The Nats won 9-3 at Space Coast Stadium today against the Braves, improving their spring record to 8-17 with a solid victory over an Atlanta team that held a couple key regulars out because of injury or weather concerns. It might have been a different story especially if Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson would have been on the mound instead of a handful of relievers, but the Nationals' offense put together an impressive performance.
The real key, though, was how Scott Olsen pitched -- and what it might mean for the left-hander's immediate future. He allowed seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, but only two runs scored, and only one of those was earned. Olsen threw strikes on 64 of his 85 pitches, and got six groundouts to go with his four strikeouts. It was as close to big-league ready as Olsen has looked in a spring where he's mostly struggled. Manager Jim Riggleman, though, said he's seen progress from Olsen each time out.
"He's making a strong case for himself," Riggleman said. "We've just got to put our heads together, (pitching coach) Steve McCatty, myself, (general manager) Mike Rizzo. It's a good problem to have."
The Nationals want to have their first four starters lined up by Monday, so they can move pitchers around if need be. If Olsen is the fifth starter, they would have a little more time to make a decision on him. The next deadline would be March 31, when they would have to decide to release him or keep him -- and pay him his $1 million salary whether he's in the majors or minors.
"You think about it every minute of the day. And as much as you try not to, the more you think about it," Olsen said. "But I feel good with today, and how things went, and we'll let them make their choices."
Here are today's awards:
Nyjer Morgan: The outfielder went 3-for-4 with three runs and a stolen base. He's starting to look more locked in at the plate, and while Riggleman is planning to be cautious about how much he plays Morgan in the last week of the spring, the center fielder might have gotten enough work on the minor-league side to fix his swing without getting an abundance of at-bats this week.
Ryan Zimmerman: 1-for-3 with a three-run homer in the first inning and four RBI. He's hitting .396 this spring, and is tied for the Grapefruit League lead in homers with six. This is the best spring of Zimmerman's career, and it bodes well for the traditionally slow starter heading into the regular season.
Ian Desmond: On the day Desmond won the shortstop job over Cristian Guzman, he went 2-for-3 with two runs, a walk, a stolen base and two RBI. As good of a day as that was, the first-inning walk was the key. Zimmerman's homer came right after that, and it put an extra run on the board when Guzman probably wouldn't have drawn a walk.
Wil Nieves: His spring average is .220 after an 0-for-3 day at the plate, though he did score a run.
Luis Atilano: Hey, somebody has to get these things, and though Atilano wasn't awful (a run on three hits and a walk in two innings), his spring ERA stands at 7.11. He's impressed the Nationals with how he's thrown in spots, but he'll probably be cut this week.
Loud Space Coast Stadium Beer Guy: Some days I find this guy clever (you've heard him yell so loud, he's picked up by radio microphones all spring -- "Ice...cold...beer! Beer that is cold and in ... ICE!). Other days, I find him obnoxious. When he's given a microphone -- an object he's proven all spring he does not need -- and an opportunity to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," my opinion of him trends decidedly toward the latter.
What to watch:
The Nationals will have to make a decision on Olsen in the next few days, and that choice would have been much easier had he got hit hard on Sunday. But he made things difficult by showing a better breaking ball than he's had most of the spring. The Space Coast Stadium scoreboard radar gun was out on Sunday -- still suffering from the lightning that hit it last week -- but Olsen said he felt as strong as he has all spring. He's pitched three full seasons, and though he's probably not throwing better than the Nationals' other options right now (Craig Stammen and Garrett Mock), he's got more of a track record than either player. One scout in attendance Sunday said Olsen has never done much for him, and he thought the Nationals should cut ties. But Olsen could go to Class AAA Syracuse as an insurance policy for if the Nationals' young starters falter.
The Nationals have their final home game of the spring on Monday against the Mets. Livan Hernandez will start for Washington. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m.