An impressive first turn through the rotation

VIERA, Fla. - The first stage of spring training is now behind us.

You know, the stage where each starting pitcher goes out and fires two or three innings, and then says he felt good regardless of the results.

“Oh, I gave up six runs in two innings? I was just trying to throw strikes, so mission accomplished.”

“My curveball looked flat? Well I just wanted to get a feel for the ball again.”

So far, Nationals starters have needed to make very few excuses. The quintet of hurlers who have taken the mound to start the Nats’ first five Grapefruit League games have, by and large, looked pretty sharp early on.

Edwin Jackson opened Grapefruit League competition by throwing two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks. Stephen Strasburg followed by spotting his fastball and mixing his offspeed stuff nicely, striking out three and allowing two runs in 2 2/3 innings. John Lannan allowed four baserunners in three innings, but worked out of trouble and allowed just one run. New Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez had it working in three scoreless innings, striking out two. Jordan Zimmermann allowed three hits and a walk yesterday with three punch-outs on sliders.

You can also throw Chien-Ming Wang in there; the righty allowed just an unearned run, striking out three in two innings of work during a minor league intrasquad game.

The outings were far from perfect, but they were a nice start. And most importantly, at no point during these five days of spring training competition did we see a Nats hurler complain of a sore elbow, tight shoulder, or a fastball which had suddenly lost velocity.

Manager Davey Johnson had said he’d “feel whole” after watching his full rotation once through, and speaking following yesterday’s 3-3 tie, he sounded like a man satisfied with what he’d seen from his starters through the first week of spring competition.

“I’m very pleased,” Johnson said. “They’ve all been pretty impressive, further along than most starters are at this time of the year. I thought they all had great velocity, great arm strength. All of them have been a little bit wild, but that’s the adrenaline flow. First game, they’re pumped up.”

So what comes next? The pitch limit will be raised to 60 this time through the rotation, and guys will start working on fine-tuning their fastball command and working on their secondary pitches. The first spring outing is usually about feel, and with each outing, it starts slowly becoming more about results.

The first-start jitters should fade now that each guy has a couple innings under his belt, and Johnson believes that with the pitch limit rising, guys will start “pitching” more and “throwing” less.

After a strong first time through, it’ll be fun to watch one of the most talented rotations in all of baseball ramp it up and take that next step.

Dan Kolko was named’s Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site’s deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the “George Michael Sports Machine” in Washington, D.C.

Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko

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