If you scan the pitching staffs of the other teams in the NL - and then do the same for the teams the Nats will face in interleague competition - you'll notice something conspicuous by its absence.
A knuckleball pitcher.
Today the Nats faced the game's current premier knuckleballer, Boston's Tim Wakefield, in the spring's final exhibition game, played at Nationals Park.
The conditions were right today for a master of the knuckler, and Wakefield was in top form during his stint on the mound. He throws his knuckler in the high 60's and low 70's - much like Phil Niekro did - and occasionally throws in a batting practice speed fastball, almost a reverse changeup. He allowed 3 hits and no runs in 4 innings of work, with a pair of strikeouts. National batters had obvious trouble centering on the ball, and Boston prevailed 6-1.
I asked Jim Riggleman if there was an obvious downside to seeing a knuckleball pitcher on the last day before the opener. "A little bit," he said, "but there's also the downside of not playing the guys. We have nearly a full house there - the fans welcoming us back - and if you don't play Dunn, Zimmerman, Willingham [and] Pudge, you feel like you're letting everybody down."
The Nats' skipper says he consulted with his starters beforehand. "I talked to a couple of our hitters about it. I said if you're not comfortable, if you feel like this guy will get you out of sync, we'll wait until Daisuke comes into the game before you play," he said. "They were all 'no, no, I want to start the game, and it's not going to mess me up in the future if his pitches are that different than everybody else we see.' But it's a thought, certainly. If we played them in interleague, I would definitely want our guys to see a knuckleball, because you'd see that in interleague, but we don't play them this year. "
Wakefield, who turns 44 in August, is in his 16th season with Boston, and it would surprise no one if he's around for 20 years in Beantown. He's on the cusp of 200 wins - he's got 189, all but 14 for the Red Sox - and while he's an unlikely Hall of Famer, he's one of those players Hub fans won't soon forget.
On the Nats' side of the ledger, the loss finishes their spring training record for 2010 at 10-20. Craig Stammen allowed 3 earned runs in 5 innings of work, allowing a 2-run homer to Kevin Youkilis and a solo shot to J.D. Drew, but was otherwise pleased with his final tuneup.