The way the Nationals are playing this spring, there are bad losses and there are defeats that don't register as high on the scale of odiousness. Monday night's 5-2 defeat against the Atlanta Braves was of the latter variety. The Nationals did some things well, but couldn't handle Braves starter Derek Lowe, and saw a rally fall short. The defeat means nothing, and a handful of individual performances makes losses of this variety easier to stomach.
But losses are still losses, and the Nationals' offense is contributing to its share of them these days. They had just five hits, and have scored 28 runs in their last seven games. Of those five hits, Adam Kennedy's double was the only one that went for extra bases.
"We played pretty good," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're just not winning ballgames."
Garrett Mock: The right-hander called his outing "mediocre," largely because of a first inning where he fell behind hitters and gave up two runs on four hits. But Mock retired the last nine he faced, and continued to show why a rotation spot is his to lose. At the behest of catcher Ivan Rodriguez, he threw more breaking balls than he has all spring, and struck out Omar Infante on a nice curveball. "I'm not going to be complacent about anything that happens," Mock said. "Whatever decision is going to be made is completely out of my control. They'll let me know when the time's right."
Shairon Martis: Martis allowed one hit and one walk in two innings, his best work of the spring, and got a 3-6-3 double play in the fifth inning.
Tyler Walker: As much as we've ragged on Walker all spring, he was solid tonight, walking a batter but going without a hit in an inning. He needed a big night to keep himself in the mix for one of the last bullpen spots, and he handled his inning well.
Drew Storen: The first appearance here for the No. 10 overall pick from last year's draft, who has been just short of perfect all spring. Storen allowed two straight hard-hit singles to start the fifth inning, then gave up a two-out hit, threw a low pitch that resulted in a passed ball and walked a batter. The Braves got another baserunner on Adam Dunn's error at first base, but Brian McCann never would have reached had Storen not walked Jayson Heyward in front of him. He showed some composure, though, by striking out Yunel Escobar to end the inning. Relievers have bad nights, and it was a rare one for the Stanford product.
Matt Capps: The Nationals' presumptive closer said he spun a slider to Joe Thurston in the ninth inning, and he allowed his second homer of the spring. In five innings, Capps has given up six runs on eight hits. "On some pitches, I feel like I'm (ready for Opening Day) right now," Capps said. "Other parts of it, throwing back-to-back days and the physical parts of it, trying to get back into the swing of it. That's what we're here for now, just going through the process."
Adam Dunn: The first baseman went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and bobbled a routine throw at first base, though he did make a slick play to turn a 3-6-3 double play in the sixth inning. He's hitting .176 this spring, but Dunn is one of the last players to be worried about at the plate.
What to watch:
Mock has a golden opportunity to put himself in the rotation in his next two starts, which will come Saturday against the Marlins and March 25 against the Tigers. He has pitched well all spring, and has the best stuff of the young pitchers competing for the final rotation spot. The job seems to be his to lose.
Storen has worked his way into the conversation for a bullpen spot, as well, but he struggled to keep the ball down on Monday night. His control was an issue through the entire inning, and as hitters start to time his fastball, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the competition -- whether he keeps attacking them or whether he falls into the young pitcher's trap of nibbling around the plate.
The Nationals have a pair of split-squad games against the Marlins at home and on the road against the Cardinals. Both games start at 1:05. I'm heading to Jupiter to watch the Nationals-Cardinals game, where John Lannan is pitching and where we might get a look at outfield prospects Destin Hood and Michael Burgess. Talk to you from there tomorrow.