If you're in the practice -- or the business -- of gleaning progress from spring training results, the Nationals' 7-4 win over the Cardinals on Friday afternoon would have to register as a sign of it. After John Lannan gave up three runs in the first inning to St. Louis, he settled down and allowed just one more in the rest of his 5 2/3 innings, while the Nationals scored five runs (four earned) in six innings off Adam Wainwright, who was third in the Cy Young vote last year. They made a number of solid defensive plays, got good pitching from their bullpen and put together a comeback victory.
Lannan was spotty in the first inning, which he attributed somewhat to the number of breaking balls he was throwing. He said Pudge Rodriguez was calling for more of those than he'd usually throw, and added "it's a little hard to shake him off" than most pitchers.
"Usually in the first inning, I establish my fastball," Lannan said. "I'm going to have to throw first-pitch curveballs, first-pitch sliders, so I'm not going to disagree with it. But it just didn't work for me."
It didn't help that Lannan's fastball was, by his own admission, "erratic" early in the game. Once he locked that in, the rest of his outing got better.
On with today's awards:
Willie Harris: Harris went 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run, raising his spring average to .353. Heading into a season where Harris will be asked to play a bigger role than he has in the past, he's looking locked in at the plate.
Ivan Rodriguez: Pudge blasted a two-run homer off Wainwright in the sixth inning that landed in the players' parking lot behind center field. It brought the eventual winning run across the plate, and raised Rodriguez's spring average to .333. Manager Jim Riggleman said hitting coach Rick Eckstein made "a little adjustment" to Rodriguez's swing, and it's paying off right now.
Brian Bruney: The right-hander pitched a shutout ninth inning to earn his first save of the spring. He's dropped his spring ERA to 2.57 now, and continues to finish the spring looking strong. "I'm doing the best I can to make guys hit the ball," Bruney said. "I know in the past I've beat myself, and that's not something I want to do again. I'm trying to force the action and make them swing the bat."
Willy Taveras: An 0-for-4 day at the plate cooled him off after a run of solid games at the plate.
Adam Kennedy: He was also 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts, though he did make a pair of impressive sliding stops at second base, one of which saved a run.
Day games after night games: I grew up 20 minutes away from Joe Mauer, was born three months before he was and graduated high school the same year. But here are the two main differences between he and I: He'll make more money in a month than I'll make in my life, and on these stupid days where you get home late, get to sleep later and fight the urge to throw the alarm clock against the wall, he occasionally gets a day off. Oh well. Still wouldn't trade my job for anything -- or at least anything somebody would legitimately pay me to do.
What to watch:
There were a few takeaways from this game -- Harris' surge, Bruney's impressive performance, Lannan's work on an unorthodox pitching plan, etc. But the other one we haven't mentioned yet is the performance of Roger Bernadina, who went 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run in right field and kept Cardinals catcher Matt Pagnozzi from stretching a single to a double with a strong throw in the fourth inning. With Justin Maxwell continuing to struggle at the plate, it's possible Bernadina gets a look in right field. The only problem there is he, like Willie Harris, struggles against lefties, and the Nationals might want another right-handed bat to pair with Mike Morse there. But Bernadina is making his case.
Cristian Guzman looked fine at shortstop today; he wasn't really challenged again, but he turned a double play and made the throws he needed to make. "His style is not to get on top of the ball and gun it," Riggleman said. "But it's getting across the infield." Riggleman said the Nationals do need to make a decision on the shortstop "pretty soon," so they can either prepare Guzman to be a utility infielder or decide between keeping Desmond on the roster or making him the shortstop at Class AAA Syracuse.
The Nationals have split-squad games tomorrow -- unusually late in spring training, it seems -- with the Braves at Disney and the Mets in Port St. Lucie. I think most of the beat writers are heading to Disney; I was seriously considering going to St. Lucie, but decided against it for three reasons. First, that game is on MLB Network, so you (and I) can follow it somewhere else. Second, Riggleman is going to Disney, and with more roster cuts coming any day, it's probably best to stay near the manager. And third, tomorrow is a big outing for Jason Marquis, who has been hit hard all spring and starts against the Braves tomorrow.
The recap of today's live thread is here. We'll have another one running for tomorrow's games -- and if you'd like to toss in periodic updates from the Nats-Mets game, I'd be much obliged. Maybe I can even change your bracket here to make it look like you picked Northern Iowa or something. Well, maybe not -- because if I knew how to do that, I'd clean up my sorry bracket first. :-)
Anyway, talk to you tomorrow!