WEST PALM BEACH, Fla - The closer we get to opening day and the more he keeps piling up hits, the more Matt Wieters looks like he may legitimately have figured something out at the plate.
Already having shown marked improvement through the first half of spring training, Wieters hasn’t let up tonight. The veteran catcher had hits in each of his first two at-bats against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, raising his Grapefruit League batting average to a cool .438.
Wieters’ hits tonight, like most of the previous ones this spring, weren’t cheap ones. Twice he sent hard shots back up the middle for singles, driving in teammate Bryce Harper on one of them to help the Nationals open up a 5-0 lead after three innings.
Those hits leave Wieters 7-for-16 this spring, one in which he has made significant tweaks to his swing under the guidance of new hitting coach Kevin Long.
Wieters wasn’t alone in causing some damage against Wheeler. The Nats piled up seven hits in three innings against the right-hander, with RBI singles also coming via Brian Goodwin, Victor Robles and José Marmolejos.
Handed a five-run lead, Max Scherzer went to work and pitched like it’s April 13, not March 13. The Nationals ace cruised through five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out nine.
Scherzer retired the evening’s first 10 batters before Amed Rosario finally drove a ball to deep center field for a double in the top of the fourth. Despite the runner in scoring position, he proceeded to strike out three of the last four batters he faced, departing with his pitch count at 76.
Update: The hits keep on coming for the Nationals, who now lead 7-0 after six innings. They added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth off A.J. Griffin, with back-to-back doubles by Harper and Andrew Stevenson. Harper drove an outside pitch deep to left field for a ground-rule double (the kind of opposite-field hit that was such a big part of his repertoire during his MVP campaign of 2015). Stevenson pulled his double down the right field line, bringing home both runs.
Update II: The Mets finally got on the board, scoring three runs off Ryan Madson in the top of the seventh. It didn’t help matters when Madson was just a step slow covering first base on a grounder to the right side, ultimately hitting the bag at the exact same time as the batter. It’s 7-3 Nats at the stretch.
Update III: Rosario homored off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth, but the Nationals still managed to defeat the Mets 7-4.