LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Another rough day for the Nationals’ pitchers, and not much of it can be blamed on wind today. Washington’s pitchers gave up 11 runs on 17 hits in an 11-8 loss to the Braves at Champion Stadium on Friday. In three spring training games so far (counting two split-squad games on Thursday), the Nationals have allowed a total of 36 runs and seven homers.
“It can be deflating,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “We just kind of break it down to each individual. We’re looking for individual performances out of the group that will eventually for the team.”
That’s about all anyone should be looking for at this point. As I mentioned over in our live game thread, several pitchers are still throwing mostly fastballs and trying to establish a base before they get too far into their repertoires. That’s not true across the board, but it’s still extremely early. Should this keep up for a few more days, I think there will be more worry among Nats coaches.
“When we start getting through four, five, six innings with (our starters), I think it’s going to be a different story,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “I fully expect us to do well. I do. This is just tough in this situation when you start out. I know what everybody’s looking for. And then we walk some guys, we give up some homers and some hits. It’s tough.”
If you’d like to hear the full McCatty audio, or Riggleman’s pre- and post-game sessions, you can check them out here.
With that, on to today’s Golden Geese and Goose Eggs...
Ian Desmond: Not only did he drive in six runs and hit a grand slam, Desmond made a couple of impressive plays in the field -- the best one coming in the third inning. With the bases loaded, Desmond made a diving stop on Martin Prado’s grounder, saving at least one run. Then he got up, saw Melky Cabrera heading toward home and fired to the plate in plenty of time for Ivan Rodriguez to tag Cabrera out. When Derek Jeter makes the same play, we hear about his presence of mind and baseball IQ for weeks. Desmond, who also played some right field, probably is still a long shot to start at shortstop, but he’s making a strong case so far. “I’m just going out and playing,” Desmond said. “If they want to take me, they take me. If not, I’m just doing what I can.”
Tyler Clippard: One of two Nationals pitchers not to give up a run, Clippard pitched a strong eighth inning, allowing one hit but nothing else. He continues to be a strong candidate to make the team, either as a situational reliever or a seventh-inning type.
Elijah Dukes: The right fielder went 2-for-3 with a long double, scored two runs and made a strong one-hop throw to home in the third inning with Yunel Escobar on third. Escobar was staying put anyway, but the fact he never thought about running, and the throw Dukes made, drove the point home: If Dukes can shore up his accuracy and be cleaner with throws to cutoff men, he’ll make a lot of runners think twice about tagging up on him.
Craig Stammen: There were some encouraging signs in the right-hander’s first outing since arthroscopic elbow surgery last fall -- he hit 93 on the radar gun after bone spurs kept him in the high 80s most of last year -- but Stammen’s fastball command wasn’t there, and he gave up four runs (three earned) in 1 1/3 innings. “We can throw all the bullpens we want to do. We can do all the BPs we want,” McCatty said. “But when the national anthem plays and a guy’s standing there with a piece of wood, you have to make a judgment what you see then. He’d been throwing real good, but now the juices are going. You just pump up a little bit, and you get off a hair and rush. That’s basically what he did.” So take some positives out of Stammen’s day, but the result still wasn’t pretty.
Jesse English: The reliever allowed three runs (two earned) in 2/3 of an inning. He’s a long shot to make the team, but didn’t do himself any favors today.
Victor Garate: Another reliever fighting an uphill battle to make the team, Garate gave up a homer to Brooks Conrad, the first batter he faced in the seventh inning.
What to watch:
We’ve dwelled on the pitching quite a bit, so we’ll move on from there. Other than that, Ian Desmond’s day is the most interesting development from this one. It’s hard to believe Cristian Guzman wouldn’t be the starting shortstop on Opening Day -- his $8 million contract and his status as a 10/5 player make him hard to move, and the Nationals aren’t likely to leave him on the bench. But Desmond continues to make it hard to justify sending him back to the minors. If he keeps this up through the spring, the much-discussed utility role could be a reality for him, just as a way to keep him on the team and available on a daily basis. It was particularly encouraging to see him make strong throws after big stops; Desmond has taken some criticism for his throwing errors, and he took a little jab at the writers for that after this one. If he cleans that up, though, and continues to stay back on the ball, he’s got everything he needs to play in the big leagues. Jim Riggleman said the reports from Jupiter on Thursday were that Desmond was the best player on the field, and Riggleman thought that was the case again on Friday. It’s a good start for the 24-year-old.
The Nationals’ spring home opener comes tomorrow, when the Mets visit Space Coast Stadium for a 1:05 start. John Lannan will be on the mound for the Nationals, making his first start of the spring. The way things line up right now, the left-hander is slated to be the Opening Day starter for the Nationals. He reported to camp in impressive shape, and we’ll get to see how that translates to the mound.
I enjoyed the chat again today; we’ll be back with another live thread tomorrow. In the meantime, you can bring up any baseball topics you want in the comments section, and I’ll respond in a timely manner. Talk to you later!