VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals lost 14-6 to the Mets on Saturday, watching the 50th opposing baserunner cross home plate just 51 hours after they began their spring schedule. And yet, the level of concern in the clubhouse hasn’t climbed anywhere near the levels of the team’s ERA.
A couple pitchers (Sean Burnett and John Lannan) pointed to being too amped up in their first appearances, trying, in Burnett’s words to “throw it through a brick wall,” elevating the ball because of it, and getting hit. Manager Jim Riggleman said pitchers simply need to throw more strikes and get ahead in the count. And everyone pointed to the date: March 6 -- three days into the Grapefruit League schedule and 30 before Opening Day.
“Everybody has made their first go-through,” Riggleman said. “We really just have to say, ‘OK, get that one behind you.’”
On to today’s recap:
Aaron Thompson: On a day when most Nationals pitchers again struggled to stay ahead of hitters and keep them from blasting line drives, Thompson was one of the biggest exceptions. He gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, striking out one and showing his impressive full complement of pitches. The left-hander’s changeup is his best pitch, but he also flashed a solid curveball and fastball that can creep into the low 90s. He doesn’t figure to make the rotation, but Thompson, who was acquired in a trade for Nick Johnson last July, could see the majors this year.
Willie Harris: Playing left field, Harris made a running catch in foul territory in the first inning, smacking into the retaining wall, and leapt at the wall to rob Henry Blanco of a home run two batters later. I heard somewhere once the Mets must hate this guy.
Eric Bruntlett: The utility infielder, who started at second base, went 2-for-3, blasting a three-run homer and adding a double. He’s got a good chance of making the team off the bench, mostly because of his defense and versatility, but he didn’t hurt himself today at the plate, either.
Tyler Walker: The right-hander is projected to be in the bullpen, but his spring didn’t get off to a strong start on Saturday. Walker allowed five runs on six hits in an inning of work, giving up a couple home runs in the process.
Sean Burnett: Burnett is another reliever who’s not in much danger this spring, but he also struggled Saturday. He said he was a little too excited, and elevated his sinker too many times. That led to four runs on five hits in 2/3 of an inning, and Burnett also walked a batter.
Shawn Estes: It’s hard to see the 37-year-old making the team in any configuration; he’s most likely headed to Class AAA Syracuse. Still, it wasn’t encouraging to see him give up two runs, including a homer, and three hits in the third inning on Saturday.
What to watch:
Cristian Guzman was in the lineup for the first time this spring on Saturday, but made a surprise appearance at DH after Riggleman decided his shoulder needed two more days to gain strength. Guzman, who had surgery on his throwing shoulder in the offseason, has thrown to first in drills this spring, but didn’t do so during infield practice on Saturday. He’s scheduled to play shortstop on Monday, but if his health is a concern, it could open the door for Ian Desmond to grab a big chunk of playing time. Desmond went 0-for-1 on Saturday and played three innings at shortstop, and he could start again on Sunday.
John Lannan wasn’t sharp in the first inning -- suffering from some of the same problems Burnett had by getting too excited, rushing his delivery and elevating some pitches in the first inning. His second inning was much sharper, and Lannan said he was happy with the development of his changeup -- the pitch he’s working on most this spring. We’ll get a better sense of where he’s at in his next start, which comes Thursday against the Astros in Viera.
The Nationals face the Mets again on Sunday in Port St. Lucie. We’ll get our first look at Jason Marquis, who lives in Staten Island, and Matt Chico will follow him.
If you’ve got any leftover baseball chatter from today’s live chat, you can discuss it in the comments and I’ll respond. Otherwise, talk to you tomorrow afternoon.