Williams on Jordan and Ayala after 12-6 loss

LAKELAND, Fla. - Starting pitcher Taylor Jordan struggled with his command and said he wasn’t helped by an umpire’s strike zone that forced him to elevate pitches. The result was three-inning outing and four runs allowed, not exactly the kind of production a guy challenging for the final spot in the Nationals rotation can hang his hat on.

Reliever Luis Ayala looked like he was throwing batting practice, as the Tigers hung five runs on him in 2/3 of an inning, inflating his spring ERA after six appearances to an unsightly 13.50.

But there’s an old saying about not putting too much stock into spring training numbers. If that holds for good results, shouldn’t the same be said for the kinds of outings that pitchers want to file away as soon as they shower and leave the ballpark?

Nationals manager Matt Williams seems to think so. Perhaps he’s taking the glass-half-full approach, but Williams didn’t seem to find anything out of the ordinary in the two right-handers struggling in today’s 12-6 loss. Combined, the duo surrendered nine runs on 13 hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Jordan’s problem, Williams said, didn’t lie in the borderline low pitches that didn’t garner strike calls from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher. Yes, Jordan got beat time and again on breaking balls and changeups, something Williams hopes will teach the 24-year-old that he needs to rely more heavily on his bread-and-butter fastball.

“We’re encouraging him to use his fastball,” Williams said. “The pitches he got beat on today were breaking balls and changeups. We’ll just continue to encouraging him to use it, because it’s a good one. The ball sinks in the low to mid-90s and he needs to use it. No concerns, though.”

Williams didn’t sound surprised that Jordan faltered when he had to move off the fastball against a Tigers lineup packed with regulars.

“It’s the way it goes sometimes,” the manager said. “You just got to keep pounding the zone, you don’t have a choice. Again, he wants to mix in the other pitches, but we’ll just keep encouraging him to be aggressive.”

Jordan certainly didn’t hurt his chances at breaking camp as the Nats’ fifth starter. He’s competing with right-hander Tanner Roark and left-hander Ross Detwiler for that job, though none of the three have particularly distinguished themselves this spring. They’ve all had flashes of brillance and outings where they’ve struggled, too.

“Bad impression? No, we’re just going to continue to encourage him to use his stuff and be the best pitcher he can be,” Williams said. “Competing for a spot? OK, that’s good. That’s good competition. That’s the way it should be. But I don’t think he should feel nervous about anything that he does out there. If he’s aggressive, he does fine.”

Williams was equally positive about Ayala’s effort, though there was little in his pitching line that looked good. The plan was to pitch Ayala a full inning, but the deeper he got into the frame, the harder he was being hit by the Tigers.

Asked what he thought of Ayala’s performance, Williams responded, “Just doing exactly what he’s supposed to do: getting ground balls. But sometimes they don’t hit it at somebody, sometimes it gets through. We have confidence in him, so he continues to stay out there in that inning, then he gets an 11-pitch at-bat against the last guy.”

Jordan and Ayala absorbed most of the damage in Friday’s game, as the Tigers pounded out 22 hits against six pitchers. Every Nationals pitcher allowed at least one hit, and all but lefty Zach Jackson, who got the last out of the fourth, and right-hander Drew Storen, who pitched the fifth but still allowed a double steal, were charged with runs.

Righty Blake Treinen gave up a run on four hits in two innings, and lefty Michael Gonzalez allowed two runs in the ninth, his first Grapefruit League appearance.

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