Henley gets aggressive, Desmond goes yard (Nats win 8-1)


Score: Nationals 8, Tigers 1

Recap: Stephen Strasburg threw five scoreless innings and looked very sharp in the process. Ian Desmond smoked his third homer of spring, and Ryan Zimmerman added an RBI triple. The Nats added three more runs in the ninth after Anthony Rendon singled and Jose Lobaton doubled.

Need to know: Strasburg struck out five, and now has allowed just one earned run in 14 spring innings. The Nats’ opening day starter looks like he’s ready for games that matter.

On deck: Friday, at Jupiter vs. Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.

VIERA, Fla. - You don’t often see third base coaches make aggressive sends in spring training, mostly because they’re afraid of injuries.

But new Nationals third base coach Bobby Henley sent Danny Espinosa from second on an infield single up the middle today, and the move paid off.

Espinosa led off the third inning with a sharp single to right, then moved up to second on a Stephen Strasburg sac bunt. Denard Span worked a good at-bat against Tigers starter Max Scherzer and cued a ball past the mound and over the second base bag. The ball got to around the edge of the dirt, and when Henley saw that it hadn’t been fielded cleanly, he waved his arm to send Espinosa home.

The throw home beat Espinosa, but it was slightly up the third base line. Espinosa danced around the tag of catcher Alex Avila, and even though his momentum took him past home plate, he came back and tagged the dish before Avila could get over and slap the tag on him.

We’ll have to see just how aggressive Henley is when games start to matter, but today, his aggression resulted in the game’s first run.

One batter after Span’s run-scoring infield hit, Ian Desmond cranked a two-run shot to left-center, a ball that flew out of here in a hurry.

He got something up from Scherzer, and he didn’t miss it.

It’s Desmond’s third homer of the season, and it gave the Nats a 3-0 lead.

Strasburg, meanwhile, is now through four scoreless innings, having allowed just two hits. He’s gotten two 6-4-3 double plays, the first of which came on a wacky but cool play when the ball deflected off Desmond’s glove and went high in the air right to Espinosa at the second base bag, who barehanded it and completed the double play.

Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos also combined to catch Nick Castellanos attempting to steal second base, ending the third inning.

Ramos’ throw was a good one, right at the bag, but Strasburg was quick to the plate and gave his catcher a shot. That’s something Strasburg has been focusing on this spring - varying his times to the plate and holding runners - and he looked good doing so there.

Update: Strasburg is now done after five innings of work, and a strong five innings it was.

The Nats’ ace allowed three hits and a walk and struck out five. He threw just 66 pitches, 46 for strikes.

Efficient and effective.

Drew Storen will come on to work the sixth in a 3-0 game.

Update II: Storen allowed two hits, a walk and a run in his inning of work, and Ryan Mattheus then worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning in his spring debut.

Mattheus was limited throughout much of this spring by inflammation in his chest, and his first Grapefruit League appearance was a quick one, but it had to feel good to get on a mound and face real hitters again.

He got a hard-hit lineout to left, a groundout and then struck out Trevor Crowe swinging to end the frame.

The Nats have a 5-1 lead as we enter the eighth, after Ryan Zimmerman tripled in a run in the sixth and then came in to score on Jose Lobaton’s RBI single.

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