After getting shut out Saturday in Kissimmee like a gambler at the race track, yesterday I was back on the Spring Training grind as the Nationals played host to the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium. Unfortunately, for the second day in a row, the Nationals came up on the short end, losing 10-2 in a rather sloppy spring training contest. Though the score looks rather gruesome at first glance, there were some positives to take from this game.
Stephen Strasburg started the game and was impressive through his first two innings, throwing mostly fastballs while sprinkling in a few of his trademark nasty curveballs and devastating changeups. Strasburg returned for a third inning and appeared to tire a bit, giving up a home run to Chris Snyder on a fastball down the middle and a double to Jordan Schafer. For the day, he pitched 2.2 innings throwing 44 pitches, 26 for strikes, and in general, looked like the staff ace the Nationals expect him to be this season.
The Nationals bullpen, excluding the performance from Tom Gorzelanny, was particularly solid, as Ryan Mattheus pitched 1.1 innings, striking out two batters and inducing two meek ground ball outs, against just one walk. Brad Lidge entered in the 7th inning and went three up and three down, making Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton look silly on an off-speed pitch that he missed by more than a foot. Next, Tyler Clippard entered in the 8th, allowing a triple to Brian Bixler (remember him Nats fans) and a walk before getting two weak fly balls to left field to escape the inning. Finally, Drew Storen pitched the 9th inning and looked to be in midseason form, striking out two and needing only 11 pitches to retire the side.
Finally, a few of the players competing for spots on the team’s bench made a favorable impression Sunday afternoon; Jason Michaels started the game in left field and continued his impressive spring, going 2-2 and driving in a run in the 2nd inning. Mark DeRosa started the game at first base and ripped singles in his only two at-bats. Lastly, Chad Tracy replaced Mark DeRosa at first base and ripped an RBI single in the seventh inning, and he also made two impressive plays defensively. DeRosa is a virtual lock for a position on the bench, but Michaels and Tracy will have to continue to impress, as they are in a group of 5-6 players (Jared Hoffpauir, Brett Carroll, Mark Teahan, etc.) likely fighting for the final spot on the roster.
While I always focus on the positives early in spring training, it would not be a legitimate report if I did not mention some of the negatives from yesterday’s game as well. Without piling on too much, Tom Gorzelanny had a nightmarish outing yesterday, only recording three outs while allowing seven earned runs, plus one inherited from Strasburg. Gorzelanny gave up two 3-run home runs, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch, and allowed four walks – and it was worse than that. The bright side is today is March 4 and the team does not head north for another month, so chalk this up to one terrible outing.
Also, Ian Desmond made two errors today in the field, one a bobble on a relatively routine ground ball and another on a throwing error during the Astros 4th inning rally. Desmond improved defensively last season, mostly because he cut down on these unnecessary errors, but Ian has the talent to be a well above-average defensive shortstop and these mistakes continue to hinder his ability to reach his potential. Finally, Jayson Werth looked just awful at the plate yesterday, striking out in his first at-bat and hitting a weak flare to second base in his other plate appearance. True, it is the second spring training game, but the Nationals desperately need Werth to revert back to his Philadelphia form if the team is going to have a successful season, and today was not particularly encouraging.
I spoke at length Saturday evening with someone involved with the Nationals and he could not stop raving about Anthony Rendon and how much the organization likes him as a potential shortstop. I had never considered Rendon as a possibility at short, mostly because his body size and shape are not prototypical for the position, but then in the middle innings I look up and there he is playing shortstop. This is an interesting subplot to this spring, and perhaps all season, because if he can passably play the position, his hitting potential makes him an all-star quality player.
By now most of us know of Bryce Harper’s phenomenal talents, but what stuck out to me today was the effort and passion he plays the game with. Bryce entered the game in the middle innings and beat out an infield single in his first at-bat, then later in the 8th inning, made a full out diving attempt to catch a slicing line drive. I still believe that Harper will begin the year in the minors due to financial reasons, but he is doing everything he can to prove he belongs in the major leagues on opening day, and he is going to make the decision very difficult for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals.
Today’s “Tip of the Fedora” goes out to the fine people at the Holiday Inn Viera Conference Center – their hotel was the solid place to stay for spring training and their staff has been incredibly friendly and accommodating. If you happen to visit, say hello to Ryan the bartender, he’s a good man and a big baseball fan!