decision-makers and key players in the organization.