JUPITER, Fla. - Matt Williams has a tough decision ahead of him.
Well, he has a few of them, but probably the toughest call the Nationals skipper will have to make in the final days of spring training is which right-hander he will award his team’s final rotation spot to - Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan.
Jordan got his last start of spring today, and he impressed, allowing just one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings, with a walk and two strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 58 for strikes, and closes out his spring with a 3.92 ERA.
“He was really good,” Williams said. “Really good. Of course he’s made a case. He’s pitched well the whole spring for us. It’s going to be a very difficult decision. They’re both pitching very well, and that’s a good thing.
“They both have unique ways of going about it. Taylor certainly has taken the advice of (pitching coach Steve McCatty) and the catchers and using the sinker more and throwing the changeup and his breaking ball off of it. And of course, he’s just pounding the strike zone his last couple outings, which is great. They both make a great case, and that’s a very nice problem to contemplate.”
Jordan, who broke his ankle early in the offseason, said that he’s pleased with his spring as a whole, largely because he now feels great physically. That said, he’s not trying to read the tea leaves or try and figure out where he stands in the coaches’ minds as the final roster decisions close in on him.
“I’m just going to play it by ear,” Jordan said. “I’m happy to go to Triple-A. It’s still a bump up for me. I’ve never even been to Triple-A. Last year was just a blessing to be up in the big leagues. I don’t expect anything. ...
“I’m not really concerned or worried or anything. Just whatever happens, happens.”
Jordan finishes spring with a really impressive 20-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 2/3 innings, but as Williams mentioned, Jordan has focused lately on leaning more heavily on his sinker and getting quick outs as opposed to strikeouts.
“I’m trying to get back to what I originally got to the big leagues for: groundball outs,” Jordan said. “I’m a sinkerball pitcher and I kind of got away from that in the Detroit game (March 14). It was a weird game for me. Mentally, it was a weird game for me, too. I’m just sticking with the sinker, sticking with what’s best for me.”
Williams said that he doesn’t have a set deadline on when he’d like to make the decision on who his fifth starter will be, but that he and his coaches will discuss the situation today and likely tomorrow, and will get a consensus opinion.
I say “fifth starter,” but whoever ends up winning the battle for the final rotation spot between Roark and Jordan could end up starting the Nats’ fourth game of the season - the home opener against the Braves April 4. Doug Fister’s throwing schedule as he works back from right elbow inflammation could, in essence, make him the Nats’ fifth starter, but that’s not set in stone.
Nate McLouth came into today batting .200 on the spring, but he went 2-for-3 with a homer, a double, a walk and two RBIs today to boost his spring average to .242.
“His swing’s coming,” Williams said. “The last at-bat was a tough one against (Mike) Dunn, but it’s coming. And he’s feeling better. He’s getting to the point where he’s getting the bat head on those heaters and so he’s right where he needs to be right now.”
Ross Detwiler made his third relief appearance of spring, allowing one hit in a scoreless eighth.
“Today he was a little uncomfortable a couple times with the slide-step, but again, he’s going to get a lot of opportunity to get out there,” Williams said. “We wanted to get him a clean inning today. Talked about bringing him in in the middle of that inning when we brought (Craig) Stammen, but again, we wanted to give him a clean inning so he can have ample time to warm up and continue to get used to it.”
Finally, Williams said that second baseman Anthony Rendon, who has missed the last four games with a bad chest cold, is progressing. Rendon hasn’t played since last Thursday, but he got put through a workout this morning and the Nats hope he can get back in the lineup tomorrow.
“He’s still a little congested and a little coughy,” Williams said. “But he’s getting better. He’s on the mend. ... In a perfect world, he’d probably play tomorrow, but we’ll have to see how he reacts and how he feels in the morning. He’s planned to play tomorrow, but we’ll have to see how he feels.”