Nationals have all of the pieces for a longer run in 2013

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Yeah, that was a particularly gruesome way to lose. But that will only make the eventual payoff that much sweeter.

Of course, the Nationals aren’t guaranteed anything going forward after losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals on Friday night. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg early was a move geared towards protecting the future, but the Nationals are far from assured of finishing with the NL’s best record again next year or even making it back to the postseason.

That said, things do look pretty good:

– A top four of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler is not only a great rotation, but it will also be a cheap one. The quarter will make about $13.5 million total in 2013.

– Bryce Harper is only going to get better, and he appeared to get more adept in center field as his rookie season went on. That means the Nationals can maintain their Michael Morse-Harper-Jayson Werth outfield and re-sign Adam LaRoche to sign play first base if they’d like. And since Morse can play first base, they also have flexibility if LaRoche leaves as a free agent and they want to replace him with a leadoff-type center fielder.

– Wilson Ramos will from his torn ACL to upgrade the catcher spot. Kurt Suzuki would make for a very expensive backup catcher unless the Nats decide to trade him, but they’re cheap enough elsewhere that they should be able to afford to keep him at $6.5 million.

The Nationals should have the payroll flexibility to target a big-name starter if they want one, whether it’s through free agency or trade. Even if LaRoche departs, the offense should be better next year with growth from Harper and more at-bats to Werth and Morse. Ian Desmond may fall off a bit, but he just turned 27 and may simply be hitting his stride.

Having the NL’s best rotation on paper didn’t do the Phillies much good this year, but the Nationals have to be considered the NL East favorites in 2013. They just won 98 games with the NL’s second-youngest team (the Triple-A Astros being the youngest), and barring a major misstep, there will be more talent coming in than exiting this winter.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.