Previously flawless defense falters in loss to Astros

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals have played exceptional defense all spring, entering the day with a major league-low 11 errors through 20 exhibition games.

So Dusty Baker isn’t about to start worrying just because things got sloppy during today’s 5-4 loss to the Astros.

“Our defense has been good all spring,” the Nationals manager said. “We work on it every day tirelessly. I mean, you’re going to have those (days like today).”

What exactly happened today? Well, officially there were two Nats errors on the scoreboard by the end of the afternoon. But there were other missed opportunities in the field that compounded matters.

For example, Brandon Snyder - getting a chance to play second base as the journeyman attempts to make the club as a utility player - couldn’t make a pair of plays in the top of the first: a push bunt past the mound and then a hot shot to his left that could’ve been a double-play ball.

Trea-Turner-Throw-White.jpgThen there was Trea Turner, who with a runner on third and one out charged in to field a grounder, decided not to throw to the plate but then airmailed an off-balance throw to first for his second error of the spring.

What lesson would Baker like his young shortstop to take from that play?

“You have to learn the speed of the runner, that’s number one,” the manager said. “You don’t really have to rush. It’s not like Dee Gordon or something’s over there. That’s the main thing. You just have to realize how much time you have, and he just didn’t get his feet right.”

Turner hasn’t had a ton of tough defensive opportunities so far this spring - Baker joked this morning that he and bench coach Chris Speier openly have been wishing for more balls hit to shortstop from the dugout - but the staff has been pleased with what the infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-infielder-again has done to date.

“He’ll get it, big time,” Baker said. “And every time he makes an error, we don’t want to dwell on it, either. We just want him to go out there and play and mature and get as good as he’s going to be.”

The other Nationals error of the game came in the fifth, when Brian Goodwin (playing center field) pulled up despite having a bead on a routine fly ball to right-center, with a charging Bryce Harper in his line of sight.

It wasn’t solely the Nationals struggling in the field in this game, though. The Astros committed three - yes, three - errors on one batted ball in the bottom of the third. Turner singled to right, then Jake Marisnick’s attempt to throw out Chris Heisey at third base got away, then Charlie Morton’s attempt to throw out Heisey at the plate sailed off the backstop, then Juan Centeno’s attempt to throw out Turner at third base scooted away as well, letting Turner score on a Little League home run.

* The victim of the Nationals’ defensive woes was Joe Ross, who allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings, but only two earned. Ross wasn’t exactly sharp himself - he gave up six hits and put three others on base via walk or hit batter - but the right-hander was pleased overall with the way he felt in his fourth start of the spring.

“It’s just putting myself in more situations to work on runners on base,” he said. “Especially runners on second and third, no outs, stuff like that. It’s really not discouraging or anything like that. I felt good, so I’m happy with that. I could kind of care less about a spring training game, the score anyways.”

Ross’ primary goal this spring has been to repeat his delivery and not fall into bad mechanics the way he did last year when his shoulder was hurt.

In that regard, so far so good. Ross’ throwing motion has been smooth, lacking the hiccups that became evident last season.

“It’s going well,” he said. “I feel like every game I’ve been feeling more comfortable on the mound. I felt good last game. I felt really good today, just being able to repeat and stuff like that. If I can keep that going, I should be pretty good for the start of the season, I think.”

* A tie game in the top of the ninth turned into an Astros victory when Koda Glover allowed his first run of the spring.

Glover had been utterly dominant to date, putting only two batters on base in six innings. But he got into trouble today when he served up a leadoff double to Max Stassi, then watched him advance to third on a ground ball and score on Alejandro Garcia’s RBI single past a drawn-in infield.

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