Nats vs. Astros: Post-game thoughts

The Nationals’ 8-7 loss to the Astros on Saturday afternoon, however exciting it may have been, was still a loss. Washington gave up six straight runs after taking a 5-1 lead, came back to tie it in the ninth and lost in the bottom of the inning, dropping to 0-9 for the spring. But it also featured the most jumbled progression of pitchers they’ve used this spring. Scott Olsen worked three innings, followed by closer-in-waiting Drew Storen and current closer Matt Capps. Then came starter Matt Chico, followed by relievers Luis Atilano and Sean Burnett. It’s hard to know what to make of the pitching today, since it was so out of order, but we’ll do our best.

Golden Geese
Ryan Zimmerman: With a 3-for-4 day, a homer and two runs, not to mention a solid day with the glove, the Nationals’ franchise player continued his strong spring. He’s hitting .412 now, with a pair of homers. There shouldn’t be many doubts about Zimmerman’s readiness for the regular season.

Ian Desmond: His spring results have been just as good as, if not better than, Zimmerman’s, and Desmond has a lot more to gain from it. He continued his campaign to make the team on Saturday by going 2-for-4 with an RBI, also making a couple of smooth plays at shortstop and throwing the lead runner out at third on a grounder when there was no force at the bag. “I feel good. I’m playing the same game that I always play,” Desmond said. “Errors come and go. You get into a defensive slump just like you get into an offensive slump. I’m just trying to keep everything as consistent as I can, and right now, it’s paying off.” Desmond also made an interesting comment after the game: His moves to different positions have actually helped him defensively, because he tends to over-analyze his mistakes at shortstop if that’s the only place he’s playing. “I tend to beat myself up. If all I’m doing is working at short, I nit-pick the smallest little fundamental things, and it ends up snowballing,” Desmond said. “If I’m out moving around to other positions, I can focus on right field one day, and if I’ve got to go play infield, then it’s just natural. I’m just doing what I know how to do without thinking about, ‘Oh, my right foot’s here.’” He sounded as at home with the idea of being a utility player as he ever has, and the way he’s playing right now, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the team.

Drew Storen: Another strong day for the rookie, with a slight twist. He actually had to pitch out of a jam after dominating his first two outings this spring. Storen got a quick out, striking out Geoff Blum on a fastball-curveball-slider mix, but then walked a batter and gave up a hit when Chris Duncan couldn’t find a routine pop-up. No matter. He composed himself, got one quickout and then struck out Edwin Maysonet to end the inning. “Looking back, it was good to get myself in one of those situations,” Storen said. “It was good to have runners in scoring position, because being a reliever, I’m going to come in games where it’s going to be like that, where I need to make those big pitches. That was one of those situations where I had to make that big pitch. One of the first pitches of the at-bat with a guy on second is always a big pitch. There’s really no substitute for game situations for that kind of stuff.”

Goose Eggs
Matt Chico: Coming off a strong first outing of the spring that earned him a lot of surprise-of-the-spring talk, Chico slipped on Saturday. He struggled to control any of his off-speed pitches, and was putting his fastball too low for hitters to bite on it or the umpire to call it a strike. The end result was ugly: seven hits, six runs (five of them earned) and a walk in an inning-plus. “Off-speed just wasn’t there today, so I had to rely on my fastball,” Chico said. “Today I was just disappointed in myself. It’s not really a surprise at all. My last outing was in the past, and I tried to build off it. Things just didn’t go as planned.”

Nyjer Morgan: The center fielder went 0-for-4 and had an easy pop-up go off the end of his glove in the fifth inning. Morgan is hitting .167 this spring.

Adam Kennedy: The second baseman was 0-for-4 and left four runners on base, dropping his average to .235 this spring.

What to watch:
In his second start of the spring, Scott Olsen looked stronger than he did his first time out, sitting consistently at 88 mph with his fastball and throwing a sharper slider than he had in his first start. Olsen still gave up four hits in three innings and the Astros hit 10 balls to the outfield against him, but he was encouraged with the progress. “I’m getting there. I’m close. I’m real close,” Olsen said. “I don’t know how close, but I’m real close right now. I think another start, another couple innings under my belt and we’ll be ready to go.”

For Chico, the next outing will be a good indicator of where he’s headed. He’s not going to be effective without his off-speed pitches, since his fastball is hardly overwhelming, and if he can show today was just a hiccup, he’ll keep himself in the mix for the final rotation spot.

Up next:
It’s Strasburg, the Sequel: Stephen Strasburg will start against the Cardinals on Sunday, pitching three innings before giving way to Livan Hernandez, who is in his first appearance of the spring. Don’t expect an appearance from Albert Pujols, who played today after sitting out with a stiff back and isn’t likely to get on a bus with that injury, but it’s another chance for Strasburg to test himself against big-leaguers. He’s likely to pitch at least one more time in big-league camp -- which would also be against the Cardinals next Friday -- and while the Nationals seem relatively set on starting him in the minors regardless of how he pitches, he’ll get another chance to make an impression on Sunday.

Also: I’ve heard from a few people who said they’re down in Florida the next couple days. Any interest in some type of get-together -- possibly tomorrow night? Just throwing it out there, so speak up if you’re in the Viera-ish area and you’re interested.

Replays of today’s live thread are available here -- this one’s definitely worth checking out for the impromptu Q-and-A that broke out with Pam Storen, Drew’s mom, in the middle of it. And audio from the day is available here. Talk to you tomorrow!