The final days of spring training, in just about any major-league clubhouse, leave the same questions to be handled: Who will get the final bench spot? Who will the fifth starter be? How about the long reliever? While the final edges of the map are being filled in, those at the center of it are biding their time until Opening Day.
John Lannan was doing that on Wednesday, and he did it quite well. The Nationals' Opening Day starter allowed three hits and two runs, neither of which was earned, in five innings of a 9-6 win over the Cardinals. He needed just 59 pitches to get that far, and finished the spring with a 2.91 ERA.
"I'm ready to get out of spring training. I'm ready to go," Lannan said. "I'm ready to get out there and start getting the crowd, where you've got a little more pressure. This is great to get ready, but I think it's about that time to head up north."
The rest of Lannan's teammates didn't look quite as ready as he did, at least in the field; the Nationals made four errors, including two by new shortstop Ian Desmond and one on a scary play when right fielder Willie Harris chased down a liner in right, only to overrun it and hit his head when he reached back for it and fell. But Washington tagged Adam Wainwright, who was third in last year's Cy Young vote, for five runs on 10 hits.
On with the awards for today:
John Lannan: His fastball command was back after giving up four runs in 5 2/3 innings his last time out. Lannan got 10 groundouts to just three flyouts, and would have pitched a shutout if not for the errors. "Just because it's the last game of spring training, you want that momentum to carry into the season," he said.
Cristian Guzman: He went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run, falling a homer short of the cycle. Guzman looked awkward at second base the first time he tried to turn a double play there, but made a turn at second base on one later in the game and started another with Ian Desmond. He's hitting .326 this spring.
Josh Willingham: With a 2-for-4 day, including a run and RBI, Willingham is hitting .349 this spring, and has driven in 10 runs.
Matt Capps: The closer gave up another two runs on three hits while walking two in 2/3 of an inning, and his spring ERA is 8.44. It's not the walks that signal an unsettling trend with Capps -- he only walked 17 batters in 54 1/3 innings last year, and walked a mere five batters the year before. It's the fact he hasn't been able to get the ball down in the zone most of the spring. "It didn't work out the way I wanted, but it's not something I'm going to lose sleep over," Capps said. "Physically, I feel good. I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand pretty good. I just couldn't throw it where I wanted to."
Willie Harris: He went 1-for-3, walked twice, scored a run and drove in another run. He's hitting .342 this spring. But Harris gets a Goose Egg because he's probably going to have one on his head in the morning. He endured a scary moment in the first inning when he tore across the field to chase a fly ball, only to reach back when he realized he'd overran it, fall and hit his head. Harris was down near the warning track for a few minutes, but stayed in the game. So maybe he gets a Golden Goose for perseverance, but a Goose Egg for his health.
Jesse English: Manager Jim Riggleman has been trying to get the reliever in a game against more talented hitters, but English pitched against a lineup of scrubs again on Wednesday when he entered the game in the eighth inning. And he struggled, allowing two hits and one run. He's still fighting to make the team, though, and could get a chance to make an impression in a middle-inning appearance sometime in the next three days.
What to watch:
Mike Morse is coming back at the plate, going 2-for-4 on Wednesday and continuing to surge after a nasty flu bug put him in a mid-spring slump. He made an error at first, but is likely to make the team and see time in right field as well as several other spots.
But the other thing to watch will be how Capps moves forward. Remember, he's coming off the worst year of his career, and though he said he feels fine, he's struggled with location all spring. "He's as prepared as he can be, but he didn't get the ball down," Riggleman said. "But his velocity has picked up." That doesn't mean much if Capps isn't hitting his location better. Brian Bruney has outpitched Capps most of the spring, and if that continues into the season, the closer's job could become a group effort.
The Nationals head to Port St. Lucie to face the Mets in a noon start -- which allows them to get on the road a little sooner before heading to Fort Myers on Friday for a game against the Red Sox. Tomorrow will be my last game of the spring; I head home Friday morning before the exhibition at Nationals Park on Saturday. But I'll have a live thread for you at noon.
Today's live thread is here, and audio from the day is here. Talk to you tomorrow!