VIERA, Fla. - As reporters were waiting to meet with manager Matt Williams in his office following today’s 16-15 Nationals win over the Braves, a game in which the Nats made five errors and allowed 25 hits, defensive coordination and advance coach Mark Weidemaier walked by.
“Coached the hell out of ‘em today, huh?” Weidemaier joked.
The Nats’ spring training home opener was not the prettiest of ballgames. Not by a longshot.
Atlanta scored nine runs in the fifth inning today, an inning that included 10 Braves hits and three Nationals errors (two of which came from outfielder Michael Taylor on one play). Here’s the lengthy play-by-play from that half-inning alone.
All in all, there were 37 hits, six errors, 14 walks and a whole lot of frustrated head-shakes from coaches.
“I didn’t even play and I’m tired,” Williams said after the 3 hour, 59 minute game.
Williams has been putting a lot of attention on the fundamentals this spring, having his players go through various fielding drills and making sure the attention to detail was present. So how does he feel after watching his team kick the ball around for the better part of the afternoon?
“I think it’s an aberration,” Williams said. “It’s one of those days. We’ll address it. But you can’t explain it. Michael slips and wheels and throws and no one’s there. It happens. I think it’s an aberration, though.”
Williams has what he hopes is the solution to the problem, however - situational defense practice. Williams had already written that into tomorrow morning’s workout schedule, and now you can bet he’ll be ready to put the Nats through an intense, focused workout.
“It’s actually perfect timing,” he said.
It might seem like months ago that it actually happened, but Jordan Zimmermann delivered two scoreless innings today, throwing 20 pitches, 15 for strikes. Zimmermann allowed just an infield single, struck out Dan Uggla on a high fastball and mixed in some nice changeups.
It was a smooth first outing of spring for the Nats’ dependable right-hander, and the fact that he got five ground balls particularly impressed his manager.
“It’s good,” Williams said. “It makes us think he’s really using his fastball effectively. His ball sinks. It’s good. He threw well.”
Zimmermann said he felt his changeup was working well today, which is a good sign. That’s a pitch he’s been working on for a couple of years now, slowly gaining trust in it as he goes.
“He needs to have that third pitch, because if for some reason he doesn’t have a feel for the breaking ball that day, he needs to be able to go to something,” Williams said. “He’ll continue to work on it, but I thought he threw it well.”
The Nats’ coaches and front office members have been high on right-hander Blake Treinen this spring, but Treinen had a rough outing today, allowing six hits and four runs over an inning of work. The 25-year-old struck out two and got unlucky by having a couple of bloop singles fall in in front of his outfielders, but it surely wasn’t what he was hoping for in his first big league spring training game.
“I think he made good pitches,” Williams said. “He had three or four balls drop in. That wind today pushed outfielders back a little bit because you don’t want a ball over your head. That’s human nature. That’s the way it is. A lot of balls fell in. A couple balls got pushed over Michael’s head out there. It’s one of those days where you have to fight to stay in it. You never know what can happen at the end.”
Of the 411 games Taylor has played in the minors, only 26 have been in right field. He’s predominantly a center fielder and a darn good one, as the Nats have raved about his defensive ability, with Williams even calling him an 80 defender on the 20-80 scouting scale. Taylor didn’t look too good out in right today, though, misplaying a couple of balls and sending off-target throws back in to the infield.
“We wanted to make sure he got some reps out there,” Williams said of playing Taylor in right. “Today is a rough day for any outfielder. But he’ll get some more reps out there, too.”
There weren’t many positives to pull from this game for either team, but there was one cool moment before the game, when retired Army Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris and his grandson threw out ceremonial first pitches. Morris served during the Vietnam War, and two weeks from now, he’ll be awarded the Medal of Honor, 44 years after the fact.
Morris will be one of 24 Army veterans to receive the award, most of whom are minorities who were passed over for the nation’s highest military award because of their race or ethnicity.
After the ceremonial first pitches, Nationals players and coaches also came out of their dugout to shake Morris’ hand.
“It’s a pretty special day here,” Williams said. “Local guy to the area. It was nice that the organization honored him and we were happy to be out there for it. You don’t every day get the chance to shake the hand of a Medal of Honor recipient. Pretty special day.”