LAKELAND, Fla. - Joker Marchant Stadium is one of the Grapefruit League's gems. From its retro styling on the ediface to the variety of smells (from barbecue to burgers to grilled corn on the cob) permeating the concourse to the ever-present olde English D-clad fans, the place just oozes baseball.
The fans are some of the most knowledgeable around, too, and right now, they're none too pleased after watching Miguel Cabrera - yes, the former Triple Crown winner and one of the game's greatest hitters - called out on strikes by home plate umpire Andy Fletcher after he watched a Taylor Jordan off-speed pitch.
To be honest, the pitch looked a little on the high side, but it apparently caught enough of the plate on the outside portion for Fletcher to ring Cabrera up for the second out of the home first. Cabrera stood there in amazement and the fans booed. I suppose they figure greenhorn pitchers aren't supposed to get the benefit of those kinds of calls.
The Nationals lead 1-0 after one inning. Anthony Rendon singled with one down in the first off Rick Porcello, and Nate McLouth then lifted a high fly to the warning track in left. Left fielder Rajai Davis looked like he had the ball in his sights, but as he got to the wall, he lost it, and it bounced off the wall for a run-scoring double.
There's abundant sunshine today, and the sky is mostly blue. While those seem like stunningly good weather conditions for a ballgame, it's a high sky with only a few clouds, and fielders seem to be having some issues tracking fly balls.
Update: Jordan is through three innings, and he's spent a good part of it tempting fate. The Tigers put together five hits in the third to erase the Nationals' advantage and take a 4-1 lead.
If not for three balls that looked like sure goners dying in deep left field, the damage would have been much greater.
With two out in the second, Nick Castellanos reached out and poked what looked like it might be a solo homer to left. Instead, the ball died just before it went out, bouncing off the wall for a double. Jordan then hit Davis with a pitch, but got Hernan Perez to bounce back to the mound for the inning's final out.
In the third, Kinsler's shot down the left field line bounced for a ground-rule double. Torii Hunter's sharp single to right tied the game and he went to second on the throw home, moved to third on Cabrera's groundout and crossed on Victor Martinez's single to right. Martinez advanced to second on a groundout by Alex Avila, but a double to left by Austin Jackson (on another ball that died) and Castellano's single to right pushed the lead to 4-1.
Jordan has yielded four runs on seven hits through three innings.
Update II: Apparently, getting a ball over the left-field wall at Joker Marchant Stadium is possible.
Tyler Moore just blasted a two-run homer to left off Porcello, as the Nats have trimmed the Tigers' lead to 4-3.
McLouth led off the inning with a bad-hop infield single, stole second and went to third on Jose Lobaton's deep fly to center. That brought up Moore with two down, and he ripped an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left for his first homer of the spring.
Jordan is out after three innings, replaced by Luis Ayala. He allowed four runs on seven hits, walked none and struck out two. Jordan threw 60 pitches, 42 for strikes.