VIERA, Fla. - Yesterday, it was the Cardinals loading up their lineup with regulars, giving Gio Gonzalez a tough test on the road while the Nationals' batting order was filled mostly with backups and minor leaguers.
The script will be flipped this afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, as the Nationals should have nearly all their starters in their lineup against the Cardinals and left-hander Jaime Garcia. Ryan Zimmerman will make his spring debut as the Nationals' DH today, and Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche are all expected to join Zimmerman.
Ross Detwiler will start for the Nationals, his final appearance with the club before leaving to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.
Yesterday's game marked the first time Gonzalez had faced the Cardinals since Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The same went for Drew Storen, who pitched the eighth inning yesterday but said he wasn't thinking at all about Game 5 or it being his first time squaring off against St. Louis since last October.
"No," Storen said. "If it felt weird and it was going through my head, then I shouldn't be out there."
Storen struck out the first two hitters he faced yesterday, then allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases. He induced a pop-up to third to eventually end the inning.
Storen said his mechanics failed him a little bit as the inning progressed, but that can happen early in spring as pitchers try and work on repeating their deliveries. Storen hasn't been lacking for work this spring, with yesterday's outing already marking his third appearance in the Nationals' eight Grapefruit League games.
That's a workload Storen is fine with early in spring.
"As you saw last year when I came back (from elbow surgery), it takes me a minute to get the power back and all that, but physically, I feel great," Storen said. "I feel like the ball's coming out really well. Especially for the effort level that I'm throwing at. I'm happy with it, and I'm happy with throwing a lot, too.
"Each time, I just kind of add a little bit more (effort) to it and let your body kind of respond to it. It's a process, you just kind of take a step forward each time and before you know it, you'll be back to where you were."
Ryan Perry worked the three innings just before Storen, allowing no runs on two hits. The right-hander said he's been battling some dead arm the last couple weeks, and while he still felt it yesterday, he said it wasn't nearly as bad as his last time out, when he grew tired in his second inning of work and needed to be pulled before completing the second frame.
"I think it's just a lot of innings from last year," Perry said, "and coming into a new season, my body's like, 'Woah. We're already throwing this much? I'm not used to this.' "
Perry, who was converted from a reliever to a starter last season, said he doesn't expect the dead arm to bother him much longer and will continue to pitch through it. He's tried to focus more on using his lower body during this stretch to take some of the pressure off his arm, but even with the minor health issues, he's been pleased with his fastball command, especially during yesterday's outing.
If you look at Anthony Rendon's spring numbers (he's batting .438 with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs in seven games), or have watched the 22-year-old play, you'd think Rendon is completely locked in right now. The Nationals' top prospect won't make that claim himself, but asked about his recent hot stretch, Rendon cracks a smile and acknowledges the obvious.
"Yeah, you know, I feel good," Rendon said. "But I know it's baseball, I know it's not going to last forever. Can't get too high on my highs or let my lows get too low. ... I think I'm just trying to go out there and play my game. I don't want to go out there and be too anxious, I just want to have fun like I always try to do."
Rendon crushed a long home run off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright yesterday, a shot that was struck so well that it bounced nearly two-thirds of the way up the batter's eye above the center field wall. Asked about the homer, Rendon again broke into a huge smile.
"Yeah, I hit it pretty good," he said proudly.
For the time in a while, Rendon has been able to focus strictly on baseball this spring, a luxury he hasn't known for a while after battling a number of injuries over the last few years.
"Oh, yeah, it's definitely a big burden off your shoulders," Rendon said. "You don't have to go in too early, get in the training room and get rubbed down or whatever you've got to do. You can just go out there with a free mind and play the game you've been playing your whole life."
Meanwhile, Roger Bernadina went 0-for-4 during the Netherlands' 8-3 loss to Chinese Taipei in a World Baseball Classic game early this morning. Bernadina is now 1-for-9 with two RBIs in the Netherlands' two WBC games in pool play thus far.