VIERA, Fla. - Chris Young provided a solid four innings on the mound, Micah Owings provided the pop.
The Nationals beat the Astros 6-3 this afternoon in large part due to the efforts of a 33-year-old pitcher and a 30-year-old pitcher-turned-position-player who are both in camp on minor league deals.
Young threw four innings of one-run ball this afternoon. Outside of a leadoff homer that came on his fourth pitch of the game, Young did well to hold the Astros without a run, working out of a couple of jams and recording three strikeouts.
"Chris Young was real good. He had a good outing," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's good to have here. I know when we signed him, I said, 'That's good 'cause we can't hit him.' But I thought he was a lot better today the second time out than the first time. I thought everything was sharper. And he threw about 70 pitches, which was great."
The question with Young is where he fits within the Nationals' organization, if at all. Young is able to opt out of his contract on March 24, and with the Nats having their starting rotation already set, there doesn't appear to be space for him barring an injury. The Nats would love it if Young would be willing to take an assignment to Triple-A, where he could serve as insurance in case of an injury, but it's unclear whether that's something Young is interested in.
"I'm real comfortable with my starting staff," Johnson said. "That's the one area where we're real shallow, starting pitching. We'll see what happens."
Johnson added that if he was scouting Young for another team, he'd see a guy who can help a team at the big league level.
"I like him. He's a smart pitcher," Johnson said. "He locates the ball well. He knows what he has to do to be successful. And I like his repertoire. And I think today was more of an indication how he can pitch."
Owings, meanwhile, quickly turned a 3-2 Nats deficit into a 6-3 Nats lead with a grand slam way over the right-field wall in the seventh inning. The wind was blowing out today, which on some level assisted home runs hit by Jayson Werth and the Astros' Marwin Gonzalez, but Owings' homer was crushed.
"His didn't need a whole lot of help," Johnson said. "He's impressing some people. He's been OK in the field and aggressive at the plate. I like his approach. He's had a great spring. He'll be in there tomorrow."
How do the Nats see Owings factoring in within their organization?
"Hopefully he'll again be good insurance, more of a veteran bat off the bench," Johnson said. "I was talking to (Triple-A Syracuse manager) Tony Beasley about him, I said, 'You're going to need to get him some at-bats.' There's three young outfielders (Corey Brown, Eury Perez and Erik Komatsu) and he's got (Chris) Marrero at first, but he's going to have to get him some at-bats to get an opportunity to show the ability he's had this spring. He's showed improvement since day one. He's had more quality at-bats the more at-bats he's gotten. He's had an impressive spring."
Unfortunately for Owings, the Nats don't have many holes on their major league roster right now. They're set on the bench, and Tyler Moore will serve as the reserve right-handed power hitter/first baseman/corner outfielder. Johnson also acknowledged that Marrero is above Owings on the depth chart, and should Moore suffer an injury, Marrero would be the likely call-up.
"Coming off (being) division champs, we're not at that point to have the luxury to give (Owings) opportunities in that role up here right now," Johnson said. "He's going to have to continue during the season showing that he's capable. Of course, he may open some eyes from some other clubs - a veteran right-handed bat coming off the bench, he's certainly got the power and he's certainly shown that he'll make more contact than you'd normally think for a pitcher-turned-hitter.
"So he's interesting. But both those are veteran guys who are opening some eyes, having good springs."
Rafael Soriano, meanwhile, allowed his first runs of spring on a two-run homer hit out to right by Nate Freiman. Soriano retired the final three hitters he saw after the homer, two via strikeouts.
"I thought he threw the ball good," Johnson said. "Again, you throw a high fastball out over the plate and somebody gets a part of it, it's going to be gone (with this wind). But he was basically just getting him work in. He kind of used a few other pitches early on, just getting his location and his arm stretched out, which is what you expect. And then he went and started establishing breaking stuff, which is awful good."