VIERA, Fla. - After a lengthy night game last night, the Nationals will travel to Lake Buena Vista today for another 6:05 p.m. start, this time against the Braves.
This will mark three night games in a five-game span, but after today, the Nats will play 13 straight afternoon contests.
Players much prefer matinee games in spring, as do reporters. Night games, especially those on the road, really mess with the standard routine down here.
The players are most definitely creatures of habit and like getting their work in early and having the nights to themselves. I guess you could toss most reporters into that category, as well, at least during spring training.
Here’s a random note: Including tonight’s game, all seven spring games the Nationals have been a part of to this point have been against division opponents. The Nats have already faced the Mets three times and the Marlins twice, and tonight will mark their second game against the Braves.
File that among the reasons why the Nationals would like to find a new location for their spring training facilities. The main issue, as we’ve discussed before, is that the lengthy road trips from Viera make travel difficult. But the Nats’ brass also doesn’t love the fact that spring training geography leads them to play three of their division rivals so frequently in spring.
If you’re wondering why Denard Span has gotten so many starts this early in the spring (he’s played in four of the six games to this point), it’s not only because manager Davey Johnson wants to give his center fielder a chance to get comfortable playing with his new defensive neighbors, but also because he wants Span to have a look at some of the pitchers he’ll face this season.
Having played with the Twins in the American League for his entire career until this season, Span will need to build up a book on the hurlers he’ll see in the National League, and specifically in the NL East. Getting a few at-bats against these guys in Grapefruit League games will make it so that Span won’t be starting from square one on opening day.
Johnson likes the idea of Espinosa backing up Ian Desmond at shortstop during the regular season on days that Desmond gets the game off. A former shortstop with a gun for an arm who still loves playing that position, Espinosa will play short with Steve Lombardozzi sliding into the second base spot tonight.
With Span getting a rare day off, Harper will take over in center tonight. Roger Bernadina is out in Taiwan with the rest of Team Netherlands getting ready for the World Baseball Classic, so Johnson’s options in center are a bit limited.
As a result, he decided to give Harper a chance to play center against the Braves.
The 20-year-old could end up getting a few stars in center this season on days that Span gets a breather, so this will also give him a chance to get re-acclimated to the position.
Not that he necessarily needed it.
If you’re wondering how Ryan Mattheus felt about being asked to work two innings last night despite it being so early in spring, the right-handed reliever truly didn’t seem to mind.
“The up-and-down is something that I’m not used to, so to get that in early in camp is good, almost just for peace of mind, to know I can do it,” said Mattheus, who did admit he was surprised Johnson asked him to work the 10th last night after he had already thrown the ninth. “If it happens in April and I hadn’t done it in camp, it’d be like, ‘Woah, I don’t know what to expect,’ but to get it out of the way early in camp is good. I don’t really want to make a habit out of it though, especially in February.”
Mattheus looked really sharp last night, striking out three in two perfect innings.
“I felt really good tonight,” he said. “Tonight was just one of those nights that you get a few of those during the season where everything clicks. I hit every spot, I even threw a good slider tonight. It was one of those rare outings that you don’t get very much. It was good.”
Mattheus now has a save and a game finished this spring, and when a reporter pointed that out to him last night, Mattheus tossed his business cap on.
“I don’t know, can I take this to arbitration?” he said with a laugh.