Nats vs. Cardinals/Marlins: Post-game thoughts

The Nationals have been minimizing the importance of spring training results all spring, so they responded in kind when their split-squad sweep - a 12-3 win over the Marlins in Viera, followed shortly by a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals in Jupiter - went final. But in all that, there was still plenty to feel good about on Tuesday.

John Lannan and Craig Stammen pitched well. The Nationals got strong performances from their bullpen, with Jesse English earning a save in Jupiter. Cristian Guzman hit a three-run homer in a pinch-hit appearance, and Willie Harris added a grand slam late in the Marlins game. There’s little question it was the best day of the spring for Washington.

“Just for everybody’s psyche, it’s nice to get a win on the board,” said Riggleman, who managed in Jupiter. “We’ve played a lot of good ballgames. We just haven’t held the other club down. And today we did, in both places.”

A couple links up top: Riggleman’s pre- and post-game sessions are available here. You can also check out a replay of our live thread from today’s split-squad games here - if you followed it, you know we got a treat today with Kristen Hudak pitching in with updates from Viera. On with the awards:

Golden Geese
John Lannan: After his last start was rained out, Lannan came out in vintage form on Tuesday, getting seven ground ball outs in four innings and allowing only an unearned run. He said catcher Ivan Rodriguez had him throwing pitches he’s never thrown before - a back-door curveball and an inside sinker to righties, for example. Lannan is the consummate student of pitching, and he’s always adding weapons to his repertoire. Sounds like he found a couple new ones on Tuesday.

Craig Stammen: The similarities between Lannan and Stammen are well-documented; they have similar repertoires, both rose to the majors as overlooked draft picks and the two pitchers roomed together through the offseason. They’re living together this spring, too, and both had starts rained out last week. Before today’s games, Lannan and Stammen told each other to get a pair of wins, and they did exactly that. Stammen struck out four in four innings, giving up only two unearned runs and throwing 38 of his 61 pitches for strikes. Listening to Jim Riggleman after the game, it sounds like Stammen put himself back in the picture for a starting rotation spot.

Cristian Guzman: Making his first at-bat after returning from the birth of his daughter, Guzman clubbed a pinch-hit three-run shot in the Nationals’ 12-3 win in Viera. He will start at shortstop on Wednesday, and will get a chance to show he’s still capable of holding off Ian Desmond for the starting job.

Goose Eggs
Adam Dunn: He made an error at first base, and left the game with back spasms. Riggleman said Dunn will sit out a day, take Thursday’s off-day to rest and hopefully be back on Friday. But the Nationals aren’t going to rush Dunn back.

Ian Desmond: The shortstop had a base hit, but made a fielding error on a routine grounder in the first, leading to one of the Cardinals’ two unearned runs off Lannan.

Justin Maxwell: Apart from a sacrifice fly, Maxwell continued to struggle in the Nationals’ game in Jupiter. He went hitless again, and with Roger Bernadina providing more consistent offense this spring, Maxwell could be slipping behind in the battle for a reserve outfield spot.

What to watch:
As encouraging as the Nationals’ wins were, Dunn’s injury is the biggest development of the day. If he has any recurring back spasms, the Nationals’ lineup is in serious trouble. That’s worth monitoring the next few days, and if there’s any long-term concern, it makes it all the more important for the Nationals to give Dunn a day off from time to time, which would increase Mike Morse’s already strong chances of making the team.

Stammen helped himself today after a rough start to the spring, and might get a chance to make the Nationals reconsider the idea of putting him in the bullpen. Kristen said his velocity was around 90-91 mph today, which is a few ticks up from where we’ve seen it in the past (remember, he pitched most of last year with bone spurs in his elbow). He could make a surge late this spring with a couple strong outings.

One more tidbit: Lannan said Pudge Rodriguez was calling for pitches throughout the day that he’d never thrown before -- a back-door curve and a sinker inside to righties. Lannan is a student of pitching, and always looking for new weapons for his repertoire. “Whatever he has to say,” Lannan said, “I’m going to listen with open ears.” Working with Rodriguez could make Lannan even better.

Up next:
The Nationals take on the Astros in their third trip of the spring to Kissimmee for a 1:05 start. Jason Marquis will start for the Nationals, who will play their last game before a day off on Thursday.

Thanks again to everybody who participated in today’s live chat, and another thanks to Kristen for her excellent work in Viera, giving us the rare chance for real-time updates and conversation from two games. A bit chaotic at times? Yes. But it was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoyed it, as well. I’m flying solo again tomorrow, but we’ll have the live thread ready to go for the first pitch. Talk to you then!